"Elise. Such a beautiful name!" My Ma used to tell me. "A beautiful name for a beautiful girl."
Hah. Fat lotta good it did me.
Beautiful girls with beautiful names don't last long in the slums. At least, they don't stay beautiful for long.
Yet, even horny fucks with grabby hands won't touch you if you're smeared in mud and shit, not when they have other options. I learned that quite early on. Had to, if I ever wanted to get outta there in one piece.
Surrounded by dirt and filth, my heart always sought better places. Safer places. Less smelly places. "Your prince will come, baby-girl." My Ma used to console little me with dreams of a man coming to pick me up from my misery one fine day. Worse, I believed her.
As I grew up, I wished for anyone to come take me away. My ways of smearing myself to escape notice were not working anymore. I had taken after my Ma, turning shapely in the right ways.
One evening, when some drunk bastard decided he wanted the daughter along with the mother for company, I decided I had enough. Fuck princes, if I waited any longer I'd end up like my Ma - stumbling from one drunk fool at day to another violent ass come night.
That very night, I packed my meager belongings in a rug-sack. I was gone by the time dawn broke. "One day Ma, I'll return," I swore, "and I will come to pick you up from this shit-hole and take you to a better place."
I did not say goodbye. It would've broken her weak heart. Besides, I was planning to return someday. She would understand.
I never saw my Ma again, God bless her poor soul.
¤ ¤ ¤
I was blossoming into a beautiful young woman by the time I passed fifteen summers. And I used it fully to my advantage.
A proper noble boy he was. About a year younger than me.
Oh, the promises he made. Eternal Love. Heart, Mind, and Soul. Forever and Always!
Still, I played the maiden in love perfectly. Blushed at his proclamations. Demurred at his gifts. I had him wrapped around my little finger.
And so we hatched a plan to stay together "forever."
I became a maid of his household and two days later, I lost my purity to him.
I was finally here. I had made it. Safe. Well-fed. Warm. Dare I say, happy? My Ma would've been overjoyed to see me here.
And then I caught his seed.
¤ ¤ ¤
Soon, I learned that some Nobles were no less cruel than the drunk assholes I had escaped from. Just wrapped in fancy threads speaking fancy words.
They threw me out when I started to show. With rags on my back and a few coppers to my name.
The boy, bless his heart, still had lingering affection for me. So he set me up in a homely shack on the outskirts of a village inside their lands.
I carried through without too much difficulty, delivering a healthy babe. I named her Minerva, after my Ma. With Minerva's father's sneaky help, I had just enough to keep me and my girl warm and well-fed. The villagers were quite kind as well. I was content.
A few summers passed. The noble boy turned into a man, with a wife by his side. We spoke no more. It was fine though, I did odd jobs around the village, my skills as a noble's maid were quite handy often. I was not lacking for anything.
It was Minny's sixth summer when the signs started showing. A dizzy moment here, a stumbled foot there. I had hoped she would recover in time. The kindly neighbors provided some herbs and concoctions. Nothing helped. Once she passed out in the field playing with her mates not a month later, I decided to act.
I reached out to her father once again. Age may have turned the boy into a stoic young man, but his heart still thrummed with compassion. Against his dear wife's wishes, he arranged for a healer. Not the magical mender - they were too costly for a bastard daughter - but an Alchemist who dabbled in healing potions.
The Alchemist, in turn, contrived a potion that would delay her symptoms. "I've done what I can, but she needs a proper Healer," He warned. Where in the hell is a "proper Healer" gonna pop up from in this backwater village?
¤ ¤ ¤
"Ma?" my sweet baby looked up with teary eyes.
"Hush babe. No crying. Mama's gotta get back to work." I held her steady in my arms.
"How long will you be gone this time?" She brushed off her tears with a dirty hand. For a moment, it reminded me of my own filthy hands smearing muck on my tattered tunic as a young girl. I chased the thought away.
"Not long Minny. Who knows, next time, I might just bring a Healer along and cure you in no time. You'll see. In the meantime, you gonna be a good girl, yes? Do not trouble old Martha too much."
"Yes, Mama." Ah, such a good little girl. I knew she won't trouble anyone. Never had.
I kissed her forehead and left. Minny's father had been kind enough to open up doors for me into the Royal Palace. It had been a real struggle, but I had managed to secure a job in the end. If there was anywhere that I could find a Healer and earn enough coin to hire one, it was here. Minerva's final chance. I wasn't gonna let my baby girl down.
¤ ¤ ¤
'Hey, need a hand?' The words still echoed around my mind.
Had the hero really offered to clean up plates? 'Nah. The fucker must've wanted a chance to grab my ass.' I still had a shapely ass. These high-born blokes won't touch a dirty plate even if their life depended on it.
But I knew the looks of men lusting after me. After all, I had gotten them all my life. Avoided them all my life. The hero did not hanker after me like that. His eyes were kind, not unlike Minerva's father. Also, he had the princess waiting on him, did he not? No matter how beautiful I was in the slums, the nobles were on another level entirely - and the princess was the noblest among them. Even I got spent in her blue eyes sometimes when I dared to look into them.
'Bah. Thinking of it won't do me good. The sun was rolling down, and the fat bastard is waiting for me in his shitty tower.'
I made my way to the mage tower, carrying snacks as an excuse. The magic door was open and I headed straight up to the top. I sighted a few helpers running around. They glanced at me but no one stopped me.
"Ah, Elly. You're a sight for sore eyes." Lord fat ass was pacing around the lush carpet. 'I hope you get sore eyes for the rest of your life piggy.'
"Um, thank you, Sire. S-Should I...?" I acted a shy maiden. He preferred it so.
Then he loosed his trousers and sat on his bed with a loud thump. "Yes, and do get that plate of bhuna pumpkin while you're there."
I got his plate. He slurped on the sauce like a damn pig in heat. Minerva would have loved that sauce. One day...
I got down on my knees and got to work like a golem from the bard's story. Stone-faced soul-less automaton.
"He wants lessons! Can you believe it? I told him that there is no need to summon green-skinned outsiders - prophecy be damned, but Siegfried won't pay heed." He gushed as he licked the pumpkin sauce clean off the plate. Nobles got quite unnoble-like when they thought no one was looking. At least no one important.
"And then he asks me to tutor that pile of grime? ME? Archmage Arkanis? Even today, the beast-kin tremble upon hearing that name." 'Yes, yes. That would be the ninth time I hear of his glorious conquest this week. '
"Humph." His words came out quickly as his breathing hitched. "I'll show Siegfried. Even I- ah, that's good. Um..." He holds my skull in a vise-like grip. Gods, I always hated this part.
After a few moments and swallowing my disgust, I got off my sore knees. The blubber pulled his britches up and walked over to his shiny cupboard. A few fancy hand-wavy gestures and muttered words later, he procured a finger-long vial of clear liquid.
"Now, I spoke with a Healer friend of mine. And he is willing to cure your daughter. But-" He walked up to me, sickly sweet perfume wafting through my nostrils.
'Oh this fat lard, always with something clever. What more does he want? Take off his fancy clothes and sick perfume and he would fit right into the slum's gutter like a rat.'
"B-but? Sire?" I ask meekly.
"I have one more task for you." His sick smile sends a shiver up my spine. "I hear you serve the Mage hero. Take in his food, clean his room, draw his bath, so on." Darn, I see where this is going. "All you have to do is make sure the liquid in this vial comes into contact with his skin. A simple task really." So saying he placed the vial in my palm, not forgetting to feel my arms while at it.
"What is this... Liquid?" Of course, I knew what it was. But it was too sudden. I needed more time to think through this. So I extended the conversation.
"Oh, you need not worry yourself over it, Elly. Just a gift for our dear hero." He chuckled. How I hate when he says my name like that.
"B-but-" Warming the flab's bed is one thing. But cold-blooded murder?
"I must leave for now." He cut me off. "Have to confer with that blasted hero and the mewling princess, no less. I swear," 'My time is up.' "Do this task. One final task for me and your little daughter is as good as cured."
'My baby girl, or the kind hero?' A life for a life. 'Do I even have a choice?'