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The Gypsy's Curse, Chapter Three Part 1
Copyright Lily Silver, 2013
The wind awakened her. It blustered outside and rattled the window panes.
Zara sat up in the big bed, confused by her surroundings for a brief instant. She was in a manor house, in a warm, dry, comfortable old canopy bed. She wore a clean bed gown that belonged to the lady of the house. Her own meager clothing was draped over the chair to dry. Her sodden, stained slippers had been discarded when she entered the house via the unlatched window on the back side. It was not quite dark up here on the hill as it had been in the hollow by the lake. The grey twilight had given her just enough light to make her way to an upstairs bedroom and collapse.
The bed was luxurious. She’d never seen the like before. Her experience with sleeping quarters was severely limited to her uncle’s camp wagon and the small cot the Widow Kendall had offered her in the cottage attic. She sprawled on the feather mattress and extended her arms. There were still a few inches on either side of her fingers. Oh, it must be wonderful to be wealthy. Warm, cozy beds. Rooms with fireplaces. Yards and yards of elegant brocade fabric hanging from the bedposts and windows, all matching, not scraps of fabric sewn together willy- nilly to create an illusion of privacy in an overcrowded wagon--Stop it.
Guilt and shame dampening her spirits, Zara sat up suddenly and curled her arms about her bent knees. She was doing it again; ungrateful wretch that she was. She was mentally comparing the wasteful luxuries of the Gadje against the simple provisions of her mother’s people. Oh, but it was so grand, this room. She’d never dreamed such places existed in the world. It was a place for a princess in a story book.
The sun was still hugging the far horizon, as reluctant to rise from its dark, comfortable bed as Zara was to pull herself from her cozy refuge. She stretched, and placed a bare foot on the floor. It was cold, but not terribly so, as the rich carpet had been set down to protect milady’s dainty feet from the frigid reality of an uncaring winter floorboard. She stood and pulled the covers up about the bed and smoothed away any evidence of her presence the night before. Remembering the cottager’s assurance to his wife that he’d come up the hill to inspect the manse today, she hurried to the clothespress and hung the new cotton gown back up on the peg where it belonged. Her fingers caressed the soft fabric with longing before she closed the door on the borrowed gown and slipped into her own worn garments.
Shoes. Yes, she needed something more substantial than the frivolous slippers she ruined on the way here. She’d cast them down the well in the courtyard last night, mindful that she must not leave any evidence of her passing for the villagers on the other side of the woods to track. Zara knelt on the floor and checked the drawers of the armoire. She found an alluring pile of soft silken garments?stockings, petticoats, garters. Her fingers coveted the costly garments. With reluctance, she closed the drawer and nibbled at her lower lip.
Being in this house was bringing out the worst in her; the Gadje part she couldn’t deny, no matter how hard she tried. Her father had been wealthy landowner, so she’d been told. Perhaps not as wealthy as the one whose home she had stolen into now, but rich enough. He’d been a selfish, greedy man, so they said, a bad influence even among his own people. Devil seed, they sometimes whispered about Zara when she was a child. Devil’s child. It wasn’t enough that her mother had born a babe from a Gadje man. Such things could be forgiven. It was his reputation that had tarnished her standing in the tribe.
All her life, Zara was cautioned about not giving in to her carnal side lest she become like her father--evil--given over to the desires of the flesh. It wasn’t fair. She was expected to walk a straighter path than the other children of the tribe. If she showed the slightest yearning for a pretty bauble, it was blamed on her Gadje blood and she was chastened for it, where another girl in the camp would be petted and fussed over for wanting that red silk shawl or that gold locket. Her uncle was the only one who took her part against the other children during the many squabbles. Her mother and grandmother always made her apologize for any disagreement. Not because they thought her guilty, but because they knew that her tainted blood could be brought up by the others and Zara would be exiled if she made trouble among them. And as she was but a child, her mother would be exiled too.
A bare branch rattling against the window startled her out of her ruminations. Zara refolded the pretty red silk stockings, placed them reluctantly in the drawer and closed it. Red silk was her weakness. Crimson, the color of blood, the color of the cloak from the Hellfire Club her mother had kept tucked in the bottom of her trunks and took out only late at night when she was alone in the wagon and she thought Zara was asleep. If her father had truly been a rapist, as they claimed, then her mother had secretly been in love with her assailant. A woman didn’t pine after a man who had shamed her and abused her body. Zara saw how her mother fondled the cloak and held it against her cheek, as if mourning the loss of a lover, not a villain. When mother died Lothar burned the cloak, refusing to let Zara have the token of her father’s so cherished by her mother. He spat on it, and cursed the man who wore it, frightening Zara with his vehement response.
Shoes, girl, sensible boots, and then you must away! Zara moved across the room in her bare feet. Her stockings as well as her shoes were destroyed. She nibbled her lip, and touched the clean bandage wound around her wounded palm. Surely the lady wouldn’t miss a pair of stockings when she had dozens. Would such a grand lady begrudge a poor girl a pair of stockings from her horde? The lady was probably in London. It was the place that all grand ladies preferred to the country. And surely the woman had other stockings with her.
The trunk in the corner caught her eye. If there were boots, they might be in there. She opened the trunk and found a sturdy pair of riding boots. Soft black leather--it was like butter beneath her fingers. Zara grabbed them and closed the lid of the trunk, lest her eyes behold something else that her hands might itch to possess. She sat on the bed for a moment, hesitating, resisting the wicked urge to take those red silk stockings. She needed stockings, but not silk ones. Oh, and they felt so lovely against her fingers! There were woolen stockings shoved in the back of the drawer, banished from sight due to their bland, serviceable appearance.
Zara’s hands fisted about the lovely red silk. She bunched the fabric up, resisting the call of her conscience to put them back in the drawer. If you’re going to steal something, choose something useful, she heard her uncle’s voice in her head.
She bit her lip and counted to ten, fifteen, and on to thirty.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Stockings were stockings she told herself as she gathered up her bag and treaded carefully from the room in her new black riding boots. She closed the door, and crept carefully down the hall, listening for the telltale sound of the cottager below the stairs.
Once she was in the hall, she couldn’t resist peeking in the other rooms before descending to the first floor and making her exit. The house intrigued her. It seemed as if the hallway went on forever. There were doors and more doors as she gazed down the long hall. Zara shook her head. She must appear the simpleton to be so fascinated by a mere house, yet, having grown up in a camp wagon the notion of inhabiting such a grand, expansive home, of staying in one place for more than a week or a month, was vastly appealing.
Zara entered the room across the hall from the one she had just exited. It was a masculine room, probably the lord’s chamber. The furniture was covered with white sheets to protect it from the dust. The curtains were drawn over the window, blocking out the light. It was a beautiful, peaceful chamber.
Oh, to have such a room all to myself. The room was wider than three camp wagons put together and twice as long. All of this space for one person? She set her pack on the floor and stood in the center of the room. She held out her hands and spun about slowly. This would be a place to dream, to be free. To sway to the music in her soul unobserved.
That was one thing she could not do at the widow’s house, dance. It was in her blood. Her mother had been a dancer. And yet, the widow’s kindness in taking Zara in required a respect for the old woman’s beliefs. Widow Kendall frowned on her urge to move unrestrained, and so, Zara restrained herself, lest she give the woman cause to regret having taken her in.
She closed her eyes and lifted her arms above her head. The boots with their slight leather heel were cumbersome, not allowing her feet to turn as easily on the carpet as if she’d been barefoot. She was not about to remove them. Zara forgot her loneliness for a time as she let her soul flow through her body, allowed her mind to cease its endless prattle of worried thoughts and recriminations. She gave herself up to the dance.
A loud clanging of a door reverberated through the manse, stopping Zara’s movements. Someone was here. Probably the old man from the cottage below the hill. She froze and whirled about quickly to gather her bag and find a hiding place. The curtains were drawn. She considered them and just as quickly dismissed the idea. If the cottager came in and opened the drapes, she’d be exposed and hauled off to the nearest jail for trespassing. There was the dressing screen, but it proved equally flimsy. She could hear footsteps echoing on the parquet flooring of the hall below the stairs. She heard low muttering, turned to the door, and stifled a gasp. She left it open. She didn’t dare close it now. The sound would alert them that someone was in the house. The muttering grew louder, more distinct as the person climbed the stairs and walked slowly down the hall toward the opened doorway.
Copyright Lily Silver, 2013