My legs move quickly towards the house as yells and obscenties fill the air. I round the corner of the house to the front yard, which is paved with packed dirt and heavy stones, a luxury around the village. I double over, catching my breath, the dull sting in my leg pulsating beneath my skirt.
"I told you once; I've told you a thousand times, you need to keep off my property!" The baroness screeches from the front window, her face as red as a ripe apple, but wrinkled and twisted like a prune. Her lips, though dark red, are almost the same color as her skin as she pulls them back into a snarl, her narrow eyes are enflamed and bloodshot.
I search the front yard for the baroness' target, using a hand to keep me steady. My hair is a rat's nest on my head, but I feel the wind come back into my lungs and I pull myself into a straight posture. My eyes find Rodd, standing by a wagon of wood and two dark horses. The driver of the cart tilts in his seat with a chuckle as though he has not even noticed that he had plowed into the wooden fence that the baroness recently commissioned.
"You're useless filth!" The baroness hisses, leaning on her thin, bony fingers. "How dare you come up here?"
"He's just deliverin' the wood for the fires, madam." A young woman with curly red hair that is kept in a tightly wound bun spoke up towards the baroness. She is pale with many freckles that dot her face, neck, and chest.
"I'll deal with you, later." The baroness sneers. "And who will compensate me for that fence? I had craftsmen from Soulthorp come to build that fence!"
"I'm sorry, Madam Warford." Rodd peers up at her from the wagon as the large, jolly man swings a half-empty bottle of ale in the air.
"Baroness Warford to you, young man."
"Yes, I will fix it for you. My father and I will both fix it. We will make it right."
"Indeed, you shall!" The baroness purses her lips and reaches forward to close the front window.
"What happened?" I step forward from the shadows of the house and into the front yard.
"Wot took you so long?" Rodd glares at me. "And where's the rabbit?"
I lower my eyes and bite my lip. I want to tell him what had happened. I want to tell him that a strange and a tingling sensation had rippled through my hand and up my arm into my body, sending out a shockwave that left me weak. But I merely keep it to myself.
The last thing I want is to give more ammunition for Rodd use against me. He is a good boy most of the time, but sometimes, just at the rarest of times, when he lets his guard down, I glimpse his nastier side. The glimmer in his eye and the smirk on his thin lips become wider and sharper during these moments. These are the times when I wish I listened to my mother and not followed Rodd into the woods to look for goblins, or into town during the Palace costume fete so we could place stink beetles in the punch bowl.
"It got away."
"But, how? That thing had a hole through its leg!" Rodd stomps his feet and kicks at the wooden wheel of the cart, tossing the wagon and his father with a jolt. He jabs his elbow into the wooden side of the cart and runs his hands through his dirty blond hair.
"What's happened out here?" A female voice shouts.
I swing around to see my mother standing with her round face frozen into a startled expression and a load of freshly washed laundry around her feet. I widen my eyes and curse under my breath.
"Bree?" My mother has her hands out in front of her as though she was holding something out to me, but instead, she bends her elbows and sends her forearms flapping endlessly as her head shakes in disbelief. "What the… How could… Who did…?"
I take a step back and lower my eyes. I don't dare to look at her. Though her face does change color as most other's, I know that it is only a matter of time before she shoots a deadly glare at me.
"Well?" My mother shouts, startling Mason Aubrey in the wagon to drop his ale onto the ground.
"Mrs. Goodwyn." Rodd smiles at her.
"You!" My mother points a narrow, crooked finger at him. "You take your father and that wagon away!"
"He's still got to unload the wood, Debra." The red-haired woman takes a step forward. She wipes her hands on an apron that is loosely wrapped around her waist, covering a gray dress.
"You, stay out of this, Dawn." My mother spits at the young woman. "Go redo the laundry. Brianna will help you." She shoots a glare at me, which makes me cower, even though I am not looking directly at her.
I can always feel my mother's glare, especially when she is displeased. I don't like the stares that my mother gave me. It's as though I am being silently punished for something I didn't do and I am forced to take the brunt of it.
"Bree." My mother taps her foot. "Help Dawn rewash the laundry."
"I will not ask again."
I lift my eyes to see my mother is not looking at me anymore, but directing her glares at Rodd and his father. I turn my head to follow the sightline, taking small steps towards Dawn and the pile of wet clothes that are now caked with dirt.
"Mrs. Goodwyn, please, let me to explain." Rodd tosses his hair from his face. "My father…"
"Your father is a drunk. And a useless one at that! How does he expect to deliver wood to the villagers when he can't even stay sober enough to drive the wagon?" My mother stalked him; slowly taking sidesteps towards him, her eyes wide and wild.
"He doesn't mean any harm." Rodd backs away with his hands raised in defense.
I know that Rodd as not really threatened physically by my mother, but somehow older women in the village seem to be scarier than goblins and orcs. They seem to send even the largest of men sobbing home to their wives or mothers. I casually turn my eye towards the wagon as I lift wet trousers, undergarments, and shirts one by one into the air and slop them into the laundry basket.
"Stop dilly-dallying." Dawn whispers to me. "They'll be fine! It's our necks we have to worry 'bout."
"He doesn't mean to be conscious either." My mother spits at Rodd. "Where were you when all of this happened?"
Rodd is backed up against the side of the wagon. He swallows as my mother almost presses up against him, leaving only a sliver of a gap between them.
"I… I was…ummm…" He turns his head and eyes me.
"I told you to stay away from her." She grits her teeth and hisses at him. "She doesn't belong to you."
"Bree is old enough to choose who she wants to be with…" Rodd stands firmly, though his voice quakes.
"Is that so? Think you can provide her with everything she needs, do you? Do you think you can support a family when you and your drunken father can barely feed yourselves?" My mother throws her head back and laughs. "You're nothing but a little man with an axe."
Rodd's jaw twitches and he balls his hands into fists with his eyes focused on her. "We're not bad people. Just because we're not rich… it doesn't make us bad people."
"No, it just means that you can't afford Brianna." My mother smiles at him. "You will never have her. I will never allow her to be with someone like you." She turns away and storms towards me and Dawn as we stand with our mouths open at the sight of the little woman with the round head and skinny body. "You, two, can go inside now… and finish the laundry. We must do this and cook the stew for dinner…"
I lower my eyes and bite my lip.
"Where are the vegetables, Bree?" My mother grasps my arm tightly and pulls me aside forcing me to drop my half of the laundry back into the dirt.
"They're still in the garden. I'm almost done." I lower my head.
My mother turns her head back towards Rodd and barks, "Hurry up and get that thing out of here!"
"But the wood!" Dawn cries, kneeling down in the dirt to pull the fallen clothes out of the mud.
"They can deliver tomorrow. They can bring the wood around when she's doing her chores. Obviously, she's a terrible distraction to that young man."
Rodd pushes his father aside as he climbs into the driver's seat of the wagon and gives a short whistle to move the horses backwards from the gaping hole in the fence. He maneuvers the wagon around and pulls up beside me and my mother.
"What is it?" My mother is finally turning color.
Rodd reaches under the seat and pulls out a brown paper package that is tied with white string. He tosses the flat parcel into my arms. "We passed a merchant who said to give this to you, Bree. He said he got it in Ravenswood from an old woman in a small house. I think it's from your grandmother."
I look down at the paper and finger the string, smoothing the wrinkles in the wrapping, and tugging on the small-knotted bow. I lift my eyes up at Rodd with a smile. "Thank you."
"Of course. Anything for you, Bree." Rodd returns with a grin.
"Yes, yes… thank you for your delivery. Now, leave. You may return tomorrow to deliver the wood." My mother snaps, snatching the package from my hands. "Help Dawn with the laundry. You'll have plenty of time for this later."
My smile turns into a frown as Rodd drives the wagon away, his father tilting in his seat, and the wooden wheels crunching the pebbles and dried dirt uneasily. I watch as he pushes the horses to turn the corner and down a small slope to the main road that passes the house, disappearing behind full bushes and tall trees.
My mother is not very charitable as she yanks on my arm and jerks me towards Dawn, who has managed to pick up the entire load of dirty clothes into her arms. She waivers on unsteady legs and turns, craning her neck to look around the massive pile of laundry before her. She staggers towards the side of the house.
"Help her, silly girl!" My mother barks at me, tucking my parcel under her arm.
I help guide Dawn into the kitchen through the side of the house. "Over this way," I say, tugging on Dawn's rolled up sleeve.
"You could take some of these off of my hands, you know." Dawn sighs as she drops the pile of clothes by a vat of bubbling gray water.
"You can thank Brianna for having to do the laundry over again." My mother states as she places the flat, brown package onto a wooden table surrounded by rickety old chairs.
I watch her take one of the kitchen knives from the sink and slice the white string of my package without a word. My eyes narrow at her. I accept my mother as a very sturdy, headstrong, old woman, who wants nothing more than good things for me but opening up my property is something I don't like.
I want to say something to her; a simple phrase that will perhaps make her understand that opening my property is not morally correct. Sod off! The phrase spills into my mind, but I hold my tongue. I sigh, instead.
"Sighing will not wash the clothes." My mother says without lifting her icy blue eyes.
I don't respond. Instead, I sort through the clothing on the floor and pick out the undergarments to be washed first. I throw the muddied clothes into the gray water and watch it become brown as the dirt disappates from the fabric.
Dawn stirs the pot with a long wooden pole, lifting out the clothes every few seconds to check their cleanliness.
"And you still have to get the rest of the vegetables for dinner." My mother hums as though there is no tension in the air. She flashes her eyes up at me. "They won't pick themselves."
After I bring the vegetables into the house, I take a seat at the kitchen table. The package, which I had seen my mother open, is no longer in sight.
"Mother, where's the package from grandmother?" I ask.
"That boy was just playing a dirty trick on you. You know your grandmother is dead," my mother replies without looking at me.
"But, the package…"
"It was just nonsense. I asked George to dispose of it." She approaches me as I stand up.
"That was my package! You have no right to open my things!"
A quick jolt hits me on the cheek and I realize my mother has slapped me.
"I don't take well your tone of voice, young lady. You will do as I say because I am your mother and I lead your life. I know what's best for you. And you will never see that boy again. And we will never speak of your grandmother."
My face is a bright pink with areas that are purple around my cheeks. I have never seen my mother so emotional about my grandmother before, which only adds to my curiosity.
I glance over to Dawn, who is still stirring the pot of laundry. She averts her eyes when her gaze meets mine and I have to wonder what my mother said to her. There is only one way to find out.
The evening flies after a quick supper. I help Dawn tidy the kitchen as my mother goes up to turn down the beds of the Baroness and her daughters. I ensure we're alone before asking Dawn, "What did my mother do with my package?"
Dawn is quiet for a moment, but I see her looking at me from the corner of her eye. She purses her lips into a small pink pout as she wipes down the counter with a damp rag.
"I don't know. You know I don't like to get involved," she says with a frown. She avoids looking over at me, but keeps herself occupied with the sink and the many pots that still need scrubbing.
"You know my mother is wrong to keep things from me," I say to her as she hands me a clean pot to dry.
She barely nods. "Your mother is looking out for your best interest, Bree. She loves you in her own twisted way."
"I haven't told her about the other incidents… and today… something happened," I whisper. "I can't explain it, but… I think it's magic…"
Dawn hushes me quickly. "Don't let yer mother catch ya sayin' that… she's got a strong opinion abouts magic and it's not a good one at that."
I blink at her. My mother's never mentioned magic before. Even when I was younger and all the other children in the village were hearing stories about witches, ghosts, and goblins, I was getting stories about ants and grasshoppers. I only know about magic because Rodd tells me stories and Dawn occasionally blathers about such things as her sister's seer.
"What should I do?" I ask. "I don't know what's happening to me."
She turns to look back at the doorway to the kitchen, making sure my mother is not lurking in the shadows. She leans closer to me, grabs me by the arm, and says, "You needs to go see yer grandmother."
"But, she's dead…" I say bluntly.
Dawn gives me a light smack on the forehead. "Have you got no sense in you? Your mother's been tellin' you that she's dead, she's travelling, she's dead and travelling… she made it all up. She doesn't want you to see your grandmother."
"How do you know this?" I ask her.
Dawn stares me directly in the eye. I always forget that she's much younger than my mother and is therefore sassier. However, the wrinkles on her face and hands, and the strands of silver in her hair tell me that my mother can be a lot to deal with. "I may act dumb or slow… but it's just an act," she says.
"Then, where is she?"
"She's where she's always been… at her house in Ravenswood."
I'm taken aback. And when my mother comes down to check up on us, I can't help but have a hint of a smile on my lips.
"What are you so happy about?" she asks me, checking the pots for any dirt.
"Nothing, mother," I reply. "I'm not happy at all."
"You're a terrible liar, Brianna," she says, tugging me by the arm so hard that I drop the pot I am drying. "Now, look what you did!"
I pick up the pot and hand it back to Dawn to wash again in silence. Without another word between us, my mother stalks back out of the kitchen and to another part of the house.
"What should I do?"
"Go to yer grandmother," Dawn urges, wiping her hands on her apron. She pushes me out of the kitchen into the yard, where George, her husband, is fixing a wheel.
"Bree needs those things…" Dawn says to him, wringing her hands as she stares up at one of the lit windows of the house.
The room above us belongs to the Baroness, but she rarely shows her face through that portal.
George nods and disappears into the utility shed that house gardening tools, and other odds and ends that don't belong anywhere else. He returns with a load of half-opened packages and piles them into my arms. "Take these and go," he says in a weary voice.
"What are these?" I ask.
"Just go," Dawn says to me, giving me a shove.