The next morning, Isabell rose with the sun, much like always. The birds could be heard singing outside on the roof, where a small nest had been made early that spring. She hummed along to their chirps, enjoying the serenity that came with the peacefulness of nature.
However, not long after the morning arrived, the servant bell in her room rang loudly, indicating that her family was awake as well. Isabell sighed and finished getting dressed quickly before making her way down the stairs in a rush. She ran to her step-mother’s room first, and drew open the curtains and take her laundry. Then she went to Lucille’s room, and lastly Rachel’s. Why was the eldest sister last? Because she was the very one to torment her the most.
“Oh Cinder, you finally came!” her step-sister sang upon her entry.
Isabell grimaced. Cinder, that was a cruel nickname bestowed upon her the very night the two of them had met. While she had been helping Ursa cook in the kitchen, just for the fun of it, her father and new family had arrived earlier than expected. Without thinking, Isabell had run out to meet them all, ash and soot covering her face from the furnace. Later that night in private, Rachel deemed it funny to call her Cinder as a joke. And now it appeared even more humorous to her step-sister, since she was made to cook and clean every day.
“What do you think of this dress? Shall it do me good in front of the duke today? I know green is your favorite color,” Rachel asked sweetly, holding up another new and beautiful gown.
Isabell took a brief moment to admire the garment. It truly was all things lovely and praiseworthy. Had she any money, it would be just the sort of things she might like to wear! Alas, such luxurious pieces were not meant for the likes of her.
“You shall look ever so pretty in it Rachel. You always do,” she said gently.
Her step-sister nodded. “Tis true. I almost feel sorry for you Cinder, lacking both in looks and in figure. Honestly, even a stable boy would be hard pressed by your lack of beauty. Although, perhaps a man shall take pity upon you one day.”
Isabell let her gaze fall down to the floor. These words, she had heard them so many times over the years that it hardly even hurt anymore. She knew she was no great beauty, nor a grand anything. However, she had long ago decided to discount such things. After all, it was not as if marriage had been in her plans anyways. She cared not for the touch of a man, nor the approval of those who saw only an outward appearance.
“Alright, go on already. You will stink up my room if you stand there pouting any longer!” Rachel huffed.
Isabell made no delay in escaping her step-sister’s cold words and glare. She quickly ran down to the laundry tub where Ursa was already preparing some hot water for the clothes. Without even saying a greeting she began to wash her family’s lovely garments, wishing only to run away and forget the people whom she had once wished to love!
“Another bad morning?” the woman asked, patting her from behind.
Isabell only nodded in reply. Of course it was a bad morning! When were they ever good?
“Come now child, I keep saying you must form a thicker skin than this! Your sisters will never stop their cruelty, so you can only hope to cope with what they throw at you.”
She nodded again. Isabell knew all this, but that didn’t make it any easier. She was hurt, she was envious, she was angry even. She often tried not to be, but such feelings were still there within her, and rightfully so. Though Ursa was right, dwelling on them would never truly be helpful.
About an hour later, the duke arrived to escort Rachel for their outing. She left with a big smile, dressed in green gown with her face covered in thick makeup. Lucille watched her from the door until their carriage was gone, a deep scowl permanently imprinted on her jealous face. Isabell actually felt bad for her step-sister, considering her family relations. Their mother, and everyone else it seemed, favored Rachel simply because of her superior looks. Lucille was always living in her sister’s shadow, unable to make her own impression on a person.
“What are you looking at?” her step-sister suddenly spat, eyeing her suspiciously.
Isabell bowed her head. “Nothing. I just thought your hair looked rather pretty today.”
Lucille blushed briefly, almost looking touched. Compliments were rarely thrown her way these days. Still, her tender expression was quick to fade, as it often was, as she finally turned to walk away. Isabell, who was used to such cold treatment, decided to simply make her way back to the kitchen to get started on her chores in the meantime. She began as usual, with baking bread, cleaning vegetables, scrubbing floors, washing windows, dusting the shelves, and tending to the ladies of the house. It really wasn’t too bad, once one got used to the routine.
Then, by four o’clock Rachel returned, her eyes wide with excitement and her arms full of new clothes which the duke had bought her. After a quick entrance at the door, her step-sister joined the rest at the lunch table to break some astonishing news.
“Oh mother! He proposed!” she exclaimed with more triumph than joy.
Isabell felt a small wave of relief. Rachel moving out? This was a cause to celebrate!
“You damn brat! You took him from me on purpose!” Lucille whined.
Her sister scoffed with mild annoyance, but their mother seemed ever proud of the arrangement.
“Excellent my dear, excellent work! I knew you were not so pretty for nothing!” she sang with delight.
Rachel’s eyes portrayed a brief hurt, much like her sisters did at times. For, yes, even she had feelings buried down within her. Feelings that were fragile to a mother’s sting.
“Now then, where to plan the wedding? Perhaps in Goldwin country, where the summers are unmatched in beauty. Oh! Maybe even Chivele, where the queen herself once lived!”
“Yes, yes I love all those ideas! Lanceton will pay for any place I want, I am sure of it!” Rachel squealed.
For some time after that, her step-mother continued to praise, gloat, plan, and dream in luxury, almost like she was the one about to marry a duke. In truth, many times Isabell felt as if the woman was merely using her daughters, all in order to satisfy her own rich desires. Even if Lanceton was a very unsavory man she would still approve of this marriage, as long as his pockets were deep. Although, Isabell reckoned that both Rachel and Lucille already understood that their absolute compliance was the only way to gain absolute approval from their mother.
Not that she cared all that much. Isabell had long ago given up on ever gaining that woman’s approval, and perhaps things were better that way. Never would she wish to be manipulated like some sort of monkey!
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