This is the second portion of the story we began last week. I do believe this is going to be a three parter, so be ready for the last next week. (we can hope it’s only three parts at any rate.)
In the Forest
“Ordinarily,” Lady Shelton began, “I would not feel the need for such precautions. But it’s you and your lack of respect that have brought me to this.” She snapped the lock shut that secured Jardan’s leg chain to the wall.
She didn’t struggle, didn’t fight. What good would it do? The woman had taken Jardan’s voice, and was intent now on her soul. Her mind raced as she thought of the ways she might break free of the chains.
Lady Shelton was to leave the cottage for a few days and as she put it, “The girl would not roam free.” Jardan’s father had not come out of his room in days. She could hear him breathing, even now, labored and raspy. She wanted to scream at the woman, command her to release him, release them, but her voice had come out as a dull croak since the morning.
“If you’re a good girl,” Lady Shelton said. “I might even bring you back a treat when I return.” And with that she was gone. She didn’t look back.
That had been hours ago.
She struggled and pulled hard against the chain. Bolted to the wood of the cottage wall, something should give but it fought her at every turn. The palms of her hands had chaffed with the effort. Blood welled up in her knuckles and broke free of the abused skin.
But finally, with a crackle nails tore through the wood. She gained an inch and redoubled her efforts. Before long, she ripped it free of the wall. She scanned the room, there had to be a key, something, anything that would release the clamp around her ankle and free her from the chain.
She hobbled around the room, her foot asleep from the tight clamp. As she dumped drawers and overturned baskets on the room’s shelves the soft clunk of a heavy iron weight hit the floor. She gripped the pry-key in triumph as her hands shook in the effort to break open the clamp.
Elation turned to sour dread as she realized the time. Lady Shelton had chained her at dawn’s break. Twilight filled the cottage’s sole window. She had little time. The woman would be on her way back, if not already approaching the cottage. She threw on warm clothes and raced out into the approaching darkness.
She had once thought that running through the forest was difficult and dangerous at deep night, but it didn’t match the troubles she found in the twilight. Shadows and sounds echoed around her, as she jumped at the snap of twigs and the wind through the tree branches. It was a blind race through unfamiliar woods, the sun no longer there to guide her run.
Her breath billowed out in gasps, the moisture frozen in mist. Her lungs screamed pain as her blood lashed through her veins. She couldn’t stop, refused to stop. The chill air threatened to flay the skin from her bones if she gave her sweat a moment to freeze. She ran, forced herself forward toward a destination she no longer remembered.
When she finally stopped to catch a breath. She realized she didn’t know where she was. Nothing in the area around her looked familiar. In fact, it looked, how could this be? It looked out of season. The chill of winter didn’t suffuse the air around her. Not like the run. There was an unseasonal warmth to the air that felt unnatural.
She had found her way into a clearing of sorts. A worn narrow path led through the trees. But the area around it didn’t have the pall of winter that covered the rest of the forest. Twilight still filled the sky but it was a murky twilight, not of the earth going to sleep but of something different, a moment in time, frozen between times.
It took her a few moments to catch her breath again, though she had gained enough presence of mind to continue walking as she recovered. It could not be explained but the compulsion to follow the worn path pulled her on.
Her clothes, wet with sweat chilled her bones as the wind cut through. Cold and hot at the same time, she fought between removing her coat or pulling it tighter to her frame. As she adjusted it, she felt something in the breast pocket. The ring, in her race to escape the house she had forgotten all about it. The old woman must not have searched through her belongings.
Darkness fell across the path. No that wasn’t it. The darkness pushed toward her, not from the sky but from the path ahead. The tree line to each side of the path grew dense. It no longer had the sparse edge of a light forest in winter. This area had condensed and overgrown. Not only did the standing trees have the look of deep winter but the forest floor had been littered with fallen trees and broken bramble. The thicket had a pall of death and murk she had felt no where else in the forest.
As I mentioned, there is more to come from this. Stick around and maybe consider giving a bit of support to the continued efforts here.
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