The Wolf's Captive Ch. 02byanais_v©
Hiding her intimidation from the spectators who watched her progress through the campsite proved somewhat unsuccessful judging by the feral grins, knowing grins that met her whenever she chanced a glance around but Rowena judged there to be at least a dozen men and women-- not including the wolf...men. Wolf-men. She felt light-headed at the thought. The beasts wandered about so casually and she was intensely aware of their sharp claws scraping across the earth as a few trailed behind her.
A wolf could cut open your belly with a single swipe of its nails or maul you beyond repair if he did not achieve that goal -- Bryce, one of her father's men, had been slashed in the face as a youth by the wolf he had eventually killed and he bore a grotesque six inch scar across his face for his efforts. All were taught from birth to fear the wolves for the violent, cunning creatures they were.
Following behind their leader who walked in measured strides, Rowena felt disappointment when she didn't spy her brother -- but not hopelessness. She had been around cruel, wicked men all her life to know that the man who had taken her was nothing like her father's brutish men...he was not so simple or so easy to read at least. At the same time, she wasn't so naïve as to trust him fully.
So caught in her thoughts was she, Rowena slammed straight into the stiff back that suddenly stopped before her and Cedric turned to face her. Taking hold of her, his fingers rough against the skin of her arms even through the fabric of her dress, he favoured her with a long, probing look before releasing her.
'Get inside,' he motioned towards the tent they had paused before which appeared larger than the others littering the space and her stomach tightened at the implication of it. She would share the lord's tent...
'I wish to see my brother -- will I not be bound with him?'
Lips turning down -- lips that were still slightly swollen from kissing her -- Cedric eyed her for a protracted moment, his cool, unyielding look making her squirm. 'What you wish is of no importance to me. You will not command me.'
Rowena turned away in embarrassment and met the narrow, glacial stare of a tall, winsome woman with white-blonde hair. Her arms crossed over her chest, she made for an impressive figure, adorned in a dress of deep plum with gold trim. In her coarse serfs' gown, Rowena felt rough and simple in contrast. The woman looked upon Cedric with such glowing, heated eyes -- a look of intimacy, Rowena decided -- that she felt like an unwanted intruder. His wife, perhaps. Something in her chest tightened at the thought.
'She has quite a tongue on her, my lord Cedric -- but that can be easily remedied,' a honeyed voice declared as the woman stepped closer to them.
'Leave it be, Mariah.'
Rowena threw My Lord Cedric a filthy look at his placid toned warning and he appeared thoroughly unmoved by her dislike.
'Get in the tent.'
Shaking her head, Rowena refused to be cowed by him but neither would she needlessly antagonise. She needed to assure herself of Edwin's safety and believed she was in a safe position to be bold in this way: he seemed, after all and despite the circumstances, a fair sort. Had he wanted to kill Edwin -- or hurt her -- wouldn't he have done so by now? Her rationalising gave her the courage she needed.
'My lord. Please - I merely wish to see to his welfare...he was badly beaten when I saw him last and-'
'Badly beaten?' Cedric bit out harshly and the hum of voices that had surrounded them before petered off. 'Nay, lady, not that - merely cuffed once or twice to subdue him which was nothing compared to the mutilation he inflicted on my brother's body.'
As the image of the broken body, the proud face of the wolf, flashed before her eyes, she felt grief pass over her. 'I would never have wished hurt to your brother. Please believe that if my brother had known of you kind, neither would he.'
'What is your name?'
It was said so abruptly that Rowena flinched, the instinct too ingrained from her years of abuse at her father's hand.
'Forgive me -- I did not mean to frighten,' Cedric murmured, concern showing in the way he took a small step back as if to reassure her, in the way his eyes flashed in curiosity at her reaction. 'I told you I would not hurt you. Where is the fire in your eyes I saw before? You are a strange one -- trying to seduce me to your cause one moment and antagonising me the next.'
Confused at his teasing tone -- and embarrassed that he would bring up her clumsy invitation of a few moments ago for all to hear -- Rowena uttered incredulously, 'You took me from my home and have my life in your hands -- and my brother's.'
'I did those things,' he agreed, closing the gap and gentling lifting her chin, earning a feminine gasp of outrage, no doubt from the fair-haired beauty close by. 'But you need not fear pain at my hand and I do not make oaths lightly. Your life is not in my hands -- you are free to go if you so wish it though I hope that you stay. But your brother is my prisoner now and I will do with him what I wish,' the last was delivered with icy emphasis. 'So, do you stay or do you go?'
'You mean just like that... you will allow me to flee?'
Broad shoulders lifted. 'Should you so wish it.'
And there it was. He knew she would not leave without Edwin -- and even had she been the unconscionable sort who would take the offer, without horse or money or escort to ensure her safe passage away from this unidentifiable place he had set up camp, it would be futile. She was safest right where she was and he knew it well.
'Very well, my lord,' Rowena said at last and allowed him to push her not ungently onto the pallet within the tent. With a final, brooding look, he secured the flaps and closed her in.
Coughing on the mouthful of chalky cheese lodged in her throat, Rowena dry swallowed and stared miserably at the fabric walls of the tent. Much time had passed since she had been secured in the tent and the only source of light was from the flicker of a fire outside. It was strangely quiet beyond and not even the hum of voices could be heard - yet she didn't feel unsafe. Not like she had back at the keep, around her father's men with their leering looks and wandering hands. Every night had been a constant source of tension...but then she had had Edwin and his presence had brought her a measure of continued comfort. Had he not been captured, he would have been set to marry Lady Sylvia mere days from now. He may still yet. Surely father will search for us? Or Edwin, at least, for her he was his heir...there was pride in those eyes when they looked upon her brother in the rare moments they were not unfocused and reddened with intoxication. With that comforting thought in mind, Rowena settled onto the pallet and prayed that her alert mind would give into the deep exhaustion of her body.
She wasn't sure how long she slept but her body protested as she was awakened, unsure of what had roused her. The tent was pitch black, the fire outside having died out. Still half asleep, Rowena felt around the ground near her head for the last bit of cheese to remove the sour taste from her mouth. She had been given the small meal some time ago by a silent boy with watchful eyes and had tried to engage him in conversation but he had merely stared at her before leaving her alone. It seemed like that had been an age ago and the urge to talk and hear noise about her was strong.
Sitting up on a groan of weariness, she stiffened and blinked at the luminous eyes bearing down on her, belatedly coming to herself. Crawling to the farthest end of the tent, Rowena found that her body was tight with indecision but little fear.
Feeling a fool, she licked her dry lips and said: 'Cedric?'
The wolf -- she could not think of him in any other way in her mind - remained utterly still, its pale eyes unblinking as it watched her.
Throwing the square of cheese still clasped in her hand at the wolf's feet, Rowena watched in bemusement as its shadowy form bent, sniffed and turned its proud head away from her offering with a snort of disgust. It approached her slowly then, closing in on her until she could feel the heat radiating from its large body.
She could deny it no longer. Those eyes...
Reaching out a slightly unsteady hand, Rowena tentatively stroked the fur at the wolf's neck, feeling reassured when it closed its eyes in a gesture of acquiescence. She continued thus for a moment, her motions becoming bolder as she reached behind its ears and rubbed the softness there. The wolf purred, its eyes rolling back in pleasure, its tongue lolling.
'Cedric,' she repeated the name with growing confidence, continuing her ministrations. 'Was it your intention to see me expire from thirst?'
Reluctant eyes appeared to focus on her and the body beneath her fingers stiffened. Rowena's hand fell away as the wolf rose to its full height -- as imposing as she remembered it on those mornings he had come to her. From her position on her knees, she had to crane her head to meet its eyes.
Motioning with its head in a very humanlike gesture, the wolf turned and shimmied out of the tent and Rowena scrambled to follow, her legs feeling numb after hours of disuse.
As she emerged, she took a moment to breathe deeply of the fresh air, to stare up at the starlit sky above before searching out the two glowing orbs of the wolf's eyes. When she approached it, the wolf turned and strode off, moving away from the silent campsite and into the forest and without a doubt, it seemed, that she would follow.
Clearly used to being obeyed, even in his wolf state, the beast -- Cedric -- clamped its teeth around the sleeve of her dress once his patience had worn thin with her, tugging enough to make her rise from the stream but not enough to tear the fabric. Rowena gulped down a last handful of the cool water before rising and following behind her guide and as they re-entered the campsite, she said:
'My brother -- please, let me see him. Cedric...' she knelt on the slightly wet grass and held out a hand in appeal. 'You're not unfeeling, or you would not have taken me to the stream. I suppose that was my test for you but you have been fair to me even before now. You abducted me, yes, but you didn't take me from a loving home and I think you knew this if you listened to any of my words on those mornings,' she paused. She found it easy to speak so when she didn't have his mesmerising beauty or cool eyes to intimidate her. 'I have to wonder why you didn't leave me at the keep -- why you have played me with such a gentle hand. Why you returned on those mornings to seek me out...there is something, Cedric...some compassion or feeling within you for me, I think.'
A low, ominous growl met her words but Rowena refused to yield.
'My brother is the only person I have -- he's the only one who's ever loved me. Please,' she whispered.
Her hand dropped to her thigh as the wolf turned his face away but once he reached his tent, he passed it, looked over his shoulder and carried on until he took to her to one of the many smaller tents a few feet away from his own. Once there, he ran a paw over the fabric of the entrance until a sleepy face popped out, peering out at them.
'My lord,' the boy said, becoming alert as he eyed the wolf. It was the boy who had brought her food, Rowena realised, and as his eyes fell quickly on her. 'You want to see him, then?'
'Please,' she nodded, anticipation high.
'You haven't long,' and so saying, he crawled out of the low tent and motioned her forward.
Edwin gave a mulish mutter of protestation as Rowena probed at his arms and legs searching for any breaks and he gasped as she moved a hand over his elbow.
'Rowena,' he said suddenly as she murmured some coaxing words and in the darkness she could see the brief glimmer of his eyes struggling to focus on her. 'You're well?
'I'm fine,' she said, finding she meant it.
'How did you find me? You came after me?' the questions were frantic.
'No, I didn't -- He -- I was taken...I was checking the wheat field as I do every morning and-'
'How many times have I told you!' Edwin cursed. 'You've always been obstinate, wilful,' he stopped suddenly and reached clumsily for her hand in the dark, squeezing it when he found it and said with a fresh urgency, 'The wolves -- Rowena, they are not what they seem! They are creatures of evil, I never believed...but God, it is true! Before my very eyes so many of them at once were men and then...'
'I know,' Rowena said soothingly as he worked himself up, feeling badly that she was almost at peace with their existence after having had time to mull over it and accept it.
'They will kill me,' Edwin murmured low. 'They said I killed one of their kin...'
'It was that wolf you slayed on your most recent hunt,' Rowena shook her head wearily. 'A wolf but not really a wolf - you know to what I refer.'
His body cringed beneath her soothing hand but he nodded.
'I do not think Cedric will kill you.'
'Cedric?' Edwin spat the name out. 'The beasts have names?'
'The leader has, yes. He seems calm-headed and I truly believe-'
'Good God, you've actually conversed with this creature!'
Glancing behind her at the closed tent-flaps, Rowena lowered her voice and said, 'Do not think to goad him -- he stands just beyond, Edwin! He took me, yea, but he has not harmed me. I did not tell you but those few mornings before you were taken, a wolf came to me as I foraged in the mornings. It was Him but I could never have thought that such creatures as he existed...he wants me in his bed, Edwin,' she whispered, glad of the darkness that hid her shame and embarrassment. 'He looks at me in this way of his...'
'It is a sin against God! They are creatures of the devil, Rowena and you talk of him as if he were some grand prince,' Edwin sneered. 'You think to whore yourself to this beast?'
'What would you have me do? Allow you to be beaten, starved - worse? What about Sylvia? She will simply think you have abandoned her when you do not turn up to your wedding for it is unlikely out father will trouble himself with sending her a message. We are moving north...who knows where they will take us? I have to try at least! Why else would he have taken me, brought me here, if not for that? I doubt he is so lacking in serfs that he would go the trouble of snatching me for that reason alone.'
'Absolutely not,' Edwin said sharply. 'We will get away from them and I will wed Sylvia and you shall join the sisters at Saint John's. I was on my way to the convent...' he said, his voice sounding vague. 'I left early to make the journey in good time when I was ambushed. Everything will turn out well; I just need time to think of a plan.'
Sighing in frustration, Rowena muttered low, 'You speak like a fool -- and I have told you many a time I have no wish to become a woman of the church. You would see me wither away in the walls of that place; you do not care that I have dreams like you do!'
'I will not discuss this again -- not here. You have the chance at an education, at a respectable life-'
'Maybe I yearn for something else -- maybe I do not care about gaining the respect of others like you. For once, I would like to live to only please myself.'
'With your wolf friend? To have him rut with you, to have him -- have him spill his devil's seed in you so that you can make more of his kind? Do not become the whore your mother was-' Edwin gave a foul curse when a hard palm connected with his already aching cheek. 'For God's sake, Rowena!' he struggled with his bound hands to grab her as she moved away.
'You swine --maybe I am a wanton deep down. But I would rather be that than a pious prig like you!' and crawling hurriedly out of the small space, closing her ears to Edwin's regretful protests, Rowena collided headfirst with the wolf who had not moved an inch since she had left him.
Acutely aware of the warm body curled up behind her back, Rowena, once more, inched away from it and once more the wolf closed in on her, settling himself flush against the coarse fabric of her dress. The heat he radiated was blissful but it made her uncomfortable the way he was so...placid and free with her. Wiping the last of her tears on her grubby palm, Rowena jerked upright.
'Cedric -- I would not allow you to be so familiar with me were you in your usual, insufferable form and I will not allow it now,' she announced, prodding at his middle with her foot.
Eerily light eyes watched her calmly and she felt a smile pulling at her lips. Which was insanity. Edwin had been right to berate her in frustration. Here she was, arguing and trying to reason with a wolf, for goodness sake! She would not allow his beautiful eyes to win her fondness, she would think instead of the way he had allowed that fair-haired Mariah to threaten her with the removal of her tongue, the way he had seemed almost amused by the woman's words.
'Move over,' she ordered. 'I know you can understand me.'
The wolf huffed and lowered its eyelids in a dismissive gesture and Rowena frowned at the negligent display it presented. She would not lie down on the pallet again until he moved, she vowed, locking her arms around her knees, shivering in the chilled tent. Watching the relaxed figure sprawled out before her, her eyes curious, she tried a different tact.
'My name is Rowena.'
As pale eyes became alert once more, Rowena continued carefully, 'My brother is set to wed -- her name is Lady Sylvia. I've not seen her but Edwin appears besotted. Why, I have no idea since she does not want me coming with him...Edwin has arranged for me to join a convent.'
Rowena stopped and settled on the pallet a good distance away from the wolf. She turned on her side to face him and held his unblinking stare as she continued. 'Secretly...well, not so much now that I tell you so, I am glad that you took me away from my father for he does not have much love in his heart for me. I say not much because he kept me around which must mean something...or perhaps he considered it too much an inconvenience to discard of me?' she thought on that for a moment before the slight brush of a paw against her legs startled her out of her head.
'I am glad because the thought of spending my years in a convent fills me with a deep despondency and you did say that I would serve as a serf at your dwelling, did you not? I do not think that would be a grievous existence...perhaps I could join the women in the kitchen for I have no desire to be on my knees cleaning and scrubbing. Your men and women seem a well fed lot...if not the most friendly. That Emma certainly had a good kick in her,' Rowena said dryly, rubbing at her leg in remembrance.
A rumble from the wolf made her look up and meet his eyes. White teeth flashed in the darkness and Rowena took a fortifying breath before she ploughed on.
'Cedric...I will do anything for you to show Edwin clemency. I will not disobey you or try to flee. I -- I will serve you. 'Tis the truth, you are a beautiful wolf and a handsome man -- so much so that you make my stomach twist when you set those eyes of yours on me. I tell you this because I want you to know that I will not be a limp thing, just lying there. I will accept you into my body willingly and you will not be displeased with me,' she sighed, closing her eyes, an image of his nude, strong body flashing in her mind.
She thought of the way he had looked in the early morning light, crouched so protectively over his brother's limp body when she had first come upon him. The fierceness of his eyes, the wildness of his tousled, flaxen hair and his warrior's body damp with sweat had taken her breath away. Quite literally, since she had swooned at the sight of him. Did she play with fire? Devil's seed, her brother had said and yet the thought did not repulse her as it did him. She found the fact of these wolf-people's existence a thing to marvel, not revile. Did the blood of a whore truly run strong and deep in her? She pushed the taunting thoughts aside and felt her body slacken; she was so tired but as a warm, clean smelling softness pushed into her face, jerked to full wakefulness.