She looked at her watch to see time move. Soon it would be time to defend her status as a UP – Useful Person of the Realm. She looked in the mirror and smoothed her gray hair. THAT would count against her. Old gray mare.
The five Realm Masters sat at a long polished table, the dim sun from the windows caught no dust motes, made no shine on the clean floor. Work of time and other Useful Persons – the dulling and the polishing.
“What have you to say for yourself?” the Master in the Middle asked her.
“Ipickupbrokenglassintheriver,andnailsintheroad.” She had practiced saying it in the mirror. But she said it too fast.
“Don’t speak so fast, you waste our time by having to repeat yourself. Don’t speak slowly either,” said the Master on the far right.
“I pick up broken glass in the river, and nails in the road, your honor.
“What are you paid for that?”
“A week-old poppyseed bun, every other day, your honor.”
“Hah!” said the Master on the left. “I don’t know as I’d think that was worth it, just to be alive.”
She smiled at him. “Oh, some of the glass is very pretty!”
“And I suppose you’d say that the nails might cause injury.”
“Yes,” she said eagerly. Might this Master be sympathetic?
“Except for the fact, Person, that no-one has tires and no-one has bare feet, except for Useful – and UNuseful – Persons. Expendable, and I rather like making bread pudding with the stale buns. Add eggs, milk, raisins and sugar.”
She caught the drool that started down the side of her mouth. Eggs, milk, raisins. Sugar!
The Masters huddled toward the center. They appeared to be conferring, but she could hear them saying “Raspberry raspberry raspberry,” just like crowds on the stage. Finally the Master in the Middle spoke.
“Carry on, then, but try to find something more useful before your next hearing.”
“Thank you, Masters of the Realm.” She backed away, careful not to scuff the floor. Maybe she should crawl out, with her knees under her skirts polishing the wood as she went. Maybe she should catch that wasp that had somehow found its way into the Hall of the Realm, and would sting someone. She thought it might be worth another bun, today perhaps. She reached out and caught the wasp. She felt it vibrating, preparing to stab her hand.
“What is that you are trying to take away from the Great Hall?” asked one of the Masters.
“A wasp, your honor, a wasp that might have stung one of you.”
“That wasp, you silly Useless Person, is my particular favorite wasp of all the wasps in the realm. I have trained it to fly about and look fanciful.”
The Master stood up behind the table. He was just barely taller than the table itself. He shouted at her, “Let the Wasp of the Realm go free!”
She opened her swelling hand. The Wasp of the Realm, drunk on her useful blood, spread his wings and flew away. She was able to bow and get out of the door and get back out to the street before collapsing. She could see a nail just inches from her face; if only she could just reach out and get it.