Content warning–implied assault.
It’s not as if I wanted to remarry. Six months widowed, with two young daughters–and poor, because my husband had left his money to his younger brother, who had sworn he’d take care of us, and evicted us within the week.
I scraped by as a companion to a cranky old tyrant no one could stand, not even her own son. So when my dear, dear brother-in-law suggested a kind widower who needed a mother to his daughter–who was of an age with my eldest, what choice did I have?
That or slow starvation.
He was polite to my girls, though disinterested, but positively doted on his child, who resembled her beautiful mother–wheaten curls, sky blue eyes, porcelain skin, delicate features, pink lips–a miniature beauty.
For a time, life was fine. I kept his house, and raised the girls all together. And if mine sometimes whimpered over the dollhouses and lacy dresses and pony that their stepsister got when they had none, I made sure he didn’t hear. And I made sure they knew to stay quiet, to seem content–to not stand out lest we lose what I’d sacrificed for.
But then his daughter Ella started to blossom into womanhood, and she grew into the dangerous kind, that men wanted to grasp and take, but wouldn’t offer fairly for–not for a merchant’s daughters whose father was elderly, and often out of town.
So I kept her inside and busy, dressed her plainly, and forbid her parties. I’d caught a lord outside her bedroom one night when I hosted a dance, so I stopped throwing them. He made excuses, but hers was the only room down that hallway–my girls shared the smaller converted nursery. Her room had a large balcony and double windows to let in light and air, and one night while I paced the garden, sleepless over my husband’s late return, I spotted a local lad climbing the trellis to her window. I scared him away, and had it ripped out, but that didn’t stop them. Lustful sneers, over-bright gazes–and not one offer of courtship and marriage. Ella was only fourteen, but perhaps a long engagement, if the man seemed kind…
There was nothing to do but make a bed by the fireplace to keep her warm. Her room was only safe in the daylight, with the servants inside and passerby outside–but Ella wouldn’t listen. She didn’t believe me about the dangers of some men, that her merely pretty sisters could be guarded with less effort, because they didn’t glitter and attract that jackdaw avarice.
Rumors of the prince spoke of his treatment of his housemaids, his fondness for fair girls. One had been turned away without reference last month, her belly already swelling.
I wouldn’t have brought my own daughters to the ball, but my husband insisted I go in one of his infrequent visits, and I knew better than to chance his wrath. So I went, but I made Ella stay–created an impossible task to keep the stubborn girl busy.
When she stepped into the ballroom, shining and beautiful, and every eye turned to her, she beamed in triumph. But I was watching the prince, and saw his smile like a knife, and despaired.
The ball was a crush. I could not get to her, I could not warn her before he swooped down and carried her away into a dance.
Soon I lost sight of her, and when I spotted her fleeing at midnight, dress torn, a shoe missing, my heart ached. She hadn’t listened, had believed in fairy tales, and the wolf in fine clothing had gobbled her up.
I made our excuses, and went home, to gather the shattered pieces of that beautiful girl, and try to go on.
What else could we do?