Although there was no bed in the carriage, Isabel refused to sleep in the coffin, and so she dozed on a softly cushioned chair as they rode deeper and deeper into the dark forest. Garret had lent her his cape for warmth, so she slept reasonably well.
When she woke up, it was dawn. The carriage was no longer moving and Garret was kneeling down in front of her as she opened her eyes.
“Did you sleep well, my love?”, he asked as he gently traced his hand across her cheek.
Isabel blushed red as she nodded. Without his cape, the contours of his long arms, and exquisitely broad shoulders were plain to see. However, it was his eyes which really made her heart throb. Letting the cape slide off of her shoulders, she stood up, but winced as she felt a sharp stab of pain in her head. Garret immediately put his arms around her as she began to wobble. Somehow it felt like the floor beneath her was tipping over as if she was going to fall. It was a very dizzying experience.
“My head”, she whispered as she leaned into him.
“Isabel,” Garret sighed into her hair, “Would you lie down in the coffin with me?”
He felt her stiffen in his arms.
Garret caressed her soothingly with his fingers massaging soft circles in her back. She felt instantly at ease.
“Maybe I should go outside,” she suggested before he could persuade her into the coffin again.
“You’re safer in here, my love, but I won’t hold you against your wish”.
Isabel looked up and smiled encouragingly at him.
“I’ll be fine”.
Reluctantly, he loosened his arms and put his hands on either side of her head.
“Stay near the carriage, Isabel. Do you understand?”
“I promise I won’t go far”, she breathed as she felt herself lost in his intense gaze.
As she stepped outside, she was met by the bright glare of the morning sun. Shielding her eyes, she began to make sense of her surroundings. It was a small meadow, so the sun shined much more brightly through the trees and she could see the sky up above.
Isabel lay down in a soft bed of grass and closed her eyes as she listened to the sounds of the forest. It was all so new to her. She could hear the wind as it whispered gentle sighs and the leaves rustling in response. She could hear the chattering of little birds all around her. She didn’t know if they were far away or if they were near. She couldn’t see them, but she knew that they were there.
Slowly but surely, Isabel began to smile. Finally, she was looking forward to the future. The ache in her head wasn’t so bad anymore. Her mind began to wander. It felt like she was dreaming. There were so many colours, so much light and so much warmth. There was finally hope.
Suddenly, she was lift from the ground. A strong hand clasped over her mouth before she could manage to scream. The only sound that came was a muffled cry. Isabel tried to struggle, but the arms that held her were locked like iron.
“Be still, little girl. I mean you no harm”, a deep throaty voice hushed her in the ear.
Isabel moaned in frustration as she tried to free herself. Slowly, she was dragged backwards, further and further away from the carriage and into the darkness of the trees. Desperately she cried out for Garret as the carriage disappeared from her sight, but nothing escaped the iron clasp over her mouth. Tears began streaming down her face.
“Hush now, it will all be over soon”, the voice soothed.
He spun her around, gently forcing her back against a tree as his hand stayed locked over her mouth. She was met by the sight of a tall and muscular man, who was clad in a full armour of silver that glinted despite the darkness. A long black cloak was draped over his shoulder. Beneath it, she could see the hilt of a sword. His countenance was very stern, though he smiled as he looked down on her.
“He didn’t lie when he told me of your beauty”, he whispered in awe.
Isabel’s eyes widened as he held up a little vial filled with a purplish fluid. With a single motion, he removed his hand from her mouth and put it under her chin.
She tried to shake her head but he tightened his grip on her chin and forced the vial into her lips. The force he used was so strong, that her lips began to part and she felt the liquid pour into her throat. He loosened his grip on her chin as the last drop touched her lips.
Isabel staggered forwards as she felt a heavy wave of darkness overtake her. She stumbled into the man and he put an arm around her. Disgusted, she tried to shake him off, but the darkness numbed her limbs.
“Don’t fight it,” he whispered.
“Mm-let me go…” she mumbled as she felt her eyelids droop.
“Sleep now, sweet little girl.”