Monday, 12 March 2012

The Outcast ~ Part Two

Outside the wind had begun to howl, the snow falling in a sheet of white, obscuring all from view. She turned from the window with a small gleam of triumph, knowing that her search party would be temporarily halted in their need to find shelter. Sweeping off her cloak she laid it before the fireplace then carefully gathered up the bundle of cloth and laid the tiny infants down, gently unwrapping their woollen cocoon, allowing them to stretch their little limbs.

She sat back on her heels, gently tucking her long ebony hair back into place. She sighed and smiled down upon them, their glassy blue eyes were wide with interest, trying to focus on their new environment. Gingerly she leant forward with pale and elegant fingers to touch their soft skin, causing them to stir at her icy touch. Her eyes glazed with silent tears as the desperation suddenly washed over her. She knew she had a difficult choice to make and that it would have to be made soon, lest she prolong the danger they suffered. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand she stood and moved into the kitchen area, noiselessly opening cupboards and perusing bottles until she came across a dusty flagon that, on shaking, appeared to hold some liquid.

She returned to the sitting room, pausing in the doorway, noting with mixed feelings of sympathy and dismissal that the old man was now in the last grip of death. His body was shivering, his lips swollen blue. His eyes flickered as if in a fit of some feverish madness, only he was as cold as the snow falling outside. His withered face was ashen and his fleshy skin devoid of all natural colour. The angry puncture wounds had leaked an oozing crimson pool into the crevasses of his neck. He took one last gasping breath before his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped against the chair, a look of contorted pain etched across his face.

She turned away, eyes closed. How many times had she witnessed the destruction of life in this way, more often than not by her own hand? In the past it had always been a necessity, the curse of her kin, just a means of survival. But through tragic circumstance and the choices she had made it had become her undoing. For now she had lost not only her love, but the respect and protection of her family.

She looked sadly at his wrinkled, ghostly face. In the haze of the firelight and the pain of her memory, she saw before her not a lifeless old man, but Him, the man she had given up everything for. A dark shadow crossed her face as she raised the flagon to her lips and blew away a film of dust. She inspected the dark, potent smelling liquid within and deeming it to be some form of home-brewed rum, parted her lips and took a large gulp. It coated her throat with a brief frenzy of heat, like scalding flames licking at damaged wounds. She quickly took another mouthful, savouring the brief burning sensation before setting down the flagon on the wooden table. Her brow furrowed with dismay as she recalled his bitter rejection of her offer. She had brought him to the brink of death to convey her true feelings, offered him an immortal life so they could be accepted and start a new life as a proper family. With an angry swipe of her hand she flung the flagon against the wall and moved to the window.

The snowfall had finally ceased leaving the clearing just outside the cottage bathed in white, sparkling with the last remnants of the moonlight. She watched as the leaves of the trees rippled in the wind, their silhouettes framed against a hazy purple sky. Her gaze was suddenly drawn to a faint amber glow in the distance. Her dark eyes twitched with rising panic as more specs of light appeared on the horizon. With the snowfall easing they had once again begun to trace her steps. She span wildly on the spot, her mind torn in a hundred directions. She needed to flee once again. The recent snowfall would only delay them for a few hours as they lost sight of her tracks. Her legs were weary and the muscles of her arms screamed with pain at the thought of carrying her precious burden through the forest once more.

Quickly she knelt before the hearth, both babes were sleeping soundly and it broke her heart to wake them. Carefully she cradled the darker headed child watching as her tiny eyes opened in slits of icy blue. She laid her in the woollen sling and stood to tie it securely about her shoulder so that she lay close and safe against her breast. In the distance she heard a piercing scream. She wheeled around towards the window and gasped at the sight of burning trees, flames quickly spreading from branch to branch, moving ever closer to the cottage.

They had found her. Which party of pursuers she knew not for certain, but judged it to be the humans given their usual lack of discretion. With no time to lose, she snatched up her cloak, fastened it quickly and then bent down for the second child. With no time to secure her safely, she held her close, wrapping the thick cloth of her cloak around her like swaddling. Approaching the doorway she raised her hood, felt quickly for her sword and stepped out with a crunch into the shimmering snow. Bent low in the shadows, she cast her dark eyes full circle, taking in the crackle of flames as they took hold of everything within their grasp. She stayed hidden for a few moments, making the agonising decision of which way to run for she knew not where the 2nd search party may be.

The clearing had become a ring of dancing flames, now catching at the thatched cottage roof. With a deep breath she broke free from the safety of the shadows and fled west towards the sound of the rushing river, under cover of the swirling layers of smoke that filled the sky like angry rainclouds.

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