“What have you got there?” I asked Sister Moon.
“A pot of gold,” she cackled holding up a little purse and shaking it. It jingled with heavy coins.
“No,” I said reaching for the baby in her arms. “Who is this?”
“A Karut.” She easily relinquished him to me. I peeled back the blanket and looked at the little face.
“Aren’t you pretty?” I stroked the soft cheek. “You’re sure he’s a Karut? He’s so pale.”
“Maybe he’s a half-breed,” she replied, already counting the coins. “So many good Mishnese girls giving themselves to Karut men after poor Lydia was forced to do it. I suspect we’ll be getting a lot more just like him.”
“Maybe,” I agreed, stroking the baby’s tuff of silky black hair. “He’s sweet all the same. Does he have a name?”
“Senya,” I repeated.
“Now don’t you go taking special heart to this little rat,” Sister Moon scolded me as she tossed the coins back in the purse. “The same will happen to him as the rest of them.”
“Maybe he’ll get adopted by a nice family,” I said wistfully. “Look what long eyelashes he has.”
“Nobody will want a Karut,” she snorted. “He’ll be here with the rest of the nasties until he runs off and gets himself killed on the street. Get yourself back to work now. Put the baby in the baby room and go check the one year olds’ buckets.”
“Yes Ma’am.” The baby put his little fist in his mouth. “Can I give him a bottle first? He’s hungry.”
Sister Moon shrugged. “Be quick about it.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.” I curtseyed and hurried the baby to the baby room where I could get a bottle out of the warmer and sit for a moment before I had to dump all the potty buckets. Twice daily I had to circle through the one year olds’ room here in the Old Mishnah Orphan Home where twenty babies sat naked in chairs, eating, sleeping and pooping at will. I spent about two minutes with each of them, wiping them hopefully before they broke out in rash, putting ointment on their rashes and hugging them all for just a moment before I must put them back down and move on to the next. By the time they graduated on to the two year old room, they were allowed to wear pants and shirts, sleep on cots and eat at small tables. If they messed their pants for whatever reason, they were sent back to the one year old room for a day which was such a punishment that rarely would they mess again.
The baby room was my favorite place though. It was quiet and warm in there, and I could sit in a rocker and cuddle as many little bundles as I had time for. The older ones stood in their cribs and waved to me as I came in. Some babbled out a few nonsense sounds and some smiled showing me two or four tiny teeth.
“Hello babies,” I called to them.
“Hello Meri,” Sister Lena called back. She was in a rocker with one of the few little girls we had. Most of our children were boys. I didn’t know why they were abandoned more often than girls. Girls could be put to work, I supposed. Certainly our girls unless they were rescued before age seven or eight, would be put to work earning their keep.
“Who have you got there?” Lena asked.
“A new one,” I replied grabbing a bottle and settling down next to her. “This is Senya.”
“A Karut,” she gasped with surprise. The baby she was holding stopped sucking and looked at her for a moment.
“Yes, but he’s pretty isn’t he,” I said offering him the bottle. He sucked it greedily and patted it with his hand.
“I wonder why the Karuts didn’t take him.” Lena peered at him through her bottle thick glasses.
“Sister Moon thinks his mum was Mishnese. Was your mum Mishnese, Senya?” I teased. The baby smiled with the nipple still in his mouth.
“He says yes.” I laughed as he sucked fiercely once again.
“He is beautiful,” Lena agreed. “What color are his eyes?”
“I don’t know. Open your eyes, baby. Let me see your pretty eyes.”
The baby opened his eyes as if he understood me, and Blessed Saint, I nearly dropped him. His eyes were silver, like swirly specks of silver light.
“Blessed Saint,” Lena cried upsetting her baby who howled in protest.
Senya closed his eyes again as if he knew this is what caused us fright. He finished his bottle and sucked air until I wrestled the bottle from his mouth and held him against my shoulder.
“He is possessed.” Lena calmed her baby and then quickly put her back in a crib. “Do you think this is why the Karuts didn’t want him?”
“He’s not possessed,” I insisted, burping my little friend. “He’s sweet.” He patted my face with his hand while looking out across my back.
Lena looked at me warily. “It is strange though.”
“It is,” I agreed. “But they are kind of beautiful too.” Surely, if he was possessed, we would know that somehow. I might have to ask the Father about that, but I hated speaking with the Father. He always wanted favors, and his breath was bad, and his old skin was wrinkled and made my own skin crawl.
I changed Senya and put him in one of our shirts. I was about to put socks on his little feet when I was stopped short.
“Lena, can you come here?”
She approached with narrow eyes. I held up a little foot. Senya reached for it too.
“Look at his nails,” I said. “Why are they like this?” Gingerly, Lena touched them. She visibly shivered. Senya played with his toes. He put one in his mouth and sucked on the long curled nail.
“We should dispose of him,” she said.
“Dispose?” I cried.
“Throw him out in the gutter before …before…”
“Before what? You mean to kill him?”
“No, no.” She walked away. “Maybe send him to the Karuts. I have a bad feeling about him.”
“Will you tell the Father?”
Lena turned and looked into my eyes. She nodded slowly.
“Don’t hurt this baby,” I begged. “Let me take care of him.”
“I have a very bad feeling about him,” she repeated, and her wimple nearly fell off as she shook her head. “Something is wrong about him.”
“I promise, Sister. Please let me care for him. If he turns out to be bad, then I’ll help you get rid of him. Don’t turn him out now and don’t tell the Father.”
“What will you do for me if I agree?” She asked, lifting her head haughtily.
“What do you want?”
“All the diapers,” she said. “All the time.”
I looked down at Senya. He smiled at me, and when he opened his eyes they sparkled. “Okay,” I agreed, falling in love with this strange little fellow. “I will do anything to save little Senya.”
I was strange too. My back was crooked, and my face was scarred. I was ugly even though I wasn’t always. Once I was a beautiful young girl who nice boys would ask to dance and nice girls would chat up. Once I went to school and got high marks in Mishnese and literature and fair marks in math and science. Then my step-father wanted me, and when I refused he pushed me down the stairs and broke my back. As I lay crumpled, he set my clothes on fire. The Saint saved me, and after I was healed, I came here to love other children who no one wanted anymore.
Senya loved me, I thought. He greeted me every day with a smile. He didn’t speak. He didn’t even make noise, but he stood in his crib and waved at me and his silver eyes sparkled. Everyone else he ignored. He sat in the corner of his crib sucking his fingers, or lay on his back and played with his strange toes.
The Father came to look at him. “How much was in the purse?” He asked Sister Moon. She told him, and we all gasped as it was such a large sum. It would feed everyone in this house for a year. “Will there be more?” The Father wondered aloud.
“I think so,” Sister Moon replied. “For as long as we keep him.”
“Then we will keep him until they want him back,” the Father declared. The next week, the Father had a new speeder. It was shiny and red with rich leather and polished wood inside. It looked very expensive. He wanted me to sit in it with him. He wanted me to pleasure him while he drove it around. I did because he was the Father and I was so ugly no other man would want me. If he threw me out on the street, I would have nowhere to go and be forced to pleasure other men who were worse than him. This is what he told me when his leavings were in my mouth, and I wished to spit them out on the fine carpet of his new speeder.
When I came back to the orphanage, I went to the baby room and found Senya crying. He sobbed silently, his little body heaving but making no sound. There was a red welt across his back. “Who did this?” I demanded of Sister Lena.
“Sister Moon,” she said. “Sister Moon says he is destroying too many socks and wasting our precious cloth. She says he is to have cold feet all winter. He shall have no more socks.”
“But why did she hit him?” I asked, picking him up and holding him tight until he stopped crying. He put his hand on my face and nuzzled my neck.
“He looked at her with his wicked eyes and she said she felt dizzy because of it and nearly fell down. He is possessed she says, but the Father says he must stay here so we cannot throw him out in the gutter.”
I wondered if I could take Senya and run away. I would have to pleasure anyone who would give me money, and how many would want one as ugly as me? I would have liked a real job. Once I knew how to type and could speak well and answer a vid and perhaps put together things with my hands. There were no jobs like that anymore. There were no jobs for anyone because Mishnah was broke. There were only jobs for men who joined the guards and women who worked as maids in the Palace. I could not do that because I was a woman with a broken back and burned face.
It was a cold winter, and there was not much food. The money from the purse had been spent on the Father’s new speeder and his fine clothes and jewelry. The children cried because they were hungry and cold, and the old radiators spat and hissed, but little warmth came from them. Senya’s little feet were always cold, and when I was with him I wrapped them in rags, but someone else always took them off. Senya sat in his crib and held the bottle himself. He was getting big, and his face was taking shape.
“He looks more and more like a Karut,” Lena said beside me. “He looks like Prince Sorkan.”
“He does,” I agreed, admiring his handsome little face. “But pale.”
“Maybe he’ll get darker over time,” Lena thought. “Did you give him this bottle? It’s not time for him to eat.” She took it away. Senya opened his mouth to protest.
“I didn’t,” I said. “He was already drinking it when I came here.”
“Well I wonder how he got it then,” Lena frowned and just as she did so, the bottle went flying out of her hand and back into Senya’s.
Lena and I both screamed.
Senya popped the bottle back in his mouth and gave us a big smile.
“How did he do that?” Lena whispered, her eyes giant saucers.
“I don’t know,” I whispered back. “Do you think that’s how he got the bottle from the warmer?” We both looked at the warmer as if it could speak to us. Lena turned back and snatched the bottle out of Senya’s grasp again. He opened his mouth in a silent howl. Lena ran across the room and put it on the warmer table.
“You want it, Senya?” She challenged. “Then take it.”
Senya pulled himself up by the bars on his crib and held out his little hands. The bottle flew across the room right into them. He fell back on his bottom and sucked triumphantly.
“Don’t say a word of this to anyone,” I begged Lena.
“Blessed Saint,” Lena collapsed in a chair. “What is he?”
“Please Lena, please! I’ll do anything. Don’t let them throw him out on the street!” I was on my knees before her.
“Okay,” she said, narrowing her eyes and smiling wickedly. “Forever and ever you will be doing the diapers, Meri.”
“I will, I will,” I promised.
Senya laughed. It was the first noise we had heard from him. I ran to him and gathered him in my arms.
“You little devil,” I cried, and he laughed some more.
“Mayhap, he really is,” Lena snorted and walked away.
We lost four babies from the baby room including our one little girl. There was a fever going around, and the diapers were endless and messy. Our one year olds and two year olds were sick too, and I was forever dumping buckets filled with loose and foul smelling stools. Our two year olds were messing their pants, but we did not punish them because several of them had died, as well. Our building was cold, and the snow and frost outside made it impossible to open the windows and bring in fresh air. The children burned with fever and then shook with chills. I wrapped and rewrapped as many as I could, but there were not enough of us Sainted Ladies here to take care of them. There was sickness in the city, and bodies lay in the gutters where ever you walked. Our dead children joined them waiting for the coroner’s van to collect them.
Three times a day I checked on Senya and each time he stood and greeted me with a smile. He called me by name now and jumped up and down yelling ‘Meri, Meri, Meri’ when I came in. He didn’t get sick like the other babies even though his feet were like ice every time I checked them.
The spring came, and Senya was moved to the one year old room. I did not think he was quite that old because he had only four tiny teeth. He could stand well on his own and feed himself with his hands and he was hungry and wanted more food than all the bottles in the warmer. I gave him a spoon, but he banged it on the table top and hit himself in the face with it. Though we had lost many from our nursery, many more were coming having lost their parents during the winter freeze. Our baby room was crowded, and we had to move out anyone who could manage in a chair for now.
Senya sat in the chair like the other one year olds. Most of them sat quietly or slept, laying their little heads down on their table tops sometimes right into their food. Senya didn’t like it. By summer, he was climbing out as quickly as anyone could put him back in. Some of the other boys followed his example and in no time they were running about the room knocking over the buckets and creating a nasty mess. They were all punished soundly, and their poor little bottoms were red and swollen for days and days. Senya didn’t learn though. He continued to climb out, and now Sister Flower locked him in the closet.
The closet was exactly that, two feet this way and two feet that with a small door at the bottom to crawl in and out.
“I have never used the closet for one so young,” Sister Flower said as she carried the squirming Senya. “But this one is beyond any other punishment.” She opened the door and shoved him through, swatting his bottom soundly. “Don’t mess in there,” she called. “Or you shall have to sit in it for many days.” The door slammed shut, and she locked it with the key.
I cried myself to sleep that night worrying about my poor baby locked in that tiny dark space. As frigid as the winter was the summer burned with heat and in that tiny closet, he could be roasted alive.
The next day, Flower opened the door and pulled him out. He glared at her with his silver eyes and then held out his fat little arms to me.
“You are too kind to him,” Flower spat at me. “He is a horrid little Karut that should be thrown out on the street.”
“Come baby,” I said and fetched him a glass of water because he was too old now for a bottle though I would dearly have loved to sit with him on my lap; his head against my breast, watching him suck the bottle and pat my face as he did so. Senya returned to his chair but still he did not like it and climbed out again and again. The boys watched him but did not follow. Senya was returned to the closet again and again throughout the summer.
One day in the last month of summer, a man called upon us. Sister Moon sent for me.
“This fine gentleman is here to see Senya,” Sister Moon said, and I saw in her hand was another purse.
“Do you mean to adopt him?” I asked meekly for this gentleman was dressed in fine clothes and looked very wealthy. He was big with white blonde hair and very pale skin. I wished for Senya to be adopted by such a fine man, but my heart would be broken too.
“It is none of your business, Sister,” Moon snapped at me. “Go fetch the brat.”
Senya was in the closet, and so I had to first convince Flower to release him. I ran back and forth to Flower and Moon before the door was opened and then Senya crawled out. He was sweaty and covered in dust for the closet was never cleaned. I feared the fine gentleman would be distressed to see him in such a condition, so I quickly took him and bathed him. I dressed him in the clothes of a two year old, little pants and a shirt for he was certainly big enough and I was certain the gentleman did not wish to see him dressed only in our one year old sheath. I brushed Senya’s hair which was thick and wavy and shiny black like all Karuts. Then I took his hand, and we walked to the foyer where the fine gentleman sat waiting on a bench. He stood as we approached and looked down at the boy appraisingly. Then he squatted down on his haunches and held out his hand.
“Hello Senya,” he said.
Senya clutched my hand tightly but opened his eyes and gazed with his silver light upon the man. The gentleman raised his eyebrows and glanced briefly at me before turning his eyes back upon the boy.
“Are you a good boy, lad?”
“Not at all,” Sister Moon cackled. “He is a challenge to all of us.”
Senya hid behind my skirt. He didn’t like Sister Moon.
“Come now, Meri,” Sister Moon scolded. “Make him stand before our lord sir.”
I pushed Senya out from behind me and held him by the shoulders. The man touched the boy’s cheek and ran his hand across the soft shiny hair. Then he nodded and rose. “Thank you.” He turned to leave, but Senya had let go of me and instead held his arms up for the man. “Ah, my son,” the man said and picking up Senya, he hugged him tightly. There were tears in his eyes. “I can’t take you with me now. You have to stay here.”
“Are you his father?” I asked. Could it be his mother was the Karut?
“I must go,” the gentleman replied, handing Senya back to me. The boy perched on my hip and held his hand up in a little wave. The gentleman didn’t respond to my question.
As winter approached again, Senya was moved to the two year old room even though he had been with us slightly longer than a year and was probably only a few months older than one. He could toilet, dress, and feed himself with a spoon, so he did not need to sit in a chair or be tended to all day. My time was spent primarily with the infants and the ones, and so I did not see him often. He still spent an inordinate amount of time in the closet. He never complained when going in but rather seemed to prefer not to come out. He did not speak except to call me by name. Sister Moon feared he was of small brain and would never speak or learn a productive trade. He was beautiful though and everyone who gazed upon him agreed. This was unfortunate for him. As soon as he was old enough, he would be put to work in a trade where his beauty and silence were the only requirements.
As for me, the Father traded my favors with his friends in exchange for money or possessions. During the food shortage of the winter, I was traded for two loaves of bread. He said of me that I was ugly, but was good with my hands and mouth and therefore, worth more than a few pennies. The money from the gentleman’s summer purse was spent on more beautiful women, wines and chocolates and of course, a newer speeder.
The fine gentleman came every summer, and each time brought another purse. He stayed not more than a few moments, asking Senya of his health and whether or not he had been good. Senya did not speak and not since that first year did he wish to be held or hugged. He gazed warily with his brilliant eyes and nodded in response to the gentleman’s questions.
Our adoption day took place in the spring. We bathed and dressed our children in clothes kept just for this day. Then we lined them up in their rooms, which were scrubbed clean and couples looking for a child came through. All the girls were adopted on this day and some of the boys. Senya was sent to the closet. Year after year, I looked for him in each room and only when it was over, and all the new families had gone home did I find him. The Father didn’t want him adopted, Sister Moon told me. That would mean the end of his rich purses.
When Senya was with us six years, he was taken to the school room. He did not speak for the sister there and so it was decided that indeed he was of small brain and could not learn. I was fearful now. There was only one place he would go and already I saw the Father smiling and asking of him. The Father flush in new robes purchased with the coins from gentleman’s latest purse called me to him one evening and bid me bring Senya. It was winter again, and there was snow on the ground, and the windows were covered in ice that seeped through and left puddles on the floors of the nursery. I fetched Senya and holding his hand, walked with him through the back corridors to the Father’s study. I had been here many times, and at this hour I knew it would come to no good. I considered running away. I could steal a coat and some shoes for Senya for still he wore nothing on his poor ugly feet. We could run out into the snow and find shelter for the night and in the morning run far enough away from this place that we might come upon somewhere else to begin a new life. Perhaps I could take him all the way across the continent and from there take a boat to Karupatani and bring him to those people who surely would recognize him as one of their own. I did nothing though. I led him toward the back rooms because I was weak of heart and soul. My own body ached from the chill in the air which seeped into the marrow of my bones. I had no strength to run. I was weak and complied.
“There he is,” the Father said, opening the door of his great office. A fire burned in his hearth and instantly warmed my bones. There was brandy in cups upon a tray, and other foods, but I knew they were not for me. The Father gazed fondly at the boy as we entered and reached out to touch his beautiful black hair. Senya shirked away. The Father laughed.
“Let me teach you something, child,” he said taking Senya’s hand from my own and pulling him to the sofa. “You are too stupid to learn books. You are so dumb you cannot even speak. You are obviously of Karut blood and lower than a dog, and this is why your family pays me handsomely to hide their shame. You are beautiful, and because of that you may live, but there is naught you can do in this life save one thing. Meri and I will teach you how to do this and I will reward you. Isn’t that right, Meri?”
“Yes milord,” I replied even though my heart was trembling. Senya turned his silver gaze upon me and his brow furrowed.
“Come now,” the Father said, pulling tightly to Senya’s hand. “See what I have here.” He opened his robes to reveal his great and ugly manhood and placed Senya’s little hand upon it. “Meri, teach the boy what he must do.” Senya tried to pull away, but the Father held him fast. “You have one of these too, little Senya.” The Father reached for the boy’s crotch. “Yours is still small, but if I stroke it the same as you stroke me, we can make it stand tall too.”
Senya shook his head frantically and pushed himself away.
“Meri!” The Father ordered. “Make him obey, or I shall beat him.”
“No!” I cried. “Please Senya. Do as the Father says.” I had been beaten by the Father’s belt, and the pain lasted for days. This would all be over in a few moments as the Father was aged and had not the stamina of a younger man. I grasped Senya and pushed him close into the Father’s embrace. The Father shoved his hand into the boy’s pants, and Senya shrieked like an animal.
“Ah, there it is, and a very nice one too,” the Father said. “Come Meri; show him what you can do with mine.” I knelt before him and took him in my mouth. “See child, this is what you must learn to do. You will be very popular if you can pleasure as well as Meri. Good Sister Meri.”
Senya screeched again and lashed out with his hands. He scratched the Father’s face leaving long, deep tracks that seeped with blood. The Father roared. He slapped the boy hard sending him flying across the room. He hit me too though I was only doing my best to pleasure him. I fell down against the floor. Senya scrambled to his feet, and though he was quick, the Father trapped him and pushed him down.
“So you don’t like it that way, Karut?” The Father hissed, ripping the trousers off the child. “Maybe you’ll like it better this way. Are you pretty like a girl?”
“No,” I screamed. “No milord, please don’t do that.” I threw myself upon the Father’s back and pounded at him, but he shoved me away as I was weak and inconsequential. Senya cried and made horrible screeching noises, but I was powerless to help him. I closed my eyes and covered my ears, so I was not witness to this. I called to the Saint, and his Blessed Being shone upon me and compelled me to open my eyes again. My eyes searched the room as if they no longer belonged to me for I could not control where they looked. They seized upon the hearth, the fire burning brightly and the poker which stood immediately to the side. I believed I could grab the poker. I could take it and hit the Father across his back. I could hit his head. I clambered to my feet, but I faltered because I was weak and the Father had fed me and kept me warm and safe all these years. I was ashamed of myself for my weakness. I fell again to my knees, and I wept and prayed to the Saint for strength. As I wept, I saw the poker moving of its own accord, releasing itself from its holder and flying across the room. I saw it dive at the Father, pierce him and I heard him scream in agony as it became lodged in his body. His body collapsed, and blood poured from him. Senya scrambled out from beneath the Father. The silver light shone from his eyes as bright as the fire and for a moment, the face I had cherished since first I held him was unknown to me. For a moment, I saw the devil himself reflected therein and then it was gone, and I saw only my Senya. His was bleeding.
“Go in the washroom there!” I said and pointed to the door. I knelt down beside the Father. His eyes were open and wept as he dribbled blood from between his lips.
“Help me Meri,” he pleaded. He could not move. He was impaled upon the fireplace poker which flew across the room as the bottles flew from the warmer years ago when Senya was an infant. I realized now I had no choice. We had to run out into the snow and as far away as possible. I scrambled to the Father’s closets, and looked for a cloak to wrap Senya, and something for me, as well. When the boy emerged again from the washroom, I had found pins to hold his trousers together, a heavy fur lined cloak with a hood that hid his face and large fur lined boots that would not be destroyed by his claw like toenails. For myself, I had taken several blankets from the bed and three gold coins that lay upon the table there. I helped Senya with his boots and cloak and then taking his hand, I led him to the door at the rear of the chamber, though the Father with a weak and gasping breath cried for our help
“What are you doing?” I said when the boy loosened his grip from my hand. He hurried back toward the Father, his eyes ablaze with the wicked silver light.
“Help me child,” the Father wept.
Senya stood above the Father illuminating him with the light from his eyes. He held out his small fist and then opening his hand, he dropped something. The Father’s body erupted in flames.
“Senya!” I screamed as the smell of burnt flesh overwhelmed the room. The boy turned back to me and ran to my side. A moment later we were outside in the bitter cold, stepping upon drifts of snow that turned the night as light as day. There were no busses that ran in these hours so all we could do was walk, my own boots soaking through in short order and Senya tripping awkwardly in the garments far too large for his small body. We walked none the less and when the morning came, the snow still fell, but we were so far away that I felt safe enough to sit upon the steps of a building for a few moments to catch my breath.
“Do you think they will come after us?” I asked the boy.
“No,” the boy responded and I was surprised as this was the first word that he had spoken. A man came up the steps just then and looked upon us with disdain. He spat in the snow.
“Are ye here to rent the room?” He said.
I was struck dumb. I looked helplessly at the man.
“Aye,” Senya replied.
“Well come on then,” the man said and together we followed him into the building. We went up three floors, and he opened a door to a small flat with a kitchen, a toilet and a sitting room. There was an old couch with tears and stuffing coming from it, a chair and small table in the kitchen, and a bathtub that was filthy and would need a good scrubbing.
“Have ye got some coins?” The man asked, and I held out my hand with the three coins. “Three months ye get fer these,” he said. “Then I’ll expect ‘nother at the start of each month. Dun’t be late, or I’ll toss the both of ye out on the street.”
“Thank you sir,” I said. He looked at Senya for a moment and spat on my floor.
“Fucked a Karut, did ye? Spose that’s all that would want a lass as ugly as ye.” He shut the door behind him.
“We’ve got a flat,” I gasped and collapsed on the sofa. “We’re free, Senya!” The boy walked the length of the small room holding out his hand.
“It’s warm in here!” I cried joyously. Senya disappeared into the kitchen. “But we have nothing to eat and I have no more money.” Senya returned and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” I jumped up and smothered him in my arms. “Don’t leave me.”
“I’ll get ye some food,” he said in the Mishnese of the street. I was shocked because he spoke and at the song of his voice. He pulled away from me and left me alone standing there. I watched him go from the window of my flat. His eyes were hard and narrow, thin slits of sliver light. His face was set with a frown, and I thought myself a cruel woman to send this poor child out into the street in search of food because I was too stupid to hold onto my coin. I knew what I must do now to retrieve a coin and make more. It was what I was good at or so I had been told. I marched down the stair and to the flat where the name on the door said ‘Manager’. I knocked, and the man opened it to see me standing there.
“What do ye want,” he sneered as if he knew full and well.
“I need a coin to buy food,” I said.
“Yer an ugly Karut lover,” he replied but his door cracked open a few inches more.
“You won’t be disappointed,” I said. “If you are, you don’t have to give me the coin.” He smiled, and his teeth were yellow, and several were missing.
“Alright then,” he agreed. “Deals a deal.”
When Senya returned with his pockets full of coins, I had already set out fresh bread and soup. There was milk for him to drink, but I had not enough money for butter and eggs. He sat and drank the soup, and I asked where his coins came from.
“You didn’t get them the same way I did?” I asked fearfully. He shook his head and then showed me with his finger how he could make the coins lift from the table and dance and fly.
“You’re magical Senya,” I said. “The Saint has blessed you.”
He shook his head again, and his eyes flickered.
“Tis a curse.” He left me to go sleep in the bathtub wrapped in the Father’s fur cloak.
I was pleased because I was warm and my belly was full and for the first time in my life, I had a home that was all my own and a child who was nearly my own to love and care for. But I was fearful too. Senya spoke and though his words were sparse it was clear he was not of small brain but one who has seen and heard far more than his years. He lived with me for perhaps two years more sleeping in the bathtub wrapped in the fur cloak during the winter and on a blanket in the summer. He disappeared during the day or whenever I had a Chester to service, and then he returned at odd hours during the night, sometimes with scratches and bruises, sometimes with blood on his hands. Over time, his absences grew longer and longer until perhaps once a week or less, he returned to sleep in the bathtub. By the time the guardsman came looking for him, he did not stay with me at all. I saw him rarely, and that was only when I baked, and he would come looking for sweet treats or buns.