The Fearful Void - Part 21

"Oh my," Siesta said slowly, looking around the interior of the noble bathhouse properly. "This is wonderful. Really."

Alma chattered to her as she laid her towel down in the place provided, and with great care lowered herself into the water in the shallowest part she could find. Imperiously, she jabbed a finger towards the place next to her towel. "See-easter!" she ordered.

The maid curtsied, dipping an imaginary skirt, and giggled. "Yes, my lady," she said, bowing her head, before putting her towel where she was instructed and slipping gratefully into the warm water. Alma huddled up close to her - perhaps a little closer than was comfortable - but then again, that clearly showed she was here helping the skinny little girl who... ah yes, possibly could not swim. There were scented soaps and oils provided and... well, the commoner thought to herself, as long as she was clearly using them to care for the little girl, no one could blame her if she happened to get some on herself, right?

"Smells nice, doesn't it?" she said, offering some soap for Alma to sniff, and getting a small smile in response.

Well, of course they could, so clearly she needed to get it done quickly because there was no one else in here to notice her. Satisfied by this chain of logic, Siesta began to wash Alma's hair. The little girl sat there patiently, tolerating the attention for a while, before her attention began to wander.

"See-easter?"

"Yes, Alma?"

The little girl frowned, twisting in her grip to face her. Her gaze dropped. "See-easter eez..." she made a wide hand gesture with her hands, "... to Loo-ays. See-easter is," she made a second, smaller gesture, "to Kursh."

"Um," the maid said, "... well, I think I know what you're saying, and you're right, but I... probably shouldn't encourage you to say that in public."

A pointy little finger jabbed her in the chest, and Siesta winced. "Pstenes Alma," there followed the 'large' gesture and the 'small' one, and the little girl cupping her chest, "See-easter?"

The older girl blushed red for the second time today. Clearly, Kirche von Zerbst was a terrible corruptive influence on small children, despite the near impregnable language barrier. She somehow had Alma asking questions about... that. That was just... wrong. It was natural for children to be curious, but surely Alma had some experience from that sort of thing? From time in bathhouses or even just at home with her mother and sisters. Well, she might be an oldest child or only have brothers, but still! She shouldn't be asking that kind of question of decent, hard-working, unappreciated maids! "I'm sure you'll be very pretty no matter what, Alma," Siesta answered firmly, taking Alma by her shoulders and turning her back around, "and now I need to finish washing your hair, and so can't answer."

The babble of words had a definite pout to them. Still, the little girl settled back down, and let Siesta lather up her hair - purely coincidentally getting a certain amount on her own head - and begin to rinse it off. The little girl's hands moved in structured patterns, and she began to sing something to herself, in the strange syllables of her native language.

Siesta laughed nervously. "Oh no, Alma, really, no. Please. No no no. Don't do the Kirche von Zerbst hand gestures like that. Kirche is being... funny. Yes. Funny. Ha ha ha. Funny. She is a terrible corruptive influence on small children, and very naughty, and you shouldn't listen to her and..." She paused, and looked closer at what the little girl was doing. Oh, she was staring at a spider, and... oh. Oh.

Unconsciously, from childhood rhymes passed down through her family, Siesta's fingers moved to mimic the same gestures.

"Itsy bitsy spider," agreed the maid. "Itsy bitsy spider, climbed up the waterspout. Down came the rain, and washed poor Itsy out. Out came the sunshine, and dried out all the rain. Itsy bitsy spider, climbed up the spout again." She shifted in the lovely warm water, and stared at the younger girl. "Now how on earth do you know that? And why is 'Itsy bitsy' the same for you, but you use 'spend' for 'spider'?"

Siesta sunk deeper into the lovely warm water - Founder, the nobles got amazing baths; she would need to contrive an excuse to take Alma again if she could do this - and blew bubbles while staring at the little girl, thinking.

"You know," she remarked to Alma, after sitting up again, "Mademoiselle de la Valliere is very mean with how she doesn't even try to learn to speak your language. So... since I'm clearly going to be the one who does most of the looking after you - and by 'going to be', I really mean 'already am'... hey, you know, it's nice being able to say such things to you because you don't understand what I say." She reached forwards and ruffled Alma's hair; in response the little girl glared at her, and sunk her head back in the water, trying to straighten it out again.

Siesta giggled. "But yes. What if I said... bird to you, say? Bird?" She tucked her arms in, pretending to flap them, and made a - rather good, in her opinion - impersonation of a wood dove cooing.

"Buurd?" Alma echoed, nodding her head. The little girl made a clucking noise which sounded a bit like a chicken.

"No, no," the maid said. "I mean..." she paused, and tried to put it in the reference frame of the very limited vocabulary of the little girl, "... Alma name bird? What Alma name bird?"

The dark-haired girl furrowed her brow. "Buurd..." she said slowly. "Buurd eez hzewis?"

"Hzwis?" Siesta tried, making the same flapping motion. Despite that, she sighed. She had hoped that maybe it would turn out to be something like 'bhard' or 'vurd'; something which could be a clue to make it easier to talk to her. The maid was aware of Louise's mad idea that her family tale was proof that they came from a similar place, but... maybe that was true enough that they could have a child's rhyme in common, but there was no deeper connection. It was just a coincidence that her word for 'spider' started with a 'sp' sound. Maybe it was even because 'sp' sort of sounded like a scuttling noise.

Alma shook her head. "Hzewis," she stated, more clearly. "Hzewis. Hzewis eez buurd. Yaas?"

The maid licked her lips. "Hzewis?" she tried again.

Alma grinned, and clapped her hands together. A chatter of her strange language escaped from her mouth, in which the word 'See-easter' appeared twice.

Siesta crossed her arms over her chest. "I hope that wasn't 'And now you know how it feels to be trying to explain words to people like they're an idiot, Siesta', Alma," she said, with mock solemnity. "Because that's not very nice."

There was an impish grin in the little girl's face which suggested that her guess had got the gist of the argument, however. "See-easter? Wodr ghood," she added, snuggling up slightly closer to the older girl.

"Yes, Alma, it really is," Siesta said. "Now, what do you think this scrapy-thing by the oil bottles is here for?" She leaned over, and sniffed the oil. "Oh my. Lavender and rosemary and..." she squinted at the labels on the little glass bottle, "my, it's made from olives imported from Romalia. You know, this probably costs a month's salary. And..."

The lights flickered, a faint fly-like buzzing filling the room. All along the opposite side of the room, they failed completely. And the water flowing through the baths was now cold; unpleasantly so.

Siesta yelped, and nearly leapt out of the water entirely in her first flinch. Alma did not jump, did not flinch, did not make a noise. Her eyes were locked upwards, staring up at the ceiling. She was whispering something, over and over again, the same few words, but the maid could not make out what they were. Teeth chattering, she pulled herself out of the now-freezing water, her breath visible, and then turned to pull Alma out too.

"'Svoid!" she swore loudly, and blanched slightly at the blasphemy. A moment's thought revealed that a minor blasphemy in front of a little girl probably was not what she should be worrying about right now, given that ice was forming on the surface of what had been lovely warm baths a few moments ago, and her breath was forming freezing clouds in the air and Founder she was so cold. Grabbing for the towels, she tried to get the two of them dry as fast as possible, but... God, there was ice forming in her hair!

Although... her eyes narrowed... not in Alma's.

She spared a moment of frantic shivering to stare at the frosted-over lock of her own black hair she could see compared to the chill-but-black hair of the little girl, and gave up. That was a mystery for another time. She had to get both of them into the changing rooms and back to their clothes as soon as possible, or they'd freeze to death. Alma was staring upwards, and was limp; she practically had to be carried back, and she wouldn't stop whispering hoarsely.

Was... this some kind of attack by a ice-using mage? What in God's name was happening?

It was barely warmer in her clothes, but 'barely' was better than being... well, bare.

And as the two girls emerged from the bath house into a frost-covered lawn, a deep red glow, right at the edge of vision, was coming from the top of the tower. The light seeped out of every stone and every crack, casting the night in erratic bloody light. Siesta stared up in shock, as crimson snowflakes drifted down. And then she drew a deep breath.

"I told you that tower was evil!" she yelled out to the world. "I just knew it!"

Alma did not cease her whispering, or break her gaze.