Authors: Bre Faucheux
“Shall we search for them then, or move onward?” he asked, already knowing the answer he desired.
“I wouldn’t object to sport, so yes, lets,” she said, mounting her horse. Had she not sensed their previous guilt of harming other young women, she never would have imagined herself to say such a thing. Although, the notion that women were being accused of bringing out this plague infuriated her.
Jayden looked down on the man she struck with the hilt of his sword and drained him quickly. He looked up at her once he was finished. “Waste not.”
Madison grinned as she gathered her hair back into her hooded cloak.
“And to think,” Jayden added, easily mounting his horse in one agile motion, “you once frowned upon my generous taking of the Vam-pyr-ei-ak.”
“Your vengeance was well deserved, Jayden. This is merely justice. These men are takers of life.”
“As are we, mistress,” he said.
She looked at him knowing the irony. “I see a difference. We took vengeance from those who sought to kill us. Now we take it from those who seek to kill others.”
“We are mercenaries then? You have come a long way, mistress.”
“I would like to think of it more as a means of protection. Guards perhaps,” she said.
Jayden smiled at her. Her newly improved attitude toward their inclinations pleased him. “Protectors, and not demons then?” he said. “I suppose that is a more refined way of looking at it.”
The Following Day
It took little to no time for Madison to sense where the other men had run. Jayden overtook them quickly and without remorse. Madison merely watched, fully believing these men were as guilty as the others. They searched the area for a village and came across a township. It was too great a distance for the men to have been protecting it. By their natural speed, Jayden and Madison could have reached it in a matter of hours, but by horse it took the length of the day. From the hills they could see the entire layout of the small hamlet they approached.
Only a small flicker of light peaked from a short distance away. A tall stone tower atop the grassy mound was gated in by a stone fence and a curved wooden gate. The roofing was visibly red as they drew closer, the tower above appearing brown and grey in the dim light.
Their dark horses blended with the blackness of the night. Smoothly descending from them, Jayden and Madison walked to the locked gate. A bell stood by its side and Jayden took its bottom to clang it against the metal surrounding, the long piece dangling from the vibration. The sound it made was harsh to their keen hearing.
A young man approached, fully cloaked in thick brown cloth. He opened the gate hesitantly, just enough to peer from outside its tall wooden timbers.
“This monastery sleeps still now. What do you want?” he said.
“Only shelter from the night,” said Madison removing the hood of her long black cloak. A strand of her hair wafted gently down to her shoulder as she looked the young friar directly in the eyes. She had only recently become aware that Jayden found a certain allure in her when she let her hair flow freely. She hoped the moon provided enough light to entice the man enough to trust her. She wanted to reach out and touch him, to calm him, but the necklace containing the healer’s elixir provided all the protection she needed from him sensing any evil within her. She was never sure which of the priests, friars, or monks would know she wasn’t human in their like form. The healer insinuated that holy men would be the most dangerous in knowing her true form upon looking at her. She didn’t wish to test this theory.
“We are only passing through. We shall be gone by morning,” she said softly. Jayden allowed her to speak this time. He assumed that people were more eager to trust a woman’s soft demeanor over his often weighty presence.
“We want no troubles here,” said the monk. “Our crops have failed and we cannot provide you with food as we barely have enough for our own. You will be given shelter, and bedding. That’s all.”
“That’s all we desire, we have already taken our fill of food for the night.”
Jayden smiled mischievously as he removed the hood of his cloak. He took Madison by her back and led her forward. She walked solemnly forth leading her horse as she walked. The quiet confines of a monastery seemed a welcome change of pace after their days of riding.
“I’m Brother John Clyn of the Friars Minor. You travel during horrid times,” he said leading the way.
“We have grown very aware of that,” said Jayden. The monk turned around and faced the two of them, ushering them to tie their horses to the nearby rails alongside the stone gate.
“I wouldn’t normally take in strangers, as many who attempt to travel bring the pestilence with them. But we fear that a few here are already infected. That’s a risk you must be willing to take if you do choose to stay in our lodgings,” he said, his face defeated with sadness. Madison could see it as clearly as she sensed it.
“We have no fear of death, Brother Clyn,” she said softly.
He took her hand in his and bowed his head gently. “Then Christ be with you this night, my lady. We can only hope now. I will lead you to our open chambers. Rest easy this night and be gone by the dawn’s first light. If the others were to know that I allowed possibly infected strangers within these walls, I would no longer have a place here.”
“No one shall know of our presence, I swear to you,” she said following him.
The monk looked at her with curious eyes when she didn’t let go of his hand as they walked up the spiral stone steps. She held it until they reached the dark chambers with two small beds of thin cloth on either side of a thick wall and a small door. She maintained his sense of calm as she touched him. He didn’t seem to even be bothered when she gently pushed him into the wall, taking a small amount of what blood she needed from his wrist. The monk was still and didn’t fight her. Madison forced her essence through him and dispassionately allowed Jayden to drink from him. The monk appeared almost in a daze as she motioned for Jayden to stop. The she gently wrapped the man’s wounds with ripped cloth from the bedding.
“You have been very generous, Brother Clyn. Go rest now,” she said tying a knot around his wrist. He silently left the room and closed the door behind him.
“Don’t take so much next time. You will leave him weak,” she spat at Jayden, nearly scolding him. He threw his cloak on the foot of her bedding.
“I took little more than you did. He will be recovered by morning. And with those long robes, who is to notice his wrist?”
She sighed and drew her cloak off laying it across the bed for extra comfort.
“Where are these aimless wanderings to lead us if we continue to stay in monasteries and shallow inns streamed with the ill?” Jayden complained. He was growing irritated with their lack of lifestyle.
“I had the same thought,” she sighed.
“Might I suggest somewhere more populated? I desire to make one more trip into London before we wander elsewhere.”
“We may be able to find more willing takers for our cravings in the cities,” she agreed. “Although they may bear an even stronger stench of death if sickness has overtaken as many regions as those vermin said it had.”
“And what will you do there, mistress?”
“Accompany you,” she said blatantly. “I thought that was the entire idea of my coming with you.”
“I was under the distinct impression you never wanted to see home again.”
“I don’t need to see my village, Jayden. I only wish to not be forced into seclusion,” she snapped. “Our initial plan of keeping to small towns has become a lesser way of living.”
“I thought we agreed to move onward from everything we once knew.”
She studied him as her irritation grew. “You are the one who wants to go into London. Is that not your previous home?” His scoff only provoked her further. “Do you honestly believe that you are the only one frustrated by this? Every township we approach lays sick or dying. We’re forced to take lodgings in places that are not lodgings, and we only travel by dim light or complete darkness. I desire something slightly livelier, same as you.”
“You mean that you desire something familiar. What do you expect to happen? To go home and find your brother there waiting for you?”
Madison had Jayden on the ground, his arm twisted behind him and groaning in pain before he knew she had moved. She could hear his skin scratching on the stone floor beneath him as he fell back into his room.
“I told you not to speak to me that way again,” she growled into him. “I am as infuriated by this as you. And do not dishonor my brother.” She let him go and shut the door between their two chambers so that she may have some privacy. She heard him lurch up and snap his shoulder back into place with a heavy grunt. “And if you must know, I wish to know how this sickness has spread and where it originally came from.”
“And what, dare I ask, would be the point of that,” he moaned, still trying to gain his composure. He sat on the bed causing it to give a loud creak from his size.
“I just wish to know. I need no further explanation. Now go to sleep.”
She drew her cloak over her body and lay down on the bedding. She saw no need to tell Jayden her true suspicions.
At least not yet.
* * * * *
“Awaken, mistress,” Jayden yelled. “Awaken this instant.”
Madison lifted her head gently from where she lay. On her stomach, she only saw Jayden’s waist as he quickly reached for his cloak draped over the cupboard at the foot of her bed. He threw it on violently, covering his face.
She leaned up quickly on her hands. “Pray tell, what are you doing?”
“We have to leave at once, lest someone find us here alone,” he said. He wasn’t in a state of panic just yet, but he was clearly disturbed.
“What do you mean alone? The others lay downstairs. The man led us here for privacy, which you have ruined now. Thank you, sir.”
“They may lie downstairs, but they no longer reside in their bodies, mistress.”
Jayden’s emotions were becoming clear to her. He was anxious. She sensed it coming from him as she grew more alert. Grabbing her shoes, she placed them on and rushed for the door, her cloak close in hand.
“Explain yourself, Jayden. What has happened?”
He turned fast and was standing in front of her in an instant. His arms grasped her shoulders and pinned her backwards against the bed’s unstable frame behind them.
“They are gone, Madison. Gone, dead, they are completely gone from their bodies. Can you not smell their stench? The pestilence took them as it has the others.”
“It couldn’t have taken all of them in one night,” she said urgently.
“But it has. Their spirits have left them, Madison.”
He had used her name twice. He only did so now when he strived to reach her urgently or gain her full attention.
“What?” For the first time in months, Madison felt a tension stronger than when she had been forced to leave Jamison for dead. The calm she had grown accustomed to was quickly collapsing.
“If others find us here, they will believe it was us. No one knows of our presence. We must keep it that way. We must leave here at once,” he shouted.
He let her go and she reached for her knees, the truth of what was happening finally overpowering her. Shock coursed through her entire body before she quickly recovered. She swiftly wrapped up in her cloak. Within seconds she was behind Jayden and the smell was growing fouler, as was the sound of silence. There was no breath in the air or the sound of flowing blood as the men lay still in a deep impenetrable slumber. There was only the stain of death. She knew it all too well.
Before she could descend the stone steps between floors, the smell became unbearable. She reached for the wall behind her but only found a window with drapery hanging. She grabbed for it to keep her balance. It inevitably flew open as she gripped it. The dawn’s morning light hit everything in the room for her to witness. There was blackness. The body before her was spotted in bits of black and the air was foul with sweat. Boils now overtook Brother Clyn’s once fragile features. The man who had shown her to her bedding and aided her in the night lay motionless on the floor. He had hardly the energy within him to leave the room before collapsing. Madison stared down at him, unable to move despite her insurmountable strength and speed. Her every sense failed her. The only thing she was keenly aware of was death. It radiated from the very walls around her. Even though the bodies within the tower lay dead, the knowledge of their approaching death within the night left a stain within the frame of the walls.
Madison managed to compose herself and buried the knowledge of what lay before her as deep as she could. With all the speed she could devise, she ran down the few floors below her and outside the heavy wooden door. She tried to smell the grass and fresh dew upon its tier as she ran for the outside gate. But she could hardly smell anything other than the odor. She needed to escape it.
Jayden awaited her outside the stone wall and gateway just outside the monastery. He had already mounted his black horse. She climbed on hers quicker than the horse appreciated as it whined. Trudging it to move forward with haste, she set her sights only on the dirt road ahead. Jayden allowed her to lead and followed behind. She wondered for a moment if they would be better served to run rather than ride away as someone might see them leaving. But she figured it wouldn’t matter by this time. The pestilence would take others in the nearing village just as quickly. And no one had seen them enter.