The deepest and fondest memory that the young girl remembered was of a soft feathery bed, warm from the fire but reeking with the smell of rotten mould. The memory itself was hazy, for fever had burned her chubby cheeks a desperate red, sweat beading the tiny child’s forehead as a lady bends over the feverish child, pressing a icy cold cloth to her forehead. The lady tending to the child was beautiful, had she not had a burn mark running across her face, hidden partially by the soft lovely locks of blonde hair that streamed from her head—the same lush curls that decorated the young feverish girl’s head.
Frustration coloured her youthful face, the sides of her dress slipping off her pale shoulder as she angrily throws the wet towel into the basin, the water splashing over the sides as she paced the room, the soft sounds of the young girl’s labored breaths filling the tiny, cramped and mouldy room.
Where was he? He promised he’d be here since Elysia fell ill.
She needed the right care and medicine. Things that someone in her poverty couldn’t afford to have.
Elysia was his niece after all, even if he didn’t want to admit it.
A pang of regret filled the young woman’s heart as she stared down at her fevered daughter, patting her face lightly with cold, cracked hands. It wasn’t her daughter’s fault that she was born poor, nor was it her fault that she was purposely bred for the Grimm family’s purity and pedigree. She’d tried to escape the orphanage upon receiving the news that she was pregnant after her turn in bed with the young twin of the Master of the house, but they’d found her and beat her, before burning a warning brand onto her face, ruining her beautiful face and snapping her wand into pieces. She was never taught any spells despite her abilities as a witch, and she knew little of the practical spells that were supposed to be the basics of a witch.
All she had were her beautiful looks, and the abnormal talent in magic that was left untapped and unhoned, and her body primed for breeding the next talented child of the Grimms with her looks and her talent.
Granted, Elysia would never be recognized as a legitimate child—she’d heard rumours of how they were planning on a betrothal between her child and the young Master’s only son, and dread had filled her heart.
She muttered a prayer quickly as she pressed another cold hand to Elysia’s burning forehead, drinking in her daughter’s chubby cheeks that were red with heat, and the beautiful features carved on her face, an exact replica of her own before her beauty had been marred.
“I told you to send her to me. Not make me come here.” The chair she had seated herself in toppled over as she stood abruptly, her eyes falling onto the handsome but lithe man that stood imposingly in the doorway.
“She’s my daughter more than yours.” Afterall, he and his twin shared the same genes, considering that they were identical twins, easily mistaken for each other. The lady wrung her hands nervously, watching as the lithe male pressed a hand against the feverish child’s forehead with a grunt, her cheeks flushing momentarily as his fox-like eyes turned to scrutinize her scarred face with dark eyes. The young Master was so similar to his deceased brother, and still as beautiful as she remembered the night that she had been sent to his chambers upon being caught for attempting to escape, his dark eyes ever so filled with rage and anger, burning with an icy coldness that spread to his sharp cut features, and pulling his beautiful lips down into a slight unpleased frown.
“Pity.” Shame burned in the lady’s youthful heart as he cupped the side of her scarred face, a twisted smile of enjoyment deep on his face as he leaned close enough for her to feel the heated breath from his lips fan onto her mottled skin. “Such a beautiful waste. You’re lucky that Elysia’s inherited your looks and not mine. Makes it easier for people to accept that she is to marry my son.” A sliver of pride seeped into his voice as his thoughts turned to the young but handsome boy born to him a few years before Elysia. His firstborn, and his only acknowledged son.
Aurelio’s lip curled as he looked at the once beautiful woman, whose face lay ruined from her own mistakes and folly from trying to escape. Had she not had her face destroyed, he would probably have wavered in his fidelity towards Liliath. Her half of her face that was unscarred was enchanting, and the thought of it stirred his loins as he inhaled a deep breath. Unfortunately, she was spoiled goods. A slow smile spread cruelly across his mouth as he turned his sharp gaze towards the fevered child in the mouldy bed, his eyes softening for a fraction of a second with a rare moment of tenderness, his fingers tracing the beautiful contours of her immature features.
His fingers latched onto the small hands, lifting the sweaty palm from the mouldy bedspread to trace a pathway down her veins, following the flow of the precious blood within her body.
Such a precious prize.
He’d have to take her away from this filthy breed of a lady as soon as possible, and establish his claim over her before anyone else could.
“You remember our deal, don’t you?” Aurelio glanced almost gloatingly at the lady that had her head down, a curtain of lush blonde hair covering the front of her face.
“But you said that she could stay with me until she was of age…” Tears had filled the lady’s eyes at the reminder, her breath quickening in her chest. “Elysia’s just five—”
“Old enough.” Aurelio waved his hand dismissively. “She doesn’t need you to coddle her. She’s of the prestigious Grimm blood, and belongs as a property of our noble household. The earlier her training starts, the better it is for her. Damon started his training when he was four. She’s already a year later than him.” His dark eyes pierced her frightened eyes threateningly. “Or we could simply do this the brutal and messy way.”
His gloved hand touched the center of her chest where her heart lay. “I could simply spill your blood, right here, right now, and you’d have your wondrous life ended far ahead of time, without any ounce of compensation for relieving your daughter to us. Choose one, Aura. My patience is limited, and so is her time.” Fingers tapped calculatively against the side of his pants as he watched the young girl in the bed, lightly panting as she struggled to breathe. What Aura could never know was that this sickness Elysia was suffering from was a mild result of a poison that he had slipped to the young girl while she had gone to her regular school with the other special children from the orphanage. There was no immediate endangerment to the young girl’s life, for the poison was merely a light dose of Salmonella that he’d sprinkled in her food slowly for her to ingest, until she begun showing the clear symptoms of poisoning. He’d been very careful to keep an eye on the young girl, because any slight mishap would result in such a rare specimen of a girl to go down the drain as spoiled goods.
Aura bit her lip tersely, her hands wringing as she glanced worriedly at the young girl in bed, burning up deeply with high grade fever.
“You’ll be able to save her, won’t you?”
“Of course.” Aurelio nodded graciously, a shine of calculativeness shining deep in his eyes. “Considering her relation through my deceased brother to our family, she’s almost like my daughter. I have the ability to ensure her survival, no matter how high the fever, something someone of your own pedigree cannot possibly do.”
“Alright.” Aurelio’s teeth gleamed in the ray of light that fell into the dilapidated house as Aura nodded miserably. “So what do you want me to do?” Aurelio turned on his heel, musing carefully as he paced within the room lightly.
He needed to ensure that this child had a secure connection with the Grimm family. That she was entirely attached to them, without any ounce of qualms holding her back. To conquer this young impressionable youngling’s feelings, the trick would have to be—he needed to make her attachment to the Grimms genuine and intense. Fear was an option that worked the best in cementing emotions like these, especially for a kind hearted child like Elysia. With that thought in mind, Aurelio turned to Aura, a light but devilishly delighted smile crossing his angular but handsome face.
“I want you to abandon her. Now.”
“Mama.” Elysia’s eyes burned as her mother roughly jostled her from her fevered sleep, bundling her deep in a mouldy blanket in replacement for her tattered, worn clothes.
“Up.” The harsh timbre of her mother’s tone fell gratingly against her young, fevered ears, unfamiliar and frightening.
“But Mama—” Tears filled the tiny five year old’s voice as she clutched to the mouldy blankets, her body aching with fever. “I..I thought the doctor was comin’?” She peered around through rheumy eyes. “You said he was coming.”
“He’s not.” Her mother gave a shaky pause as Elysia yelped, the rough material of the mouldy cloth chafing her sensitive skin. “Come on. Up. Get up now.” Confusion marred the small girl’s fevered features as she obeyed.
Why was Mama being so rough?
She crawled gingerly from the covers, her tiny feet shaking momentarily as she flinched from the pain that rattled through her fevered body.
“Mama.” Her small fingers curled around the familiar rough texture of her mother’s dress, a subtle whine of pain murmuring from her lips as she attempted to bury her face into her mother’s dress, only to be roughly shoved aside.
Hurt and confusion marred the tiny child’s face, her feet shifting together slightly as her insecurity rose deep in her chest, the unrest only settling slightly as her mother grabbed her hand and almost yanked her out of the door.
“Mama? Where are we going?” Elysia asked for the umpteenth time as she tripped over the sharp branches on the ground, her feet aching more by the minute as cuts gradually appeared on the pale skin of her feet.
“Are we going to the doctors? You said they’re gonna help.”
“I told you to stop asking questions!” Her mother stopped in her tracks, turning to scream at Elysia abruptly, her eyes bulging half in agony at the choice she was about to make, and the other half, in an attempt to reduce the amount of attachment her young daughter had with her. “Just shut up and walk!” Her heart shredded to pieces as Elysia fell silent, trailing behind as she gripped her hand with her tiny fingers, an occasional whimper of a sob wrenching itself from the five year old’s chest. It took everything for Aura not to stop and bundle her daughter into her arms, soothing her aching legs and crying along with her—but Aurelio promised a better life for her daughter, something she could never provide—and Aura gritted her teeth, powering forward as the dark, ominous forest came to view.
Elysia blinked in confusion as her mother sat her down against a looming tree, its trunk dwarfing her small stature, the fever still burning deeply in her cheeks.
“Mama’s sorry for shouting at you, Lysie.” Elysia beamed happily as her mother smoothed the bangs of her sweat matted hair slightly, her eyes peering worriedly at the young girl’s flushed face.
“S’okay Mama.” The five year old clapped her hands to her mother’s face soothingly, planting a wet kiss on the tip of her mother’s nose. “You were angry and sad.” Her mother smiled agonizingly, fishing out a thick rope from her tattered bag, alongside a piece of well baked bread.
“Bean bread!” The five year old squealed as happily as she could through a scratchy throat and rheumy eyes, concealing her pain ridden body desperately with a delighted smile as she reached for the piece of bread as eagerly as she could. “Yay!” She clapped her hands, trying to lift her mother’s spirits with a few antics of her own.
Her mother chuckled lightly, patting her fevered cheeks fondly as she stood slightly, bending to hook the thick rope around Elysia’s waist.
“What are you doing, Mama?” A niggle of alarm filtered through Elysia’s fevered thoughts as she clutched to the baked bean bread with tight fingers, peering curiously over her shoulder as her mother unraveled the rope quickly, coiling it tightly around the huge trunk of the tree.
“I’m just making sure that nobody can take my little peanut away.” Her mother stooped down to beam painfully at Elysia, cupping her cheeks gently. “See?” She yanked the tightened rope, weaving it round the little girl’s shoulders, but still leaving enough room for her to lift the bread to her lips and wriggle. “Mama needs to run some errands far away, and she can’t take you with her.”
“But I won’t run away! I’ll stay right here!” Elysia promised, eyes wide and fervent as she clutched to her mother’s hand with a beautiful smile. “I’ll be good and stay right here until Mama comes back!” She watched as her mother’s face creased slightly with a perplexing agony, before she smiled, her eyes creasing into painful moon shapes that instinctively sent shivers down her spine.
“I know you will, sweetheart, but I’m doing this in case someone tries to take you away.” She murmured.
“Mhm. Bad, bad people.” She produced a lock, well oiled for the occasion. “See? Only Mama has the key to the lock that I’m gonna attach here to you.” The rope coiled around the small five year old’s body snugly, before the lock clicked with a loud jarring click, resting heavily against the tiny girl’s stomach.
“Mama?” Elysia felt a little forlorn as she felt her mother straighten, turning her head to follow the woman’s every other footsteps. “When are you coming back? Are you gonna take long?” Her mother’s warm hands ruffled the top of her head gently, but fondly.
“I’ll be as long as this bread lasts you.” She smiled, laughing lightly as Elysia immediately chomped down a huge bite of the bread, grinning through her teeth as specks of breadcrumbs speckled the corners of her cheeks and lips. “Oh dear, don’t eat so fast. Eat slowly.” She smiled with a gentle sigh as the five year old’s head bobbed up and down tightly, leaning down to nibble only a tiny piece of the bread in her hands.
“Like that?” Elysia beamed at her through a thick mouthful of bread, her jaws working to chew the piece of bread slowly.
“Just like that. Remember, eat slowly.” Elysia nodded quickly, her eyes bright as she watched her mother turn resolutely, and disappear deep into the dark, ominous forest.
“Come back quickly, Mama!” She called after the fading back, before leaning down to nibble yet another bit of bread off the entire piece. “I promise I’ll eat slowly!”
Eight hours had passed, and the tiny five year old sniffled lightly as she stared at the now small piece of bean bread held in her palms, cradling it like the most precious thing in the entire world.
She couldn’t eat the bread anymore—her belly was far too full, but Mama had said that she would return the moment the bread disappeared down her stomach, and for all the past five years of her life, Mama had never told her a lie, nor let her down.
But Elysia was bright for her age, and the series of odd actions and conversations that her usually gentle and loving mother had shown her were more than enough to send alarm bells ringing through her head, nausea cramping her stomach as she peered into the fading horizon for just a single trace of her mother, but to no avail.
Her nose soured, tears gathering in her sapphire eyes and blurring her vision as she stared at the small piece of bread in her grimy, sweaty hands. She sniffled, pushing back the tears and turning her eyes to the soggy piece of bread in her hands.
She’d promised herself not to cry. Not at least until her mother came back, and she would fulfill that promise, no matter how frightened or scared she was of the dark forest around her.
She lifted the salty and soggy piece of bread to her lips, her teeth clenching against each other as she tried holding back the ugly sobs that threatened to tear itself out of her chest.
Her Mama had promised that she’d be back by the time the bread was finished.
The little girl hung to that thought fervently, sniffling tightly as she smashed the last piece of bean bread deep into the confines of her mouth, the paste smearing across her lips and cheeks.
There. It was done. Mama should be appearing anytime now…right?
The five year old lifted her eyes to the inky horizon, her throat dry as she stared fiercely at the inky darkness that her mother had disappeared to hours before, the scenery before her eyes unchanging—without an ounce of another person flickering in its inky horizon.
Her chest heaved, the tears that she’d been holding back swimming to the forefront of her sapphire eyes, burning their way into her tired eyes as she kept her eyes plastered to the inky darkness of the forest before her, the lock that she believed only her mother could possibly unlock heaving heavily against her chest as she stared silently, lips tightly clamped, her shoulders straining against the rope that held her in place.
Somehow, deep down in her chest, the five year old knew that her mother wasn’t going to come back anymore.
There was a beat as reality sank into the small child tied to the tree, her bottom lip trembling as she hiccoughed, and finally, Elysia opened her mouth and cried.