Sunlight is breaking through the top leaves, making the water’s surface shimmer like diamonds. Its early afternoon, just after midday and the sun is shining brightly, giving the air a golden sheen along with pleasant warmth. The leaves are rustling lightly in the slight wind, turning the air into music.
A strikingly beautiful young woman stood next to the small pond, looking over its glassy surface. Her curly cherry red hair was pinned up in an intricate braid. Green eyes that possessed gold flecks were vivacious and inquisitive and framed by long lashes. Her full crimson lips—the lower slightly fuller than the upper—accented her pale skin. High cheekbones, a pert nose, and a stubborn chin gave her the appearance of someone with an entirely fiery disposition.
When she was younger, she used to come here often, but to her great disappointment, it has become a rare occurrence. The leaves have just started to turn light yellow and bright orange. A few breathtakingly beautiful scarlet and maroon leaves could be seen throughout the treetops. It is still too early in the season for many of those. She walked slowly around the pond’s edge, letting her fingers brush lightly against the smooth bark of the oak trees. She paused and slid off her leather slippers; though worn, they were still in excellent shape, not to mention extremely comfortable.
Raising her delicate hands to her hair, she gently slid out the pins with slender fingers, allowing her thick hair to swing freely. She leaned down and dropped the pins into her slippers so as not to lose them—which she frequently did—then drew her unruly hair over her left shoulder and ran her fingers gently through the vibrant curls. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, deeply inhaling the wildflowers’ enticing fragrance, before continuing on her way. The dry leaves scattered along the forest floor tickled her bare feet as she walked.
Before she knew it, she had walked the entire length of the pond and her slippers lay a few feet in front of her. She sighed and emptied her hairpins into her hand, then slid them into her pocket. She had just finished slipping her feet into her leather shoes when a deep voice spoke from behind her and to her left.
She gasped and whirled around, her skirt billowing outwards. A tall, dark haired man leaned against a tree about ten feet away. His close-cut hair was such a dark brown shade that it was often mistaken as black. His nose had been broken at least twice and a scar divided his left eyebrow; his freckles were almost unnoticeable under his dark tan. His chin was more square than round and jutted out slightly. His unreadable eyes were the color of the sky. His full lips were pulled up into a smirk and his arms were folded tightly across his chest. The dark green cloth of his tunic bulged over his muscular torso.
“Jonathan? You frightened me! What are you doing here?” She hadn’t even heard him approach, which unnerved her. The fact that his eyes were scrutinizing every inch of her face unnerved her even more.
“Looking for you,” he murmured. She felt a chill run down her spine as his cold blue eyes slowly moved down her body, and back up to her face. His intense stare made her skin crawl. “Your beauty is exceptional today. Tell me, why do you always keep such exquisite hair pinned up?”
“It is easier to go about my day, Jonathan,” she replied then curtsied deeply. She was eager to leave. Something was not right. She could feel it. “I must be going.”
“But it’s still early. Surely you can stay a while,” he remarked with a slight tilt of his head. His eyes seem to bore right through her, making her even more eager to depart.
“I am sorry, but I really must be on my way.” She smiled nervously and walked past him. She had not gone five feet when a rough hand grabbed her arm and jerked her backwards.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Jonathan’s deep voice declared.
“Jonathan! That hurt!” she gasped painfully. “Let me go. It’s getting late.”
“No,” Jonathan replied with a smirk.
“Let me go!” she demanded and glared at him.
“I said no, Elizabeth,” he replied quietly. “We’re going to have some fun first.” The look he gave her was anything but humorous.
“Let me go,” she yelled furiously. Fear was slowly spreading its way through her body, tightening her chest. Coldness trickled through her veins.
“No,” he said again. Something in his eyes flickered darkly. His grip on her forearm tightened painfully.
“Jonathan… what are you doing?” Elizabeth whispered, and tried to pull away. He grabbed her other arm and pushed her backwards. Only his hard grip kept her from falling to the forest floor. He slammed her roughly against something hard. He towered over her five feet, eight inches.
“Ow!” she cried out in pain. “Jonathan, please let me go!” she begged as he pinned her to the tree.
He pulled a thick handful of her hair over her shoulder and ran his fingers through it. He was amazed at how silky her hair was. And those curls. How could hair be that curly? he wondered. He stared down at her frightened expression; her green eyes were wide and her crimson lips were trembling. He leaned down, his breathe hot against her neck.
“No,” he whispered into her ear, “not yet.” She tried pushing him away but his grip tightened like a vice. He stared into her eyes and saw only resistance. “I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to resort to this,” he sighed.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice shaking, when his hand disappeared behind his back. A sob escaped her lips when his hand reappeared, and she saw his fingers wrapped around a short, thin rope. The silence and seclusion, once comforting and soothing, became terrifying.
“No!” she cried out as he wrapped one end tightly around her wrist. He jerked her arm over her head and flung the cord around the tree, hooking it over a high branch. He agilely snatched the end of the rope from the air before it could hit her in the face, and tugged on it forcefully causing her to cry out in pain as her arm was yanked farther upwards. He laughed heartlessly, and pulled harder, causing her feet to leave the ground.
Elizabeth screamed in agony. Deftly, he tied the rope around her other wrist; so tight that she lost all feeling in her fingers before he had even let go. Then, as a ruthless smile touched his lips, he reached up and pulled on the rope, righting her as he would right a tilted picture.
“You’re hurting me!” she wailed. Jonathan smiled as though he was enjoying some private joke and laughed cruelly. A single tear escaped to slide its way down her cheek.
“Why?” she sobbed, searching his icy blue eyes for any emotion at all.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” he murmured into her ear and laid his hands on her hips. She turned her face away when he reached out and brushed hair from her cheek. “Why do you think I followed you all the way out here?” he asked with a menacing smile.
“Please, Jonathan,” she begged as his fingers pulled at the knots of her bodice, untying the laces. “Just let me go.”
His body was pressed against hers, making her sick to her stomach. He leaned forward and placed his lips under her ear. She turned her face away and closed her eyes tightly when he pressed a kiss to her neck. Her stomach rolled. She bit her lip, welcoming the pain, anything to distract her from what he was doing. He pulled back slightly, gripped her chin, and forced her to look at him.
“Why would I do that?” he asked, his breathless voice unbelievably shocked. His long fingers continued to unstring the laces.
She stared at his detached expression. This can’t be happening, she thought. Her ears buzzed and everything around her became blurry. The touch of his cold hands against her collarbone cleared the fog clouding her mind.
“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, and lashed out with both legs. He stumbled backward, gasping in pain. He bent over, hands on his knees for a split second, then stood up so swiftly that his movements were a blur. The fury in his eyes had Elizabeth cringing against the tree that held her prisoner. His once detached expression became murderous. Something inside him had snapped and she could see that he was losing control.
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth whispered and pressed herself harder against the tree as he slowly approached. He paused a few feet away, drew back his arm and backhanded her so hard she couldn’t breathe. Cold fingers enclosed around her throat.
“Don’t… you… ever… do… that… again!” he snarled.
“Can’t… breathe…” she rasped when his grip tightened.
She heard the oddest thing as her vision darkened: the sound of galloping horses and almost indiscernible soft twangs. Numerous faint thuds followed along with a piercing, inhuman scream. The pressure on her throat vanished.
“Roland, cut her down,” a lilting voice commanded. A subtle sawing noise reached her ears and then her arms seemed to float away from their imprisonment. She could feel her body falling but was unable to stop it. Her muscles wouldn’t respond and the fog was clouding her mind once more. She knew she was slipping into darkness but she couldn’t make herself care.
“I got her,” a deep voice said. Elizabeth fell weightless through the thickening mist as darkness consumed her.