Here is the third and final installment of my short story “The Three Sisters.” Please enjoy!
The butcher looked up at the girls. Diya had joined her sister, wrapped in a blanket with blood still running down her face. He stepped forward and cupped Diya’s face in his hands. “Oh, sweet child.” She cried and he held her steady with his hands on her arms. “The man said one of you was a witch.”
Diya spoke in a shrill voice, full of pain and anguish. “He was insane! He attacked me.”
“Word of this will spread quickly. There are ears listening even if you do not see them.” The butcher said, looking around the town. “Come on, we must get you out of here tonight before the sun rises.”
Lillian nodded. The butcher helped Lillian load everything up into their cart. He ran back to his store and gave them more provisions; enough for them to stay on the road for at least a week or more. Diya sat on a large rock holding Gemma tightly to her; she knew her sister had just saved her life and feared the strain was too much for her. Diya feared that Gemma would not wake.
“I will take care of the man’s body.” The butcher said. “Just get out of here. Which direction are you going?”
“North.” Lillian said.
“If anyone asks I will tell them you went west.” The butcher nodded. “You have done me a kindness that I know I will never be able to repay for your future has come true for me. I hope this will help a little.”
Lillian smiled down at him from the cart. “There is nothing to repay. Just live your life with love and happiness.” She said.
The butcher waved them off just as the skies started to show the first signs of sunlight. Lillian did not stop for many miles wishing to put as distance as she could between them and the horrors of last night. Diya sat curled up in the back with Gemma in her lap wrapped in a blanket. Every so often she would lean down to her and kiss her just make sure the child was still breathing.
They only stopped once a day for the next three days, in the evening to eat and rests, under the cloak of darkness just to make sure enough miles were between them and the town of Sheridan. Lillian wanted to them to be safely far enough away in case someone was following them in some sort of quest for vengeance or redemption. She also felt uneasy about rumors starting of Gemma being a witch.
On the morning of the fourth day, Gemma still had not woken from her sleep. Diya took her place in the cart, cradling the girl but looked to Lillian with concern. “Shouldn’t she be awake by now? She hasn’t eaten or drank for days.”
“We know not the strain that night put on her, sister.” Lillian said as she hitched up the horse. “We have never seen anything like this.”
“Shouldn’t we take her to a doctor?” Diya inquired.
“We can’t risk that.” Lillian said, biting her lip for she too was concerned about the child.
They went around towns whenever they could, only going through them to get provisions when needed. Stopping only long enough to get what was needed and leaving again as quickly. Lillian was relieved that stories of the child were not spreading throughout the towns and she hoped she would be able to make it to Grand Martise without further incident.
Diya would often ask Lillian where they were going, but Lillian would not answer or simply say “North.” By the sixth day, Diya quit asking. Lillian knew it was only another two days travels until they were home again and planned to make it there hoping that it would bring Gemma from her coma. They drove on by day, sleeping by night. On the ninth day they were at the edge of the town they once called home.
“I know where we are.” Diya said with a gasp.
“We are home.” Lillian said.
“We do not have a home anymore sister.” Diya said bitterly.
“We will.” Said Lillian defiantly.
For the first time in almost a fortnight, Gemma stirred as they passed through the center of town. Her eyes fluttered open and she gazed at Diya. “You are safe, my sister.”
Diya’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh my sweet Gemma, my sweet, sweet Gemma.”
Lillian heard Diya’s cries and stopped in the middle of the road, hoping down from the cart and running to the back where the girls sat. She reached in and hugged the two of them. Gemma made a sound like that of a contented cat purring with happiness. “I am hungry.”
Lillian laughed. “I can imagine you are!”
“Drive on sister, I will get her food and water.” Diya said, shooing Lillian back to the front of the cart. Lillian did not want to leave Gemma, but relented and returned to the front of the cart gathering her dress to climb up. Diya searched around, not letting go of Gemma, to find the bread and cheese and canteens of water.
Gemma sat up, and began to eat. Diya sat behind her and combed through her hair, braiding it. Gemma found herself becoming annoyed at the attention when she just wanted to eat. “Why must you fuss with me?” She asked, brushing Diya’s hands away like they were flies buzzing around her head.
“You have been a sleep for almost two weeks, sister.” Diya said.
“I know.” Gemma said with a shrug. “I was tired.”
“You know? You mean, you knew what was going on?” Diya asked incredulously.
“I always know what’s going on.” Gemma said, taking a big bite out of her wedge of cheese. She chewed for a moment before she continued. “I thought about waking up two days ago, but I could sense where we were going. I could hear voices that were familiar and somehow I knew I needed to sleep a little bit longer.”
Diya stared at her in disbelief. “We thought you ill.”
“Oh I was, at first.” Gemma said, ripping into the bread. “Very much so, but then I just needed to rest.”
“Why did you need to rest for so long?” Diya asked.
“Because I am going to need it.” Gemma said and would not say anymore. She ate until she couldn’t and ignored Diya’s looks and questions. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of everything around her, feeling the sun on her face.
It only took about an hour before the three sisters pulled their cart up the long driveway which lead to the large house they once called home. Lillian pulled the cart to a stop just outside the front doors and hopped down, making her way to the back to help Diya and Gemma out of the back. A figure appeared at the door, a woman in her mid-fifties with silver hair in a tight bun and black dress covered by a gray apron.
The woman looked stern as the girls started their way up the grand steps and started to ask what their business was when she realized who was standing before her. The woman was their housekeeper and nanny when they were all young. Lillian was bursting within at the sight of her; their wonderful Mrs. Dodds. Mrs. Dodds stepped forward and placed her hands on Lillian’s face, staring into her eyes as a mother would when their lost child returned home.
“My child.” Mrs. Dodds whispered, pulling Lillian into an embrace. Tears started swelling in the woman’s eyes as she looked two the other two. “My babies.” She said.
“Are you well, Mrs. Dodds?” Lillian asked, pulling back from her to look her in the eyes.
“I am better now.” She said, tears freely flowing down her fluffy, powdered cheeks.
“Hmm.” Gemma said, stepping forward. “I don’t remember you, but I like you.” She said. “I don’t think Lillian is going to like the state of things around here.”
Mrs. Dodds looked at the child with amusement. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t remember me, but I rocked you many a night, my child.”
“May we come in?” Lillian said.
Mrs. Dodds turned and looked at the door then to Gemma before looking back to Lillian. “I am afraid the child is right, you aren’t going to like the state of things.”
“Why? What has happened?” Lillian asked warily.
“You three have been gone a long time.” Mrs. Dodds started. “I am afraid you Uncle and Aunt have torn this place up, searching for money that doesn’t exist. They have sold things; lived well beyond their means in hopes of finding their hidden wealth.”
“Where is my uncle now?” Lillian asked.
“They are both in the study.” Mrs. Dodds answered.
“Then you will take me to them.” Lillian said, standing tall and with the conviction of a woman, no longer a child wishing to just return home.
“As you wish.” Mrs. Dodds said. She led the girls inside. Diya turned around in circles, looking at the large entry. She remembered how she twirl and dance in that entry after coming down the steps. Gemma looked around with big round eyes; she scarcely remembered anything but the inside of their tent.
“This way.” Mrs. Dodds beckoned.
“I do not wish to go.” Diya said, sitting on the bottom step and crossing her arms defiantly.
“I’m going.” Gemma said.
Lillian turned to the girls. “Yes, stay here. No Gemma, stay with Diya.”
“Nope, nope, nope.” Gemma said, following after Lillian and Mrs. Dodds. “I slept all the way for this.”
Mrs. Dodds looked at Gemma again, puzzled. Lillian sighed but did not argue as Gemma followed them into the study to face the Aunt and Uncle who threw them out years ago. They both had their backs to the door as Lillian and Gemma entered, discussing something in hushed tones. They heard the door creak open and Lillian heard her Aunt sigh. “Mrs. Dodds, you were told we did not want to be interrupted.” They both looked up and both had the look of shock on their faces as Lillian stepped forward into the light.
“My Word.” Their Uncle said, collapsing into the chair at the desk.
“What are you doing here?” Their Aunt hissed, venom dripping from each word.
“I am here to reclaim what is rightfully ours.” Lillian said boldly.
Her Aunt snorted in a laugh of disgusted, but stopped as Gemma stepped out from behind Lillian. Her face went pale and she clutched the desk for support. “Oh my, Gemma, what a beauty have turned into.” She said, her voice trembling.
Gemma smiled but did not say a word and looked up at Lillian who was smiling down at her in return. Lillian continued. “I am prepared to make you an offer to pay back all you paid and more if you leave our home and do not return.”
Their Uncle eyed her suspiciously. “How did you come by that kind of money?”
Gemma spoke. “She and Diya earned it. It would probably be wise to take the offer.” She said dreamily and began wandering around the room aimlessly.
“How much?” Their Aunt said.
“Fifteen thousand. More than enough to pay you back and provide you a new start; just return our home to us.” Lillian said.
“Fifteen thousand?” Her Uncle said.
“No way.” Her Aunt said. “I know there is more than that in this house and I know you know where it is.” She said, stepping forward and staring Lillian in the eyes.
“Dear.” Their Uncle said, trying to stop his wife but she was mad with greed and tired from searching all these years for something Lillian did not know or believe existed.
“There is no more money.” Lillian said, standing tall and not dropping her eyes from her Aunt.
Their Uncle stood and grabbed his wife’s arm. “Fifteen thousand will get us out of this house. We can move on.”
Gemma had returned to Lillian’s side without them knowing she was there. She yanked on her Aunt’s skirt which broke the gaze between her and Lillian. “What do you want, you little urchin?”
She looked into Gemma’s eyes. “I told you it would be wise for you to take the money.”
Their Aunt began to turn pale again, collapsing to her knees still staring at the child. She began to weep and sob, with deep heaving breaths. Gemma patted her on the shoulder as if trying to console the woman. Her husband ran to her side and lifted her, putting her in the chair. He turned to them. “We will take the money. I never really wanted it all anyway.”
Lillian handed him the money and he swore they would be gone before the end of the day. The servants helped them pack their wagons and Lillian watched as her uncle helped their still weeping Aunt into the carriage. Diya was off exploring the house and Gemma was in the kitchen getting fed anything she wanted by Mrs. Dodds. Not until the last carriage rolled out of the driveway did Lillian look around and let a sigh of great relief.
She joined Gemma in the kitchen and watch with a smile as the child demolished an entire tray of cream puffs. The child giggled with joy as she watched Mrs. Dodds drizzle the next batch with chocolate. Lillian laughed, unable to help herself and joined in on a cream puff herself.
The three sisters spent the rest of the day exploring the house, finding their old rooms and stopping to bless their parents as they discovered their old room. The roamed the grounds and ran in the garden. It saddened Lillian at the condition of it, but knew she would return it to the way her mother always kept it, somehow. She had given almost all they had to her Aunt and Uncle but she would find somehow to restore the house.
Night fell on the house and Diya, weary from the day, retired to her room needing sleep. Gemma came to Lillian who was sitting in their father’s old library. It was where they had found him the night he died. She was sitting with her legs curled up in his oversized leather chair. Gemma climbed into her lap, “I want a story.”
Lillian looked around the room at all the books. “Which one do you want?”
Gemma got up and pointed to a book too high for her to reach. “That one, I think it will please us both.”
Lillian rose from the chair to see which book Gemma was pointing to. “The stories and lullabies of the Seven Golden Kingdoms; I don’t remember this book.” She said as she pulled it from the shelf. It felt odd, the weight of the book was wrong. Lillian looked down at Gemma. “What is this?”
Gemma looked at her innocently. “A book.”
Lillian smirked and opened it. The inside of it was hollowed and inserted in the center was a metal box. She looked to Gemma again as her breath caught in her chest. Lillian pulled the box out and opened it slowly. She gasped at the contents for it held a stack of money the likes Lillian had never seen. Gemma smiled and giggled at Lillian’s joy, clapping loudly.
“How did you know? How did they never find it?” Lillian was in shock and slumped into the chair, holding the money in her hand.
Gemma stepped forward and placed her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Daddy told me it was there. There is more too. They never found it because they didn’t read and wouldn’t come in here thinking it was a bad place but it’s actually a very good place.” She finished with her hands on hips and a little nod of her head, looking around and surveying the room.
Lillian knelt in front of Gemma and hugged her tightly. Gemma spent the next hour telling Lillian where the rest of the money was and when they were through, Lillian cuddled the child up into her arms again. Gemma looked up at her and smile. “You will no longer be able to tell our future sister; it going to change and change and change. Our road is going to be long, with curves and bumps and dips; we will change our minds a hundred times but what an adventure it will be.”
Gemma smiled up at her sister with sleepy eyes and yawned. “You are right little one.” Lillian responded. “Now rest, and let us start our new future tomorrow.” She sang the child to sleep and peace fell over the house.
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