Lillian stared at herself in the mirror. She ran her fingertips over the red, puffy skin under her eyes and silently scolded herself for being such a cry baby last night. Her rich, auburn hair looked dirty; greasy. She wound a strand of hair around her finger and made a perfect ringlet. The dirty quality of her hair held the curl so she made a few more.
As she tilted her head from side to side, the dim light in the room highlighted a developing rash around her mouth and under her nose. Little bumps that she could hardly see but could easily feel.
She was still in her bedclothes- a thin gown made of raw silk. The low neckline revealed the top of her breasts and she could see that the bruises had finally faded to a soft olive green rimmed with purple. She cinched up the neckline by pulling on the two velvet ribbons threaded through the gown and made a perfect bow. The bruises were no longer visible.
Her fingernails were chewed down to practically nothing and were actually quite painful. Still, she found herself gnawing on the tender skin trying to find something she could nibble off.
Her eyes began to well up with tears and sting. Her throat seizing up she tried to hold back the sobs.
No more crying! NO MORE CRYING!
The constant crying was exhausting her and making it difficult to think clearly. All day yesterday and for most of the night until she fell into a deep sleep, her body shuddered and shook with the crying. She would try to stop so that she could strategize or plan but it seemed as though her body and her mind were disconnected. Her mind wanted to regain control; her body wanted to breakdown.
Perhaps if I got some fresh air?
Her mind filled with hopeful anticipation, forcing her broken and downtrodden body out of the chair and across the room.
The floor was icy cold on her bare feet and she could feel the chill of the room pressing in against her thin bedclothes. A velvet robe that matched the ribbons on her grown was balled up at the foot of the bed. As she picked it up, a huge grey spider skittered across the floor.
Lillian gave a little yelp and dropped the robe in disgust. Instead, she pulled a blanket off the four poster bed and wrapped herself up in it. She glanced at the large stone fireplace across the room and couldn't remember the last time someone came to build a fire in it.
Lillian tugged on a rope at the left side of the bed summoning her attendant. Somewhere on the lowest floor of the manor, a bell would be ringing and an attendant would be forced to stop eating their breakfast to come see what Lillian was requesting. The house was so large, it would take several minutes for them to reach her room.
Lillian found herself in front of the large, glass doors that led to her private terrace. The curtains had been drawn across the doors for so long that when she pulled them back, she actually gasped at the amount of light that poured in. Her eyes wouldn't stop blinking and watering but she was determined to make them adjust to the new lighting. The door knob seemed to be locked but then decided that they were probably just stuck from limited use.
Finally the doors gave way and opened. A cool rush of air filled Lillian's nostrils and excited her flesh with goosebumps.
She had no idea what time of the day it was or what activity could possibly be going on around the manor. Her mind was formless; devoid of exploring any solid thoughts. This saddened her tremendously.
How out of touch with the world am I? Does anyone even know what has become of me?
The flowering vines on the terrace were out of control. They wound their way around and through almost every surface. The railing was thick with them and Lillian had to physically move the vines from her path in order to stand at the railing and peer over its edge.
“You summoned My Lady?”
Lillian jumped at the sound of a voice and whipped around to see young Madeline standing in the doorway of the terrace.
“Yes.” Lillian's voice was whisper soft and slightly scratchy from crying and misuse. She cleared her throat and tried again, “Yes! Yes, I summoned. I would like for you to build a fire in the fireplace, change the coverings on the bed and send a Gardner to manage these unruly vines.” She gestured at the thick tendrils surrounding the railing.
“Yes, M'Lady” Madeline answered softly, keeping her eyes downcast.
Lillian remembered she was only wearing her bedclothes. She pulled the blanket from around her shoulders and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Also, Madeline, I need you to fix me a hot bath. I'll need a gown for attending the gardens later as well. But hurry along and build that fire, a roaring fire to remedy the awful chill in this room that has lingered so long!”
Madeline blushed at the rising tone of Lillian's voice. She scurried over to the fireplace and began scooping out the heaping pile of ash and coals.
“It's not your fault, Madeline. I know I have asked not to be disturbed but someone could have checked...” her voice trailed off as she remembered shouting at Madeline the last time she came to “check” on her.
Madeline mumbled something totally inaudible and she let it go. She didn't want to hear Madeline speak of the last few weeks. It would confirm her fears that she had truly gone crazy. That she had been to the brink of utter darkness and despair and have almost been unable to return. Or survive.
Madeline managed to get a healthy fire established and then left to ready Lillian's bath. The warmth and glow of the fire drew her in and she let the blanket drop from around her shoulders.
There was a large wingback chair in the corner of the room and Lillian drug it right to the very front of the hearth and then allowed herself to sink into the cushions. She held up her feet to the flames, letting them lick at her heels.
She closed her eyes. For the first time in a long time, Lillian Briarwood felt present in this world.
Madeline was having trouble making her way down the dark corridor. Her heart was beating rapidly and she was short of breath. The lamps that usually were lit in this particular wing of the manor were so dim she could barely see.
She knew the Master was down here somewhere but she had only visited him once and had forgotten the way. She came to the end of the narrow hall and discovered that she could either turn right or left. Both directions offered nothing but rows of doors and darkness.
She was lost. The Lady was probably already wondering where she had gone. It shouldn't have taken her this long to fetch hot water for the bath.
“Which way?” she wondered out loud to nobody. She finally went left. Left just seemed right. As she passed by a door she heard voices. She stopped to listen, slightly pressing her ear to the door.
She could hear the low, familiar baritone of Master's voice but couldn't make out the words. Just as she raised her hand to knock on the door, a scream exploded from inside. Madeline instinctively went to cover her ears but the scream stopped short.
Madeline felt a panic rise up inside her and she covered her own mouth before a scream could betray her presence. Quickly, she turned to run back the way she came but ran smack into Dolger, Master's footman.
Madeline didn't know if Dolger was the footman's first or last name. She never knew how to properly address him.
“Oh! Sir! Sorry!” she went to step around him.
“Wait up missy.” Dolger caught Madeline's arm in a vice like grip, “What are you doing down here?”
“Master told me to tell him if the Lady made summons. She made summons this morning, Sir.” She wiggled in Dolger's grasp and he let her go.
“Well, Master didn't tell you to tell me, now did 'e? He told you to tell 'em” he roughly pushed her back towards the door.
“Can't you tell him? I'm to draw the Lady's bath.”
“Naw. I can't. You do it.” Dolger reached around Madeline and rapped heavily on the door.
Almost as if he was waiting, it swooped open and Master stepped into the hall.
“What is it? What happened?” Master was wiping his hands with a dark cloth. He was so tall, he stooped a little in the door frame in order to look right into Madeline's eyes.
Dolger wrapped his arm around her shoulders, “This little one 'as something to tell you.”
Madeline was trembling uncontrollably, “Lady made summons this morning. To build a fire and draw a bath. I better go, I have kept her waiting.”
She ducked out from under Dolger's arm and ran down the corridor as fast as she could go his black eyed stare haunting her the whole way. She didn't stop until she got to the West wing kitchens and then she slumped down in front of the boiler.
After she had collected herself, Madeline ran hot water for the Lady's bath and then silently employed two attendants to help bring the tub and the hot water to the Lady's chambers. Both attendants asked Madeline a barrage of questions but she would just shake her head and kept her mouth closed.
They managed to fill the Lady's bath in just under three separate trips and then the attendants left Madeline to bathe and dress the Lady Briarwood. Before they left the room, one of the attendants nudged the other one and pointed towards the fireplace. Lady Briarwood was still in her bedclothes. The glow of the fire and the nature of the raw silk gown revealed her beautiful, feminine silhouette. The attendants tittered and the taller, more mature one pleaded with Madeline to let him hide behind the curtains while she bathed her.
Madeline rightly slapped the boy square across the face and told him to remember his manners and good fortune to have landed a job at the manor.
“Control your lusty thoughts Brandon or I'll tell Master.”
The young attendant was quick to respond, “You need a good shagging Madeline. Meet me tonight behind the stables and you can help me control my lusty thoughts.”
This comment got both high praise from the other attendant and a swift kick at his private parts from Madeline which he was able to avoid by exiting the room.
She slammed the door and leaned against it. The loud noise startled the Lady from her nap.
“Ready for your bath my Lady?”
“More than you know.” the Lady sighed.
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