Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any of its characters; they are all property of Stephenie Meyer.
The sound of the rooster crowing was all that I needed to rouse me from my light sleep. Never, ever did I allow myself to drift away into the world of dreams deeply enough that I let my guard down, possibly endangering me to the world around me. I slowly eased over onto my back, and heard the slight rustled from the dried grasses that made up my bed as they rubbed together. My eyes cracked open just enough to see the pale light of dawn as it crept up over the barn window ledge, signifying that another day was beginning anew, and time was not to be wasted on the idle.
I rose to my feet and shook out the skirts of my dress, loosening any wayward strands that I might have picked up throughout the evening. I turned, and spying my ragged smock and shawl, I moved to put them on quickly, turning my nose up at the odor that emanated from the soiled fabric. The smell may be vile, but it was well worth the distance in placed between me and the less then virtuous men that came and went here.
I glanced down from the loft I made my nightly rest in and made sure that there were no hands to be seen tending to the livestock in the barn before allowing myself to scurry down to the floor below. I froze as my feet made contact with the soft dirt floor; listening to be sure I was safe to continue with my daily routine before I attended to the chores that were expected of me.
I moved to the sty in the corner, noting that the hefty sow was nursing her large, noisy brood in the far corner before I slipped a hand inside the wooden bars and scooped a handful of the muddy, foul muck that littered the pen and set to work scrubbing it into my skin, covering my face, arms and hands with it until I was thoroughly filthy. I made sure to cover up my long brown hair with the overly large shawl, and tied it so it draped around my body in heavy folds, covering any of the curves that revealed my age and womanly shape that were hidden underneath.
Finally I made sure to hunch my shoulders and take on the odd gait that I habited to seem far less noticeable to those of the male persuasion. These were the daily tasks that I had learned to put in place each day so unlike the other female servants, I was not fondled and grabbed and forced to be a part of the frequent amusement of men.
I slipped out of the barn, silent as the night on my nimble feet, racing to the henhouse to gather fresh eggs for the cook. This was only the first of my daily tasks, but I knew if I were quick and did what was required of me that I would be fed, and would soon be able to escape for a few hours to wander in the woods, away from the home I so loathed.
In only a second I had entered the still dark enclosure where the hens nested…many of them clucking softly as they roosted, still half sleeping. I knew which nests were to be left, in order for new chicks to be born, and I moved quietly to the nests that I was to search. I gently eased my hand under the soft forms, slipping eggs out as quickly as I could while trying not to alarm the hens too much.
I collected the eggs in my smock, gathering it up in my hands, knowing that my long skirts still covered my legs properly. The smooth brown and white orbs felt warm and delicate in my hands as I picked them up and gently eased them into my increasing collection as I moved from nest to nest, the thick air in the hen house tickling my nose, nearly causing me to sneeze. Once I had examined every last nest, I opened the small door that allowed the hens to roam the yards once they woke for the day.
Outside I stopped to toss out a few handfuls of grain from a bucket by the door. This would allow the hens some easy foraging in order to produce more eggs for the next day. I stood for a moment and enjoyed the sun as it rose over the horizon and the heat of it warmed my face. I loved the sun, but when it was out it was the easiest time of day to be seen, and so I hurried on my way over to the main house, towards the door to the kitchen.
I was careful not to jostle the eggs, knowing that cooks would be angered if they knew I had damaged even a single one , so I moved them as gently as sleeping babes as I eased them into the basket that were kept by the door before ringing the bell on the doorpost. Moments later one appeared and seeing the brimming basket, he grunted and reached for it, pulling it from my hand while waving me off.
I ran from the house, knowing that next it was time to head for the washing area to pound clean the household linens and the garments of the master and whatever guests he currently had in his home, be they male or female. This was an arduous task, but a task that gave you a feeling of accomplishment as you pounded the soiled fabric clean, and you rinsed away the dirt under the flowing water of the stream. The work left you sore and aching...but the pain was the sort that let you know you were alive and useful in a productive manner.
The woman in charge of the cleaning always scowled at me, and I often heard her mutter under her breath that perhaps I should be washed instead of the sheets, but she had no complaint with the quality of my work. It was the longest, and last chore of the morning, and was cumbersome as all of the cloth had to be hung to dry in the sun while it beat down strong and bright, but it left only one more chore to do before I could disappear without raising questions.
I walked away from it with the stiff hobble I used when near others, but once I was out of sight I eased along on nimble feet in order to get to the final, yet most frightening task of the morning. The sooner this task was finished the sooner I could go to the cook to be given my daily allotment of food, and with it disappear into the fragrant woods free to be myself and explore.
I approached the main house with trepidation. Everyone here lived on the grounds of Sir James Welshford, a man of shrewd nature and ill repute. He valued his livestock more than the females around his home and surrounding areas, paying more heed to his prize stallion then to the woman whom he bedded. He was our Lord… and what he wished for he received…nothing was safe from his grasp. At one time he had desired my mother… and that craving removed her from or small home.
Sir James had made advances on my mother after he noticed her on a visit through the town in which we lived. My father, Charles William Swan, had stood up to him, reminding the Lord that she was his wife. Wives were considered the property of their men, and therefore off limits to other men, but soon after Sir James' interest in my mother… my father suddenly went missing and was found dead. As mother no longer had a husband to shelter her, she was no longer able to refused the Lord's command that she move to his grounds and be available to his every whim. Even as a child I knew that that man was evil, and I had no desire to have that sort of treatment.
When I neared the house I returned to my stiff, hunched over gait, and I made my way to a back door of the manor that belonged to Sir James. The door was open, and just inside awaited the housekeeper who assigned the daily chores, such as sweeping, dusting and whatever else needed doing on that particular day. She stood silently watching me with a curled lip while we awaited the arrival of two more young women, around the same age as me.
I eyed the women, and their feminine countenances as they arrived, noting that one of them had a slight shadow on her cheek…reminiscent of a healing bruise and tired eyes. With dark, shoulder length wavy hair, and the tight set of her lips she reminded me of my mother…or the way my mother had been as this life had begun to wear upon her soul.
My mother before me had once been strong but after my father's death she had been resigned to being the play thing of men…but I was the one who saw as they used and abused her… having their way as they taunted and groped…not caring if they were too rough… she was not the ones who bathed her wounds if a man's amorous attentions became out of hand due to his intake of mead and spirits…nor were they the ones to watch her cry as her body delivered the form of a small, lifeless child, a son born too soon from her masters rough handling.
Instead I watched…I watched and learned that the men favored things…beautiful long hair that shone in the sun…they favored a woman's curves and gently rounded hip…they favored the sweet smell of oils and perfumes and the lively step of a girl who danced when they made merriment. I vowed I would have none of it. And when my mother died in her bed after the master of the house, Sir James, allowed his visitors to use her for their own games, I swore that I would never live the life of my mother.
I knew that she did what she did because she was fearful...she seemed dead inside, but it did not stop her from going to them when they called for her. I also knew that not all men lived as such...I had been to market and saw the way many gentler men… the way they smiled and exchanged glances. I had even seen the way they hid their women away when the men, the like of those that surrounded me daily, rode through town on their steeds, their eyes wandering as quickly as their hands.
I knew this and yet it saddened me to know that I would never see it for myself. If I was able I would keep myself from those wandering eyes and hands…I might save my body, but my soul would be lost as I whiled away my youth slaving for those who would never appreciate me…the very idea was disheartening.
A sudden slash across my back brought me back to the task at hand, and I noticed that the other girls were staring at me. I must have missed our instructions as he woman of the house scowled at me and held a thick switch in her hand as her eyes glowered at me. Her stare made my cheeks flare as red as the firey hair on the woman's cheeks.
I knew this to be the woman of the house…Sir James's wife in name only. He kept her for propriety's sake, but she did not warm his bed at night…Instead she kept his house running smoothly. I curtsied clumsily and uttered a n apology for my mistake and the woman wrinkled her nose at me before speaking.
"As I was saying…" She began in an exaggerated tone. "My husband is expecting company soon at hand. I expect the house to shine and the floors to gleam as if they were a newly made looking glass. His Lord's cousins will be here for a fortnight and all three will require rooms turned down, two for the gentlemen, and one for their younger sister. See to it they are freshly made beds…and anything else that they may require during their stay with us…our home will be theirs as they continue on their journey home. Have I made myself clear?" She demanded as her eyes briefly touched on our own before drifting away.
"Yes Milady." We all intoned at the same time. It was obvious to me that we all just wished to be allowed to do our work in peace. As if she felt us unworthy of her presence she drifted away her voice giving out orders to other staff of the house.
Whoever their guests were they seemed to hold importance with the lady of the house for she seemed on edge by their impending arrival. The girl soundlessly set to work and I headed off to scrub and polish the floors, knowing it was the dirtier work and that it would grant me time to myself while the others dusted and opened windows to allow the fresh air in.
I lost myself in my work, intent on escaping before the lord's company came calling. All I wanted was my small parcel of food and time to escape into the woods, where I could eat and escape to the small grotto I had discovered in the forest. I let myself imagine the many wonders my afternoon might hold as I scrubbed with rags and brushes, burnishing the wood until it had a warm glow. I imagined myself as I moved silently among the wood seeking out the sounds of the birds singing and the many wonders of nature that I could investigate before I allowed myself to finally be at ease in the depths of the woods, it helped the work to pass by more quickly until it could be my favorite part of the day.
The time flew as I relived my many memories from earlier excursions, from watching the new fawns as they hid in the grass waiting for their vigilant mothers to learning about the sweet sand that lathered as I scrubbed it into my skin. Cleaning the grim of my façade off of my skin…even if for only a short while. The wood was my very own kingdom…and no one could take it from me.
I looked up to realize that I had finished the entire upper floor and the staircase. Only the lower level was left. I dipped my brush into the lye water and began to scrub with a new vigor until there was a commotion in the distance. The woman of the house ran through the main room to the parlor to gaze out the large tight feature suddenly loosened with a look of fear, and I could only imagine that if she were fearful, the rest of us should be petrified.