The vision a dark romanc.., p.1
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       The Vision, A Dark Romance, p.1
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The Vision, A Dark Romance
The Vision

  By April Grey

  Copyright 2011 April Grey

  “So you put it under your pillow and you’ll dream of your husband?” Cherie tossed the roasted chestnut up in the air. After catching it, she pulled back the covers on the bed she shared with her sister.

  Alyssia nodded. “It’s true. Megan told me that she dreamt of her husband to be.” Alyssia tucked up her dark tresses into her night bonnet.

  “And you believed her? She’s been telling us tales since we were children. While she can cook a fancy stew, I wouldn’t take her advice, especially not on matters of matrimonial import.”

  “The chestnuts were picked at the dark of the moon, and cooked a fortnight later on a Saturday. If you put it under your pillow, you will dream of your husband to be.”

  “I’d rather eat it.” Cherie slipped her night gown over her head and then put her golden hair up under her cap.

  “Didn’t you have enough dinner? I saw that second helping of cake.” A sullen look spread over Alyssia's face.

  “You’re just annoyed that the stable boy went off to sea without saying goodbye.”

  Alyssia turned red. She tossed her chestnut across the room. Without a word she got under the covers and blew out the candle.

  Cherie lay in the dark, looking out the casement at the ripe moon and wondering if she had truly said too much. With a shrug, she put the chestnut under her pillow and nestled herself in the bed.

  ****

  He hulked over her, crimson face leering. Part of his nose was missing, as was an ear. Cherie's heart pounded sure to burst. She had to get away from--

  “Wake up, wake up, you’re dreaming.”

  Cherie tried to catch her breath as she clung onto her sister. “Alyssia, it was awful.”

  “You’re trembling.” Alyssia brought the quilt up around her sister’s chin. “Did you have a bad dream?”

  “Bad dream? Oh, if that was all it was.” She hugged her sister as if she could leach the warmth from her that she was missing from her soul. “I saw him—a monster.” Burying her face into Alyssia’s shoulder she trembled and sucked in air.

  “This isn’t like you. Perhaps you’re becoming ill.” Alyssia attempted to put her hand to her sister’s forehead but Cherie only clung harder.

  “A monster is what my future husband will be.” Tears swam in her eyes.

  “Oh, that stupid superstition about the chestnut, one would think you a child! You had a nightmare, probably from too much cake, and now you think, what, that you are doomed to wed some hideous creature? Like that fairytale our Gran used to tell us?”

  “You’re mocking me!” Cherie, still hiccupping, pulled back from her sister and wiped her nose and eyes on the sleeve of her nightgown.

  “I wouldn’t do that. It’s obvious that it was a nasty dream. But it was only a dream.” She kissed her sister’s forehead. "No fever."

  “It wasn’t a dream. It was a vision.” Cherie's chin jutted with certainty.

  Alyssia lay down and plumped her pillow. “Very well, whatever you choose to call it. And now I am going back to sleep.”

  “You don’t want to hear about it?”

  “Not at all. You’ll be having me with bad dreams next. No, thank you.”

  Cherie sat in bed terrified that the beast, with his horrid, red oozing skin and misshapen eyes would return. As the first birds heralded the dawn, she slipped back into a dreamless sleep.

  ****

  Cherie and Alyssia stood in the doorway of their family's mill and watched the soldiers march by on their way to war.

  "I miss James already." Cherie said as the last man tramped out of sight.

  "It will be hard to keep things going." Alyssia blew her nose in a plain linen handkerchief. Her eyes were red but she seemed determined to keep a brave face in spite of their brother joining the soldiers.

  "Poor Alyssia, first Harold and now James." Cherie tried to hug her sister, but was pushed away.

  "I told you never to say his name." Alyssia put her hand to her mouth and rushed inside the mill.

  "I'm sorry." Cherie said in a small voice. It was too late--she'd hurt her sister yet again from her lack of thought. Cherie sighed and followed her sister in. With James gone, their parents would need them to work even harder. Papa wasn't getting younger and grinding millet was a job not suited to women.

  Furthermore, Cherie hadn't slept well in the past months, her nights disrupted by the monster who ruled her dreams. The few times she glanced in the store front windows of their village she no longer recognized her reflection. Her normally pink dimpled cheeks replaced by hollow eyes and cheeks. She often caught her sister watching her with concern. Though she’d never complained since that night of the bad dream, it had taken its toll. Of course, life was hard for Alyssa as well. Though they never spoke Harold's name, he lingered ghost-like between them. While Cherie the elder daughter had been a loud and, she admitted to herself, even domineering child, Alyssa had been the quiet and serious one. She and Harold had preferred to sit quietly together by the mill stream, not talking, just watching the ducks tend to their ducklings. Harold didn't wish to be a stable boy forever and so he left for the sea.

  Alyssia, always so somber, had been a perfect target and Cherie had teased her throughout their childhood. Now that Cherie needed a confident, her past “sins” made it impossible for her to confess that she was still living in fear of the monster in her dream.

  Whenever she closed her eyes she saw his hideous face before her, and if it were not for the fact that she could reach over and touch her sister’s hand for assurance at night, she would never have slept again. Time should have caused the dream to fade, but instead, during the long years of the war, no matter how she pretended outwardly to be her old self, inside the tremor of fear never left her. Not even when the war ended.

  ****

  “Go ahead, say it.” Alyssia put her hands on her hips and glared at her sister with defiance.

  “He’s old and fat, and the only reason you're marrying him is because he is the only man in the village left after the war.” Cherie bit the inside of her lip.

  “He isn’t as old as our father was when he married, and the difference in our ages is no more than with our parents.”

  Cherie knew what she must say, but hated to do it. “You are only marrying him because you heard last week that Harold died at sea.”

  Alyssia drew in her breath, raised her hand to hit her sister, and stopped. Her face flushed with anger, she turned to leave the room, only stopping at the door. “Mr. er—Ben, will be a good provider.”

  “Alyssia…I’m sorry.” Cherie wanted to take back the words, but they were the truth. Her sister didn’t love him, so why marry him? Was security so important? The image of her own future husband drifted in front of her eyes--at least Ben wasn't a hideous monster..

  “I’m the youngest and I’ll be married first.” Her shoulders held tight, Alyssia walked out.

  “And I shall never marry.” The vision taunted her, stinging her eyes with unshed tears.

  ****

  The wedding was the finest affair in memory. Benjamin Green had invited the entire village and the farms from around. With the war finally ended, new faces equaled old in the crowd--men who had found themselves unwilling or unable for whatever reason to go back to their old homes and villages. Already some were settling into the void left by the deaths of so many of the village’s men who had died giving their lives for their country. Much to Cherie and her family’s relief, James returned safe, except for parts of fingers and toes lost to frostbite.

  One amongst the newcomers had bought the old smith’s place and was fixing it up to be a working forge again. He was welcomed a
s it meant not having to travel half a day to the county seat to use a smithy. His appearance was unique--taller than most men and broad of shoulders, his wiry, long black hair tied with a leather thong, he seemed to be born to the trade of Smith, perhaps even a son of the God Vulcan himself.

  Cherie studied him when she thought he wasn’t looking, but as the fiddlers struck up a lively jig, she was swept up into his arms. It was like dancing with a bear, she later told her mother with a look of derision. And inside, her brooding fear flamed anew. His name was Jack, and it was sweet on her lips.

  She tried her best to look cross whenever their paths converged, which was notably often. Somehow he had deduced her schedule for shopping and delivering the sacks of flour that they ground. As the months passed, at every festival, he’d appear at her side, two plates filled to overflowing with delicacies to share. Of course, in a village as small as St. Claire such behavior was noticed, and for it to continue an entire year without culmination in an engagement was nigh close to scandalous.

  ****

  “Cherie.”

  Cherie dropped the half-filled sack of flour to the floor, releasing a huge puff of ground millet. Her hair where it escaped from her mob cap was now as white as a royal’s wig and her face that of a Pierrot.

  “I’m sorry I startled you.” Jack’s blush could scarcely be seen underneath his fire reddened complexion. “I don’t wish—I mean…Cherie, are you afraid of me?”

  Cherie released her breath and wiped the flour from her eyes. “Not of you, Jack. Never.”

  “It’s market day. Your family won’t be back ‘til this evening.”

  Cherie’s heart beat faster, but not with fear—she’d spoken the truth. Like a person gentling a feral cat, his soft, slow manner had won her trust months ago. At times she joined in with the village wondering why he hadn’t approached her father. It was getting a trifle embarrassing. In his presence she lost her tongue, unlike her usual self, or she might have teased him about it.

  Jack leaned against the open door of the mill, as if he might bolt at any moment. “You know I would never harm you. War changes a man, but—“

  “I know.” She cut him off afraid of what more he might say--she’d already heard too many tales of horrors from her brother. It was bad enough that her nights were a mish-mash of nagging desire for Jack and a fear of the monster’s visage which still haunted her dreams, but couldn’t the nightmare at least leave her during the light of day? Her face reddened under its coating of white as the silence continued between them. Her body, responding to his presence, melted away any resolve she had not to fall in love. What her mind rejected, her body demanded. She did love him and to finally be alone with him this way was making it difficult to breathe even in her loosely tied corset. She turned her back on him and picked up the flour sack, trying to compose herself.

  “Let me help you fill that.” He moved beside her and bent down.

  The smell of charcoal was strong in the air around him. And under the smell was a rich, musky scent of a man who had been hard at work at a forge. Cherie noticed that though he’d washed his hands and face, he was still in his leather work apron and everyday clothing. He must have rushed over when he saw her family depart, not taking the time to change. Her head spun at his closeness.

  “No, please don’t. You’ll get covered in flour.”

  He took one large finger and removed some powder from her nose. “Most likely I’ll get you covered in soot.” His laugh rumbled in his chest.

  She tried to keep a straight face. “A fine pair we are, I covered in white and you in black.”

  “Aye. I want to believe that we will make a good pair. But sometimes you have such terror in your eyes that I wonder what it is that you see.” His eyes searched her face, seeking an answer. He took her hand in his. “I would have spoken to your father by now, but I’m still a stranger in these parts and I must establish my business. When I do make an offer, I need to prove to him that I will provide for you in a manner as good as that butcher does for your sister. But I want to know first that my offer is a welcome one.”

  Cherie didn’t know where to look. It seemed ridiculous now that she’d let her fear of the monster almost drive Jack away. She was ashamed to admit her fears to him, but even then her need for him was overriding her shame. She trembled with repressed hunger.

  Jack was a strong man, and larger than anyone in the village. Couldn’t she trust him to protect her from the monster? Like in the story of Jack and the Giant Killer? Tears of relief flooded her eyes. Perhaps he could save her?

  She smiled and looked up into his eyes. Taking this as his signal, he cupped her face in his rough hands and leaned down to kiss her. His lips brushed feather light against hers, and then when she made no protest, the kiss became more assertive, possessing her thoroughly.

  All sad thoughts fled from her mind, as she lifted her hands to stroke his massive shoulders. A low moan of desire escaped her and she lost herself completely to her feelings for him.

  Too soon he pulled away saying, “I guess that answers my question.” He was breathing deeply and his eyes had a wild look as he controlled himself. “As soon as I have my accounts in order to show your father, I’ll ask for your hand.” He started to leave and then stopped himself. He reached into his apron pocket. “I made this for you. It was the reason I came over this morning.”

  She stood speechless as he placed a broach in her hand. “I melted down the silver and twisted the wire. Think of it as my promise to you.” And then he was gone.

  Cherie examined the pin, of delicate silver filigree he had centered her initials in it. The tears which had threatened now coursed freely down her face as she collapsed in a heap on the flour sack.

  ****

  “The entire village knows it, so why don’t you?” Alyssia put Francis, her squalling babe, to her breast.

  Cherie perched on the fancy chair in Alyssia’s elegant bedroom, as fine as any city lady’s boudoir, and tried not to look afraid. “Knows what?”

  Sighing and lying back on the pillows, Alyssia gave her sister a knowing look. “That Jack the blacksmith is sweet on you.” She smiled slyly. “And that he was seen coming from the mill yesterday with flour in his beard and on his clothing.”

  Cherie rearranged her apron, smoothing it over her blue and white striped dress. “I’d think you better than to listen to such gossip now, what with you having servants to take care of you, and cook and clean.”

  “Jealous, aren’t you?” Alyssia said as solemn as an owl.

  Cherie fingered the broach which she kept hidden in her apron pocket. Though composed of filigree, so fine that it seemed impossible that the sausage-like fingers of the smith could have fashion it, it had a solidity which reminded her of Jack. He had made it for her, but she was afraid to wear it, lest the gossips’ tongues waggled even more. It was hard waiting for him to be ready to propose, and she feared that he might change his mind, or that something horrible would happen to stop them from being together.

  “I’m glad that you are well taken care of, Alyssia.” She stood up, and leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek, while avoiding the squirming infant still suckling her.

  “I think you are as fond of him as he is of you.” She reached out for Cherie before she could retreat, but was too late.

  Cherie shook her head. She had lived with the fear for so many years, the monster’s face before her each night as she drifted to sleep. She loved Jack. Try as she might to resist his charm, and caught in a dark foreboding which chased away all happy feeling and left her as empty and as cold as on the night of her vision—she loved him. She was betrothed to a monster, a man not with a face but a mask of red flesh. She still had told no one but her sister of the vision, and had never spoken of it since that first night.

  “Stop being so silly, you need your rest.” Cherie reached into her pocket again and winced as the pin back of the broach pricked her. “Shall I spend the night here? You said Ben won’t be back
until tomorrow morn.”

  Alyssia smiled and settled the now satiated and drowsy baby into the bassinet beside her. “Not at all. I’ll keep some candles burning and I’ll be fine.”

  Cherie added another lace trimmed blanket to the pile keeping her sister warm and left the room just as Alyssia drifted off to sleep.

  As she walked, she felt the weight of the silver broach in her pocket bounce against her leg.

  ****

  That night the sound of alarms and smell of smoke jolted Cherie from her sleep. Throwing on her cloak and pushing cold feet into unlaced boots, Cherie ran from her room to the street. A crowd gathered outside of the butcher’s fancy house, its roof ablaze and smoke venting out of the broken downstairs windows.

  “Alyssia!” Cherie, almost slipping in the mud from that afternoon’s downpour, ran forward. Her parents followed close behind. She looked up to the second floor. The double windows of her sister’s bedroom were intact. The fire had not reached her. A thin tendril of hope grew in her breast.

  Several men tugged at the heavy, black wood of the front door, but the locks were created to keep evil folk away and the butcher’s valuables safe...thus sealing his family’s doom.

  Jack, wielding a huge hammer and chisel, lumbered from the direction of the blacksmith’s shop. The heat of the fire growing ever more intense drove back the crowd, including Cherie, but at Jack’s appearance she came forward.

  “Save them, please, please!” Cherie knew it was nigh hopeless, yet Jack standing so tall and massive seemed to have the power of the gods behind him.

  “And what does it look like I’m doing?” Jack placed the chisel between door’s massive lock and frame. “Now get out of here. The whole place could come down. Get!” Cherie staggered back, driven by his harsh words as much as by the heat.

  Men, most of them new and strangers to the town, dragged buckets of water from the fountain at the center of the village square, a futile effort, with too few men against the raging fire. Cherie’s brother, half dressed and still wiping sleep from his eyes, joined them.

  The lock on the door broke and Jack hauled it open. Though wearing heavy leather gloves, he also used a thick cloth from his workplace to protect his hands from the superheated metal. He grabbed one of the pails of water from the men and poured it over his head. He took another full bucket with him as he hurried inside.

 
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