Chapter 1

Before father died, mother had given birth to another daughter, Anastasia (Stacey), who was every bit as beautiful as she was. She also had two miscarriages and a stillborn—a boy. She often sobbed about that boy, declaring that if he had lived, and perhaps I had died, she would've been able to leave father.

I had gone unnamed for almost two years of my life. Finally, when one of the other noble women asked mother if she would ever name me, mother thought of the ugliest name she could. Drusilla, she called me and cackled when the other woman flinched.

"Nadine, such a name as that cannot be shortened," she cried.

Mother merely smiled and tugged me along, earning sympathetic looks, for I truly was an ugly child, and mother was pregnant at the time. If the next child was as ugly as the first, perhaps she would be cursed.

Father died when I was five years of age. As they lowered his casket into the ground, I found that I could not cry. People remarked, and mother hit me and slapped me until I did cry, but it was only from pain and fear, not sorrow. I had never known the man. How could I cry for somebody I didn't even know?

Stacey's hand hesitantly found mine, and I grasped it and looked at her, seeing that she was sobbing as hard as mother was. Stacey would miss him. He had bought her things and read her story books at night. He kissed her scrapes. He listened to her stories. He called her name when he waved good-bye before he went on trips, and she was the first that he looked for when he returned. Somehow, I found the tears that mother had tried so hard to rouse coming forth on their own. I had found something to cry over—not the man, but what he stood for. I never had his love, and I'd never be able to earn it. I'd never be the first he'd look for when he got home. He'd never listen attentively to anything I'd say.

As I watched his body being covered, I found myself sobbing wretchedly, earning sympathetic looks that I never saw because I was crying for something I could never receive, nor ever hope to. That realization delved into a deeper feeling than Stacey or mother could even hope to experience. That day I had grown more than most children do in years. I had come to the understanding that I would never be given the chance to be loved by my father. I think that hurt more than any beating mother had administered.

Later that day, I found mother sobbing on her bed, being consoled by my and Anastasia's nanny. It would be a year before it had its full effect, but father had gambled too much, and his disgraceful habit had left a debt so grand, mother would have to sell everything in order to be free of it.

As I sat up in my room, feeling as if my body only existed and nothing more, my hands trailed over the only thing father had ever gotten me. I stared through it, not seeing the doll that was in my hands. It was raggedy. Most of the dirty hair had fallen out before father had even given it to me, and the strands that remained were brown, although they may have been blonde at one point in time. The porcelain face was perpetually dirty. No amount of lye could wash it clean. One of the arms was broken in two, having been put back together with pins. The head had been off the body when I received it, but my nanny found a way to fix it. The dress was a sickly yellow and brown color, as if it had been thrown into the mud and was older than it was. The fingers on the porcelain hands were chipped, and a few were even gone completely. An eye was also gone. My nanny had found another, but it looked awkward and was smaller and of a different color, blue, than the other eye, which was green. My doll had no shoes. In fact, it had no legs or feet.

It was warped, broken and ruined, much like how I viewed myself. If it could speak through its cracked and faded lips, I'm sure it would tell tales of sorrow and wistfully wish that it could have been in the arms of a loving, deserving child. But perhaps it would say nothing at all, just staring blankly at the world and suffering, slowly dying, inside without anybody noticing.

I remembered the day I had gotten her and how happy I had been that my father—no, daddy—had gotten her for me. I didn't care about the state she was in. I didn't care that compared to the extravagant gift Stacey had gotten, mine seemed as if it was a malicious and sadistic gift. All that I cared about in that moment was that father hadn't forgotten me. If he had gotten me something as well, then surely he must love me?

Nanny had disapproved of the gift, saying that it was horrible to give me something as worthless as a homeless child's toy, but when she was about to toss it, I had begged and pleaded with her to return it to me. She cursed him as I held the body close in one hand, and the head in another, but she helped me fasten the head back on and helped me clean her as much as we could.

I came back from my memories and glared at the doll, viewing it in a different light than that of an attention-seeking child. My hands tightened around it, and I tossed it across the room. Breathing hard and probably looking uglier than ever, I pulled my knees up to my chest and sobbed again, for I had been fooling myself, thinking that he would actually love me.

My things were the first to go. I was the unwanted child, so it seemed only right. However, because I was the unwanted child, my things paid for very little. After my things were gone, and my bed (which ended up paying the most debt of all my things) was replaced by a cot of sticks and linen, the servants were the next to go (except Nanny, who was like family). Despite Nanny's objections, I was forced into labor and had very little time for much else. Nanny refused to leave and would often help me with chores and meals, me being as young as I was, but as soon as mother found out, she forbade it. Nanny, ever tenacious, decided that if she couldn't help me, she would teach me everything she knew about chores, reading, and the world. She and I became closer than we had ever been, despite my being ugly.

Because I was six, I would often make mistakes in my work, and mother would scream at me and make me do everything over again until I got it right. Sometimes my hands would bleed or blister, and Nanny would put soothing ointments on them and dress them up. My knees would often bruise from kneeling too long. My body would throb painfully from being forced to do more than it could handle. I learned how to expertly clean a house. I learned how to do laundry. I learned how to cook meals, and I was becoming quite proficient when the debt collectors moved onto the kitchenware and food items.

Because the house was becoming more and more bare, there was less to clean. Because mother was entertaining guests less and less of the time until she stopped altogether, it was easier to keep the house to her standards. Because there were only four people to feed, it was easier to cook. Thus, I had more time for myself, and I was able to read quietly in the study, a place not yet collected on because mother had forgotten about it, before my lessons with Nanny.

At night, Nanny taught me arithmetic, history, and how to sew. I learned the names of all the kings of Cesnar, a neighboring kingdom to our own of Exultia. I could also add and subtract. We took a break, and Nanny took me outside and showed me which herbs did what in the garden as well as helpful plants in the forest should the need arise.

Nanny tended to spend her days with Stacey, occupying her with her toys in her room, which had not yet been touched by debt collectors. She was supposed to spend her nights on a mat in Stacey's room, but she snuck out to teach me, making sure to leave before Stacey awoke the next morning.

As we said good-bye, I smiled to myself, feeling elated because of Nanny's good graces. She cared about what happened to me. If it hadn't been for her, I probably would've turned into a hollow shell of myself. She saved me from the darkness threatening to creep up and engulf me. I felt like laughing and crying at the same time as I lay on my cot that night, the coolness of my room making me shiver only a little.

I awoke with the feeling of someone watching me. I turned to face the door and jumped. Stacey stood in my doorway, a curious expression on her face, auburn curls framing her face and green eyes gleaming. She wore a pretty pink gown, and I couldn't help but gaze at my tattered dress, the remnants of blue day-dress. I hadn't spoken to her since mother had made me give up my things.

"I know," she said, eyes dancing with mischief.

"What?" I asked, pushing myself up.

"I know what you do at night, and momma isn't going to like it." A grin spread across her face.

My eyes suddenly widened. "What are you talking about?" I asked frantically.

"I know what you and Nanny are doing. I saw you last night. I think I want to tell." She put a finger to her face in contemplation.

"Why?" I asked, feeling tears brimming in my eyes.

Stacey's cheerful expression darkened. "Because Nanny doesn't like me as much as she likes you."

I stood and was thankful for my height because I was able to look down at her. "You spend all day with her! You don't have to do anything! You get to sleep on a bed! None of your stuff is gone, but all of mine is!"

Stacey just looked at me. "So? I want to do what you and Nanny do too!"

She had mother's love! She had father's love! Yet, despite all that, she wanted what little happiness I had in my life. In that moment, I hated her. "You want to learn how to cook and clean?" I asked, glaring at her.

She cringed. "No, a proper lady doesn't need to know those things. Momma told me so!"

I felt like crying. Mother thought she was a proper lady, but I wasn't?

"But I saw you go walking outside! It looked like fun! I want to go outside at night too!"

"I was learning about plants," I explained.

She blanched. "That isn't fun. I don't care about stupid plants. Only flowers."

I wasn't about to tell her that flowers were plants. I left it as it was, and she stood there fuming. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak when mother shouted from downstairs. She had important news to tell us.

We went downstairs, Stacey hiding behind me. Nanny hurried to us and ushered us into the sitting room.

"Girls, our problems are solved!" Mother cried out. "Count Victor of Nasarette has offered us a proposal we can't refuse!"

Stacey and I stared at her open-mouthed for a moment. Nanny had a frown upon her face. Mother finally looked at us—well, Stacey, at least—and frowned as well.

"Do you not understand?"

I thought I did, but, from the look on Nanny's face, it couldn't have been a good thing.

Mother's frown turned into an indignant glare. "When we move to Nasarette, I will have you both sent to finishing school, as dumb as you are."

Nanny made a harassed sound in her throat and glanced at me.

Stacey frowned at mother. "Momma, are we moving to a different kingdom?"

Mother scoffed at her, for the first time realizing how unintelligent she was. "Certainly not, Stacey, darling."

"We're moving to the house of Nasarette," I said, but shrank away from mother's withering gaze.

"Indeed we are. Girls, I am marrying Victor, Count of Nasarette in a year."

Stacey gaped at her, much resembling a fish. "But…what about papa?"

Mother turned away from her. "Your father is dead, Anastasia." She covered a yawn. "I grow tired of this conversation. Drusilla-"

I jumped when she called my name. "Yes?"

She gave me a condescending look. "Fetch me a warm cup of milk. I'm going to rest."

"Of course," I replied and went to do her bidding.

She never allowed me to call her mother, thinking it would be disgraceful to be associated with so ugly a child as me. Most times when she spoke to me, it would only be to degrade me or order me about.

I brought her milk up to her, and she smiled and stared at the ceiling.

"I really thought we were in trouble, Drusilla," she confided. "But now, our problems are solved! I will never again be forced to give my things to another person, for Victor has paid all the collectors off! Oh, I want to celebrate! I shall have a party tomorrow! A real party! When we are married, we shall visit the court—the royal court! I would enjoy attending it so! We'll be able to buy new dresses! Even you would look fine in a new dress! Aren't you excited, Drusilla? In a year, you will no longer have to be a servant! Victor says that he has a daughter a year younger than you! I'm sure she'll get along fine with Stacey!"

"May I leave now?" I asked her without emotion.

She stopped her rejoicing and stared at me, unnerving me, until she spoke. "You worry me, Drusilla. Not only are you ugly, but you show no promise of ever marrying." She sighed. "But you're young. Perhaps you can change yet. Yes, leave. If you stay, you'll only depress my high spirits."

I nodded and left, hearing her voice wonder what was wrong with me and echo down the hall. It was only once I was away from her that I allowed myself to smile. It would be wonderful to have a family. Perhaps Victor of Nasarette could change my mother and make her more loving. Perhaps he and his daughter could change me. What I wanted more than anything was a family to love me.