The Chronicles of Fenwick: Charlotte
Charlotte suppressed a groan as she rolled over, almost falling off her cot in the process. Dim sunlight streamed through the small window that provided the only light in the cramped attic that made up the bedroom of six, and she rubbed her eyes as she sat up, jostling her sister, Sophie, as she did so.
The small, white Ixi awoke with a start, and looked up at Charlotte with tired eyes. “Charlotte?” The six-year-old was quiet, still not fully awake.
“Sorry, Sophie,” Charlotte said, carefully sliding out from under the light blanket they shared and placing her feet on the cold floor. “Go back to sleep, sweetie.”
The little Ixi nodded weakly, and buried her face in their lumpy pillow. Charlotte smiled as she quietly attempted to maneuver across the room, avoiding clothing, siblings, and other such things. Peter, the oldest of her three younger brothers, had somehow once again ended up on the floor, and Eli was twisted up in his blanket, hogging the cot he was supposed to be sharing. Claire and Jasper were still sleeping in their crib, and the two small baby Draiks were almost impossible to tell apart.
Pulling her cream-colored cotton dress from where it hung on the wall, she quickly made her way down the narrow stairway that led to the tiny living area below. The door that closed off the staircase from the kitchen was slightly ajar, and Charlotte paused before pushing the door open.
Her mother stood with her back to her, a green ear twitching as the door creaked. “You’re up early, Charlotte.” Her mother said without turning. Charlotte had always wondered if her mother had eyes in the back of her head, and events like this just made her theory seem plausible.
“Morning, Mum,” the Lupess murmured, stepping into the faint light cast by a fire that looked as if it had just been lit in their hearth. “Is Papa back from the capital?”
The Ixi by the stove shook her head slowly. “No.”
The single word was enough to make the Lupess’ ears droop, and she padded to the washroom silently. He wasn’t back yet? How could he not be back? It had been almost a week since he had left to visit her uncle. Why wasn’t he back yet? Surely there wasn’t any trouble. Why had he gone to visit again? The Lupess couldn’t remember.
Scrubbing her face, she looked at her striped fur. It was somewhat clean, and only needed a quick washing, which was easily done in the course of a few minutes. It wasn’t exactly what a royal would expect, but it was perfect in her point of view. Her soft blue fur accented with light purple stripes was her favorite feature, and she wouldn’t have exchanged it for the world.
Slipping out of her nightgown and into the loose cream-colored garment, she fastened her brown sash around her waist, pulling it tight before tying it in a bow at her back. Giving herself a good look, she nodded, turning for the door. Her mother was still at the stove as she passed to head outside.
“Charlotte.” The voice stopped her in her tracks, a hand reaching for the tattered black cloak that was hung over one of the dining chairs.
“Would you take Sophie and Eli with you? They both need to be refitted.” The Ixi left the stove now, taking a tray to the wooden counter that stood behind her. The smell of her mother’s famous biscuits made Charlotte’s mouth water, but she knew they weren’t for them. That was made clear as they were dumped into a basket, and then covered with a handkerchief. “Can you also take these to the boys down at the port?”
Sighing, she agreed. “Alright, but I’ll need some coins for the tailor.”
And with that she was off, back up the stairs while her mother dug in her pockets for some change. Reaching the attic, she went over to Eli, shaking him lightly. “Hey, get up.” He didn’t move.
Growling in frustration, she grabbed an end of the blanket and gave a rough tug. Eli fell, following the blanket to the floor. “Hey!” The spotted Zafara swiped at the Lupess’ ankle, missing as she stepped away.
“Don’t ignore me when I’m trying to wake you up, then.” The response was clipped.
“Well, don’t wake me up so early!” he growled.
“Mum said to,” she growled back. As if that’s going to change anything, Charlotte thought, rolling her eyes. Looking over to her shared cot, her ears twitched curiously. Where was Sophie?
Turning, she stared at Peter, who had been unfortunate enough to be awoken by a falling Eli. “Where’s Sophie? She was here when I got up a little while ago.”
“You’re asking me?” the shadow Gelert grumbled, rubbing his head. “I just woke up.” He glared at Eli, who was pulling on his trousers near the stairs.
“Don’t blame me, blame her! She’s the one who pulled my blanket out from under me!” Eli complained, stabbing a finger in Charlotte’s direction.
Charlotte shook her head. “It’s not my fault you like to pretend you’re still asleep when you’re not.” And she went to work sweeping the room in search of Sophie, ignoring the Gelert and Zafara that were still grumbling and whining to themselves. Sophie wasn’t in any of her normal hiding spots.
Stalking past the boys, who had now turned to argue with each other, she stomped down the stairs and into the kitchen. “Mum, have you seen Sophie?”
“No... why?” The Ixi crossed her hooves.
“She’s not upstairs, and Peter and Eli are too busy arguing to be of much help in finding her.”
“Have you checked behind the old shelf in the corner?”
“What about under the crib?”
“Behind the curtains?”
“She’s not in the attic?” Her mother’s voice was slipping towards becoming frantic.
“You’re sure?” The voice was but a squeak.
Charlotte sighed. “Yes.” This wasn’t going anywhere.
“B-but I haven’t seen her!” her mother cried.
Before Charlotte could say anything, however, a pealing laugh was heard from outside, and her mother was out the old door before Charlotte could even move.
Outside, an ornate carriage was stopped in front of the cottage, her father chatting with the Uni that had obviously pulled it here. Sophie was bouncing at the Uni’s hooves, excited but speechless. She had somehow managed to slip past their mother, who was staring in shock at the door.
Pushing past with her brothers in tow, Charlotte was surprised to see her Uncle Fenwick step from the carriage, holding what looked to be a suitcase. Wait... Uncle Fenwick had brought a suitcase? Charlotte stared, just as confused as her mother, as her uncle walked up and hugged her mother’s small frame, smiling at Eli and Peter when he caught a glimpse of them in the doorway.
“It’s good to see you, Mary,” Uncle Fenwick said, brushing off his overcoat.
Her mother managed a smile. “It’s nice to see you too, Fredrick. But, why are you ––”
“I’m here to help.” He cut her mother off with a smile. “I heard that you’re having trouble keeping a roof over your head, so I came to help. How could I not help my sister?”
“Help how?” The green Ixi’s voice was tight as she stared up at the royal Gelert.
“I was hoping you would allow me to bring one of your children back with me to the capital of Meridell. Losing a mouth to feed would help, would it not?” The Gelert smiled angelically at his elder sister, as if there were nothing wrong with what he had just proposed.
Quite apparently, her mother had a different idea. “No.” The word was firm, and Charlotte knew her mother wasn’t going to change her mind.
Her uncle was persistent. “But it would offer such a good opportunity! Think, Mary! The capital offers the finest education, almost to par with the Royal Library itself!”
“Their education is fine.”
“It could be better!”
“As I said, it’s fine.”
“Mary!” Uncle Fenwick said, looking hurt. “Do you doubt me so much as to not take proper care of one of your children?”
“I trust you, Fredrick; you know that.”
“Then trust me to take care of one of them! Their lives could be so much better in my house. I’m a Duke, Mary, I can provide for them! Victoria and Margaret could use someone else in the house as well that’s near their age.”
“You may be a Duke, but that doesn’t change anything. I’m sorry, Fredrick, but no. Besides, none of my children would be willing to go, even if I agreed. Claire and Jasper are too young; Sophie can’t stand to be in large crowds; Eli enjoys working the fields with his father; Peter loves the sea.” The Ixi shook her head.
“You didn’t mention Charlotte!” Uncle Fenwick replied, turning partially in the Lupess’ direction.
“M-me?” Charlotte stammered, finally breaking her stunned silence.
“Charlotte takes care of Sophie and the others––”
“Let her answer for herself!” Uncle Fenwick interrupted again, turning fully to the Lupess now.
“I...” Charlotte muttered.
“Is there something that keeps you here?” he persisted.
“As Mother said, I take care of Sophie and everyone else when Mum and Papa are away...”
“Something personal, my dear.”
“My family is personal, Uncle.”
“But think of how much you could help them by coming to the city!” he reasoned. “If you were to be in the city, your talents could be put to use! I’ve seen your paintings, my dear. In the capital, you could put that talent to good use – sending the extra money back here would help your mother. You would also gain a title by joining my house, and you would have girls closer to your age...” He trailed off, awaiting a reaction from the Lupess.
“She will not!” The green Ixi was in her brother’s face in a second’s time. “Charlotte doesn’t need to do such a thing ––”
“I’ll go,” the Lupess said, stepping between her mother and uncle.
“Charlotte, you don’t have to. We have enough to support everyone.” It was clear that her mother had just lied through her teeth.
“I want to,” the girl said. “I would have found a job in town eventually, anyway. Besides, it’s not fair to make anyone else go.” The girl’s logic was accurate, and she was old enough to be making her own decisions. Helping out her family was the only thing she had ever wanted to do.
“But, we don’t want you to go there, Charlotte!” Peter and Eli piped up, and Sophie was already about to cry.
“I can visit whenever I want, and I’ll bring presents. Toys, clothes, food you’ve never tasted before.” She smiled. “Okay?” Good thing she had learned early on that it was easier to lie and say things to make them happy rather than tell them the rather sad truth – and wasn’t she lucky she was good at it by now.
“My dear, you’ll love the city!” Uncle Fenwick declared, putting the suitcase into her hand, as her siblings nodded. “Now, pack up! We have to be back in time for the ball!” A broad smile was on his face as she walked back into the house, her siblings following, with Sophie hanging onto Charlotte’s dress.
Mary frowned at her brother, and gave his foot a nice stomp. “A ball? You knew she would give in, didn’t you?”
Rubbing his wounded foot – Mary’s hoof had hurt, even through the heavy leather – Fredrick smiled up at his sister. “Of course. She’s always been the one to take care of the family. Why wouldn’t she jump at the chance to help you? Mary, did you really expect me to leave without her?”
“No, but I would expect you to be a bit more classy since you’ve now become a Duke! Father trusted you when he left everything to you!” she snapped.
“I never was one to obey our parents’ ways, Mary. You of all people should know that. And, if you wanted to change any of that, then you shouldn’t have married a poor farmer in a small town by the sea!” He grinned as she fumed. He had just touched a very delicate topic.
“I married Daniel because I wanted to, you little ––” A brown furred paw covered the Ixi’s mouth, and the Lupe smiled at Fredrick.
“Please, excuse her,” Daniel said, leading the still fuming Ixi back inside.
Charlotte waved as she stepped into the carriage, her light suitcase already inside. Her uncle followed her in, shutting the door and then sitting on the opposite seat.
“I’ll write you soon, Mary,” Uncle Fenwick called as Chestnut – the Uni that had so graciously accepted the unfortunate job to bringing and taking the carriage to and from the large estate her uncle owned – began to pull away.
Charlotte couldn’t help but giggle as her mother’s face pulled into a scowl, and the Ixi childishly stuck out her tongue. “Uncle Fenwick, I doubt she will look forward to your letter.”
The Gelert turned to his niece and grinned in a smug manner. “Oh, my dear, believe me, I know.”