Home > Depravity (Beastly Tales #1)

Depravity (Beastly Tales #1)
M.J. Haag


I wrapped my hands around the cold bars of the massive, black iron gate and glared after the smith’s sons, Tennen and Splane Coalre. The pair cast nervous glances back at me as they scurried away from the beast’s shadowy garden. They had locked me inside because of misdirected spite. It wasn’t my fault I’d seen what I had.

“This is what you get, Benella,” Tennen had said as he had pushed me into the beast’s lair.

Tennen thought his treatment just. However, the current situation was anything but just.

A strand of my dark hair, loosened from my braid by the encounter, fell across my cheek and partially obstructed my view of my retreating tormentors. I shook the hair away from my eyes and took stock of my situation.

Outside the gate, early morning mist floated around the trunks of the trees, and blue sky shimmered through the gently moving canopy. Inside the gate, neither the light mist nor blue sky penetrated the garden in which I stood. Cast in shadow and eerie silence, the beast’s domain welcomed nothing from beyond its walls.

Sides still heaving, I struggled to quiet my breathing. I needed to leave quickly. Tennen and Splane hadn’t departed quietly, and it wouldn’t be long before the creature came looking for me.

I studied the top of the gate. The iron should have been easy enough to scale, but vines climbed the rock walls and twined with the iron rods. I didn’t trust the vines. They tended to move on their own. I didn’t much trust the gate, either. It should have been closed and locked.

The birds outside the gate fell eerily silent, and my stomach gave a sickening twist as I realized I’d run out of time. I dropped my head and squeezed my eyes shut.

The beast had come.

A heavy breath gusted across my neck, sending shivers of fear over my skin, and my hands twitched on the gate. In the distance, I heard the mocking laughter of the smith’s sons as they raced home.

Taking a slow breath, I forced my fingers from the bars and dropped my hands to my sides. I didn’t turn to look at the beast. I didn’t need to. Once before, I’d seen his dark shape hidden in mist when strangers, worked into a righteous fit, had come to Konrall and tried to storm the estate.

My breath left me when he clasped my arms, and I suddenly found myself sailing over the wall. I flipped, spun, then floated for a moment before I felt myself drawn back to earth.

I braced myself for the bone-jarring collision. Instead, I bounced slightly on impact. Puzzled, I quickly sat up.

A woven mesh of vines strung between trees had cushioned me from the hard landing I had expected. I scrambled off and turned to stare at the tangled vegetation that had saved me. The vines slithered back from the trees, releasing their hold on each other. Slowly, they withdrew to disappear over the wall from where they’d come.

I stood panting and shaking, looking at the stone wall that extended beyond sight in each direction. The bars I’d held only a moment ago broke the monotony of the stonescape far to my left. He’d tossed me a good distance. Had it not been for the vines, I would have broken a limb or worse.

My stomach growled hungrily as I bent to inspect my clothes. Father couldn’t afford to replace them. Other than dirt and a few small tears, which I could mend, the old worn pants and shirt would last a while longer. I sighed and straightened.

The day hadn’t started well. I’d set out to trade for bread using the wild carrots I’d foraged at dawn. Carrots, typically a fall crop, were easy to find in early spring if one knew where to look. The beast’s enchanted gardens grew year round. Though he allowed no one inside, a clever girl could still benefit from the estate. On the east side of the property, the plants crept through a section of crumbling wall. Amidst the fallen rocks, I could find any variety of fruit or vegetable. The type changed every day, depending on the mood of the magic.

After the long walk back to town with the crisp roots in my bag, I had waited by the baker’s side door, hidden behind one of the discarded barrels littering his yard. Through the gaps in the roughly boarded walls, the heat from the ovens warmed my face as I watched the baker move around his kitchen.

Sweat had already dampened his brown hair and the heat had colored his face. The white apron that covered his girth was well dusted with flour as he worked at the large wooden table, rolling dough and adding ingredients. The smell of yeast and baking bread filled my cramped hiding spot outside.

He lifted something to his mouth and chewed. His jowls jiggled with his jerky bites as he squinted thoughtfully. He sampled everything. When I was younger, I’d asked him why. He’d winked, in a secretive way that made me feel uncomfortable, and said he needed to sample in order to know if the goods were quality.

I didn’t care for the baker. That’s why I hid in the alley, hoping for a glimpse of his mother. She was kind enough to trade carrots for bread while the baker didn’t care how hungry a person was unless they had coin. My father, sisters, and I often went without bread because of it.

As I crouched, waiting for the baker’s mother, the smith’s wife, Sara, timidly knocked at the baker’s door. I saw him smile before moving to answer the door.

“Come in, dear lady,” he said, backing up to let Sara enter.

I found it odd that she used the side door. The shop, filled with the goods for sale, ran along the front of the building and had its own entry.

“How’s business at the smithy?” he asked in a cordial tone.

“You know it’s no better or Patrick wouldn’t have sent me,” Sara said.

I wondered why Sara’s husband had sent her to the baker if their business was slow.

“That’s too bad,” he said, clearing his dough from the table. “The price has gone up.”

“What?” Sara said in a shocked gasp.

“Don’t fret. You’ll be able to pay, I’m sure. I’ve looked my fill, you see.”

With the table cleared, he moved to Sara and helped her remove her jacket. Though an older woman, she still held her beauty. I’d heard many men in town comment on her pretty features and gentle bearing.

“A taste. That’s all I ask. If you don’t want to mention the increase to Patrick, I’ll not mention it, either, though I don’t think he’d mind.”

Sara chewed on her lip and struggled with threatening tears. She watched the baker as he laid a cloth on the flour-dusted table. Then he gave a single, curt nod, backed her up to the table, and helped her sit upon it.

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