In the growing night, a woman stalked through the outskirts of a village.
From her poise alone one could ascertain that the sleepy hamlet she now found herself in, was not her home. Yet she had clearly graced these grounds before, as she traced a direct path without pause. Still, her head darted about nervously, oiled and scented ringlets of long black hair tossed from one shoulder to the next. It were as if she feared being hunted by something she expected to lurk in every passing shadow.
If she was indeed the subject of a man hunt, she did not make any attempt at subterfuge besides remaining silent; she stuck out like a boar in a boudior.
By the cut of her clothing, the glinting silver bangle upon her wrist and the fine craftsmanship evident in her heeled, leather riding boots she was more like to be mugged than mistaken for a local.
Soon however, the last few miserable buildings were behind her.
She walked a while in the wilds beyond the cusp of civilization, the rising moonlight muting the rich colours of her plum-coloured blouse and glinting off the silver clasps running up the midriff of her bodice. The gentle wind in the dusk rattled the leaves overhead and toyed with the flowing folds of her skirt.
The woman’s shoulders slumped, muscles unwinding from their previous rictus. Despite her finery and evident background in higher society, she seemed more at ease outside the village.
The journey she took was short, as her pace soon slowed as she came to a house nestled in the gentle crease of two hills. There she paused a while, a small smile tugging at her mouth.
For more than a minute she stood, her presence displaced in time as her eyes glazed over with the memories of her last visit, several years ago.
The house was quite ordinary; white plaster walls, wooden support beams with cross sectioned panels stood central of a well-tended garden, arrayed with borders of many a flower.
A delicate hand worked the latch of the waist-high iron gate quietly, then she stepped forward and across the shale-strewn pathway towards the front door.
The house appeared empty, or at least quiet as the windows exposed only the vague impression of the shadow-smudged interior.
Stood before the thick oak door, the woman checked over her shoulder once, biting her bottom lip before rapping on the door.
The night pressed inwards on the interim of time she stood in polite repose. Out in the growing darkness, the discordant melody of evening struck up an eerie symphony.
Eventually, the woman’s patience appeared to wane, and she stalked about the outside to glare in through one of the gloomy windows. Yet the shady interior would yield no detail.
Then she blinked.
A pair of beady eyes were staring right back at her, mere inches from her face on the other side of the glass.
The spell broke suddenly as the woman loosed a squeal and fell backwards on her bottom in fright, all form forgotten. At the same time came the sound of another woman’s yell from inside, followed by a clattering of hard objects falling to the floor.
As the young woman outside clambered to her feet, the door swung upon in a gout of amber light.
“Kliea Nymphellian Ayse! You should know better than to scare a woman my age.”
Stood in the doorway, holding a bullseye lantern was a woman who, despite being older and shorter, shared a clear resemblance to the first woman.
“I really wish you wouldn’t use my full name, Grandmother.” The young woman named Kliea sighed, smoothing her blouse with both hands.
“Why ever not? Is it not your name? Don’t be silly girl.” The older woman chided.
She seemed to take moment to register the full scope of the situation, looking her granddaughter up and down, eyes crinkling with remembered fondness.
“Ahh!” she exclaimed, “where are my manners? It’s frightful late and a young lady such as yourself shouldn’t be out at this time alone.”
She back-peddled a few steps and Kliea, sensing the unspoken offer of hospitality, gratefully accepted.
“You are still alone I take it?” the older woman rolled her eyes despairing as Kliea nodded, “Oh Kliea my girl, you really must find someone soon.”
Kliea folded her arms, turning to face her grandmother as she pushed the door closed again.
“Please Edith, not now. This isn’t the right time, I-”
Her sentence was cut short by her grandmother who, dropping the lantern, startled her granddaughter with a completely unannounced embrace.
“It’s been, what? Oh! Three-five years now?” she asked, her little voice rising blithely from the cleft of Kliea’s bosom.
Before awaiting a reply, Edith suddenly pulled back, frowning in confusion at her granddaughter’s now reddening face.
“But, I don’t understand. What are you doing here? How? I haven’t heard from your mother in months!”
Smoothing the front of her blouse for the second time that night, Kliea took a nervous breath before looking back at her grandmother.
“Edith, something happened back at the manor..”