Welcome back to another Worldbuilding Wednesday! I’m doing something different with these posts. I decided to write a story and blog how I do the worldbuilding as I go. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll edit and proofread it and then publish it as normal for people to read. Onwards to the story!
So where did we leave off last week?
“Other than Chinese, yes,” Piyari replied. Her blush brightened as she half bowed to Nabeela, as demure as she could be. “If I can help translate things I’d be delighted to. Or whatever tasks you choose for me. I’m willing to learn whatever you and Lord Bilal think are appropriate.”
She looked up through her lashes, smiling that little smile that made Nabeela’s heart skip a beat. Nabeela grinned at her. They were most definitely going to have fun. Even if all they did was flirt it was nice to have someone who didn’t find Nabeela’s forceful personality to be inappropriate.
Over the years, Nabeela had lost count of how many people had made mock-concerned comments about her gender. Some seemed honestly concerned that she’d been raised to be a boy when she was actually a girl. Others were more annoyed that a girl would be as forceful and demanding as her brothers. They were the ones that tended to decide that Nabeela was a boy who’d been raised as a girl. Either form of mis-gendering was infuriating. Tiring.
Nabeela did what she had to because she was in the line of descent. The standards that she had to follow were different than what Piyari and other women had. That’s all there was to it.
“I’ll never say no to a bit of flirting,” Nabeela said just to watch Piyari blush and cover her face with her hands. “But I doubt that there will be much romantic going on. We’re all…”
She sighed, unsure what to say. Mother’s death was so recent, Father’s illness so severe, that it was hard to even think about it, much less talk about it.
Right, I left off last week with questions about how the household would be handling mourning for Lord Bilal’s wife. The internet was marginally helpful initially in giving me the outline of how mourning is handled in Pakistani culture. My friend was more helpful and gave me pointers on what to search for.
Traditionally, there are specific customs followed for they dying and deceased. The body is washed and wrapped simply, taken to the graveyard and buried. Prayers are said. After the funeral there’s a mourning period with fairly limited expectations placed on the mourning family. People do come to offer their condolences for days or weeks. But the requirements are quite limited compared to what other religions require. Buddhists will continue to say prayers for their deceased relatives for as much as 40 years, after all.
Since Piyari / Shizuka was raised with the Buddhist expectations she’ll likely be surprised that there isn’t more obvious mourning going on. That helps me continue the scene even though I will be altering things to match this AU as I go on, of course.
Nabeela started as Piyari hesitantly put her hand on top of Nabeela’s wrist. Her eyes were dark with concern.
“What can I do to help?” Piyari asked.
“There isn’t much to do, honestly,” Nabeela said ruefully. “Mother died over a month ago. I don’t know if you heard…?” Piyari shook her head no. “Well, it was during that really bad storm, the one that lasted for days and caused so much flooding. Mother and Father had been out checking on our villages, making sure that everyone was safe despite the rain. They crossed a bridge just as a fallen tree struck the supports. It collapsed under them.”
Nabeela took a deep breath, well aware that she was shaking. It had been such a horrible day, week. The entire month, actually. Piyari’s fingers slid down to squeeze Nabeela’s hand comfortingly. That helped enough that Nabeela brushed her tears way.
“Mother was swept out of the carriage,” Nabeela continued. Her voice shook despite her efforts to keep it steady. “Her body was found four days later downstream with the driver’s body. Father was pinned. He broke several ribs and nearly drowned. The near drowning gave him a nasty cold that developed into pneumonia. He’s only just getting his strength back now.”
“I’m so sorry,” Piyari whispered. “We had bad mudslides during the storm. The hills are still too unstable for the potter in town to dig for fresh clay. Can I help with the mourning rites?”
“Ah, they’re already over,” Nabeela said, blinking several times in surprise. “By Islamic law we’re not allowed to mourn excessively.”
“Oh!” Piyari gasped, so surprised that Nabeela kept a good grip on her hand so that she didn’t pull back and away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that. Buddhist traditions are more involved. Father’s still saying prayers for his father’s soul.”
“The local Japanese enclave is still mourning Mother,” Nabeela said with a little nod. “I’m supposed to go down and visit sometime in the next day or two. That’s a lot of what my brothers and I are doing right now, helping our people mourn Mother’s loss. She was… very popular with the people. She was half Chehalis so people identified strongly with her.”
Piyari lit up at that, smiling so brightly that it let Nabeela push the pain and loss away once again. It was hard to tell sometimes but Nabeela thought that perhaps Piyari had some native blood as well as the obvious Japanese.
“Mother is native,” Piyari said very softly, very happily. “I’m not supposed to say which tribe. Their Majesties were quite firm about that. But she is. We were raised in both traditions though I’m more comfortable with Shinto. My youngest sister is far more comfortable with our native traditions.”
“I shouldn’t ask,” Nabeela said, one thumb rubbing over the back of Piyari’s hand, “but why are you a slave? What happened?”
“My father is… was? We don’t know,” Piyari said with a sad little sigh. “He was a glass blower. He did globes for fishermen’s nets, drinking glasses, anything people wanted. But there was an accident and a globe exploded. It hurt him very badly, took one eye, and killed two of his assistants outright. The medical bills were very bad and we don’t know if Father will ever be able to return to work so…”
I’m not entirely certain that I’m going to keep Mori as a glass blower. It’s not a complicated technology. It’s been around for a very long time. But I’m not completely comfortable with that as a choice for his occupation because I really don’t know that much about glass blowing. More research may solve that uneasiness without having to change anything.
The other ideas I thought of were potter, which most certainly can have kiln disasters, logger / wood carver, or hunter. All of them have the potential to cause life threatening injuries that would require medical treatment.
Which brings up another point of worldbuilding. This world has no magic. It also has very little medicine. I’d place the level of medical knowledge somewhere around the Civil War era. Antibiotics are basically unknown, except among the most educated circles. Actually safe and effective medical treatments are quite rare.
This means that both Mori and Lord Bilal are healing up with not much more than first aid. Infection is a major risk for Mori. Lord Bilal faces risks from the complications from his pneumonia. At least he’s at the highest levels of society so he does have a doctor who can provide antibiotics and effective pain killers. Mori didn’t have those until Shizuka agreed to become a slave.
His chances of survival immediately rose once she did.
Nabeela stared at her until Piyari’s cheeks turned bright red and she turned away. Even with her head turned away Nabeela could see the shy smile on her lips. Once again, her heart skipped a beat. She really had to stop that. There was no guarantee that Nabeela would be allowed to keep Piyari close.
“I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to do that,” Nabeela said.
“But you’re so bold,” Piyari protested. Her brown eyes went wide with surprise. “You wouldn’t have any problems with it.”
“No, I’m really not,” Nabeela said. “I know I seem that way but I have my father and brothers close to keep me safe. I would be terrified to go off somewhere new, where no one even knows my name. You’re very strong to do this.”
Piyari pulled her hand out of Nabeela’s grip so that she could hide her face in both hands again. It was so cute that Nabeela laughed and patted Piyari’s knee. Hopefully they would be allowed to work together. Her demureness would make a very nice contrast to Nabeela’s more forceful nature.
After a moment Piyari dropped her hands. She was still blushing brightly and smiling as if the compliment had pleased her to no end. Before Nabeela could flirt some more Piyari took a deep breath and looked around the slave quarters.
“Where will I be sleeping?” Piyari asked.
Nabeela resisted the urge to say ‘in my bed’ and stood so that she could move one of the cushions aside. “There are storage bins under the seats. We keep the blankets and pillows inside. I think that the last occupants left a few little projects that they were working on in their spare time.”
“Oh, that’s lovely,” Piyari said so happily that Nabeela couldn’t help but laugh. “No, but it is! I was wondering where everything was stored. The shelves don’t seem large enough for everything that would be needed.”
And that means I need to stop and do some thinking / research. What would be in the slave quarters? What sorts of things would they need to have access to? What sorts of ‘personal projects’ would the previous slaves have left behind?
Well, since Shizuka / Piyari isn’t an actual slave in the traditional sense, it makes sense that she would be allowed to accumulate some personal belongings while she was there. That would likely include simple things like combs and brushes, as well as changes of clothing and underwear. Given the weather at the Breding mansion, there are probably nice cozy blankets and coats for the slaves to wear while they’re in their quarters.
I doubt that they’d be allowed to cook much of anything. Food would be supplied to them. But that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have little cast iron pots for special occasions and maybe they have some bowls and plates that they use and take care of for themselves. I rather like the idea of their making kintsukuroi, which is the process of fixing broken pottery by filling the broken cracks with gold or silver. I also think that they’d make little gifts like this bag or or this little boy acrobat. Those are called Omiyage in Japanese, FYI. I do think that they would happily make sashiko blankets, pillows and coats for themselves.
Making something beautiful out of cast off or unimportant things is a logical activity for the slaves’ private time. That’s what they’re attempting to do with their lives, after all.
So, that lets me write the last bit of this chapter. I only need another 300-500 words to finish it out and then switch onwards to Ammad’s point of view.
Piyari got up and stacked all the cushions in the middle of the room so that she could go through the storage bins to see what was there. After a second Nabeela helped her. This was certainly much more fun than going out and dealing with the various mourners who would be in the mansion or the politicians who seemed to believe that Father should keep working even as he healed.
“Oh!” Piyari gasped as they pulled out a wonderfully thick quilt covered with bold white embroidery. It was easily three inches thick and heavy enough that it was a strain to hold it up. “Sashiko!”
“Is that what this is called?” Nabeela asked. “I see the women working on it in the village but I’ve never dared ask about it.”
“Mm-hmm,” Piyari said, hugging the quilt. “My grandmother, my father’s mother, taught me how to do it. Was this provided?”
“Oh no,” Nabeela said. “One of the slaves has to have sewn it. We didn’t provide them anything but simpler blankets.”
She rummaged through one of the other bins and came up with several blankets that were almost normal. Someone had sewn protective covers over the ends as if they had gotten worn there. The stitches there were sloppier than the ones in the center of one of the blankets. Someone had stitched on an applique of a trillium that was beautifully done.
While Nabeela had been doing that, Piyari had moved onto other bins, finding broken bowls and plates that the slaves had repaired as well as a little stack of bits of fabric that she exclaimed over. Nabeela put the blankets back before joining Piyari as she cooed at the bits of fabric.
“What are they?” Nabeela asked.
“Someone was making omiyage,” Piyari explained. “See? This folded this way and stitched will make a flower petal. And this little bag is almost done. They must have forgotten them.”
“I would be willing to bet that they left them behind for whoever came after them,” Nabeela said. She laughed as Piyari blushed and huffed at her. “No, really! I know that the batch before the last one left things behind. They said so as they left. And I think it’s a tradition. Sort of… a way to welcome whoever is new, even if you never meet them.”
Piyari ducked her head so that her beautiful hair hid her face for a moment. When she lifted her face again a moment later she had tears shining in her eyes. She bobbed her head while briefly biting her lip. Nabeela’s traitor heart skipped another beat.
Hopefully Piyari would stay with them for a long time, learning many things. This was the first time in a very long time that Nabeela had felt so comfortable with another person, much less another woman. It was… nice.
“Why don’t you show me how that will go together?” Nabeela asked. “My embroidery is pretty bad but this looks like fun.”
“If you’d like, Mistress,” Piyari said so happily as she brushed the tears away that Nabeela felt a bit guilty about the selfish request.
“I would,” Nabeela said. “But you can’t laugh at how bad my sewing is.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Piyari said. She squeaked and then giggled as Nabeela rolled her eyes dramatically. “Oh dear. Well, let’s see what you can do, shall we, Mistress?”
I think that’s a good spot to end this chapter. :D Next week we’ll come back with Ammad’s point of view and the start of the next chapter. Thanks for reading!
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