bigsciencybrain: (Taming the Muse)
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Title: Tender
Author: Bigsciencybrain
Fandom: Cinderella
Series: N/A
Character(s): Cinderella
Prompt: #241 - Genuphobia
Rating: G
Word Count: 1,114
Disclaimer: Fairy tales are public domain.

Summary: A glimpse into a day for Cinderella.

Bare threads whispered against Cinderella’s skin with the touch of a gentle breeze as she crouched, kneeled, and crawled her way down the daily list of chores, but their softness was wasted against the bruises and aches reached deep beneath her skin. By the end of each day, even the spider web thin fabric felt like a weave of flint shards.

Patches of thicker fabric that she stitched over the bare spots of her skirt did little to ease the agony of kneeling. Uneven stitching was exaggerated by overtaxed nerves and felt like small mountain peaks digging even deeper into her skin. When the fabric bunched or the patch slipped out of place, pain would lance out from her knees and freeze her breath in her throat.

In quiet moments, when her mind drifted away from the aches and pains of her life, she would pinch the fabric between two fingers and slide it back and forth. It felt soft and worn smooth as a river stone; smooth enough to be incapable of causing the pain she would feel in her knees when it rested against her skin. The muscles in her neck and shoulders tensed in anticipation; she let the fabric fall from her fingers and settle back into place around her legs. Patches of angry, red skin stung sharply at the contact with the fabric. Even the rough scrub brush, with wood worn into curves that fit her hand like a glove, felt pleasurable when compared to the moments after her knees touched the floor. Her body weight settled down, pressing already bruised flesh into the cracks and pits of the stone floor, and she struggled to keep moving the brush over the stones.

She focused on the cracks and intersections of the slate pieces. Inch by inch, she moved toward the next crack and then the next, until her knuckles brushed up against the thick stone of the hearth. Sweat was already sliding down her face and back, even without the heat from the low fire. Wiping her hair out of her eyes streaked soot across her face. Knuckles whitened as she pulled herself up onto her feet, choking down the pain radiating from her knees.

The bucket, heavy with muddy water and a crust of lye, was set aside for the moment as she added firewood and stoked the fire. Fresh water and the largest cauldron would have to be brought in from the well to prepare for laundering the pile of linens already waiting in the woven basket beside the hearth.

Retreating from the now blazing fire, she walked jerkily toward the kitchen. The weight of the water bucket kept her off balance, but that wasn’t nearly as difficult as the protesting stiffness of her swollen knees. She clenched her teeth and kept moving forward, swaying and staggering as the bucket bumped against her thighs. Dirty water was discarded over the cobblestone walkway leading through the garden on the way to the well. Once empty, she lashed the bucket into the metal ring and lowered it down into the well. Filling the laundry cauldron was an agonizing chore that would take her nearly an hour of hauling water over uneven cobblestones; each step filled with pain. There was one silver lining to the chore.

She turned the crank with effort, the load now heavy with the weight of water, and hungrily anticipated the little relief she found in her daily routine. The bucket clunked against the stone wall of the well as she caught the handle and pulled it toward her. It balanced precariously on the wall, water sloshing from the movement. She pulled the thick wiping cloth from the band around her waist and sunk it deep into the cold water.

She eased into a seated position on the narrow ledge of the well and pulled up her skirt as carefully as she could. The cloth, chilled from the well water, felt like biting ice against the tender skin stretched taut over her knees, but that soon faded to a dull throbbing.
For a few fleeting minutes, she breathed in the heady aromas of the rich earth and the late blooming flowers from the garden; the pain in her knees retreating into the depths of her bones. In those moments, she avoided looking toward the house or the water bucket. They were reminders of what was waiting for her and the agony that each step would bring.

Her fingers tightened around the wet rag, sending more cool water sliding down her legs. Every muscle in her legs was tightened against the movement that would get her back onto her feet and then, once again, onto her knees. A shiver of dread prickled the skin on her arms and cascaded down her spine. The fear bubbling up at the pit of her stomach was cold and primal; a desperate desire to flee from pain. It always started as a whisper of dread in the back of her mind, slowly curling and growing as it slithered through her thoughts until she was paralyzed with a fear that not even the sisters demands could overcome.

The fear kept her clinging to the wet rag and the narrow stone wall of the well as though they were her last anchors to a time and place without the brutal pain in her knees. She remained transfixed until the cool of the water was warmed by the afternoon sun and the heat of her skin. Pain began to return; she could feel it pulse through her knees with each beat of her heart.

She tucked the cloth back into her waist band and unfastened the water bucket. The weight of it wrenched painfully at her shoulders as she pulled it away from the well. Her jaw ached from clenching her teeth together against the stabbing pains that drove up into her hips with each step.

A thick, curled tendril from one of the pumpkin plants caught at her ankle as she made her way toward the kitchen. She stopped to brush it away from the path with her foot, as much to catch her breath as in consideration for the creeping plant. The simple movement brought fresh pain and she shuddered as she inhaled, tightening her grip on the bucket handle to keep from letting go. For a moment, she thought her knees would shatter with the pain and send her collapsing helplessly onto the walk.

She wished with all her might that she could escape from this place.
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March 2012

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