The first realization Dominick experienced upon waking was that something was immensely wrong. Despite the conviction, he was helpless to place just what. There was a strange feeling below his ribs as if he were hollow as a barrel. He blinked up at the blue expanse of sky. How odd to wake among the squat, bobbed trees with their garland of fruits and not remember why.
Raising his hands, Dominick studied them, entranced by the pull of tendon and muscle beneath their coating of flesh. His fingers twitched in memory, and his mind followed suit, struggling to place the sensations. There had been a woman. A woman like silk beneath his hands. Hair dark as a river coiling over his arms. Recalled glimpses slipped like minnows through his thoughts, darting and impossible to catch. Dominick remembered being afraid, then… not.
She’d taken something from him. But what? A multitude of questions bubbled, filling a portion of the emptiness. He would find no answers laying here among the rotted fruits and long-dead leaves.
Chilled and cramped, his muscles screamed in protest to standing. Dominick winced. Sun shone through the foliage creating a dappled mosaic on the ground before him, yet, failed to warm his skin. As he moved down the path, the trees in his wake seemed to shudder, dropping their fruit in a unified tumble.
He would return home. Those memories were the strongest. Warmth, food. Companionship when he desired. That seemed the thing to do, the soundest plan, but when he began to walk it was without direction. His feet lead him by their will into the darkest recesses of the tree-choked woods. It was on the side of the shadowed, serpentine path he found the man.
Perched upon a log as twisted as if waiting, knobby fingers curled about a wooden walking staff, he looked up, unsurprised. Eyes obscured by tumbling brows tracked Dominick’s approach.
As he drew nearer, the hairs on the back of Dominick’s neck rose. He made to move past, but the old man’s staff flashed out and struck him across the chest.
“You’ve made an abhorrent mistake,” he said in a voice like old parchment.
“Begging your pardon?” Dominick stared at the staff across his chest, seeking the wherewithal to be angry.
“The Witch. You dallied with the sins of the flesh and paid the price.”
“She’s done nothing to me.” Dominick move to push past then paused. “Witch, you say?” Tumult memories began to ease into their rightful places.
“Aye, and not a white one. You wouldn’t be the first to wander into her garden.” One wild eyebrow rose, and Dominick caught a glint of the blue beneath. He forced his placid features into a scowl. It seemed the appropriate response.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Words often hide the truth behind the obvious meaning.”
A prickling sensation slithered down Dominick’s spine. The old man settled back, confident now, of his audience. “I can help you regain what she’s taken.”
Out of instinct, Dominick’s palms smacked at his trouser pockets. He’d noticed nothing missing. The old man surprised him by releasing a laugh that snapped like twigs.
“Always so concerned about the material aren’t we? What Meredith has stolen from you is more precious than coin.”
“Why would you help me retrieve my… my… whatever it is she’s taken?” Dominick could find no word to match the growing suspicion he was forming. She’d done something, carved him out and left him as a shell.
“Because, what she’s taken from you is precious, and belongs only to you. What she’s taken from me is priceless. Not only do I need your help, but it will also satisfy my want of revenge.”
Dominick gazed back, unsure. “And how will you gain this revenge?”
“You will gain it for me. At the same time as you gain my granddaughters their freedom.”
Dominick began to shake his head, “I’ll not buy into your trickery. I suppose I must do some task for you? Bring you prizes like a well-trained dog.” He moved away, stepping across the path, far from the reach of the old man’s staff, and continued down the trail.
“You feel it, do you not? The gnawing hollowness. Though you are empty, you can do naught but dwell on that emptiness. Memory assures you it was not always this way yet you are hopeless to feel anything? Is that correct?”
The wire thin rasp of his voice, scarcely more than a whisper, reached Dominick’s ears and froze him in his tracks. “What. Has. She. Taken?” he ground out.
A humourless laugh echoed up the path. “Your soul, man. She’s eaten your soul.”
For the first time since the orchard, Dominick experienced something. His stomach kicked and twisted until he feared he would retch up the acid churning inside it. With unflagging doubt he knew the old man spoke true. Dominick swallowed, “Why? Why would she do that?”
“The same reason anyone does anything. Power. Survival.”
“I’ve no power. I farm. I grow food.”
“Your soul is as strong as your body.” He waved a scrawny, encompassing hand at Dominick’s strong, broad body. “She preys most often on the weak; they do little to sustain her.”
“How is it you know so much?”
“Every breath of the last two years of my life, since I discovered my granddaughters where missing, has been devoted to learning Meredith’s ways and seeking the means to end her.”
The old man had moved closer without Dominick noticing. He placed a fingertip between Dominick’s eyebrows. Images slammed against Dominick’s memory. Long, slim hands grazing his chest. His body pulsed, his guttural cries thumped in his ears. Every breath tasted of joy and freedom and burning desires. Then, pain, the pain he should have remembered but did not. Two girls, their faces unknown, though he searched his memories for them, radiant in their fear. Finally, darkness. Empty, lonely, cavernous, darkness.
“I can grant you a second chance if you swear to me a vow.”
“Vow to me you will kill her and free my granddaughters, and your soul will be returned to you.”
“And if I fail?”
“You will be stuck, destined to repeat the day you failed, over and over until the end of your life.”
“Alright,” Dominick rasped. “Where is it you will send me?”
“One year into the past, from this moment. Remember, you must kill Meredith.” The old man pressed something into Dominick’s hand, chanting under his breath.
“Hardly something I’m apt to forget,” Dominick muttered.
“Oh, and you only have one day.”
“What?” Dominick managed to exclaim before he was slammed backwards by an invisible hand. When his senses returned, the old man was gone.
His head hurt. Every muscle and bone in his body ached as if he’d been torn to shreds and stitched back the wrong way. Swallowing back the dry ache in his throat, Dominick turned. He stood before a wrought iron gate twice as tall as himself. Black metal twisted in the dangerous curves of a serpent and when he extended his hand to test the latch, he found both handles to be the beast’s head. The fangs gaped, ready to draw unsuspecting blood. Gingerly lifting the bar, he seized the snake’s heads and pushed the gates inwards with a shove.
The mansion within the gates perimeter was staggering. Turrets pierced the night sky, seeming to poke more stars into its inky expanse. Windows glinted like a predator’s eyes at night. The towering set of doors perked at the top of the winding entrance stairs, offered no more resistance than the gate had. Dominick pushed them open and stepped inside.
If the outside was impressive, the inside was pure opulence. It was staggering to the senses, incomprehensible in its grandeur. Stone walls dripped glistening tapestries.So intricate in their execution it seemed as though they moved with him. Dominick shifted his gaze from the finery. He felt unsettled by the richness as if his eyes were unworthy of the pleasure of drinking it in.
With his ears tuned for stray voices. Dominick made his way down a hallway, with ceilings higher than his imagination, towards where he believed the dining room would be.
The room was cavernous. A sky blue ceiling reflected on the polished marble floor. Pillars so thick Dominick could wrap his arms around them, and his fingers would not touch each other created a ring about the room. Dominick gaped for a moment, awestruck before the voices reached him. He tucked himself behind the nearest pillar.
The girl moved on a path of smoke and ether. Dominick blinked, needing to clear his eyes before he stooped to believing them. It was one of the old man’s granddaughters, and her feet did not touch the floor as she moved. Tears quiet as death perched on her pallid cheeks. Try as he might, Dominick could not tell if she breathed. Her mouth formed words as she circled the room in aimless rings but left them unvoiced.
Dominick straightened, deciding to snatch the girl on her next turn around the room. Perhaps, being freed from the mansion and the Witch’s influence would shake her from her stupor.
“Elsbeth.” A voice sharp as flint rang across the room. Dominick dropped behind the pillar as another woman stepped below the archway doors a few feet away, bringing with her a blast of chilled air and the dizzying scent of summer roses. Meredith.
“Foolish child.” The witch snapped her fingers in front of the girl’s face. Dominick blinked as Elsbeth came alive before him in a flood of colour and breath. Her cheeks and lips pinked and the swell of her breasts began to rise and fall. Her feet touched down to the marble.
“Mistress,” the girl blinked meadow green eyes and dropped into a curtsy. “What is it you desire?” There was a rustiness to her voice as if it had been long unused.
“I’m hungry. And not for the slop, the cook brews up.”
Elsbeth paled further. She pressed a fist to her stomach. “Please, don’t ask it of me again.”
“Do not be so disgustingly frail, child. I didn’t keep you this long to have you wilt like a flower now.” The tongue she used to wet her lips was long and serpentine. “Tell me, how is the child growing? Surely, your sister’s womb has cooked the little creature long enough.”
“She’s too skinny!” Elsbeth seized the hem of Meredith’s gown, eyes rolling in panic. “She needs more food, more time.”
Meredith brushed the girl’s hand away like an errant spider, her sculpted features growing wistful. “Two souls at once, I’ve never experienced such a treat.”
“I’ll give you my soul.” Elsbeth dropped to her knees, her dark head bowed. “I’ll give it freely if you’ll spare my sister and the babe.”
Meredith threw her head back, releasing a laugh crafted of thunder and chimes. “How amusing. It’s almost as if you truly believe you have a choice. Now, stop your blithering and tell me, what is that delicious scent?” The Witch’s delicate nose tipped upwards, scenting the air.
“I smell nothing.” Elsbeth remained a bright smudge on the marble floor, pools of her dark curls gathered about her knees.
Meredith frowned and raised a hand. “Hush, somebody’s here.”
Steeling himself, Dominick stepped away from the stone’s shadow and revealed himself. “I’ve come for your heart,” he said.
Meredith dragged her vibrant gaze over the length of his frame. “Is that so?” One corner of her lips tilted into a seductive leer, “I’m afraid you will be unsatisfied in that quest, though, perhaps satisfaction in another sense is not beyond question.”
She raised a red tipped finger and tapped it against his chin. “It is rare to find a treat that looks as delicious as it smells.”
Goose pimples crawled over Dominick’s skin. She’d said such a thing to him only last night, a year from today. “Touch me again, and I’ll separate you from your hand as well as your heart.”
“My, my, my do you hear that Elsbeth? Our beast has quite the growl.” Click. Her fingers snapped in front of his face. White light scorched Dominick’s eyes until they blurred and gushed tears.
In front of him, though he hadn’t seen her move, Meredith growled. “What sort of trick is this?” A clap of thunder outside shook the window panes.
Dominick shook his head, struggling to clear the buzzing within his skull. Elsbeth, at the snap of Meredith’s fingers, had collapsed back into her comatose state and resumed her pacing.
“Interesting.” Meredith walked around him; her head tipped as she studied him. “I do enjoy a challenge.”
Dominick reached for the knife at his belt just as the witch thrust her hand towards his chest, fingers curled into a red tipped claw. Chains of agony snaked around his heart, drawing tight as Meredith’s hand twisted in the space between them. Black licked at the edges of his vision. Dominick fought to remain upright. His fingers strained for the hilt of the blade he’d never quite reached. A crack echoed, not from within the room but from within him. His ribs buckled under the strain of her magic. Dominick crashed forward, his knees singing with pain as he tumbled to the cold embrace of the marble floor.
He woke to the sound of sobbing. Dominick raised his face from the dank, wet stone and grunted. The pain came alive in his body at the movement.
“Hello?” he called. The crying softened.
“Who’s there?” The voice, small and breathless, emanated from the shadows.
“I mean to rescue you.” The words held little assurance, uttered as they were in his pained voice, but he spoke them anyway, for what more could he say?
“Truly?” Such hope suffused the word it caused a stir in the empty cavern of Dominick’s chest.
“I’ll see you freed,” he whispered to the dark. There was something; a sliver ingrained so deep in his conscious it was apart of him and not his absent soul. Empathy. The memory of what it was to be chivalrous and kind. Dominick rose to his feet. His ribs bellowed in protest, but he pushed through with slow, shallow breaths. Across the pitch black room, the girl continued to sniffle.
“What’s your name?” he asked in an attempt to distract them both.
‘Nice to meet you’ seemed absurd given the circumstance, so he settled for, “Dominick.”
He busied himself with running his hands along the walls, searching for anything that would reveal a weakness in the room’s structure. Without warning a door opened.
Golden illumination revealed the girl in the corner. Dainty as a china doll she sat still, the round hill of her belly protected beneath delicate, folded fingers.
“Elsbeth?” Katherine’s face lit with devoted love and a renewal of that terrible, crippling hope. “You look like yourself this evening.”
“Hush, please. I’ve only so long before she draws me back.” Elsbeth dropped to her knees before her sister and gathered up her hands. “Are you alright?”
At Katherine’s nod, Elsbeth pushed the straw-hued hair back from her sister’s smooth brow. “You must escape. Tonight. She has asked to–” Elsbeth gagged and turned her face into her shoulder, hiding it from her sister.
“Asked what?” Katherine stroked a hand over her sister’s cheek until the other girl straightened.
“No matter. Simply trust me when I say it is time. It must be tonight. There’s a man, and he’s distracted her. Once she finishes with him, she will turn her sights back to you with renewed vigour.”
“When you say I must escape… you, of course, mean both of us?” A note of doubt soured the surety in Katherine’s voice.
“I shall… I shall try.”
Katherine’s spine straightened with hidden mettle, “I will be going nowhere without you, Elsbeth and if you think–”
“Quiet! You must do as I say. Tis’ no longer a matter of us, you must consider the babe.”
“I’ll present her with the man. It’s been some time…” Elsbeth’s voice rasped, and she cleared it, “She shall be eager. While she is preoccupied, you will sneak away. If it is possible for me to do so, I will follow.”
Katherine opened her mouth to speak but closed it with a sharp click when Dominick stepped out of the shadows. Seeing her sister’s eyes widen, Elsbeth spun around.
“You! You’re awake. You shouldn’t have heard that.” Elsbeth took a protective step in front of her sister.
“I did, and I agree with your plan. I’ll take care of the witch while you both escape.”
The girls stared at him. One fair as a dove, the other dark, light-catching up blue streaks in the raven strands of her hair.
“Why?” Elsbeth asked at last.
Dominick shrugged, “I’ve come for her heart. I may as well save two young maids in the process.”
Elsbeth stared at her sister a moment. The other girl had gone silent. Her eyes slid closed, and she seemed to turn inwards, both arms around her distended middle. Without another word, Elsbeth pressed a kiss to her sister’s brow, then stood.
“Come with me. Please hurry.” She tucked one cold hand into the crook of Dominick’s arm and pulled him towards the stairs. “She will be confident now that she’s beaten you once. Tell me, how did you repel her magic the first time?”
“I’ve… I’ve thought perhaps it’s because she’s already stolen my soul. She simply does not realize it yet.” The ease with which the confession slipped from him surprised Dominick. Elsbeth didn’t answer, and for a long moment, only the whisper of their feet filled the time.
“That explains how you entered with such ease.” She spoke at last. “The wards on this place are meant to guard against a man’s intrusion. As you’ve no soul, they didn’t recognize you and allowed you to enter, unheeded.”
“That, perhaps, is the only luck I’ve had these past days.”
“That’s not the morsel I requested.” Meredith glanced up from the tome in her hands. A faint line formed between her winged brows, fracturing the porcelain skin. “I’m not sure why I keep you. Stupid girl.” She raised her fingers into the air.
“I begged her to,” Dominick said in a rush, stepping forward. Keeping one eye on the hovering hand, he continued, “I dreamt of you. Of your power. Of what we could be together.”
The fingers lowered to tap the shining wood of her chair’s arm. “Go on.” she coaxed her eyes still narrow as she studied him. Dominick moved closer, placing himself between the Witch and Elsbeth.
“There are those who don’t yet fear your power. I could go forth, be your embassy.” He cracked his knuckles in emphasis. “Make them see reason.”
“Intriguing.” Meredith murmured. “It is true that brawn sometimes has its uses.” Her eyes dropped to the worn shirt stretching across his chest. “What else did you have in mind, Farmer?”
Dominick dared another step and meeting her gaze he lifted his hands to the buttons at his throat. “My dreams where most haunted by memories of your beauty. Of the taste of your power on my skin.”
Meredith wet her lips. The only hint his words had affected her in any way. Dominick forced his gaze to her mouth. “It was… intoxicating.”
He stood directly before her now. Her rose scent toyed at his nostrils and filled his head. Memories of the night in the future flickered and flamed. Dominick drew on them. Recalled what it had been before she absconded with his very essence. She read the flare of desire in his eyes, and he allowed it. He needed her to see the truth there. Logic told him he should feel nothing but disgust, yet with no emotion to hinder it, the desire raged, empty and consuming.
Meredith rose and stepped from the parapet on which her chair overlooked the room. “You speak the truth, Farmer. I can smell the lust on you. She pulled an exaggerated breath through her nose. One finger came to rest at the hollow of his throat against his heartbeat. Behind him, Dominick heard the barest scrape of slippers across the stone. Elsbeth had run. Meredith frowned. Her slim, pale neck flexing as she turned her head in the direction of the doors. He must act.
“I’m yours, mistress.” He ducked his head, bringing her gaze back to his. “Direct me.” His fingers itched to wrap themselves around that long neck and squeeze. But no, he must give the girls enough time to make good their escape.
“Oh, such cooperation. Are you seeking some reward, My Pet?” her fingers still lay at the base of his throat, and with this, she pushed, sinking her nail into the soft flesh. Seering, foreign heat flooded Dominick’s body. His bones threatened to turn to liquid while every muscle clenched simultaneously. He gasped, his hips jerking violently. Meredith leered, pressing her lithe body against him. “I thought you’d enjoy that.”
Dominick shook against her, helpless until she removed her finger from his skin. Sticky, wet heat oozed downward, dampening the scattering of hair below his opened collar.
“Come,” Meredith seized him by the shirt, “Let us retire to a more comfortable chamber.”
Dominick followed with one last glance down the hall toward the dungeon before following Meredith up a winding staircase.
Finding a weapon was paramount. Dreaming of killing the witch was one thing, obtaining a means to do so, and enough surprise to accomplish it was another.
“I must warn you, Pet, if you are considering betraying my trust, I’ll incinerate you from the inside out.” Meredith tossed a sly smile over her shoulder. Dominick pushed all thoughts of violence from his mind and settled on watching the sway of her hips as she ascended the steps. He couldn’t afford to fail and be trapped at this moment.
The chamber she led him into was opulent beyond measure. Candles floated along the elaborately carved mouldings that framed the painted ceiling. Dripped light onto a vast four-poster bed in the centre of the room. Meredith flapped a hand at the cavernous fireplace dominating the far wall and flames roared to life, baying at the heels of the quickly receding chill.
“Undress,” she commanded without preamble, crossing her arms over her chest. Dominick faltered long enough for her to arch one raven brow, then lifted his hands to the ties at his throat. “Forgive my sluggishness, my ribs hinder me.” He let the words hang between them as he made ponderous work of his shirt.
When at last he shrugged it off and made no other move, she scowled. “The trousers as well.”
After the last stitches fell away from his body, one corner of her mouth curved upwards, “You’ll do nicely.” She turned away, allowing her robes to float to a pool at her booted feet. As soon as her back was to him, Dominick glanced around the room. The curved iron head of the fire poker caught his eye. It would have to do; there was no other option. Before she could hear his thoughts, Dominick returned his eyes to her. Forced himself to concentrate on the contrast of her black hair on her milk-white skin. When the time came to act, he must do so in a single moment. From thought to action, nothing was more crucial than speed. Meredith stepped towards the hearth. Dominick’s heart leapt, but he remained still. The fear of her seeing the intentions flickering at the corners of his mind left him more naked than his lack of clothing.
Meredith stepped past, trailing on finger across his hips as she passed. Glasses chimed, there was a pop and the warm scent of liquor clouded the air. Dominick wet his lips. Food and drink seemed a faded memory. She poured in silence, the flames turning her naked flesh the warm colour of butter.
With the force of a spark from a flint knowledge flared in Dominick’. Now! Now! It screamed. He drove himself forwards, grasping the iron in his left hand. The poker was hot from the fire, and he passed it into his right hand as he spun. With all the strength in his powerful thighs, with all the momentum he’d garnered from the movement, he drove the iron stake into the back of Meredith’s rib cage. A gut-churning crunch echoed around the room. Tendons strained and ground in his shoulder as the metal tip drove into the stone walls. The only sound from the Witch was the abrupt expulsion of air as her final, shocked breath left her body.
Dominick stood, head hanging. Long strands of hair clung to his face and ruffled in the wind from his raging lungs. His ribs were blazed, the pain so sharp it took on a life of its own. Sweat beaded and rolled off his cheeks joining to rhythmic plops of Meredith’s draining blood. She was dead. He almost feared to believe killing her had been so easy. The fire held her body to the wall like a pinned butterfly on a collector’s board.
Burning gorge rose from his empty stomach. Dominick swallowed, shaking his head. A sound gnawed at his ears, incessant and high-pitched. It started as a whine then picked up in volume, amplifying and spreading, folding in and around him until Dominick dropped to his knees and pressed his hands to his ears. Blood began to leak from between his fingers. A scream broke from his lips and to be lost within the wailing. Wind scoured his naked skin, sending him forward onto his belly. Shaking, he forced his eyes upwards to the witch’s corpse and screamed once more.
Faces, translucent and frail as mist poured by the hundreds from the wound upon her back. They rushed him. Swirled around his body, screaming, screaming endlessly. Dominick wrapped his arms around his head, hiding from the onslaught. Something rained down, peppering his back and showering him with durst. Another sound joined the voiceless screams of the souls, a deep rumble originating from the bowels of the castle and spreading up through the walls.
Dominick looked upwards. Fissures raced along the fine, painted ceiling. They splintered the moulding and shattered the scenes depicted upon the stone walls. A chilly, all-consuming dread filled him. When a touch landed on his shoulder, he thought his heart would fail him. He whirled falling over himself to get back amidst the rubble. Glass shards bit his palms. Then he stilled, and the world focused on one thing, the face of the soul before him. His face. Spectral, ethereal as smoke yet more substantial than the rest had been, it took a step, then tipped his grey face skyward. Instinctually, Dominick followed the gaze, looking up in time to see the section of the ceiling buckle inward.
The first thing Dominick became aware of was the fact he was no longer empty. As his thoughts began to flow, he wondered how he’d ever failed to notice the absence of his soul when until the point of its loss he’d suffered such a cacophony of emotions and sensations.
He hurt from his hair to his toes. Every inch of him was sharp with pain yet it was the emotions that threatened to engulf him. He closed his eyes, and the image of Meredith waited behind his lids. His stomach rolled. He pushed his thoughts instead to the girls; Katherine and Elsbeth. The promise of Katherine’s round womb. The hope in her voice. His chest tightened.
Over the pounding of his heart and the agony of the blood it poured through his veins, Dominick heard a sudden sound. After a moment it increased. Footsteps were moving over the rubbish. Excitement opened his lips, but then, fear stayed his tongue. He knew nought who crept their way through the ruins. A clang, the scuffle of feet and a feminine voice mumbling something that could have been a curse.
Dominick raised his head, straining to see through the thick blackness.
“Hello? I seek the man whose freed me. It’s Elsbeth.”
Dominick raised his hand toward the voice. Elsbeth, sweet and fierce. The memory of her face flashed through his conscious. “Here.” His voice was a broken thing, dried and cracked as fallen leaves. The girl heard him.
“There you are!”
Two hands caught his face between them. Dominick cried out, his body bucking upwards with fright. How could she see him when his eyes showed him nothing but darkness.
The answer was there for the taking, but Dominick skirted it stubbornly. Elsbeth ran her hands over his arms and chest, taking stock of injuries. He whimpered, unintentionally, and the girl’s hands quit their journey and returned to his cheeks.
“What pains you the most? Tell me the worst of it. I’ll do what I can.” Fingers stroked and plucked debris from his hair. It was a comfort.
“Can’t… can’t see you,” he rasped.
“Hush,” The fingers traced along his eyebrows and down the length of his nose. “Shh, allow me to help you.”
Silence, then. “I can see nothing wrong with your eyes. Truly. They look as they did before. Do not relinquish hope so soon.”
Dominick’s heart still beat a wild tattoo against his ribs, but he nodded.
“Can you stand? I’ll steady you.”
“The witch?” Dominick managed, though speaking split the skin of his swollen lips.
“Dead as a doornail. I knew it to be true when the castle crumbled. Meredith built all but the foundation with an intricate web of magic. Without her power to sustain it, the entire thing turned to dust.”
“Are you ready?” Hands, small but firm wedged themselves beneath his armpit and levered him upwards. With the last vestiges of strength, Dominick managed to gain his feet. He stank of salt and rancid fear. For the first time since he’d woken he realized he was naked. Heat crawled up his face.
He knew it was daylight when the treacherous ground beneath their feet cleared, releasing them from the last vestiges of Meredith’s evil, and the sun greeted them with gentle heat. Dominick turned his face toward the warmth. Around them, birds sang out in happy oblivion.
“Come,” Elsbeth’s arm tightened around his waist, “You’ll be returning home with me.” He followed her, glad for the direction. Fear sat like a stone in his belly, burning with every blink of his blank eyes.
From nowhere a thought bloomed sudden and unwanted. Dominick faltered, stomach flipping. “Elsbeth, if I should disappear… I live on a farm outside Huckleberry Hollow. I would like very much, or I will like it if you were to… to come and find me, should my sudden vanishing occur.”
The girl was silent for a long moment, then a hand cupped his cheek, surprising him once more. “You’ve my word. I shall find you.”