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The Chace Homestead stood intractable above its land, as it had for over a hundred years and as it would for a hundred years more. The wood of its floorings was older than the bones who, from their graves, fertilized its soil. The bricks that framed its foundation were pressed awkwardly together; mismatched, uneven, and overlapping bits of rock, ruins, bone, and blood. The bricks that founded its walls were red, carved from clay as was the standard of their day. These were lined neatly, framed over the dark supports nested within its walls. Rarely ever would a mouse scurry across its floors, for no mouse dared to agitate that cursed timber.

The garden bloomed well, rich from a long eternity of fertile donations. At times, when it allowed, black hares would roam its gardens, but they dare not take from the rich vegetation. To those lacking in sensibility, all that remained in that creature of wood and stone was a singular occupant, and her maid if you attributed personhood to such a class. Too many rooms were left empty, and too little food was stocked in its vast pantry. Still, it had the family blood flowing through its occupant and the maid whose family gravitated perpetually towards the thick blood of Chace.

Bendis Chace approached the home, which she had occupied and, despite the deed to her name, held little faith of her authority over it. Bendis walked with a withering stride, but still, maintained her posture, a cordial mark at hand, and her greatsword fastened to the ready. She watched the greyness of the sky quickly dithering into night-time through amber eyes, attentive for whatever forces were beginning their nightly shift through the dark. None came, yet, so she instead focused on a little form shivering in the cold. The little one, whimpering as she shifted herself to face Bendis, smiled pallidly with a sudden spark illuminating her eyes like firecrackers.

“My word Countess. The weather has turned to an awful kind, wouldn’t you agree?” said the Girl

Bendis nodded, as this was plain to see; the weather had turned, taken by a sturdy cool change. This coming winter would be a sharp one.

“It would take much to warm homes as grand as the one perched on top of that hill, wouldn’t you agree? Not like the homes of those in more fortunate positions. Smaller homes, fewer mouths to feed and to warm, and to nurse.”

Bendis failed to respond, noticing the weight of the sword at her hilt. The little girl dressed in poorly knitted and torn woollen items reached into her ragged satchel. Bendis' hand tightened around the hilt of her sword. The little girl struggled, her fingers not as nimble as they were in better days, to find the items she sought. Joy then sparkled beneath her pale face. She produced a matchstick, frail and thin, yet also damp. It was unusable.

“Just a little shaving of wood and gunpowder ma’am, yet all the comforts of the home depend on it.”

The girl eagerly extended the product, half waiving in the air with an unsteady hand. Bendis smiled, quite unsure what to say.

“One for a meager bronze coin, and a bundle for a mere three,” the little matchstick maker explained, awkwardly reaching into her satchel and, after an awkward length of struggling, managed to pull a bundle's worth of frail matchsticks.

Bendis managed to smile at the girl, kneeling to her tiny level.“Little girl, would you come with me to my home? There is a hearty fire, a warm bed just for yourself, and food to melt away the coming cold.”

The matchstick girl gawked at Bendis, politely laughing a quiet, distant chuckle.

“I cannot accept your offer, for us normal folk must work for our coin. We aren’t burdened by the responsibilities of one such as yourself, and pity you as such,” the matchstick girl said.

“I assure you, there is no inconvenience. My home is open to all our town.”

“Oh deary, you are too kind, but I must work and provide for my children.”

Bendis fell still at her words; children, at her age? How could? How even could that…
“You, you are a mother?”

The words felt heavy in her mouth. The little matchstick girl smiled politely, shaking her head in apparent disbelief.

“Not yet, Countess. But I must provide for their future, as my mother failed to. It was her greatest regret in life, so I must save every little penny all for the good of my future children.”

Bendis felt the need to extend a comforting hand onto the little girl, yet her hand faltered and drifted back to her side, unsure if the extension was even desired.

“How old are you, little matchstick maker?”

“Old enough to work ma’am.” The girl lifted a matchstick to Bendis, “Speaking of work, my Countess Chace.”

Bendis sniffed, reaching into the pouch at her side and drew ten golden coins.

“I’ll buy a bundle, and if you return at the end of your work to my home, you’ll be chief of matchsticks among the household staff. You will be provided for, as a return of your work, with income to support your children to come.”

The little matchstick girl grinned like a fire, and the transaction was made. Bendis reached into her chequebook as well, signing a little invoice to authenticate it with that regal touch.

“I thank you, kind Countess. Although I trust you understand my work is long,” the little matchstick girl said, her stiff hands fumbling as they packed her goods.

“And I look forward to all the matchsticks you’ll craft for not only my home but for the town at large.”

The matchstick girl laughed, as a mother would to an outlandish imagination, and walked away into the gathering mist.

Bendis turned, shaking what tears she shed out of view. Enforcing a stride into her step, Bendis moved towards a set of great doors, the mouth of the household. The front door, carved by her great-grandfather after drinking from the now sealed well located in the garden, despite the warnings of an old crone, opened to a hesitant but smiling expression. Behind the door, old Hattie looked hesitantly at Bendis and slowly just over Bendis’ shoulder. Hattie’s smile strained as it boarded. Her eyes snapped back to Bendis, and quietly, let out a polite chuckle.

“Ah-ha, my Lady, good to see you together in one piece.”

She stood aside, opening the door wider with pride.

“Glad to be in one piece, mostly,” Bendis replied, removing her muddy boots by the door, and placing them into the family boot tray. Best not to track in ghosts after all, which clung to items who lacked a soul such, as her boots.

“The defects of defending those cursed miscreants of our mortal plane, my Lady?” Hattie said, adding a slightly chipper inflection, whilst she removed Bendis’ cloak.

A slight smile and a shrug were all Bendis managed. Focusing forward as she moved towards the sitting room, which already was overrun with the shadows of the coming night. The fireplace looked to be the maul of the great shadows, but Bendis could tell when things looked to be something and were to be something. The distinction was lost to a concerning number of people, Bendis mused as she pulled the bundle of matchsticks from her pocket.

Taking a match from out the bundle, placing the rest upon the mantel, she slid its head across an ornate tinderbox. The matchstick failed to light, so she attempted again, only for the stick to snap in two. Reaching for a second of the girls' matchsticks, pressing it across the tinder box, it sparked suddenly and vividly. Bendis tossed it quickly into the fireplace, nursing the ember with a dark poker. It slowly stirred into a warily flame, and with enough care from Bendis, into a flickering fire.

It burned with all the strength that now failed Bendis as she quietly curled up onto her armchair, free of pretences and presentation, and fell asleep with rare comfort.

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