Chapter 3

Drea Silver drifted into service quite impassively. Brightplain was an improvement on Crull both poverty-wise, and climatically, but Drea had been very disappointed not to find it as palatial and idyllic as she'd dreamed. She accepted the disappointment, naturally, and it was soon forgotten during the two years that Drea spent on the very bottom rung of the staff ladder doing jobs that no one else would do. Despite this, Drea was still enthralled at the snippets of conversation she heard about the Hellion family, as a family, but obviously no one discussed such things with her directly. Lady Shirell had produced a son, then a daughter, and Lady Maya had given birth to a son when she was twenty-one. Lord Cassidy Hellion's oldest son, Taybor, was twenty-three and already moulded to be his father's successor. Lord Jasper Hellion was twenty-one and made the radical decision to attend the university. Drea had only ever seen him once, not long after her arrival in Brightplain. He was studying business and finance and would eventually assist Taybor in the running of the Hellion estates.

Drea's first jump up the ladder came when she was fourteen and was asked to wait on tables. A huge banquet was being held in honor of one of the younger son's birthday. Waiting tables turned out to be an inaccurate description and Drea found herself being ordered to stand in unobtrusive places holding trays of food and refreshments. Even though Drea's eyes were downcast, she was aware of another serving girl making her way through the shadows towards her. The serving girl nodded curtly and took Drea's silver, food laden tray from her. Drea's confusion was soon replaced by sheer fright when she heard a man's voice behind her.

"Scullery. Now!" Master Ray's voice growled and Drea's stomach lurched. She had no idea what she'd done this time, but she knew she was in for a beating, hence the location. "Withdraw backwards, you slovenly slut." Drea nodded slightly and did so. As soon as they were out of sight of the celebrations, Master Ray grabbed Drea by the arm and dragged her along the corridor towards the scullery. "You are an utter disgrace! How dare you appear in public like that? You shameful whore!"

"I dressed in the clothes Madame Chez told me to, Master Ray." Drea protested, seconds before she was hurled into the scullery wall. Master Ray spun her round and grabbed half a dozen stray hairs at the nape of her neck that were causing the offence. They'd obviously tangled and worked loose due to the heat. The offensive hair was ripped out by the roots and Drea had to clutch her cloth cap to her head to prevent it coming off completely. This left her chest and ribs exposed for Master Ray's fists, then a heavy wooden meat tenderiser. All Drea could do was curl up against the wall and hold her cap on her head to cover her knotted hair.

The beating wasn't out of the ordinary for Drea, nor for any of the other women, but prior to today, it mattered little if Drea carried on her duties with visible bruises as she was below stairs. Master Ray's latest onslaught had left Drea with big ugly bruises on her arms and an inch long cut on her neck from the meat tenderiser's sharp surface. Madame Chez also called her a whore, and a useless bastard, then she'd thrown a change of clothing at Drea, including a tunic with elbow length sleeves rather than shoulder straps.

Drea's muscles screamed as she held the platter of dainty cakes infront of her. The effort of standing still while her body ached and burned was almost unbearable.

"So if I marry Kalin this Yule, Gisele in the Spring, Sef at High Sun, and Zeel in the Autumn, I think I should have it covered!" Lord Taybor Hellion's loud laugh rumbled round the Hall as he helped himself from Drea's tray.

"Make it three years at least, brother." Lord Jasper's unfamiliar voice was more like his father's and not as brash as Lord Taybor's. "Zeel is only thirteen."

"Agreed. Far too young for my liking, anyway." Taybor said.

"I never did see the attraction in that." Jasper sighed.

"City university talking there, Jas. Your high flying college notions won't change traditions."

"Probably not. No it's not the college influence, Tay. It's just ... not attractive. Think of the duties, I mean all the duties of a wife and tell me how any man could be comfortable with a child bride. Thirteen is not attractive in that way."

"This one's not bad." Even though Drea's eyes were to the floor, she knew Lord Taybor was riduculing her. Lord Jasper tutted loudly. "How old are you girl? You may speak. Remain downcast."

"I'm fourteen, Lord Hellion." Drea answered quietly.

"See? Fourteen and not bad at all." Taybor guffawed, obviously tormenting his younger brother.

"Fourteen, thirteen, still the same." Jasper argued. "I'd say she was closer to fifteen actually. Not that it makes a difference, but it is noticable." There was a silence. "Oh yes. You may speak."

"I'll be fifteen at Yule Time, Lord Hellion." Drea answered.

"Told you!" Jasper sniffed at his brother. "Are you all right?" Another silence. "You I mean girl. Are you OK?"

"Yes sir." Drea wondered why he'd asked. She hadn't realised she was swaying on the spot.

"What the hell have you done to yourself?" Jasper pushed Drea's cheek to one side, exposing the cut on her neck. "That looks quite deep, Tay."

"Oh stop fussing, Jas. The servants are a different breed. They have hides like tanned leather for a start." Taybor helped himself to more wine.

"Does that include its colour?" Jasper pushed up one of Drea's sleeves. "How did you get these injuries, girl?"

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