Authors: Bre Faucheux
Madison suggested that they keep to the nearby forest and away from pathways. There was enough of a dimly lit trail to follow through the woods and they both wanted to stay out of sight. A faint haze appeared over the grasses in the surrounding trees as they rode. The towering trees vaguely reminded her of the woods containing the Vam-pyr-ei-ak, but she brushed the thought from her mind. She began resisting the temptation to find similarities in every place she went to every place she had previously been.
A sound descended from the trees on both sides. Madison broadened her hearing expecting it was a herd of forest animals. But these on comers rode on horses as well. They were silent up until they reached a certain point, as if they had been waiting.
“We are not alone, Jayden,” she spoke softly knowing he could hear her.
“I know. Slow your pace,” he said with equal stillness.
“Why? They are waiting for on comers, they cannot have good intentions.”
“And neither do we.”
It had been only a day since their last fill. Although she didn’t feel the need for blood, the desire was always there.
Madison slowed her horse to a walking pace. It could hear the others as well and wanted to draw back. Trying to gain control of the animal, she laid her hand on its mane. It seemed to calm with her touch almost instantly, but it was still uneasy at the prospect of strangers approaching.
There was something wrong with the smell in the air. It was the same odor from the previous village. Death accompanied these men.
They came forth with a stench that even made the horse recoil his nostrils in repulsion. These men were entirely dressed in black and grey with long hooded cloaks covering most of their faces. She wondered if they would immediately notice that she was a woman even with her head intentionally covered in a long dark skinned cloth she managed to save from the natives. Jayden had stolen a man’s trousers he found for her, deciding it best if she wore apparel that would allow her quickened movement. She tried her best to conceal her face, given how she was riding as a man would.
Six men on horses circled them. Jayden came closer to her from behind. Madison immediately dropped her head down to avoid showing her face.
“Why do you come forth in such a manner?” said Jayden when not one of the strangers spoke immediately. They simply stared at them.
“You can come no further,” one finally spoke up. His face was dirty and his teeth yellow. Madison could smell his atrocious breath from feet away.
“And why not?” said Jayden.
“Have you been touched by the pestilence?” another man asked.
“We are not ill, if that is your meaning,” said Jayden with an air of certainty.
“Our village remains untouched, and we will not have intruders bringing it in,” said a tall man from the opposite side. He leaned in toward Madison, curious as to why she didn’t speak. She continued staring downward, knowing full well that the man was lying. The smell of the sickness saturated their clothing.
“The pestilence has travelled farther than the coast, then?” asked Jayden.
“It is everywhere. We cannot allow it to travel farther. We do not permit strangers beyond these woods.”
Jayden concluded this man was their leader. His greasy hair went down to his shoulders. His accent was thick and not quite English. Jayden could identify it as foreign. He suddenly realized they were not on English soil. Although it had to be near as the language was still a broken sort of English. He thought he might have heard it before.
“You’re Gaelic?” asked Jayden.
“What else would we be? We don’t permit English here. For you are who brought this pestilence on us. Only selfish Englishmen would see fit to travel during such times.”
Jayden laughed. “We landed far from where we intended then. We will make way for England then, if our presence offends you so,” he said.
Madison continued to look downward.
“You won’t make passage here. Leave from where you came or you will be removed.”
It was only then that Madison glanced upward slightly. The other five men had cloths wrapped around their faces, meant to protect them from the infected.
“And which route should we be advised to take to avoid your village?” Jayden asked.
“Just go back. Go back from where you came.”
“How many areas are affected?” he persisted.
“They are all affected,” the man shouted. “And I would think you complicit in spreading it should you stand your ground much longer. Is that a witch you bring with you? Does she intend to spread this evil?”
A cloaked man from behind grabbed the back of Madison’s deer skinned hood. She let out a cry and her cover was hastily removed. Her hair came spilling out. The man didn’t let go but tried to dismount her from her horse. She grabbed his arm and twisted it backwards, sending the man screeching in agony down from his horse. His feet dangled above the ground as her grip clenched around his forearm. Finally she let him drop. He reached for his shoulder and immediately backed away from her. The others stared at her.
Jayden reached for the throat of the man who spoke for them. His teeth ground and his eyes widened at the strength in Jayden’s hand.
“That’s my wife you threaten, sir. Do you truly desire to make such foolish accusations if they may cost you your life?” Jayden thrust the man backwards and released him. “You do not look well yourself, sir. I daresay you may already be infecting your village. We pose little threat to you or your people unless you provoke us so.”
Madison slowly came beside Jayden, staring down at the man gasping and heaving for air as he tried gaining composure from Jayden’s tight grip. Both Madison and Jayden could sense their sudden nervousness.
A younger man from behind gazed forward at Madison. He spoke from under the cloth wrapped tightly around his nose and mouth.
“She’s a witch! Look at her eyes. She’s one of them, I tell you. A demon thrives inside her!” he pointed at her as he spoke, as if his hand could strike her down with the allegation.
“I’m no witch, young man. But a demon may liken in my features. For I have seen demons you could never imagine,” she said, growing increasingly angry. “I’m more than willing to show you should you permit me.” She smiled at him, revealing her sharpened teeth.
The young man rode away almost instantly at the sight. The others backed away as they stared at Madison’s eyes. Her hair fell behind her head, gracing the length of her back. She looked more angelic than demonic. But the combination of her strength and features were enough to frighten them.
“If it’s money you desire, gentlemen,” said Jayden calmly, “you will receive none from us. Nor do we take kindly to thieves. They pay with their lives as will you if you don’t desist.”
“We are not bandits, sir,” another on horseback spoke. “We seek only to protect our village.”
“How noble of you, good sir,” Jayden mocked. “I cannot say I have met many men willing to meet those who may carry the disease in order to protect their people. I would be more suspicious of such a nature than a man who was willing to profit from sneaking up on strangers.”
“Our loyalty to our lord and township offends you?” the man asked.
“No, your lies offend me. You had every intention of charging us a toll before you saw my companion was that of a lady. Then your intentions became even more sinister.” Jayden knew he was right when their leader looked back at him, still not fully recovered from Jayden having grabbed him by the throat. Touching him when he gripped his throat gave Jayden all the confirmation he needed. “I can sense your dishonesty, sir,” he continued. “And it repulses me.”
“We are suspicious of any strangers should they require passage through our village,” said another.
“Is that what your leader here told you?” asked Jayden looking at the man who was still gasping for breath and trying to regain his speech. “We’re only passing through. And should we require passage through the woods of your village, we will take it. If you wish to stop us, a horrible fate may become of you. Now desist, gentlemen.”
Jayden was suddenly thirsty. He wasn’t even trying to clout it. To a normal man, his eyes would appear mad. But Madison knew better. She abruptly took his arm in her hand and drew him and his horse backwards.
“I think these men know better now,” she said gently.
“Do you think us so weak as to be threatened by a mere lady?” said another man from behind her. He drew his sword and pointed it at Madison. She turned to see he was no older than she was. Yet she could sense that he wanted to reclaim the honor of their leader. She turned and took the edge of the sword in her hand. She leaned forward and smelled its edge.
“You have drawn blood with this weapon, sir,” she hissed. “Do you wish yours to be next?”
“I shall be gloried in my taking of a demon from a young woman’s body. And if you be a witch, no one shall mourn you,” he said gallantly.
“Is that what you believe?” She was surprised to find that she enjoyed watching fear spread over them.
“I have been a victim to true magic and demons, sir,” she said. “Never will it happen again.”
She hoped that this would disturb the man enough to back down. But he showed no sign of ceasing, only a desire to prove himself. Madison felt the thirst rising from inside her.
“A life for a life, I suppose, sir. You have taken human life. You shall pay for it with yours.” Madison moved so quickly even Jayden was left a little taken back. The man plummeted to the ground with a thundering blow. Madison dug her teeth deep within his throat and took what she could from inside him before thrusting him into the air.
Two other men drew their swords and leapt forward at Jayden, and reached for Madison from behind. Jayden took a sword directly from the man’s hand, grabbing for it by the blade. He turned it and thrust it directly into one man’s chest. Madison twisted after seeing what Jayden had done and tried the same. She took the sword from the man coming for her and grabbed it. She felt the skin on her palms rip open, but knowing it would quickly heal, she turned the sword around. She reached for the man’s leg with her other hand. He fell from his horse almost instantly. Wanting a less direct form of communication, she took the handle of the sword and thrust it into the man’s head knocking him unconscious. The others seeing this display of strength quickly turned their horses and fled. Madison looked back at the man she had thrust aside, his throat open with wounds from her razor sharp teeth. He was still too shocked to stand.
“You have taken other women with this blade, haven’t you,” she fumed. She felt his fear turn to terror as he tried crawling away on the ground by his hands and heels.
“You think yourself a protector?” She took the sword within her hand and pointed it at him. “You are more of a demon than I could ever be.”
“I hunt demons and witches like you!” he shouted, somehow managing to find his voice as his body shook. “I kill those who conspire with evil.”
“How many would you say? How many demons have you killed?” she said coolly.
“Enough to grant my place at the lord’s side; I do the work others cannot bring themselves to accomplish. They will find you, madam. Your soul will be freed of this confined body you have sold to the devil. God will take his vengeance upon your treachery.”
“He already has, sir. Indeed, he already has.” Madison dropped the sword. The man looked at her strangely. Jayden expected her to lunge its hilt forward. But her eyes quickly took to his throat. She moved faster than he could see, and captured his neck to her mouth, piercing a new wound, deeper and harder than before. She still relished the feeling of the warm blood moving down her throat.
She understood now why Jayden took so many lives from the Vam-pyr-ei-ak. It was more satisfying to take from those who had killed. Perhaps there was even justice in it.
“Not much for sharing, are you?” said Jayden from behind her.
“You had your man there,” she said, motioning to the man he had run through. “You chose a less direct approach with that sword in your hands,” she said.
“Less direct? I thought it more dramatic.”
“Hastier, for certain, but not more dramatic,” she said smiling.
“Take what you need from him” he said. “Then we must press forward.”
“You believe that they were actually from a neighboring village? I assumed you thought them thieves,” she said sarcastically.
“Anyone who charges a toll is a thief of sorts. I’ve seen the tactic before in England. This sickness has everyone afraid. They would not hesitate to take what they needed if they thought travelers had food or other valuables.”
“Should we search for the others then?” she asked smiling.
“It would make for good sport,” he said. He liked this side of her more as days passed.
“How can you tell a thief by looking at one, sir?” she asked.
“Normal men guard a pathway, mistress. Bandits stay off the roads so they can approach those who use them.”
“Fair enough,” she said.
Jayden dismounted his horse. He took the black cloak from the man lying dead beneath him. Madison did the same with the one she had knocked unconscious. The material was far too fine in quality to be of normal commoners. These men profited well from their takings. And her cover was clearly not as cautious as she would have liked. She draped the cloak around her body. It concealed her much more efficiently than she had been before.