CHAPTER 2

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         As the day of beginning of the season neared, Mrs. Kenne's dissatisfaction knew no bounds. The cook, Mrs. Editha would not let the girls dawdle in her great kitchen. Ophelia spent much of her time hiding away from Mrs. Kenne. She did not explicitly look forward to another scolding from her in such a short span of time. As the number of carriages with young ladies and gentlemen arriving at the castle grew day by day, so did their demands. There were not enough maids to attend to their important, sometimes obnoxious and trivial needs, that it was required to employ even the stable boys to wait on the nobles. Thourmount castle was in a turmoil of preparations.

          The week dragged on in such a daze and with sweat filled hours of being pushed around, that Ophelia could not wait for Sunday to arrive. When it did arrive, she found herself running away from the chaos of the castle. The church at the castle grounds was always filled with a crowd of pretentious aristocrats, and though she was not allowed to attend because of her low birth, she found the thought of spending more time in the castle appalling. Moreover, mother was waiting for her. Thus, Ophelia skipped along the downhill cobblestone streets in merriment holding Shanna's hand.

         "What do you think the Ball will be like?" A whimsical Shanna questioned, ignoring the gentry who threw glares their way with disgust evident in their faces. A few were unkind enough to spit at them.

         "Same as the year before." A disinterested Ophelia replied. She wanted to flee this part of the city as fast as possible.

         "But you do know Prince Theodoro cannot be coronated before marriage. Can you at least act interested?"

         "Then bless the Gods! We will not have to deal with their conceited souls anymore."

         "Leaaa! I see Freya's character is prompting your attitude." Shanna mocked, laughing.

         "Never!" A horrified Ophelia said, feigning dizziness and collapse.

         Thourmount was the capital of Yaster and was known for its marvellous architectural bulidings and social order. Thourmount castle was set crowning on a rocky mountain with the streets spiralling downwards, away from it. The ornate, luxurious houses of the privileged, stood tall and dignified next to the fortress, while those at the bottom were incomparable to slums. The lower grounds were mainly occupied by poverty-stricken farmers. A few levels above them were the laundresses, servants, stable boys and maids. Then came the wood and stone masonry, blacksmiths, carpenter and clerks. The knights, squires, and stewards - anyone proximate to the king, were closer to the crest of the hill and such was the deranged city. To say Ophelia and her mother lived a few levels above those of the farmers was not the most somber feat. The church used by commoners was erected right at the center of these varying divisions. Maybe, those who engineered the city thought that the church could reconcile the vast societal differences between the upper and lower castes. If they did, they failed miserably.

        The sound of bells ringing welcomed the two girls into the church grounds, filled with churchgoers. Saying her goodbyes to Shanna with a kiss on the cheek, Ophelia went in search of her mother. She found her talking to a few familiar neighbours under the big oak tree.

        "Maaa!" Ophelia sprang upon her mother, hugging her tightly. A hearty laugh escaped Mrs. Edmonds.

        "Well, arent you excited?" 

        "Oh, just missed your cooking, Ma." Ophelia teased, the warmth of her tight hug communicating all the emotion she was overwhelmed with. She had truly, dearly missed her mother.

        "And out comes the sincere reason." her mother replied, chuckling in good humour.

        Mrs. Edmonds was a laundress, one of the lowest rungs in the social ladder, and initially she had not wanted to allow her beloved daughter to work as a maid at the castle, but difficulties had arisen as what little they had dwindled. Though she was skilled with a pen and could read, no post would welcome a woman who was learnt equal to a man. It burned the ego of all men. At one point, she had considered the thought of becoming a governess, but then she would have had to leave her sweet Ophelia behind. She could not bear the thought of such agony; thus, those thoughts were driven away.

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