For those just joining the story, you can start at the beginning if you wish by clicking this link: Presenting Rough Draft Sundays; The Gypsy's Curse serial romanceEach week I have posted a new chapter or scene of the story in progress. It's your chance to see a rought draft of a story straight from the writer's pen.
The woods were silent as he passed through.
Oddly silent. Not a bird trilled, or squirrel scolded to warn of his passage.
Stephan was on foot. He traversed the bare expanse of leafless trees and denuded bushes in the drizzling rain. His wide brimmed hat kept his face dry and his sealskin coat provided a waterproof covering for the rest of him. He needed to escape the manor house, as the urge to hover over Miss Jennings was proving more than he could manage without the deliberate distraction of physical exertion.
Jasper had offered to come with him, but he wanted to be alone. He wanted to visit the site of his wife’s murder without another to witness his pain, or the guilt that surely would seep out of his pores as he wondered for the thousandth time if he had been responsible for her demise. He wore a brace of pistols on his belt and carried a modern regimental rifle for Jasper’s benefit more than any concern for his safety on his own part. Jasper said there had been several reports by the cottagers of a large animal attacking livestock in the area. One young boy had been killed by what was thought to be a wolf. Stephan doubted it, as wolves had been driven nearly to extinction in England for centuries. A large, predatory animal, however, was closer to the truth.
He hiked through the wooded path at a brisk pace, anxious cover the distance between himself and the infamous trysting place as quickly as possible. He hadn’t returned since Julia’s lifeless body had been found beside her lover’s, locked in a pitiful embrace as death consumed them instead of the lust they had anticipated. Even now, the sight of Julia’s savagely torn body would not fade from his memory. The blood was still vivid crimson, her expression still one of fresh, frozen terror as the lifeless eyes gazed up in horror. Her hair had been loose and wild about her shoulders; dark chestnut curls framing her pale ivory face.
I loved her. Even then, coming across her murdered in the arms of her lover, I loved her.
It was the full moon tonight. He sensed the change coming in him in recent days, and so did his horse. Thus, Hades shied away from him, and Stephan found himself wanting to roam the wilds near his home was becoming more than a whim, but rather a driving need.
He covered the ground in record time. Before he realized it, he was standing at the arched ruins of a chapel, staring at the place where his wife had bled and died two years past, killed, they said, by a wild animal while in the throes of passion in the arms of another man. The corner of the chapel where the pair were discovered seemed peaceful, serene. It was beneath an arched window where stained glass had once shone on a sacred stone floor. A place were the faithful of the land had knelt in prayer and begged protection from the Viking raiders that frequented the northern regions of England. The floor had long since sunken into the soft earth and given way to the lush moss and weeds.
It was the perfect place to meet a lover. The perfect hiding place, nestled deep in the woods, far enough from the manor house on the hill to be noticed beneath the lush overgrowth of the forest, yet close enough to the manor to reach by the well worn horse paths criss-crossing the woods by both the lady of the manor and the steward.
The rain had stopped. Stephan removed his hat out of respect for the dead. He sighed, releasing a tense breath that circled his head in a ghostly pall. He stood, with head bowed, silently begging forgiveness for a crime he wasn’t sure he was guilty of committing.
The events of that night long ago were shrouded in his mind. He’d been angry, very angry. His heart craved blood, screamed out for it. He just received the news of his wife’s betrayal that very afternoon, via the gamekeeper on the estate, Grady. The old man had spied Mrs. St. John’s horse tethered near the chapel ruins, along with another one from the stables, but notably not Hades, Stephan’s horse. Concern for the lady as it was growing twilight, and a would be maid he thought accompanied her, the old man had had the temerity to attempt to step into the enclosed ruins to warn the women that they should return to the manse. He did not announce himself but rather stepped quietly into the roofless, crumbling enclosure, only to discover the steward of the estate in a compromising position with the lady.
Grady fled to the manor, and told his employer all with the admonishment that he might wish to find a more trustworthy steward and let this one have his walking papers. The news was not a surprise to Stephan as the old gamekeeper imagined. He knew of his wife’s infidelities as she flaunted them in his face during their time in London. What he did not know was that his own steward, a man who had served the St. John family here in the northern wilds of England for over twenty years, would betray him. Stephan didn’t recall much after that, save going out of the house without a coat or weapon, stalking to the stables, and trying to mount Hades. The horse, seeming to sense the violence roiling in his master or the hidden beast that would emerge that very night, and had shied away from him and refused to be mounted.
His rage increased with the horse’s rebellion. It seemed a last turning point in a long line of betrayals he’d endured in the short two years of his marriage to Julia. The bitch would fuck anyone and everyone it seemed, except him, her lawful husband. Even here, where he’d brought her, nay, dragged her with the threat of divorce if she didn’t acquiesce to his wishes, even here, in the wilds of northern England, she found a way to humiliate him, with his estate manager.
The horse’s reaction brought a blinding fury, and he’d stalked out of the stables and into the darkening woods, down the familiar path he’d trod as a youth with his sisters, toward the chapel that had once been their enchanted fort. His memory dimmed. He remembered feeling as if something wicked were clawing at his insides, attempting to claw its way out of his skin. He fell to his knees, and then everything went blank.
When next he awakened it was dawn. The mist swirled in eerie tendrils through the forest floor, like fingers, claws stretching their evil tendrils across the barren land. He was lying naked in a ravine with the raw taste of blood on his lips, with blood on his hands, and the sick feeling that he’d done something horrible. His head ached, and his heart was curiously heavy in his chest, a foreboding of the events to come. He managed to crawl out of the deep ravine, and gain the safety of the manor house without anyone noticing his undressed state. He had transformed into the wolf in his rage, an rare event that he had managed to conceal since his adolescent days. Safe once again at home, he had climbed into bed and fell into an exhausted slumber only to be awakened by his servant with harrowing news. His wife was dead, found murdered in the woods.
In the years since, he had queer, disjoined dreams about the incident that did not make sense. He would be running through the woods not as a man, but as a wolf crouched on all fours. He reached the chapel. In the darkening twilight, he’d seen a deformed creature crouching over his wife’s body, lapping at the flowing blood. She was dead, and yet not truly dead in the dream as she whimpered at Stephan’s approach, a pitying whimper, her eyes pleading for him to help her. It was too late for him to help her. Her abdomen was torn open, she was bleeding out. The creature, sensing his presence, retreated from the carcass, snarled at him, and then pounced on Julia again. It tore out her throat as if to wound him by the action.
Stephan recalled the shrill, chilling shriek that emerged in that instant, a cry that began in his own throat and the subsequent rush of power within him demanding satisfaction. The dream was disjointed, because suddenly he was the one crouching over her and his own teeth seeming to be the ones sinking into her delicate throat and tasting that warm, coppery tang of fresh, hot blood roused in the throes of passion. The man beside her, who had been atop her lay several feet away, tossed there and mauled to shreds by fury well spent. His brain retained the haunting impression of reaching with a huge clawed hand toward the man’s nape, lifting him, and tossing him aside. When the man tried to interfere with his attack on Julia, he’d clawed into the steward’s chest cavity and ripped out his beating heart. Then, as dreams do, his reality seemed to shift, as he was outside of himself, watching the beast as a spectator as it wreaked havoc on the man and woman without mercy.
He knew what had happened, why his mind had refused to recall the events clearly. The beast in him had risen to deal the death blow to his beautiful tormentor and her latest swain. How else could he account for the fury that overcame him, his horse’s refusal to abide him in that state and the loss of consciousness, followed by awakening in the forest with no memory of how he came to be there, naked, with fresh blood on his hands and face?
Copyright Lily Silver, 2014