Dedicated to: Lady Ellewyn (an Elf), For Being My Inspiration.J
Ryebrynn ran. She ran from her troubles, she ran from the Orphanage and its commanding Mistress and Master. She was scared of the bite of the Master’s whip. Scared that she might be caught by the Mistress’s hunting hounds. Almost too scared, causing her to tremble and trip. She prayed, and prayed, her feet were cut and her clothes were in rags. She stumbled and nearly fell, looking down, and saw something. It was a glimmering purple mound lying solitary on the ground. Curious, she stooped; seeing it was an animal alone in the wilderness, she gently picked it up, wondering what it was. Holding a finger in front of its tiny nose, Ryebrynn felt the faint breath of life. “You’re beautiful,” she murmured. “But what are you?” As Ryebrynn was turning the creature over in her hands, she felt small raised bumps on its skin. Investigating further, she discovered that they were tiny scales… and the lumps of wet cloth-like membrane folded on either side were it’s… wings! Just then, Ryebrynn heard hoof beats and the baying of hound dogs. With a burst of panic, she sprinted off, farther east into the dark forest. The Workhouse had sent men out after her. That must be it. A surge of fear entered her heart as she heard dogs approaching. Oh, so tired! She desperately wanted to stop, to catch her breath, but they were hot on her trail, leaving her no choice but to run, holding the small, purple bundle against her chest. Her feet bled profusely, and she was alone, utterly alone. She wept, and realized she still held the small dragon. Or, at least, she thought it was a dragon. Clutching the dragon closer, she wept for her lost life, she wept for her pain, she wept because she had nowhere to go, and soon the men would catch up. “I… I have to do this,” She muttered, hiding the tiny dragon in her tunic pocket (for it was only a few inches long at the time, newly hatched) and set off to meet with the men chasing her, tears running down her face. The men harshly yelled at her, causing Ryebrynn to flinch. One slapped her, and she barely kept back a gasp. She was quickly led back to the Orphanage—to punishment.
* * *
Ryebrynn awoke to a rough shout “Wake Up!” from the Waker-boy. Groaning, the fifteen year-old girl rolled out of bed—if you could call it that, for it was just a simple, thin mattress—and pulled on her tunic over her leggings and undershirt that she had worn to bed. Wincing from the pain of yesterday’s beatings, she slipped out the door with the seven other girls that shared her room to get to work. They would not get food until noon, and not even then if their work was not sufficient enough. “Get on,” ushered the guards, prodding the girls with their spears lightly. They heard the loud banging of hammers and nails as the boys added on a few more rooms, for the number of orphans being brought to the Orphanage was increasing. Ryebrynn wearily stepped into the sewing room to mend clothes for the Mistress. A tall, gray-haired woman with startling blue eyes handed her a folded dress. “Ryebrynn,” She said shrilly. “You are lucky today. The Mistress has entrusted her feast dress in your care. You are to mend that tear on the arm—” The woman flicked her wrist toward a thumb-sized hole in the seam. “And embroider it more… intricately. If you don’t, you know the penalty.” “Yes, Madam Mar.” Grumbling under her breath, Ryebrynn carried the work over to a corner and sat down, starting to mend the small hole first. But when she yanked a little too hard on the thread, the needle came out of her grasp and fell to the floor. When she tried to pick it up, she accidentally pricked herself, the sharp needle sinking skin-deep. With a cry she dropped it and stuck her finger in her mouth. She finished the dress, passing it under Madam Mar’s inspection. “Good enough,” She said. “Now I need to you to go and buy meat and milk for the feast.” “Yes, Ma’am.” Ryebrynn replied meekly. While the other girls where making new clothes, Ryebrynn stepped outside, breathing in the fresh spring air. With a sigh she walked toward the butcher’s, stopping in to buy food for the Mistress, who was to have a grand feast with all the prominent people of the city tonight. Once back, she went to the kitchen and began putting the food away until it was to be used. Just then the Cook walked in, speaking fast. “I’ve been looking all over for you, child! You are late. Come, come, lets get right to it, now!” figure slouched, Ryebrynn followed him to the pantry and pulled down the thick, musty recipe book. They got to work immediately, not stopping for hours. Her black apron was splattered with flour by the time she paused to push the loose strands of hair off of her face. The Cook scolded and made her wash her hands. Sighing, Ryebrynn obeyed. Most girls would rather cook than read, but she loved reading and hated cooking. When would this stop? But, alas, it was required. Ryebrynn helped the Cook bake cakes and sweets for hours for the feast. She wondered where the Mistress and Master had gotten enough money to afford this, because though they looked rich, they were not as wealthy as they seemed. “Probably from the money sent for the upkeep,” She thought scornfully, her hands buried in the floury dough that she was kneading. When she set the pans of bread out to rise, she took a small break but was once more made to keep going by the Cook. When all was ready, the feast set up, Ryebrynn was sent to retrieve dishes of food to serve the tables. She walked out in a line of servants that dispersed to the different parts of the table and set their burdens down. The Master stood, clapping his hands for silence. He lifted his hands to the ceiling, making a show of his ‘prayer’. Ryebrynn had never been sure if there was truly a god, so she usually didn’t bother with prayer. The Master’s was short, but flowery. “O God of the Heavens, bestow thou blessings upon Your humble servants, allow us to partake of this beautiful food that is Your gift to us.” Lowering his hands, he sat and took a bite of his food. The others began to eat, and the chatter began. Ryebrynn just stood off to the side and leaned tiredly against the wall. Serving wine when needed and assisting those who needed her, Ryebrynn became even more tired. When she was finally about to drop, she was dismissed and allowed to go to her room. She fell on the bed without pulling up the thin coverlet, almost immediately asleep, dreaming of nothing for the time being.