The innkeeper took the bread, cheese, onion and ale that his wife brought him, then thoughtfully took a clove of garlic out of his pouch, and chewed on it.
His daughter passed to and fro outside the door searching for the hens eggs. Although still a girl, she was in the first bloom of womanhood. Brown curly locks escaped her bonnet and her skin was as unmarked of any blemish as any woman who milked cows.
“She’s getting pretty” he remarked to his wife, who cast him an anxious glance. “They took a boy from the village across the way. So they’ll be after a girl next”. He gave his wife a meaningful look, then he stood up brushing the crumbs onto the floor. “Fix it, will you. Or we’ll lose her “. And he stomped out .
Helen stopped her baking and looked at her daughter running laughing around the yard after the hens. The fear had been growing on her, and she didn’t want to do what she had to do, but if Coral was going to make it to adulthood it had to be done. She put her motherly feelings aside and steeled herself to the ugly task.
“Coral, where are the eggs!” she yelled from the door. Coral picked up her basket and ran to her mother, smiling and breathless. “I couldn’t find the brown hen’s …”. Before she could finish her mother’s fist met her in the teeth. She fell over screaming. “Mom, why did you do that?” Her hand clutched her mouth from which blood was pouring. Her mother dragged her by the arm to her feet and inspected her face. A front tooth was missing. Good. She wouldn’t have to hit her again. Seductive brown locks were now cascading from under her bonnet, now awry. “And your hair is a mess. You look like a slattern. Here, I’ll fix it for you”. Ignoring the blood pouring down the girl’s face she dragged her into the kitchen and taking up a large bread knife started hacking at her hair. “Not my hair, Mom, not my hair”. Then, “My teeth hurt”.
“I’ve got just the cure for that” and Helen shoved a clove of garlic into her mouth. “Chew it” she ordered.
Coral nodded miserably, bemused. Her Mum gave her a rag to blot the bleeding.
“Now go and change your clothes. Something you can’t get dirty. The brown dress. It’s a bit raggy but I don’t want you bleeding over good clothes”.
Coral nodded and walked slowly up the stairs to her room.
Her father walked back in and sat at the table. “Is it done?” He asked.
Helen nodded, then wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. The innkeeper got up and held his wife in his arms, gently stroking her hair as she sobbed. “You did well, lass. You’ve made her safe.”
Some time later Coral came downstairs, her face bruised, hair like a half plucked chicken, in her old, worn brown dress, and silently helped her Mum prepare lunch. Her Dad put an arm round her shoulder and pushed another clove of garlic into her mouth. She was too miserable to resist.
When the lunchtime crowd came in and sat at the benches to eat their stew and bread they looked at Coral with surprise but said nothing. And then the soldiers came. The innkeeper put on his best smile and went to greet them. He brought them to the best table by the window and brought a large jug of ale. Helen brought the bread and stew on a tray. They stared at her, but said nothing. But when they wanted their ale refilled one yelled, “More ale, and this time let the chicken bring it not the old turkey”. And they laughed.
Her Dad nudged her to take the jug of ale, and a bit unsteady on her feet, trying to look as normal as possible, Coral took the jug to the table. “My, you’re a pretty one” one said grabbing her round the waist and kissing her, recoiling suddenly with a grimace at the stench of garlic. Coral smiled nervously exposing the gap in her teeth. The men stared at her in disgust. Before they could say anything the inneeper appeared with another jug topping up their ale. “Don’t mind her’ he said, friendly like, “she’s a bit simple. Drools a bit too. You’re lucky. You got her on a good day”.
The man who kissed her looked like he was going to be sick. His friends were looking at him and smirking and suppressing chortles. “She stinks”, he croaked.
The innkeeper put a friendly hand on his shoulder. “Doctor’s orders’ he said. “She had an infected tooth and we thought garlic would help. Good for keeping vampires away, too”.
“There are vampires hereabouts then?” the commanding officer enquired cautiously.
“Oh, yes” the innkeeper replied. “Why I heard a boy was taken from the next village only last week”.
The men looked at each other, but the commanding officer stared hard at the innkeeper. “But we are all safe here” the innkeeper continued. “We love garlic”.
The men finished their stew in silence and then left.
The innkeeper and his wife and Coral watched them from the kitchen.
Coral finally mustered the courage to speak. “Why did you hit me, Ma?”
Her Dad answered. “Coral, you know all those stories we told you about vampires?”
“They are all true”.
Copyright 2014 Prayerwarriorpsychicnot