Warm rain helped sooth the silent terror within. Anne focused on slowing her racing heartbeat, fearing it might give away her position. She watched two small raindrops slowly travel separate paths across a large leaf until they embraced at a common fork. The newly formed watery pearl paused on its journey as others raced around it. She resisted an urge to touch the leaf to help it on its way, not daring to risk discovery.
A gentle wisp of wind caught the leaf, tilting it ever so slightly. She watched the singularity slowly continue on its path until a thin tear separated it into two small teardrops. One followed the other, dove over the edge of the leaf, falling in slow motion to their brief journey's end in the cold puddle by her feet. The sound of their fall echoed across the small cave behind her. A lone robin perched in a tall tree offered a few notes to mark their passing to the deep silence of the dark forest outside. And perhaps, Anne thought, signaling the finale moment of her own life.
The damp English morning chilled her to the bone. Her long, light brown hair formed matted lines disguising her lovely face and soft golden-brown eyes. She watched a wispy cloud of her breath drift around the large leaves hiding her from the monster tracking her outside.
Anne held her breath, realizing the cloud could give her away. Slowly she parted the branches to peer outside. A narrow, muddy forest trail snaked its way to an archway formed by entwined branches of two ageless oaks. Two short blasts of white smoke suddenly appeared from the other side of the dark doorway. She watched a huge black steed gallop through with its angry rider. A large brown bearskin lay draped around blood stained armor protecting the rider's barreled chest.
The rider slowly lifted his visor to get a better look around for his next quarry. The chiseled face and strong square jaw covered by a thick black beard may have been handsome on another. But a crooked smile and cruel, gray eyes exposed the daemons driving him to torture those who did not bend to his will, especially the women. With them he took his time, relishing their screams of pleasure and pain that nourished his evil soul.
Lord Warbeck sniffed the forest air, catching a faint, but familiar sweet fragrance. There were other women he could have easily, but Lady Anne's strength and courage made her soul even more desirable than her beauty. She repeatedly resisted his generous offers to merge their lands, and their beds. Persistence and patience paid off, she no longer had anyone left to protect her.
Anne's four brothers were killed in the Crusades. Then her suitor, a handsome nobleman, was chided into meeting his obligation to serve king and country. Anne loved Anselm, and his kind, gentle heart. He was a philosopher, not a warrior. But with all too brief training and preparation he took his vow and departed for the Crusades. He was never heard from again - Lord Warbeck made sure he would die in his first battle. Only one protector, her father, was left in Anne's life.