A/N: This series takes place in the context of a pseudo-historical fantasy, thus uses less modern English, and includes violence, gore as well as adult themes in the later arcs. With that out of the way, thank you for reading!
I knocked on Friar Ruthson’s door with a panicked gaze. I had little time before they found me again. I could not let them find me.
As rain poured down I felt the Abbey shake. It was in the slums, so I expected nothing less. After all, I came from the place. I endured a life on the streets. It was this very church that saved me from that hell. I hoped it would save me again.
Thunder crackled in the distance. I began to shake in my threadbare cloak. But I kept my body warm, holding onto myself lightly above the belly. I banged on the door once more. “Please, Friar Ruthson, it is Cadia!”
I heard footsteps beneath the shabby door. Moments later it swung open before me. The Friar’s Grandniece, Adelle stood there, wide-eyed in shock. “What on Earth are you doing in this storm?” She looked me up and down, and her face turned grim. “You’re expecting, oh my, do come in before you lose the baby.”
I graciously slid in the door. Adelle ushered me to a bed and sat me down. She shuffled away without a word, and moments later returned with a washtub of hot water, which she placed my battered feet into. I shivered as the warmth spread throughout my body.
“Where is Friar Ruthson?” I asked cautiously, not certain I’d like the answer.
Adelle shook her head. “While you were away he became ill. He left to heal in a place of God, but hasn’t returned. We presumed him dead last month.”
I looked away. It seemed selfish to feel loss when I was nothing more than a street urchin he took in. Adelle felt a world of pain, and what I felt was nothing more than self-indulgent pity. I did not return my gaze until I was sure it was clean of sorrow.
She was eyeing me intently, puzzled. “Your husband, will he come?”
I hid my face again. Panic gnawed at my stomach. I would not be welcomed in a house of God if I told the truth. “He’s gone to war. I will wait here until there is news,” I paused, “Adelle, I want to ask something of you.”
She hummed. “Go on, then,” Adelle pulled out the wash tub as she spoke.
“I fear my child is a monster, Adelle. I need you to perform the rites of purification, if not for my health, then for ease of mind,” I said, almost too quiet to be heard over the pouring rain.
Adelle froze. “What kind of monster?”
“Malignus,” I whispered, as if the name itself held power. In some ways, I believed it did. I prayed that they couldn’t hear it. I prayed they couldn’t find me here. Most of all, I prayed it would work, because it was my last chance to get out alive.
“Cadia, mind the candles. We aren’t trying to kill the child,” said Adelle.
I sighed. I knew she meant well, but she had no idea what we were really dealing with. The purification might end up being a nothing-stew with a few invisible carrots on top. But it was all I had left.
Adelle laid me down on the church floor and began speaking in Latin. She had no plans to become a nun, but her Granduncle taught her his craft regardless. She was like me, parentless. I didn’t blame her for wanting something outside the walls of the Abbey. That was exactly what got me here.
“...et spiritus sanctu--”
The chanting stopped abruptly, the candles went out, and a thud rang throughout the church. I remained silent, and still as possible. All I heard was Adelle’s shallow breathing and my heart pumping. My life felt like it was about to end, and all I could think of was his face.
Haunting. Beautiful. Scorned. Those were what I called the flower Hellebore. It was what I would call him, too. A flower on the outside, but evil within. I was out gathering herbs across the village wall when I spotted a stag in the distance. Most animals surrounding our village were socialized, so I trailed over to get a closer look at the creature. When I moved closer, it retreated, further and further away, and I soon found myself lost in the thicket.
I spotted it once again, hiding behind a willow tree. As I moved towards it, the shape changed. It was no longer a stag, but a man. I thought my eyes were mistaken for imagining an animal. So I went closer, closer again to make certain. There he stood, taller than a high door frame, stronger than the tide. His skin warmed by the sun, and his eyes and hair the color of midnight. I couldn’t look away. He turned his head--ever so slightly--to look at me. “I will not know you if you simply stare,” he said, speaking with a strong accent.
I shook my head. “I thought you were an animal,” I admitted.
“And who says I am not?” He grinned. I couldn’t help but return the smile.
I coughed as my mind returned to the present. No longer was the world sunny and warm. It was cold, desolate. Someone disturbed the candles, and next to me, Adelle’s clothing caught aflame. I desperately tried to stomp the flames, all the while searching the room for the perpetrator.
“Cadia,” called a familiar voice from behind me, “please, come home.”