This is a short period piece written by Nico Grant. It is told in the voice of a young girl, an English servant and reveals just some of the hardships of the working-class in England during Feudalism.
I sat in a gazebo, before the impending stagnantly placid pond. This particular body of water held a murky dark stain, and the sheer simplicity of it made it seem melancholy to no end. I sat in the blisteringly cold British winter while wearing nothing more than the simple dress of a handmaiden: a long layered dual entity that had come to define my life. In my hands, I held the headpiece that I usually wore to signify my painfully low social status, but I recently tore the covering off of my forehead. My fingers grew numb because of the shivering cold, however I budged not a bit. I began to gently rub the material of the headpiece with my appendages. It was made of linen, and it was I who had to hand-stitch it. I supposed that would forever be the tale of my dismally dreary existence: Prudence Lynette Mitchell, passive handmaiden with little opportunity and even less respect. The plain and pale young English girl who would always be, “but a serf”.
My focus shifted from the filthy opaque water of the pond, to the general surroundings of the wooden structure that I sat in. In the far north corner, visible were hundreds of acres of barren farmland that was always abandoned in bleak British weather. However this was the Lancaster Manor, in Yorkshire; often, I wondered if winters were this depressing in other parts of the Kingdom, such as Wales. I learned all about the region from my love, William. When I was meant to be cleaning Lord Lancaster's study, I dreamt of one day fleeing to places like Wales. I, as a low social status-bearing female during the “fin de siecle” was oppressed, besmirched, and disregarded as a person worthy of happiness. Though, after nineteen years, I probably should have been used to it, I loathed the truth that I was incessantly discarded by society. My cheeks became flushed cum my sudden tone of animosity, for all of those thoughts began to make my skin crawl.
I continued to stare at my surroundings. I witnessed as countless mistreated serfs walked from the manor's small village to the vile inhabitable locations that were called their 'homes', while lugging around large sacks that I presumed to hold potatoes. They walked along a dirt path near the manor's seven-meter stone wall, meant to keep rebels out and them in. I say 'them' because though we were more or less in the same boat, I couldn't help but feel superior to them. I quickly acknowledged that I shouldn't be on a high horse, not to them, but as people, we find it much easier to state the consequences of our own lives as paled, in comparison to others. My role in the manor was much less tedious than theirs. They lived life around one another, so they couldn't disrespect each other, but the disrespect that was doled out to me was much more blatant. I was far past feeling inadequate; often, I merely didn't feel like a person.
Men, women and children, alike, possessed an earnest countenance that showed they knew that they were just pawns in a meaningless game; they knew they were just fodder in the scheme of others' lives; I saw that they knew that their life wouldn't amount to more than servitude. They knew that respect would never be a prerequisite in their lives, and no one would ever look at them as a true person. It saddened me to see such an expression, from any person. The numbness bestowed by the passing winds faded, as pain filled my interior.
It was so heart-breaking to see large degrees of sorrow masked by nonchalance because not too long beforehand, I was one of those little girls: dragging a sack of potatoes and holding on for dear life. When Lord Lancaster ascended me to be a handmaiden of his estate, I was more than happy to leave the drudgery behind at the farming land in which both my parents, my three sisters, and the love of my life, William Biden worked, in lieu of a warm and ornate small palace, but I didn't know that this decadent home would strip me of the little confidence that I had.
It would be here where I would learn that I could never amount to anything and not a bit of cheer could ever be mine. It was a concept drilled into my mind by the very walls of Lancaster Palace. Every candle, every torch, told me that the only respect that would ever be given to me was Lord Lancaster asking me to shut the door before using my body without my consent.
The first time it happened, I tried to resist; I wanted to be angelic for the day I would marry my true love, William, who had taught me how to love and how to want more from life. He had told me stories of the rest of the world: how things worked and looked, much like Lord Lancaster, except the Lord's always seemed to be negative toward "my kind". I occasionally wondered whose world stayed true to the real world outside of Yorkshire; perhaps it was a combination of the two, or perhaps the world simply differed from both tales. I asked William how he knew all of that information, but he would become very coy, and never tell me, labeling it as a "secret". It's disheartening to know that I can ask him no longer.
William came to the Manor during our impending adulthood started to approach steadfastly. My father allowed him to stay with the Mitchell family if he would work on our parcel of land. William and I started out as friends, but our relationship evolved into so much more. It was a mutual mad love that we both wanted to seal with marriage. On that day, I wanted to give myself to William as my first and only, but Lord Lancaster was a very powerful man, and he assured me that he would tap into such powers if I were to resist to what he called, "the inevitable". I began to feel sick, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. Afterwards, I loathed him. I thought of him as being vile and disgusting. Though he may have been of the noble, upper-crust, held much respect throughout the land, and was even close acquaintances with Duke Philip of Yorkshire and Prince Frederick of Suffolk, Lord Lancaster behaved like low-class rubbish ¾ refuse that should quickly be disposed of. And that was exactly what I did.
After the most recent manor-raid, I was never the same. On the morning of the fateful day, I distinctly remember what I said to William.
"William, my love," I started tenderly. "When will you finally make me your bride?"
"Darling," he appeased. "When the time is right, we will both know. I must first develop a better life for the both of us."
Though I sometimes found him to be painfully enigmatic and withholding information, I loved him. This forced me to be satisfied with his reply. I said, "You speak the truth, but do not wait too long. I fancy the sound of 'Prudence Lynette Biden'."
"As do I. However, I fancy you even more than the confines of my heart can hold."
"You have forever captured my heart, William Elliot Biden."
We commenced our sentiments with a brief embrace, before William had to return to the farmland. After seeing William run off, I turned around to see Lord Lancaster, with a devilish fire in his eyes. The Lord was a plump man clad in frilly purple and white material that symbolized his status. He possessed robust red cheeks, a demonic mustache, and small beady eyes. After my stomach churned, I looked toward the grassy grounds on which I stood. At that moment, I was sure that I could never fully comprehend how menacing he truly was. My hatred was barely contained, and it could never fully be described in words, so I decided not to. I didn't know what to do, but I knew that a sign would come to me. And one did.
After that raid, I never saw William again. Some serfs claimed to have witness William be dragged off by the rebels; others say that he was killed directly inside the Manor, but either way, I knew that I would never look into his brown eyes again. The feasibility level was just so low, that I felt little pain. I was merely numb, like how I felt sitting in the disgustingly frigid gazebo.
* * * * *
"I would like you to know that I do not boast of what I did, but I didn't have a choice in the matter, and in retrospect, it is better than the alternative," I found myself saying to the gentle man, while sitting in his sanctuary of warmth.
"Prudence...why?" he asked. When I didn't immediately respond, he continued, "What exactly was your reasoning?"
"Respect ¾ it didn't exist there, and that killed me more than anything else," I replied while staring up at the ornate ceiling, with chandeliers and murals. I could only imagine how many serfs were ill-treated for the detail of a single ceiling. It was sheer levity. "I was being slaughtered by the lack of it. A dagger was thrust into my bosom every moment I was there." There was a long pause before I earnestly uttered, "He didn't pretend to even fancy my company, and yet he used me. He used me!" I screamed with fury. "I was not treated as a person, but merely an object. A substitute for a warm body. I used to be loved by all my family and the other serfs I knew, but in that scathing house, there wasn't an acknowledgment of my existence. You must take me for mad, but I realized that I would never be important while standing in those halls, which spoiled attempts to live vicariously through the nobility that strutted through the thresholds. It became too much for me to comprehend, and yet, I distinctly knew that I was a child of condemnation." In the latter part of my speech, my voice became less piqued with animosity, as it became quavering and quiet.
I realized that I needed to leave, so I told him as much. "What have you done?" inquired the man who wore a collar.
I left; I simply ran out, aggressively pushing all of the daunting doors that stood in my path. Tears streamed down my face as I once again entered the exterior world of disrespect and coldness. My breath became exaggerated as I ran down all of the Gothic-styled steps, and I was once again before the pond of filth and squalor, where I knew, as factual, no life flourished, but perhaps something undeserving of air was finally in it's rightful place. I began to grin as I wondered if the Welsh understood the word "respect" ¾ something beautiful in all contexts. Read more!