"Cha, are you listening?" Marianne asked her daydreaming five year old in her clipped French accent.
"Yes, Mama..." Her daughter replied.
"You must be careful...this is very sharp." Marianne instructed. "You try it now."
Cha took the needle, thread and fabric from her mother. She copied her mother's action. "Tres bien, Cha!"
Cha smiled, pleased with herself.
"Your father will be home soon..." Marianne told her. "Go and help Alice with the table. That is enough for today." She kissed her daughter's cheek.
"Forks on the left, Cha." Her mother told her as she watched her set the table.
"Sorry..." Cha said, and put the fork in it's proper place. She heard the doors to the kitchen slam. She looked up. "Papa!" She cried out, happily.
"Hello, Cha!" He asked, smiling, and picking her up. "Did you have good day?"
"I still don't know where to put the forks." Cha told him with a giggle.
Her father laughed, and put her down. "Go and wash for dinner."
She ran up the stairs to the room she shared with her mother and father, and washed her hands in the water pitcher. "Cha, is dinner ready?"
They went downstairs together, sitting down at the table with everyone. Sylvia and her mother Jennifer had not arrived yet. They soon did. Jennifer took her place, and Sylvia was made to sit next to Cha. "But Mama!" Sylvia groaned. "I don't want to sit here! Not next to Cha!"
Cha looked at her, slightly hurt by her words.
"Sylvia, do be sensible!" Alice the kitchen head, snapped.
"She is my daughter, and I shall tell her how to behave, thankyou, Alice." Jennifer said, coldly. "Sylvia, take your place, please."
Sylvia groaned, but did as she was asked. Grace was said, and they began to eat.
The meal, as usual, was light. They rose, and Marianne took Cha upstairs to put her to bed. "You learnt a lot today, Cha." She told her, dressing her in the nightdress she always wore. "Rest your mind...I...I do not feel all that well myself...I shall be in soon." She kissed her daughter good night, and pulled the blankets up.
Indeed Marianne was not well. She ached all over and she felt as though she would lose her balance at any time. She bid her fellow servants and courtiers goodnight much earlier than usual.
"I feel so strange..." Marianne told Alice as she said goodnight.
She climbed the stairs, almost falling as she climbed, coughing into her hand. She gripped the railing, her hand sweating slightly. What is happening to me..? She thought as her head spun.
Cha was asleep, and Marianne dressed in her nightgown and went to bed. She did not sleep, however. She tossed and turned in great discomfort and pain. She could not stop sobbing in discomfort. When Alice came to her side, she had become very ill. Cha awoke, wondering what all the noise meant.
It was in the wee hours of the morning, the sun still far from rising. Cha crouched beside the bed in the cold air. She pulled the blanket more tightly around her shoulders, her other hand clutching her mother's. Her father sat beside her, stroking his wife's hair. "Marie? How do you feel?"
"I feel...terrible..." Marianne was breathing hard, coughing frequently. Her face shone with sweat.
"I will get better, I promise...I will come out alive..." She coughed again.
Alice entered. "Michael..." She began. "May I speak to you outside?"
He kissed his wife's forehead, and got up. Alice took him outside. Cha knew she shouldn't, but she had to listen.
"What?" Came her father's shocked reply.
"She is too ill...we are going to lose her, I'm sorry..." She heard Alice sob slightly once this was said.
"But...but she has never experienced symptoms such as these before! H-how can she be dying?" Fear was strong in Michael's voice.
Cha could hear Alice weeping. "It can appear very suddenly...there is nothing we can do."
Her father reappeared. There were tears flowing silently down his cheeks. He sat down by Cha's side, pulling her close to him. "Your mother will be with God soon." He whispered.
Cha looked up at him, her eyes wide. She is so young, so naive. Michael thought as he looked into his small daughter's eyes. She does not deserve this! He crossed himself. "May God protect their souls." He whispered.
He kept his daughter close to him as he held his dying wife's hand. The sun rose, and the cold morning air cooled Marianne's damp face. She coughed over and over, blood falling onto the bed sheets.
The day passed slowly, and they never left Marianne's bedside. As the sun sunk behind the mountains again, Marianne's grip tightened on Cha's hand. "Cha...my darling. Be good for your father...promise me, you will look after each other...Cha..?"
"Mama..?" Cha whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks. In wild panic, she looked around for her father. "PAPA! COME!" She shrieked.
Her father appeared at the door. "Cha?"
"Mama!" Cha shook her mother by the shoulders.
"Cha..." Marianne murmured.
"Papa, come!" Cha sobbed.
Michael knelt down by her side, tears falling from his eyes. "Marie?"
Marianne's eyes, pale with disease, lingered on her beloved husband and daughter. "I love you...both of you...Michael..?"
"Marie?" He sobbed.
after Cha...Cha...be good for you father..."
"I will, Mama, I will!" Cha cried.
"Promise me you will take care of each other...promise me!"
"We promise..." Cha sobbed, flinging her arms over her mother.
"Marie..." Michael whispered. "I love you. I love you, be at peace." Tears ran down his cheeks.
"I love you, Michael...Cha..." Marianne whispered, gasping in her last attempts to breath.
"Mama, don't go!" Cha sobbed. "We won't see you again...please don't go!"
"You will see me again...in heaven. I am in God's care now." She whispered.
"No, Mama..." Cha cried, as her mother's eyes slowly closed. "NO!"
"Marie!" Michael wept.
"Mama! Mama, NO!" Cha cried out, shaking her. "MAMA! MAMA, COME BACK!" She buried her face in the bed sheets and sobbed. "Mama, come back, please!"
Michael held his wife's hand, kissing it and weeping. "Marie, I love you."
By the door, Alice crossed herself, tears flowing steadily and silently down her cheeks. "So help us God!" She sobbed.
- - Three Years Later - -
Cha's arms were wrapped tightly around Alice's neck. All the women and children had been herded into the great hall. The doors were guarded by knights. A terrifying battle raged outside. And her father was fighting in it. She was pale with worry.
"Cha..." Alice said to her. Cha looked up at her. "It's alright." She stroked her hair.
Cha sighed. "I want my Papa." She said, quietly.
"He can't come, Cha...he's fighting to protect us." Alice told her.
"So are we all, Cha. So are we all."
Cha looked around her. Women and children were sitting on the floor all around them. The hall was very crowded. Over at the far end, she could see the Queen looking grim. She was holding her son close to her. He also looked very afraid.
"Alice?" Cha asked. "Is it over yet?"
"No, Cha...all we can do is wait."
Cha bit her lip with worry. She wanted her father. She was scared.
The minutes passed. Minutes became hours. Little was said. Everyone just wanted it to end. The silence was shattered with a monstrous explosion. Every head turned. Children screamed and babied cried. "Papa!" Cha cried.
One of the knights opened the door to the hall to go outside, but Cha scrambled down from Alice's arms and ran.
"CHA!" Alice screeched. "NO, CHA, COME BACK!"
Several children followed Cha's lead, racing out the door. Panicking mothers screamed their names. The knights tried to stop them but they fought away from them. They ran down, through the corridor and out the huge doors. Bodies were littered everywhere. Smoke and dust swirled. A canon had been fired. Cha looked around franticly for her father. Her eyes fell upon a body on the ground. The body of her father. "PAPA, NO!" She shrieked. She ran to him, falling down beside him. "Papa!"
Her father's eyes flickered open. "Cha..." His voice was heavy with pain. Blood streamed from his head. "Cha...you should not be here...it's not safe..."
"Papa! You're hurt! Alice will make you better..."
"No, Cha...she cannot...not this time..." He was struggling to say the words. "Cha...the battle is over...you are safe..." He put his hand on her cheek. "Be good...be a good girl...be brave..."
He groaned in pain. "You must be brave...for me..."
"I am!" Cha began to cry.
Alice came running. She stopped, upon seeing Cha leaning over her father. She knew by the gash on his head that he was going to die. Cha was going to be orphaned. She crossed herself, starting to sob. "Oh my God..."
Michael's breathing was slowing. "Cha...my daughter... be good, be brave...I love you...I love you..." He said. His cheeks were smeared with dirt. He was pale, but the blood was staining his skin.
"I will be brave, Papa..." Cha sobbed. "But why? Why must I be brave?"
Her father did not reply. He laid still, his eyes glassy. "Papa?!" Cha squealed.
"PAPA! ...NO, PAPA!"
She collapsed on her father's still chest, sobbing. "NO!"
She felt hands take her by the waist. She threw them off, sobbing and crying in despair. "Papa...Papa, come back!"
"Cha..." Alice said, tears running down her face. "Cha, come...you must come inside."
"No..." She sobbed.
Alice covered her face with her hands and cried. Cha's life had just been ruined. It had been hard enough for her without her mother, but now, she would never have either of them again. Oh, Michael...you are a good man...you do not deserve this! Your daughter does not deserve this! She sobbed into her hands, and watched Cha as she cried out her father's name.
* * *