TAKERS FAERY TALES
Ellie Hall slumped down in front of the small fireplace in the servants quarters and tried to warm her frozen hands up. She had barely enough strength to gather the wood for the fire after all the work she had done that day, but she knew that if she didn't warm herself up she could end up dying of pneumonia in this drafty old building. She sighed deeply and reflected on her life.
She was only 20 years old, but her life had been one of hardship and pain for the last nine of them, ever since her father, Jonathan Hall, had died. Her Stepmother, Anne-Marie, was a cold, harsh woman. She was beautiful and was well aware of that fact, having used her wiles to catch Ellie's father in the first place. He had been a wealthy landowner, owning a very large estate and part of a forest nearby, and Anne-Marie had only wanted his money and status, not his love. Moving into the house after their marriage with her two spoilt daughters from a previous relationship, she had fooled everyone for a long time, right up until Jonathan had died. At his funeral she had actually been smiling, triumphant in the fact that now he was dead everything he had owned was hers. No-one had ever found a will saying otherwise, and so Anne-Marie had become legal owner of the estate. Her first act had been to fire all the servants that ran the place so well and force Ellie to take over all their duties, letting her own daughters have their share of all Ellie's possessions. The only things she had allowed her to keep were a few old clothes and a locket containing pictures of her mother and father, something Anne-Marie found no worth in.
At just 11 years old Ellie had found herself banished to the servants quarters, the buildings slowly falling into disrepair over the years where Anne-Marie refused to spend any money on them. She had to cook and clean up after them all, washing their clothing, walking the five miles to the nearest town to get their shopping and generally being treated worse than any slave could be. If she ever so much as spoke she was whipped with a belt, and she soon learned not to say a word or even look her stepmother directly in the eyes.
She only had two things that made life at all bearable. One was the girl from the neighbouring estate, Rebecca White, who had been her friend when her father was alive and remained so now, even though it was dangerous to both girls if they were ever caught. The second were the books that Becky smuggled to her. She had quite a pile of them now, hidden carefully away in the stables where her stepmother and stepsisters would never find them, and she was eternally grateful to her friend for risking her own backside bringing them to her.
Becky's father had remarried several years before to a much younger woman and she had hated Becky on sight. Becky's father had been a recovering alcoholic, but his new wife didn't want him to be recovering in any way. She tempted him back into drinking and then started telling lies about Becky, lies that he always believed because he was always inebriated. Becky was often beaten and so she had an empathy for Ellie, knowing what the other girl went through. Even though Becky was beaten regularly, she still lived in the house in relative comfort, and she couldn't imagine what sort of life Ellie must be suffering living as she did in the servants quarters. For some years now she had been smuggling over whatever she could - food, clothing, books, things that she hoped Anne-Marie would never find.
Ellie was very good with what she was given though. She managed to wear the articles of clothing with some of her old clothes, and Anne-Marie never seemed to notice. She hid the books in the stables and only ever read them after she was sure the entire house was asleep.
She was never invited to eat with the family unless there was some special occasion and someone of importance was coming that would notice Ellie's absence. It was only at these times that she had the luxury of bathing in the main bathroom and dressing in beautiful clothes that Anne-Marie kept under lock and key. Servants were hired for the evening, having been given strict instructions not to let on that they hadn't always worked there.
But these evenings weren't something that Ellie enjoyed, because she was still not allowed to be herself. She had a quick wit and an even quicker temper, something that she would forever be forced to keep under wraps, and if she engaged anyone in conversation she would be made to pay for it when everyone had left. The last time she had been unable to work in the house for two days and her stepmother had been forced to hire people to help out. She hadn't even bothered getting a doctor for her stepdaughter, not caring really if she lived or died.
So it was something of a surprise when Anne-Marie sought Ellie out one day and actually smiled at her. "Come here, my dear," Anne-Marie said, sitting down delicately in one of the kitchen chairs while Ellie was cleaning the cooker.
Ellie looked at her suspiciously, but she did as she was told, she knew what a monster this woman could be if provoked.
"I have a treat for you tonight. You will be dining with us this evening and we will have some guests, one of which is eager to meet you. Now, take yourself up to the bathroom and bathe yourself, then I will give you the nice new clothes I have bought just for this occasion."
Ellie hesitated. "But...but..I haven't finished my duties..." she began, only to be cut off by a sharp slap to the face.
"Do not think to disobey me girl. Do as you are told!" Anne-Marie snapped at her, wiping her hand on a cloth as if even slapping Ellie had contaminated her.
Ellie hurried off to the bathroom and started running a bath in the huge tub, only adding some oils after her stepmother had come in behind her and told her to do so. When the older woman left the room, Ellie reluctantly lifted her eyes to her own reflection, examining the person standing in front of her. She didn't have much opportunity to look at herself, and she wasn't fond of doing so when she did get the chance. Her stepsisters were not particularly attractive, but they had discovered plastic surgery some years back and now they had large breasts, small noses and fat lips. It didn't make them look much better, but with their long, peroxide blonde hair and the amount of make up they wore, they managed to attract the men. Ellie didn't think she would ever be able to attract anyone. She was short, only 5 ft 2, had long, dark curly hair with red lights in it hanging almost to her hips and large blue eyes. Her features were delicate, a small nose, full lips and a perfect oval of a face, the skin smooth and having a slight honey colour to it underneath the grime that accumulated on it. She couldn't see these things though, all she saw was a short, dirty looking girl, who had no obvious attractions. She couldn't see what a lovely figure she had, that her delicate hourglass figure was what men loved. Her mother had been truly beautiful, but after years of being told what a plain creature she was, she believed it to be true and that she looked in no way like her mother.
She sighed and turned away from her reflection, quickly disrobing and stepping into the scented water. She cleared her mind of all thoughts and settled back under the bubbles, determined that she would enjoy this rare moment of luxury. But her stepmother wouldn't let her rest even now.
She waltzed back into the bathroom and threw a razor down on the edge of the bath. "Make sure you rid yourself of body hair, we don't want you looking like an animal in front of our guests."
Ellie shot a wide eyed stare at the older woman. All her body hair, she thought? Anne-Marie read that thought in her eyes and gave a sharp laugh. "No, you ridiculous child, just your legs and under your arms. I'm sure if you need to get rid of any other hair, that will be the choice of your new husband!"
"Husband?" Ellie whispered, unable to help from voicing the word. What was her stepmother talking about?
"Oh, did I forget to tell you? I have a potential husband coming to see you tonight, so I want you to look your best. He is willing to pay a fine price for your scrawny little carcass, and I want that money, so you will behave or you will regret it. Now hurry and ready yourself!" she snapped and left the room, slamming the door behind her.
Ellie sat in a daze for a few seconds before realising what she was doing and washing herself, using the razor that Anne-Marie had brought her as well. She was being sold, she realised. And maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing considering how bad her life was at the moment. But to whom?
After she had finished bathing and she was standing wrapped in a towel, her stepsisters strolled into the bathroom and looked her up and down with disdain. "Well, well," said the oldest one, Anya, her pumped up lips curling in a sneer. "Look at the little slave girl. She almost looks human without all that dirt on her!"
"Yes," agreed the other one, Stephanie. "Almost." They both laughed as Ellie went red and lowered her eyes. "Stupid little bitch," Stephanie said, pushing Ellie to sit on the edge of the bath. "Here are your clothes for tonight, make sure you don't dirty them. And you must use the deodorants and perfumes on the side there, make yourself smell better than a stable for once."
Ellie nodded obediently, secretly picturing herself tearing the other girls head off and using it as a football. Anya pulled at a strand of Ellie's hair. "Shame you're not blonde like us, the men prefer that. Still, I doubt the man you'll be marrying will care one way or another."
It was so hard for Ellie to stop herself from asking who, but she knew that they wouldn't tell her anyway, not if they thought she wanted to know. She schooled her features to look impassive and Stephanie narrowed her eyes.
"Don't you care who you're marrying?" she asked, watching as Ellie just shrugged. "God, look at her, she has no spirit at all, no brain. I shouldn't think he'll want her anyway!"
"Well let's tell her, see if we can get a reaction then," Anya said, grinning maliciously.
"Yeah, why not. His name is Mark Calloway, and he lives in that spooky old mansion on the mountain," Stephanie said, watching with glee as Ellie's face drained of colour and her eyes shot up to hers.
Ellie had heard enough about the man when she was younger to get a picture she didn't like at all. Apparently he was some sort of giant and he was feared by all the townsfolk for his mean temper. She had heard him accused of devil worshipping and worse, called the beast by many, and the thought of being at the mercy of such a man terrified her.
Stephanie and Anya both saw the fear on her face and laughed at her, glad that they could make her show some sort of emotion, and even happier that it was fear. They left the room and Ellie heard them talking to Anne-Marie, hearing the older woman join in their laughter as well.
She felt trapped. She had nowhere to go even if she could run away, and she knew that would be impossible. On such an important occasion her Stepmother would have hired some men to guard the front gates so Ellie would have no chance of getting out at all. She felt her eyes fill with tears and she blinked them quickly away. She wouldn't show such a weakness in front of those three vixens.
Anne-Marie called her out of the bathroom a few minutes later and looked her over in her new clothes, nodding when she saw what a good fit the long dress was. "Good, you're showing just enough cleavage to get him interested, but not too much. Why, if you weren't so dull you could almost look pretty. How surprising!" she said, giving one of her sly smiles. "Now come and have your hair done, my dear, and also your make up.. We must do what we can with such a plain face." She pushed Ellie down into a chair in front of the mirror and a young woman came into the room carrying a box of make up.
A couple of hours later Ellie was sitting, stiff as a board, on the edge of one of the armchairs in the sitting room, waiting for the doorbell to ring and herald her doom. There was no way out of this and she knew it, but right now she just wished she were dead.
Her stepmother had shut her in this room on her own and said she would only come and get her when the man in question arrived. Ellie jumped when the bell rang and she heard talking and laughter fill the hallway. It was obvious that guests were arriving now, and that they weren't this Mark Calloway person, at least not yet.
When she did detect a deep voice coming from beyond the door she stiffened even further and her eyes shot warily to the door. She thought she would pass out when the door finally opened, and then nearly did when she looked up and saw the enormous man filling the doorway.
Oh my God, she thought, all the rumours must be true. He looked to be about eight ft tall to her startled eyes and he was a rough looking man. He was dressed well for the evening, his hair was short and brushed back from his high forehead and he wore a dark well fitted suit. But to Ellie he looked dangerous. He had piercing green eyes underneath lowered brows and he had a dark scowl on his face, one that he looked like he always wore. His hair was red and she wondered if it was true what they said about redheads and their temperaments. She didn't ever want to find out, and she didn't want to be at the mercy of this man.
Mark Calloway looked at the young girl sitting in front of him, his eyes coldly running up and down her slight form and then examining her face. She was pretty, he thought, which was a bonus. He had decided to buy a wife so he could get an heir to his estate, not wanting to go through the normal channels of finding a woman and getting married. People said he was an evil man, but in reality he was just bitter because of two failed marriages, especially his last one. He gritted his teeth when he thought of what that bitch had said to him before they split up. No woman would ever get close to his heart again, he decided, which was why he was now taking this route. This girl would do.
"She is pure?" he asked the woman next to him, immune to her cold beauty, something that Anne-Marie did not like.
"Yes, Mr Calloway, she is pure. She has never been near a boy, except before her eleventh year and only then when one of the boys from town made a delivery, but she was too young to take any sort of romantic interest. You can take my word for it that she is untouched."
Amy was flushed from such talk by this point and she felt herself start to shake as he moved towards her, unable to hide her obvious fear from these hateful people.
"Stand up, child," Mark ordered, towering over her. When she didn't immediately move he shouted, "Stand, I said!"
Ellie immediately jumped up and stood before him, keeping her face lowered. His large hand came underneath her chin and lifted her face to his, his eyes taking in all the traces of her embarrassment and fear. "She doesn't seem very willing," he murmured.
"She will do as she is told," Anne-Marie said, glaring at Ellie.
"She had better," Mark replied, his fingers tightening briefly on her chin before releasing her. "Very well, I shall take her with me tonight. Make sure she is ready."
"Do not worry, sir, she doesn't have many belongings to pack," the older woman said, smiling sweetly at the huge man.
"Then pack nothing. I will arrange for all her needs," he said, giving the other woman a cold look that she backed down from. "In fact, I think it would be as well if we left immediately. I can arrange for the ceremony to take place in the morning."
"As you wish. I will fetch her a coat."
Ellie couldn't believe what was going on. She knew better than to say anything to anger her stepmother or this man. From what she had heard when she was younger he did not like people talking back to him, but she didn't know what he would do if she did. She didn't really want to find out.
Her stepmother returned holding one of her own coats, an old one and far too large for Ellie's delicate build. But the older woman couldn't have cared less. She was finally getting rid of this little thorn in her side, and she couldn't have imagined turning her over to a better person. The child would learn her place soon enough.
Mark took the coat from the woman and held it out to Ellie, obviously waiting for her to slip into it. She tried to get it on as quickly as she could, not wishing to anger him.
Then everything happened so fast that she was in his chauffeur driven limousine before she had time to even blink, and he was slipping in next to her. Luckily the size of the vehicle made it possible for her to keep a fair distance away from him. She turned to look out of the window as the car pulled away, watching as the only home she had ever known receded into the distance. She had a feeling she would never see it again.