Lena grumbled to herself as she scrubbed the rag against the stones of the porch.
There was always something to be done, not a moments break, and for such meager pay, but what was she to do if she wished to sleep and eat? Her fingers were beginning to rub raw from the work as the water dripped around her against the gray cobblestone. Left upon her hands and knees which were growing sore, her back aching hunched over as it was, and her neck starting to strain while she had to keep her head down. The dark tresses of her hair were now hidden away under the cap upon her head to keep them from getting in the way. The sleeves of her dress rolled up to her elbows. She still had her youth and most found her to be attractive but fate had dealt her a cruel hand. She never had dreamed she would find herself so lowly, but then whoever did end up where they wanted to be in life?
She was startled as a resounding thud came just against the stones in front of where she was working, and a scowl of irritation creased her features. Was the fool blind she thought as slowly her head lifted. Her blue eyes flashed upon the odd creature of a man that stood just in front of her. He was shorter then she standing upright, and had a dignified yet old look to his face which was worn smooth, but made with fine strong features. His hair was kept in neat order and seamed more silver than gray, and his fingers were clasped around the knob of a walking cane made of crooked wood.
He brought the cane up to rest just under her chin and tilted her head up more, so much to her great agitation as with one fell swoop her cap was knocked from her head and her hair spilled down around her face. “Ah, yes, you will do quite well.” He said as if musing to himself.
Lena could hold her tongue no longer. “Excuse, but I have a good deal of work to do, and I do not have time for games”
“Oh yes forgive me” The curious elderly man said and gave a remarkably charming smile. “Wherever are my manners? I am Randle in the servitude of the great Master Vadick.” Everyone knew Master Vadek, he was a painter that lived on the hill, though know one ever saw him in town. There was much rumor and gossip about him, but then people always talk, particularly most about things of which they know nothing about it, and is it not the right of the artist to be eccentric? Lena pushed herself up to sit upon her knees as the rag dropped from her hand and fell to the stone while the odd Randal continued. “He is looking for a new model for his latest work, and you are just the type he would like.”
What could Lena say? A lavish life, of lounging in a soft bed, and feasting on fine foods and good wine, when all she had to do for it, was sit still a few hours and let herself be painting, who was she to worry about what the others said. “A carriage will come at sunset to take you to the manor, you will be ready to go when it arrives and you will take nothing with you, the Master, has some particularities, and all you should want or need will be provided when you arrive, though Lena had yet to say anything, the matter seemed to be settled altogether. Randal bowed with surprising elegances and with that he was gone. He moved with curious swiftness as he disappeared down the streets leaving Lena behind upon the stoop.
The days work was done, and the sun began to sink behind the horizon, when Lena would hear the sound of wheels against the ground, accompanied with the sound of horse hooves. Lena looked out the window and saw the dark carriage pull up, though as the day had progressed she had begun to wonder if perhaps she had dreamed it all up, or if it had all just been a joke upon her, but now here it was. She would make her way quickly outside with nothing but the dress she was currently wearing. The coach man was tall, and rail thin with pale features that made him appear almost sickly, as his dark eyes were sunken in, and yet he was dignified in his tailor made suit, with long black tails at the end of his coat. Silently he opened the couch door and gave a hand to Lena to help her and then mounted the carriage to take the rein and she felt the carriage move under her. The seats in side were really quite comfortable, as she had in fact never ridden on such a transport before. She watched out the window the scenery fade away into the night.
The carriage would come to a stop before the great, dark house, and the carriage door would be opened, Lena stepped out to be greeted by Randal whom came moving out, quickly to meet them. “Ah yes, good, good, you came. Come I will bring you inside and go over a few things with you.”
Lena would follow Randle up the cobblestone pathway which led up to the doors, though looking upon the manor; it was almost hard to imagine that anyone actually still lived there. Strange indeed she thought to herself. Inspire of its outer appearance, inside was really quite grand, and warm, with an intricate rug thrown across the floor within the parlor, and a fire burning, there was yet no sign of Master Vadek.
“Please sit down” Randal gestured to the couch and Lena moved to have a seat on the big comfortable cushions, while a girl not yet quite a woman had approached from where Lena did not know, but a glass of wine was filled and offered to her. She looked to the young girl curiously for a moment, as she took the wine, when the girl slipped away back into whatever shadowy corner she had come from. Lena had to admit the wine was wonderful, like nothing she had ever tasted. Not like the watered down stuff they sold within the taverns.
“Master Vadek prefers to work by night, it is when he is most inspired, and he sleeps during the day, so during the daylight hours, you will have run of the place. You may help yourself to anything you like and there is a library supposing you know how to read. You just must never disturb the Master while he sleeps, for no reason, and you must not enter his private chambers, which will be kept lock. You are also not to leave the grounds of the property, you see the Master is a man of certain suppressions and precautions, and he would hate to think something has happened to you while he was still in the middle of his work. If you should need anything the servants will gladly assist you, but I myself am a very busy man and prefer not to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. Do you understand? Lena could do little more but nod while she tool all this in.
“Very good, well then I will leave you to get ready” Randal said before he turned to make his way out of the room, to disappear somewhere within the house. Leave me to get ready? Lena thought to herself, what was she suppose to do? Her question would seen be answered as if her thoughts were read as the young girl reappeared from her dark corner. “If you would come this way” She said with a small curtsy. Lena was somewhat disappointed about not being able to finish her mind, but she thought best of keeping Master Vadek waiting, and she was overcome with curiosity to see the great Master. She rose from the couch to follow behind the girl. She was lead up a great winding stair case and down the hallway. It was strange how there was no sign of life anywhere within the manor. Her eyes scanned around. There were grand paintings upon the wall and what she thought must have been family portraits. Grave looking figures frozen forever in time. Until the girl came to stop before a grand wooden door. A key was produced and slipped into the lock and turned when there was a clear click the door was pushed open and she made her way inside. Lena followed. The room was surprising immaculate, almost as if they had been expecting her. It was a grand room with an immense bed with a heavy wooden frame.
There was even a hearth within the room, with a fire already going, so it would be warm, in addition the girl would light a few candles about the room to offer more warm light. “Ivana and Rebecca will be here shortly” she said before slipping out of the room, leaving Lena to have a few moments to explore her new room, before a rap would come at the door and two women would step inside. One of them was a tall young woman, with bright red hair and pale features of thin frame. The other was shorter and a little more lush in figure with midnight hair. They both seemed to take her in with a critical eye. Lena had never suspected that a painter would have so much household help. “Come, come, we do not wish to keep the Master waiting, you must get ready.” Lena had no idea what she was suppose to do, but before she had a chance to inquire or say a word the two women, of whom she would learn, the tall one was Rebecca, and the shorter, Ivana, came forward and began to unlace the strings of her bodice and slip the dress from her body until she was left standing in her bare flesh. “Here!” Ivana said thrusting a robe within Lena’s hands. “Put that on.”
Lena slid the robe on and the soft silk material fell against her skin, it was absolutely luxurious though she would not have much time to savor it. The two women would soon be leading her out of the room and down the hall, and she would be brought into a grand marble wash room.
Once inside the grand washroom Rebecca and Ivana slid the robe from her shoulders, making Lena wonder if it really was necessary to wear the robe at all, as from what she could see the halls were deserted. Lena was led to the bath which already was prepared and she had to admit that the hot water felt fabulous as she sunk down into it. It soothed her muscles that were sore from her work and eased her mind. Such a thing was a rare luxury for her. A soft sigh escaped her lips while the waters wrapped around her. Within the rising steam she caught a sweet sent of flowers. The bath waters were perfumed. It was absolutely heavenly. This is the life Lena thought.
Rebecca and Ivana would begin to scrub Lena clean while she rested within the waters. The wet cloth would be brought of her body, and scented soap would wash her flesh clean of the dirt, grim and dust of her labors. Her skin would glisten in a way it never had before and smelled so sweetly divine. Lena would have loved nothing more then to stay within these waters a time and just luxuriate within the warmth of it and savor every moment, but her two assigned maids would have none of it. Once she was cleaned, every inch of her, to their satisfaction, she was urged up out of the waters. “Come along, we must get going, he waits to see you.”
Lena reluctantly stepped out of the waters, and the robe was brought around her form once more, and she would be escorted back to her room again. Led to a sit before the great vanity in her room, Rebecca went to work upon Lena’s hair, running a pearl handled com though the now wet strands and now and then telling Lena to hold still.
Once her hair was groomed, and dried, and groomed again, until it was to the content of Rebecca she came to stand back, and Lena was shocked to find her dark hair now in magnificent lush curls which fell around her face in a cascade, making her appear even younger then she was. Soon she was drawn up from the stool and the robe slipped off her body. Ivana came forward to dress her. Lena was slipped into the most beautiful dress of red silk that she had ever seen. The material seemed to float around her body and accentuated all of her best assets. She was truly taken aback. She never thought so much would go into being a painter’s model. She could not help but to wonder, where had he gotten all these wonderful clothes, could a man, even an artist truly understands a woman so well? Or was all this the doing of his servants whom he entrusted to know his taste? “You will be summoned shortly” Lena’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Rebecca’s voice and soon enough the two women slipped out of the room before she could say another word.
A tapping came at the door and Randal would reappear, and even he at first seemed shocked by Lena’s new appearance. He gave a step back and that charming smile of his sprang upon his lips. “That is much the improvement, Master Vadek will be truly pleased, speaking of which, we best be going now.” Lena was escorted down a long hallway until coming to another set of wooden doors. Randal used his cane to tap a knock upon the door before she would push them open and step inside. Lena followed close behind. Her gaze swept around taking in the studio when at last her eyes fell upon the Master himself, and she was taken aback to see just how young he was little more then herself, it was not at all what she had expected from the painter. He was quite breathtaking really. “I will leave you two” Randal said and began to back out of the room.
Vadek would take Lena in as he stood back just to admire her before his arms swept out in front of him as if to catch her within a frame. “Marvelous! I do not know how the old man does it, but he is without fail.” He began to approach Lena as he placed one of his hands just against her arm to bring her forward. “Come, come, there is so much work to be done.” He said, though not without some gentleness to his exhilarating smooth voice. Lena was lad to a rather comfortable chair in which she lowered herself to sit. Master Vadek would make several adjustments here and there. Tiling her head just so, repositioning her hands, shaping the material of the address around her, so it fell this way or that, until he would at last be satisfied with everything. “There, perfect, now don’t move.” He said as he moved to stand behind the easel with the waiting canvas and his brush would begin to move in smooth long strokes.
By the end of it Lena was surprised by how much effort it took to sit so still for so long, but it was still better then what she normally had to do, and afterwards she was treated to the most succulent feast of such delicacies she never before would have known. This was the life, and the pay off was certainly better then she ever had before. So the nights and days would pass as such. Each night it was the same, she would be attended to by Rebecca and Ivana, and they would get her ready, always in a new dress and then she would be taken to Master Vadek, and when he was done for the evening, which was unusually just before sunrise she was treated to a great feast and then passed out in her bed to awaken some time the next day.
One mid-afternoon Lena awoke surprised to see just how late it had grown, and she realized that it seemed she was waking later, and later with each passing day. Why was she so tired all the time? She thought to herself, for what did she do all day? During the daylight hours she spent most her time just wandering the grounds of the manor, or within the library, and at night all she did was sit in pose though it could be tiresome to hold the body still so long, it was not truly strenuous, and yet it seemed no matter how well she slept in the early morning hours, she woke up feeling wears. She was aware she had less energy then she use to, even when she spent her days on her hands and knees scrubbing floors. Lena thought she felt like a woman twice her age, and yet she was completely pampered and had not to lift a hand to do a single thing.
Slowly she pushed herself out of bed as her feet came against the floor and she rose to stand. A sudden strange thought came to her. Did this manor have no mirrors? She did not know why she had not noticed before, but she could not recall having ever seen one. The reason she thought of it now, was because she had the sudden desire to see her reflection for she felt, that surely she must be ill to be feeling the way she did. She walked up to the vanity where she was prepared each night, and it was strange enough that the mirror was absent from it. She began to open various drawers thinking perhaps she might find a small hand held ladies mirror that had been left about, but there was now. “How strange” She said to herself, and how had she not noticed such a thing before? Perhaps she was just too caught up in everything.
She would make her way out into the hall, not bothering to dress, wearing only her long flowing nightgown, as in all her time here, during the daylight hours, she never encountered a single soul anyway, she thought if she pleased she could wander the halls naked and none would know. She would make her way to the washroom and slipped inside, and to her disappointment discovered there was indeed not a single mirror to be found within, yet somehow she was not surprised by this. “Don’t be silly” She told herself. “You are just not feeling well and all alone, letting your imagination run away from you” She convinced herself that surely there must be a mirror somewhere here, and that she would feel the perfect fool once she found one and discovered she was perhaps just touched with a bit of fever though she did not feel feverish.
Lena’s self-assurance was fading quickly as her search continued, and yet she still found no mirror, whispers of rumors she heard upon the street started to creep into her mind. “Stop it!” She told herself firmly. Had not everyone been marvelous to her? Perhaps Rebecca and Ivana were a bit strange, but she could really speak nothing against them, and Master Vadek had been nothing but a gentleman, he had not in the slightest bit tried to take advantage of her, and she was given all she could possibly ask for. Of course she was told he was a man with oddities and an artist, it could just be one of his eccentricities was a dislike for mirrors. As Lena was trying to reason everything out with herself she would come to stop as she came upon a set of doors of which she had not seen before. It must be Master Vadek’s personal chambers she thought to herself, and yet she felt compelled some reason to enter the room. Her hand reached up and she curled her fingers around the handle and pushed the door, of course it did not budge it was locked.
Suddenly she screamed and all but jumped out of her skin feeling a hand grip against her shoulder. Quickly spinning around relief flooded over her when she saw it was only Randal, and yet she had to wonder, where did he come from? The halls had been deserted when she walked through them.
“Did I not make myself clear when I told you the Master was not to be disturbed” Randal declared as the hand slid away from her shoulder. Suddenly Lena felt quite silly about the whole thing and she could only imagine what Randal would think when she told him. “I am sorry….I know….I just, well I realized that there were not any mirrors and I came to look for one” A rather peculiar look crossed Randal’s face.
“Mirrors?” He said as if he did not understand what she meant.
“Yes, I would like a mirror” She said though an unease feeling was starting to creep over her now seeing his reaction.
Randal began to laugh quite suddenly as if what she just said was in fact a great joke. “Mirrors” he repeated again, but this time as if it was indeed the funniest thing he ever heard and he shook his head. “Do not be silly, now come away from there.” Lena stepped away from the door, though before she could say much anything else Randal was already making his way off down the hall. She could not help now to feel that something was very wrong here, and somehow, what lay behind those doors was the key, but how could she get in? There was nothing she could do about it now she knew.
Lena had spent the light hours of descending nightfall, pacing within her room, and trying to decide just what her plan was, and what she was to do when the knock came at the door. She made her way quickly to slip within the bed beneath the covers just before the door could be opened to allow Rebecca and Ivana in the room. “I am very sorry,” Lena began in the most pleading and apologetic voice she could manage. “I do so hate to disappoint Master Vadek but I am not at all feeling will, I just don’t think I can sit for him tonight.” The two women exchanged looks but would not say anything in argument to Lena’s words and would bow their heads, though she thought she depicted something grim about them, perhaps it was just the play of the shadow she told herself.
“Very well” Ivana would state simply before the two filed out of the room leaving her alone, but what was to happen now? She knew there was a chance that Vadek might not leave his chamber if he was not to be working, or what if he came to see her himself? Or if Randal had ratted her out what would happen? Questions began to tumble into her mind each one more drastic then the last, though she tried to tell herself that it was all fool nonsense after all, nothing had happened to her sense she had been here, no one tried to harm her. They were just a little odd is all, but still she could not rid the feeling that something was not right, and she knew no matter what she needed to get into that room, as if something was calling to her.
For a time Lena just waited, for what she was not certain, perhaps just to give Rebecca and Ivana time to go, well wherever they went when they were not with her, as she could not be seen slipping out of her room after she had just told them she was ill. She waited to see if something might happen, but all remained still and she remained undisturbed. Slowly she began to slip out of bed and made her way to the door. Pulling the door open a crack she peered out into the darkened hallway, she saw nothing as usually and she stepped just out of her room closing the door softly behind her. She stood a moment and watched and waited, still nothing she turned to make her way down the hallway. She looked around her carefully and constantly, as the last thing she needed was Randal, or anyone else, just appearing out of nowhere behind her again, but both in back of her and in front of her the hall appeared lifeless with out a hint of movement or a sound.
At last she made it to the camber door, knowing full well that it could very well still be locked, or she could find Vadek inside, but this was her only chance, and all she had to go on. Her hands gripped the door hand and she pushed, the door opened and she stepped into the darkness of the room, closing the door behind her. It was dark at first and Lena could hear her heart drumming in her ears. Carefully she felt her away around the room, and lit a few candles setting the room aglow in light. At first she could only stand there, feeling paralyzed, as she was shocked at what she saw. It could not be she thought at first. Her eyes roved over, portrait upon portrait all of women, women that were about her age at first, but she noticed, in each portrait, the same woman would appear slightly older then in the last, until her image would appear no more, and a new girl would be presented. What did this mean? She moved closer to the one of the portraits as she studied it with grave curiosity when something caught her eye and gave her pause. In all of the portraits the women were depicted in the most luxurious and fissionable of dresses, much as the own she wore, but she began to notice a trend. The style of the dresses was constantly changing as if with the fashion of a new Era. Her eyes stopped before one particular painting. No one wore anything like that anymore, except in plays. It had to be more then 50 years old, but even if he had started painting and a particularly young age that would be impossible. Slowly she began to back away. None of this made any sense.
“You really should not be in here” A voice spoke smoothly from behind her. Lena screamed and spun around. Her eyes fell upon Vadek, with his impossibly handsome, smooth and incredible young features. Her body was trembling in fear. What would happen to her now? “I want to see a mirror.” She said with surprising strength and conviction. She knew not where it came from.
Vadek sighed. He had been hoping to avoid this, everything had been going so well, but he knew there was nothing to be done for it now. He turned to Randal whom had come in at his side. “Please, get the woman what she requests” He said in a tried drawn voice that did not match his appearance at all.
“But sir…” Randal began, but stopped in his tracks seeing his master’s look and he merely bowed and began to back out of the room. “As you wish” he resigned.
It was only a short time later when Randal would energy with a small silver hand held mirror and he walked up to Lena and handed it to her. With a shaking unsteady hand Lena reached out for the mirror, her fingers gripped around it and she lifted it up. At the sight that met her eyes, she screamed.
She had been here for lest then a month, but she looked already like a woman in the middle ages of her life, past child baring years. Wrinkles formed around her once smooth skin, which now appeared heavy and had lost their former shine and glow. Her hair now was showing in streaks of gray and loosing some of its luster. No wonder she was feeling tired all the time. The mirror dropped from her hand and shattered onto the floor at her feet. “What did you do to me?” She cried, “Who are you? What are you?” Her body dropped to her knees in despair.
Vadek watched her with the slightest touch of pity, it was always better when they did not find out. “She can no longer stay here” He said stoically to Randal. “Take her away and find me another.” With that he turned and left the room.
“I told you, you should never come into this room” Randal said. “The carriage will be waiting for you. You are to leave only with the dress you came here in.” And with that Lena was left alone.
Slowly she began to pick herself up to her feet. She felt as if she were in a daze, as if none of this were real, yet she knew that it was. There would be no waking up from this nightmare. How had it all happened? She drifted out of the room and made her way back down the hall. All her dreams were now lost forever to her, all her hopes and wishes mattered nothing. She came to her room and would step inside. Though the dress would be tight upon her now and not fit as well as it use to. From all her lavish feasting without the labor to compensate she thought to herself as she stuffed into it as well as she could before she would descend the stairs and was taken away within the carriage.
Lena lived out the rest of her dies, humbly on the outskirts of town, Randal had left her with a small fortune of gold to get by on, but what was that compared to all she had lost? Her youth, her vitality, her beauty, all had been sucked out of her. She was nothing now but a spinster, forgotten and unwanted. She never told a single soul about what happened, who would have believed her anyway? Who was there to tell? No one knew who she was, or cared. She was a cast away.