The Love of Monsters

By: Andy Monk

In the Absence of Light Book Four

Chapter One

Upon A Dark Road

The Poole Road, Dorsetshire – 1708

Caleb slowed the mare when the narrow lane that snaked up from Lazziard Manor met the Poole Road. He wanted to ride as hard as he could until dawn, but he was becoming increasingly worried about Morlaine; she hadn’t said a word since thrusting the cutlass into his hand during their final confrontation with Alyssa. The constant movement atop the horse could only be aggravating her wounds.

He let the horse set her own pace, wiping a hand over his face and wishing he had a hat to keep the worst of the rain from his eyes. He glanced up at the black weeping sky; at least the downpour seemed to be finally easing a little. He wrapped his arms tightly around Morlaine, trying to keep her as still as possible despite the rolling gait of the horse. He could feel her breathing, but she made no other movement or sound.

He looked over his shoulder several times, but there were no signs of pursuit; the road was deserted. Only those in the greatest hurry would travel abroad at this hour; other than highwaymen and cutthroats of course. He felt for the cutlass he’d secured to the saddle, brushing the rain-slick metal of the guard with his fingers. He was glad Tommy Nimbles had refused the weapon; it would be ironic to escape the horrors of the last few days, only to find himself skewered by some rogue for the lack of a blade.

The mare plodded on along the roughly packed earth of the road, which cut through farmland interspersed with small copses of ash and beech. The rain was trickling down his neck and chilling him to the bone, he felt exhausted, but as he rested his forehead against Morlaine’s cloaked head, he found an unfamiliar sense of contentment settle upon him.

It was easy to imagine they were the only people in creation; that the rain had washed the world of all its troubles and woes, leaving everything clean and fresh for the two of them. He thought of laying with her, not of base animal rutting, which was all he usually imagined when he thought of a woman and a bed, but the simple act of waking and finding her next to him. Her eyes closed, lips barely parted, hair ruffled by sleep; the smell of clean linen mingling with the scent of her body, that strange distant perfume of cinnamon and musk that seemed forever to be about her.

They trudged on, the rain gradually easing to a drizzle before ceasing altogether, and the clouds, which had been so darkly uniform, began to break apart in the west. Soon the land was bathed in the soft light of a nearly full moon. Caleb took the opportunity to check behind him again; his eyes had become so accustomed to the moonless night that the road now seemed almost as well lit as at midday. He grunted in satisfaction when he saw the only movement was a fox, cautiously padding across the rutted surface in search of prey.

However, as they rounded a gentle bend in the road a coach and two horses, parked beneath the dripping boughs of a birch tree, came into view. A solitary figure sat up top, tricorn hat pulled down, collar turned up, arms folded across his chest as his head lolled. Caleb couldn’t tell if the man was awake or not, but as he drew closer he recognised the coach; he’d ridden in it himself just a few long weeks ago after all.

It was the Rothery’s.

Caleb’s heart jumped, and he fought down the urge to wheel the horse around and flee. Alyssa simply could not have gotten ahead of them, wounded and with her injured son to carry.

The driver showed no indication that he’d seen him and Caleb kept to the same steady sedate pace. It was just Scaife, waiting to whisk his mistress away; it was probably a well-practised routine.

One that was about to be rudely interrupted.

“Morlaine?” Caleb hissed in her ear, but there was no response bar the faint sound of her breathing, “Just keep quiet for a while,” he added, probably unnecessarily, before spurring the horse on.

“Scaife!” Caleb shouted, “Mr Scaife!”

Scaife’s head shot up and he looked about him with the air of a man guiltily stirring from an illicit sleep before his eyes settled on the approaching figures.

“’tis Miss Rothery, she’s injured!” The ruse had worked once already that night and, with the moon behind them, he was pretty sure Scaife wouldn’t be able to make out Morlaine’s face. The servant scrambled down from the carriage and came running towards them in an ungainly trot, peering suspiciously up at Caleb.

“Don’t look so worried Mr Scaife,” Caleb said, “I know who your mistress is, be quick about helping me get her into the carriage and I’ll forget the fact you were asleep when you should have been waiting for her. She might be hungry when she wakes...”

Scaife nodded vigorously and made harsh squawking noise; Caleb remembered Alyssa’s remark about pulling tongues out. He shivered and jumped down as Scaife reached up towards Morlaine.

“Wait,” Caleb urged, “’tis easier if we get her down together.” Scaife just shrugged him aside; he obviously considered his mistress’ care to be solely his responsibility.

“As you wish.” As soon as Scaife’s back was turned Caleb clutched both his hands together in a double fist and brought them down on the side of the servent’s head.

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