Highlander’s Wanton Vixen – Maddie MacKenna

Branches cracked her under her foot, but Elena had long since stopped caring. The light from a dying sun sifted through the cracks in the overhead foliage, but she could hardly see her way forward. She stumbled, righted herself, and kept going. The tears on her cheeks had long since dried her face stiff. She refused to cry any longer but knew that it would take very little to start again. All she had to do was think about her father. The tall, broad-faced man who had those warm, crinkly eyes. The man she’d viewed as her haven in that large castle, the man she would run to ever since she was a child. She only needed to imagine his usually smiling face stricken with sadness, and the tears would begin flowing once again. But Elena would not let that stop her. She shuffled forward with all the strength in her limbs, even though she was fast growing weary. She had been walking for days, so deep within the forest, that she no longer understood her bearings. She’d never ventured this far away from the castle. But then again, she’d never run away from the castle either. Elena had spent all her life enclosed within the comfort of those massive stone walls, surrounded by her family, so she never found the need to.

Not until tonight. Nay, I willnae think about it. I cannae cry. If I cry, then I daenae ken how much longer I will be able to go. Elena knew she needed to be strong, but it was difficult. She kept a tight grip on the skirt of her dress, her earsaid slipping from the top of her head. She knew she must have been quite a sight, trampling through the forest that was steadily growing denser. Is there nae end in sight? I cannae do this any longer. She wanted to sleep and eat. But first, she had to leave everything behind.

Elena had to remember that she was doing this for her good. She knew she wouldn’t have gone had she been given any choice. Her father shouldn’t be sad; he couldn’t. He knew his daughter, and so he should know that she would never stand for this. Tears pricked her eyes again. Elena stopped, putting her hand to eyes to keep them at bay. Crying only made her feel week, and she couldn’t afford any of that right now. As if to warn her even further, she heard a cry from deep within the forest. The sound echoed around her, making her gasp aloud. She couldn’t ascertain what sort of cry it was if it was man or animal.

Elena didn’t want to linger to find out. Clutching the small satchel filled with food that she’d stolen from the castle scullery before leaving, Elena pushed ahead. She ignored the prickle of the stones beneath her feet. She kept going even when the hem of her dress snagged on a prickly vine. She flinched when she heard that cry again, more confident now that it was an animal, but she didn’t falter. Elena kept going, mostly because she knew there was no turning back. She couldn’t face what awaited her at home, and so she would take her chance with the uncertainty of her hazy, dark future. And then she saw it: a spot of light. A smile fluttered over her face. Elena started forward with more fervor, not taking as much care as she first did.

She didn’t see the longhanging branch before her, so focused was she on the spot of light, and so it smacked her in the face. Elena shook it off and kept going, but misjudged the position of a tree and rammed half her body into it. Again, she didn’t stop. Just caught her breath and continued. Aye, there is a break in the trees! I willnae have to sleep in the forest after all. Elena smiled fully as she stepped through the break, finding herself facing what looked like a small town. Since night had long since fallen, the town was quiet. Elena drew neared, noticing that the spot of light she’d seen was just the collection of many candlelit cottages, the townsfolk already preparing for bed. She whispered a silent thank you that the streets of the town seemed mostly bare. A few chickens trotted by her, and she wondered briefly if they had escaped from their owners or if they had free range to walk around like this.

She tugged her earsaid closer to her body, fighting against the chilly breeze that wafted by. She had to find an inn quickly. “An inn, an inn, an inn,” she whispered to herself, her eyes scanning the straw-covered buildings she went by. Elena knew it was much too unsafe to be out here for long, but the shadows of the night made it difficult to see. She kept her eyes focused on the front of the buildings, but while she passed an apothecary, a blacksmith, and a few cottages, she saw no inn. “An inn, an inn,” she continued to whisper. It helped her focus and distract herself from the chill that was fast beginning to settle into her bones. She was concentrating so hard on finding that inn that she didn’t see the man before her until she nearly ran right into him. “Oh, forgive me,” she said quickly, trying to step around him. She kept her eyes on the ground, grateful that her earsaid covered most of her face.

He stepped back into her path, sending Elena’s heart into her throat. “Are ye lookin’ for an inn?” he asked, his voice husky. Elena didn’t have to lift her head to smell the stink ale on his breath. She nodded without saying a word, not lifting her head. “I ken where it is,” the man’s words were slurred, and he staggered slightly to the side. “I can take ye there.” “There’s no need,” she began to say. “I’m certain I can find it mese—” “Nonsense.” A heavy hand landed on her shoulder, and it took everything in her not to flinch. She looked up in alarm.

The man grinned down at her, showing two missing teeth and eerily small eyes. He was quite large, she noticed, his hand big and hairy. “I’ll take ye. Ye daenae seem to ken where ye’re goin’.” “I—” He didn’t give her much time to formulate a response. Despite his large size and apparent intoxication, he positioned himself behind her before she knew it and began steering her down the street. Elena bit her lip, her anxiousness growing. She didn’t want this man touching her or helping her. But she didn’t know how to say it to him. “I can do it on me own,” she pressed, trying to step away.

But he grabbed ahold of her shoulders with both hands. “How can ye when he daenae even ken where it is?” He hiccupped and belched. The scent threatened to bring her to her knees. “I ken a very easy way of getting’ there. Ye daenae have to worry.” Her anxiety only grew. “Nay, ye daenae have to worry. I can move about just fine.” He only laughed. Darkness was beginning to shroud the street, one she noticed that was bare.

She wished there was someone else around, someone she could latch on to escape this horrid man. But with his vice-like grip and his insistence, Elena was afraid it would take more than just words to get him to leave. Suddenly, they were plunged into darkness. He’d led her down a narrow street, the two buildings on either side casting a dark shadow over their path. Elena’s heart began to pound. “Thank ye, Sir,” she said, jerking so hard out of his hold that she nearly twisted her foot. “But I think I will be able to travel the rest of the way from here.” “Will ye?” He was upon her, giving her little time to respond. Elena could feel the coldness of a wall behind her, could feel her heart pounding in her throat. She had a dirk in her sporran.

Elena’s mind was whirring. Suddenly, she couldn’t remember which side it was, or if she had to reach to her left or right if he did something. She didn’t know how to use it, how to stab him, where to drive the blade without killing him. So many things rushed through her mind as the man stepped closer, forcing her against the wall, but her hands moved without thought. Her fingers touched the top of her dirk. “Aye, ye are a bonnie one,” he said with a chuckle, and Elena held her breath. “I ken it even though I saw ye from behind. But ye arenae very smart are ye?” She finally pulled her dirk from her sporran, gripping it tightly in her hand. She’d never had a reason to use it before—never learned how to. But at that moment, she didn’t care.

The man ran his gaze down her length while she instantly wanted to drive the blade into his eye. She bit her lip as battling waves of fear and repulsion rose within her. For a moment, she wished she’d never left the comfort and safety of her home. “Nay one is here,” the man murmured, bringing his lips close to her ear. “How about I used ye once, and then I can sell ye off to the next man?” A chill skittered down her spine. He didn’t seem to notice the way she shivered. “It isnae me fault that ye are here,” he said. “Ye shouldnae have been walkin’ around by yerself at nightfall. Ye were askin’ for this.” “Leave me alone, or I’ll hurt ye,” she tried to say bravely, but her words only came out as a whisper.

He heard it, however, and pulled away for her. “Hurt me?” he barked a laugh. “What do ye…what do ye think ye can do?” She hid her dirk behind her, saying nothing. Perhaps she wouldn’t need to stab him. Perhaps, if she got him to stand far enough away from her, she could try to run away. “I was just tryin’ to help ye!” the man hissed, spittle flying from his thin lips. “And all I wanted was a little taste of ye. Is that how ye repay someone who gives ye their…” he trailed off, stumbling back, before he found his words again, “their help to ye?” Elena was biting down too hard on her lip that she was afraid she might draw blood. The man laughed again, but this one was much more terrifying. He took a step back as if preparing to do something, and Elena took that as her chance.

Gripping the dirk tightly in her fist, she picked up her skirts and ran off to the right of her. She heard the man curse behind her, and she didn’t get very far. Pain lanced her head when he grabbed ahold of her braid and yanked her back. Elena cried out, trying to pull out of his hold. She whirled to face him, bracing the pain of his grip, and lifted her dirk. She didn’t get the chance to bring it back down. Elena heard a thunk and the man went still. She froze, staring at the man’s face, watching as his jaw grew slack, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. He fell to the ground. “Are ye all right?” Dazed, Elena looked up to see the most handsome man she’d ever laid eyes on.

He was tall, with curling brown hair that brushed the top of his ears. He had a strong jaw, a large hand that he held out toward her. Even in the dim lighting, she could see that his eyes were a brilliant green, like the lush plains that had surrounded her castle. He took another step toward her, dropping the big chunk of wood he had used to hit the man. “Can ye hear me? I asked if ye were all right.” Elena couldn’t find her voice, but she didn’t know if it was because of the lingering fear, the adrenaline, or the fact that she could not take her eyes off him. His brows were bushy, dipping into a worried frown as he leaned closer to peer at her. “Ye seemed to be quite shocked.” Aye, I am. She’d meant to say the words aloud, but she didn’t get the chance when her knees buckled beneath her.

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