Happy New Year everyone!
My book is finally finished and now it’s just a matter of working with CreateSpace to get it published! But because I’m impatient and can’t wait that long though… I thought I would post the Prologue.
I remember the day my mother died like a distant painting. The outlines, the colors, the solid facts are visible, but the details are obscured by the smoky haze of grief.
I remember her pale cheeks and the way her blue eyes appeared to have clouds covering their crystal skies. Occasionally they would fix themselves upon me and her parched lips would form my name, “Arella.”
Then just as swiftly, her mind seemed to travel to a different place, tearing her gaze away from my face. It was during these episodes that she mumbled about the little fairies from the stories she used to tell me. I heard the maids whisper about their mistress’s madness, but Father and I just held her hands, nodded our heads, and hung on to every word, knowing that it could very well be her last.
The rest is a blur. I think at some point in that long, cold night I fell asleep because I remember the warmth of Father’s arms waking me and his gentle voice whispering words of comfort. After that, I lived in a bubble with only Father as a companion. People came and went, but their words fell on deaf ears. I knew they meant well, so I managed small smiles and warm thank-yous till the flow of sympathizer’s ceased and daily life began a new normal for my merchant father and me.
In time, the pain reduced to a dull ache and Father found himself lonely. He loved me, I had no doubt of that, but he felt heavily the absence of a woman’s presence in our home. Finally on a sunny day, while we were having tea outside on the veranda, he breached the subject.
“Ella,” he said, nervously fingering his china teacup. “It has been some time since your mother’s death and I think maybe… Well, what I mean is… You are growing from a girl into a young lady and it is at this stage in your life that I think you need a mother most. So…”
“So?” I urged him on with an encouraging smile.
“So I have asked Lady Madonna Durante to marry me.”
His declaration took me by surprise, but for his sake, I tried to show some joy. Leaning forward, I grasped his hands in mine and said, “Father, if this is what makes you happy, then you don’t have to be ashamed or afraid to tell me. I am happy if you are.”
“Thank you. And Ella, I have only your best interests at heart.”
“I know, Father. When is she coming?”
“Within a fortnight.”
And that is how Lady Durante and her two daughters, Marielle and Josette, were added to our family. But were they family? Lady Durante always seemed to be occupied with the next party she was planning and Marielle and Josette only had minds for dresses and money. It was a busy life that which we had in those days, but it is hard to say if we were truly happy. Because we had so little time to find happiness.
I remember the day my father died like it was yesterday. He had gone to look after a shipment of goods that he was selling to an old merchant friend. It was not a dangerous journey, nor a long one, but somewhere along the way, his heart failed. He was dead before help could reach him.
When Father’s valet arrived with the news, I stood motionless on the pebble drive, stunned. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the sky was clear, but I didn’t notice. It could have been pouring rain and I still would have stood there, frozen in shock. The valet seemed rather lost for words, wondering if he should go or stay. I was about to send him to the kitchen when Stepmother appeared in the doorway. Upon hearing the news, she did not freeze as I had done, but fell in a heap of rustling skirts to the ground, all the while bemoaning her fate.
“We are ruined. Ruined,” she wailed, burying her face in her hands. I felt sorry for her and I wanted to comfort her, but there was nothing to say. She was right.
After that day, my life changed. First, the servants were dismissed because in the times to come we would not have enough income to support a full household. I said goodbye to them with a heavy heart – they had known my parents well, they could share memories of them with me. But they left and I was alone in my grief.
It was at this point that Stepmother began to ignore the fact that I was what most would call family. It started with her commenting on how Marielle and Josette had shared a room since they were little and needed some time away from each other. We had multiple guest rooms that either of the girls could have moved into, but many times I had entertained the idea of sharing a room with a sister. I thought that maybe if we got to know each other, we could become better friends. So I suggested it saying, “One of them could sleep in my room.”
Before I was able to say another word Lady Durante exclaimed, “Yes, Ella. It is a wonder I didn’t think of it myself. Marielle will stay in your room.”
I began to offer to rearrange my room to accommodate Marielle, “I’ll…”
“You will sleep in one of the servant’s rooms. If you start now, you can have Marielle’s things moved in by tonight.”
“What about my things?”
“Never mind your things. Go help Marielle,” she dismissed me with a wave of her hand and from then on my life was not my own. Every waking hour was filled with obeying the whims of Stepmother. Stepmother? Eventually, I did not even call her stepmother, just Lady Durante or Madame. I became their servant, but I could not leave. It was my home and it was all I had left of my parents. Besides, Lady Durante was my legal guardian; therefore, even if I tried to leave she could petition the king for soldiers to bring me back.
So although my hands blistered and my muscles ached, I did the work. It was a distraction from my grief and kept me from feeling sorry for myself. I suppose it wasn’t so bad, I had my animal friends and I was home. Maybe there were occasions when I yearned for another person’s company, but I told myself that if I just had faith for a little longer, things would change.
And eventually, they did.