She stumbled over a root in the dark forest and was sent sprawling onto the cold ground. Sticks and twigs scraped her arms and knees as she pushed to her feet. She tossed a glance over her shoulder as she heard the dogs and shouting grow closer.
With a cry of fear she propelled herself forward again. She shoved branches away as they scratched her face and tore at her hair. Her dress of beautiful colored fabric was torn and filthy, her body aching from running and the scratches. The dogs and men were growing closer.
The castle wasn't far a mile, maybe two but she knew she wasn't going to make it. Her body was tired and the men persistent.
She'd woke up after drinking the potion to find herself in her bed. The only thing changed had been a small brand on her arm. It was the symbol of a dragon inside a circle on the inside of her wrist. It didn't hurt but it was puzzling. The sorcerer offered her no explanation for the potion or brand. That was two weeks ago.
Today she'd heard the news her mother had died. She waited until her master was in bed before sneaking from the castle into town. When she entered her house her brother had began screaming, things about her being the whore of the devil. He saw the brand and her fate was sealed. His yelling brought men from all over, with pitchforks and torches ready to chase.
She tripped again and this time knocked the air from her lungs. She lifted her head preparing to run again when through her curtain of dark hair she saw two black boots. Slowly she lifted her head to see her master staring down at her, hands on his hips.
"Margaret..."He said, his voice deep.
"Run!" She cried.
He tilted his head to one side, studying her. She could only imagine the image she made. Her dress filthy and torn, her body bruised and scratched, on her hands and knees on the dark forest floor.
"Run," She said, her voice pleading.
He didn't run instead he turned his attention to the commotion pouring through the trees. She knew the instant the men were upon her, their torches lit across her masters face casting him in a cold looking light. The dogs grew silent when he held out his hand and all dropped to sit.
"You! You're the one who stole away my sister!" Her brother yelled.
He stepped beside her and pointed a finger at her master. The sorcerer raised and eyebrow but didn't comment as he reached out a hand to her. She allowed him to pull her unsteadily to her feet. So far he hadn't been cruel to her, not warm or kind but not cold or cruel either.
So far he had chosen indifference when it came to her, he would ask her to clean a room and then leave her for the day. At night he'd serve them food and then retire to his room. On rare occasions he would allow he into his study where he allowed her to mix items for various potions but he barely spoke to her.
"I assure you, nothing was stolen." Her master said.
"You're the devil!" Her brother raged.
He didn't release her hand and she knew it was to keep her from escaping again. He didn't seem afraid of the large group of barbaric men that were standing in front of him.
"Your sister belongs to me now, she disobeyed me by escaping but I can assure you it won't happen again."
"Maybe she doesn't want to belong to you," He brother said.
"She doesn't have a choice, we made a deal. Your mother benefited greatly from it up until her untimely death. I owe your family nothing else, your sister however owes me her life."
"Will you kill her then?"Her brother asked.
"Would you like me too?" Her master shot back.
Her brother- to her surprise- did not deny it. He looked at her then her master. As if reading her brothers mind the sorcerer shoved her to her knees in the dirt. She let out a cry as her left knee connected with a large rock. Her kept a strong grip on her shoulder holding her in place, her brother took a step forward.
"If you're so eager to see your sister dead, then by all means."
"You'll kill her when you're finished," Her brother said.
"Give me your word and I'll leave."
"I give you my word that you will never see your sister again in this life," Her master said.
She looked at her brother, he barely glanced back at her but she could still see the hate in his heart. Tears blurred her vision as the sorcerer pulled her by her elbow to her feet.
"Please, brother, what have I done that was so wrong? Why do you look at me with such hate?" She asked.
He didn't answer but turned to leave with the rest of the group. She tried to follow but her masters grip tightened on her arm.
"Answer me, please!" She begged.
"You made your choice Margaret, not even God can help you now." Her brother replied, not looking back at her.
The crowd disappeared and the sorcerer turned, dragging her with him. She fell unsteadily into step with his long strides. Her bare feet ached and her legs were like jello.
"I warned you this would happen, I told you of the sacrifice you made," He said.
"Then tell me why you ran off, have I been so cruel?"
"No, I just wanted to go to my mothers funeral."
"Your mother rejected you."
"I still wanted to see."
She tripped and her legs gave out, had he not been gripping her arm she would have fell. He hauled her back to her feet without breaking stride.
"Your brother just tried to kill you, will that convince you to stay away?"
"I can't believe he'd say those things and you promised him I'd die first."
She tripped a second time and this time she saw the annoyance on his face as he hauled her back to her feet. His stride was too loose and quick for her under the best circumstances, let alone in the darkened woods when she was already weak. She briefly wandered how he could see so well in the blackness.
"No, I told him he'd never see you again and he won't. Like it or not you are bound to me, you will remain in my castle. I can almost assure you will out live him."
"How can you be sure."
"Many women die during child birth, you may rest assured that you will never conceive while under my room. He has a few years on you at best and you're of strong, sturdy, bloodline, he is not. His fathers blood makes him weak."
She fell again this time collapsing completely, he released her arm and halted his steps. She realized now the bone deep cold that had sunk into her body, she was racked with violent chills. When she snuck out she'd taken a coat and shoes but her coat had been lost in the woods as well as her shoes. She began to push unsteadily to her hands and knees when a heavy weight burdened her body.
She realized it was her masters cloak, he draped if over her shoulders and body. It was large on her but warm from his body and the warmth made her even more tired. A second later her scooped her into his arms. She let out a squeak of protest but he silenced her.
"Don't fight me, I'll drop you to the ground and leave you to the wolves."
She fell quiet and he started back towards the castle. When they first met and even until this moment she hadn't realized he possessed the strength to lift her. His body was lithe and limber but didn't appear as muscled as it clearly was. She let her head rest against his shoulder and before she knew it was fast asleep.
She woke up just as they reached the castle, the heavy door swung open on it's own allowing him to carry her insider. Too weak to protest she relaxed against his chest as he climbed the stairs. He took a left and the door to her room opened, he walked inside and over to her bed.
When he placed on knee on her bed and eased her down she tensed, her body jerking in his arms. She pushed her hands against his chest.
"Wait," She begged.
"Stop fussing, I'm leaving."
He released her from his arms and stood, she still didn't relax. She'd never been alone in a bedroom with a man before, was he expecting payment for what happened? Was tonight the night he took her to his bed?
He picked up one of her feet and she winced at the pain it caused. He didn't seem to notice as he examined the sole of her foot.
"I'll make a poultice for this, you can use it in the morning."
He gave a brisk nod and dropped her foot. He stood from her bed and was gone as quickly as he appeared in the forest.
He frightened her, she supposed she didn't have a reason to be frightened of him. He hadn't been kind but he hadn't been cruel either. In fact he'd shown nothing but disinterest for her the entire time she'd been here and she seemed to be more of an annoyance than anything else.
As she drifted to sleep in her bed the words her brother had said echoed in her ears. She had no family all she had left now was a cold man and a dark castle.