“I’ll not hurt thee. Don’t be a fearful,” a male voice murmured, close to her ear.
The shudders came back with a vengeance. If this man was after money, then he was shit out of luck. What if he tortured her for something she didn’t have? John wouldn’t pay any ransom, of that she was sure.
“Pass through the threshold.”
A tanned hand, leading to an arm clad in prison grays opened to latch to let her in. She recognized the pattern from the work crew in the village recently. Oh God, a convict. What had he done? Was he a killer, or a pervert? Heart pounding strong enough to break her ribs, Ella did as she was told. Maybe she would have a chance to grab her cell phone, or a knife or something heavy? The door swung shut behind them with a click as the latch settled.
He marched her into the kitchen. “I smell food. If I do let thee go, will thee serve me?”
Something wasn’t right here. Why was he using archaic language? Was this a setup? Would John stoop so low to intimidate her with another actor playing the part of a convict, or was this man a real a convict? How did one manage hostage situations? Ella didn’t know. She nodded.
“That is good. I will be a letting thee go presently. Don’t thee be making any swift movements, or I will not be pleased with thee.” He released her.
Trembling Ella walked to the stove. She dumped the roast beef and roasted potatoes pan on the hob, next to the boiled carrots. What now? Was she to get the electric carver going? What she didn’t want to do was to turn to see his face. If he was a convict, he would have to kill her. Wasn’t that the way it went?
“Thee can get a knife to carve the meat. Don’t try to skewer me with it. I be a warrior and thee might get hurt if I needs to disarm thee. I don’t want to hurt thee.”
Slowly, carefully, Ella reached for the electric carver. She turned it on.
“Odds blood, what be that device?” A hard arm encircled her again. She hadn’t even heard him moving.
This had to be a setup. No one talked like that. Fine, so she would go along with this parody. “You wanted a serving of meat, and I am about to cut it for you if you will let me. What I am holding will cut the meat.”
He backed off.
Ella continued, reaching up for a plate in the overhead cabinet. She had everything now, including the gravy, but how to serve him without looking at him. Was he an actor or not? Her life might well depend on her next move.
“Serve thyself, too. I’ll not be eating alone. “
Ella reached for another plate to serve herself a tiny amount. No way did she want to eat. Her stomach lurched in protest.
“Is anyone else expected to share the repast?”
“No, just you and me.” Crunch time. She couldn’t serve him without looking in his direction. Was John going to get lucky and become a widower? Was this guy for real? Ella took a deep breath and put both plates on her kitchen table. She tried not to look at him, to keep her eyes downcast and then reached into the drawer for silverware. She set their places, still with eyes lowered. Grunts of enjoyment followed.
“Thee not be eating. I did say I wouldn’t harm thee.”
Ella stared at her plate. “Then why are you in my home, holding me a prisoner?”
“Evil people did lock me away and perform black magic on my body.” His voice hardened in tone. “I needs to get away, to my own place. I needs to hide so they can’t find me, and I needs food for strength to fight them if they does try.”
Shocked, she looked up at him. He was a young man, who might have been a blond, judging by his eyebrows as his head was shaven bald. Faint, darker stubble peppered his jaw and cheeks. Once, he might have been a powerful man, but now his prison clothes hung off an emaciated body. Deep blue eyes stared at her.
“Who are you?”
“They be a calling I John Smith, but that bain’t my name. I be Mordred.”
Ella laughed. This just wasn’t real. She had either lost her mind, or he was a very good actor. “Mordred was the son of the mythical King Arthur.”
He frowned, shoveling in a chunk of roast beef, which he took his time chewing before he answered. “Not so. That was a rumor. I be Merlin’s son and his apprentice.”
Yes, she had lost her mind. “Those people were supposed to have lived twelve centuries back. Who are you really? One of my soon to be ex-husband’s friends sent to scare me?
The man finished his meal with obvious enjoyment. He thrust his empty plate at her. “That were good. Could I have more?”
This was getting surreal. “When you have answered my question. Who are you?”
“I be Mordred. I will prove this to thee when I have more strength. Now, can I have another serving of your excellent food?”
Ella complied. She didn’t know what to do with this strange man. If he was one of John’s buddies, he was doing a stellar job on her. On the other hand, what if he was a madman, escaped from the hospital section of a prison, which his prison grays seemed to suggest?
Mordred wolfed down his second portion with relish. He then looked directly into her eyes. “Do thee have a candle or a taper?”
Ella wasn’t sure what a taper was, but she did have candles. Ones meant to go with this supper. She stood up to get the candelabra from the sitting room, but he was there, breathing down her shoulder before she had reached the doorway.
“The candles are in another room. Can I get them?”
“I’ll be coming along behind.”
He did, shadowing her to such an extent that she wondered about him. Ella placed the unlit seven candle candelabra on the table between then as they resumed their seats.
“There be no lights. Thee agree?”
She nodded. Where was this madness going?”
Mordred lowered his head and shut his eyes. “Watch the candles.”
One by one, starting on the right, they flamed into light. Ella gasped, stunned. She didn’t know what to think. No one could do this.
“Watch.” He commanded.
The candelabra rose above the table to almost ceiling height before it gently drifted down to its former position.
He opened his deep blue eyes. “I be Mordred, the apprentice and son of Merlin. Do thee believe me now, or do thee think me moonstruck, like the people in white coats?”
“I think I have gone mad. No one can do what you have just done”.
“I can and much more when I have my strength back. Will thee help me?”
He was serious. He had just accomplished an impossible feat. None of John’s actor friends could have done this, let alone an escapee from prison. Yes, this whole thing was a hallucination brought on by stress. She would wake up in the morning to her new, horrendous life, and that would be the end of it. In the meantime, she would go along with this madness invented by her mind. It spared her smashing things or dissolving into useless tears.
“What do you want from me?”
“I need to be where the wild things are, away from people. I can’t be going back to the place of sorcery and torment again.” He reached up to wipe a dribble of gravy from his mouth, exposing a wrist with heavy slash-marked scars slicing across it.
Reality slammed through Ella. She was sitting across the table from an escapee from a hospital wing of a prison, who had tried to self-harm. He wasn’t making sense, and yet the candles …that hadn’t been an illusion, or was it? Just how dangerous was this man, if he were real? She stood, turning to reach for the TV remote. A chair crashed back, and the next instant her arms were locked at her sides by his steely embrace.
“None of that long distance talking to call them to me.” His voice was a rumbled growl in her ear, his breath hot on her neck.
Heavens, he thought the remote was a cell phone. Her world tilted askew again. “I can’t talk to anyone with the device.” Now she had better humor him or else. “It is to turn on the box over in the corner that will show pictures and words from a distance, but not hear any words I say to it. I need to know where the people are who are chasing you. How can I help you if I don’t know what traps they are setting?” Would there be news of him? She thought there would for sure if he were judged a madman.
He released one of her arms, still keeping her close against him. “Don’t thee be crossing I.”
Ella flipped through the channels until she had a local one. Halsham manor, a secure state mental hospital, rather than a prison and just five miles away, flickered into view, surrounded by police cars and reporters. The camera zeroed in on a reporter describing a breakout of a dangerous and psychotic patient, who was on no count to be approached by the general public. A picture of Mordred, looking drugged, flashed onto the screen, while the voice reported that he had injured three staff, one seriously. Assurances followed of roadblocks and house to house searches in the immediate area. The man was considered dangerous. Ella killed the screen and gently put down the remote before it fell out of her shaking hand.