O N E
The Kaye Manor, 1885.
Five years earlier.
It was fast approaching midnight when Lydia Monde snuck out of the maid’s quarters. She grimaced as the door creaked behind her, betraying the silence she had so carefully preserved.
Her attention moved along the length of the hallway. Left. Right. Grey-hued eyes scanned each and every crevice. Being caught was not an option; she would be damned first. Once she concluded that the vicinity was clear, the maid made her move, stealthily blending into the shadows emitted against the opposite wall. When a candle made its presence known, she simply swore under her breath and nestled into another cranny. Not a day passed when she wasn’t enthralled by the choice in decor and design. Now, at night, she despised it.
There would be hell to pay if that butler, that damned butler, saw her up and about after curfew.
Lydia clutched her things to her chest. A small journal and a nightcap were all that she decided to take with her. Her long, black tresses were atop her head in a failed attempt at a bun. A few hairs had come undone, messily framing her heart-shaped face. It was late. She hoped no one was still awake to see her in such disarray. She reached behind her ear, plucking a pen out and smoothing a lock of hair in its place. Her attire was a simple, white nightgown which caressed her calves and swallowed her arms whole. It was terribly tight though, the sweat from evading candles seeping into the neckline.
Then again, it could’ve been that puberty had finally taken its course, that the fourteen year old had outgrown the bust of her gown.
Even though ascending the staircase was a task in and of itself, Lydia gave the hallway the credit it deserved; it really did pose some difficulty, too.
Her hands felt against the wall, searching for the entrance to the attic. Instead of turning the knob, however, the maid pressed her ear against the door. A rustle had met her ears. “What the hell?” She swore on her life, then and there, that something was inside the attic waiting for her. The attic was her secret place, for Christ’s sake. It was closed off from the household years before she had started working there as a maid, one of the many rooms that hadn’t a sliver of electricity. It was best that way. Even though she had only been there for five months, there came some days when she needed to be by herself, needed to find some solace amidst the butterflies in her chest, needed a break from the beasts clawing away at her brain.
Above all else, she needed a place to write. Nights like this particular one were spent writing letters that would not be delivered to a man who could never receive them. Lydia hadn’t gotten over the death of her father, affectionately dubbed Papa Monde, and often wrote to him of her awkwardness and her day-to-day struggles.
Just today Mistress Kaye made eye-contact with her, and Lydia, for the most part, was unequivocally smitten.
Papa Monde needed to know that.
There was no doubt.
But, this had nothing to do with her father. This had to do with the presence of spiders and phantoms and murderers, all three of her greatest fears. She needed to decide - would she holler or simply find somewhere else to write? If she hollered, there was no telling what could happen. For one, it could turn out that there was, in fact, nothing awaiting her. That would only reveal her hiding place to whoever answered her cry for help. And, God knows, that devilish butler would probably tease her about writing to her dead father if he were the one to come to her rescue. “Think, think.” She needed to go about this rationally, but not too rationally, lest it cost her a night without writing. If she entered, she could be bitten, attacked or butchered, depending on what was beyond this door.
She had to take the risk.
The door creaked open and Lydia dropped her things, shocked. Her entire face was darkened by an immense blush. Her heart hammered in her chest and the maid feared that the thing- a person rather, would hear it, too. A candle sat across from her, her mistress, her Mistress Kaye.
Attired in long, black nightgown and matching gloves, Mistress Kaye was far more austere than Lydia, but two years younger nonetheless. Her small, pink lips were pursed together, parting only to exhale a sigh. She held a book in her hands, her mind running amok. The words sprawled across the page were intimate, were incredibly profane, were fueled solely by a heroine’s lust and hunger. It was an absolute eyesore, a damned disgrace. A clammer resonated, but it was not her doing. She peered up from her place on the floor, brushing her bangs away, revealing bright, crimson eyes.
Lydia could never forget the alarmingly blood-red hue that occupied her mistress’ gaze. It lured her in closer, sending shivers down her spine. The butterflies inside her stomach ceased their intolerable fluttering, kicking the dust once and for all. Their corpses hindered the maid from moving, weighing down on the small remnant of energy left within her system. Yet, as much as it hurt her to admit it, she remained enthralled.
Mistress Kaye closed her book, admitting that her fifth novel that night had been a dreadful bore. This encounter with the new maid, however, proved to be an interesting change of pace. She hoped Lydia would not run off. “Isn’t it past your bedtime, Lydia?”
Her cheeks brightened. “C-Curfew,” she corrected, clearing her throat, “With all due respect, m-my mistress, this curfew applies to both of us. N-Not just servants.” Had her attempt at sounding in control been successful?
Mistress Kaye’s eyes widened, taken aback. There were few who could speak so demeaningly, so condescendingly, to her. Lydia was not, would never be, one of them. “You dare turn this back on me?” She narrowed her gaze at the maid, fists balled. “Why I ought to toss you across my lap this bloody instan--!”
Lydia bowed. “I meant nothing by it, I swear!” She straightened her posture. “I just, well, found it odd that you’d, erm, be up here. It’s awfully dingy,” her voice fell, “and lonesome, too.”
She frowned, half-expecting the maid to taunt her further, to push her beyond her limits. Was this a relief or simply a delay? “I adore the atmosphere. ‘Tis simple as that.” Mistress Kaye patted the space by her side, eagerly, wistfully. “It is rather lonesome, I must admit.” She frowned at that. “Join me, Lydia.”
“M-Me?” Lydia looked over her shoulder to make sure. “I couldn’t possibly intrude on my, um, your--!”
“I haven’t a stutter, do I?” She reached for another book, her gaze casually drifting from Lydia. There was nothing fascinating to see. Black hair. Grey eyes. She looked just like the other two. Regardless, the maid would do them both a favour if she complied, if she made herself useful, if she gave her mistress some distraction from these boring, dreadfully erotic stories. “Have you read any of Feril Kingsley’s works?”
Lydia almost fainted from the amount of blood rushing to her cheeks. Any more and she’d likely explode. “Yes… I ‘ave.” The lead in her feet finally gave way, allowing her to plop down on the floor beside her mistress. She smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I-I must say, his works are brilliant.”
Mistress Kaye rolled her eyes. “That remark, vague as it is, will get you anywhere you want to be, Lydia.” She closed yet another book, one of the aforementioned author, and reached for another from the heap beside her. “Anywhere and everywhere, with the exception of my good graces.”
Lydia blinked twice. “P-Pardon?”
Mistress Kaye placed the book in her lap and rested her head against the maid’s shoulder. This felt foreign. This felt, dare she even think it, nice. She chewed on the inside of her cheek.
“Father financed his writing endeavours and spoke highly of his stories at galas.” She recalled one such moment, wincing at the memory of her rooted at his side, forced to listen to his incredibly vague retelling of a heroine-driven narrative. He had loused everything up, but his companions still cheered him on. Men. “He never read a single one though.”
“O-Oh.” Lydia yanked at her nightgown’s collar, grumbling about the heat but not about her mistress’ head against her shoulder, not about the heiress soiling herself with the utter disgrace that was Lydia. A moment passed before she opened the book, “A Collection of My Lovers”, finally replying, “Perhaps he, erm, intended to, my mistress.”
“Optimistic, hm.” Mistress Kaye smirked, leaving Lydia a blushing mess by her side. “But, you’re wrong.” She placed her gloved hand against Lydia’s, guiding her to a particular line. “That one. I admit I enjoyed that one.”
The maid tugged on her bottom lip. Her hands quivered beneath her mistress’, leaving it sweatier, far sweatier, than usual. Regardless, she found herself attempting to make out the words amidst the darkness. It read:
‘But what’s a woman without a man to sweep her off of her feet and wine her and dine her and bed her at dusk? She is just that; a woman. And I’ve met a hefty amount of women who looked at me with great longing in their eyes yet bested me at a game of poker. Are they unfathomable or something else entirely?’
What she’d give if she could utter the same about her mistress.
Of the women the maid had met in her lifetime, all arrows pointed towards the amateur domme.
She had just about memorized those eyes, imagining her crimson gaze boring into her grey one, imagining the way she would stare with an equal longing like that of Kingsley’s harem of women, imagining that there was a reason, just one, that would have Lydia gain her undivided attention.
That alone was wistful thinking though.