Just a small note: I know I have the old version of this story buried somewhere in a folder in my closet. Since I am too lazy to find it, I will write a few chapters from memory rather than editing old chapters- though I am sure what readers I might have probably haven't read the first version. I'm writing this as a fun project for myself. The characters amuse me so, though the plot is dark. I hope other people enjoy it too. Thanks.
But wood arrived at the door as well. This time Madeleine saw the men's faces. Two men waited beyond the door, laden with daggers and swords; two young boy servants came into the tower room with firewood in their arms. With weary grimaces, they set the wood down on hearth. In the afternoon, too, two women, one plump and the other frail, went to them, each carrying a bucket of water. Soft wisps of steam rose from within the buckets' rims.
"Quickly! Before it gets cold," Danielle urged. She hurried to the water, not even waiting for the disgruntled maids to leave the room.
Madeleine watched as the large woman moved the strands of her gray hair behind her ears, her heavy bosom still heaving from climbing the stairs. But the woman surprised her with a sympathetic look. She wiped the perspiration from her brow and motioned for the other woman to follow her out of the door to where the guards were waiting.
"I need a drink," Anatole said, eyeing the water.
"It's not for drinking!" Danielle snarled, wetting her hands. "Maddie and I will have this one, then, and you and your stinky brother can have the other." Anatole stared dumbly at the bucket. "Oh!" Danielle flashed him an exasperated expression. "You fool, it's our bath!"
"Our stomachs growl and you are more concerned about cleanliness?" Guy demanded, stepping out of the shadow of his corner. "We will clean ourselves now only to soil ourselves later, pissing in our pot and throwing our own sewage out of the window." He indicated a third bucket—the one they had tucked away into the crevice of the hearth before there was wood for it.
Danielle ignored his anger this time, reaching into the bucket to retrieve the small cloth at the bottom, corners dripping. "Maddie," she called. "Maddie, will you stand in front of me—so they won't watch me."
"You are going to clean yourself now?" Madeleine asked, standing before Danielle without argument.
"While it's still warm," Danielle replied sensibly. "And there is no other place—and I cannot see myself in the dark."
Guy stood over the fire; he stared into the flames, his face drawn into its continual, dismal expression. His brother Anatole turned his head enough to watch Danielle from out of the corner of his eye. "Why is he doing this?" Guy asked, looking up. He looked at Madeleine for a moment, Danielle scowling behind her. "I don't understand; is this what it's like to live among the wealthy?"
Danielle snorted. "Turn away," she said, beckoning for Madeleine to stand closer to her. Her back turned, she moved the cloth across her bare skin, her garments in a heap far out of reach of the water. She peered over her shoulder again. "Stop looking at me," she commanded, pretending to appear offended. But she was positively beaming.
"What makes you think I am looking at you?" Guy asked quietly, looking into the fire again.
"I think they are playing games," Madeleine said, addressing his question. "He is playing games, I think. But I have never been a lady, and ladies, I've heard, are accustomed to being locked away and attended to in such a manner."
"I am sure it is far more luxurious than this," Danielle scoffed, tossing her damp hair over her shoulder, little flecks of water on Madeleine's cheek. She knelt to submerge the cloth again, slapping it across her arms and legs. "There is no soap," she remarked, frowning. "At least ladies get soap."
"I will wait for the next rain. I'll stand in front of the window," Guy decided.
"Rain is cold."
"You know nothing of life, then."
"What do you mean?" Danielle said airily. She made a big show of wringing her hair; a few tiny splotches of water appeared on the stone. It was a while before she was finished scrubbing her skin pink with the cloth. Heaving a half-satisfied sigh, she handed the cloth to Madeleine. "Use the other bucket, if you will; the men are not."
Anatole hurried to the second bucket and, removing his shirt and pulling down his breeches, thrust his hand into the water to take its cloth. He then proceeded to wash his scrawny body, and Danielle watched him with an amused expression.
"Now I won't have to smell your horrid stench," she said.
"You might," Guy told her. "But it will be better for those of us on the opposite side of the room."
"Maddie, it's your turn." Danielle tightened the laces of her dress and combed her hair with her fingers. Observing Madeleine's hesitation with the cloth, she laughed. "Bah! Do not worry if Guy watches you; he knows he can never have you. And Anatole knows I will kill him in his sleep if he does. Besides, I know we have both shamed ourselves more out there…" She ended her speech daintily, as if in mocking.
"You never knew who I was—what I was," Madeleine began, her chin quavering. "I have every reason to suspect the same of you." She could feel her cheeks growing warm.
"I never said anything," Danielle said, shrugging. She flashed Anatole a smirk. "Oh, Maddie, beggar women with your beauty and who have done nothing of the sort are a rarity in these parts. Men simply cannot help themselves. And women are clever to play on their desires. At least you can afford a little more bread with it."
Madeleine threw the cloth back into the bucket, her skin prickling with anger. It was true that she had made the same assumptions about Danielle—after all, she knew the art of seduction well enough. Such talent had earned her a far amount of coins in her purse, Madeleine was certain. But she had only met her a few days before the incident of the bread.
"Leave her alone," Guy said venomously.
"Oh? You fancy her?" Danielle sat primly on her bed. "I think she is too pretty for you."
"You would suit me well, then."
"Not your ghastliness, no!" she exclaimed.
"I am not beautiful," Madeleine declared softly, going to the window. "And those who say so are lying." She spread her fingers on the wide windowsill, only half-frowning at the smudges of dirt on them. There was a dark cloud hovering above the city, teasing the city—or teasing her. She relieved an itch on her leg with her toes. She did not like the way the soles of her feet were sticky with wine—but she had tread through mud and dung and so she refused to complain.
"Only the truly beautiful ones will say such a thing," Guy said. "The others flaunt themselves."
"He is only in love with you," Danielle laughed. She let out a scream as Anatole flew to the bed, his clothes clinging to his damp skin. He began kissing her neck, his hands grasping her shoulders. Giggling, Danielle pried him from her, kicking him to the floor like an irritable dog.
It was then that a light rain began to fall through the window. Madeleine felt it in her hair, on her face as she looked out, refusing to watch Anatole beg for more than Danielle's attention. Guy went to the window, too, and he did not look at Madeleine as he did.
"Those maids wasted their time," he murmured, opening his mouth to taste the rain on his tongue.
In the evening another pitcher of wine was left in front of the door—and freshly pressed garments. Anatole snatched the pitcher as soon as he recognized its shape on the stone, and Danielle hurried to inspect the clothes. Her eyes widened as she spread the clothes on her bed.
"Oh!" she gasped, reaching out to touch the soft cloth. "I don't understand."
"I think he has given you his wife's clothes," Guy observed. "And his own, too. Servants would not wear those—unless he is wealthier than we think and able to dress his servants like kings."
"Jewels in this stomacher," Madeleine breathed, touching the stones sewn into the cloth. "New ribbons, smooth silk."
"One dress for each of us," Danielle said sadly, looking away from the bed.
"And the breeches—who are they for?" Anatole inquired. "Guy won't have them." He took them with his free hand, but Danielle grabbed it back again, nearly knocking the wine out of his grasp. "You'll soil the dresses!" he cried, surprised by her actions. "What? You are going to wear those?"
Danielle clasped the bundle of cloth to her chest. "He wants you to wear them."
"Of course he does or else he wouldn't have bothered sending it with our supper!"
Madeleine, who had gone to the door to retrieve the three portions of bread that were left there with the wine and the clothes, gave one piece to Guy. "There are only three" she said calmly. "We can have half a piece each and save the last one for tomorrow's breakfast when we sometimes don't get anything."
"It will be hard then," Danielle said.
"It is stale now; and this way we won't quarrel over it."
"Come, all, let us have a feast—with our wine!" Anatole proclaimed, tipping the pitcher into his mouth. He sat down on the ground and looked to the others awkwardly. "I suppose we will have to share it somehow. We can pass it around, then: a small sip each turn until it is gone?"
"Only three?" Guy questioned.
Madeleine nodded slowly. "I swear it; I am hiding nothing." She was surprised to find that the tower room was quiet after she had finished speaking. Danielle was not fretting over her share of bread—and she was not donning one of the new dresses. She was folding them up neatly on her lap, and then, after a pause, holding them up in front of her again. She laid one on the bed for Madeleine and tucked the other under her pillow. And then she switched them, changing her mind. When she sensed the others' watching her, she looked up from her place and smiled.
"I do not know which one is better," she tried, pulling the garments out from under the pillow. "Madeleine, take one and properly dress yourself."
"You won't let me wear any of it," Anatole said.
"Wear the dress if you want," Danielle snapped, flinging the jeweled garment at him. "Or sell it later. If you make it out of here alive."
Anatole caught the cloth with sticky fingers. "The other clothes," he said, stricken. "You knew what I meant."
"You will not change?" Guy wondered, astonished. "Why not? They are pretty dresses."
"I am pleased with what I am wearing now; Madeleine's dress is all tattered and worn. "And I would rather see someone else wear them, not me. No! We can return them to him!"
"What are you talking about?" Madeleine asked, evading the new garments. "Is there something wrong?"
"No!" Danielle said breathlessly. "Very well, then, I will war one. They smell clean enough—and they are almost new. Now, if only we had a mirror right here."