Novel - The Universe Quilt - Chapter One

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I can't believe I haven't told you this before - I'm a 2012 NaNoWriMo participant! My novel is called The Universe Quilt and you can read more about it on the Long-Term Projects page. Here's Chapter One for my faithful readers :)

The miller’s daughter sat with a needle in her hand. Then, in, out, in, out, it flashed over and under the faded blue fabric. It was a silver serpent ready to do her command. With a needle and thread, the miller’s daughter could do grander things. But focus now, she thought to herself. Focus on mending the broken pieces that come to you.

A door opened in the next room. Startled, the miller’s daughter hid her sewing and flew into the room to greet her father. She hoped he hadn’t caught the sound of fabric on wood or a needle being hastily poked in to save a place.

No such luck. “Have you been sewing again?” he asked, pronouncing sewing with the same distaste that one would use for the word plague. His daughter hung her head. It was impossible to lie to the miller, whose sticklike shrewdness had earned him a reputation throughout the province. She knew better than to try and fool him.

The miller raised his hand and sent a resounding slap across his daughter’s cheek. The slight puff of flour dust made her cough.

It was unfair, she thought furiously. Her father didn’t say anything when she brought in the money from her mending jobs, but whenever he caught her in the act, his anger grew palpable in the air. He thought it was pointless, but he took her money anyway. She never got so much as a single copper coin out of anything she made. It seemed that he was trying to tangle her ever more tightly in an insidious, life-sucking web.

She dared not say anything aloud. The last time she had, he had burned all of her thread and fabric and sold her needles without telling her a thing. She had been forced to borrow and beg until a kind old widow who had been visiting that month gave her new supplies.

Another slap raced across her other cheek. Blinking back the tears that threatened to turn his fury into outright cruelty, the miller’s daughter turned and fled to her bedroom. It was here that not even the miller could touch her; here that she sat on her too-small bed and wished she was strong enough to defy her father. She wished she was brave. She wished she had a mother there to protect her from his harsh and terrible words that beat on her with all the strength of a blacksmith’s hammer. I wish, I wish, I wish…but the wishes died out into hopelessness as the miller snuffed the still-burning candle and she heard fabric ripping. It was a deadly, joy-killing sound, and its fatal rhythm and her tears slowly nudged the miller’s daughter into a sorrowful sleep.


The dawn with its unwelcome grayness woke the miller’s daughter just when her sleep had become dreamless and her breathing even. She wondered what crime she had committed to deserve the hatred of even the kind morning, the morning that supposedly helped to heal all wounds.

She found her father where she had expected him—at the table, throwing ashes out the window that were once the scraps of the baker’s tablecloth, a special work of mending that had been passed down in their family for generations. Undoubtedly he would go out to market later and buy a new one for the baker’s wife so that she couldn’t possibly think of missing it. He would use the money the baker’s wife had given his daughter so that his own reserves of coin would be untouched. It was why the village gossips never talked of his liability to storm and rage, especially at his daughter.

Silently, she watched from behind as woodland birds hopped out to examine the debris landing on the fresh forest floor. The miller’s cottage was on the outskirts of the village, one of the few things she liked about living in it. It was no fault of the little house’s no—but as her father grew more controlling as time passed and her limbs grew longer and more energetic, it had begun to seem like a cage.

The miller turned abruptly and saw his daughter gazing at the birds, now pecking, pecking, pecking. She looked up and him with a sad, bitter smile, at once achingly young and tiredly old. With a wordless step she picked up a large bucket and slipped out to fetch water.

The miller’s daughter sighed with heartfelt relief as the healing essence of the forest buoyed up her spirits. In spring the sunlight spilling through the canopy and dappling the ground put life into the frozen earth and into the waking trees. Her nose tingled and she sneezed gently. She laughed a little, knowing that the flowers had started their sniffling game again.

Having reached the well and the brook, babbling merrily now that the frost had gone, the miller’s daughter set her bucket down and sat to drink in the calm, wise air of the forest. The water could wait a few moments. Birdsong washed over her, and its carefree simplicity was both heartbreaking and reassuring. If only she had been born a bird. She thought of all the hours she could have spent in the bracing blue sky and bemoaned her existence as a girl. A stray tear followed a meandering path down her thin face. She wiped it away, feeling defeated.

“Did the old man catch you again?” The miller’s daughter whirled around to see who was causing the unwanted disturbance—and then showed one of her rare genuine grins to see John walking towards her. John was one of the only people, no, the only person she could speak to without feeling constricted. Of course he was the only one to know of her troubles, and his easy way of referring to the formidable miller as “the old man” was funny in a ridiculous sort of way. He sat down next to her on the rich soil, not minding the dirt, and put an arm around her shoulder, looking up at the trees thoughtfully.

They had been quiet companions for as long as anyone could remember. There was no miller’s daughter without the chandler’s boy. A strong resonance had always existed between the two. John saw her thinking and patted her shoulder. She lifted her tearful, gray-blue eyes to his twinkling ones in unspoken thanks for the comfort of today and all the days past. His eyes smiled just the slightest bit more and the miller’s daughter lowered her head, remembering. She had fancied herself in love with him once, but all that burned inside her heart now was this clinging desire to be free.

Pointing to her bucket and nodding to the well, John reminded her of what she had ostensibly come to do. She stood with that weariness that characterizes those rare people who know more about life than they’d like to, and John felt a fresh wave of an ineffable emotion that he had frequently felt about his friend—wanting to help her but finding her stranded and lonely in a faraway place where he could not reach. There was something about her, he decided, that no one would ever understand.

The clear, pure tone of well-water sloshing about in her bucket gave the miller’s daughter a small glimmer of ephemeral happiness. Before making her way to the dreaded cottage and her father, she waved a goodbye-for-now to John. His expression seemed to say, whenever you need me.

The remainder of the day passed in drudgery, further worsened by her father’s irritability. If there was one thing the miller’s daughter feared more than the miller’s terrifying tantrums at night, it was the ominous thundercloud that would loom over the whole cottage the next day. Part of her thought he was simply taunting her, lording over her the power he held throughout the insignificant life she led.

Thankfully, there were no eruptions of temper that day. The miller’s daughter, glad that she had gotten off so well, even bought vegetables and meat at the market to prepare a hearty stew for her father’s dinner. It was received with surprising goodness by her father, and she realized that the new tablecloth she had seen draped over a chair that afternoon was gone. The baker’s wife must have promised him a favor, perhaps a free loaf of bread. Her hunch was confirmed by the three small, soft rolls he gave her before she went to bed. He even said “good night”, albeit gruffly.

The miller’s daughter made her bed, drowsy from the happy bustle of the day. The last thing she heard before drifting off into contented sleep was a vaguely annoying blare in the far distance.

If only it had stayed that way.
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