The storage room in the tower of Blessing Castle was considerably smaller and gloomier than any of the other rooms in the slave quarters. It had previously been occupied by an elderly human, prone to delusions, crippled from birth and with a tendency for fits. His mind was addled, cracked from all the years of being forced to serve the elves he despised but he cherished the privacy of his room, isolated from the rest of the humans by their distrust of him. There had been a flea ridden bunk and a ragged, soiled blanket, the only comforts of a lunatic man who had died many years ago and, hence, inadvertently relinquished his claim.
Now it was stuffed with bits of broken furniture, wood and textiles that bore the battle scars of everyday life in the castle. Old, patchy portraits of Dukes and Duchesses, mildewed Lords and Ladies were discarded with other tattered remnants that had no place in the magnificent splendour of the main castle. An oak table had been dragged along the floor, leaving deep grooves near the bloody marks of the old man. It had been shoved against one damp wall, surface scratched and dented, stacked perilously with chairs that had once boasted royal bottoms, now riddled with termites. Dirty cream sheets smeared with unidentifiable filth were strewn over shabby armchairs, shifting over time to expose a tarnished stump or ripped fabric. Several smashed vases crafted by Oriental craftsmen lay in useless shards on the floor beside the moth-eaten gowns and disintegrating stockings of a bygone era. The room had been ignored for over a hundred years, the cracked ornaments and memories of the elvin ancestors had been left to gather dust.
That was until midnight on one chilly night in early autumn. As the broken grandfather clock failed to declare the hour the rusted door was forced open by a powerful kick, a fire was lit in the blackened hearth, the chairs were cleared from the table and a wicker basket was dumped unceremoniously upon it.
The basket shuddered. Two chubby, pink arms rose, tiny hands clenching into fists and opening again, as if to catch the air that was slipping through infant fingers. The frantic movements were accompanied by a high pitched cry, the sound alerting the elves nearby, stood conspicuously in the glow of the fire. All three turned to look at the disturbance, their eyes shining brightly, firelight dancing across their beautiful, wistful faces.
"She needs feeding," observed the youngest elf, still only a maiden, her stunning violet eyes showing great concern for the babe juddering in the basket.
"Let her starve. Her parents caused us enough hassle," the male elf sneered, turning his back on the baby. His cape and riding boots were as sooty and bloody as the child's dress. When she cried out again his handsome features were transformed by his abhorrence for it. He narrowed his eyes hatefully at the guilty wicker basket.
"They're dead, remember? You confirmed it. She doesn't have anyone to take care of her," the eldest elf reminded him sullenly. She shot a frustrated glare at her arrogant brother, her elegant face spoilt by an unaccustomed scowl.
"Then give her to a slave," her brother snapped. Something dangerous flashed in his pale green eyes. He had little patience for babies, especially in the circumstances where the parents of the child had been hiding for so long, evading the capture endeavours of the elves.
"We can't give her to a slave. They wouldn't take her; you know that Raphael," the youngest elf spoke timidly, not wanting to further anger her quick-tempered sibling, "She doesn't belong to them. They would abandon her. She would starve to death in the forests."
"She belongs with the wretched humans. She shouldn't even be here with us now," Raphael snarled at his sister and then sulked at the fire, "Why am I the only one who sees that?"
"Because you chose to ignore what the old woman said. You heard her. We all did," the eldest elf reminded him, solemn, "You know what could happen if we allow her to die. Someone needs to take responsibility for her until she is old enough to care for herself."
The baby at the centre of the dispute continued to cry. Her wailing had grown more and more desperate throughout the quarrel as her needs were left unmet. As she had grown louder and louder Raphael's face had become darker and darker with rage. Eventually he whirled round in fury.
"Shut that fucking thing up Victoria," he yelled, "Before I silence it permanently."
The outburst only made the child cry harder. The eldest sister stepped out from the ring of firelight, rising to the challenge. She hurried to the table, long hair shimmering many shades of red and brown as she reached down and plucked the infant out of the basket, nestling her carefully in her own arms.
The little human's white dress was torn and dirty from the fight that had resulted in the death of both her parents. Her small cheeks were red, her face puckered up as she cried, demanding to be held by arms that would never hold her again. Her arms waved aimlessly in the air and kicked her legs with violence, in some dire distress.
Victoria was puzzled as what to do. She had no experience with maternity, having no husband or children of her own. She didn't know if the baby was hungry, or wet, or cold, or tired. Then it occurred to her. The baby only wanted to know that she was safe. She wanted to be comforted and Victoria did just that, rocking her, singing a soothing song. It did the trick and the child quietened.
"I will take care of her until she is old enough to live with the other slave children," Victoria announced, cradling the babe to her bosom. Compassion shone in her mature, indigo eyes for, although the child posed a lot of problems, she was an infant, innocent, incapable of doing any harm. She looked up at her siblings, knowing they would both contest her decision.
"I am sure mother and father would object to that most profusely," the youngest elf said with uncertainty, violet eyes wide with wonder.
"What choice do I have Sabrina?" Victoria asked softly, turning to them with the baby still in her arms.
Sabrina offered no answer. Instead she lowered her golden head and stared at the footprints they had made on the dusty floor, avoiding her sister's scrutinising gaze, ashamed of the actions that had left the baby orphaned. Victoria felt that guilt too, as she knew their brother didn't.
The baby fell into the comfortable rhythm of the gentle rocking and her crying ceased. She had taken to staring up at Victoria's pleasant countenance with eyes the colour of the clearest ocean, making small noises of interest. She gurgled with excitement and a bubble popped, spittle rolling down her chin. Victoria used her sleeve to wipe it away and smiled down at the little girl, admiring her ability to touch her heart without uttering a single word.
"Its not right," Raphael gritted his teeth, hands balling up to supress unleashing his fury on his sisters, "Its not natural. That…thing…should have been drowned at birth. It should have been stabbed to death while it was growing in the mother's womb. Abominations like it should not exist, it should not exist. You know that. Both of you do."
The baby began to cry again at the harsh words, as if she knew they were directed at her. Victoria made hushing sounds and the baby slipped back into the regularity of the rocking
"She is not an it," Victoria retorted, glowering at her brother and snuggling the babe closer, afraid Raphael might snatch the infant from her and chuck it in the fire, "She is a harmless baby. The prophecies might not even be about her, did you ever think about that? You think she's the only one? Impossible. There was no promise that she is the one. Nothing was elaborated on. Nothing awful can happen if we permit her to live. Don't tell me your afraid of a mere baby, little brother?"
Her demeaning use of words annoyed Raphael. He ignored the question, staring moodily out the window.
"He's and she's have names. The baby doesn't have a name," Sabrina pointed out. She wasn't taking Raphael's side of total rejection but at the same time she wasn't encouraging Victoria's plans to keep the orphaned child and raise it.
"Then I will name her now," Victoria nodded, stroking the baby's thick, white-blond hair.
Raphael's eyes were brimming with horror.
"You can't do that!" he hissed, "Once your name it you start getting attached to it. I can see it already, your starting to care for it's welfare, not whether or not it will make a decent slave. It isn't an elf, it doesn't deserve any special sort of treatment. Its no better than the other slaves."
"I can do what I like," Victoria insisted haughtily, walking into the circle of firelight with the baby, keeping her distance from Raphael, "I am going to keep her. I do not care what you or any other elf has to say on the matter. I know she is human, I know she isn't some sort of pet I can train or a doll I can dress up but she is a defenceless baby and she doesn't have anyone in this world. When she is older I will place her with the other child slaves and she shall not receive any special treatment, only the basic necessities she needs to live."
Sabrina approached her sister and peered down at the babe. The child's eyelids began to droop as she drifted off to sleep, reassured by Victoria's warm presence. She breathed softly, her delicate chest rising and falling with each breath.
"What are you going to call her?" Sabrina asked with quiet curiosity, so as not to wake the baby. Despite her initial apprehension the child intrigued her.
"Annabella Rook," Victoria said simply, lifting her brazen head. Sabrina stared, aghast. Raphael spat into the fire, disgusted.
"That's an elvin name," Sabrina whispered, recovering from the shock, disbelief still evident on her face. She couldn't grasp why her sister would be so daring as to bestow a name of such calibre upon a human child, especially this one.
Raphael glared at the human with repugnance. If it was possible his repulsion towards the child had increased now a name had been granted. He held his silence though, knowing his sister was as stubborn as him, perhaps more so.
"It's her name now," Victoria established, smiling down at the slumbering infant, "Annabella. Annabella Rook."
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