At Least I Tried

Submitted by Christine Hungerford to Contest #7 in response to: Write a story about a person longing for family.... view prompt



               Camilla went to her wardrobe and opened the doors wide, looking at her emerald, sapphire, velvet, silk, rayon, fur-coated, mink, fox, weasel and crocodile-skinned dresses, coats, skirts, wigs, hats, shoes, boots, slippers and even watches dangling and hanging off the many coat hangers, hooks, coat hanger stands and picture hangers that decorated—or rather made her closet look like she was obsessed with hanging objects or just the ultimate and most expensive. Camilla knew who she was. Or did she?

               She grew up in a castle full of nannies, nurses, daycare girls, shepherdesses, servant girls and other women who tended to her when she cried, and rocked her when she needed one of them to soothe her or put her down for a nap or to bed. Her parents, Queen Natalia and King Forester, were either busy upstairs getting ready for parties for the neighboring kingdoms or downstairs in the cellars telling the servants the specific details of every morsel of food and wine to make and mix. If they weren’t consumed with preparing for guests inside the castle, Camilla’s parents’ commands and demands could be heard outside as embarrassingly poorly paid farmhands, farmers, cowboys, stable boys, stable girls, servants, pig keepers, shepherds and shepherdesses hurried to complete their chores of egg-collecting, goat herding, cow milking, horse brushing, hoof cleaning, wood chopping, sheep rounding, Border Collie taming, butchering, pig slop feeding, chicken coop cleaning, crop growing, and horse training.   

               Camilla was not allowed to ride horses without a servant or two present, was no longer using the chicken’s eggs to play Hide-and-Seek after “Keep watch on her, or I’ll have a servant come fetch her and put away the eggs!” and was exempt from sneaking away from her room and playing Spy on the stable boys and girls once “Make sure she’s not trying to get down into the dungeons. I don’t want her coughing up any poison or toxic fumes or gases” became the lifelong instructions in the Kanzor castle.

               The fifteen-year-old, as a result, hadn’t seen her castle dungeons in over a decade. But that minor setback paled in comparison to the fact that Camilla didn’t have anyone else but the stable boys and girls as well as the servant boys and girls with whom to play games. But they were hired to work, not just dilly dally and sing songs. So as the other teens put plow to earth and needle through thread and then to woolen cloth, Camille searched for other ways to play with people her own age. After all, she didn’t have any siblings, so she had to have friends. But those friends either had to be the Others—poor people too rag-clothed to even deserve a home—or the animals her parents owned or the stray animals in the forests beyond or on the streets somewhere far from Kanzor. Camille tried to befriend some of the animals on the farm as well as those that ran across the roads, running into carts and making riders and drivers angry in consequence. But hard as she might, Camille just couldn’t seem to bond with any of these creatures. She distanced herself from the servants and, worse, didn’t really talk to her parents—they talked to just each other each night about having accompanied themselves with other kings and queens from the neighboring kingdoms within the world of Kanzor after telling one of the servant girls to serve Camilla dinner and tell her to go to bed soon. Camilla, it was sadly true, was all alone in a grand castle surrounded by people and animals bustling their way through the day, last night’s frowns turning into today’s smiles.

               Soon, Camille stopped chasing the stable girls and talking with the stable boys as well as working alongside the servants. She soon found herself looking at those people as having a personal bond with each other, the way siblings come together and all hug problems out as well as overcome obstacles and issues together. These people, Camille had noticed over the years when growing up with them, were a family. Even though Camille played along with them, she didn’t feel like she really belonged. She was the princess, and they were the servants. They were close together because they were the workers and she the pampered fifteen year old princess who got her way all the time.

               “We’re going to have guests! Be on your best behavior!” Camilla’s mother would always say this to the bustling, running, dashing, scampering, panicking, flailing, frantic, hurrying, rushing, hoping servants who always answered back with “Yes, Your Majesty!” or “Always, Your Highness!” The servants were always their busiest when working to set up a banquet feast, which happened every weekend and could last for days, even weeks.

               A servant’s nightmare.

               The fact that the servants practically sold their souls to the work of setting up, serving at and putting away the food, tables, chairs, stools and festive decorations every single weekend for hours upon hours for months and years and yet hear King Forester and Queen Natalia steal everyone’s attention when announcing the beauty of the castle banquet hall.

               As King Forester always boasted, the castle was made for them and basically because of them. The servants—their backs aching, sweat raining down on their skin and knees almost buckling from having cooked, cleaned, prepared, decorated, set up, took down, put away and washed their way to giving the guests an amazingly delightful feast—stood up straight despite the white-hot pain and, more importantly, the white-hot anger and frustration felt at standing there and hearing all the glory of the feast going to King Forester and Queen Natalia. However, they did it all, never complaining or growing tired of it or planning to run away because they all gathered around a fire or made an empty spot in the middle of an empty stall to spill out all out their fury and indignation at the unfairness and the fact that they were ignored, invisible, unheard and uncared about in Kanzor. They were mere servants to everyone but each other. To each other, the servants loved each other like they were a family. Like they had a special bond with each other because they did. They didn’t just laugh and joke together; they cared for each other no one else did, because no one else was part of that familial relationship. No one could like the servants did to one another.

               But again, Camilla had noticed that they gathered around like a family. Like siblings band together to help one another with an issue or come together as grownups to talk about memories of their childhood together. These people were boys and girls were servants Camilla had known all her life, but she didn’t feel an inch closer to them in any way on any level. They were together, like a group of relatives loving each other the way a family loves each other. So Camilla, emotionally hurt by what she saw, had stopped being with them and eventually shut herself out from their presence completely save talking to and giving them orders. So she completely disregarded them.

               So while the servants gathered and thus grew stronger and closer together from their talks and laughter, Camilla went upstairs to her room. A whole wardrobe of clothes awaited her to put them on for dress-up, but Camilla just looked at the colors and then looked down, wishing she had someone in her life she knew helped her pick her clothes out, brush her hair and protect her not just from unnecessary so-called danger such as a horse’s hooves or a chicken’s pecking. Someone who kissed her goodnight, tucked her into bed. Someone who knew her more than a friend, someone who loved, protected, and even fought with her. Someone like …

               A family member. Someone who opened their lives to Camilla and accepted her as a sister, daughter or even mother to him or her. Someone who Camilla knew could be her family.   

But there was no one. Queen Natalia was off demanding or entertaining her guests at their banquet parties, and King Forester hid himself away in kingdom business and parties as well, both monarchs using celebrations to distract them from the servants, the animals and the kingdom’s poor people begging on the streets for food and even clothing.

               Camilla knew the servants caring for her since she was a baby were not her parents. She knew the animals out front—the millions of farm animals, other animals pulling carts and crates and wheelbarrows and other vehicles of transportation—did not give birth to her. Queen Natalia and King Forester married and had a daughter they named Camilla.

               Camilla sighed, blinking down at the dark blue-gray stone floor spreading out throughout her room and throughout all of this castle. She blinked hard, feeling tears emerge and then blinked them away. She wasn’t going to cry over something that she wasn’t going to fix or couldn’t fix. Parties were for adults, like Queen Natalia and King Forester, so why cry over something that was going to happen for the rest of her life? She might as well be crying over aging or becoming a woman or anything that was never going to change. So Camilla looked back up at the millions of colorful clothing additions and let her mind run, soon thinking about what she could do with pieces of material she would never think she would or could use for the rest of her life. Some things had to go. If no one was going to do it, Camilla was going to do it for herself.  

               Like those Others! Camilla had a thought blast into her mind like the sun’s rays blasted into her room the second it rose above the earth in the morning. I can give my dresses to those who don’t have much at all. If Mother and Father are too busy to kiss me goodnight or go horseback riding with me and the servants love only each other, I’ll do something with the Others. Maybe I’ll belong then. She started grabbing as many clothes as possible and shoving them into a nearby potato sack with sheep wool-covered metal handles. She grabbed the heavy bag and carried it downstairs, her shoulders knowingly going to hurt under the stress and burden of the beautiful clothes. But to Camilla, she was going to relieve herself of this task once she got outside. Once she fled from the castle, Camilla ran into the dirt road where some drivers firmly but respectfully told her to make sure she wasn’t going to do that anymore.

Camilla shot out a strained “I’m really sad and will not do that again!” and then as she had a thought of going to the seamstress’ house to get these dresses hemmed and decorated more, Camilla stopped as a voice trailed behind her.


               She turned around, wincing at the heaviness of the basket and then put it clumsily down, the dresses spilling out. The person whose voice she heard scampered over to the basket and started looking in utter astonishment at all the sparkles, sequins, brightly lit colors and shiny plates of gold attached to the dresses. She looked up and, completely horrified, removed herself from the dress pile and bowed low to the ground.

               “Forgive me, Your Majesty!”

               “I won’t put a heavy weight on you and make you work a slave job. Please, come over here and see my dresses. They can be for you and your family.”

               Camilla watched as the girl’s tiny hands grasped the dresses with such delight and disbelief. She looked them over, her huge eyes telling the princess that she couldn’t believe—and didn’t want to even believe out of respect for Camilla—that these dresses were for her and her family.

               But as Camilla studied her fascination with the dresses as she spread her hands over the jewels, taking in every inch by clutching them and looking like she imagined wearing one of these, she couldn’t help but wonder whether she should’ve mentioned the word family. Did the girl even have a family? Or was she an orphan?

               Many Others or—as Camilla had been seeing them be treated—Outsiders didn’t have families, and if they did, they struggled to feed and clothe themselves because one of the parents went missing as a result of leaving the family. If the parent still with the other members died, the children would be left as orphans, regardless of whether the missing parent was still alive. So what if this girl had a missing or dead father or mother? Or both?

               She’s really no different than me. My parents may still be alive up in that castle, but they might as well be called missing. Because they’re missing from my life. But Camilla didn’t want to waste any more time with this depressing thought. So she packed up her dresses, telling the girl that she was going to go over to her family should the girl tell her where they would be.

               “Right over there.” The girl pointed backwards, her arm bending in the opposite direction past the dirt road right in front of the castle. Camilla saw that they too were dressed like the girl—in rags and tatters.

               Camilla nodded and lugged the bag up into her arms. She then started carrying it towards the dirt road, telling the girl to be careful. The girl said okay and Your Majesty every time Camilla told her to do something, like she was ordering the small child around. But she wasn’t. The girl was just being too polite, maybe.

“You know,” Camilla told her as the two reached the other side, “I wish I was you, or at least I was your sibling.”

               The girl looked at Camilla and gave her a look like she was wondering why Camilla would ever want to be an ostracized family member. The other members, Camilla could sense, looked at her in the same way.

               She sighed and blinked hard. Then she gave a shaky breath and said, “Maybe because I don’t have a family of my own. My parents neglected me from birth, and the servants don’t see me as someone lovable or worth taking care of like a sibling. I don’t really matter in my own castle.”

               Some of the family looked down understandingly, but Camilla knew they would never fully realize the pain of never getting kissed on the cheek or lips as her parents told her to keep the bugs from biting her, jump up into the arms of a father who laughed heartily at her jokes and laughed with sparkles in her eyes as her mother showered blessings of love and affection down on her as she served her a plate of hot pancakes. They could never fully understand what it was like to see people hug each other and laugh at jokes from years ago that were so much funnier now. They may be kind to her, but they would and could never experience the reality of not having a family.

               Camilla then took another shaky breath and commanded them to never speak of her reaction to her life hardship. They all bowed and responded with “Yes, Your Majesty.” Camilla nodded and then told them that the sack of dresses was for them.

               She looked out around herself and felt like just throwing herself down onto something firm but soft. Something that would help her understand that she could cry it all out despite no one being there to dry her tears or rub her back or hold her hand. Looking up into the sky, Camilla, for the third time, blinked hard, but she couldn’t blink back the tears anymore. She tore herself away from the group of people who had been standing before her, and dashed off towards the forests behind Kanzor, which lay before her now. She didn’t know exactly where she was going, but it didn’t matter. She needed to get away from the constant reminder that others had families and she did not. Did not and would never.

               Camilla just cried over and over, wishing she could be held and comforted instead of forced to look at the stupid moss on the ground. Plants weren’t going to soften the ache in her own life. It couldn’t talk to her, hold her, rock her to sleep or even make her know they were there for her. All they did was grow up beside her like the servants back at the castle. All they did was receive energy and sustenance from the sun, like her mother and father received guests into the castle to dine and talk with them during the feasts every weekend. Again, Camilla was shut out from life, made to feel alone, act alone. Be alone.

               There was a snap, and Camilla turned.

               “Hello, Your Highness.” It was the girl from before.

               “Hello.” Camilla wanted the girl to leave. She didn’t do anything but set an example of what not to do when people were hurting and wanted to be left alone.

               “Could we help?”

               “No.” Camilla turned back around. She just wanted to rewind time and go back to when she was a baby, only this time be loved and appreciated by her parents. She was their daughter! Did she have to get on the floor like the servants and beg? Was she to be a servant to her own parents just to receive love from them?

               Camilla ordered the girl to leave and then heard snapping and crunching fade away from her until she couldn’t hear anything anymore. Camilla then looked blankly at a tree a little far from her. She thought she could make things better, but she didn’t even have hope.  

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