The sound of iron creaking with rust woke Catalina. Turning over in the limited space available, she propped up on an elbow wearily and focused her eyes towards the door. Two figures could be seen, one vast and muscular holding and dragging a smaller silhouette of a woman. She appeared to be begging and pleading with the guard. But the man had no heart; he slammed the prison door shut and ignored her pleas as she stood behind the bars, clutching at the air on the other side. The woman stumbled and fell upon the countless others that already inhabited the cell, and Catalina turned over. People like these get sent in all the time, it was nothing unusual. She herself was sent in just a few days ago, due to the knowledge she had attained. But the past didn’t matter, what she needed was a way to escape. She drifted back into a broken sleep, resting her head in the crook of her elbow for comfort.
Catalina had been a maid in theMonteMansion, before all this happened. She wasn’t regarded with much respect; after all none of the chamber maids were. But there were certain advantages. The sons of Lord Monte were educated in the study room, adjacent to the bedchamber of Lady Lenora, who was the eldest daughter of the Lord and Lady Monte, and Catalina’s mistress. Every evening when Lady Lenora and her governess sewed in the bedchamber, Catalina was required to rekindle the fire and clean the room, getting the lady’s bed ready. It was during these times that she overheard Master Pueblo teaching the boys. And little by little, she learned.
But women of this society do not need knowledge, they do not need to know how to read or write. And it was treason to teach a woman more than the basic etiquette. But Catalina do not know of these laws, after all she couldn’t read the law book. So imagine her surprise when soldiers busted into her room in the servant wing one winter night, announcing her arrest for “inappropriate knowledge of Latin, Greek and of other subjects only known to men.”
It turned out that as well as listening in on the lessons tutored by Master Pueblo, Catalina had also made a few trips to the study room to sneak out books, quills and parchment for further studying by night. After two years, she’d mastered basic Latin, Greek, maths and philosophy. This was, of course, not known by anyone in the household; although a commotion was made the time she took a few too many books. But she was caught that night, and who slipped her secret was unknown.
Shouts were heard, and Catalina was pulled out of her disturbed sleep by a pair of rough hands dragging her to her feet.
“Get up now, you!” the guard snarled, his stinking breath hot on her face, “There’s work to be done outside, and even a useless little wench like you can lend a hand.”
She obediently stood and followed the guard outside where a bunch of other prisoners sat, miserably separating rope into piles of fluffy fibre. It was freezing, a fine grey powdery snow draped over the landscape. She shivered in her thin clothes, and tightened the shawl around her shoulders. The guard gave her a none-too-gentle shove towards the basket of ropes, and she sat down, unsure what to do. She took a chunk of rope, fingering it over and over, and after a glare from the guard, started to pull the smaller cords out of the twisted rope. The pile of fibre in front of her was tiny, and her fingers had already begun to bleed from the roughness of the cords. But she sat there and continued her job till the gong sounded and they were all shepherded back inside. She tore a strip of linen off her petticoat and wound her aching fingers in it. It was supper time.
Supper wasn’t much, a stale piece of bread, a bottle of ale, and a lump of old cheese, blue with moulds. She devoured it greedily and laid down to rest. They would start work at dawn tomorrow. And it would be much the same for many more days to come.