Adam pulled sharply at the reins and the grey mare dug its heavy hooves into the soft earth. The sweating horse slid to a stop and Adam quickly dismounted. He stealthily made his way toward an old oak tree that sat majestically at the roadside, and hid behind it. He had seen something beyond the large hedge grows that ran the length of the roadside, parallel with the river that ran behind it. He was sure he had seen two men fighting at the river bank. Highwaymen were rife in these parts and Adam was taking no chances. He had drawn his loaded pistol from the saddle bag, and he held it high as he peered round the tree. He was sure he hadn't imagined this. He leaned forward into the hedge. Then he heard a voice. "Die witch, die," the voice rasped.
"No, leave me alone father," a sobbing female's voice choked.
Then Adam saw them. The full moon which had settled high above, gave just enough light for him to make the figures out. A large man was leaning over someone in the water. It was a girl, and she was struggling for her life as the man pushed her head under. Then she came up again, coughing and spitting water.
Adam wasted no time, and burst through the hedge. "Unhand that woman, you scoundrel, or by God sir, I'll lay waste to you," he shouted, as he waved the pistol menacingly.
The man stopped and quickly turned his head, giving the woman a chance to breathe in some much needed air. "Be on your way sir, this matter is of no concern to you."
"Concern enough when I put this ball between your eyes. Now let her go, or I swear it, you shall soon depart this world," Adam threatened
"She's a witch, do you hear me, she's a wit…"
"No father, please," the young woman pleaded.
This damn man has taken all leave of his senses, Adam thought, as the man continued to push her head under the water.
Adam ran down the short bank, entered knee deep into the river and cracked the man savagely around the head with his pistol, but the man struggled on. Twice more Adam brought the pistol down on to his now bleeding head, but he held fast.
Adam didn't want to do this, but he had no choice. The woman was drowning.
He put the pistol to the large mans temple.
"Let her be," he ordered. But the man ignored him. "Let her be or by God sir you will pay a heavy price this night." Still the bleeding man struggled on with the rapidly weakening woman. Then Adam fired. The struggling mans head almost exploded, and he splashed face down into the water, almost on top of the woman. Adam pulled her forcibly up from the dark river, as the water turned red all around them. Her clothes were wet and heavy, and he needed all his strength to drag her onto the bank.
The woman was semi conscious, and Adam pushed hard on her chest and watched as a little fountain of water shot out from between her perfectly formed lips. She is a beautiful creature, he thought, foreign looking somehow. Then the woman coughed loudly and expelled the remaining water from her lungs.
It was a good ten minutes before she could speak properly, and even then, it was in a whisper.
The man had been her father, she explained to him, sobbing. He had been having mental problems, and had been accusing her and her sisters of being witches.
He had brought her here on some pretence, but it soon became clear he wanted to drown her. The beautiful dark haired woman looked at him sadly. "The doctors have been treating father for two years now, but he was getting sicker by the day. He tried to kill my mother just last week."
She still loved him though, she explained, and she cried with grief.
Adam had just murdered her father, a sick man, and he lowered his head shamefully with the horror of what he had done.
"Don't blame yourself sir. He would have killed me but for you. Even though I was drowning I could hear you ordering father to release me. Anyway sir, my name is Annabella Ross."
"Well then Annabella; let's get you to my home, and out of those wet clothes. You can stay as my guest tonight and I'll have some of my menservants fetch your father's body. Tomorrow we can go and visit the prefect."
"Oh thank you sir," she sobbed, as Adam helped her up onto his horse.
When they arrived at the large house, Adam instructed his maids to look after her, and show her to the guest room. The young woman seemed to be holding up well though, despite the fact her father had just been killed, and even asked if she could have something to eat.
But then Adam supposed it would be hard to show the normal sense of loss on an occasion such as this, when the person who died had just tried to kill you.
Adam instructed that Annabella should accompany him at dinner tonight, as he was dining alone, and he also instructed the maids to let her have the pick of any clothing she desired from his late wife's wardrobe.
It was almost two hours later when Annabella entered the large dining room, and Adam was stunned by her beauty.
The dress she adorned enriched her natural beauty. His wife had worn the dress on a few occasions before her death, but the truth was he hardly noticed her in it. The dress had hung loosely on his frail wife. Now though, he felt guilty as he was transfixed to the buxom beauty he had rescued.
The evening went off very pleasantly for Adam, as he found he could talk about almost any subject to Annabella, and her knowledge of worldly things astounded him. She informed him that she lived on Lord Baird's estate with her mother and sisters, where her mother was a cook, and she and her siblings were maids.
"But that estate must be at least sixty miles away. How did you get to where I found you?" Adam asked, puzzled.
"We came on father's horse, but when we dismounted, something frightened the mare, and she ran off."
Adam rode into town early next day, but was soon informed that the prefect had gone to London, over one hundred miles away, and would not be returning for another four or five days.
Adam had his men had search the river for eight miles in each direction, but they found no trace of the dead mans body, or no sightings of his missing horse.
It was agreed that Annabella would stay on for the next five days, until they were sure the prefect had returned, and Adam assured her that he would make her stay a most pleasant and welcoming one.
The next three days were spent walking through the countryside and riding across the fields together.
"You have been so kind to me," Annabella declared; as they sat down to dine.
Old Hudsley and his wife, and Lord and lady Fitzmaurice had called earlier, and Adam felt embarrassed that he had forgotten his invitation to them. After dinner, they played cards, and Adam was very impressed with the way Annabella conducted herself.
As they were leaving, Lord Fitzmaurice complemented him on his fine taste, and Adam knew he wasn't talking about the wine.
Early next morning, he and Annabella were strolling in the gardens, when a rider galloped up to the front of the house.
"Begging your pardon sir, maam," he said.
"What is it George?" Adam asked, puzzled. George Kent lived on an adjacent farm and Adam had known him since he was a little boy. George's father William and he were on very good terms.
"Its father sir, he's come down with something, and he's been asking for you."
"Will you excuse me Annabella; I must go immediately and see to my neighbour."
He had just mounted the horse when Annabella held her hand up toward him.
"I'll accompany you sir, if that's alright" she stated smiling.
Adam rode after George, with Annabella wrapped around him. Her pleasant smell wafted into his nostrils and her touch felt good.
At the Kent farmhouse, William had almost become delirious and Annabella instructed his wife to mix him a drink of different herbs. "This will heal him," she said confidently, as she poured the liquid into his mouth.
"What shall we do about the harvesting without William to take charge," William's wife sobbed.
"Don't worry about the harvesting. I will send Morgan and three of my men over tomorrow. They will know what to do."
"Oh God bless you," George and his mother answered in unison, and Annabelle giggled.
"You're an angel Adam," the woman added.
"Well, I'm hardly that, but what are we if we can't but help our fellow man and friends?"
As they rode back through the gates, Annabelle rested her head on the back of his neck.
"Will I ever see you again, after tomorrow sir?" Annabelle questioned.
"Yes, you most certainly will, and please Annabella, don't call me sir. It's Adam."
Next day George came to the house to say that his father had, as if by a miracle, made an almost full recovery, and had sent him back to thank Adam.
"I'm going into town to see the prefect on some business George. Your father will still need some help though, so he can have the men I promised. I'll accompany you part of the way to your home, if you don't mind."
"No sir, I don't mind, and you're very welcome."
As the two men trotted along the lane George thanked him for his great act of kindness. Adam had always been this way, and George knew how hard it had been for him when his wife Mary died. If ever a man deserved happiness then it was he, George felt.
"That potion your good lady made really worked a treat sir," George stated.
"Well, I'm glad of that, but she's not my good lady George, Annabella is just a guest, and friend," he added.
"And stop calling me sir, damn you George. God knows we've known each other long enough to be friends ourselves."
"Please thank Miss Annabella for me si, sorry, Adam, he corrected. " My father owes her his life."
The men parted company, and as he rode along, Adam thought of the beautiful woman and smiled. He couldn't comprehend it, but the thought of her was urging him to go back home. He shrugged his head at such foolishness. Why he hardly knew the girl. What is happening to me, he thought.
As he approached the town, he met a blacksmith by the name of McGuire.
"Hello sir," the blacksmith shouted.
"Hello McGuire, do you know if the prefect has returned to town?"
"Why sir, the prefect was killed, two days ago, outside of London. I've just been told this minute. Seems his coach overturned. They say a wheel came off. A new prefect has been sent for, but he won't be here for another two weeks. It's all a bad business sir if you ask me."
Adam pulled hard at the reins of Scanlon, the big grey, and galloped back for home.
He had killed a man, and he needed to let someone in authority know about it. He knew there was a military camp a days ride away, but sometimes the military had a strange way of conducting affair's, and he felt he may not get proper justice there.
No, he would go and see his father's old friend, Lord Hackett. He would travel the twenty something miles on Sunday, when he knew he was sure to see him. He galloped through the gates of his estate, causing clumps of earth to shoot into the air as the powerful Scanlon dug its hooves into the soft ground.
Annabella ran out to greet him, and his heart skipped a beat when she smiled at him.
Later that day, as they walked through the grounds, the sun came through the clouds, brightening up the hedge grows and trees, and Annabella took his arm.
"You must stay a while longer Annabella, until I can have appointment with the new prefect."
"No Adam, I've imposed on you enough."
"I insist," he declared.
"Listen to me Adam. You have been so kind to me," she said as she held his two hands in front of him. But I must return. I have a mother and two sisters to think off."
As she turned to walk away, Adam almost lunged after her.
"They can stay too. There are plenty of rooms at the house, empty rooms. You're sisters, they could work for me. And your mother would never have to work again."
"What are you saying Adam?"
"Can't you see woman? Can't you even guess?"
"No. I didn…"
"I think I love you," he whispered, interrupting her.
"No, I, I mean, I do, love you," he stuttered.
"I just don't know what to say Adam," she answered, I…"
"Please think it over," he pleaded. "Think of the great life you and you're family could have here. They would want for nothing."
"This is all so fast Adam. I really hadn't thought you cared for me in that way," she answered, as she turned her back toward him.
"Maybe through time, you could grow to love me?" Adam croaked.
Annabella had bowed her head, and it was two full minutes before she made any movement. When she slowly lifted her head, she turned around and spoke softly.
"I already love you," she whispered, "I have done, almost from the start."
"Dear God, I'm the happiest man alive," he shouted to the heavens, before kissing her.
Annabella was in the kitchen when she seen a movement out in the distance, beyond the tree line, out across the fields. The figure was familiar to her, and she winced.
He had come looking for her. He would always come looking for her, she felt. She knew what she had to do.
As Adam entered the kitchen, he stopped to glance at the trance like figure of the woman he now loved.
"You look as though you've seen a ghost," he pressed.
Annabella explained to Adam that she would have to return home urgently and contact her family, who by now would be beside themselves with worry. She would have to do this alone though.
At first Adam felt aggrieved at this, but then he supposed her family would take time to get used to the idea of her marrying a man who had just shot and killed their husband and father.
He would agree to this, but he insisted she was to be accompanied by two of his men, Thompson and Hughes, at least to the edge of Lord Baird's estate.
She would return with her family in two weeks, she promised. This would give him time to prepare the rooms. He would spare no expense in doing this, and he would be anxious to see the look on her face when she returned.
Annabella had shown him just how good a horse woman she could be and she insisted on travelling on horse, rather than the cart Adam had made ready for her.
"Take my own horse, which you may keep in any event. Consider her my gift to you," he said, as he patted Scanlon on the neck.
They kissed, said their goodbyes and Adam hung his head as the trio rode out from the gates, Annabella sitting magnificent on the big grey.
God, he thought. She's only gone and I'm missing her already.
Adam had promised Annabella that he would not go anywhere near Lord Baird's estate, but would wait for her to return. And Adam was a man of his word.
He had never felt this way before. Of course he had loved his wife, but not in this way, and not with these feelings. When at first he proposed to Mary, it was more out of duty and honour, and even then with some doubts.
It was no more than two hours later that Adam was surprised to see Thompson and Hughes ride back through the gates.
Annabella had informed the men that she did not need them to accompany her, and had ordered them back to the house. When they refused, she simply galloped off at full speed and although the men gave chase, their horses were no match for the powerful Scanlon, and she soon lost them.
Bloody headstrong girl, Adam thought, but smiled at her bold streak of self belief and adventure.
During the week his men had done a great job in preparation of the rooms. They had even made up one of the rooms into a small study, where her sisters could have some privacy, should they desire it.
Adam stared out at the moonlit sky, and smiled. Four more days and she would be returning to him. His feelings for Annabella had increased during her absence, and he had planned to waste no time in officially asking her to become his wife. He hoped and prayed that she would agree.
As he crossed the courtyard a small cold breeze blew into his rugged face. He noticed one of the maids walk slowly toward him in the semi darkness, and he stopped, puzzled with her posture. She seemed nervous and uncomfortable, and fidgeted roughly with her hands. "Hello Emily, do you wish to speak with me?" he asked, smiling.
"Ye, Yes sir," Emily stuttered. "I, I…"
"Well, go on girl, I won't bite you. Tell me what troubles you?"
"It, it's about Miss Ross, sir…"
"Annabella," Adam interrupted, now feeling very confused, but anxious to hear what the maid had to say. "Go on girl'" he ordered.
"Well sir, my brother came to visit with me yesterday and…"
"Young Peter," Adam interrupted again. "Yes I saw him at the house yesterday, and he's a fine looking boy. I'm sure he'll grow into a fine man one day. But please, do go on."
"As I said sir. Peter came to visit. He's a stable boy on lord Bairdes estate. Has been for almost two years now sir."
Well sir, I was asking after Miss Ross, but peter said there is no one there by that name, or description."
"Nonsense Emily, why Annabella's mother is cook there, and her sister's are maids."
Emily stood with a confused look on her face, afraid to say anymore, in case she would be chastised, but Adam bade her to continue.
"Well, I don't really know how to tell you this sir, but my mother is the cook there. She has been Lord Baird's cook for the past ten years past."
"Are you telling me Annabella doesn't reside there?"
"Yes sir, my brother says he is sure of this."
"Then you're brother is mistaken," he answered in a manner that almost frightened her.
Adam abruptly dismissed the girl and walked off, puzzled. He wouldn't admit it to the maid, but Annabella had clearly lied to him, and he felt hurt and betrayed by her actions. He tried to reason why she would treat him this way. Perhaps she has someone else, he thought. A husband, or perhaps she had felt nothing and left because she didn't love me, and it was all a damned pretence. Whatever the reason, he still loved her and he always would.
It was almost six lonely months later and Adam was returning from town. Darkness was creeping slowly across the land and Adam pressed the horse on. He was passing the place where he first met Annabella, but he ignored it and rode on. Suddenly a woman's scream broke the silence of the night, and he pulled his horse to a stop.
He pulled his pistol from its sheath and ran toward the river bank. His mind was in turmoil. How could this be? Adam thought.
For a moment he felt he was hallucinating, but then he saw them. It was the same man he had killed before. The woman's head was under water. But he knew. "Annabella," he cried, as he ran to the rivers edge. "What in Gods name is happening here? What sort of demon are you?" Adam shouted to the man.
"Stay back," the man warned, his mouth twisted.
"My daughter can only die by my hand, and I've been granted one more chance to save her from her bond. This is the only way to cleanse her soul. She's a witch!"
Suddenly Annabella's head cleared the water, and she choked loudly, trying to fend off this man who was killing her. In desperation, she reached out for Adam.
"Unhand her," Adam shouted. The demented man ignored him and pushed her down again. "She's a witch and must die," he repeated.
"No sir, you are the monster here, because I have already killed you once before."
Adam aimed his pistol toward the mans head. "If you shoot me, she will walk this earth forever. My daughter was born on this spot and this is where she must die."
Annabelle stopped struggling and was now limp in the water. Adam realised that it must be true. Annabella must be a w-witch, he thought. Now though, his burning desire and love for her was as strong as ever. He needed her. This was frightening to him. He had always to this point believed witches to be old withered hags. Not beautiful creature's like Annabella. And now he didn't care. She would be his.
Adam fired, and the man fell down into the river, in an almost identical fashion as before. Now though, there was no blood.
He pulled the limp woman from the rivers edge and laid her on the bank. He pressed hard on her chest, but there was no movement. She was dead.
Adam placed his head in his hands and cried. It was almost a full minute later, and as he got to his feet, Annabella coughed loudly and vomited up a geyser of water. Adam pulled her upright and slapped hard at her back. Some moments later and she was holding him tight. "I love you," she said. "I love you."
"Why did you lie to me? And why did you leave me?" Adam asked.
"I had to. I had no choice. I saw my father, near your house. He would have killed you to get at me. I had no other way out of it. I rode for days and weeks, hiding out. He followed me though, and as you can see, he found me.
"I already killed your father once before. And you Annabella are a witch."
"Yes, it's true. I am, as was my mother, and her mother before that. They say witches cannot truly love. But I knew I loved you, and I want to be with you, forever."
"Will you give this witchcraft up and never mention it again?" Adam asked, sternly.
"Yes my love, and for you, I already have."
Adam stood at the end of the field and looked across to the house. He could see Annabella and their two children, Jack and Maria in the distance, playing. These ten years of marriage to Annabella had been the happiest he had ever known, and his children were a joy to behold. He felt God had blessed him.
Although Annabella had never shown any reason to suppose her different from anyone else, Adam had always suspected that somehow she had kept whatever power it was that witches had. Because he had never seen his children become ill. Never so much as a single sniffle. But he dismissed this from his mind as being foolish. They were simply strong children, and his isolated home kept disease and the like away from them.
As he slowly walked back toward them, he could see their happiness as they danced around in a circle, and he smiled.
"Aretic santi deritedi es sarekitom detectos," the woman chanted in a strange language to the children with the lizard like eyes and yellow skin.
She watched protectively over them as Adam approached in the distance.
As he neared them, their eyes blinked twice. The skin of their cheeks slowly turned pink. Then they turned around. They're beautiful blue eyes were almost sparkling. "Hello father," they shouted, as Adam waved.