Cirencester, Anglo-Saxon Britain
He could feel the sweat dripping down his neck and into his tunic as his horse slowly made its way back into town. The sun was setting after an almost unbearably hot day, his chain-mail tunic weighed heavy on him as if to remind him of it. He had started to nod off as they rounded the road into town. The rider made his way down the common street slowly and quietly.
His horse stopped in front of the local tavern. With a smile the rider dismounted the horse and tied it to the pole out front. Stepping in hardened mud, the rider took off the carrying bags and stepped into the tavern, doorway just lit by the evening patrol. Walking in he kept his head down, not looking at anyone, but as he approached the bar, he noticed a mug of ale waiting for him, freshly poured. Reaching into his coin bag, the bartender waved it off. With a half grin and a shrug, he took the ale and sat at an empty table in the back.
Lifting the mug, he drained half its contents. His Adam apple rose up and down, his skin dirtied from the hot sun and kicked up dust. He should be drinking water, but right then a thick dark ale was what was on his mind and had been for several hours. With a deep breath he looked around the tavern and it was quiet, just starting to fill up with the evening patrons. Cirencester wasn’t known for its night life, but the one major tavern did enough business serving ale and housing travelers passing through.
“What is that?”
He turned and with bright hazel eyes, looked in the direction of the voice. People were standing at the door and window watching something pass. The murmurs were getting louder and more urgent. With a large sigh, he stood with his mug and walked over to window, the other people clearing the way for him.
A black coach was riding slowly through down just as the sun set beyond the hills. It was completely covered and trailing behind it were several crates. It passed the tavern and turned up toward what was called The Hill. There was only one thing beyond that rise of that hill and it was an old mansion, long emptied but barely kept up by the local bank officer. He squinted and watched it make its way up the hill and then disappear behind it.
“Aye, a new visitor,” someone said.
“Who’d be living in that house, I wonder,” another added. Then the people gathered at the door looked back at him.
“Aye Constable – ye going?”
The man they called Constable, the same man trying to enjoy his well earned ale, turned away and walked back to his table to finish his mug with his back to them.
Instead of walking off to the right, towards The Hill, the constable made his way towards the solicitor. He left his horse to water at the tavern and his bags with the bartender. He’d bring them home shortly, but he needed to ask about the new tenants of The Hill Mansion.
Coming up to the office, he rapped the door three times and walked in. The solicitor was indeed there – and a stranger. The constable’s forehead furrowed as he looked at the stranger. Nothing unusual about him, except maybe the tailoring of his clothes which appeared expensive, the stranger returned the look and then nodded his head.
“Evening,” the constable replied. “Mr. Himbleman – a moment?”
The stranger gave both men a crooked smile, “I’ll be on my way then if we’re done here, Mr. Himbleman?” He tucked several papers into his robes.
“Aye, good day sir,” Mr. Himbleman replied.
Both men watched the stranger leave and as the door closed, Mr. Himbleman spoke first. “He is paid in full for the season, Constable.”
Nodding, the constable waited.
“I don’t know who they are, they sent word ahead that they were interested in stopping to resupply and rest. She paid in full, what could I do?”
“She? Was that her husband?”
“No, no husband. A woman and her servants.”
That struck the constable as odd. What woman traveled without her husband? The rest of the villagers wouldn’t take that bit of information very well. There would be talk. He turned and walked towards the door. He murmured a thank you and walked out, closing the door behind him.
The constable started off towards his horse again when Himbleman called to him from his door.
“Simon! Her name is Elizabeth Duibne, a foreigner.”
With a wave, Constable Simon Huntington walked back to the tavern.
Simon was climbing The Hill on foot, planting one foot in front of the other on the dirt road. It was wide but full of rocks. He imagined the ride up was just grand. With a slight smile he crested the summit and looked down at the house below. There were several people milling about, unpacking the crates. The mansion itself was still half bathed in orange as the sun completely slid behind the horizon. He looked up into the sky, purple and blue hues stretched out from the hills in the distance. A cool breeze brushed by him, causing him to wipe the sweat off of his neck, grimy though it was. He was filthy and this was no way to meet newcomers.
Deciding to take a short cut, Simon cut through the wooded area next to village. He made his way down the hill and past a small lake that was on the mansion’s property. The grass was tall here and full of rocks again. He kicked several while deep in thought, slowly entering the edge of the woods.
Simon stopped and turned towards the noise.
Someone was by the lake, so Simon made his way over to the edge, further into the foliage when he saw her.
Her long hair was in a black braid and over her shoulder. She was wearing a sheer, pale pink empire-waist dress. Her cloak was discarded and off to the side, so her bare shoulders were exposed. Simon was stunned into silence as he watched her, not fifty or so yards away from her. The woman picked up another rock and hurled it into the lake only it wasn’t a feeble feminine attempt; the rock went clear past the halfway mark, a good 200 yards. He blinked and continued watching her when she reached for her braid and undid the tie, letting her hair free.
It was so black it was almost blue and curly from the braid. She shook her head playfully, letting the hair fly everywhere. With a satisfactory “ugh”, she turned towards Simon and looked for another rock.
Simon leaned against a nearby tree and smiled slightly. He shouldn’t have been staring at her, but he continued watching her play and relaxed at the lake’s edge. The manner of dress told him he was looking at the mysterious new female. Elizabeth Duibne. Interesting, he thought – a word not nearly descriptive enough for the beautiful view. For several more minutes he quietly hid in the darkness of the trees and watched her.
Suddenly she turned and grabbed her cloak from behind her, scooping it up into her arms. Her path took her within 20 yards of Simon, but showed no signs of seeing him. The wind had picked up and it played with her hair, flying it everywhere. She reached up and pulled a bit of it away from her face as she passed Simon. She was smiling.
Stepping back into the forest, he turned without a word towards the path leading to the village. He wiped at the back of his neck again, thinking of her. He smiled as the woods opened up again and he walked down to the dirt street.
Simon was shaving when a knock came at the door of his home. Leaning away from his sink, he walked out of his bathroom and towards the door of his small house. He wiped the soap from his face with a towel and put on a linen shirt. He was surprised at the visitor.
“From the solicitors. Mr–?”
It was the stranger from Himbleman’s office. With a slight nod, he gave Simon a smile. “Aye sir, Mr. Thorpe, it is.”
His accent was from the north, from the isle. “Oh aye, Mr. Thorpe.” Simon stood back and gestured into his home politely.
“No sir, that’s not necessary. I’ve come to extend an invitation to you from the mistress.”
Simon’s mouth opened slightly and his heart raced. Funny had just a look at her made him react that way to the mere mention of it. “Is that so, well I’d be happy to stop by in the morning…”
“No, I’m sorry, that wouldn’t do. The mistress likes to relax during the day. She is what some people would call, ‘a night person’.” Mr. Thorpe gave him another rather toothy smile.
“Is that so,” Simon replied with an odd look at Mr. Thorpe. “Tomorrow evening then?”
“Aye, Constable that would do. And it is Constable Simon Huntington, correct? The folk in the pub weren’t as forth coming without a little monetary encouragement, so to say.”
“Yes,” Simon nodded quietly. “I’m sorry,” he transferred the towel from his right hand to his left and held it out to Mr. Thorpe who took it happily, pumping it with much enthusiasm.
“Tomorrow eve then, Constable.” Mr. Thorpe nodded and walked back out into the darkness.
“Aye.” Simon said, trailing off. He closed the door and stood for a moment thinking of the invitation. Had she seen him and just not said anything? Walking slowly back to his sink, he reapplied the soap and continued shaving, having not been able to shave this morning from traveling. When he finished, he washed off his face and settled in to bed.
The constable spent the better part of the day thinking of his invitation to The Hill mansion. That and cleaning his armor with the help of one of the maidens from the tavern who was none too happy to help, but displeased to hear who he was doing it for when he mentioned it.
“Ew is she?”
“I don’t know, Annie. A foreigner passing through town.” Simon tried not to sound excited as he wiped the cleaner off the metal.
“I’ve never seen you clean up for a foreigner,” she said with a hint of jealousy.
“Annie if you weren’t young enough to be my daughter, I’d think there was something inappropriate in your tone,” he mumbled peering at the metal.
Annie huffed and continued to clean his pants.
Time passed slowly that day and he caught himself looking up at The Hill several times, always admonishing himself for day dreaming. With his armor cleaned and Annie sufficiently angered, Simon entered the Tavern for an ale before finally walking up The Hill. It was almost sunset and it could not have come quicker.
Sitting again at an empty table in the back, Simon ran a hand through his hair and wondered briefly if he shouldn’t have had a hair cut. Again he sniffed at his behavior. He’d meet her and be done with it. There was no need to be sniffing around foreigners, especially beautiful ones. He drank his ale slowly watching the light disappear outside the window in front of him. His thumb ran circles on the side of the mug. He looked at the spirits and swished it around.
“So you’re going up to see the woman?”
Simon looked up into the face of the stable owner. “Gerald.” He lifted his cup and nodded. “Aye, I am,” he said quietly, taking another drink from his ale.
“You’re looking mighty fancy, Constable.”
Simon sighed. “Aye, your daughter had as much to say,” he finished with a monotone, “Gerald.”
He knew Gerald wanted to marry his Annie off but Simon was not interested. Being in his late 30’s, he was still in no rush. His father had children up until his 60’s and Simon had sired a son already so he was in no rush, at all. He thought briefly of his son who lived in the next village over, where he had come back from the day before. He was going on 6 now and a strong lad.
Aye, no hurry.
Standing Simon finished his ale and set the mug down. “Evening, Gerald.” He brushed by the man and walked out of the tavern with all eyes on him.
Simon walked up the dirt road on The Hill again, trudging slowly in the cool early evening. He looked back down towards the village and saw a few people standing around watching him. He rolled his eyes and reached the top and slowly descended down to the mansion. Simon was sweating by the time he reached the door, despite the cool breeze that flowed into the valley that the house sat in. After he knocked on the door, he found himself pulling at his collar and adjusting his weapon, a long sword. He dropped his hand with a frustrated grimace when the door opened.
“Constable Huntington!” It was Mr. Thorpe again at the door. With a nod, he let Simon into the house.
The mansion had been cleaned, top to bottom and the furniture had been set up. A little sparse but still decorated nicely and rather richly. Some things he had never seen before, colorful rugs strewn the floors and oddly enough the walls. He turned in a circle taking it all in when Mr. Thorpe spoke again.
“Did you wish to stay here or shall we move into the receiving room?”
‘Receiving room’, Simon thought. They were a small, humble town not quite caught up to the luxuries of lords or kings, but apparently Miss Duibne was. They walked by the stairs on the way to another room when Simon looked up at the top of the stairs and stopped.
She was standing there on the landing, leaning on the cobble wall that led down. She was wearing a red and gold gown, again gathered underneath her breasts. Simon caught himself looking at just where the gown was gathered and then was embarrassed to realize she was smiling at him.
“Ahh,” Mr. Thorpe said, “Well then – let me present mistress Elizabeth Duibne from Sect Corco Duibne of Scotland.”
Elizabeth deliberately made her way down the stairs, still giving Simon an almost smug smile. When she reached the bottom, she held her hand out to him. He looked at it dumbly for a moment and then caught himself. “Oh, forgive me,” he said taking her hand but she moved it past his, confusing him.
“No wait,” she said and reached out to his face. She gently closed his mouth with a grin. “There now.” Then she took his hand and did a small curtsy. Simon returned it with a polite bow.
Blushing he shut his eyes as he looked at the ground, and then prayed his wasn’t completely red in the face. “Constable Simon Huntington, m’lady.”
“My friends call me Ellis, Constable Huntington or if I may, Simon?”
He straightened, unconsciously tugging at his tunic again. “Please do.”
“Come, let’s go,” she said taking his arm. He immediately noticed the swell of her breast.
“It’s stuffy in here, let’s go for a walk?”
Simon’s mouth opened again but the best he could manage was an affirmative noise as he was led back out the door.
She was tall compared to his six foot four stature, so walking with her, arm in arm, was pleasant. She didn’t hang on his arm like most women do, but she paid no attention to normal restrictive behavior he had seen from higher bred women. Elizabeth was like none other, especially her manner of speaking to him, as if she had known him forever. He did little speaking as they strolled in the direction of the lake.
“So tell me about your village, Simon. It’s very beautiful here.” She had a slight northern isle accent like Mr. Thorpe. A mixture of high bred accent and her home country he wagered. He realized she had asked him a question and was looking up at him, waiting for him to reply.
“Well, Cirencester is very small. We do get travelers coming through quite a bit. Rather quiet, really.” Simon looked at her, suddenly drawing a blank. With an embarrassed grin he said, ‘that’s about it.”
Ellis, as she had asked him to call her, squeezed his arm and laughed with him. Simon looked at her just then, their footsteps slowing down as they near the lake edge. She had pale green eyes and almost olive colored skin. Her black hair was tied in a loose ponytail and it fell down the middle of her back. Long bangs kept moving in front of her eyes and every now and then she’s reach up to move them out of her face. Her smile and laughter was infectious. Suddenly he realized she was speaking again.
“Simon, you’re staring.”
“What? Oh,” he looked away with an embarrassed look. Clearing his throat he looked out at the lake as they stopped. Ellis disengaged herself and looked out over the lake standing next to Simon. He closed his eyes, shaking his head slightly at his behavior. He was acting foolish, like a horny teen age boy. He rolled his shoulders and took a deep breath.
“So why didn’t you speak to me yesterday while you were watching me?”
Simon closed his eyes again and felt his face turn three different shades of red. No wonder, she had seen him. He suddenly felt his stomach lurch – this was definitely not going well.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered. “Did I frighten you?”
Ellis laughed lightly, “Oh no. Not at all. It’s not every day I get a handsome man staring at me while hidden in the shadows.”
Simon nodded, chuckling softly. “Right. This is going well.”
“Yes,” she replied. He looked at her, surprised. “It is going well.” The urge to kiss her was overwhelming, but instead he broke off from her stare and walked along the water’s edge.
“Where are you off to after here?” He tried desperately to change the subject and tried not to look at her.
“I’m not sure, wherever the road leads me.”
Simon gave her a quick glance back and noticed she wasn’t moving with him. He stopped, now about 20 feet from her. “Well, while you’re here, we can offer quite the night life. Our people are so charming and Sunday church is riveting.” Again he made her laugh. He enjoyed the sound of it, tinkling like bells in the wind.
Ellis gave him an odd look. “You’re…far.”
Simon turned. “I beg your pardon? Right, yes.”
“I’ve been told I’m too friendly. That I should mind my -place-.”
He blinked at her.
“My father had rather low expectations of his daughters. Marry us off, gain more land. High aspirations for himself, but none for us.”
Why she was telling him something so personal, he did not know.
“Your sword,” she said pointing at his weapon. He looked down and grabbed the hilt. “May I?”
She was confusing but without thinking he pulled out his sword and turned the tip down and away. Closing the gap again, he handed it to her. “It’s quite heavy–.”
Simon watched her twirl the sword expertly and with almost no effort. “I prefer my country’s short sword,” she said.
She was definitely different, he decided. His eyes went from her handling the sword to watching the intent expression on her face as she did so. Then, she flipped the sword horizontal and held the blade flat in her hands, handing it back to him.
“Thank you,” she said.
He automatically replied that she was welcome and then gave her an odd look. “Low expectations, yet you still learned how to handle a weapon?” He slid the sword back into its sheath.
“What father didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.”
Nodding , Simon openly looked at her from head to toe. His fingers tapped on the hilt of his sword as he gave her an appraising look. “That’s very impressive Miss Duibne.”
“You promised to call me Ellis.”
They were standing close now, talking softly. Ellis was beautiful and apparently a little lethal.
“That I did,” he replied. “Shall I walk you back now?” Simon found himself leaning closer to her, inappropriately close to a woman he barely knew.
“Leaving already, Simon?”
“A lady shouldn’t be out in the evening unescorted with a strange man.” He gave her a half grin as he noticed that she was leaning closer as well. A soft gust of wind blew a lock of her hair back into her eyes and without thinking he reached up and moved it back out, tucking it behind her right ear.
“Well, if you find any strange men, you be sure to protect me.”
Simon dropped his hand down and then offered his arm. “I will be on the lookout.”
It would be another week before Simon saw her again.
Sitting in his office, Simon was reviewing his monthly report to the land’s magistrate when someone knocked on his door. He was resting his head in left hand, elbow propped on the table top, right hand writing furiously.
He had thought about Ellis off and on the past several days, but in the last two he had become involved in several land disputes, 3 bar brawls and a stolen cow. Such was the life of a constable. His office door opened and the tiny feet of young Annie shuffled in.
Without looking up, he addressed her softly in a preoccupied voice, “Yes, Annie?”
Simon closed his eyes and then stopped writing. Looking up he moved his hand from his forehead to cup his chin. He set the pencil down and looked at her, all dressed up. She was wearing a pretty blue dress, hair done up in curls and her face was clean and cheeks cherry. Oh god, he thought.
“Hello, Annie. My, what a pretty dress.”
She smiled at him and giggled. This was going to be bad.
“Are you going to the fair tonight?”
Fair? “Oh.” The seasonal harvest fair was starting tonight, signaling 30 days left of summer and time to prep for the harvest. Simon had forgotten all about it and actually very much dreaded it, especially now. He’d have to go anyway to keep the peace.
“Right, I hadn’t planned on it, but I’ll be there. Make sure everyone stays out of trouble.”
“I’m going,” she said.
“And you should. I’m sure the boys will fancy your dress.”
“Would you like to take me?”
“Uh…” Simon’s smile faltered and he cleared his throat. “Annie, how shall I put this?” Standing, Simon circled the desk, leaning against it as he broke her little heart. “I’m old enough to be your father, dearest. There are plenty of boys your age who are more suitable for you.”
Her smile faltered.
“Annie I appreciate the offer, but it’s just not appropriate.”
Her smile was gone.
She had flown out of the office in such a frenzied hurry, the door swung back on itself. Simon reached out and grabbed it as he watched her run away down the dirt road crying. With a sigh he closed the door softly and gathered up his papers. Her father, Gerald, would be along shortly.
The evening was warmer than it had been and the sky was a burnt orange as the sun set. Simon rode slowly out of town about 3 miles to where the neighboring villages gathered for the Harvest Fair. He wore just a light cloth shirt that was reasonably clean and his leathers. The shirt was open at the throat and tied with bits of string. With his longsword at his side, he hitched his horse and walked into the festivities with his hand casually at the hilt.
Standing at six foot four, he could easily see most of the patrons there, recognizing most all of them. He nodded to people as he walked to the center of the fair and kept a wary eye for problems. Everyone seemed to be having a fun time. Several bonfires were burning and everything was well lit. He didn’t pay much attention to the games that were being played, but he heard the tavern’s set up from the other side and he made his way there. The men were gathered, singing songs and chasing the single women who walked by. He gave them an admonishing look, but then just waved and kept on going to the opposite sides outskirts. There it was quiet and a little more in the shadows.
He looked into the twilight filled sky. There was a bright new moon, almost as bright as the bonfires behind him. His hazel eyes were bright, but once again Ellis entered his thoughts. The rest of their talk that first day had become much more relaxed; sitting at the dining table, eating bits of sweet meat and fruit. Her servants brought him ale and her red wine and they both enjoyed their spirits probably a little too much. He made it home unscathed but quite drunk much to his embarrassment. But nothing had happened, just good company.
He thought about how soft her hair felt as he brushed it out of her face at the lake. With a sigh he looked over in the direction of her property.
“Such a wistful sigh, Simon?”
Turning around fully he saw her, standing there in the moonlight. She was wearing a purple and black velvet cloak with the hood covering the back of her hair. Ellis moved a bit of hair from in front of her eyes and gave him a small smile.
“Ellis,” he said. That was all he could managed having lost his ability to speak suddenly.
She nodded, giving him a little laugh. “Aye, that be me.” She gave him a sparkling smile and her green eyes were shimmering in the moonlight. “A very beautiful night tonight. So bright.”
Quietly Simon replied, “Very beautiful,” not once looking away from her green eyes.
“Was I interrupting?”
“No, not at all. Just making my rounds.” He found himself smiling at her and not being able to stop. Ellis seemed to have that effect on him. Lifting her arm to point at the sky, her cloak fell open and exposed her dress which was a lighter shade of purple, matching her cloak. Her breasts swelled above the top of the dress and inside him it was like someone strummed the strings of an instrument. He was so enamored by her – everything about her. Her body, her smile…the way she invaded his personal space every chance she got. He didn’t look at what she was pointing at but kept his gaze on her.
Ellis looked back at him, obviously noticing he wasn’t paying attention. She laced her fingers in front of her and just looked at him.
Simon broke his gaze to watch her fingers lace together. He flicked his eyes back up and tried to read her mind. His mouth opened to say something, but he closed it again – the moment didn’t quite need words. They stood like that, a foot apart, for a long minute. The wind, suddenly his partner in crime, blew another lock of hair over her eye. Again he reached up and tucked the hair back only this time Ellis reached up and touched his hand.
Without thinking Simon cupped her face and pulled her to him.
Putting his hands on her, he felt his body flush as they looked at each other for a second more before he finally kissed her. Her mouth was warm and waiting. Both her hands came up and she gently wrapped them over his as Simon gave her a soft kiss. His chest welled up and he lost his breath as he began to kiss her deeply, his tongue separating her lips and meeting with hers.
He dropped a hand and wrapped it around her waist, pulling her closer. Simon wanted all of her as he grabbed a handful of hair and kissed her hard. Ellis returned the excitement and ran her hands up his chest and she hooked her arms around his neck. Their kisses were rough and breathless. He wanted to consume the woman, throw her on the ground and have her.
Suddenly he pulled away, lips still closer to hers and looked at her. “I’m sorry.” He had never just kissed a woman like this. A woman he hardly knew. “I shouldn’t have, I’m sorry.”
Simon looked at her in shock and then looked around. He moved them; half carried her over to a nearby tree and pressed her up against it. They tore at her cloak and it slid off her shoulders, onto the ground as they continued to kiss. Next went his long sword that clanked to the ground.
Simon wanted to take this feeling and let it grow. He couldn’t explain what that feeling was, but he ached for it and her. The feel of her…it filled the night.
“Don’t ever let me go, Simon,” Ellis panted, her teeth nibbling on his lips.
His heart broke just then. If it were possible in the short time he had known her, after only meeting her once before, she had rescued him. Her arms were open wide and he wanted her by his side always. It was ridiculous that any woman made him feel this way, but she had set him free. Simon ran his lips down her throat and picked her up, sliding in between her legs as she wrapped them around his hips.
She didn’t have to say the words. The truth was in her kiss, and god help him, he wasn’t ever going to let her go. “How,” he whispered breathlessly, “how are you doing this to me?”
Ellis dug her nails through his shirt, into his skin and she hissed softly as he picked her up. “I don’t know,” she smiled and ran her hands up into his hair. “Soft spoken constables have this affect on me.”
Together they laughed as his lips came up and reclaimed hers. Pushing her against the tree, one hand came up, sliding her gown up her thighs. Ellis reached down and undid the leather ties of his pants. Their foreheads pressed together, they both looked down, watching the other’s hands move on them. Then he lifted her onto him and he pushed himself into her. She let out a moan that he easily matched. He said her name as he moved his hips up into her. Simon looked at her, her expression was delight and slight pain – her eyes closed and her mouth opened slightly. Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck as he quickened his pace.
He had all but lost his breath as he made love to her in the field outside the harvest faire. Every now and again he could hear the laughter from the tavern tent and the crackling of nearby bon fires, but they were secluded behind a tree in the dark. Their moaning only encouraged him further, pushing hard up into her as she said his name over and over again. He could barely speak, much less breathe – the agony and ecstasy having her, loving her, making her his. Simon was dizzy and focused at the same time – his pace becoming quicker, more furious. Her legs tightened around his waist and he felt her hips moving against his, meeting them.
He pulled back and looked at her. He saw hell in her eyes, taking him by surprise but touching her made him feel alive. Simon watched her run her tongue along her teeth and lips with a smile. He kissed her hard, pushing as hard as he could against her when finally she bucked against him, a long solitary moan poured out of her. He could feel her sweat and could listen to her breathing forever. He was nearing his end when suddenly she grabbed his face and looked at him. Ellis bit at his lip painfully, causing Simon to moan as she made her way down his chin and then to his throat. She grabbed him with surprising strength and she began to suck at his throat when suddenly he fell over the edge of want just as he felt a bit of pain that culminated into a ferocious wave that he could barely control. His knees almost buckled from the onslaught of it and he grunted hard, gasping for breath.
Then she was kissing him again, but slowly, calming him down from his peak. She tasted sweet yet coppery. He never wanted to leave this woman and god willing, he never would.
Simon sat in the tall grass with his knees up, arms stretched out on top of them. Ellis was laying along side of him, her head by his feet. She had her arms in the air, playing with a bit of tall grass. He looked at her in the moonlight, small satisfied smile on her face. No words had passed between them yet, he was actually trying to recover still. His knees were wobbly after their climax and as much as he wanted to take her home and do it again…he needed to rest.
She tapped him with the blade of grass and he reached over, trying to grab it from her. Keeping it out of his reach, he finally grabbed her hand and pulled her up and into his arms. Curling up next to him, she wrapped her body against him, warming his back and she put her chin on his shoulder. Simon loved how affectionate she was, how happy she always seemed to be. He rubbed his cheek against hers as she draped her arms around him.
The laughter and noise from the Faire was dying down as the midnight hour came and went. Simon pulled at her, bringing her around onto his lap and kissed her softly, remembering her lips and then curiously, how she bit him. He rubbed his chin against his shoulder trying to feel if there was a wound, but he felt nothing.
“That’s quite the love bite.”
He chuckled. “You bit me, you heathen.”
“Yes, I did bite you. Shame on me.” Ellis’ green eyes twinkled.
“Shall I take you home now?” Simon looked around, trying to find where she might’ve had her horse or possibly carriage, but he saw none. She had appeared out of the darkness and was just there. Hadn’t occurred to him until that second. He looked back at her and moved a piece of hair from in front of her eyes.
Ellis pursed her lips in a smug smile. “Wouldn’t the town’s people talk, Simon? The constable taking the wicked high bred woman into his home late, late at night?”
“I meant your home, actually.”
“Oh, ashamed to be seen with me!”
“No, I just haven’t cleaned up at all.”
Ellis laughed again, shoving him playfully. “It would seem I’m not very interested in your cleaning abilities, but yes. You may take me home.”
“Right, I get to the ride the horse though.” He pointed at her with a finger which she grabbed and bit softly.
More heavy breathing, kissing and laughing ensued as Simon picked Ellis up to the second floor of the stone cobbled manor. They made their way into her master bedroom, Ellis pushing Simon against the door as it closed.
Her hair was loose and curly, her lips red and swollen as she pulled his shirt over his head. Simon reached behind her, pulling at the ties of her gown. It was an empire waist, lavender with white trim. He loosened it, pulling it off her shoulders and it pooled onto the ground. His mouth came open as he watched her take a step back and slowly slip off her slippers, flinging them to the side. She let him stare at her naked body, her hands coming up from her sides and running her fingers along her hips, tummy, then slowly around her nipples. Her skin was creamy olive colored and unblemished. Simon kicked off his boots and untied his leathers to slide them off his long legs.
She gave him an appraising look and slowly walked towards him. His need was evident and not waiting for permission, he grabbed her by the waist, sighing a prayer at the softness of her skin. Simon moved her over to the large poster bed in the room and laid her on it.
They made love through the night, feeling, touching, kissing…and more biting. Simon lost track of time, dizzy with the feel of her – her ability to arouse him again and again. With the night finally slipping away, Simon lay exhausted, but satiated as he felt Ellis kiss his cheek softly and curl up next to him in bed. He slipped his arm around her and slept.
The water was cold.
Simon shivered as he ran the water over his head and cleaned his neck. The villagers were milling around the lush green stream, some standing in it ankle deep, some kneeling down cleaning themselves like Simon. Looking up he licked the dripping water off his lips and rested his arm on his knee. They were all upstream of him, whispering quietly, the men from the village, in particular, one Dale Oxford. He was looking at Simon with hard eyes. Looking down stream, Simon stood quietly contemplating the scene at hand.
There were the bodies of older males littered in and out of the water. With a nod of his head, a few men came over and pulled the bodies together in a line. The one’s that were half in the water were bloated and pruned. They were all ashen colored, save for bruising around the neck. Walking over to one body that was missing the telltale bruising, Simon knelt down, pulling at the clothing and saw marks on the chest.
“You know what this is, Constable.”
Without looking up, Simon waited for the inevitable.
“We’ve all heard the stories.”
“Yes,” Simon said standing, looking at the man with a blank expression, “we all have. Let’s not rehash them, shall we?”
Using his sleeve, he wiped the rest of the water off his face. “We have murders. Nothing fanciful or magical about that. It’s just that time of year, I suppose.” Meaning the previous summer had yielded two similar types of murders. And the summer before. If Simon hadn’t known better, he’d think he wasn’t a very good constable, not being able to prevent the murders – but then no one else was clamoring to take his job either.
“Simon, what are you going to do about this?” It was Dale Oxford again. One of the murdered men was his cousin, Dalton Oxford, a known thief and murderer himself.
“What am I going to do about a gaggle of men, who incidentally break the law at every given chance, dying? I’m going to notify the Magistrate and let them sort it out. I’m sure their warrants will be receded.” Justice was for the law abiding in their part of the world. That day and age – the deaths of men who terrorized were overlooked. Someone had beat the King’s judgment, who was Simon to care?
The horse and cart pulled up to the body and the men started to load the corpses.
The men stood smoking outside the Tavern as Simon walked by with his horse. A little boy ran out and grabbed the horses harness from Simon, dragging it back to the stables. With a nod Simon walked by the men and back towards his office. The sun was setting slowly – making it three days since he had last seen Ellis. However, she wasn’t his concern at the moment – he was more concerned with the men, being lead by Dale Oxford, following him to his office.
Walking up to his door he paused, turning to look at the men. “Go home, Dale.”
“So that’s it then? My cousin is drained, yes drained and killed and you do nothing about it?”
Nodding, “Yes, that is exactly right.”
Dale took a step forward towards Simon, only to be held back by the men. “How would it be if it were one of yours lying in the stream, bloated like a dead dog?”
Simon quickly walked up to Dale, closing the gap to less than a foot. He looked at the younger man with cold hard eyes.
“Do you really want me to tell you the difference between my family and yours Dale? How their method of supporting their families is at best questionable? That the magistrate has no tolerance for thieves and the like? Or that the next time you pull something like this again, I’ll personally take your head off?”
His last statement was said slowly and quietly, emphasizing that it was clearly not a threat, but a promise. Dale’s eyes narrowed.
“You know what did this.”
“I can guess who, for there is no honor among thieves, but what you speak of is ridiculous. Go home, Dale. Right. Now.”
Simon turned his back on Dale, signifying he was done with the conversation and fearing no reprisal from the mob, walked slowly to his office door and slammed it behind him.
Simon watched her brushing her long black hair that reached to the middle of her back. It laid against her silky skin, glistening in the candle lit room. She slowly ran the oval shaped hair brush through her hair, from root to end. Her left sided profile was half turned at her at vanity table, naked except for a thin red shift that gave no illusion of cover. She pulled her hair around her right shoulder and combed that side evenly.
Lying back on the pillows, Simon took in the sight along with a deep sigh. It had been two months he had been coming to her bed now. At first a night or two a week progressed to every night. He no longer slept in his own bed, he was there so infrequently. The villagers knew but that niggling thought was never a conscious thought. There was something about her, something he couldn’t stay away from. Her beauty was enchanting, but it was her personality – her ability to entice him and keep him dazzled that boggled his mind. It was this dazed confusion that kept him from seeing, he’d decide later.
Ellis put her hair brush down and stood, dropping the shift back onto the seat. She ran her fingers through her hair and gave it a jostle. The soft curls at the bottom fluttered about her shoulders and on the tops of her breasts. Walking towards him at the bed, she put a knee on the edge and leaned forward, placing her hands in front of her, crawling towards him.
A small smile crept into the corner of his mouth as he tilted his head down and watched her. She crawled up to his waist and then laid down on his chest, looking at him. Reaching out, he moved a bit of her hair behind her left ear. He immediately became lost in her eyes, the pale green orbs that danced in front of him. Her hair, her smile, her eyes – even her voice mesmerized him. He suddenly realized her lips were moving.
Ellis smiled at him, “I said – so what of these murders?”
He blinked at her. “Oh, the murders down by the stream or over on the path out of town?” There had been more murders since finding Dalton Oxford and the others. Several more corpses drained of blood and beaten badly. There had been a total of 12 bodies found so far and there were more suspicions than clues. Exsanguinated corpses meant one thing to the villagers and he had more than once heard their whispers of it.
“Either or both? They’re all done by the same person or persons, correct?”
Her interest in the murders surprised him. Ellis had asked once before, at the beginning – soon after Dale and his men had confronted him but he only told her what he knew, which wasn’t much. Her asking again worried him.
“More than likely, yes.”
“They were drained of blood.”
That had not been a question, but a statement. Slowly his eyebrows furrowed and he murmured, “Yes, they were.”
“Curious thing, the blood draining. Don’t you think?” Ellis’ eyes twinkled.
Sitting up a little more against the headboard of the large bed, he took a deep breath. “It is, yes.”
Ellis turned her head to look out of the window. The curtains were being blown in slightly from the soft fall winds. Soon they’d have to start closing them as the cold crept in. He felt the chill on his body already as he looked at her, deep in thought.
“I’ve heard the things the villagers are saying about that.”
Simon waited. So had he.
She looked back at him again with an innocent and small smile. “I hear they think its vampires or rather…one vampire. I suppose they think they don’t hunt in packs.” She giggled.
“But that would be ridiculous,” he asked, “don’t you think?
Her eyebrows went up in surprise, “You don’t believe in vampires?”
“Of course not. I don’t believe in any of that magical nonsense, fairies and the like,” he scoffed at her.
“Who said they were magical?” Ellis practically snorted. With a shrug she continued, “I don’t much believe in the good and evil aspect of them. I don’t think they’re one or the other – I just think they “are”.”
“Why would you think of them at all?” Simon was genuinely confused by the conversation. Vampires, fairies? It was a killer or killers, pure and simple.
Ellis looked at him, again with her wide eyed innocence. She gave him a little shrug.
Simon shrugged off his cloak as he entered his small cobble home. Winter had covered his home village in a blanket of white snow; two fold more than the last winter’s. The cold was unseasonable and of course the villagers blamed it on the suspicious deaths in the surrounding area. Although death had left Cirencester, the whispers had not.
He reached down to unhitch his long sword when his front door was pushed in, slamming back against the wall. Simon had his sword unsheathed when he saw who it was.
“Simon come with me. COME NOW!”
She had lost all color in her face and she shivered in her tavern maid’s outfit. Picking up his cloak, he put it around her shoulders as she continued to demand he’d go with her. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he gripped them to get her attention.
“What is wrong?”
She half turned but realized with Simon’s grip she couldn’t, so she turned her head towards the opposite end of town. “They found a body, in the snow. Simon the…the blood.”
Why she had been out to look was beyond him, but he wagered the entire town had gone out before telling him. Reaching for a blanket, he took his cloak off her and wrapped her in it.
“Stay here.” Annie nodded, shivering even harder now from the shock. Simon took a final look at her as he draped his cloak around his broad shoulders and left.
The town’s people turned to look at him as he dismounted. The whispers began again, annoying him immediately.
“Why whisper – it’s not like I can’t hear you,” he muttered out loud so everyone could hear him. Trudging through the snow, it got deeper as he wandered off the road. Gerald, the stable owner, approached Simon and put his hand on his shoulder stopping him for a moment.
“Why did you send Annie?”
“Simon – you don’t understand–“
“Understand what? She was as cold as ice when she reached my home, Gerald.”
“The people are talking, Simon.”
Simon shrugged off Gerald’s hand, his annoyance rising. “Who is it?” He started again towards the group of men standing in the field when Gerald answered him.
“We can’t tell.”
Simon stopped with the snow up to his knees now. He half turned back to Gerald who was standing with his face etched with worried lines. The men further off called to Simon. It was starting to snow again, but from where he was standing he could see the splotches of blood in the snow. His cheeks were starting to burn from the freezing wind when he noticed.
They were holding pitch forks.
His poor horse was not made for the kind of run he was putting her through, but Simon knew his excuse to call the local doctor would not hold for much longer. The body had been decapitated and as far as he could tell, every finger on both hands had been broken. He was also fairly certain that he recognized the body.
It was Dale Oxford.
Part of what he heard was Dale and his men talking about Ellis – the wicked foreign whore. He had threatened Dale to mind his own business, but his words carried little weight as it became obvious of his feelings towards her. The fact that he had not slept in his own bed for months; that he would be seen in the early morning, coming down the hill instead of coming out of his own home. No one knew anything about her, except for him. The killings had left Cirencester but the surrounding villagers had heard of the foreign woman staying on the Hill who brought death with her.
The freezing wind burned his eyes as he rode his horse towards the Hill.
Pushing through the front entry way, Simon yelled out her name, running up to the stairs noticing the mansion was quiet and it frightened him.
“ELLIS!” He yelled as he ran up the stairs and ran into her bedroom.
There she was, sitting on the edge of her bed as if she were waiting. Pale blue travelling gown, a leather corset cinched her waist and high riding boots. Her hair was loose and dripped down her shoulders and along her back. A pair of riding gloves were sitting next to her on the bed as if she were ready to leave. She raised her eyebrows and gave him a small smile.
“They’re coming,” he said in a hushed voice.
“I know, Simon.”
Simon took a step closer to her and she stood holding her hands out to him. Without thinking he closed the gap and took her hands.
“You need to leave.”
Ellis reached up and touched his face. He watched her eyes well up with tears as she choked through her words. “You came to warn me.”
“Ellis, they’re coming for you–“
Her face tightened and she began to cry. “You can’t stay here now.”
Simon took a deep breath and held it. God what was he doing, what was he giving up?
“You risked everything for me.” Her nose had begun to turn a soft shade of red and despite the situation, he grinned at her.
“I’d do anything for you.”
Ellis rested her hands on his chest and smiled through her tears. “Then you understand why I did it?”
“I–” Simon stopped and looked at her.
“You understand what I am.” Ellis was nodding happily now.
It was if the world had stopped. Sound…everything had come to a standstill. The loud silence penetrated his ears and he could hear his heart beating so loud. Simon took a step back and covered his ears, trying to make the noise stop.
Ellis brought her hands to her mouth and began to sob quietly.
Simon reached back to feel the door behind him but he missed and fell. Crumpled on the floor, he looked at her in horror, the realization hitting him like a mule kick to the head. She stayed indoors during the day, her strength at the pond as she threw the rocks…the biting.
“You fed on me?”
Ellis knelt down and tried to touch him but he backed away against the door. “Simon I’m so sorry,” she kept saying. He turned away from her and he felt his stomach flip inside out. He had just given up his life for her. His family, his village, the law…then he turned and looked at her, his face tight with anger.
“Is safe,” she finished.
Simon reached out and grabbed her shoulders, pushing her back he was on her. “What have you done?”
Ellis reached out and grabbed his wrist, then she painfully twisted it to the side till his hands were off her. Her face had hardened now. “My servants have your son and they’ve taken him ahead to London. He’ll be safe, Simon, I promise you. He’ll never want for anything now and you…you can come with me.”
Rubbing his wrist he looked at her, the soft sweet Ellis he fell in love with, the Ellis he made love to nightly, the Ellis he would do and had done anything for. She could be all his.
“What are you saying?”
Ellis tucked her knees under her and held her hands out to him. “You know what I’m saying and you know what I’m offering.” She leaned forward, but this time he didn’t pull away. “I love you, Simon. I always will.”
He looked at her with her face barely inches from his. Ellis’ black hair loose and laying on her shoulders. Simon badly wanted to lose himself in it, to shut all the doors and keep the world out so it was just them. Her pale green eyes and soft lips, whatever she was out there, she wasn’t like that with him.
Dale must’ve come to her, tried to hurt her. The broken fingers, Simon recalled. She had broken every single finger. He must have tried to touch his Ellis. All his.
With a soft smile she again touched his face and said, “I won’t let go.”