Amsterdam, 1616. Jana Beil, newly escaped from a brothel and long-accustomed to hardship, is desperate for safety. When she finds servant work for the Reynst family, she risks becoming comfortable—even allowing herself to fall in love with her employer’s daughter. But a shipwreck robs the family of everything, and Jana must decide just how far to pursue her clandestine love. Perhaps even across the world.
Three knocks on the door. I use the knuckle of my forefinger, quiet but distinct.
Theirs is the same dark green door of the other houses in the Herengracht. Black shutters on the windows and small, red bricks. Unlike the others, cheerful blue crocuses line the doorstoep. The blooms slant toward the sun, opening like little mouths to the light, reminding me of my sister Hlaska when she was hungry for havermout and milk in the morning.
When I see such flowers in our gray city, I think their planting is generous. Color to break up all this dimmed sky. The petunias in boxes at windowsills, hyacinths and hydrangeas in pots outside doors. Little gifts. To beggars and fishmongers and soldiers and sailors trudging the streets, surviving.
To girls like me, seeking escape.
My stomach makes its hunger noises, and I hope the growling stops before I speak to the owner of this house. I’ve not eaten in two days. No sourgrass here in Amsterdam and I’m too ashamed to beg from the merchants, afraid of what they may ask for in return, afraid of being sent to the Spinhuis for begging.
My neck is still bruised near my nape. Blue thumbprints on my hips. I feel scraped out from my hunger, and my bones pull like dull blades against my skin.
Unhurried steps approach the door.