It was more than just a place to sleep. A barn was a warm place; heat radiated off the bodies of animals sometimes in rolls of steam, especially in the winter. Winter here in this barren seeming land was harsh. If you did not find a place to sleep you would freeze within hours of the sun fall.
Piper curled up against Daniel. The boy kept his little sister close, wordlessly, as they hid in the straw amongst a forest of legs with hooves. Tails hung from backsides like branches from a willow tree, and the smell was equal to if not worse than that of the sewers in the city. It probably was equally sanitary if they were being perfectly honest with themselves. The Renoir children came from money. They had once been used to being of the sort that routinely bathed. It was unfortunate that now that was no longer an option. Often times Daniel had found that piper would cry about it when she thought he was not listening or else wise paying her any heed.
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Long ago, they had been born. Their mother had been a lady of the court. Had been she had first had Daniel. That she had explained away; son of a tryst with a sailor, she had easily claimed she had been married and the gentleman was simply lost to sea. Of course when Piper came along, she could not use the same lie a second time. Or was it a lie..? No one was really sure what it was that went on with Anne Renoir on the days when she did not sit in court with the Queen.
As her children grew under the care of palace staff, Anne failed to maintain her good grace and reputation in the court. Soon, the woman fell ill. Consumption. A terrible disease. So terrible. It had crushed Daniel and Piper when she began to fall to the illness. They were not prepared. The woman was also not prepared in her children's interests. The Queen, upon their mothers death, sent Piper and Daniel out as if they were nothing more than lowly vermin. A job in the palace wasn't even an option. Anne had come from a good and wealthy family-- but none laid any claim to her bastard children.
Daniel and Piper were only nine and seven when this tragic end befell them. Only, it was not to be their end, but rather, just the beginning of their story
Winter was there. It was cold. They had hidden in the first peasant barn they had come across. Piper cried a lot, and the girls tears had begun to freeze in droplets upon her eyelashes as they had walked in the blowing wind trying to find shelter. They had been turned away at the inn. It had felt so tragic. So horrible. They were only children after all. So for that night they hid with the animals feeling like nothing more than common criminals. Feeling like the kind of people that were often hung for no good reason whatsoever. The sort whose boots lined in a pile beside the justice building near the palace within the walls of the inner city. They had been tossed out of those walls like vermin. It was the most terrifying and tragic thing that one could imagine after the loss of ones mother and home-- to be cast out, thrown away, treated like garbage after years of proper schooling and grooming and being treated as close to royalty as one could get without actually being royal.
It was doubtful that the children would ever even learn of Anne's burial. Details and records weren't the most important of kept documents even when a member of the queens own court had passed on such as the woman had. Especially considering the nature of her disease it was unknown if she would even be allowed in some of the cemeteries no less her family plots. The Renoir estate was one with much prestige and Anne and her two children had sullied that prestige in the worst way. The scarlet stains that were left by her assumed whoring; the children produced of such presumptuous unions-- they could never be erased. And then to die from a disease which you got from being with many men..? Anne was not the top of the Renoir clan that was for damn sure.
The night passed. Day broke and as the sun began to rise, Daniel forced Piper awake and they snuck out of the stable, and began to continue on their way, into the woods with hopes that the trees may provide some shelter from the bitter wind and tormenting snow as it fell. Sun rise cut through the trees for many hours, bathing things first in reds then golds. Moss and bark took on bloody and orange hues; became gilded, before becoming simply dark and drab as the sun rose higher in her ascent if the sky for the day.
Piper refused to speak. They were hungry. They were cold. They were wet and Daniel was stuck with a little sister who was too upset to speak. It was extremely frustrating for the young man was he really wanted a bit of companionship from the girl. She was after all, all he had in this world. He wished that she realized that he was all she had in turn but Daniel was realistic. He didn't believe his little sister was apt to come to such conclusions. It was a true pity. It was heart breaking. But it was true.
The silence felt deafening but the quiet young man failed in starting a conversation every time that he had tried that day.
He asked her if she was hungry.
If she were thirsty.
Did she want to rest now.
Was she too cold.
Did she want to take the left or right path.
And so on and so on. She had never given him a verbal response. Daniel was giving up hope entirely in regard to the little girl. What was he supposed to do? He couldn't make her talk. Forcing someone to do anything really did not work and that certainly included talking. In fact talking might have been the worst thing possible to try to force someone to do as it may have actually been impossible shy of torturing them in order to illicit a response. Of the easiest thing to so much as think about in honest consideration. How would you make a child talk without causing them any harm? Was it even possible?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Instinct would lean towards not and Daniel couldn't even begin to fathom where to start if he were going to get his little sister to speak at all anyway. The woods were unforgiving. The roots of trees proved unyielding under powdery blankets of soft snow and there was much tripping to be had by the children. In part this is some of the reason which Daniel stopped trying with his sister. Most days he was trying to get her to shut up so this was just all kinds of unnerving. In a way he felt he had lost her along with everything else with the way she happened to be acting. It was difficult to face. Hard to understand. He was trying damn it all he really was but this whole situation was just too much for a young boy of only nine to handle.
The witch saw them. How could she resist such delectable young souls? She found them while she was out hunting. I know what you're thinking. You are sitting there as you read this picturing the old hag from Snow White; hunched over, big nose with a wart, sallow or green or greeting skin, ratty cloak with hood, nasty stringy hair, gnarled hands, an old basket... But you would be completely and utterly wrong. The witch was young and very fair indeed.
She had once been called the fairest of them all, some might say. Her hair was dark as a ravens wing, skin white as snow... She was beautiful, she was young, and while she was in fact a witch, it was such that she was also very kind. She paused in gathering her herbs and slowly, quietly began to follow the children as they wended their way noisily further into the woods.
Daniel had no idea they were being followed or watched, but his oddly quiet and rather intuitive little sister had picked up on this fact almost instantly. Aside from the tragedy, this was a part in why she was so utterly silent. She was terrified. Yet another adult who may wish them harm. It was through luck alone that they had escaped the barn unscathed as they had; though the stench she felt had yet to leave her own cloak. The children continued to trudge on; completely aware but not speaking of just how lost (if not really alone) they were.
As night began to fall, Daniel eventually made his sister stop so that they may huddle in the roots of a great old tree and try to keep warm until morning.
Meanwhile the witch wound an enchantment over the children and promptly put them to sleep. The young woman moved closer to the two dears then, and gathered up all the wood that she could find and started a small but fierce fire to keep the three of them warm for the night. Come morning she had melted snow and ice to water and made tea with some of her herbs. She had also caught a couple of right fat squirrels, their hides stretched and drying as the gilded sun peaked through the trees.
When Piper was the first to awaken, the girl was very confused as to the witches presence but seemed hardly surprised. She moved from her brother as he continued to sleep to be nearer to the fire and to accept the offering of food even if it wasn't what she was used to. She sipped the unsweetened tea and nibbled on bits of squirrel for well over and hour before Daniel awoke.
He was startled and instantly full of fear at the sudden presence of the witch. It hardly did any good that the woman looked nothing like a witch. She lacked age. She lacked a wart coved nose. Shellacked a humped over posture. She lacked gnarled hands. She lacked ratty clothing. Her skin was not any witchy color of which Daniel was familiar with as related to witches. It was strange. The young boy was far more hesitant than his sister to accept the offering of tea and food. However hunger and a sort of cold that was settling in his jaw in his staying back even from the fire made him eventually give in.
The first day together no one saw it as prudent to talk, it seemed. The children simply followed when the witch packed the little camp, much to her pleasure and through some nonverbal encouragement of course. A smile and a simple follow me gesture could do wonders. And here such it had as Daniel and Piper, orphaned children of a lady of the court followed the witch deeper yet still into the woods.
The witch woman brought them to her hut; for as you know all witches must at the very least live in a very witchy hut, as she did so.
© Ghost 2014