title: Neither Nor
Summary; Elinor lives a quiet life until she's swept off her feet into a world where espionage, treachery, romance & secrets rule by a group of rebels recruits her to infiltrate the house of the Lord Magistrate,a certainly handsome and possibly villainous man.
Hello lovely readers- I hope enjoy this story. It's my newest and I'm quite proud of it. I have quite a lot written, so expect frequent and reliable updates! Reviews and especially constructive criticism are welcomed and loved. I'll do my best to respond to every review- your opinion means a lot to me. Also, I'd like to thank my lovely beta reader and awesome writer- Lily Wolfe. You should definitely go check out her work!
x- Aderyn -x
The ocean before me roared and collapsed upon itself. Each wave beat down at the rocks below. Some of the spray flew into my face, and made me pull the cloak tighter around myself.
Mere hours before, the ocean had been tranquil and smooth as glass. And yet now, it was waging war against the land. A fragile peace, broken once again.
I looked out towards the edges of the sky, imagining a world like the smooth horizon: so pure that it hurt to look at. I yearned for a place where I could smile and, at once, be at home. There had once been a time where I had a home. A place where I was safe and happy.
I inhaled, sucking in breaths of the clean and cold air, letting it fill my lungs and I focused my eyes back on the street in front of me and kept walking, ignoring the angry cry of a man as I trod on his foot in my high heeled shoes. Then, I pushed through the crowd, emerging out of the tunnel of people and into the market place.
Instantly, my nose filled with the scents of cooking food, boiling elixirs and wool. I turned my head towards the more appealing smells and wrinkled my nose at the others. Above me, the bright winter sun illuminated the square, showing people of all colors and walks of life.
I walked past rickety stalls where dark skinned men peddled all sorts of exotic cloth and spices. There were colorful gypsy wagons that offered talismans and fortune telling at exuberant prices. There were tall farmers and their burly sons, come to work in the city during the winter. Tiny witch women in layers of skirts sold dried herbs and tinctures from small stalls. The baker's wife stood in one stall, pulling fresh bread from a small oven set over a fire where it had been heated. And tiny children ran back and forth, running errands for mothers too busy to fetch bread.
It was to the bread makers that I first headed. I stood in only a short line before I was face to face with the wife. "Good Morning, Mistress Mary."
The woman turned, saw me, and smiled. "Good morning, my dear!" She turned back to another customer for a second before returning. "What will it be this morning?"
I eyed the selection. There was fresh bread, still steaming. And off to the side, there were loaves of longer bread, also warm. I could even see some sweet buns, filled with raisins or other dried fruits. "The usual." I pointed to two loaves of normal bread.
Mary nodded, and scooped them into a bag. I quickly fished out two tiny coins and gave them to her. Just as I was about to leave, Mary pressed a sweet bun into my hand, closing my fingers around it. I smiled in thanks, then turned away.
I moved quickly back through the square, nibbling at my bun and enjoying its sweet flavor. I had only half an hour before I was expected back at the house. Though the market was only a ten minutes walk away, it was crowded and I did not want to be late.
I quickly neared the big house, nestled between two other houses. It was squeezed upwards, as if forced to grow up, instead of out because of the close proximity of the other buildings. The walls were wood, painted brick red. The roof, three stories up, was nearly pointed, but the top had seemed to have been sliced off and was flat. I had always liked the house that was almost the same as its neighbors, but, at the same time, had a personality of its own.
I slid through the narrow alley between the house and its neighbor. It was musty and dark, smelling of garbage and of mold. I held my breath, watching the slippery stone floor to make sure that I didn't slip. It had happened before, to disastrous result.
I successfully navigated the alley, and stepped into the sunlight, relishing the last of its warmth before climbing the flight of stairs to the servant's door. With one clenched fist, I rapped on the wood.
The door opened before I had barely knocked twice. "You're late." The cook, Maggie, put her hands on her hips sternly.
I jumped in surprise. Normally, Maggie was an affable woman, always ready to gossip. She was not one to admonish for a bit of lateness. "Here's the bread." I handed over the package, which was still the tiniest bit warm. Maggie took it curtly and motioned me along. "She's waiting, you know." Her voice was oddly harsh and a frown creased my forehead.
Confused, turned to go down the hallway that lead to the main portion of the house. My shoes clattered on the hard stone and I had to pick up my skirts to make sure I didn't trip.
Once at the door, I fumbled in my pocket for the key and turned the lock. I paused a minute to catch my breath, then opened the door and faced the day and a very unhappy mistress.
Like Maggie, she had her hands on her hips and was frowning. "Elinor, must I wait any longer?"
"No, Mrs. Lawrence." I bowed my head. "It won't happen again."
She laughed at that. "Of course it will. That's what I wanted to talk to you about, Elinor."
I frowned, "I'm not sure what you mean, Mrs. Lawrence."
Mrs. Lawrence pursed her lips. "Meet with me in my office in ten minutes."
"Of course." I nodded and watched the woman walk away. I had only been a few minutes late. There was no reason for her to be so sour.
But then again, Mrs. Adela Lawrence was always sour. Her words were more likely to be harsh than not and I had never seen a genuine smile grace her face. Even the adorable antics of her two children did not amuse her.
I had had the pleasure, as Mrs. Lawrence described it, of working for the Lawrence family for three years, ever since I had turned sixteen. I did all sorts of small jobs: I went to the market, helped Maggie in the kitchen, acted as a lady's maid for Mrs. Lawrence and tended to the children.
In return, I received a few coins a month, food, lodging and cast off clothing from the Lawrences. It wasn't as much as I could be making in other areas of work, but it was a stable job and Mrs. Lawrence was a much more forgiving mistress than many other women in the city were.
I wondered hopefully if Mrs. Lawrence would be speaking to me about a raise in pay. After all, I had been with the family for long enough.
After a moment deliberating, I walked up the stairs. At least this time I would be punctual.
Without hesitating, I knocked on the door of the study and Mrs. Lawrence opened it. "Come in, Elinor." She smiled tightly.
I looked around at the familiar room. My eyes first travelled to the intricately carved siding and the fine carpets before looking up to my mistress. Mrs. Lawrence hadn't skimped with the decorating. There was a steaming teapot on the table, with two cups on saucers. It was only the second best china.
"Sit down, dear." I looked up, surprised at her affection. "Sit." She repeated once I failed to obey.
I moved over to the chair and sat, as commanded. As gracefully as possible, I folded my hands in my lap and waited for her to speak again.
"Tea?" She waved a dainty hand towards the pot.
"No, thank you."
With a shrug, she poured herself tea. "Suit yourself."
Painfully slow, Mrs. Lawrence mixed sugar and milk into the tea, stirring in circles before finally taking a sip. The cup clanked down onto the saucer loudly, making me jump.
"Excuse me, Madam," I said formally, unable to be silent any longer. "Is there a reason that you called me here?"
She picked up her spoon again, and started twirling it around in her tea. One. Two. Three revolutions made before she answered. "Elinor, you've been with us for nearly three years now. In that time, you've been very loyal and a hard worker. I couldn't have asked for better help." She paused to sip her tea. "But, you have a tendency to be late."
I bowed my head. The way she was talking, a raise was not in store. "I'm sorry ma'am. I can try harder. I will try harder."
"You may know that my late husband had a brother who lived in the country," Mrs. Lawrence continued as if I had said nothing. "John, that's his name, has invited me and the girls to come live in the country house."
I bit at my lips while she gazed off into the distance, staring at some invisible scene. "I've accepted his offer. But, Elinor, you must understand, the house already has a full contingent of servants. We simply cannot take all of ours along. I've managed to find places for Maggie and her sister, but there are so many young girls around." She trailed off and I felt my stomach sink.
"But, Madam," I began, "surely you have need of one girl to take care of the children, if anything else." Mrs. Lawrence never busied herself with her daughters, choosing to leave them in the care of a multitude of maids and governesses.
"No," she said tersely. "I shall take care of my daughters. We will take no one," she said decisively. She paused again then said, almost gently, "I am sorry about this, Elinor."
I felt tears welling up in my eyes. There was nowhere for me to go. This house had been my home for three years and I had always imagined that I would stay here until I married." But, what now? What am I to do?"
"That's why I brought you here." Mrs. Lawrence delicately sipped at her well-stirred tea. "You are the only girl who has no family to go home to."
"No," my voice wobbled. "You can't turn me out!" I sniffed back tears at the thought of being turned into the streets.
"Stop sniveling, girl!" She commanded darkly. "I didn't bring you here so you could sob away." Her head turned away in disgust. "I brought you here so I could tell you to pack your bags."
I blinked several times before the horrible news sunk in. "What?" The word was a horrified whisper.
"Pack your bags Elinor. Here, I'll write you a note that you must take to Mistress Mary. God willing, she will give you some work." Mrs. Lawrence suggested in an offhanded way.
I raised my eyebrows, in shock and surprise. I was fond of Mistress Mary, and though I hadn't worked much with Maggie in the kitchen, I had enjoyed it when I had. And I knew that Mary was a good woman and I got along with her well. But Mrs. Lawrence hadn't even allowed me time to say goodbyes. "As you wish, Madam." I hung my head
Mrs. Lawrence nodded and reached into her desk for a sheet of paper. For a minute, she scribbled something down, then folded it, and sealed it. "Take this to Mistress Mary." She ordered. "I expect you out of the house in an hour."
The hour passed in a blur of tears and shock. I packed my meager possessions into a battered leather suitcase then trudged out the door, with barely enough time for goodbyes. It was impossible to believe that I was leaving the house that I had called home for so many years.
On the way down the street, tears blurred my vision and I earned curses that were not fit for the ears of a woman from the driver of carriage who had to swerve to avoid me. I frowned at this, and altered my path, so that I took a shortcut through one of the ubiquitous alleys. It was difficult to carry the heavy luggage, I had hit several passersby, earning more curses.
It was getting late and the light was even hazier. As always, I kept my eyes on the ground, making sure I wouldn't slip. It would be just my luck to slip on the stones and fall, luggage and all, onto the unforgiving street.
I was so lost in thought, I didn't see the other pair of feet until it was too late to turn and run. Almost in slow motion, I stopped right before I ran into the person and let my eyes travel upwards.
In the shadows, I couldn't make out a face, though I could smell the sweet odor of cigar smoke and see a burning ember. As my eyes adjusted, a heavily muscled man came into view, arms crossed over his chest. He reached up and snuffed out the cigar, dumping it onto the ground at my feet. The only remnant of it bellowed leisurely out of the man's nostrils and chocked me.
I started to shuffle backwards, desperately hoping for a way to escape. Urgency started to seep into my brain and I began to run in earnest. The light of the open street was so close. If I could make it there, then I'd surely be safe.
But, the man was much bigger than I was and I could feel him catching up to me. All too soon, I knew that I would be caught. I just had to make it to the street. And it was so close. There no room in my panicked mind for caution and my feet slipped on the wet stones. As I fell towards the stones, I dropped the luggage, using my hands instead to catch my fall. But even that effort didn't stop me from falling on my face, the impact stunning the urge to run out of me. So I just lay there. Lay there and awaited my fate.
I heard a deep laugh above me, and caught a glimpse of dark hair and then there was a sharp pain in my head and the whole world floated away into a less terrifying darkness.