Title: "In the Beginning"
Disclaimer: As far as I know, the Richard Sharpe series was created and is owned by Bernard Cornwell. This is a work of fiction. The OCs in it are mine, but no infringement of copyright is intended or should be inferred. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so please do not sue!
Summary: There was a brief time when someone loved Richard Sharpe. I can't say much more without giving it away. Please read and review!
"It's not a fit night for man or beast, love," the big man said as he approached the girl who was pacing back and forth alone on this London street. It was evening and they were not far from the Thames. "Are yeh lost?"
The girl turned and blinked at him. She was a pretty 'un, the man decided—very pretty indeed. Young, too. She couldn't be more than sixteen, and might not be even that old. Blonde hair, fresh complexion, and a fine figure under the cheap calico dress she wore. She smiled at him, a bit nervously, and he added good teeth to her list of qualities.
"No, I…I'm just…waiting for someone. A friend," she added quickly. Her accent, even more than her dress, made it clear she was a girl from the countryside.
Her pathetic lie amused the big man, although he was careful not to let it show. "Well, love, it looks as if yer friend isn't goin' ta show. An' this is no place for a respectable young gel. Are yeh sure yeh weren't 'eaded for the Thames?"
"Why should I do that?"
"To throw yerself in, mebbe?" When her eyes widened, he laughed. "Cummon, love! D'yeh seriously think you're the only girl who ever got 'erself up the spout?"
"I wasn't going to drown myself!" the girl cried.
"But yeh are in the family way, aren't yeh?" When the girl did not reply, he softened his voice again. Hard and then soft, that was the ticket. You could get them to come with you willingly, if only you did it right. "Yeh can tell me. You're not the first young gel I've met who's been in that condition."
"He…he said he loved me," the girl said, her voice barely audible.
"Who did, love?" the big man asked, although he knew quite well. It was an old, familiar story, one he had heard countless times. At this stage, however, it was still wise to feign sympathy.
"The young man who was courting me. My lover," she added, with a flash of defiance. "He promised to marry me! Swore he would stand by me!"
"And 'e didn't, did 'e?" The silence that followed was sufficient answer to the man's question. "Left yeh as soon's he got yeh pregnant, no doubt. But 'angin' round the Thames is no good, love. You shouldn't kill yersel' o'er the loikes a' 'im."
"I will not." The girl crossed her arms, perhaps instinctively, over her middle. "I cannot. If I did that, I would die, but my babe would die too, and my poor babe has done nothing wrong."
"That's the spirit, love!" the man said encouragingly. "But what are yeh goin' ta do, then?"
The girl hesitated, looking at him. "I…I know not. My father and mother…"
The man nodded understandingly. "Put yeh out, didn't they? So you came to London to find work, but yeh h'aint 'ad much luck." Again, the girl's lack of a reply told him all that he needed to know. "Well, you're lucky I came along, my love. Folk call me Big Jim. I 'ave a fine, big house not far from 'ere, and there's always work to be done in it. Just come along with me."
He held out his hand to the girl; she took it tentatively. That was the signal for the closed carriage to come up the street alongside them. He helped the girl into the carriage, the door closed, and together, they went off into the night.
The midwife, a large blowsy woman known as Red Mollie, came out of one of the inner rooms. "Forget it, Jim. She's too far gone. It wouldn't be at all wise to try fer an abortion now. Might kill 'em both."
Big Jim grimaced, not at all pleased by the news. The girl had not only come along willingly, she had eaten a meal and had a bath before realizing that the 'fine, big house' Big Jim had described to her was in fact a brothel, and he was her pimp and owner now.
She had been horrified, and it had taken a few slaps and punches to bring her into line, but he had not counted on having to let her pregnancy continue. To be sure, there were more girls where she came from, but not so many that were as pretty, as young, or as healthy as she. With proper care, she might last for years in his stable. "Bloody 'ell. Wot am I goin' to do with a little bastard 'round 'ere? Not to mention that if she's pregnant, she won't be earnin' 'er keep. Mebbe if I beat it out 'a' 'er—" He started for the bedroom where the girl was.
The midwife put herself between him and the door. "Don't be a fool, Jim. If I can't get rid 'a' it, do yeh think you can? Any beatin' that will kill the babby will kill the gel, I'm tellin' yeh. 'Sides, yeh 'aven't thought this through. She can't do everythin' while she's pregnant, that's true. But there's still plenty she can do with 'er 'ands, or 'er mouth. She just needs to be told 'ow. The customers will be impressed by the size of 'er tits. An' yeh can keep 'er 'ere by keepin' 'er babby 'ere, 'ave yeh thought 'o' that?"
A grim, cruel smile crossed the pimp's face. "Yeh're a practical woman, Red Mollie, I've always said." He considered the matter a moment longer, and then shrugged. "All right. Tell the gel the news. As long as she earns 'er keep, she can stay, and so can 'er bastard."
The midwife nodded. "Wot's 'er name?"
"Elizabeth." Big Jim thought again. "No—Lizzie. It's Lizzie from now on. The customers don't like anythin' too hard to pronounce, and 'sides, 'Elizabeth' sounds too la-di-dah. The gel can't 'ave airs and graces if she's goin' to be workin' 'ere."
"Lizzie Sharpe," Red Mollie said thoughtfully. "Sounds like a right whore's name, so it does." Abruptly, she turned and went back into the bedroom where Elizabeth Sharpe was.
The girl looked up anxiously when the midwife returned. The older woman plastered a false smile on her face. "Good news, my girl. Big Jim sez yeh can stay 'ere, you an' yer babby both."
"How is that good news?" the girl cried. "I told you what he did! He tricked me, made me think this was a proper home, and then he expects me to—" She shuddered. "And he beat me when I tried to refuse!"
Big Mollie waved a hand dismissively. "Beat yeh? Nah, gel, 'e did nothin' 'a' the sort. 'E gave yeh a few smacks, at best. If Big Jim 'ad given yeh a beatin', yeh would be nothin' but a mass 'a' bruises now, not e'en able ta move. Yeh're lucky—Big Jim runs a posh h'establishment. 'E don't believe in damagin' the merchandise. Just do whate'er your told, an' ye'll be fine. Both you an' yer babe are in luck. Big Jim sez yeh can keep it." The midwife looked down at the tearstained girl with the swollen belly, and felt a long-dormant stirring of pity. "An' may God 'elp yeh both."
"Push 'arder!" Red Mollie commanded Lizzie Sharpe.
Months had passed. It was a slow night in the brothel, and a couple of the less busy and more curious whores had been drawn to the room where Lizzie was trying to give birth to her child. Lizzie, panting with effort, drew in a deep breath and let out another scream.
Big Jim stuck his head in the door. "Oy! Tell that bitch to stop screamin' or I'll smother 'er, an' then drown 'er brat. She's disturbin' the customers."
The other women looked at him with dislike. Normally they all feared Big Jim, but this was a woman's matter, and even the most cynical of them was at least somewhat impressed by the prospect of a new life being delivered.
"Bugger off, Jim," Red Mollie snapped, speaking for them all. "It won't be long now."
"My—my babe *wants* to be born," Lizzie gasped, her pretty face covered with a sheen of sweat. "All these months, I've felt it moving so strongly inside of me—as if it knows, and *wants* to live."
"A pregnant woman's fancies," Big Jim sneered, but he withdrew and closed the door.
"Bloody pillock," one of the other two whores said with feeling. "Never you mind him, Lizzie."
"I've got the 'ead!" Big Mollie yelled suddenly. "Lizzie, *push!*"
With an enormous gasp and one final, piercing scream, Lizzie Sharpe pushed with all her might, and with a gush of fluids, her child was pushed out of her body and into the hands of Big Mollie. The assembled women cheered.
The child, a boy, began howling the minute the midwife cleared the mucus from his nose and mouth. The other women were impressed by the strength of his cries. "He's a healthy one, and no mistake," one of the two whores commented.
"A strong 'un, too," Big Mollie said, as she went about the work of attending to both the child and his mother. "God knows, 'e'll need to be," she said, almost to herself. "'Ere, you lot, give us a 'and."
A few minutes later, the baby was in Lizzie's arms. "What are you going to call him, Lizzie?" one of the other women asked.
"Wot difference does it make?" Red Mollie said with disinterest, as she wiped her hands on her apron. The moment for her had worn off, and she was thinking about her fee. "'E's the bastard of a whore, so 'e don't 'ave a name anyway."
"Richard," Lizzie answered proudly, as if the midwife had not spoken. "I shall name him for Richard the Lionheart."
A burst of laughter came from the other two whores. "You can't be serious, Lizzie," one gasped.
"I may be a whore, but my child is nothing but good!" Lizzie said fiercely. "I believe he is destined for great things, even if he has to fight for them every step of the way."
The other two whores laughed even more derisively at that; but for just a moment, Big Mollie gazed down thoughtfully at the child in the arms of his mother. "Well, mebbe it's not such a strange name," she said, more to herself than to anyone in the room. "The little bugger's a fighter, there's no doubt 'a' that. If 'e hadn't struggled so 'ard, I dunno if he'd even 'a' been born." She then shook her head slightly, as if rousing herself. "Well, I can't stay 'ere all night." She left the room.
Lizzie hardly noticed; all her attention was upon the baby in her arms. Her child. Her son. "Richard," she whispered, as if confiding a secret to the infant. "Richard…your mother loves you."