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Margyth picked up a heavy tome from the table. The cover, thin wood wrapped in intricately embossed leather, was dark and shiny from the touch of many fingers. She had to put it away along with everything else: scrolls, maps, clear vellum, rulers, quills, etc. etc. Then she would wipe the tables clean, top up all the ink wells, sweep the floor and put the chairs in order. She had already prepared  a load of  seasoned ash logs to go into the fireplace, but lighting the fire wasn't her responsibility. She looked at the widow. The morning was growing old, she had to get on with it.


She was tired today. Yesterday wasn't a good day and she didn't sleep last night. She felt it too, with every muscle stiff and her eye-lids heavy. She picked up a broom and started sweeping. If she hadn't been such a silly moo yesterday, nothing would have happened and she wouldn't be tired today. She swept more furiously. Did she really have to go to the Inn? Yes, she did, she reminded herself, she had to deliver an order from Mr Willow, but did she really have to buy tea and pretend to be a woman of the world? Well, no, of course she didn't. She liked that place too much, she chided herself, and it was doing things to her head. She laughed at that poor man. She actually laughed! Admittedly, she didn't see his face at first, because he sat on the floor and a straw hat was obscuring his features completely, but he sang to himself and, yes, it made her giggle, because she did that sometimes as well, and it was silly, wasn't it?  Why didn't she look at him properly first? That was all she had to do: look!


She moved the chairs out of the way to get all the dust and crumbled pipe-weed from under the tables and bent down to reach there with her broom. She was clumsy too. She splashed him with water at the fountain as if she had been a careless child. It was then that she saw his face for the first time, and it was… She closed her eyes and stopped sweeping for a moment, pity squeezing her chest. He looked awful! And then his reaction? He apologized to her for his looks! She choked up at the memory. He knew she had laughed and just accepted it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. There was resignation in his voice. She went down on her knee to reach a piece of rubbish stuck under one of the table legs. She would have preferred him to whack her on the head with that scythe of his… No, maybe not whack, she corrected herself, it was a big scythe and she didn't really want her bones broken, but he could have shouted and chased her off, or he could have said something at least. She still would have felt guilty but it would have been better to see him angry… As it was, he answered with quiet resignation and… kindness. And his eyes? She had only added to the forlorn look in them. And on top of everything he became concerned about her safety. Of all people, he was concerned… She shook her head. As if he didn't have enough on his plate already.


She got out from under the table and moved to the next one. He called himself Scarecrow. Or… people called him that and he accepted it. She couldn't bring herself to repeating that horrible name out loud and he didn't have any other name to give her. She finished sweeping and pushed all the chairs under the tables. She probably would never see him again in this big town and even if she did, what could she do for him? He looked able enough to fend for himself. She inspected the big room with a frown. She imposed her own company on him yesterday. She felt so guilty that she didn't read the signs. He kept quiet most of the time and she just... She closed her eyes, the prickly feeling of shame spilled from the top of her head.


She stiffened hearing footsteps at the top of the stairs but it was only Mrs Adler, the caretaker. Margyth curtsied.


"You were late this morning," Mrs Adler admonished her. "I thought we discussed the timekeeping when I hired you."


"'M sorry," mumbled the girl. "I've done everything though."


The caretaker looked around. "And lucky for you or you wouldn't come here tomorrow. Still, it's half your rate today, for being late, and I'm cutting your money down by a quarter from tomorrow onwards. Can't keep the existing rates - the prices are going up." She dropped half a piece into Margyth's hand.


Margyth stared at the money. "It's not enough," she whispered.


The caretaker shrugged. "Don't like the pay? Find a different job. There's plenty who'd kiss my hands for earning half of what I give you. And now, run along, girl. I don't want to see you here when the academics confer."


Dazed, with a hollow feeling in her stomach, Margyth grabbed her backpack came out into the sunny street. Half was too little… half was too little.