End of Innocence
Erik rounded the ill-lit corner, the blacksmith’s shop locked in his sights as coins jangled in his pockets. He was positively giddy at the prospect of going home, of feeling the harsh winter breeze across his cheeks, of staring up at the Northern Lights. Yes, he’d find a wife, and yes, his sister would forgive him at some point. They’d given Paris a chance, and it had run its course. The sea was calling them home.
Erik’s smile faded as he reached the shop door, the jamb cracked and splintered, the knob twisted and mangled. His blood froze in trepidation, one thought alone on his mind: Anna.
A hearty scream pierced the night, followed by a crash and shattering. Erik threw the door wide open, the slam of wood shaking the entire shop. Reaching to his back, he brought forth his dagger, racing up the creaky stairs with abandon.
“Anna!” He yelled in desperation, hearing her pitiful cries for help once more. Red clouded his vision. His baby sister, the one thing left in this world that he loved with everything he had. The one thing he was supposed to protect.
Years of training in various militaristic pursuits would not prepare him for the sight within as he rounded the last corner into his apartment. Anna, face bloodied beyond recognition, clawed at the ground, pulling her weak body toward her beloved brother. Yes, he could save her. He would save her, as he had always promised. She smiled up at him, relief flooding her gaze, her teeth coated in blood. It was a macabre sight, but nothing compared to what was coming. As fast as Erik could lunge forward, it would have never been fast enough. A dark figure gripped a fistful of her gorgeous blond hair, so like their mother’s. He pulled her head up, exposing her neck, before the glint of a knife caught the candlelight.
Anna’s smile faded to utter shock, then to sorrow, and then to nothing at all. The figure dropped her lifeless body at Erik’s feet, her pale hand still reaching for her brother.
Brigid’s cell opened, and she shied away from the torchlight, her shackles clanking together as she did so. Her tiny companion scampered away, fleeing into the darkness from the newcomers. It wasn’t time for her meals, this she knew by the darkness of the sky, so she was as perplexed as she was frightened. Hugging herself, she threw a vehement glare at whoever had disrupted her quiet tomb.
“Name?” The man asked to someone behind him. Good. She wouldn’t have answered him anyway. She heard an exasperated sigh as she glanced at the tall Frenchman before her. They all wore white, powdered wigs, but this one did not. His hair was brown, shorter, tied at the nape of his neck, but he was dressed in all the finery of royalty.
There was the shuffling of parchment before a high, thin voice spoke. She resisted the urge to vomit, knowing to whom it belonged.
“Sirs, I must implore you, this one is not fit for the tasks—”
“I asked for her name, Doctor, not her life’s history.” The Frenchman bit back, turning to glare in the hallway behind them. The Doctor grumbled to himself, unease gripping his stomach. He was about to lose his most prized conquest, he feared.
“Brigid Riona MacDonald O’Sullivan, aged nineteen.”
The man in the doorway glanced at her anew, her Irish name, coupled with those dark locks and vivid blue eyes, striking his memory. Her sallowness and sunken, dirty cheeks did nothing to hide her identity, once spoken.
The whore who’d cut his nephew.
Brigid saw the recognition in his eyes before she, also, put the pieces together. She wouldn’t have known it was him without his pompous, ugly wig.
“Leave us, Doctor, for I’d very much like to speak with her in private.”
“Well, I’m not sure how that is possible, she is under my care for bouts of hysteria, and—”
“Now, please.” The Duke’s voice cut off the Doctor’s pleading, and Brigid felt her lips lift in a small smirk. Though she was worried about this man’s intentions, she found his company preferable to the Doctor, remembering how this man had berated his deplorable nephew in front of her. She craned her neck, peering behind the small group, looking for the big blond man, but sagged back when she didn’t find him.
Their footsteps echoed down the hall, leaving only the Duke and one other man behind.
“Care to enlighten me, friend?” The Scottish man said. Brigid’s ears perked up at his accent, so close to home. It made her heart hurt for the first time in a while.
“She was the whore who cut my nephew,” he said aside to his companion, crouching down to be eye level with her, his own eyes a kind, warm brown.
“Yes, she’s the one. Fiery devil, aren’t you?” He asked to her. Her gaze widened at being addressed in such a direct way. The man frowned, reaching to her. She shied away, kicking at him. His frown deepened. He turned to glance up at Law, an angry set to his jaw.
“They haven’t shaved her head. Why?”
Law shrugged, still at a loss for words, seeing the mistreatment of these docile women. When he’d originally corresponded with Doctor Moreau, he’d said most patients were out of their minds. They’d found, however, that was not the case. Sighing, the Duke turned back to her, rubbing his forehead against the pain blooming behind his eyes. If she was Irish-born, she was a ward of Britain, not France, and should have been shipped back to her own country, pending trial. There was some unspoken fear behind her eyes, though, and the Duke was about to do something rather risky and illegal to give her a chance at a fresh start.
“Irish, am I correct?” He asked. Brigid wished she could kick him, for it was his own nephew’s fault she was there in the first place.
“She’s a bit thin.” Law observed.
“You would be too, friend, if you’d seen their kitchens.”
“Alright, then, tender-hearted man. Give her your offer and let’s be moving on.”
Law, unconcerned by such finite details (and hating the British with a fervency) did not care that the Duke was treading murky waters by ushering a British subject to a French colony. The poor girl would likely fare better there, anyways.
Brigid’s eyes were wide, panicked, her heart racing and her head feeling light. She was about to faint, from starvation and exhaustion. The Duke reached out again, grasping her cold, thin hand. She had no strength to shy away this time.
“It is your choice, ma cherie. If you agree to marry a man of your choosing, you and your husband will be given land and gold, and your freedom, in the New World.”
At the suggestion of marriage, Brigid’s heart nearly burst from her chest, dread gripping her. No. No, she would never marry again, she would rather die than be subject to such torture and abuse. Freedom did not exist within the confines of marriage, and no amount of land or gold could ever entice her, because she knew it would all be her husband’s, anyways.
The Duke, sensing her dismay, tightened his hold on her, his gaze intense.
“If you stay here, you will not die, as you wish. You will be subject to all manner of perversions in the name of science. Save yourself.” He whispered. Brigid’s eyes flicked between his, and for once, she saw a man of his word. She would never trust him, but she knew in this instance he was telling her the entire truth. She bit her lip, her cheek, gnawing them raw, mind reaching for any other solution, but conjuring up an image of Doctor Moreau torturing her every time.
Head swirling, she sank back, giving one nod of assent before darkness consumed her.
It was near dawn before the Duke’s home was within sight, its cast-iron gates a welcome reprieve from the thick stone walls of the hospital. Paris as a city was full of horrid smells, but the asylum had been far worse. The gate guard tipped his head in recognition before swinging open the creaking metal slats. The Duke dismounted before tugging his bay mare into his courtyard of stone, mind buzzing with exhaustion and excitement. They’d found enough women to supply their need, one-hundred-eighty-four, to be exact. They would peruse the Bastille in a week or so to find an equal amount of willing men. Convincing them wouldn’t be near as hard, he thought with a chuckle.
The girl—Brigid—had been his greatest rescue, in his mind. He could sense her hesitation, her apprehension, but he’d been able to buy her freedom from that wretched doctor. He’d posted two of his men at the hospital, ensuring no further harm or testing be done upon them until their passage to the New World could be procured.
Before he could make it two more steps into safety, however, a young male servant hurtled at him through the darkness, shoes slapping against the cobblestone and breaking into his thoughts.
The Duke turned in fright, his mare throwing her head in angst, before the boy stopped, doubling over and heaving for a breath.
“What is it?” The Duke said, blood running cold, for to be interrupted at dawn was never a good thing.
“He…your nephew…” the boy gasped, cheeks flushed. The Duke waited, holding his own breath.
“He’s been murdered, milord, you must come quick!”