August 15, 1451
Darkness started to descend in the forest and still I ran. Branches scraped my skin hours ago and thin lines of dried red ran across my arms and legs. I wasn’t sure how far I’d gone from the stockade walls of Mikov’s farmhouse, but I feared it might not be enough. The deceptive calm of the trees and the softening heat of the day did nothing to soothe me. My heart thundered in my chest and the sound of my ragged breaths filled the twilight.
Would he find me? Had I a chance? Every time I started to feel safe I pushed the hope into a tight ball around my heart, protecting me and fueling me to continue on. The stable master’s voice, the last one I’d heard at the farm, rang again and again in my mind.
“You think others haven’t tried what you’re doing, lass? You may hide in the straw of the wagon, but mark my words, he will find you.” The slovenly bastard pushed off me and tied his breeches, leaving his seed on my thighs.
I smiled and rose from the straw, lowering my skirts. “Is that concern I hear in your tone, Thomas?”
He may have asked a steep price to smuggle me out beyond the walls, but it was no worse than what I’d endured for months—and at least he was human.
The weathered face of the stable master frowned, his big bushy eyebrows scrunched together in his displeasure. “You’re all dead anyway. It’s just a shame to see such beauty go to waste.”
Bits of straw still tangled in my hair, tickling my face as I stumbled over a root. The smell of burning peat reached me as I rose from the forest floor. Not sure how long I’d been running, the timing seemed premature for an evening cook fire—perhaps I’d reached the next closest farm. Letting my nose guide me, I made my way through the dim light to the edge of the trees.
Dark clouds covered the sky, making it darker then the hour warranted. More than likely, the pending rain drove the farmers indoors for an early dinner. A crack of thunder overhead signaled a coming summer storm and I hoped the family would consider taking in a dirty woman traveling alone.
Potato plants in neat rows stretched on for an acre, with the faint outline of a thatched roof showing in the distance. The carefully guarded hope I’d held near my heart blossomed, filling me with renewed energy. I might just make it out of this living nightmare yet.
A tingling entered my limbs, the muscles protesting despite the desire to reach safety. Each step seemed a trial, reminding me of the muscle ache I’d get when Aidan and I worked during harvest time, long past sunset to get our crops in. I pushed on, stepping carefully down a row to not damage the maturing plants.
Shadows lengthened and through the distance two shapes stood out, possibly the farmers. Exhaustion clouded my mind and I wasn’t sure if the figures up ahead were fence posts or the inhabitants. I straightened, trying my best not to look like a beaten dog. The scent of farm animals and fresh soil mingled in the rain-scented air with burning peat moss, triggering sharp memories of Ireland.
Twenty feet from the edge of the field I felt a rumble through my feet. Recognizing the thunder of hooves, I craned my neck, trying to discern where the riders might be approaching from. The road near the small cottage was clear and my heart seized in panic.
I whirled to see a team of black horses breaking through the dense trees and barreling across the field toward me at a full canter. Foam dripped from their mouths and a crazed look glinted in their eyes. Their pale-skinned riders dressed all in black, with flowing black capes fluttering behind them in the growing breeze.
No! It can’t be! How did they find me so fast? Fear clutched my throat and adrenaline pumped through my veins, chasing away the last of my fatigue. My instincts screamed to run, but I knew there was no hope.
Lurching forward in a staggering run, I waved to the figures near the cottage as I cleared the last of the crops. “Help!”
Standing not fifty feet away were the couple who worked the land. A tall man with dark hair and a thin frame turned at the sound of my voice—he took one step forward until he spotted the oncoming horsemen. He froze in his tracks, horror and fear twisting his face.
Mikov’s voice boomed out across the field as the horses raced upon me. “Leave her, Finnigan! She is mine!”
Finnigan grabbed the hand of the woman standing behind him and raced for his cottage door, slamming it behind them both in his haste.
“No!” I screamed into the growing darkness. The skies chose that moment to open up and rain poured down from the swollen black clouds. Not willing to accept defeat so easily, I ran toward the house, determined to bang on the wooden door and beg to be let in.
The sharp neigh of a horse screamed in my ear and a booted foot landed firmly in my back, shoving me to the dampening ground. The shock of hitting the hard earth reverberated up through my arms and knees as a frustrated scream of defeat tore from my lips.
Two other horses pawed the earth around me—the three vampires had me effectively pinned. A large round object was thrown on the ground near my head. I turned my face and gazed into the staring dead eyes of Thomas, the stable master. His mouth was locked in a silent scream and the jagged flesh of his severed neck stank of fresh death.
“Silly lass,” Mikov rasped while dismounting from his steed. “I smelled your essence on him.” Gloved hands grabbed my upper arm and yanked me to my feet. He tsked when he saw the scratches on my arms and ran a leather-encased finger down my skin. “We’re linked by blood, you and I. You can never hide from me. Your life force calls me like a beacon.”
He mounted his horse and dragged me up in front of him. One steely arm wrapped around me and he locked both of my wrists in his larger hand as the rain pelted us. “You are mine now and forever. There is no freedom for you, Ceara.”
Thomas’ last words ran through my mind. “You’re all dead anyway.” Tears leaked silently from my eyes, mixing with the summer downpour and streaming unnoticed down my face.
Is this what my life has become? Am I only food for a monster?
Ceara's tales will continue next month, if you like what you're reading and would like the convenience of reading it directly on your Kindle each day, check out Digital Digest on kindle, or pick up back month's issues in a 99 cent ebook through Amazon, B&N, and Apple as well as other fine online retailers.
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~~ C.J. Ellisson ~~
Guest Speaker at Vamps at Sea – a Vampire Themed Cruise to Alaska
Copyright 2011 C.J. Ellisson
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.