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‘It looks so real, but I wondered why I could touch it,’ I murmur.
Fear flashes through her chocolate-brown eyes.
‘I need you to trust me. You must never tell anyone else you can do that. Always use a loom to weave – try not to do it without one, even when you are alone.’
I raise my eyebrows. Her words remind me of the boy from the prison and his admonition to play dumb. They are keeping me alive, these kind tips from mysterious strangers. I consider telling her about my slip at testing, and that I’m sure Cormac already knows, but I’m not sure what good it would do.
‘So they’re like vlip screens then?’ I clarify.
‘Almost exactly, but much higher-tech than the ones available for home use. The images are more realistic.’
She’s right. I had thought it was a real window before I touched it and found it was so easy to manipulate. Something’s bothering me though about how I changed the rainstorm. ‘If someone else were to touch it, would they be able to change it?’
‘I’ve never seen anyone do that before,’ she admits. ‘Every Spinster here works the weave on looms. That’s why you can’t tell anyone about what I saw you do. Do you understand?’
I’m not certain how my weaving skills could possibly be dangerous to me now that I’m already locked away in the Coventry, but I nod that I will keep quiet about it.
‘Smart girl,’ she breathes and then pops back onto her heels – back to business. ‘Your stylists can be expected to arrive at seven-thirty. Please be bathed by then. That isn’t their job. Should you require someone to wash you, I will appoint a hand servant.’
‘To wash me?’ I repeat in disbelief. ‘In case I don’t know how?’
My incredulity is rewarded by a short, amused laugh. ‘Some Spinsters prefer that someone else . . .’
‘Do their dirty work?’
‘Something like that.’ Enora grins, and I feel trust growing roots in my belly. Despite my best attempts to remain wary and detached, I like Enora. Maybe this is how they’ll break me – by giving me a friend.
‘Valery is your primary aesthetician,’ she says. ‘She’s kind and she won’t make you look ridiculous.’
I study Enora’s delicate face and hair. ‘Is she your stylist?’
‘She was . . .’ She hesitates as though this subject is painful. Or maybe just off-limits. ‘You will be in training for the next month,’ she continues.
‘It takes that long?’ I ask, picking apart small cakes to remove dried fruits and nuts.
‘For some,’ she says with a shrug. ‘Others are cleared more quickly, but everyone gets at least a month to prove herself.’
‘And if I don’t prove myself?’
Enora bites her lip and pretends to inspect the shoes lining the carts displaying my new wardrobe.
‘Will I go to work making clothes for the other Spinsters?’ I ask, sounding too hopeful.
‘Yes, some do, but others become servants here at the Coventry.’
‘They get to do the literal dirty work,’ I murmur. The hierarchy is clearer now, and I understand why it’s important to fall into place.
‘Yes, it happens. Many Eligibles find the amount of stress that naturally comes with weaving to be too much. Their work lacks the focus and precision necessary in a Spinster.’
I hate to admit it, but this makes sense. You don’t want someone with shaky hands working with the weave. It’s so delicate that it could be disastrous. ‘But how do we learn?’
‘To weave?’ she asks.
‘Yes.’ I bite my lip. ‘What if I make a mistake?’
‘Well, I’m not terribly worried about your ability, but you will be monitored. Spinsters follow close patterns established by the Creweler. Once you’ve spent some time on the practice sections and learned the various patterns, the work is fairly simple. It will be a while before you advance to ripping and altering.’
‘Ripping?’ The word scratches across my tongue. I’m not sure I want to know what it means.
‘It’s not as bad as it sounds,’ Enora says, but her voice is unconvincing. ‘It merely refers to removing weak or brittle threads.’
‘By “threads”, you mean people?’
There’s a slight pause before she says, ‘Yes.’
‘So when you rip, you’re killing someone?’ I remember my mother crying outside my grandmother’s hospital room after a stern nurse sent us away for a moment; we never saw my grandmother again.
‘It’s much more humane than what used to happen,’ Enora continues, her warm chocolate eyes misting over a little. ‘In the past, people watched their loved ones die, and then buried their bodies.’
‘What happens to people when they’re ripped?’ I whisper, recalling my grandmother’s fragile hand squeezing mine tightly before we were sent to the hallway, still so strong.
‘Honestly, I don’t know,’ she says. ‘I’m sorry, it’s just not my department.’
It’s obvious from the tone of her voice. This conversation is over.
‘You’ve mentioned the Creweler twice,’ I say, shifting topics and hoping she’s game to answer a few more questions. ‘What exactly does she do?’
Enora smiles and something about the way her eyes dull tells me this is going to be a rehearsed answer. ‘The Creweler helps the Guild harvest raw materials for the weave of Arras, and she guides our own work.’