Ravyn's Nights - Book 1

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Chapter 42

As the minutes ticked away, drawing the sunrise closer and closer, Claire’s nervous pacing grew more and more agitated. Rather than simply pacing, as she had been doing for well over half an hour already, she also began making frequent stops by the room’s window to peak out from behind the dark blanket she had covered it with earlier. Each time, she found herself just hoping upon hope that she would see Ash arriving back just in time to unfailingly protect her in her daytime slumber, as he had done without question, for over four years, already.

As the sun just began peering over the horizon in the distance, Claire found herself forcing her feet to carry her from the window, to instead take a nervous seat at the edge of the bed, biting back worried tears despite how heavy her lids were quickly becoming. With a slight whimper she moved to lie down, clasping the pillow to her chest protectively, telling herself, ‘He will be here. Any second now, he will…’ Though that sunrise did inevitably come, as her eyelids closed mid-thought, and her body was once again forced to completely shut down and enter into that deathlike state, there in that dark room, all alone.

It was somewhere nearing noon when the knock came at the locked door of Claire’s room. The knock was at first tentative, then grew a bit louder. With a slight sigh, the innkeeper’s young granddaughter cleared her throat outside the door after receiving no response to either knock.

“Miss?” she spoke loudly through the wooden door, “Miss, I have newly washed linens for your bed. May I come in, Miss?” she asked more loudly.

Upon still receiving no response, the girl, who only looked to be around twelve years of age, tucked the sheets under her arm as she searched her key ring before finally sliding the key into the lock and softly pushing the door open.

She gasped a bit as she found Claire laying there on the bed, seeming in a deep, deep sleep, “Oh I’m sorry Miss, I thought you were…” her voice trailed off a bit as she took a slight step closer into the room, squinting her eyes as Claire lay there deathly still, not making any vocal or visible response to the girl’s arriving in the room, “Miss?” the girl repeated with another step as she moved to get a closer look at the beautiful woman who remained there atop the bed with no movement whatsoever, and looking as pale as the sheets the girl carried under her arm. Upon stepping even closer to the bed, close enough to see that Claire’s breast did not even rise in breath under the tight bodice, the girl dropped the sheets with a shriek as she stumbled backwards from the room.

Running down the stairs full tilt, she found her grandfather rushing to the stairs to grasp her trembling shoulders, “What on earth are you squealing about, girl?” he asked her gruffly as he held her fast to stop her rushing past him.

“The woman up there, in the second room,” she gasped for breath between words, “I think she’s….I think she’s dead Gran.” she whimpered the information tearfully.

“Dead?” he gasped, inadvertently turning his eyes towards the top of the stairs she had just hurriedly rushed down, “Are you sure?” he had to ask.

“She looks it to me. You go see!” she exclaimed as she pulled from his loosened grip to move down the stairs and get even farther from the guest that had traumatized her so, hiding herself behind the desk as she watched in anticipation for her grandfather to go and see for himself.

The older man swallowed a bit as he looked back at his obviously shaken granddaughter and back up the stairs again, steeling himself as he slowly forced his feet to move him upwards towards the second floor and the meager guest quarters above.

He swallowed a bit as he arrived at the door which was still ajar from the young girl’s hasty departure. He peaked through the doorway, only allowing a slight scowl at the clean sheets that now rested on the floor, before finally moving his eyes to the bed, and Claire. He swallowed once more as he stepped past the sheets to force himself to go have a closer look at her face, which did indeed seem to bear a pallid and lifeless complexion, above a torso that did not rise with any breath at all.

He took a shaky breath of his own as he spent a moment talking himself into reaching for her wrist which, as he feared, was icy cold, causing him to quickly drop her delicate hand back to the mattress with another shaky breath as he moved back from the bed. Squaring his shoulders, he left the room, slowly making his way back down the stairs to where his granddaughter watched him descend, waiting for him to confirm her earlier fears.

He sighed as he arrived back at the desk she still waited behind, “Go and get the doctor, and the priest.” he told her quietly as he reached for his earlier abandoned drink.

“Is she….” the young girl asked with trembling voice.

“And tell them to bring a box.” he added with a shake of his gray head, and a long swig of his liquor. The girl just sniffled a bit at his confirmation, and moved to do as he asked, head hanging low as she slowly shuffled toward the door with a sad sigh.

Thankfully, Claire had no real awareness of the activity around her as the doctor finally finished delivering a new baby, and at last arrived at the inn at slightly after two that afternoon to confirm what they had all already thought they knew. Outside the room, the young girl perched on a chair near the door, torn between wanting to know what was going on, and not wanting to. The innkeeper was lost in his own nervous pacing inside the room’s door, as the town priest continued with his whispered prayers over Claire’s body, while two of the younger men in town that day attempted to maneuver a newly nailed together wooden coffin up the stairs of the inn.

“Do you know if she had any family?” the priest finally asked the innkeeper quietly as the doctor moved to let the other two men lift Claire’s body from the bed and into the box that now sat upon the floor next to it.

“I don’t even know the woman’s name.” the older man responded with a frustrated sigh as he and the priest moved out to the hall as the others attended to nailing the coffin lid in place somberly.

“Didn’t she sign your log?” the doctor entered the conversation as he too stepped into the hall, letting the other men tend to her coffin, as his job was obviously done.

“Just initialed it, CB. I was barely awake when she got here two night’s back, and I hadn’t even seen her since.” he answered with a helpless shrug, “How long do you think she was like that?” he asked the doctor with worry, as his granddaughter sighed once more as she shrunk further into her seat where the loud hammering coming from inside the room caused her to startle slightly with each bang.

“It’s odd.” the doctor answered.

“What’s odd?” the innkeeper returned.

“She was ice cold, like she’d been that way a while, but she wasn’t all stiffened up, like they get.” he returned, dropping his voice as he furtively glanced back at the young girl, not wanting to give her too much to visualize, having already been the one to find the body in the first place.

“Is that normal?” the priest asked, adopting the same furtive tone.

“Hard to say why without examining her closer.” the doctor replied with a shrug, “But if we ain’t even got a family name to attach to her grave, I’m guessing no one will much care if we get the answer. She’s gone for sure though, and that’s that.” he finished with another shrug and a slight sigh which the innkeeper and priest mirrored as well.

Giving the matter no further thought, the three men stepped aside to allow the two now carrying her coffin to guide it down the stairs and to what they believed would be her final resting spot; a small unmarked grave on the outskirts of the regular church graveyard. After all, that was the place they reserved for all the nameless ones whom no one ever cared much about, at all.

Something like nearly seven hours had passed before the sun set on that small town once again. As the sun was replaced by the moon that summer night, Claire awoke with a start, as she always did when night fell. Though, she was more than a bit disoriented as her eyes opened, or at least she thought they were open. It was almost impossible to tell, as her superior vision always let her make out some shapes and shadows in even a pitch black room. However, this time, she could see, literally, nothing but darkness.

On that thought, more than a little fear passed through her as she recalled that she had fallen into her deep sleep that day before Ash even returned to her side to protect her. And, now, here she was, once again faced with darkness just as deep as the kind that had swallowed her on that night nearly five years ago, when Sean had made love to her, and then drained every ounce of life from her body, plunging her once before into the impenetrable darkness she once again found herself surrounded by.

She swallowed another wave of panic as she realized that darkness wasn’t the only thing she was surrounded by. At that moment, she could not depend on four of her ever so heightened senses, and forced all her concentration to the one sense that still seemed to be working: touch. She moved her fingers at her side, no longer feeling the firm mattress below her, but rather, hard, cold wood. Claire swallowed again and moved her arms what little she could, feeling herself surrounded by that same cool oak not just beneath her, but ever so close to her on all sides.

She gasped a bit as she suddenly became aware of what situation she had now truly found herself in, “Oh my god.” she spoke the words to no one, tears immediately rushing to her eyes as she tried to calm herself, as impossible as that truly was. Trying to force back the panic that well matched what she felt on the night Sean had first told her what he had become, she allowed another wry thought: She was finally getting that funeral she somehow had managed to avoid years earlier, and couldn’t help feeling that she almost deserved this fate.

Though thoughts of Sean soon returned to her, as they always did. She then had to bite back more tears as she couldn’t help imagining how it would hurt him if she just gave in, and stayed there in that grave that she should have been placed in back on that cold November night four and a half years ago.

On that thought, she forced her hands upwards, wiping away the blood from her cheeks as she steeled herself to do the one thing no living, or even unliving, creature should be forced to do. She finally balled her hands into fists, bracing her back and feet against the walls of the coffin and deliberately aimed for a part of the wood slightly below her face, using every bit of her supernatural strength to punch a hole through the top of the coffin above her chest.

Another loud sob shook her body as the dirt poured into the hole around her fist. Choking back those tears, she continued feverishly pounding at the wood, pushing through piles upon piles of the thankfully still loose, though still very heavy and clinging dirt that poured through each new opening. The soil continued covering Claire’s hair, pale skin, and the beautiful emerald-colored dress that she had worn to bed the day before, as she just tried to keep from thinking long enough to make her way through that unknown expanse of ground above her, back into the moonlight, and back to the living world, whether or not she felt as though she did truly deserve to be part of it after all.

Three nights later, July was beginning already when the carriage once again approached their home of over four years, Sean at the reins, not able to completely push away a small smile at the thoughts of coming home to her once more. Upon reaching the home, he pulled the horses to a halt and stepped down to head for the carriage doors, smiling back up at the just barely flickering candlelight he could make out through the home’s thick curtains.

He opened the carriage door with a smile as he reached to help two young brunette women make their way to the ground, having donned their best dresses for their arrival there. Both girls’ hair nearly reached their waists, and they each had a dark greenish hue to their eyes, making their family ties obvious to any onlooker. One appeared to be in her early twenties while the other may have been in her late teens, and both looked equally nervous as well as happy to be arriving there with Sean that night.

“Hmm, I don’t see Ash’s horse. He must be out hunting, again.” he told them thoughtfully as they each reached the ground, “Go ahead and grab some of your things while I take the horses in.” he smiled to them as they each nodded, and went about searching through their modest belongings in the moonlit night.

Sean had just finished leading the horses through the barn door when the two new arrivals startled from their unpacking the carriage, upon the sound of the front door of the home opening. Claire stiffly stepped into the dimly lit doorway, looking more than a little shaken by more than just the unexpected arrival of the two women who stopped their unpacking to turn and look back toward the house.

“Where’s Sean?” Claire asked, her voice a bit raspy, and even trembling a bit as she seemed to force speech for the first time in days.

“He took the horses into the barn, ma’am. He’ll only be a few moments, I’m sure.” the older of the two girls attempted a small smile of greeting as she took a step toward the house. Though, her movement seemed to only cause more tension in Claire, so she made a further explanation, “I’m Mariana, ma’am. I’m here to take over Baila’s former position.” she spoke the words as more of a question.

Claire did not make any response other than her troubled eyes moving over the young woman who spoke. Then the younger of the two made her own introduction, “And I’m Marisa. Sean said it would be ok for me to come along as well. We’ve never been separated for very long.” she added with her own small smile, hoping to get some reaction from Claire, other than the way her eyes darted from the women to the barn door and back again.

Upon still receiving no noticeable reaction from Claire, Mariana spoke up again, mainly to cover her own nervousness, “You must be Claire. Baila did say you were beautiful.” she smiled again as she took her bag in one hand and her sister’s arm in the other, both slowly starting the rest of the way up the path to the door.

“You’re bound, you’re both bound?” Claire managed, seeming to almost choke the words as they got within a few feet of where she still stood in the doorway, clutching the wooden doorframe in her fingers, her eyes constantly moving back toward the barn, awaiting Sean’s reappearance.

“You mean the blood, ma’am?” Mariana asked quietly once they reached the door.

“Yes, you’re bound, yes?” Claire repeated, shaking her head slightly through strained words.

“Yes, ma’am.” Marisa answered for her sister, them both watching Claire worriedly, as her upset was more than apparent to both of them, even if they had no actual knowledge of the reasons for it.

“And…” Claire began, moving her hand to her brow with obvious stress, “and neither of you have family…no one who will…will want you back with them?” she asked in the same hoarse whisper.

“We’re each other’s only family, ma’am.” Mariana offered with creased brow.

“Family?” Claire repeated, still rubbing at her brow, while making no eye contact with either girl.

“Yes, sisters.” Mariana answered with her own voice dropping a bit as she worriedly watched Claire.

Claire allowed another shaky sigh before adding, “Fine, bring your things. I…I’ll be upstairs.” she finished as she finally moved from the door and distractedly headed for the stairs, leaving the two girls to look between each other with their own worried breaths before going about bringing their belongings inside.

After several minutes the sisters had set their bags inside the door, not really sure where their quarters were to be, and not wanting to go about exploring the home on their own, especially in light of Claire’s obvious state, “Have a seat, I guess. I’ll go and see where Sean wants our things.” Mariana told her sister with a slight sigh before heading back outside once more.

“Almost done.” Sean smiled back at Mariana as she appeared in the barn doorway.

“Sir?” she began tentatively.

“Please, call me Sean.” he told her with another slight smile.

Mariana just swallowed and glanced downwards before continuing, “Your wife…”

“Yes? Did she come greet you?” he asked as he finished filling the feed dishes for the horses.

“Well, yes, but…” Mariana began, nervously biting her lip as she continued looking down at the floor of the barn.

“What is it, Mariana?” he asked with concern as he stepped out of the stall, closing it gently behind him.

“Is she….” she began, then dropped her voice again, “Is she not well?” she dared to ask.

“What do you mean?” Sean asked with immediate worry upon his face as he glanced toward the house.

“She just seems, very, I don’t know, upset, or maybe fearful?” Mariana attempted a polite description of her new mistress’ state.

Sean’s eyes narrowed slightly at such an appraisal as he glanced toward the house again with a worried shake of his head, “Go ahead and make some dinner for yourselves. I will…go and see if she is well.” he stated with his own distraction as he moved past her and headed hurriedly toward the house, his only thought being that of whether or not there was truly a reason to worry about his love’s well-being after the first time, since the change, that they had been apart for longer than only a night or two, and if he did have a reason to regret leaving her to deal with this new life of theirs on her own, after all.

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