"I do hope she's alright," Mrs. Baker said anxiously, her expression strained with worry. She had been repeating these same words over again, every minute or so, since they had set off. She glanced out the carriage window, as if worried that they had passed their destination even though it wasn't on the horizon when she looked ten seconds earlier.
"I assure you Berenice, Charmain will be fine," Sempronia yet again replied, if a bit more irritably this time. "Great-Uncle William won't let anything happen to her."
"Ooh," Mrs. Baker continued to moan. "I can't believe she's to be apprenticing in magic!"
"Magic isn't as barbaric as you may think, Berenice. In fact, it is a highly respected profession."
If Mrs. Baker was paying closer attention, she might have noticed the offense underlying her aunt's tone.
Mrs. Baker continued to mutter to herself about the sketchiness of the whole ordeal. Her daughter, Charmain, had been keeping house for her Great-Uncle William for about a week while the wizard sought medical treatment. Upon his return, Mr. and Mrs. Baker had been sent a message regarding Great-Uncle William's interest in taking Charmain in as an apprentice. Before the Bakers could write up a response, another message from the King arrived, commanding that they allow the apprenticeship. Mrs. Baker and Sempronia were on their way the collect Charmain from Great-Uncle William's and take her home so that she could pack for a long-term stay before returning to the wizard.
Sempronia was actually quite relieved with the whole situation. Mrs. Baker's approach to raising Charmain left the girl spoiled and undisciplined, traits accompanied by her laziness and rude behavior. Sempronia had set up the house-sitting job for Charmain in an attempt to allow the girl enough distance from her overly protective mother so that she could learn at the very least how to clean-up after herself and hopefully develop some kind of work ethic. Now that her stay was elongated, her chances of learning life skills were exponentially higher.
Much to the relief of Mrs. Baker, the coach eventually jostled to a stop. While flustered, Mrs. Baker was still a lady, so she deliberately did not rush. Instead, the two women glided to the doorstep. After Sempronia's second knock, the door creaked open to reveal the panting form of a small, white dog, followed by the face of a boy. Mrs. Baker seemed shocked as her brain slowly registered that there was a young man in the same house as her daughter. Sempronia was simply surprised.
"Who are you?" the boy asked plainly.
"We are Charmain's relatives," replied Sempronia, not at all ruffled by the lad's mild impertinence. At least not visibly. "I'm am her Aunt Sempronia and this is Charmain's mother, Berenice Baker."
"Oh." Recognition flitted across the boy's face. "Oh! You're the two ladies who visited here last Tuesday."
Did that mean he was here all week? Mrs. Baker became even paler.
The boy opened the door wider and moved to the side. He had enough manners to close the door after the guests had entered. Absently gesturing for them to sit, he turned to the dog. "Waif, go find Charmain and bring her here."
The dog happily trotted to the only other door in the room and started scratching at the base. Mrs. Baker was about to say something but stopped short as the door swung inward. There was no one behind it. With a happy squeak, Waif padded through the doorway, the door closing behind her.
"Excuse me young man, but I don't believe you gave us your name." Sempronia said, unfazed by the strange occurrence surrounding the dog.
"I'm Peter Regis," he answered, looking at the door distractedly. "I suppose I should stay with you until Charmain shows. Would you like anything while we wait?"
"Tea would be nice," Sempronia supplied.
Peter tapped the trolley by the couch while saying, "Afternoon tea." Tea with cups and scones appeared. Sempronia and Mrs. Baker, remembering this display of magic from their last visit, weren't startled.
"So Peter," Mrs. Baker finally managed after a sip of tea. "What business do you have with Great-Uncle William?"
"I'm an apprentice." Peter buttered a scone.
Mrs. Baker almost choked on her tea. "Ah. You'll be spending a lot of time with Charmain then?"
"By the way," Sempronia cut in. "How is Great-Uncle William?"
"Wizard Norland is resting. While the elves did cure him, he's still recovering his strength."
The door swung open and in walked Waif followed by Charmain, the second of the two looking fairly annoyed.
"Oh." Her expression cleared when she saw the guests. "Hello Mother, Aunt Sempronia. I see that you've arrived." She then turned to Peter and scowled. "Peter, why did you send Waif after me? If you came for me yourself poor Waif wouldn't have had such a hard time trying to tell me to move."
Returning the scowl, Peter swallowed his scone. "I didn't know where you were," he said defensively. "Waif always knows where you are."
"Well, I suppose you would've gotten yourself lost again if you'd tried. Waif does know her way around the house better than you do." Charmain ignored Peter's red face as she returned her attention to the guests. "If you would excuse me Mother, Aunt Sempronia, I should like to collect a couple of things before we depart."
"Let me help you." Mrs. Baker was rising from her chair.
"Oh no, Mother, I'll be fine." Charmain's gestures for Mrs. Baker to sit down again were nearly frantic. "I wouldn't want you to get lost. With your inexperience with magic, you would probably be even harder to locate than Peter."
"Nonsense. I saw the house from outside; it's not big."
"Actually, it's ginormous." Peter said. "It only looks small from the outside."
"Right," Charmain nodded. "Depending on how you approach the doorway, you enter different parts of the house. The place is practically a labyrinth."
"You'd best not try to follow, Berenice," Sempronia conceded. "Magical houses are oftentimes more than they seem."
"I'll be fine, Mother. I know my way around quite well and will be back very soon." With a grateful smile towards Sempronia, Charmain went back through the door, Waif scampering at her heels.
"Now, Peter," Sempronia started, "how has Charmain been faring?" Pouring herself another cup of tea, she eyed the boy expectantly.
The boy blinked, face blank. Apparently, he wasn't entirely sure what Sempronia was asking.
"Hopefully taking care of the house wasn't too overwhelming for her," Mrs. Baker helpfully supplied.
At this, Peter snorted. "I don't know if I would say 'overwhelmed.' Sure, she wasn't very happy to do any work, judging by the fact that she wouldn't tire from complaining, and quite loudly too. I wouldn't say the work was too much for her, if that's what you mean. Besides she barely did anything. Completely ignored the towering dishes in the kitchen until I forced her to put her book down. She's quite awful at cleaning, you know. Her endurance is astonishingly low, and she doesn't seem to understand what it means to do a thorough job at something. If she didn't have such low standards for everything, cleaning the kitchen and doing the laundry would've gone so much faster. After the dishes she broke and the laundry she ruined, I hardly trusted her with most of the work. Of course, I wasn't about to let her escape from her responsibilities. After all, she was the one assigned to cleaning the place up. So I tried to give her simpler tasks that I was fairly confident she could handle while I did most of the work. Now that I think about it, I'm surprised that girl's even alive considering her recklessness and incompetence."
The rant paused as Peter stopped to eat another scone.
The room was silent, excluding the clinking of cups against saucers and the crunching of scones. Mrs. Baker was both angry and embarrassed. While Peter's blatant remarks about her daughter were offensive, she had no trouble believing them. She also knew that she was responsible for Charmain's work ethic. Sempronia, on the other hand, couldn't decide whether to be mad or simply disappointed. Because of Peter, Charmain's learning experience was significantly reduced in effect.
Well, she'll get more chances to improve herself during her apprenticeship, Sempronia thought. "I suppose you'll have to develop a system for the next times you clean," she said out loud.
"Thankfully no," Peter replied. "The kobolds got over their strike and will take on all the housekeeping chores from now on."
That dashed that hope. Mrs. Baker was asking "Aren't kobolds those little blue people?" when Charmain returned.
"I'm all set, Mother. Great-Uncle William sends his regards. Peter, don't get into any trouble while I'm gone. I don't want to have to save you from one of your failed spells, again."
Peter grumbled something incoherent while the troupe exited the house. Mrs. Baker notice that Waif was following and tried to tell the dog to go back.
"It's no use, Mother," Charmain said. "The gate will magically open for her even if we close it securely. Nothing will stop her from following us. Better just let her ride with us."
Conversation in the coach mostly consisted of Charmain assuring her mother that she would be perfectly safe apprenticing in magic, that she already had some experience, and that she was looking forward to learning more. Sempronia was mostly silent, deep in thought. Charmain had yet again avoided doing essential chores. At this rate, Sempronia was very worried how the girl would fare when settled in her own establishment. Sempronia tried to comfort herself with the thought that at least she had tried to get Charmain to learn some fundamental skills. Even if she did become an accomplished sorceress, Sempronia highly doubted that Charmain would have a strong enough work ethic to adequately support herself. She prayed that Charmain would marry a man wealthy enough to afford servants to take care of her. The girl wouldn't be cheap to care for, especially considering her average food consumption rate.
A/N: This was for the writing challenge [Twelve Shots of Summer] for the [Mollycoddled] prompt.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! Constructive criticism is always appreciated!