The horses sped up as they got close to the gate. This time, Mélanie could watch – the house, the horses, the creepy-looking gate, the whole thing. She found she was smiling.
Jasper grinned at her in turn. “Not so frightening now, is it?”
“In my defense–” she rolled her eyes at him “–you’ve more than admitted that you wanted the house to be scary. That it ate people’s minds and you’ve never said that it didn’t.”
“Well, it’s more like turned off for a couple minutes. You said with your people from your town it lasted longer than that?”
“At least a few days. It was very strange.”
“That is indeed. I’ll have to figure that out at some point. But you — As I said, if I’d known you knew about the house’s reputation, I would’ve warned your much more beforehand.”
“It’s all right, it’s all right. Just don’t….” She wrinkled her nose. “I mean, it seems — unfair to tease me about being scared when you did it on purpose?”
“It is, you’re right.” He kissed her forehead as the gates opened for them. “So do you really want to clean?”
“I do. I’ll start with the back, but it seems — well, she’s a really beautiful house, or she could be, if she was allowed to be. I think we ought to — well.” She cleared her throat. “You’re the boss.”
“I noticed. But if you want to clean, I’ll help you. Let’s load this stuff into the loot room and the kitchen, and then we can do some cleaning. Okay?”
“You are definitely the strangest owner I have ever had.”
“I will take that as a compliment.” He stole a kiss and hopped out of the wagon. “Do you want to take care of the horses or the goods?”
“Horses, of course.”
“Of course. All right. I’ll meet you in the back of the house in a few minutes, then.”
She talked to the horses as she got them settled, brushed them, petted them, and made sure they knew they were very good horses indeed. They seemed pretty content as she let them out into their little pasture, high-stepping and curvetting like they were foals again.
She stopped in the kitchen for buckets and soap and brushes, even though she could do a lot of this easier with magic. “We’re going to wash your back – side? Oh, that’s not right. Your back wall today, okay?”
The house didn’t answer, but another bottle of soap floated out to join the first one, and a couple brushes on poles.
“Thank you. Do you happen to know if you have a ladder?”
A door she hadn’t been through opened on the side of the kitchen, heading towards the back of the house. Mélanie peered in and down a dark, narrow hallway. “I can’t go anyplace Jasper hasn’t taken me,” she sighed. She had almost forgotten that order. “But I’ll go get him and he can get us a ladder. Oh! Hrrm, we used to use newspaper for drying–“
A pile of newspaper flew out of the nearly-dark hallway and landed in her arms. She laughed. “Thank you. I take it this meets with your approval, then.”
She carried her armloads of things to the back of the house, humming little Workings at the almost-totally-invisible path as she did so. The grass wandered off from the edges of the stones, revealing a very pretty flagstone path meandering towards the back garden or, at least, the back of the house where a garden may have once been inside the mostly-ruined little filigree fence.
The path stopped at a broken gate. She wrinkled her nose. Fixing gates was not really something she was great at.
“Jasfe Unutu, Eperu, θύρα,” Jasper called from just behind her. She managed not to whirl around.
“Sorry,” he apologized anyway. “I stopped to check on the chickens and the, uh, odd bird. Wow. I didn’t even know the house had all these cleaning supplies.”
“I didn’t either,” she admitted. “But I guess the house likes the idea. Oh, there’s a hall she says there’s a stepladder in, but-“
A back door swung open and stairs folded out from it. Mélanie looked at the door with narrowed eyes.
“That was not there before.”
“No, but maybe there’s a ladder in there.” Jasper climbed up the stairs as a portico slid out of the siding to cover him and the stairway. “I’ve never seen this hall before, but it makes sense. There’s a mud room back here of sorts, all sorts of garden tools. Here’s the ladder.”
He came out a moment later to find Mélanie still staring at the door. “What? Oh. She hasn’t done that in a long time, I know. But sometimes it happens when something is needed. Like, I suppose, if we’re cleaning the back of the house.”
“So… now she has a back door?”
“Now she has a back door,” he agrees. “I always approve of extra ways to get out of a house, even one that is definitely on my side. Hopefully definitely on my side.” He patted the house affectionately. “All right, where do we start?”
“You’re in char — on the left. We’ll wash the outside of windows after we’ve done all the siding and see if there’s anything that needs repair.” She carried her buckets and gear to the left side, where the windows politely remained windows.
“Aye aye.” Jasper was grinning widely as he followed her, the stepladder over his shoulder.
“Oh… you.” She patted the house gently. “We’re going to start washing you now. Hold on.”Want more?