Chapter 02 – Murder
Cinderella’s mood was still high as she wrestled her stepsisters out of their filthy clothes and sent the girls downstairs to the sun room where Lady Ingram waited impatiently to teach the girls etiquette. Left unattended to gather the laundry, Cinderella slipped into her stepmother’s room and made her way over to the vanity.
It was an antique her father brought home for Cinderella’s birth mother on one of his first successful trading ventures. The vanity had several secret compartments built in, but they were disguised by the decorative carvings. Cinderella intended to see if her stepmother was hiding anything. Her stepmother was giving etiquette lessons downstairs in the sun room, so it was the perfect time to sneak in and check the vanity.
Cinderella’s father used to leave small tokens of affection in the hidden drawers for his wife to find, and Cinderella’s mother would show them to her, telling the younger Cinderella to find a husband who was willing to give her small gifts that would make her smile.
Father’s gifts were sometimes expensive jewels he managed to bring back from overseas trips, but they were also wildflowers he picked, or small notes he wrote and folded up into cute shapes. But they always made her mother smile because they showed he thought of her often.
When her mother died, Cinderella moved the vanity into her own room, and she would occasionally check the vanity drawers to remember the moments with her mother. She would find small gifts her father still left, even after the object of his affection had passed away.
And then came her stepmother. During the time Cinderella was still attempting to believe her new family members were kind people, her stepmother asked if she could use the vanity. Cinderella, trying to be accommodating, granted this wish, and even revealed the existence of the secret drawers. Cinderella never asked if her father left little gifts. She didn’t want to know.
But then her father died. He became the victim of a bandits on the road coming home from the port city he frequently visited. It was a road regularly traveled by the kingdom’s guard patrols. And before he left on that last trip, he had confided something to Cinderella. Although he wouldn’t reveal exactly what, but he’d said that some information he’d been seeking had been uncovered and he intended to pick up a report from one of his informants.
Cinderella found the timing incredibly suspicious.
Rumors after her father’s death revealed that her stepmother’s previous husband had also died due to a bandit attack. Lady Ingram’s previous home was located in an area of the kingdom that had not seen evidence of bandit activity for decades. Baron Ingram’s death shocked many people at that time.
Biding her time, Cinderella waited and watched the actions Lady Ingram took after her father’s death. As more servants were fired, more money was spent, and the highly successful trading company began to teeter on the point of bankruptcy, Cinderella gathered evidence of her stepmother’s financial mismanagement. But she hoped to find evidence that might prove one way or another if her stepmother was involved in her father’s death.
Cinderella began opening the drawers in the vanity one by one. She did find several jewelry pieces stashed away, but Cinderella recognized them as ones her stepmother purchased after her father’s death. She glanced at the jewelry display sitting on top of the vanity to see an identical piece. She knew the household didn’t have the money to buy identical custom jewelry pieces from a good craftsman. One of them must be fake.
But why would her stepmother have fake jewelry made and stash the real ones away?
Perhaps Lady Ingram was planning to turn them into cash or use them as a bribe; Cinderella wasn’t sure of the motives behind this action, but she found it suspicious.
Cinderella tried another drawer and found it reluctant to open. She gave it a harder yank, and the hidden door yielded, revealing a small, pocket sized journal folded and jammed inside.
Hoping it was something important, Cinderella immediately opened the book and started skimming the words written within.
Her eyes widened and she hurriedly re-read a passage which caught her attention.
“Murder,” she whispered as she stared in the mirror of the vanity.
Her name echoed up the stairwell, and she quickly stuffed the small yet incriminating journal into her apron pocket.
Before she turned to leave, she took one last look to make sure she closed all the secret compartments in the vanity. Based on the amount of dust in the drawers, she didn’t think her stepmother regularly checked to ensure the book was still there. Cinderella felt comfortable taking it.
Besides, Cinderella thought, even if Lady Ingram knew the journal was stolen, she wouldn’t be able to call the town guard. The single entry was enough to have the woman arrested and either executed or sentenced to labor.
Her stepmother’s shouts echoed up the stairwell. Cinderella picked up the laundry left by the door and headed back downstairs, getting closer to the incessant screams of her name.
“Where have you been? This room needs to be cleaned immediately! There are flies! In my drawing room!” Lady Ingram’s voice became more strident with every word.
The older woman fanned her face furiously, attempting to wave away the flies buzzing near her. Cinderella lifted her armful of stinking clothes to indicate her answer. Lady Ingram looked rather satisfied with the sight of her young and pretty stepdaughter holding shit-stained clothes. Until the flies buzzed near them again, that is. Lady Ingram’s slight smile fell, and she raised her nose in the air, as if to escape the smell.
“Angela and Bertrise have exhausted themselves with the stress of this debacle. They will be resting in their rooms. I will also retire for rest myself. This morning has been exhausting. Be sure to scrub this room thoroughly before you do anything else.”
“Yes, Mother,” Cinderella replied, but a slap resounded through the room with a crack.
“You forget your place. I am Lady Ingram. I am an aristocrat, and you are the daughter of a commoner and have absolutely no right to call me mother.”
Lady Ingram waited until Cinderella called her by her title and then sailed out of the room with her head held high and a few flies as her entourage. Cinderella looked around the messy room and questioned whether her impulsive decision to throw the shit onto the fan was worth the labor she now faced.
But when she remembered the journal in her pocket, her heart decided it was worth it. Her stepmother rarely let Cinderella into her bedroom unattended. When Lady Ingram called Cinderella to clean the room, she sat and watched the entire time Cinderella worked. Cinderella initially thought the woman’s only intention was to berate and belittle her. But in light of discovering the journal and counterfeit jewelry, it seemed like Lady Ingram might have been nervous Cinderella would uncover her secrets.
The information in the journal was damning. The secrets it held were enough to blackmail several people, all of whom were in positions to help Cinderella change her future. Cinderella had no reservations and intended to use the information in the journal to take back what was rightfully hers. She finally saw hope on the horizon.
The journal now in her possession was a record of transactions between what appeared to be a hitman and several aristocrats.
Cinderella wasn’t sure how her stepmother was able to get this journal away from the hitman, but she was glad her stepmother hadn’t burned it. Now Cinderella could use it as either evidence against her stepfamily or blackmail to serve as shackles on the hitman.
Included in the pages Cinderella had skimmed were several entries with her stepmother listed as the contractor.
The task which Cinderella was both relieved and disturbed to see was a request to kill the Baron and make it look like he died in a bandit attack.
Lady Ingram had indeed hired a hitman to kill her previous husband.
And since her name had been on several other pages, Lady Ingram had other crimes that could be attached to her name.
The journal weighed heavily on her mind as she scrubbed away at the walls of the drawing room and took out the fabric curtains and rugs to the laundry. Cinderella sincerely hoped night would come quicker so she could read through the whole journal.
As the sun began to descend, Cinderella was still out in the yard, stomping on the curtains in a large wash bin. Her stepmother yanked open one of the windows and leaned out to yell at her.
“Cinderella, you slow pig! Where is our dinner?”
Mopping the sweat from her brow, Cinderella walked over to stand near the window so she didn’t have to waste energy shouting back.
“You told me to stop what I was doing earlier to clean up the girls and the drawing room. I hadn’t finished preparing dinner when you gave that order.”
Her stepmother froze for a moment before exploding in anger.
“Are you blaming me for your inability to work efficiently? How much of an imbecile are you? You should be able to see what time it is and know enough to attend to your duty.”
“Serving us! All you are good for is a servant. And yet, you can’t even do that properly. Who do you think you are? A noble lady? Dream on! Your pedigree is pathetic and undesirable. If you father didn’t have -”
Lady Ingram cut herself off and simply ordered Cinderella to fix a quick meal for her and the girls. It was to be served in the formal dining room, of course. As the belligerent lady slammed her window closed, the window above, which was the sitting room for the two stepsisters, opened. Before Cinderella could react, the contents of two chamber pots were thrown out of the window and landed on her head.
Cinderella wasn’t even that mad at the girls. Partially because she felt it was fair retaliation for her earlier work, but also because they would now have to wait even longer until she cleaned herself up. She would not touch the food while covered in filth.
They were famished by the time she served them food. And at that point, they ate as quickly as their ladylike manners would let them while still complaining about how slow she’d been to serve the meal. They were too hungry to play their usual trick, which was to refuse to eat food until she recooked or reheated something.
By the time Cinderella had finished cleaning up the dining hall and the kitchen, she was exhausted, yet she still had to attend to her stepfamily and help them change clothes for bed.
But as she dragged herself up the stairs, dreading the high-pitched complaints that were sure to flow her way, she heard her stepfamily talking in the upstairs parlor.
“Mother, why do we have to put up with that commoner? Why can’t we just do away with her?” the oldest stepsister, Angela, asked with impatience in her tone.
“Patience, my angel. We need to keep that bit of rabble alive. Her father’s will is the problem. Should that brat die, the estate would be given to the crown to form an orphanage. That stupid merchant, always trying to be charitable rather than gain more profit.”
“But why can’t we have her disappear? That little witch is too pretty. Every noble family you’ve contacted about possible engagements wants her instead of us!” The younger stepsister, Bertrise, pouted. Cinderella could imagine the look on her spoiled face.
“I have a plan, my dears. As long as we can keep her in servitude, it will lower her value to the young masters. After all, noblemen don’t take commoners seriously. At most, they view them as playthings. If we are lucky, one of them will ruin her, so she’ll no longer pose a threat to either of your marriages.”
Coldness descended onto Cinderella’s heart as she heard her stepfamily begin to discuss which lewd young noblemen they could invite over specifically to have her cross their paths.
If she didn’t find a way to escape from this rotten family, she would perish in one of their plots. Cinderella patted her apron pocket, more determined than ever to utilize the blackmail material within to destroy her stepmother’s plans.
*Author Note: This chapter was much longer. Do you prefer to have chapters that are shorter? Please let me know as this story is still under construction!