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.THECAPTIVEMAIDENMELANIE DICKERSONContentsCoverTitle PagePrologueChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30Chapter 31AcknowledgmentsPreviewPrologueChapter 1Chapter 2About the AuthorOther books by Melanie DickersonCopyrightAbout the PublisherPrologueSpring, 1403, Hagenheim RegionGisela huddled by the fire in her attic chamber, clutching the miniature portrait that fit in her hand.The artist had painted it the year before, when Gisela was seven.Father had been so handsome.Now that Gisela was eight and Father was gone, life could never be the same.If only she had stayed seven forever.“I love you,” she whispered, kissing her portrait-father’s cheek as a tear dripped off her chin.Her stepmother’s unforgiving wooden pattens clicked up the steps that led to Gisela’s attic room.“Gisela!” Evfemia called.She thrust the portrait back inside the hole in the fireplace wall and pushed in the loose brick, then kicked the ashes into the fire to smother it.“Gisela! What are you doing?” Evfemia towered over her.“You have cinders on your hands.And your feet!”Gisela made her face a blank as she stared at the floor.Lighter footfalls clattered up the stairs and Gisela’s two stepsisters pushed against their mother’s silk skirt, staring out from behind her.Irma was the oldest, and her long, thin face and squinty-eyed expression made Gisela wonder if the girl had a bad taste in her mouth.She had the same limp brown hair as her sister, Contzel, but that was the only trait they had in common.Contzel’s cheeks were round and chapped pink, and her face was forever relaxed, her mouth open, as if she had just awakened from a nap.Frau Evfermia raised one brow.“Go down to the stable and help the groomsman get the horses ready.”When Gisela hesitated, Evfemia screamed, “Obey me this moment or I will throw you out into the cold!”Gisela darted forward, hoping to run past her snarling, red-faced stepmother and her two smirking stepsisters.But Evfemia reached out and snatched Gisela’s hair, wrenching her head halfway to the floor before she let go.Gisela stumbled but kept running down the stairs and to the stable, rubbing her stinging scalp.When she arrived, Wido the groomsman was leading one of the carriage horses out of the paddocks.“Frau Evfemia sent me to help you.”Old Wido frowned at Gisela.“She shouldn’t be sending you, the young miss, to help me with the horses.”Gisela wiped her nose with the back of her hand and shook her head.“I want to help.”Gisela went in to lead the second horse out.She stood on tiptoe to rub the black horse’s cheek.“Come on, boy.” Gisela sniffed and took a deep breath.The big horse nudged her shoulder and let her lead him outside.Following Wido’s instructions, she positioned the horses before the carriage and kept each one steady as the harnesses were put into place.Just as both were hitched and ready to go, Gisela’s stepmother, along with Irma and Contzel, came out of the house and flounced toward them.Irma stared at Gisela with cold, contemptuous eyes as she waited for Contzel to climb in.“Go ahead, darling,” Frau Evfemia crooned, helping Irma up the step the groomsman had placed before them.Her stepmother glanced down at Gisela with raised eyebrows, then climbed into the carriage and latched the door.They had said nothing about where they were going or when they would be back.As they left, the pain inside her chest increased until it threatened to overwhelm her.“Why would I care where they’re going? I don’t care if I’m all alone.I like being alone.” The pain lifted a little, so she went on.“I don’t care if they hate me.I don’t care about them at all.” She clenched her fist.“And I don’t care if they never come back.”Gisela went back inside the stable, feeling better than she had in a long time, and she concluded it was better not to care.The next time she felt the pain of her stepmother’s cruelty or her stepsisters’ disgust, she would remind herself that she didn’t care.She found her favorite horse, Kaeleb.The light brown destrier hung his head over the stall door and whinnied at her.Gisella stood on a stool and rubbed his cheek and pressed her forehead against his neck.“I wish they wouldn’t come back.”But they would.She began helping Wido muck out the stables and fetch hay for the horses.Another thing Gisela concluded was that horses were much more lovable than people.“Little miss, you mustn’t stay out here any longer.” Wido took the pitchfork from her.“It’s too cold.Go on to the house with you.”Her worn-thin dress was not very warm and she was shivering.And yet, she hesitated.Perhaps if she took the blanket off her bed, she could sleep in the stable atop a pile of straw in Kaeleb’s stall.It probably wouldn’t be any colder than her fireless room.“Go on, now.” Wido shooed her toward the house.Relenting, Gisela turned and ran inside.She stirred up the dwindling fire in the great hall but dared not add any more wood.Her stepmother did not allow her to “waste” wood.Shivering, she stepped inside the giant fireplace and knelt among the dying embers where it was warm.Her dress was already dirty from the ashes in her bedchamber fireplace, in addition to being torn and permanently stained over most of the fabric, as it was a cast-off of a former servant, having been altered to fit her eight-year-old body.Besides, she could wash it tomorrow.She put her cold fingers under her arms and leaned her shoulder against the heat of the fireplace bricks.“I don’t care what they think of me.I don’t care what they do.” If her father was here, he’d never let her stepmother deny her a fire in her room or treat Gisela like a servant.But she reminded herself she didn’t care.She imagined her father and mother in heaven, picturing how they would welcome her—hugging her, kissing her, their arms warming her.The thought was so comforting, she relaxed inside the fireplace, leaning her cheek against her folded hands.Gisela woke to cackling laughter [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]