Lingering Hunger

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Chapter 6

There were many things in my life that were wondrous. The mere fact that Richard chose me as his love, his wife, to end all of his days with could alone boggle the mind. To be blessed with the two beautiful children that I watched running through the fields as Brittany and I walked arm in arm was priceless. But to be able to hear my daughter’s thoughts as she played, watch the unending strengths of my son, and be surrounded by the unnatural safety that we had on a daily basis was beyond any dream or fantasy I could have ever had.

The surprise and shock of having a daughter brought many questions. Richard had said that only a son could continue on the line to take care of the castle. It had been proven time and again with his kind that the females could not bear children. It was supposed that the inability to produce their own blood was a problem where pregnancy was concerned. This pained me greatly for Brianne as I wanted her to have every joy in life. Knowing that she would not be able to experience my joy saddened me greatly. Still, no female child of any kind had ever been born with the powers of sight and abilities to speak to others minds directly that Brianne had. There was something great slated for this little girl of ours, and we just had to wait and see what it may come to be.

Xander was going to continue on in his father’s place. When such a time would be, I could only imagine. He was very comfortable in his abilities from an early age. When he was a baby, it always seemed that I was able to soothe him quickly. I often wondered why, until he got older and we found out that Xander was able to empathically feel other’s feelings, project his, and hear other’s thoughts. He was growing up to be a very compassionate boy. Still, at merely the age of 5, we could not tell for certain who the children would become.

All of a sudden a wave of panic that was not my own swept over me. Looking around for the children I grasped Brittany’s hand and halted in my tracks. “Brittany, where are the children?” If the children were together, Brianne would have answered me immediately as her brother would have told her of my concern. But she did not. In fact, my mind was empty save the panicked emotions striking through me. Fear began to replace my panic and tearing my arm from Brittany’s clutch I began racing around calling for them. “Brianne! Xander answer me!” Turning back to Brittany I told her to run and get Pierce and Luther who were was standing by the castle wall, ever watchful. The children were missing and couldn’t communicate, and what scared me worse is that Brianne would be able to talk to me if she were conscious. Darting into the trees I kept calling, frantically searching for the children around every tree.

“Mary!” Pierce ran up and grasped my arm “I sent Luther to get the others. Where did you last see the kids?”

I pointed to the fields behind us, “They were only a few yards in front of us and then it seemed they were just gone. Pierce, I can’t hear Brianne!”

Pierce looked up thoughtfully, “Ok, we’ll find them.”

I could feel Xander’s panic heightening. At a time like this, I was already worried enough, but to feel how scared my child was every moment was killing me. I knew he wasn’t in pain because I would feel that, so that eased my heart. If Brianne were dead, I’d feel it from Xander…at least I hoped I would, hoping with all my heart that he was with her. Much as vampires were difficult to kill, it could happen, oh why was my mind going that direction. Don’t think on that, FIND THEM!

Picking up my skirts and calling for them again, Pierce went the opposite direction from me. I heard the voices of the rest of the group join us. Oh please let one of us find them! Richard caught up to me and turned me about to look at him. I kept looking around, a frantic panic seizing me as I gasped for air, fighting back the tears that burned at my eyes. Grasping me by the chin he held my gaze forward, “Look at me Mary!” His voice was insistent but soft at the same time. I raised my eyes slowly to his, shuddering as his hands held tightly around my elbows. Leaning down to look me in the eyes he whispered, “Mary darling,” he raised his hand to my cheek, “We will find them. Maybe you should go back to the castle and let us do it.”

Shaking my head violently the tears streamed down my cheeks, “No, no I will not leave them! I will look until every inch of this forest has been searched if I have to.” Grasping me by the back of the neck, Richard pulled me to him. Wrapping his arms around me tightly for a moment, he kissed my forehead. Taking in a deep breath, I could tell that he was affected by this as well, but not outwardly showing it as much as I was. “Ok….ok we’ll do it together, but you stay with me.” Grasping my hand he ran with me through the woods, searching in every possible nook and cranny we could.

Just as I passed a tree on the edge of the forest Brianne’s voice, weak and shaky shot through my mind like a knife. “Mommy,” I grasped the side of the trunk, holding it tightly, the voice so light that I strained to hear her.

Richard ran back to me, a glazed look having crossed over my face. “What is it?” There was a bit of panic to his voice as he asked me, searching my face for any sign of an answer.

“Brianne, she spoke, but it’s so faint.”

I felt a wave of relief pass over me and then a stab of anger from Xander. Brianna’s thought continued slowly, as if she were being told what to say, “Mommy my head hurts. Who are these men? Why are they keeping Xander from me?” I wanted to cry out to her, to ask her where she was, but I did not have the ability she did. “Mommy it’s so dark here.” I don’t know if she was only speaking to me because I was the last one she was with, or because she could only focus on one of us with her waning strength.

“Richard can you hear her?” A panicked look had crossed my face when Brianne mentioned men holding her and Xander. I grasped a hold of Richard’s tunic as I struggled to focus.

Leaning down to look in my eyes, he took a hold of my shoulders, “Mary, what is she saying?”

My eyes trailed back and forth as I tried to see something that wasn’t there, hoping that Brianne would say something else to me, “She said her head hurts, that it is dark, and that there are men keeping Xander from her.”

Richard straightened as stiff as a board, looking around as his gaze turned icy. He was clenching his jaw as he thought of what was happening. His voice seemed changed as he spoke, the tone more gruff than usual, “Alright, you and Brittany are going to go back to the castle while the boys and I go and find these men and our children.”

“No Richard!” I frantically held tightly to his tunic pleading, “Don’t make me leave and not search for them. I couldn’t bear to give up.”

His tone started to get softer as did his standing as he looked down at me, “Mary, I don’t want you to see what may happen.”

I shook my head emphatically, the stubborn attitude I held not able to keep the tears from sliding down my cheeks, “I will do anything to get our children back and don’t care what happens as long as we find them and take them home.”

Taking my hand firmly in his he raised it to his lips and kissed the back of it. Taking a deep breath he sighed, “When I tell you to run you run, do you understand me?” Nodding I held his gaze.

Turning as he still held my hand he pulled me with him and whistled, a piercing sound echoing through the trees. The sound seemed to be more than a whistle as it vibrated through my body and permeated everything, surrounding us like an icy wind. The forest seemed to go still as suddenly through the trees from all sides, the black leather clad men made their long strides toward us, red and black lined capes whipping about their bodies as if looking for a place to hold. My breath was stilled a moment as I watched them approach, awe and respect taking hold of me as I viewed my friends in a different light.

Brittany being led by them ran up to me and threw her hands about my neck, “I’m so sorry I failed you Milady.”

My fingers wrapped around her slight wrists as I shook my head and pulled her arms down, “This is no fault of yours Brittany, no more than it is my own.” Richard was filling in these 6 close friends of ours, “The Guardians” as they had been coined, on what I had heard. A sudden feeling shot through me again, “Xander”, I all but breathed out. As surely as I had traveled there myself, my feelings drug me to a time when Richard and I had taken the children to explore some caves near the outlying boundary of our lands. The sheer joy that we felt, and all the feelings that I had at the time rushed back to me as I breathed in the scent of the wet moss that dripped with the moisture from the waterfall above. My heart jumped as I realized that this was a message from Xander. “Richard!” my eyes connected with his for a moment, my hands grasping mercilessly on Brittany’s arms as I realized I knew where the children were.

It wasn’t far from where we were as I turned to run in the direction of the caves. Richard reached out and grasping my shoulder holding me fast. “Richard! What are you doing?” I turned and saw that his finger was pressed to his lips as he looked up into the trees.

The Guardians were on alert now, spread in a wide circle, their backs to each other with Brittany in the middle. Pulling me back behind him, Richard stepped forward and drew his sword. It was then that I heard it, a faint crack of a twig being snapped. None of us were moving and as I looked down at my feet I saw there were no twigs beneath mine. The Guardians moved in a circle around Richard, Brittany and I; ushering us toward a bank of rocks that were nestled haphazardly up the side of a hill leading to the caves. While my left hand held tightly to Brittany’s as we stayed back to back, my right slid down my side to rest on the hilt of a dagger Richard had given me. It wasn’t much, but Richard had taught me how to wield it if the time came that I needed to protect myself.

My eyes darted up into the trees, searching for the phantoms that didn’t seem to appear. It was then that I heard an ever familiar thwat and an arrow landed right next to the toe of my slipper, having snagged my skirt as it effortlessly pierced through it to the ground. A growl erupted from Richard as Brittany pushed me down with a hiss, practically crouching over me. I was stunned by what had just happened, it had been so quick. Brittany’s body was hiding almost every portion of me as I tried to look past her to see what was going on.

There was a multitude of thwats, thuds, and yells as the moments passed. Brittany’s position was firm, no longer the seemingly gentile handmaiden of mine, but a highly muscular and powerful being ready to stand up to any danger that may come to pass. It was in what seemed to be only a moment that I heard the thundering of feet running up to our circle, the clangs and thuds of swords meetings swords and shields echoing in my ears. Brittany raised to her knees as I heard someone running toward us. I looked up just in time to see a huge man lowering his sword in a broad swipe down upon the small pittance of a dagger Brittany held. With one swift movement she had disarmed him and had taken his throat in hand, shoving him down to his knees. His eyes widened with fear as I saw his neck pulse from the strength with which she held him. Her eyes seemed to swirl like whirlpools, completely captivating and relaxing. The draw was so intense that I had to shake my head to snap out of the dreamlike state I was in. By the time that I regained my focus, the man was in a heap on the ground in front of me, pale with death as Brittany swiped the back of her hand across her mouth.

The Guardians and Richard had their hands full it appeared as I swept my gaze around the circle they still held. Many men already lay dead on the ground, the power and strength of our group overwhelming. There were no more cascades of arrows, so it appeared Kirt and Gerard had disposed of those men. It was nerving looking around on the ground at how close the arrows had gotten to us. There were at least 3 men to each of our group, and once one was killed another seemed to appear. The armor that the opponents wore seemed to do little good, for once a Guardian got a hold of them they were immediately overpowered. If any eye contact was gained, they were as mystified as I had been, making the slightest pause of movement, which was enough to send them crashing to the ground with a swift strike. There were still a few that seemed to have learned from their counterparts, thrusting and swinging their swords, keeping out of arms’ length and restricting their attention to anywhere but the eyes.

Bryant yelled out as a sword swung down on the outside of his left arm, leaving a deep gash in its place. Rather than weakening him, this seemed to anger him more, empowering him to move with more violence and determination. Backing the man into a tree, he hit at either side of him, the panic beginning to show in the man’s face as he met Bryant’s frightfully changed one. Snarls and growls erupted from Bryant as he slammed his sword down on his opponent’s, the smaller man lowering more to the ground with each hit. One of the hits finally disarmed the man as he raised his shield in vain to meet the powerful blows that beat down upon him. Finally swinging his arm back, Bryant thrust his sword deep into the man’s stomach…holding him to the tree just behind. Bryant yanked the sword away and the limp body of the man fell to the ground.

A gruff man with a scraggly looking beard and long gash down his cheek rushed forward through the hole in the circle that Bryant had left behind. He was rushing forward toward us as I tried to shift out from under Brittany, “Brittany look out!” She shifted her attention too late as the hilt of the dark villain’s sword slammed down on the back of her head. Brittany dropped to a heap on the ground as I screamed, hurriedly trying to back away from him. His eyes red with madness, he stalked toward me, pulling a short sword from his side. Bryant raced to get to me as my hair was grasped tightly, yanking me up off of the ground. Turning me quickly in front of him he held me tightly by my hair, pulling me back hard as he pressed the short sword into my side. His breath came in excitedly heated spurts across the side of my neck, “One step closer and your Lord will no longer have his Lady.” The words hissed from his mouth like he was a serpent ready to strike. Bryant stopped in his tracks about 10 feet away, a growl on his lips as he gazed at us.

Everyone halted their attacks seeing my capture, out of approximately 20 men, only 5 remained, including the man that held me. Of those left, not one was strong in stance, either injured or weakened due to the strength of the Guardians.

Richard strode forward, a slightly concerned look in his eyes when he gazed upon me that turned to sheer hatred when he turned his gaze upon the man that held me. “Let her go Vincent.” He KNEW him! My heart stopped at the thought as I tried to gain my answers by staring deeper into Richard’s eyes.

The hand holding my hair yanked my head back sharply so that I looked toward the sky, gasping as tears stung the corners of my eyes. “You know that I can’t do that,” Vincent sounded happy. His free hand trailed down my cheek as he drug his nail down the side of my neck. “A woman such as this one is hard to resist Richard, but you know that of course.” The wicked hiss was back to his voice.

“I should have known that you were behind the disappearance of my children Vincent.” Richard’s voice was laced with distaste as he spat out the name.

“Of course you should have,” Vincent’s voice became almost matter of fact and businesslike. “It is only befitting that I should take your heritage from you and rob you of any chance to carry on the family line to protect this place.” His nails dug hard into the side of my neck as the short sword dug a little deeper into my side, the tip piercing through the layers of fabric and grazing my skin. Looking forward to Richard, I saw that his gaze had gotten darker, if that were even possible.

Vincent let out a pleased chuckle and cut a sharp edge of his nail down my neck making me gasp. He leaned in and took a deep breath near my neck, making Richard visibly bristle. The Guardians were holding the others at bay, but it appeared that Vincent could care less about them. “You know brother, it’s a shame that you never deigned to taste this one. She’s a right beauty. I’m certain you’ve desired to do this as well but haven’t allowed yourself. Such a waste when there are so many more where this one came from.” He grasped my neck tightly again so that I struggled to breathe.

My hand bumped against something hard at my waist hidden among my skirts. Twisting my fingers around the cool steel handle of my dagger, I tried to think of what I could do. I saw Richards eyes flit down to my hand momentarily, and quickly back to my eyes as if he had never looked.

“It would only be you that would think that Vincent. But that would be why our Father chose me as his successor and not you. He couldn’t bear to choose such a brutal and uncaring person to watch over his lands. There would be no people left, nothing to work for or watch after because you would destroy it all. The prophecy reads that the castle will remain a protected secret only as long as the people are cared for. They aren’t cared for if they are dead now are they.” Richard’s logic was tainted with strength of mind as he spoke. Vincent growled in my ear at his words, his nails digging in more. “You kill her and the children, you kill our chance to survive, to maintain our peaceful life here.”

Vincent’s stance hardened at that as he burst in a yell at Richard, “What do I care! I am stronger than any man and can rule any place I go to. Yet while she lives I am trapped here. If she and the children die, I can go where I wish. Until then, we are slaves to this land and prisoners in this bubble that we cannot penetrate!”

Why did I matter? I may be Richard’s wife now, but he could get another. There wasn’t anything special about me. “But, if I kill her now, your predestined wife, I can go where I wish and you will die.” WHAT! My eyes flashed to Richard’s but he was no longer looking at me but straight at Vincent, the hatred thick as butter in the air between them both. Why would my dying kill Richard?

Bryant began slowly moving toward us and Vincent noticed, shrinking back and digging the short sword in my side to make a point as I bit my lip and flinched. Richard held up his hand to Bryant which made him stop moving instantly. “I don’t know what it is that made this one so special that she should carry the ability to not only create life from you, but to protect the lives of those around her. Of course we know she has the life spirit, I can smell it as well as you can.” Bending my head to the side he trailed his fingers lightly over my neck. “Do you think that it would spread to me if I took her life right now?” The vicious teasing was almost too much to bear. I knew the man that held me meant my death, but the way he treated it so casually sent chills down my spine.

“You kill her and you kill us all Vincent!” Richard’s voice edged on pleading, but was met merely with Vincent’s bored sigh.

“Oh well, if that is the case, at least I know you won’t be any better off than I anymore.” A terrifying growl erupted from Vincent as he yanked my head painfully back by my hair and Richard lurched forward.

Be it instinct or fear I do not know. Whichever it was, my hand flew up with the dagger and cut back through my hair just above where Vincent was holding me, freeing me from his grasp. Instantly I turned to face his shocked expression and stabbed him deep in the chest. “What?” he sputtered, blood dripping down the corner of his mouth.

“Perhaps she wasn’t quite as weak as you thought her to be.” I hissed in his face as I pushed him backwards. Richard rushed him as the rest of the warriors were disposed of by the Guardians who circled around me in protection as Richard and Vincent fought.

Bryant, Kirt, and Luther blocked my view of Richard and Vincent, but I heard the distinct sounds of a fist contacting a hard surface over and over, mingled with tearing and snarls as Richard shouted at Vincent, “You will NEVER hurt my family again!” There was a sudden, loud crunch followed by a heavy thud as Vincent’s limp body fell to the ground.

A hand grasped my shoulder and pulled me back. Brittany had gotten up and she was pulling me back to her, away from the Guardians and where Vincent lay. “You don’t need to see this Milady.” She practically whispered as she wrapped her arm around my shoulder guiding me further away.

Pierce walked with us as the rest of the Guardians joined Richard. I could hear cracking and started to turn back but Pierce and Brittany kept me turned away. It was when I heard the sparks of a fire beginning to fly with cracks and pops as it surged into roaring life that they let me turn around again. The stench of burning flesh filled the air, putrid to where I unclenched my hands at my sides and brought my hand up to pinch my nose. The bodies from the fight lay high on the fire, flames engulfing them all as the fire roared into life, licking at the tree limbs above it. Richard stood with the Guardians around it, casting a last piece of wood into the inferno. It spun into the flames, making the fire fitfully spark where it landed.

I turned and started walking toward the rocks where the cave that Xander showed me would be hiding. My countenance was somewhat haunted, but my raw determination to find the children had not changed. Brittany tried to grasp my arm and protest but I yanked it from her. Any touch now and I would lose it. This had been just too much and I needed to hold myself together until the children were found.

I had to lift my skirts to transverse the sloped banks of the stream between the rocky cliff face and I. The small rocks made me slide every once in a while, but still Pierce and Brittany remained silent behind me. I didn’t know if Richard and the other Guardians were following yet and frankly didn’t care. I had to reach the children. The stream was a bit more difficult to cross with the back of my dress trailing in the water and becoming heavy. Thankfully it was only a small stream and not deeper than my ankles. Once I had crossed, I walked forward and around the side of the cliff to a crevice where I had remembered the caves to be from our earlier voyage here. I kept craning my neck to see if there was an entrance ahead, and started to get discouraged when the sunlight began to fade. Tripping over a rock I leant up against the rock face next to me to keep from falling. My palm hit rock but my fingers met air. I kept curling them until they hit rock too…folding around a corner. Looking up I noticed that the dark entrance of the cavern had been hidden by the blackness of the shadows.

As my eyes adjusted I could see the entrance more clearly. My heart thudding faster, I stepped forward, starting to call out, “Xan..” a hand was clapped over my mouth as I was pulled back.

Pierce stepped up next to me, “Be very quiet and stay here with Brittany.” He stepped into the cave, sword drawn.

Brittany pulled me by the elbow back toward her. I heard scuffling inside as the clang of swords echoed out the entrance of the cave back at us. I looked frantically back toward where the Guardians were and saw that they were crossing the stream hurriedly. I then heard Xander’s voice muffled, but echoing in the cave among the clangs.

“Xander!” I forgot myself as I tried to yank forward, held strongly back by Brittany.

“No Milady, you must let the Guardians do this if you want the children out safely.”

The men rushed past me into the mouth of the cave, Richard clamping his hand on my shoulder and stopping in front of me, only locking gazes and pressing a quick kiss to my forehead before rushing inside.

I hated standing there, seemingly of no use to anyone, hearing the groans of the men as they fought with whomever was in the cave. The clangs of the swords made me shudder, thinking of how Xander and Brianne were in there somewhere, having to watch this.

Brittany pulled me back, trying to get me away from the entrance of the cavern. All at once the sound ceased, save the ever deafening sound of my own breath. A crunch of the rocks at the mouth of the cave alerted me to someone coming out. Pulling my dagger from its sheath at my side, I tried to step forward, but Brittany stepped in front of me, her stance changing again to the catlike stance of a cougar about to strike.

It was when I saw the little hand on the rock entrance that I pushed Brittany to the side and rushed forward. Xander stepped out of the cave, a black eye and bloody lip marring his little face. He looked up at me, his eyes sparkling with determination.

A feeling of absolute joy washed over me, “Mommy!” he shouted as he ran up to me.

I dropped to my knees before him unable to hold back my tears as he flew into my arms. Wrapping mine tightly about him, I held the back of his head while I wrapped my other tightly about his waist. “Oh Xander I feared the worst.”

The louder footsteps caught my attention, making me look up, the sight bringing terror into my heart. As Richard walked out of the cave, he held the limp little body tightly up against his chest, Brianne’s petite little arm dangling loosely down past his. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I released Xander and held him off to the side of me, unblinkingly staring at them as the tears freely fell down my cheeks. Richard’s face was filled with concern as he turned to look at me. “Brianne!” I rose to my feet and rushed over.

Richard’s hand flew up to stop me as I reached them, “Shhh, it’s alright Mary. She’s alive, just hurt. We have to get her back to the castle.”

I looked down at her little face, nuzzled into Richard’s chest. Her breaths were so shallow, that I could scarcely see her shoulders move. I stood there looking at her for what seemed like hours before Xander walked up to my side and slipped his hand into mine.

A wave of overwhelming calm washed over me, stilling my frantic thoughts. I looked down at Xander as he smiled up at me, saying softly, “It will be alright Mother.” The peace and serenity that surged through me helped me to move with Xander’s encouragement. If it hadn’t of been for his empathic abilities, I probably would have collapsed on the spot. But because of my son, who gave me abounding strength and calm, I was able to trudge on toward the castle.

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