Please give a big Working Title welcome to Christina McMullen
The child sat upon her low, roughhewn stool, eyes focused on some point in the distance that only she could see. Her small hands, calloused, scarred, and stained from years of labor, methodically extracted one soft, pulpy berry after another from their spiny husks. Though considered one of the more dangerous tasks, the child shucked berries effortlessly, long past the point where pokes of the razor sharp spines or the burn of the toxic stem sap even registered.
Not long ago, blood berries were considered a rare delicacy and only prepared by a specialist who handled the caustic plants with practiced care and protective measures. But when the high savior became old enough to demand blood berries a daily component of first meal, the specialist refused, accepting a swift death at the gallows over the slow and torturous wasting that came with prolonged exposure to the neurotoxin. And so the child, selected for her small, nimble fingers, was commanded to take his place.
Caesshua stood nearby, gazing through the narrow gap that could barely be called a window, waiting impatiently for her young charge to complete the deplorable task. Not for the first time, she wished carelessness upon the child. Praying to any god who would listen, she asked for some misfortune to take from her that with which she felt unfairly burdened. Her eyes strayed to the child, but quickly she looked away, unable to hold back her disgust at the serene detachment and the precise, methodic movements of those tiny, gnarled hands.
This child, the lowest born being in the village, was her punishment. Caesshua should have been the one in the great house, attending to the high savior, but she’d recently been disgraced. The honor then fell to her sister, Jeussandre, the same wretched harlot who spread the lies of her intimate relations with the stable master that would be her downfall.
Certainly, Caesshua had desires, but she was not a stupid girl. She had taken measures to ensure her purity remained intact, but she had not taken into account the extent of her sister’s devilry. What favors Jeussandre must have bargained in order to have access to Galdorian’s expensive photographic machinery, Caesshua did not wish to dwell upon. The wench was as much a fallen angel as she, but Jeussandre was better at hiding the tarnish of her halo.
The sound of the stone bowl scraping against the wood of the table drew her attention once more. The child knew better than to utter a word in her presence. Snapping out of her malevolent daydream, Caesshua snatched up the bowl, suppressing a shudder as the gelatinous berries wiggled within, and stormed from the cabin, determined to deliver the repulsive fruit before her disgust turned violent. She hated the foul-smelling bits that looked like the gore of a slaughter.
In a measure of distraction, Caesshua turned her thoughts once again to her tiny burden. The child would now be washing up and making sure no trace of the toxic fruit remained in the preparation shack. She supposed it was too much to ask that the imp fall into the washing vat and drown. A slow smile spread as she envisioned the brat, head down in the soapy water, heels kicking uselessly as she took her last breath.
An idea began to form. Perhaps she would insist upon a surprise trip to the lake this morning, claiming the exercise would do them both a bit of good. Caesshua suppressed a euphoric giggle as she imagined the waif sinking into the murky water, weighed down by the heavy, rough spun woolen garments she wore. Yes, a trip to the lake was just what she needed to brighten up what was promising to be a hellish day.