Monday, July 18, 2016

The Phoenix - Chapter Four

Chapter Four.

Two Years Later - 1189

     “I’m not here!” came Meg’s voice in hushed tone

     Marcella looked behind from washing the dishes and saw her step-sister dive into the pantry. She didn’t have to guess too hard that Meg and Constance were in another fight again.

     As Marcella was drying the last dish she heard Constance storming down the hall, screeching her sister’s name.

     “Marguerite!” she screamed, “You come out right now!”

     Constance stomped into the kitchen, her face as red as her hair and her eyes looked deadly.

     “Where is she?” she asked in a harsh whisper, “You had better not be hiding her again!”

     Marcella could do nothing but laugh at Constance’s stupidity.

     “Or you’ll do what?” she asked, “Flog me, take away my food, put rats in my bed? Honestly, Constance.”

     Just as Marcella was about to turn her back to her step-sister, Constance grabbed her roughly by her arm, spinning her around to face her. Despite being only fourteen months apart in age, Constance was already a head taller than Marcella.

     “I’m going to ask you one more time,” she said in a deadly tone, “Where is Meg?”

     Marcella could feel Constance’s fingers and nails pressing into her arms causing intense pain; however, she wouldn’t give her step-sister the benefit of seeing her weak.

     Constance’s back was turned to the pantry and Meg’s head peer out from behind the pantry door; a worried look on her face as she saw Constance hurting their sister. Meg was about to move and step out, but Marcella shot her a warning glance to stay inside.

     “She went outside to the stables…Milady,” Marcella said bitterly.

Constance held on to her arm a second longer and then there it down as if it had turned into a snake.

     “That wasn’t so difficult now was it, Cendrella.” She smirked as she drew at the last word, her nickname for her sister who now did most of the chores since many of the servants were let go due to financial problems.

     Marcella gritted her teeth in seething anger. How she hated that name! Degrading and yet, so very true. She was dirty all the time from having to clean all of the fireplaces as well as mucking out the stables, working in the garden, feeding the chickens and pigs and having to walk back and forth into town because her step-mother wouldn’t let her take the cart. Her once beautiful clothes were given to Meg, who rarely wore them and all Marcella had were a couple of plain dresses and aprons that were worn by the poorest of peasant girls.

     Constance turned on her heel and swished out of the room, her long red hair trailing behind her with dramatic effect. Marcella lifted up the sleeve of her dress and saw several bruises left by Constance’s fingers.

     “Oh, Marcy,” said Meg, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think she would hurt you! She’s so cruel! You’re a much better sister than her!”

     Marcella smiled. That helped a little bit.

     “So why are you hiding?” she asked.

     “Oh,” groaned Meg, “It’s ridiculous. I was trying on one of her hair combs and she walked in and just went…”

     “Like only Constance can go?” finished Marcella.

     “Yes, exactly.”

     “Well, go outside and play and I’ll keep an eye on you in case she comes back.”

     Meg threw her arms around her step-sister, gave her soft kiss on the cheek and bounded out of the kitchen. Marcella leaned over the sink and watched Meg play happily, but her mind began to wander as the exhaustion of the day or more like the last two years began to catch up with her.

      She was fourteen and yet, she felt like she was forty at times. She was carrying a daily workload that was normally done by five or six servants. Ever since Father died, Marcella could feel her soul beginning to slip into some dark place that she never thought she could possess. Ysobella seemed to be punishing her in some way. It was Marcella’s fault that she was Philippe’s blood daughter and she should pay for such a crime.

     Constance…was well, Constance. The older she got, the more spoiled, petty, arrogant and cruel she became. She bullied Meg unmercifully and never ran out of abuses (both verbal and physical) to harass Marcella with. While she was strikingly beautiful, her hatefulness was not masked and she revealed it to both of her sisters on a consistent and daily basis.

     Meg was really the only happiness that Marcella had. She had just turned ten, but still had the graces of a wild colt. She was lively, opinioned, and at times a little saucy. Yet, no matter how terrible Constance was, Meg just seemed immune to it. While she despised her sister, Meg worshipped Marcella and was her shadow. Marcella didn’t mind, either. Meg reminded her of herself in many ways.

     The young girl let out a deep breath and pulled her tired legs up on the bench. She was in more pain than ever on a consistent basis. Marcella checked her legs. The red sores from her illness so many years before were still there. She ran her arm down her legs trying to soothe the muscles, but when she got to her feet, there was still no feeling at all, just like in her hands. Brother Luke had told her that she would never have feeling in her hands and feet again.

     Marcella couldn’t remember the last time she had actually felt the coldness of water, the heat of a flame or the softness of a blanket in her hand or the feeling of the cold earth underneath her feet. It had been so long ago since she had gotten sick and then Mother became sick.

     Something wet fell down her cheek. She felt that. Warm and almost freeing. Several more tears began to fall. Why was she crying? She still had more chores to do before she started supper. However, this was one of those moments where she felt so defeated, so worn out, so battle worn. Ever since her father died,

     Marcella had felt certain emotions that she had as a young girl beginning to fade into nonexistence and her spirit was strained and her soul was becoming numb and she was losing all feeling, just like in her hands and feet. How much longer before she no longer felt happiness, compassion, or even fear and sorrow? Then what would she be?

     Be brave and good to people.

     How long until she could no longer keep her mother’s promise?

     “Oh, poor, poor, little Cendrella,” came a cold voice from behind. It was a voice that was becoming worse than Constance’s threats or Ysobella’s scolding’s; a voice that Marcella was beginning to despise.

     She turned around and saw her brother, now seventeen, leaning up against the wall, a bored look on his handsome, but arrogant face. Marcella wiped her eyes and pulled her dress back down.

     “Oh, don’t worry,” said Andre as he staggered in. He was probably drunk; Andre was always drunk, “I mean it’s no secret to me what you are.” He turned to face her, a cruel smile played at his lips.

     “A little leper girl,” he said slowly.

     Marcella’s back bristled. Little filthy leper girl. Her secret for so long, but how long would it remain a secret? What if Andre said something in one of his drunken antics? Then what? Ysobella may kick her out. She wasn’t diseased anymore and was certainly no danger to anyone, but there were still people that avoided lepers with fear.

     “And,” Andre continued, “Not just any little leper girl, but one that also killed her own mother.”

Marcella looked up at him, her eyes almost blinded with tears.

     “I did not kill our mother,” she said defiantly, “Mother didn’t want me to go to a lazar house and so she kept me here. She risked her own health to save me.

     “Yes,” said Andre, “You see that’s the part that confuses me. Mother thought for some reason that your life was so much more important to save than hers. And yet, what have we gotten from her sacrifice for you? A stepmother who hates us, two spoiled stepsisters, a dead father, an estate that is almost in ruins, I’m really not seeing any benefit to you still being here…well, except for the fact that you are a fairly decent servant. Maybe’s this is finally penance for you crime of matricide.

Marcella could take no more. She leaped to her feet and with all her strength pushed her brother back.

“Get out, now!” she cried, “I have work to do!”

     Andre just laughed and staggered back, “Of course you do, Cendrella. You certainly now have a name to live up to.”

     As soon as he walked out of the kitchen, all of the feelings welling up in Marcella came to a breaking point. Sadness, rage, fear, despair, even hatred came pouring out in a torrent of tears. She collapsed to the ground and buried her face in her hands.

     Why?! WHY?! Andre what happened to you!? Why have you abandoned me!? Why do you hate me? Mother, Father! I need you both so much! I need to know what to do, how to continue on! How to keep Meg safe from her mother and sister, how to protect my secret from the rest of the world!!!

     Marcella believed that when her father died, a part of Andre died with him. Even before, Andre had started to become distant, but Father’s death was the final straw. Andre treated his blood sister like she was an animal for his own cruel abuses. Although he never physically hurt her, he taunted and teased her constantly. He never defended her when Ysobella and Constance mistreated her and sometimes her even seemed to enjoy watching them hurt her. 

     It was Andre, not Constance, that gave Marcella her new name Cendrella and unfortunately for Marcella, her step-sister used it to her full advantage whenever she saw her working.

     Andre was rarely ever home. He was usually at the tavern, drinking, gambling or whoring around. He cared nothing for his father’s estate and his work as a merchant. Andre didn’t really care for anyone. It was as if his heart had become like stone and he was simply a shell of the real Andre de Bourde.

     After a minute, Marcella got herself under control, wiped her face and started to prepare supper. Andre was right about one thing, she was a good servant. When supper and the evening melded into night, everyone had gone to sleep, but Marcella was up till late into the night doing chores.

     Finally she finished just after midnight and was worn to the bone. Marcella was too tired and too cold to walk all the way up to the attic where she now slept. Ysobella had sent her up there the year before, claiming that Constance and Meg needed separate rooms and now Constance had Marcella’s room.

     Marcella now slept in the cold attic on a rickety mattress with old blankets, but lately the house had been getting colder and she hated making the walk in the dark. For the last several nights, she had just been sleeping in the kitchen, by the dying fire embers on a pillow and wrapped up in her old cloak. It didn’t take her long to fall asleep, either. 

     Sleep was the only real freedom she had.

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