lørdag den 30. april 2011

Chapter 1, part 4

The doctor announced that Catherine had broken her arm and that anything else would quickly heal with a bit of rest. He had cleaned a wound on her forehead and bandaged her arm carefully, then left her in the care of the Peggs. Mrs. Pegg insisted that she stay with them until 'things were sorted out' and Catherine did not have the energy to decline. She fell asleep very soon after, leaving the Peggs to discuss their plans.

In the meantime, Martha Emerson sat in her kitchen. A single candle burned on the table, its light helped along by the weak flames of the fire in the herd. Her twin children had been sent to bed early. She was trying to get her thoughts together, to understand what had happened to her life. She had badly hurt a girl she had been raising as her own. Well, not as her own, really, but in theory. As much as the girl's presence continued to disturb her, like a small cut on a right hand finger, she had never wanted to really hurt her.

It was not the girl's fault that she existed, Martha knew that. But she still despised her with every fibre of her being. All she wanted was to forget.

Her future had looked very bright when she was young. Her family had earned quite a lot of money during the years leading up to the end of her childhood, making them suddenly relatively high standing citizens. Or at least put them a great deal higher than they had ever been before. She had always been a pretty girl, and as she matured, she'd grown into somewhat of a beauty, earning her a nice amount of proposals. She had been married off to Jan just before she turned twenty, and it had been as good as perfect. He had been fairly young as well, just slightly less wealthy than her own father but well on his way to earning a good fortune doing business with traders from faraway countries.

When they didn't have children even after the first few years, he had started cooling towards her, as if the lack of heirs was something she was causing to spite him. She had been furious, of course, and had spent week after week in her parent's home, crying to her mother. He had been even less happy with her after she started that little habit, and soon they barely spoke. The chance of their producing an heir fell even further. Seven years after their wedding, their marriage had been on paper only. They only met on important occasions and rarely succeeded to look like a couple in public.

Then her parents had died, one after the other, of the same fever. She had been forced to go back to her own home as her brother sold their parents' house. Her husband's business that had seemed so promising, had shrivelled and was as good as gone. He still worked hard to make things work out, but his demeanour had changed and his luck was gone. He had not been happy to have her around and had done his best to leave her alone. When they finally tried talking about their issues, he had shocked her to the core when he suggested that they have another woman carry them an heir.

He'd apologised and even begun to warm up towards her after that. She had still been beautiful and young enough that she felt that she deserved his reverence more than anything, and finally receiving it was like a healing balm to the ache in her chest. For six months, things had looked brighter than ever despite her mourning of her parents. She had begun thinking about other options, like adopting a poor, little orphan, when she had realised that she would no longer have to.

She had wanted to keep the good news to herself, but Jan had sensed her excitement right away, and in the end she had told him that she was in a family way.
She had expected him to be at least as happy as she was, probably even more as he was the one who wanted children so badly, but instead his face fell. He had not wanted to talk to her for a long time, making her feel more lost than ever before. For the sake of her health, she had kept quiet and thought of more pleasant things.

A few months before she expected to deliver, her husband had come home late. His face had been stricken with something that looked like grief but could also have been regret or even anger. Before she could ask him anything he had, most uncharacteristically, broken into tears and fallen to his knees, begging her for forgiveness. At first she had thought he meant to repair the renewed gap between them and had almost been happy. Then, as she listened to his ramblings, it became clear what he had done.

The mother had been a poor farmer's daughter, who had accepted his indecent proposal out of need. She had died giving birth to a tiny, long limbed infant covered in black hair that had been named after her. The infant was with a wet-nurse in town. He wanted them to raise her together with her child.

She had, of course, never forgiven him. She had at times pretended to have warm feelings form him once more, for the sake of the children, but no matter how much he pleaded or how many declarations of love and faithfulness he gave her, she never accepted, choosing instead to punish him with her silent, suffering looks and her mistreatment of his bastard daughter. She had never been kind to the girl, often punishing her harder than necessary and always letting her work hard to earn her food. The girl called her mother in the continued belief than it was the truth, but it only made Martha despise her more.

But what she had done this afternoon was still unforgivable. The girl was still fifteen, still a child, and she had no excuse. Her guilt and anger tormented her, and in the end, both were focused towards her husband, as usual, who had just sent her a message announcing that he would be home before the week was over. She shuddered.

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fredag den 29. april 2011

Chapter 1, part 3

When Catherine entered the house, her half sister, Lillian, was sitting in the kitchen eating her breakfast. She was wearing a new dress that fit her well and made her look older somehow, her long hair had been carefully combed and braided. She smiled sweetly at Catherine.

“Mum says you stole, Cat,” she said, wiping the crumbs from her mouth. Catherine ignored her and remained standing in the door. Her sister did not let the lack of response discourage her. She rose from her seat and walked towards the door.

“You know, you could just have told me if you needed money.” She drew closer and stuck her hand in the pocket of her white apron. There was a jingle of coins. Catherine eyed her with growing suspicion. Even though the twins were pretty spoiled, they were not given money to keep for themselves, not unless there had been a special occasion. Lillian watched her reaction and her smile grew wider.

“I found these just this morning. There's plenty to lend you a bit if you need it that badly, sister.”

All Catherine's thoughts of standing up for herself in front of her step mother vanished. The rage that had filled her found itself at new direction, and she felt as though she was no longer in control of her won actions. She was looking on from the outside as her body lunged forward and tackled the blonde girl in front of her. Her arms flailing about as she did her best to inflict as much damage as possible before grabbing on to Lillian's hair and pulling on it. She had hoped that it would be easier to rip it out, but it did not give before she used her feet to kick off her sibling and stumble backwards. Lillian had been to surprised to protect herself from the first attack, but she soon came to her senses and did her best to fight back. Lillian was taller and heavier, but Catherine was by far the strongest. There was a moment of silence.

Catherine was still clutching long, blonde strands of hair, Lillian was staring at them in shock, slowly raising her hands to the bleeding spots on her head. Then she screamed and attacked. This time Catherine was unprepared. She felt like she had been returned to her own body, and the soft lengths in her hands were disgusting and choking at the same time. She could not believe what she had just done.

Lillian grabbed her around the waist and they fell, Catherine's head slamming into the hard stone floor. She tasted blood as she struggled against the other girl's grip and did her best to hit her in the face. She was to busy screaming to hear their mother enter the room. Only as Lillian stopped fighting and started sobbing pitifully, and she managed to a hard kick in her stomach that caused her to fall against the wall, did she realise that something was wrong. There was another quiet moment, apart from the sharp intake of breath from behind her and the sobs from her sister. Then a storm was released in the small kitchen.

Her mother grabbed her arms and shook her violently. She could feel her teeth clattering and felt a trickle of blood or saliva run down her chin. Her mother was screaming at her, face red with fury. She did not listen. It was, essentially, nothing she had not heard before. How dared she, who did she think she was, she was nothing but an ungrateful bastard whore-child. She did her best to keep her eyes to the floor, but as her mother continued to jerk her arms back and forth, she found it difficult to keep her head steady.

Next thing she knew, she was being pulled toward the door. She was slightly relieved to hear that she was still allowed, or expected, to stay in the barn. At least she would not have to worry about sleeping on the street. A stream of air around her was the only warning as she was shoved down the short stairs. She did not have time to protect herself against the cobblestones of the yard before her face hit them with a crunch. A red flash before her eyes, then pain, told her that she had not come away from the encounter unhurt. She could not seem to find her limbs, yet alone move them, so she contended herself remaining on the stones. They were more comfortable than she would have imagined now that she was no longer slamming against them.

She vaguely registered voices all around her, most of them sounding upset. Some of them seemed to belong to bystanders who had no idea what had happened, at least I her mothers responses were anything to go by. Her hearing began to clear up, and she had a feeling that her vision would have done the same by the time she opened her eyes, but more importantly, her nerves were now working very hard to show her just how badly hurt she was. A moan escaped her as her head began to pound, then a small, surprised cry of pain as she tried to support herself on her arm.

Arms supported her, and the pain seemed to shift as the people who were now carrying her walked forwards. She still had her eyes closed, but she could tell they were taking her away from the house. After an impossibly long walk, she was put down on a soft surface and finally opened her eyes, only to shut them firmly close against the light that stirred up her headache again. She had been brought to the Peggs' house and it seemed that someone wanted her to stay and wait for a doctor to arrive. Before she could protest, a woman, Catherine could not remember her name as the family had only just moved there, put her hand on hers and spoke to her in a firm voice.

“Don't worry about it, Catherine. We'll take care of it.”

She sounded like she knew what she was talking about, so Catherine leaned her head against the bed she lay on and sighed.

torsdag den 28. april 2011

Chapter 1, part 2

Catherine was as quiet as a mouse when she let herself into the dark house. Her heart was beating violently in her chest, causing her to breathe heavily with fear. If her mother noticed the hour at which she was returning, she would not be allowed to go out on her own again.

As she walked past the large kitchen table, her dress slid against it causing the coins from Mrs. Pegg to jingle loudly. Catherine's breath caught and she stood and listened for several moments. The lack of sound caused her no relief. Surely her mother had worried about the money from the dress enough to notice, even if she was not awake and waiting for her at the door.

When she felt it safe to move again, she gingerly retrieved the coins from her pocket, careful to keep them squeezed closely together to avoid more noise, and placed them on the table where her mother would find them. She hurried to her bed in a corner of the large kitchen and crept under the covers. Sleep did not find her easily, her stomach still churning with uneasiness.

A loud noise startled her from her sleep what seemed to be only a few minutes later. Her mother stood in front of her, her expression dark. Catherine jumped out of bed, vaguely registering the fact that the sun was rising, and automatically stepped back.

“Where were you last night, you filthy girl,” her mother demanded harshly. Catherine blinked, drew a breath, then blinked again. Her nervousness causing her to hesitate for far too long.

“You are an ungrateful brat! After everything I've done for you, taking you in like that, giving you food and shelter, you go ahead and drag our family down?”

“No, mom, please, I just forgot time,” she began. Her mother interrupted her, slapping her face.

“Don't give me your excuses, girl. Where's the money? Did you really think I'd let you get away with stealing from us?”

There was a moment of silence as Catherine realised that she was expected to answer.

“I put it on the table, mom. It was there last night, I promise.” Her eyes searched the empty table desperately, as if the coins would suddenly appear if she tried hard enough.

“You filthy little liar. You have it much too good here! I would throw you out where you belong if I had a choice you know. Nobody wants you here but you father!” She spat the words out. They were silent for a moment, then there was the sound of flesh hitting flesh as Catherine was slapped again. She kept her eyes fixed on the floor, willing herself not to cry out or think about the fact that she would bruise.

“You can stay in the stable from now on. Don't even bother coming back in here for food. I'm sure you can find some way of getting that on your own. Now get out!”

She did as she was told, hurrying to collect her blanket and boots before her mother could slap her again. She ran through the door and into the cool, damp morning air. The yard smelled like earth and herbs, mixed with the stale smell of dung. She slowed down and carefully opened the stable doors. They didn't have any animals in the house, except for a few chickens that her sister took care of. They were in the small garden behind the house, so Catherine would have the small space to herself. It wasn't even a real stable, more like a shed with space for a single horse, at most two, or a few goats.

There were a few piles of moulding hay laying about among the mess of unwanted household items and well kept gardening tools. She was the one who did the gardening, but her bother took care of the maintenance. Her brother and sister were twins. Strictly speaking they were her half siblings, but she was supposed to call their mother mother as well. She wasn't even supposed to know that it wasn't true. Her father had told her one late night and had been too drunk to remember it the next day. He was not used to drinking and rarely indulged.

That particular night had been strange all together. Her parents had fought and she had secretly followed her father to the inn, watched him drink himself into a stupor and had taken him home when he seemed to be done. He had mumbled the truth about her parentage on the way. Not that it had helped her much. All she knew was that the woman she was to call mother was not in fact her mother. It did explain a lot, though.

She had always tried to please her fathers wife, but it seemed like her very existence was a crime in their home. She was almost the same age as her siblings, just a few months younger, and she was old enough to suspect that something about that fact was a sign of her father's unfaithfulness.

As she thought about her father, who seemed to want to escape the home as much as she did, with the exception that he actually had a choice, something within her shifted. It did not really matter to her what he wanted her to do anymore. He left her in the care of the woman he'd married, despite the fact that she was clearly just waiting for an excuse to get rid of her, and never bothered to find out if she was still healthy and happy when he did return.

A comforting anger rose in her, and she left the stable and walked towards the house again. She wasn't going to let the angry, old woman in there ruin her day. If she wanted to get rid of her, surely they could come to an understanding. If not, at least she would make sure to fight back this time.

onsdag den 27. april 2011

Chapter 1, part 1

Between the warm wood of the small houses that made up a bakery and a barbershop a girl was running as fast as she could. She was the only one around, so it was not the fear of persuiting tormentors that made her hurry. If anyone had been there to see her stumble and cut her skinny knees on the dirty rocks of the alley, they might have felt sorry for her.
As it was she bit back a sob as she pushed herself off the sodden ground and hurried on. She was late. Her mother had asked her to deliver a set of bed sheets that she had sown to a family in the city and she had been so fascinated by the large house and the beautiful gardens surrounding it that she had forgotten that she was also supposed to get back soon enough to deliver a dress to a friend of the family.

The family she had just visited had had a servant in a uniform to open the door and ask her to go around to the kitchen entrance, where a maid had offered her a glass of milk. She had accepted it gratefully, but now the weight of it made her stomach turn, and she was afraid she might throw up in the middle of the street. If she did, her mother might notice the smell on her and get angry with her for accepting food like that.

Her father had been away for several months. He travelled many times during the year and generally spent more time away from home than with his family. She had a feeling that her mother blamed her for this. It was never spoken of, but she couldn't find any other explanation; when her father left, her mother grew more and more displeased with her, to the point that she would punish her for the tiniest mistakes. Today was a particularly bad day.
She had already missed breakfast when she spilled a bucket of water all over the newly cleaned floors, and she had received a few nasty slaps when she had forgotten to close the door on her way out. Her mother was in a horrible mood.

When she reached home she was happy to see that no one had noticed her prolonged absence. She took the dress and ran off again in the knowledge that she would be able to do whatever she wanted with the rest of her day, as long as she came home before the sun went down. The woman who had ordered the dress lived relatively close by, and the girl had been there before. It took her very little time to make the turns towards the outskirts of the city and down the little gravel path that led to her destination. When the door swung open, a stream of air that smelled of fresh bread and flowers engulfed her and made her feel strangely sad.

“Oh, Catherine, so good to see you,” exclaimed a voice behind her. She started and turned only to find herself locked in a pair of large arms. She stiffened slightly and waited for the woman to let go of her, a polite smile stuck on her face.

“Thank you, Mrs. Pegg. You too,” she said, trying to make her voice a bit more enthusiastic than she felt. She offered the dress in her outstretched arms and hoped she wouldn't be asked inside. Usually she enjoyed it when people allowed her to see their homes, but in the case of the Pegg family it just made her feel sad. They knew her too well, understood her situation too well. There was always a hint of pity and regret in their gestures that made her want to flee.

Mrs. Pegg seemed to notice her discomfort, so she just handed her the part of the payment that was never collected before the order had been delivered safely along with a small bread.

“You have the night off today, haven't you,” she asked, and nodded toward the bread with a little smile.

Catherine nodded and smiled a little more genuine. “Thank you Mrs. Pegg,” she said. She began walking back towards the road and pretended not to hear the sad little sigh coming from the older woman's direction. She walked fast, but slower than she had before, torn between her desire to enjoy the feeling of freedom and the desire to reach her goal as soon as possible.

There was a small public park less than half an hour from her house where she cold take a seat on the large rocks that stuck up from the ground as a reminder of the raw, unforgiving stone that the city was founded on. It was far away from the mountains, but still close enough that huge boulders and rocks had to be cleared away before any major expansions could be added onto it.

She liked feeling the rocks on her bare feet. It made her feel like she was more free than she was, as if she could run away and become one with nature any day she so chose. It was an unpleasant trip back to reality whenever she had to return home. She often dreamt of running away and fending for herself somewhere in the wilderness. Despite the fact that she had never had to make a fire or kill a prey animal, she remained certain that it would be easier than her current life.

Mrs. Pegg seemed to know all too well how she spent her few free moments. Catherine did not know what to think of the woman's insight or what seemed to be her caring - if rare - gifts of bread or other small food items. She was always slightly disturbed by her presence but she could not put her finger on anything. This evening in particular was not wasted on many thoughts of Mrs. Pegg, her mother or her unhappiness with existence. She sank into her fantasies of a life far away from it all, imagining herself in a forest, fighting for her life against ferocious beasts and the forces of nature. It comforted her.

When she noticed the darkness it was already so late that she could not tell how long ago the sun had gone down.

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