The mossy coverings made the stone path slippery and Elenor’s dress was stained further. The doe and her fawn walked on steady feet but lead the way slowly, pausing to wait for her. The rain had subsided but the thick canopy of leaves still dripped water and Elenor was shivering uncontrollably.
The low clouds soon filled the forest with a spooky ambiance, making it difficult to see. The trees sighed around her, and the other forest sounds seemed to fade away. The doe was difficult to see, especially with its grey-brown coat and shortly after it disappeared into the fog. Once losing sight of her guide, Elenor felt everything closing in around her.
She had entered cursed ground, if she was lost up here no-one would be able to find her. Lacey wouldn’t know which direction she went, even if she told Thomas that Elenor had run away. Thomas wouldn’t even be home until the next day or maybe later, especially if the rain had flooded the way to the farm.
Suddenly something snapped nearby causing Elenor to let out a scream and grab onto a tree trunk. The forest was silent, but Elenor held her breath, waiting for something to approach her. There was a rustle from the other side and Elenor’s heart raced even more. Adrenaline coursed through her veins and her stomach felt woozy.
What if the Craton rumours are true? What will I do if one of the brothers find me here? What would they do to an intruder like me?
Elenor’s imagination was starting to get the better of her and she slid to a crouched position. It was only moments later and a figure loomed up from the fog. Elenor pressed herself against the trunk as much as she could, praying that she could blend in. If she could just survive the fog until it cleared, she’d be more than happy to escape to her own familiar surroundings.
A black nose and big brown gentle eyes made an obvious appearance in front of her face and a smaller version arrived below it moments later.
“Oh thank the heavens, don’t you dare leave me,” Elenor cried softly.
The doe from earlier blinked at her calmly and then turned and waited. Elenor wished for nothing but to stay exactly where she was, but the doe seemed to have other plans.
“Look I don’t know why I’m doing this so you had better not lead me into a dangerous area,” Elenor whispered, standing cautiously.
The doe walked slower than she did before and Elenor walked beside her. The thick fog didn’t let up as they walked for another five minutes and Elenor’s feet were getting sore. Elenor found herself envious of the deer’s hoofed feet, at least they had some protection from the elements. It didn’t help however that her footing had turned from smooth stone to rugged rocks and mud.
At least the pain helps me to forget how cold I am. Or not…
Elenor was wincing with every step now and the numbness of her toes didn’t seem to help. She couldn’t see her fingers through the fog, or not clearly anyway, but she was pretty sure they were turning blue. Her neck was aching from the cold but she just wanted to find some shelter.
Stubbornness ran in the family, or that’s what the ladies in town always said. Her mother, Claire, was the queen of stubbornness, everyone seemed to think so. Even Thomas stated that when they talked about her, but his statement held a tone fondness in it.
Elenor gritted her teeth and clenched her hands into fists. No matter what happened, her mother had always fought for her life and family. Cancer had weakened her body but didn’t even scratch the surface of her spirit. Elenor felt tears sting her eyes and she blinked rapidly to get rid of the blurriness.
Something grabbed onto the edge of her dress causing her to stumble and Elenor reached to check what it was. A thorny bush has attached itself and Elenor pulled on the cloth. The dress tore roughly and Elenor swore. Her eyes widened as she spun back around to find the doe had continued on without her.
Elenor groaned and then covered her eyes with her hand.
That’s what you get for trusting you directions on a random friendly doe and her child. You really are a silly young woman, Elenor. What do I do now?
Elenor paused for only a moment before dashing forward. If she set off now she might be able to catch up with the doe and if not then she’d be no less lost than she was already. The run warmed her up and her eyes peered through the dense fog nervously.
A dark shadow emerged from the fog and Elenor smiled.
“There you ar-“ Elenor called happily.
The shadow was not that of the doe however and Elenor falter in her steps. She rammed into the large figure and heard a surprised grunt.
“Ouch,” Elenor said, rubbing her shoulder with a wince.
The figure turned to look at her, revealing that it was a man. Towering above her and clothed in a dark coat, Elenor felt intimidated. The collar of a mountain rain coat was turned up and was met by a thick beard. Long greying brown hair fell well past the figure’s ears and dark brown eyes glared at her as they met gazes.
One of the Craton brothers…
The man reached out without a word and Elenor shied away. Elenor didn’t even begin to explain herself but instead turned on her heel and ran.
Tree trunks passed and Elenor dodged them clumsily. Thorny bushes clutched at her dress and scratched her legs and feet. Praying that the man wouldn’t follow, she could hear heavy footsteps behind her. To her relief the sharp rocky ground turned to soft mud instead. The coolness of the mud soothed the ache but she didn’t have time to savor the feeling on her feet.
A second after stepping into thin air, Elenor fell with a thud a pain shooting through her ankle. Mud covered her entire body as she sunk into a puddle of water and mud. She felt around her only to find she had fallen into a hole and had an earthy wall on two sides. Elenor realized she’d fallen into a ditch and water swished around her. The fog wasn’t in the ditch and to her surprise the fog was also clearing above it.
Completely overcome with exhaustion and fear and longing to be home, Elenor curled up and cried. She heard movement above her open tomb but didn’t bother looking up. She was accepting her miserable fate, hoping that this was all just a terrible dream and she’d wake up any moment. When she woke up, she’d vow never to step foot on Craton land and keep that vow forever.
The muddy water sloshed beside her as someone came beside her. Elenor just assumed it was the man from earlier and she sighed in resignation. Seconds later she was pulled gently into a sitting position and something was wrapped around her upper body. Elenor opened her eyes to find the rain coat around her and then man offering her a hand up.
The man’s eyes were gentle with compassion and he had lost most of his hostility from his stance.
I guess I did ram into him in the middle of nowhere, on his own land. He had a right to be surprised and defensive.
The man reached down further and offered up a smile, his mouth barely able to be seen behind his large beard.
Elenor reached out cautiously still and laid her hand in his. His hand was massive and tanned compared to her slightly tanned slender one. He grasped onto her hand tightly and pulled her upwards. Elenor let out a hurt whimper however as soon as she tried to put weight on her ankle. The man grabbed onto her shoulder and lowered her to the ground again. He caught hold of her leg, causing her to try and recoil away.
The man sighed but firmly kept a hold of her leg and then wiped the mud from her foot. Elenor bit her lip as the man moved her ankle gentle watching for her reaction. He frowned and looked around, his eyes full of thought. This caused Elenor to muse that a person shows a lot of their thoughts and feelings through their eyes.
The man suddenly hooked an arm under her knees and his other around her shoulders and stood. Now holding her in the ‘princess style’ and turned to the edge of the hole. Almost as if she were as light as a feather, he lifted her to his shoulder height and slid her onto the edge of hole. He then followed with a swift movement and picked her up again.
Elenor tried to protest but the pain in her ankle restricted her movement and the man was holding her tightly. He strode through the fading fog with purpose and didn’t falter or doubt the direction of his movements.
“Where are you taking me?” Elenor asked, feeling incredibly uncomfortable.
Elenor received a sigh in response and the man didn’t look down. The forest opened into a clearing and the fog seemed to disappear as if by magic. In the middle of the clearing a large house was built, a vegetable garden and barn was off to one side.
The house had a verandah running right around it and two stories which had large windows. The building was all made out of natural wood, even the roof and vines twisted around the columns of the verandah. Smoke billowed from several chimneys and several windows were lit up from an orange glow from inside.
The man carried her up the steps towards a carved wooden front door, and then awkwardly fumbled with the door. Elenor reached down without a second thought and opened the door and pushed it. The door swung open, revealing a neatly arranged coat room and archway into the main house.
The man ignored the coat room entirely, not even stopping to kick of his boots. He walked to a rocking chair in front of a crackling fireplace and lowered Elenor into it gently. Only once she was seated comfortably did he turn to the entryway and pull off his muddied boots.
For the next ten minutes, the man bustled around Elenor. He grabbed a pile of towels and unloaded them into her lap. Organized a tub of warm water and set up a kettle to boil. He then gently moved her feet into the tub of water and made sure they were thoroughly clean of the mud.
The man even winced as the mud was removed to reveal a bleeding and bruised mess of wounds. Elenor wiped the rest of her arms and face but she felt like she’d never be rid of all the mud. The man got up to go into an adjoining room and left Elenor to sit alone.
Elenor couldn’t say she was feeling comfortable but she was feeling better than she had been merely half an hour before. The man hadn’t spoken a word to her yet and although his actions were full of concern, Elenor couldn’t help but feel nervous whenever he entered the room. The crackling fire was warming her slowly, but that just resulted in her feeling sleepy and incredibly nauseous.
Elenor realized that she was still wearing the man’s rain coat and she stripped it away from her soaked skin. As she moved to place it with some already dirtied towels, she noticed a tag sewn on the collar.
Elenor felt her pulse quicken and then mentally shook her head. Of course, Fred was the younger Craton brother, and who else would be living on their land?
Her first experience with the Cratons had certainly been an interesting experience so far. Elenor only hoped that the Craton curse didn’t turn out to be more than the treacherous terrain.