Lure of the Craton Mountains
Elenor sat on a window seat, a book forgotten and left open beside her on the seat. The sun was beginning to set, glowing bright orange on the horizon. Her mind was occupied with other thoughts, her hazel eyes barely noticing the robin looking at her from the other side of the glass.
The Craton brothers, Elenor mused, had been the stuff of legends ever since she was a child. The Craton property started at the foot of the mountains which marked the end of her father’s land. Elenor had always been warned never to set foot on their land lest she be attacked by the wild family that lived there.
The Craton brothers rarely went to town and, when they did, they visited for but an hour before riding off once more. Some rumored that it was because they were trying to avoid the law. Elenor’s father refused to answer her questions about the family but the older ladies in the village were more than accommodating to her queries.
The elder brother, Robert, had come to town one day, long before Elenor was born. It had been a surprise to many in town, since the brothers always came together, but this time Robert came alone. The most shocking thing was that he didn’t leave alone. The young and beautiful, Mary Rein, went with him, against the orders of her parents. Mary told her parents she had married and eleven months later she gave birth to Robert’s son.
Anyone who dared to go into the mountains and enter the Craton land, were to face certain consequences. When Elenor asked what the consequences were, the ladies just shook their heads and whispered amongst themselves.
Elenor’s father, Thomas, entered the room, as she sat musing the words of the old ladies. He crossed to the window seat and planted a kiss on her forehead. He was looking old and worn, his once black hair had turned more grey than black. He smiled at her gently and then crossed over to where a large fire was crackling away in a brick fireplace. He sat down in a leather armchair and picked up a book, sighing comfortably as the fire warmed his old bones.
Elenor’s mother had died when Elenor was ten and her father had always been protective of his daughter. His love for his first wife hadn’t stopped him from marrying again, and for what he believed was the best for his daughter.
Lacey Stanton was a beautiful, gentle and quiet woman who was new to town and already had captured the attention of many men in town. However, Elenor’s father was the one that Lacey set her sights on. Lacey thought that Thomas was a charming, strong and mature man, a perfect match for her more ‘frail’ countenance.
Elenor shivered at the thought of how Lacey changed merely a week after she and Thomas were married. Elenor was an annoying pest that ought to be sent away and Thomas’s land was merely a source of money for her extravagant shopping sprees. In front of Thomas she was a devoted stepmother but the moment Thomas went to see to the stock, she turned neglectful and cold.
One miserable day, torrential rain trapped Thomas in town leaving Elenor alone with Lacey. Elenor was nineteen and old enough to go about everything on her own. Lacey however spotted Elenor smiling as she wrote a letter in reply to her aunt.
“Don’t you have housework to be doing?” Lacey snapped without warning.
“I’ve done my morning chores and currently it’s raining too heavily to check on the animals in the barn. I will go out when it slows and make sure they have enough feed,” Elenor explained, her pen continuing to scribble on the notepaper.
“What will your father think of you not taking care of the animals?” Lacey stormed.
Elenor frowned and placed the pen down.
“I’m sure he’ll understand,” Elenor stated, looking at Lacey directly.
“No,” Lacey snapped. “You’ll go now.”
“While I respect your concern for the animals, they will be perfectly fine.”
Lacey marched across the room, her skirts twisting around her narrow form. She grabbed Elenor’s wrist and pulled her from the chair. Elenor pulled back and easily escaped Lacey’s grasp. Lacey grabbed at her again, her nails digging into the flesh.
“Let me go, Lacey,” Elenor warned, wincing at the pain.
“Look at you! You think you are oh so important,” Lacey hissed, her grip tightening.
“Calm down, why are you acting like this?”
“Why? You dare to ask why? I’ll tell you why. Do you know how frustrating it is to be married to a man who’s main thought is for his former wife’s daughter? How annoying it is that he says goodbye to her and just nods at his own wife? How vexing it is that he merely married me because he wanted a woman to care and love his daughter like his first wife would have? You have no idea!”
Elenor could feel and see the hatred radiating from Lacey’s words and actions. Elenor tried to remove her arm, but Lacey’s nails just seemed to dig in further.
“I may have married your father for his fortune, but no amount of money could make a woman put up with being treated like this,” Lacey spat.
Elenor was hardly shocked at the revelation that her father’s money had been the main attraction to her stepmother, but such a blatant confession left her blood cold. Lacey dragged and pushed Elenor towards the door. Elenor pulled away and managed to escape once more. She made her way to the door and paused.
“Fine, I’ll go check on the animals,” Elenor stated, her back to Lacey.
Elenor could feel Lacey smiling in her victory, she could sense the upturned nose. She could feel her own temper simmering and couldn’t help one final remark.
“No wonder my father doesn’t love you, who could love such a bi-“ Elenor spoke in almost a whisper.
Elenor was cut off by a sudden heavy impact on the back of her neck and shoulders. There was a crash as the object made contact and pieces of glass box fell to the ground. Warm liquid ran down Elinor’s neck and she instinctively reached to touch her skin. Bright red stained her hand and she turned in horror to look at Lacey.
“You know things would be so much easier if you weren’t here,” Lacey spoke with an even tone.
Elenor ducked as Lacey picked up a small pot and aimed it towards her. Shards of pot rained down on her head and shoulders. Suddenly the idea of walking through torrential rain didn’t seem near as bad. Elenor twisted the door knob and escaped into the hall. Lacey followed, armed with another object to use as a projectile. The front door, which’s frame had warped over time, was hard to wrench open and Elenor cursed. If she survived this experience, she’d make her father fix that door immediately.
Elenor dashed onto the wide verandah and almost slipped on the wet wooden boards. The steps provided another obstacle and this time she tripped and landed in the mud. Tears welled up but she stumbled for a footing and scrambled in the direction of the barn.
Lacey didn’t follow and Elenor reached the barn safely. There she collapse in exhaustion against the wall and didn’t even bother checking the animals. From a mixture of blood loss and sudden exhaustion, Elenor blanked out.
“ELENOR!! Elenor? Honey?” Lacey’s voice rang in her head.
Elenor’s eyes flickered open with effort, hoping that Lacey wasn’t near her. To her relief it was still raining, which meant Lacey was still at the house. Lacey would never go out in the rain and risk getting covered in mud.
“Honey come back! I’m sorry, just come back and get warm,” Lacey called, in a concerned tone.
Elenor knew better than to believe that Lacey’s concern was for her. Lacey would have calmed down and realized that her actions, were Thomas to find out, would mean she’d have to leave, if not go to prison. Her concern was for her position not for Elenor’s health.
“Elenor?! Are you okay? I’m coming to check that you are okay!” Lacey yelled.
Elenor’s heart did a backflip and she glanced around wildly. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape to in the barn. The back exit seemed to beckon to her, and it seemed the only option. Getting to her feet, her vision started to black over and she took a moment to recover. She had to get out and away from Lacey. The rain had softened and now would have been quite peaceful had Elenor not been on the run.
Their closest neighbour was miles away, a nice horse ride away but hardly short walking distance and definitely not in this rain. The Colban Mountains were directly in front of her, the low cloud hiding it mostly from sight. A hiding place. That’s all Elenor needed. She didn’t take another moment of indecision, she just ran.
The cream dress she was wearing was quickly drenched and clung to her body. The mud from her earlier fall and the splashes while running stained the dress brown. Elenor wasn’t aware of the large red patch at the neck and shoulders of the dress. All Elenor was aware of was the throbbing of her head and the endless exhaustion that just grew greater as she ran.
An hour later, she arrived at the fence line, her breathing causing her to feel dizzy. She had run, she’d walked, she’d stumbled and her tears mixed with the rain. All she wanted was to curl up next to a fire, in a clean pair of clothes and sleep.
When she recovered enough, she lifted her legs over the wooden slats and dropped to the mud on the opposite side. Elenor stopped again and felt her heart pound even more. She had always been warned never to step foot on the Colban land. She’d be cursed for sure. However, compared to her stepmother, perhaps a curse wouldn’t be as bad.
The trees were dense at the foot of the mountain and as she stepped forward, the rain merely dripped from the leaves above. She felt she could breathe easier and peacefulness finally fell.
The trees were like a canopy and several animals scurried nearby. Birds continued to sing to each other despite the dreary weather and watched her enter their domain. A waterfall bubbled nearby and rocks made a sturdy platform from the sludgy ground around them.
She shivered and began making her way up the mountain only to come across a doe and her fawn. The fawn’s ears mirrored that of it’s mother and the doe nose twitched as it caught Elenor’s scent. It turned and started bounding up the mountain, looking back as if waiting for Elenor to follow. The fawn jumped playfully around and Elenor smiled taking another step.
If this were the lure of the Colban Mountains, then Elenor felt sure she was becoming a victim. It was like a paradise a mile from her home that she had never discovered.
~ ❤ ~ ~ ❤ ~