I spend the day with John. We do chores together, we spend our brakes together. He is such a contrast to Bastian. He is not mean or rude, he is kind and polite.
"All I'm saying is there should be no man greater than another. The world should be equal." he says eating an apple.
"I agree with your outcome, but not with your method. Killing the leaders won't change anything, in fact it will prove their thinking we're barbarians." we laugh.
"You wouldn't know. You're not exactly poor, but you're not well-off either. You're in between." he says.
"My father would love to hear you say that." I laugh.
"I would love to meet your father. From what I've heard I think I would really like him."
"I think you would too."
We finish our lunch and get back to our chores.
A few hours later he walks me to my room. I had told him he needn't bother but he had insisted. "Thank you, John." I say. Unable to think of what to do, I kiss him on the cheek. He originally looks startled but then pleased. He walks away after saying goodnight. I turn to go in my room and see Bastian walking the opposite way down the corridor. Did he see?
The next day I spend most of it with John again. We work, eat and talk together. It is at lunch time when he starts talking, not about things we've spoken about, but other very different things. "Have you ever been in love, Ethelreda?" It doesn't take long for me to produce an answer.
"No. I've never really spoken to boys or men." his face remains neutral.
"How old are you, Ethelreda?"
"It's funny you should ask. Today is my sixteenth birthday." He looks at me wide-eyed.
"Forgive me, I haven't anything to give you."
I shake my head. "Don't worry yourself. I didn't really want anything other than a quiet day. That's how I used to have it with my father." he looks at me intensely. I carry on. "He always used to give me a book. I will admit I was quite disappointed to receive no book today, but I suppose without-"
"I love you."
I stand up from the grass. "Excuse me. I believe I misheard you."
"No you heard me. I love you. My heart beats only for yours." I do not know quite what to say.
"You are delusional. You do not love me, for you do not really know me." I say walking away from him slightly. He stands up and rushes for me holding my arms. Too tightly.
"You do not hear me! I love you, Ethelreda!"
"John, you're hurting me." I say trying to stay calm.
"Marry me." he says quieter and loosening his grip.
"What?" This is too much.
"Marry me. I know that you love me. You proved your affections last night." When I kissed him.
"You are mistaken! I kissed you like a sister might kiss her brother! You couldn't make me do something I do not wish to do!" I yell tears forming in my eyes.
"Make you? Do you suppose that I am the sort of man to force you to marry me? Is that what you think of me? You misled me, Ethelreda! You kissed me!" His grip tightens enough that the tears stream down my face.
"John, please!" I shriek and he drops me to the floor.
"A real lady wouldn't mislead a male in such a way as to fool his heart, you hussy." He spits in my face before walking away and not turning back.
I stay weeping on the grass. He is not who I thought he is.
I am walking home. It's dark. I don't know where I have or haven't been; What I have or haven't done. I have been in a trance.
Where John gripped me has left bruises on my arms which are already bruising.
I walk through the front door and there, putting his coat on, is Bastian. He looks at me wide-eyed. Then walks towards me. "Where on Earth have you been? Half the servants have been out looking for you." he says angrily "Are you alright?" he has a concerned look on his face. The frown is still there, but not in anger or annoyance. When I don't respond he says "Come with me." He takes hold of my arm and when I wince he turns and looks at me, again with that concerned expression. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?" I still don't answer. He pushes up my sleeve to reveal the smudged purple marks on my arm. "Who did this to you?" I don't answer. Instead he takes me by the hand. His are so much bigger than mine, so much so that they warm my hands up nearly instantly. I didn't know I was cold.
He leads me to the study and sits me down by the fire. He takes the seat opposite.
He doesn't speak for a minute or so.
"I need to tell you something." I listen but keep my gaze on the fire beside me. "Over the past few weeks, whilst you've been here, you have intrigued me. You're not like other women. You speak your mind, stand up for what you believe and are completely unpredictable. You are the complete contrast to Elizabeth, emotionless. You are so...so unique that it is so difficult for even I to fathom you. And yet, I have begun to feel attached to you. And I feel that should you ever leave, I would slowly deteriorate to nothing." Is he saying this? "Then, yesterday, I saw you kiss that stable-boy," even the mention of him makes me feel nauseous. "and today, when I heard that he was leaving whilst you remained, it led me to believe...to hope that maybe..." he trails off.
"What are you trying to say, sir?" I ask unable to comprehend where this conversation is going.
"Stay. With me. Forever. Be my wife." I can hear the blood pounding in my hears, I can hear how deep my breathing has got and no doubt he has too. The walls are closing in around me. Then I hear these two words leaving me strained and uneven.
"Do you refuse me?" I nod.
"I have to leave, sir."
"Of course, come back tomorrow. You must be tired. Sleep on it and give me a proper ans-"
"I mean I have to leave this house. I need to go home, sir. For Good." he starts shaking his head.
"No. No. You can't leave me, you won't leave me. Please." I hear his voice break on the last word. "I have torn my heart out in front of you. Don't leave me. I love you. Please, just please, don't go." His hair looks ruffled and his shirt is slightly undone at the top, as though he has been anxious, maybe about me. I see a single tear roll down his cheek. "I love you." he is now on his knees resting his forehead on my knees where I am sat down. "I love you." he whispers over and over. I feel my eyes welling up. I stand.
It is the dead of night and everyone is asleep. Everyone- that is- except for me. I have packed my bag and I sneak through the house. I need to go home. I need to see my father. I need to get away.
I push open the servants' door and start my walk.
I look over my shoulder at the house. Good bye.
YOU ARE READING
A Tudor Girl named Ethelreda lives as a maid in a grand house. But things do not go to plan. The master's son- a spoiled, arrogant, rude man with no regard for anyone but himself- and two mischievous children make her life extraordinarily difficult...