Madeleine’s footfall thumped along the crisp leaves and soft mud, her heavy breathing becoming flawed and ragged. A sudden pain, shooting through her foot made her stumble until she slowed to a walk and leant against a tree. As she looked down to check on her foot, her lack of shoes became far more regrettable than her nakedness: blood trickled down in a thick stream from the sole of her foot. She picked the large thorn from her flesh but the neigh of a horse and thundering hooves made her forget about the pain as she started to run again.
Madeleine had started her morning, crawling out of a cramped metal box: the autumn weather had cooled the metal down until it was almost unbearable to touch with naked skin. She scampered out, almost tripping over her feet as she covered her nude form with her hands. That’s when the hunting horn sound: she watched the flock of startled birds swarm overhead. She wished for wings, she wished to fly. Those wishes only grew as the sound of horses erupted, at least a couple of miles away, and a young man with beady eyes and a leering grin who sat in a tree with a horn shouted gleefully “Run girlie run!”
Madeleine was beyond exhausted by the time the sun had reached the very top of the sky, however its light was blocked out by the dark, full trees that made the endless forest so cramped. However, the trees and foliage were all of a sudden not so intimidating: they were smaller and revealed a barely trodden pathway. Madeleine followed it down until the sky became bright and more exposed, revealing a grassy area devoid of any trees. Yet her hope was shattered when the bright blue sky exposed a sheer cliff drop. Tiny bumps of land littered the horizon; but no boats, no signs of life apart from the seagulls that taunted her with their freedom. She collapsed to her knees, her stomach threatening to vomit whereas her lungs felt on the brink of collapsing.
She thought about the warnings and rumours of the mysterious marquis who owned the land that numerous villages had settled on. The disappearing women, the strange island off the coast that’s was punishable by death for trespassing on, the stories of the heads of missing women appearing in their villages.
She knew it was hopeless, her death was imminent: whether from starvation, exhaustion, dehydration, or whatever awful torture her capturer had planned for her. Nevertheless, she found herself standing back up on trembling legs, taking step after step back into the forest until she was running once more. The horses were even closer, she could now hear the voices of men too. Madeleine continued to push herself: the scratches of holly and brambles, and the harsh roots that webbed across the ground were ignored by her adrenaline-filled body. The horses stopped but those noises were replaced by screams that made Madeleine stop in her tracks. She carefully made her way towards the scream, concentrating on the loud conversation between the male voices and the whimpering of one alone female voice. She reached a wide tree and watched silently from behind it. A girl no older than 15 stood quivering in front of a tall, broad man, she tried to hold her head high and show no fear, but the regally dressed man cast an icy shadow over her demeanour. She went to take a step back, but the marquis caught her arm in a tight grasp. She started to whimper as he ran his other hand over her breast and down her stomach. He moved her around, studying her like cattle at auction. He clicked his fingers and a servant presented him with a ceremonial sword: decorated garishly with rubies. The marquis studied the blood stained blade before suddenly pushing the girl down onto the ground, her cry echoed throughout the forest. The marquis straightened out the girl until she was resting on all fours like a dog. He circled her menacingly, his eyes taking in every aspect of his prey. He stopped to the side of her neck, bringing the sword up and grinning as it came hurtling down. Madeleine wasn’t quick enough to turn away and had to bring a hand to her mouth to stop her sobbing out loud. The laughter spread like the blood flowed and prompted Madeline into moving again.
The tears dried on her cheeks, yet the aching pains in her stomach and legs constantly reminded her where she was. The sounds of horses started up again, their erratic galloping in time with her heartbeat. She ran, unable to even beg to God, focusing purely on where her feet landed and if she could push herself to move faster. The ground became increasingly muddy and wet, yet a hidden root that was hidden under a blanket of decomposing leaves caused her to trip. Madeleine shrieked as her body hit the floor heavily, sharp stones grazed her skins yet the forest around her became silent, until a call was heard “That way!”
Madeleine scrambled back up to her feet, screaming through a closed mouth in fear and pain. Even through the dense forest, there was no way she could out-run horses. She ran and ran, not allowing despair to flood over her or her body to give up. Sweat mingled with the thin trails of blood that littered her body, but the smell of horses was overwhelming to her. Something hard hit her in the back, and she tumbled like a stone. The pain in her spine bloomed as she rolled onto her side, weeping softly at her fate. She caught her breath, but struggled to move, until an arm wrenched her up onto her feet. The pain in her back screamed, but Madeleine simply grit her teeth as her eyes filled with tears, blurring her surroundings.
Madeleine thought of the other girl, and tried to stand tall too. Out of her bleary eyes she recognised that ruby-encrusted sword, being swung carelessly from the hands of a tall man. Hands covered her body, groping and grabbing, yet her skin felt dulled and tired. She struggled frequently, trying to free herself from the greasy, slimy hands of her captors. The adrenaline was wearing off, leaving Madeleine weary and hopeless. Her struggling was becoming less and less common, until an exasperated sigh was heard from above her and hands shoved her back on the floor. Her vision was filled with orange and brown swirls, each leaf being dotted with wet tears that fell carelessly from her face. Her last sight were those wet dots mixing with red.
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