A couple smiled happily as their newly born daughter was placed into her mother's hands. Both were stunned at the child's beauty. She had large blue eyes, a cute shapely mouth and smooth brown hair. She had all the features of a refined Lady. There was no doubt that she would one day be an important person.
The child's parents were just as stunning as she. Her father was considered to be one of the most handsome men in the kingdom. His curly hair gave him a boyish charm. His tanned skin contradicted the fact that he did not leave his home much and his strapping build intimidated many foes. Her mother was of average height, her black hair long and flowing. Her dark skin glowed beautifully even though the infirmary was not well lit. Her smile was bright enough to light the darkest of rooms.
"She's so beautiful, Albert. She's perfect," the dark skinned woman said as she stared upon her new born daughter's face. She wiggled her finger in front of the child's face and watched as the baby took her finger in her fist, holding it tightly. "I suspect her beauty could rival Princess Madison's.
"I never knew that someone could look so gorgeous. I think you're right, Honey. She is perfection. You did a good job."
The woman laughed at her husband before lifting her head to face him. He was smiling down at the newborn. There was so much joy in his eyes. She had never seen him so happy. She kissed him sweetly before releasing a sigh. "She looks just like you, Albert. So, don't give me all the credit," She turned her attention to the baby, "Great things will happen to her. I won't ever have to worry about her succeeding in life. She'll fall in love and marry a rich man that can take care of her."
"I have no doubt, Marilynn. She's only a few minutes old and managed to capture the hearts of everyone in the hospital. She'll have so many suitors when she grows up, just like her mom. I just can't believe we have two of them."
The sound of a second baby crying caught both of the parent's attention. The nurse was bringing the baby over after cleaning her up. She placed the baby in the anxious father's hands before walking away. Albert looked down at his second daughter but this time there was no joy in his eyes or a smile on his face. He just stared down at her with a blank expression.
"What's wrong?" Marilynn asked her husband worriedly. She craned her neck to see the baby's face but the blanket that she was wrapped in blocked her view. "Is something wrong with the baby? Is everything alright?"
"She's fine. It's just—I thought that they were identical."
"No," he whispered, "Not in the least."
He lowered the baby so his wife could see the child's face. Marilynn held in a gasp. The child was hideous. She looked nothing like their first born. Her eyes were smaller, her nose, lips, and ears were bigger. And the child's hair was already an unruly, curly mess. She didn't look like an angel at all. The only thing that was slightly adorable about the girl was the heart shaped birthmark on the back of the girl's neck.
"What are we going to do, Albert? We can't take a child home that looks like that. I will never be able to hold my head up high knowing that I spawned something that looks like it came from a swamp."
"Marilynn, you shouldn't say such things. For all we know she could grow into her features."
"She still wouldn't be worthy enough to bear the Cornwell name. We'll have to get rid of her."
Albert shook his head no as he gently bounced the baby to keep her from crying. "We can't do that. It would be wrong. Besides, she's just as perfect as her sister. She's just a little rough around the edges. With a little work she will be a fine lady."
"Alright, Albert." Marilynn said as she turned away from her husband. "If that's what you want I won't argue. Perhaps you are right. Maybe she will be worthy of the Cornwell name when she get older."
"I'm glad you see things my way," Albert smiled as he took a seat in a chair next to the bed. "What should we name them?"
"Callia." Marilyn said while looking down at the oldest twin. "It means beautiful."
"Then I shall name this little one, Nadira because she is a very precious little girl."
13 years later, at the Cornwell Estate, a celebration was taking place. It was the girls' thirteenth birthday party and everyone was excited. All of the nobles of the kingdom attended with their children, waiting for the big reveal. Every person in the Kingdom was aware of the Cornwell's family beauty and they were curious about the next generation.
While today was a day to celebrate another year of the girls' lives it was also a day for match making. Albert and Marilynn will spend the day discussing potential suitors and hopefully would have a successful arranged marriage by the end of it. They both knew that by the day's end, their eldest daughter would surely be promised but Nadira was another case. She did not hold any qualities of a noble lady, unlike her sister. She wasn't beautiful, particularly smart, or talented. She wasn't even attending her own birthday party.
"This isn't right, Marilynn. Nadira should be attending the party too. It's her birthday as well," Albert said through clinched teeth as he smiled as Callia sang La Primavera è in Fiore, a song that she written and composed.
Albert and Marilynn stood in front of a large audience and watched along with everyone. Callia looked wonderful in her pink gown and intricate ponytail that was held together by a simple white flower. A few loose, curly strands swayed in the wind as she played the piano wonderfully. Marilynn could not have been more proud of her at that moment.
"No. This is our daughter's unveiling. I can't have it ruined with that girl's presence."
"That girl is your daughter."
She didn't say anything as she noted that one of the guests were staring that the couple curiously. She waited until the woman turned her attention back to Callia before whispering, "You said that she would grow into her features, she hasn't and I refuse to accept her as my daughter looking like that. She belongs with the help and that's where she will stay."
Albert couldn't believe what he was hearing. He knew that his wife could be cold at times but not like this. "You're being cruel."
"I'm being practical. If people found out that we spawned that thing, we would be shunned. We would be outcasts. We would be no better than the people who serve us and I refuse to take a drop in status, not after I worked so hard to be viewed as a noble."
"The only work you did was convincing me to marry you."
"Do you think that was easy with all the other noble girls fluttering around you, flirting shamelessly? The chance of my success was small. How does a lady compare to a Duchess?"
"You tell me, that is your title now," He tried to conceal his anger but he knew that he was failing horribly. He turned to face his wife, his eyes ablaze. "You're right; you did work hard to acquire that name. You had me believing that you were kind, and sweet. You told me that what we have is love, now I know the truth. I never knew that lying was your forte."
Albert left Marilynn's side hurriedly to mingle with the guests. Callia's song had just ended and the guests were now talking amongst themselves about how impressed they were with Callia's performance.
Marilynn smiled tightly as she watched Callia walk of stage, gracefully. She was angry that she couldn't fully enjoy this moment. Her daughter was being revered by the most important people in the kingdom but all she could do was think about that wretched girl and how Nadira made Albert angry with her. She would have to do something to get rid of her. That girl was ruining their family and she refused to have things get any worse.
"Duchess," someone called, bringing Marilynn back to reality. She looked to her right and saw the Queen standing before her, looking as elegant as ever. She was dressed in a red and blue ball gown and her diamond studded tiara shone gloriously in the sun's light.
"Your Highness," Marilynn greeted as she bowed quickly. "It honors me greatly that you saw fit to attend my daughter's party."
"I've heard that your daughter was an exceptional beauty. I had to see this for myself."
"Her beauty does not compare to Princess Madison's by far."
"Well, I'm not so sure about that." The Queen laughed, "While my daughter is stunning, I can't help but stare at Lady Callia. She's like a shinning gem amongst a sea of rocks."
"Thank you, My Queen," Marilynn smiled brightly. She followed alongside the Queen as they walked away from the party and into the Mansion.
"I have something that I would like to discuss with you," the Queen said when they were well into the mansion and away from the guests. The likelihood that their conversation would be heard was minimal. "I'm actually considering choosing your daughter to marry my son."
"My Queen!" Marilynn gasped.
"You see, the king insists that my son marries for love and that's fine if the woman he chooses looked and acted like she belonged to the royal family. While many of the noble ladies are beautiful their daughters… It seems like a disease of sorts is spreading around."
"I know exactly what you mean," Marilynn said, thinking about Nadira.
"Good, and since your family isn't technically related to the royal family but was inducted in, I think your daughter is a fine choice for my son."
"Thank you, Your Highness but won't the king object."
"To an arranged marriage, yes. I just plan on pushing my son in the right direction and I hope that you'll do the same for your daughter."
"Yes, of course."
The queen noticed a few servants coming down one of the halls and thought it was time to end the conversation. She smiled at Marilynn. "We will finish this chat of ours soon but now I must go. Oh, before I leave. I would like to offer my condolences for your other daughter, Nadira. It is so sad that such a young girl would contract a crippling disease from one of your servants."
"Yes, it's very tragic," Marilynn pretended to be sad.
The queen nodded before leaving quickly and the Marilynn bowed. She couldn't believe that that brat managed to wiggle her way into her life once again. Something would have to be done about Nadira.
"Is everything alright, Your Grace?" One of the young servants asked.
"Courtney, where is Nadira?"
"She's at town's square with all the other servant children. There is a small festival being held for the little ones there. But I doubt you'll be able to find her. The place will be packed with entertainers and townsfolk. I told her not to go. Children go missing from those things every year, sold into slavery and prostitution. You know that sort of thing but don't worry, Your Grace. I'm sure Nadira will be fine."
"You may go."
"Yes, Your Grace."
Courtney left promptly and Marilynn tried with great difficulty to hide the smile that was slowly forming on her face. She would have to contact a few acquaintances, quickly. Hopefully, with any luck, Nadira wouldn't return and she could finally be free of the pesky, little parasite.
A tall girl with red hair and matching freckles walked along the street with a friend who was much shorter and much rounder. They wore clothes that were associated with their commoner status, cheap dresses that lacked style and flare. Their hair was pulled into a simple bun The only thing that made them stand out was the embroiled insignia of the Cornwell family, letting everyone know that they were servants to the Duke and Dutchess.
There was another girl tagging along. The young girl wore no such embroidery but her clothes were tattered just the same. Her hair was much messier, just a bunch of entangled curls that reminded people of a birds nest. She was definitely a sight to see.
"She's following us again, Rita." The short girl muttered to the tall one.
"Just ignore her."
"I can't. Everyone is staring at us because of her. I feel like an outsider."
Rita sighed before turning around to face the younger girl who was skipping merrily behind her. "Go back home, kid. Kim and I don't need a little kid like you following us around. People are starting to stare."
Kim folded her arms and stared down at the girl. "The festival isn't for little kids anyway. Do you know how dangerous it is for little girls like you?"
"I can do whatever I want," The girl said defiantly. "If I want to follow you to the festival, I can. I'm Lady Nadira Cornwell, daughter of Duke and Duchess Cornwell."
"No you're not," Rita said simply. "You are servant. You always have been and always will be."
"No I'm not."
"Then why aren't you at the birthday party then? Because you'd rather be here with us?"
Nadira didn't say anything, only glared. This always happened whenever she told someone who she was. They never believed her and called her a liar to her face. She couldn't understand why people found it so hard to believe that she was a Cornwell. She looked like one, didn't she?
"Besides," Rita continued, "Everyone knows that the real Nadira is sick and has been since she was born. They say that she can't even walk on her own and look at you, walking about with such ease and no grace. Better yet, I have never seen the Duke or Duchess so much as glance your way. You should stop lying. You are just a servant girl with servants for parents, just like the rest of us."
"I think you're wrong about that, Rita," Kim said.
Nadira smiled. Maybe there was someone out there that believed her, after all.
"I don't even think she has parents. She's probably an orphan that was dropped on the Cornwell's door step. They are such kind people, taking in a child as useless as her."
Nadira glared at the two cackling girls as they left her behind. She didn't care, she didn't need them. She was 13, a lady in bloom. She could take care of herself just fine on her own.
She walked further into the town square and was immediately bombarded by a cacophony of sound. Different types of music and the sound of the townsfolk melded together making a noise that was not so pleasant but even though the noise was ear splitting, Nadira managed to smile. The immense feeling of jubilation seemed to wash over everyone in the crowd. The many tents and booths had throngs of people surrounding them, shouting merrily at whatever form of entertainment was in front of them.
A loud sound caught her attention. There were several boys rough housing by one of the tents not too far away. The sound was a mixture of laughter, tears, and grunts as the boys pushed, pinned and flipped each other. They looked like they were having fun and Nadira wanted to join. She knew that wrestling with a bunch of boys isn't what a girl should do but she didn't care. She wanted to have fun today and they looked like they were enjoying themselves.
"Can I play?" She asked as she approached them.
"You're a girl," One of the boys with dirty blonde hair stated the obvious. He was flipped by a boy that was twice his size and landed roughly on the ground.
She noted that these boys clothes were a bit better than Rita and Kim's but not by much. They weren't apart of the Cornwell household which meant that perhaps they would be nicer to her.
"I know that but I would still like to play with you guys. I'm really good at wrestling."
"You're a girl," the same boy repeated.
It was becoming clear that he was the head of the little pack. He stood up off the ground and stared at Nadira expectantly who stared at him in return. She was not going to be intimidated by a bunch of boys that she knew that she could pulverize in a minute.
"Well, aren't you going to leave?"
"How about," Nadira interrupted, "I wrestle with your best guy. If I lose I'll walk away and if I win then you'll let me play with you guys."
"That's not fair, Michael. We can't fight a girl!" One of the other boys shouted.
"She doesn't act like a girl so we won't treat her like one. Akira, you're up."
She watched as the boys moved aside to reveal a very thin boy. Nadira felt her mouth fall open at the site of him. The boy was very handsome with lively, dark brown eyes that were slightly covered by his black hair. The smudges of dirt on his face made him seem more attractive somehow. He looked like he held deep strength within him but she doubted that he would be a problem for her.
She charged forward and grabbed Akira around his middle. She tried to tackle him but he wouldn't budge. He was a lot stronger than he appeared. She spent several minutes trying to get him to move an inch but nothing happened. Akira must have grown tired of Nadira because the next time she charged at him, he simply tripped her before pinning her to the ground.
All the boys cheered and Akira got off of Nadira before helping her up.
"Are you alright?" he asked and Nadira felt herself melt at the sound of his voice. It wasn't particularly deep but it was cute.
"Yea, I'm fine."
She stared into his eyes and he stared into hers and a moment began forming between them. It felt like at that exact instant in time, only Akira and Nadira were in existence but reality set in all too quickly as the loud mouth leader decided to start talking.
"Alright, you lost so get lost."
She glared at Michael. "I'm not going anywhere."
"But you promised."
"I said I would walk away and I am." She took a few steps back. "I won't bother you. I just don't have anything to do."
Michael looked like he wasn't going to agree but Akira spoke up, "She's not messing with anyone so just let her be. She could be a look out because we all know how bad Bixby is at it."
All the boys turned around to look at a portly boy who was standing at the tents edge, watching a group of female gypsies walk by. One of them waved at him and he giggled happily before tripping on his shoe laces and falling to the ground.
Michael turned his attention back to Nadira and gave her a long glance. The inner battle he was having was plainly written across his face but at the end of it he sided with Akira. "Fine, you can stay. Just make sure to keep a look out for cops, ok?"
"Okay," she nodded.
It was starting to get dark and many of the guests had already left, only a few stayed behind to have some drinks with Albert. Marilynn took the opportunity to leave the Cornwell grounds in search of a contact that was nearby. She would need to have a low profile and get things done as quickly as possible so she changed into one of her servant's casual clothing and walked a bit until she came across a lone man standing underneath a large tree. His figure was hidden by the tree's shadow and a large wall that surrounded the Cornwell estate.
"Riki?" she called out as she approached the figure. "Riki is that you?"
"Yes." A deep voice replied.
"I'm glad that you were able to come out on such short notice."
She ventured a step forward but still was unable to see the man's face. She went to take another step but his words stopped her.
"You know that I would do anything you asked of me, Your Grace."
Marilynn bowed her head, embarrassed at the sudden heat that surrounded her face at his words. Riki always had that affect on her since she was a child. That had grown up together several miles away from her current home. He was one of the household staff that worked in the kitchen. She seriously considered running away with him when she had turned eighteen but then she found out about his underground racketeering business and instead ran into the arms of Albert. That was almost fourteen years ago. "You know that you don't have to call me that. We're old friends."
"Once upon a time, we were more than that."
"Why did you ask me to come here, Marilynn?"
"I need a favor from you. I need you to relieve me of a burden."
"And how do I go about doing that?"
"There's a child that's becoming troublesome. I need you to dispose of her."
"Kill her?" She could hear the surprise in his voice. "You want me to kill a child?"
"I want you to get rid of her. If it comes to killing…"
"You've changed, Marilynn," He chuckled but there was no warmth in it. "A few years ago, such a thought wouldn't have entered your mind."
"Will you do it?" she ignored his comment. She only cared about accomplishing her goal.
"Of course, but first you'll have to do something for me."
He stepped closer to her and out of the tree's shadow. She was finally able to see his startling blue eyes. His nose was thin as were his lips. They were shaped like a bow. She used to joke with him saying that he was always frowning because his lips were downturned. Riki's dark brown hair was slicked back by a large amount of grease. His face was the same as she remembered it from all those years ago. The only difference was now he had a long scar that ran from the corner of his right eye to the side of his lip. Before she realized what she was doing Marilynn had rushed forward and grabbed his face in her hands and examined his scar closely.
"Riki, what happened to you?"
"I got into an accident." He grabbed her hands and held onto them tightly. The feel of her skin was so soft and warm. "I missed you." He whispered.
"Riki, we shouldn't be doing this. I'm married. I have a family."
"But you're still not happy. Tell me, why does that child bother you so much? Why can't you remove her and her parents from your home and be done with it all?"
"It's not that simple."
"Is it because of your husband? Is it because of Albert? Did he have an affair?"
Marilynn didn't say anything. Even though it was a lie by omission she thought that it would be better than the truth. As a mother, her actions were unforgivable but she had more than one child to think about—more than one person. Nadira was drowning and dragging the whole family with her. She needed to let the child go.
"How could he do that to you?"
"Don't worry about that. Time is of the essence so you must move quickly. She's a girl of thirteen years with massive curls. She has a heart shaped birth mark on the back of her neck and responds to the name Nadira and is currently at the town square."
"The festival is today. It'll be hard to find her."
"But you will. Whatever you do, make sure that she doesn't return here. So do what you must. Hurry," she said as she pushed him away.
"Before I go—" Riki grabbed Marilynn's face and pulled her close before kissing her on her lips. "That's all I wanted."
"Thanks for all the help. You did good kid," Michael said as he patted Nadira's back. The sun had set almost an hour ago and it was time for many of the children to return home, including Nadira. She knew that a massive tongue lashing was awaiting her when she got back. "You can be our look out any time."
"Really? Thanks Michael!" She said as she hugged him tightly. She knew that being a look out wasn't much but it was a lot better than being alone all day.
"Hey! Get off me!" Michael screamed as she pushed her away roughly, causing her to stumble into Akira.
"Sorry," She whispered shyly as he helped her regain her balance. "I didn't mean to—"
"I know. Don't worry about it." He released her and looked at Michael who was running away with a few of the other boys. "That boy is too much. He should know not to push a girl."
"Hey. I can handle myself. I'm not delicate."
Akira lifted an eyebrow. "Have you forgotten about what happened earlier?"
"No. I just wasn't myself. I let you win."
"Really?" the stare that he gave her made her feel that he could see right through her. It was like they were forcing her to tell the truth. The feeling that was radiating off of him was too powerful for her to withstand.
"I'm glad to see that you're being honest with yourself." He turned around and started walking away. Nadira made a face behind his back and he stopped. She was worried for a moment that he somehow had seen her but then realized that it was impossible. He would have to have eyes in the back of his head.
"Which way are you going?"
"Huh?" Nadira asked, confused by the question.
"I just realized that I was angry with Michael for not behaving like a gentleman and here I am not behaving much better. I shouldn't let you walk home alone, especially on a night like tonight. There are always crazy people lurking around at these types of things."
"Yes," Akira nodded his head. "We don't only have a lookout because of the cops but also because of the psychos that roam about at festivals. Kids get kidnapped all the time at things like these."
"Really?" She asked again. Nadira was starting to get scared. Everything under the moon's light seemed to morph into some kind of creature out of a horror story that one of her maids' children use to tell her. She quickly ran to Akira side and pointed in the direction east of them. "I'm going that way. It's a bit of a walk. So it will take us awhile to reach my home."
"That's fine. I'm sure my house is further away than yours. I was heading in that direction as well."
For the first 15 minutes of their walk neither spoke. Nadira figured that Akira wasn't talking because he was the strong silent type and she didn't speak because she didn't know what say. She never really held a pleasant conversation with anyone before. They always turned her away, except for her Dad and Callia. She could usually count on them for anything but lately her Dad has been distant—almost as cold as her mother.
"What's your name?"
"Nadira," She said without thinking. She winced when she realized what she had sad. She knew that she was about to be called a liar.
"Lady Nadira Cornwell of the Cornwealas Providence?"
"Yes, what of it?"
"Nothing," he said with a shake of his head. "I just thought you were bed ridden."
"A lot of people think that but it's not true. It's a rumor that my mother started."
"Your mother, Duchess Cornwell?"
"Yes. She's embarrassed of me. She says that she doesn't want anyone to know that her daughter is no better than a commoner so she made up that lie so people wouldn't question her about me. Look, I know you don't believe me but—"
"I never said that I didn't believe you," Akira interrupted.
"People would like to believe that the nobles that govern us are as dignified as their title suggests but I beg to differ. They can be just as deplorable as two dogs copulating on the side of the road."
"You know, you don't sound like a teenager."
"That's because my mother forces me to read various novels that she sneaks away from the people we serve. She says that she wants me to be just as smart as them—to have a clear mind and a bright future. But I know that all that I will ever be able to achieve is the status of a butler— just like my…father. The knowledge that I gain will inevitably go to waste."
"You do know that you don't have to be a butler. You could open your own business or something."
"I would need a college degree to run a business that is successful enough for me to live comfortably.
"I have a feeling that owning your own business will be a lot better than spending your life serving someone."
"Being a Butler might not be as bothersome if the person that I serve is as kind and smart as you Lady Nadira." Akira glanced over at Nadira and saw a slow smile forming on her face. He watched silently as she placed her hand on her cheeks and began rubbing them. "Are you blushing?"
"So what if I am?"
Akira didn't say anything. Instead he smirked and sped up a little.
Nadira quickly followed behind, embarrassed by her own reaction to his words. He most likely thought she was liar and immature girl not to mention weak. "Thanks for not calling me a liar."
"When I told you my name, thanks for not calling me a liar."
"Should I have?"
"Well—no but most people do. No one ever believes me when I tell them who I am."
"It would've been hypocritical of me to not at least entertain the idea that you are who you say you are, considering my own situation."
"What situation is that?" she found herself asking but didn't get an answer. Instead Akira pointed ahead of them. She looked in the direction that he was pointing and realized that she was home. She didn't think that she would be so upset as they stopped at the entrance. Home was usually her sanctuary but now she wanted to be far from it, anything to spend more time with Akira. "I guess this is it."
"I bid you farewell, Lady Nadira."
"Goodbye Akira. Maybe I'll see you around some time?"
"Sure." He waved goodbye before walking ahead.
Nadira sighed before turning around. She started walking up the road that led to the Manor when she noticed a man standing a short distance away. She assumed that it was one of the farm workers. Most of the house servants remained inside the house at night.
When she got closer she realized that he was wearing a long coat which meant that he definitely wasn't a worker. She surmised that he must have been one of the guests from Callia's party.
"Hello, sir." She said as she approached him.
"Are you Nadira?"
The man grabbed her roughly before turning her around and moving her hair away from her neck.
"What are you doing?" She yelled as he released her. She watched with wide eyes as he pulled out a dagger. She didn't wait for an answer and began running in the direction of the main road. "Akira!"
She screamed as loudly as she could. "Akira! Somebody help me please!"
She turned around and saw the man chasing after her at full speed. He was too fast for her to out run. In her panic she didn't see the large branch in the road and tripped over it. She came crashing down to the ground, gaining a few cuts and bruises. She tried getting back up but it was too late. The man was standing over her. He raised the knife high above his head and was about to embed it within her chest when a strong kick sent him reeling.
Akira had came just in time and landed a successful round house kick on the man's head. The guy fell to the ground and hit head on a nearby rock. Akira turned to Nadira and helped her up.
"Are you alright?"
She nodded, not able to speak. Her heart had been pounding so fast earlier. If Akira hadn't intervened she was sure that if she hadn't died by the man's hand she would have died from a heart attack. When she finally was able to breathe properly she began to speak.
"Thank Yo—Akira!" She screamed as the man suddenly appeared behind them. Akira went to turn around to fight the man off once again but it was too late. The man stabbed him in his chest and Akira fell to the ground lifelessly. Nadira dropped to the ground beside him and held him within her arms. "Akira!" She cried out. As if screaming would bring him back. "Akira, I'm so sorry."
"Why are you doing this?" She screamed at Akira's murderer.
"It's all for Marilynn." The murderer picked up the rock he tripped on before approaching Nadira.
"My mother?" she whispered before the rock came crashing down on her head, causing her to lose consciousness.