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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Paranormal

Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn

Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn

 

A Gabrielle Novel: Book 2

 

 

 

 

 

Zachary Paul Chopchinski

Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn

Copyright © 2016 Zachary Paul Chopchinski

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Putrescent Oak Press, 4844 E. Michigan st. #11, Orlando, FL. 32812 www.zachchop.com

Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn/Zachary P. Chopchinski—1st ed. Printed in the United States of America.

August 2016
Published by Putrescent Oak Press

Orlando, FL.

ISBN-10: 1536890960 ISBN-13: 978-1536890969

Edited by Arthur Verge

Cover design by Jessica Verge
Cover photo by Jessica Verge Photography
Author photo by Laura Lee Photography

Praise For

Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn

 

“The hounds are grotesque, the anticipation is heavy, the fear is there!”

Jordan White, Book Blogger

 

 

“Wonderfully articulate and a fun trip back in time!”

-Jonas Lee, Author of

The Legend of Carter Gabel-

 

 

“Even better than the first one, I couldn’t put it down!”

Reviewer

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_For my best friend and love of my life. _

My loving wife Layla

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

[* CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO*]

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

The aromatic smell of fire and baking bread filled the air of the small, flour-coated bakery as the sun began to creep through the front window. Streams of bright sunlight were cast across the stone floor. The great furnace that held the rising, delectable treats radiated heat in the rear of the shop as Marc began to place his goods about a counter at the front of the bakery.

With pride in his eyes, he filled baskets, shelves and cutting stones with grand displays of freshly baked goods. He hung rings of bread in his Marc hung rings of bread in his shop window to entice the passersby to come and taste.

Marc chuckled to himself as he passed a small mirror that hung from the wall near the oven. His face and hair were covered in white powder, giving him the illusion of being a ghost or a royal heir with their powdered wigs.

He took a moment to make several bad impressions of a ghoul, then of a royal member. Finally, in a failed attempt at clever satire he attempted to mesh the two, which resulted in a strange mixture of scowling eyes with puckered lips. He howled with laughter before returning to his bread.

Marc had been a baker all of his life. Coming from a family of bakers, he found joy in his craft and made sure that his love for his profession was obvious in his displays. The very shop in which he prepared his goods had been in his family for nearly three generations. This was his home, his love…his life.

Never having married, Marc poured all he had into his art; which had proven wise and extremely profitable. He was the best baker in France (as the locals claimed), but knew all too well that no one had ever left their small town. The cost was too steep and unheard of within the impoverished city—or at the very least, in Versailles.

The turmoil that ravaged the city sat heavily on the hearts of its citizens as the king and his court lived in elegance, while his people delved deeper into poverty. Marc was placed in an interesting predicament in this trying time, for in the recession, bakers held a distorted level of power. Bread had become a large staple in the diets of the people, yet many found themselves without a means of acquiring such delicacies. He would mix flour, yeast and other ingredients, place them within the old oven, and what he produced was culinary gold.

Marc did all that he could to ensure that his prices remained fair to his loyal customers. He very much loved his city and his fellow French men and women. He would have gladly given the bread at no charge to the masses for merely the asking, but the very notion chilled him to the bone with thoughts of his own poverty—losing his home and being forced to the streets like many of Versailles’ people.

As bad as things seemed in Versailles, Marc found solace in that he felt, as a whole, things would turn around for the people. Since the storming of the Bastille, his fellow countrymen proved that they would not sit idle as they were taken advantage of and forgotten. Change was in the air and Marc knew that good things were right around the corner.

Stepping back, he admired his work. Everything was in its place and his goods looked as though they had been painted into place by Vigee Le Brun herself. The stacks of loaves were even and steady, his baguettes protruded from their baskets as a delectable flower arrangement (stems only, with no flowers thought Marc to himself and he again found himself chuckling).

He even managed to get his hands on some late-season apples and had created some delicious tarts that he hoped would sell this morning. In the time since the Bastille, many things had become harder to come by, and Marc hoped these might inspire some happiness in his patrons.

Finding himself again peering into the mirror, Marc took the base of his apron and wiped the flour from his face. He ran his fingers through his beard and hair, brushing out the bits of flour and straightening his appearance.

He was not an unattractive man. The fact was that he was actually quite admired by the young ladies that frequented his shop. His devotion to his craft and his shop negated the possibility of ever having a companion other than his bread-roller, apron and flour. With all of his responsibilities, he didn’t find himself wanting.

With himself as presentable as his breads, Marc stood straight and took a deep breath. He smiled and turned to face his shop. Such hard work had always made him proud of himself and his family. He often liked to think that if he had any family of his own—or if his family that had passed was still around—they would be just as proud as he was.

Marc took another deep breath, this time through his nose so that he could savor the smells and take in all this morning’s hard work. The smell of sweet dough made his stomach growl and gave him a little smile in pride. Immersing himself in his work, he often forgot simple things such as eating, despite the fact that he worked with food. The smile crept farther across his face as he made his way to the front door.

Marc stood with one hand upon the handle and the other on the lock, and looked through the glass to the street outside. The sun now stretched down the avenue and he could see other shops beginning their day. Opening their stores in hopes that patrons would soon be about. A group of young ladies hurriedly passed in front of his door, giving him hope that he would make a sale.

With an optimistic smile on his face, Marc unlocked and cracked the door. He stuck his nose through the narrow opening as the brisk morning air nipped at its tip. He took a quick breath and reveled in the fresh autumn air. Stepping backward, he pulled the door closed and walked back to his counter.

Marc licked his lips and produced a small block of cheese hidden within a basket. He sat the cheese on a cutting block and grabbed a small loaf of bread from the other end of the counter. He began stuffing large pieces into his mouth, for at any moment he was expecting the rush of the day to begin, and at that point he would have no time to enjoy a meal.

As he hurriedly consumed his food, he briefly coughed on the end of the loaf and staggered backward. In his haste, he had forgotten to gather a drink to help wash down his breakfast. As soon as he caught his breath, Marc set off for his back room to grab a small glass of wine.

Under normal circumstances, he would not touch his wine until the day had ended. He preferred to have his wits about him as he began the day. This day was different, however, Marc had a good feeling and a small celebration in good blessing was definitely in order. He grabbed a small, wooden goblet from a shelf in his back storeroom and knelt to the barrel of wine which he kept under a shelf. He filled his cup as quickly as he could, and then stood, watching the door for potential guests.

Marc looked around the small room for a moment and smiled. Everything was in its place, and Marc took a small moment to reflect upon his accomplishments. Raising his cup to the sky, he tilted his head backward and proclaimed “Cheers, to October the 5th. May our troubles be behind us and good tidings ahead!”

He brought the cup to his lips and smelled the sweet bitterness of the red liquid. Before he could enjoy its flavor, his moment of solitude was cut short.

As he was about to consume his wine, Marc heard a terrible crash come from the front of the store. He lowered the cup and expeditiously made his way around the counter and to the front room.

At first, he was lost as he looked around the small room to find the source of the crash, and was unable to do so. Then, his eyes found themselves upon a large stone that sat in the center of the floor. There was glass shards scattered all over the room, which then brought Marc’s eyes to his front window.

A large hole illustrated how the stone entered the shop. Marc stood in shock, his glass of wine falling from his hands and shattering on the floor. Timidly, he walked to the stone, eyes glued to it as if he expected it to jump up and hit him. Who would find it necessary to throw a stone through my window?

A second wave of confusion and distortion set upon Marc as he further examined the window. The person that cast the stone didn’t just stop merely at that. Not only was the glass smashed in but his entire window display of bread had been taken.

He had never been robbed before, and suddenly felt the acrid taste of bile creeping up his throat and he thought he might be sick.

The sickening sensation was replaced with confusion as he thought of what had happened. He had no ill will toward any person that he could think of.

He then thought of the stolen bread and grew frustrated. He wanted to know why a thief would throw a stone through a window when they could have easily entered his shop while he was out of sight and silently taken what they wished. What was the purpose of this destruction?

With all hopes of a pleasant day vanishing from his heart, Marc let out a deep sigh, stood and looked out of the shattered window to the town he loved so much.

Another group of women rushed past him and he shook his head. It appeared as though the presence of customers would do little for his spirits on this day. With another sigh, Marc reluctantly turned and walked back to the storeroom. He grabbed a broom and a dustpan to address the mess left by the thief.

Upon returning to the front room, Marc felt the edges of a smile forming on his face; a woman had let herself in and was looking around the store. Maybe today would work out after all. The woman was a regular customer and Marc recognized her right away.

The newly formed smile, slowly transformed into a grimace as he began to notice her strange appearance. Her once beautiful brown hair was now disheveled, sweat poured down her face and she looked flush, as if she had just run a marathon. Her clothing looked clean, but there was a large rip across her left sleeve and her usually pressed dress was now wrinkled.

She stood at the shelving that hung immediately within the shop’s entrance, helping herself to the tarts from the shelf. Marc was happy for a moment to see a customer admiring his cooking, when she suddenly cast them into a sack that she was carrying and began to walk across the shop, casually stepping over the glass. Marc was troubled by the fact that the mess did little to deter the female from entering the shop.

While customers often placed large amounts of items in bags as they shopped, the blank look on this woman’s face made him pause and question her actions.

Without missing a beat, the disheveled patron turned on her heels and began making her way back towards the entrance. Dropping the dustpan and clutching the broom, he let out an exclamation of frustration.

“OI!” Marc stepped out from around the counter and waved his broom at the woman thief filling a sack with his hard work.

At the sound of his voice, the woman halted, then with a wicked smile that stretched the entirety of her face, she began to run for the front doorway. Marc dropped his broom and took pursuit after the woman.

As quickly as she had been filling her bag, she was through his door and out to the street. Marc was on her trail as he followed her through the doorway into the brisk air. The feeling of the cool morning air on his flushed face sent a chill through his body.

As he took in his surroundings, the chill in his body turned into frozen fear. Halting in place so quickly that he nearly fell forward, Marc ceased his chase and stood petrified in the presence of madness. Hell had found its way to his steps.

He couldn’t hear at first, for shock had rendered his limbs in entropy and stopped all of his senses but vision.

He couldn’t move, hear, or speak; he could only watch as masses of women ran around the boulevard. Thrashing through shops, shattering windows and tipping carts, the women seemed as though they were a horde raiding a small village.

Marc rubbed his eyes in disbelief at the savage looks on their faces. This must all be a terrible dream, one where everyone went simultaneously mad. No, this was reality. He had seen this sort of ravenous behavior in packs of dogs that lived in the hills just outside of Versailles. These people were starving and their anger had clearly boiled up to madness.

He was jolted back to reality as a group of ravenous women ran past him, causing his ears to ring. He felt the blood begin to fill his limbs and the numbing buzz throughout his body gave way to a chilled sensation.

As he stared openly across the boulevard to the vegetable cart that always stood in front of his store, the owner—a quiet elderly man—was forced to the ground by three peasant women.

As Marc made eye contact with one of the assailants, two more women—who appeared to be bourgeoisie despite their tattered clothing— began helping themselves to the good from his cart. The look was returned as she raised her hands and called to her fellow attackers, drawing their attention to him.

Marc’s eyes passes from one wicked gaze to the next and he could feel his spirit drop, as though it had vacated his body completely. He knew not of the driving force behind this ferocity, nor the intent of these creatures other than causing pain and hysteria. What he did know was that now his fate was imminently tied to that of the elderly man, still motionless on the cold stones.

The world seemed to be ending on this once ideal morning, and all he could see of it were the sinister eyes of five women tearing through his soul.

In what seemed as minuscule as a breeze, the women dropped in their stances, and lunged forward toward Marc. The ferocity pouring from their outreached arms and screaming voices was unlike anything he had ever witnessed.

Turning on his heels, he wheeled around and sprinted back onto the doorway of his shop. He felt as though the attackers were already upon him as he slammed the door shut and attempted to lock the bolt. A sick thought of twisted irony crept into his thoughts as he externally appreciated his situation; for once, he was trying to keep fervid guests away from his bread.

Just as Marc’s hands made contact with the bolt upon the old, heavy door, he felt the weight of several ferocious attackers press inward against him. He fell to the floor and as his back hit the cold ground, several women poured through the entrance like smoke through an open window.

The first two women were at Marc from the moment they stepped within the shop, while the last three spread to the side and moved past him into his store.

Instinctively, he brought his foot upward to deflect his first attacker. The ball of his foot made contact with her bosom, flushing the color from her face as she fell sideways to the floor, gasping and holding her chest.

As an animal upon its prey, the second woman was then on top of him, scratching at his face and grasping his hair. He struggled to get his arms out from under the woman, to grab his attacker and do anything he could to stop it.

The wild woman grabbed a fistful of his hair, raised his head ever so slightly, and then brought it crashing down to the ground.

A burst of pain erupted from the back of Marc’s head and he felt a warm substance slide down his neck. As his head made contact with the floor for the second time, his vision began to fade out.

Marc awoke to indistinguishable yelling. He still only saw black as he struggled to open his eyes and see what was going on around him. I’m still alive, he thought to himself.

He felt an incredible pain in his head and knew that he was still breathing, but for how much longer he didn’t know. As he cracked one eye, he saw the ravenous woman still on top of him but preoccupied with yelling at another women across the room.

Marc took this opportunity and brought his hand up, striking his attacker and casting her to the wooden floor. As she fell from her perch, he used her momentum and drew himself upward to address the other three raiders.

He stood and turned to encounter the other women. Marc stumbled as a sharp sting and dull throb presented itself from the back of his head. He took a second to feel his head, and as he brought his hand back, he could see the sticky red liquid that covered it. Alarm ran rampant through his body.

Suddenly, a hard object hit Marc in the head as another hit him just behind the knee.

He found himself falling to his knees, unable to hold up his body weight any longer. He could feel the grain of the aged, wooden floor dig into the flesh of his knees as his weight crashed down upon them.

The crack to his head sent a warm sensation down his neck to his ear, and trickled to his shoulder. A sudden urge to vomit filled his throat as a morbid senselessness enveloped him. The room began to falter and tilt. Silence fell upon Marc’s ears as color began to fade from sight.

He knew that he was now completely at the mercy of his assailants, yet he could not muster the strength to raise his arms in even the faintest of protests against them. All that he found himself able to do was to peer through the jarred entryway that was his shop’s door, to the contravening masses moving through the street.

His thoughts drifted back to the savage hounds from his childhood. He could almost hear the snarling and clamping of teeth as the enraged masses ravaged all he could see outside of his shop.

The shock of the turn of events still stunned him, even in the savagery of the dogs there was a purpose. The purpose was food. There seemed to be no reason behind this barbaric behavior that tore at Marc’s world.

A jarring shake rocked his vision to and fro. Although he could no longer feel anything, Marc sensed he had just sustained another hit to his head. Despite the lack of pain, he fell forward, his face colliding with the hard wood of the floor.

As he lay, face down on the wood, something drew his attention to the far right corner of the shop. For a brief moment he saw him, a dark figure with long white hair and red eyes stood watching the events that took place. An expression of enjoyment covered the figures face as he lethargically chewed on a piece of bread.

Marc tried to call out to the stranger with his eyes, begging him for help, but the stranger continued chewing, as if he wasn’t aware of what was happening before him.

Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, the figure vanished before his eyes, leaving him to his fate. He brought his gaze back to the doorway; his vision began to fail as a tunnel began to occlude his vision.

Suddenly, from the gaining darkness a face came into view. He was sprawled out on the floor, frozen and fading into nothingness, yet there it was. A face of not just any person, but of a woman that he had seen before. He couldn’t place her, but he felt as though they had crossed paths once before.

Twisted with fear and concern, the face of the young woman standing now in his jarred doorway was unlike the savage scowls from his attackers. Her expressions were not controlled by rage and wretchedness, but by concern and warranted unease.

With a furled brow and her mouth hanging agape, Marc’s gaze drifted from her face to her hands as he began to, once again, lose strength and fall into the nothingness. In her right hand she was squeezing a small knife, so much so that for a moment he worried she would cause herself harm.

The young woman’s gaze drifted from the horror that lay before her to the women beyond Marc. There was a brief moment when he wished for the strength to yell for help, or for her to run. As he lay dying on the floors of his beloved store looking up at this woman, the urge to protest finally ended as he let his eyes close and fell into darkness, hearing only a shrill scream, and then nothing.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Arising from the most horrifying dream, Gabrielle gasped, as though she had never breathed before. In spite of her eyes being open, they had yet to come into focus as the world around her was blurred and dark. Sweat ran down her back, soaking her night gown and giving her the sensation of being wrapped in a chilled towel after a cool bath.

Gabrielle’s sandy blonde hair looked black as the remnants of her nightmare had caused her hair to cling to her face in sweat. The dreams—though some sweet—were her only confirmation that she was, in fact, in the life of another woman.

The nightmares were always different, but they all had one thing in common, the dark figure with white hair. Shaking the horror from her mind, she thought back to what Alexandra said the last time they spoke. About how this was her decision to live the lives of the bracelet’s previous owners, but an adventure like this came at a price.

That price was her previous life, the life she lived with her mother in Envisage. But decisions like that were in her past, Gabrielle had already jumped into this exploit and there was no turning back.

As her vision became clearer, she could tell she had awoken in the spry hours of the morning, when the Earth seemed to be awakening from a long slumber.

The sun was just beginning to creep across the French hills and through the small, lone window, clouded with morning dew. The cold, stone walls and floors went from gray to tinted brown as the warm sun began to pour in and illuminate Gabrielle’s room.

It was a servant quarters located near the palace kitchen, where many of the resident servants lived. She shared this small room with two other women, who seemed to have already begun their day. As Gabrielle looked across the chamber at their neatly made and vacant beds, she began to think it was later into the morning than she originally thought.

Pushing her wet hair from her face, she brought herself around and placed her feet on the cold, stone floor. A chill ran up her legs, which brought a smile to her face, for that meant she was no longer in the dream. Eyes now fully adjusted to the brightening room, she looked down at her wrist.

There it sat. The driving force behind the magic she still had yet to be able to explain; the bracelet.

She rotated her wrist, wondering how it translated everything she heard—including her name—into something she could understand.

Though it looked a bit older than when she wore it as Aideen in her last life, it still held its beautiful markings, sat warmly upon her arm, and never left her sight.

She reached down and spun the bracelet in place as she thought of all of the new things she learned throughout this journey.

Gabrielle had discovered early on that she was in France, as a maid in a great palace. Versailles was the name of the palace. From what she remembered from her schooling (and her history-burnished father) she knew she was in a troubling time within French history. A revolution was afoot and lingering as smoke in the air. Gabrielle slouched out of bed and dragged herself to the full length mirror as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

She stared at her long, lean body in the mirror and admiring her curves. She was older in this life.

Placing her fingers on her hips and twirling herself back and forth she guessed she was easily in her late teens, with long, sandy hair and icy blue eyes.

Gabrielle stretched up and stood on her tip toes, wrinkled her nose and eyed herself in the mirror. Although, she didn’t have much to compare to, she believed that she was relatively tall. She thought she was probably taller than her mother, but definitely not taller than her father, who towered over most people he met when he was alive.

She had been in this new life for two weeks now, learning all she could and using the power of the bracelet to retrieve the memories deep inside the mind that she currently occupied.

She found that the power of the bracelet had not wavered at all from her last life when she fought alongside Heather and her boyfriend Fionn.

Gabrielle had told Aideen’s tragic tale, but she didn’t know what happened to Heather and Fionn. She liked to think that their souls found peace, now that their stories were told.

She was easily adjusting to life in the palace. She was friends with many of the other servants, and was very close with her fellow chamber mates.

She sucked in a long breath, savoring the smell of the morning feast that was being prepared for the royal family. Her stomach protested and her mouth began to water as she could nearly taste the delectable treats being created.

Gabrielle spun herself around in a sudden sense of urgency as she realized if she didn’t get to the kitchen soon, it would be some time before the opportunity to eat presented itself again.

She threw on her standard uniform, glancing back at herself in the mirror to flatten down the ruffles on her dress and mush down her mess of tangled hair: the day had begun.

No sooner had she collected herself and committed to beginning her day when the chamber door flung open with terrible haste and one of her bedfellows came charging into the dim light. It was Claudie, and she looked quite disheveled and stressed.

Claudie was a very pretty young lady, prettier than Gabrielle thought herself to be and a year or so older than her. Claudie’s normally perfected bun of blond hair was slightly loosened and unfurled.

Setting her gaze upon Gabrielle, Claudie’s eyes widened as she raised her arms, then brought them crashing down upon her hips with a grand sigh.

“Merde, Gabrielle! How is it that you are just now bringing yourself to the day? Madame Toinette is furious! Look to my bun. She really thrashed it well!” Claudie ranted, more frustrated with her disheveled bun than Gabrielle’s slow start.

Claudie flew to the wardrobe, flung it open and threw an apron at Gabrielle’s feet. She felt bad for Claudie, vanity being a prominent trait of hers, she knew the bun incident would bother her for the rest of the morning.

“Claudie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause such a fuss. Why didn’t you wake me when you and Hilde rose for the day?”

“What, and deprive you of what little rest you would have actually gotten?” scoffed Claudie, “Your terrors seemed to taunt you endlessly last night. It nearly cost both of us our rest as well.”

Sheepishly, Gabrielle fell to her knee to retrieve the apron that Claudie had cast to her.

It was bad enough that her dreams often caused her to lose sleep, but she hated it when others suffered because of them as well. She opened her mouth to once again apologize, but closed it as she realized nothing she would say could break the frustration that hung heavy within the air of the bedchamber.

A small mirror adorned the interior of the wardrobe, and Claudie was ferociously tugging at her hair in a hurried attempt to repair her once perfect bun. With her gaze upon the floor, and chin on her breast, Gabrielle clutched her apron and tied it in a messy bow behind her back.

As she looked up to resume fussing with her stubborn hair she found that Claudie had successfully straightened her bun, and was now looking at her, jaw slightly open and her eyebrows furrowed together in disgust. The two girls made eye contact and Claudie’s eyes began to soften as she brought one hand up to rest on her boney hip and looked Gabrielle up and down.

Claudie took a deep, sighing breath, shook her head and grinned.

“Why is it that, no matter how many times I show you, you still cannot manage to properly draw your ties for the apron?” Claudie walked to Gabrielle and twirled her around to repair the sullied job.

The head mistress, Madame Toinette, was quite strict on what she expected from the servants in the palace, and had a negative tendency to dwell on small details. [In order to ensure that all servants exuded elegance of the highest degree, _]Gabrielle thought to herself as she mimicked the formal tone of her boss.[ More like to_] [_properly humiliate the servants…treat us like we are dogs…. _]

Gabrielle could feel her face redden and her fists clench as she thought about Madame Toinette and how she loved watching the other servants wriggle in fear…that sadist. Not the least of which, was the painstakingly specific way in which she desires the bows of the aprons to be tied behind the girl’s backs.

Though she had been living in the palace for some time, Gabrielle still struggled with this task, and thus was used to the fire and brimstone that Madame Toinette could bring down upon the girls.

Rage was replaced with confusion. This wasn’t Gabrielle talking, this was her host. In her real life, she was polite, if not a bit shy. Whoever’s life she was witnessing had a deep hatred for Madame Toinette, and the rage that bubbled in her gut was altogether unsettling.

“Thank you.” Gabrielle’s voice was small as she centered her apron in the mirror, regaining her state of mind. “I don’t know why I cannot seem to get that bow tied correctly.”

“Well if I only knew the answer to that and to why you are unable to wake on time, I wouldn’t have to manage my bun only half as often…” Claudie let out a bellowing laugh as she raised her eyebrow and brushed some soot from the back of the dress.

Although Gabrielle knew her friend was joking, she could sense a small amount of bitterness mixed in with Claudie’s words and she felt her face grow increasingly hot with embarrassment. She opened her mouth to apologize again but her attention was pulled to the doorway as another clamor arose and the door was cast open once again.

A young lady entered the room, looking similarly disheveled and Gabrielle knew Madame Toinette was taking her rage out on the other girls, as she so often did.

Hilde’s normally smooth olive skin was pale and rosy blotches of frustration swelled in her cheeks. Hilde was the eldest of the three friends—probably in her mid-30s—but her beauty was still very prominent. She was Gabrielle’s height and had long, jet black hair that was pulled into a not-so-Claudie tight bun. Hilde was breathing heavily looked as though she may drop from exhaustion.

“Madam Toinette is furious with the two of you. If you aren’t in the kitchen soon, it will be the switch for all three of us!”

A chill ran down Gabrielle’s neck. ‘The switch’ was a thin, whip-like cane that the head mistress carried on her at all times. It had a small, ivory ball for a handle and thinned to a point at the other end. It was only about as long as an arm, yet stung as though you were hit with a club when she brought it to the back of your legs, butt and back.

She could feel her heart in her throat and she instinctively clenched her fists again. She had come to know the edge of this cane quite well during her time in the palace. One of these days you’ll know what it feels like to be beat with ‘the switch’.

Gabrielle could feel her upper lip twitch and her nose scrunch up as she gave the slightest of smiles at the thought of Madam Toinette begging for forgiveness as she was repeatedly hit. She could feel the rage bubble back up in her stomach and she fought to keep it down.

Without further deliberation, the three girls were through the doorway to the adjoining hall that led past the other servants’ quarters directly to the main kitchen.

The hallway was lit only slightly brighter than the servants’ chambers, with similar stone flooring and had—unlike the rest of the palace—bland and empty walls. Their footsteps echoed down the lifeless halls.

It was clear—if by nothing else than these very quarters and halls—what the royal family thought of their servants. Cold and lifeless, it was no wonder Versailles was in turmoil.

Despite the intense sensation and dread Gabrielle felt as they approached the main kitchen, the sweet smell of freshly-baked goods and roasting treats numbed the foreshadowed punishment as her overwhelming hunger became evermore present.

She could feel the warmth of the brick ovens and hear the clashing of pots and pans, and suddenly Gabrielle forgot all about Madam Toinette and her irrational anger.

She inhaled deeply and filled up her lungs with the most amazing smells of basil, fresh bread and sugar. All Gabrielle could think of was getting something into her stomach before the inevitable harsh beginning to her day.

An image of the switch came into view as they rounded a corner and were now standing at the entrance to the kitchen.

The cream stone walls seemed to flow like a wave as they billowed into cathedral ceilings. On the opposite side of the kitchen from Gabrielle, a great fireplace roared and several iron pots hung from hooks over the large flames. Although it was a relatively cool morning, with the open fire, oven and servants scurrying about, it was rather warm within the kitchen. Even the stone walls seemed to radiate a mild heat.

Gabrielle brought her apron up and dabbed at a drop of sweat that threatened to plunge down her face producing a sharp look of disapproval from Claudie. She dropped the apron, smoothed it out across her dress and bringing her hands back down, and stood at attention.

Great wooden tables ran through the center of the room, covered in food, utensils and chef projects. At the sides of the tables were several young cooks as they cut, rolled, and plate a large assortment of delectable foods.

Large glass doors ran the length of one side of the kitchen, constantly revolving as persons came in and out. It almost seemed like a choreographed dance, as servants spun to avoid each other and rushed around causing near misses as they turned in perfect harmony at the last minute.

It was a frenzied waltz of beautiful chaos as servants and cooks alike scattered about, thrusting all they could into their work to be sure that the day began without issue for the royal family.

The smell of fresh food tore through Gabrielle’s senses and she paused in the doorway to take it all in. She had seen this many times since her arrival, yet it still astounded her. A tug on her wrist brought her back from dreams of delicate treats and Gabrielle looked up to see Claudie who was staring blankly at something.

Gabrielle took a moment to examine her friend’s face that was still radiant even in fear, then turned to see what caused this. Across the kitchen, standing between the glass doorways, ushering the servants in and out as though herding animals through a trough, was Madame Toinette.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

Just as an animal could spot a predator amongst the herd, Madame Toinette was no different in the way she shot a piercing gaze through the bustle and found her eyes staring straight into Gabrielle’s.

The head mistress brought her hand from her waist to brush a piece of greying black hair from her eyes. She was an ugly skeleton of a woman, whose lifestyle had aged her more expeditiously than nature had intended.

Her piercing brown eyes bore into Gabrielle as she locked on to the target of her frustration. Her skin was pale and dry with deep wrinkles encasing her eyes, probably due to excessive scowling.

She tried not to laugh as she thought back on her father teasing her for constantly making faces at people on the streets. Wow…maybe dad was right, your face really CAN stick like that!

Gabrielle felt a bubble of giggles creep up her stomach and into her throat, but luckily for her they were squashed as she again caught eye contact with Madam Toinette.

The head mistress squeezed something in her hand and Gabrielle’s gaze was brought to the switch that was cradled under her arm, resembling a horse trainer holding a riding crop.

Her knuckles were squeezing the handle so tightly they had turned a lifeless shade of white and as she clutched the switch, Gabrielle could almost see right to the bone.

Bile threatened to burst from Gabrielle’s lips as she realized she would soon feel the burning sting of wood against skin. She was strong though, she would never cry out or show fear to Madame Toinette, fear would give the sadistic woman too much pleasure.

With another tug from Claudie, and Hilde leading the way, Gabrielle was dragged through the mass of servants. She felt a rush of adrenaline as gusts of air were forced past her in tow of servants who seemed to think she knew the kitchen waltz.

It was as though the chaos parted to allow her to pass to her fate before Madame Toinette. She stood between two great doors and for a moment, Gabrielle though this is what it must be like to stand before the gates of judgment with all of her sins staring back at her.

As Gabrielle stood before Madame Toinette, she could feel the air in her lungs turn sour. Sheepish and stunned, she briefly looked into Madame Toinette’s eyes before the anger she saw within them forced her to look back to the floor and lock her gaze upon two buffed shoe tips that were meticulously clean, despite the flour-coated kitchen floor.

“What have you to say this time, you foolish girl?” bellowed Madame Toinette, taking a half step towards Gabrielle. She could sense that the entire kitchen, though continuing their tasks for fear of their own punishment, tilted one ear to what was happening before them.

Gabrielle could feel the air chill behind her as Hilde and Claudie stood like statues, lifeless, but with expressions as though they once lived.

“I…I…” began Gabrielle.

“Yes you stupid girl, two ‘I’s’. I believe you have them both, so how is it that you can’t SEE to it that you show up for your duties in a timely manner every morning as your fellow dwellers do? Or is it that you feel inherently better than the others?” With this Madam Toinette crossed her arms over her chest and pursed her lips as if she were waiting for a response.

Gabrielle couldn’t breathe. Her hands squeezed the sides of her dress so the tips of her fingers went numb and her arms began to shake. The sensation of years of fear and abuse poured over her and she became lightheaded.

She opened her mouth to talk but she found it had gone dry and she could only force out a small squeak.

Her vision blurred and a bead of sweat trickled down her forehead, over the bridge of her nose and paused briefly on the tip before plunging to its death. Though she, herself, had only been at the receiving end of these scorns and whippings a handful of times, she remembered and could feel the thousands of punishments received by her current host as though they had happened to her.

What she wouldn’t give to be back in her own room, mind entertained by her father’s old books, spinning her globe and reading of far-away places. A sharp pain shot through her left thigh briefly before a keen snap brought her attention back.

“Look at me, you frustrating creature, not at the floor!” Madame Toinette’s voice came crashing in again, retracting her switch back under her arm, and tightly squeezing the handle once more.

The pain in her thigh began to ring throughout Gabrielle’s body. Clenching her eyes closed, the tears welled behind her tightly-clasped lids, but she knew she wouldn’t cry. The first few time’s she was at the receiving end of the switch, Gabrielle let the tears flow, but she had learned that only made the situation worse.

Crying and pleading was what Madame Toinette wanted and she was determined to not give her the satisfaction. Gabrielle also knew she couldn’t look Madame Toinette in the eye. That would be insolence and would be rewarded with another beating.

With a large swallow, a deep breath, and a flurry of eye-bats to avoid displaying any tears, Gabrielle brought her eyes to the pendant that clung at the base of Madame’s neck.

“I’m sorry, Madame Toinette…” she croaked out between clenched teeth, pausing to clear her throat before continuing, “I did not sleep well last night. So I did not wake with the others…”

Gabrielle couldn’t feel her fingers anymore as she continued to grip the hem of her dress as if her life depended on it.

“This is true, Madame! She nearly kept us awake for most of the night. She meant not to…” Claudie interjected, with Hilde looking worried, but still shaking her head in agreement.

Madame Toinette’s head snapped up to meet the eyes of those who dare to interject in her punishment.

“Did I ask for your opinion regarding this matter, young lady? In fact, was I addressing you at all? Would you like to take this one’s place?” Madame Toinette hissed, motioning with the switch from between the girls.

Gabrielle could tell she was enjoying this situation immensely, and was likely looking for any reason to delve into further punishment. She could nearly hear Claudie’s teeth gnash as her mouth abruptly, slammed shut.

“It appears that laziness and insubordinate thoughts have poisoned the work practices about the palace. Obviously, you have all forgotten your places as servants to the royal family. You are all to follow the rules and complete your tasks. This is to be done to perfection and without question. For those of you who wish to continue to wallow in your lazy, piggish ways, you will suffer the consequences…”

Madame Toinette took another half-step towards Gabrielle and fell silent. Gabrielle was still fixated on her pendant and remained as quiet as possible. The silence grew so intense that it seemed toxic.

Suddenly, the room around her turned mute, and all she could hear was her heart beat. Struggling against the sensation to burst out screaming from the silence, her eyes drifted up to meet those of her punisher, who looked down at her and smiled. Gabrielle could again feel the bile from her stomach surge through the back of her throat and she feared she would throw up right here in front of everyone.

“Give me your arms,” Madame Toinette whispered, intensely holding her piercing gaze and wicked smile. “And hold them still!”

As though willing an ancient oak branch to bend, Gabrielle fought to stretch her arms outward for the mistress. With arms reluctantly stretched as far as she could muster, Gabrielle’s head sank into her shoulders in preparation for what was to come.

In one swift motion, the older woman was at Gabrielle’s side, facing her arms. She looked as though she was a ravenous beast, circling a fresh carcass before the feast.

With a phantom motion, she reached out with her empty hand and clasped Gabrielle’s left wrist, wrenched her sleeve up to nearly her elbow and rotated her arm so her wrist was facing the ceiling. She then did the same to her right arm.

The rage boiled up again in Gabrielle’s stomach as she felt Madame Toinette squeeze extra tight when her skeletal palm found its way around the bracelet. She cringed as it scraped its way up her arm with great force and Madame’s grin grew wider at her pain.

She clenched her teeth and she swore she heard a faint click as she felt the bangle begin to warm slightly. Her past experiences taught her that when she heard the ‘click’ things were not what they seemed. It was like the decorative piece of jewelry was warning her to danger. The room still remained mute, sans the pounding in her chest and the serpentine breathing of Madame Toinette, who was mere inches from her face.

As though drawing a sword from its sheath, Madame Toinette took a step backwards and brought the switch to her side. Gabrielle didn’t dare look away from her but she could tell that the commotion had completely stopped around them, as all of the servants turned to watch what was taking place. She saw a glint of excitement in the older woman’s eyes and knew she wouldn’t have had it any other way; she enjoyed having an audience.

Unable to bring her eyes to look at the impending threat, Gabrielle looked instead to the stone wall ahead of her that separated the two sets of glass doors leading to the large hall beyond. She had always hated the sight of blood and couldn’t bring herself to watch what was about to happen.

The faded brown coloring of the wall reminded her of the tree her father used to help her climb when she was younger. The very tree that he was trimming the night he fell from the ladder and was killed. That seemed like a million lifetimes ago. The thought of her father almost brought tears to her eyes, but Gabrielle batted them away so as not to look weak in front of the sadist that stood before her.

“This, you little heathen,” Madame Toinette paused and raised her hand high in the air as if she were acting in a play.

“is what happens to those who cannot tend to their duties. I expect all here to take note of this, and let this be a reminder to you all.” With this she gestured out to her audience, perpetuating the notion that she was the master of this grand play.

Gabrielle took this small chance to prepare herself for what she was about to endure. Madame Toinette raised the switch high above her head and with a sharp whip and snap, brought it down onto Gabrielle’s forearm.

The pain seared through her as though she had just placed her arms on a hot oven and with it the rage that bubbled in her stomach threatened to blow. Instantly, her vision was clouded with tears of pain and her legs began to tremble. A red welt began to swell from her arm and yet still she held her arms outward, knowing there was more to follow, but knowing she needed to remain strong and not give in to tears.

Without hesitation, Madame Toinette brought the switch down once more to Gabrielle’s arms. Almost with surgical precision, she only slightly missed the first mark. The second wave of pain caused a single tear to roll down Gabrielle’s face and she let out a small whimper.[_ Sadistic Pig. _]Her thoughts were clouded by unfamiliar rage.

Gabrielle let the anger fill every crevice inside her body. Felling as though she might throw up, she looked to the floor to steady herself.

A sinister laugh of joy escaped from Madame Toinette as she finally received the reaction she was looking for. Forcing Gabrielle to look her in the eyes she gave a half smile of sadistic joy as she lifted one foot from the ground, reared up for the swing, and delivered the hardest strike of the three.

There was no pain with this strike, only the crippling sensation of Gabrielle’s legs buckling underneath her, bringing her to her knees on the hard floor. The room began to spin and darken at the same time. The remnants of food crumbs and flour felt like sand as they ground into her knees through her dress and apron. The jarring impact made her head jostle and begin to ache. Tears now freely flowed down her cheeks and Gabrielle let her thirteen year old soul cry out in pain and fear.

She looked down at her lashings and saw only smears of blood on her arms, dress and on the floor beneath her. Her stomach churned at the sight of the blood and she looked away to avoid throwing up.

Before she could take in all that was happening she felt a stinging sensation on her legs and another on her back. Gabrielle’s vision began to blur as she stared at the floor, trying to will herself not to pass out.

Slowly she brought her head up to look at Madame Toinette, who was now wearing a wicked grin. She stood over Gabrielle as if she was a proud hunter that snagged herself a prize, and locked her eyes onto Gabrielle’s once more. Slowly, she raised the switch over her head again, in dramatic effect.

Gabrielle could not bring herself to look away as Madame Toinette brought the switch down once more, only this time it was to Gabrielle’s face. She squeezed her eyes closed awaiting the blow, but it never came.

She peaked one eye open curious as to what happened and saw another hand appear from behind Madame Toinette and grasp her wrist.

The hand that now held the head mistress’ was much older. The signs of years of work were prevalent from the paper-thin skin and near skeletal fingers. Yet tight it held, and though unsure whether it was by will or by force, Madame Toinette ceased her attack on Gabrielle.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

 

Gabrielle looked up at Madame Toinette as the color seemed to bleed from her face. She didn’t look as though she had seen death, she looked as though she had died herself. Madame Toinette’s eyes widened and she pursed her thin lips as she stepped aside, revealing the force that stopped the brutality.

Gabrielle’s mouth hung open in shock as she saw her savior was an elderly woman. Her wrinkled covered face displayed a look of disgust and her eyes bored into Madame as if she could rip out her soul with a mere look. The woman was much older than Madam, yet seemed to still hold enough youth to overpower her. Her hair was white with specs of grey, and pulled back in such a pristine bun that Claudie would surely envy its majesty. She stood nearly as tall as Madame and her clothing was meticulously kept. Fire was burning in her brown eyes as she maintained her grasp on Madame Toinette. As the two met gazes, the life and color completed its purge from the mistresses face.

“What in the hell do you think you are doing?!” demanded the elderly woman as she wrenched the switch from Madame Toinette’s hand, causing her to flinch.

The intensity within the kitchen turned focus from Gabrielle to this new situation that had abruptly developed. Once ownership of the switch was secured, the old woman cast Madame’s arm aside like one would swat away a bug. Her jaw moved back and forth as she hissed through her teeth.

“You will answer me, child! You will answer me this moment! What evil crept into your mind to force you to do this disgusting act?”

“Renée! She was punishing Gabrielle for sleeping in la…” Claudie began before the old woman’s head spun around and stared her down into silence. Gabrielle had never seen Renée before, though she hadn’t seen many people other than the servants. Slowly, Rene brought her punishing glare back to Madame.

“Madeleine, you will answer me this moment! How dare you place your hands on a young girl like that! What has possessed your mind, girl?”

“Mother, I…” she began, taking a sheepish step backward.

Gabrielle’s jaw dropped open. This horrible monster of a woman was being scolded by her mother in front of the entire kitchen staff.

Before Madeleine could finish her declaration, a sharp snap broke through the silence as Renée struck Madeleine on her cheek with the switch. Claudie and Hilde both gasped as the tables turned and Madame Toinette’s eyes began to well. Gabrielle couldn’t help herself; she allowed a small half smile to inch across her face as she watched her attacker being punished by her mother.

The silence that had fallen upon the kitchen made itself apparent to Renée, as she snapped her attention from her daughter—who was staring off to the opposite wall as though looking[_ through_] Renée—and brought it to the rest of the servants.

“The rest of you, to your tasks!” she demanded, waving the switch around the room, pointing it at everyone in her immediate vicinity.

As if nothing had happened, the servants were once again about their bustling tasks, hurriedly avoiding all memory of the events that had just taken place. A wave of heat began to flow down Gabrielle’s arms, forcing her to bring her eyes back to her wounds.

A large pool of thick, sanguine fluid poured from the welts on her arms to the floor, causing her eyesight to darken again and the floor beneath her to spin. She watched the droplets tap as they met with the stone floor and little flecks of flower remnants clung to them, turning the droplets an even darker shade of red.

Claudie and Hilde shared a similar reaction as they broke stance and ran to Gabrielle’s side, fell to their knees and began to paw at her. Unease overwhelmed her as Claudie brought the base of her apron to Gabrielle’s face, wiping the remnants of tears from her cheeks and eyes, while Hilde wrapped her apron around Gabrielle’s arm to cover the bleeding.

She glared at her two friends as they wiped away blood and caressed her hair. The pain was intolerable and her head pounded from the ordeal, yet she did not like being doted upon like this. [_I am NOT a child! Leave me alone…you’re making me look weak…I don’t ne… _]

“Depart! The two of you. The last thing this young one needs is more of a fuss.” Gabrielle’s thoughts were interrupted by Renée who was kneeling down to her and shooing the other girls away. “Let me look at the arm. Ah! That is quite a good one you have there, my dear…”

Renée’s cold glare bore through Madeleine, her eyes even more piercing than her daughters. She put her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder and lightly held the worse of the two arms high into the air. “Come girl, up now. We cannot have you sitting in the kitchen and bleeding. That is unacceptable and creating more of a scene than needed.”

Gabrielle gave a curt nod and stood with Renée supporting her arms. The old woman squeezed her as they stood, causing her to loudly exhale in pain. Renée turned them both to face the hallway that led to the bedchambers. Claudie and Hilde ran up to either side of Gabrielle to help walk her back to their room.

“Leave her, girls. I may be old, but I can tend to this without your assistance. If you must help, grab clean cloths, a basin of warm water, and some tea with two cups. Make haste!” Renée’s voice seemed concerned, yet she maintained a firm tone, completely unaffected by what had just transpired.

With a firm but gentile tug, she began to lead Gabrielle back to the bedding quarters. After only two steps, she abruptly paused and turned to face her daughter.

“I do not expect to see you for the remainder of the day, do you hear me? So help me child if I do come to lay my eyes upon you in the near future…” Renée stopped and looked down to the switch, which was now cradled under her right arm.

Madame Toinette’s face flushed from its ghostly pale, to a furious pink. Yet she held her tongue, let out a childlike huff, turned upon her heals and stalked out of the room. Renée made a small half turn and was off towards the chambers.

A flood of relief washed over Gabrielle at no longer being in the kitchen with all of those eyes peering at her, making her feel like a caged animal at the zoo, a freak you pay to stare at.

Renée’s hands, though aged, were still soft and warm. The older woman even smelled beautiful, a remembrance of her mother’s garden in late Spring, when most of the flowers had bloomed. The sudden smell of poppies coming from Renée caused Gabrielle to become lightheaded and she nearly tripped over a raised cobblestone from the floor.

“None of that, young lady!” Renée grabbed for Gabrielle, preventing her from hitting the ground and continued to lead her to her quarters.

The searing pain in her legs and arms, the weakness of her muscles, the throbbing in her head forced her focus back to putting one foot in front of the other.

She felt the hard wood of the doorway as she brushed past it when Renée brought her into the room, and then relief as she felt the cool, comforting mattress under her. The ache in Gabrielle’s head was persistent, but the searing pain in her muscles was lessened from sitting.

Claudie and Hilde were soon behind them with an assortment of supplies in their arms, though Gabrielle couldn’t tell exactly what they had with her vision still so blurry. Hilde held a tray while Claudie placed the water, cloth and tea upon the small wooden table at the head of Gabrielle’s bed. They then sat at the foot of the bed and began talking over each other, though she couldn’t understand a word of what they said.

“That’s enough from the two of you for the time being. I am sure you have chores to tend to.”

Claudie and Hilde continued talking at the same time, completely ignoring the demand. Suddenly Renée was on her feet with an ear of each girl between her fingers, and was leading them to the door. Gabrielle could see through her tear-blurred vision that the girls feet drug in protest and their legs fought to keep up with Renée’s hurried pace as she escorted them from the bedside and across the room.

With a fleeting glimpse at Gabrielle from over their shoulders, Renée had them through the doorway and out of sight. She slammed the door shut and then turned to face Gabrielle. The woman shook her head, gave a frustrated exhale and walked to the tray to prepare bandages from the cloths that had been brought in.

The radiating pain from Gabrielle’s arms made a dull thumping sound as it reverberated through her upper body. It felt hot to the touch and the pain had spread so she could no longer differentiate as to which strike it was coming from. She took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut, causing a cold un-shed tear to escape and play its way down her cheek, taking a turn to the left and then a sharp turn to the right as if it were dancing down her flushed face.

“There is no need for tears, child. Those lashings were not as deleterious as they appeared. The switch tends to cause more of a show than anything else.” Gabrielle could hear the light tap as Renée placed the scissors on the table at her bed side.

Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and looked at her savior as she sat upon the bed next to her. The light that illuminated the small room through the window crashed through her hair giving it an almost golden, angelic hue.

She allowed the anger from moments before to flush from her face, leaving only an expression of concern with light suggestions of shame. Despite the fact that Gabrielle had never held so much of a glimpse of Renée, she felt like they had met before.

This sensation was so strong, in fact, that Gabrielle was overcome with a calming feeling as the two sat side by side in silence. It was as though she were being told she was safe now. Within the silence of the room, Gabrielle heard a click and quickly looked from her wrist to Renée, though Renée continued tending to her wounds as if she had heard nothing.

Dipping the corner of a rag into the basin of water, Gabrielle flinched as Renée placed the cool cloth upon her arms and slowly began to wipe the area. The cold water felt like ice when it came in contact with the warm burning that had set into her arm. A chill went throughout her spine as relief briefly presented itself. Gabrielle looked down at her arm, then back to Renée, who was entirely focused on cleaning and tending to her wounds.

“Thank you,” Gabrielle blurted, making a hiss as Renée moved to the other arm, “for doing….what you did…” She trailed off as Renée did not show any reaction to her apology.

The two sat in awkward silence for a few moments before Renée broke through the quiet.

“Thanks is not needed, my dear. One does not thank someone who stops wretchedness. It is the duty of all living things to cherish one another, not take enjoyment from pointless torment. Something she has never understood.”

Silence filled the room once more, as Renée shook her head and began to wrap Gabrielle’s arm. The fact that Madame Toinette turned out to be Renée’s daughter rushed back into her mind and she wondered how it had come to be that she, being so kind, had been party to a person who seemed so wicked. As though Renée knew what Gabrielle was thinking, she smiled slightly, tied the final bandage and began to pour the two some tea.

“She takes after her father, mostly. A harsh man. He was not always so crude, but he changed shortly after we had Madeleine. I always loved him, but he was never quite the same. This is why I left Arras and came to Versailles to work within the palace. It ripped at my heart, but I could not take her with me, so she grew up with her father. After some years had passed, I was notified of his passing and the fate of a homeless Madeleine.

I sent for her to come and live here with me. I think she never got over her disdain for me, even after all of these years. He turned her into what she is today and I allowed it.”

With this Gabrielle saw a tear fall from Renée’s face and she was consumed with a sense of sorrow for the woman. “I do feel responsible for the way she is, and for that I owe you an apology.” Renée looked at Gabrielle’s bandages, regret and shame marring her kind face.

“I should not have left her in charge during my absence. I thought a little responsibility would show her some humility. I was gravely mistaken.”

“Where did you go?” Gabrielle asked, taking a small sip of the hot tea.

It was slightly bitter, with a bit too much lemon, but she wouldn’t complain. She was enjoying the company. A puzzled look covered Renée’s face and Gabrielle realized that she should know this information.

“Our Lady and Lord ventured through the countryside. It was a grand to-do and required many of us to accompany them. I thought you knew this. Where did you think we all went, child?”

Gabrielle brought her cup to her lips and took another sip, shrugging her shoulders. For a moment, she had forgotten her place regarding the bracelet and the life she was living. She thought back to her second day in this life, when she was speaking with her bedmates and nearly mentioned what she was doing. The bracelet had clicked loudly and emitted a slight pinch, as though she were being reprimanded for almost spoiling a secret.

The two sat for several more minutes, exchanging small conversation and sipping their tea. Gabrielle was pleased and felt very fortunate that Renée had come into her life. After what seemed like no time at all, Renée finished the last sip of her tea, stood and adjusted her apron.

“Well, young lady, I must be off and tending to the start of the day for the palace. With our Lord and Lady back from their journey they will surely accept little, if any, issues about the palace and I must ensure that is exactly what happens. I will forgive you of your duties for the day. Take this time and rest.

Gabrielle smiled and nodded. This request was not needed, for she had no intention of dealing with Madame Toinette if she could avoid it. This morning had proven quite tiresome, so the relinquishment of duties was a large relief and she was very grateful for the reprieve. Renée nodded back, turned on her heels and walked across the chamber to the door, where she paused prior to opening it. The woman sighed loudly and flung the door open. Claudie and Hilde came crashing down upon the floor at Renée’s feet.

Gabrielle tried not to giggle as the two struggled to their feet and brushed the dust and dirt from their dresses. Renée was not pleased, and proceeded to once again take the two girls by their ears and lead them out of the room, yelling at them the whole time.

Once through the door, Renée let go of Hilde for a brief moment to close the door behind them, and though Gabrielle could not see it, the following declarations of “OUCH!” told her Renée had grabbed her ear once more. After finding herself alone again, Gabrielle let a giggle escape her lips.

The corners of her mouth faded downward as she thought about what she had just endured. Why am I even here? Is this pain worth it? Gabrielle thought to herself as she remembered what Alexandra had told her. Gabrielle was here for a very good reason. The souls in the lives that were attached to this bracelet couldn’t rest until their story was told, and she was the one chosen to listen. Yeah, I guess this is worth it.

Exhaustion poured through Gabrielle’s entire body like the releasing of a flood gate. She let out a mighty yawn and stretched her arms outward, wincing as they became taught and pulled at her bandages. Slowly lying back on to her bed, another yawn preceded heavy eyes, which in turn, left her unable to keep them open. Soon, darkness had enveloped her and she slept once more.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

Gabrielle slowly cracked one eye and then the other as the room began to fade back into reality. It seemed Renée had only left moments before, and yet the lack of sun visible on the floor proved quite the opposite.

Although the room was now much darker; this alone couldn’t give Gabrielle the time of the day. Once the sun was no longer in the early morning hours, its light could not be seen in the servant’s quarters, and thus Gabrielle could only tell that some significant amount of time had passed.

She slowly pulled herself upward, blinking the grog from her eyes. Gabrielle peered around the room to see if her bedmates had made it back from the day, but she found herself alone, with only the company of the mess she had made.

The still air formed a mild ringing in her ears as she stirred herself from the bed and placed her feet upon the cold floor. Feeling the chill climb up her to her legs like a monster, hungry to devour every inch of her, Gabrielle pulled up her feet and reached out to grab her slippers before daring to stand. The stinging sensation from her arms was now replaced by a mild, dull aching as Gabrielle adjusted her bandages. She then took a deep breath through her nose and held it, prompting another large yawn.

The air lacked any character, as if it was just as embarrassed and worn out from the events that took place earlier on the day as she was. Taking in another deep breath, Gabrielle could smell remnants of the tea that sat upon the tray next to her bed. There were no lingering food smells from the kitchen, leading her to believe it was afternoon, yet still not late enough into the day for dinner preparations to have begun.

Now, staring at bandages in the long full length mirror, Gabrielle had the urge to throw Renée’s cautions aside and venture forth to the palace. Grinding her teeth together, she took another deep breath and as she exhaled she rubbed the bracelet around her wrist with a shaky hand. Slowly, she turned and made her way to the door.

With an eerie squeal, she urged the door open and peered out into the hall. Is it getting warm? Is something going to happen or is it all in my head?

Slowly, revealing her face to the hallway, Gabrielle peered to and fro, looking for any signs of movement. With the hall proving as still as her chambers, she took one last breath, rubbed her bracelet, and proceeded onward.

With dedication, as though her feet knew where she was going, they drove her down the hallway towards the kitchen. Her steps echoed as she made her way through the vacant hallway, passing closed doors and nude walls and within a moment she was in the kitchen doorway once more.

A sea of younger faces scuttled about, scrubbing all of the surfaces and cleaning everything in sight. Many of the people she saw were the younger servants, or those deemed ‘not pleasant enough’ to be wandering about doing tasks throughout the palace. She felt herself becoming even madder at the sight. These servants were either young or not what the royal family would consider ‘worthy’, and because of this they were forced out of sight to tend to the tasks that were too remedial for the other servants.

“Gabrielle!” squeaked a young voice from beyond the kitchen, causing her to jump as she was brought back to the reality in front of her.

A young man hopped from his perch upon one of the counters and made his way over to Gabrielle. He had an ear to ear grin that reminded her of the clown her mother had ordered for her 8th birthday party.

The youngster’s name was Jean-Paul. He was roughly eight or nine with scraggly brown hair that dipped low enough to cover the tops of his eyes. Jean-Paul’s father was one of the palace gardeners, and she found herself watching out for him when his father wasn’t around to keep him out of trouble.

His face was dusted with a light coat of flour from working in the kitchen (or rather, pretending to work, while sneaking as many delectable pastries as he could fit in his stomach). His oversized shirt seemed to swallow him even though it was tightly held in place by a sturdy belt and suspenders.

Jean-Paul ran to Gabrielle’s side and wrapped his lanky arms tightly around her hips, his head barely above her waist as a son might do to his mother.

“Are you alright, Gabrielle? Did she hurt you badly? I wish I was here. I would have stopped her…”

Gabrielle caught a whiff of Jean-Paul’s sweet breath and she wrinkled her nose. He trailed off and squeezed even tighter causing her to let out a little laugh. Even though he was such a young boy, she could tell he was quite fond her. Lightly, she patted the top of his head.

“I’m alright, Jean-Paul. Don’t you even worry about me for one second!” Gabrielle anxiously allowed her eyes to wonder around the room. “You haven’t seen Madame Toinette around recently, have you?”

“No! Not since she was punished by Renée! She has not shown her face around any of us this morning. I’m happy Renée let her have it! She hit me once with her stick, I couldn’t sit all day!”

Gabrielle took a moment to appreciate the uninhibited happiness and youth in the small boy that still clung to her. Though in her mind she knew she was actually only 13—with everything she had been through and the fact that she was probably in her late teens in this life, she had begun to think, act, and appreciate things as an older woman.

This was not a motherly instinct presenting itself, but Gabrielle liked to imagine it was more of an appreciation for certain things in life she didn’t notice before. Though her misfortunes had been plentiful as of late, she still found the ability to smile as she panned the small space between Jean-Paul’s almond colored eyes.

“Have all of the others gone?” she asked, bringing her mind back from wandering.

“Renée made everyone get back to work,” Jean-Paul said as he finally let go of his vice grip around her waist.

“No one wanted to work after what happened, but Renée said they had to get back to work so the palace would be clean. She said that you were fine and we didn’t have to worry…” Jean-Paul trailed away, looking to the floor and kicking a small ball of soot with the tip of his boot. Gabrielle smiled and scratched the top of his head lightly with the tips of her fingers.

“I am fine, Jean-Paul. Stop worrying. Are Hilde and Claudie around?”

“I think they went to dust. I heard Renée say you shouldn’t do any chores today. That with your bandages, you shouldn’t go into the palace. If she caught you out, she would box your ears for acting foolish.”

With this Jean-Paul’s eyes widened and a light blush began to creep its way across the boy’s face “Or, at least that’s what she told Claudie and Hilde. Maybe you can stay here with me today?” Jean-Paul’s voiced rose much higher and he gave one of the largest grins Gabrielle had seen in some time. She laughed and then slowly shook her head.

“I think if I stay with you today, then it is you that will not be doing chores and getting your ears boxed. I think I will walk about the lower gardens today.” Jean-Paul’s face drooped with sadness at this suggestion. “But if you should finish your work early, you are most certainly welcome to join me for a little picnic at the far end of the grounds. How does that sound?”

Jean-Paul immediately perked up at the notion. With a slight hop in place, he chirped “I will get my cleaning done so quickly that I will beat you to the lower grounds!” Then without even so much as a wave, Jean-Paul spun on his heels, dropped to the floor and began fervidly cleaning.

A large laugh escaped Gabrielle’s lips and she smiled at the young boy as he vivaciously scrubbed the area around her feet. He may just beat me to the lower grounds yet.

Gabrielle turned in place and began to head off to the rear of the kitchen, where a small door led out into the vegetable garden. Just beyond that lay the rest of the fantastic grounds of Versailles.

As she made her way to the door, a warm sensation poured over her. She could already tell by the edges of the doorway and the warmth on her skin, that the day just beyond the ancient door was a fine day to be in. She took a few fleeting steps towards the door, and with arms out she pressed firmly upon the old wood. Pain rushed through her wounded arm, but like jumping into a pond on a cold winter day, she was through the doorway and it was closing behind her.

She paused as the sun and warm air seemed to baptize her in the glory of the day. It washed over her like a storm does a field. Gabrielle stood motionless and took copious deep breaths, letting the nature around her fill her lungs and blood.

Gabrielle had always loved the warm feel of the sun on her skin. Although autumn was her favorite season, the sun’s rays on her skin always regenerated her. Smiling was not merely an option on a day such as this, but mandated by forces not comprehendible.

She allowed the smile to consume her face so that her cheeks hurt and she had difficulty opening her eyes to formally great this fantastic day. The pains of her journey thus far, and of the morning’s events, washed away in the bosom of the sun before her.

At first, all that surrounded Gabrielle was white as the sun filled her eyes. Then, the world began to swell into color as her sight adjusted. The beautiful colors of the large garden were almost overwhelming. Fruits and vegetables alike all shown with vibrancy and succulent temptation. She could not remember ever having set her eyes upon more delectable looking legumes and drupes. A sharp pain erupted in her stomach and she was suddenly reminded she had yet to eat anything today.

Gabrielle knew that picking food from this garden was forbidden, yet as she examined her surroundings, there appeared to be no other persons in the garden. [_Perhaps things would turn for the better after all. _]Her mouth filled with saliva at the thought of biting into one of the delicious looking vegetables in front of her.

Panning to and fro, the deep rumblings soon became too much and Gabrielle was now searching for a small treat to quell the quaking in her stomach. Within moments, her eyes fell upon the most succulent tomato she had ever seen hanging from a bush merely feet ahead of her.

She took one giant step and was warily staring at the tomato. It’s soft, red skin felt cool to the touch as she gently plucked it from its vine. With one more look to ensure she was, indeed alone, Gabrielle brought the fruit to her mouth and took the largest bite she could.

The sweet juices ran down her chin as she reveled in the spectacular treat, when suddenly she heard voices coming from behind the door to the kitchen. She couldn’t be sure as to whom the second voice belonged to, but she knew for certain the first voice was none other than Renée.

Gabrielle turned on the balls of her feet and sprinted several rows into the garden before crouching behind a few large tomato plants. The door to the kitchen swung open and Renée entered the garden, followed by Claudie. The two paused in the doorway to finish their conversation.

“…and make sure when they are done with the cleaning, they come out here and fill five baskets with fresh vegetables for the dinner service tonight. Salads made from plants from home were requested by the family, and that is what they shall have,” Renée dictated to Claudie, who was eagerly nodding in agreement.

With that, the two were back off into the kitchen, the door closing behind them. Gabrielle didn’t even realize she had been holding her breath until she let out a huge sigh of relief. She slowly stood and took another bite of her tomato. Not wanting to get caught, and afraid Renée would catch her trying to re-enter, she turned and made her way to the far end of the garden, where a small gate stood that led to the main grounds of the palace.

Feeling confident in her latest cheat with trouble, Gabrielle picked several small berries as she walked through the garden. Popping them into her mouth and smiling as the sweet juices seemed to melt the trouble away.

Within a few moments, Gabrielle was at the gate and leaning over to see if any other housekeepers were in the area. Seeing that the coast was clear, Gabrielle pushed the squeaky gate open and proceeded out into the wide-open yard. She knew the groundskeepers and housekeepers were separated in form and function, so once she was away from the palace she need not be worried about being seen by someone who would recognize her.

A warm breeze blew over the grass before her and made the lawn look as though it was a flowing sea of water. The palace grounds stretched out before her as far as her eyes could see. The breeze whispered to her and she nearly fell forward as the pleasure of the day washed over her.

The groundskeepers toiled off in the distance in several directions, pining not only for the perfection demanded upon them by the royal family, but also by the honor and pride they felt toward their work. With the sun warming her skin, she stepped out upon the path parallel to the lawn and proceeded toward the lower half of the grounds.

The soft grass made her feel like she was walking on clouds. Lost in a dream of thought, she pondered what she had been experiencing and exactly what she had gotten herself into. Her thoughts went from Alexandra, to Heather and Fionn, to her mother (back wherever she may be), then finally to her father. What she wouldn’t give to have her father with her at this very moment; to tell him of the tales she had experienced thus far. He would be so proud of her for helping these trapped souls.

How he would smile widely and encourage her to share in as much detail as possible. Often he would close his eyes when she told him tales—he said it was to help him imagine along with her so he could feel the same things she did. Gabrielle found herself smiling and took a moment to look to the glass sky. I wonder if you can see me? Are you in heaven or is your soul trapped?

Shaking off the morbid thought Gabrielle made an abrupt turn toward the hedges at the end of the lawn. Lost in her thoughts, she found herself standing in the center of the great lawn—which was not allowed. Gabrielle broke into a light jog toward a stone path and hedges that led to the lower lawn.

As she came to the path and began to follow it around a large hedge that towered over the path, she nearly fell backward as she bumped into a ladder that one of the groundskeepers was on. With a frantic and slightly embarrassed apology, he assured her that there was no harm.

“Not to worry, love. No harm done. What are you doing at this end of the grounds, anyway? Should you not be at the palace cleaning or tending to chores?” Surveying Gabrielle’s attire—as though to confirm she was not a gardener, the man raised his brow in suspicion.

“Sorry again, good sir. Good day to you!” Gabrielle blurted as she turned upon her heels and was again off to her destination.

Her feet slapped the old stones that composed the path as she rounded another corner at full speed, losing her suspicious company from sight. She did not worry about the man—she had seen him many times around the servant’s quarters and he always seemed well liked. He did seem quite fond of Renée, and fearing notification of her wanderings, Gabrielle made sure to leave before he could remember who she was. Thinking back to when she had seen him in the quarters, she thought his name may have been Joc.

She ran for few moments before she came upon a set of old stone steps. Attempting to take them two at a time, she tripped on the fourth step and stumbled the remaining four. She caught herself on the railing and prevented herself from falling to the ground. Her face reddened with frustration.

Gabrielle had always hated her clumsy manner; she had never been much for being helpless. She had always faced what bothered her, refused to run away and would never back down from a challenge, but being in a body that was much larger than what she was used to wasn’t helping.

Collecting herself and brushing off her knees, Gabrielle stomped over towards a small bench that sat nearly hidden among several small bushes and planted herself down abruptly.

She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Anger was not something that came naturally to Gabrielle, yet with what she was experiencing—her life being molded with another in some strange cosmic occurrence—she tended to forget which soul was causing her to feel the way she felt.

The bright sun fell upon her and though her eyes were closed, the light still managed to break the darkness. Gabrielle took a long, slow breath as a light breeze kissed her cheek. With tender discretion, she slowly let out her breath and bathed in the silence that was the nature around her.

[_ _]

HHHHAAAAAAASSSSSHHHHHH….GABRIELLE….HHHHAAAAAASSSSSHHHHH”

[_ _]

Gabrielle jumped in her seat. She threw her eyes open and fervidly looked around her. At first glance, she saw nothing extraordinary. She brought her hands to her eyes and violently rubbed them until she could see spots in the darkness.

Willfully pulling her eyes open once more, she turned her head from left to right and strained to hear another whisper. Sitting in silence for what seemed an eternity, she lost her patience with the lack of response or repetition.

“Hello? Is there someone there?” she called, with no response.

Gabrielle ground her jaw in frustration as she thought perhaps one of the servants may have been playing a trick on her. After another few moments without a response, Gabrielle decided to stand and continue onward.

She brought herself back to her feet and brushed the soot from the bench away from her dress, when suddenly the hair on the back of her neck stood straight up. She was not alone. Whatever it was, she suddenly had the sensation that she had been watched by it since she sat on the bench.

[_ _]

GABRIELLE

[_ _]

With another whisper flickering in her ear, she spun on her heels. She turned so hard to her left that she almost lost her balance and landed flat on her butt.

As she held her arms out to steady herself, she saw it. Her secret admirer that had spied on her while she sat and composed herself.

The “it” was in fact a “she”. The little girl was standing at the intersection of the pathway hedges directly ahead of her.

Gabrielle froze in place trying to judge if the young girl in front of her was real or a figment of her food-deprived mind. The girl stood as if a statue, her skin fair and light hair that seemed to glow in the golden light of the day—giving her an angelic appearance.

She had warm eyes that peered directly into her soul, as if she reached in with her eyes and pulled out the very essence that is Gabrielle. The only humanistic feature was her slightly dirty dress that came to an abrupt end just above her dirty bare feet, as though she had been playing outside all morning.

Gabrielle studied the young girl that seemed to materialize in front of her. Who is this creepy little girl?

“Arawn is coming for you.” The little girl spoke, as if to no one in particular. “He knows who you are and he means to stop you. Beware of the red eyes. Don’t worry Gabrielle. Follow me.”

She tried to open her mouth to speak but something about the girl paralyzed her vocal cords, as if her entire body weighed one thousand pounds.

CLICK.

Gabrielle’s eyes widened as they were pulled down towards her bracelet. It seemed to be radiating heat on her wrist, as though it were an oven slowly roaring back to life. A sudden sensation of collywobbles flooded her stomach as she forced her gaze back to where she had last left her guest. To her shock, the little girl was gone. As silently as she appeared, she vanished. All that was left was the fleeting glimpse of a small, bare foot escaping behind the path-hedges.

Without any forethought, Gabrielle dropped into stance and gave chase, sprinting after the phantom girl as though her life depended on it. She rounded the first turn to see only the same image of a small leg disappearing behind the next turn ahead.

She increased her pace, feeling her heart thump in her ears and her breathe beginning to stagger, yet she pushed forward and was soon approaching the next turn. Willing her legs to keep moving, Gabrielle took the corner and immediately came to a halt.

At the far end of this stretch of path stood the little girl, who had taken a moment to pause as though she were teasing Gabrielle. As soon as she made eye contact with the girl, ran around the next turn.

How is she so fast? How is she not out of breath?

“Wait!” Gabrielle managed to gasp as she approached the next turn. Her lungs were burning and her legs felt as though they had been held to hot coals.

Rounding the turn, she came to a sudden and painful stop as she collided with something hard enough to force her to the ground.

A barrage of damnations echoed throughout the earthen corridor and the sharp pain of the fall shot through her arms. As she rubbed her wrist where she braced for the fall, Gabrielle looked up to see a pair of eyes staring back down at her. It was not a “what” that she had collided with, but a “whom”.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

 

As Gabrielle looked up from the earthen floor where she sat, all she could see was the sapphire sky. The collision had thrown her for a loop, yet she needed to know who she had collided with.

Forcing herself into a sitting position, she began to survey the damage. She had been hoping to see the little girl looking back at her, but she was not so lucky. What she did see staring back at her as she peered up from the hard earth were four equally as angry adult eyes.

Gabrielle pushed her eyes past the two to see if the little girl was off in the distance somewhere. She was gone from sight.

“What are you doing? Why are you here?” a bewildered Hilde asked, rubbing her elbow that apparently had taken the brunt of their collision. Gabrielle was embarrassed as she scrubbed the soot from her legs. A young man was also cleaning himself off and straightening up. She had seen this young man before, his name was Brenton. Often he and Hilde would sit together just out of earshot and whisper what seemed to be the most interesting of secrets, coupled with playful giggles.

“Did you see her? Did she come past this way? I was right behind her.” Gabrielle rambled, bringing herself to her feet, her face warm with the beginning stages of embarrassment.

“What are you on about, Gabrielle?” Brenton chirped, clearing his throat helping Hilde to her feet.

The two gazed at one another for a moment before bringing their attention back to her, their confusion replaced with looks of agitation. She brought her eyes down to the soil still partially covering her feet. She couldn’t help but feel as though she had interrupted something, that the flushing of their cheeks had not been entirely her doing.

“Did you not see a little girl run through here moments before I came along? How did you miss her? She was young, had on a dress that was a little dirty, she was barefoot…” she trailed away as the confused, faces of the young lovers glared back at her. Hilde took a deep breath and placed her arm upon Brenton’s shoulders.

In that instant, a small ruffle caught Gabrielle’s attention from the distance just beyond the couple. A glimpse of fabric disappeared past the next bend. A sensation of mute frustration flooded her as she darted forward, through the gap between her friends. A gasp of shock followed after her as she rapidly gained distance and pursued the apparition.

Gabrielle was unable to think of anything but catching the little girl. She had to know what was happening. She had to know more about the man with the red eyes.

Rounding yet another corner, a flash of a pale face startled her, causing her to trip over her feet and stumble into the bushes. With a newly found pugnacious resolve, Gabrielle collected herself and examined her surroundings.

Silence reigned about her as she tried to discern what had just appeared. With her heart pounding in her chest, she looked around but could only see the empty path and the trees ahead.

A large winged creature flew up behind her and pushed her forward. She spun around just in time to catch two blood red eyes peering back at her. A pair large black feathered wings protruded from a hunched skeletal back. A solid black face that blurred at the edges with no distinguishable features rushed at her, wings flapping as it gained speed.

Gabrielle turned to run and stepped into the grasp of a woman. She looked up to see two sunken pits that housed glowing red eyes glaring back at her. She tried to back away but the woman’s long talons held tight to her as she wriggled and fought to free herself. She brought a determined leg up and it met its mark as she pushed the creature back and put distance between them.

Gabrielle stared in paralyzed shock at the woman that stood before her. Her appendages were knotted and twisted like that of an old tree. Their cracked and protruded ends were weathered as though they had been beaten by time and storm. Every one of the extremities seemed to reach towards Gabrielle, clawing at the air between them.

As she inched backwards, her foot became entangled and she fell to her rear end. The large winged monster stood behind her. It cocked its head to the side and let out a screech unlike anything she had ever heard.

The woman trundled towards Gabrielle, each vine-like appendage stretching out to her. The creature’s mouth dropped open as if it meant to say something but no words escaped. She screwed her eyes shut and screamed as loud as she could. She continued to scream and only stopped when Brenton was by her side.

“Gabrielle, what happened? Are you hurt?” His hands searched over her body as he looked for the cause of her shriek. Gabrielle knitted her brow and slowly forced her terrified open. Brenton’s face was paralyzed in fear, but it wasn’t from the monsters. They were alone on the path.

“I. I. They.” Gabrielle broke into sobs as she couldn’t think of the words to explain what had just happened. Brenton took her into his arms and rocked her until her sobs lightened and she brought her tear stained face up to meet his.

“I’m sorry, I just fell and…ummm…I tripped and scared myself. I think I’m alright now.” Brenton helped a still shaking Gabrielle to her feel and shook out the dirt from the skirt of her dress. He put his arm around her shoulder and walked with her back to where Hilde waited in nervous anticipation for them.

“Are you sure that you’re alright?” Brenton questioned as they rounded the corner and made their way over to Hilde.

“I’m sure, really, I’m OK,” she replied, a tremble still noticeable in her voice.

“Gabrielle! What happened? You worried me sick with that scream!” Hilde ran the last few feet to meet them, worry covering her face.

“She’s fine Hilde. She just fell, but I think she is alright.” Brenton patted the side of Gabrielle’s arm as he reassured the three of them.

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

 

The worry and frustration drained from their faces and was replaced by pity. This was worse, and Gabrielle found herself wishing for them to be angry again. She crossed her arms in a feeble attempt to cover the bandages.

Feeling the chilled metal as the bracelet touched her inner arm, Gabrielle realized that she would not be seeing the mysterious bare footed girl, or the monsters again today. The artifact had drifted back into its slumber.

“I, I’m fine! I just thought I saw something. I’m sorry that I ran into you.” Gabrielle said, fixing her disheveled hair in an attempt to force the embarrassment from the air around her. “Why are you here in the first place? Should you not be tending to your chores?”

“On a day like this?” laughed Brenton, swelling his chest in his best attempt at bravado and breathing deeply through his nose.

Hilde let a nervous laugh escape her lips, which deflated Brenton’s chest and caused his cheeks to flush. Gabrielle could not help giggling. Shaking this from his spirit, Brenton continued “As I was saying, with a day like this, and with such lovely company, how can one even attempt to ponder work?”

“Renée doesn’t like us spending such time together” Hilde interjected, interlocking her fingers between Brenton’s and tilting her head so that it rested upon his shoulder.

Brenton was not a good looking man. He had almond eyes that sat just a little too far apart and sandy hair that covered the tops of his eyes and stuck out on the right side of his head as if he had just woken up. He had the look of youth that had been aged with years of labor. Gabrielle was not too fond of his attempts at impressing Hilde, though she was utterly bewitched by him.

Hilde tilted her chin up and lazily peered into Brenton’s eyes, “So when we get a moment to ourselves, we try to steal away for a bit of privacy.” Hilde brought her attention back to Gabrielle “We are simply enjoying one another’s company without the panicked hustle of the servants’ quarters.”

Gabrielle nodded as she thought back to the chaos that was the servants’ quarters. In her brief consciousness in this life, she had experienced constant motion, working, and bustle day in and day out. There seemed to never be a moment to one’s self before a command was given, or the need to finish a chore arose. As this realization set in, Gabrielle’s face began to flush and the right corner of her mouth droop down with her interruption of their time together.

“I’m so, so sorry that I bothered you. I-just-wanted-to-get-out-of-the-palace-for-a-while-because-I-couldn’t-stand-just-sitting-in-the-chamber-for-the-WHOLE-day.” Gabrielle took a panicked breath and seeing the jaws of her audience agape, she continued, but took the time to pause and speak at a more normal pace.

“I thought that I would be alone here. Far from Madame Toinette, Renée, and everyone.” With this, Gabrielle remembered the feel of the long talons grasping ahold of her and she shivered.

“With a morning like what you had, I cannot say that I blame you,” Brenton began, understanding her reaction to be something else. He was silenced by a sharp jab to his ribs from Hilde’s elbow. She glared at him for a moment before softening her face and looking back at Gabrielle.

“Are you alright, Gabrielle? Did the tea and rest help? We wanted to stay with you, but Renée…” Hilde brought her hands to her ears and began to rub them nervously, a habit that Gabrielle had noticed during her time in the palace.

“I’m fine. Please don’t worry yourself about me. It was nothing that I couldn’t handle.” Gabrielle gave a forced smiled as she spit the lie from her mouth, in an attempt to ease Hilde’s remorse.

Hilde relaxed her shoulders in relief and let out a silent, yet long breath. Gabrielle uncrossed her arms and placed them behind her back and began to rock from her heels to her toes. The situation had mended itself, yet it was growing slightly awkward as the reality of what was happening sat before her.

“Gabrielle!” a small voice called from behind her, followed by the sound of hurried, slapping steps on the cold hard stone. The sudden sound worked her nerves and caused her to jump.

Within a moment, Jean-Paul was standing between the triad, looking from one face to another in confusion. “I have been trying to catch up with you. I called for you and you began to run. Why were you running from me?” Gabrielle looked down at the scrawny younger kid.

“Running from you? I wasn’t running from you. I didn’t even see you following me. I thought…I thought I saw some…one else.” Gabrielle shook the thought from her head as she noticed three sets of eyes peering back at her.

After a brief, awkward moment, Brenton reached out and ruffled Jean-Paul’s hair—causing him to swing and bat at the air with the fervid tenacity of someone attempting to best a wasp. Brenton was Jean-Paul’s older brother, and he enjoyed any chance to taunt the boy when he was given a moment to do so.

“What brings you down here, little sir? Couldn’t let your precious beauty walk alone eh?” Brenton waggled his eyebrows and winked at the ladies, giving a playful laugh.

With this, Jean-Paul’s face rumpled up like a prune and he proceeded to swing his fist as hard as he could. A lucky fist connected with Brenton’s stomach, causing the older boy to gasp in pain and hunch over. There was a brief moment of pride in Jean-Paul’s face as he looked at his fist, enamored that he actually won. The pride in Jean-Paul’s cheeks was quickly replaced by fear as a small growl rumbled from Brenton before he lunged forward at his little brother.

With a light squeal, the little kid began to run. He reached out and grabbed the edge of Gabrielle’s skirt, using it to swing himself around to hide behind the two girls. Brenton came to a sliding stop behind Gabrielle and the two brothers ran round and round, Brenton grasping at the back of Jean-Paul’s collar, and Jean-Paul barely avoiding capture.

Brenton swore at his little brother as he held his stomach with one arm, and swatted with the other. Gabrielle found her mind wandering. Though her friends were having a good time, she couldn’t get the sight of red eyes, long claws and black feathered wings out of her head.

“Get back here you little…” Brenton let his words trail off as he brought the other hand to his ribs and began to pant.

The cat-and-mouse escapade went on for a few moments as the girls threw their arms in the air to avoid getting snagged in the pursuit. Jean-Paul frantically ducked as Brenton brought down a barrage of swings, then spun around to run in the other direction causing Brenton to have to maneuver behind Gabrielle. When he did this, he stepped on the edge of her dress and sent her tripping forward onto Hilde.

Hilde caught Gabrielle and the two stumbled backwards. Hilde yelled at Brenton to cease his pursuit, which made him sigh in disappointment and cast an angry glare at his little brother.

“Remember, Jean-Paul, I know where your quarters are. Perhaps I will let one of the squirrels from the gardens loose in your bed while you sleep tonight,” Brenton threatened.

Jean-Paul stuck out his tongue in response, his nose scrunching up—all the while making sure to keep himself perched slightly behind Gabrielle. She could see out of the corner of her eye that he had both arms crossed making a timid bras d’honneur that he had no doubt learned from his brother.

“HEY!” Brenton shouted, with one boney finger outstretched at his younger sibling, as if he were tattling to their mother. The gesture was cut short by a firm tug on his arm from Hilde. A wide smirk stretched across Brenton’s face and a childish tongue peaked its way through his parted lips.

“Alright children,” Hilde interrupted. “Perhaps it would be best if we were on our way back to the palace. With the four of us gone, surely it will not be long until we are missed.” With this she crossed her arms in front of her chest, taking a firm, motherly stance.

“Especially considering the fact that I can promise you with the utmost certainty that Jean-Paul did not sneak away most carefully. The silence from the kitchen will be enough to make anyone suspicious. With Gabrielle leaving her quarters and since Claudie and I were told not to speak with you for the rest of the day, I think we will all be in a lot of trouble if we don’t get back soon.”

“Not I, my dear,” interjected Brenton, the bravado back in his voice and a wide grin erupting over his face. Brenton loved to jest and tease and often looked for moments of this nature.

“Ah, my love, but what of when your father hears that rather than tending to the broken fence about the vegetable garden, you were here playing with your brother?” Hilde’s head shot back toward Brenton.

In a moment of realization, Brenton deflated and agreed that, perhaps, they should all indeed proceed back to the property. Gabrielle had no objections to this—the heat of the French sun, coupled with the morning that had transpired, made her crave the quiet of her quarters with her thoughts. With the group all in agreement, they proceeded to turn and make their way back to the palace.

A fleeting breeze washed over Gabrielle’s face, causing her to look backward over her shoulder in the direction of the path where she had been attacked. For a moment, she swore that she could see the faded features of a small face, peering around the edge of a bush at the end of the path. Yet before she could turn and look more purposefully, Brenton placed his arms around her and Hilde and pulled the two of them towards him.

Gabrielle was brought back to reality as she turned and smiled at her friends. Brenton’s tight grip on the two of them acted almost as an usher, preventing her from turning and keeping the group all moving in the same direction. Hilde squeezed in tighter and rather than fight to turn, Gabrielle allowed herself to be captured and traveled in the group without fuss.

Brenton, despite his size, reminded Gabrielle of Fionn. He was strong, yet gentle and despite his working in physical labor, he did not smell of sweat—but rather of earth and faintly of the flowers around which he worked most closely.

She felt safe with him around and with this feeling, her heart began to slow and her breath evened out. She took in a deep breath and allowed her eyes to close and her mind to wander, thinking back on her friend and protector in her previous life, and in that moment, she was happy.

The group walked in silence for a fair distance. They took their time with the travel back to the palace, walking at a considerably slow pace and taking unnecessary turns around several walkways.

Jean-Paul led the way by walking several paces ahead of the group. His youthful vigor kept him constantly at an almost hurried pace and eagerly turning back to the group to taunt them into going faster. After a few minutes, Brenton released Gabrielle from his embrace, and brought his focus solely on holding Hilde. The two young lovers walked in tandem, leaning into one another as if their love was the only thing holding them up.

After a few minutes of walking, Gabrielle began to see the familiar tomato plants and she knew that they were back at the garden that sat outside of the kitchen. Stopping for a moment to make sure that there were not any eyes to witness the group sneaking back in, Brenton gave the sign that all was well and the four proceeded through the old gate and across the vegetable garden.

Gabrielle’s watched as Jean-Paul picked several small berries and hid them in his pockets, then removed them one by one and popped each one into his mouth. Within moments, the group found themselves frozen at the kitchen door. Jean-Paul, with his cat-like size and prance, examined the entrance to ensure that there were no surprises waiting for them on the other side. Once again, he gave the signal that there was not a sign of Renée or Madame Toinette—the coast was clear.

“Before we enter, I wanted to ask something of you, Gabrielle,” Benton posed, ceasing the party in their tracks.

Hilde rolled her eyes, as she had the most to lose at this moment if they were spotted entering the kitchen. Gabrielle stood in silence, all eyes on her, waiting for the request.

“Tonight, just after sunset, there is a function in town. A small ball, if you will. It will be a merry affair indeed. Hilde is going to be meeting me there with Claudie and I think it would do you well to attend with us. I promise you will enjoy yourself, and it will take your mind off of, well, the events as of late…” Brenton’s face slouched as he looked at the bandages that covered Gabrielle’s arms.

Hilde brought her elbow to Brenton’s ribs as she saw him look at Gabrielle’s bandages. Gabrielle was taken aback by this request, and before she could even work through the fog in her head and decide if she even really wanted to attend the ball, she found herself agreeing.

“Yes, I would love to come.” The words flowed from her mouth as if she had no power over them.

She could nearly see the question in the statement as it left her mouth and hung in the air like a fly hovers over rotten fruit. It was as though something was willing her to attend. Brenton lightened up at this and shot a playful smile at Hilde, hugging her tightly with his right arm. Hilde smiled at Gabrielle and nodded.

“I promise it will be fun, Gabrielle.” Hilde beckoned, excitement rising in her voice.

It was only a moment before the obligatory groans began to develop in Gabrielle’s ear. These were not mere figments of her imagination, but those of Jean-Paul. As with younger siblings, Jean-Paul despised when his older brother was permitted to leave the grounds.

His father had told him on many occasions that he was too young to venture far from the palace. Gabrielle knew this because every time the cooks would leave for the village to get ingredients, Jean-Paul was at their heels attempting to sneak away with the group. This never worked in his favor.

“We should go in now, before someone comes back!” Jean-Paul sharply whispered as he held the door slightly ajar, shooting glances between the three and the kitchen.

Though he was clearly agitated with the invitation not being extended to him, the group agreed that he was right.

With fleeting kisses between the lovers, a disgusted gasp from little Jean-Paul and final praises of gratitude given from Brenton to Gabrielle for her agreement, the three parted ways. Brenton turned on his heels and headed toward the rear of the garden, a slight skip in his step. With a final warm gust of air and flash of sun, the kitchen door closed behind Gabrielle, Hilde and Jean-Paul.

The cool and shaded kitchen was empty at the moment. Her skin chilled in the suddenly still air—except for her bracelet, which still seemed to be radiating heat. Unsure if it was merely warm from the sun or if it was warning her of danger, Gabrielle paused, touching the warm metal and trying to discern what, if anything, it meant. Was she supposed to go to the party? Was she supposed to stay away from the party? She rubbed it with her left hand and exhaled, deciding that it was probably just warm because of her venture into the sunshine.

Within moments they all separated. Hilde corrected her clothing and then shuffled off to tend to her chores. With a fleeting warning from Hilde, Jean-Paul bid Gabrielle goodbye and was off to catch up to his daily activities. This left Gabrielle to venture back to her quarters alone. With nothing but her thoughts to keep her company, she quietly stuffed a small roll from the kitchen into her pocket and went back to her room alone.

Closing the door as quietly as she could, Gabrielle was saddened, yet excited at the same time to find herself alone in the bedchamber. She stopped to ponder if it was [_her _]that was excited to be alone, or the woman that she inhabited.

She could feel, somewhere deep inside her, that her current life boded quite the opposite. Gabrielle noted that ever since she appeared in this life she was well loved, spoken fondly of and appreciated. It was as though all the young women that worked at the palace were extended sisters. Never knowing the sensation of being close with others outside of her parents, and not having siblings, Gabrielle enjoyed this sensation.

She made her way across the chamber to her bed. The old cot creaked when she put her weight upon it. She sat for a moment, looking around the room for any strange creatures that could be hiding in the shadows.

Gently laying her head back on her pillow, Gabrielle peered up at the stones that comprised the ceiling above her head. She forced her thoughts away from the monsters that had attacked her on the path. With her eyes dancing back and forth between the crevices and cracks of the old masonry, she soon found herself lost in thoughts of her parents, Alexandra and her old life.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

 

The door flew open, startling Gabrielle and making her sit straight up, sending a jolt of pain down her healing arms. Like a crashing tide over a breakwater, Hilde and Claudie came rushing into the chamber with looks of panicked distress and exhaustion covering their faces. Gabrielle was confused, worried and in pain from the jolt that shook through her tender arms.

“What are you doing?” commanded Claudie, rushing over to Gabrielle and pulling her to her feet. Hilde was to their wardrobe and flung it open with a crash as the door bounced off of the stone walls. She then began to empty its contents onto her own bed.

“What’s happening? What’s going on?” Gabrielle demanded as Claudie turned away from her and also began to frantically throw clothes over her shoulder.

“Have you no inclination as to what time of day it is? The ball begins in moments and we have yet to even dress. We still must make our way to the village and then to the tavern!” Hilde spat as she tossed her work clothes to the floor and began fumbling with her corset.

A rush of relief washed over Gabrielle, followed by confusion. They had just come back from the gardens only a few minutes prior, and the ball didn’t begin until dusk. Surely they all had plenty of time.

Gabrielle turned to the lone window in their chamber and was shocked as she peered into the sky. What she saw was no longer a vibrantly spectacular day, but a day turning into a succulent evening as stars began to crest the sky. [_How long was I laying there? _]She thought to herself as she inched toward the window.

Gabrielle was pulled away from the window and her thoughts, and spun to the wardrobe. Her dress from the day was hoisted over her head by one of her flat mates.

“Quickly! Put something on and adjust your composure, Gabrielle. We must be off in moments or we may not attend at all. Once the sun goes down, we may never find our way.” Claudie commanded as she took a moment to assure her bun was perfect in the small vanity that clung to the side of the wardrobe.

Looking into the small cabinet that was their wardrobe, Gabrielle ran her gaze across the garments hung in front of her. Every time she looked at the clothing the three girls shared, she was amazed. Everything was handmade within the palace either by themselves or the other servants—bartering duties, trading small goods, or for the mere asking.

As currency was not something that was readily available for use by the servants, often the things they needed would be crafted in their own chamber. Breaking from her moment of awe, a sliver of salmon caught her eye. Gabrielle reached into the waves of fabric and withdrew a pink dress from the center of the rack.

She appreciated the ornate floral design that was sewn into the fabric and loved the appearance of the soft material. The tips of her fingers danced across delicate threading within the pattern to the base of the dress before it was stolen from her grasp and slipped over her head.

The dress wafted gently across her cheeks and shoulders and fell into place upon her hips. Briefly pausing as it slightly snagged on her bracelet, Gabrielle smiled as the material seemed to mold itself to her form. It felt even softer now as it flatteringly hugged her curves than it had when she held it in her hands.

Gabrielle’s eyes caught a glimpse of her reflection in the small mirror before she was briskly slid aside by Claudie and Hilde as they rushed to admire their aesthetics as well. She had never dreamed that she could look so grown up.

Donning a half smile, Gabrielle quietly walked to her cot and slipped on a small pair of slippers that sat beside her bed. As she pondered on the events that lie waiting ahead, she began to feel the anticipation growing.

As a rule, Gabrielle spent much of her time avoiding large gatherings, preferring to walk about the exterior of crowds to examine the participants. This was something she and her father had done many times. They would describe the people they saw to one another, and then the other would have to find them in the crowd and create a tale involving them. This was one of her favorite games to play with her father.

She wondered briefly if it was actually her that was becoming excited, or if it was her host—but before she could spend too much time on this notion she was beckoned to her feet by her friends, who had concluded their evening preparations and now called her to the door.

“Come on Gabrielle, we must be off as the sun is setting…” began Claudie in an excited whisper as she lightly bounced on the balls of her feet behind the door.

Gabrielle threw a glimpse across the room to the window. The sky was now plum colored with traces of burgundy around the fading exterior. The sun would soon be down. They had to be on their way, but as silently as possible so as not to alarm any of the others. While they were allowed to venture from the palace walls, Renée did not allow them to be out after sunset.

At this time of night the dinner service would be underway in the kitchen, which would make it difficult to leave quietly and it could take some doing before the girls could be on their way. With hushed tones and mannerisms, the three girls poised themselves low and Hilde slowly cracked the door open. The trio froze as if they expected a bomb to go off before their eyes.

The hallway outside was dimly lit by oil lamps and the scuttle from the nearby kitchen could clearly be heard as the noises and voices reverberated down the stone hallway. The floor shook from the intensity of the fervid steps of the anxious cooks and servants doing all they could to provide the royal family with the best experience.

Most of the palace servants tended to the royal family during meals; however, Gabrielle and the others were excused from this daily task since they were among the first out of bed and tending to their duties at the rising of the sun.

Hilde took a small, shaky step forward, peered out of the doorway and examined the hallway to see if there was any sign of life. As Gabrielle and Claudie stood behind her in silence, Gabrielle squeezed the hem of her dress waiting for the hurried cry to hide from prying eyes—or worse—Madame Toinette.

The air was sucked from their lungs in the vacuous silence they attempted to hold. Gabrielle’s heart slowed to a whisper, yet she could almost hear Hilde and Claudie’s anticipation, in spite of the silence. Hilde turned to her companions with a hushed reminder.

“Remember, upon my beckoning we must be off down the corridor and to the entrance of the kitchen. From there, we will sneak through the doorway to the vegetable garden where we should be free from that point onward. The groundsmen should have retired to their chambers for the evening by now.”

Not a moment after her warning, Hilde sprang into action. With a snap that was reminiscent of the switch Madame Toinette was so fond of, Hilde threw her wrist outward to beckon her companions to follow her. Smoothly, the three girls were into the corridor and their chamber door closed behind them.

The three crept down the stone passageway towards the commotion at the end. As they approached the activity, the smell of all of the delectable foods and treats being prepared for the feast stabbed at Gabrielle’s nose, begging for her attention.

As if by sheer will, Gabrielle focused on the task at hand. The slightest error—had she not been paying attention—could cost the three their entire evening or worse. Not to mention how terribly she would feel having let her companions down.

With the fleetness of a dream, the three were upon the entrance to the kitchen within mere moments. Hushed and stacked upon on another in a small, single line against the wall, they were doing all they could to be as small as possible.

With Hilde in front, followed by Claudie and then Gabrielle, the trio froze for another moment while Hilde checked the kitchen for eyes set to discover their intentions. In spite of the fact that the kitchen was full of people, apparently there was an utter lack of awareness to ones surroundings because after only pausing for a moment the command was given to break the threshold, make their way to the doorway and out of the kitchen to the garden.

With a mixture of adrenaline, fueled excitement and sheer panic, Gabrielle took in a deep breath and grasped the skirt of her dress. She lifted it slightly to avoid tripping in their hurried movement, closed her eyes and ran. She almost couldn’t feel the ground beneath her feet they were moving so swiftly, falling perfectly in line with one another.

Gabrielle dared not to look as the three made their way around the corner at the edge of the kitchen and came to a stop at the doorway to the garden. Forcing her eyes open, a shiver passed through her body. She feared if her eyes found a person to gaze upon, they would sense her presence and then the girls would be discovered. Gabrielle kept her eyes locked on the back of Claudie’s neck and before she had time to ask what to do next, a cool breeze was upon her face.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

 

Gabrielle heard a muffled thud just behind her back as the old door slowly closed, and it wasn’t until this point that she finally exhaled and refilled her lungs with the sweet evening air. Though it was still warm, the falling sun and advancing twilight was doing wonders to cool the air and ensure slumber.

Though the three were now free from the general threat of discovery, they did not pause since it would be difficult to travel if they had not made their way to the village by the time the sun set. There were lanterns lighting the way, but they were not all lit immediately, and there was a possibility of becoming lost in the dark on the vast property.

The plum sky dimmed the vibrant color of the fruits and vegetables within the garden, yet they still stood bright against the greens of the other plants.

Hilde and Claudie did not waiver in their steps as they progressed quickly across the garden and to the iron gate at its end. Gabrielle wondered how often her two friends snuck out after dark, for they were so good at it and knew exactly what to do and when to do it.

Realizing she was falling behind while lost in her thoughts, Gabrielle sped up and made sure she held the pace and kept close to her friends. As the travelers made their way to the gate, it was cast open and they eased through to the vast courtyard as if they had done this a thousand times.

Suddenly, Gabrielle felt her face meet the back of Claudie’s back as she stumbled into her friend who had come to a complete stop in front of her. Shaking off the confusion, she peered around the line to see an unexpected guest now blocked their passage.

Though the sun was rapidly setting and their time running short, Gabrielle did not need excess lighting to immediately recognize the familiar stature of their newly found company. Jean-Paul’s size—if nothing else—gave away his identity. While her two cohorts merely gasped in brief surprise, their stance was soon exchanged with one of frustration as Jean-Paul spoke aloud to the three.

“I want to go with you. I don’t want to stay in tonight. It isn’t fair that I must stay on the grounds at all times when the older ones get to go into town!” Lightly stomping his right foot, he was both demanding and pleading for companionship and permission. Before Gabrielle could respond, Hilde exploded with frustration as she looked to the dimming horizon.

“We haven’t the time for this! You know you are not to leave the ground until you have grown. Furthermore, no one is permitted to venture to the village once the sun has set. Get back to your father and be silent of what you saw here, or the consequences will not be pleasant…”

Jean-Paul stood his ground, the look of fear on his face replaced by confidence and he cracked a smirk at the threat.

“If I am not going with you, then perhaps Renée would like to learn of what you three are up to.” He leaned back and crossed his arms as though he had just called check in this panicked game of chess. Hilde did not waiver as she elaborated upon her threat.

“Make no mistake, Jean-Paul. It is not I that you will be bested by if we do not succeed tonight.” Hilde broke, with a small, teasing smile creeping over her cheeks. Though the light was fading, Gabrielle could still see this expression upon her face.

“I will have Brenton tend to our revenge…” With this, the confident look that once sat so delicately upon the young boy’s face began to waver. “He has been wanting to attend this function for some time, and imagine his frustration if we cannot attend because you not only tattled on us, but caused us to be punished. He will throttle you, and rightly so!”

Hilde’s words stabbed though the dark, and seemed to miss their mark. Jean-Paul appeared to be un-thwarted by this threat, but Gabrielle could see a slight loss in confidence as he held his own with the older girl.

Gabrielle’s ears perked and pulled her attention away from the scene in front of her as she thought she heard the garden door open and then close in the distance. She couldn’t be certain, but if someone had just ventured into the garden, it would not be long before their squawking alerted the new company.

Gabrielle reacted and stepped forward to Jean-Paul, placed her had upon his shoulder and smiled. She could feel the heat from his cheeks as he obviously blushed at her touch.

“I have an idea,” Gabrielle began, locking eyes with the young boy and making him smile uncontrollably back at her.

If there had been any doubt he had a crush on her, the gaze he thrust towards her withdrew any hint to the opposite.

“How about if you permit us to go tonight—and make sure we are not found out—then next week you can accompany me on my daily chores. We can even go on walks through the gardens together in the evenings. Does that sound fair?”

Gabrielle knew in an instant she had hit the nail on the head since she could feel Jean-Paul blush so strongly he nearly felt feverish. His grin stretched so widely it almost looked as though his smile may touch his ears.

Gabrielle giggled at this, as she found it quite adorable. In her past life, she didn’t have any interest in boys, yet in her current life things were different in many areas. The infatuation this young boy felt toward her was sweet. She felt slightly maternal towards him, like a protective older sister.

“Can we proceed now, your highness?” snapped Claudie, growing increasingly frustrated with the pause the three were taking.

Though she had not specifically mentioned otherwise, Gabrielle had the suspicion she was meeting a gentleman caller at the gala as well. Gabrielle thought she could hear voices coming from the garden behind them. She looked down at Jean-Paul, then over her shoulder to the garden.

Jean-Paul looked about the group and then nodded his head in agreement. With a last look to Gabrielle, he darted past the three and into the garden. Without waiting to see if what she heard were in fact voices of other people, they were off once again.

Doing their best to stick to the shadows of the tall hedges and bushes, the three girls made their way down the assorted paths and walkways that would eventually lead them to the palace gate.

They were lucky, as the direction they had to travel was primarily in the view of the setting sun, so they were chasing the fading light, which aided them in their secretive venture. Fortunately for them, this was also a time in which most of the palace workers were indoors—tending to the royal family, finishing their chores, or turning in for the evening.

Gabrielle was surprised at the insisted level of stealth and secrecy given that, other than their initial pause, she had not seen another living soul. She caught a glimpse of something moving out of the corner of her eye, there and then gone in an instant. A dark figure with what looked like a dog of some sort. She felt her bracelet begin to warm, but she thought nothing of this as the royal family was quite fond of dogs and they tended to roam the grounds of the palace while their owners were tending to other business.

As the girls approached the main gate of the palace, Gabrielle smiled as luck shone down on them once more. The guards had not taken their evening post so the gate still sat open and unoccupied as they changed officers for the evening. Pausing in the shadows of a small willow, they stared at the gate for a moment through the draping switches from the tender tree.

Gabrielle drew in a deep breath, pulling in the sweet smell of the small pink flowers that bloomed in these trees this time of year. A light gust of wind rattled the long arms of the tree and several of the flowers snowed down upon Hilde’s and Claudie’s hair, making them look like the Fae folk that were in the tales her father used to tell her when she was a little girl.

She briefly lost herself in thoughts of her father, warm tea and cool evenings. It seemed eons ago that she was wrapped up in a blanket sitting on the couch in his study, sipping on a warm cup of chamomile tea while her father read her stories of faraway places. Now Gabrielle was in a faraway place and she wanted nothing more than to be back at home snuggling on her father’s couch while he pranced around and acted out the stories he told.

A shattering realization brought her back to present time—Hilde and Claudie had already made their break for the open gate and were easily ten paces ahead of her. Had she been paying attention to the task at hand, she would have been on their heels, now she had to race to catch Claudie and Hilde who were nearly through the gates.

Fortunately for Gabrielle, the road at this point was unpaved and the soft dirt muffled her less than cautious steps as she ran to catch her friends. The light material of her gown flapped behind her as she caught up to the others without them even noticing she lagged behind, and they were though the gates without further delay.

The girls did not break their hurried pace until they reached the bottom of the hill that cascaded downward from the palace and the gates themselves had nearly faded out of site.

Gabrielle threw a fleeting glance over her shoulder as they increased their distance and realized she could no longer see the gates. The girls slowed their pace from a sprint to a jog to an expedited walk as they brought themselves back to a more normal rate. A faint dusting of perspiration chilled Gabrielle’s brow as the evening breeze kissed her face. Hilde turned to look at her with slight annoyance.

“What were you thinking at the gate?” she snapped at Gabrielle, still continuing her heading down the hill towards the village. Claudie was leading the troop and could not be bothered to turn and also inquire.

“I am sorry. I, well I thought that…” Gabrielle trailed away. She felt foolish for nearly costing the three their evening. Knowing how much this ball meant to them, she knew her friends were more annoyed collectively at the evening thus far than her specifically. Guessing Hilde’s inquiry to be rhetorical, Gabrielle maintained her silence and let the cool air wash over her.

Butterflies began to flutter in the pit of her stomach as she realized she would soon be at her first social ball. As a young girl growing up in Envisage, she had always dreamed of going to her first social dance, though she didn’t have many friends and kept mostly to herself.

The twilight hour was rapidly approaching and the ambient light was fading quickly. Gabrielle’s feet kept the same meticulous pace as she followed her friends toward the lights of the village. She had only a moment to be lost in her thoughts before the dirt under her feet turned to cobblestone, indicating that they made it to the village. The yellow hue of the lamp lights cast a warm glow over the pattern of her gown, making the lace look almost like sunflowers.

The falling sun was giving way to the cool air as the three ventured into the village. Gabrielle had not been here more than once or twice since her arrival and made sure to maintain close proximity to her leaders as she knew that surely she would become lost if left to her own devices.

In spite of the fact that it was now evening, the streets within the village seemed to still be alive with travel and patronage. Countless whispers and conversations were taking place as Gabrielle and her cohorts continued to their destination. The buzz reminded Gabriele of lightning before a storm. She gave a strained attempt to hear some pieces as they passed, but was being led too intensely to give the proper effort.

The flowing fabric of Claudie and Hilde’s dresses drifted like tails floating behind them as they ran though the narrow streets. Claudie yelled over her shoulder various commands as the group maneuvered through turns, shortcuts, and crowds as if on autopilot.

“You know, I find it intriguing that there are this many people out in the evening. With the whispers of revolution, the town is almost alive with emotion. Is this not exciting?” Claudie yelled back at Gabrielle without ever breaking stride.

Gabrielle allowed her friend’s words to sink in. It was slightly strange that she was so flippantly talking of revolution. Revolutions exciting? The entire concept tended to make people within the palace quite uneasy, almost ill. Yet Claudie, like some of the others, were secretly intrigued by the notion.

Though she had only been in this life for a short time, Gabrielle knew the people were not happy. The royal family lived in grave excess while their people struggled down below. The disgust hung static in the air whenever the royal family crept into a conversation. No one knew more about the excess, luxury and disdain than the palace servants. Different from the village, those who worked within the palace had this reality thrust upon them daily.

A chill ran up Gabrielle’s ankle as she left a curb and placed her foot firmly into the depths of a puddle that lie waiting. She grimaced and hoped she had not marred her gown as she continued onward without pause, managing to maintain her pace with Hilde and Claudie.

“One more block further, then we shall cut through the alley and be right in front of the tavern.” Hilde, now in the lead, yelled over her shoulder as the three began their final portion of the jaunt.

Gabrielle was pleased as she was beginning to draw short of breath and her legs were beginning to ache. With a second wind, her leaders began to increase their pace, forcing her to increase hers as well. Hopping a curb to avoid any further hidden puddles, Gabrielle was abruptly cast backwards as a horse and cart flew in front of her and she was nearly trampled upon by the rather ragged-looking steed.

Stumbling backward, it took all she had to not fall to the dirty stone ground and further soil her dress.

The fierce animal let out a frustrated bray as its master cursed at Gabrielle for causing the ruckus. Apologizing profusely, she caught her balance and steadied herself. Turning her attention back to her companions to apologize, the wind was forced from her lungs and her eyes widened with terror. Though the commotion had only taken a few moments, Gabrielle had lost her friends.

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

 

A sickening sensation crept its way up her throat as Gabrielle realized she didn’t know where she was, nor where she needed to be going. Looking about, panicked, Gabrielle dug her palms into the wells of her eyes to clear her mind and think. No one knew who she was and she didn’t know the name of the tavern where the ball was to be held.

Surely her friends could not have gotten far. The last direction she remembered was that this was the last block, then they were to turn down an alley and continue to their destination. Finding her bearings, Gabrielle shot off into the direction she last saw her friends traveling, eyes focused and prowling for the alley Hilde spoke of. With every step, her head shot side-to-side, in an effort to not miss her friends, silently hoping they noticed her absence and would soon be back to claim her.

Within moments of searching, Gabrielle found herself at the mouth of what surely had to be the alleyway that was mentioned. It was directly after the boulevard that separated them and she could see no other passage in sight. Without another moment’s to spare Gabrielle was off down the alleyway, picking up speed to try and catch up to her friends.

Her steps echoed all around her in the narrow passage of the alley. A faint splashing accompanied each step as there was quite the collection of water among the crevices that lie in between the old stones. Gabrielle continued down the passageway, sliding around corners, eyes stabbing at the fading light before her, trying to steal any glimpse of her friends off in the distance.

It was not long before the sounds of the nearby avenue faded, leaving her alone in the dim light, with nothing but the sound of her feet slapping the cold, wet ground beneath her.

The light did her no favors, nor did the numbing silence that tried desperately to consume her as it surrounded her with its gripping fear. Gabrielle picked up her pace, feeling her inner child panic at the enclosing dark. The echo of her feet attacked her ears as the sounds became more sharp, forcing out the silence. A strange sensation wrapped itself around her as the deafening beating of her heart increased. She did not like this place.

A sharp chill ran up her spine and Gabrielle threw herself around to face what she surely knew was someone following her, concealed by the dark of the shadows. Standing motionless, she looked all around her, eyes ravenously tearing through the dark, heart pounding in her ears and her lungs forcing out air as if it were toxic.

Another glimpse of a shadow, something flew overhead, and her eyes were drawn upward. She followed the masonry to the crest of the building ahead of her, to where the wall met the sky. When she saw the edge of the wall, Gabrielle ceased breathing and her ears rang.

Two jet black eyes peered back at her as a large, black raven sat perched upon the wall. She had seen this animal before, sitting in her window frame back at the palace. It looked at her now as it did then—with concern and intrigue. She lost herself in the endless black eyes of the magnificent animal, then it drew a great breath: and screamed.

The siren screeching of the bird sent fear, awe, and panic throughout Gabrielle. Something was in the alley with her. She had to run.

RUN NOW!

CLICK.

Turning away from the bird, she proceeded to run further down the passage to get as far away as she could. Though she didn’t know why she had to run—especially from a bird—something told her she needed to get out of the alley. Her bracelet. Had she heard it click? Was it warmer now or was that just her body temperature? Something was near, this she knew for sure. Something that meant her harm.

As Gabrielle turned each corner, her steps rang all around her. She didn’t dare to look up, but was almost certain the bird had not followed her. She knew she had to continue running, she could feel it deep within the pit of her stomach, but her feet grew tired and her breath burned with every gasp. Rounding the next bend, Gabrielle paused, stretched her arms outward in front of her and leaned against the wall in an attempt to rest and catch her breath. How long is this alley?

For a moment, she stood in silence, trying to calm her breathing and her heart beat. Taking slow breaths, she held her eyes closed and listened to her surrounds for a sign of what to do next. Nothingness enveloped her and though she could hear nothing, see nothing, Gabrielle could feel she was not alone, in spite of her other senses.

CLICK.

Gabrielle’s eyes shot open as her bracelet’s call shattered the silence around her and began to warm so intensely it nearly burned her. This time she was sure she heard it.

She pushed away from the wall and stepped back to the center of the aisle, rubbing her wrist and thumbing the bracelet. The faint whoosh of breathing filled her ears. Gabrielle turned in a circle, looking for the source of the sound but she wasn’t even sure where the sound was coming from.

Her eyes danced though the darkness until they found themselves fixated upon a shape. A shape that was foreign amongst the stone walls and cobbled pathway. It was a huddled mass not ten paces ahead of where she stood. Frozen, Gabrielle slowed her breath to hear any further clues as to what this form may be. The breathing continued but she couldn’t tell if it was coming from the mass before her. The bracelet grew hotter as neither Gabrielle, nor the figure moved a muscle.

With the calculated caution of a bird fluttering to the tip of its nest, Gabrielle made her first step toward the visitor. She slowly placed her right foot in front of her with her left foot firmly seated in the event an expeditious retreat was called upon.

The stranger did not move. It merely continued breathing in the darkness. With continued caution, Gabrielle wheeled her other foot around and made another slow step towards the mass. As she closed the distance between the two, she began to notice several things; even in the darkness.

The first thing she noticed was although she could clearly discern breathing in the toxically still air around her, there seemed to be no rise and fall from the stranger’s chest. It was as if air seeped from this being without it needing to breathe.

The next thing she noted was that her visitor was, most indeed, a person. From the pitch and timber of the breathing, she thought it was a man. He sat upon the ground, back against the wall and clothed in thick, pitch rags.

Slowly, she continued to advance upon the man, who never stirred nor moved from his place on the cobblestones. In the initial darkness, Gabrielle may have even run right past him and not given it another thought.

As she grew ever closer to the figure, Gabrielle could have sworn on her life that she could see the breath of the man with each low exhale. She was sure that she hadn’t seen him breathing and it was far too warm for there to be visible breath. In the limited light Gabrielle could scarcely see her own hand, let alone breathing of another person. Yet there it was, projecting into the air like silk hair in a warm breeze.

With another muffled tap as she brought her foot into a small puddle huddled between two stones, Gabrielle paused as she thought she heard something. Beneath the intermittent breathing and deafening silence, she thought she could hear whispers.

Every inch of hair on her body shot toward the sky and she realized the whispers were coming from behind her and she spun around. Again, hearing the whispers coming from behind her, Gabrielle shook her head from side to side. They seemed to be coming from all around her, yet she was certain that it was just her and the stranger in the alley.

The low whispers reverberated from the walls and down the path, echoing in silence all around her. Straining her eyes in the scarce light, Gabrielle glared through the nothingness at the man who was not but three paces away. The whispers seemed, finally, to be giving away their source as she was certain now they were coming from the man that sat in front of her. Her wrist was on fire as she slowly bent downward to better view the man in the rags.

From under the cusp of a tilted hood, Gabrielle saw the lower half of a tattered face peering at her from the darkness. A sliver of blue light seemed to have found its way specifically to show her his face, revealing his pale features, thin lips, and a sharp chin.

Almost with serpentine quality, the hissing whispers were most definitively originating from this man as she could clearly see his lips moving. Amazed, as she was merely an arm’s reach from the man, Gabrielle could still scarcely decipher what was being uttered. Slowly, she tilted her head and brought her face closer to the man. With frightening vivacity and a sound like bones breaking, the man snapped head around and brought his gaze from the ground to meet Gabrielle’s eyes.

Gabrielle threw herself backwards, away from the threat. She stumbled away until the back of her head and shoulders met the opposing wall across from this being.

She slowly slid to the ground, her eyes dazed and her mouth ajar as she tried to process what was happening in front of her. His face was once more hidden in the black shadow; however she could still see his eyes. They tore through the air between them and nearly struck at Gabrielle as she looked into them. Ruby eyes, red as a rose stared back at her, as if trying to bore a hole in her soul.

Then, like lightening breaking the sky, the figure spoke. His very words sent chills to her core, yet addled her mentality simultaneously.

“Long is the day, and long is the night, and long is the waiting of Arawn!…”

CLICK.

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

 

Gabrielle sat in silence, and stared into the haunting gaze for a moment, terror raging throughout her body. When, once again, the silence was broken by the man as the sound—of what she thought reminded her of twigs breaking—spat into the air as he turned his head and peered back down the passageway from whence she had come.

The hooded figure froze in this pose, causing Gabrielle to turn her head and look back the way she had come. There she sat, remaining silent as she tried to see whatever she could within the dark. Staring into the abyss, it was at that moment heard the ticking. The longer she stared, the louder it became. Gabrielle brought her head back to her visitor, but he was gone.

She forced her body to her feet, spinning in a circle only to find she was once again alone in the alley. He was only a few paces away, and yet she had not heard him leave. It was as if he had vanished into thin air.

Gabrielle stepped away from the wall that held her up only moments before, turning wildly as the clicking grew louder and louder. Looking to the sky, back to the ground, to the walls that surrounded her, and down the corridor—Gabrielle wondered if she had imagined the whole thing. Though, admittedly she could hardly think at all because the clicking had grown so loud—she could not even hear her own steps upon the ground.

[_What is that? What can that be? _]Her mind screamed. She closed her eyes and tried to will the noise to stop, or to at least know what was making all of the clicking. Her bracelet burned hot and even though it did click when danger was near, it was not the cause of the sounds. No, these sounded more like…claws?

With that final thought, the clicking ceased. Gabrielle threw her eyes open and stared into the darkness ahead of her, willing them to see.

Nothingness sat before her, still and lifeless. She thought for only the faintest of moments that perhaps she had surpassed the nightmare, and she could just simply leave.

It was with that thought that the breathing started again. No, not again—this breathing was different than what she heard coming from the disappearing man. This breathing was almost animal like, and much louder.

Gabrielle stood petrified as she came to the realization that this new beastly breathing was not alone. There were many of them.

She would have given anything for that moment to pass, to wake up in her bed or anywhere else; anything to not be here, at this very moment.

A chill crawled its way through Gabrielle, as if it were trying to occupy every inch of her being. The cold evening air slowly danced its way up to completely envelope her. Gabrielle screwed her eyes shut waiting for the pain of death, but nothing happened. The breathing came from all around her.

She cracked one eye open, half expecting to see a beast standing before her waiting to turn her into food, yet she could see nothing ahead of her. [Turn around. _]Her inner voice told her, yet her body stood frozen.[ _]Bringing her shoulders upwards to meet the base of her ears, she took a calculated, deep breath and slowly began to turn.

Forcing her eyes to focus, even though it seemed she could see her heart beat through them, Gabrielle stood shaking.

[_RUN! _]She told herself, yet her legs remained still.

[_GET OUT! _]She pleaded with her body, yet she stood staring at the beast before her. It was as if she had lost complete control of her body.

Red eyes glared back at her, but not the eyes of the man on the floor. These were more sinister, more malevolent—these were the eyes of a monster, and there were many of them.

Eight pairs of demonic-red eyes stabbed through the dark right at Gabrielle. As she focused on the shadows surrounding the eyes, she began to make out the jagged outline of the beasts. Dogs.

Yet they were not any type of dog she had ever seen. These creatures were not loved and adored by humanity. These dogs looked mangy, forgotten…almost dead. With matted black fur that fell off in patches, revealing their maggot covered flesh, Gabrielle found herself in a staring match that could end in her becoming fodder for the beasts.

The eight hounds were large—much larger than any other dogs Gabrielle had ever seen. A cold sweat rolled down her spine as she froze to the hum of the demonic panting. The mutts’ haggard chests were the only thing to move as they rose and fell in unison. Like Gabrielle herself, the animals remained otherwise still, waiting for her to make her first move.

Her bracelet grew hotter, but she ignored the searing pain. Gabrielle—not breaking eye contact with the creatures for fear of triggering an attack—reached down and grasped her bracelet. Alexandra what do I do? Gabrielle found herself trembling as she willed herself to have the strength to know what to do. In this macabre moment of adversity, a single thought crept into her mind like a clarion call to the lost wanderer: fight.

She stayed motionless. “I can’t fight these things! I’ve never fought anything in my life…I don’t know how to fight,” Gabrielle mumbled under her breath, arguing with her mind, or Alexandra, or whoever put the thought in her head that she needed to fight the things standing before her.

She turned on the ball of her foot, careful not to move too quickly. Keeping eye contact with one of the monsters, she prepared herself to run. One of the hounds slowly lowered its head and another snarled. It was as if the snarl was devoid of sound, like it was sucking all of the sound from existence and in its place left nothingness.

Gabrielle froze in mid pivot, every single muscle in her body tingling as every slight movement further agitating the monsters.

FIGHT.

As she shook her head in an attempt to clear her mind, one of the hounds took a small step towards her and then stopped. She was running out of options, surely she could not outrun these hounds! Coming to terms with what she had to do; Gabrielle prepared to face whatever may come next.

She brought her balled fists up to her chest, mimicking what she saw on TV in her other life, her real life. As she scrunched her eyes to focus and took a step toward the beasts, a dim shimmer caught her attention from the corner of her eye.

Daring to break eye contact, Gabrielle glanced to the side, where a mere arm’s length from her—sitting upon the ground as though it had been there all along—was an old stick. It reminded Gabrielle of a club or walking stick of sorts, with a slightly tapered handle and a large knob at the end. The weapon laid motionless right at her side. Did that just fall from the sky, or has this been here the whole time?

She brought her focus back to the hounds and to her surprise; they noticed the weapon as well. Another low grumble erupted from the pack as they all began to growl. In this moment, only one thought filled the crevasses of her mind.

FIGHT!

With every bit of vehement power she had, Gabrielle threw herself to her knees and pawed at the weapon. Without a moment to spare, she brought the club upward and connected it with the dog closest to her. As the leader of the pack charged at her, jaws agape and front paws outstretched, the root-ball end smashed into its powerful bottom jaw, sending the beast cascading over her and colliding with the wall behind her.

Gabrielle’s jaw dropped open as she admired the feat.

“Holy crap, I’m a badass!” Brining herself back to the task at hand, she rose to face the rest of the beasts.

The stick in her hand and the bracelet on her wrist began to glow simultaneously, and Gabrielle took a second to wonder what was going on before a snarl brought her back to reality.

The initial charge had ceased as the animals grouped up and began to swarm around Gabrielle, enclosing her in a circle of rotting teeth and mangy fur. The alpha rose on his back paws, and shook its mighty head. It seemed dazed, which pleased Gabrielle because she knew she had given him a proper ‘what-for’. The others were looking to him for instruction as he brought his deadly gaze back to Gabrielle, and slowly began to circle her.

“Uh oh.”

_CLICK. _

She spun around and brought the stick down on the top of a hound’s head that was attempting to surprise her. With a mighty yelp, the decaying creature retreated back to the safety of its group.

Their growls of rage thundered through her as they all began to pace around her from all sides. Glancing from side to side, Gabrielle realized they could attack her from any angle.

“Come on,” Gabrielle willed her tired limbs. “Do something! Get us out of here.”

As her fears were realized, two hounds rushed at her from opposing sides, and while she was able to thwart the beast in front of her, the one behind her managed to bring its powerful teeth down on the base of her neck, shredding a large chunk from the fabric of her dress and knocking her onto the floor.

Gabrielle let out a shriek of pain as her hands flew back to feel the bite. She clenched her jaw and gritted her teeth as the pain pulsated from her neck and down her spine. She pulled her hand away and saw it covered in sticky red blood.

“NO! This isn’t where it ends,” she spat through her teeth as she slowly pushed herself up.

Pausing on her knees, Gabrielle could feel bits of gravel digging into her legs and she began to wildly swing the stick at the hounds as they advanced.

She attempted to stand as another hound jumped over her head, his rear paws made contact with the top of her head and she fell once more. The animals were gnashing their fangs and snarling in a grand applause as Gabrielle fought to stand with every fiber of strength she had.

Feeling light headed from the impact, she raised the club in preparation for the next attack. As she stood, the animals arranged themselves into a half-crescent ahead of her, with the alpha in the center.

Gabrielle stared into their fiendish eyes, waiting for the moment to come. She watched as slobber dripped from the alpha’s snarling mouth and formed a small puddle beneath his twisted jaw.

The alpha hound stepped forward from the ranks and closed some of the gap between him and Gabrielle. His yellow teeth illustrated a smile in the dark light, as if he knew the moment of victory was upon them. A single tear formed in the corner of her eye as she prepared for one final swing.

In that moment, the monster leaned down and lunged at Gabrielle. Sharp teeth buried themselves in her leg and she arched her back and screamed out in pain.

With this, the rest of the pack followed suit. Gabrielle found herself encircled by darkness as claws ripped into her arms, legs and back. All she could do was protect her head and chest and wait for her death.

Time seemed to freeze, capturing her last moments in a still frame. Gabrielle thought of her journey this far and wondered what the point was. She was almost angry that—once more—her life would end in tragedy. Was she doomed to continue to die over and over again? Is this hell? Gabrielle thought as reality rushed back around her.

A break in the darkness, reminded her that she was still alive. A mighty yelp filled the alley, as more light replaced her surrounding darkness. A scream that was not human, but animal. The hounds. The hounds were screaming in pain.

As her eyes adjusted, she saw she was not alone in the alley, for another person now fought in her stead. A man with a large blacksmithing hammer in each hand was pulling the beasts off of her one by one. He brought the hammers down mercilessly upon the vicious hounds as she struggled to stand.

They lunged and ran from all angles, yet the man moved eloquently in the dark. Gabrielle stood and watched his dance of death as he evaded and struck. Her whole body ached and her dress was stained with blood from where she was bitten and clawed, but she couldn’t stop watching.

He brought his attention to the alpha as another, smaller hound appeared from his side and sank its fangs into her victor’s thigh. He let out a loud cry and the beast sank its fangs deeper.

Gabrielle, without a notion of self-concern, lunged and brought her weapon onto the hips of the animal. A loud crunch was heard and she knew she hit her mark.

It released the man just as the alpha lunged at him. He dropped his hammers and grabbed the monster by the throat and the two fell to the floor, him choking the animal while it snapped at his face, covering him in saliva and rot.

Once more, Gabrielle brought her club down upon the head of the monster. It fell motionless upon the stranger and he threw it aside as if it were a sack of potatoes. The hounds began to collect themselves, and her new companion brought himself to his feet.

“RUN!” he yelled, motioning down the passageway to a sliver of light from an open doorway.

Gabrielle threw his arm around her shoulders and dropped the club. Then, with all their might, the two forced their feet to carry them toward the salvation that was the yellow light from the open door. She dared not to look behind them as she knew by the sounds of snarling and snapping that the hounds were right on their tail. She could feel the heat from their breath on her ankles and she pumped her legs harder to avoid being bitten.

Without a moment to spare, the two injured heroes were at the open door. Gabrielle threw the man into the opening before turning to close the door behind them. As she pushed the door closed, one of the hounds managed to get his large head into the gaping doorway and brought his fangs down upon her arms.

She screamed in pain as she tried to keep the door from opening while fending off her attacker. Two hands appeared as the man had gotten to his feet and was bringing down one fist upon the hounds face, with the other pushing at the door.

She didn’t know why she thought to do so, but she released her supporting hand from the door and began to bring it down upon the face of her foe. With the first strike, her bracelet made contact with the hound directly above the eye. A searing noise sounded and the monster began to scream in such pain, that Gabrielle thought she would let go of door to cover her ears.

She looked at the bangle and saw it was almost glowing white, and the heat was burning the beast down to the bone. With a howl of defeat, it released Gabrielle and withdrew its head from the doorway.

The two slammed the door and fell backwards upon the wooden floor in exhaustion. Gabrielle heard the sickening sound of a pack of dogs howling in defeat on the other side of the door. They cried for a few moments before the sounds ceased and they seemingly disappeared.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and took quick, shallows breaths as she thought she may pass out from the exhaustion and adrenaline that coursed through her body. She opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling, and then around the room.

It appeared as though they had fallen into a hallway, but she could not be certain. Gabrielle looked down at her new wound, which was bleeding heavily and a dizzying sensation took over her head.

Gabrielle let her arm fall back to the ground as she began to lose focus of the room around her. The adrenalin wearing off, she could no longer manage to hold her head upright and things began to fade away. Her whole body pulsated with pain as she felt herself slipping away. With all she had left, Gabrielle turned her head to look at her male companion that had come to her rescue.[_ _]

His chest rose and fell as he lay motionless on the floor next to her. From what she could discern, he was roughly her age. His face was smooth and he had slightly tossed brown hair. By the looks of it, he was just as exhausted as she. His shirt had a large tear in it—likely from teeth—and his left hand was bleeding.

She looked to him for a moment before he stirred. His eyes fluttered behind the lids as he fought to open them. She resisted the urge to fall away until he opened his eyes. Slowly, the man turned his head to face Gabrielle. His lavender eyes danced with delight as he looked deep into hers. He gave an awkward side smile when he saw hers looking back at him.

Morrigan?

Unable to keep her eyes open any longer Gabrielle shut her eyes and drifted away to darkness.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

 

Within the darkness, there were but flashes and rumbles to guide Gabrielle. Flashes of a young boy with lavender eyes sitting in a cell. She reached out her hand and was confronted when he intertwined their fingers. Everything is going to be fine Gabrielle…

She was lost in a sea of nothingness once again. As she swirled into the darkness, a whisper crept into her consciousness: Speak not of the journey of which you travel, for the consequences will be dear…

Gabrielle jolted upright in a cold sweat, prepared for the fight of her life. Her hands clenched into fists, she sat on a bed in a room she had never seen before, and she was alone. Within an instant, the memory of the events that had just transpired flushed through her mind. The hounds. The fight. Morrigan.

Gabrielle shifted herself so she could better examine the room she was in. A small sigh crept out of her mouth as she realized this was not the first time she had woken up in a strange house, in a strange bed.

The bed was soft, and Gabrielle sank deeply into the matting as she turned, making her unbalanced. She threw her left hand outward to brace herself on the bedpost. Gabrielle paused, staring at her arm in awe. The lack of damage confused her. She had seen the bite, felt the pain, observed the blood—yet she now stared at her arm that had barely more than a scratch. This could not be possible. In excited panic, she checked her legs. No scratches or bites there either.

A distant clamor brought her attention back to the room. She seemed to be in a bed chamber. It was modest, with an armoire adjacent to the bed, and a fireplace directly across from her with a humble fire crackling within.

A small silver cauldron on a short table next to the fire caught her attention. It was adorned with etchings similar to those on her bracelet, with tiny colorful stones inlaid in the markings. She pondered upon the cauldron for a moment when suddenly, and for an unknown reason, a sense of fear ran over her. Gabrielle nervously brought a hand to the wrist she wore the bracelet on—and found it bare.

Panic consumed her as she realized she was no longer wearing her gift, the one thing that gave her power in this world where she did not belong. Frantic, she jerked her body up from the bed and began to look about the chambers in a desperate hope to locate her piece. [_Was it lost to the hounds? Is it lying within the darkness, cold and on the ground? _]

Her eyes desperately searched every corner of the room and she let out a loud sigh of relief when she saw it on a small table between the bed and the door. Gabrielle ran to the table, but when she reached for her bangle she paused.

She thought back to the fight in the doorway and the seared flesh of her attacker. The bracelet had turned white-hot and burned the animal nearly to the bone. Would it do the same to her when she touched it?

Gabrielle looked at her wrist and found no sign of burns. Surely, if she had not been burned at that time, then it would not burn her now. Like a cat reaching for a fish in a pond she reached out her hand, paused for a moment, then pawed at the bangle.

Finding that it was cool to the touch, Gabrielle delicately placed it back on its home wrapped around her wrist. The cold metal began to warm as she clutched it, a sensation that strangely comforted her, as if everything was right in the world.

She sighed with relief knowing that the mysterious artifact was now home. Gabrielle was forced out of her wandering mind when the door to the chamber flew open and a man came rushing inward with a pile of clothing draped over his arms. She found that she was hidden behind the door, and she remained there so that she could assess the situation.

The man dropped the clothing to the floor and walked over to the bed, seemingly without too much worry. It was as if he expected the bed to be empty, yet was intrigued by the fact that it had recently been used. Gabrielle’s thoughts flickered briefly to the fable of “Goldilocks”, one of her favorite fairy tales. She toyed with the idea that his thoughts might have been, “Who has been sleeping in my bed?”

She observed the man in silence as he looked down at the vacant cot. He was relatively tall—slightly taller than her, and she was taller than a majority of those who lived in the palace. His broad shoulders and muscular physique reminded her of Fionn and she suddenly realized why Heather had enjoyed looking at him so much.

“I’m very glad that you are doing better. I was worried for a moment as to how bad your injuries were.”

Gabrielle remained silent, then realizing that she had been caught, emerged from behind the door. Her face was flushed and warmed from the embarrassment of trying to hide behind an open door.

As she stepped into the light of the fire and towards the center of the room, the man turned to face her. Her eyes immediately found the lavender glow staring back at her. It was Morrigan. It had to be, how many people in this world have purple eyes? He returned the gaze and smiled widely. At the sight of a familiar face, a sense of joy overtook her and she returned the smile in kind. Morrigan motioned his hand to the bed.

“Please sit,” he began. The broad man’s face suddenly began to redden, “ummm…I do apologize for not having a proper place for you to sit, this is all that I have for the time being.” Morrigan glanced at the floor for a moment before regaining his composure and sitting at the edge of the bed.

Nothing told her that she could trust him, but she saw no reason not to. She knew of him and Alexandra briefly mentioned that there were others on similar journeys. The last—and only—time she met Morrigan, they only shared a few words locked in a prison cell, awaiting their fate. She was still so new to this journey, but she remembered his lavender eyes and how kind they seemed.

Gabrielle was overcome with an urge to speak to him about what was happening. To ask him what his life was like, how he ended up on this journey, where he was from—but a sense of sadness crept into her mind when she remembered Alexandra’s final warning. She was not to speak to anyone about what she was doing—and she knew she could never break this rule. Does that rule really apply to Morrigan? Gabrielle decided she would rather not risk it.

She took a timid step towards the bed and remained silent, despite all of the raging questions within her that tempted and caused her anticipation.

“It’s OK Gabrielle, I won’t hurt you.” Morrigan’s soft lavender eyes brought warmth into her heart that she had never felt before. She trusted him with every fiber of her being, but she knew that she had to continue on as if she didn’t recognize him. As if she hadn’t felt that their stories—their souls—were linked.

With a gentle sigh, and her mind awhirl, Gabrielle made her way over to the cot and sat beside Morrigan. She ran her eyes up and down him in amazement. He had changed quite a bit since their last encounter—he looked nothing like the small boy that had come to her in the dungeon all of those years ago. Then again, she didn’t quite look like the little girl that had run through the fields with Heather back then either.

Gabrielle let her eyes move over his smooth olive skin and defined facial features. As her eyes wandered, she saw a sliver of a chain escape his blouse in the flickering light. [That must be his key. _]She wasn’t sure how she knew it, but the silver medallion that hung from Morrigan’s neck was to him what her bracelet was to her; the key to entering the lives of others.[ _]

She, realizing that she had lingered too long on the man’s chest, brought her eyes back up to his face and settled into his lavender eyes once more. She was amazed that in spite of all of the changes, Morrigan maintained his uniquely beautiful eyes.

Gabrielle thought back to something her mother once told her as they prepared for her father’s birthday. “A person’s eyes are the gateway to their soul.” This must be why his eyes had not changed, for though they were now different people living different lives, their souls are still their own.

“Thank you for helping me. Are you alright?” she asked, looking down at the floor when she realized that she sat too close to him and was almost touching him. It appeared as though Morrigan had changed his clothing, and with a new pair of slacks, she could not see his injury beneath the pant leg. She remembered that he was not favoring either leg in particular when he entered. Perhaps his injury was not as severe as it had appeared in the dark.

“I am fine. Thank you for your concern. Are you alright? You took quite the bite there at the end.” Morrigan gestured to her arm where the hound had sunk in its teeth.

“I’m glad that I could help. Who knows what might have happened if I hadn’t come along and saved you when I did…?” Morrigan said, as he reached out and began to inspect Gabrielle’s arm. He smiled as he saw how it healed.

Gabrielle was filled with an overwhelming feeling of anger and she jerked her arm out of his grasp. “You’re lucky I was able to get the beasts off of you before they really did some damage,” Morrigan continued on, unfazed by Gabrielle’s sudden change in temper. “I’m Morrigan, by the way. Pleased to meet you. Though I wish it was under more pleasant circumstances.”

She had so many questions that needed answering, but she had to contain herself so that she didn’t ask the wrong ones for fear of the outcome. She could guess that Alexandra had told him of her, which would explain why he seemed so comfortable speaking with her. Deciding to play the part, she did not hesitate and told him her name in similar fashion.

“My name is Gabrielle. It’s nice to meet you as well. It’s not that I am ungrateful, but if I do recall correctly, I saved you just as much as you saved me.” She paused for a reply. When none came, Gabrielle continued on. “Where exactly am I and how did you come to find me in that alley anyway?”

Morrigan smiled and sat in silence for a moment, as though she had just asked him to explain a joke. For a moment the two looked at one another, until finally Morrigan spoke as though reading from a script.

“Well, Gabrielle, you are in my home. My room, more so. I live above a tavern and tend to the comings and goings therein. I found you in the alleyway when dumping a bucket of water. It was fortunate that I had done so when I did or I would have been unable to save you. What is it, exactly, that you were doing back there?”

Gabrielle was quick to respond, as Morrigan’s constant references of rescuing her had begun to wear on her patience.

“Well, I was traveling with two friends of mine, Hilde and Claudie, to a gala when we were separated. I turned down the alley in order to find them. The next moment, I was being chased. Then there was a man in a robe, and then the dogs. While I am ever-so grateful for your help, I feel that you misunderstand me. It did seem that had it not been for me, you would have suffered a similar fate. So thank you, but in turn, you are welcome.” Morrigan smiled widely and began to laugh. He stood, walked over to the fire and then turned back to Gabrielle.

“I must say that you are correct. So thank you, in turn.” Morrigan was sincere though she could tell that he hated to admit it.

“I wonder where those beasts came from. I have never seen such animals in the village as long as I can remember.” Morrigan began to pace and Gabrielle could feel his energy charging the air around her. “What of this man that you speak of? I saw not another soul in the alley when I came to you. I do hope that no harm came to an innocent person at the clutches of those beasts…” Morrigan fell silent.

The fire crackled in the silence for a moment before he continued. “Ah, but I am rambling and being quite rude, indeed. I apologize for that. Fortuitously, it would seem that fate has governed our meeting, Gabrielle.” With this statement, there was almost an implied, ironic cough and smile. Gabrielle let an airy scoff escape her lips and smiled in reply. This was a precarious situation and proved more awkward as the two continued.

“How so?” She asked.

“Well, it just so happens that there is quite the gala going on in the tavern as we speak. If I were to wager a guess, I would say that your friends are below us at this very moment. I am unaware of any other such functions in the village this evening. If you would like to take a moment to prepare yourself, I would love nothing more than to accompany you to the event.”

Gabrielle was left stunned. After being attacked by ravenous demon dogs, being sort of rescued by a striking man who also seemed to be the only one that held any answers to the millions of questions that swirled around in her head, the last thing she thought would happen was to be asked to a dance.

“I am not sure that I’m in any circumstance to be attending a dance. My dress has been mangled and I am currently quite a mess. Perhaps it is best that I make my way home,” Gabrielle suggested. She did not entirely wanting to leave without getting some answers to her questions, but she was in no condition to be involved in a crowd of strangers.

Morrigan once more smiled widely, as though Gabrielle were the punchline of a joke. With a slight chuckle, he made his way to the pile of clothing that still sat in the middle of the floor and scooped them up. He promptly walked over to Gabrielle and presented them to her, as if he were a cat proudly bringing its prey to his owner.

“I think that you may find these to your liking. It was all that I could manage to find. Luckily I think this is something that you could easily wear to the gala downstairs.”

Gabrielle took the clothing in her hands and stood, allowing the fabric to cascade down to the floor while maintaining her grip on the shoulders. What Morrigan had given her was, indeed, another gown. Gabrielle’s eyes danced over the beautiful cream fabric and the emerald inlay of vines. It reminded her of the sandstone buildings of her home and the vines fighting for the sky along their sides. Her eyes moved over the designs and she had the uncontrollable urge to smile.

She looked to Morrigan, who still stood motionless before her, with a proud smile on his face. Their eyes met, and in that moment a burdening sadness mixed with embarrassment embraced her soul. Morrigan was handling the evening with more control and grace than she could ever imagine.

He seemed well adjusted, as though he had lived this life all along. He acted like this was his home life and perhaps she was merely visiting. Yet, if she remembered correctly, he had stood with similar confidence in their previous encounter as well.

Gabrielle always thought of herself as brave; as adventurous and capable of handling any situation, yet here she was practically weeping for her mommy and daddy. Questions filled her mind as she tore through her conscious thoughts to find answers to questions she was forbidden to ask.

Though she first met Morrigan as a very young child and now as a young man similar to her age, Gabrielle wondered exactly how old Morrigan was in his ‘real’ life. She also wondered how long he had been on this journey. Gabrielle knew from speaking with Alexandra that they would be here until the tale was told, but that could be different for each of them. How long was his story? These thoughts raced through her mind until she was broken free by a distantly familiar sound.

CLICK.

Gabrielle’s world came back into focus and she looked to Morrigan, wondering if he could hear it too. He still stood there staring back at her. He had not moved and she wondered how long she had been gone in thought. She drew her eyes to her bangle as it had begun to warm. Morrigan broke the silence and caught her attention once more.

“I see that you found your jewelry. I removed it while tending to your wounds. It is a fantastic piece and I was briefly worried that the dog may have mangled it.” He continued on apparently unaware of what was going on, “I was happy to see that your wounds are not as bad as I thought. I used an old family potion that my mother taught me, long ago…” Motioning to the old silver cauldron, Morrigan fell away for a moment.

Gabrielle found herself wondering what he was remembering, what memories lie deep within his mind. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Morrigan was back on topic as if nothing had happened. “Still, I had not expected to see them heal so quickly. You are a very lucky girl Gabrielle.”

She ran her hands over her arms, feeling her skin healthy and without pain. Not only were the wounds from the animals gone, but so were those from Madame Toinette.

Gabrielle knew that traveling through time at the behest of what she could only describe as a spirit, bound by a bracelet and chased by monsters was not something that took place regularly in what some might call a normal realm of possibilities. Yet, with the introduction of the man from the alley, Morrigan and a “potion” she began to feel as though she were in one of her father’s fantasy tales.

Furthermore, being in the presence of Morrigan but unable to speak candidly was very frustrating. He seemed to have no emotions at all, as if this really was his life…maybe he isn’t the fellow traveler that she had thought him to be.

Gabrielle was shocked back to reality by a dull roar coming from outside. It was probably from the gala taking place below them, but the nervous feeling that the demon dogs would come back wouldn’t leave her. The sound seemed to remind Morrigan of what he was doing. He turned and headed toward the door.

“Well, I will give you a moment to dress. I think that your friends must be wondering what has become of you. The gala is continuing onward so we best not keep them all waiting.” With a final wink, Morrigan was through the door and had closed it behind him, leaving Gabrielle alone with nothing but her gown, her thoughts, and the crackling of the fire.

She let the silence and static murmurs below her envelope her for a moment. She slowly closed her eyes and thought of nothing.

Gabrielle cracked one eye open and let the light trickle in and bring her back to the world. She still stood alone in Morrigan’s chamber, holding the beautiful dress that he had given her.

“Nope, still not a dream.” And with that Gabrielle began to dress.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

 

Gabrielle was overcome with a shocking sense of renewal once she had adorned herself with the new outfit. Something about this dress breathed a new life into her and she found herself excited to join the gala.

No sooner had she finished dressing when there was a faint rap upon the door. Morrigan called through and requested to enter. She permitted and he timidly opened the chamber door. He appeared to have addressed his disheveled hair, which now laid flat and smoothed out atop his head. He stood in the doorway and looked to Gabrielle, a wide grin pushing its way past his cheeks. His smile made her feel weak and she awkwardly ginned back at him.

“You look beautiful, Gabrielle. I knew that those robes would do you kindly. I hope that they are to your liking.”

“They are wonderful. Thank you for your kindness.” Gabrielle stood proud at the compliment.

This was a sensation that she was not accustomed to. She never liked the notion of being dressed in such a manner, tending to generally prefer a more casual look and comfort level. However, as she stood in this moment, she was not the awkward and clumsy young girl she truly was, but the young woman that she was living as—and she was beautiful.

For a brief moment, Gabrielle though of Hilde and Claudie and wondered if this is what it was like to have suitors and admirers. The idea of being escorted to a dance by a handsome man sat well with her.

Morrigan pivoted and extended his arm to Gabrielle. “Well, shall we be off then?”

As ridiculous as it sounded to be off to a party after what had just transpired, Gabrielle nodded and walked to Morrigan. As she drew close to him, a familiar smell of earth and flowers entered her nose and made her nostalgic for a brief moment. His scent reminded her of running through the woods with Fionn and Heather, where she first laid eyes upon Morrigan. Gabrielle smiled at her handsome escort and walked past him to the hallway. Allowing Morrigan closed the door behind them.

The hallway was warm with the dancing light from candles and lanterns. Coupled with the wooden floor and furniture, it was a very comforting sensation. The smell of cedar and oil tickled Gabrielle’s nose as Morrigan took her by the arm and proceeded to lead her down the hallway.

The old floor creaked and groaned as they stepped in unison. Gabrielle squeezed Morrigan’s arm as she nearly stumbled over the fabric of her dress and he tightened his grip to keep her from falling. She was taken over by the sudden feeling that she had never been safer in her entire life, than she did with this lavender eyed stranger.

Gabrielle was not alone in this journey, for she had Morrigan and even though they couldn’t talk about it, she knew that he understood. No matter what transpired, she was not the only one to feel the pain, the enjoyment, or the devastating mystery of what they were experiencing.

The two reached the end of the hallway and Morrigan led Gabrielle around to the left where they arrived at the top of a staircase. The rumble of laughter and dancing drifted upwards and she realized the possible size of the event. It sounded as though there were hundreds of people below them dancing and having a good time. Simultaneously, the rich smell of decadent food and drink wafted into her nose.

“Perhaps once we join the festivities, a bit of food and drink may be in order,” Morrigan said as he gave Gabrielle a small wink.

She smiled and nodded in agreement as they made their way down the stairs and took another abrupt left turn down a long hallway. The hall had several small shelves adorned with candles illuminating the passage, but otherwise remained undecorated.

Gabrielle’s heart sank for a moment as she looked to the end of the hallway and saw the doorway to the alley. A chill ran through her body causing the little hairs on her arms to stand at attention and she reflexively brought her hand to her arm where she was bitten.

As they approached the doorway, Gabrielle began to rub her arm with more vigor, as if she could simply wish the fear away. She looked at the handle of the door and even at this distance, could make out several scratch marks.

With another jarring turn, Morrigan directed Gabrielle to the right just before the foyer to the door and down another hallway. Gabrielle let out a deep sigh and she realized she was not prepared for what they were about to do.

The rumbling of the voices became so loud that she could scarcely hear her own footsteps as they rounded a final corner and came to a stop at another door. Gabrielle looked up at Morrigan for a moment, wondering why they had stopped.

“Just as a bit of a warning, there are quite a lot of people present at this event.”

Gabrielle’s nerves began to bubble. “So what I will do is have you sit at a table that I have reserved off to the side while I attempt to locate your companions. This way you can avoid the crowds, as it were. Are you ready?”

Gabrielle nodded in agreement, not sure what to expect on the other side of the doorway. Without a moment to contemplate, Morrigan pressed the door open.

Gabrielle was taken aback at the sight before her. Never in a lifetime would she have guessed the massive amount of guests that attended this event. It was as though the entire village was packed into this small room. There were people of every sort dancing and parading about, food being carried, drinks being shared, and laughs being had. There were so many people, she wondered how anyone could even move in a crowd of this size.

A tightening sense began to take over Gabrielle’s chest, as if it were evicting the air in her lungs and replacing it with lead. A cool bead of sweat rolled down her forehead and onto the tip of her nose as she looked out at the massive crowd.

Just as if he sensed her concern, Morrigan pointed to a small table that sat opposite of them, across the room. Before Gabrielle could protest, he was pulling her towards the table through the crowd.

Leading ahead of her, Morrigan did well to part his guests and guide her through the masses. Gabrielle screwed her eyes shut and let her curiosity run wild as she tried to gather excerpts from conversations as she passed. The ambient noise and the loud thudding of her heart dulled all comprehensible speech to a continuous rumble. The smell of perfume, food, and cigar smoke saturated the air as every breath she took was a play upon her senses.

“If you would be so kind as to have a seat, I will return with some food and drink and, hopefully, your associates in tow. I will only be a few moments.” Gabrielle opened her eyes to see that Morrigan had pulled out her chair and was beckoning her to sit. She obliged and Morrigan disappeared into the crowd.

Gabrielle was alone at this small table. With a vacant chair across from her keeping her company, she surveyed the gathering of people. There were far fewer people on this side of the room and oxygen began to creep back into her lungs as she let her eyes dance across the crowd.

There was a small group of musicians serenading the festivities as people danced about. A woman off to her right was drunk off wine and hitting on a much younger man that seemed wholly disinterested. Two men across from her told jokes to a group of young women as they drank down their pints of beer, spilling more on themselves than actually drinking.

She smiled as she looked at all of the happy faces of the merry makers enjoying themselves and forgetting about their troubles. Gabrielle briefly envied their enjoyment, but the thought was short lived as she began giggling at a man who tripped over himself and landed face first on the floor.

A few minutes had passed with no sign of Morrigan, Claudie, or Hilde and Gabrielle considered braving the crowds to look for them herself. She squelched this notion as the tightening sensation began to creep back into her chest.

Just as she was beginning to relax, a change in the air made her pause in concern. A sudden chill spun around her. Though the room was still quite warm, the chill whispered passed by her like a bird swooping past its prey. Gabrielle found herself rubbing her bracelet as she felt it begin to warm.

The room was too noisy to hear the warning sound, but she had come to understand that when her bracelet changed temperature, it was trying to tell her something.

“This is quite the engagement, is it not?” a serpentine voice hissed near her.

Gabrielle froze in thought and slowly brought her gaze upwards to the crowd, expecting to see someone standing before her. The only thing she saw was the crowd of men and women dancing in enjoyment, but something caught her attention from the corner of her eye.

Gabrielle had ceased being alone at the table. A man had joined her in the vacant chair without her realizing it. Not knowing what to do or how to react to this stranger sitting next to her, she continued to look down at her bangle as though nothing had happened.

“It has been quite some time since I have seen a festival such as this. So many people, and all so blissfully happy. It could warm a person’s heart,” the man continued, though he did not turn to address Gabrielle directly.

Instead, his gaze was focused upon the crowd. An unceasing discomfort caused gooseflesh to appear on Gabrielle’s arms. She did not intend on meeting his eyes and hoped that either her friends would come soon, or that the man would become disinterested in her and leave. A sour smell, like that of rotting garbage crept into Gabrielle’s nose, making it wrinkle in discomfort.

“This is quite the adventure that you’re on, is it not, Gabrielle?”

With that singular phrase, the world fell away. It was like someone had put the room on mute and all that remained was this man that sat beside her. She didn’t know who he was, but somehow he knew her.

The room that was once hot from sticky body heat, was now frozen and for a moment she swore she could see her own breath emanating before her. With the will of someone being forced to acknowledge something, she slowly turned her head to look at the man who knew her name.

To her surprise, he was exceedingly well dressed. Even for an event such as this, he wore a suit and hat that were such a deep black that they almost seemed to absorb the light immediately around them. His hair was long, silken, and pure white.

White hair…

She knew this man. This was the dark figure with white hair that appeared in her nightmares, the white haired figure that the girl had warned her about in the gardens. This was Arawn.

She stared at him with the intensity and regret of someone watching their loved ones pass. He did not look at her.

“I hope that my pets were not too frightening. They can become so excited at times. I just can’t seem to contain them, especially the big one. He’s always adamant about pleasing me.” The man continued, now with a wicked smile stabbing across his porcelain face.

Gabrielle’s face was feverish and she thought that she may throw up as she continued to sit in silence. Her bracelet grew hotter, yet she didn’t know what she should do. The room continued to thrive and live about her, yet no sound could be heard. After waiting in silence as long as she could, and allowing endless questions to bubble up from deep within her gut, she finally gathered her strength to interject.

“How do you know my name?” Gabrielle’s voice quivered as she tried to speak.

“Who are you? Why are you trying to hurt me? What did I ever do to you?” Finding her confidence, Gabrielle let the barrage of questions seep out of her open mouth as if she couldn’t stop them. The more that she spoke, the more she grew infuriated — and terrified — of the man before her.

He said nothing, only merely turned to face her. Gabrielle sat back in her chair as his eyes met hers. They were crimson, just as the man’s in the alleyway, and the monsters that attacked her. Just like the little girl in the garden had warned her about.

The man stared at her in silence, his eyes tearing through her as if trying desperately to reach her soul. He was handsome, in spite of his wicked eyes and sly smile. His face displayed perfect symmetry and Gabrielle noted his dashing, yet macabre, appearance.

“You demand quite a bit of resolve for someone in a predicament such as yours. I heard the whispers of your meddling and when I saw that it was gone, I knew it had to be true. Of course she would send you. Such an inquisitive and hindering spirit, she is.” He rambled onward, providing Gabrielle with more questions than answers.

She grew increasingly frustrated with this stranger that seemed to know more about her journey than she did, though she held her stature.

“I suppose I will play to your inquiries for the moment, as there is little else to be done. To your first question, it is not how I know you, but rather how could I not. A Sentient in the world of the Lamented is not an everyday occurrence. I could smell you centuries ago, my dear. As to the hounds, I use them to acquire [_things _]that I desire. You merely have something of mine and I would like it back. Didn’t your mommy and daddy ever tell you it isn’t nice to steel?”

Gabrielle’s mind was muddled with confusion. [_What did it all mean? _]She thought back to her encounter with the man in the alley.

What had he said?

“Arawn” Gabrielle confirmed to herself.

The man shifted in his seat and his grin widened to a horrendous smile revealing two rows of razor-like fangs.

“Splendid,” he continued “So you did receive my message. Now that I know of you, and you are aware of me, we shall speak in a more candid nature.

“I am the keeper of the past, decider of the present, and ruler of the world in which you meddle. Venture forth no more or it will be at your peril, girl. I have no intentions on playing any games with you. I have already lost several Lamented in this foolishness and so help your souls should I lose any more. This need not be your fight, but should you so choose, I will make certain that it is the most horrible experience that has ever existed in your pretty. Little. Human. Head.” Arawn punctuated his threat by tapping out each word on the wooden table with one long finger.

His statement ran like a cold dagger through Gabrielle’s heart. She didn’t know who the “Lamented” were, how he lost them, or what that even meant. Why did he call her “Sentient”? How could she not continue forward? Alexandra said that there is no turning back. What fight was taking place? Hundreds of questions swirled around her head and she merely continued to stare blankly at Arawn.

“I’m not sure what you mean by any of your statements. I think that there has been a misunderstanding. I think that you have mistaken me for someone else.” Gabrielle chose her words wisely, as she didn’t know how to handle this situation.

Alexandra had warned her to not speak of her adventure to a soul, yet this man, Arawn, seemed to do so without pause or concern. This rule either had no effect on him, or he was ignorant to the fact.

“You play me for a fool girl!” He spat, slamming his balled fist into the table. “Know that what you do will have grave consequence. I command you to cease now, or pay the toll of my beasts!” With that final threat, Arawn stood from his chair and towered over Gabrielle, making her feel like the small, helpless little girl that lived within.

She withdrew in her seat. Unsure of what Arawn was going to do next, Gabrielle kept her eyes focused on the detailing in her dress.

“What seems to be the quarrel here, Gabrielle?” Morrigan demanded as he finally arrived.

He approached the table, his chest puffed up like a bird proving his dominancy. His lavender eyes were burning with ferocity as he looked to Arawn. Arawn turned to face him with a frustrated and infuriated look upon his face.

“You! I knew that the ring leader of this mess would not be far. You cannot even conceive who you meddle with! I will not be played a fool, nor will I have you defiling my kingdom, taking what is not yours! This will end with the two of you now, or I shall end it soon!” Arawn exclaimed, taking a step toward Morrigan, who did not falter from his stance.

“This is my home Arawn! I shall not have you tearing about it and causing disturbance. You will let this girl be and leave from here, either by your own accord, or I will see to it personally!” Morrigan countered as he closed the distance by taking a step toward Arawn.

Morrigan was challenging him to advance his next maneuver, but he did not do so. Arawn merely stood, unshaken yet nonreactive. He looked at Morrigan blankly, as though he were absorbing him where he stood. Then, with a final warning, Arawn turned to Gabrielle.

“You have been warned. Yet you still chose your path. You will regret your trespasses here, girl. I will see to it. I will ensure the both of you regret what has transpired.” Arawn smiled another toothy grin before abruptly turning and walking away.

It was in that moment that the world came screaming back to life all around Gabrielle. She immediately stood in fright as the loud noise and life of the gala sprang back. Before she could say another word to Morrigan, he gave her an apologetic look and then was off through the crowd after Arawn.

Gabrielle began to give chase when her arms were grabbed and she was spun around. Claudie and Hilde stood behind her, arms out for embrace, yet with faces of frustration. She was immediately overwhelmed by their presence as they assailed her with question, talking over each other and making her head spin.

“What has happened with you?” Claudie demanded, hugging her and then passing her to Hilde. “One moment you were directly behind us and the next…”

“You were gone! Where did you get this gown? This is beautiful!” Hilde interrupted, running her hands down Gabrielle’s arms and spinning her to get a better look.

Gabrielle was overwhelmed with all of the questions and she began to feel sick to her stomach. She did not care for this attention one bit.

“Oi! There you are! These two would not stop going on and on about you. I told them that you would be alright, but they wouldn’t let it rest until they set eyes on you themselves,” boomed Brenton as he thundered through the crowd accompanied by another, gangly man who Gabrielle had never seen before.

Brenton threw his arms around Hilde and pulled her close, kissing her on the top of the head. Hilde smiled, but cast his arms aside as he threatened to disturb her perfect hair.

“Louis, this is the wonderful young lady that I was telling you about. Does she not look just like Dauphine Antoinette herself?” Brenton looked at Gabrielle and winked while knocking Louis in the chest, nearly shoving his frail body to the floor. Though Gabrielle had never experienced this before, she knew exactly what Brenton was up to and was not fond in the slightest. She forced a smile to Brenton, but further ignored his friend; out of sheer embarrassment at the situation. She felt awful for intentionally being rude, but she was in no place to be gawked at right now.

Fortunately for Gabrielle, Hilde and Claudie seemed quite capable of reading her face, as they turned their focus to Brenton.

“Now you leave her be, you! Gabrielle has only just arrived!” Claudie hissed at Brenton, making him laugh.

“Yes, it is time for some food and drink. Gabrielle you look starved. Come, we will get you some food for your soul and we will make merry for the rest of the eve!” Hilde chimed, intertwining their arms, with Claudie following suite on the opposing side.

Being so close to her friends, Gabrielle had a strong suspicion that they had already begun the festivities as she got a waft of the sweet smell of alcohol. With a mighty press, and unsure if they were guiding her or using her to keep steady, they drove Gabrielle right through the crowd with Brenton in tow.

Together, the foursome spent their evening dancing, eating, and laughing. While what had taken place with Arawn and Morrigan played through Gabrielle’s mind, the gala was contagious and soon she found herself putting the event behind her.

Gabrielle could not help but enjoy the evening with the others. The music, laughter, and all of the celebrating was hypnotizing. As she swayed on the dance floor with Hilde to her right, Claudie to her left and her stomach full of mead, Gabrielle found herself scanning the crowd, waiting for Morrigan’s return.

Although she did not see him again for the remainder of the evening, she never stopped looking across the sea of drunken dancers for the person (dare she say friend?) that saved her twice in one night.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

 

Just as the party had concluded in a blur of faces, dancing and laughter; the subsequent weeks that followed went by in a similar fashion. A lot had been implanted in Gabrielle’s mind, but Madame Toinette was particularly rough on her since the incident in the kitchen the night of the gala and she scarcely had time to consider all that she had learned.

Although Renée kept an eye on her daughter, Madame’s terror over Gabrielle and the others hardly seemed to quell.

She had not seen Morrigan since the night of the party, and the need to have some of her questions answered was pulling at her from deep within her gut. She would even settle for another meeting with Arawn if it meant that she would finally understand what was going on around her.

It was the waiting that tore at her spirit. Mundane chores and daily tasks did nothing to dull the torture that was her curiosity and unanswered enigmas. There were only the endless inquiries in her head and no one to discuss them with.

Gabrielle found herself once again sitting alone on her bed in the sleeping quarters pondering over the questions that endlessly taunted her. She jumped to attention as the door swung open and smacked against the wall.

“Oh it’s just you Claudie! You scared the life out of me. I thought you were Madame Toinette coming to scold me again for the tiniest of things.” Gabrielle lowered herself back onto the bed, her ears still ringing from the echo that bounced off the stone walls.

“Come on Gabrielle, Hilde, Brenton and I are going to go pick fruit in the back garden. You need to get out of the sleeping quarters, you’re becoming as pale as a specter cooped up all day like this!” Gabrielle let her body flop down on the little bed and let out a sigh that completely depleted her lungs of oxygen.

“You go on without me. I have some things to figure out.”

Gabrielle could see the disappointment in Claudie’s eyes. Though she was regularly surrounded by many friends, she had never felt so alone in her own skin. She desperately wanted to tell her friend what happened at the gala and all she learned, but what would she say?

[_Claudie, I’m a time traveler and that guy that I met that night…he is also a time traveler and Arawn is some sort of creepy evil guy but I don’t really know what his deal is. Plus he has these awful dogs…terrifying beasts! _]

Gabrielle swallowed the pool of saliva that had collected in her mouth and said the only thing she could think of. “I met someone at the gala and…well…he hasn’t come to see me since.”

At this Claudie threw herself onto Gabrielle, grabbing her face and scrunching her lips together so that they looked like a fish.

“Oh Gabrielle! I had no idea! What a bastard! When I get back tonight you need to tell me all about it!”

Gabrielle could see a small patch of freckles on her nose brought out by the French sunshine. She pushed herself up to a sitting position, assuring her friend that she was fine and that they would speak later tonight. Before she even knew what was happening, the door to her sleeping quarters slammed shut and she was left alone again with her thoughts.

Why did I say that? Now I’m going to have to deal with their inquisitions for weeks! Stupid, Gabrielle, so stupid!

As she sat in the quiet wondering how she was going to get out of this one, thoughts of that night began to, once again, claw their way back into her mind.

The world felt cold as she grew increasingly frustrated with her inability to discern what was happening. She even began to feel anger towards Alexandra. How could she allow Gabrielle to embark on this adventure without warning her of the dangers? How could Alexandra not mention the enemies that would arise and what that would mean for her and Morrigan?

Gabrielle found herself again wishing that she could have just one more chance to speak with Morrigan and try to figure out just who, or what, Arawn was and what he was speaking about that night at the gala.

Her thoughts began to feel more and more dark as the feeling of defeat filled her. At some point, she eventually laid back onto her cot and let herself be lost in the nothingness that were her ever-circulating thoughts, though when that point was exactly, was lost to her.

She had a vague recollection of Hilde and Claudie bustling into the chamber after returning from the garden, though she didn’t quite recall what they said or did. Gabrielle would generally find herself ashamed to act in such a way, but rather than engage her friends in the inquiries that she knew they would be rife with, she merely rolled to her side and pretended to slumber, not wanting to bother with casual conversation.

How could she speak with anyone, as the one person that she want to converse with more than anything was well out of reach and had not contacted her sine the eve of the gala.

Eventually, her friends ceased their commotion and laid themselves down for rest. The night had gotten to be quite late and, as normal, the day would soon be upon them.

An ill sensation caused her insides to stir. Gabrielle took in a deep breath and used every ounce of energy to force herself to roll to her side and look around the dark room.

Deep in slumber, Gabrielle could hear the light breathing of her friends as they drifted into effortless sleep. She envied their ability to sleep soundlessly, without the fear of nightmares.

Gabrielle brought her eyes to the small window that sat across the chamber. The dark navy sky sparkled with stars, like fairies glistening in the distance. For a brief moment, she thought that she could see a shadow circling the sky in the dead of the night. Her heart quickened and the peaceful nothingness within the chamber was filled with the erratic pounding of her heart, as if it were desperately warning her of what was to come. Gabrielle shook her head—nothing had happened since that night. She pushed the fear away and rubbed her eyes.

As she laid in bed willing herself not to think about the hounds, the stir of thoughts grew to be too much for Gabrielle and she cast-aside her blanket and got up from bed.

She was overcome with the urge to leave. To just walk from the chambers and let her feet and fate dictate where she would go.

She threw on a robe over her bed attire, put on her slippers and progressed cautiously across the chamber to avoid waking her friends. If she were being honest with herself, she really just wanted to be left alone with her thoughts and concerns. She had no desire to engage in conversation, unless it was with Morrigan.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

With the tenderness of a child not wishing to stir their parents, Gabrielle slowly pushed the door open and slid into the hallway.

The dark was much more intense than she initially considered. She paused for a moment just outside of the doorway and let her eyes adjust to her surroundings.

As she stood motionless, Gabrielle listened for the sounds of others nearby to be sure that she wouldn’t be noticed. She was—they all were—forbidden to be out of their chambers at this hour. Especially considering that Gabrielle was intending on venturing into the palace proper, which was strictly forbidden.

As the black became grey and her vision restored to a limited but usable capacity, Gabrielle heard no sound and began her venture from the chamber hall to the kitchen. Once there, she paused again and stood in silence, reflexively casting nervous glances about the room.

Her heart sped up as she glanced into the dark corners, and a bead of sweat began to form at the crest of her hairline. Realizing that not even Jean-Paul would be up at this hour, she sighed and muttered “keep it together, girl…” under her breath. With a dramatized eye roll, intended only for herself, Gabrielle proceeded through the silent kitchen to the large glass doors that lead to the entrance of the great hall.

Gabrielle could feel her heart begin to pound again as she cautiously pushed the heavy door to the great hall open, took a step through the opening and flattened herself against the wall. This was quite risky on her part and that her punishment would likely be worse than anything Madame Toinette would issue, but something kept driving her forward.

The great hall had a table that stretched nearly the length of the room and was home to countless extravagant feasts. Gabrielle knew firsthand the frustrations of the people in the village below when it came to the extravagances of the royal family. Countless times she had witnessed feasts that exceeded any meal she had ever seen.

Royalty would line the table from end to end and yet only a portion of the prepared food would be eaten. Often much of it was cast out and wasted, a terrible thing in a time of such need. Extravagant decorations and tapestries lined the hall to further bathe those feasting in elegance.

Once confirming again that she was alone, Gabrielle began to make her way across the hall. The muffled slaps of her slippers echoed uncomfortably in the wide room and she passed as silently as she could across the great hall to the entrance of the main foyer.

The hall was essentially the furthest that Gabrielle had regularly been allowed to venture into the palace. There were other servants that ventured about the upper levels and private areas, but usually those were the older women that had “earned” the right to regularly be in the presence of the royal family.

Within what seemed like mere seconds, Gabrielle was at the massive entrance of the foyer that led to the other parts of the palace, including the main entrance and the stairs to the upper floors.

Portraits of fantastic people and animals as large as she was drew her gaze upwards as she stared in amazement. Gabrielle was reminded of Alexandra’s loft, with many great pictures and paintings scattered all about the walls, leaving little room for much else.

The moon stabbed its cool light through the massive windows and did a fair job at illuminating the foyer. This was a great improvement to the minimal light that she had in the great hall.

As if someone had pointed a finger at it, Gabrielle’s eyes found themselves looking at one painting in particular. As she had been spinning around to take in all of the beautiful artwork, one painting at the base of an awe-inspiring staircase seemed to beckon her over.

She forgot about being stealthy as the eyes of the painting stared through the light and into hers. Gabrielle found herself standing at arm’s length from the portrait, staring at the beautiful woman depicted.

The woman in the portrait had porcelain skin and icy blue eyes. Her rose-tinted cheeks drew Gabrielle’s eyes from pursed lips to her curled grey hair. She wore a gown that was a blended blue-grey and cascaded downward from her open neckline. Gabrielle reached out and ran her fingers across the painted canvas and felt the rough, cold texture of the paint at the base of the gown. She knew who this woman was, though she had yet to see her in person—she recognized her piercing eyes from one of her father’s textbooks.

A noise clattered in the distance that jarred Gabrielle from her thoughts. She turned and saw the light of a lamp shimmering down a hallway behind her. Someone was coming from the kitchen.

Panic set in as she turned on her heels and proceeded to do the only thing that made sense at the time. She ran. Gabrielle pushed herself forward, not caring about the slapping sounds that her traitorous feet made on the hard ground. She took the staircase two at a time to the next floor just as the light came around the corner and began to spill into the foyer.

Her night gown flew behind her as she tried her best not to stumble on the marble stairs. Now is not the time for clumsiness… she thought to herself as her knee began to give out.

Not only would she surely be seen, or worse even heard, but should she lose her footing completely it would be a painful descent back down the stairs. As Gabrielle reached the top of the staircase, she threw herself around a corner and out of sight from the lantern and its operator. She leaned against the wall, silently trying to catch her breath.

Gasping as quietly as possible, Gabrielle damned herself for leaving her room in the first place. She scratched at her forearms in phantom pains, as she remembered the last severe punishment that she had taken.

Sweat began to roll across her brow and she squeezed her eyes shut as she contemplated how stupid she had been. Gabrielle sat for a moment, eyes closed and willing the intruder to go away, as if she were a child hiding under the covers to avoid a monster.

Her hands rolled together and she felt the sweat accumulating in her palms. She rubbed her sweat-drenched hands across her bracelet furiously and was unable to tell if it was warm from her running or if it was trying to tell her something.

Though there was a possible danger present, her mind swam in excitement. The adrenaline pumped through her veins, a drug being fed right into her brain and as all of her senses heightened and stood on edge.

Gabrielle squeezed her eyes even harder, feeling her pulse pound through her whole body, and in that moment she heard the most excitingly horrifying sound.

CLICK.

Her eyes shot open and she saw that a faint light had begun to slowly creep its way up the staircase. Panicked, she acted on the only instinct she had at the moment. Run.

Gabrielle turned and ran down the hallway to her left. Before she made it very far she paused, slid off her obnoxiously loud slippers and tucked them away in a potted jonquil that sat upon a small round table. Gabrielle put one hand on the small hunk of polished wood to steady her as she stood. The uneven legs of the table caused it to tilt and she found herself smacking into the door to her right. The door gave a groan of disapproval and then pushed inward, causing Gabrielle to fall into unknown darkness.

Deciding that this was as good a hiding spot as any, she closed the door behind her. Pain radiated from her knee and elbow from the impact with the unforgiving floor. The rug that could have saved her from a harsh landing only served to worsen the fall as now her knee pulsated with pain from the rug burn.

Panting and leaning with one ear pressed against the rough wood of the door, Gabrielle forced her lips shut and tried to listen as closely as she possibly could to see if she had been followed.

Her eyes went to the small space under the doorway looking for any sign that the light followed her up the stairs. Nothing. She sighed with at the welcoming darkness.

Moving one shaky foot away from the doorway, Gabrielle screwed her eyes shut in anticipation of the inevitable creak that was to come. Hearing only the pounding of her own heart, she cracked one eye open and verified that there wasn’t an outline of feet from the opposite side of the doorway.

Relaxing in her solitude, Gabrielle leaned down to address her burning knee. With gritted teeth and hissed breath, she rubbed the cracked and bleeding skin as she damned the rug for not protecting her knee. Allowing her butt to rest on the cold ground below her, Gabrielle brought her frustration back to its rightful spot; herself.

Surely she was safe for the moment, but what about when she left to head back to her chamber? Would that person be waiting right outside the door or down the stairs?

She reached for her bangle in the dark, another wave of relief filling her as she felt its cold metal against her fingers. On more occasions than one, Gabrielle had considered tossing the wretched accessory into a stream, or hurling it at the sky as hard as she could. It had brought her nothing but sadness since she agreed to begin this venture. Yet when the moment was upon her, Gabrielle could only think back to Fionn, Heather, Morrigan, and Alexandra.

She thought of how even though their meetings were brief, her love towards them was strong. Her mind always found its way back to her mother, who now thought her dead. This was all so that she could help the lost souls that needed her.

A singe on Gabrielle’s wrist brought her back from her thoughts. The bangle had grown hot once more. What now? She huffed slightly to herself.

As the time had passed in each new life, Gabrielle grew increasingly frustrated with the situation and herself. Not only was she tired of searching for answers where there apparently were none to find, she was ever frustrated with herself at always being lost in her own thoughts. At times, she could feel her own spirit clashing with the incarnate that she lived as.

Arawn had called her Sentient, and the ones who lived in this world Lamented. At least that was a clue, but what did it all mean? Gabrielle paced as she tried to work through the pile of questions weighing on her shoulders. She stepped further from the door and turned to face the room that she occupied.

The upper levels of the palace were strictly reserved for royalty and the servants were only allowed in these areas to clean. Gabrielle had yet to see what the second floor looked like, as she was kept to the lower areas and the kitchens.

The only lighting in the room was from the moonlit sky through a massive window on the opposing side of the room. Gabrielle’s eyes had begun to adjust to the dark and she could see just how immaculate it was. Beautiful, even in the dark. Gabrielle filled her lungs with the sweet aroma of jonquils that she was sure were not far off somewhere within the room. There was a warming sense of calm blanketing the room and her previously pounding heart soon began to steady itself.

Gabrielle took a few steps and fixed her gaze out of the window. The moon glowed an azure blue hue and the stars twinkled in the clear night sky. Without the excess light and bustle of people, it was as though nature had decided to come out from its shell. A smile crept across Gabrielle’s face.

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

 

“W-who are you?” the airy breath of a whisper tickled Gabrielle’s ear.

Gabrielle froze in her place. The air vacated her body and she instantly went cold.

No.

She had been alone in this room. Not another soul was there or she would have known, she would have heard or sensed them. Gabrielle stood petrified and hoped that she was only hearing her thoughts aloud and that she had not just been caught in the forbidden part of the palace.

While the events in her previous life gave her nightmares nearly every night, the spirit of her current incarnation clearly was more fearful of being caught here than anywhere else.

Gabrielle turned her head to where the inquiry had originated from the shadows.

“Hello…?” She was met with only silence. Maybe she had only been hearing things. After a few relief-filled moments, a small, yet confident voice broke through the silence.

“You aren’t supposed to be here. Why are you here? I should be alone…”

Gabrielle turned and faced the sound of the voice that was questioning her. Though she knew that she was in trouble, she was not about to just stand there. She had been afraid too much in her life and was tired of feeling helpless.

All of the frustration that she had felt in the past few weeks boiled over, ready for the repercussions of her choice to wander.

“I couldn’t sleep and needed a walk.” Confidence filled her voice as she wasn’t entirely sure who she was speaking to.

“A walk? Here? Do you know the trouble that can find you for being on this level? You should not be here.” The words cut Gabrielle to the core, but she could sense a bit of sadness in the shakiness of the disembodied voice.

Though soft and tender, the person within the shadows was rightfully frustrated that Gabrielle had entered their room.

“I had nowhere else to go. I did not wish to go outside. I am sorry for entering your chambers, but I…” Gabrielle trailed away. What was she to say? That she was out during forbidden hours, walking in areas she should not be in, being chased by a person whom she did not know? [_Stupid! _]

Gabrielle spent a moment in her head hating her choices thus far, but finding nothing better. The woman in the shadows leaned forward, allowing the moonlight to display her face.

She was sitting in chair in the far corner of the room. Gabrielle took a moment to examine the scene that unfolded in front of her. The woman that sat before her bathed in moonlight looked strikingly similar to the woman in the painting that she had been admiring moments before.

No, more than similar…the same. The porcelain skin with soft hair and tender gaze granted her distinction. Her beauty and grace was hard to miss, even in this light. The tightly packed powder on the woman’s porcelain skin was marred by her tears dripping to the tip of her chin where a single tear still clung for its life.

Gabrielle stood in silence looking at the glassy eyes and reddened cheeks, then let out a sigh of understanding.

“Pardon me, mistress, I mean not to pry but may I ask why you are crying?”

A moment of depressed pause consumed the stranger’s face at Gabrielle’s inquiry. She had thought little of it in the moment, but she had done something that the Queen had clearly never experienced.

Though her eyes and face were swollen by heavy tears, a look of perplexity covered the Queen’s face that begged Gabrielle to respond further.

“Mistress,” Gabrielle pressed, pushing aside her fears of retribution. “Why are you crying? Has something happened?”

Lady Antoinette shifted in her chair in a frustrated fidget and brought her gaze from Gabrielle to the window into the faded light. A crooked smile erupted across the Lady’s face as she looked away from Gabrielle.

“You know what amuses me in these nights? What fills my thoughts when the chilled air fills your lungs and your eyes can no longer hold open? When silence envelopes all as a mass slumber takes hold of all creation? The stubborn resilience that forces life to continue. The will to be, no matter what the consequences or the standing of the world, when something tells life to breathe and it does so in spite of everything.”

Gabrielle stood in silence. She felt obligated to respond and confirm that what was just spoken had not fallen on deaf ears. Yet when she opened her mouth to comfort, to agree, to question, what she found was nothingness. Gabrielle stood in the dark, silent as death, waiting for her companion to speak once more.

“My country, my people, are sick. Yet it is not a disease that I can merely pray that they be healed by medicines or potions. It is a sickness within the heart. A sickness that I fear we have started. Decadence and arrogance. Ignorance with incompetence. Do you know of what I speak?” She paused and turned her gaze back to Gabrielle.

Marie Antoinette spoke almost in riddles and Gabrielle was unsure how to adequately respond. She felt as though she needed to be comforting, yet what could she say?

“Yes…” a cautious whisper hung light in the air.

“Oh, so you are aware that they all hate me, are you? My people grow putrid with hatred and you stand here, in my chambers, and agree? Are you one of those that damn me for my ignorance as well?” Lady Antoinette leaned so far towards Gabrielle in her chair that she feared the Queen would fall to the floor.

Gabrielle stood in silence for a moment, embarrassed that she had offended a woman of such stature. She felt as a child would, being scorned by their parents.

With a sigh of frustrated defeat, Lady Antoinette leaned back in her chair and turned her eyes back to the window, shaking her head in a slow defeated nod.

“Why should you not hate me? Hate us? We live in lavish vanity, while our people struggle below. Yet none will heed my calls for support, or my pleas of forgiveness from our people.” With this the weeping Queen brought her eyes down to her hands where she nervously fidgeted with her dress.

“I am a monster atop a pillion, destined to be a savage. Life seems to be crashing all about us. Burning and full of disdain, one can almost smell the turmoil in the air. It is sickening. Surely, in these hours, is it not a serendipitous event that someone should decide that life should begin? Now, after an eternity, life has decided to thrive amongst the chaos.”

Gabrielle watched as her countries Queen purged herself of sadness and regret. Always it all seems to boil down to life and death; Gabrielle was becoming much more acquainted with this subject, though she was not particularly fond of it all.

“I don’t hate you.” Gabrielle began, finally finding a break in the words to put in her own.

“I don’t hate anyone. The people are angry. Divided and angry. It is not that you, specifically, are hated. I think that the people are just sad. Their hearts hurt for their own lives and they want to blame someone. They see what you live with and look to their own circumstance and it isn’t fair to them.”

Gabrielle was shocked as the words came tumbling out of her mouth. Many things were changing within her, and she regularly found herself amazed at what she was becoming capable of.

She no longer took the time to think on if it was herself speaking or her host, but rather let it all flow organically. Two souls, mingling as one.

Lady Antoinette sat in silence and took Gabrielle in. She returned the inquisitive glances for a moment before deciding to break the silence as it was growing more uncomfortable by the second.

“Why do you speak of life creating when not needed nor desired. What do you mean by this?”

Her curiosity was getting the better of her while allowing her lack of experience to show. A taut, tensile grin lightly crept across the Queen’s face as she brought her hand to her stomach and sighed. Like a crash of glass, Gabrielle realized what she had been speaking of and felt foolish not catching the nuances of her monolog.

“Life has a curious way of granting you pleasure and pain simultaneously, something that I have been experiencing much as of late. I know that should not be telling you any of this. I would prefer not associating my secrets and woes with someone such as…yourself…” the Lady let her words drift into a silence.

Gabrielle felt fortunate that the lighting was not very revealing, because a flush of color had fill her cheeks. She hadn’t intended on finding this woman tonight, nor did she expect the emotional accompaniment; however, she did not appreciate the condescension while she was only trying to help. She didn’t ask for any of this and in that moment saw the level of oblivious ignorance that frustrated her countrymen.

“I am sorry that all of this weighs on you, my Lady. If you do not wish to share these things with me, I have no intention of forcing you. I can just be on my way and am sorry for bothering you at this hour…” Gabrielle turned to leave, her bravado echoing in her head and she had a moment of did that really just come from my mouth? as she took a step forward before being interrupted by the Lady.

“No!” she yelled panic filling the air, which caused Gabrielle to flinch and tighten her shoulders.

“Please stay. I haven’t another soul to confess to.”

Her plea, to Gabrielle’s surprise, sounded heartfelt and legitimate. She turned on her heels and faced the Lady Antoinette. Her depressed look was replaced by a momentary flash of panic and desperation before she recomposed herself. Gabrielle cursed her good nature as she knew that she was going to stay.

“Only if the Lady wishes me to, will I stay. I do not mean to upset you any further.” Gabrielle tried to keep the resentment out of her voice.

“Please stay. I didn’t meant to offend you. I haven’t another soul to speak to. I am surrounded by smiles and exquisite blessings, yet feel as though I am a painting. I am surrounded by people, yet cannot speak with them because I am a mere fixture, not a person. People do not speak to royalty with anything but respect and poise, regardless of its reality. I feel as though I have not had a real interaction with another living soul in some time.”

Gabrielle knew exactly how she felt and why she felt that way. She had been on this adventure of hers for some time and had not had the ability to confide in another living soul the entire time. The one person whom she could actually relate to was nowhere to be found.

An unheard voice within a room indeed. She sighed with comprehension as she walked over to a vanity adjacent from where she stood and grabbed the stool that was tucked beneath. The smooth wood and soft velvet caressed her hands and helped compensate for how heavy it was. She pulled the stool to just in front of the Queen and placed herself upon it.

“Please, go on your heinous.” Gabrielle urged her saddened companion to pour her woes unto her.

“We have been trying for children for some time, Louis and I. He has a sickness. A painful sickness that makes these sorts of things, troublesome. For his honor I shall not delve into great specifics, but just know that his sickness coupled with ‘appetites’ has made this as much of a blessing as a curse.” Lady Antoinette paused and caressed her stomach. An expression of joy and despair battled on her face as she gently rubbed the satin fabric.

“I speak of this as though it is not a blessing, which could not be farther from the truth. The love and compassion that I have for the life growing inside me cannot be described by words. It would take the most blessed poets a lifetime to craft the words that could invoke the love that I have for this blessing. Yet, when compared to what is happening to my people and my country, both of which I also love with such an intensity, my heart breaks.”

The sadness was contagious within the confines of the conversation. Gabrielle had heard many of the workers within the confined secrecy of the palace chambers, as well as villagers alike damn the royal family for their ignorance and blatant disregard for the people.

Yet as she sat, looking into the eyes of the woman that was the face of animosity, Gabrielle could not help but to pity her rather than damn her. She seemed as though she were lost, caught in the wrong place without proper support. She was distraught that her Queen thought she must fight the storm alone.

“What of the king? Has he not offered you support and love in these hours?” Gabrielle inquired, assured that the man that loves this woman would surely offer supporting words in these dark hours of her life. “With the amazing news of you being with child, he must be a comfort in these times.”

The faint smile that had adorned the Lady’s face faded away and was replaced with a look of disgust and woe.

“He has his burdens, as I have mine. He is not in the place to appreciate the news as the miracle that it is. He has resigned himself to his post and once he has managed to bring his people back together, that will be the time to speak of such news.”

She paused for a brief moment and gestured into the darkness of the room. “This is why I resign myself to the guest quarters at night. Once all have fallen to sleep, I can sit and be alone with my thoughts and sorrows.”

The Queen brought her gaze back to Gabrielle, catching her eye. “For the moment, only I know the truth, and now you. It is very important that this not be spoken of to anyone for any reason. This is not the thing to be taken lightly, the heir to a throne. I cannot have a rumor be the informing manner in which my husband finds that I am with child. Please keep silent.” Gabrielle nodded and smiled, realizing that the Lady was at her mercy.

“I would not dream of breaking your confidence. Your secret will be safe with me no matter the circumstance.”

Lady Antoinette smiled once more and was notably relieved. It was though she could finally breathe after holding her lungs in suspense for an eternity of torture.

“Thank you, my dear. Your character is a true testament that there is still a guiding good within this world. It gives me hope for my child that she too may grow to be a person such as yourself. Loyalty and honesty are a fading spirit. Never let that change in you.”

Gabrielle’s cheeks warmed, but this time it was from the compliment given by someone of such high power and esteem. She felt as though she was not only helping a woman in need, but she collectively was helping, and befriending, a Queen.

This was a scenario right from the fairytales of her bedtime stories. Though she had been around people that cared for her and had friends in this life, she was finally able to have a true conversation. A conversation with another person who was experiencing the same feelings of loss that she was.

“I cannot explain how this relieves me to be able to speak of such things. Again, it has been some time since I have been able to hold a true conversation. I do not want this moment to end.”

Lady Antoinette seemed almost giddy. Gabrielle smiled widely as she felt the same. Her anxieties and frustrations faded away as the two women sat in the moonlight and spoke of true feelings and honest emotions.

“Though it is late my Lady, and things need to come to an end, I desire nothing more than to sit with you here for the rest of the night. What shall we speak about next?” Gabrielle inquired as she made herself more comfortable.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

 

For a time that Gabrielle could not even begin to describe, the two new friends spoke late into the night, laughing and crying as they let their guards down and poured out their hearts to one another. Anything that popped into their thoughts became part of the conversation and they discussed all aspects of life, love, pleasure, pains, and hopes.

They spoke until the night had aged and their eyes grew heavy. No longer were the two stricken with sadness and heartache. They could both breathe and feel moments of happiness, moments of true peace. So as the night pressed onward, and their troubles faded, the two grew exhausted. Finally, when a lull had fallen between them, Gabrielle let out a monstrous yawn.

“Though this has been an amazing night, something that I needed, I believe, as much as you my Lady, I feel that I must depart. The night grows late and I can scarcely keep my eyes open any longer.”

Lady Antoinette smiled, nodded in agreement and the two women stood and embraced as if they were old friends. Gabrielle took a moment to notice how sweet her hair smelled. It reminded her of the jonquil flowers that grew along the palace grounds. They both squeezed tightly before releasing and smiled to one another one final time.

With a fearful glance outside of the window, Gabrielle hoped that it was not so late that she would be unable to get some rest before the day’s activities began.

With a wisp of movement from her night gown, Gabrielle disappeared through the door and closed it behind her. Reflecting back on the conversation she just had with the Queen, Gabrielle took a few steps before her body tightened and the hairs on her arms stood up.

In her newly established mentality, she had forgotten the circumstances that forced her into that room in the first place. She spun around and checked down the hallway to make sure that she was, indeed, alone.

To her relief, the palace was still in slumber so she turned back to the proper direction and made her way to the grand staircase. As Gabrielle passed the potted jonquil plant, she reached behind it, pulled out her slippers and silently slid them back onto her feet.

Gabrielle walked more slowly on this jaunt. On her way up, she was not in a state of mind to appreciate the beautiful art and paintings that hung from the walls, and would likely not be back up here ever again. A beautiful countryside, royal figures, animals all seemed to act as picture books; telling stories of times imaginary, factual, past and present.

She soon turned into the main foyer and stood at the top of the massive stairway. She once more paused to appreciate the view, soaking in what the royal family saw every day.

The world fell away and she was left in a daze of euphoria. It had been so long since she was able to relate to someone at a level such as this. After a moment of silent reflection, Gabrielle snapped back to her current situation and hurriedly made her way back down the stairs. Though she was not in any danger at this point, she could not afford to sit about and wait for someone to come along and see her in this part of the palace.

As she reached the base of the stairs, she continued to move without pause as her eyes grew heavy and she wanted nothing more than be snuggled up in her bed.

Gabrielle made her way through the dining hall and managed to get to the kitchen doors without so much as a footstep heard.

The heavy doors opened easily and she found herself once-more within the kitchen. Gabrielle turned to make her way across the room when a sudden singe from her wrist caused her to let out a small squeak of pain. She grimaced as she stopped to rub her wrist. Gabrielle’s eyes welled as an immense pain shot through her arm.

CLICK.

A chill replaced the searing pain as it flowed down her body. Though the bangle sat warm still, it no longer burned as it had only moments before. The tears in her eyes began to clear from her vision and she stood motionless. Gabrielle lightly rubbed her hand over the smooth silver waiting for something to happen.

“Secrets, secrets, secrets. Oh what tangled webs we weave, indeed” the faint whisper tickled Gabrielle’s ear from the shadows all around her.

She could not pinpoint the origin of the voice, but she knew exactly whose voice it was. Her fists clenched as she turned in a circle to try and acquire the speaker in the dark.

“Now, haven’t you been a busy little creature? Sentients are always much more troublesome than the Lamented. Not worth your weight in life, really. I hope that you have been enjoying your meddling,” he hissed from somewhere within the shadows.

Gabrielle spun about, widening her eyes and tried to see where the voice was coming from. A cold breath danced across the back of her neck and she turned, bringing her hands upward and stepping back. She found nothing but vacant space behind her.

A sinister laugh began to drift about the room. She frantically turned once more, her heart pounding in her ears and her breath quickening. There, not five paces away, sitting atop the stone counter, was Arawn. His slender, dark figure seemed to blend with the shadows as though they were a part of him.

“My, you are a [_lively _]creature, aren’t you?” Notably trying to hold in his laughter, Arawn continued. “You are toying with my creatures, little wretch and I’m growing impatient with you. I told you to cease your meddling. You failed to do as I asked. Now, I should see you are stopped by my own hand.”

Arawn stepped one foot and then the other down from the counter and adjusted his long coat. His white hair floated in the still air and his eyes stabbed through the darkness into Gabrielle’s soul, causing her host to cry out within her mind.

Gabrielle brought her hands up to cover her ears, protecting her from the silent agony. She knew, that she was not safe and this time Morrigan could not come to her aid.

She cast her eyes about her immediate area, looking for hounds, or men in cloaks, or any other assortment of foul creatures, but she could only see darkness closing in on her. As she looked around for something to help her get out of this situation, her eyes fell on something metallic.

One of the dinner cooks had left a knife on the counter. Pretending as though she had seen nothing, Gabrielle brought her eyes back to Arawn.

“Ah. It looks like I am bested. You have found a weapon to smite me, haven’t you?” he chuckled and motioned to the knife upon the counter. “What shall I do? A Sentient has discovered a weapon and I am to be smote. Please, do pick it up. You may need it.”

Gabrielle stood there staring at Arawn, unsure of what to do. Did he really want her to pick up the knife? She looked from the ghostly face of her foe to the knife and back once more. His crooked smile showed two full rows of pointed teeth, reminding her of wolves’ fangs. Gabrielle looked back at the knife and slowly, as if following orders, picked up the blade. When she brought her eyes back to where Arawn stood, he had vanished into the dark.

“The game is now afoot, Sentient!” a disembodied voice flooded the room.

Gabrielle spun around with the knife in her hand, yet she saw nothing but blackness in the kitchen. She could no longer see him, but she knew that Arawn was still in there with her. She could feel his chill, and her bangle still reverberated with the dull heat that warned her of danger.

She turned at the perfect moment to see a screeching shadow tear from the darkness with its arms outstretched. Before she could react, the shadow’s outstretched claws made contact with her chest, casting her across the kitchen and ripping into the fabric of her night gown. Gabrielle brought the knife up in defense, but it seemed to pass directly through the creature as if it were fog.

Gabrielle collided with a wall and landed on top of the counter. With the wind knocked out of her, she lay gasping in pain. She turned on her side and saw the shadows screeching towards her once more. She had just enough time to roll from the counter to the floor, her back slamming onto the cold stone as she landed.

Gabrielle looked up at the ceiling with just enough time to see the shadow collide with the wall and disappear. She gasped for air and rolled onto her hands and knees. She crawled to the side of one of the islands in the center of the kitchen and placed her back up against it and sat up, trying to catch her breath. She tried to think about what she should do, but the pain made it nearly impossible to think. Ok, calm down and think Gabrielle. Think or you will die!

Gabrielle sat in the dark, gripping the knife awkwardly in her hands. A scratching noise shattered the silence from just around the island. Gabrielle gripped the weapon tighter, her knuckled turning a sickly shade of white.

The sound grew louder and closer, as though it was coming from right above her. She forced her gaze up to the edge of the counter. A set of black, putrid fingers crept one at a time over the edge of the counter. One, two, three, four, five. A moment later these were followed by another set.

Gabrielle froze, unable to scream or breathe. A head grew into focus from atop the counter. Its hollow, sunken eyes and rotting teeth held a demonic expression that morphed into a maleficent smile and the creature screamed like a banshee.

Gabrielle rolled to her side in just enough time to avoid a black claw from tearing at her as the creature swiped. The claws tore long marks into the stone as easily as though it were clay. Gabrielle crawled around the side of the island, but was not fast enough for the monster.

It crept across the island like a ghostly spider and met her on the other side. As Gabrielle crawled on her hands and knees, an icy grip grasped the back of her neck with such force that her lungs failed to suck in air. Gabrielle released her vice grip on the knife as she was lifted from the ground and thrown across the kitchen.

Her back collided against the wall and she slid harshly to the floor, sending a jarring pain through her back and into her neck. The bitter, metallic taste of blood filled the back of her mouth and a warm sensation trickled down the back of her neck.

As she tried to bring her vision into focus, Gabrielle heard a cackling come from the darkness. She sat in pain, blood in her throat and flowing from her head. This is it. This is how I die. Gabrielle thought to herself in a moment of hopeless despair. She was going to get the slumber she had been seeking after all. Maybe she would get to see Alexandra once more…

_Tick, tick, tick. _

Gabrielle squinted through the darkness and let her eyes focus through the tears that had welled up in her eyes. She opened her mouth to scream, but her throat was filled with a sickening mixture of blood and bile. The black creature was crouched on all fours across the room, watching her, like a lion watches a gazelle. It was not a natural stance, in fact it reminded Gabrielle of how a crab would stand, facing off with an opponent.

The creature’s once sunken eyes, were now red as fire and glared at her from across of the room. Its teeth grinned in a putrid smile.

She locked eyes with the ghostly creature that she couldn’t kill, afraid that if she looked away—even for a moment—that it would lunge. After what felt like an eternity, the beast began to rotate its head, keeping the rest of its body motionless. With the sound of snapping twigs, it kept in the awkward, crab-like stance, but turned its head about so that it was no longer upside down.

Gabrielle couldn’t bring herself to move. She screamed internally at her muscles but they were jelly under her terrified form. Gabrielle began to feel light headed. Its grin widened further so that even more of its jagged fangs were visible. [RUN! _]Gabrielle screamed in her head.[ _]

I CAN’T! I CANT MOVE!

Before Gabrielle could finish her argument with herself, the creature dislocated its lower jaw, and it dropped down to the floor making it wide enough to fit a small child. With a moan, it poised its back higher. The moan grew louder, and louder, and louder, until Gabrielle clawed at her ears as she was deafened by the violent wail.

With the agility of an animal, the horrid creature charged from its stance and was running on all fours towards Gabrielle. All time seemed to come to a screeching halt for a moment.

[_Move! NO! _]

[_Run! NO! _]

[_Fight! YES! _]

The choice had been made. Fight or die. With that moment of clarity, Gabrielle saw it. She had been jarred, thrown, grasped and clawed, and in all of that, she had forgotten the knife. It now lay upon the ground a few feet away from her hand. Its silver metal was shining in the light from her bangle. Weakly, Gabrielle reached out and took the blade in her hand.

The bangle began to vibrate[_. _]Its intensity grew and the silver began to glow with such an immense light that she found herself squinting into it as her eyes slowly began to adjust. She felt a flush of life spread through her entire body. With this, the knife that she clutched began to change. It too, began to vibrate and become warm, as the surface changed.

The strange etchings that adorned the ancient bangle began to etch themselves in the steel of the blade, materializing right in front of her eyes. Gabrielle felt more alive than she ever had. She didn’t know what was happening, but whatever it was, she liked it.

The moans intensified as she brought her eyes back to the monster before her. In the few moments that had passed, the creature had closed the distance between them and was now nearly on top of her.

Gabrielle could smell the awful stench of decay on its breath as it made its final lunge at her. With all of her remaining strength, she brought the blade across the creatures face. To her surprise, the sharp edge met its mark this time, and severed the monster’s lower jaw completely from its face. It let out a terrible scream and with a blast of black smoke, was gone. Gabrielle let her hand and the knife fall to her side.

“Damnable creature! Cannot accomplish a simple killing!” A hiss crept from the shadows.

Gabrielle was overwrought with pain and exhaustion. She let her feet slide out from under her and her butt bounced off the cold ground as she sat.

Slowly, from the shadows off to her right, Arawn’s face materialized from the nothingness. He sauntered over to Gabrielle, ego unmarred by the beating his monster had taken. She wanted to raise the knife in defense, but failed to have the energy to do so. Rather she sat with her eyes fixated on the silhouette that was Arawn and waited in silence for her fate.

He made his way across the kitchen and stopped at her feet. This was the first time that she noticed that he was barefoot. White claws extended from the tips of his toes. The feet of a man mixed with the paw of a wolf. Arawn leaned down and brought his piercing gaze level with Gabrielle’s.

“You could not let well enough alone, girl. I told you to cease and gave you the chance to do so. All that I wanted was for what was mine to be returned and for you to leave this place. You could not do this because of your meddling nature.” His voice was as cold as his eyes.

Arawn raised himself and began to pace, stopping every so often to peer down at Gabrielle.

“I suppose that it’s time for me to end this for myself. I should just choke the life from you, should I not? How do you think it would feel to have the life slowly leave you in the grasp of my bare hands. I could also spend my time on a more entertaining aspect. Like your mother. Wouldn’t that be splendid? Maybe she would enjoy coming to my kingdom?” The clicking of his talons on the stone floor echoed as he paced.

In a testament of bravado, disdain and sheer exhaustion, Gabrielle spat in his wicked, red eyes. Arawn pulled his head back and howled in rage, but he did not wipe the saliva away. Bringing his spit covered face back down to Gabrielle, he slammed his hand against the wall near her head.

“Foolish, childish, ignorant girl! You dare mock me? You think that you may simply blaspheme my position and I would let you live. I will tend to you myself!”

With that final threat, Arawn reached out his hands for Gabrielle’s throat. She screwed her eyes shut and waited for his cold embrace, though it never came.

She opened her eyes and saw that Arawn was across the kitchen, facing a dark corner. A light whisper that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time filled the air.

…dominion…no dominion over the Sentient….” Arawn stood in silence for a moment.

“No dominion? Do you think me a fool? I rule all that was. I know well of my dominion and you certainly are not in a place to tell me of my rights,” Arawn snapped at the empty corner.

Gabrielle leaned a little closer so that she could hear them, but there was no one else in the room besides Arawn.

…the laws are the laws. You would do well to abide by them, should you lose your crown.” Arawn became aggravated and swore at the shadows.

“You wish for me to follow laws? In the presence of what is happening? You are not the keeper of these laws. In fact, it is [_you _]that are breaking the laws. We all are aware of your failures! However, since I have no intentions of dealing with more troublesome matters, laws there are, and the laws we will abide; for now. In the meanwhile, I intend on having quite the bit of fun.” Obvious discontent seeped from his words.

Though there was no entity that seemed to be there to physically leave, it must have. Without speaking another word, Arawn turned from the shadows and walked back to Gabrielle. He once more crouched at her feet, frustrated replacing the spit that once covered his pale features.

“Well, fortuitous events for you indeed, Sentient. Though you live now, I would not hold for a prolonged extension. You will have my accompaniment for the rest of your days, rest assured that those will be in limited numbers.

I have no intensions on letting you meddle in that which you are not involved, and I certainly will not have what is mine stolen. It will be returned and I will have it no other way. Now, sleep. You will need all of your strength if I am to have [_any _]fun.”

With those final words, Arawn reached his long, thin finger out to Gabrielle’s face. The tip of a very sharp nail pinched the space between her eyes.

Suddenly, she felt nothing. Her eyes became impossibly heavy and she could no longer hold them open. Like an unexpected summer storm, the darkness rolled over her like thunder and she slept.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

 

A jarring chill thrust Gabrielle from the darkness and back to life. A blinding light stabbed at her eyes as they opened, causing her to slam them closed instantly. A chill wafted through her body and she began to shiver.

[_Why am I cold? I’m not cold, I’m wet! _]

Confused, Gabrielle attempted to open her eyes once more. This time she fought the urge to close them in the presence of the light. Then a sudden remembrance of what happened thrust through her consciousness and she violently sat straight up.

The world finally came into focus and she discovered that she was, indeed wet. Soaked, in fact. She fervently looked about and discovered that she was no longer in the kitchen on the stone floor, but now sat in her chambers upon her own bed. She looked for the cause of her wet nature. There, at the foot of her bed, stood Madame Toinette looking particularly agitated and holding an empty wooden bucket.

“Get up, you ghastly, lazy thing! You have slept for long enough! If you’re any later, you will miss the group going to the village! Mother wants you and the other ones to accompany her on her errands and I have no intentions of looking at your face one more moment than I must.” Madame Toinette seemed particularly cross on this morning.

Gabrielle wiped the water from her brow and glanced at the head mistress’s hand for a sign of the switch. Fortunately, it was not anywhere in sight. Relief washing over her, Gabrielle threw the covers back and stood from her bed.

“Good! Now, dress yourself and make your way to the rear garden. Mother and your friends are waiting for you!” she barked, abruptly turning, leaving the room, and slamming the door behind her. Gabrielle stood in complete confusion.

“How did I get in my room? Was that all another nightmare?” The sound of her voice bounced off of the stone walls.

Gabrielle brought her hands to the back of her head and felt for any injuries. She smacked her tongue and lips, searching for the metallic taste. Nothing. She wondered what was real from the evening past. Was any of that real, or just a dream? Had she gone for a walk and spent hours speaking with Lady Antoinette?

The more she considered her situation, the more Gabrielle resigned herself to the thought that all of last night’s events had been a dream.

Suddenly, Gabrielle burst into a fit of laughter. The thought that she spent all night chatting casually with a Queen, had been attacked by some putrid ghost, and had defeated it with a glowing magic knife was so bizarre that it was comical.

Gabrielle let the laughter consume her and she bent slightly forward as she could not breathe. The door flew open and in ran Hilde, as Gabrielle straightened herself.

“There you are! Come now, Renée grows frustrated with waiting. We wanted to leave for the village nearly twenty minutes ago.”

The village?

Morrigan!

Gabrielle was filled with a second wind at the thought of finally being able to see Morrigan.

She ran to the armoire and swung it open, grabbed the first dress and apron that she could see and threw it on. She had not even taken the time to dry her hair and water was dripping from it as she threw it up into a messy bun—with Hilde’s complete disapproval. She wrapped her apron around her, adjusted herself in the mirror and turned to address her friend who was impatiently tapping one finger against the door frame.

She hurried Hilde out of the door and let it nearly slam behind them. Gabrielle felt silly, as though she was making a spectacle of herself, but the chance to see Morrigan again made butterflies frantically fill her stomach and she didn’t care how she looked.

Hilde must have found the scene quite comical and threw a couple of light-hearted, “Well, look who has joined the living” comments at Gabrielle, who completely ignored the jests.

She had to see Morrigan.

Hilde was in front of Gabrielle as the two nearly ran down the hallway to the kitchen. She could feel her heart almost pounding in her throat as they came into the kitchen and rounded the corner.

As Hilde was making her way through the door, and the bright sun cast Gabrielle’s eyes aside with its brightness, she found herself frozen in disbelief. There it was, clear as day. She could not and did not wish to believe that it was there, but there it was. Clear as day, right in front of her, along the side of the island, were five long, deep claw marks.

A bead of sweat rolled down her face and she swallowed hard against the lump that sat frozen in her throat as she stared at the markings.

Bringing her hands to the back of her head and neck, she felt all over for the injuries. Nothing was found. As with her encounter with the hounds, her wounds from last night had healed. The monster was real. She had actually fought a shadow monster, seen Arawn, spat in his eye, and then awoke the next day without any injuries in her own bed? What was happening?

A hand grabbed Gabrielle’s arm, yanking her away in a panic and she turned to face the source. Her face went white as she was now face-to-face with a very agitated Renée.

“What in the heavens is the matter with you? You have kept us waiting long enough! Are you planning on joining us in town or would you like to spend the day scrubbing floors? I can arrange that, if you would prefer!” Renée scolded Gabrielle as a mother does a child.

Gabrielle apologized profusely. The last person that she wanted to anger, especially after everything that she had done for her and everything that had happened last night was Renée. All she wanted to do was to go to the village and see Morrigan. Renée nodded in a frustrated silence.

“Well then, if you intend on joining us in the village today, then I suggest you pull yourself together and follow me,” Renée dropped Gabrielle’s arm, turned and walking to the doorway. Renée pushed through the doorway to the garden with Gabrielle in tow.

Outside, Gabrielle was met with a bright day. The air had a bit of an autumn chill, but otherwise proved to be a perfect October day.

Gabrielle had always liked this time of year. There were smells of nature around every turn, the animals were out in full force in an attempt to prepare for nature’s slumber, and it always made her think of sipping tea and reading a good book. On a day like this, she would play in the leaves and read by the roaring fire back home in Envisage.

Hilde and Claudie were standing impatiently with their arms crossed, mirroring Renée’s mood. She ignored their sour faces and sucked in a deep breath of the fragrant autumn air.

Generally, going into the village was a chore and most did not really enjoy leaving the palace, especially in these times with all of the political strife that plagued the people. Lately, some of the animosity had been turned toward the women that worked in the palace. Women from the village damned them for supporting a family that would not support their own people. Gabrielle never understood this logic. What were they to do? Leave their homes, their work, and their lives just to please others?

Usually, there was a large grouping of people to go to the village for items, but due to the recent events, the groups were growing smaller and smaller.

Today, only Hilde, Claudie, Renée, and Gabrielle were going into the village for some items that they had run low on and desperately needed for the dinner that evening. With baskets in hand, the four women made their way across the garden and were off to the village.

The chilled air and dense morning dew cast a fog that came up to Gabrielle’s chest. As she walked through the fog, she wondered if she was being followed by the hounds. Would she even know?

Shoving that thought from her head, Gabrielle tried to focus on the fact that she would be seeing Morrigan today. As they reached the old gate, Hilde stepped ahead of Renée and opened the iron bars for the group.

Gabrielle was at the rear and intended on staying there as her companions still seemed agitated with her this morning. Anxieties were always high for any group going to town. She knew that they already were not in the best of spirits.

The gate creaked closed as she walked through it and gave a weak smile and nod to Hilde, thanking her for holding the gate. She smiled back and nodded. Gabrielle was happy to see the gesture returned. The last thing that she wanted on this day was for any of the people that she cared for to be cross with her. With a beautifully grey sky, her current company and their destination, this could prove to be a satisfying day.

Renée had not stopped for an instant as she made her way through the gate and was, in steady pace, making her way down the path. Claudie was right behind her, then Hilde, and finally Gabrielle. The four walked in near lock-step as they made their way down the garden paths and to the opposite side of the grounds.

After a couple of minutes, another confirmatory glance was given to Gabrielle, only this time it originated from Claudie. All seemed well and forgotten, as she smiled along with her friends and began to focus on the trip into town.

Renée maintained her heading and never once glanced at her followers. Though the older woman was strong and fearless, Gabrielle could tell that she was worried. The last couple of trips to the village were not met with praises from those that lived below.

They all had a simple task, which was to acquire the items that they had run out of the night before and bring them back without issue. The four travelers had no doubts that they could accomplish this task easily.

As the group wound about the palace path and found themselves on the grounds proper, the morning fog lifted and the emerald grass of the lawn peered through the dense fog to get its first view of the morning sun. The glistening dew reflected so brightly that Gabrielle nearly had to squint to see the group ahead of her as they all walked towards the road.

This was the type of day that poets would write about. The main gate was in sight and their steps formed a rhythmic beat as they marched onward. As the gate neared, Renée turned her head as to allow the girls to hear her commands.

“We need fourteen baguettes, three jars of honey, and two-dozen assorted tarts. This trip should not take us long at all. So no milling about! I expect us to be back at the palace no later than lunch. These items will be needed for the royal dinner. Understood?”

The three girls nodded in agreement, though Renée had not seen as she had not turned her head for a response.

Claudie turned to Hilde and Gabrielle and smiled a sinister grin. No doubt she had other plans she intended on adhering to while they were in the village. Although Gabrielle could not see Hilde, she could see the slight shake of disapproval in her head as they walked.

Normally, Claudie and Hilde thrived on chaos, but with all that was happening within the country, they were all a bit on edge. This seemed to do little to quell Claudie’s thirst for adventures. Gabrielle loved that about her, and the thought caused her to bubble with excitement.

They finally reached the main gate and paused while the guards maneuvered so they may exit through a tiny gap. It had been some time since the gate had been fully opened. Everyone was on a level of paranoia and Gabrielle could almost taste the electricity within the air. Even the well-armed guards gave the girls looks of caution as they passed the threshold and embarked onward to the village.

A chill ran down Gabrielle’s spine as she crossed the threshold and listened to the guards close the gate behind her. Down the hill the trio went. The women were now on their own. A small sound made its way to Gabrielle’s ear, a click, perhaps.

She froze for a half step and felt her arm, examining the area around her with a hawk like eye. She saw nothing and heard nothing more. Shaking off the thought, Gabrielle quickened her pace to match those of the others.

Morrigan was just down the hill, and she had to see him today. With butterflies fluttering in her stomach and Renée marching onward like a dedicated soldier, Gabrielle let go of her concerns and just focused on not falling behind.

The sun was glaring in her eyes as they made their way down the hill and drew closer to the village proper. The cold air began to warm in the sun and the initial nip had left her face and fingers.

A breeze threw back her hair and her apron fluttered as she took a deep breath. A sharp smell filled Gabrielle’s lungs. Her mother used to tell her that the smell was called ‘ozone’, and was what happened after lightening stuck. “It lets you know that the storm was here, but is gone now,” Gabrielle’s mother would say to comfort her. Curious, she thought, that it had not rained here in some time.

A dull rumble began to fill her ears as they approached the base of the hill and their feet found the brick-lain roads.

Claudie and Hilde shot another mischievous look over to Gabrielle, as though to tell her to follow them when they had the chance. With almost a clairvoyant respect, Renée stopped and turned to the three as they reached the first street with the appropriate vendors.

“I expect that you three tend to your tasks immediately and we are to meet back here in no more than one hour! It is not safe for you to wander around and take your time. Stay together, and do not fool about.” Renée’s lips thinned as she pursed them together.

“If it is so dangerous, then why are we to separate?” Hilde’s voice was just above a whisper.

Gabrielle wasn’t sure if this was a sincere question or if Hilde merely wished to poke at Renée. Knowing the atmosphere that was brewing between Hilde and Claudie, she guessed it was likely the latter. Renée, apparently, took it this way as well, for her answer was not the least bit subtle.

“Well, we must separate because we have many things to collect, and unfortunately, they all are located in opposing directions. For my being old, and not the least-bit pleased that our cooks cannot maintain a pantry, I am not looking for a lovely day in town. If you tend to your tasks, and get back here early, you should be fine. Wolves do not hunt in the morning, no?”

With that last remark, Gabrielle’s stomach immediately tightened. While Hilde and Claudie slowly nodded as children, Gabrielle’s mind turned to the thoughts of wolves. Hounds. Hunting and finding her.

Though she knew that Arawn and the hounds would not attack her in the middle of the morning, surrounded by people and her friends in a village, she still was ill at the mention of hounds, metaphorical or not.

“Now, you three know where you must go and what is needed, oui?” Renée prodded, confirming to herself that she was not making a mistake sending all three off together.

The three nodded in agreement. “Remember, one hour. Any later, and I will box your ears, understand?” With a final nod from Claudie, Hilde, and Gabrielle, Renée was off, leaving the three girls to their own devices.

Waiting until Renée was just out of earshot, Hilde turned to face the others. “Now, we finally have time to talk!” Hilde broke, with a massive grin shooting across her face. A look of trouble and mischief danced in her eyes.

“I am not sure what your intentions are between the two of you, but Brenton is also in the village this morning on errands for his father, and I am going to meet with him. The two of you are more than welcome to come…” Hilde paused and gave a look in direct contradiction to her words.

“I wanted to meet with someone as well,” Gabrielle interjected, not wanting to be damned from the opportunity to meet Morrigan. She had to see him today. A silence of astonishment fell over her friends as they looked to her in utter shock.

“You are going to meet your man that we have yet to hear anything about?” Claudie’s words dripped with disbelief and simultaneous taunting.

Gabrielle could feel her cheeks redden at this, for she knew that teasing would certainly follow whatever her response would be.

“His name is Morrigan, and yes I would like to see him. He…has something of mine from the gala and I would like it back!” she lied, in an attempt to forgo mocking. Her attempt failed as giggling broke loose between her friends.

“Ah, he has something of yours, does he?” Hilde chuckled.

“Perhaps it is her heart!” howled Claudie.

Gabrielle could feel her chest tightening at their mocking. She stood in awkward silence for a moment while her friends ceased their initial laughs.

“Well, if my eyes see correctly, it looks as though my two friends wish to leave me to all of the work today.” A look of sincerity replaced Claudie’s laughter.

Gabrielle and Hilde stood in silence, guilt filling their chests as they realized that they had, indeed, condemned Claudie to accomplishing all of the tasks herself. Hilde’s eyes found themselves looking to her feet, while Gabrielle still looked at Claudie, but kept her eyes just above her head, so to avoid looking into her eyes directly.

“Well, would you look at who feels the guilt of the world? You two look as though Madame Toinette just found you stealing from the kitchen.” Claudie laughed, hinging at her waist and letting a loud chuckle run from her mouth. Relief washed over Gabrielle at the sound. “Go on, the both of you! I will tend to the chores. Remember that I did this for you and that you must repay this favor in kind!”

With that word of blessing, Hilde turned on her heels and was off to her rendezvous with Brenton at locations unknown. Gabrielle took a moment to look at Claudie. The warm sun upon her face and cool breeze jostling her hair gave her an angelic glow.

With a sudden shove, Gabrielle was knocked backward as a small child ran past her, swiping her legs. Gabrielle looked in awe at the young child as she continued to run down the street; she looked strangely familiar. The girl that Gabrielle had seen in the garden with flowing hair, and light dress continued down the road without looking back.

She shot a look back at Claudie to confirm that what had just happened wasn’t all in her mind, but Claudie had departed and was now well down the street. Gabrielle was alone.

Time to go find Morrigan.

She stared down the road at Claudie, then down the road which the little girl had run, and finally to the direction that Hilde went. Gabrielle had not remembered to ask how to find the tavern where she met Morrigan. Focusing her scattered mind, she stopped and thought back to the last time they had all been here, on their way to the gala.

Gabrielle stood for a moment, looking between the three possible directions in which she could go. As she alternated between which direction to go, something distracted her.

Off in the distance, almost out of site, she swore that she could see the little girl. She was standing in the middle of the avenue, staring back at Gabrielle. Her sharp eyes were piercing, but with a passing of a group of women, the little girl vanished once more.

Don’t worry, follow me…

The words the little girl had spoken to Gabrielle in the garden came back to her. Without further hesitation, Gabrielle began to walk in the direction of the girl.

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

 

A bustling scene was the best description as Gabrielle made her way down the avenue. She was impressed by the amount of people that were in the streets this early in the day. Vendors tended to their carts and placed their wares out as scores of people walked about.

The air was almost electric with energy as the masses of people wandered around tending to their shopping, working, and chatting in the streets. Gabrielle was pleased with her choice in direction, as some of the buildings began to seem familiar to her. She was going the right way.

As she walked, Gabrielle thought about all of the possible things that could happen when she found Morrigan’s tavern: What if he wasn’t home? What if he didn’t remember her? How was she going to find the front entrance to the tavern? The last time Gabrielle had been there, it was dark and although she thought she was going in the right direction, she wasn’t sure where she was.

Gabrielle began to increase her speed the further she went, convinced that she was getting closer. It was almost as though she could feel herself closing the distance between her and Morrigan. As a cart drawn by a pair of black horses crossed her path, Gabrielle froze on the edge of the road. This was the location that she had nearly been knocked down by a horse on that night. She was within a block of the tavern.

Gabrielle mustered all of her strength to break her excitement and focus on the task at hand. With a deep breath, she took her step from the curb and began her journey down what she was sure would be the final road that would lead her to Morrigan.

Just as she had taken a few steps, a dull pain erupted from her back. Gabrielle was thrown forward into the road. She outstretched her hands with just enough time to stop herself from smashing into the cobblestones. Reflexively, she rolled to her side to address what had just hit her.

A woman stood in front of her, dusting off her apron. By all accounts, Gabrielle must have been in her way and the woman accidentally collided with her. As she stood, Gabrielle realized that there was something very, very wrong about the scrunched look that plastered the woman’s face. Immediately, the yelling began.

“You damned dog! Tossing a woman who only wanted bread!” A few people stood on the sidewalk in amazement, watching the spectacle that took place before them.

An alarm went off in Gabrielle’s head, something was wrong. The look on the woman’s face wasn’t normal. It was contorted like the fun house mirror at the carnival she went to with her parents when she was 10. The angry woman shot a glance at her for a fleeting moment, before someone from the small group responded in a like fashion.

“Dog? You stole from my shop! You’re a thief, is what you are! You don’t belong in any shop. I ought to call the guard and have you arrested!” A man proclaimed as he stepped forward from the group.

He was an older gentleman in what Gabrielle could guess was his fifties. He wore a baker’s apron that did little to hide his round stomach. She looked at his large hands and was amazed at how far he had cast the woman to the ground. The woman standing next to Gabrielle was younger, perhaps in her thirties, with a ruffled dress —likely from the fall— and her hands were clenched in fists of rage.

“Me, a thief? In these times, you dare charge these prices? You’re nothing but a tax-fencer, is what you are! This country’s in pain and you benefit from us poor! All bakers are dogs!”

The woman had taken another step toward the portly man. She bared her teeth like a dog, her face contorting even more and she snarled with every word that spat out of her mouth.

A crowd had begun to form as the two screamed at one-another. Gabrielle looked around at the onlookers and started to see more faces that were contorted in anger. She feared moving too quickly as to attract any attention from the enraged woman or the crowd of onlookers.

“You know as well as I that these times are not our fault! Look at the bourgeoisie and L’autrichienne if you want to blame someone other than yourself, thief! Take your disgraces home and be done with it.” The man ordered the woman to leave almost in a taunting manner.

Gabrielle knew that this would only escalate further and she slowly backed away from the situation. Having only taken a few steps backward, she was stopped by something hard against her back. Looking over her shoulder, Gabrielle found that she was standing in a solid circle of people.

“L’autrichienne may be to blame, but that is no reason to raise the prices on bread and flour!” another angry voice rose anonymously from the crowd and was met with an angry wave of support.

“We haven’t raised prices any higher than needed for our own survi—“

“Garbage!” Another voice interrupted.

“Utter nonsense! You claim that I have taken from you, when you are just as the bourgeoisie!” the instigator’s voice ripped at Gabrielle as she heard the desperation from the crowd. The woman reached down to her feet and picked up a palm-sized rock from the street below her.

“Oh, what do you think you’re doing with that rock?” the baker asked as he pulled a small knife from his pocket. “I’m warning you for the last time bitch, turn and leave or you’ll be taught the lesson of a woman’s true place.”

Without a moment’s pause, the woman he tossed to the ground threw the stone with all of her might at the man.

The stone hit its mark as it stuck the baker just above his left eye, opening a wound that immediately began to trickle blood. He let out a loud scream and raised his hands to his face. For a moment he stood, dumbfounded, before his rage boiled over and he began to charge at the woman.

As he ran with his hands out, another woman from the crowd swept her foot out and tripped the large baker. He fell forward several steps before landing abruptly on the ground. His pace was illustrated by his mass—he had thrown so much of himself into the charge that after he hit the ground, he rolled several times before stopping at the feet of the woman who had thrown the rock.

The knife that he once held slid across the ground and stopped at Gabrielle’s feet. The baker lay motionless upon the ground with his eyes closed. His chest rose and fell, but his breath was short and Gabrielle knew that he was unconscious.

“No more will we be the victims of this country and those brutes that condemn us. Today, we take what is ours!” yelled the instigator, as she motioned to the crowd, looking eerily similar to Madame Toinette in that moment.

The woman took a few steps toward the baker’s shop, as if inviting the crowd to relish in the pillaging that was about to begin. The crowd stood stunned for a moment before—like a wave of hatred—all of their expressions turned from disbelief and concern into fury and rage. Nods and glances were exchanged by the crowd and Gabrielle was filled with horror. Something terrible was about to happen.

One, then another, then a group of four, and so on the people that comprised the crowd began to disperse in all directions. Some went into other shops, others went directly to street vendors, and some even simply disappeared from site.

At first, Gabrielle could not understand what was happening, or why all of these people were just running in all directions. She was struck by fear as vendor carts were overturned, people were assaulted and the shouting became unbearably loud. The people of the group were acting like ravenous animals, their piggy eyes and mouths contorted into a wolf’s grin.

The sound of breaking glass caused her to turn as some women threw a butter churn through a window of a sweets shop. Spinning in a circle, Gabrielle broke from her stature. She had to get away from here, now. She had to find Morrigan before this got worse.

Turning to collect her bearings and head off, another scream emanated from the savagery

“You there! Maid! Yes you, think that you can hide behind those clothes, do you? I know a maids apron when I see one! What house claims you? Think that you’re better than the lot of us, do you?” a woman shouted from an adjoining corner. Gabrielle silently shook her head and backed away from the woman.

“Oh, and where do you think you’re off to? Back to your mansion?” the woman snarled as she made her way to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle wanted to turn and run, but she was too afraid to turn her back on the woman. As she took a shaky step backward, Gabrielle tripped over debris and fell to her back. Before she could regain her composure and stand, the woman flung herself at Gabrielle.

With a dull grunt, the woman sat upon her and began to tear at her apron with her hands. Gabrielle lay there, wide eyed and shocked at the events that were taking place.

“Think that you are better than us, do you? Think that you can hide in the shadows of L’autrichienne and live on their coat tails and damn the rest of us?” the woman screamed as she pulled at Gabrielle and tried to rip her clothes off.

Gabrielle slapped at her attacker, but this had little effect on the much bigger woman. All she could do was turn her face sideway to avoid spittle from the woman’s foul mouth as she snarled and struck Gabrielle.

There, within arm’s reach, was the small knife that the baker had presented to the instigator only moments before. Gabrielle reached out and took the knife in her hand. She brought the edge of the blade to the face of her attackers and drug it down her pale cheek. The crimson fluid flowed from the wound, causing her to release Gabrielle and cry out in pain.

Taking advantage of this moment Gabrielle brought her knee in and using the heel of her foot, sent the woman backwards. The woman rolled away and tore off down that avenue, holding her face and screaming.

“What in the ring of hell did you just do to my wife, wretch?” a snarling voice called from across the street.

Gabrielle leaned her head to see an angry man motion to another large man, and the two began to make their way across the street and around the carts to her. She rolled to a sitting position and began to drag herself away as quickly as she could. The men were nearly to her when another booming voice called out over the crowd.

“No gents, doesn’t seem right fair now, does it?” the voice said and chills ran down Gabrielle’s back. She swore that she had heard that voice before. A very large man flew over Gabrielle and charged at the two men. He caught one of them by the throat and brought his other fist to the face of her other attacker.

“There now, seems a bit more fair, no?” he grunted as he threw one of the men to the ground and began making work of the other. Gabrielle was gripped by disbelief.

[_Wait… _]

The larger man cast the second attacker to the floor with ease. Standing over the two broken men with swollen pride, he slightly turned and locked one eye to Gabrielle. A broad smile peaked across the side of his face.

“F-Fionn….” a clatter of people tore across her line of sight and in that moment, the man disappeared.

His two victims were motionless upon the ground. She could not believe what had just happened. It was impossible. Fionn was dead, and from another life. A life hundreds of years ago in another part of the country.

She stood and began frantically turning in circles, looking for the man that she had just seen. No one resembled the giant that had just saved her. Another clatter of shattering glass rang out as a mass of people rounded the corner and began to throw more stones into shop windows and raiding the displays. Gabrielle stood stricken as she watched the events that took place before her.

Off in the distance, a large dog jetted across the street and disappeared from sight. The presence of the dog gave her the drive she needed to leave the chaos behind. She turned on her heels and made her way across the street in the direction that she had been venturing.

“I have to get to him,” she whispered to herself as she ran, keeping as low as possible.

The windows of many of the shops that Gabrielle passed resembled macabre plays and the actions inside rivaled that of nightmares. She was sure that for the shop owners inside, fighting for their livelihoods, it was a nightmare.

As Gabrielle stumbled forward over debris and destroyed goods, a man came crashing through a window and rolled on the ground in front of her. She reached her hand out, but before she was able to offer aid, several women were at the broken window and then on top of him. They beat him with brooms, sticks, and their hands while he lay on the ground covering his head.

Gabrielle couldn’t help but to stare at the spectacle that lay in front of her. The man somehow made his way to his feet and began fending off the women, but still she could tell he had taken quite the beating as he swung an old piece of wood and the women scattered. In his hysterics, he brought his eyes to Gabrielle.

“Are you one of them? You are, aren’t you? Here to attack me for what is mine?” the man raised the piece of timber at Gabrielle and began swinging it wildly.

She immediately began to run, but the man was right behind her, rage in his glossy eyes and swinging his weapon like a mad man. Gabrielle ducked and he was knocked off balance by the weight of the wood. As he staggered to regain his bearings, she sprinted down the road and rounded a corner out of sight.

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

 

The sweat was running down her cheek as she gasped. Gabrielle took in the scene as chaos emerged all around her. She pressed her back against the wall of another bakery and focused on calming the chaos within herself.

“What’s happening? This is mad!” Gabrielle struggled to catch her breath. She wiped her brow with her apron and took a deep breath.

Another group of furious rioters passed her, but she remained hidden in the alcove that the molding of the shops entrance provided.

CLICK.

A searing pain leapt forward and up Gabrielle’s arm causing her to wince. [_Why now? Haven’t the riots already started? _]

She looked from left to right for the threat, but she went unnoticed in her hiding spot. As another wave of pain washed over her, she decided to get out of the perch and move. Maybe something is coming.

Gabrielle moved along with her back up against the wall and peered around the corner. Seeing no immediate danger, she turned to enter the shop and get out of the street.

Gabrielle stood in the entrance of another pastry shop. The front door was broken from its hinges and there was an assortment of pastries scattered about. Several women were clamoring about the shop, destroying everything in sight.

They cast shelves to the floor, threw baskets of goods, and broke anything that was not part of the building itself. As her eyes moved across the women, she remained unseen in her silence

A man lay upon the ground in the middle of the shop. He wore an apron and in spite of the ruckus, she could see flour ground into it. This man must be the shop owner.

As Gabrielle took him in, his cold eyes looked up at her. He didn’t call out for help. No mercy cries or pleas, the man merely looked up at Gabrielle with glassy eyes. She knew that look. He though himself not long for life, and was allowing the dark to come. At that moment, one of the women clamored on top of him and began to strike him.

Gabrielle reflexively took a half step towards him. As she did, the attention in the room switched to her. The women ceased their attack on the store and all turned to face her, even the woman that was on the floor ceased her murderous attack and brought her dead eyes to Gabrielle. Red demonic eyes glared at her, sucking all life from the room.

CLICK.

Her stomach flipped and her hands tightened as the crimson eyes fired at her in sinister silence. Arawn’s monstrosities had the same cold, dead eyes as they looked to her for certain death. Her bracelet still burned upon her arm as she stood, eye to eye with the danger that it was trying to warn her of.

“No!” She had stepped into a trap.

The savage women all maintained the same twisted smile. Their fang-like teeth shown bright in the morning sun coming through the broken front window.

The woman that crouched over the man brought herself up to one knee. She gracefully formed her hands into fists. Gabrielle looked down at her own hands and realized that she was still holding the old knife.

The forged steel was rough, with only the edge of the blade glimmering in the patchwork sunlight. Gabrielle brought her attention back to the group of savages in the room. As her eyes found the closest woman and their eyes met, she felt a deep scream from within her soul.

Life came roaring into her. It was the same feeling that she had when she fought Arawn’s ghost the night before. A fire erupted from her heart and travelled throughout her entire body. She felt as though she had just run a marathon, met her true love, and felt her body fill with all of the life and love contained within the world.

The world faded away, leaving only the peace she found within herself. A smile emerged on her face as she brought her eyes back to her attackers. She didn’t understand this new power that she had, but it didn’t matter. The bangle upon her wrist vibrated violently, tickling the soft part of her wrist.

The woman before her raised one eyebrow and her sinister smile transformed into a savage snarl. The fire in her eyes focused into a beam and attempted to tear right through Gabrielle. The woman shifted on her knee and then brought her other foot forward so that she was crouching. This was her moment.

“Here we go” Gabrielle muttered to herself.

What started as a gurgle beneath her ribs, thundered, clawed and ripped its way out of her mouth producing the guttural sound of a thousand souls. Gabrielle lunged forward, towards the woman crouching on the floor.

The woman attempted to stand and meet her threat, but Gabrielle had moved too quickly. Gabrielle brought her knee upward and smashed it into the left eye of the monster before her. With a howl of pain, the woman rocked backward and brought her hands to cover her eyes.

A horrendous scream came from one of the other women as she lunged from across the room and made her way to Gabrielle, her arms outstretched and saliva dripping from her mouth. Gabrielle twisted around and ducked, missing the grabbing paws of her attacker by mere inches.

As the other woman ran past Gabrielle, she brought the small knife around and scrapped it across the rear ankle of the second attacker. The woman stumbled forward, writhing in pain. She collided with shelving that still clung to the opposing wall and sent small jars clattering to the floor.

The woman howled like a dying animal as she lay on the flour-covered floor of the bakery. Crimson fluid covered her hands as she cradled her wound and cried in pain. Gabrielle paused for a moment in disbelief. She looked at her own hands and then back to her second attacker.

“How, the Hell, am I doing this…?” she said aloud, still confused by her new ability.

She didn’t feel normal. She felt like there were a thousand volts of electricity rushing through her veins. Gabrielle felt truly alive for the first time.

With another roar coming from a third woman, she rotated as her next attacker crashed into her and the two went rolling on the floor. The small knife slid across the shop and the two tumbled over and over as one attempted to gain purchase over the other. Gabrielle threw out her elbows, knees, and fists, relying only on her instinct to guide her.

The two finally came to a stop with Gabrielle underneath her attacker who was slapping, scratching and biting with all of her might. Gabrielle put up her hands and managed to fend off most of the blows. Two other women stood almost an arm’s reach away, howled with delight and encouragement as their comrade clawed at Gabrielle’s face. Fear broke Gabrielle’s confidence as she realized that she couldn’t get out from under her large attacker.

The woman raised her hands in preparation for a massive blow. Gabrielle seized the opportunity and threw her fist in a jab, smashing the large woman’s nose and spurting blood across her face. This strike, no matter how perfect, did not deter the ravenous woman. In a horrific display of madness, she merely licked away the mess from her upper lip and smiled a gruesome blood-filled grin.

Gabrielle wriggled her small frame and slapped at the woman, unsure of what to do. Just as her attacker was about to bring another fist down on her, a stone collided with the woman’s face and sent her rolling from atop Gabrielle.

The other two women soon became the victims of the marksman, as a barrage of stones flew over Gabrielle and hit them without mercy. They all howled in fury and snarled as they did their best to block the attacks. After a moment, their rage was all directed at their new attacker and they began to move towards the window.

Gabrielle rolled to get a view of her savior. All she saw was a blur of long hair disappear around the corner. The mixture of red, brown and gold hair that belonged to her savior glistened in the morning sun. With thundering roars, the three attackers leapt at the woman and pursued her as they stumbled from the store and disappeared around the same corner. Gabrielle pushed herself onto her back and closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath of relief.

Her moment was broken by the growls that came from the remaining two women. Gabrielle sat up and saw the woman that she first struck had begun to stir and the woman whom she had cut had begun to get over the initial pain and was starting to focus on her.

Gabrielle jumped to her feet and backed away from the scene as slowly as she could. The woman in front of her had finally regained consciousness, and the woman with the gash started crawling towards her. Without a moment’s pause, she turned and made her way out of the door of the shop.

With her feet on the walkway once more, she could hear riling behind her as her opponent mustered their strength for a second attack. Fervidly, Gabrielle looked down the street in either direction and tried to decide where to go. All around her was horror and violence.

The air was filled with the stinging smell of smoke and off in the distance she could hear the small explosions of what sounded like fireworks, though they were likely musket shots. This was a revolt, and Gabrielle had found herself right in the middle of it.

A scream erupted from the store causing her to flinch and run into the street. She had to get away from her attackers before these two either gained the strength to follow her, or their companions came back for her. Her eyes danced from building to building, looking for one that she could hide in. The avenues were not the place to be in all of this violence.

A little face came to Gabrielle amongst all of the despair. Three shops down, on the opposite side of the street, there was the small girl from earlier. The ghost that she had pursued. A tiny face peered at her from the open doorway of another shop. The little girl wore no emotion, only a blank slate that looked at Gabrielle, as if she were looking through her. In that moment, the girl gave a small smile and disappeared into the doorway, leaving it open.

“Do you want me to follow you?” Gabrielle asked herself as she looked into the darkness with caution.

The last time she had followed this girl, she had been led directly into a trap. Another scream came from behind Gabrielle.

“Well, run or fight. Your call,” she jested, looking over her shoulder and seeing that the women were nearly to their feet.

With a leap of faith, Gabrielle began to run directly to the open doorway. She took no time to consider the outcome or survey her surroundings. She just wanted to be inside and off of the street. Fleet of foot, she was soon through the doorway and slamming it behind her, leaving the Hell outside.

Gabrielle felt a poke at her back. In a moment of clarity, she turned and noted the lock-bar that spanned the width of the door. She grabbed the rod and secured the doorway. Gabrielle took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

I hope I made the right decision.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

 

 

The world was still ending outside, but in that moment Gabrielle found peace in the fact that she was no longer in the violence. She breathed deeply and appreciated the silence that finally fell upon her.

With her eyes tightly closed, she relaxed and began to feel the stinging and burning from her recent defense. In the moment she could feel no pain, but with the adrenaline subsiding, she was starting to feel every scratch and nick and every muscle in her body burned. The cool room offered a brief moment of sanctuary.

After taking her moment, Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked to the heavy door that was now barred. She hoped that she had not been seen by the women as she entered the building.

Gabrielle made a silent prayer that the door would hold in the event that she was discovered. Accepting her circumstance, she turned to see what new things she was to be presented with.

She found herself alone in a large, dimly lit room. Her eyes struggled to adjust to the poor light as she took several steps into the empty room. The floor creaked and moaned in the silence, sounding louder than she thought it should. She took a few more steps; each creaked and reverberated like thunder. As she neared the center of the room, everything finally began to come into focus and she stopped. Gabrielle stood in the center of Morrigan’s tavern.

Her eyes widened and her jaw fell open. Suddenly all of her worries and concerns fell away and all she could do was focus on finding Morrigan. Her thoughts flooded with nothing but finding him. Her eyes shot through the shadows, across the tavern floor, to the door that stood adjacent to the bar counter. This was the very door she had come through with Morrigan on the night of the gala. She ran to the door and flung it open.

Pop.

The sudden popping sound amplified through the sleeping hall. The door slowly came backwards and closed in her face. She stood for a moment, nose to the door. Something was wrong. What now? Gabrielle thought to herself as she leaned her head against the wooden door in defeat.

“You know what amazes me? It’s just how well you ruin my plans. I would almost stake a wager that you actually enjoy angering me.” Arawn’s voice tore at her ears as she stood.

A feeling of frustration and submission fell over Gabrielle, as yellow light slowly began to illuminate the wall before her. Slowly, she turned to face another monster.

Arawn sat at the opposite end of the bar. The room was now illuminated by several small lanterns that seemed to be summoned from places unknown.

He had an eerie look of contempt and pleasure upon his face as though he was aware of something that she was not. He sat with his legs crossed, and leaned against one of the pillars of the bar as he drew long sips of a red liquid from a port glass. An old bottle sat upon the counter next to his arm. Gabrielle realized that the pop must have been the cork from the bottle.

“What can I do for you today Arawn?” Gabrielle probed, annoyed at their frequent meetings.

Arawn snickered, but the look of enjoyment ran from his face and was replaced by sincerity. He took another sip from his glass and began to swirl its contents.

“You know what disappointed me about this era?” he began, ignoring Gabrielle’s question entirely. “It was that though craftsmen took their time creating and making things beautiful, sometimes you could still find those that would take a lazy man’s way and ruin something that should be delectable. Like this port, for example. This is trash!” He threw the glass at the wall, shattering its handmade detail. Her shoulders flinch and tighten in preparation for the battle that was sure to ensue.

Arawn extended his arm towards her, but did not move. A bottle that sat on the end of the bar next to Gabrielle slid across the smooth, wooden surface and directly into Arawn’s waiting clutches.

He smiled a toothy grin and stared at Gabrielle for a moment, clutching the bottle. He then extended one long, skeletal finger with a razor like claw at the end and plunged it into the cork of the bottle, removing it with ease. He reached up and grabbed a new cup that hung from a hook above his head, filled it with the new bottle and sipped once more.

“Ah, much better. Shall I pour you a glass milady?” Arawn twirled his hand in a mimicking gesture of courtesy.

“What does this have to do with me, exactly? What does all of this have to do with me?” Gabrielle demanded, ignoring his comment completely and stepping towards him in blind agitation. He didn’t flinch in the slightest; rather he snidely chuckled into his glass and continued to sip.

“Still as ignorant as always. Or is it that you presume me ignorant and are playing a game with me? Someone who would embark on such a journey without considering what was actually happening, why that is something only a child would do.” He spat the word ‘child’, as if it were something utterly revolting .

Finishing the contents of his drink, he threw the glass to the floor, then abruptly stood and adjusted his jacket.

“Do you enjoy speaking in riddles that I cannot answer? If that’s the case, then you’re succeeding. Who are you and what does any of this have to do with me?”

“You’re here because something was stolen from me. I will have it returned to my possession and, as a punitive response, I will also end your frivolous tale where it is! Dominion be damned, I intend on splitting your soul asunder! I will not be outwitted by a Sentient!” Arawn took several steps toward her.

She took one step in the opposite direction, to keep some distance between them.

“What seems to be the issue here, then?” interjected another similar voice.

The snide expression from Arawn faltered for a brief moment as Morrigan entered the room from the doorway that led to the upstairs. He walked over to Gabrielle’s side and stopped. His lavender eyes burned with intensity and he looked to Gabrielle, nodded in support, and then brought his face back to Arawn.

“You know, Morrigan, it is considered rude to arrive to a meeting unannounced. Especially when you’re not wanted,” Arawn sneered, shifting his weight and turning his body to more readily face Morrigan

“Well, it’s rather difficult to not invite someone to a meeting in their own home. Would you not agree?” Morrigan’s frustration towards him more drastically formed than Gabrielle’s.

“Well this is not your home now, is it? In fact, neither of the two of you belong here. I should think that you are both rather tired of this game by now, no?” Arawn took a few calculated steps toward Gabrielle, but his eyes never left Morrigan’s.

“Why do you fight it so? You know, dying is not as bad as you may think. It’s like drifting away into a gentle sleep.” Arawn continued as he rotated his neck from side to side, producing a popping sound as his muscles cracked. “I do encourage the both of you to try it out. Perhaps now?” He snickered and began to slowly walk sideways, like a wolf would circle prey.

“What will you have of us?” Gabrielle inquired, turning her body to follow him. “We have bested your attempts at us in the past. Surely you have tried your all. Why would you otherwise make multiple attempts? You cannot defeat us now or ever. So just leave us alone.” Gabrielle tried to sound confident but only managed to sound like a pouting little girl.

“Ah, therein lays your misconception, Gabrielle. These are not your lives. They are mine. Though I did not live them like the whelps that did, they do belong to me now. You are interfering with my games. This I cannot have.” Arawn was circling Morrigan and Gabrielle. The two turned in tandem, never allowing their eyes to leave his.

“You cannot harm us here. You have no dominion!” Morrigan shouted, stepping towards Arawn, who did not falter in his steps. He smiled and continued to walk his circle around the two of them.

“Well now, no dominion? Look who has been paying attention. Following the rules has never been my strong suit. I will let the two of you in on a bit of a secret involving my dominion.” Arawn stopped walking and lowered his gaze.

Morrigan moved so that he was in front of Gabrielle but she grabbed his hand and stood beside him. She was tired of hiding from her daemons; it was time to face her fears.

Like lightening, Arawn flew across the room and struck Morrigan in the chest with one strong blow, sending him across the room and over the bar. Gabrielle swung her arm and managed to strike him in the jaw, but it seemed to have no effect

Arawn stopped, smiled at her and brought the back of his hand across Gabrielle’s face, sending her spinning to the floor. The searing pain reverberated in every bone of her body.

As he stood over her, Arawn’s expression changed from joy to confidence, as though she were a student finally comprehending a lesson. He opened his mouth to speak but was tackled by Morrigan and sent flying to the floor.

The two toppled backward, Morrigan landing on top of Arawn. Bringing his fists into Arawn’s face, Morrigan landed several devastating blows before Arawn grabbed one of his arms and twisted it. Gabrielle flinched as she could hear her friend’s bones breaking, the sound filling up the empty hall.

He screamed in pain as Arawn rose and tossed him aside as though he were weightless. Gabrielle brought herself to her feet and charged in similar fashion. Arawn, who seemed as if he had been expecting such an attack, turned and grabbed her by the throat.

He choked her so tightly that she could feel the blood leaving her neck, and her vision began to darken. Arawn brought his face mere centimeters from hers and smiled a toothy grin, then threw her against the fireplace. The back of her head struck the hard stone and sent her into a daze. Through blurry eyes, Gabrielle could see that Arawn was walking over to her when, once more, Morrigan met him with equal force.

He rounded Arawn and brought his fist into his stomach, causing him to bend forward and allowing Morrigan to bring his knee into Arawn’s now upturned face. Arawn, however, was faster and grabbed Morrigan by his leg sent him spiraling across the tavern. His landing was broken by several tables that crumpled under his weight. Gabrielle yelled out as she watched Morrigan fall limp to the floor.

Turning to her side, she began to crawl towards him with all of her might. She willed herself to have the strength that she had possessed in the bakery when met by his minions, but she didn’t know how to turn it on.

The old wood was smooth to the touch as she crawled across the misshapen beams that comprised the floor of the tavern. She paid no attention to Arawn. Gabrielle just had one goal—to reach Morrigan.

Several heavy steps came from off to her left as she crawled on all fours to her injured friend. Suddenly a sharp pain shot through her stomach as Arawn brought his powerful foot upward, kicking her and forcing the air from her lungs.

Gasping for air, Gabrielle fell face down on the floor. Another sharp pain erupted on the top of her head as Arawn grabbed a massive handful of her hair and hoisted her back to her hands and knees. Pulling on her hair more tightly, he forced her gaze upward as he kneeled down to her level.

“As I said, I may not have the dominion to kill you with mine own hand at this point…” saliva tickled down her neck as he spoke,” but I can bring you to the point of wishing that you were dead.” With those words, Arawn wrapped his other hand around her neck, lifting her into the air.

As she hung by her throat, grabbing at his death-like claws, her eyes fell to a balcony that looked out over the tavern. There, standing as if she were a statue, was the little girl.

Gabrielle ceased fighting for a moment and just looked at up at her, mesmerized by her stature. She looked so familiar, yet Gabrielle couldn’t place her.

She brought her eyes back to Arawn, who was still deep in monologue. God this guy talks too much!

“…I cannot kill you myself, but how about I make you fight for your own life? Perhaps you should be elsewhere. Hmmm, how about…” once more, Arawn reached out his long claw and tapped the tip of the razor-like nail between her eyes. Gabrielle fell into blackness.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

 

 

Air rushed all around. Gabrielle’s heart began to pound and she panicked before smacking into a hard counter, bouncing and then hitting the floor. She gasped for breath as though she had never breathed in her life. The air stung her lungs like chilled air in the middle of winter.

A bright light glossed her vision and she briefly couldn’t see where she had landed. Everything on her throbbed, but now was not the time to curl up and submit.

She crawled from where she landed until she felt a hard surface before her. It was a wall. Gabrielle turned and placed her back up against it and threw her hands out in front of her to brace for the next attack.

She sat there for a moment, listening, but heard nothing. Only a light ringing reverberated through her ears. Then, out of the blindness and ringing, a muffled voice began to emerge through the void. At first it was just a muted rumble, but after a few moments the sound became clear.

“Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Are you OK? Where have you been?” a young voice screamed at her. Eventually, her vision cleared and she found a petrified Jean-Paul staring at her.

“Where am I?” Her mind was fuzzy and she couldn’t get it to focus.

Gabrielle pushed herself upward, and Jean-Paul rushed to her side, grabbed her arm and helped to steady her. She brushed the hair from her face, rubbed her swollen head and repeated her question.

“Where am I?”

“You are in the kitchen! Everyone has gone mad. The guards are running all over, the royal family is in terror. I don’t know what’s happening. Brenton and the others have not made their way back to the palace yet. Where are they? Are they alright?” Jean-Paul’s face was strong and confident, with only his shaky voice giving away his fear.

“I, I don’t know if they’re alright are not. I don’t even know how I got here in the first place. Wait, what do you mean, everyone has gone mad?”

“They’re coming for the palace. There are masses of people at the gates and they are fighting to get in. The guards are doing what they can, but everyone is running away. My father and brother are in town. I am alone here. What should we do?” Jean-Paul shot nervous glances about the room and over his shoulders, as if he expected someone to attack him right then and there.

The thought of the crazed villagers attacking Jean-Paul threatened to bring bile up Gabrielle’s throat. “I have to get up. We have to go. We have to get away from here. They’re savages and they’re coming here to hurt everyone. We have to leave before they arrive!”

Off in the distance, Gabrielle could hear the thundering of the masses yelling and the distinct sound of gun shots.

“Where can we go? They’re everywhere!” Jean-Paul asked, doing his best to help, but only making her more nervous.

Gabrielle paused for a moment and looked around the kitchen. Cabinets, perhaps? No, if they found him in one of those, he would have nowhere to run. Besides, this riot is over food. Maybe hiding in the kitchen is not the best idea.

“What if we hid upstairs?” he asked, a new level of excitement rising in his voice. She couldn’t tell if his level of enthusiasm was because he had never been allowed upstairs before and now was his chance, or if he was pleased because he knew that this was actually a good suggestion.

Gabrielle thought on this for a moment and then nodded.“That’s a great idea. We can hide upstairs. There are countless rooms and plenty of places. Do you think you can stay hidden and not come out until the danger is gone?”

Jean-Paul smiled and nodded his head wildly. “If I can hide from my brother when I take his favorite trowel, I think I can hide from a bunch of strangers.”

Gabrielle smiled at the young boy. She admired his bravery in all of this. He was handling this commotion much better than she had by far. She reached out and held his hand. Jean-Paul’s cheeks turned a warm pink hue and he looked at the floor.

“Everything is going to be all right, Jean-Paul. I promise, I will get us out of this,” Gabrielle lied. If Jean-Paul knew she was lying, he didn’t let on, because his trembling hand steadied and he smiled up at her.

In the distance, the sound of an explosion tore through their moment. The hair stood at attention on the back of her neck as they both shot their heads in the direction of the front gate.

“We have to go. Now!” Gabrielle’s heart was beating so fiercely that she thought Jean-Paul could hear the thumps.

She squeezed his little hand so tightly that she was certain he would wince in pain, and yanked him along as they started running through the doorway and into the main dining hall.

Several silver trays with an assortment of beautiful trinkets were cast about on the floor. It looked as though the remaining house workers heard the commotion and ran, leaving whatever they were doing behind.

The two made their way across the room, hand in hand and hearts in their throats. At one point, Jean-Paul stumbled over a small silver tin, causing him to fall and bringing Gabrielle to her knees. A small spoon dug into her knee as she met the floor. With a wince of pain and a jerk from Jean-Paul, the two were back up and making their way through the massive room to the main foyer.

As the duo rounded the corner, a group of people frantically ran past them. Gabrielle and Jean-Paul halted in awe at the sight. The foyer was full of people, from those that worked the grounds, those that worked within the palace, as well as some members of the family that guards were ushering along.

Gabrielle watched as people yelled and climbed over each other, trying to find someplace, any place, to hide. She looked about the room to see if there were any people that she recognized.

Gabrielle held out hope that she would see Hilde or Brenton or any sign that the group made it back from the village alive. Many faces appeared that she had seen in passing, but none of her friends were here.

The panicked mumbles and yells of the horde of people in the room were almost deafening and Gabrielle pulled Jean-Paul towards the stairs and out of the way of the cluster of terrified people.

Just as they were almost out of sight, a sharp snap ripped across the crowd that made Gabrielle flinch.

“You there! Stop! Where is she?” Madame Toinette was expeditiously approaching Gabrielle and Jean-Paul.

Reflexively, Gabrielle pushed the young boy behind her and out of the direct path of the real-life monster that was the head mistress. “You were with her in the village! Now you are here and my mother is not! Where is my mother?” she continued, as she pushed her way into Gabrielle’s face and grabbed her by the shoulders.

“I don’t know where she is!” Gabrielle yelled in return, removing the hands of her persecutor. “We all separated to get the errands done quicker! The next thing I know, this horrible fight emerged. Then I am back here. I do not know what happened!”

Her response seemed only to further agitate the woman, as her face flushed and she grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders again.

“So, you just left her there? You left my mother with the animals in that village and saved yourself?” she yelled as she shook Gabrielle, casting small droplets of spittle onto her face. “You are as worthless as I thought.”

With this threat, Madame Toinette released Gabrielle from her grasp and collected her switch that had been clutched under her arm. With an expression of utter discontent, she raised the crop high above her head. Gabrielle threw her hands upward to protect her face. “No!” screamed Jean-Paul as he stepped around Gabrielle’s back.

Madame Toinette froze in place. The room had become silent. Her face contorted into one of confusion and she turned to glare over her shoulder at those around them.

Everyone had, indeed, ceased speaking but their voices were replaced by a look of unbridled horror. Gabrielle followed the terrified looks and realized they were not looking at her, but rather over her. Following their rigid gazes, Gabrielle and Madame Toinette slowly turned their heads to see what had hushed the room.

Jean-Paul slid from Gabrielle and slowly began to walk over to the main window. He crept to the beautiful glass like a child sneaking into a kitchen to steal a cookie. His steps could not be heard, even in the vast expanse of the silent hall.

As he drew closer to the large window, the light shot past his small frame, making it look as though he was being illuminated by an astral presence. He reached the window, and only peered through for a moment. When he turned back to Gabrielle, the look upon his faced mirrored the terror of all of the others within the hall.

“R-ru,” he whispered, his fear catching in his throat before he could finish the word. “RUN!” he screamed as he broke towards Gabrielle in an outright sprint.

After only a few paces, the great door to the main foyer crashed open with the force of an explosion. The door flew open and barreled passed Jean-Paul as it swung into the crowd. The bright light blinded her for a moment, but it was the sound that scared Gabrielle. A stampede. Hundreds of feet smacking against the ground as they forced their way into the palace.

Her vision cleared at the precise moment that Jean-Paul reached her hip. Like a biblical flood, people came pouring into the foyer. People with weapons, fists, fire, and hatred flooded through and as they met those closest to the door, their rage was transferred to those unfortunate souls.

Though it was a moment of sheer terror, she could not help but note that a majority of the attackers were women. With the scream of the first person attacked—a man that worked the grounds—Gabrielle grabbed Jean-Paul with all of the strength that she could muster and pulled him to the stairs.

The flood continued to break through the threshold and unleashed an endless barrage of villagers, hatred burning in their crimson eyes. Madame Toinette turned and followed directly behind Gabrielle and Jean-Paul.

The entire room exploded in panic and within moments, she could no longer tell which direction people were running or where the attackers were coming from. The only way that she was able to identify who the attackers were, was by their deep red eyes.

Once they were all at the stairs, the three ran with such force that it was as though they were not running up the stairs, but flying. Gabrielle barely felt her feet touch the steps as she pulled Jean-Paul behind her.

As they reached the top of the stairs, a sudden tug pulled Gabrielle back and she nearly fell down the stairs. Wide eyed, she turned and saw that Jean-Paul and been pinned under Madame Toinette. It appeared that some of their pursuers were more fleet of foot than she realized. Two women had lunged and grabbed Madame Toinette by her ankles, tripping her and causing her to fall on top of the young boy.

Gabrielle bent to help them up as the women clawed their way on top of Madame Toinette and began pulling at anything they could get in their claws. As the attackers moved toward Jean-Paul, Gabrielle tugged on him and the two women raised their eyes upwards to her. Two sets of red eyes stared back at her, hell glowing in them.

Rage began to boil within her and a blood curdling scream forced its way up through her throat and past her lips. She brought her heel up as high as she could and brought it down upon the closest attacker. The woman’s face went lifeless and she rolled backwards and began her tumble down the stairs. Fortunately, as the first woman fell backwards, she caught the second attacker, causing her to follow suit.

Without wasting time, Gabrielle reached down and pulled Jean-Paul from beneath Madame Toinette and boosted him to his feet. Madame Toinette immediately stood and finished the last steps. Gabrielle took a moment and peered over the chaos. Everything was being raided and destroyed.

Feeling a tug on her dress, Gabrielle looked down to see a frightened Jean-Paul pointing at the mass of people that were now making their way up the staircase. She turned, with Jean-Paul in tow, and the two made their way down the hallway as fast as they could.

“Where are we going to go?” the boy yelled, as the raiders were making their way upstairs.

“There is a room up here that I have been in before. We can hide there.” Gabrielle’s voice was barely audible above the chaotic roar. With her eyes locked on the familiar jonquil plant, Gabrielle turned and forcing her way through the heavy door. She prayed that she made the right decision as she pulled Jean-Paul in behind her and Madame Toinette pushed her way in behind them.

Madame Toinette slammed and locked the door, and then the three stood watching the handle as if it were going to pop right off and attack the lot of them.

“Why did we go in here? What’s your plan?” Madam’s deep wrinkles seemed softer now that terror took the place of anger upon her face. Gabrielle stroked Jean-Paul’s hair in pride. He managed to remain more collected in this situation than Madame Toinette.

“We have to hide. We cannot outrun these people. Trust me, please. I have been in the village and seen what’s happening. There are no places to go. We have to hide and hope for a miracle.”

With that, she looked around the room at the locations which she could hide Jean-Paul. There were armoires, large standing artworks, the massive curtains, under the bed… A thought of her own childhood snapped into view and she thought about what would be the best place to hide for a child. She was a master of hide and seek when she was younger, surely Gabrielle could find a good place to hide him.

She sprang into action and brought Jean-Paul over to the large bed across the room. She lowered to her knee and lifted the bed skirt and blankets. As she looked at the narrow clearance from the bed frame to the floor, she smiled. There was just enough of a gap for a small child to fit.

“This is for you. I need you to get under here and do not make a sound. No matter what you hear, or what happens to me. You have to stay under here until all is safe and they are gone, do you hear me?” With this she squeezed the child into her chest and cradled his head in her hands. “Promise me Jean-Paul.”

The boy had tears in his eyes as he looked up at Gabrielle. She had never seen him cry and he had been so strong up until now that her heart ripped in two.

“What about you? Where will you go? I want to go with you!” he exclaimed, squeezing her tightly. Gabrielle rubbed the top of his head and smiled down at him.

“I need you to hide here. This bed is heavy and there is only enough space for you. I promise I will stay near, but you have to go now. Remember, stay quiet and wait until it’s safe.” She forced a smile and kissed him on the top of his head.

With a comforting nudge, she pulled the covers back further and urged him to slide under the bed. The last thing that Gabrielle saw was his swollen eyes looking back at her. She released the covers and adjusted them back to the way they were, then stood back and examined her work. The bed looked untouched; it would be hard to guess that anyone was hiding under there.

A loud ‘thud’ brought Gabrielle’s attention back to Madame Toinette. She was backing away from the door, which was now shaking violently in its frame. Gabrielle shuddered at the realization that they had been found. There was no place for them to go. They had to hide. She ran over to Madame Toinette’s side and grabbed her by the shoulder.

“We have to hide before they come in! We don’t have much time!” Gabrielle whispered, trying to avoid letting their pursuers hear.

Madame Toinette stared at the door as it rattled and shook. She would not break her glare.

“No, you have to hide. I won’t be going anywhere,” she replied, still looking to the door.

“What? No! We have to hide. Now!” Gabrielle continued, pulling at the older woman’s dress. She did not budge, but rather turned and smiled.

“You saved my life, and the boy’s. You could have—should have—run for your own sake. You did not. Now they know there is someone in here, but not how many. If we all hide, they will rip this chamber apart for blood until we are all found. No one will be safe. You are young, and he is younger still.”

“Why are you doing this?” Gabrielle asked in disbelief, looking back at her tormentor with new eyes. This was by far the most sadistic woman she had ever met. She had no kind thoughts for this woman, and knew the sentiment was mirrored back at her.

“It’s not for you. Nor is it for the boy. THIS is for my mother. I don’t know what has happened to her. If I am to go, I want to do one more thing for my mother, and this is what she would have wanted. Now go and hide before I change my mind and give you to them in my stead!” Madame Toinette pulled her shoulder from Gabrielle’s hand.

The door began to shake more intensely. Soon, whoever was on the other side would be on top of them. Gabrielle collected herself and began to look about for a place to hide.

As her eyes scanned her surroundings, they fell upon an old armoire that stood opposite the bed. In the event that he was discovered and she was not, Gabrielle could hopefully surprise the attackers, and give Jean-Paul a chance to run. She threw the doors of the armoire back and smiled as it had no contents and she could easily fit inside.

With a fleeting look to Madame Toinette, who still locked eyes with the door preparing herself and a glimpse at the bed to Jean-Paul, Gabrielle crawled into the cabinet and closed the doors behind her.

As she sat in the darkness, Gabrielle grew much more concerned for her situation. Hiding in this location didn’t give her any sense of security, rather it left her feeling more exposed than ever before. She was cramped in this small space and could barely breathe, let alone move and possibly defend herself should she be found. Every breath that she took echoed about in the tomb-like container. Her stomach ached within these confines.

Suddenly, the clamor and din ceased and a violent crash erupted though the silence. Gabrielle threw her hands to her ears reflexively and slammed her eyes shut. She could hear muffled yelling followed by banging and smashing. The sharp sounds of glass breaking and the dull smack of something unknown made her heart quicken and she rocked back and forth. Pounding footsteps echoed all around as the walls within the armoire shook and rattled. The sounds were getting closer and closer, and she squeezed her eyes tighter and tighter.

Gabrielle could tell by all of the rumblings that the room was being destroyed. Remembering Jean-Paul she forced her eyes and ears open. She could not say what of Madame Toinette, but listened with all of her might for any sounds that could be a scream from Jean-Paul. Within moments, she could tell that they were directly outside of the cabinet, and would enter at any moment. Gabrielle closed her eyes and readied herself for the fight of her life.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

 

 

Nothing happened. She waited, poised to attack and defend. She waited for the sign to run to Jean-Paul and to fight the monsters once more, but nothing happened.

Gabrielle remained rigid in the small space and until she wondered why she was in there in the first place. In that moment of reflection, her heart slowed and she realized that there was silence. She tried to peep through the thin crack in the armoire, but only saw a sliver of light. She strained to see if there was any movement in the room beyond, but nothing broke the light.

Gabrielle tried with all of her will to hear anything in the room. Nothingness replied. All she could hear in her little perch was that of her own heart and breath in a sort of rhythmic dance. She dared not whisper nor call out in the event that someone was still near and could hear her.

[_What if this is another one of Arawn’s tricks? What if he is waiting in silence with his hounds? _]Gabrielle intended on waiting in her hiding spot until the end of time, or until she heard Arawn’s voice beckoning her forward for a fight. Yet, to her immense surprise, it was not his voice that she heard. Instead, another familiar voice whispered through the dark.

“My word, Gabrielle! You must come out from there, silly girl. Surely it is most uncomfortable!” a soothing voice broke through the deafening silence. “Come now, please don’t keep me waiting any longer,” Alexandra’s familiar voice continued.

Her entire body went limp. She nearly lost the ability to stand and stumbled, nearly falling through the cabinet doors.

She brought one timid hand to the inside of the door and paused. [_What if this is another one of his tricks? _]With her free hand, she grabbed at her bangle and felt for any sign of heat. The bangle remained cold to the touch. Still, Gabrielle held her position, unsure if she should trust her ears.

“Come out now,” Alexandra laughed. “His hounds will not find you here.” With a final breath, and trusting in her senses, Gabrielle threw caution aside and stepped from the cabinet.

The blinding light blurred her vision and forced her eye lids to disobey her and flutter closed. Forcing them back open, she squinted into the light.

No longer was she in a bed chamber within the Palace of Versailles in France, surrounded by a war and hundreds of angry people. She was back in Alexandra’s loft. A soft fire crackled away in the distance and a smell of fresh tea wafted in the air. Slowly lowering herself to the ground, at first, Gabrielle did not see Alexandra but could only hear her humming.

She took a couple of shaky steps into the familiar room and felt tears well in her eyes. Gabrielle had not been so happy to see this dusty old loft in a long time.

Something felt strange. She shot a few glances around the room and then paused as a cold chill raced down her spine. Her arm was cold. Gabrielle brought a horrified look down to her bare arm, the arm where her bracelet should have been, but wasn’t.

“Don’t worry my dear.” Alexandra’s voice was soft, soothing away the tension that hung in the air.

“As long as the bracelet has an owner, it must stay with them. Though you will need to retrieve it when I send you back or you wont be able to stay.” Gabrielle rubbed the tender flesh of her bare wrist for what felt like the first time in years. This was her wrist, the wrist of the 13 year old girl that she barely recognized anymore.

“Well now, look who has decided to join me. I do encourage you to relax, my dear. You are far too tense.” Alexandra chuckled as she emerged from behind the armoire with a tray of tea and cookies. The armoire was standing in the middle of the room, separating the fire place and bedroom from the kitchen.

“What’s going on? Did I die..uhh she die?” Gabrielle asked, mouth agape and barely able to think.

Alexandra stopped in mid stride and offered a warm smile. She still wore the same dress and running shoes that she had worn the day that the two first met. She waved at Gabrielle with the tips of her fingers under the tray. “Please sit, my dear. I promise to answer all of your questions.”

Gabrielle turned and there stood the very chairs they sat in what seemed like centuries ago. As she walked over to her usual seat, a small newspaper sat there in her stead. Le Ami Du Peuple. Gabrielle paused, eyes groping the paper in confusion. She recognized the language as French, but otherwise she couldn’t read it. Alexandra placed the tray on the table between the two chairs and grabbed the paper that sat in Gabrielle’s seat.

“Oops. Sorry for that my dear, just picking up a bit of light reading. Please, sit.” Alexandra chuckled, not hesitating to take her own seat, fold up the newspaper and place it under the tray.

Gabrielle took the hint and followed suit. The soft chair sank as she sat down. She rubbed her hands on the arm rest and sank deeper into the chair. This was quite possibly the most comfortable seat she had ever sat in.

“Now, as I said earlier, I will answer all of your questions.”

Gabrielle did not hesitate to respond. Too long had she been flooded with questions with no one to ask.

“What’s happening?” She offered the most obvious question first.

“Well, it appears that you are sitting with me in my home drinking tea. I’m sorry, but this is all I can offer you. Always peddling tea makes me feel so old,” She jested, a small grin on her face.

Gabrielle knew that she was trying to make the situation a lighter and her more comfortable, but she needed these questions answered.

“I mean, what’s happening right now. In this life?” She clarified, a sharpness to her tone that implied her seriousness.

“When you left, Madame Toinette, Jean-Paul and Joséphine were hiding from the raiders that will break in at any moment.” Gabrielle took a moment to think about what a beautiful name Joséphine was and how it fit the radiant young maid that was her host. The smile that once sat on Alexandra’s aging face was all but gone now and she sighed as she sat back in her chair, sipping on a small cup of tea.

“Well, my dear. Man has always had a horrible tendency of hurting the things that it does not understand. There is a rift between the leaders and their people in France right now. The leaders do not understand their people, and their people do not understand why. So, in the way that tends to come all too naturally to some, they lash out. Others then join in, for the strength of the many outweighs the thoughts of the few. When this happens, a revolution is born. You are witnessing a grand revolution, indeed,” Alexandra’s voice deepened just for a moment, as though filled with rage, and then it was gone.

“There were so many people in pain,” Gabrielle expressed, feeling a lump develop in her throat. She thought of all of the fighting, of her friends, of Morrigan, of… “Who is Arawn?” Gabrielle blurted, the lump in her throat being replaced by acid as she spoke his name.

The look that covered Alexandra’s face was one of disgust and reminded her of the face a cat makes when it smells something rotting and foul.

“Ah, him.” Alexandra’s voice was filled with venom. “He’s quite a wicked creature, indeed.” She paused as if searching for the right words. “To tell you who he is, I will have to give you a little background information. Please be patient.” Alexandra pleaded, handing Gabrielle a small cup of tea and a cookie. Gabrielle placed the tea and snack on the arm of the chair and leaned closer.

“There are many religions and beliefs in the world, my lovely. Different people stake love and belief onto several deities and practices that all aim for the same reveal: love and worship. Keeping us all bound by that which otherwise may separate us. This only differs in the ‘natural’ beliefs, those that derive their beliefs and practices based on the power of nature and the natural forces that guide us all. You have found yourself immersed in the realm of one of these beliefs.” Alexandra paused for a moment and took another sip of her tea. Gabrielle was paralyzed by intrigue.

“In one such belief, there are two worlds that comprise all that is and was. The Living World and the Other World. The belief is such that once you pass in the Living World, you can progress to the next. Spirits continually rotate between these two realms for all of eternity. That creature that you speak of, Arawn, he is the King of the Other World. He is a God. The God over what some call the Lamented, whom are the dead that reside in the Other World. The Sentient, are the living creatures that reside in your world, the Living World.”

“Arawn kept calling me Sentient!” Gabrielle could hardly contain her excitement as everything started to make sense.

“You are a living soul that has done a wonderful job at agitating him.” Alexandra raised her glass to Gabrielle in cheers.

“What does he want with me?” Gabrielle interrupted, as she stuffed a cookie into her mouth without taking her eyes off of the older woman.

“It isn’t necessarily you that he wants. Now, that’s changed in recent events, but initially he had no interest in you. Only to recover what is his.” Gabrielle began to rub her bare arm where the bracelet should have been. “Ah, you are wise beyond your years, my dear, but I’m afraid that’s not what he wants. No, what he wants is something, I’m sad to say, that I am actually in possession of, not you.” Her heart sped up and she stood from her chair.

“What do you mean that you have it? You’ve had what he wants all along and you’ve been letting him…torture me?” Gabrielle was shouting, the anger visible in her cheeks.

Alexandra did not respond to her outrage, but rather sat patiently waiting for Gabrielle to finish.

“I’m sorry for this, my dear. I truly am. Unfortunately, what he wants could undo all that you’ve done. I cannot say what this might mean for you, but I know what it will mean for those who you have freed and will free in the future.”

“What do you mean freed?” Gabrielle inquired, slowly finding her way back to her seat.

“Well, my dear. That’s what I’m trying to get to. You remember that I spoke about rotating between worlds? Well sometimes, this is not as easy as it sounds. At times, in the presence of an untimely or tragic end, the spirits of those recently deceased cannot be reborn into the Living World, nor are they free in the Other World. Instead, they are stuck between the realms, reliving their tragic ends over and over. They are cursed.” Gabrielle began to feel restless in her seat as Alexandra spoke.

“The last time we talked, I mentioned that the bracelet needs to tell the tales of its previous wearers. Well, that’s partially true. The spirits that are trapped between the two worlds must relive these lives until the day comes that their tragic ends have been mourned, and their spirits are finally set free.”

With this, Alexandra motioned to the bracelet. “This is what you are doing. You are retelling their tales and setting them all free. This is why Arawn is furious with you. He cannot control them if they are free, and the more souls that he controls, the more powerful he is.”

“But why these lives?” Gabrielle plopped back down in the chair and sipped her tea.

“You’re given these lives for a very specific and amazing reason. All of the lives that you are experiencing, though they span centuries and are worlds apart, all have one thing in common. That, my dear, is where your special bracelet comes in. All of these spirits wore that piece of metal, or were affected by it in some way. As they passed in their unfortunate ends, they attached a part of their lives to that bracelet. It is that very item that allows you to live as these women and be as they were. It also offers you some protection, as I’m sure you noticed,” Alexandra jested, taking another sip and giggling. The fire crackled next to them as Gabrielle sat in amazement.

“Then, what do you have that he wants?” she asked Alexandra, still not really understanding everything she had just been told.

Alexandra reached behind her chair and produced a silver goblet. In all of the amazing oddities in Alexandra’s home, Gabrielle knew that she had seen this one before somewhere, though she couldn’t quite place it.

“This, my dear, is the Chalice of Regeneration and Resurrection. It’s what provides the magic needed to power the bracelet. It was taken from him to give you the ability to see through the eyes of the dead. He sensed it was gone when you set Aideen, the first Lamented, free. Now he wants it back and knows the way back to the chalice is through you. If he were to get it back, this would all end.”

It all made sense. Gabrielle was finally able to understand all of the pain and suffering. Why she and Morrigan were doing what they were doing, who Arawn was; everything. Gabrielle perked her head up as another thought flooded her mind.

“Where’s Morrigan?” she asked, completely amazed that she had forgotten him for a moment.

“He’s still there, fighting the good fight.” Alexandra let her fingers dance across the beautiful engravings on the silver chalice.

“Wait…I thought we couldn’t talk about this or something bad could happen,” A puzzled look formed on Gabrielle’s face.

“Something bad has already happened, my dear. Arawn has figured out our plans and is in full force to stop us. He has changed everything! However, you still mustn’t alarm the spirits in the Other World, for they don’t know they are spirits. This is now where we find ourselves, Gabrielle.” Alexandra placed her tea upon the tray and stood.

“I know I have to go back, don’t I?” Gabrielle asked, with an air of sadness in her voice.

“Well, yes and no. I’m very sorry for all of this, my dear. This is not what I intended for you. I want, and need, you to continue as you were. I want you to continue and set the spirits free. I know you only agreed to listen to the spirits tales, but I need you to fight for them as well.” Alexandra began to fidget with the edge of her dress.

“I would like to offer you one last chance to go ho…” Before Alexandra had the chance to continue her sentence, Gabrielle walked over to her and placed one hand on her shoulder.

“No. I know this is a dangerous venture, but it’s something that must be done.”

With that, Alexandra motioned to the fireplace. A flood of green flame erupted and the fire began to swirl.

Suddenly, images of familiar faces exploded from the fire. Heather and Fionn, Jean-Paul and Madam Toinette, Morrigan, Renée, all of them. As they swirled about, other faces began to appear that she did not recognize, some in shadow so that she could not see them. Suddenly, the images stopped, and only one figure could be seen.

It was dark, in spite of the image burning in a fire. Gabrielle crouched down and crawled over to the edge of the hearth. Barely visible and covered in flames was a woman. She was alone in a room, tattered and looked beaten. As the light from the fire danced across the image, Gabrielle could tell that she was crying. Her face was in her hands as she sobbed uncontrollably. Gabrielle leaned closer to the image.

“Do you recognize who that is, my dear?” Alexandra whispered, leaning over Gabrielle’s shoulder and placing her hand on her back.

“No I don’t. Who is she?” Gabrielle asked, shifting and squinting to get a better view.

“The two of you have met before, you know. Not long ago, on a calm eve in a quiet place. You gave her something that she needed more than anything. You gave her true friendship.”

“You mean she…?”

“Yes, I do. That was your Queen, the woman that loved her country and was hated by them so much that she hid from them behind the walls of her palace. She now sits alone in a room, waiting for her fate by the people she loved. Not a single soul will come to her. No friends to speak of, no family remaining. All she has is her solace.”

“What of her child? She was with child.” Gabrielle interjected.

“Tragedy, in life, has neither preference nor plan. It comes and goes like the tide. Tragedy took her child from her. Now she sits alone in the dark. Waiting. This is why it is so important for you to continue, Gabrielle. Though it is through sadness that you prevail, it is these people’s curses that you lift and finally allow them rest. This is why Arawn wants you to cease. This woman is resigned to relive these horrid moments over and over, but should someone chose to save her—someone like you—it would all end.”

A tear ran down Gabrielle’s cheek as she looked to the shell that once was a beautiful woman, a woman that she had been able to finally open up to, whom found solace in her company. She now sat, without a world of her own, and was damned to spend all of eternity living a nightmare unless someone did something.

“It will not be easy, my love, but it will be worth the fight. This I swear to you on my honor. You will not leave this journey unchanged.” Alexandra caressed Gabrielle’s back as she crouched over the flames, tears running down her face as she wept for her friends. “Are you ready, Gabrielle?” Alexandra asked, resting her hand on top of her head.

Gabrielle nodded, and stared into the fire. A sudden urge to be in the fire overcame her, calling to every bone and muscle in her body. Gabrielle slowly reached one arm into the flame. Feeling no pain from the heat, she slowly leaned closer and closer until her entire body was being consumed by the fire.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

 

Gasping for air, Gabrielle sat up as she found herself lying upon the cold floor. As she looked around she realized that she was back in the bedroom of the palace.

She crawled over to the bed that once hid Jean-Paul and cast aside the covers. Pushing her cheek to the floor, she peered underneath, but found no sign of the young boy. As she was about to pull herself up, something silver glinted in the light from the window.

“My bracelet!” Gabrielle whispered as she reached over, grabbed it and placed it back on her wrist where it belonged.

Pulling herself up from the floor, Gabrielle rushed to the door and pulled on the knob. Locked. Her knuckles turned white as she pulled on the metal handle with all of her might. She dropped to her knees and searched the floor for the key to her freedom, but found nothing.

Gabrielle brushed herself off and looked about to ensure that she was alone. No sign of Madame Toinette or Jean-Paul could be found.

“Alexandra said that the raiders here going to break in any minute. Were they attacked? Why didn’t Joséphine defend Jean-Paul?”A wrinkle of confusion creased her forehead as she walked over to the cabinet that had taken her to Alexandra.

She opened its large door, but this time it was full of clothing. Gabrielle parted the elegant dresses and peered into the armoire. Only the wooden paneling looked back at her. She squeezed herself into it, her face smashed against a soft velvet dress and closed the door. After a few moments of barely being able to breathe, she opened the door, but found the room to be exactly as she had left it. Gabrielle stepped out of the cabinet and shook her head. “Now what?”

Though the room was wide open, Gabrielle felt like she was suffocating. There was a large window that stretched from the top of the ceiling nearly to the floor and the sun shone brightly outside. She walked over to the window and pulled on the handle. Just as she assumed, it was locked and she was trapped.

Gabrielle brought her hands up to pull her hair from her face; the ancient bangle that clung to her arm glittered with life in the sun.

She paused for a brief moment and appreciated the fact that in all of this death and fighting, all of these trials and tribulations, this beautiful piece still remained full of life, beauty, and amazement. Her eyes ran over the intricate designs as they had done countless times before. Each curve and notch stood as a testament to some magical craftsmanship from parts unknown.

She brought her thoughts back to her present situation, sighed and then made her way over to the inviting bed and sat down.

While she sat on her perch and waited for an unknown fate, Gabrielle stared out of the large window and up into the blue sky. She thought back on the times that she played in the sun when she was younger; the happy times with her family. Reading with her father and cooking with her mother. Going on adventures and learning new things. All of those things were gone now. Although the hour was dark, Gabrielle felt light fill her heart with the knowledge that she was doing this so countless spirits may one day feel those same joys. This made her smile.

Her smile ran from her face in a startling flinch as the heavy wooden door flew open. There, before her, were two armored guards. They looked very similar to the guards that at one point would have protected her from harm, but now their faces were stiff and uncaring. One of the guards stepped into the room while the other stood in the doorway. The one in the room stood over Gabrielle and glared at her for a moment, before addressing her as if she weren’t another human being.

“You will follow him. Any issues and you will be tended to. Understood?” he growled, motioning to the guard in the doorway.

“What have you done to Jean-Paul? Where is Madame Toinette?” Gabrielle sat stern for a few moments before she nodded and stood. At that moment, the guard in the doorway sharply turned and began walking.

Gabrielle did as she was told and kept a steady pace directly behind him. She could feel the hot glare of the other guard on the back of her neck, but she dared not look back for fear of punishment. The three walked a short distance down the hallway and the stairs until coming to a door that she had never noticed before. Sunlight poured over Gabrielle’s face, warming her cold cheeks as they reached an opening.

She paused in the warm sun and closed her eyes allowing it to bathe her in its radiance. The guard that was behind her loudly cleared his throat, forcing her from her moment of peace.

Situated before her was an old cart attached to a single horse, which stood before a massive wooden door. On either side of the cart were several more guards. Understanding, Gabrielle walked directly up to the cart, took one giant step into it, and then proceeded to walk to the front.

The cart was so small that there was no room to sit, so she stood at the front with her hands on the railing. The guards offered no words in protest, so she assumed that this was to be the proper way for her to stand.

The sweet air tickled her nose and a breeze fluttered her hair. She could hear the rumbling of a crowd somewhere just beyond the armored door, and wondered what all of the commotion was. Gabrielle closed her eyes and breathed deeply, enjoying the smell of the sweet autumn air. One of the guards whistled and the cart sprang to life jostling her from her stance and forcing her to hold on tighter to the railing.

As the cart began to move, the mighty doors also began to move as two ropes were pulled taut and the doors drew open. The rumbling of the crowd exploded, as the doors opened and Gabrielle was presented.

She gawked in amazement at the sheer volume of people. Scores of people were tightly packed in a giant square. There must have been over a thousand people. They must be there to see her, though she couldn’t guess why.

As the cart slowly moved forward the crowd parted to allow them to pass. Though the guards walked on either side of the cart, she got the impression that they were more there to protect the horse and cart than her.

The air was electric; she could feel it on her skin as they slowly made their way through the enormous gathering. The faces of the people that glared back at her were contorted in hatred and they shouted obscenities as the cart made its way through the crowd.

As Gabrielle looked through the mass of people to see exactly where they were heading, the final destination was revealed by a reflection of sunlight off of the metallic surface. Not half of a field way, directly in front of Gabrielle, was a massive stage that stood above the crowd. In the center of that massive stage was a man standing casually with one hand resting on a guillotine.

The sun stretched its welcoming rays toward Gabrielle, inviting her to play as she felt a jolt of panic push through her chest and out of her finger tips. Her hands began to shake as she stood there, holding the railing and awaiting her fate. She considered jumping from the cart and trying her luck with the crowd, though she knew that was ridiculous.

A large black bird landed on a branch a few feet away, catching her attention. A calm overcame Gabrielle, and her heart beat slowed as she stood there watching the bird look back at her. The Lamented soul inside her was calm, accepting her fate. I must endure this.

Gabrielle stood there, looking to her death and fretted not that it was coming—for she knew that it was for the right reason. She knew in her heart this is what had to be done. A single tear ran down her cheek as she looked to the sky and saw the outline of another massive black bird flying overhead. Gabrielle brought her eyes back to the crowd, and there she saw him.

Ten paces away, with a look of disdain unlike anything she had ever seen, Arawn stood with his fiery eyes fixated on her. He looked furious, but there was nothing that he could do to prevent this from happening.

The cart came to a sudden halt and one of the guards ordered Gabrielle to step down. She turned and walked to the edge of the cart, where two guards grabbed each of her arms and walked her to the steps of the stage. She wanted to pause and turn to look at the crowd, but the strength of the two guards propelled her up the stairs and to the base of the guillotine.

Standing on top of the stage, Gabrielle allowed her eyes to gaze over the masses of people as the guards led her about the platform like they were displaying a show animal. The crowd gave a mighty cheer as Gabrielle was walked past them, raising their fists and shouting. What animals! Gabrielle thought in disgust at the display that was in front of her.

It looked like the entire town had come for this moment. But why? Who am I but a maid in the Palace? Gabrielle took this moment to look over the people and to see if there was anyone that she recognized. No faces that she saw were those of friends, only enemies and strangers. What happened to Claudie, and Hilde? OH and what about sweet Jean-Paul? Gabrielle found her confidence suddenly replaced by a deep sadness. Not for herself, but for the poor young Lamented maid. What a lonely death this must be.

A man called the crowd’s attention and ushered the guards to place Gabrielle in the device. He then proceeded to address the crowd, but Gabrielle paid him no attention. She let his words of ignorance blur into an assortment of mumbled sounds, as she squeezed the edges of her dress and nervously looked to where she would die.

The sun glittered and bounced off of the metal blade of the guillotine and Gabrielle caught her reflection for an instant. What? Gabrielle’s eyes widened in amazement, as the beautiful face of Marie Antoinette stared back at her. The crowd had not gathered to witness the death of a maid, but the death of their Queen.

The escort walked around to the back of the device and struck Gabrielle in the back of the knees, causing her to fall painfully on the floor. Her head was then thrust into the apparatus and locked into place. Her heart began to race and she struggled to free herself from the guillotine. Unable to fully bring her head up, she could only see the cracks and stains of blood that covered the stage.

A thick, metallic smell stung at her nose as the cold wood pressed on her neck. A sudden calm flooded Gabrielle’s mind as if her Queen…her friend and confidant were soothing her and telling her it would all be alright.

Tears flowed freely from her eyes, making a small pool beneath her head before being sucked up by the wood of the stage as though it were dying of thirst. Gabrielle remained silent. She had no words for these people that would kill someone that loved them so much.

All Gabrielle wanted was one fleeting face; one person to look at her with love in these last moments of her life. Panicked, her eyes reached for the people at the base of the stage. In that moment, she found the one face she was looking for.

A sea of angry scowls peered at her, eyes sharpened like knives. In all of this hatred, one set of lavender eyes tore through them all like the sun at dawn. There, right in the front of everyone was Morrigan, who stood tall and smiled—a loving but sad smile. One tear silently rolled down his cheek as he watched, eyes locked on Gabrielle.

Gabrielle allowed herself to be consumed by those eyes, bathing in the sea of lavender that lay within. The yelling fell away, all sounds muted by the power and love that laid behind those eyes. Warmth filled her soul, pushing through her body like the breaking of a dam. A delicate smile crept across her lips as she whispered, “you’re free.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you so much for reading Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn, the second novel in the Gabrielle series! I would really appreciate it if you took a few moments to give a review at your favorite retailer!

 

This is the part of the book where I take those moments after you’ve finished my tale, to thank the people that made the story possible. One always strives to give specific names, but in this circumstance, so many helped me grow into who I am now that there are too many to thank individually. So a heartfelt thank you to those who have helped me to get to where I am, and I promise that I wont let you down.

 

But…if I was going to drop names: Jonas Lee, thanks big guy, for everything you do. Kate M. Colby, thank you for always sharing the crazy stuff you learn. You’re a researching machine!! Thank you to my new book convention family, you guys are awesome! A huge thank you to Jessica and Art Verge for helping me mold this clay into something pretty!

 

Bow Tie Author out!

About the Author

 

Zachary is a bow tie wearing, formal vest rocking, pocket watch using, sarcastic monster of a writer. Currently residing in Orlando, Florida, he spends his days working, writing, procrastinating and sweating off extremities he swore he would need in life (‘cause it’s hot in Florida).

 

Zach has multiple college degrees, in the fields of criminal justice and criminology…because he wanted to catch ALL the bad guys. Now, coupled with being an author of young adult fiction he spends his days yelling at people for breaking regulatory laws.

 

Zach is the author of the Gabrielle series, a young adult fantasy with a paranormal-historical-time traveling twist (try saying that five times fast).


Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn

Join Gabrielle as she ventures through her second life in her curious journey. With a new respect for what she’s doing, Gabrielle has found herself living in the Palace of Versailles. However, things in her new life aren’t all luxury and prestige as there is a revolution afoot. When Gabrielle finds companionship in Morrigan - a fellow traveler - she discovers that there is more to this venture than she originally thought. Join Gabrielle as she continues her journey - not only with new friends and experiences, but also a sinister new foe. She doesn’t know it yet, but Gabrielle will soon find that she has an enemy as ancient as time ...who is always watching.

  • ISBN: 9781370451302
  • Author: Zachary Paul Chopchinski
  • Published: 2016-08-26 14:35:29
  • Words: 63532
Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn Curiosity and The Hounds of Arawn