Updated: May 23
The crash of the door slamming against the wall caused Serie to drop the pot she had been carrying. She could hear yelling over the clanging of the pot rattling against stone and ran back towards the kitchen, remembering at the last moment that she shouldn’t just rush into a room without knowing who was inside. Holding her breath, Serie peered around the doorframe.
The kitchen was practical, though some liberties had been taken with the decorating style. Garish colored plates clashed with stenciled pottery and pots and pans ranged from cast iron to gleaming metal. The windows were framed by floral print curtains, currently drawn back to let in the late afternoon sun. The curtain rod that previously hung over the window by the door had been knocked off the wall, and was presently swinging lazily as the fabric pooled on the floor.
A man had barged into the kitchen, heavy brocade cloak catching pans and dragging them from their neat stacks beneath the counter and prep table. Clangs and scrapes followed him as he advanced on two women, Gemma and Belle, who had determined but frightened looks on their faces.
“Bring me Sandra,” Serie heard the man growl the words and Gemma and Belle took another step back. Soap suds clung to Belle’s red curls and her rolled up sleeves told Serie she had been washing dishes. There was water dripping from her dress and her arms looked slick with soap. Gemma had flour on her face and apron, the dough she had been kneading sat in a misshapen lump on the counter near the open door. The man must have come in right behind her.
Serie jumped along with the other two women when the man’s gloved hand grabbed a steaming pot on the stovetop and flung it, boiled carrots and potatoes sticking to the wall with a wet splatter as the stew broth went sloshing across the floor. The pleasant smell of thyme and coriander that suddenly filled the room was at odds with the scene.
“No!” Gemma mustered a response, chin jutting out defiantly. Serie knew she had spent most of the day making that stew before moving on to the bread. That was to have been their meal this evening. Now it was all over the floor.
The man raised his hand languidly and backhanded Gemma across the face with a loud crack that snapped her head to the side. Belle winced and grabbed Gemma’s arm to steady her, the other woman teetering from the blow. Serie watched a trickle of blood sprout from Gemma’s lip, meticulously making its way down her chin, and mixing with the flour to leave a grotesque pink trail.
“Bring her to me or next time I won’t be so kind.” Serie could only see the back of the man’s head, his cloak sporting emblems she wasn’t familiar with. A ring adorned his right hand, which must have been the cause of Gemma’s cut lip. Belle opened her mouth to speak, but Gemma rested a hand on the red head’s soapy wrist.
“I said ‘no’,” She repeated, turning her face back to the man. There was a fire in her eyes that had always gotten her some of the better paying customers, most enjoying her wild spirit and flare. This evening, it was liable to get her another split lip. “Sandra told us what you did last time. You aren’t welcome here anymore, sir.” She added the last part with a twist of her lip, going so far as to spit on the floor by the man’s feet before wiping the corner of her mouth and leaving a blood caked smear across her chin.
Serie watched the man roll his shoulders and grab Gemma’s arm roughly, pulling her off balance as he drew her in. Another blow landed across her face, this time sending a brilliant arc of red droplets over a china set adorned with fluffy silver kittens. Belle gasped and took a step back but froze when the man wrapped his fingers around Gemma’s throat and began to squeeze. Gemma made a strangled noise, her hands wrapping around the man’s wrist instinctively, eyes going wide in alarm. The fire in her eyes had been smothered by fear. Belle rushed forward, latching onto the man, trying to pry his fingers loose, but her soap slick hands couldn’t find purchase.
Something inside Serie shifted. She’d felt it before, sensing a change when she had seen a bar fight cloaked in the shadows of an alley a safe distance away. The same feeling had surfaced when she had watched two boys come to blows over a girl, one giving the other a bloody nose before their parents broke them apart. Now she felt it again; a creature slumbering beneath a thick bulky fur, toes flexing, and tail twitching moments before waking.
In the back of her mind, or perhaps somewhere deep in her chest, there was an unsettling sensation of fur sliding across flesh. Golden orbs in the shape of eyes peered out from the recesses of her memory.
Serie didn’t remember walking across the kitchen. She didn’t realize she was holding a knife until she adjusted her grip so the blade was angled downward. The young woman barely recalled lifting her arm until she brought it down with enough force that she felt the blade scrape against bone as it plunged into the exposed bit of flesh around the ornate collar of the man holding Gemma.
The man jerked from the impact, fingers releasing Gemma to reach up and touch the hilt buried in his neck. Lurching, he staggered and turned, eyes trying to focus on Serie, while blood cascaded from his neck, dying his fine clothing a violently obscene red.
There was a tangy metallic smell that was ruining the scent of the spilled stew. The horrified looks on Gemma and Belle’s faces didn’t register with Serie until the man turned, free hand scrambling for purchase on a table. He toppled to the ground, blood pooling between his fingers, no longer moving.
Serie reached down, lithe fingers grasping the offending ring that had hurt her friend, and twisting it from the still warm hand. There was a blood covered sigil on the ring that she didn’t recognize.
“Serie,” the hushed sound of her name brought her out of her reverie, and there was a distinct sensation of rustling leaves in the back of her mind. She turned to face the two women, tips of her fingers dripping blood as she held the ring.
“He was going to hurt you,” she said by way of explanation. Confusion and fear was starting to well up inside her, spurred on by the terrified looks of the two other women.
“Serie, you have to leave,” Belle hissed as she struggled to help Gemma to her feet. The other woman was touching her neck gingerly where bruises in the shape of a hand were already starting to form. When Serie turned to head towards the stairs Gemma grabbed her arm.
“No, Serie,” she said hoarsely, her eyes wide with fright. “You have to leave.” She stressed the last word and her eyes darted to the still open door.
Serie’s brow furrowed in bewilderment. “Leave?” She looked between Gemma and Belle in confusion. “But it’s still daylight. I can’t-"
“It doesn’t matter!” Belle was nearing hysterics, her eyes wild and darting from the body to Serie then back. Gemma took a ragged breath and patted Belle’s hand.
“Calm down Belle. Go get my cloak and pack from my room. Quickly.” Once the other woman had darted out Gemma turned to Serie. There was pain and sorrow in her gaze.
“I’m sorry Serie. I know this isn’t going to be fair or easy for you but you must leave. You just took someone’s life.” She held up a hand when Serie opened her mouth to protest.
“We can clean this up, in a manner of speaking,” Gemma waved a hand at the body. Serie noticed she avoided looking at it. “But there will be people here, asking questions, searching, making sure they have all of the facts. You can’t be here. They’ll take you away and hurt you.” Gemma reached out her hand as if to touch Serie’s but when her eyes landed on the girl’s blood stained fingers she drew back. That hurt more than Serie imagined it could have. There was something in the way Gemma looked at her now that Serie didn’t understand. She regarded Serie the same way she had looked at the man when he had tried to kill her. Fear. Fear danced around the edges of her features and Serie didn’t want to believe that her friends truly viewed her as a monster.
Gemma directed Serie to wash her hands, the water in the sink turning a rose petal pink then darker red as Gemma helped scrub spots on her shirt and dress. Serie now had beige splotches on her clothing, and could feel the wet soapy cloth clinking to her skin. She wanted to protest but her brain was having a hard time sending the right signals to her mouth.
Belle returned, handing a cloak and pack to Gemma. She avoided looking at Serie, instead setting about cleaning the stew from the floor. She didn’t go near the body.
“Take these.” Gemma thrust the items at Serie, who fumbled with them, fighting the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. “I had planned on visiting my sister this weekend but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. I’m sure she’ll understand,” Gemma was talking to fill the silence, and the sound of her voice brought a moment of normalcy to the shattered evening. “There’s a change of clothing and some money in there. Should be enough to get you to the next town.” Serie nodded, not completely hearing the words. “Serie keep your head down.. And… thank you.” The last words sounded strained and Serie suddenly wanted to yell at them. She couldn’t leave. This wasn’t fair! She had just been helping. But Gemma was already pushing her towards the door, clasping a cloak around her shoulders as she steered the younger girl around the quickly congealing blood.
“But-” Serie managed before Gemma gave her one final nudge out into the purple and gold sky of the setting sun. The other woman shook her head once.
“Don’t come back. Please. We don’t want to see you get hurt. Goodbye Serie.” Gemma closed the door before Serie could even say goodbye. She had seen Belle peering around Gemma, fear evident on her face. There was something else starting to creep into both women’s eyes as the wooden door swung to close between them. Serie’s heart sank, as she realized the look on both of their faces, had been one of relief.
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