In the year of our Lord thirteen thousand and fifty four the evening was muggy and thick, with a sweltering heat that encouraged the mosquitoes to swarm in the late summer days. Gnats and fuzzy plant debris floated in the air as the sun began to set on the horizon.
It was twilight when the clatter of horse hooves could be heard on the rough cobblestone outside Baron Hale’s estate. The Lord of the manor had returned home from his travels in the Northern Province and the servants had been bustling with haste all day to prepare for his return.
There was one among them though who did not look forward to the Baron’s triumphant return. Sookie hid in the armoire of her bed chamber, shaking with dread as sweat dripped from her brow. To her the Baron’s return could only signify one thing—the undignified and relentless attentions of the Baron, who also happen to be her Great Uncle.
She had wished with all her will that Bartlett Hale would befall some unfortunate calamity in his travels. Perhaps he would happen upon thieves on the road or maybe he would contract the Black Death and never return.
All her wishing had been fruitless for he had returned home and it would seem that she was destined to forever dwell in the cloud of misery that her life had become.
Uncle Bartlett was the only family Sookie had left and she was his ward. He was a Baron who held title to many lands and he wielded a fair amount of power in the region they lived.
It was the tenth year that Sookie lived at the manor as Bartlett’s ward. The Black Death had struck her village when she was barely eight, leaving her as the sole survivor of the twenty in her household. Not long after that, her Uncle had received word of the horrors that befell their village and came to investigate, only to find her held up in her chambers where her father had told her to wait. She was nearly withered to nothing from malnutrition and to weak to even walk.
It was the first time she had met her Uncle and at the time she had thanked God that he had rescued her. But she would soon learn that only dark days lay ahead for her.
She closed her eyes tightly and tried to lighten her breathing as she heard the heavy footsteps of thick leather boots enter her bed chamber.
“Come out, come out dear niece. I know you are in here.” Her uncle’s voice was playful and excited and it made Sookie cringe as she sank further in the corner of her armoire. “I brought you gifts.”
She listened as the sound of the footsteps moved towards the balcony and stopped for a moment only to turn around and come back across the room, making the wooden floor of her second story chamber creak with every menacing step.
The door to her armoire slowly creaked open and Sookie peered up to see her Uncle looking down at her with a stern look. She blinked back the tears and quickly looked away.
“Why are you in here?” Bartlett said with a laugh. “I would think that you have missed me and that you would be eager to greet me upon my return.”
She looked back to him. “I am sorry Uncle.”
“Never mind that, foolish girl.” He reached down and pulled her out of the armoire until she was standing in front of him. “Give Uncle Bartlett a hug.”
He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her. She felt sick to her stomach as his thoughts bombarded her mind. She had hidden her ability of telepathy her entire life from her Uncle and it was times like this that she truly thought of it as a disability. His sick and twisted fantasies pounded in her mind like a quickening drum that beat in a mocking tone, foretelling her bleak future like a thousand bad omens.
Her uncle held a gown up for her inspection. “I have brought you this gift, niece. I purchased it from the finest cloth makers in the Northern Province.”
She took a step back and looked at his face. “Why, Uncle?”
“Feel the fabric, girl. Feel how fine the cloth is.”
She reached out and caressed the gown. It was silk she realized and the light blue material flowed over her fingers like cool water. She frowned and wondered why he had brought her such a fine gift.
“You are to be married, niece,” he said answering her question.
She looked at him with wide eyes as he smiled back at her. Could it be true? Was she truly to be free of this monster once and for all? It was like a dream she had dared not to wish.
“I know,” he said, reaching up and caressing her cleavage with his sickly finger tips. “I do not wish you to leave either, but alas, you are of age and I have had a worthy offer for your hand.” He began to mumble softly. “If I had my way, it would be I who claimed your maiden head.”
She stepped away from him with disgust, pushing his hand from her cleavage. “Uncle that is not proper, you are family.”
He smiled and walked away from her. Sitting the gown on her bed he sighed, “Of course not.”
“Who am I to be married to?” She asked, watching him warily.
He turned around. “Earl Ragsdale of the Northern Province.”
Her face fell. “But Uncle he is nie on sixty years of age.” She had once met Earl Ragsdale of the Northern Province when he came for a visit some years ago. She was only fourteen years old and his thoughts were not pure. They were nearly as sickly and disgusting as her Uncle’s. She would be trading one monster for another, another who had right to her maiden head.
“He is wealthy and of good breed. You will bring me honor and prestige by marrying the Earl. I have cared for you all these years and it is your duty. Do not disappoint me, niece.”
Sookie swallowed hard and watched her Uncle leave. When he was gone, she went to the open air balcony that overlooked the wooded hills of the large estate. She put her elbow on the railing of the balcony and rested her chin in her hand as she looked out wistfully. Beyond, lay freedom, unreachable and unattainable. The sun still playfully peaked above the horizon streaking the sky with colorful red and purple tones.
Straightening up and widening her eyes from an epiphany, Sookie spoke, “I’ll be damned if I will lie down and allow my life to be dictated by a monster such as he.”
Running to her dresser she fished out a large satchel bag and started stuffing it with items she thought she might need. She put in the hair pins that used to belong to her mother and a hairbrush. She ran to her bed and carefully folded the silk dress her Uncle had brought. Smiling devilishly she put in the satchel. Standing up for a moment she thought.
“Money. I will need money.”
Getting on her hands and knees she pulled out a hidden box she had kept since she first came to the manor. It was full of all the money she had saved. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for a room and perhaps a meal. She put every last coin in her bag.
She slung the bag over her shoulder and ran to the armoire where she retrieved a thick hooded cloak.
Ten minutes later the frantic neigh of a horse and speedy clatter of hooves busted out of the stables and barreled into the black night, towards freedom.