Every time a new girl comes to work at the castle, the rest of us hold our breath. We hope, for her sake, that she’s older, or is no longer a virgin, or that she’s unattractive.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for little Annabelle.
The new servant girl can’t be more than 13 years old, with long, honey-blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She has a delicate build, and beautifully smooth skin. I bet she’s really proud of that flawless skin – which is ironic, because that’s the feature most important to the countess when she’s choosing her next victim.
Leah takes one look at Annabelle and laughs scornfully. “Well, you’re not going to last long, are you?”
“Leah,” I say sharply, reprimanding her. It wouldn’t be fair to scare the poor girl so early.
But Leah has always been callous toward the new servant girls. I think she’s just relieved to know she won’t be the one chosen as long as the countess has a steady stream of beautiful young girls coming to the castle, and she just doesn’t express it well. I am 19, much older than the girls the countess prefers, but Leah is just turning 16. She's right on the cusp of being too old for the countess, and as such could still be a potential victim.
Annabelle seems offended. “I’m going to work really hard. I won’t get fired.”
Rebecca laughs now as well, disbelief evident in her tone as she asks, “Have you never heard the stories?”
“Countess Elizabeth Bathory is a respected noblewoman,” Annabelle says primly, and my heart breaks for her; it’s clear she’s quoting the speech her mother must have given her when she sent her off to work in this wretched place.
I'm sure that it seemed lucrative place to Annabelle's mother when she decided to send Annabelle off to work. After all, the castle is beautiful. It was built in the 13th century, nearly 400 years ago, and the countess has hired workers to add on to the already-expansive structure. It has always been owned by noble Hungarian families like the countess and her now-deceased husband, Count Ferenc Nádasdy. It saddens me to think that Annabelle's mother surely only wanted what was best for her daughter, thinking that she would be well cared for here, and now she will most likely never see her daughter again.
“Sure, but have you heard the stories?” Leah repeats Rebecca’s question eagerly. I don’t know why she finds so much pleasure in sharing the dark tales most of us find to be absolutely terrifying.
Hesitating slightly before shaking her head, Annabelle says, “Not really. I’ve heard that the countess is mean…”
I can’t help myself; even I laugh this time. The girl is so painfully clueless about what she’s gotten herself into. “Annabelle, ‘mean’ doesn’t even begin to cover it,” I say.
Leah settles back in her chair, eyes shining gleefully and she puts aside the dress she’s supposed to be mending so she can focus on her storytelling. I think about scolding her for ignoring her work, but she won’t listen anyway. Rebecca and I make eye contact, both of us knowing the trouble Leah will be in if the countess catches her slacking off.
Leah smiles deviously and begins, “The countess is a blood-thirsty, vicious monster. She has an obsession with blood and beautiful, young, little girls like yourself. She loves to torture her servants.”
Annabelle squints her eyes., “Don’t lie to me!” she says with a scowl.
Leah tilts her head back and laughs heartily., “Oh, I’m not.” She leans back, crossing her legs. “Pretty girls have a habit of 'running off' around here," Leah says, waggling her eyebrows, "if you know what I mean. We can hear the faint screams all night,; and we don’t get perfect treatment either. One little mistake and , we’ll get slapped or denied supper. TAlmost always the cCountess will almost always find something wrong with our work, even if it’s perfectthere isn’t, just so she can have an excuse to mistreat us.” Leah rolls up her sleeve and shows Annabelle a large purple bruise on her right arm. She got that just