Chapter 1:

A bloke in a hay pile

I have rotten sisters! Disgusting, nasty, dirty, sneaky rotten sisters. How on Earth could Madame have fallen for the lie again? She has to know I've been the one to clean the stables the last ten times at least! But no, of course she sincerely believes those beasts! Every time one of them opens their pursed, dry, little lips, she worships them! "They're older and too mature to say anything untrue," she says, "you should be more like them," she says. Well if I were more like those dirty wenches, I'd be given thirty scars for each word out of my mouth!

I'd begun marking the days I'd cleaned this disgusting hay pile, just to prove I had, but of course I was accused of sneaking to the barn and putting marks there in the night. I added another mark anyhow and got to work. How could two horses and a cow make so much mess in a single night? I took a deep breath and started loading the wheelbarrow.

Five or six trips to the dump yard on the far lands and I stopped for something to eat. Madame usually managed to send out something, and sometimes Maggie would even sneak in something sweet. A box was sitting on a bale of hay near the door, probably brought out by another worker. Oh yum…bread with a slight splatter of butter, obviously a lunch made with the closest scrutiny of Madame. I picked at it slowly while scanning the rest of my workload. Another complete day completely wasted.

Nearly finished with the small meal, I grabbed my pitchfork and went to work at the far stall. It was cooler there and the sun was getting to be too much. I held my breath again – the first scoop always smells the worst – and stabbed as hard as I could.

"Aah! What the bloody – who are you? Do you always go stabbing forks in sleeping peoples' bums or am I the only one to enjoy that rare pleasure?! You ignorant bloody bloke!"

"" I stuttered slowly, staring unbelievably at the boy – girl – I wasn't really sure which, that had somehow appeared from a pile of very over-used stable hay.

"And you rightly should! Do you have any idea…never mind. What position do you have in this household? Are you a worker, a slave?" he... it... stood and started picking pieces of hay from his body, his clothes, everything. I was pretty sure it was a boy by now, or at least I hoped. His voice was far too deep for a female.

"Madame doesn't believe in slaves, I'm the daughter of the merchant who lives here. My name is Talia." I held out my hand to help him up but he just stared.

"Congratulations…what d'ya want me to do with that, marry you?" he laughed

"Well, no, I was just… never mind! Move or I'll have to stab you again!" If he wasn't going to be polite then neither was I.

"If you stab me again, you will not like the consequences." He smirked, crossing his arms. He thought he was tough, I suppose.

"Oh? And why's that? Are you going to poke me? Move, I have work to finish." I gave him another minute before raising my pitchfork and still he sat there, smirking and staring at me. He was so arrogant! I lunged at him with my weapon.

"I warned you!" he yelled and jumped at me, making me lose my balance and fall backwards. I landed hard on the floor and my head began to throb. He stood over me, laughing his rotten head off and leaning on my pitchfork.

"Oooh you rotten boy! You have no manners and no pride…and you smell so bad! Have you never heard of a bath?" he didn't stop laughing, even at my rage. I actually think he laughed harder the angrier I got!

"Talia? What is going on in here, who are you screaming so incessantly at?" I went silent as soon as I heard the voice of Madame Belay. I turned slowly and when finally I saw the door, her long, slim figure stood there. Her arms crossed and her lips pursed menacingly, she raised an eyebrow.

"I was just…I…um…no one, Madame." I looked down, holding my hands together. The boy was no longer in sight. "Do you need anything?"

"I'm here to warn you of the impending visit of Sir Marlin Troy. He is a knight and he is coming to see me, not you. So be sure you remain out of sight, is that clear?"

"Yes, Ma'am. May I know the occasion of his visit?" I asked knowing full well what he was coming for. That wretched woman!

"That, Talia, is none of your concern. You're only to be concerned with making yourself invisible. Now hurry and finish in here, you've much more to do." She spun around and just as suddenly as she'd appeared, she was gone.

"So that's Madame?" just when I thought I was alone, the other annoyance of the day reappeared. He was sitting on top of a barrel that I hadn't even noticed before, and he was covered in dust.

"Yes, that's Madame. Where did you go, you made me look like a fool! Well, she does already think me a fool, but still…you are nothing but a pain!" He laughed again. Nothing even so much as stung him, he was heartless!

"What is she, your mother gone bad?" he eased himself down and picked up my pitchfork, tossing it to me and taking the spare off the wall.

I laughed. "Mother? No, stepmother. My father married her a very long time ago, when I was seven."

"So Sir… whatever-his-name-was is your father?" he stuck the fork in and began to pile hay into the barrel.

"No. Sir what-ever-his-name-was is nothing. I've never even heard of him, and he's probably not even a knight. Just someone looking to court Madame so she'll marry him and give him tons of money, not that a cent of it is hers. Father is a merchant, he travels. Right after he married Madame he left again and he's only returned twice since, once for my ninth birthday and once for his third anniversary to Ma'am. I'm not sure where he is now." I finished with the dirty hay and began piling clean hay from a stack on the far wall, leaving the wheelbarrow for another time.

We hardly spoke again the rest of the time, though he did continue helping me with the work. I should have wondered who he was, or why he'd been sleeping in my stable, but for some reason, I really wasn't shocked. I couldn't figure out why he was suddenly so helpful, though, after being so rotten but I didn't complain and we were soon finished. I thanked him and ran off to the main house, leaving him to do as he pleased.

a/n- I know it's a little cliche but bear with me, it gets different!