I sucked in a breath as Lucille tightened an amber colored bodice around my already slim frame. Her expertly weathered fingers made quick work of the laces behind me and she gave a final yank to make sure everything was in place. The action dragged forth a low curse from my lips, which caused immediate reprimand from the darkly haired woman. I placed a hand to my stomach and took labored breaths, feeling the beauteous contraption dig into my skin with each inhale. She let the laces drop from her hands and stepped back to observe her handiwork.
She had put me in a forest green skirt that flared out from my hips and fell to my ankles. It was paired with an earth-like bodice that had sprigs of lavender and branches twisting all around my waist and chest. She had let my wild red hair flow in thick waves down my back and only fussed with adding a bit of color to my freckle-stained cheeks. All in all, I looked stunning. As I was expected to look after an hour of the small servant woman fussing over me.
She clapped her hands together and smiled, the wrinkles from years of doing so appearing all over. “There we go. Lord Armin is going to be beside himself with pride when he gets a glimpse of you.” I sighed and twirled a piece of hair around my finger absentmindedly. I had almost forgotten the real reason I was being dressed up like one of the villager’s dolls. My betrothed was coming to visit. With the wedding only a few weeks away, there wasn’t much I could do, but I hated the man. He made his living off the slave trade and didn’t seem to have any regard for the lives of others, mine included.
Too bad I had to******* up and act like the perfect bride-to-be every time he came over. The reason for our engagement was that my parents wanted to expand our already rich wealth. I understood everything, but not why it had to be him. Everything about him was undesirable. He was rotten to the core. I was brought out of my internal insults to the man by Lucille’s sharp gaze fixed on my face. I blinked and realized she was waiting for a response to her statement.
“Oh, yes, I’m sure he’ll find me lovely.” I gave a dry chuckle. She was none the wiser and smiled more broadly, leading me down a winding ivory staircase to the man waiting in the foyer. He was sitting in a cerise velvet chair, examining his perfectly groomed nails in a bored fashion. It took everything in me not to roll my eyes when he looked up and plastered on a clearly fake smile.
“Lady Pax, darling, how are you?” he cooed obnoxiously, his voice coming out like molasses laced with cyanide.
I schooled my face into false politeness and gave him a small curtsy. “I’m fine, Lord Armin. And yourself?”
“I’m doing fine as well. Business has been booming lately.” His cruel brown eyes glinted with something that could only be unbridled malice. This man didn’t just sell slaves for wealth, he enjoyed it. He pushed a lock of auburn hair out of his face, his fingers brushing against his rounded jawline. Any kind of physical attractiveness this man held was instantly overridden by his greed and cruelty.
“Of course. I would expect nothing less from a man such as yourself.” I said, resisting the urge to grind my teeth. He turned back to the small coffee table resting between his chair and a plush couch of the same color. Tea and biscuits were set up on a slab of mahogany along with sugar cubes and cream. I reluctantly took a seat across from him after receiving a small nudge from Lucille. Said woman gently grasped our delicately designed teapot and began to pour a murky emerald liquid into our china cups.
“Sencha green tea, imported from Japan.” She stepped back after setting the teapot on the table with a soft thud. I raised the cup to my lips and took a small taste, pleasantly surprised by the earthy tones of the tea. Armin did the same but his face screwed up in disgust. He beckoned Lucille over and ordered her to bring him tea of a different variety. As she hobbled off, I snickered into my tea cup. Of course this boorish man couldn’t appreciate something so refined. As he was waving her off I spotted an iron ring wrapped around his finger that was perched atop our engagement band. It had a strange insignia stamped into it, one that I didn’t recognize. It looked like a serpentine creature wrapped around a cutlass. I made a mental note to ask my papa about it later.
Lucille came back after a few minutes, tea in hand. She didn’t get very far though. A loud crack resounded through the room. I had looked around to see what it was, but didn’t have to look far. My nurse maid laid on the ground in a crumpled heap. A bullet had shot through her skull, the impact splattering blood across my cheek. It took me a moment to register the situation, but when I did, a scream ripped up from my throat and I scrambled off the couch. More shots were heard from elsewhere in the house, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was too focused on the man hunched down underneath a painting on the second floor. He was reloading his musket, his eyes pinning me to the spot.
I gulped down the bile that was rising in my mouth, refusing to look at the corpse of the woman who had dressed me less than 20 minutes earlier. In the madness I barely noticed Armin running out of the estate. I silently cursed his cowardice and screamed as a bullet grazed my shoulder. I made a mad dash across the room, getting underneath the balcony one of the men was balanced atop. Luckily there was a pair of doors set into the wall. I pushed them open, my arm groaning in protest, but I couldn’t stop. Not now. I stumbled out into the courtyard and almost sobbed in relief when I didn’t find anyone there.
I ripped the bottom layer of fabric off my skirt, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I wasn’t well versed in medical treatment but I knew enough to know I had to stop the bleeding. Another whimper slipped passed my lips when I raised the fabric to my injured arm. I loosely tied it around the gash and took one scrap in my fingers, the other in my teeth and pulled it tight. Blood stained the fine material but frankly I didn’t care. The only thing that held any worth in the moment was my safety. I staggered to my feet and glanced around frantically to find any trace of escape. The sickening sound of dead leaves crunching under boots echoed not too far behind me so I just took the clearest but also the riskiest option. That just happened to be sprinting into the thick forest surrounding our mansion.
After a few minutes I was huffing and puffing and starting to feel dizzy. It didn’t help that my shoes hadn’t even been made for extensive walking, much less extensive running. The bodice was starting to make me wheeze and gasp for any kind of air that I could get into my lungs. Taking it off wasn’t worth getting caught so I just kept running, fueled by pure fear at this point. As day turned to night I eventually lost steam and fell to the ground, my chest rising and falling at frightening rates. The cold air bit into my skin and penetrated the thin fabric that I did have on my legs and torso. My body didn’t register any of this and instead shut down, slumping against a tree as I had the shakiest night’s sleep of my life.