Haunting, mournful singing could be faintly heard from the small cottage located at the fringes of an otherwise prosperous village. In contrast to the bustling of vendors yelling out their wares and locals competing for the best produce, this house looked dark and isolated like it was not welcome in the vibrant community. The singing, though soft, was beautiful. It spoke of sorrow and hope all at once. One could imagine a being of rare qualities just from the soulfulness felt from the voice of the young girl at the basement window. Her name was Allura, meaning beauty; like her name, she was incredibly beautiful.
She was also a prisoner.
Her father was a cruel and viscious man. He got his pleasure from torturing the sweet and gentle girl with a lack of freedom and made her a servant in his household. Allura's mother died many years ago leaving her alone at the mercy of her father. He drank and became violent when angry, which was often. This made Allura almost happy to be able to stay behind her locked door. Solace was hers in the plants, flowers and trees that she nurtured to life, even with the little light shining through the basement. The times she was allowed out to cook and clean she also strangely treasured. Feeling the earth beneath her bare feet picking food from the garden, feeding the animals, holding her arms up to the sky she would spin gracefully in pure pleasure to see the sun and or the moon and stars at night. She sensed magic in the air. The very presence of life in nature ensured she never truly felt lonely.
Her gifted touch nourished the animals and even the flowers and leaves swayed towards her when she entered the room almost as if she was their mother. Allura often sang to them and lovingly gave her energy and devotion. It seemed they adored her in return. Despite being imprisoned in a life of drudgery and service, she was liberated in her own mind and space, always free to dream and imagine a future of dreams alive with possibility.
The people in town pretended to be blind to her present situation, they did not care. The family in that cottage were always judged as odd and they were avoided as if the villagers would be tainted just by being in the presence of such wretchedness.
One day her father yelled out to Allura, "I'll be gone for a few days to get me grog and supplies as the stinking townspeople have run out of charity for a poor person like me. Don't be makin' any noise ya' hear."
Hanging her head in futile despair, she replied, "Yes, papa."
She could hear him stomping through the front door and leaving on the only horse they had; a poor beast driven hard and ready to retire or die, whichever relief came first. Sighing with resignation, she kept singing to what she imagined were real friends in the story books, the few she owned. Her father, being too ignorant to read, never realised her intelligence, just as much as he was blind to the grace of her spirit. The dismal cur had nothing pleasant to notice in life itself let alone in a daughter he was supposed to be responsible for. It was her fault for being a burden and worthless to him. If she were a boy she could at least work and help earn coins for the much needed ale. What was he supposed to do with a stupid, no good female child?
The winter was cold and after travelling for some time, the father was caught unawares in a snow storm. The storm quickly turned into a howling blizzard. He was so cold and scared for his life. He sought salvation at a nearby property that looked like a wreck of a castle. Knocking on the door with urgency, he demanded to be let in. The shaking servants were hesitant to oblige. The father kept knocking loudly and eventually started kicking the door in righteous rage from being denied. Suddenly, a roar could be heard from behind the door even more terrifying than the storm. Blinded by the snow and darkness, he was squinting when the door was flung open. Revealed were a pair of glowing red eyes and a large body mass of a strange beast like shape hidden under a black cape.
"State your business or die obnoxious stranger. In any case you will pay for disturbing my peace."
The gravelly voice that rumbled and echoed through the night was the most horrendous sound, it silenced the old man into a stupor. Perhaps he had finally met a bully bigger than himself, or maybe this was his nemesis, his karma, his punishment for his evil and wicked ways.
All this flashed through his mind so quickly until he could only stutter, "P..p..p..please help me."
The red eyes appeared to narrow at the man, "Now why should I? Be gone with you pest."
The old man started to cry along with his shivering, "Please, please I will give you anything. I will die out here."
An evil laugh followed. "What could you possibly have to incite my interest?" the thing with the red eyes unknown if man or beast said with obvious amusement."Unless you have an innocent daughter to satisfy my need, there is nothing to tempt me in your sorry state. Go away."
As the door started to close, the old man took a desperate plunge to his knees shouting, "I do have a daughter, she is yours. You can have her I swear."
Thinking nothing of the welfare of his only child, he willingly and with almost gleeful relish gave her up to preserve his own miserable life. No remorse or guilt hindered him. He didn't even stop to question the strange request of a daughter in exchange for providing shelter and saving someone's life. He did not care about reason; he just wanted warm fingers and toes.
"Come in then, but be warned old man cross this threshold and a mirror awaits. There will be no escape." The red eyes disappeared into the darkness, the door opened wide.
The strange riddle did not make him sense any danger, his only concern was obtaining his own selfish needs. He walked inside.
The scary occupant with the red eyes could not be seen though there was plenty of light once inside. He had vanished. Somewhere. A figment of the old man's traumatised mind he was not. Distracted by the opulent interior that made him gasp with incredulity, he did not ponder long on the whereabouts of his rescuer. The splendour, the richness of the place when it looked so dark and dingy from the outside was surprising. No one would guess the palace that was within.
The storm could not be heard at all, the warmth quickly spread through his body. The smell of food awakened his frozen senses. His stomach growled in depravation of satisfaction. It was demanding to be fed urgently, just as demanding and purely interested in self-gratification of the old man himself. Looking around where the smell could be coming from he followed the aroma to a double swinging door. Pushing it open, he came up against a grim faced woman dressed in thick grey from her neck to her ankles with bizarre pointy shoes sticking out from the mass of material swirling at her feet.
"The master has deigned to feed you. Here you will find your victuals, then you will be shown your quarters. Please do not tarry." The woman said whilst looking down her nose at him.
Flouncing out, giving him a disapproving glare from behind her glasses, she left him to eat alone without even an introduction. Nobody in the place seemed interested in finding out his name, nor offering theirs let alone asking what he was doing here. The old man was not fazed, he was too oblivious to anything but scoffing down the food in front of him. He did not even wait to find cutlery or a chair to sit. He ate like this was his last meal. He did not have any intuition or enough sense to realise that it perhaps could be.
Wiping his hands on his trousers and his mouth with his sleeve he looked up to see the woman in grey again. She turned and he obediently followed, certain that in such a luxurious house he would be offered superb accommodation. Instead of the main staircase, the woman held open a door for him to enter. He saw a brick tunnel covered in cobwebs housing a staircase to an unknown darkness. Before he could protest the woman slammed the door on him and quickly turned the lock. He had no choice but to climb the staircase. Cursing and barely able to see he reluctantly stepped up and once several stories high he could go no further. Another door faced him. This one he could open however. When he did open it he wished he had not.
Mysteriously appearing out of nowhere, the glowing red eyed beast held a torch and pointed it to a cell. It had straw for a bed and a bucket for a lavatory. So much for his impressive accommodation. Or perhaps it was more in keeping with what he deserved. Obviously the red eyed demon thought it was the latter as he shut the prison door upon the disappointed old man.
"You will write a letter to your daughter, requesting her to assist you here. Then she can take your place."
"But you don't understand," the father whined "I can't do that." For once scared to admit his sins he realised he was in a trap. If he couldn't get his daughter here, who knows what this monster would do to him? He gulped and blurted out, "You see, I've locked her in the basement. Sending a note wont do no good."
With a laugh, the beast said,"How apt, she will be perfectly at home here will she not?"
The beast's footsteps echoed away from the cell heard loudly along with his fading laughter.