So contrary to popular opinion, O readers, I am not dead. It's hot enough here that I'm very frustrated, given my house's lack of air conditioning, and the office has been its own kind of frustrating lately (seven-day migraine, anyone?), but things are looking up a bit and therefore I can once again get into the swing of blogging! Welcome back!
Most of the things that happen around here are small, enjoyable but not earth-shattering, like the cats delivering their "prey" of fuzzy slippers to my rug. The first zucchini from the garden were enjoyed over the weekend, and we've put in a bird feeder, which gets emptied regularly every few days by our motley crew of feathered friends. They also give Brando new things to bark at.
And in the realm of writing... well, not much is happening. I'm still quite stalled on anything longer than my little Fiction Friday or Made-Up Monday pieces, and even those are a little hard to get done at times, as you may have noticed. I can't tell you how many times I've sworn that I'm done, I'm finished with writing, I need to find a new path for my life. Except that the stories are still inside my head, and they want to be told.
So, as satisfying as it would be to throw a fit and quit, I'm not going to give up on myself just yet. Please enjoy today's Made-Up Monday piece, and stay tuned for some actual blog posts that talk about my life. As of tomorrow, I might even have something interesting to say!
“Come on, Ruth! It’s time to have some fun!”
“I’m fine here, thanks. Go on without me.” The newest housemaid in the ducal mansion of Loveland looked up from the mat where she was kneeling beside an untidy pile of fur under which there might possibly have been a dog. “I’m going to see if I can’t get Bounder into better shape this evening.”
“Girl, you will wither away if you don’t get out and have some fun.” The head housemaid, who rejoiced in the name of Deonora, crossed her arms and looked sternly at her underling. “You’ll only be young once, and as pretty as you are, where are your chances going to come from, if you stay locked away in little stone rooms all night long?”
“Chances?” Ruth widened her eyes, as if she didn’t understand. “Chances for what—oh, those chances!” She nodded wisely. “Chances to be pawed over and slobbered on by men! Thank you, but no. If there’s going to be pawing and slobbering in my life, I’ll take it from my friendly mutts.” She reached around to scratch in the vicinity of Bounder’s ear, and was rewarded by the thumping of a thick, matted tail. “They’re satisfied with food and attention and love. Men always seem to want other things as well.”
“I give up.” Deonora shook her head in confusion. “What can you possibly see in those animals that would distract you from a proper party? The lights all set up to twinkle and flash just as if we were the young lords and ladies ourselves, and the musicians ready with the sound-bouncing spells to make it loud enough that you have to shout over it, the way we can never have it except when the masters are away! Good rich food from the cooks, too, everything fried and gooey with cheese! And you’d rather sit all by yourself with a dog?”
“Yes, I would.” Ruth smiled, her eyes twinkling wickedly. “And if it’ll make you happy to talk all night about how crazy I am, please, do that. But for now, go on and enjoy your food and your lights and your music, and dance until you drop from weariness if you want. Please, Deonora. I’m quite happy here where I am.”
“Well, no one can say I didn’t try.” Deonora sighed markedly and turned to leave. “You’re sure?” she asked over her shoulder. “Not even for a few minutes?”
“If I want to come, I know where to find you,” Ruth promised, and Deonora hurried down the corridor.
Ruth listened for the footsteps to die away, then sighed in relief and got up to shut the door. “Finally,” she said, returning to the dog’s side and uncovering the plate of chilled vegetables and leftover meat she’d assembled for the two of them. “Some peace and quiet!”
Several tidbits of meat later, the street dog she’d named Bounder was holding still enough to let her gently clip the mats of fur out of his coat, and a chance offering of vegetable made him lick his chops with delight, so that both halves of Ruth’s meal were henceforth shared with her canine companion. Once all the clumps of fur had been removed, she began to comb him, finishing with enough fur, piled to one side of the small stone room, that she could have filled a small pillow had she been so minded. “You, my friend,” she said to him, surveying the dingy off-white color of that fur, “will need a bath. But that is for tomorrow. For now...”
Picking up the book she’d left in a corner of the room, she found her place among its pages and settled down against the wall, Bounder curling up beside her, having first licked the plate which had once held food until it was quite spotless. She had thrust her little bell on its string through her candle’s wick at the mark which would bring it clattering into the saucer in two hours, which would give her enough time to clear away her debris and get a quick wash in the servants’ bathroom before she went to bed in her little room in the attics, with Bounder asleep at its foot. Her foible of having strange animals about her was tolerated so long as it did not interfere with her work or with anyone else’s.
She wondered, sometimes, whether this would have been the case had she not been who she was.
“But then,” she murmured aloud, turning a page, “if I were not who I am, I would be at that party, or one very like it, if supposedly more refined. And when my royal mama was nearly in tears over the fact that I have never enjoyed any sort of party, unless one counts the tea parties I used to hold for little girls who were thrilled beyond all belief to be dressed up in their best gowns, visit the palace, and have tea with a real live princess...” She chuckled under her breath. “I think she was almost relieved when I proposed that I should ‘run away’ for a year and see how Papa’s enemies would react to his heir being ‘missing’!”
So far, the reactions had been quite telling, and Ruth wondered just how many of her father’s neighboring kings had been counting on her as a bride for either their heirs or their second sons, with never a peep of protest out of her. Having a reputation as a quiet, bookish, animal-loving princess tended to make princes assume that one was a ripe plum ready to fall into their hands whenever the tree should be shaken.
“But this plum is rather comfortable on its stem, thank you very much.” Ruth scratched behind Bounder’s ears once more. “And if I decide to let Cousin Edward have the throne instead, I see no reason why I should ever fall.” She smiled, turning another page. “Unless, of course, I choose the hand myself...”