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The Silver Collar


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 At first I think Mistress could have loved me as a daughter. I think she wanted to, planned to. She did love me at first. My young heart bonded to her because she loved me. I tried so hard not to change. I tried so hard it hurt. But I couldn't hold it back for long. Horror at my hideous form killed all her love for me. But her disgust didn’t kill my love for her.

I don't remember my life before I came to Mistress. I know I did not come to be when I first looked in her face, but I can remember nothing else of my life. She named me Lyneth on that day.

A sore blow struck me later when she saw my ungodly form and hardened her heart against me. I suppose I was fortunate she didn’t kill me or turn me out. But she kept me. Though her rejection tortured me, I preferred it to isolation. She never called me by the name she gave me after that. She only called me “Girl”.

My world was within the inn and the stable, and the wood behind them. Even though I dreamed of escape almost every day, I knew that escape would mean my death.

“We are too far from anywhere for you to travel on your own, girl, anywhere except the village. Folks there would give you a beating and send you back. Any other direction you’d get lost. You’d die. Don’t wander more than a few minutes away, hear?” Mistress said on a frequent basis.

Mistress loved to say things like that to me again and again. She believed that it did me good. She also loved to say, “Listen to me, girl. It will do you good.”

I wouldn’t leave, either, because I belonged to her. Mistress had bought me on that first day of my memories. I existed to help her run the inn. She couldn’t seem to decide whether she got me for a bargain or was cheated. Sometimes she felt one way and sometimes the other, depending on who she spoke to and how well I had behaved.

My life revolved around the inn and the commands of Mistress. I lived to do everything she said—hard work to make the inn “A decent place”. I scrubbed every inch of that inn from top to bottom, and then when it shone, I started at the top again. I cleaned the stables and kept Horse (that was its name), and any other horses that visited.

I could clean and scrub, but I could not touch the beds and I could not cook. Mistress said, “That would be disgusting! I wouldn’t let my enemy sleep in a bed that such as you had touched, nor eat a morsel of food you’d cooked. Horrible!” She told me that often, too.

I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom inside the inn. Mistress sent me outside and into the woods to “do my business”. As time passed, I surrendered to my fate and made a little latrine out there for myself. Summer or winter, warm weather or foul, I went to the woods like the animal I was.

I grew expert at my chores. By the time I reached eleven years, or thereabouts, I could do it all without Mistress’ instruction or correction. She only corrected me after that when she felt cranky, which was frequent. But she could never find real fault with my work.

At about that time too, my eleventh year, Father Miller cured my terrible change.

Father Miller was the only person I had ever known who cared about me. Mistress cared for me but only because she needed me. When she bought me, she had almost grown too old to do all the needful work. Father Miller cared about me. He spoke to me and taught me scriptures. He taught me to read the scriptures and each night before I went to the stables to sleep, Mistress made sure I read ten pages of scripture—at Father Miller’s order. You see, Father Miller brimmed with care for me in the form of profound pity. He had met me the day Mistress bought me and while she still loved me. He was the one Mistress called when I first changed. He held the responsibility for my soul, he said, because I suffered from such a profound curse.

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