A/N- this is just the first chapter. Almost the entire thing is written, but I don't want to post it all until somebody is reading it. So review and tell me if you like!

The Third Daughter

A Stepsister's Tale

"Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a beautiful young girl who loved to be kind and courteous to everyone she met. She was a friend to all of the animals, from Belinda the spider to Bruno, a friendly red fox. She loved to embroider and stitch, and all the merchants in the marketplace liked to have her at their stalls, while the customers greeted her with friendly smiles. But sadly, she was forced to work all day for her evil Mother and Sisters. They were very jealous of her astounding beauty, and forced her to do the dirtiest jobs. And she did not know what to do at all. But, then one day she was invited to a magical ball, where the prince would be choosing a wife! The girl was so thrilled, and-"

"Honestly Libby, you have no talent whatsoever. I don't know why you even bother. That story is nothing but a sugar frosted doughnut with white fluff in the middle." She laughed derisively, and turned back to the mirror in my room, which she insisted on using, combing her hair and gazing at her reflection, making sure every strand of shining copper hair was in place. My eldest sister was apparently feeling especially good willed toward me this evening. Honestly, Libby, you have no talent whatsoever. The words stung, and I forced my face into its normal smooth calm, determined not to let her know that she could hurt me so easily. You have to admit, though, I thought to myself, that she has a gift for perfectly describing what I wrote.

I looked over my writing and realized it was just fluff. If anyone were ever that perfect, I and the rest of the world would hate her vehemently. I scratched it out, cut a new piece of charcoal and parchment, and started anew. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl who loved to draw and paint pictures of the ocean, the animals, and everything in life. She would sell these at the marketplace when she could, and always managed to pick a few pockets when she didn't get enough for money for bread that evening. I wasn't There; I wasn't at a mental state where I could write well.

I would have continued, but our maid, Melida, called, with her sweet voice, "Girls, dinner's ready." I stood, fixing my green skirts, and walked down the stairs, holding them up from the ground, careful not to dirty them. The stairs were twisty and wrap around, narrow and built of stone. My slippers slid across the cool, ancient rock as I stepped into the kitchen, where the back staircase led. Melida, her gray hair pulled back into a tight bun, a few wisps escaping and hanging in her face as she stood over the cooking table, smiled at me. Her eyes were an alarming shade of green, and they watered with the onions she had just cooked.

"Libby, get to supper. Amana just set it on the table. You'll be late." Her voice was musical and young, not the tone of a wizened old lady past her sixtieth year. As I walked by, she whispered, "Don't eat the salad; I put something special in it for your sisters." She winked and I smiled as I continued, glad to have Melida's confidence.

I was the only one who was ever in the kitchen, so I was also the only one that Melida ever warned about the food. The tip-offs were sort of a reward for caring about her, as most nobles thought it beneath them to set foot in a kitchen. She would put laxatives in the pork, or put boil potions in the lettuce, just to give my sisters some troubles. God knows they don't have many, so a few extra minutes at the chamber pots or a couple of painful blemishes would not kill them.

I walked into the dining hall and sat at my place on mother's left, where I always did. My oldest sister, Auria, with the auburn hair and laughing brown eyes, sat at her right, while Ellida, more commonly known as Elli, the pale haired, beautiful, and good stepdaughter sat next to Auria. I smiled at my mother, who smiled back. For my mother though, a smile was a slight upturn of the lips and a light in her dark eyes. I believe she loved me, but felt awkward showing it. I was the youngest after all, and would be lucky to marry some minor lord, who would not pay much of a dowry for me; why should she pay much attention?

Elli smirked pleasantly, and asked, "So how has your. writing been going, Libby?" I knew she was only trying to bring attention to the fact that my mother had spent a lot of money on developing a talent that so far was obviously not there. My mother, I knew, was embarrassed at the fact that all the other nobles had called her crazy for paying for more schooling for me, a third daughter, and that as of yet the schooling had come up absolutely fruitless. Even so, she cared about my happiness enough to follow my whim and still pay for instruction from the priests to help me learn more words and enlarge my vocabulary, and learn how grammatical sentences were structured. Auria and Elli were also taught to read and write; but they didn't have any sort of passion for it. My sisters didn't understand why I would rather be around a bunch of smelly, half bald, celibant old men than at the King's court flirting with the Royal Courtiers. And often I didn't either. Sometimes I felt as if the entire idea of writing was tiresome and hard, especially when I had not let anyone see what good things I wrote. The few poems and short stories I wrote that I believed had some merit were much too precious to share with anyone. I was afraid that whomever I showed would beat it into the ground, and criticize and assess it until it was nothing more than silly words on parchment.

Other than my writing and reading, I liked to sew and embroider, and sit quietly during the day, and I helped in the dishes and dirty work when my mother asked. I also liked dancing at the palace balls and playing the flute. I did not talk much, especially since my father died, and when I did it was only to select people, who I could trust with my words. I remember my father explaining to me how powerful words could be, and how things could be conveyed through words that pictures and gestures could barely hope to show. Mostly I hid in my room, or went to the stables to be with Wren, who didn't force me to talk back to him and had no problem with long silences in the middle of conversations.

I grunted, a grunt that could mean, "Just fine, Elli. Thank you for asking," or "Elli, please shut up before I blow up and hit you very hard in the face."

Then, with a prim look on her face, Auria came down the stairs, immaculate as always, in her emerald colored "Dinner Gown" that laced up the front with white ribbons. (We were not wealthy enough for her to have a dinner gown, but she still insisted upon wearing her best dresses for dinner every night.)

My mother looked at her disapprovingly and said, "Auria, you know that I do not want you to soil your best skirts just for supper," she pursed her red mocha lips, annoyance sitting pleasantly on her olive skin. "You may need them someday." She said the last sentence a bit cryptically, but I was the only one to detect it.

We invited all the servants in, Melida, Amana, and Heloise, our washerwoman, and Yuri, our field laborer, Wren, our stable boy/field hand, and Edward, the gardener/general conversationalist to say Grace with us. I blushed as Wren winked at me, his sepia, tousled hair a mess, and his shining blue eyes creating a striking contrast on his dirt-crusted face. He had rushed so quickly to Grace that he didn't even wash himself. Elli, who noticed everything, grinned knowingly when she saw me blushing.

It had become common knowledge around the manner and most of the marketplace that Wren was in love with me and that I reciprocated those feelings and that maybe we had acted on those feelings, once or twice, in a very conservative manner. Of course, no one really knew that when I said I had go use the toilet, it was very likely that Wren was behind the out house, and that we would run into the clearings of the forest for some time alone, or that often my silent conversations with him in the stables grew to other things. I dreamt of a life involving Wren, myself, and a troupe of traveling performers that was looking for a girl who could do aerobic tricks and twist her legs behind her ears and a young man who could juggle chickens. (I was sure Wren could learn, even though whenever I brought up the subject he kissed me to make me shut up.) And, as I usually sat sewing with my sisters and my mother, I often had time for such idle daydreams.

My mother eyed me after we finished Grace when Wren walked by, brushing his hand so close to my head it almost touched it, but she did not say anything. We ate in silence, Elli neatly, as she did everything.

Elli was attractive, but in a different way from Auria. Auria was offensively beautiful; it took you a moment to get used to her perfect features, and even then it was as hard to gaze at her as it was the sun. Elli, though, was subtlety pretty, with her flaxen hair that fell softly down her back in a long braid, and her large brown eyes that peered innocently at you from under long dark lashes. When she smiled, it made you think of an angel, fallen to earth and wondering when she could return to the Heavens. She was good and kind to everyone, and even birds would alight on her finger. I had suspicions that they dressed her in the morning.

Once you got to know her, she could make even your own family hate you. Elli was very smart, and she was cunning and persuasive; an often dangerous mixture. She was not blood related; Elli was just the product of an occupied father and a sick mother, the latter dying a few days after she was born, the former a few years ago, shortly after he married my mother, leaving her a widow with lots of money and a big house. Elli did have her good points though. A drive and determination to win, no matter what the cost, and the ability to turn situations around to her advantage were qualities that had helped our family out before, when we needed it most. But still, she worked her hardest, especially when she was bored, to make my life miserable.

I was not completely blameless myself, though. Often I had joined Auria when she would mock Elli until she would cry, calling her a lowly orphan and telling lies about her parents, and taunting her with Auria's favorite tease, "Cinder Elli" because of one unfortunate incident where Elli, trying to impress a young, rustic traveler staying at the house, had begun to start a fire with nothing but two sticks, and the ashes had flown in her face, dirtying her dress but injuring nothing but her pride. Elli was also always doing the most disgusting chores, because often she would let go of her calm and cool around mother and mother would force all the work on her as punishment.

We ate in silence, except for the almost non existent tink of forks on plates and knives scraping on food, and the soft patter of one setting one's drink down on the linen covered table.

It was not really polite for us girls, especially me, to initiate a conversation during our evening meal. I was the youngest and the least of all the children; it was not my place to initiate anything. I was bursting with ideas and things to say, even so. I wanted to ask my mother what she thought of the recent, not-talked-about-but-known-of-by-everyone power struggle waged between the Duke of Winver and King Matthias. I wanted to know if she thought the Prince actually was running around the countryside, getting in drunken brawls and fathering bastards, as rumors had been circling in the market. I wondered if my mother was intentionally not telling the other girls not to eat the salad, because I was sure Melida must have told my mother too, about the things she put in the dinner. But even as I wondered these things I knew that mother did not care about politics, would not be bothered with something as trivial as the scandals of a Prince who would not be King for many years, and that she would never, ever confide in me about anything. certainly not the way my father had. He had talked politics and gossip and read me poetry and stories. He asked my opinion and considered it in decisions about the manor where we once had lived. Father had realized that I needed someone who loved me, that I needed a friend in a world where people can be so alone. We had done everything together, but then he got the sickness, the one that eats you from the inside, and weakens your muscles and rots your organs. The memories of him, watching him die slowly and get weaker made my eyes tear up, so I looked into my soup and stirred it around the tears warming my face until I thought it would melt and slip into my soup.

Clap, clap, clap. Someone was at the door.