Though Lord Whittington had said something to me about Ferdinand showing me where I'd be staying, Ferdinand hadn't done so. I needed to go to my own home, though, anyways. My mother was ill most of the time and my father was not there, having abandoned the family years ago. No one really knew where he was, now, but it did not bother me so much. In addition to my mother, my sister, Alessandra, was home with her sons and daughter. Her husband had died just a month ago and she had come back to our parents' house just a few days ago. I was the only one bringing in any money for them and I wasn't bringing in much.
The house came into view. We used to have a grand house out in a rural area. It had been inherited from my grandfather on my father's side. After my father left our family, the house could not belong to my mother and we were forced to move. Now, we lived in a small house on the edge of town. The house was not bad, but that was only because we had all scrimped and saved to get the home we had. We had a small kitchen, a miniature family room, and three tiny bedrooms. It had been uncomfortable when my five sisters had lived here with us, but the house was fine for my mother and me and it was not bad with my sister and her children.
The outside of our house was shabby and grey. The roof was starting to fall in, which was a job left to me, of course. No one had been taking care of the garden for years, and the lilies had long ago been choked and killed by various weeds sprouting up out of the ground. One of the shutters was coming off of the window and looked like it would fall any day.
I walked through the front door, it creaked and whined in protest. "Uncle Antony," I heard shrill voices cry and then heard a small stampede of tiny feet run towards me.
My sister's kids ran out of the bedroom and towards me. Alessandra, my sister walked slowly after the three children. Veronica, the smallest of the three was last with Bartolo and Lorenzo running in front of her and barreling towards me.
When they jumped at me, I pretended to fall over just for their amusement. "No," I yelled, to their giggles. "No! You got me."
I heard Alessandra laughing at us. The kids were giggling and crawling all around me, poking at me, trying to tickle me. One of them – there were so many little hands I couldn't figure out who – got me in the side and I started laughing hard. Quickly, my breath started to run out.
Alessandra waved the kids off of me. "Leave your uncle alone kids," she said, pulling one of the boys off of me. The other two children retreated and I was left to regain my breath as they focused their attention on their mother. "Go on," she said. "Go back to bed."
The boys pushed each other around playfully and then raced off for the bedroom. Veronica, however, crossed her arms, jutted her lip out, and hardened her eyes. "No, mummy!" Alessandra sighed exasperatedly. She was about to go down to pick up the little girl, but I intervened.
"Go on, Sandy," I said. "I got her." I leaned down and picked the little girl up, throwing her up onto my shoulders. The child giggled. "Horsey," she yelled. I smirked and looked back as much as I could to look at her. "I'll play horsey if you go to bed," I compromised. Veronica crossed her arms and she whined a little, kicking her feet. "Veronica," I said again. She finally nodded. "Horsey!"
I took off, "galloping" around the house and keeping firm hands on the child. She giggled, her voice chiming through the house in echoes. Alessandra didn't seem to approve of this method, but she did not say anything or step in. Instead, she rolled her eyes at me, and sat down to relax on the couch.
When it was starting to become obvious that I had finally pushed Veronica through her stubborn refusal to go to bed, I stopped my "galloping" and took her off my shoulders, putting her into my arms.
Sandy got up and walked over to me. She held her arms out to take the baby. "I'll take her, now," she said. I handed over Veronica who did nothing much to protest outside saying "no" through a tired yawn.
When the two girls went into the other room with the boys, I plopped down into the sofa and leaned back against the arm of it, my arms going behind my head. Today had been a rather good day, actually, all uncomfortable situations aside. I would enjoy working for Mr. Whittington, though pay had never come up. I figured he would pay me well enough if I did a fair job; considering his house and property he had to have a generous amount of money to hand to me.
I looked up at the feeble voice. No time was spared in locating the voice, for it was so familiar and I doubted she had gotten out of bed. I slid off the couch and walked towards my mother's room.
I had long ago stopped flinching upon entering and seeing the sight ago, but it was a horrid one. Her body was withering, her skin wrinkled and loose across her bony body. Her eyes, once alight with love and joy were bright with pain. Her teeth had begun to fall out a year ago and now all she had left were a few ones in the front. Her hair was grey and wispy, nothing of the natural, ripe beauty she had once possessed when I was a child. She seemed lifeless, lying there in her bed. The room smelled stale and death hung heavily in, waiting to snatch its victim at just the right moment. I had been fighting this invisible entity for my mother's life for some time, now. It was only by my stubborn will that my mother remained alive, even if it was only partially alive.
"Yes, Mother," I asked, gently, sitting on the side of the bed. She often forgot who I was these days, and, to hear her call for me specifically was a miracle. When I looked at her, now, though, it appeared she was asleep. I could only imagine she had called my name in her sleep.
I frowned slightly, but pulled the blankets up more around her and then went to the fireplace across from her bed. In a few tries, I had started a fire for her and then exited the room again, making note to scrap enough money to get the doctor out to her again.
My next few days of work were easy now that I knew my routine. I found that I was not too shabby in the saddle, and enjoyed the time I spent there. The lord's horses were very well-behaved and well-trained. Though, I knew that I would eventually be training a few as it was my job, now. Thought, none of the horses were currently ready to foal. It had been some time, apparently, since any of them were bred. It was just as well with me as I still had learning to do to deal with a colt.
Steadily, I fell into routine, working through the day and returning home at night to care for my mother and talk with my sister. Mother seemed to be growing worse, however, and I began to brace myself for her demise. Still, I did all I could to see her breathing every day. Alessandra helped her best, but she was busy with her three children, trying to tutor them and teach them the life skills they would need when they were older.
Though my mother hung heavy on my head, and worry about making enough for the six of us to eat as well, I was preoccupied with seeing Katherine every day. I did not know if she searched me out or if it was all by coincidence, but I saw her at least once every day. She did live there, after all, but, with as large as that property was and the house as well, I did not think I would see her so often.
Now, I did not mind seeing Katherine every day because she was truly a creation of beauty, but I found it was still difficult for me to speak with her. I stammered and stuttered and I felt like a fool every time I spoke to her, but she still laughed and never gave me a disapproving glare. I had no idea why she was so interested in speaking with me. I decided to ask her one day.
I had been working at the lord's house for a month, now. By this point, my courage around Katherine had grown until I was able to hold an intelligent conversation with her as if she were any normal person. Her beauty never ceased to amaze me, nor her kind nature towards everything and everyone in general. She was radiant in her physical beauty, but it was the loving touch that made her glow.
I was getting ready to leave for the day when I saw Katherine walking down to the stables and towards me. She had not been down so far today, and I had missed her company, but I knew as the lord's daughter that she must have some sort of responsibilities that I knew nothing of. She was wearing another dress, a light blue with white trim. It was not very heavy, defying the current style in that trait.
"Katherine," I said when she was just a yard from me.
She seemed startled, but she nodded once. "Yes, Antony?"
"Why is it you walk down here every day," I asked.
Katherine looked towards the ground; her brown curls (for she had her hair down tonight) fell around her face, but did not manage to conceal her blush. I was hoping on her honesty that I would receive my answer.
"For your company," she admitted to me. She picked her head up an inch to look at me with those pretty, hazel eyes.
I stared back at her, tilting my head slightly. "Why?"
Katherine smiled. "Everyone needs a friend. I was under an impression you had none."
Her answer was strange to me. "But…" I struggled for a moment. "… How would you know if I had any friends?"
Katherine blushed deeper and, in an obvious attempt to avoid looking on me, she turned to a horse and stretched a hand out to pet its soft, black coat. "Your… family is… not looked on kindly here. People talk about your immigration from Italy and some of your adamant loyalty to the Catholic Church." She shrugged so slightly it took me a moment to realize she had. "And… no one is very kind towards your mother's having to raise six children on her own." She turned towards me, smiling slightly. "I only thought you would want a friend."
My temper flared at her words and I wanted to lash out, defend my and my family's honor. I gulped back the harsh words, for I did not believe Katherine had said any of these things. She had described to me what the rest of the townspeople believed of my mother and the rest of us, but not what she thought. No, Katherine wanted to befriend me because, out of some kindness, she wanted to give me a friend where I had had none most of my life. Her pity bothered me, but I gulped that down as well.
"Thank you," I said, smiling. "I appreciate it."
The days started to grow longer. Mother still clung to life and I had the doctor come out as often as I could afford it. Alessandra was becoming more of a burden than anything by this point, and straining my already tight financial load. I attempted at hinting to her that she should leave, but, she was either oblivious to this or outright ignoring this fact. She had always been the most dramatic and needy of us six children whereas I had always been the hardworking one, having picked up shovel and job at the age of nine and worked every day since.
Lord Whittington was paying me at the end of every week. It was a hefty sum, definitely much more than I expected for a stable boy's income, but barely enough for my sister, her children, my mother, and me. Often, at this point, I was skipping out on eating for there to be enough food for the five girls in the house with me. Though, Mother did not eat a whole lot now, either.
I looked forward to work every day now, however. Katherine was great company and held interesting conversations with me. She gossiped like any normal lady, but those instances were few and far between. She asked about my sisters a lot, and, in turn, I found she had no siblings an older brother and sister. We were both the babies of our families.
Most often, though, Katherine enjoyed discussing her books. She read frequently, which I had thought was unusual at first considering she was a lady, but I found the stories she read fascinating. Though, when she asked if I read, I had to shamefully admit I was illiterate. When Katherine heard this, she vowed to teach me to read.
From that day forward, she came down to the stables at roughly noon with some sort of food and drink and a book every day. We spent up to two hours every day under the trees talking and reading. Katherine was patient with me and I learned out of great works of Dante Alighieri and Geoffrey Chaucer. William's Caxton's translation of Aesop's Fables became well worn by me as I ran my finger across the pages, sounding out each consonant.
Every day, I felt closer to Katherine than I had before. I learned more about her with each passing afternoon as we laughed under the great oaks and chased each other through fields and flowers. Every patient hour teaching me to read only added to my admiration for her. She was kind, incredibly so. Kind and patient and… fun. She was interesting out of everything else and I loved the way her eyes lit up when speaking of King Arthur and his noble knights or of ships and thieves and great piles of glittering gold.
Through her stories, I came to realize that Katherine was not entirely content with the life she led. She wanted away from here and to live in these books if possible. Her head was in the clouds with her whimsical wishes and she was childlike in her dreams of enchantments.
I came home one night and began to immediately search through the house. I could feel Alessandra's eyes on my back the whole time, but she never said a word. Finally, I found what I was looking for.
The book sat in the bottom of a drawer, a thick layer of dust over the top of it. It was bound in leather, a beautifully engraved cross across the binding. I wiped the dust off and took the Bible to the couch, plopping down into the cushions. No one in the house could read, but we kept a bible anyways, for it was the "Christian thing to do".
After I had spread dust from the book to the air, I opened the fragile cover to the first page. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…" I sounded out each letter and, when I had formed the whole sentence, I stopped to think about what I had just read. I had not been to church in a long, long time. Years, in fact. I could not recall when or why exactly Mother stopped making us go, and I had not cared back then, but religion was an issue these days. I had no idea as to why. It had something to do with the Catholic Church and Protestants, but I did not understand. I wanted to figure this out, though, and I wanted what other people said they had with our maker. It sounded nice to put faith in someone promising a good after life, after all.
"What are you doing," Alessandra asked, making me jump at the sudden voice.
I looked over the couch at her. "Reading," I said with a shrug.
"Where did you learn that," she asked, curious.
I looked back at the pages. "A girl… Lord Whittington's daughter."
Alessandra went around the couch and crossed her arms, glaring down at me. "Don't get too attached to her, Antony," she warned. "You don't stand a chance at a lord's daughter. We're nothing but riff-raff."
I sparked. "I don't want a 'chance with her' and it's none of your damn business anyways." Suddenly, we were two children again, bickering like any siblings did.
She huffed slightly. "I'm just warning you. No need to get defensive." I almost stuck my tongue out at her before remembering I was a seventeen year old man and she a grown lady.
Instead, I turned back to my book, sounding the letters out individually as I followed each small set of words with my finger. The story of human creation came to life from the page for me. Our creation, it was nice to read, was God's final act of beauty on this planet. We were the intelligent and most intricate of his designs. "Built in His image".
I fell asleep on the couch, the Bible lying flat across my stomach.