Authors: Lani Lenore
THE NUTCRACKER BLEEDS
Text © Lani Lenore 2007–2014
All Rights Reserved. No part of this
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the attic room, dimly lit by flickering bulbs of gaslight, the girl sat atop
her bed. Beneath her was a quilt, covered in squares that presented colorful
dolls–her favorite blanket. She wore a blue dinner dress that she had spread
out around her like a blooming flower; all the better to keep the wrinkles out.
one had come for her yet, and time was slipping by into the evening, but Olivia
didn’t complain. She enjoyed this solitude, but she was never truly alone. No;
there were always so many friends to play with.
hummed quietly to herself, ignoring the snowflakes that gently kissed at her
window, only to be shunned by the selfish heat within. The girl was unaware of
her simple beauty–completely oblivious of her ripe young body and her soft
skin. She had no need for concern over those things, for she would never grow
up. She would never be like
, and somehow, she knew that.
down the toy soldier she’d been marching across the quilt, Olivia picked up a
pretty doll whose name was Madeline, her ringlets and painted lips perfect.
She’d been a gift from the one who loved Olivia most.
you want to marry her, you’ll have to go to war, Edmond,” Olivia said, always
very forthright. “Every girl wants a strong soldier to protect her.”
was silence in the room for a few moments as Olivia balanced the soldier on his
feet, making Madeline prance around him beautifully.
can make your claims all you want,” she scolded as if the soldier had responded
to her, “but she won’t believe you unless you go to war.”
quiet followed her insistence, and Olivia–very much a child trapped in a young
woman’s body–set Madeline down carefully and held the soldier up close to her
face. She looked straight into his painted eyes and gave him a look of
do you mean, you’re
? You should have thought of that before you
became a soldier! If you don’t fight, you will be looked upon as a traitor by
your country, and you’ll be executed. I’d hate to see that happen to you, Edmond.”
looked at the soldier harshly, and after a few seconds had ticked away in the
stillness, she closed her eyes and a little smile spread across her lips.
glad you made that decision. Madeline is glad, too.” Olivia pulled the soldier
and doll against her chest so tightly that they might have heard the beating of
her heart against their own hollow bodies.
voices were silent. Within the wall, a rat was scratching.
winter was upon London harshly that year, the snowflakes coming down in
hundreds at once like confetti, with occasional streamers blowing past. All
this, and even with Christmas swiftly approaching, the toymaker’s room was
neglected–abandoned for almost two months now.
room was locked, just as it always was when he was away. Euan Ellington was a
man who liked order, and wouldn’t tolerate his belongings being disturbed by
anyone but himself. Therefore, his tools and projects sat alone, silent and
unbothered in the cold room on the second floor of the English home.
the fireplace mantle was decorated with trinkets of the holiday season and
lined with stockings, named for the children of the household. In the dining
room, a long table of polished rosewood was spread with plates of a great
number. Carefully–polished silver rested on napkins of lace, the crystal
glasses cleaned to sparkling perfection in order to reflect the chandelier
the grand hall–just as one opened the door to the large townhouse–stood a fur
tree. The tree reached heights, extending toward the high ceiling with its
entire self, tiny branches trimmed and adorned with ornaments and ribbons of
Ellington family prided themselves in their preparation for the Christmas
season. Everything was perfected down to the smallest detail. Windows and doors
were hung with wreaths and the house was liberally decorated with holly and
mistletoe. If they’d known of the mice in the house, those mice would have worn
slippers. Every year, the decorations were not taken for granted, for this
season was a regal occasion.
house accommodated more than a few of the Ellingtons’ relatives and their
anxious children. William and Agatha Ellington themselves had four children,
but among those gathered on this holiday were older relatives, not forgetting
each of William’s five brothers and
children. There would be no
less than thirty occupants including servants, and that was not counting the
happy children who would fill the house with excited laughter.
this occasion, Agatha Ellington supervised the kitchen herself, watching the
servants scurry with a scrutinizing eye. She observed the table now, making a
mental checklist of the place settings. There was an additional chair this
year, and as Agatha stared at it, she wondered over her decision to allow
Olivia at the table with the adults. There were so many worries; so many
this centerpiece how you would like it, mistress?”
looked toward the table, watching a pair of servants in matching uniforms position
the assembled centerpiece of candles and greenery. She was about to open her
mouth and instruct them that it should be placed a bit more to the right, but a
sudden wave of dizziness came over her instead, scattering her thoughts.
thought, feeling a streak of panic.
No, not now.
feelings of sickness had been more frequent lately, but despite how powerful
they were, Agatha was insistent that the help should not know of her distress.
If they sensed her weakness, they would talk. It was difficult enough to keep
them from gossiping on other matters, as she’d learned.
looked up, suddenly remembering herself when one of the maids called her back.
Just put it there. That will be fine,” she said dismissively, and at that, she
turned. She tried to keep her pace steady, but found herself walking faster in
order to escape. Her unease was growing.
ducked out of the dining room as a cold sweat broke over her skin. She passed
into the hallway, away from so many prying eyes, and moved into a corner near
the frosted window, bracing herself on the frame.
her eyes, she tried to will her head to stop spinning. The effort seemed to
help. She seized her handkerchief and put it to her mouth, breathing through it
to block out the smells of the food drifting through the house. Her stomach
rolled as she stared out at the falling snow, which was good enough to distract
her for the moment.
Just no more blood
you alright, Mrs. Ellington?”
voice led Agatha to draw back and pull herself upright, fully embarrassed.
That, at least, might have returned some of the color to her pale cheeks.
turned to see Anne, her daughter Olivia’s nanny, in the doorway of the dining
room, peering at her. To look upon this young woman, one was immediately
stricken by her natural, fair beauty, and her plain gray dress did not hide the
fact. Agatha was not oblivious to it either, but that did not concern her now.
Anne knew her place. By all appearances, she was a decent, God–fearing girl who
never spoke out of turn, and more importantly, she did her job of keeping
Olivia in line, and that was what mattered most.
Agatha did not
like the idea that even Anne had witnessed her trouble. She waited for the pain
to subside before she was finally able to raise herself back up.
assure you, I’m fine,” Mrs. Ellington said, taking a deep breath. “What is it
you want, Anne?”
young woman did not seem fazed by Agatha’s snapping, and the woman knew she had
her moments. Instead, the nurse smiled warmly.
thought to ask you when you wanted me to bring Olivia down, ma’am. Should I
wait until all the other guests have arrived?”
froze then, looking at Anne with even more worry in her pale eyes than what she
had for her own health.
is she now?” Agatha inquired. Sometimes she thought that it was odd how the
very mention of the girl–her own daughter–could cause her so much grief.
secure in her room,” Anne informed her. “Playing with dolls. I’m sure she’ll be
happy with that until I come to collect her.”
simply nodded, once again wondering over her decision to allow Olivia to join
the rest of the family for dinner this year. The girl could be so
well–behaved one moment and throwing a tantrum the next.
worry,” Agatha said wearily. “I fear that someday I’ll become terribly
disappointed in her. She keeps herself composed, but perhaps she will embarrass
me horribly? I wonder if I made the right choice about what should be done with
smiled, keeping her hands still and her back straight as she spoke.
why you have me,” she said. Agatha knew Anne was trying to reassure her, but
still, she had her doubts.
I suppose we should wait to bring her down,” Agatha sighed. “Don’t want her too
overstimulated before dinner.”
ma’am,” Anne agreed, bowing her head reverently as she turned to go.
pain having lessened, she was free to turn her mind back to the tasks at hand,
when suddenly she thought of another matter.
you do me one more favor, Anne?” she spoke up, calling after the young woman.
“Could you make sure my husband knows that it’s getting late? He’s in his
study, I’m sure. Tell him to come down soon.”
Anne agreed amiably. “I’ll summon him for you.”
you, dear,” Agatha said with a forced smile, but as soon as Anne left, she
clenched her side again.
Agatha continually dismissed the pain as stress for her daughter and the strain
of the holiday, she was beginning to worry over this ailment that she’d been
content to ignore thus far. The pains were becoming much more common. She had
seen a doctor in secret, but he had failed to diagnose her trouble.
I will be alright
she told herself.
I have far too much to do.
the first carriage pulled up in the flurry of snow outside, she knew that now
was not the time to focus on such minor ailments. Agatha would put herself
second. The family was starting to arrive.
took herself upstairs to the second floor of the sprawling house, aiming to do
just as her mistress had instructed. She placed soft steps down the narrow
hallway, listening to the sounds around her, considering the atmosphere of the
were always creaks and groans from the floor, an occasional flicker of light at
a hallway lamp. She could hear the muted hiss and whirl of the gas–powered
heating system inside the walls, but those things were commonplace. In the
distant nursery, she heard the voices of the three youngest Ellington children
as they played together, but that was not Anne’s concern. The others had their
through the house that she knew so well, Anne found her way to William
Ellington’s study, first glancing about to see if she was being observed before
she smoothed her dress a bit and raised her fist to knock on the study door.
is it?” came the deep, uninterested voice from within. It was very much like
him to be so stern when he was trying to be alone.
Anne, Mr. Ellington,” she said carefully, trying to keep the smile from her
mouth as she said it.
was not a bit nervous to stand before the master of the house. Like a king with
his scepter–which held the power of life and death–he would grant her an audience.
There was silence for only a moment on the other side of the door.
come in then,” he allowed finally, and Anne did just that. She went into the
study as if she had every right to be there, closing the door quietly behind
was sitting behind his desk as he often did, though whether or not he was
actually engaged in his bookwork, Anne could not tell. When he was not out of
the house, he spent much of his time here in this room which smelled of pipe
smoke and scotch. It was his only retreat from his wife and children, and he
took that seriously. Anne liked that side of him.
did not take his eyes off of her as she approached his desk–did not avert his
eyes even after she stopped in the middle of the room, holding her posture.
wife sent me to summon you,” she said informally. “She wants you to remember
that you should come down and greet the family as they arrive.”
she sent you for this task, did she?” he asked, rising up from his chair to
step around the desk.
was quite a few years her senior, and Anne found that he had a dominating
presence. He was a tall, well–built man with an appeal that she could not quite
deny, and from the first time he had made an advance toward her, she had not
turned him away. They had been carrying on together for nearly two years
now–for as long as Anne had been under their roof–and she counted their secret
tryst as an added measure of job security.
convent for me
she thought now as she smiled up at him.
business does a nurse have in the master’s study?” he asked her teasingly. Anne
only looked back at him with eager eyes, tracing his features.
in the room, William slid his hand along her arm and pulled her against him. He
touched her with the same hand that bore his gold ring–the promise to his wife.
could not deny the excitement that pulsed within her at each deliberate step he
took, until he was standing in front of her, looking down with a knowing smirk.
business do I have? Well what business do you have
?” she asked
leadingly, knowing her role with him as well as she knew it with his wife.
he said lowly, kissing her mouth. Anne’s body was lit with heat from the fire
in her belly. She did not protest to his kisses. She’d had plenty of them
before and more of him than that, but she didn’t consider their exchange
anything more than what was required for her to stay in his favor. Anne giggled
as his lips became greedily, seeking more of her in the dim office.
stop,” she scolded lightly, pretending to resist his advance. “There are too
many people moving about in the house. We’ll get caught.”
be quiet,” he whispered huskily in her ear as his lips passed along her neck.
“Quiet as mice.”
smiled, sighing with pleasure as his lips fell across her skin. She gave up
resistance. She could play her role as she needed to–to whatever extent she
needed–in order to make her own way. She closed her eyes as William’s kisses
continued, imagining a day when she might be wearing a golden ring, and this
house would be her own.
warm smells of freshly–baked bread and the aroma of turkey flanked with
cranberry drifted through the large house. It floated through the hollow spaces
in the walls, past the locked room on the second floor and went straight on to
the third. On this third floor was a single room, adjacent to a large attic,
kept far from the rest of the family for caution’s sake, for inside dwelled a
certain Ellington daughter who was often ignored by those of her own blood.