Author's Note/Disclaimer: I would like to inform all of my readers that this chapter contains attempted rape and hints at spousal abuse/anger issues.
"Come on, da, you are being foolish. No one wishes to hear your stories but me," Sarah said gently as she tried to ease her father out of the tavern where she found him half buried behind a group of bottles. Had she known that he had gotten this bad she would have been back to Sweet Water sooner, her mind already plagued by the image of his guilt and sorrow was now amplified by witnessing him drinking away the memory of his wife. Pain and anger coursed through her veins, alcohol was a demon all its own, and adding depression to an already wounded man simply led you on a path of no return. Grimacing at the smell, she pulled him down the street, his arm over her shoulder and his feet dragging slightly behind him.
"I can walk, pet, let go," he pulled his arm away from her; he remembered how coldly she had left him. She might have his blood but she was more like her mother; graceful steps, a fiery temper, and a strong mind. She kept her word and rarely did she offer apologies unless horribly wrong. His Sarah was strong of body and of will, but something seemed off even to his addled mind. Ignoring the thoughts in his mind he stumbled away from his daughter, she had left him alone twice, now he was leaving her.
Standing alone on the side of the street, she felt her heart drop, had her father forsaken her? She watched painfully as he left her standing alone, she had never thought that he would leave her; he was supposed to always be there, to guard her and protect her when the darkness got too close. Fresh tears sprung into her eyes, unlike the tears from the morning she kept these from falling. Walking briskly into the forest, she let her feet carry her home, paying no attention to the shadow that followed her.
Sarah's vision went black as she crashed forward, skidding in the underbrush as her chest was compressed by a sudden weight. Fighting to get up she felt a hand snag her hair and jerk her head backwards, lifting her chest from the ground. She felt hot breath on her ear, smelt his rancid breath as he kissed the side of her neck.
"Get off of me!" she demanded, her head was yanked back harder until she was looking into the eyes of her attacker. Matthew stared down at her, a sneer on his face.
"You think that no man is good enough for ya. I think 'hats because you haven't had one yet," he kissed her neck again, his free hand grabbing at her breasts. Yelling she tried to buck him off, his weight settled on her lower back, his intents clear. "Stop yer complainin' Sarah."
She felt him press his hands hard against her, grabbing at her dress and forcing it up her legs. Kicking and pushing against him, her fights were futile against his strength. She felt his rough hands on her thighs then nothing as the cool air of sunset rushed in to replace the heat of her attacker. Curling in upon herself, she wrapped her arms around her knees.
Matthew yelled in fury and surprise as razor sharp teeth pierced his calf and ripped him away from the whimpering woman lying under him. Kicking with his free leg, he caught the attacking animal in the head making the jaws around his calf to tighten more. Pain raced up his body as he felt himself become airborne and released, flying through the air, he got a sight of the animal. A gigantic wolf. His back slammed into a tree, cracking loudly as he hit the ground. Matthew couldn't breathe, and the moment he got his breath back, the wolf was upon him, lifting him from the ground with strong jaws and pinning him to the tree with his large paws. Snarling the wolf stared into Matthew's eyes, his fear scenting the air as he watched the wolf draw back then jerk forward. The dying shriek as Matthew's throat was torn away. Blood sprayed over the wolf as he turned with indifference, the lifeless body falling harshly to the ground. The Wolf sat down, licking the blood from his muzzle while glancing at Sarah, his blood still raced with anger but he knew that he had taken care of the problem.
Sarah wept on the cold ground, unaware that twenty feet from her, her attacker lay dead. She winced as something warm ran over her face, soft fur brushed against her arms causing her to lift her head. Golden eyes stared at her, transporting her into a different world, she forgot about the nightmare. The Wolf wedged his head under her arm, lifting her from the ground until her feet found the solid ground again. Sarah gripped onto the fur at his shoulder, letting him guide her home while her mind blanked out. She was vaguely aware when the Wolf stopped and nudged her with his head to keep going. Without question, she walked into her home, closed both of her doors and collapsed into her bed.
The Great Wolf returned to her home after dealing with the corpse littering his forest, he rested his head upon his large paws and watched her home for signs of distress. He had followed her to the village when she left in the afternoon sun, and now he was thankful that he had taken the time to follow her home as well. The thought of her hurt made his blood boil and his fur rise on end. No other human had ever affected him in such a manner. She was so different from the others, kind and strong, fearless but rather stupid in that regard.
Sarah awoke to the sound of paw steps scraping under her bedroom window; she eased herself out of her bed, cautiously walking across her floor to peer out her window. Her heart stopped, the Wolf was pacing under her window, and head bend low to the ground. Whipping his head around he looked up at her, ears perking up he turned back to stand directly in front of her window. Breath caught in her throat as she stared into the golden eyes of the Great Wolf, she knew that he had taken care of her last night; rescued her and brought her home.
"Thank you," she said, bowing her head slightly towards the Wolf. He dipped his head in return before turning and running towards the woods, his body arched gracefully over her fence and landed in a whisper. Sarah watched in amazement as he disappeared into the shadows of the trees; if she hadn't seen him with her own eyes she wouldn't have believed that he was there. Moving back to sit on her bed, she ran her hands over the patch work quilt that kept her warm through the nights; her mind was spinning with images of Matthew. She didn't believe that he would attack a woman, although he wasn't the most trustworthy man in the village. Husbands rarely left their wives in his company, young girls kept at a distance.
Massaging her temples, she got to her feet and walked into her kitchen, Sarah busied herself fixing some eggs. She kept her mind occupied with her task, thinking of the past few nights would only make her resolve buckled and she would end up falling onto a path like her father. No, she couldn't, she wouldn't allow herself to stumble into darkness. She sat quietly, eating, staring out the window she thought about Bethany. The poor girl would need her to be there, strong and able minded to ease her through her pregnancy. Losing herself in thought, Sarah spent most of her day sitting before her fire, stoking it once in a while to keep the warmth going.
Days passed while Sarah worked her garden, gathered through the woods and made her days busy knowing that the wolf was watching over her. Even though the Wolf terrified her because of the danger he could pose to her, a part of her knew that he wouldn't harm her, that she was safe as long as he was in the wood. As the days passed she began to wonder why she rarely saw the Great Wolf, surely such a large animal would be difficult to miss, unless of course he was like the deer. Hiding in plain sight, there and yet unseen.
As the mornings sun rose over the tree tops, Sarah watched as a woman made her way towards her home, it was only when she was closer that she realized the woman was Bethany. Had weeks truly passed so quickly? She waited patiently for her friend with a gentle smile on her face, however it fell slightly when Bethany leaned in for a quick embrace. Holding the young girl out at arm's length, she studied her face; there was something wrong, it appeared that she was bruised although the wound had faded greatly.
"Beth, what can I do for you this morning?" she asked ushering the woman inside and towards the table.
Beth kept her gaze down as they sat at the table, her hands folded in her lap. "I've come for more herbs, like you told me," she said meekly. Sarah reached across the table to lift the girls chin, forcing their eyes to meet.
"Your face is bruised, why?"
Bethany's lip twitched into a small smile, Sarah had always been rather blunt with her words, "Edwin has been quick to anger as of late."
"So he sees fit to strike his wife?" Sarah shook her head with a sigh; she knew that it would happen eventually. She foretold Bethany of it when Matthew had angered him, hadn't she? There was nothing for it now, all that she would be able to do is care for her friend in the only way she knew how.
"I do not wish to speak of it. Please, Sarah, I have just come for the herbs," Beth's word were not her own, that much she could tell but she wouldn't force her to speak, instead she rose to her feet and pulled down a bag of herbs.
Before handing them to her friend, she spoke, "Follow the same orders as before, no more than a pinch twice a day."
Bethany quickly snatched the pouch of herbs from the midwife and rushed out the door leaving a few coins resting near the edge of the table. Eyeing the coins with a touch of malice, she stalked out of her home into the back garden, her emerald eyes filled with rage. Seeing the faded bruises had made her stomach twist into angry knots, raising a hand against a woman was not right; raising anything more than a voice was cruel. It was more than that; Bethany was with child, striking a woman with child was a sin. Even though Sarah didn't follow a single Lord, she believed in quite a few of their teachings. Nothing made her blood boil more than abuse, strong words were just as harsh as a strong hand.
Growling, she walked over to the fence and leaned against the warped wood, closing her eyes she listened to the sounds of the woods. It had a calming effect, washing over her in gentle waves and easing her mind. Sarah would have to deal with Edwin when she went into Sweet Water next.
Sarah worked the earth in her garden, sweat growing on her brow as the suns heat began to grow more and more with each passing day. Color was returning to her trees and flowers, birds singing more as they began to make their nests for the coming summer. Pausing Sarah listened, heavy hoof beats sounded from the trails; had the traders come early this year? Walking through her cottage, she gathered up her walking stick and her small leather pocket of coins.
Even if it wasn't the traders, she needed to gather supplies from the town, and see how well Bethany was doing. If Edwin had harmed her again…nothing good would come of that. And by her count, sweet Bethany was into her fourth month; an uncertain time for most of the women in Sweet Water despite Sarah's skill with herb and crystal.
As she walked down the trail, she became more certain that it was the traders returning for the first market of the season; hoof prints seemed to cover the trail. The more she walked the more she began to feel that something wasn't right, like she was being watched. It wasn't an unknown feeling but she knew that it wouldn't bother her once she got closer to Sweet Water. It wasn't long before her wary feet found the hard packed earth of town, and all at once, her senses were assaulted by smell of fresh bread and roasting meat, the songs from the Bards mixing with the cacophony of voices.
Sarah couldn't help but smile at the sight of Sweet Water being filled again. It also meant that she would be able to gather supplies, perhaps turn the wolf pelt into a caplet or boots. She scratched at her shoulder absently for a moment before turning her attention to the merchant selling clayware. Her set of cups at the cottage were getting old and worn from constant usage, she smiled softly at the merchant as the woman with light brown hair began to speak about how grand the pieces were. As Sarah looked at the glazed clay pieces, the gentle blues and reds didn't seem to call to her as they used too, now it seemed that the natural color of the clay was calling her name. The earthy color of the clay reminded her of the garden resting neatly between her fences.
"Looks like Edwin's got himself an easy buy," Sarah turned to glance at the man standing next to her, she knew that he was from the village but she couldn't recall his name. Shifting to look at the butcher, she listened.
"I'll give ya three copper pieces for it, it's not worth much more than that I'm afraid," Edwin stated matter-of-factly to the man standing before him with a buck hung over his broad shoulders, blood ran down his arms and back, darkening the green of his cloak. The man had long blond hair held at the nape of his neck with a small piece of leather, and piercing blue eyes the color of a summer morning.
Sarah waited for the hunter to reply; surely, he knew that his kill was worth more than that? When no reply came from the man Edwin began to reach into his pocket to fetch the coins; it was then that Sarah stepped in. She knew the cost of meat and knew that any other hunter would have gotten at least one or two gold coins for such a fine buck.
"Edwin! I may not be much of a hunter but even I know the price of such good meat when I see it," she stated, crossing her arms over her chest as she stood next to the man. Edwin glared at her.
"Keep your mouth shut, Sarah, this ain't your business," he growled.
"I can't let you take advantage of this man simply because he cannot speak. And I have other matters to discuss with you as well," Sarah lowered her voice in warning; Edwin knew all too well what it meant when Sarah got serious. Sarah was dangerous when she was angry, more so when she was clearly on a hairs trigger.
"So be it, Sarah, we will talk later. Now get out of my business," Edwin growled at her, Sarah simply glared back at the man, her emerald eyes narrowing as she grabbed the hunter by the arm and turned him around. The hunter seemed to flinch under her grip but she didn't pay attention to it. She gestured to the nearest man, as he stopped to look at her she spoke.
"What would you give him for his kill?"
The man looked shocked for a moment; it wasn't often that a woman asked such questions. After a moment's consideration he answered, "Fine kill like that should go for gold."
"Thank you. What about you sir?"
"Gold at least."
Sarah nodded and turned the hunter back to Edwin, who it seemed was turning quite a few shades of red, grumbling the butcher reached back into his pocket and drew out a gold piece.
"Not quite enough, I think, perhaps there is another butcher here who would pay healthily?"
Edwin murmured a few choice words under his breath as he reached back into the pocket once more and drew out another bright yellow coin. Sarah smiled and gestured for the hunter to accept the payment.
There was something odd about the man with blond hair, not just the way he stayed silent but the way he held himself, as if he was afraid of being in the town for longer than he needed to be. His blue eyes told Sarah the same thing; he was nervous and cautious about the people moving about. The scar above his left brow seemed old, jagged, almost as if it came from an animal. The hunter moved back after depositing his deer in the butcher's shop. When he didn't leave her side, Sarah decided to finish what she came into Sweet Water for in the first place.
"Bethany came to me a few weeks ago with bruises on her body…Either control that fury of yours or our Bethany will lose that child growing in her belly. There is enough of that already in Sweet Water," as the midwife, Sarah held a certain power, and while she knew that it would protect her from some of the men it wouldn't save her if her tongue got the better of her.
Before Edwin could speak, she turned her back on him in dismissal and gave her attention once again to the merchant peddling clayware. She ignored the silence that had fallen around her; she had made a spectacle of herself going after Edwin in that manner. She glanced to the side; the dark green cloak of the hunter was still at her side. Had her defending him made him feel as if he owed her? Whatever the case she felt oddly at ease knowing he was there and yet at the same time she had the strange feeling that she had met him before.
Before long, she had a pair of earth-toned cups. Musing to herself, Sarah began the long trek home, all the while knowing that her shadow had become a tall, broad-shouldered, silent man. The moment her leather clad feet crossed over the fence line of her home the hunter stopped. Looking back at him she wondered, wondered what caused him to be so quiet, why he followed her home. She watched as he lifted the hood of his cloak, shadows instantly covering his features, his full lips and bright eyes. As she watched him, he turned and walked into the forest surrounding her home, within moments the trees swallowed him, there was no sign that he had been there aside from Sarah's own memory. Sarah lingered for a moment before going inside, she knew that he was still watching her, but she didn't know where.