Betrothed, p.7
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       Betrothed, p.7
 

         Part #6 of The Vampire Journals series by Morgan Rice
CHAPTER SEVEN

  Caitlin marveled at how quickly children rebounded. Scarlet walked beside her, practically skipping with joy, laughing aloud as she played with Ruth. Ruth practically skipped, too, glued to Scarlet's side, turning her head left and right, on the lookout for any and all possible harm that might come within ten feet of Scarlet. Caitlin had never seen Ruth so protective, or so overjoyed. The two seemed like a match made in heaven, and they were already inseparable.

  Scarlet smiled from ear to ear, and looking at her now, it would seem as if she had never suffered any hardship at all. It lifted Caitlin's heart. It had crushed her to see Scarlet lying there, being beaten by that cruel human being. Now, she seemed alive again.

  Caitlin was thrilled to have Scarlet by her side, too. She couldn't help herself, but as she studied her, she found herself thinking of the child that she and Caleb might have had, had they remained in the 21st century. She couldn't help but wonder if their child might have turned out somewhat like Scarlet. It was strange, but Caitlin even felt as if she could recognize some of her own facial features in the girl. Their connection felt so real, so natural, Caitlin felt, as she walked, as if she had always known her.

  After the incident in the alleyway, Ruth had started whining again, and Scarlet had rightly observed that she was famished. Before Caitlin and Caleb could decide where to go next, Scarlet had insisted on leading the way to food, and had skipped off without another word, barely even asking for their approval. She had seen that Ruth was hungry and was determined to rectify that. Caitlin and Caleb smiled as they found themselves following along, twisting and turning in and out of side streets and alleyways to Scarlet's lead.

  Ruth couldn't be happier. It was as if she knew she were being led to a coming meal.

  "It's not too far now, Ruth," Scarlet said, stroking her head. "Just a few more blocks. Hang in there. "

  Ruth whined in delight, wagging her tail, as if she understood.

  Scarlet turned to Caitlin as she walked.

  "You see there?" asked Scarlet. "That's the river. Just at the end of this block. From there, we make a left, and that takes us along Bankside. Just past the row houses is a wharf, and there's a man there that sells strips of meat. It's not the best in town, but they're cheap. I'm afraid I haven't any money, though. "

  "Don't worry," Caleb said, reaching into his pocket and extracting a fistful of gold coins. Caitlin looked at them in wonder, wondering where he got them.

  "They're not from this time and place," he said with a smile, "but they're gold after all. I'm sure no vendor would turn this down. "

  Scarlet's eyes opened wide. "My God," she exclaimed, "are you rich or something?"

  Caleb smiled down. "Something like that. "

  Scarlet practically skipped as they continued down the street, reaching the river, just like she had said. Caitlin marveled at her sense of direction. She had been leading them, twisting them in and out of back streets, determined to show them her entire neighborhood. They were on her turf now, and she had insisted on giving them a grand tour, as if she had been waiting for them.

  As they reached the waterfront, Scarlet suddenly stopped, as if frozen, and looked up to her right. Caitlin wondered what she was looking at, and assumed maybe it was a tall, passing ship.

  But when Caitlin came up beside her, she saw what it was. There, in the distance, on the London Bridge, those three prisoners that had been sitting on the scaffold were now being hoisted up higher.

  There was a sounding of trumpets, and suddenly the platforms were removed from all three of them.

  They each plummeted down, hanging and twisting by their necks.

  The crowd roared.

  Caitlin reached up and gently turned Scarlet's shoulders, guiding her away from the grisly sight.

  "It's okay," Scarlet said. "It happens here every day. "

  Caitlin looked at her with concern, and couldn't even imagine what it must have been like for her to grow up in this time and place. "I'm so sorry," Caitlin said. "That must be very sad for you. " Scarlet looked sad for a moment, but then brushed it off with a shrug and turned away.

  "Come on Ruth! It's not far now. Just this way. "

  She suddenly skipped off in the other direction, turning left along the river. "There!" she yelled, pointing. "Come on, Ruth!" she yelled, running forward.

  Caitlin smiled, keeping a watchful eye on her, and realized how protective she felt of her already.

  She turned to Caleb, wondering what he thought of all this. She worried for a second if he was mad that they had taken her under their wing.

  But he was as happy as she was. She wondered if he, too, had been contemplating if their child would have turned out like this.

  He turned and smiled. "She's wonderful," he said.

  "We can't just abandon her," Caitlin said. "She has no one else to watch out for her. "

  "I know," Caleb said.

  Caleb reached out and they held hands as they walked along the bank, watching Scarlet and Ruth running. Caitlin felt her heart warm with emotion, and felt certain that, at that moment, Caleb, too, thought of her as their child. It brought tears to Caitlin's eyes.

  Scarlet and Ruth ran up onto a large wooden structure along the river bank. Before it hung a sign which read "Falcon Inn. " It was a large, bustling inn - and judging from the people hurrying in and out, a seedy place.

  Caitlin and Caleb caught up to them, standing behind Scarlet as she walked up to a small booth in the back of the hotel, hidden from sight. There was a man wearing a greasy, bloodstained apron, slicing huge chunks of meat.

  "Two please," Scarlet said to the man.

  He scowled down at her. "And where do you expect to find the money to pay for that today?"

  he asked, mocking. "Like I told you before: no money, no meat. " Caleb cleared his throat, stepping forward. "You will, in fact, give the girl two pieces of meat, as she requested," he said sternly, glowering down at the man. "In fact, you will give her as much meat as she wants. " Caleb reached out and placed a large gold coin into the man's beefy palm.

  The man looked down, eyes opening wide at the large piece of shining gold. Caitlin realized that that probably represented enough money to pay for a thousand pieces of meat.

  The man quickly set to cutting huge chunks of meat off his spit, handing them in rapid-fire to Scarlet. The second they hit her hand, she reached over and dangled them in front of Ruth, who jumped up and snatched them off her fingers.

  Scarlet laughed with delight.

  The man handed her another piece, and she did it again - and again, Ruth snatched the meat.

  Scarlet screamed with laughter. "You're so hungry, Ruth!"

  Ruth licked her lips. The man kept slicing meat, in bigger and bigger chunks, and Scarlet kept feeding them to her.

  After six more slices, Caleb stepped forward.

  "The next piece is for you, Scarlet. "

  She took the next piece with delight, eyes open wide, and devoured it. Clearly, she was ravenous.

  "We'll each take one, too," Caleb said, and the man cut them each a slice.

  Caitlin bit hard and sucked the blood out of it, and she saw Caleb do the same. She felt it trickle through her veins, and realized how famished she was - for real blood.

  It took the edge off. But it also made her realize that she needed to feed - to really feed. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to be disciplined. There was probably a forest not far from here, and she would force herself to wait.

  "Come on, Ruth, you have to see the view!"

  Scarlet bounded off, zigzagging behind the hotel, and Ruth took off after her.

  Caitlin and Caleb struggled to keep up. By the time Scarlet had stopped running, she had led them all to a large wooden pier, jutting out over the river, with a set of stairs sloping down right into the water. A large sign read "Paris Garden Stairs. " The rickety staircase sloped right down to the water's edg
e, and was filled with people sitting, standing, looking out at the water, and with more people arriving in boats.

  Scarlet ran right up to the water's edge and pointed at a passing boat with a huge sail rising into the sky. Ruth ran up beside her, looking out.

  Caitlin stood behind her, worried that Scarlet not slip and fall into the water. She looked out at the river, and was amazed at the sight: it was like being in a painting. The sun broke through the clouds, striking the water, while tall, historic sailing ships slowly bobbed their way past.

  Caleb slid his arm around her waist, looking out, too, and Caitlin breathed deeply. For the first time, she felt relaxed in this time and place.

  The mission was important to her, but it felt so good having Caleb by her side. She realized that was all she really needed to feel content. That, and knowing that the people she loved and cared for were safe. She found herself thinking of Sam and Polly again. She hoped they'd made it safely out of the Notre Dame. She realized that seeing them here, safe and sound, would be all that she needed to feel complete.

  At that moment, Caitlin heard a creaking on the boardwalk behind her, and her senses were on high alert. She spun around, and could not believe what she saw.

  There, walking onto the stairs, looking out at the river, not even aware of her presence, were Sam and Polly.

  Caitlin wondered if she were seeing things. She blinked several times, thinking she was imagining it.

  She finally realized that she wasn't.

  She stepped forward, barely able to catch her breath with shock and excitement.

  "Sam? Polly?"

  The two of them spun and looked at her.

  It was really them.

  *

  Caitlin was overwhelmed with joy as she embraced her little brother. Tears flowed down her cheeks, as she held him tight.

  She pulled back, and looked over Polly, her one time best friend, and for a moment, she hesitated. She remembered that last she had seen her, in Versailles, they had not been on the best terms. Polly had been so smitten by Sergei, and had refused to listen to Caitlin, they'd had a falling out.

  But Polly stepped forward and embraced Caitlin with all she had, hugging her tightly, and Caitlin knew that whatever fight they'd had in the past was behind them. It felt so good to hug her best friend again. Caitlin was overwhelmed. Having both her brother and her best friend here, in this time and place, meant the world to her.

  Caitlin stepped back, and remembered Caleb. She wondered if they had all formally met, and couldn't quite remember.

  She cleared her throat. "Sam, this is Caleb. "

  "I remember you," Sam said, as he shook Caleb's hand.

  Caleb smiled, and shook his hand back warmly. "And I you," Caleb answered. "You have really grown up. Thank you for what you did for us back in the Notre Dame. "

  Sam smiled proudly, and Caitlin was thrilled to see them getting along.

  "And Caleb, this is Polly. "

  Caleb bowed his head slightly, taking her hand, and kissing it. "A pleasure," he said.

  Caitlin heard a clearing of a throat, and looked down to see Scarlet standing there, a smile on her face, anxiously waiting to be introduced.

  Of course. Caitlin felt terrible she had forgotten, and knelt down beside her.

  "And most important of all, allow me to introduce you to Scarlet," Caitlin said. "We are her family now," Caitlin added, liking the sound of those words even as she said it.

  Scarlet stepped forward and reached out a hand, polite, adult-like.

  "A pleasure to meet you," Scarlet said in her best adult voice.

  Sam smiled and reached out and formally shook her hand back.

  Polly, though, knelt down and picked Scarlet up in a big hug.

  "Oh my god, aren't you a dear?" Polly said. "And so beautiful. Look at that hair, those eyes. I think you just might be the most beautiful little girl I've ever seen," Polly said.

  Scarlet beamed back.

  Ruth suddenly barked, and Polly's eyes opened wide in surprise. She knelt down and gave her a hug, too. "Oh Lord! Look at you. My how you've grown!"

  Ruth licked her face, as Polly petted her.

  "Oh my God," Polly said, standing, facing Caitlin. "We've been searching for you everywhere. I can't believe we found you. We just left the most hideous bearbaiting ring. Oh my God, it was awful.

  The worst place I've ever seen. And we were walking along the river, trying to figure out where on earth to go next. For a second there, I didn't know if we find you at all and - "

  "Suffice it to say that we are so happy to see you," Sam said, cutting her off.

  Polly looked at Sam, annoyed.

  Caitlin looked back and forth between the two of them, and for a moment wondered if they were in a relationship. But she saw how irritated they looked by each other. The idea amused Caitlin.

  "We were there, too," Caitlin said, "at the bearbaiting ring. But just briefly. We never actually went inside. "

  "That explains it," Sam said. "I thought I sensed you there. But I wasn't sure. "

  "What were you doing in such an awful place?" Polly asked.

  "Well," Caitlin began, "we were just following clues. Or, so we thought. We found ourselves in Westminster Abbey. There were people there, our kind, and they helped us. They led us to a golden scepter, which led to this ring. "

  Caitlin held out her hand, displaying the ring she now wore. Sam reached out, fascinated, just as he had always been by all things relating to their father. He slowly read the inscription aloud.

  Across the Bridge, Beyond the Bear,

  With the Winds or the sun, we bypass London.

  He furrowed his brow in silence, puzzled.

  "We crossed the London Bridge," Caitlin continued, "thinking maybe that's what the bridge was.

  And then it mentioned the bear. And we heard about bearbaiting, so we came here, hoping. But there is nothing. I think we misread the clues. I thought we were heading in the right direction. But now, I'm not so sure. "

  "Across the bridge, beyond the bear," Sam repeated, as if willing himself to figure it out, "across the bridge, beyond the bear. . . " Finally, he exhaled. "I have no idea," he said.

  "I don't either," Polly said.

  Silence came over them, as the four of them stood there, stumped.

  "If you read it faster it might make sense," Scarlet said.

  Caitlin spun, as did the others, and stared down at Scarlet. She was beaming back, a playful smile on her lips.

  "What did you say?" Caitlin asked.

  "Your riddle makes sense to me. "

  Caitlin stared at her intently, suddenly realizing that she might have figured out something they didn't.

  "How?" Caitlin asked, eager, "how does it make sense?"

  "Well," Scarlet said slowly, enjoying the attention, "he read it so slowly. That's your problem. Try reading it faster. He skipped the most important part. "

  Caleb furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"

  "The winds or the sun," Scarlet said. "That's the important part. Read it faster. " She hesitated, then continued, "It's not the 'winds or the sun'. You need to connect the words.

  Not 'winds or' but 'windsor. ' It's Winsdor. You know, Windsor Castle. Across the bridge is Windsor, and beyond the bear is the forest you have to cross. The Bear forest," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

  They all looked at her, mouths open in shock.

  She smiled back proudly.

  "The place you are looking for is Windsor Castle. "

 
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