Desperate Times

They were in desperate times but she would never let it show. Whenever she finds herself tired from walking, she just puts on a facade and forces herself to continue their journey. And as always it’s the same worries in her mind as her legs felt like they were about to give out. What will she and her father do if they don’t make it in time? The quicker they get to their destination and sell their wares meant the faster they could sate their hunger. And oh, how they hungered. Her father’s frail body is a sight that reminds her that hunger is a constant ailment they're plagued with. A plague she felt they would never find aid for. She thought all of the inner turmoils in her mind were hidden away from her father’s view but he was wiser than she knew.

“My sweet daughter, we should stop for now.” Her father says turning back and looking at her with concerned eyes.

“No, we must keep moving,” she insists.

He stops and she stops too. He moves towards her but she holds her hands out.

“Father!” She protests. “We have to keep moving.”

Her father takes hold of her held out hands. “Look at me, my beautiful girl, you should try to get some rest.”

She goes to protest again but her legs give out. Her father catches her and with all the strength he can muster carries her over to the back of the cart. He didn’t even mind the wares as he made room for her and placed her there. It reminded her of how he used to tuck her into bed when she was a child. Back then, he would tell her stories of his sea adventures that he acquired when he once sold his wares across oceans. Now, they are lucky if they make it to a small village. Yes, there were once splendid times in her life. Times that were simple and felt everlasting. Every night, she wishes on a star to return back but every morning she is greeted with desperate hunger.

“I will pull the cart while you sleep.” He says as she finds her eyes getting heavy.

She tries to resist but she feels sleepy and weak. Her eyes close and sleep seizes her in its comfortable embrace. Hours later, she is shocked to find herself in a warm bed. Her mind is hazy of memories as she lays awake. Where was she? And how did her father manage to put her here?

She calls for her father but there is no reply. Her heartbeat quickens as her fear rises but then a memory comes back to her, making her grimace in displeasure. Her father had made a foolish decision and she had paid its consequence. While she had slept that day, her father had come across what appeared to be an abandoned castle. He had scoured the place searching for food and had come across a grand meal fit for a king. Quickly, he devoured the meal and even wrapped some food in a cloth to give to her. Making his way back to his cart, he spotted a rose.

A rose he hoped would cheer her up just like it used to when he gifted her one when she was a girl. But they were no longer in splendid times, no, they were in desperate. She wished her father hadn’t taken the rose. For the owner of the castle was enraged by that action. He had almost killed her father but his monstrous roars had awakened her and she managed to plead for his life.

“You will work in this castle to pay off his debt,” The monster fiercely roared, his eyes blazing with anger.

“No!” Her father had begged. “Let me, please, I can work off my own debt.”

“Father, please,” She had said, staring blankly at the monster. “I will do as you wish.”

Her father couldn’t stay in the castle and they had to say a very brief goodbye. Now, every time she slept, her guilt would rise because if she was awake she could’ve deterred him to not enter the castle. And none of this would've happened...

“You’re still not dressed yet?” A voice says from behind her.

She turns to see that is the monstrous creature who owned this lifeless castle.

“I have let you weep for four days now.” He continues, sounding agitated. “Today, you must start your work.”

“It’s been four days?” She said, staring down at herself.

She still wore the same clothes she came in with. Clothes full of wear and tear from all the misfortune she and her father had experienced.

“Yes, four days.” He informs again. “You will need to wash and dress quickly for it’s imperative that we start now.”

“Start what?” She replies but then remembers. “Oh, the work I must do in the castle. Will I be dusting and cleaning?”

“You could if you want but I rather enjoy the dust because it makes it feel lived in.”

She looks at him bewildered. The dust in this castle made it appear unlived in. What could he want her to do if not clean the castle?

“So what do you me to do then?” She wonders, afraid.

“I will need your aid. You see, this castle has a certain quality to it that brings in unsavory sorts.”

She wonders if that’s a reference to her and her father.

“Unsavory sorts like who?” She dares to ask.

“Witches, shades, ghosts, sprites, fairies who can’t keep curses to themselves, vampires, werewolves, whatever you heard of being a simple story to scare children is well, very real.”

She notes the extra contempt in his voice when he mentions the word curses and fairies.

Looking at him in a bit of disbelief, she seems frightened. “Creatures like you?”

He smiles at her, one that sends a shiver down her spine.

“There are things much scarier than me.”

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