Susanna opened her eyes and stared up into the cruelty of the face gazing down on her. He cradled her, as though offering comfort, but there was no kindness in his expression and she recognised him immediately as the one who had attacked her that first night,
As her eyes blinked open, William smiled, purposefully revealing his fangs. Susanna tried desperately to struggle free, but he was far stronger. He tightened his grip, his hand squeezing, pressing so viciously against her windpipe that she could utter no more than a tiny choked grunt. William laughed and abruptly kissed her again. But as he kissed, he scraped his fangs along her lower lip, so that her mouth began to bleed. Licking the blood from her lips, he realised that there was more to this girl than he had first thought. Her blood was delicious, he now knew part of Eric's fascination.
Susanna was disgusted and again she tried to scream. But his mouth closed on hers, and as he held her immovable, his other hand began to wander, slipping down across her body. She was dressed once more as a boy but clearly he knew she was female, and his icy fingers pushed up beneath her doublet, cupping over her breast. She felt the unnatural cold as he clamped down on her, pinching her. She felt a deep revulsion as his fingers discovered the opening at the neck of her shirt, his fingers then groping her bare skin. Suddenly, holding her firmly, he lifted her as if she weighed no more than a feather and carried her towards the trees. She kicked and struggled as much as she could, but now his one hand remained over her mouth and she could not shout.
Once under the cover of the trees and at some distance from the camp, William set her down,. He was tempted to take it further, but his dislike of Eric held him back. Prolonging Eric's discomfort seemed a better idea, and Eric was obviously interested in this human female. William could smell him on her. He had not yet made any precise plan, but he was sure he could drag out the torture if he put his mind to it.
He was his maker's favourite, but Apius had no love for women and was extremely possessive of his son's when it suited him. There was no knowing what the bitter Roman might feel beneath his cold veneer. He would not take the risk of upsetting him, so did not rape her as he would like.
All the time the smell from his mouth was in her face and she felt dizzy and ill. Then he viciously squeezed her breast, pressing her nipple between the clamped vice of his fingernails. She tried to scratch and kick him, but could not free her hands, so she brought up her knee, slamming it full force into the creature's groin.
In fury, William struck the side of her face with such force that she flew, released from his grip as she catapulted violently across to the nearest tree trunk where she fell, sinking to her knees on the damp grass.
She had one horrified vision of the dark, cold eyed monster rearing towards her, when a familiar voice yelled, "Wot's this then darling?" and the sound of a steel blade drawn from its sheath. Susanna saw Laff leaping to her protection, with Pam running up behind him. The dark creature, fangs still wide, hesitated for only a second, and then was gone so quickly she could not be sure if he was still watching from somewhere close by. She couldn't believe he was afraid of her friend's arrival. The power she had seen evident in its eyes was surely not so easily cowed. Puzzled yet mightily relieved, she watched as Pam and Laff rushed up.
Pam helped Susanna to her feet, and whispered, "Fuck, what in hell was that?" She looked at Susanna with suspicion.
Laff, sheathing his sword, said, "There's somefin rotten going on round 'ere. Where'd he go?"
Susanna replied, still struggling for breath, "I don't know. I'm just glad he did. Thank you, both of you."
"Well – you was captured before – and now there's this. Just wot haven't you bin telling me?" asked Laff .
Susanna tried not to cry. "I don't understand it myself," she said. "But there are strange dangerous creatures, there are at least two of them that I can tell, and they have powers I can't explain." Slumping back to the ground, she looked up at them both, "It was the other one who held me prisoner, but I don't think they're together, in fact the other one saved me from this one. But it was such a nightmare, I can't be sure of anything. It's all a bit of a blur."
"There's only one thing for it then," exclaimed Pam, standing proud in her gown, with her hands on her hips. "We gotta get her away from here." she looked over at Laff, who was grinning at the thought. Susanna however was looking scared. "What's there to stay for? Getting abducted by demons, or hanging around to get beaten up by your pig of a father?"
Susanna's eyes lit up, Pam was right, she could escape the lot of them. "But I thought you were travelling back south with the rest of the army?"
"We only do that for protection against bandits and thieves," Pam said. "But demons and devils? Well, that's a whole new picture. I reckon we creep off tonight, before the camp wakes and your old man stops you."
Laff was excited. "Adventure? I'm in, girls."
"I'll lose my only source of income," Pam admitted. "But who cares? These men are dirty, drunken sots anyway, and they all smell of pig shit. Besides, I'd sooner be poor than get eaten by a monster."
Susanna scrambled up, "I should leave my father a message, but I'm ready to run. I'm tired of being frightened of one thing after another."
"And once you get away from that miserable old bastard," Pam pointed out, "you can get rid of those dirty doublets and hose, and dress proper again like me." She laughed, sweeping out her own skirts, and making a deep curtsey. Laff burst out laughing at this and Pam punched him hard in the ribs.
Susanna smiled, but shook her head. "I admit it will be a great relief to get far away from Papa, though I don't want him to worry. But as for clothes – I don't own a gown anymore. Besides, I think it will be far safer for me to keep on pretending I'm a boy. After all, that's why Papa made me do this from the start."
"You dress as you like, my girl," Laff told her, "I always says, there's no saying wot's under the clothes until ya 'ave a feel. And how we wants to dress, is up to us!"
It was not so far distant that William slunk back into the darkened house, its draughts whispering in the night. Apius was sitting talking to Eric. Although Eric spoke little, he was angry but curbed his arguments, knowing the furious power that Apius Ocella commanded. Edward had already been tied up in his own room awaiting his sire's pleasure. Eric had wanted to get away and feed, but feed from a particular source was his intention. Apius however was delaying him on purpose, for what reason he didn't yet know. But when William entered the room, Eric sat up suddenly, his nostrils flaring. He smelled the tantalising perfume he had recently grown to adore, and was immediately tense. He stood quickly, glaring at William. The closer he came, the stronger the smell of the woman on him. Eric realised that somehow his half-brother had found Sookie.
Apius Ocella welcomed back his favourite with open arms, William was grinning as he returned Ocella's embrace. Ocella sensed the growing fury and fear in Eric's mind, and it alerted him to a new realisation. He turned towards his eldest child.
"You – you have a human trollop on your mind." He reached out and Eric automatically stepped back.
"Would you like to know what I did with her, brother dear?" William was enjoying the situation. He had been furious that Eric had beaten him in a fight, and now he wanted to see him suffer.
Apius whirled around. "What female? Answer me, both of you, or I will punish you both.
William was still grinning. "Eric's female – a human – I tasted her, that's all."
"If," said Apius, his voice turning cold enough to freeze, as he glared at Eric, "you care for a female who is not even one of us, I will drain every last drop of blood from her body, and squeeze her dried bones until they shatter. Do you understand me, my son?"
Eric moved away to the window and stood there, elbow to the wall as he gazed out at the moonlit sky. "I have no interest in this human," he said. "She is food and nothing else, but she's cleaner than the others, so I have marked her for future feeds." He insured that Apius could not see the deadly threat in his eyes as he turned to William.
Meanwhile Susanna was creeping around the guttering fire, gathering up her few belongings as quietly as she could. However her father was snoring heavily and seemed unlikely to wake.
She owned only a change of shirt and hose, a spare pair of boots and her oiled cape. She had once owned a long bow, and had learned how to use it too, but had lost it some time ago. She pushed her small knife through her belt, and carried the tied bundle of her spare clothes across her shoulder. Then she trudged off through the trees to wait for Laff and Pam.
They were only a minute behind her, and whispered their hurried greetings. "Well, lass, here's to a new life. No army, no king's penny, no cold comfort," said Laff.
Pam snorted. "The King's penny? You mean they paid you then?"
"Not likely," smiled Laff. "I'm owed a month's reckoning, and now I'll never get it. All for risking my precious life in good King Edward's cause against them thieving Scots. But I've pillaged more than I'd ever get in wages, so I ain't complaining, well not much anyway."
"You mean them thieving English is as bad as them thieving Scots?" giggled Pam.
"Let's get moving," whispered Susanna. "In case my father does wake and come looking for me. I've left word with the night guard, so he'll know I'm not dead. But I lied about why I was going, and what direction we were headed. So I'll be safe if we just hurry up." She tugged on her felt hat, pulled up the collar of her cape.
They took each other's hands for the night was dark and under the trees it was black in shadow. Susanna shivered, imagining that icy cold hand again as it felt her body and crept over her breasts.
They walked carefully at first, trying to make no sound or break branches that might, in the mornings daylight, indicate the way they had gone. Then after a while, and because they were cold, they ran, laughing and calling to each other. Eventually when they were tired, they slowed and wandered beside a running brook where they could stop and drink. Both Pam and Laff had packed a little food from the camp. Pam had brought stale rye bread and some large chunks of cheese, while Laff had a linen cloth wrapped around cold pork, sausages and a wedge of smoked bacon. So as the dawn began to creep up over the distant horizon and a gradual warmth began to penetrate between the trees, they sat and shared their food. It was a good breakfast and they felt free and cheerful again. The Full stomachs, and light beer from their flasks was just the right medicine against the chill.
"We can sleep in a bit, I reckon," Laff said. "But let's keep going till the sun comes up, then rest, but not for too long, for if your Pa comes alookin', he'll catch up with us in no time."
"He can't hurt you though, surely," Susanna inquired.
"Not so sure about that," grinned Laff. "Nasty bugger – with a nasty temper too. But it ain't him I'm scared of. It's them demons – and if your Pa takes you back to camp – well, who knows wot else is lurking there?"
So they kept going through the wet and muddy fields, until both Laff and Susanna stopped suddenly. They had recognising the cold feeling they'd had before when the shadow moved over them from above. They stared up, searching the skies, but could see nothing. Pam, who was in front, stopped too, for ahead of her stood a tall man, expensively dressed and looking menacingly at them. "What the fuck?" she mumbled.
Both Susanna and Laff turned, Susanna squealed and Pam ran back to them. Laff drawing his sword once again, stood between the man and the girls.
He had appeared so silently out of the shadows as though he had indeed dropped from the skies. Dressed magnificently in black velvet, his doublet was trimmed in sable and the sweeping sleeves of his coat caught the night breeze, and rustled against his thighs. He was so much taller than most men, and his long and shapely legs showed off their muscled curves and great strength through the tight knitted grey silk of his hose. He wore no hat, and there was no sign of a sword at his side, but it was obvious this was a man of power.
"I don't think that wise, do you?" said Eric as he stepped forward, brushing aside Laff's sword. His voice sent chills down their spines, but for Susanna it was for a very different reason.
Laff stood stock still, intimidated. He could not decide whether to attack – or bow! Eric strode up to Susanna. With trembling knees, she waited. Then without a word, he raised her chin with one finger, and kissed her gently on the mouth. Not having a clue how she should react, Susanna clenched her fists, closed her eyes and melted into his ready embrace, giving him the encouragement he was waiting for. His kiss deepened as he tasted the delicious warmth of her breath, and relished the rise and fall of her body pressed against his. Susanna sighed, feeling utterly safe for the first time in days.
"Well I'll be a King's mistress! And after everything she told us." Pam was astounded. "That girl must 'ave gold hidden up her shift. Seems the men can't keep away from 'er." Laff was also grinning as the pair now embraced, and he quickly lowered his blade.
Pam coughed to get their attention. "Can you tell me wot the fuck's going on here?" she demanded, looking at Eric and still unsure of him, though the question was for Susanna.
Eric released his hold only slightly, first glancing at Pam and Laff, then back to Sookie. He asked, "Who are these people? And why are you in boys clothing again?"
Susanna blushed profusely, and buried her face against his doublet. "They're my friends," she said softly, looking up into his hypnotic blue eyes, "They helped me get away, - more than once, please don't hurt them." She lowered her eyes again as she said this, realising he would know it was with their help she had escaped his own home.
"In which case, I will only break their legs." Eric was grinning widely, so when Sookie's face shot up in fear, she realised he was not serious. At least she hoped so!
Laff, now quite confused, had cautiously taken a step backwards. Pam on the other hand was furious, "You and whose bloody army? You just try getting your hands on me and you'll find you have no bollocks left, you prickless toad." She had taken the knife from her bodice and was pointing it at him.
Eric roared with laughter.