joi, 31 octombrie 2013

The Gathering Storm

“The marks humans leave are too often scars.” 

On the far side of this land, near the Dark Sea, a tenebrous, old castle defies the mighty waves, its well-worn mures still struggling to resist each flowing tide. Long ago, this castle was inhabited by a Duke far gone in years and his young wife. But that was many years ago, and very few people still remember the old Duke's lour.

These days, in the gloomy castle dwells a so much younger Duke with his Duchess, both of them still bearing the same family name as the older Duke, whose steps no longer reecho along the damp galleries. Nowadays, a fire burns every day in each fireplace, carefully supervised by quiet servants.
The castle's living its glory again and monthly feasts are thrown only to amuse the Duke's family and maybe distract the people from the real problems that are beginning to make their presence felt. Because, even with the feasts and balls and all the splendour that radiates, everyone can feel the war clouds and knows that hard times will soon arrive.

There are two masters of this land and none of them can tolerate the other's presence, nor do they seem to try to come to terms for the good of their people. Up until now, and maybe for another couple of years, this dispute has been carried behind closed doors, but things are about to change. Gone are the poisonous flasks of wine and the tasters dying in the place of their master and gone shall they be for the next decades, for now each attempt has come to nothing and the two masters are starting to show signs of growing impatient.
The realm is divided and people are poor. Everyone wishes for better living, but ploughmen and peasants and merchants are in need of a mighty leader. And so, there will be one. Only one.

But what do children know of their parents' conflicts? Whose side are they supposed to take? For in the old castle, now live 6 children that, although have never seen their other 4 cousins, have been taught from the cradle how to hate them. But malignity and hatred seem to be a common emotion during brothers these days, because even if the two masters share the same mother and father and have been raised together, the days of their boyhood have long before been passed into silence.
For now though, the children have no knowledge of their father's schemes and they are unwittingly living the last years of their feathery childhood. The castle is replete with servants and dry nurses that would do anything to fulfill each of their young masters' desire.
As the chill in the air announces the imminent proximity of winter and the light of the day decreases, those 6 young noble children are happy to let themselves be carried by their mother's fingers gliding softly along the piano's keys, too mesmerized to take notice of their father's lengthened absence.

The Duke spends most of his time locked in his apartments, discussing various problems with his counselors, while his wife enjoys the fact that she no longer has to bear children, for her last pregnancy and delivery had been quite traumatic and had taken its toll on her.

Ever since she recovered her health, the noble woman became quite detached and even more fastidious, if such thing could even be possible if her case, leaving her children to be raised and cared for by various maids and governesses.

Related only by the blood of their father, the Duke's children don't seem to mind their mother's absence too much, nor the differences between themselves. The oldest of the girls, Maria, is barely 15, an age which would seem appropriate for a marriage, but in the absence of a proper suitor, she continues to spend her time with her younger sisters, playing grown up, while the oldest of the boys, Thomas, named after his grandfather, taken ill with phthisis at an early age, is far from the worthy heir his father would wish for inheriting the family's wealth and renown. Artless of his father's concerns, the boy prefers to spend his time instructing his younger sister, Agnes, in the art of chess.

The girl, while younger than her brother by a couple of years, is already showing an unhealthy interest in her brothers and father's affairs.

Last but not least, the other three children, a boy and his twin sisters, are far too young, for they have barely put their feet down the cradle.

sâmbătă, 26 octombrie 2013

A tale of a tub

“I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me.”

"Come on, Alleken..."
"Not tonight, please."
"Please? It's been four months since you've given birth."
"I know Gregory, but I'm exhausted. I barely slept for a few hours in the last three days and I'm so tired I don't even have the energy to unclothe myself."
"You don't even have to take your dress off ... You could simply tuck up your skirts ... "
"Hands off, Gregory. Don't you dare tuch me tonight!"
"That's it! You managed to drive me crazy again, woman!"
The door closes with a heavy noise and here I am again, alone in my bedchamber, one more night. I could hear Gregory tramping along the hall and locking the door from his apartment. And, of course, all this bustle woke up the children ... 

Dear Mother,
I am sorry it took me so long to reply to your last letter, but those past few weeks of autumn proved to be quite challenging for me.
I was called to assist at numerous births all around the realm and I barely spent a few days at home. Fortunately for us, the children are in good health and the wet nurse adores them. Have I told you about the new wet nurse that I found last month? Of course not.
Four or five weeks ago, my breast milk suddenly dried up and, even if I knew from the very beginning that it would be almost impossible for me, as a first time mother, to breastfeed four babies, I found myself yearning for those moments that I used to spend with my children.
So, I had to find a wet nurse. Teacher told me about a young woman from a nearby village that gave birth not so long ago to a stillborn baby. She was also a widow and it was her first child, so it wasn't too hard to convince her to accept to live with us for a year or so. She's a simple woman, born and raised in a poor family, yet she came to love my children as her own and I couldn't ask for more, because she has been a great help those past weeks, especially with me beeing so busy almost all the time.
As I mentioned before, I became quite notorious in the past few years and people all over the realm come looking for my help. Of course, most of the time I assist women giving birth and cure children od colds, but, from time to time, there are also some interesting cases. Take today for example. I had to get out of bed long before sunrise, because a young girl, no older than 6 or 7, living in a building across the way, came to our door, asking me to help her mother. I got dressed as quick as I could and hurried to help the poor woman.
By the time I arrived at their house, the girl's mother had been in labour for at least ten hours and was nearly exahausted. I checked her and I came to the tragic conclusion that her unborn baby was no longer alive. I remember seeing cases like this one sometime during my first year with Teacher. Women, most of the time over the age of 35, would suffer from elevated blood pressure later in their pregnancy and, by the time their labour occurs, both mother and baby are in danger, because there are only two possible outcomes and both of them result in the unborn baby's death. All we can do is to try and save the mother.

So, 6 hours after my arrival, the woman gave birth to a stillborn son. I have to admit that, even if I knew that was the only way we could save her, my heart nearly broke when I saw her husband's and children's sad faces. How could I make those children understand that was the only way I could save their mother?
I remained there for another few hours, looking after the childwife and watching her husband chiseling a small wood casket for another son that he would lay in the ground.
Mother, do you recall all that tittle-tattle about the old Duke's daughter and her mother's lover? It happened before I was born, but I'm certain some old maids still like to discuss it over the fire, during long winter nights. How everyone whispered that the Duchess banished her daughter, because the young girl gave birth to a baby, and the baby's father was no less than her mother's young man? The Duchess' object of consternation, that innocent baby born in sin, died only a couple of months later, but no one but the young mother really seemed to care back then. Do you remember what happened with the Duchess' daughter? Everyone assumed her mother locked her in a convent, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Her mother forced her to marry a peasant that lived on their land and the young girl's name faded into obscurity in no time.
Would you believe me if I told you that this older, overwrought woman that I saved is the same as the young lady from more than 20 years ago? Of course you wouldn't be able to trust your own ears if I said something like that, so don't worry, I'm not going to tell you such a tale.
In lieu of such a tale of a tub, I'm telling you that I'm happy and that Gregory asked me to pass on to you his best wishes. I have a loving husband, a ripping home and my son and daughters are healthy, so what more could I ask for?
I'll finish now, as I'm running out of space and my candle is starting to flicker. It's late and small raindrops are beginning to batter into my window.

Your loving daughter, hopping to hear from you soon,
Alleken Marie

vineri, 18 octombrie 2013

Too stubborn to admit it

“There are two circumstances that lead to arrogance: one is when you're wrong and you can't face it; the other is when you're right and nobody else can face it.”

"I still can't believe you want to leave! It's too soon. At least take someone with you!"
"Teacher can't come with me today, because she has to assist someone from another village and she is almost sure it will last a day or so. And I already told you I feel fine!"
"Damn Alleken! You've only given birth less than 6 weeks ago! You should still be in childbed!"
"Please don't pretend to be a doctor and try to put yourself in my shoes! How would that be? How would you feel knowing that because you refuse to do something, a child is suffering?"
"What about our children?!"
"They are healthy. You know very well that I wouldn't leave if I wouldn't be certain that they are going to be fine!"

Of course Gregory wouldn't understand. And how can he dare to accuse me of not caring about my own children?!
Earlier that morning, a woman from the castle arrived and implored me to come with her and save her master's children. I knew she was talking about the marquess' children.
A few years ago, the sad story of this young nobleman became something close to a tale among the people around his castle.
Everyone knew that the young Marquess of Lancaster was banished from his family's mansion by his older brother after a complicated incident and that he took refuge in a castle somewhere not so far from our town. There, he married a beautiful elven princess, that died in childbrith. She was only 19 and she died giving birth to quadruplets, leaving her heart broken husband to take care of five children by himself (they also had another one year old baby). For the sake of his children and beloved wife, the young widower managed not to go off the edge, even if one of the babies died shortly after. That happened almost four years ago and since that time everyone knew that the Marquess chose to withdraw into his shell and spent most of his time with his children or hunting by himself on his domains.
I was aware that that fall young children from all around the realm became ill with various respiratory diseases and that many of them evolved into lethal cases of pneumonia so, if there was something that I could do to save those children and spare their father from burying another one of them, then I was ready to try my hardest.
Even so, the five hours journey to the Castle proved to be more fatiguing that I anticipated and by the time I arrived, I had to stop for a couple of minutes, because I was already gasping for breath and I couldn't let anyone to see me like that. Maybe next time someone called me, I could persuade Gregory to pay me a carriage or even consider taking someone into service.
I had to cut short my break, because the master was already expecting me.

A servant then guided me to the children's apartments, where the Marquess took charge of presenting me his children's condition.

After examining them, I concluded that the two girls suffered of acute fever, serrated pulse, pleuritic pain in the side and cough, all of those indicating cases of Pneumonia, while the two remaining boys both suffered of an infection of the upper respiratory tract, most probably Influenza, that could also evolve into Bronchitis or Pneumonia. Before I started their treatment, I had to first stabilize their condition, because all four of them had dangerously high temperatures. I knew that I wouldn't return home that evening, so I asked one of the maids from the Castle to send word back to my husband not to expect me for a day or so.

I spent most of the night keeping an eye on the children and by the sunrise I was relieved to discover that all of them were already feeling a little better. The next day I prepared a herbal decoction and instructed the wet nurse how to convince the children to drink it. I also prepared myself a hot cup of tea, because I felt exhausted after a night spent attending to the children.

Later that morning, the Marquess thanked me and even offered to lend me one of his horses for my journey back home. I was most thankful for his pleasantness, because at that moment I felt like I was going to fall somewhere on the way and sleep for a whole week.

When I arrived home I discovered that Gregory had left earlier the same morning to attend some urgent affair with the farm. I couldn't care less. I got off into a dead faint and slept for two days. When I woke up, I discovered that Lynnete also fell ill with the flu. Fortunately for all of us, she was sick only for a couple of days and she recovered her health in no time.
Also, on my nightstand, I was surprised to find a beautifully decorated wooden box, patterned with intricate designs. I let a discreet giggle escape, thinking that that must have been Gregory's way of saying he was sorry for our dispute and his sudden absence. The moment I openened the wooden box, I realized I have never been so wrong in my entire life. In front of my eyes, on elegant, black silk, lied the most beautiful pair of earrings that I had ever seen. Adorned with white pearls and precious gems, I was almost certain they weren't meant for someone like me. Still, I couldn't help but stare at them for almost half an hour, until the chambermaid suddenly barged into my bedchamber to help me prepare for the day.
"Oh, the box? Came here yesterday in the evening. A man riding an elegand horse stopped by and asked us to hand it to our mistress. I figured in must have been the payment for treating the marquess' children."
And what a payment, dear Lord in Heaven.