There once was rich man with a young daughter. He and his daughter lived happily together for some years until, as is usually the case, he took a wife, one with two daughters of her own. It came to pass that the man became very ill and died, leaving his immense fortune to his wife.
As the years went by, the step-mother revealed her true, uncaring nature without her husband to hold her back. She would often curse and yell at poor Anna, calling her a rogue for her unladylike behavior.
"Honestly, rolling around in the mud with the little servant boys! You are such a disgusting little thing. Ladies do not play with servant boys! I suppose it's not completely your fault since your mother died before she could teach you anything."
The woman would always act very put out and acting as if it was an inconvenience having to raise Anna along with her own daughters whom she lavished attention.
"Oh, my dear lovely girls! You two will both catch such fine, rich husbands."
"Do you think so, mother?"
"Of course, Jean! Such ravishing red hair and bright green eyes! When you come of age, the men will be fawning over you."
"What about me, mother?"
"You're a blond headed, blue eyed beauty. Emma, darling, it should go without saying. Although, you should really stop flirting with every boy with a pretty face. Someone might think you're without virtue."
Whenever Raven said something like that, Emma would merely smirk and Jean would arch a brow and Anna would roll her eyes.
"What about Anna?" Jean had asked once, thoroughly curious. She was never mean-spirited toward her step-sister. On the contrary, she rather liked her, and they got along well.
Emma sighed and placed two fingers on the bridge of her nose, already knowing what her mother was going to say. Her sister was so naïve at times it pained her. In this instance, it pained Anna even more so.
"Anna?" Raven scoffed. She stood from her seat and circled around the chair Anna was in. "Wildly curled hair that already shows white. Are you an old woman or a child? And there's nothing really remarkable about your face either. Dreadfully dull grey eyes. I don't really see much hope in you ever making a good match, but I'm sure you'd make some man a decent bed fellow."
In all the years, Anna endured this treatment for these were times when not much honest work was available for proper ladies. This was when grand balls were held where ladies would dress in silken finery and dazzling jewels and men wore dark suits and danced into the night. It was all an intricate, sparkling ruse to disguise it as no more than a place for eligible, and sometimes not, woman to be paraded in front of would-be husbands.
And despite what venom Raven spewed, Anna was a lady. She would always take whatever abuse with a calm, nonchalant air when she wanted nothing more than to rage and curse and yell just as good as she got. But always, always, she refrained from such improper behavior.
However, everyone has their limits…
It was on a day most like every other when Raven, Emma, and Jean took their tea in the sun room downstairs of the grand old mansion. Raven had taken to having Anna serve the tea, saying that acting the lady would help curb her 'rogue' ways. This day would prove to be unlike any other and the start of something very…different.
The sun streamed through the floor to ceiling window onto the four occupants all seated around a low wooden table. A woman well into her forties sat on the edge of ornately carved wooden chair as she sipped her tea at her leisure. A white gold ring twinkled on her ring finger and fell in stark contrast against the blue of her skin. Red hair was pulled back from her face and arranged in a bun at the back of her head. She glanced up and golden eyes to the other occupants with something like amusement.
To the side of her on the right were two younger woman in their early twenties. One held the handle of her tea cup tightly in her grasp as she stared at the first woman with her emerald green gaze. Bright red hair pooled onto tensed shoulders, and she glanced nervously at the woman sharing the couch with her.
Blue eyes shining with interest, the woman delicately nibbled at a cookie as she looked back and forth between the first woman and the last sitting opposite her mother. She absently flicked a strand of straight, blond hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear.
Silver eyes stared in astonishment at the blue skinned woman, not because of her appearance, but for her words. Pale white skin framed by white streaks of hair seemed to have gotten even paler. Her dark auburn hair stood out more than ever because of it. Her gloved hands folded in her lap tightened around each other until she was aware that she'd cut off the circulation and loosened them minutely.
"Excuse me?" Seventeen-year old Anna asked, sure she couldn't have heard that right.
"It's quite simple, girl," the smile Raven sent her was anything but reassuring. "The arrangements have been made. You will be going to Cain."
"Mother, isn't he rather…old?" Jean asked.
"That hardly matters," Raven waved her hand as if swatting at a pesky gnat. "He's offered a substantial amount of money for you, and I've accepted."
Anna swallowed past the lump in her throat before she opened her mouth and closed it. She tried once more to push words through her mouth.
"Why not?" Raven shrugged airily. "After all I've done for you, I think it's the least you could do."
Anna looked away, not able to look at her step-mother without picturing ripping her hair out. The thought didn't bother her so much as her mind urging her body to get up and actually do it. Her heart was beating fast, and her breath came in quick spurts through her mouth. She heeded none of this as her mind whirled at this news.
"Your mother would be proud," she offered her another false smile, "I'm certain no one ever offered as much money for her as Cain did for you."
Raven's smile turned smug.
Jean's jaw dropped.
Emma's eyes went wide.
Anna sent Raven a deadly glare. Her hand shot out at its own violation and grabbed the pot of fresh, hot tea and hurled it at her step-mother. Emma recovered first just in time to stop the pot from hitting her mother and directed to another table, away from her enraged, step-sister.
"How dare you!" Anna abruptly stood from her chair so quickly it tipped over. Emma moved it aside, afraid she'd trip over it and ruin what promised to be a good tirade. "If ya say one more word about my mother, I swear it will be the last thing you ever say! All these years, you've been nothin' but an evil, heartless, cruel witch! I have done everythin' ya asked of me, never disobeyed ya or went against when ya were dead wrong. I can't remember one time when ya were decent to me without puttin' on a front for somebody! Now you're just gonna sell me to be some man's whore?"
"In a word, yes," her words were sharp and clipped. It surprised her that Anna had acted out in such a way, but she thought it funny that she'd gotten to snap.
"In the past, I have tried to mold you into a lady, but the lessons never quite took. However, Cain has assured me that won't be a problem as he likes his women to have…spirit, and he can handle any unruly behavior from you."
Raven calmly raised her tea to her mouth as Anna fairly vibrated with rage. She lowered it minutely and peered into the cup as if inspecting it.
"After this little display, I think it best if you removed yourself until you've calmed down."
Eyes blazing, Anna left, sure that if she stayed a moment longer she'd attack the woman. The thought didn't stop but knowing that she might not be able to stop did.
"Mother, don't you think that's a bit harsh?" Anna paused as she heard Emma speak.
Was she standing up for her?
"After all, isn't it rather cruel to sell her as a mistress when the man can't even touch her?"
Okay...maybe she wasn't.
Raven's cruel laugher filled the air.
"There are ways around that, my dear."
She wanted to yell. She wanted to scream. She wanted to rip down every single, hideous painting and sculpture that woman so prided and hurl it at her head. She did not. She maintained her calm, however false it was. All of her training on how to be a lady was overriding her childish impulses. Instead, as she pulled the door shut behind her, she walked quickly to her room. She needed to prepare for a rebellion and throwing a fit was not going to help her cause.
It wasn't a loud, screeching rebellion with flaming anger shown for the world that would soon burn itself out only dim to ashes. No. It was a smoldering, righteous indignant thing fueled by every injustice she'd been dealt by her cruel step-mother. It stayed with her, quiet throughout the rest of the day. She feigned submission and being resigned to her fate to the point that Emma sent her the most pitying glance at supper.
She almost lost it right then.
But that night, it was with quiet dignity that Anna went about her room, packing necessary items into a saddle bag and one other to sling around her shoulders, slipped her cloak on over clothes she'd traded with one of the stable boys. A pair of pants were much more sensible than any one of her gowns, even the most common ones.
She raised a hand to her throat, making sure that her father's pendant was in place. It was simply a large emerald with a silver chain, but it was one of the things Raven had never been able to take from her. She tucked it inside her shirt, not about to leave it behind with the other jewels. Still, she'd thought it prudent to take a few. She might need to sell them.
Quietly, she made her way down stairs as fast as she dared, careful to skip that one creaking board. Down the hall, left at this corner and through the back door, she glanced once over her shoulder up at the house, hoping Raven wouldn't look out for whatever reason and see her under the full moon, before she turned and walked to the stable. The tall hostler that worked there since as far as she could remember led her horse, a brown gelding, out through the doors, saddled and waiting for her.
Isaac was old, not more than sixty, not younger than fifty, but he looked close to seventy. He smoked a pipe when he pleased, drank more than he should, and was the one that taught Anna how to play cards, among other things. He was a hard but caring man and Anna was sure that she'd miss him more than her sisters.
"I'm thinkin' there are holes in your plan, my little lady," he told her gruffly, running the back of his hand along his jaw.
"Trust me, I know. I'll be eighteen in a few weeks but by that time, Cain will already have…It's not like I have options, Isaac," she shrugged.
She slung the saddle bag over the back of the horse, preparing to strap it on, but he gently pushed her aside and secured it himself.
"Your father is turning over in his grave, let there be no doubt."
"I'm not all that thrilled with it myself."
Anna absently rubbed at the white blaze on the horse's head. It nudged at her hand and almost brushed her face, but she moved before he did. It wouldn't do for her to knock her mount out before she even escaped. Isaac stepped back with a weary sigh. He crossed his muscular arms over his solid chest and considered the girl turned lady in front of him. She strongly resisted the urge to fidget under his stern gaze. Then he grinned and opened his arms out to her. She stepped into his embrace and held on tight.
"I'm gonna miss you. A lot. A whole lot," she told him.
"If she were a man, I'd have beaten the crap out of her years ago," he said, trying to lighten the very serious atmosphere.
"If she were a man, I don't think Daddy would have married her, er, it then," she muttered into his shirt, imperceptibly wiping off tears on his shirt.
He pulled away from her to look her in the eyes.
"Please try and stay out of trouble."
"Don't I always?"
"No. And somehow, you manage to drag a grown man who should know better with you every time."
She gave him one more squeeze before pulling completely out of his embrace. He helped her onto the horse even though she didn't need his help and both knew it. The danced to the side, eager to be going, but Anna held him in place with a solid grip on the reins.
"I guess…I'll see ya when I see ya," she said uncertainly.
He raised a hand to pat her affectionately on the knee.
"You'll be fine. Now get outta here before I come to my senses."
Anna offered him a final smile and wave before she set off at a trot, the long legs of her horse eating up the ground. Isaac watched her ride off into the night until she was out of sight. Then he turned on his heel and hummed a tune as he walked back to his little shack near the stable, wondering how long it'd take that woman to realize Anna was gone and how much longer than that it'd take her to realize she was missing a horse. Considering the little ruse he'd cooked up with the maids inside the house and the fact that the woman never stepped foot inside his stable, at the most, she'd have a month's head start. He wished her luck once more, went inside to lay down on his bed, and did not sleep that night.
Whether he rested or not, it would, unfortunately, not help Anna in the slightest with what was to come.
A/N: Let it be known: there is a difference between a woman and a lady. A woman is simply a female. A lady has class, is respectable, handles herself accordingly at all times. She holds herself in check.
"How dare you!" is such a cliché thing to say but I really like it. A lot. I wish there were more opportunities to say it in real life.
I don't know why I'm posting this like I have the time to be doing this along with my other stories and school. Obviously, I have a problem. Oh, and I can say right now, this will so exceed the twelve chapter mark I said I was gonna do.
For anyone who doesn't know, a hostler is basically someone who minds the horses, stable master I suppose.
Disclaimer: how much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck would chuck wood? To which I say, what for Pete's sake, is a wood chuck?