1 Chapter 1 | Maria

Summer, 1863

Millie discarded the bin in the ditch and covered it with dirt. Like everyday. She went back inside and placed the bin back in its place and wiped her hands in her apron. Leaving the kitchen, she left for the maid's quarters, done with her chores for the morning until it was time for preparing the breakfast. As she passed the main hall she glanced at the giant grandfather clock, placed between the twin stairways, facing the main entrance, which was closed as of now, with heavy carved mahogany doors about a century old. The clock was even older, had been in the Dewbarron manor since before Millie's mother was a maid here. They say when it was new, whenever it was, it worked, but there was no ticking because of the smooth mechanics. Now, though, it was probably the loudest occupants of the house, second just to the current Lord Dewbarron.

Millie noticed the time. It was just a quarter past six. She still had close to two hours when she will be needed again. She made her way towards the hallway besides the stair, to the left of the clock. The hallway was devoid of any embellishments, being the way to the maid's quarters. She passed Melissa and Berty's quarters, doors facing each other on either sides of the hallway. They were the second last doors in the hallway. The last door on her right was hers. She turned to the left one, being as silent as possible. She checked on her mother, dozing off in the bed. Martha had been in the manor nearly all he life. She started when she was fifteen, serving three Lords of Dewbarron in her life. Millie was born in the manor. Her father used to be on of the gardeners. She never knew Cart, her father, he died young, supposedly from pnuemonia as her mother told her. She was five when she noticed she didn't have a father. Of course Martha didn't tell her then, she took her sweet time, but Millie felt nothing when she did. She couldn't bring herself to mourn someone she never knew. And since she spent most of her life in the manor, she never got to see other families. So, she never felt the need of a father in her life.

Martha gave up on the maid's chores when Millie was old enough, which means she was ten. Millie saw her withdrawing from not only the chores but also other maids. She tried to make her come out of the walls she had built but that only made her toughen them. She once heard Harper, Melissa's mother, tell Saorise, the Irish maid that the last Lord took a liking to, that what happened to Cart was still fresh in Martha's mind, and that if it happened to anyone, she won't be surprised if they lost their will to live to. Millie had thought of confronting her but dropped it, not wanting to rouse the Lord with a scuffle among the maids at ungodly hours. She had always heard the hushed gossips of around ten different versions of Cart's death, but all of them had ended up in him being impaled on the big axe in the shack. She never paid them any mind, though, since no one ever said anything to her face or when confronted, and she chose to stick to her mother's version.

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Millie found Martha in a fitful slumber, which was nothing new; she never had seen her sleeping soundly. She saw the tumbler was out of water and took it for refilling. As she made her way back to the kitchen, she looked outside the huge window in the hallway. There was still no sun but there was more light now. There were no clouds visible, and hopefully that remained the case for the rest of the day. It was rare but one could hope.

She lifted the cover of the large pitcher and found it was close to empty. She sighed. Maria forgot to fill it up last night. Again. Millie shook her head. The little girl was making a habit of it and it and that should not happen. Millie and the other maids had tried to be patient with her because she was new and had practically begged the Lord for work, but if the lord found out about the slack, she was going to be served for the next dinner, roasted over the backyard grill with a skewer down her throat. Maria was a little girl of twelve, daughter of a peasant in Bolvyer, a village close to the Dewbarron town, who had made the mistake of falling for the flattery of a trader's son who lived in the town. He was sixteen. She eloped with him and lived in his father's stable for two days. On the Sunday, when the trader was out of town and his wife at church, the boy got her to clean-up and then proceeded to deflower her. Predictibly, he lost interest in her after that and after some deftly chosen words, left the poor girl with a broken heart in the town's streets. She never went back to her father out of shame, but to survive, found her way into the manor. That was six months ago. Now Maria was back to the innocent and carefree girl, soon to be turning thirteen. She sometimes slacked, but the other maids let it pass because they all liked her. She brought some cheeriness into the manor with her and with her smile, seemed to win over everyone. Except for the Lord, of course. That man only let her stay because he was irritated of her persistence. With the look on his face, she was lucky she made it alive.

Millie shook her head and loaded the the pitcher on the trolly and pulled it out through the back towards the well. She started drawing the water and filling the pitcher. She was going to leave when there was a thud in the shack. She frowned. Jack, the gardener was the only one with the key to the shack, and he wasn't supposed to be awake for another hour. For a moment, she thought she misheard it, just her mind playing tricks on her. But the loudness of the thud was unmistakable. Thinking it won't hurt to check once, she made her way towards the shack. Her frown deepened when she saw the broken lock. She debated for a minute if she should get back inside and get help or confront whoever was inside on her own. Then thinking she could make a run for it if it came to the worst, she pushed the door open.

The moment she saw what had made the thud, she heard a blood-curdling scream, and stumbkld back, realising the scream came from her own mouth. Eventually, she did end up making a run for it in fright.

On the shack's floor, was Maria with the big axe lodged right through her skull.

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