“Did you hear that?” Maggie patted Drake’s arm.
“What?” he responded sleepily.
“That.” She hesitated. Long seconds passed. “There. Hear that?”
“That scratching sound? Probably just mice.” He rolled to his side and punched lightly at his pillow, then laid down his head.
“Shhh. There’s someone at the door,” she whispered. She sat up and nudged him.
He pulled his tired feet to the floor. Worn from a long day of gardening and goat keeping, the old couple had retired early, but Drake knew there’d be no sleep until he put his beloved’s fears to rest. He grabbed his pants, thrown over a chair at the side of the bed, and slipped them on. He strained to hear the sounds he now agreed came from outside the door.
“Shhh,” Maggie whispered again, pulling up on the quilt.
“I’m sh-shhhing.” He lit a lamp. It cast a soft yellow glow.
The door burst open. A group of savage looking men exploded into the room. One rushed toward Drake, a knife in his hand. His black eyes narrowed. His breathing came hard and fast. “Where are they?” he demanded to know.
Maggie trembled. “Who? Where’s who?” Her voice shook.
“You know who! We tracked them here. Where are they?”
“Slow down. Slow down.” Drake motioned with his hands. He nodded at Maggie in an attempt to comfort her, then looked back at the intruders.
The leader addressed one of his men. “Hold him, Simon.”
“Got it, Gadon.” He held Drake from behind.
A knife sat on the table. Gadon picked it up and handed it off to one of his men, then grabbed the front of Drake’s nightshirt, staring at him, so near that Drake could smell the intruder’s sour breath.
“Where are they?” Saliva flew as the man shouted.
“Sir, we have many visitors here at the edge of the glen. If you’ll tell us who you’re looking for, perhaps we can help you.”
“Wayne, over there.” Gadon gestured toward Maggie who now stood trembling, her fingers fretting with the ties at her neckline. “If we can’t get the old man to talk, perhaps his woman will do as well.” He grinned menacingly.
“Please sir, just say who you’re looking for and we’ll help you,” Drake pleaded.
Wayne pulled one of Maggie’s arms tightly behind her back, then placed a knife at her throat. Its steel glimmered in the dim light. When he added pressure to the tip, a drop of blood spilled down her throat. He laughed when she froze in fear and her eyes widened in terror.
Drake tried to pull free from his captor.
“That’s right, you’ll tell us if you want to save your woman here.” Placing the point of his blade below Maggie’s eye, Wayne drew the knife down with just enough pressure to break her skin. Blood flowed freely across her face and neck, then dripped down and onto her nightdress creating a grotesque crimson spiderweb design.
Gadon watched on. “Show them, Wayne. Show them what happens to those who don’t cooperate.”
Wayne placed the tip of his knife at the base of Maggie’s throat. Clearly, if he did not get what he sought, he would plunge it into the soft tissue.
“Drake!” she cried. Her tears spilled.
The old man pulled at his restraints. “No!”
“I’m only going to ask you one more time. I’m out of patience,” Gadon threatened. “Keep stalling and your woman will die. Where’d they go?”
“Who? Who, sir?” Maggie stuttered.
“Leave her alone! We’ll tell you what we know. Who are you talking about? We’ll cooperate.” Drake felt helpless, weak, and older than ever before.
“That damned Select whore and her Oathtaker companion!”
Drake and Maggie looked at one another. His brow dropped.
“We don’t know who you’re talking about,” she cried. “We haven’t seen any Select. If we had, we’d tell you.”
“Is that right?” Gadon asked, one brow raised, having seen the old couple communicate with their shared look.
“Those filthy Select are responsible for— If it weren’t for their money grubbing ways, we might not live in such poverty. They—”
“Maggie!” her husband cried.
“That’s enough.” Gadon approached the old man, knife in hand. “So you didn’t see any Select with her companion, huh?” He leaned in closer. “Well, I don’t believe you,” he whispered. “Perhaps you’ll see better with only one eye.”
“Please, sir, we don’t know who you mean.”
Simon locked Drake’s head in the curve of his arm.
Gadon pointed his knife at the old man’s eye. “Last chance,” he said.
“I don’t know who you mean!”
Gadon drove his knife into Drake’s eye.
The old man’s body convulsed, throwing him back. Then he shifted his weight and started falling forward. He shrieked in pain. Blood flowed, splattered.
Simon let go his hold and Drake tumbled into the bedside table, then fell to the floor. When his face made contact, his lip broke open.
The table rocked. A drinking glass that sat upon it spilled to the floor in a crescendo of broken bits of glass.
Maggie screamed and fought against her abductor. The blood dripping from her face splattered across the wall.
Gadon stepped over the old man and made his way to her. “So,” he sneered, “do you see better with two eyes than your husband did?” He grabbed her chin.
She shook her head from side to side, but couldn’t free herself from his grip. “All right! All right, I’ll tell you. Just leave him be.”
Drake, now on his hands and knees, labored to reclaim his feet. He gasped for breath. His blood streamed into and blinded his remaining eye. “No, Maggie!” He breathed in heavy sobs.
“They were here!”
“When?” Gadon asked.
“Two days ago.”
“Where did they go?”
“Maggie, no,” Drake pleaded between gulps and sobs.
“They left for Polesk. The woman couldn’t nurse.”
“A child!” Gadon exclaimed.
“Maggie!” her husband cried again, a warning in his plea.
“Newborn.” She did not mention that there were two children.
Gadon stood up straight. “Heri!”
“Head for Polesk. Go quickly. We’ll try to meet up with you before that Select whore and her Oathtaker reach the city. If you come upon them, keep them in sight. We’ll stop for a rest, then search more thoroughly in the daylight in the event you miss them, but I don’t expect we’ll be more than a full day behind you.”
Heri turned on his heel, then retreated.
Gadon turned back to the drama playing out before him. He grabbed the back of Drake’s nightshirt and pulled him to his feet. “So you didn’t see anyone, huh? Don’t know anything, huh?” He shook the old man like a rag doll.
Drake tried to focus his remaining eye through his thick blood.
Gadon released his hold. “Finish them off,” he ordered as he stormed from the once peaceful abode.
Maggie screamed. “No, don’t hurt him! No!”
Drake stared at Simon, determined he’d make the thug look him in the eye when the final blow was struck, so he didn’t witness Wayne slide his knife across Maggie’s exposed throat, then loosen his hold. Her eyes flew open. She clawed at her throat, unable to release her scream. Wayne pushed her down, then kicked her violently.
Blood pooled on the floor, showing crimson in the flickering candlelight. Drake felt its warm wetness on his bare feet. He looked down. “No!” he cried, then hurriedly, he fixed his eye back on Simon. He willed himself to hold the man’s gaze, not to look to his beloved Maggie. She was life and goodness and caring and joy. He would not see her otherwise.
“Say ‘goodbye’ old man,” Simon growled as, pulling Drake forward, he thrust his blade.
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