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Depravity (A Beastly Tale Book 1)

By:M.J. Haag

Depravity (A Beastly Tale Book 1)
M.J. Haag

       One


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.

I wondered what they were about. My curiosity held me in place as I  continued to peer through a small crack in the wall, so that I might  find out.

"As I promised Patrick in the beginning, I'll not lay a hand on you."  The baker walked to the door that separated the bakery from the shop and  locked it. Then he locked the side door.

"Flip back your skirts."

Sara lay back on the table and did as she was told. I was shocked to see  bare legs and no underthings, but I began to understand the baker's  price. At sixteen, though still innocent, I was far from naive. I'd  spied my sister, Bryn, kissing Tennen on occasion. A loose blouse and a  hand on her breast usually accompanied the kiss.

"Draw your heels up to the table, and drop your knees to the side so I  can see you better," the baker said in a husky voice. I could see a  bulge under his apron as he watched Sara do what she'd been told.

He dropped to his knees, kneeling between her splayed legs. My view  became slightly obstructed by her foot, but I saw and heard enough to  know he licked her. Repeatedly. Sara started making little gasping  noises, and I wondered if it hurt.

True to his word, the baker didn't lay a hand on her, but he did on  himself. He reached under his apron and began tugging on himself. His  grunts mingled with her gasps. The sounds they made remained muffled  until the end when they both increased in volume for just a moment.  Then, silence fell. The baker gave Sara one final slurp and rose to wash  his hands.

My cheeks flamed from what I'd just witnessed, and I felt sick.

Sara sat up, equally flushed. She refused to look at the baker as she  straightened her skirts and stood on shaky legs. The baker wrapped a  large loaf of bread, fresh out of the oven, and handed it to her.

I didn't want to stay and hear anymore. Silently, I rose and crept from  my hiding spot, willing to wait for another day to catch the baker's  mother. My list of reasons to avoid the baker had just grown.

That was when I turned the corner and ran into Tennen and Splane. They  had both been leaning against the neighboring building, waiting for  their mother. Neither had noticed me at first, until Tennen ran his hand  through his dark hair. Splane's golden head was turned to study his  brother, until Tennen froze.

The pair had taken one look at my face, somehow sensed I had seen their  mother with the baker, and had started toward me. Forgetting about the  carrots in the pouch slung across my shoulders, I'd run, and they'd  given chase.

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