Welcome to the second installment to the ‘First Chapters’ series. If you missed my last post, then all you really need to know is that I am currently posting the beginnings of the the various stories that I have written. Some have been finished, others have been left on the dust pile. However, all of it a part of my journey as a writer.
Thank you very much for stopping by and as always, let me know what you think.
Part 1: FAMILY LIFE
Esther believed in the cause. The republic had to win and to win it her husband Jaxon, a newly named general of the Free Man’s Movement had to go and serve under the visionary Commander in Chief Dakari in the North-West. Jaxon was one of the seven General’s hand-picked by Dakari and he was a leader through and through. He knew how to inspire and keep command, but he also knew how to drink and be one of his men, it earned him the nickname, The Drinking General.
She stood on the steps of her large red brick house with her children, her mother-in-law Moira and servants beside her to wave off General Jaxon. There was a small battalion of men in formation at the front, impeccably dressed in their uniforms of green and black boots, they looked more like toy figurines, Esther noted. Fresh faced and eager to do their part, the soldiers clicked their heels together and stood to attention when General Jaxon appeared at the door. He was pristine in his navy high collared uniform that had golden buttons down the front. Jaxon was tall and broad shouldered, and his chestnut hair neatly bound at the nape of his neck. His face was handsome in the rugged way but what shone out was his appetite for war; he was excited to finally be at the forefront.
General Jaxon looked over his men quickly and gave a nod to a man on the left, who barked “At ease.” The soldiers returned to their first position of hands behind their backs and feet slightly apart.
He turned to his beautiful and devoted wife who was in a light blue cotton dress that complimented her warm brown skin and curly black hair. He gave her a light kiss on the cheek.
“Remember what we talked about.” Jaxon told his wife.
“Of course.” Esther replied.
General Jaxon stooped down to hug his three children, two girls and a boy. Reluctantly the children let their father go. He looked at his wife with excitement.
“This is it! Before long we will be a republic and I will be home.”
“Then hurry up!” Esther watched as he mounted his grey horse and led the battalion away. She stood there long after they had gone, Esther did not want to cry but it bubbled under the surface. Esther was now alone, in charge of a house, a farm and nearly forty acres of land.
With a deep sigh Esther, finally went upstairs and changed into her grey working dress. She met her forlorn children in the garden, they sat slump with their head in one hand and they threw rocks and sticks without their usual enthusiasm. They all knew this day would come but it did not make it any easier. Esther was grateful that it was at least spring, and the warm sun beckoned.
“Come on, let’s go to the stream.” She called to her forlorn children.
“No thank you.” Her eldest daughter at seven, Deborah answered.
Esther put her hands on her hips, “It wasn’t a request.”
All three of them stood up and dragged their feet behind their mother. The stream was only a short walk away, but they had to cross the freshly sprung meadow and in spite of their sadness the children began to run and play amongst the flowers. The sound of their laughter floated on the air and it eased Esther’s own nervousness.
The stream was fast flowing, and they heard it before they could see its crystal-clear waters. It cut through the land and flowed straight to the sea in the far south. The children had made their mother swear that one day they would follow it all the way down.
Excitedly, the children took off their shoes and socks and paddled in the water while Esther looked on. After a little while, they had gathered around.
“I know you are all sad, I am too. But you all know why father had to go away.”
“To ensure the rights of the people,” Deborah answered.
“Yes, but also to protect us. The fighting is far away and so we have to wait for him.”
“But why did he have to go?” her youngest child, James implored with tears in his eyes.
“General Dakari needs your father very much, so they can fight the King and Queen together.” She could see that her answer did not satisfy the young boy, “Your father is trying to make a better world for you.”
At this the boy smiled, “I am going to be a general like daddy one day!” he announced.
His innocence made Esther laugh. She looked at her middle child, Henrietta who looked most like her. She was the most affected by the outbreak of civil war.
“What is it Henrietta?”
“War makes life hard doesn’t it? I have read it in all the books.”
Her question made everyone stop and her siblings looked to their mother.
“Yes, it does. So, we will have to work hard won’t we, to keep the farm going. You will all keep learning at your lessons and because- and this is the important part, the war will end and there will be a brand new world that we will have to learn to live in. You are going to shape the new world your father is fighting for.”
“Now go on and play for a little longer, then we will go back and bake some sweet treats.”
Two Years Later.
Esther looked at the dresses in her cupboard, some were light cotton for the summer, fine wool and fur lined around the wrists and neck for the winter and satin for special occasions, some with corsets and some without, all were beautifully cut and reminded her of a time when she was a gentlemen’s wife. Now her needs dictated that she must sell them on the market, either as scraps or as whole pieces so that she could try to pay for someone to fix the large cart and pay Bethany and her grandson Matthew, now her only servants and two farm hands that came twice a week.
The Civil War had been fiercer than anyone could have predicted and it was dubbed The Poor Man’s War by those who supported the monarchy. Any person who had no connection to the royal family and its court was against them, they had collectively thrown off the yoke of their masters in search of a fairer system and a chance to climb out of poverty. Dakari had been the man to lead them and he led them into fierce battles with the Royal Army, using guerrilla tactics and the knowledge of the people. “Who else knows the land better than we,” Esther recalled him saying one evening while having dinner in her house. His voice was gruff along with his shabby appearance, he made no attempt at appearing gentile and his hands were often dirty and his hair was wild, but there was a magnetism about the man, that drew people to him. When he talked people listened and when he moved so did others.
Commander –in-Chief Dakari had been successful at first, the Royal Army had underestimated him, his army and their passion for the cause and the Monarchy received several heavy blows, losing strongholds, supplies and ammunition effectively arming them. Esther was delighted when news of their victories spread over the country. They were close to marching on the city to take the palace, and arrest the King when the suffered their first defeat. His over-zealous people’s army had marched into the city without his command, under the command of one of the Seven General’s, Tobias whom she had never met and had made a disastrous mistake. He mistook the unguarded walls of the city as sign of surrender and led in a large portion of the people’s army into the city, where the Royal Army was waiting hiding in the deserted houses and buildings. They waited until they were deep into the city when they ambushed the people and massacred them. Not one survived. The King had delivered what felt like an amputation of a limb.
That’s when things became hard. The King began to punish the people, burning crops and fields that he knew was vital for people to survive. The same people who had supported Dakari began to turn on him, because of their suffering, support began to waver. The king began to offer grain and bread to those who would declare their loyalty to him. Understandably, in Esther’s view, they did. With hungry little ones who could refuse such an offer? But Dakari took a different view, all those who did such a deplorable act were seen as the enemy and the true face of war began to show from both sides.
Esther began to see displaced people beginning to trickle down south, far from the fighting. She took out her dresses with the help of her mother-in-law Moira and Hanna. Hanna was an older lady with silver streaked her and sad grey eyes and tanned wrinkly skin, she had spent her life working the fields, she had with her only surviving grand-child Matthew who was twelve and quiet but sharp they had come last year to escape the north.
Her mother-in-law Moira was a fierce looking woman, who was often frowning but when she smiled her face completely changed. She was petite and relied on her stick but this time she laid it down as she walked with the dresses in her arms to help load them in the smaller cart.
Deborah fetched her mother her grey cloak and she put it on when she took her seat behind the horse.
“Listen to your grandmother and stay in the house while I am away, make sure Henrietta and James do the same.”
“I know mother.” Deborah answered.
Moira limped over and pulled out a small box from her apron pocket, “Here.” She gave it to her daughter in-law.
Esther opened it and saw beautiful earrings, of emerald, sapphire, gold and silver.
“You are selling your fine things, I must do the same. You will get a good price for them.” Esther closed the box and put it under the seat, she nodded. “I will be back before sunset.”
Bethany passed up the gun and the hunting knife she needed for protection. Esther put the gun on her left thigh and the knife on her belt, she cracked the reigns and horse moved forward.
Moira watched her go toward the only market left in these parts and prayed for a safe journey.
They had never really gotten on, or had friendly bond, but Esther was polite and made sure that she was well looked after but with the absence of her son she began to see her daughter in law in a different light. When Jaxon had brought Esther home Moira thought her too delicate like an ornament, too pretty to be much use, she even doubted that she would be able to produce children so when she gave birth to three strong hollering babies in quick succession, Moira began to soften. But with the two years, she watched Esther work and toil in the fields without complaint raise her children well. Esther only wore her grey dress.
What was even more remarkable was that she did not mind when the other ladies she socialised with stopped visiting out of their snobbery, they did not want to associate with a working woman, even though they were all in the same boat. But it was only Esther that took the threat of war seriously, they continued on, being high society ladies.
Moira held out her arm and Deborah who was now nine and tall like a willow tree helped her grandmother into the house.
“Go get James, Henrietta and Matthew. Hanna, lock up all the windows until Esther is back.”
Moira sat in her chair by the fire and placed her hand on the gun by it.
The roads were getting more and more dangerous as desperation deepened. But Esther was well known in these parts, even still she was careful to keep to the main road and travelled only in daylight. It was about a two hour ride to the market town of Dunooth.
This placed seemed to be impervious to the Civil War, it bustled and continued to thrive and everyone knew why. Under the civil façade of the market place lay an underbelly few people knew how to navigate and secure items no longer readily available like, weapons, top grade whiskey and anything the King had decided to outlaw that week.
Esther began to receive the odd nod of the head in recognition and a wave here and there. She was sure to always smile back but continued onwards until she reached the dresser. It was pretty close to the heart of the town where the crowds got thicker and thicker, but she passed through and stopped outside a shop window full of beautiful dresses. She picked up the many dresses in a large bundle and struggled to get in through the door. The shop girl Sarah helped to alleviate the mountain and from the back the most colourfully dressed man Pierre squealed with delight when he saw Esther’s face. He was tall and his hair was perfectly coiled and his face lightly powdered.
“Ah Esther! My beautiful Esther! How long has it been?”
“Too long Pierre. I am so sorry I have been so busy with the farm.” Esther continued to offer her apologies and excuses but she could see that Pierre had stopped listening. His attention was on the dresses that Sarah was laying out carefully. Some he recognised as his own but the rest were luxurious, slightly out of fashion but made out of exquisite materials.
Pierre grabbed Esther’s hand in a dramatic way, “Tell me you have not come to sell your beautiful dresses.”
“I am afraid I am, I have no need of them and the farm needs new equipment. As you can see they made out of good material and I know you can turn them into wonderful new pieces.”
Pierre chuckled, “You do not have to up sell them to me I can see their quality.” His eye roamed over the coarse grey dress and black cloak that Esther wore and she shifted uncomfortably under his gaze, but he smiled at her. “No matter what you wear you are still radiant. That’s the mark of true beauty.” Pierre tapped her hand.
Pierre went to the back of the shop quickly leaving his floral scent behind, Sarah came over and gave Esther a hug.
“Oh my, how you have grown Sarah.”
Sarah did a little curtsey and spun around to show off her new plum dress that went stunningly with her rich dark skin and two plaits that hung down by her waist stood out all the more, “Pierre has been teaching me how to sew and make dresses. I did this one myself.”
“What a fine job you did. You will be a dresser in no time at all.”
Sarah grinned from ear to ear. Pierre returned with the same dramatic air and put in to Esther’s hand two money bags full of silver.
“That’s far too much! I only hoped for only half of one.” Esther exclaimed.
“That would not do the dresses justice…or their former owner. But this one…” Pierre went over to a deep navy dress with fine golden stitching, it was corseted, long sleeves and long slightly fitted skirt. Pierre picked up the dress and brought it to Esther, “This one, you must keep. You must have at least one good dress. Good times will come again.”
Esther gratefully received the money and the dress, “When they do, I will be the first one here.”
Pierre laughed wholeheartedly, “I will happily wait for the day Esther.”
“Thank you so much Pierre.” Esther touched Sarah’s face and left the shop.
Pierre and Sarah watched her climb up to her seat, crack the reign and move off down the road.
“You did over pay her, why?” Sarah enquired in confusion. Pierre was a harsh man when it came to money and often did his best to lower the cost.
Pierre was happy that Sarah was smart as well as capable, but he sighed deeply, “She has always been my favourite out of the Ladies and you have heard how they talk about her now, the way they sneer at her. If anything should happen to me Sarah, go to Esther, she will take care of you.”
Sarah scoffed, “Nothing will happen to you.”
“I am glad you think so my dear, but war is unpredictable. Just remember what I have told you. Now come on pick those up, I am going to teach how to alter dresses!”
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash