Gagnerai et Perdrai (I'll Win, I'll Lose)
[Author's Note: I'm trying to turn this into a full-length novel. It is based upon a fairy tale I love even though I'm 30 years old! It's called "Donkey Skin", by Charles Perrault. Please enjoy this preview. I hope it has a chance...]
...gagnerai et perdrai...(I'll Win, I'll Lose)
Chapter One: Opening Moves
MY STEPFATHER BECAME RICH from a donkey’s humble gift of dung.
I kid you not—that is the source of his wealth! When Mother married him (not that I approved), he was a mere donkey-herder. Even then he was a complete failure, because his animals were as scrawny and flea-ridden as donkeys could ever be! It wasn’t until he received a healthy gray mare as a charity gift from our village church that his fortunes changed. You see, Goldie, as he called her, has the extraordinary talent of turning golden hay into golden excrement. Again, that is no joke! Her waste is solid; thus, so are the nuggets that tumble from her long-suffering rear. Poor creature! Relieving her bowels must be very painful indeed, but do you think my stepfather cares?
My name is Remy Aurore d’Argent, known in these parts as Remy Silverdawn. I still bear my father’s last name, for now and always, because he’s the only man I'll ever call mon pére. It displeased Mother when I refused to take my stepfather’s last name and become his legally-adopted daughter, but why would I ever take off a mantle of silver in order to wear that of a fool—le Fou? His first name is Auldric, from the ancient words auld and ric, meaning “old ruler”.
That’s what he is, for sure. He lords himself over everything and everyone...
Mother said he wasn't always this way. Back when he was trying to win her hand, with her being a widow for five long years, he was kind and modest, always lending a hand on the homestead—and any coins he could spare—whenever she needed them. When my stepfather proposed, Mother graciously accepted. I knew she didn't love him, or at least not as much as she'd loved Father, but I guess there comes a time in a woman's life when she's willing to marry a man with steady wages instead of the man of her dreams! I haven't reached that point quite yet, but—
Maybe that's my trouble. Auldric is very wealthy now because of Goldie, and—
Still, I'll never marry him! He's my stepfather, and such a union would be wicked. Mon Dieu forbids it, or at least I'm fairly sure He does. As for Auldric, he himself could care less. He's had his eye on me ever since Mother passed away two years ago. Maybe even before then, which is strange indeed! It's not that I'm beautiful, or even pretty. My hair is a dark copper-red, but it's thin and gets easily tangled. My eyes are blue, yes, as clear as the mountain lake not too far from us, but they're rather too large for my face. I'm also very plump. Some impolite people call me “fat” behind my back, and I try to pretend I'm not listening. What's worse, the men in our village are partial to slender women like my (betrothed) sister Elise. Above all, I am lame and cannot walk well, or do hard farm work. I fall down at least once a day—more than that if I'm unlucky. My clumsiness and unsteadiness have earned me the title of village laughingstock, second only to my stepfather!
Because of these things—my many flaws—a husband (who is not my relative!) has not been found for me. However, all is not lost. Father made Mother swear upon his deathbed that he'd let Elise and me decide for ourselves whom we'd like to marry. Mother promised, and that has saved me thus far from Auldric.
I say “thus far” because now Mother is gone, too. Her vow has expired.
That's why I have to think quickly. Every day at mealtime now, my stepfather leers at me, trying to engage me in small talk about this and that. There's always a smile on his face, to be sure, but it never reaches his piggish brown eyes. They remain as still and bottomless as our well…
Let me tell you a bit more: Auldric’s head is the shape and size of a giant potato, and the years that he's spent in the fields as a farmer have turned his skin to leather. His hair, however, is snow-white, billowing in feathery tufts above his sunken ears. It's as if they've been taken off, folded in half, and then put back on his head! My stepfather's appearance would be comical if he weren't so shrewd and cunning. His eyes betray the lack of humor in his soul, except the glee a braggart feels when he humiliates his opponents. Auldric plays the fool in order to make people like him. Everyone loves a clown—even me. However, I do not love this clown. He hasn't even earned my respect, and he never will—especially if he wants to marry me. Taking one's stepdaughter as a wife is asinine!
Not to mention immoral. No one will ever have a high opinion of him after this...
Auldric could have chosen to marry my sister as well, but three months ago, Elise became betrothed to a good man named Daniel. He works as a carpenter's assistant in our village, setting to rights even those broken things that are thought to be beyond repair! Many consider him a miracle worker, though his are not of the saintly sort. When it comes to earning a living and putting food on the table, a working mill or loom is far more important than a weeping statue anyway! I am so glad that Elise is marrying Daniel (and not just because it keeps her from marrying our stepfather, even if Auldric wanted her instead of me)! Before she met Daniel through a close friend of hers one year ago, she had been rather lonely. I knew that Elise had long dreamed of meeting her future husband, a godly man who would provide a loving home for her and the children they would raise together. I myself am not so keen on having children, but I do wish that a dear, lifelong companion would come into my life and “checkmate” my quivering heart!
You see, I'm an odd girl. In my spare time, I play a wild, complex game called les echecs, known as chess. It's Man's attempt to create order out of chaos, and in this respect, Man has done very well! Chess is a game of war—one king and his army against another, White versus Black. I prefer the white pieces, for then I have the privilege of making the first move. White always begins the game.
In the case of myself versus Aldric, I'm glad that I'm the White—innocent—one...
When I do meet my future husband, I wonder who will start our courtship—I, the often-wayward “black pawn” of our family? I have always had to ask a gentleman to accompany me to any sort of social gathering, such as a festival. Or will it be he, my “white knight”? I honestly don't know.
At this point, I see myself as having three choices. One: I could yield to my stepfather's wishes and marry him; two: I could keep waiting and yearning for the phantom of my heart's desire, who has shown no sign of arriving; or three: I could enter a convent, and the service of God and humanity. The third option seems far better than the other two, but I would definitely have trouble taking the vows of chastity and obedience! Poverty I can endure, because our family has been poor before. When he was alive, Father had been our village schoolmaster, and the wages he had earned were never high. He could have tried to cadge a position as the tutor of our manor lord's sons, but he believed that everyone could—and should—learn. He taught even the youngest and most ragged peasant children their letters and how to count. I'll always be grateful to my father—my real father—for respecting everyone as his equal, even the very least of us.
As for Auldric? He respects no one but himself, if that's even true. I think that pride's his problem. Because of his Goldie-begotten riches, he's growing more arrogant by the day. Perhaps he thinks to buy himself a noble title! Before that, though, he thinks to find himself a bride. Guess who?
At lunchtime today, I finally confronted him: “Stepfather, why do you want to marry me?”
Auldric chuckled. “Why not, my dear girl? I'm an old man, and I'm lonely.”
“Not only am I your stepdaughter,” I continued, not believing him, “but I'm not even pretty. Many in the village deem me ugly and fat, and they laugh at me behind my back. There are so many other women who would gladly have you, who are lovelier and more graceful than I! The way I walk—and fall down on my prat—is a joke, and as for having children? I could never have them with you.”
“Beauty is only skin-deep,” answered Auldric with a small smile. “Really? Never?”
“The thought of sharing your bed gives me the shivers.”
“Remy!” That was Elise, taking a shocked and hesitant bite of her salad greens.
“I'm sorry. It's not proper table talk, I know, but I have to tell the truth before it's too late.”
“Do you despise me that much?” asked Aldric. “Even after all this time?”
“I do. I can't believe you'd even entertain the idea of marrying me.”
“The truth is, Remy,” he said, “if you want the truth, is that no one else in the village knows where our sudden wealth is coming from. No one knows it's from Goldie. Not even the elders at the church were aware that her—leavings—are made out of pure gold! I'm surprised that they didn't, but maybe she started blessing me as soon as she came to this very house!” Auldric's chest puffed up with pride. “Maybe God laid His mighty hand upon her—rear—and transformed her foulest waste into the most valuable thing on this Earth! If so, then He has been good!” His eyes gleamed.
“Pardonnez-moi, stepfather, but I'm trying to eat,” said Elise with a frown.
“I do apologize,” replied Auldric, “but my point is this: Remy, if the source of my wealth becomes known, I'll be ruined! People will either try to kill me in order to get their hands on Goldie, or kidnap her for themselves. No one will ever leave me alone! What's worse, if they don't believe me, the citizens of this village will laugh at me even more than they have before! Whoever heard of a donkey whose dung was made out of gold? They'll simply say it was covered with straw in her stall, and, being the fool that I am, I believed it was made of gold! I can't bear it, Remy. You must have me, for better or worse, because you and your sister are the only two that know our family secret!”
“It seems a selfish, petty reason to marry someone,” I said, “especially the eldest daughter of your late wife—my mother. However, if it means so much to you, I promise I will not reveal a thing.”
Auldric's face brightened. “So you'll marry me?”
“No. I simply gave you my word that I wouldn't tell anyone about Goldie.”
He blinked back his disappointment. “Did you think I was lying to you when I said I'm a lonely old man?” He pushed his empty pewter plate away and leaned forward at the table.
“Not at all. It's just that I don't—!” I sighed. “Monsieur, you're related to me.”
“Not by blood. Only by marriage, and your mother is gone. She's been in her grave these two years, and I—!” My heart suddenly lurched as he wiped away a tear. It wasn't a false one, either. “Since that fever killed her, longing has done the same to me. Can't you understand? Can't you see?”
“I can’t marry you. After all, you—were—her husband. God would frown upon us both.”
“In this case, Remy, who really cares besides Him?” asked Auldric, perturbed.
“I care,” scowled my sister Elise, “and I will never approve of such an unholy union!”
“Did I want your opinion?” asked Auldric. “I don't recall that I did, and so unless you have something worthwhile to say, I suggest you shut your mouth.” Elise took a sip of water, and her soft green eyes became two poisoned daggers. She wasn’t used to being silenced like this.
“Now, then. I beg you, Remy, be reasonable! Our Father in Heaven may disapprove, as well as your sister, but think of the wealth we will have as a household! Goldie is still young, and she's never even given birth! Imagine how much gold she'll give us throughout the years, and if she has a foal...oh, Remy! We'll be the richest people in all the land. Over time, even the King himself will be in our debt! He won't be able to go to war, muster a proper army, or even build additions to his giant palace unless we say so and provide the finances! True, he’ll have the power of the throne, but if it's also true that money equals power...Are you sure you're willing to forsake this literally-golden opportunity? All for the sake of protecting your virtue, which is soon to be lost?”
My face turned hot. “What makes you think that I'll lose it soon, cochon?"
I had called Auldric a pig. He shoved himself up from the table, pushing his stool back and making our dishes rattle. “Trust me,” he sneered, “you're ripe and ready! If you won't have me as your husband, then I'll find a husband for you.” He suddenly clapped his hands and laughed. “Ah-ha-ha! In order to break your proud spirit, I might even marry you off to the smelly farmhand who cares for our pigs! Then you’ll learn what a cochon is by and by, my haughty little princess!”
“I'm no princess,” I said, “but I'd rather marry him than you.” I meant every word.
Auldric's head, which was now as red as the shriveled beets in our garden, looked like it was going to burst. As he knocked his pewter plate off the table and stormed away, he turned to glare back at me. “Do you believe this is some kind of game, jeune fille?” I hate it when he calls me “young girl”.
“Oui, monsieur,” I answered confidently, “et je serai la gagnante.”
I had just told him “yes,” and that I would be the winner...
“Sister,” Elise said softly, coming to stand beside me at the table, “do you really think it's safe to goad him like that?” She put her hand upon my arm to steady me. I was wobbling a bit.
“Honestly,” I answered, “ever since he married Mother, I've been afraid of him. I used to think that Auldric was an honorable man, if not a likeable one. Remember how he used to help us harvest our crops and take care of the livestock?” Elise nodded. “What changed? It's like his heart has been eaten by a great worm with curved, sharp teeth, and now only the worm is left dangling in its place.”
“Greed can do that to people,” Elise said. “Ever since we received Goldie from the church...”
I smiled ruefully. “We thought she was such a blessing. She's become a curse.”
“She's still a blessing, no matter if our stepfather's turned into a disgusting pig because of her! Without Goldie, the crops we have wouldn't earn enough money to feed us for a week.” Meekly, I nodded. “The two of us don't go around bragging about our wealth, and we tithe what we can to the church. After all, the elders are the gracious men who gave us the donkey that saved our lives!”
I sat back down again. “Elise, do you think they would have done so if—?”
“If they had known of her 'talent' beforehand? Probably not. They would have taken good care of Goldie, for sure, but they would have kept her and given out her—golden droppings—equally to those who were most in need. We would have been among the families lined up to receive them, but we wouldn't have gotten all of them. We wouldn't have been able to afford hired men to help us work the farm, nor maids to clean the house. Remy, we've been blessed by God. That's for certain.”
“Still, if I have to be our stepfather's wife...are those blessings worth keeping?”
Elise took a step backward. “You're not going to marry him, are you?!”
“Of course not, but what if he throws me out of the house because I refused him?”
“Are you willing to be thrown out, Remy?” She paused. “Are you willing to lose everything, even your place here at home as a wealthy man's stepdaughter, if it means keeping yourself safe and pure in the sight of the Lord? Please tell me the truth.” Her lips trembled with sisterly concern.
“I am willing,” I said, “but I’ll come up with a plan to keep my home and my pride.”
Elise didn't like the sound of that. “Be careful,” she said. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Don't make a bargain with the Devil. Right now, he has our stepfather in a chokehold.”
“I won’t,” I replied, “and I never will. However, fools like Auldric beg to be outwitted…”
Just then Capucine, one of our maidservants, called out to Elise happily. She was a very skilled seamstress, and she was the one sewing Elise's wedding gown.*“May I see it?” I asked.
Elise smiled. “Only if I try it on, Remy. It’s not much to see when Capucine has it on her lap, embroidering one part or another. Once I wear it, though, of course you can. You’re my sister!”
This is a very good read. Honestly, I can't think of anything in it to criticize. The story has me wanting to read more, the characters are interesting and fleshed out even at this early stage, I didn't notice any grammar or spelling mistakes, etc. etc.
So...any word on the next chapter? :p
Elise and Capucine exchanged a few whispered words, and I could tell from the speed at which they talked that they were incredibly excited! It wasn’t long before my sister rushed back over to me, her face glowing. “Guess what?” she cried. “My dress is finally ready!”
Like a little girl, I squealed and clapped my hands with delight even though I was two years older than Elise. “Magnifique! Are you going to try it on?” She nodded, and Capucine rose to help her carry the soft white dress to our bedroom. I couldn’t wait to see it! Hour after patient hour, Capucine had sat at our window sewing, her dark profile in sharp contrast to the light of the sun. She was as slender as my sister, and even more so. Her black hair curled in soft ringlets around her shoulders, and her eyes—oh, her eyes! Even though they were brown, they sparkled like diamonds, and always had a hint of mischief about them! She was forever playing tricks on me and Elise, even though they were not malicious. For instance, once she slipped a rock under my pillow while I was asleep, and I dreamt that I was out in the wilderness somewhere, lost and alone, with only a stone to lay my head upon! Capucine laughed when I told her about it. I was quite irritated at first, but then I laughed, too. Elise is especially fond of her little jokes. They get along very well together.
Even though I like Capucine as an acquaintance, I trust Caroline more. Our other maid is more like me—rosy and plump as a partridge, although she’s very tall. I once heard Capucine say she stood six feet, like a man, although Caroline insisted she was only five-foot-ten. Whatever the case, Caroline is my closest confidante next to Elise. She’s the one I turn to when things go wrong and I find myself inconsolable. Elise helps, but Caroline lets me bawl and drip snot all over the collar of her servant’s dress when the occasion arises!
She also helps me bathe. I do my best thinking as I’m standing in the narrow washtub, soaping whatever parts I can comfortably reach without falling down and humbly letting Caroline do the rest. She supports me with one strong arm and assists me with the other. My bath is tonight; Elise almost always takes her turn in the tub near the break of dawn. I’m not at my best in the mornings, and Caroline knows it! We’re going to have a lot to talk about, in the privacy of my own bedroom. It has a fireplace, so hot water is easily drawn.
After a few minutes, I heard the soft rustle of skirts nearby. “Here I am!” exulted Elise.
She took my breath away. Her dress was so lovely that I thought Capucine could surely become a seamstress for the Queen if she wanted to! My sister’s wedding gown was long and white, as was the custom, with dozens of tiny pearls sewn across the bodice and the full, bell-shaped sleeves. Each pearl was connected to another one by a strand of golden thread, weaving and curling like vines of ivy. Since it was the middle of fall and this was an autumn wedding, the daintiest of gold metal leaves dangled, shimmering, from the dress. All of these adornments drifted down to Elise’s waist, and then the skirt was pale and bare.
“Capucine, ma cherie!” Elise cried. “This is absolutely beautiful. In fact, it’s glorious! Daniel might faint if he sees me in the village chapel wearing this!” I let out a giggle, because from what I knew of him, he did not seem like the kind of man who would faint easily! I’d first met Daniel at our stepfather’s winter salon, a gathering of all the merchants, noblemen, and even nearby farmers whom he wanted to impress with his newly-gotten wealth. I remember it clearly. Elise, in a new ermine wrap, was hearing rumors from some of the guests that it was a bit moth-eaten. Daniel, in a trés chivaléresque fashion, defended her, saying “Your eyes must be playing tricks on you, or else the wine is!” That quieted everyone quickly…
“Tell me the truth: do you like it, Sister? Capucine sewed a pair of matching slippers, too.”
I rushed forward and gave Elise the biggest hug I could while being careful not to crush the pearl beads or the gold leaves on her dress. She smiled, and we both laughed like children!
Later that night, as I was taking my bath with Caroline’s help, I asked her a question:
“Do you think I’ll ever get married?”
“Oui, mademoiselle,” she said, smiling. “Of course you will. You’re so sweet and caring.”
“Thank you,” I answered sadly, “but I know I’m not even half as beautiful as Elise.”
“Je ne suis pas d'accord!” Caroline cried, with the s in "pas" silent. “I disagree! Your sister has her face, and you have yours.”
“It’s not only my face I’m talking about.” She wiped a droplet off my cheek with the rag.
“Taisez vous!” She’d just told me to shut my mouth, albeit in a kind way. “One of these days, Remy Aurore d’Argent, a white knight is going to meet you who does not care how you look or how you walk. He’ll see the person you are inside, and wonder why on God’s green earth he didn’t find you sooner! Look around. There are men who would be glad…”
I gave a loud snort. “In my dreams! Not in this village. I’ll wager a chess game on that…”
Caroline’s blue eyes twinkled merrily. “So be it!” she cried. “If I win, you must concede that I’m right and that you are the loser. That is, you’ll have to say je suis la perdante.”
I laughed. “More like je suis la gagnante. You barely know how to play les echecs, Caroline!”
“I know.” She winked at me. “Lift your right foot, please, dear. I’m still going to win.”
Our family’s young, golden-haired maidservant truly didn't know what she’s in for. Even though I admit I am not the best at chess, I still know a knight from a rook, and vice-versa!
After I was finished with my bath, and warm in my long dressing gown, Caroline came to my room to take a fateful turn at the black-and-white board. She lost. I knew she would!
“Sacre bleu, cherie!” she cried. “Are you sure you were giving me a fair chance?”
“Of course. That’s one of the things I love about chess. Unlike life, it’s the fairest game in the world. If you make a mistake, then you pay for it, and if you do well, then you win.”
Caroline gently blew out the candle that she was carrying in its copper holder. “Good night, mademoiselle,” she said. “Have sweet dreams, and don’t let the bedbugs bite you!”
“Please don’t encourage them,” I shuddered. “I’d rather dream of my white knight…”
Again, most excellent. This second part didn't grab my interest as well as the first one had, but still, very good. :)
I love the writing style you're using. Something about it radiates the purity and sweetness of the protagonist, driving home the sharp contrast between her and her stepfather.
...Okay, that probably sounded really dumb.
PS: My sis will love the description of the wedding dress. :)
I am TRES JOLIE (so glad) that you happened to read this portion today! :) What you said does NOT sound "dumb" at all. You know what would have sounded dumb? "Good story". You actually told me something specific that you liked about it, and that is NEVER dumb. Don't worry--the next part is surely going to "stir things up" a bit!
Merci beaucoup (thank you so much)! for continuing to read this. I'll post part 3 soon!
P.S. I hope your sis likes the description of the dress as well as my sis will! ;)
Chapter Two: An Aggressive Gambit
ALAS! THE ARGUMENTS BETWEEN myself and Auldric have grown more and more intense as Elise’s wedding approaches. It is in three days’ time, and as my sister talks and dreams about it, my stepfather talks and dreams about marrying me. Of course, he never will, but that doesn’t stop him from fantasizing. He believes that if he keeps talking to me, trying to convince me of the “reasonable” and “proper” path to take, then my heart will soften and I’ll accept his proposal. I myself know that’s not true, because even though he’s patient and calm in the beginning, at the end of these arguments, it’s always a shouting match! He’s angry with me because I keep standing my ground. I’m angry with him because he’s repulsive and won’t give up the idea of taking me as his wife. It’s a complete stalemate…
Within the newly-gilded prison walls of our home, everyone is on edge! Capucine is frantic because she must make copious alterations to Elise’s gown. The ornate bodice has been found to be too loose, because my sister…well, Capucine says that Elise has only “grapes up there, when she should have apples!” Unfortunately, I’m the one with the “apples”, and I’m not the one getting married! In fact, mine are more the size of ripening cantaloupes…Ah, well. The bodice won’t look too awkward if it gets taken in, even rather significantly. It will still be more splendid than the bodice of any other dresses Elise has worn. This is her wedding, after all. A bride deserves to look like a queen, or a goddess of myth and legend!
Caroline is also worried, but solely on my account. Since she's usually the one who serves at table, she is usually the one who witnesses these loud skirmishes between me and Auldric. Of course she's on my side, but since she's a servant, she must keep her peace. Sometimes our dishes rattle and our pewter mugs mysteriously spill their contents, but poor Caroline takes it all with good grace. She simply wipes up the messes and spills, carrying on with her work as if nothing had happened. I can't imagine what it must be like to be in her position: yearning, almost dying to say something, but having to hold your tongue because it's not your place to speak! It's ridiculous, these social customs of ours. People are people. We never used to have servants, back when Father was alive. Not only were we too poor to afford them, but Father didn't see the sense in paying someone to wait on him—and us!--when we could very well fetch our own food. All that changed after my stepfather came, or I should say after Goldie came. Because of that donkey and her wretched golden waste, our household has become one dedicated to loving Money instead of loving God and man.
I'm guilty of it, too. I hate to think of what would happen to us if we gave Goldie up, or if she suddenly died. I'm too fond of Caroline and Capucine, and of the luxuries—such as pewter dishes and silk garments—that we never used to have before. I cannot say that I would surrender it all in a heartbeat and give Goldie to someone else even poorer than we were, or otherwise refuse to eat anything but stale bread right off of a splintered table. That's what we used to do, and I won't go back to those lean, hungry, miserable days!
Speaking of which, my stepfather almost splintered the table while we were at dinner...
“I have you now, Remy!” he shouted, slamming his meaty fist onto its oaken surface. I jumped a mile out of my chair, but Auldric seemed not to care that he'd startled me so! “I now have a reason why you can't say you won't marry me because I'm your stepfather.”
“How's that?” I burst out laughing. “You are my stepfather, you old fool!”
He shook his finger at me. “Not by the laws of this land. Remember when I married your mother? You, unlike your obedient sister, refused to take my last name of le Fou and become my legally-adopted daughter! What say you to that, hmm? You're not related to me, either through blood or marriage, and thus your argument with me is now void!”
My face blanched as white as the winter snow. When I finally managed to speak, bowing my head and trying not to cry in front of Elise, Auldric and Caroline, I said, “No, it isn't.”
“Fichu!” My stepfather swore. “Can't you admit when you're beaten? You always take your losses at l'echecs humbly enough! I've outwitted you, and you don't have a ready retort.”
After several seconds, I slowly smiled. I'd just come up with a brilliant idea...
“Very well,” I said. “I concede defeat. I will marry you under three conditions, Auldric.”
“Remy!” Elise was completely outraged. Just wait until she heard my plan!
Auldric folded his hands and leaned forward, looking like a shrewd merchant. “Name them.”
I ticked them off on my long, slender fingers. “One: You must capture the sun itself, le soleil, and fashion it into a ring for our engagement. Two: You must catch falling stars in a net and have a bridal veil sewn for me with the stars woven into the silk! And, three: I must have a wedding gown made solely out of donkey skins, including Goldie's.” I smiled even wider. “If you truly want me as your wife, then you must be willing to sacrifice everything else, including your new-found wealth.” This was the condition that I knew he wouldn't be able to meet. The other two were jokes, of course, but the third one? It was my “gambit”. I knew Auldric wouldn't give up his “golden goose”--or, in this case, his golden donkey dung!
My stepfather spewed out his ale, spraying me. “Those conditions are ludicrous, Remy!”
“As is your idea of marrying me.” I took up a cloth napkin and dabbed my sticky cheeks.
He stood up from the table. “You're mad!”
“Am I? Then you'll be perfectly happy to wed a sensible woman, who hasn't lost her mind.”
Something in his eyes flashed. “D'accord, ma fille! I agree. I will meet every one of your conditions, girl, and what is more, I will do it before your sister and Daniel are married!”
I shook my head. “You can't be serious. There's no way you'll be able to fulfill them.”
“You watch!” Auldric's face was turning beet-red again, and I couldn't help but giggle. “You watch, and when I present all three gifts to you on Elise's nuptial day, you'll be sorry.”
Elise became livid. “Stepfather! You wouldn't dare!” It was her day, her joy, and her time...
“Blame your sister. She's the one who is being selfish, not I.” He frowned and stormed out.
Now it was my turn to try and comfort Elise. “Sister, dear, ma soeur, I—”
“Silence!” Her face was wet with fresh tears, and she shouted the word in the way of our people. “You and your foolish quarrels, you and your foolish pride! My wedding is ruined!”
I sank down into a chair remaining at the table, with my heart sinking as well. “I'm sorry...”
Oh. Snap. Conditions in stories like this never work out well. >_< And poor Elise! She just can't win! Either her sister and her step-dad will get engaged on her wedding day, or she'll have her sister and her step-dad screaming at each other for years to come, and possibly have her sister turned out in the streets.
I eagerly await the next installment. ^_^ I want to see how this turns out...
You have a very keen sense of foreshadowing, my dear! ;) It is true that "conditions" in stories like these never work out well, and as for Elise, Remy is feeling more than a bit guilty about (possibly) ruining her sister's wedding day. They'll sort that out next...:)
I myself agree, Sabretooth! :) As for the story itself, did you like it/find it interesting?
Chapter Three: Attack and Defense
AS I'VE SAID BEFORE, Auldric may be a fool in the sense that he's rude and lacks wit, but he is also shrewd and cunning. That's what troubles me the most. Other people in our village hear his clownish laugh and see his stupid antics, but that is all they happen to observe. I hear him as he spends the night pacing loudly in his study and weighing his “earnings” from Goldie's rear end. I also see his impish smile and glittering eyes whenever a nobleman or merchant comes to visit our modest estate. That has been happening often...
They're all coming because of Elise's wedding, or so they say, but I doubt that's the only reason. For one thing, they spend far more time talking to my stepfather than my sister! On the one hand, that's rather suspicious, and on the other hand, it's completely natural. Her nuptials are in two days' time, and that means our whole household is in a flurry trying to prepare for it! Luckily, things are going well. Against Capucine's anxious calculations—”It's going to take poor me a fortnight to alter the bodice on this gown!”—it only took her an hour to finish sewing. With the time she had to spare, she crafted a pair of matching silk slippers, with the same golden thread and pearl beads on the toe. As a finishing touch, she also had the blacksmiths fashion a golden comb—made out of gold!—with more shimmering thread, more pearls, and tiny white late-blooming flowers that are seen at autumn-time.
“Aren't they lovely?” Elise has always had a fondness for slippers and shoes. As for me? Not so very much, because my left foot is so much smaller than my right! It is a large part of what made me lame, unable to walk well, and with terrible balance besides! However, I honestly suspect that the trouble lies in my body. My limbs do not seem to work together in the sensible way that Elise's do, or even Auldric's. They are tight and awkward. I have to pay close attention in order not to fall down and look the fool, even when I'm the house! As for my feet, they are large for a girl's, with big toes and an unsightly turned-inwardness. That is why I hold no love for shoes. I prefer to go barefoot, or in very specially-tailored fur slippers. Heavy and clunky boots hurt my feet, even though I often wore them as a child...
“Oui, ma soeur!” I replied. “I can only hope that I have slippers half as beautiful as those if I ever get married!” She giggled, and I did, too. Capucine worked miracles with any cloth.
As for Caroline, she was skilled at cutting hair. I saw her today after luncheon, in secret:
“Auldric tried to stroke my hair today—as if he were my husband, not my stepfather. He's absolutely disgusting, and I want it all cut off, right to the nape of my neck. I mean it.”
Caroline was aghast. “Remy! Your beautiful tresses, already to your waist! Are you sure?”
“I'm absolutely positive. I can't bear to have hair that has been so defiled by that man, and besides, he won't deign to marry me if I look like a boy. He's very particular about women, I've noticed. He likes them plump as geese, like me, but also quite...feminine-looking.” I grumbled—almost spat—those last two words. A girl has to go through so much to make herself look beautiful and womanly: painting her eyelids, powdering her face with rouge, spending hours piling her hair up into elaborate coiffures, and plucking her eyebrows and legs. After all, what sort of a husband wants a hairy wife lying beside him in the boudoir? I myself do not pluck, because it takes too much time and causes intense pain. I also do not paint and powder, because my face is sensitive to such things. I break out in skin rashes!
As for a man? All he must do is shave his face, if he wishes, and comb his hair...
I've often felt as if I am a young man, trapped in a young woman's body. I've always despised cooking and cleaning, and all of the “womanly arts”. Sewing? I've tried it, with all my heart, but I can't even manage to mend a shirt if one of the buttons has fallen off! My needle goes through the cloth, as does the thread, but almost never through the button-holes! I've practiced and practiced, but to no avail. I'm so glad Capucine is there when one of my kirtles gets torn, or I outgrow one of my chemises (which happens rather quickly)! There are other duties that are considered “women's work” that I loathe even more than cooking and cleaning. Changing and scrubbing babies' undercloths, for one thing. If men are so strong, and are supposed to have wills of iron and stomachs to match, why can't they do it? The reek of wet and dirty undercloths makes me gag. We who are older know how to hold off the call of nature until we can relieve ourselves properly in the privy. We also know how to wash, and to apply perfume to those hidden places (don't tell Elise! She thinks I only borrow it for my face. To be fair, I apply the perfume to a handkerchief first, and then...)
“Hold still, Remy,” Caroline says. “This won't hurt a bit, but I am going to use a knife.”
Caroline takes a hold of my long, red hair, pulling and squeezing it tightly around the nape of my neck. I sit stock-still. I'm not going to move a muscle. Even though she's only using a paring knife to cut my hair, it is incredibly sharp, and I'm not risking having my ear cut off along with the tresses! I take one last anxious look around the kitchen. Capucine is washing the luncheon dishes in the scullery, Elise is in the garden, perhaps, and Auldric? If I know him, he has gone out to the stables where his donkeys rest. He wants to check on Goldie.
And check her “leavings”. He himself takes the gold away, and not one of our farmhands. Of course, he lets the farmhands clean up all the rest of the donkeys' waste, because that is beneath him. As a wealthy man, Auldric has the privilege of letting servants do such things.
Not that I mind! It's just that he treats everyone as his inferior, including me and Elise.
“Mademoiselle?” Caroline asks one last time. “Are you certain you want me to do this?”
“Evidemment. S'il vous plait, cut it off! My stepfather attacked me today, wanting to caress my hair like a lover. This is my defense. It's always lain too heavy on my head, anyway...”
With a final whack!, the paring knife sliced through my hair, and then it all fell to the floor.
For some reason, I shuddered and closed my eyes, my chin quivering. Why had such a simple thing—a thing that I wanted, no doubt—felt more like an execution, as if Caroline were cutting off my head instead of the long, red strands on it? After sitting there for a full minute in silence, I reached out my arms for Caroline to help me up from the low stool on which I had been sitting. She gazed at me sadly, brushing the remaining hair from my face.
“Ah, cherie,” Caroline said, sounding heartbroken herself. “Why does such a man exist?”
I threw myself into her arms and wept. I didn't care who saw, or who heard me. Young ladies aren't supposed to cry over such a silly thing as a haircut. Yet here I was, wailing and snotting as if I'd just lost a relative or a close friend of mine! I was such a weakling...
Later, after I had composed myself and scrubbed my face at the wash-basin in my bedroom with cold water, I emerged to find Elise arranging flowers in a vase in the common room of the house. When she turned around and saw me, she smiled, but then almost screamed!
“Remy! What on God's green Earth have you done to your hair?! You appear a boy to me!”
“I know,” I replied, smiling ruefully and holding back fresh tears. “You saw what Auldric did at luncheon, when I tried to whisper something in his ear. He stroked my long, red hair as a husband would, not a stepfather. I was so revolted that I had Caroline get rid of it all...”
“My dear sister...” This time it was Elise who rushed into my arms, and she began to sob.
“No, no, no!” I tried to laugh. “I'm done with all that. Don't you start, or I'll start again!”
Nevertheless, we let our tears flow like rivers down our cheeks, and each other's dresses.
When we were at least mostly done crying, I said, “Fear not. It's all for the better. Even if Auldric does manage to fulfill the three impossible conditions that I gave him, how is he going to marry me if I look like a young man instead of a young lady? The peaches on my chest don't count. I've made myself irredeemably ugly in his eyes, and it's going to take forever for my hair to grow back to an adequate length. You see? I've won this battle!”
Neither of us wanted to comment on what I'd just lost in exchange. Instead, we laughed.
At dinner, Auldric grew livid as usual, but this time I saw more than rage behind his eyes. I saw an emotion that I thought someone like him had almost forgotten how to feel: fear.
“Have you taken a glance in the looking-glass lately?!” he snorted. “What have you done?”
“I have,” I replied, trying to be nonchalant. “I needed my hair cut. It was bothering me.”
“Bothering you?” My stepfather sounded like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. “You've cut off all your hair so that you look like a boy! Why would you do such a thing?”
“I had Caroline do it, and the reason is simple: Now I'm hideous, and you won't marry me.”
“A-ha!” He stood up from the table, pointing his finger in the air. “Au contraire, ma fille, that makes me all the more determined to make you my bride! I shall insist you wear a kerchief at our wedding.” He gave me a wicked, laughing smile. “Answer me this: If I had tried to hold your hand at luncheon instead of stroke your hair, would you have cut it off instead?”
“Don't be ridiculous! If I had, with what would I write songs, stories, and poetry? I don't write very well with my left hand. My script looks like gibberish when I do.” I winked.
“You'd best watch your tongue. My dear girl, no matter how your hair looks, you are still a young woman in the end. God created you as such, and it is time you learned your proper place in this world. Men are meant to strive, women to serve. Men are meant to make something of themselves and their lives, and women to make homes for them. Most of all, men are meant to rule, and women to obey. You've known this since you were a child. You were meek enough toward your father and mother. Why can't you be meek toward me?”
At first, I thought of saying that he did not deserve my obedience, or my meekness, but then I decided to try a different tactic: “You say that God created me as a woman, which is quite true, but does not the Bible also tell us that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek? It seems to me that our Lord loves equality, not favoritism.”
Auldric scowled. “All the same, there is a place for male and female, Adam and Eve. Before the Bible was written—nay, before Christ ever came down to this Earth!—God first created Man, and then formed Woman out of a rib from his side. Eve was to be a helpmeet for him, not a ruler or an equal. That is how God designed the sacred relationship between l'homme et la femme. Does not Saint Paul say that as Christ is the head of the Church, the husband is the head of the wife? I'll hear no more of this egalite nonsense from you, Remy Aurore.”
“Very well,” I replied. “You are not my husband, however, and so I fail to see your point.”
“Devil take you!” The veins on his forehead were starting to pulse. “Even so, as long as you live under my roof, you live under my authority and by my largesse! I could have thrown you and your sister out on the streets as soon as your mother died, but being the kind-hearted man that I was, I took you in and have kept you here! This is how you repay me?”
“You were a kind-hearted man once,” I said softly, after a long while. “Now, you are not.”
I thought Auldric would resume bellowing at me, but instead, my stepfather sat down and folded his hands in front of him at the table. “I have learned that sometimes it is better to be feared than loved, or even respected. I will marry you, ma belle-fille, with hair or no hair, conditions or no conditions! I don't care if you're fat, ugly, and quarrelsome. All I care about is that in two days, you shall be mine. Then you'll be forced to obey me, Remy!”
Despite myself, another tear dripped down my right cheek. “Husbands, love your wives...”
“Ferme la bouche, putain!” He pounded his fist on the table, spilling his full mug of ale.
“Stepfather!” Elise startled me, shouting as loudly as Auldric had. “Don't call her that!” She dashed over to me, grasping me in a tight hug. “La gagnante,” she said. “You have won...”
And that is why Auldric sneers and calls me “Gagnante”, or winner, everywhere I go!
Chapter Four: My Opponent's Strategy
TOMORROW IS ELISE'S WEDDING, and I must think faster than ever. Our house is full to bursting, what with all of the relatives, friends, and common people of the village who have been hired by my stepfather to help us make the final preparations! I mustn't forget the noblemen and merchants that I've already mentioned before. Unlike our real father, who would have been glad if this wedding were a small and private affair, Auldric wishes to make this nuptial day a grand event. He seeks to show off his wealth, which is no surprise. That's why he's asked several people that Daniel Elise, and I don't even know! In my stepfather's eyes, the more who are beholden to him, the better. There are going to be quite a few souls who are going to be expected to do him several favors for being invited to this wedding...
No matter. That business is between Auldric and them, and if those people don't know any better than to accept an invitation from a snake, then that's their fault. Let them all come!
Elise wanted the number of guests at the wedding to be rather small. However, she's invited all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, and quite a few friends besides! Anne and Catherine, who are very close to her, are going to take part in the wedding. Even though Anne is going to play the mandolin and sing a hymn of praise to God, and Catherine will read a portion of the Holy Scriptures, my sister has chosen me to be her maid of honor! I couldn't be happier. Not so long ago, Elise was going to choose her bosom friend Juliette for this role, but they have since parted ways. I will do my best to honor my sister tomorrow. Wish me luck!
I only hope that our stepfather doesn't do anything stupid, either at the wedding or the feast afterwards. This includes making my worst fears come true. If that happens, I'll flee.
On second thought, I'll refuse him, as I always have, if he happens to propose like an idiot!
Say! That puts me in the mind to write a poem. I'll have to wait until all is quiet tonight...
For right now, I'll keep one eye on Elise and helping her, and the other upon Auldric.
Today, we're all venturing to the chapel in the center of our village to prepare it for the wedding. Since it is being held in the midst of a glorious fall season, autumn is the theme! Elise is having our hired hands adorn the altar with fiery pumpkins, dark green gourds, fallen leaves, ripe eggplant, and amber husks of wheat. It's a magnificent sight! When all these living bounties of the Earth are accented by the tapered white candles that stand hither and thither around the chapel, everyone at the wedding will be enchanted with the blessings of God and the cleverness of my sister, who thought up the idea for the harvest decorations! As a finishing touch, Capucine, Caroline, Catherine, Anne and Elise are tying shining gold ribbons around the candles and the heads of the pews. My eyes almost hurt from the blue brightness of the autumn sky shining through the chapel windows, which have no glass. Wealthier people and villages can afford it, but, alas! Our humble town cannot.
Of course, if Auldric would have tithed any of Goldie's “earnings” to the chapel, this would be so! However, he only gives lip service to God and how He has blessed our family through one donkey. In truth, he pays more heed to the lords of gold than to the Lord Almighty.
“Remy!” Elise cried, rushing to me. “Doesn't it look splendid?” I nodded. It certainly did!
“Have you seen Daniel today?” I asked her. “Or our stepfather?” She shook her head.
“I don't think men get very excited about making chapels festive for weddings,” Elise replied, giving a slight roll of her jade-green eyes. “Of course, that's only to be expected. If I were to make a guess where they were, I'd look for them back at the house, Sister.”
“Very well.” Grinning, I turned to leave, but then turned back. “Do you need any help?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Outside in the chapel courtyard, there are some wash-tubs set up for all of the pewter plates, mugs and goblets that we'll be using tomorrow at the feast. They've all been stored in the cabinets around here, and they're quite dusty. Some of them even have dried mouse droppings encrusted on them!” Elise made a face. “Quite a few of our female relatives and other village women who have come to help us with the wedding preparations are outside giving them a good scouring. Would you be willing to assist them?”
My face turned hot. “I have to—check on something,” I said and mumbled, “Auldric le Fou.” Before my sister could reply, I grabbed my walking stick, which was propped up against the altar of the chapel, and hobbled out of the sanctuary, avoiding the courtyard entirely. There was no way I was touching anything encrusted with dried mouse droppings, and besides, I found it incredibly suspicious that I hadn't seen hide nor hair of my stepfather today. What was he up to—if he was up to anything at all? I had to find out. Surely he hadn't forgotten!
I needn't have worried. When I reached the house, I found him whispering with some of the noblemen and merchants he had hired to purchase the food, cider, decorations, and so on for tomorrow's festivities. However, I distinctly heard the words “an engagement ring...”
Slowly but surely, I crept up to Auldric and his comrades through the crowded main hall.
“Hello, Stepfather,” I said brightly, playing the innocent girl. “What was that?”
He looked a bit taken aback. “Ah, Remy! The village blacksmith, gemstone procurer and I were just now having a conversation about your sister's engagement ring. Elise still hasn't received it yet from Daniel, because the happy couple says that they want it newly-forged, without using any previous molds. 'As unique as God's creation', they specified, and as God is my witness, it's going to be the most beautiful ring upon which you ever laid eyes! It's going to be crafted of three thin bands of gold swirled into one, representing the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, with a diamond in the middle. Won't that be exquisite, ma gagnante?”
“Indeed.” Somehow, I didn't trust his foolish grin. “From whence will the gold come?”
“From whence it always comes: the ground! Ha, ha, ha!” His belly shook when he laughed.
Does that mean from beneath the ground, or the ground in Goldie's stall? I thought, but kept it to myself. After all, I had promised my stepfather I would tell no one about her. Instead, I chuckled at his little joke and then turned to leave. “I can't wait to see it on Elise's finger tomorrow. Good day, messieurs!” I had other things and people to check on...
I then went to see Capucine. Instead of sitting placidly at our front window, as she usually did when she sewed, I found her downstairs in the cellar aundry. Not only was she hard at work with the needle and thread, but dozens of other ladies—including two of my very own cousins!—were also slaving away over embroidery hoops, petticoats, and great, heaping piles of linen sheets and pillowcases. I dashed over to visit my oldest first cousin, Marthe.
“Remy?!” she cried when she saw me. “I haven't seen you in years! How are you?”
“I'm quite well,” I said, “if you're talking about how happy I am for Elise and Daniel! In other matters, however, I'm having a bit of trouble.” I debated with myself over how much to tell Marthe. She, her husband and two sons did not live near us, and had traveled over many miles to see my sister wed. Perhaps she did not know of Auldric's sudden change in fortune, although by now, how could she not have noticed it? The last time that we visited Marthe, her sons had been infants, and Father had still been alive. Oh, dear Father! If only you were here to rescue me...I sighed and decided to reveal only the slightest of details.
“For one,” I said, “my stepfather is driving me mad, and for two, I'm a terrible seamstress.”
This made Marthe gaze at me fondly. “Oh, my poor girl! No one can be good at everything.”
Nodding and smiling, I looked around and asked, “Where are your husband and sons?”
“At a nearby inn, where we're lodged. They're quite tired from our long journey. I'm not.” Marthe's face was flushed with the glow of happiness and busy hands. I would have sat down beside her and tried to keep the linen sheets she was embroidering off of the floor, but at that moment, my second cousin Christine ran to me and gave me a hug as strong as a giant's! Startled, I whooped and laughed, and quickly introduced her to Marthe. Christine asked to help her, and Marthe accepted, pulling up a second stool for her to sit on. While the two women chatted and continued sewing sheets, I crept over to Capucine's corner.
She was deep in concentration, with her dark curls cascading around her face like ebony waterfalls, and her eyes looked half-closed. Capucine was squinting, embroidering a long and almost iridescent sheet of silk. The thread was shining silver, which I thought was rather strange because the rest of Elise's gown, along with the matching slippers and comb, were adorned with golden thread and seed pearls...I decided to question her about the silk.
“What are you sewing, Capucine?” I asked, trying not to sound suspicious. “It's beautiful!”
“It's a dressing-gown for your sister,” she whispered with a smile, “and a surprise. Elise doesn't know I'm embroidering this. Pauvre fille! The poor girl is so unselfish, never wanting anyone to do or make anything extra for her. She only asked for the wedding dress and slippers. Her bridal comb was my idea, although Elise said not to trouble myself anymore...”
“You work too hard, my dear.” I squeezed Capucine's shoulder and gave a wink. “Don't worry. I won't tell Elise a thing. She'd be shocked if she knew what you were doing!”
“Indeed she would. I've heard that she considers ostentatious underclothing unbecoming.”
“On her wedding night?!” I cried. Capucine gave a loud snort, and we giggled like little girls!
That caused all the other women sewing to stop and stare. I blushed, gave a slight curtsy of apology, and scrambled up the stone steps that led from the cool, damp cellar. There was one more place I had to check in order to see if my stepfather was up to something or not: the stables where he kept his donkeys. If they were all gone—including Goldie—I was lost!
Fortunately for me, the great swarm of people around my stepfather's house hid me from his prying eyes, and any other watchful glares that could have been sent my way. In truth, I was glad not to be the center of attention, because that way I could do my frantic and hasty searching without anyone taking notice. Let me, the maid of honor, fade into the shadows for today, and tomorrow I shall bless my sister by being her sole attendant at the altar...
When I reached the stables, the smell of dry hay and wet manure nearly overwhelmed me! I had almost forgotten how stinky and undignified my stepfather's former occupation had been. Now that he was rich, he left the care of his beasts of burden and travel to the peasants we had hired. Luc was the head farmhand, who also took care of our pigs. He was the one to whom Auldric had threatened to marry me off! Jean, Claude, and Marc served beneath him, shoveling the contents of these stables and spreading them on our fields. Luc did the heavier work when he wasn't tending the swine. He could lift massive stones easily!
In truth, it would not have bothered me to wed him. Tending swine with him, however...!
The stables were empty, save for the donkeys. I checked every stall, one by one. The tall animals bent to sniff me, one after the other, and I giggled as their breath tickled my hand!
“Bonjour,” I told them. “Have you seen Her Highness, Queen Goldie?”
Recognizing her name, the young and lovely mare brayed. I went over to her stall. There she was, safe and sound, with her distinctive gray and white-flecked skin shining glossily.
“Amie!” Stepping closer, I wrapped my arms around Goldie's neck as she bent her head to let me. She nuzzled me with her nose. “Merci, merci! I came to see if you were well.”
Stepping back a little, Goldie gazed at me with worried brown eyes. She seemed to sense something was wrong. Sometimes, when I know no one else is around, I speak to her:
“Shhh...All of this hustle and bustle because of Elise's wedding has got you excited, hasn't it?” Goldie flicked her right ear. “It will soon be over. Just try and bear it for one more day.” I felt a sudden wave of sadness sweep over me. If I couldn't tell Goldie the truth, then whom could I tell? Elise was busy, and so were Marthe and Christine, Capucine, Caroline...
“Pauvr'ane,” I began, addressing the poor donkey, “I'm afraid I have made a grave and terrible mistake! I told my stepfather that I would marry him if he met three conditions. If he could capture the sun and make a ring out of it, catch falling stars in a net and weave them into a veil, and sew a wedding gown for me out of donkey skins, I would be his bride.” Leaning my whole body into the wall of the stall, I sighed. “That means you too, friend. Oh, how I hate Auldric! He is selfish and cruel—even more selfish than I, because I haven't helped Elise prepare for her wedding all day!” That made me feel even more guilty. “He only wants to marry me because Elise and I are the only two who know about you and the 'gifts' that you leave for our family. No one else knows how we've become so rich in so short a time. Auldric knows I'll keep that secret, and that's why he wants me so badly. I told him that if he wished to have me as his wife, he'd have to sacrifice everything, including you! Goldie, dear,” I said, trying not to cry for the third time today, “I made that bet on the theory that he'd never do it. What if he does and skins you, gold or no gold? What if he is willing to give up the source of his wealth, all to have me obey and serve him for always?”
Goldie snorted. “I'm terrible, cherie. If my stepfather—uh—will you ever forgive me?”
The donkey leaned forward and put her head on my shoulder. “Merci,” I said, weeping. I gave her one last hug goodbye and left the stables, hobbling back toward the chapel with my walking-stick. When I returned, the dishes for Elise's wedding feast had all been washed and dried, and then polished like silver. Elise herself was waiting for me, with sad eyes.
“Where have you been, Sister?” she asked. “I've looked and waited for you all this time...”
“S'il vous plait, pardonnez-moi!” Through my tears, I told Elise of my spying and checking. She understood. When I begged her forgiveness a second time, she gladly pardoned me. To pay my great debt to her for not helping with the preparations today, she said that I could assist her in dressing for the wedding tomorrow! Gladly, I agreed, and my despair vanished.
Ah, mon Dieu! S'il vous plait, may my sister and Daniel be happy together, forever!
One thing bothers me, however. In fact, it's driving me mad: What I've learned today is that Auldric has no plan. My opponent's strategy is that he has no strategy. What a waste! I should have been washing the feast dishes, or helping my cousins sew. Quel damage!
Dangit, I just realized I forgot to comment on the previous chapter! :eek: Sorry about that. >_<
Anyway...the latest chapter. :) I really enjoyed it, as usual for this story, hehe. I think I have a couple ideas about how Auldric is going to get around the conditions...except for the last one. Dunno how he's going to get around having Goldie's skin in her dress...unless...okay, maybe I've figured it out, haha.
Nice touch with the lady she hasn't seen in years. There's almost always someone that like that around when you go to a wedding. :lol:
I eagerly await more. ^_^
And, uh...I'll remember to comment next time. :o
Again, thank you so much for reading and commenting, even if you were a bit behind on the last chapter! *LOL* I intend to shock you completely this time...
Chapter Five: Mates for Life
ELISE'S WEDDING DAY DAWNED cold and dreary, with a mist hanging heavy in the air. I was disappointed. Nuptial days should be bright and sunny, with nary a cloud in the sky! Perhaps this was a bad omen for my sister and her fiance, although I sincerely hoped not. Ill weather was ill weather, not a premonition of things to come. Still, she and Daniel had planned to spend a lot of time outside today, enjoying the splendor of the season. Ah, well! Rain was a part of every season, and every life. I know that full well. Hopefully, she and Daniel will be able to find their way through the fog into the sunlight, with the help of God.
Since I wanted to be clean and fresh for the wedding, I took my bath as soon as I awoke, with Caroline's gracious assistance. Then she helped me into the embroidered kirtle and chemise that Capucine had sewn for me. The poor darling! Not only had she slaved away over Elise's gown, comb and slippers, but she had somehow found the time to make sure I would be properly dressed for my sister's wedding! Sometimes, as I lie awake in bed at night, I wonder about our servants. They work so hard, and for so little recognition. Auldric treats them like they're pieces of talking furniture—fixtures in our house that wait upon him. As for Elise and me, we try our best to show them how much we appreciate them, but is it enough to counter our stepfather's constant demands (and constant shouting)? I fear not!
“Easy, now,” Caroline said. “Don't be in such a hurry. You're getting the kirtle all tangled!”
I smiled and laughed. My attire as maid of honor came in two silken parts: the chemise, an ivory garment resembling a dressing gown, and the kirtle, a simple floor-length dress the color of chocolate, that was worn over the chemise. To complement my sister's gown, my humble kirtle was embroidered with the same golden thread that meandered all over Elise's sleeves and bodice. As was fitting, however, it lacked pearls. The maid of honor should never be more beautiful or ornately-dressed than the bride on her own wedding day! After Caroline and I got all the yards and yards of silk straightened out, I was finally dressed and ready. Caroline helped me get all of the bed-blamed tangles out of my newly-shorn hair.
“Quickly, here's a kerchief,” she said, rushing over to my bedside table and picking up my best one. Fortunately, it was made of ivory silk, and it matched my chemise perfectly! “Please don't let your stepfather see you without it. He's perturbed enough already.” She heaved a sigh. “He wants this wedding to be perfect, and everyone taking part in it, too.”
“But it's Elise and Daniel's special day!” I cried. “What does he have to do with anything?”
“There is an old saying,” said Caroline with a wry smile. “Funerals are for the living, and weddings are for the parents. In this case, both of your parents are with God, and so it's up to Auldric to give his stepdaughter away in all her glory. After all, her glory is his glory.”
I snorted. If everything goes according to plan, that fool will be cast into the shadows for a day, I thought darkly. Auldric's had his time in the sun, and I don't care what anyone says!
Someone must have heard my secret ruminations, for who was the first person to greet me once I emerged from my bedchamber but Auldric himself? “Ma gagnante!” he cried. “You are beautiful!” I blushed, because this was more of a compliment than I had ever expected from a cold-hearted cuss like him. However, this time I smiled, curtsying very slightly. “And so polite! Who knows? You'll make a fine bride for someone someday if you keep this up!”
I gave a rueful snort. Who was he to make such a venomous compliment as that one?
Auldric frowned. “And, if you keep snorting like a pig, you won't. Get on with you, then.”
I was all too glad to dash into the kitchen for some of Caroline's warm apple crumble! That was our breakfast, for the wedding would start at ten o' the morning. The feast afterwards would be a luncheon, and then Elise and Daniel would take a carriage far into the eastern mountains for their lune de miel—a month-long sojourn to celebrate their married life! It made me anxious for my own wedding day, although I was more than prepared to wait for another groom besides Auldric! I tried not to think of him as I enjoyed the sweet pastry.
After all of us had finished eating, including Capucine, Caroline and the farmhands, we all went outside into the gray, damp mist, where a carriage awaited. Those who could walk to the village chapel and not spoil their clothing, such as our servants, set out ahead of us. Elise and I, in our wedding-day finery, were helped into the carriage by the coachman and properly settled into it so that we would not wrinkle our dresses. We looked like noble ladies, high-born and fashionable, instead of the two common daughters of a village tutor!
Of course, my real father had been anything but common, and I missed him on this day.
From the expression on her face, I could tell that Elise did, too. My sister's eyes shone with matchless joy, but beneath it, there was deep sorrow. I knew she wished that Father would have been the one to walk her down the aisle instead of that cochon, Auldric. However, we had to make do with what we had. If what we had was a stepfather who farted and cursed, treating us like servants and the servants even worse than that, then such was God's will.
Mon Dieu! Couldn't you have sent us a stepfather who was kind and good, and unselfish?
Alas! It was not to be, and both my sister and I had to settle for the stepfather we had.
The wedding began promptly as the clock struck ten, with the ivory candles in the village chapel alight and the fruits of the harvest aglow in the midst of this damp, foggy day. To my immense surprise, Auldric did not cough, sneeze, or break wind while he was walking my sister down the aisle in her pearl-strewn gown. Elise gave a cry of delight when she saw her soon-to-be husband, Daniel, and to me she appeared the happiest girl on the face of this Earth! As Daniel took in the glorious sight of his approaching bride, his gaze was stalwart and steadfast. Elise was his choice, and God's, for the woman who would share his life.
Have you ever been to a wedding of like-minded people who share our faith? All of that endless standing, kneeling, standing, and kneeling again! It was perdition upon my poor and wobbling knees! Luckily, Elise noticed my agony early and told me to sit in a pew. “Hold my bouquet, Sister, s'il vous plait,” she said with a hug and a smile. I quickly obeyed and watched as Anne sang her melodious hymn of praise, and Catherine read the Scriptures: “My little children, let us love not in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and truth.” Truly, Elise and Daniel exemplified this verse. They not only said that they loved one another, but they lived it. Daniel was there for Elise when one of my aunts passed away last summer, and Elise was there for Daniel to soothe the aches and pains he bore every day as a carpenter's assistant. She made hot poultices and splints for his long-suffering ankles. The two of them were perfectly matched, a forthright King and his godly Queen—mates for life!
When it came time to take their vows, the voices of my sister and her future husband rang out clearly. They did not hesitate to promise their fidelity, until death parted them at last. When they were pronounced man and wife, Elise and Daniel exchanged their very first kiss. They had promised each other that they would remain utterly pure until their wedding day. At first I had been puzzled by this pledge, but I grew to understand their desire to please our Lord and Savior before pleasing themselves. That made their kiss holy and human.
Suddenly, my stepfather shouted loud: “Excusez! I wish to make this a double wedding!”
The crowd gasped and then started grumbling. My own bowels turned to liquid. What?!?
Chapter Six: Queen's Gambit Accepted
“That's impossible,” I said, my stomach lurching. “I made them all impossible on purpose!”
“So you may have, but I've found a way to outwit you.” He turned around to the crowd and clapped his hands once. “My good servant lads! Venture outside to the chapel courtyard, where you've brought and set aside certain gifts of mine. Capucine? Caroline? You, too.”
“This is utter folly! The only gifts you were supposed to bring were for Elise and Daniel!”
“Naturellement, but in this case, someone else deserves wedding presents. I will marry you today, my queen, because I have accepted your gambit. I've scurried around for the past three days, trying to find or else create what you've demanded I give you. First, the ring!”
As the congregation murmured loudly and wondered what in Dieu's holy name was going on, Jean, one of our farmhands, entered the chapel. He cupped something in his hands.
Auldric took it. “Three days past you said, mademoiselle, that you wanted me to capture the sun at sunset and fashion a ring out of it to commemorate our engagement. Behold!” He opened his hand and showed me an exquisite band, fitted with a brilliant golden-orange gem. In the glowing candlelight of the chapel, it burned like fire—indeed, like the fire of the sun itself! “This ring bears an imperial topaz—the rarest and loveliest of its kind. I sent for the gem procurer, who made me surrender five whole gold nuggets to him: four for his pay, and one out of which to fashion the band! Thus, I present my first gift to you.” He slipped it onto the third finger of my left hand, and I couldn't resist him. I was weak, shocked, and appalled! How could he do this? My knees were shaking violently. I couldn't even breathe...
He turned to the crowd once more and announced, “Next, the veil. Claude, fetch it!”
Claude, another one of our farmhands, bowed to Auldric and went to obey his command. As for me, I tried to summon the strength to tear the ring off of my finger, but I couldn't do it. When Claude returned, he was carrying a silken veil with an unusual, sparkling luster:
“You also told me that you wished for a magnificent veil. I have it right here, ma cherie. I sent for Capucine, who first refused me, and then relented once I promised her five large nuggets of gold just for sewing it. I'm sorry, but your serving maid has betrayed you!”
My jaw fell slack. Capucine bowed her head, not daring to look up at me. Her dark hair fell down over her face, covering her eyes, and I'm ashamed to say that tears sprang to mine.
“Would you care to tell us, Capucine, from where the silk in this veil gets its shimmer?”
She did not speak, and only let her body heave with great, wracking sobs. Surely this is not the real reason why people often cry at weddings! I was having trouble restraining my own urge to wail. Auldric continued, “Non? Then I will. I spoke to our village's humble gem procurer once more. Sometimes, when he cuts his diamonds, they crumble into dust and are therefore worthless to him. I asked for this dust, and he said that I was a madman! Nevertheless, he let me have a pouch of it for free, and that is what Capucine mixed with water and soaked your veil in for a full twelve hours once she had it sewn. Capucine told me that she told you the silken garment she had been fashioning when you spied on her was a dressing gown for your sister on her wedding night, but as you can see, that's not true. You asked for the stars, darling, and the specks of diamond dust in your veil are just as numerous and twinkling! Would you refuse my hand in marriage after this, ma fille?”
At this moment, all I could do was scream at Capucine: “Vous, traitre!” You traitor!
“I'm so sorry, mademoiselle,” she cried in front of everyone. “For Dieu's sake, forgive me!”
Before I could respond, Auldric called out, “Last but not least, the wedding dress! Capucine? Caroline? Get yourselves to the courtyard and bring that donkey-skin monstrosity. Allons!”
Our two maids fled, and when they returned, they were carrying a long, heavy garment...
“For the third condition upon which you'd become my bride, you commanded a wedding dress to be sewn only out of donkey skins, because you've said you'd feel like a complete ass marrying me!” The crowd roared with guffaws as soon as they heard this, and even though many of the people in it were members of my extended family, I suddenly hated them. All of them. They were going to witness my humiliation, and my wedding to a man I despised! All because I'd been so stupid, so proud...Suddenly, I realized that it was not the poor people laughing whom I hated. It was myself, for making such a foolish mistake.
I gazed at Auldric through a blurry haze of tears. “You've skinned all of your donkeys?”
“Oui. Why would I need them anymore, even without Goldie? I'm a rich man these days.”
I gasped. “You killed Goldie, too? That's absurd! She's the...she's the source of...your good fortune! How could you do such a thing? You're lying to me, Auldric le Fou, and you know it! If you're indeed telling the truth, then I wish to see her own pelt in my gown!” Auldric then pointed out the dress's white-flecked bodice, and I nearly collapsed. It was true. Absolutely no other of my stepfather's animals had hide like that, and he made sure that I'd be looking at it throughout our entire wedding! I stroked the bodice of my gown, my fingers quivering.
“You didn't. You couldn't. Now you will be poor, and if I marry you, we'll both be poor!”
“Nonsense, girl. You see, I've been counting and hoarding gold in these years since I first found out—well, that I'd be wealthy in due time. There is enough to last us for the rest of our days, if we spend it wisely. Remy, I may have been your stepfather once, while your mother was still alive, but no more. I am no longer her husband. God may frown upon our union, but in this case, I desire you more than I desire His praise in the heavenly realm.” The crowd gasped. Saying such a thing was close to committing outright blasphemy! “You light my soul on fire, and if I have to roast in Hell for wanting you, then so be it. You are haughty and pert, darling girl, and I intend to humble your proud spirit! What better way to do that than taking you as my wife? You have indeed met your match, and I have met the demands which you yourself had deemed impossible! Thus I ask you: will you marry me?”
I shut my eyes so tightly that it hurt, and then shook my head. “Non...non, non, non...”
“It's much too late to say no, dear. I have fulfilled all of your conditions.” He smiled at me once I opened my eyes again. “What is your answer to that? Are you still la gagnante?”
Elise suddenly spoke up, her face flushed red with anger and sorrow. “Stepfather! How dare you dishonor my sister upon my wedding day! This was meant to be a joyous occasion for all of us, and you've completely ruined it. What have you to say for yourself, you fool?!”
“I'm not sorry,” said Auldric, “if that's what you want to hear. The fault lies not with me! I intended for this day to be a happy one as well, and yet your sister is determined not to make it so. As for you, Remy, have you no sense of honor? You yourself named a very dear price for your marriage bed, and I've paid it. My conscience is perfectly clear. Is yours?”
“You're disgusting! How can you speak of a clear conscience? You tried to seduce me not too long ago, stroking my hair as a husband would when you knew you were no such thing! Do your lust and greed know no bounds? I won't wed you, because I don't love you!”
Auldric scowled, appalled. “Love? What does love have to do with marriage? It is certainly good that you, Elise and Daniel, have a very great deal of affection for one another,” he continued, paying a fleeting glance of homage toward the newly-married couple, “but nowhere in the Scriptures does it say a husband must love his bride before marrying her. It only says that a man leaves his mother and father, cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. Who knows? You may come to love me in time, as I have come to love you.”
Sudden peals of laughter rang out from my throat, along with a sudden thunder-crack.
“Oh, dear,” someone in the pews murmured. “I do believe that it's going to pour after all.”
Auldric snorted. “What? What do you find so ridiculous in what I said, or who I am?”
“You surely don't believe that, Stepfather. If you do, you're a bigger idiot than I thought.”
“Let us resolve this peaceably, like Christian folk,” said the priest, “before God is angered.”
I turned to Auldric and wiped away my tears. “Very well. Since you have given me what I said I wanted, and nothing less, then I'll marry you if only to make your life miserable.”
Auldric clapped his hands. “Excellent! I will be a fine husband, and you will be a fine wife in turn! Sit back down, everyone. There will be no feasting yet—there are second nuptials!”
“I have only one last request,” I said. “I wish to wear the gifts that you procured for me.”
He frowned. “Oh, get on with you, then. Go and dress, with Elise's help. However, if you're not back at this altar in twenty minutes, Remy, I shall come after you. Make no mistake!”
I turned to my sister, and she took my hand. We dashed to the outskirts of the chapel courtyard, where there were private porches and sun rooms. Elise hissed at me quickly:
“What do you think you're doing?! You said you wouldn't be his wife! Is this another plan?”
“It's a bluff. I'm going to refuse him at the altar, and humiliate him in front of everyone.”
“Truly? It didn't work the last time you tried to make a fool of him, and it won't this time!”
I bit my lower lip. “Sister, I'm sorry for all of this. My pride, my foolishness, my ruined scheme...Your wedding day is in tatters, all because of me.” I knelt down slowly, holding on to Elise for balance. “All the same, I need your help. Desperately, in fact. If I marry Auldric, I'm the one who will be miserable, not he. What shall I do? I can't go through with this!”
My sister gently turned my face upward so that I could look her straight in the eye. “I know,” she said, “and it would break my heart if you did, even though I'm already wedded to Daniel. I've found my God-given happiness, and so why shouldn't you try and find yours? Listen carefully, now,” she said as she helped me into the long gown of skins and the diamond-dusted veil. “I want you to sneak around to the front of the chapel, and get into the waiting carriage that's intended to take Daniel and me away on our lune de miel. Run!”
I gasped. “What? That's such a sacrifice! I can't let you do this, Elise. Where will you go?”
“A better question would be: where will you go? Daniel will understand. His second choice for the month of our wedded bliss was the lake in this area, clear as crystal and blue as the midday sky! There are many inns there of fine quality, and in the meantime, you will be safe. The coachman is honorable—we have hired him for many of our family's travels, even when poor Father still walked this Earth. Give him your engagement ring and veil from Auldric as payment. Ride as far as you can, as long as you can, in the opposite direction from where we meant to go. Flee, with your only possession being this donkey-skin dress.”
I was shaking all over. After a good, long while, I asked, “Ma soeur...are you certain?”
“I've never been so certain of anything in my entire life, except for my love for Daniel.”
“What if Auldric punishes you instead of me for absconding and leaving him behind, alone?”
“He cannot. I belong to my husband now, not my stepfather. The fool has no hold over me.”
“Very well, then.” I sniffled loudly, with snot trickling down my upper lip. I suspected that my eyes were red and swollen, and my chest heaved with the intensity of suppressed sobs. “Notre Dieu Himself knows when we shall see one another again,” I told Elise, hugging her.
“If it is His will, then we shall,” my sister replied, giving me a kiss on the cheek. “Dirige!”
As I fled, the last words I heard her call out to me were: “Toujours, la gagnante—!”
The winner, indeed! I did as Elise had instructed and scrambled into the carriage that stood ever so patiently, waiting for the bride and groom, and gave my engagement ring to the startled coachman. “Take me to the West, please, as far and as fast as possible. I beg you.”
“Elise and Daniel are both well. My sister herself suggested that I do this. Please, hurry!”
The coachman put the ring into the pocket of his breeches, shouted “Hyah!”, and braced himself as his three horses gave a sudden lurch. I almost fell off of my seat in the carriage as it rushed forward, hurling itself headlong into the great thunderstorm that began with a vengeance. Vengeance...That, above all else—even his carnal yearnings—was the real reason Auldric had wanted to wed me. Since I had dishonored his name by refusing to take it when he married Mother, he had been determined to make me do so in another way. He had wanted to break me, and break me he would have if I would have gone to the altar. As my husband, he would demand my immediate and unquestioning obedience, and what else could I give him in return if I didn't want a beating? That was a fate worse than death.
I lowered my head into my shaking hands and bawled afresh, as the carriage sped west through the driving storm. So far, it had been the happiest and the saddest day of my life.
(sigh)...and again, my comments are late. >_<
I must say, the way through the conditions were rather clever. I didn't expect any of those solutions. ^_^
Now...give me the next chapter! I want to know what happens next! :xp:
"On ne peut que vouloir la suite." (We can only want know what is next.)
The only thing I can say is : When I read impressive stories like yours, it only make me want to try harder myself. Learn from it, that is what I tell myself.
"If you think it is lie, disregard what I said; if you think it is ignorant, smile; It's a well deserved praise however to believe me or not in what I said is up to you." a quote from...well, me.
Thank you, and I believe you (and in you) 100% :) For more of me, check out "Millennial"! :)
By the way, your ME2 Snow White is so funny I try not to drink anything while reading it! :)
So I have red it once again and I saw some small...misunderstanding. Not real errors.
For exemple : At one moment you said "perdonnez-moi" ("my apologies"). It's "Pardonnez-moi".
Second: At one moment Remy say to Auldric "m'sieur" ("sir") . It's better to say "monsieur" because m'sieur is an impolite way to say sir. Only a kid or an unrespectful teen would say that...mostly.
Then: “Do you believe this is some kind of game, ma fille?” I hate it when he calls me “my girl”. it's correct but it sound like he say my daughter instead of my girl
So it's better to say "Do you believe this is some kind of game, jeune fille? (young girl)"
I have to leave for now but if I found some others I will tell you.
Unless you want me to stop my endless criticism.
Non! I am glad when you correct my French mistakes, because it makes my story better! :)
So I have read again and I saw a few more misunderstandings.
"L'echec" is "the failure" if you mean the chess game then it's "Les echecs".
"Les" is a "the" but as a plural.
Exemple: Les chat"s" (the cat"s")
Next : “Thank you,” I answered sadly, “but I know I’m not even half as beautiful as Elise.” “Eh, pas!” Caroline cried
Instead of "Eh, pas! " you could say "Je ne suis pas d'accord!" (I disagree!) because "Eh, pas!" doesn't mean anything or it's sound like an incomplete phrase.
Next: "Ferme la bouche" She’d just told me to shut my mouth, albeit in a kind way.
You said my mouth but you wrote "ferme LA bouche" (shut THE mouth), if you meant shut your mouth then it's "Ferme TA bouche" but then again it wouldn't be correct to say that.
It's better to say "Tais Toi." if it's familiar and if it's formal it's "Taisez vous."
I don't see anything else for now. Either way it mean there isn't anything more to say or I need new glasses.
*giggle* Now that I think about it, "shut THE mouth" does sound awkward...;)
I am correcting these little misunderstandings as you point them out to me, for I want this story to be the best that it can be! Merci, mon ami!
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