Originally posted in the OG Vainglory Forums by @TheGreatClockwyrm on 23 November 2015 and 10 April 2016
Archived by @ThePinkOtter 12 Feb 2018
So, this is the first part in a project I’ve been working on for a long time now. I really wanted to write a good backstory for Catherine and also to tie her early life into a lot of the unexplored themes and worlds in my main series, and also to expand the world of Vainglory a bit. I’d apologize for the length but you can’t put a stopper on creativity. So I do hope you enjoy Part One. WARNING: This is a fair deal more mature and darker than other works of mine, so just thought that I’d warn you. Love and best wishes from TheGreatClockwyrm!
Trapped Bird Part 1
My name is Catherine. Catherine LeBlanc. I am 18 years old. I have a sister named Jacqueline, and she is eight years old. We live in the Boiling Bay, a city on the southeast mainland. I live with my father. My mother died when I was ten, right after my sister was born. I don’t remember much about her. Black hair, like me, and violet eyes. Father often told me about her. How she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. And how he had spent a good two years wooing her- visiting the bar she worked as a side job at every day, playing his violin, spending all his money tipping her, never ceasing to flirt and ask her out on a date, until one day, nineteen years ago, she agreed, and he proposed on their fourth date. I was born a year later, and Jacqueline followed ten years after. Mother died in childbirth.
Father has always been different since Mother died. He was fired from his job at the shipyard in less than a week, for accidentally setting the foreman’s yacht adrift to the Arathian Sea. Since then, I’ve been working odd jobs to sustain the household. Little Jackie helps where she can, bless her. She shouldn’t have to do this. She’s eight years old, dammit. Father is no help. He spends all his time sitting in his armchair before the fire, staring into their depths. He responds to nothing. No words, no gesture can rouse him from his stupor. His eyes are glassy. His skin is cold to the touch. Little Jackie doesn’t really understand. Every day I tell her Daddy just isn’t feeling well, and that he’ll be better soon. I’ve been telling her that for six years.
Hector Marrik came by the other day. He’s one of Father’s friends from the shipyard, and he stops by every month or so to check up on him, tell him what’s going on in the city. He’ll stay for a few hours, ask me and Jackie how we’re doing, slip us a silver kallit or two with a wink and a finger to his bearded lips as if he was doing us a great charity that he wanted to be kept secret. And with that, he’ll give Father one last pat on the hand before leaving. In his heart, he must mean well, but I have never cared much for him. He has a thick carnie accent; he elongates his vowels and skips most consonants. His stubbly brown beard doesn’t match his ruddy complexion, and his big, squashed nose looks as if it has been broken many times before. He is tall, very tall, and well-built from many years of working at the shipyard. He speaks loudly, and laughs like a drunken fool- although, I suppose that he is one. I knew that he had a son, a few months old when I last saw him, which was a year and a half ago. I realized that Marrik hadn’t come by in months- was something wrong? I hoped the baby was alright.
I got home from the inn about an hour ago. Mr. Barnaby lets me work there, doing odd jobs at the bar and in the back rooms, and I get paid a kallit an hour, which is very generous. I think he pities me and Father. He’s old, and has money to spare, so why not give it to helpless family down the road? I hate that. I hate having to depend on others. Too often they fail, and I am left to pick up the pieces of their mistakes. I am the one who has cared for Father and Jackie for nine years, working and slaving away at the inn, at the shipyards, in the seedy bars and makeshift road stands, scrimping and saving every kallit to pay rent and put food on the table. My muscles are strong from years of lifting crates barehanded at the docks. My tongue is sharp from years of listening to the petty woes of the sailors and thieves at the bar. My hands are rough from years of cooking meals and scrubbing floors.
Jackie is in bed. I am settling our debts on the rent for the ramshackle hut by the sea we’ve lived in all my life. Father sits in his armchair before the fire, his hands on arms of the chair, and the only sound between the two of us is the scratching of my quill and the steady crackle of the flames. This night is different from no other- I am working, and Father is stuck in his mind, and I cannot help but wonder what he is doing in there. Night falls. The room grows dark save for the stars shining outside and the ghostly glow of the fire. I pause in my arithmetic, and I hear a snuffling noise, as if someone were crying. I look up at Father, and by the weak light of the hearth, I see tears slowly rolling down his impassive face.
I drop my quill and papers, spilling ink over my loose cotton shirt, and rush over to my father, kneeling beside his armchair and placing a hand on his arm. I ask him what is wrong, and he turns his head to me. I study his features. His strong jaw, outlined by a thick black beard, and a slim nose framed by violet eyes. Bushy black eyebrows cast shadows over his face, accentuated by the flickering flames. He blinks once, and I flinch a little. I haven’t seen so much reaction from him in years. I look into his eyes, and pat his arm. “What is it, father?”
He blinks again, and then squints his eyes, waxy, yellow tears rolling down his cheeks and into his beard. He gasps, and his eyes open wide, then narrow to slits. He opens his mouth. “D-do you-,” He stops, closes his eyes again, and swallows. “D-do you w-want to know how y-you were n-n-named?” I blink away tears and smile. “Yes father. Tell me.”
He closes his eyes and sinks into his chair. “Your m-mother studied h-history at the university in S-Stromgarde, b-b-before I met her.” He makes a choking noise and his hands fidget. “She-she studied Hinterland history, b-before the G-Grangors became an e-empire, I think.” He pauses again, and winces. Each word seems to cause him pain, and yet he continues. “I-in the final d-days of one of the big clans, there was a wo-woman warrior, in the W-White Bear clan. H-her name was K-Katerin.
“That-that is your true name. Katerin.” His eyes open and he looks at me. All the world’s anguish and suffering seemed to be concentrated into those violet eyes. “We-we wanted you to be s-strong, and beautiful, like she was. A-and I am so h-happy to s-see that you are. It was said that she killed five- five enemy warriors that invaded her home before she died beside her infant child. H-her husband had been killed by a dragon years before.” I cover my mouth with my hands, tears falling from my eyes. I remembered my mother, and her quiet beauty and strength, and I knew Father was thinking of her as well. He looks at me with the fire in his eyes. “I love you, Katerin. I hope- I hope you know that.”
I nod, and smile, despite the tears trickling down my cheeks. “Yes, father. I know. I love you too.” He smiles, and sighs. “Th-that’s good, then. I-I almost though that- well, never mind that now. I must go now. She has been waiting for too long without me.” I am confused. “Father, what do you mean? Where are you going?” He closes his eyes and sinks back into his chair, but does not respond. I stroke his arm. “Father? Father?!”
I put my hands on his shoulders and begin to shake him fiercely. “Father! Wake up Father!” His eyes are closed, and his lips are curled upward in a sad little smile. His beard is more grey than black now, I realize- when did that happen? He makes no more movements of his own. I put my head to his chest, and I do not hear or feel a heartbeat. Tears are pouring from my eyes now, and my vision is blurred by the sheer quantity of them. I feel my heartbeat quicken, beating harder and faster than I can bear, I gasp, and collapse into my father’s lap, and weep into his beard, clutching my breast as my heart struggles to free itself from my ribcage. Each heartbeat is a singular note in a sad song, the song a trapped bird sings when it longs to be free.
The tax collector came by this morning. He wore a cheap black suit that was stretched too tight over his portly frame, and he kept nervously wringing his porkpie hat in his sweaty hands. He had watery, apologetic eyes and a long, curled nose that cast a shadow across his pasty face. He knocked on the door at exactly 9 o’clock AM. I ignored that knock, as well as the second, third, fourth, and fifth, until finally little Jackie, still in her nightclothes and clutching her stuffed Grangor, opened the door out of sheer irritation, and prodded me awake until I gave her one withering, surly glare and slouched into the living room to meet him. He sits primly on our moth-eaten couch, taking up as little space as possible, nervously taking off his hat and then putting it on again, wiping his sweaty face on a lacy white handkerchief. He looks up when I enter the room, and then quickly blushes a bright red. I smile savagely and sprawl out seductively across one of our armchairs. I intentionally angle myself so that I cannot see Father’s.
He turns his head nervously to the side, his eyes raking over my bare stomach, cleavage, and my long, white legs, which are propped up on one of the armchairs so that he has full view of both them and my ass. I blink slowly at him. “My eyes are up here, Mr. Dowage.” He jumps a little in his seat, then laughs nervously. “Y-yes, forgive me, Ms. LeBlanc. I was just, ah, wondering if you perhaps wanted to clothe yourself more……um……conservatively before we speak?” Those last few words come out as a squeak, and as I meet his gaze, he quickly looks down at his lap.
I shake my head. “Say what you have to say. If you can’t keep your eyes on mine, that’s your problem, not mine.” I make a lazy gesture with my hand. “Continue.”
Mr. Dowage looks at me stupidly for a few moments, then jumps a little again in his seat and pulls a few papers out of his suit. They are tightly rolled up and bound together by a rubber band. He mutters a few things to himself under his breath, and then unrolls the papers, taking one out. He looks at me, in the face this time, and hands me the paper wordlessly. I lean over and take it from him, my eyes scanning its contents. I scowl as I reach the bottom, then crumple it into a ball and throw it at his face when I am done. It hits him in his forehead and bounces off onto the coffee table. Instead of getting angry, he just sighs and picks it up, uncrumpling it gingerly with his fingers. “Ms. LeBlanc, we have to be reasonable here. Ronan LeBlanc has been d-“
“DO NOT SAY HIS NAME!” I scream, whipping my head to look at him, my features twisted in rage. I take a swipe at the air, and hurl a pillow at his head. He ducks, and winces, looking as if he is about to cry. “-has been dead for three weeks now, and while I have nothing but the greatest sympathy for you and your younger sister, it is time that you move on.” He takes a breath. “I was lucky enough to be able to find the address of your mother’s sister, who is still living near the Western Mountains.”
I sneer, and toss my head to look away from him. I cross my arms. “So? What makes you think I want to go live with her?” Mr. Dowage sighs, and sets the now-flattened paper back onto the coffee table. “The fact is, Ms. LeBlanc, that you haven’t paid the rent in those three weeks, and the landlord is getting very impatient. I have managed to keep him at bay for a while now, for young Jacqueline’s sake, but I cannot continue to pay for your home out of my own pocket any longer. As much as I hate to say it, but the only real power in this city is the crime bosses, and in a way, I answer to them. I would be putting both my own safety at risk as well as yours by continuing to pay your rent with their money.” He sighs, taking off his hat. “Your father was a friend of mine back in the day, even before he met your mother. I was deeply saddened at his departure.”
I don’t say anything, instead grimacing and turning away from him. He looks hurt, and a small part of me takes pleasure in that. With a deep breath, he rotates the paper with my aunt’s address so that it is facing me on the coffee table. He then places the bundle of papers on top of the address. “These are train tickets for River’s Breath, a little village near the Grangor Mountains. Your aunt lives a few miles east, closer to the foot of the mountains themselves. You will also find passports and some money for food and other necessities on your journey. The train leaves at noon tomorrow, from Grandport Station, five blocks from here. Take only what you need. This house will foreclose on the 13th, two days from now. I’m afraid that that is all I can do for you. I wish I could do more, but…….money is tight here in the city. I hope you will find a better life in River’s Breath.”
I look over at him, and though no words are exchanged, something passes between us. An understanding. After a long silence, he nods stiffly, stands, and returns his hat to his head, tipping it in respect to me. “I bid you a good day, Ms. LeBlanc. Say hello to your aunt from me.” And with that, he turns to the door and makes to leave.
“My name is Catherine, you know. You don’t have to call me Ms. LeBlanc.” He turns back to me, and I could have sworn a smile passed through his lips. “Good luck on your journey, Ms. LeBlanc.” He turns back around, opens the door, steps outside, and closes it behind him. I am left alone, half-naked, in my living room, for perhaps the last time.
I uncross my legs, scratching my collarbone, and stand. I slip off my undergarments and lay down on the carpet, completely naked, breathing heavily. I run one hand over my breasts and stomach, feeling how skinny I was. I could feel every rib beneath my skin, and with a nervous laugh I wonder how they could support my fat head. My raven-black hair spill out around my head, knotty curls and long, straight bangs all fanning out in a haphazard halo. I lift up my legs and look at my pale, dainty feet, wiggling my toes and bending my knees. I finger my nose and my lips, and pluck at my eyelashes and eyebrows, flicking away the tiny black hairs.
“Cathy, what are you doing? Why don’t you have any clothes on?” My eyes snap open, and I snatch a blanket from the couch and cover myself with it, kicking my undergarments under the coffee table as I scramble to my feet. Jacqueline is standing in the doorway to the kitchen, one finger absentmindedly twirling a blonde lock of hair. Her stuffed Grangor is clutched tight to her chest. She looks at me thoughtfully for a second.
I didn’t think it was possible for my face to get any redder, but I feel it flush hot, and I instinctively clutch the blanket tighter around my chest. I quickly walk over to her, turning her around and steering her towards the kitchen table. I put her in a seat, and sit across from her. The top of her head barely reaches over the table, so all I can see is her nose, eyes, and hair. I sigh, and go to the cabinet, taking out the wooden block we used for chopping vegetables. I motion for her to get up, and she does, and I put the block on her chair, then tell her to sit down again. She climbs up the spokes connecting the legs, and then takes a seat on the block. This time, she is visible. I give a forced smile and sit in the chair across from her.
She sniffs and smiles. “What were you doing on the floor, Cathy?” I look down at my hands, then back up at her, blushing furiously. “I……I was resting. I’m very tired, sweetie.” She accepts my answer. It is, after all, the truth. She props her stuffed Grangor up on the table and begins moving its arms back and forth, as if trying to make it dance. “What did the man with the suit want?”
I look out the window, and ask myself that same question. I get up and grab the papers from the coffee table, then walk back to the table, spreading them out before me. Jackie cranes her neck to see, and I can see her violet eyes moving rapidly from line to line, her little brow furrowed in concentration. Finally she looks up at me. “I didn’t know Mommy had a sister.”
I purse my lips. “She didn’t talk about her much to begin with, but Fath- Daddy never talked about her after Mommy died. They didn’t get along.” Jacqueline gives me an impish little grin. “Not as well as we do, right, Cathy?” I laugh, and tousle her hair. “Right.” With a jolt I realized that I haven’t laughed since- since it happened. For a second I feel tears threatening to spill down my cheeks, but when I see Jackie look at me funny I blink them away and put on a big smile.
She points to the passports. “What are those?” I pick one up. ‘These are called passports. They’re like official pieces of paper that let us go from one place to another.” Jackie nods slowly, then picks up one of the paper bills. “Is this money?” She crinkles her nose in disgust. I take the bill from her hand and tilt her chin to look up at me. “Yes, it is money. Why are you giving me that face?” Jackie shrugs, closing one eye slightly. “I don’t know. But isn’t it wrong to take money from strangers?”
I purse my lips. “Yes, but Mr. Dowage isn’t a stranger. He was a friend of Daddy’s.”
Jacqueline sniffs, almost haughtily, and wipes her nose with her hand. “So are we going to live with our aunt now?” I look down at the papers on the table. Two train tickets to River’s Breath, and passports to avoid legal issues. A wad of money to sustain us. And an address. It seems too easy. When I don’t answer, Jackie starts to hum to herself. I pick up the paper that had my aunt’s address on it. It is a legal notice, from a census or a job application, for a Mrs. Maybelline Charmant, 33, who lives on Blackburn Street, in the Artisan District. There’s a picture, of a young woman with chestnut hair and large, intelligent green eyes. She has a sort of harsh beauty about her, as if she is of Deinlandic descent. She is scowling slightly, which mars her otherwise beautiful features. The document was dated 25 years ago.
She does look a lot like Mother. Wrong hair color, and the cheekbones are a little too high, but the eyes are near identical, and they both had a harsh northern beauty to them. The small, perfect nose and the ears that are tucked in close to their heads. Mother’s maiden name was indeed Charmant. Juniper Ivory Charmant. A name as beautiful as its owner. I set the paper down and look at the tickets and passports. If they are fake, then the forgery is near perfect. Our names and ages are printed at the top, along with the date and train number, and the official registration codes. It all looks very proper to me. I look up at Jackie. “I suppose we are.”
Suddenly I hear a knock at the door. I look up at the clock. It reads 10:30. Who else would want to visit us this early in the day? I gather the blanket tighter around my frame and peek out the window next to the porch. My face goes white. I quickly hurry back to Jacqueline, gathering up the papers and money and shoving them into her hands. “Go upstairs. Do not come downstairs under any circumstances, unless I come to get you. But if I say ‘open the door, sweetie’, don’t open the door. Climb out the window and go to Mr. Barnaby down the street. Tell him your sister is in trouble.”
Jacqueline looks very scared. She looks up at me with wide eyes. “Is there a bad man at the door?”
“No, of course not,” I lie. I pick her up out of her seat and send her up the stairs, closing the door behind us. I sprint into my room and throw off the blanket, pulling on a pair of shorts and a buttoned blouse. As I button it up frantically, my fingers sweating, another knock comes at the door, this time, more insistently. I let out an exasperated noise and leave the three top buttons unbuttoned, and sprint down the stairs. I stand in front of the door for a second or two, and place my hand on the doorknob. Another knock comes at the door. I remember something.
In a sweet voice I call out, “Just a minute!” as I sprint into my father’s study. I snatch something off of his desk and put it into my pocket, covering the bulge with my shirt. I run back to the door. Assuming a neutral expression, I pull nervously on the collar of my shirt and open the door.
“Hello, Mr. Marrik.”
The last year has not been kind to him. A thick layer of stubble coats his lower face, and one eye is bruised, as if he had come out on the bad end of a fight. There is a long, red scar running from his left eye to his jaw, a scar that had not been there the last I saw of him. His hair is oily and slick, falling in a greasy curtain over his eyes. He wears a black muscle shirt and a brown leather vest, stained with some unknown substance. His long, baggy pants are torn and frayed. The only nice piece of clothing he wears is his black combat boots, shined to perfection. He smiles, and I notice he is missing three teeth. A gun is strapped to his thigh.
“Catherine, how many times must I ask you to call me Hector?”
I smile tersely. “At least once more, Mr. Marrik.”
He returns the smile, but there is no sincerity in it. He motions at the doorway. “May I come in?”
I give a pointed look at his gun. “Why do you feel the need to bring a gun into my home?” Marrik looks down at the gun, as if he had forgotten He gives a huge, fake laugh, slapping his other thigh. “A man’s got to protect himself, don’t he? Rough town, this is.” He strokes the gun with one finger. “This little beauty helps keep the baddies away.”
“You never carried a gun when you visited my house before, Mr. Marrik.”
He gives me a hard look. “Times change miss. And that’s not the only thing that has.” He gives me a funny look.
I place a hand on my breast, feigning offense. “Excuse me?”
He chuckles to himself. “You were a pretty girl, Catherine, but you’ve grown into a beautiful woman. A man must be frank when it comes to such things.” He scratches his jaw, and he makes no attempt to hide his blatant gaze at my chest. I scowl at him, and he smiles at me as if we share some secret between us, a secret no one else in the world knew.
I clench my teeth. “You’re a married man, Mr. Marrik.”
For a brief second something passes in his eyes, something primal and raging, a fire of fury. But as soon as it flickers into being it is snuffed out. With a sickly sweet smile, he shakes his head. “Nope! Poppy left me nine months ago. She took Pavel with her. They’ve moved to the Undersprawl.”
I incline my head. “I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Marrik. It seems fate has dealt us all a loss.” He inclines his head at my last comment. “Right you are, sweetheart, right you are. Funny how things like that work out, eh?” He scratches his chin again. “I ask again, may I come in?’
“And I repeat my answer: why?”
“To pay my respects, of course. When old man Barnaby told me Ronan died, ‘bout an hour ago, I hopped on the first tram to your street. I make a point of honorin’ the dead, miss. It ain’t proper to do otherwise.”
I give him a cold look. “My father died three weeks ago. How come you’ve only heard about it just now?”
Marrik scratches his chin, a recurring tic. “Look, miss, word don’t travel like it used to. Not in this town. And I ain’t been in the most happy of moods, you hear me? What with my wife gone and all. Takes a toll on a man when he don’t have a feminine presence in his life, you hear?”
“My father knew that all too well.”
Marrik backs away slightly, grinning like a madman, his hands up. “Oh, no offense intended, ma’am, no offense intended.” He mutters something under his breath and then moves towards me, roughly shouldering me out of the way as he enters my house. I whirl on him, ready to intend offense, but then I see him simply standing in the living room, looking up at the pictures on the walls. I move to stand beside him. “Mr. Marrik, I really must insist that you-“
Continuing to stare up at the photographs hanging up on the walls, he reaches over with one meaty hand and covers my mouth with it. Owlishly, he turns his head to look at me, a crazed expression on his face. He puts one finger to his lips and with the other, points up at a picture on the wall. It was of my father and mother, and him, along with another man I did not recognize. My father had his arm around my mother. It was apparent that it was their wedding night. Marrik was swooning drunkenly, but there was good-natured look about him. The other man was tall and skinny, with a shock of iron-grey hair that contrasted with his youthful features. A clean strip of black cloth covered his eyes, and he had a book clutched in one arm. Somehow, he looks strangely familiar.
Marrik removes his hand from my mouth, and I splutter angrily at him. He just shushes me again, and I recoil at his arrogance. “Hector Marrik! This is my home and I will not be treated like a child! You will leave at once, and never come back! Get out!” I give him a withering gaze that would have curdled milk.
Marrik cocks his head at me, his eyes glassy and unfocused. I realize with disgust that he is drunk. He leans in close, and I take a step back. His breath is stale and warm, and smells strongly of alcohol. He gives a leery grin, and staggers forward, almost tripping over the coffee table. He puts a hand on my arm, which I slap off, and then he scowls. “I’ll not be rejected by you too, Catherine LeBlanc.” He hiccups and gives me a crazed grin, his eyes alight with madness. “Will you marry me?”
I instantly go for my pocket, but Marrik is too fast. He snatches my wrist with one hand and snatches his gun from the holster with another. He presses the nozzle to my forehead, and narrows his eyes. “Where’s little Jackie, sweetheart?” I spit on him. He only laughs and wipes it off with his elbow, keeping the gun trained on me. “Whadda’ya say we go and get little miss Jackie and then be on our way? There’s nothing left for you in this dump anyway.” I snarl and knee him in the groin, then sprint for the stairs. I don’t get very far before he tackles me from behind, and I twist, pounding on his head with my fists. He growls and flips me over so that he is lying on top of me, and punches me hard and fast in the jaw. “Would you look at that,” he breathes. “This came much sooner than expected!”
I shove him off with the strength of years of work at the dockyards and in the home. He is surprised at my strength, I can tell, and lets out a surprised gasp as I roll away. In the struggle, his gun had fallen from his hands. I dive for it, quickly clasping my fingers around the handle as I stand, blowing my loose black hair out of my face. Marrik stands slowly, his hands raised, a cautious expression on his face. “Now let’s be reasonable, sweetheart. We both know you don’t have the guts to shoot me.” He gives another of his leery smiles, thinking he has won.
“Won’t I?” I smile, and Hector dives too late as I shoot him in the foot. As he hops around in pain, I crack the butt of the handle over his head and he keels over, unconscious. He is still smiling, and drool leaks out of his mouth. I bend down and inspect his foot for a moment. There is a clean hole near the toe of the boot on his left foot, and dark red blood drips from it. I curl my nose, and then drag him over to the chair in the kitchen table. Opening one of the bottom cabinets, I pull out a bundle of rope, and tie Marrik securely to one of the chairs. His head lolls onto his chest, drool dangling from his lip.
I sprint up the stairs, taking them two at time, flinging open the door and practically crashing into Jackie’s room. She looks up at me with surprise, her Grangor clutched tight to her chest as she lies on her bed. I rush over to her, taking her in my arms, breathing in her sweet scent and pressing my face into her blonde hair. She giggles nervously and gently pushes me away, looking into my eyes. “What is it, Cathy?” My eyes tear up slightly, and I smile sadly. “I love you, you know that, right, Jackie?” She laughs again. “Of course I know that, silly. Why are you crying then? Aren’t you supposed to be happy if you love me?”
Tears run down my face even more profusely. “Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re happy.” Jackie look confused. “Well, that’s stupid. I’m happy, and I love you. Why can’t it be like that for everyone?” I shake my head. ‘I don’t know, Jackie, I just don’t know.” I kiss her on the forehead and then stand, looking out the window in her room. “Pack your things. We’re leaving.” Jackie looks at me quizzically. “Why? Our train leaves tomorrow.”
I grimace. “This place isn’t safe for us anymore. We’re going to stay somewhere else tonight.”
“I might have an idea.”