The Man in the Hanging Tree: Redeye

He told her he knew her deepest desire. He told her he could read dreams in her eyes that she did not even dare whisper to the night. He told her he could make them all come true.

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3. If you play, you pay

”Maryann, dear. Is that you?”

I was in the hallway, one foot already hovering over the stairs. For a brief moment I allowed myself to hesitate. Maybe if I kept still, she wouldn't call out again. Then I locked eyes with Lucy, who had stopped mid-track, the brown paper bag from the apothecary still in hand. I lifted my chin.

”I'm out here.”

”Come in, child. Please.”

The living room was bright and airy. Brighter, perhaps, than what was fashion, but my mother had always liked it that way. She said that darkness obscured the mind as well as the surroundings. She was sitting in the middle of the room now, in the large Chesterfield that had been a present from her parents. It was faced towards the atrium. The sun was shining through the large glass doors, bathing everything in a golden light.

”Maryann?” she called again.

”I am here.”

I moved to her side and sat down. Her thin hand reached out, and I took it in mine. It was so soft. Like the silk paper she had once used to decorate pretty boxes. Too soft.

”Where have you been, child? I feel we have not talked in ages.”

”I was here this morning, mama,” I said, and then, immediatly feeling bad for correcting her: ”I was out with the nanny. We went to buy herbs for father.”

”Kersten? That dear old woman. Tell me, how is she? Is her leg still bad?”

I swallowed.

”Kersten died years ago, mama. I went with Lucy, her daughter. You remember Lucy.”

”Of course.”

My mother sighed and slumped in the chair.

”I am sorry, dearest. I'm afraid it's getting harder for me to keep track of these things.”

”It will be fine,” I said. ”The new medicine should be working soon. Everything will be fine.”

She did not respond. Instead she touched my cheek with her impossibly soft fingers. For just a moment I looked up. Her eyes seemed glazed over. The white in them had gone completely yellow. Her skin, once said to be as fair as a newborn baby’s, shared the same grim shade.

”I'm sorry, mama, I have to go now.”

I stumbled to my feet.

”Nancy asked me to... I have to go.”

I rushed from the room. The door had only just closed behind me when I felt the first tear running down my cheek, the cheek she had just touched. She will be okay, I told myself. Just breathe. She is okay.

I took a deep breath and straightened my back. Everything was fine. I only hoped she had not seen the look of distress on my face.

 

Lucy was in the garden. I could see her bending down to pick some of the white lilies. My mother's favourites. I crouched behind the hedge, so she would not see me. I knew my father would be furious when he discovered that she had let me escape again, but I found it hard to care.

The city was bustling with all the urge of a Thursday afternoon. Everywhere people were exiting stores, gathering to chat or hailing carriages. I wandered between them, muted, alone. Whatever their hurry was, it had nothing to do with me.

Eventually I reached the small cottage in the other end of town. It seemed almost sad in the stark daylight. There was no heat, no buzz of party emanating from it now.

“Tim?” I called out. “George?”

I knocked on the door, but no one responded. They were probably out doing Lord knows what. I realized I did not really know how they spent their days. Probably for the best, I decided. I would just wait for them to return, and then we would drink their cheap brandy and play cards. The old key was hidden in a slit near the bottom of the wall. After a brief struggle I returned it to its nest and stepped inside.

The smell of smoke and day old alcohol was overwhelming. I decided to leave the door open, allow for the wind to sweep through. I had just gone to open the window as well, when I heard someone move behind me.

“Who’s there?” I called out. The vision of Redeye, crouched and ready to attack, immediately flashed before my eyes. I swirled around, suddenly standing face to face with a troll of a man. He stared in confusion, his small eyes blinking. Then his face lit up in recognition.

“You’re the lass who didn’t pay!” he exclaimed. “My, my. Come to settle it, are we?”

I felt my body grow cold. He was the one who had defeated me at Tricksters; I knew him now, if only for the smell.

“Of course,” I lied, as I backed away from the wall. “I am a lady. I settle my debts. Just let me go outside, now, get my purse. I’ll pay.”

The man sneered.

“Keep yer money! Someone oughta teach you a lesson.”

Faster than I had thought him capable of, he grabbed hold of my arm.

“Is it true what they say,” he asked. “That the noblewomen are all whores under their fancy dresses?”

He tugged me close as he continued muttering suggestions, his breath leaving me queasy. He was still drunk from the night before, I realized. Or perhaps drunk again.

“Listen, I have to go. My nanny is expecting me in town. If I do not meet her, she will surely alert my father. You wouldn’t want that.”

I tried for a stern look, but the man just laughed.

“Yeah, I remember yer nanny, alright! Looking fer the runaway lady. She ain’t gonna tell on you.”

He was right. I knew he was right. Even if I had had an appointment with Lucy, she would not tell my father, not until she had made sure to look for me everywhere. By the time she found me, he would have left long ago. And it all did not make a difference anyway, for Lucy had no idea that I had gone. I had made sure of that myself.

“Give us a kiss.”

The man leaned closer, his coarse hands clutching my head so I could not move. His lips were flaked and his whiskers scratched my cheek. I felt black panic welling up in my chest. I wanted to scream, but no sound came out. Instead I felt his tongue, roughly, awkwardly probing my teeth.

And then he was gone.

I staggered backwards, my legs suddenly unwilling to carry my weight. Through a haze I saw the man retreating, hands raised in defense. At first I could not place the ugly, gurgling sound in my ears, but as he finally slumped over on the floor, I realized it was somehow connected to the blood streaming from his mouth.

I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the stumps of broken teeth. When I opened them again, Redeye stood in front of me.

“I must say, you disappoint me, little one. You really couldn’t find a more interesting rapist?”

He turned around, not waiting for my response. At the doorstep he stopped, one foot already outside.

“Well,” he called over his shoulder. “Are you coming?”

“Where?”

“I don’t know yet. Let’s find out.”

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