Odette clamped her lips shut in an attempt to quell her scream as the cloaked figure leaped over the stone fence and dropped to his feet beside her.
“Do you people have no manners?” He growled.
Odette shuffled backwards as the man stepped closer into her personal space.
“I was only looking for my father,” Odette choked out. “What have you done to him?”
“Odette,” Elliott croaked. “Just go!”
Odette forgot about the man in front of her for a moment and turned to her father. She had never seen him cry before, but she had a sneaking suspicion she was about to. He placed a hand on the cold metal that Odette met with her own gloved one. She smiled sadly.
“Mama needs us,” she whispered. “You’ve given up so much for me – let me take care of you for once.”
Elliott froze for a moment before shaking his head. “Never. Get out.”
Odette’s heart plummeted at his icy tone. Instead of reasoning with her father, she turned back to the man.
“Let him out.”
“And let a thief walk free? Never.”
“I will serve his sentence,” she said with a hard edge to her voice.
“You’ll be here until you die,” the man warned. “And that will be a much longer time than this ailing old man.”
“My father is not ailing, and he is no thief,” Odette countered. “But if you let him go, I will live my life in his place.”
“Your father is a cretin,” the man conceded. “But not as much as you are. Jean-Luc!” He shouted. “Come!”
Odette hunched forward and finally let her tears spill as Elliott began to cry as well. Each was the other’s best friend, and would now be separated for life.
An older man scuttled into the dungeon and stood at attention. The cloaked man ordered him to take Elliott away as Odette sank to her knees in despair. As soon as the door was unlocked, Elliott dropped to his knees as well and put a frail arm around Odette. She threw herself into her father’s arms for the last time.
“I’m so sorry papa,” she wept. “It’s all my fault!”
“It was never your fault,” Elliott said softly, rubbing her back in soothing circles. “I should have told you the truth from the very beginning.”
Suddenly, a gloved hand gripped Elliott’s shoulder and wrenched him upwards. Jean-Luc hastily pulled Elliott towards the stairs as Odette watched them go, frozen in place.
“You were always brave, Odette!” Elliott called as he was dragged up the stairs. “Even if you never realized it – find a way!”
And then he disappeared.
Odette looked upwards to see the man staring at her in distaste. He swept his arm outwards regally as he gestured to the prison.
“Your new home. Try not to anger the rats.”
And with that, Odette was left alone.
“Master, I don’t know if this is the best way to treat the girl.” After the night had passed and the sun was creeping up on the horizon, Jean-Luc trepidatiously made an appeal to Casimir.
“And where do you suggest we put the prisoner?” Casimir spat back. “In a guest room?”
“Perhaps,” Jean-Luc acquiesced. “Or maybe just bring her some food?”
Casimir rolled his eyes and looked over the stone wall at the girl who was curled up in a ball on the packed dirt. Even from three stories up, he could tell she was weeping – she hadn’t stopped.
“No.” Casimir finally said. “She stays where she is and she stays hungry.”
“But master, what if she can help-”
“Are you suggesting that heaping mess of tears can help me?” Casimir ground out. “Because if that’s what you’re saying, you can go join her in the cell. Stars know you’re just as useful as she is right now.”
“Forget I said anything,” Jean-Luc said with a slight bow. “Her father has been brought back to the village – it’s unlikely he’ll remember anything, what with the exhaustion and head wound he incurred on the way back.”
Casimir just grunted in acknowledgement.
“And sir, the girl has been bleeding steadily for some time now. Shall we at least fetch-”
“No.” Casimir said in frustration before storming off.
“What a night,” Maude the maid said as she approached Jean-Luc. She had been hovering in the corner, hidden by shadows. “The poor thing looks terribly distraught. I couldn’t imagine my daughter in the same position.”
Jean-Luc frowned as he peered at the young woman again.
“Is there nothing we can do for the dear?” Maude asked. “Why shouldn’t she have a room or a warm meal?”
“You heard the Master,” Jean-Luc said helplessly. “She must stay there.”
“But what if she just…finds a room? And some new clothes. And some food…and maybe a hot bath?” Maude suggested.
Jean-Luc shrugged. “Well then I guess there’s not much the master could do about it.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Hello there, darling!” Maude said cheerfully as she approached the prison.
Odette looked up and blearily stared at the woman in silence.
“You must be getting hungry,” Maude cooed softly. She had decided to approach the girl as if she was a wounded deer – soft voice, slow movements. No harsh words to make the tiny thing recoil.
Odette continued to stare.
Maude shook her head and pulled out a ring of keys from her pocket. An overly large, intricate key glinted against the others, and this was the one Maude placed in the lock. The hinges squealed angrily as she pulled the door open and smiled. Maude extended a soft hand downwards and watched as Odette gingerly took it, using it as leverage to stand. She stumbled forward a bit, lightheaded from the bump on her head. The back of her sweater had been soaked with coppery blood, leaving a small trail of red droplets wherever Odette went.
“Come, darling.” Maude said as she wrapped a sturdy hand around Odette’s shoulders. “We’ll have you right as rain in no time.”
Odette staggered up the hundreds of stairs, Maude by her side the entire time. As they walked, Maude gently spoke about where Odette would be staying, some features of the castle, and what time dinner would be prepared for. Odette barely listened, instead focusing all her attention on not fainting.
“Here we are,” Maude said, gesturing to an imposing door. “I should think you’ll be quite comfortable here.”
As soon as Maude swept the doors open, Odette gasped lightly. Was it a dream? Certainly there was no other explanation for the room in front of her. Torchlight illuminated the canopy bed, piled high with plush pillows and an ornate bedspread. A quaint sitting room with a bubbling fountain and roaring fireplace was tucked away in the corner, and an enormous bathroom was at the other end. Anything Odette could ever dream of was in the room.
The only strange thing was the mirrors. Each had been carefully covered by curtains, paintings, and even the odd dead plant. Odette noted the dust on each of the cover-ups – they hadn’t been cleaned for quite some time.
“Now,” Maude said, breaking Odette’s train of thought. “I’ve drawn a bath for you. Come soak while I get your dress ready. Any colour preference?”
Odette blinked back more tears. “Black,” she managed to croak out.
Maude nodded solemnly before directing her to the bathroom. “Oh, what’s your name, dear?”
The young woman clutched the cool handle of the bathroom door and looked over her shoulder. “Odette.”
Maude smiled slightly. Not an injured fawn at all.
A scared duckling.
When Odette stepped out of the steaming bathroom, Maude sat her down at the vanity and began to brush out her long, blonde hair.
“I have a daughter, around your age,” Maude said as she worked. “She’ll be your lady’s maid from here on out, but I’m only a shout away.”
“I don’t need a lady’s maid,” Odette whispered.
“Oh hush. Everyone could use a bit of pampering now and then.”
After what seemed like hours of primping in the mirrorless vanity and some careful tending to Odette’s wound, Maude brought out a velvety black dress and helped Odette into it. It seemed to weigh a hundred pounds, and Odette couldn’t help but feel that this was the shackles she would be bound to for the rest of her life. A heavy reminder of the decision she made.
“Well, I’ll let you rest!” Maude chirped as she flounced to the door. “But just ring that little bell if you need us!”
Odette made her way to the door as Maude shut it and instantly broke down again as she slid to the floor. Her life was over.
Prince Casimir grumbled as he trotted down the stairs to the dungeon, plate of food in hand. He conceded that Jean-Luc might have had a point with the food aspect of the whole situation – as much as he loathed the woman, he couldn’t let her die. Not when so many others had fallen at his hands.
“Um…miss?” Casimir said unsurely. “I have some food.”
As he rounded the corner, the plate fell from his hands, catching the flame of a torch on the way down. The door was ajar, and the dungeon was completely devoid of any kind of whimpering woman. Even the blood had been cleaned, as if no one had ever been there at all.
Casimir thundered up the stairs and found Maude humming to herself as she dusted the coffee table in the library.
“What the hell did you do?”
“Me?” Maude asked innocently, placing a hand on her chest in shock. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“What happened to the girl?” He growled.
“Oh, did you go to check on her? How sweet,” Maude said wistfully.
“Enough!” Casimir roared. “WHERE IS SHE?”
Maude inhaled deeply and pointed her duster at the door. “She’s resting in the finest guest room.”
Before Casimir could storm out, Maude placed a hand on his large shoulder. “Leave her, dear. If she’s going to be here for the rest of her life, at least spare her the back pain from sleeping on the ground.”
Casimir huffed and crossed his arms. “She’s a prisoner, not a guest.”
“And yet you were bringing her a meal,” Maude winked. “You know nothing gets past Cherie – not in her kitchen.”
“Just because I don’t want her to die doesn’t mean I want her to be treated like royalty,” he grumbled.
“Maybe you should talk to her,” Maude said gently. “It’s almost time for luncheon. Perhaps you can have tea in the parlor.”
Maude cocked a hip out to the side and placed her hands on her hips. “Don’t be a child, Casimir-”
“It’s Master to you.”
Maude quirked an eyebrow up and smiled. “Go, Casimir. And be in the parlor in an hour.”
“Please go away!” Odette called as the incessant knocking at the door continued.
When the knocking failed to cease, Odette took a pillow off of the bed and whipped it at the door.
“Feisty, I see,” a voice chuckled. Odette looked up to see a young woman enter the room, picking up the pillow as she went. “But if you’re going to scare someone off, try using the candlestick.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Jacqueline, your lady’s maid.”
“Yeah, yeah. You don’t need a lady’s maid. So consider me a friend instead. Now, let’s get you ready for luncheon.”