I crawled beneath the covers and tried to sleep but I couldn’t, not with all the weight of the unhappy thoughts swimming around in my mind. I retraced the events of the day; the ride to the vineyard, our walk home. I remembered being angry then, at Philippe. “But why?” I wondered to myself. He had done something to upset me, I was sure of it.
I wasn’t feeling well after the ride and I went upstairs as soon as I was home. I wanted my mother, but she never came, Claire had instead. She gave me wine and…"Yes, oh, yes, it tasted like,” I smiled to myself at the remembrance but couldn’t find a word to describe it. It was so good and I couldn’t stop myself from gulping it down and from wanting more until…until it all came back up. Claire told me I was pregnant, that I was going to have a baby.
I lovingly caressed my belly.
“Gavin cannot have children,” Claire’s voice rang in my head.
“It’s not Gavin’s baby,” I frowned. “I…I…”
“Vivienne?” a voice softly called from the hallway tearing me from my recollections.
“Yes, Jean, I’m up,” I didn’t know why but I tiptoed to the door. He hurried in when I opened it and took the handle and silently closed it behind him. “What’s wrong, Jean? Why are you here?”
“I’m here to take you away, Vivienne. So you won’t have to marry Gavin.”
“What? What are you saying Jean? Why wouldn’t I marry Gavin?”
Jean was looking at me curiously, “Because you’re not in love with him.” I laughed a little out loud. “Ssh,” Jean covered my mouth, “he’ll hear us!”
“What has gotten into you, Jean? Did you have too much wine tonight? You should go back to bed and get some rest,” I teased.
“Non,” he firmly stated. “Claire is waiting for us and we are taking you away! Put something on,” he looked around and saw Claire’s riding clothes resting on the floor where I had left them before getting ready for dinner. Jean kicked them towards me, “Get dressed!” he insisted.
I guffawed, “Non, Jean, I will not! And if you don’t stop this nonsense I will call to Papa!”
“Non!” Jean panicked, “Please Vivienne, listen to me, please, please come with me. He must have done something to you! Gavin has done something to you and you are not yourself. He is a monster, Vivienne, he can’t be trusted!”
“He’s right,” Claire was suddenly in the room with us. “We don’t have time for this,” she glanced at Jean, “he knows I’m here, he’s coming for her!” Claire seized me around my waist and forced me against her; my back to her front. Then she launched us out one of the attic windows. We landed hard and I was so disoriented from the jolt that I couldn’t react as she tossed me over her shoulder. Before I knew it we were racing through the night towards the stables.
When I finally regained my senses I started screaming, “Put me down,” and I kicked and clawed at her as she ran.
A moment later we were at the barn and she locked me in a stall while she deftly saddled one of the horses. She cursed several times as she fumbled with the gate before finally getting it open and releasing me. I tried to run but she was too fast and clutched at my hand then yanked me back to her side.
I could hear voices approaching, “Gavin!” I called even though I knew it wasn’t him.
Claire was in the saddle and wrenching my arm dragged me up in front of her. My father rounded the doorway then Philippe moved from directly behind him. They both had shotguns that they shouldered and aimed at Claire.
“Let her go, Claire. Gavin will be here shortly. We don’t want to hurt you. Remember your promise.”
“I can’t Frédéric; the circumstances are different now. Vivienne is pregnant. There is a reason we cannot have children, Fred, surely you can appreciate that knowing what we are. It’s your grandchild for God’s sake!”
“You lie! Vivienne cannot be pregnant!”
“She can, and she is,” Claire assured him and nervously looked around. “Please, Frédéric, please, before it is too late, let us go!”
There were two simultaneous clicks behind them and they both jumped at the sound. Deaglan and Gabriel were standing in the doorway their guns pointing at my father and Philippe, their fingers resting on their triggers.
“Vivienne,” Gabriel glanced at me, “are you alright?”
“Non, non! I am not alright! Claire has gone mad! She took me from my room and threw us…out…the…” I choked out the words suddenly realizing what she had done and how impossible it was, “window.”
A look of horror crossed my face, “You’re the monster!” I spat at her and redoubled my efforts to get away. Somehow she lost her grip and I tumbled from the saddle and dashed the back of my head against one of the thick wooden pillars that held the barn roof up.
Gabriel dropped his rifle and ran to my side, “Vivienne,” he cradled my head and searched my eyes. “Oh, God! Oh, no…no…no…NO!” tears were streaming down his cheeks.
I wasn’t hurt as badly as he imagined and was still frantic to get as far from Claire as I possibly could. I reached for his hands so that he would release me and I could scramble away but when I did I touched the lock of hair he had braided and tied about his wrist.
“Huh?” I looked down at it and like a flash the memories of what it was and how it had become Gabriel’s came flooding back to me.
“Oh,” I whispered in awestruck fascination of the images. I slowly stood up, “Gabriel!” I threw my arms around him, “I…I…we…we were, yes! We’re engaged and…oh, I never told you! I never told anyone. We are having a baby! I was supposed to tell you, tell everyone, at dinner tonight…but…but,” I looked at all the confused faces surrounding us then suddenly fell silent.
My father turned his gun from Claire to Deaglan, “Vivienne, come away from him! Come away from him now!” He shouted as Philippe turned his gun from Claire to Gabriel.
“I told you I would kill him!” Philippe grinned maliciously at me as he cocked the trigger.
“Non, Philippe, Papa, please, please,” I begged as I stepped in front of Gabriel to shield him from their sights.
Realizing she was unguarded Claire slid down from the saddle before Philippe could pull the trigger and neither he nor my father had a chance to react as she seized their rifles. She knocked Philippe to the ground with the butt of one and swept the legs out from under my father. As they lay gazing up at her we heard a faint clapping slowly approaching from the shadows.
“Nicely done, Cousin. Nicely done.”
Claire studied him as he cautiously advanced then called over her shoulder to Gabriel and I, “Climb up and ride! Ride as fast and as far as you can! Don’t look back!” Then Claire turned her attention back to Gavin, “You’re weak Gavin, I can see it, I can smell it! You haven’t fed and you won’t be able to stop them!”
“Am I? Won’t I though?” he chuckled softly. “Jean, Hélène, would you come here please?” They came and stood one on each side of him. He reached up and stroked my mother’s neck with the back of his hand and she leaned her head back longingly.
“Mama!! Jean!!” I screamed and tried to pull away from Gabriel.
Gavin looked up, “It doesn’t have to be this way, Vivienne. Come to me and I swear to you, I won’t hurt either of them.”
My father found his voice, “What are you doing? This was not a part of our agreement!”
“Non? Pity. But you promised me a docile young woman who would do anything I asked,” Gavin stared across at me, “Vivienne…Come…” he held his hand out. I shook my head no. “There, you see, you broke your promise now I’m afraid I must break mine!”
Gavin seized my mother’s hair and viciously yanked her head back. There was nothing anyone could do as he latched on and savagely drew her life from her. I screamed, my father screamed, Philippe was scrambling to his feet, Deaglan shot but missed. Claire lunged for Gavin as my mother plummeted to the ground and Jean stumbled backwards shaking his head. He quickly regained awareness of where he was and what was happening.
Then the entire scene just erupted; Claire, my father and Philippe were all attacking Gavin but he was fighting like someone possessed and was quickly gaining ground against their concerted efforts. My father was using his rifle like a club and pounding away at Gavin while Philippe was swinging and stabbing with his.
“Papa!” I cried as Gavin whirled and caught my father with a ferocious backhand that knocked his head to an impossible angle. Then Gavin turned his attention from my father to Philippe. His chest seemed to cave in as Gavin struck my brother and he crumbled and fell to his knees before lolling lifeless to the side.
Gabriel was suddenly aware of how desperate the situation was, “Jean, get Vivienne, take the horse and ride!”
Jean sprung into action and leapt up into the saddle, “Non!” I protested as he reached for my hand, “Not without Gabriel!”
“Go! Vivienne! Just go! The baby…our baby, Vivienne, please, you must!!”
“We’ll be right behind you!” Deaglan assured me then he brought his fingers to his lips and gave a shrill whistle.
Gavin had Claire pinned to the ground; his boot across her throat but suddenly Trista and Isolde were on him and he was forced back. Seeing the dogs and the brutality that they were fighting with gave me hope and I urged Jean to hurry certain in my heart that Gabriel and Deaglan would be fast on our heels.
We galloped away. The minutes passed then hours. Still there was no sign of either of them and every stride of the horse brought me closer and closer to despair. I begged Jean to stop and turn the horse so we could go back for them but my pleas fell on deaf ears and he would not rein her in. Eventually the horse would no longer carry us. By then it was nearly morning, the sun just creeping over the horizon.
When Jean finally helped me from the saddle I tried to flee, to retrace our path but I was too weak and weary and he caught me after half a dozen steps. The effort to escape wrenched my insides and I vomited into the grass at my feet while sobbing uncontrollably.
Jean led me back to the horse and forced me back into the saddle. He took the reins and tugged the horse to get it moving again. Eventually we needed to rest and Jean begged shelter for us at a lonesome farm that we happened upon. He told the owner that I was pregnant and banished from my home with nowhere to go and no one to care for me. I was so desolate and heartbroken that the farmer and his wife took pity on us and lavished their care and concern on me.
They foddered and sheltered our horse and cleaned our clothes. They let us sleep in their bed and provisioned us before we left the next morning. The farmer’s wife told Jean of a convent half a day’s ride from where we were and looked at me suggestively.
“Thank you,” Jean graciously considered her advice.
By then I was so caught up in my misery that I couldn’t care one way or the other where we were or where we went. I did whatever Jean told me without thought or protest because it no longer mattered. Until I knew he was safe and Gabriel and I were reunited nothing would ever mean anything again.
The sisters welcomed us and their warmth and affection convinced Jean that for the time being there was no better place for me. They would not shelter Jean, though, and as soon as arrangements for keeping me were made he was asked to leave. When he came to say goodbye my eyes went wild with fear.
“You are my only family, Jean! Please don’t leave me!”
He stroked my hair, “I must, Vivienne. Unfortunately, I must. I will try to find work somewhere nearby and I will visit you as often as I can.”
“He is still alive, Jean! I know it! I feel it in my heart, in my head! You must go back for him! You must!”
“No, Vivienne, ssh, ssh. They would have found us by now.”
“Go back!” I insisted, “Go back and make certain.”
“I will,” he promised, but I knew there was no sincerity behind it and he never would. Jean would not, could not face the horrors he was sure he would find there.
He did keep his promise to visit me, though, at least once a week, sometimes more. He found work as an apprentice to a blacksmith at the closest town. He rented rooms there and met a barmaid one night who stole his heart when he heard her singing in the church choir the following Sunday. By the time I was 8 months pregnant they were married and living in a little cottage on the very outskirts of the town.
Jean brought me to their wedding and though it was the first time I had met her, I knew Jean couldn’t have done better. She was sweet and funny, spiritual and loving; they were perfect for one another. When he returned me to the sisters I asked him what had been weighing on my mind as the time for the baby’s arrival drew near.
“Would you take my baby, Jean? Will you raise her as your own? Will you call her Gabriella and when she falls in love let her marry whomever she will?”
“Non, Vivienne, that is not what you want. Once the baby is born you will never want to part with her. You can come live with us, and we will raise her together.”
I smiled and nodded, “Oui, Jean, of course.”
A month later she was born and with the first breathe of life she breathed the last breathe of life left me. I knew I was dying, knew I had killed myself mourning Gabriel and I had accepted it; raced willingly toward death hoping I would find him there.
But he was not what I found.
“Come Vivienne; I’m here to show you the way.”
She was silhouetted in a brilliant light that beckoned me toward her. I held my hand out to hers and was about to step towards her but there was something behind me, in the darkness, calling me. I looked back.
“Gabriel! You’re alive!”
I started to pivot, to head towards the darkness rather than the light.
“No Vivienne! It’s too late; you have done what you must. You can’t go back.”
I was torn.
“You don’t understand,” she continued, “He's not the same," she continued, "and besides it doesn’t work like that. You can’t go back!” I felt my mother drawing me towards her. “It will start all over!”
“What will?” I wondered. I glanced at my mother, then Gabriel, he called me again and I couldn’t resist. I called back and as I did began spinning and falling and felt myself being drawn back into the darkness.
© Copyright 2017 SMBowles. All rights reserved.
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