The dull glow of the morning sun bleeds into my bedroom as the neighbour’s rooster screeches, announcing the dawn of a new day. I can hear my mother shuffling around downstairs preparing breakfast, my little brothers have begun their regular routine of terrorising the cat and my nerves; and my father like every morning is still asleep.
“Andromeda, up!” My mother calls from the bottom of the stairs.
“I am awake.”
“Awake is not up Andromeda.” With a roll of my eyes and a groan I’m out of bed. I wrap myself in my mother’s old dressing gown and step into my slippers then go downstairs. Each floor board creaks under my weight as I walk to the kitchen, if I didn’t have my slippers on my feet would be covered in splinters. This house is a rotting disaster, so is every house in the village; thats Wallachia for you. As I enter the kitchen I see my mother in her moth-eaten dressing gown stoking the fire to boil the kettle. “There you are.” She stands up and brushes strands of hair from her face. “Your father has something very important to talk to you about.” Her tired eyes seem slightly brighter than usual, she seems happy; which if you knew my mother, you would know never happens. “Go dress, I will come to do your hair once the boys are fed.” She doesn’t look at me as she makes her demands, she just rushes around the kitchen. I go back to my room and close the door, anxiety bubbling in my chest as I think what my father could have to say to me. I wash my face in the basin and change into my dress.
I take a seat at my window overlooking the village, broken roofs, crumbling walls, farms and desolation is all that can be seen for miles. The only juxtaposition is the castle on the top of a distant hill, surrounded by dense forrest and shrouded in an endless darkness. They say a monster lives there, some people around here have disappeared only for their bodies to be discovered drained of their blood or savagely mauled. Tzeitel Barbaneagra down the hill is sickly now, she says the monster has visited her several times and sucked her blood; she has bruises and bite marks covering her throat at chest. Tonight there will be a town meeting where we will discuss the monster, the last time things got like this they offered a virgin girl of marrying age. The deaths and feedings stopped not long after.
“Andromeda I meant get dressed into something nice, you wear this every day fiică.” My mother turns and leaves the room for a moment, only to return with her engagement dress. Oh no. This is the dress my mother wore when she was promised to my father, is this what my father wants to talk to me about? Great. “Here put this on.” She places the dress on my weathered bed and leaves the room again, shutting the door behind her. I stare at the pale pink dress, all covered in ribbons and lace, and I feel overcome with unimaginable dread. I wear this dress to symbolise my life is over, they might as well stab me here and now; it would kill me faster. Marriage! Today I turn 18 and they’re marrying me off, I don’t even get a day. “I don’t hear you getting ready Andromeda, now please. Your father will be home any minute.” My mother calls from behind my door. I sigh and dress myself for my impending funeral. The door opens as I pull the collar of the dress to my chin, my mothers icy hands button the back of the dress. She turns me around, “Oh look at you, so beautiful fiică.” Her dull grey eyes stare into mine, she looks as though she wants to say something but won’t. “Come let me do your hair.” She ushers me to my splintered vanity and sits me down. She hums quietly as she pulls my hair up and pins it into place. I concentrate on her sunken features, Ileana Ardelean was a beautiful woman in her youth. Bright blue eyes, caramel brown hair and a supple frame, it was no wonder she caught the eye of every man in the village. My father, Doru Ardelean, fell in love with her when she walked past his shop one spring afternoon, before her 18th birthday he approached her father and asked for her hand; offering a goat and three chickens. My grandfather accepted and on the day of her 18th birthday they married, two months later she fell pregnant with me. The years have not been kind to my mother, she never loved my father but rather accepted his proposal for the sake of tradition and to appease her own father; it was either him or the old butcher. Despite my mother’s distaste for marriage and wifely duty, she loves her children; not enough to rescue them from arranged marriage apparently but enough to make them look pretty for their future captor. I would rather sacrifice myself to the monster than marry any boy or man in this village.
“Ileana!” The front door opens with a bang as my father shouts for my mother. She places the last pin in my hair and nods.
“Wait until I call you down.” She places her hand on my cheek and kisses the other one. She smiles at me then hurries out of my room and down the stairs. I sigh sadly as I look at myself in the mirror, I look like a bride and I hate it.
“Why are you dressed like that?” My brother Dimitri and his twin Florin stand in the doorway.
“I am to be married, it would seem.”
“Oh.” They consider my words. “Does that mean a man will come to live with us?” Florin asks, he is the younger of the two.
“No Iubirea mea, it means I will go to live with a man.”
“You’re leaving?” Florin and Dimitri share a look, then rush into my room and hug me.
“Don’t go soră.”
“I’m afraid I have no choice.” I kiss both of their heads and hold their hands. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” They say in unison.
“Andromeda.” My mother calls my name, it’s time. I stand and walk down the festering hallway down the stairs and stand at the door of the sitting room. I look back up the stairs to see my little brothers with tears in their eyes, I offer a sad smile and let myself into the room, closing the door behind me.
“Ah there she is, my lovely daughter Andromeda. Say hello my dear.” My father walks over to me and places a hand on my back forcing me into the room.
“Hello.” I dare not make eye contact with anyone.
“Andromeda, Matei Ciobanu has come to me to ask your hand in marriage. Do you accept?” I raise my eyes to see the son of the butcher, all pig faced and fat staring at me. Suddenly I am overcome with the urge to vomit. My mother looks at me expectantly, my heart drops; I cannot refuse.
“Wonderful, a toast to celebrate. Ileana pour us some drinks.” My mother pours everyone a glass of some strong alcohol and passes one to the men in the room, which apparently means Matei, and they drink.
The rest of the day our fathers and Matei spoke of the wedding and plans for my future until it was time for us to go to the town meeting.
We find our seats as the priest takes to the podium. “May the lord be with you.”
“And with your spirit.” The congregation chimes in haunting unison.
“My children, the devil’s wrath is upon us. People found in their homes drained of blood, corpses rising in their coffins, plague spreading through families. This is the work of the devil himself, and he must be appeased. To satisfy his filthy desires, we must sacrifice one of our own; a virgin girl of marrying age. There are only three in the village at this time, Tzeitel Barbaneagra is no longer eligible so it must be Andromeda Ardelean or Luiza Sala." Both my family and Luiza's family stand and demand the other is the sacrifice. What do I have to lose by being the sacrifice? A life as the wife of a fat butcher...I may as well be dead. As I sit and listen to the arguing, I feel the solution is simple. I stand and the room goes silent.
"Andromeda?" I look my mother in the eyes as she realises, her eyes fill with tears. I look at the priest.
"I will be your sacrifice."