Flickering Embers

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Chapter 2:A saviour by the name of Viscount Thomas

The next few moments passed in a blur, Mabel's mind struggling to comprehend what exactly was happening. The world around her seemed to slow, the sound of her heartbeat thundering in her ears muffling everything around her out. The weight of the basket in her hand felt foreign and too heavy and she had the urge to drop it at her feet but it was as if her fingers were made of bark, firm and unrelenting. Suddenly all she could focus on was the weight of the basket in her hand and how she wished with all her might that she wasn't holding it anymore.

𝘌𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘤𝘦𝘵.

The word felt familiar in her mind, her mother's face flashing briefly as something deep inside of her seemed to resonate with it, like part of a bedtime story she couldn't quite remember. Before Mabel even knew what was happening the word had escaped her lips, barely a whisper, and as she glanced down at her hands, the basket was nowhere to be seen.

She watched as the young woman's face contorted once again, the world around them both coming back into focus. Relief flooded Mabel when indeed the basket had vanished from her grasp, not a minds trick nor a daydream that had tried to morph reality.

"Witch!" The woman screamed louder, finger still outstretched, despite her evidence disappearing into thin air, a fact Mabel refused to focus on. The word felt like a bullet as it pierced the air around them, passers-by slowing to take in the commotion.

Mabel stood frozen to the spot as if ice had gripped the soles of her shoes despite the urge to run. Once again she felt the odd sensation that her movements weren't her own, still a rabbit caught in a snare. The green spirals that had haunted her dreams last night flashed to the forefront of her mind. Mabel watched as the sea of people around her started to slow, the crowd seeming to suddenly take note of the word the woman was screaming.

Mabel started to search the crowd, looking for a gap to disappear through despite her legs refusing her commands to move, as if they didn't feel the urgency coursing through her veins. Dread crept from the depths of her stomach as her eyes didn't land upon a break in the crowd, but upon the Parson and two of his churchwardens. At first, they seemed to be unaware of the drama that was unfolding mere feet away from them but the longer the woman's shrill voice shattered the usual hustle and bustle of the market, the more their gazes broke from each other and fell upon the pair.

"I do not know why you accuse me so but I beg of you, let us discuss your grievance somewhere more private," Mabel pleaded, desperate to escape dangerous ears. The woman softly shook her head, as if Mabel had asked her if she wanted bread with her stew.

"Please...help me. She is setting her demons upon me."

The woman continued her attack, her hand coming up to her forehead before her knees seemed to crumble from beneath her. Mabel stared on, panic rising in her throat making it feel tight, her lungs gasping for air as the fear spread through her body.

Strangers gathered around the fallen woman, broken moans escaping her lips as her eyelids continued to flutter. Mabel wanted to point her own finger at her accuser. Liar! Deceiver! But Mabel knew all too well her words would fall upon deaf ears if she shouted them. An accusation of witchcraft tended to do that to a person.

She watched in horror as the Parson and his wardens finally took note of the fallen woman meer feet away, the three of them moving in unison towards them both. The urge to run was all-consuming but Mabel knew the second she did that, she may as well sign her own death warrant, the reaper would find her and claim her within the day disguised as judge and jailers.

The crowd tried to help the woman to her feet, angry glares boring into Mabel like red hot pokers.

"Witch!" another shouted, a different voice than the woman before. It was like the word was an infection, once spoken others around seemed to feel the same ailments. Mabel took note of a pair of women to her left, one was patting her brow whilst the other was fanning her neck, staring at Mabel as if she had brought forward the pits of hell to their feet.

"I am no such thing," she stated but the words came out more of a whisper, emotion thick in her voice. The Parson muttered something under his breath before the two churchwardens made their way to the side of her as he remained stood in front of the seemingly ill woman on the ground.

Before the Parson had opened his mouth to speak again, Mabel felt a gentle hand around her waist. She was too scared to look upon who was touching her, fear and confusion twisting inside of her like a whirlwind.

"Viscount Thomas," the Parson said, sounding almost startled and Mabel stared at him with uncertainty, not expecting that name to fall from his tongue. The grip around her waist tightened a bit so she could feel it on her skin despite the fabric of her skirt. It pulled her attention towards it, her eyes falling upon a ruffle of white silk escaping the cuff of a pastel blue coat sleeve. Her gaze then flicked up to the person, or rather the gentleman, whose wrist it belonged to, her eyes trailing over a rather handsome face as he stood at her side.

"Parson, I pray the lady is well? Does she need further aid? Perhaps at your church?" the Viscount inquired, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. The woman seemed to hear his suggestion with ease considering her moans, her hands suddenly patting away those that attempted to help her.

"What an excellent suggestion my lord," he replied, bowing his head, his gaze falling to the churchwardens that still stood close by. He flicked his head towards the woman at his feet, eyes widening as if silently instructing them to help, frustration gripping his features when they continued to stand still.

"My lady, did you find what you were looking for?" the Viscount asked, his eyes falling on Mabel whose gaze was elsewhere.

"My lady?" he repeated, more forcefully this time, his grip once again tightening as if it would elicit a reply.

"Hm?" Mabel mused, "Oh, I did not. Best continue my search another day, I fear I'm feeling rather tired."

The Viscount nodded at the Parson, his eyes briefly falling to the floor, colliding with Mabel's accuser. They seemed to burn as they held each others gaze, hatred almost palpable in the air like heavy smoke.

Mabel allowed herself to be lead away from the large crowd that had at some point gathered. Her feet felt like lead with every step she took, her heart still beating frantically as her mind replayed the last few minutes over and over.

She leaned into the Viscount's hold despite herself, her knees suddenly feeling as though they could no longer take her weight.

"Are you feeling yourself?" the Viscount asked, reminding Mabel exactly who she was on the arm of. A gentleman of whom she did not know, walking arm in arm alone and without a chaperone. Well if the accusation of witch didn't stick then a scandal with a Viscount most certainly would.

"Hmm," she almost purred, her mind lost in the flurry of thoughts. Her gaze fell upon him as he almost carried her forward, his dark blue eyes sparkling. A dark grey ribbon, almost black, enveloped most of his hair at the base of his neck but a few waves of tar-like locks escaped and framed his face beautifully. A sigh almost escaped Mabel as she continued to stare, much longer than would be considered polite.

"Do you need aid? Tea maybe? Your colour is quite flushed," he continued, his face full of concern.

"Oh heavens no. I'm quite alright," she breathed, stepping out of his hold, hoping her legs remained strong beneath her. Mabel turned to face her saviour, for she had no better name to call him after what he had just done for her. An accusation of witchcraft at times seemed liquid, like oil, staining all those who tried to protest on the accused behalf. The Viscount had risked alot by stepping in and saving her and she had no idea why.

"Why did you help me? You do not know me nor owe me anything? I could be the word she screamed."

"Straight to it, I see. And that is exactly why I saved you. Because you are as she says."

"How dare you say such a thing," she growled, words a hushed whisper as she spun her head to check others were not nearby. They were stood half in an alleyway, brick houses either side, mud pooling under their feet, the Viscount's expensive black shoes looking a little worse for wear. Mabel's yellow dress now wore a thick line of brown, as if the edge of her petticoat was constructed from mud, not cotton.

"I feel this conversation should take place somewhere a little more...private?" the Viscount replied, a smile pulling once again at the corner of his lips making Mabel's legs feel a little weak again.

"I cannot just go off somewhere with you. I do not know you."

"I am Viscount Thomas. Henry Thomas. Glad to make your acquaintance," he announced as if she didn't know that already. Mabel huffed, crossing her arms in front of her as she glared at him.

"I'm aware of who you are."

"You just said you did not know me."

"I did not say I wasn't aware of your name. But your name tells me little else than what you were born with. A title, like most of your class," Mabel retorted, torn between wanting to end their exchange and get back home and curious as to why he believed she was a witch, yet saved her anyway?

"Well that information definitely requires tea," he joked, offering his elbow for her to take. Mabel stared at it for a moment, unsure which urge would win out. The urge to run? Or the urge to find out more about Viscount Thomas?

Her fingers glanced the wool of his coat before her mind had actually decided, her feet effortlessly gliding beneath her as they walked together back towards the crowd. She felt reassured atleast that with the Viscount at her side, no more accusations would fall upon her. Well, none that cried witch atleast.

"I cannot be long. My father will be feverish with worry already as I did not tell him about my errand this morning, in fact, I left before he was awake," she declared, her eyes fluttering upon all the strangers that seemed intent on staring as they walked. Mabel felt as though the Viscount and herself were like the flames of a fire, its wisps and flickers capturing people's attention, drawn towards its scarlet nature. She forced her gaze away from them, instead focusing on Henry as they continued onward.

"I will not keep you longer than is necessary. But please, allow me to atleast offer you a carriage home. It will speed the journey if nothing else," he offered, and Mabel glanced up at him, a playfulness blooming in her chest.

"And how do I explain the carriage?" she inquired, eyebrow raised.

"I can accompany you and explain?"

"But then I would have to explain the Viscount," she smiled, watching as Henry nodded in agreement.

"Ok I will relent this time but for future outings, a carriage will be provided. That gives you time to explain...the Viscount," he replied, his title coming out as a hushed whisper as he leant closer to her. A stray curl tickled her cheek as his breath felt a little hot on her neck.

"Future outings? I'm unsure whether I fully agreed to the current one," she continued in jest, her eyes flickering to where the pair were joined.

"It was the promise of tea. That always convinces others to join me."

"Many a girl has been led on your arm with the promise of sweet beverages?"

"No, oh my. No, indeed they have not. I do not make a habit of inviting ladies to tea with me," he replied, his sentence a little stuttered as a blush crept across his cheeks. Mabel instantly realised she liked to tease him, to see him flustered like he was.

"Only the ones you find yourself in the habit of saving?"

"Well, I do intend to make it a habit if the need presents itself."

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