She quickly pulled on her robe, the room was so cold she could see her breath fan out in front of her, and her pale skin shivered from just a few seconds out of the four-poster bed that dominated the otherwise sparse room. Her breathing quickened as she nervously walked to the heavy wooden door and looked out down the corridor. She was afraid of this castle, with its narrow, cold stone passageways lined with dark portraits and faded tapestries of ancient battles. The man who had shown her in had been courteous though somehow distant, his dull eyes slipping past her with a touch of sadness, as if he saw other, long gone guests who had walked through those very mountains to this strange castle wreathed in mist. Adele had felt daunted by the forbidding black gates with their iron carvings of cherubs trumpeting her arrival, crawling vines and strange horned beasts, but her weary feet could take her no further, and night was fully realised, the silver moon obscured by the raindrops that fell fat and heavy to the earth.
Stepping barefoot down the passage, Adele reached out and brushed the smooth walls lightly with her fingertips. The darkness was relieved slightly by the flickering torches that burned from brackets on the walls, and Adele could see to the end of the passage where a huge pane of glass looked out onto the mountainside. The air seemed to grow even colder as she walked towards the window, and she drew her coat tighter around herself. Sweeping her fingers down the iron fixtures, her breath misted up the glass as she bent forwards to try and make out the landscape beyond the castle, but a blanket of rain obscured all but the small glimmer of light from the moon overhead. Adele breathed deeply, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched. A slight noise behind her had her heart racing and she whirled around, her breath fanning out in front of her as she looked back the way she had come. But there was nothing.
Adele frowned, she was sure there had been more torches lining the corridor.
“Oh God” she breathed, “What am I doing here?” She put her face in her hands, despair pressing down on her. Memories from the last few days rose up unwilled, voices called to her and she heard the sound of hooves drumming against hard ground. She turned and pressed her forehead to the glass, sliding down till she lay curled up on the floor, her hair settling in wavy curls across her face and shoulders.
She lay there for what seemed like hours, watching the rain slow to a drizzle, then stop altogether. A sliver of bright moonlight poked through the clouds, shining onto her bare hands, throwing up faint sparkles of light. Calm descended on her, and Adele imagined a blue light filling her up, pitching her into a trance-like state, her eyes half closed. The panic that had consumed her melted away, leaving her feeling heavy and sleepy. Finally her eyes closed completely, and she sank into a dreamless sleep while the moon outside slowly brightened and illuminated the forested mountains and the small rivers that wound their way through the gnarled trees. The landscape was silent, yet it seemed like it was lying in wait for something, and an ominous presence seemed to emanate from the ancient forest.
Something tickled her cheek; her eyelids flickered as she tried to throw off the heavy sleepiness that engulfed her. Finally managing to open her eyes, Adele looked up into a pair of dark grey-green eyes framed by long lashes in an angular pale face. Thin black eyebrows arched and the long pale fingers were withdrawn as Adele struggled into a sitting position, confusion and fear flashing across her face, before settling on anger.
“Who are you?” she demanded of the stranger.
He seemed to find this amusing as he chuckled slightly, “Temper, temper little one.” he chided.
Adele quietened, mesmerised by the musical quality of his voice, the deep timbre pitching mellow tones against deeper ones in a confusing barrage of beauty. Adele appraised him silently, noticing his graceful stance and expensive faded green robe and open necked soft white shirt. The long black hair pulled back from his sharply-angled cheekbones was startling in contrast to his pale, almost bloodless skin. His lips were sensual, and in contrast to his pale skin, were a deep almost bruised purple-red, which were at that moment curved slightly in a smirk and his eyes danced as he noticed her studying him.
“Staring is rude you know” he remarked, matching her eye contact until she was forced to drop her gaze.
He sighed, “I am the master of this house and from what Farhn tells me, you arrived here in the middle of the night in completely” he coughed slightly “unsuitable attire for the weather.”
Adele just managed to hold in a scowl, as she realised another thing about him. He carried the air of one used to being obeyed – she recognised it immediately having dealt with people all her life in positions such as his. It was in his tone of bored dismissal of Farhn, who she presumed was the butler who had shown her in the night before; but he was also arrogant, and arrogant men were usually cruel. His cold eyes danced with an inner fire as he spoke, a further warning to her; his whole body language was a casual appearance of dominance. Well, she wasn’t going to be that easily cowed.
“Well, thank you for giving me a room for the night; it was very kind of you. I daresay I shall be on the road again by dawn and will not trouble you any longer. ”
He inclined his head slightly, “As you wish. Though,” he hesitated “I hope you know the road you travel, for it is easy to become lost in these mountains, and there are many dangers in the forest.”
Adele shivered slightly “Yes, sir. I am not well acquainted with the area, would it be possible for you to give me directions to the nearest port? I know the ocean is to the East, but I am afraid to become disorientated. The sun here does not shine that often.”
The man smiled slowly, “Yes, I think that I could help you in these matters, though it may take a day or so to locate the correct maps and travel equipment, for you cannot travel with such small provisions. No, I will not allow you to depart without suitable supplies, for it is a full week’s further travel from here to the coast.” His tone was final, and though his words were obviously intended to be kindly, Adele couldn’t help feeling a twinge of unease. She didn’t want to stay in this icy castle with its strange master any longer than absolutely necessary. But he was right, there was no way that she could get to Wonmar with a stale loaf of bread and a thin coat and ragged shoes. She needed this man’s help, however much she wished she didn’t.