Chapters One - Five: Here
Three Years Later – 1192
The red and gold bird spread his wings and soared across the sky. The sun in its highest heaven could not compare to beauty and brightness of the great bird that outshone the celestial creation. A phoenix, a symbol of renewal and rebirth. A creature reborn from ashes and flames….
Marcella slowly opened her eyes and heard the rooster crowing from his perch outside in the yard. The sun was slowly rising and the songbirds were beginning to chirp in the trees. She got up from her bed and stretched out her sore muscles. The early spring morning air drifted through her open window and it promised to be a lovely day.
After she washed her face and changed into her work clothes, Marcella went down from the attic and started on her morning chores. As she fed the chickens, she looked down the path that led out into the main road. Three years since her brother had left for the crusades and she had not heard a word from him. Maybe that was a good thing.
Now at seventeen, Marcella was surprised at how fast the years had gone by. For the most part, life at home had been somewhat happy, ever since Andre left. Ysobella was still terrible, but she had finally left Marcella alone and that was fine with her. Meg had grown up quite well and was almost thirteen. She was becoming quite pretty, but still was not as stunning as Constance. Due to the war in the Middle East, husbands were hard to come by and so Constance, who was eighteen, was desperately in want of a rich man to take her away from her mundane home and controlling mother.
Marcella, herself, didn’t give much attention to marriage or family. There had been a couple of boys from neighboring villages who had showed some interest, but Marcella couldn’t leave Meg alone. And the fact that she was also a leper, with deteriorating health was cause for personal concern. She was fortunate in the fact that her sores were not eating at her flesh as was often the case with most lepers. They would enflame from time to time, but a small dose of honey to the sores settled the pain instantly.
As Marcella was pulling water from the well she started to cough. That too, was becoming a problem. Her breathing had become much more labored and her intense daily work made it worse. When she finally caught her breath, she pulled the bucket out of the well and started to carry it inside.
“Excuse me,” came an unexpected voice from behind.
Marcella turned to see who it was. It was a young soldier, a Crusader return home from Jerusalem. He was handsome and young, possibly twenty, maybe a little older. And there was an air of dignity and decency to him that put Marcella at ease.
“Yes, sir,” she said shyly.
The soldier smiled kindly to her and Marcella’s shyness began to disappear.
“I have been traveling all night to get home and have had nothing to drink. Could I possibly trouble you for a small cup of water?”
“Of course, sir! It is no trouble at all,” Marcella said as she put down her bucket, “Please come and sit and I’ll fetch you something from the kitchen.”
The soldier looked relieved, “Thank you, lady,” he said as he dismounted his horse.
“Oh sir, I am no lady,” replied Marcella, “I’m only a servant.
She went back into the kitchen and got a small loaf of last night’s bread, an apple and rolled them up in a cloth. She took the bag and a cup and returned back outside to where the soldier was waiting at the well.
“Here is some bread and an apple,” she said as she handed him the bundle and then dipped the cup into the cold water.
“Thank you,” said the soldier as he took the water, “I didn’t expect so much.”
“Well, you seem to have come a long way,” Marcella replied, “Please water your horse as well.” She set the bucket of water in front of the soldier’s beautiful horse that looked just as exhausted as his rider.
“Are your masters as kind as you?” the soldier asked as his horse drank.
“Well, some are as kind as they allow themselves to be,” she answered honestly. Meg would have helped without a second thought, but Marcella knew that Ysobella would have chased the man off the land and Constance would sniff at the idea of serving anyone.
“Then they do not deserve you, little lady servant,” said the soldier.
Marcella smiled in spite of herself. She rarely talked to men and Crusaders were not always the type of men that a young woman should socialize with. They tended to be wild, vulgar and reckless; the war and fighting still in their blood and their minds. Yet, this soldier was different. She had never met a Crusader so kind before. For a moment, Marcella was tempted to ask him his name, but decided against it. After the horse drank his fill, the soldier gave the cup back to Marcella and mounted his horse.
“What is your name?” he asked.
Marcella was surprised at this. Why would he want to know?
“I told you sir, I am but a servant. My name means nothing.”
“I would still like to know it, so I may thank you properly,” the soldier insisted.
“Well then, it is…Cendrella,” she answered.
The soldier looked confused, “Child of the ashes? Your father gave you that name?
“No,” Marcella answered, “His son did. And any matter, there is no shame in coming from the ashes, is there?”
“No, there’s not,” smiled the soldier, “Well then, Cendrella, I thank you for your generosity. It has not gone unnoticed.”
Marcella bowed her head respectfully. This was no ordinary Crusader. This was a man of high nobility and possibly bearer of a great name.
“I should hope to meet you again,” said the soldier and steered his horse out of the yard and onto the road.
As Marcella watched him ride out she felt something rise in her chest. A memory from so long ago began to play in her mind. Her mother leaving with her father. Andre holding her in his arms.
Be brave and good to people
It was then that Marcella realized that ten years ago this day her mother left her forever, but her words remained as real now as they were back then. Yet, what was this soldier to her? She knew full well that she would never see him again.
~ ~ ~
The next day, Marcella finished her chores earlier than usual. It was Saturday and she visited people in the early evening time. Ysobella didn’t care what she did with her free time as long as she was home before dark. And Ysobella not caring was a good thing, because Marcella would actually visit the Lazar House of St. Paul that was run by Brother Martiń and give aid to the lepers there.
As Marcella was leaving she saw Meg working on a dress. Meg’s dressmaking skills were actually quite good and both girls spent a good deal of time talking about cloth and patterns. Her dress was pale blue with gold stitching around the sleeves.
“That looks lovely,” Marcella complimented.
“Thank you,” Meg replied sweetly, “I’m having difficulty with the stitches at the bottom though.”
Marcella gave the bottom of the dress a look over and immediately spotted the mistake. Her stitches were too small and uneven she explained.
“I’ll help you when I return. I know the anticipation of wanting to finish a dress.”
“Oh thank you,” said Meg with relief, “I feared I would be working on this dress forever.”
Marcella gave her a kiss on the forehead and left. Outside was beautiful and fresh. The sun was behind the trees and a slight wind blew. There was something so perfect in the air right now, but Marcella couldn’t put her finger on it. Maybe it wasn’t nature. Maybe it was her. For almost two days, Marcella had thought about the kind and handsome Crusader. She had wanted to tell Meg at first, but chose to keep it her secret a little while longer. Meg tended to have a romantic imagination that left no room for reality and sense.
Every Lazar houses had to be placed several miles outside of town. However, that was no hardship for Marcella, seeing as she already lived ten miles away from the town. All she had to do was go down the road and head east eight miles and she would be at the secluded plot of land where that thatched Lazar house was.
Several lepers wearing their familiar blue torn coverings that covered them from head to foot, milled around talking. Most lepers were men and boys, but there were a few young girls and a couple of women close to Marcella’s age. She tended to them especially, sparing Brother Martiń an awkward task.
A few young children were outside playing games; they too were dressed in simple tunic style dress that was loose and old. All lepers were dependent on donations from the church and the community and while people did have charitable hearts, the war had made giving very difficult.
When the children saw Marcella approaching they took off running toward her. They enjoyed having an ‘outsider’ that wasn’t from the church come and spend time with them. Soon she was surrounded by laughing boys and girls all rallying for her attention.
“Cendrella! Cendrella is here!” they cried
“Well, I enjoy being here,” she said as she walked inside with him.
Marcella had started going to the Lazar house a year and a half ago and in the last six months started visiting other Lazar houses, but the St. Paul Lazar House was her favorite. She helped with the young children, tended to wounds and sores with honey ointments, brought donations from the church, comforted those who were dying, helped bring the stronger ones home and assisted the brothers with needed errands into town.
St. Paul was where her mother went when she was sick; however, Brother Martiń had not been there at the time. Still, Marcella felt a certain closeness knowing that her mother had once walked on this ground, slept on the floors and maybe gave hope to others.
The hours went by quick. Marcella had checked the young girls and women, applied ointments; helped set out a meal of bread and fish, washed blankets and played with the children. During their game a blue hooded leper came walking up the road. His walk was difficult and he was breathing heavily. All he carried was a staff that had a little bell at the top. Marcella looked over and saw him coming through the gate.
“I believe its Matthias,” she said, “Coming for a visit as well.”
“Hello, dear girl,” said Matthias in his raspy choked voice, “Your loveliness is only outshone by your kindness for creatures like us.”
“Oh, Matthias, creatures like you hold more joy for me than the healthiest king in his castle.”
He chuckled and started to embrace the children. Matthias was a Crusader who, like so many others, had caught leprosy in Jerusalem a year ago. By some miracle he had made it home, but he never stayed in one Lazar house. He traveled from home to home, ringing his bell staff to make others aware of his coming presence. Most lepers did this if they were going to be in the world on their own. The children were fascinated by him and begged him to tell them stories of his time in Jerusalem. Marcella herself was intrigued by his stories.
Time began to pass and Marcella noticed that the sun was going down. She sadly told them she needed to leave for home, but the children insisted that she play one more game. During the game, one of the little boys had run into the road where a Crusader party was passing by.
“Filthy child!” said the Crusader up front, “Can’t you see where you are going?”
“Please,” Matthias said, coming over and pulling the boy to his side, “He’s just a little boy, playing a game. He meant no harm.”
“You learn you place,” the man growled. He dismounted from his horse, took out a heavy leather belt and started to whip Matthias with it.
The children started to scream and cry, while the other Crusaders in the party did nothing. The man beating Matthias was a giant with no ounce of mercy to him. He beat the leper to the ground, cursing him with every stroke of the belt.
Marcella got the children out of the way and then grabbed Matthias’ staff and beat the man in the side of the head. The man stopped and dropped the belt. Marcella hit him again across the face.
“It’s filth like you that needs to learn your place!” she screamed, “This is land from the church and whatever harm you do to these people, you do to the church!”
Marcella could see several riders coming up from the other direction and she and Matthias were caught in the middle of the road. She set down Matthias’ staff and helped him up. Suddenly she felt the man grab her and then a hard slap came across her face. She blacked out for a second and only felt intense pain wash over the side of her face. The man hit her again and then kicked her to the ground.
“Filthy whore!” he screamed, “How dare you talk to me like that?”
Marcella scrambled on the ground and felt her hand grab something hard, a rock and large one too. She turned over and threw it the man’s face. There was a satisfying thud and the man groaned in pain, but that didn’t deter his violence as he grabbed Marcella by her hair and pulled her up.
“Leave them alone!”
The next thing Marcella saw was one of the men from that came from the other direction draw his sword and hold it up to the Crusader’s neck. The man looked strangely familiar.
“Put her down,” said the man coldly.
The Crusader immediately let go of Marcella and she stumbled to the ground. She was in so much pain, she could hardly stay up.
“My…my Lord…” stammered the Crusader, “I meant no harm…she was out of line! I only meant a little fun…that’s all.”
“Well, you have your fun away from these people;” the man said in a deadly tone, “Now clear out! All of you!”
The man sheathed his sword and dropped to the ground next to Marcella.
“Lady,” he said, his tone so warm and gentle…and so familiar, “Are you hurt?”
Marcella looked up and saw herself staring right at the soldier she had seen the morning before; although, he wasn’t dressed the same way. Gone was his military Crusader tunic and now he dressed in a simple riding outfit.
The soldier clearly recognized her as well.
“Cendrella!” he said, “My God! I would hope that we would meet again…only, not like this.”
He helped her up and set her against the fence. Marcella held her breath as he gently lifted her face up and their eyes met. He was as handsome now as he was the morning before. Although, his face was filled with concern and his eyes were still dark from what he had just been through.
“You’re going to have quite a few bruises,” he finally said, “Rgeis is the worst of brutes and should have stayed in Jerusalem.”
“I’m fine,” Marcella said.
She tried to remain calm, but heart was pounding. What were the odds that she would see this kind Crusader again? And what were the insurmountable odds that he would end up saving her life? Never would she have thought that this would happen to her.
“Thank you, for what you did,” she added, “I don’t know many people who would stop by and help.”
“Well, I have never known anyone who can stand up and take on Rgeis the way you did,” the man said, “You also fought for these people. Your goodness must know no bounds.”
“Lord Lucien, we must get back. Your father is expecting you.”
Lucien, that’s his name! Wait…Lord Lucien…Lord Leon’s second son? The wealthiest man in Vezelay and most of France?
“Yes, I know, Theodore, but I want to make sure she’s alright.”
“I told you, I am alright,” Marcella said, “I must be getting home too.”
“Where is your home?” Lucien asked, “I can take you.”
“Oh it’s not too far and I don’t want to alarm anyone if they see you bringing me home. Please I don’t want to keep you, but thank you all the same.”
“Well then,” Lucien said as he took the reigns of his horse, “Save travels back to your home.”
“And you as well,” Marcella said, “You must be glad to be home…Lord Lucien.”
Lucien smiled, “Yes, my homecoming has been very interesting indeed.”
He mounted his horse and rode off with his men. Most of the lepers were back in the lazar house, but children lined up at the fence to wave to Lucien as he rode past and he in returned waved back to them.
“Thank you, sweet one,” said Matthias as he took his staff and walked with her, “You’re braver than any Crusader I have known.”
“How badly are you hurt?” Marcella said, “Do you need treatment?”
“Don’t fret child, you need to head home, but I will see you soon.”
He gathered all the children around and started bringing them back to the lazar house. Clearly he was staying at St. Paul’s that night. Marcella walked home in the closing twilight evening. Her face was stinging and every bone in her body ached and she had no idea how she was going to explain her appearance to Ysobella and the girls. Yet, she thought about Lord Lucien who had not only saved her but the other lepers as well.
Marcella couldn’t explain it, but for the first time in a…well a very, very long time, she was actually, genuinely happy. Was it seeing Lucien again? Was it saving Matthias? Was it someone actually caring to save her? No, she didn’t know what it was, but she hoped it would last.
You may notice that I don't dwell a great deal on physical appearances of the characters and I do that on purpose. I feel that long physical descriptions in stories can deter away from the character themselves. This is just my general cast list to help with my writing. However, with the exception of Constance and her red hair, I would want people to see these characters in their unique way.
Also, the reason I don't have anyone cast for Marcella/Cendrella is that Cinderella herself is such a universal character and so any girl who reads this story may identify with who she is. Therefore, not giving her any general description in the story or picking a stunning, made-up actress may help the reader possibly see themselves as Marcella or identify with certain aspects of her character.