“The Escape of Motley’s Rose” – Chapter 5

by Aylya Mayze
© 2021 Wittily Writ Publishing

Chapter 5

It is in the nature of dreamers to awaken. I fully expected to do so, safe and warm in my own bed, in my own cave, my backpack beside me ready for me to begin my journey.

The first thing I noticed was pain. My head hurt with a fierceness that made me suspect it was trying to explode. I didn’t dare open my eyes.

The second thing I noticed was that everything smelled different. Wrong. I should have smelled the grasses and straw from my bed, the coals from my fire, the scent of my blankets, the delicious aroma of the fish I had smoked, the familiar wood and earth that was my home. Instead it smelled like something trying to be lavender that had never been near the real plant. It made me cough to breath it, and the coughing made my head hurt worse.

I realized I was not in my own blankets but under something fine woven and thin, with a thick, soft covering on top. There was something under my head. It was a sack of some kind, woven in the same fine way as my covering, but stuffed or padded thickly, so that my head sunk into it. The mat on which I lay felt different too – thicker, bouncier, not prickly like straw and grass. Pushing my arm out from under the coverings, I expected to feel the chill of a cool autumn pre-dawn. Instead it felt warm like late spring.

I noticed a sense of light. My cave was dark, particularly in the mornings when the fire had died down. From where was the light coming and why was it so bright?

I heard a soft click, a slow creak, a sound of wood swishing by wood and the click again, then padded footsteps approaching me. I smelled cooked meat of a kind I didn’t recognize and fried eggs. My stomach growled hungrily.

“Are you awake?” asked a woman’s voice. It was no one I knew.

I cracked open my eyes, squinting with pain as the light pierced them. They came into focus on a townie woman, brown skinned with almond eyes, soft green in color, and long, blonde hair pulled up in a bun on top of her head. She looked a bit older than my ma – maybe in her late 40’s or early 50’s. Her heart-shaped face seemed pretty, but it was painted with strange colors and patterns of curving lines, exaggerating her eyes and making her cheeks sparkle. Her body was slim and feminine but also looked unnatural, as if her dress were lifting her breasts, squeezing her waist, and widening her hips. Her clothes were fine woven cloth, shaped into a long-sleeved dress with a low, v-neckline. The cloth of her dress was painted with pretty patterns of flowers and trimmed with lace. It was nothing that could keep her warm in the cooling weather of autumn and it looked like it would tear with hard work. She wore jewels set in gold, dangling from her ears, jewels on the fingers of both hands, and jeweled combs dressing her hair. More jewels embedded in gold were hanging from her neck and around her wrists and ankles. It seemed she did not trust in her own beauty but chose to hide behind the glitter of the jewels instead. Her shoes were leather, expertly shaped, stained burgundy, with thin, high heels forcing her to walk as if on tiptoe. They were nothing I could imagine making, even if I wanted something so hindering to survival, so I assumed they were town-bought.

I glanced around and saw I was in a square of straight, flat walls, perpendicular to the floor, with an unnatural roof made of something other than wood or clay. The walls were covered with some kind of cloth or paper that had geometric patterns in a raised white on a gold background. The ceiling was painted a smooth, pure white. There were paintings of landscapes decorating the walls. Surrounding me were pieces of fine, polished wood furniture – tables and chests of drawers – on top of which were small figurines and vases of cut flowers. A large, black panel was given the center of the wall opposite where I lay. It had a wire hanging down from it, disappearing behind the short cupboard below. Its only interest to me seemed to be that anyone would find it interesting, but the cord meant it was powered to do something. I wondered what.

The closest I had ever been to such a space was in some of the other woodsies’ homes, but here there was a large square of glass letting daylight pour in – something I had never seen before, though I knew, from childhood stories, that it was called a window. The space was built above ground then, and with materials I didn’t know. The floor was covered with thick cloth, hooked with thick spun wool to resemble something like short grass. Every step the woman took sunk into it, creating a sense of softness. Hung from the ceiling was a sculpture of metal and glass with wires. I had seen pictures of “chandeliers” and my da had explained electricity to me. It was not lit, but I identified the bulbs of glass that held the filament that would heat and give light. How were they generating the electricity, I wondered.

I noticed I was laying on a raised platform, a couple feet above the ground. It was a strange bed that changed its shape to accommodate mine as I shifted and tried to rise. When the cover slipped off, however, I realized I was naked beneath, so I snatched it back. Of course, I had gone to bed naked, as usual, but I never thought to wake up in such a place with people about.

The woman had asked me a question, but I was too disoriented by this wholly unfamiliar space. Every part of me was on guard, which made me want to be as silent and invisible as possible, with all my senses taking in information while expressing nothing.

The woman smiled, showing me beautiful, straight, white teeth. When she spoke again it was softer, in a calming tone that I might have used on a wounded critter I was trying to soothe.

“Don’t be afraid.”

Neither her tone nor words calmed me. In my experience, when someone told me not to be afraid it was usually because I had good reason to be.

“My name is Lillian Honi.” She handed me the tray she was carrying. It was full of food that smelled good but looked strange. “You met my son, Isaac, recently. He chopped some wood for you. You sent us back some delicious fried fish. Do you remember?’

I nodded. It had only been t’other day. How would I have forgotten that quickly? The food on the tray lured me. There were thin slices of meat, fried to crispiness, and fried eggs with some kind of orange spice sprinkled on top that I couldn’t recognize. There was something beside it made of some kind of grain. I guessed it was a form of bread, though different than what I would make, It looked to have been cut from a larger piece into a thin square, with smashed blackberries spread on top. I recognized slices of apple but next to it was an orange fruit with a thick peel. I wasn’t sure what to do with that. On the tray was also a tall cup made of glass and filled with an orange liquid. I felt ravenous and wanted to devour it all as quickly as I could, but the thought that it might be poisoned made me hesitate.

“Yesterday morning my son went to take back the wrap you had used for the fish and to see if there was anything else you needed,” she continued. “He found you unconscious. You were scratched and bruised. He was worried so he carried you to us. When we couldn’t wake you, we were afraid for you, so we brought you to a doctor we know. You’ve been asleep for at least a day.”

She was lying. She was a poor actor speaking memorized lines, rushing to get through them without meaning any of them. I wasn’t sure what part of her story, if any, might be true – but I was sure she was intentionally deceiving me.

My stomach growled. I was annoyed, since her dishonesty made the food she offered, food I badly wanted, even more suspect.

“Why aren’t you eating?” she asked. “Do you not know how to use silverware? I can show you.”

I recognized the fork and knife and had learned how to use them, though, if the truth be told, I usually opted for my fingers or for chop sticks and cut with one of my hunting knives.

“I don’t know this food,” I said at last. “It smells good, but what is it?”

“Beef bacon, eggs, toast with butter and jam, apple slices, an orange, and orange juice.” She pointed to each item as she named it.

“What meat is beef bacon?”


“What part? How is it prepared?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“And toast? What is that?”

“Bread. Wheat and other things. Sorry but I don’t know how it is made either. We buy it as is.”

I nodded. We were in town then, where such things could be bought and were taken for granted. I wondered if my parents and brother were eating like this. Might they be close by? If I left this room, this building, and walked through the town, might I run into them? What would they do if they saw me here? Would they be angry that, after years of sacrificing so much to keep me safe, I had ended up here anyway?

“Look. Let me show you how to eat.” Lillian Honi lifted the toast with her fingers and took a small bite then offered the rest to me, which I gratefully accepted. She took the fork and knife and cut a small piece off one of the slices of bacon and lifted it to her mouth with the fork. She peeled the orange for me, placing the peels daintily aside, then split the orange into segments, eating one of them. Piece by piece she took a bit of everything on the plates. Did she understand that I suspected it of being poisoned? “Do I need to sip the juice too for you? You do know how to use a glass, don’t you?”

I nodded, thanked her softly, then let myself eat with great enjoyment. These were new flavors to me, except for the apple. Even the egg was from an unknown bird and the spice sprinkled on top was nothing I recognized. It was all very tasty, however. The lady watched me with no sign of surprise that I knew how to use her silverware after all. Thankfully, my headache eased as I ate and drank.

I debated about asking Lillian Honi questions. What was the point when I knew she was lying, except to learn what she wanted me to believe? Should I pretend to believe her?

“Tell me about your daughter, please,” I said.

“My daughter?” She looked confused. She didn’t have a daughter, I realized. Then why had the family come out to live in the forest? “Oh. Of course. We left her behind, to watch over our home and yours.”

“All alone?”

“She’s not a child anymore.”

It was another lie, of course. No townie I ever met, newly arrived in hiding, would have left their young woman, inexperienced with the ways of the forest, all alone. I had been told that the beasts started claiming the girls at the age of 12, sometimes even younger. This family claimed to be new, meaning their daughter would be, at most, 12 years old, and such a young’un who knew nothing of the ways of the forest would be in grave danger alone. It was why the families came with the girls in the first place.

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“I’m sure Isaac told you.”

“Forgive me. I’m not good with remembering names,” I lied.

“We’ll introduce you properly when we take you back.”

They weren’t going to take me back. I could hear it in the ease with which she made her impossible promise to introduce me to someone who didn’t exist, whose name she couldn’t even think to make up.

“But your husband came with you? And Isaac?”

“Yes. We needed someone to carry you.”

“Then why did you come? Why didn’t you stay with your daughter?”

Her eyes widened in fright at the thought. I could see she would never have considered staying there alone. It was yet more reason why she would not leave her child there.

“My darling, you were naked and unconscious. I love and trust my husband and son, but someone had to guard your honor, if only for appearances sake. And are you not more comfortable seeing me now, than you would have been seeing either of them?”

“It was most kind of you,” I said, throwing her a proverbial bone. It was ridiculous of her if she had really had a 12-year-old daughter she had left behind alone in preference to me. She smiled, however, taking my words as a compliment.

“So what did the doctor say was wrong with me?” I asked next. Her expression shifted into alarm at what seemed an unexpected question.

“He doesn’t know,” she said. “They took some of your blood to test and gave you some nutrients to keep you alive. He’ll want to talk to you, however, and ask you some questions. We’re all hoping you can remember what happened.”

I could tell by her tension that they were hoping the opposite. Why did they want me to forget? What had they done?

“I can’t remember anything,” I said. “I went to sleep in my own bed as normal, perfectly healthy, and woke up just now, here.”

“Is that really all you can remember? I mean, are you sure there is nothing more?”

“Nothing,” I assured her.

I remembered my dream vividly – the pack of men who smelled like wolves hunting me, then shooting me out of a tree – but, of course, that was only a dream. Still, dreams meant things. Whatever had happened had influenced that dream. Probably Isaac had gone into my home, looking for me, in the wee hours of the morning. He likely had brought other people with him, or else involved them later. Maybe they hadn’t shot me, but they might have injected me with a drug that made me sleep, then brought me here. Why?

“You haven’t yet asked where you are?” Lillian Honi said. “I thought that would be your first question.”

I was obviously in the town…a town…or near enough to be the same thing. If I stayed for any length of time, I would be sacrificed to the beasts. Was that their point in taking me? Were they working for the townies to reclaim woodsies? I didn’t know what particular building I was in, but did it matter? I was not where I needed and wanted to be, which was the important point. Still, I decided to humor the woman by asking the question.

“This is a guest room in our home. I would love to give you a tour when you are feeling up to it. It has been in my husband’s family for many generations, even before the last continental shift, but I’ve had a chance to redecorate and improve parts of it.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said, though I knew nothing of such things. “How could you bear to leave it?”

Her face, which had been shining with pride, fell. She had clearly forgotten she was supposed to have fled to the woods.

This woman was not a liar by nature. I could see she hated it. She wanted to tell me the truth, but something prevented her. Was she afraid?

“My husband can explain everything much better than I can,” she said at last.

“I’m eager to meet him,” I said. I was tired of being in this bed. I wanted to get up and stretch, move, and get my bearings. “Did they bring my clothes?”

“No, but I have some for you. I’m a good judge of sizes so I’m pretty sure they’ll fit. Wait until you see them! But we have to get you cleaned up first.”

Unlike in my cave, here they had a smaller room off the one where I had awoken. In that little room there was a stool set up for elimination – so one didn’t have to go out in the elements to take care of those needs. With one touch the stool emptied itself and a mist arose with a perfume that hid the scent. Beyond that was a bathing room with a sunken square pond, tiled, large enough for several people to swim in comfortably. It filled with preheated water at the touch of a tap and drained quickly when you were finished. Founts were set up along the side to pump various soaps, creams, and lotions as desired.

The woman spent the rest of the morning bathing and grooming me. As soon as she had finished scrubbing my skin mercilessly in the bath, then smearing me with soothing lotion to calm the redness and pain of it, she cut and colored my nails with a paint that smelled bad and made my hands and feet feel heavy. She had shaved my body without my even noticing, using some sort of cream that dissolved the hair everywhere except my head. Then she refreshed the water and scrubbed my hair, exclaiming with shock at how filthy it had been and with delight when she declared she could finally see its true color. She said it was red, but I wondered if it was just from the blood her scraping and scratching at my scalp might have raised.

When she got to the clothes, I learned there was far more than I had realized – many layers of garments. The first layer were stockings and clothes over the privates. Then a white skirt of many layers and a long, flowing white, sleeveless top. Then there was an undergarment that squeezed my waist and lifted my breasts. I hated it, but the woman got such enjoyment in stuffing me into it that I resisted the urge to protest. It restricted my movements and breath, however, which I determined not to endure for a moment longer than necessary. Over this was another dress. She had chosen a vivid blue. The fabric was shiny and somehow sparkled and almost floated when I moved. For my feet she had chosen shoes much like hers, but in blue. The heels were too high, and I could not find my balance in them.

“Oh dear. This will not do!” she said as I fell for the fifth time. “I have some flat boots that might fit you, but they’re white. They don’t go at all with the dress and it’s the wrong season.”

They were a relief to me and seemed firm enough to do for Autumn, though the snow would not be kind to them in winter.

“Your hair is too short to do much with,” she said as she brushed it and played with ways to pin it up or back with jeweled ornaments, “but we’ll have some fun with it when it grows out.”

I forced a smile against the realization that she meant to keep me here for quite a long time. On the other hand, perhaps it meant that they didn’t mean to sacrifice me after all. Did they mean to keep me a hidden prisoner? For what purpose?

Next, she painted my face with an all over cream that hid my freckles and made my skin look lighter than it normally was, followed by strange colors for my eyelids, cheeks and lips, and a weird drawing of curves and swirls across the bridge of my nose, under my eyes, and around the sides, blending into my hairline.

“You have amazing cheekbones,” she said, clearly intending to compliment, “and your eyes are gorgeous. I have never seen eyes that color before.”

“Brown?” I frowned. Ma had told me that was the most common color there was.

“Well, actually, they are more like alexandrite, aren’t they? I mean, they look almost like a blue-green when you look at them one way, but tilt your head and they look reddish, maybe brown, but with specks of gold. I’ve never seen eyes like that.”

When she was all done, she led me to stand facing a wall. She touched some hidden button and wall slid open, revealing a lit glass wall with a bright, clear reflective surface. It was called a mirror, I remembered, from childhood stories. I could see Lillian Honi in the mirror, as though there were two of her, standing side by side, one looking at me, the other looking at a woman standing opposite me – my reflection.

I was tall – towering over the little woman. I was wearing the blue dress she had chosen for me with the white boots. My hair was short and, in fact, was colored like copper, rather than the brown I had always thought it, with highlights of brighter red and gold. My face was not at all what I had expected. I had always imagined myself with Da’s wide face since Remi looked so much like Ma, but Da’s was softer, rounder than mine. I was a mess of angles, with strong cheekbones and a firm jaw and chin and a pointed nose. My ears, sticking out from my hair high on the sides of my head, looked almost pointed as well and had no lobes. In contrast to all these angles were soft, round lips and very large doe-shaped eyes fringed with long, dark lashes and accentuated by the shades of color and patterns of swirls and curves the woman had painted around them. They were like my brother’s beautiful eyes, except where his were a bright green, like Motley’s, mine did, in fact, shift color as I moved my head in the light, between reddish brown, almost purple, and blue-green. My body had been pulled and prodded into an unnatural shape with an impossibly small waist and huge breasts. It looked like a parody of a human female. I didn’t think it at all attractive, but Lillian Honi seemed very proud of herself and gushed in delight about how beautiful I looked.

My freckles were gone so completely I wondered if they had ever actually been there, on my face, as my family had always told me. I pulled up my sleeves to reassure myself that they were still on my body. I thought I had never liked my freckles, but seeing my face without them alarmed me, as if I were no longer myself. In fact, I really didn’t look anything like what I had always imagined. Overall, I was disappointed to see the image looking back at me. It looked like someone wearing a painted mask. I would have liked to have seen what I looked like for real.

With a smile, the woman tapped on her pendant.

“Tell my husband we’re ready whenever he is,” she said.

I turned to her, wondering if she were talking to me, but she only smiled and seemed to expect no response from me. A few moments later I heard a man’s voice coming out of her earrings.

“He’s ready now.”

Lillian Honi grinned and clapped her hands together, as excited as a child with a gift to unwrap.

“He is going to be amazed,” she said, taking my hand and pulling me after her through the door.

We entered a long, rectangular space, well-lit with windows at either end, and rows of doors on either side, between which were hung more paintings, some of flowers, some portraits, some seascapes and more landscapes, with sculptures and flowers festooning every flat surface. Then we turned several sharp corners at various distances down other passages, until I lost count and had no idea the way back to the room in which I had awakened. Eventually we entered a large room, larger in itself than any home I had known, filled with tables and chairs and lots of people – many more than I had ever seen in my entire life put together, and they were all here in one space. They were all moving about and hard to count but, seeing the size of ten adults grouped together, I estimated that there were over three hundred people in that room, Most were men but there were women too and lots of little boys running around, chasing each other and rough-housing. Most of the people were talking to each other, some arguing, some laughing, some with expressive hand gestures, but as we entered. A lot of the younger men stopped and stared at us.

“Look. There’s the wild one they just brought in,” I heard one man say to his friend. I glanced out of the corner of my eye to see him pointing toward me. I was the wild one, then. I had never thought of myself as wild, but I supposed it was what townies would think.

Instinctively I ducked to the side just as a small, bouncy ball flew past me from behind. It slammed into the back of Lillian Honi’s head, causing her to gasp. Then it bounced back toward me. I caught it and handed it to her. The small boy who had been chasing the ball froze, his eyes wide in alarm.

“I didn’t mean it!” he shouted. “It was Tommy who threw it. I was just trying to catch it, but I missed.”

“You know you aren’t supposed to throw balls in the house,” Lillian scolded him.

“I told you, I didn’t throw it!”

“Then tell Tommy I’m keeping it, until both of you apologize.”

“But it’s my ball. He stole it from me then threw it. That’s not fair!”

Lillian pocketed the ball and moved on, leaving the little boy protesting to no one but himself.

“Where are all the girls?” I asked, scanning the room.


“They’re all boys here.” I spied a few women who seemed to be the boys’ mothers or guardians, but no little girls at all.

Lillian ignored my question, stopping to talk to a tall man standing in front of another closed door. I felt him looking at me curiously, but when I turned my attention to him, he lowered his head and refused to meet my eye. He did, however, open the door to usher us inside.

We entered a large room with bookshelves lining every wall except the back one, which was a huge window overlooking a field of cut grasses and trimmed hedges. In front of the window was a large, carved and polished wood desk, behind which, in a great, throne-like, padded chair, sat the same man to whom Isaac had deferred in my dream.

I recognized him by his air of authority – uncompromising and commanding. Now I could see him closer, in the daylight, and mark his appearance as well. I saw a man of fair skin but black hair and amber eyes, with a full, black beard speckled with gray, trimmed close to the jaw. He wore layers of clothes – trousers and shirt with a vest, then a jacket with a high neck in back. All were fine woven from cloth that looked something better than the cotton I had known from my parents’ garments. His hair was trimmed close in front but longer in back and curly where it was long, looking almost like a mane framing his face from behind. He was at least in his 50’s, I thought. Older than my da. I could see the lines on his face, each one declaring a firm, dominating, intelligent personality. They showed a man whose natural state was more often angry and aggrieved than pleasant and agreeable.

He stood as we entered – a deference to his wife, I imagined – and I could see he was trim and strong, with more youthful vigor than I had suspected older men might retain. When he moved around his desk and came toward us, it was with the easy grace of a man fully in control of every muscle and all possible strength in his body. That took a lot of training, I thought. He smiled toward us, but it seemed forced, as if it was a strain on his features to assume that expression.

“Harrison,” his wife greeted him, excitement brimming her voice. “Do you recognize our guest?”

As a child my brother and I had often played medieval times with my parents, pretending we were knights, royalty, bards, or pirates. My mother, when she played, was always a queen, and she had taught us how to bow and curtsy to her. Without thinking about it, I dropped into a deep curtsy now to this man. It was the air of him, I knew. He was clearly a leader – probably of all the people here. It was obvious that he thought of himself as a kind of king. It was also that this was his territory. I was far from my own home, all alone here, and knew I had no choice but to be submissive. I could feel Lillian Honi’s surprise at my gesture, but Harrison clearly approved.

“Branson, send someone for my sons,” he commanded the man who still stood at the door. The man bowed and left, shutting the door behind him.

“Please stand,” Harrison said, releasing me from my curtsy. He circled me, eyeing me from all directions with his critical eye.

“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Lillian said.

“Quite,” he agreed. “You did a remarkable job.”

Lillian blushed with pleasure at his praise.

“This is my husband, Harrison Honi,” Lillian said to me, starting the introduction. Then she paused. “You know, I never caught your full name.”

“Rose,” I answered.

“Yes. Isaac told us that much. But what is your family name?”

“Rose is all I know.”

“Do you know where your family is?” Harrison asked.

I shook my head.

“We want to find them, Rose,” Lillian said. “You’ve been sick. They need to know. I’m sure they’ll be worried about you.”

“Just take me home. I can tell them what they need to know.”

Harrison and Lillian exchanged a look that told me, as clearly as if they had said it aloud, that they had no intention of taking me home.

“We need to make sure you are completely well first…” Lillian began, but a touch on her sleeve from Harrison silenced her. He was staring at me, with an expression I could not read.

The door opened behind me and Isaac strode in. He was dressed much as his father was, very different from the simple work pants and shirt he had worn when we first met. These people were townies, through and through. There was no way they would have wanted to live in the forest, I thought. It was so obvious that I wondered they were still pretending.

Isaac stopped, halfway toward us, and stared at me, his mouth hanging open. His eyes were full amber, I realized, just as in my dream. The brown eyes he had shown me when we met had probably been a disguise of some sort. His blonde, almost white hair had been pulled back before, but now it was groomed much like his father’s, and his blonde beard had been trimmed shorter too. There was much about his features that resembled his mother, but he was clearly trying to imitate his father.

“Rose, you remember our son, Isaac, don’t you?” said Lillian.

I nodded my head.

He glanced toward his father and, responding to his father’s nod, slowly approached.

“You look beautiful,” he said, taking my hand and bringing it up to his lips.

“I look healthy?” I asked with a smile, remembering that he had said that before.

He seemed not to recall.

“You scared us. When I couldn’t wake you…I’m glad you’re O.K.”

He was a better liar than his mother, I noticed. He spoke smoothly and with apparent sincerity. Only the rising of the hairs on the back of my neck alerted me that he was trying to deceive me.

I smiled. “Now I have only to meet your sister,” I said.

Isaac glanced again toward his father.

“I told her that we left her behind to guard our home,” Lillian volunteered. Again, Isaac and his father exchanged a look that served as a silent communication. They were aware of the weakness of Lillian’s lie, I thought.

“Rose!” I heard a voice from behind me, at the door. It sounded like Motley! I turned quickly, but there was no wolf there, only another man, the same age as Isaac, and a younger male, still a boy, about 11 years old.

The boy was tall and lanky, like a young colt who wasn’t sure how to manage his limbs yet. He had his father’s pale skin and dark hair and eyes, though they were almond shaped like his mother’s, but there was more of a lightness and cheerfulness in his stance.

The man beside him was clearly related to him, by the shape of his face and features, but his skin was darker brown even than his mother’s. His hair was dark brown, almost black at the roots, but had lightened in the sun to various shades of gold, brown, and even some red – though not so much red as to bring bad luck. I had never heard of that kind of color variation in human hair before. Most stunning, however, were his eyes – almond shaped like his mother’s but a startlingly vivid shade of green. I found myself thinking that, except for the color, they were not Remi’s eyes after all. Remi’s were round and innocent looking, albeit bright with intelligence and curiosity. This man’s were narrower, more masculine, more discerning and wiser, despite his youth. In fact, everything about him was…very appealingly masculine. He had no beard, I noticed, which seemed odd among his people. There was only a bit of stubble shadowing his high cheekbones and accentuating his strong jaw. Unlike the other males of his family, he wore simple clothes – sturdy jeans and a plain shirt, open at the collar, allowing me a glimpse of his beautifully shaped throat. He stared at me as if he not only knew me but cared about me, though I knew we had never met. I had no doubt at all that, if we had, I would have remembered him.

“This is my son, Jacob,” Harrison was saying, “and our youngest is Andrew.”  

Andrew stepped forward first, taking my hand and kissing it as his older brother, Isaac, had. It must be a custom of these people, I thought. Jacob held back, still staring, as if in shock.

“How did you get here?” he asked me.

“I was kidnapped from my home,” I answered.

“You were ill…” Lillian began.

I hid my sigh. The lie had gone for too long now. There was nothing more I could gain from it.

“That’s enough,” Harrison interrupted. “You did your best, Darling, but her kind are hard to fool for long.”

My kind? Did he mean woodsies?

“You’re clearly townies. You didn’t escape to hide in the forest. You’re too comfortable and happy here. You don’t even have a daughter, do you?”

“No,” Harrison answered.

“You came hunting for woodsies. Or was it just for me?”

His eyes narrowed slightly, enough to confirm that it had just been for me.

“How did you learn about me?”

Harrison had no intention of answering that. He just stared at me. I saw Isaac, standing beside him, glance at Jacob, however. Jacob was glaring at his father and brother, his anger barely suppressed. But how had Jacob known about me? I had never met him before.

“You have me now,” I said. “I’m here. What do you want with me?”

Harrison smiled toward Jacob even as he answered me. “We plan to make you a queen.”

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