The next morning, Eleanor woke up to the smell of homemade bread wafting from the kitchen. For a moment, confusion clouded her thoughts, and the day’s events slammed into her like crushed cars on a motorway. Rowan’s forcing her to sign the papers giving up her independence, the beautiful dryad with her sorrowful eyes, blue light shooting from her palms, galloping on a black horse in the dead of the night, and Marisol’s amber eyes filling with tears as she reunited with her little girl. Eleanor was no longer a little girl, but in the eyes of these ancient beings, they were her protectors.
A thrill of excitement shot through her, and Eleanor rose out of bed, stretching her aching limbs. The gallop left her sore, but her mind was refreshed after a good night’s rest, and in the morning light, she was eager to get to Hal. A brief flicker of guilt crossed her mind as she thought of her Lizzie, hoping her daughter was safe and no harm would come to her. She had an inkling they would protect her children just as they protected her. Besides, Rowan wasn’t after her children; he was after her. The further she distanced herself from her children, the safer they would be.
She padded into the kitchen, her eyes scanning the heaps of food laid out on the kitchen counter.
‘I figured you could use the fuel.’ Marisol grinned, pushing her thick hair with the back of her hand as she dished out eggs, buttered toast, sausages, beans, tomatoes and mushrooms.
‘This looks delicious, thank you, Marisol.’ Her stomach grumbled, and Eleanor wanted nothing more than to devour her food but stopped short when Marisol sat down at the table without a plate. ‘Aren’t you hungry?’
Marisol waved her hand. ‘Oh, I already ate. My dietary preferences are a little different to yours.’
‘I’m assuming Griogair’s is as well?’ She tucked into her food, relishing in the fresh ingredients.
‘He eats children.’ She gave her a wicked grin and started laughing.
Eleanor wasn’t sure whether Marisol was joking but continued to fork pieces of mushroom.
‘When will Lorelie be back? I’d like to see her.’ Eleanor wanted to see the other half who raised her. She felt a profound connection with these kind souls, her own soul connecting with theirs in a way she never experienced before. The magical stories she longed to believe in as a little girl had finally manifested, and though terrifying, it felt right.
‘She should be back in a couple of days, but it’s too dangerous for you to stay longer than a night. Rowan’s hounds are on the prowl, and the quicker you get to Hal, the safer you will be.’ She reached out, placing her hand on Eleanor’s.
Their hands looked identical; young, unblemished fingers, one ring finger adorned in a gold band and hers in silver. She looked up from her food, the warmth in Marisol’s eyes a calming balm, soothing her doubts and fears. After she finished her food, she offered to help Marisol tidy the kitchen, but the woman gave her a stern look, and Eleanor was forced to obey. She wasn’t used to taking orders and hated when others told her what to do, but Marisol wasn’t just anybody. She was like a mother to her, and Marisol’s wizened eyes reflected her breadth of experience unimaginable to mortals.
Eleanor watched her hastily pack sandwiches, snacks, and a flask of water in a rucksack and handed it to her. ‘For the journey ahead. I anticipate you will get to Hal in a few days, but this will last you at least two.’
‘Thank you for everything, Marisol.’ She hugged her fiercely, tears welling in her eyes at her kindness and familiarity.
‘Take care, Eileanori. We will see each other soon.’ Marisol brushed her tears away and handed her the rucksack. She then shooed her away, unable to say any more.
The lump in Eleanor’s throat grew, wedged into a block of emotions that refused to budge. She swallowed, blinking the tears away as she walked past the cozy fireplace. Her fingers grazed the rough stone walls, and an image came to her — a toddler running around while a woman with long dark hair chased her in between table legs and chairs. Marisol sat on a rocking chair by the fireplace, laughing, her eyes crinkled with delight and love. Love. The extent of emotions swept her in a tidal wave, and Eleanor closed her eyes, pausing before she opened the door.
As she walked outside, the sun dipped behind the clouds, casting a gloomy start to the day. Dark clouds scuttled from beyond the hills, and she shuddered, drawing her cardigan tighter around her small frame. Griogair dipped his head in the ravine, drinking from it, and Eleanor watched the powerful creature, his dark coat gleaming as he tossed his head.
After he finished, he trotted towards her, his dark eyes resting on hers. ‘It is time. We must go, Eileanori.’ He lowered himself to the ground, and Eleanor gritted her teeth as her muscles protested. If it weren’t for magic, Eleanor doubted she could ride the immense distance, but with her dormant powers now surfacing, Eleanor had the abundant energy of a young, athletic woman.
She gripped his mane, positioning her body forward as Griogair rose, and her body lurched unpleasantly. After taking one last look at the house, he set off at a trot towards the vast marshlands and the hills. They rode in comfortable silence, with Griogair kindly checking in on her every half an hour or so. He increased his speed, and they galloped as the green and blue backdrop blurred into one. Today’s ride was different from last night’s, where panic and darkness didn’t allow her to appreciate the stunning landscape. She laughed, her smile turning to bouts of laughter as adrenaline pumped in her veins. The freedom was exhilarating, and Eleanor flew through the marshes as Grigoair increased his speed.
They occasionally stopped along the way for Eleanor to rest and stretch her muscles, but she wanted to get to the hills as soon as possible. They left the marshes behind in a few hours, and the hills loomed like massive earthly statues. Grigoair slowed to a trot, the hills sloping upwards, and Eleanor tightened her grip, the musky scent of his coat putting her at ease. Darkness swallowed them amidst the thick trees and narrow path, a shortcut he reassured her, one that gave them adequate cover from unwanted creatures.
‘There are dangers in these parts. We are trespassers, and they won’t treat us kindly,’ Grigoair said.
They trekked on for what seemed like ages until they reached an open path, and Grigoair veered off the trail. The moonlight sliced into the path, illuminating their way forward, and the duo carried on. A rustling breeze, a whispering word, and a ripple of magic in the hills left her uneasy; she knew danger lay ahead. An image shimmered, and Eleanor blinked, rubbing her eyes. Exhaustion lapped at the fringes of her mind, and though she was satiated, she longed for sleep.
‘I don’t know if I’m seeing things,’ she muttered.
‘Hold on to me tightly. If it is who I think it is, then we are in for trouble.’ Grigoair pawed the ground nervously, and Eleanor’s body tensed.
‘Who is that?’
As if responding, the figure walked towards them, and Eleanor made out the shape of a woman. She wore a long white dress, decorated with beads around the bodice — a wedding dress. Eleanor squinted, and the woman suddenly appeared in front of them. She shrieked, and Grigoair raised himself on his hind legs and screamed, the high-pitched sound reverberating through the hills. The woman seemed beautiful from afar, but her eyes were black sockets, empty. Her lopsided grin was covered in a smear of dried blood, and little fangs poked out. Her white dress had bits of blood spatter, and her red hair fell over her face, long and lank.
‘You dare cross these parts. You ought to know better. It’s been some time since I feasted on human blood.’ She grinned, her teeth strung like black beads.
‘Out of the way creature of the night.’ Grigoair pawed the ground, ready to charge, but the woman refused to move.
‘She’s mine,’ she hissed. In lightning-fluid movement, the woman grappled Eleanor’s leg as Grigoair swerved and kicked at her chest, missing.
Eleanor howled as blood trickled from the bite, and the vampire licked her lips. She stopped, confusion etched on her face. ‘This does not taste human. Who are you, and why are you in my territory?’
‘It’s what I tried to tell you, but you refused to listen. It’s her, the one who will defeat Rowan.’
The vampire looked up at her.
‘Impossible,’ she whispered. ‘You are the child he has been seeking?’ She touched her fingers to her lips and sobbed.
‘What’s going on? Who are you?’ Eleanor grew irritated, her cut stinging.
‘Rowan was my first and only love. When he courted me, he was perfect. Soft-spoken, kind and beautiful. I thought he loved me, too, but instead, he used me for my status and wealth. He abused me, humiliated me, and strung me along to do his bidding. My life was miserable after we ended up together, and so, I killed myself.’ She dropped to her knees and sobbed, blood tears cascading down her face.
‘What happened after?’ Eleanor pressed. She felt sorry for her. Rowan’s touch wasn’t only magical but deadly.
‘As I died, I vowed revenge on him. I vowed to hunt him down and drain him dry. I turned into this as I rose from the dead. I was never strong enough to kill him because people rarely venture in these parts for me to feast on. When I saw you, I was thrilled, but your blood didn’t taste right. It burned.’
Eleanor’s mind wandered as she remembered the way Rowan manipulated both her and Lizzie. His charm had her intelligent daughter under a horrendous spell, and Eleanor was the one to somehow break it.
‘He’s terrible. Whatever he is, he won’t get away with it. What is your name?’
‘Callidora. He’s immensely powerful. Be careful.’ She rose and pressed her trembling fingers to her lips and held them out.
Eleanor nodded, feeling the magic swirling inside her, growing stronger as she approached Hal.
‘The cut is only a graze. It will heal soon. You may pass these lands.’ She held out her hand, and Eleanor shook it, feeling the cold seeping into her depths.
‘Will you be okay?’ Eleanor’s concern for the woman made Callidora smile.
‘I will be once he’s gone.’
‘All of us will be. Thank you, Callidora.’
Grigoair tossed his head and snorted in response. They set off galloping into the distance, and Eleanor wondered how she was meant to defeat Rowan.
The Great Escape Chapter 7/9 will be published on Sunday September 5th. Next week's Author is Ruairí de Barra