The woods gave way to a bald hilltop. Buildings with thatched roofs and smoking stone chimneys flanked the dirt road ahead. Victor pulled back on his reins, slowing his horse to a standstill. He leaped onto the grass, ripping the blood-soaked cloth sack from the saddle. Aubrey followed suit, relieved to be through with the chafing of the ride. She massaged her aching thighs. Wearing a dress was not a good idea. Victor passed her by, swinging the bag at his side. The blood oozing through the twine mesh caught Aubrey’s eye. She was curious, but hesitant to ask. Understanding that the contents were terribly gruesome.
“People of the Hills!” Victor called out as he paced towards the houses.
Peasants clad in furs gradually wandered out of their shacks. Stretching their joints after being woken from their slumber. Victor waited for them to gather. Aubrey noted that these people did not look at them with fear. They seemed more confused by their sovereign’s sudden arrival.
“Hear me!” Victor announced. “Anyone who dares lay a finger on a Romanov.”
He flipped the back upside down. A pair of severed hands dropped at Victor’s feet. The still gathering crowd gasped. Aubrey winced silently before looking away.
“Will lose it.”
A man in the front row fell to his knees. He wept openly, consumed in his anguish. Others nervously murmured to each other. It seemed to Victor that the message had it’s intended effect.
“Send your tributes to the castle by the end of the week.” He spat.
Victor placed a hand on the small of Aubrey’s back. Nudging her back to the horses. He was eager to take her away from the squalor of the countryside. Back to the creature comforts of Castle Romanov.
“No.” The crying man rose to his feet. “We have nothing. You cannot draw blood from a rock.”
Though he still blinked away tears, he stood resolute. Victor noticed the impact it had on his kinsfolk. Fear quickly shifted to bitterness in a growing sentiment. Men were starting to run back to their houses, most likely to grab their hunting spears and bows. He redoubled his efforts to herd Aubrey away. She looked around nervously at the narrowing gap of encircling tribesmen. He slid a hand onto the hilt of his sword as a warning to them. Victor knew he could take this tribe by himself, but he was not sure if he could protect Aubrey if they all rushed at once.
“Run.” He hissed.
An arrow whizzed towards them. Victor drew his blade with blinding speed and sliced it out of the air. The mob stepped back instinctively. All except for the man with tears still running down his face. He stood his ground in an act of defiance and pounded a fist in the air.
“Victor Romanov! My name is Anton Krylov! And I am the man that will kill you!” He cursed.
The men and women of the tribe cheered in support. Victor grabbed Aubrey’s hand. They were completely encircled.
“Stay close to me.” He growled to her.
She trusted his judgement and obeyed. The swelling anger manifested verbally at first. Victor deflected the occasional arrow and hurled rock with short strikes with his sword. He realized that it was only a matter of time until the mob gathered enough courage to swarm them. He needed to think of a way to escape, fast.
“Watch out!” Aubrey yanked urgently at Victor’s sleeve to get his attention.
Victor spun around in time to catch an elderly woman mid-thrust. Dodging the spearpoint was a simple matter of timing. He gripped the extended shaft of the weapon with a single hand and barred his fangs. This was his opportunity to escape.
“Follow me closely.” He instructed.
Aubrey complied and wrapped her fingers into his coat tail. She was not sure what to expect, but she was drawn to his sudden certainty. Victor whipped the spear from the old lady’s grasp, redirecting the bunt hilt squarely over her chest. He shoved it into her firmly. Not enough force to impale, but enough to push her back through the crowd. Creating a fleeting path through the rows of people. Victor and Aubrey charged into the opening. The faces of snarling peasants blurred past. In a few seconds, they were clear. Victor released the spear. The momentum left the woman stumbling backwards.
Aubrey untangled her hand from Victor’s jacket. The two sprinted to the horses with arms outstretched.
“We are done cowering!” Anton roared behind them.
The mass of bodies stampeded in pursuit, emboldened by Anton’s fierce words. Victor was fast enough to escape easily, but he needed to keep pace with his struggling wife. Her breathing was erratic, and her strength was fading fast. Victor winced in annoyance. He dug his heels into the dirt. Aubrey shot him a puzzled look as he skidded to a stop. The mob was getting closer.
“O-Okay.” She panted.
With a swoop he ripped Aubrey off her feet. Then took off in a burst of speed. Moments later he had reached his mount. Victor grunted and tossed Aubrey onto the saddle. He pulled himself up with ease and slapped his feet against the horse. It whinnied gruffly. Sharp pebbles flew into the air as they raced down the road, retreating into the forest. Aubrey looked over her shoulder at the hill tribe slowly fading between the trees. Shuddering at the thought of what they would have done to her. She wrapped her arms around Victor’s torso with interlocked fingers. Letting out a relief laden exhale and gazing out into the passing woods.
“Are you hurt?” He asked.
“No. I’m fine.” She laid her head onto his shoulders.
Victor sighed. He had never imagined himself running away like he did. Of course, he was thinking of Aubrey’s safety. But he could not shake the feeling that a fire was started here. One he would be hard pressed to smother. He thought back to the man that had incited the violence. The man that had promised to kill him. Anton. Anton Krylov.
Victor was certain that they would meet again.
This is a bit from a writing project I abandoned a while back. My laughable attempt at a vampire romance novelette. I ended up just losing interest. This encounter was supposed to be the moment when the newlywed Princess Aubrey and Victor Romanov spark the rebellion that brings the couple closer together in order to defeat it (She hates him initially). Maybe my next attempt at romance will be less cheesy haha.