2 Under the umbrella

Year 1778

Rain poured down over the land of Bonelake. 

Each drop followed by another made the view of one village dark and dull, making it difficult for those standing outside to see what lay ahead of them. Water flowed down the cramped street, carrying the mud and dirt past a young girl who stood under an umbrella with her aunt and uncle.

Her jade green eyes darted left and right, squinting tightly in an effort to see beyond the darkness and the rain.

"Aunt Marion…do you think he will come? The rain is getting heavier." She placed more strength into her arms to keep the umbrella steady.

"He will come, Penny." 

Penny's mother had passed away seven months ago, and since then, her maternal relatives took care of her.

Her aunt rubbed and wrung her hands together. The rain was getting heavy, and the wind did not help, making it impossible for the umbrella to stop all the rain from reaching their legs and shoes. Her aunt gave a look to her husband standing next to her. Pressing her lips into a thin line, they waited for the expected man to arrive.

They had been standing there with a sack of potatoes and turnips which had to be sold to a customer today. They owned a little shop at the corner end of the village market. The shop did not fare well. 

Her Uncle Larry worked hard, waking up early to be the first shop open and last to close, but regardless of what he did, the income was less than predicted. After all, its location was distant when compared to the other spots making their shop a last resort for the locals and affluent buyers.

A messenger had sent them an urgent request for their vegetables an hour ago, claiming that they would arrive to purchase them shortly, but even after an hour had passed, no one had come. Penny wondered whether the man would even come with such awful rain flooding the streets. Perhaps it was a wealthy person who was holding a party for others like him. People whose statuses were too high for her family to speak with.

"Are you sure he's coming?" Penny heard her Aunt Marion whisper to her Uncle.

"Let me go check the market to make sure they aren't there," he replied, readying himself with the umbrella only to have his wife grab his shirt.

"I will come with you. I don't want to find you later on the ground with your back thrown out. Penny, dear," Aunt Marion turned to look over her shoulder to meet her niece's eyes that stuck out radiantly in the gloomy weather, "Your Uncle and I shall go see if the man is waiting for us at the market's entrance. Stay here so that we don't have to come looking for you next. Okay?"

"Let me go look instead. I'll be much quicker," the young girl promised, only to have her uncle shake his head.

"The last thing we want is for you to be getting lost. Do as you are told," Uncle Larry's words were sharp and left no room for rebuttal. 

He had always been sharp with her, which often made her wonder whether he was opposed to her staying with them.

"Don't worry about the vegetables. I will safeguard them," Penny gave a reassuring smile to have her aunt return a small nod to her before scurrying away with Uncle Larry under a single umbrella. 

The rain continued to pour with a soft thunder growling above her. The rain was common to the people who lived in Bonelake as the sunny days were sparse in comparison.

The tower bell rang loud enough to compete with the rain and thunder. The sky darkened further as a carriage passed by her without stopping, not caring to ask why she was standing alone in the rain or if she needed assistance. 

She took a step back under the worn-out, little roof that helped reduce the pressure on her black umbrella.

The wind grew more powerful, making it more difficult to shield her feet and the bottom of her dress from getting wet. As she stood there waiting for her uncle and aunt to return, all the while keeping an eye out so that she did not miss the customer who had agreed to come to purchase the goods, another carriage passed by, jet-black in colour.

Due to her unfamiliarity with carriages, Penny did not know to whom each one belonged to as they all appeared relatively identical in design and colour. Such luxuries generally belonged to men and women of the upper-class. The most contact she had with this transportation mode was travelling in a local carriage that was packed with other commoners, ferrying them from one village to another.

What Penny failed to notice was that this particular carriage had stopped around the corner of where she stood. 

"Master, is everything alright? Did you drop something?" asked the coachman who was ordered to pull over.

The man inside the carriage did not reply, ignoring his coachman to stare at the young girl standing alone under a flimsy umbrella and a rickety roof that was filled with more holes than cover. Unperturbed by the rain that hammered down whilst she stood, her hands clutched tightly onto her final form of defence. Her eyes periodically scanned around, looking for something, until a loud rumbling reverberated through the clouds.

Raising her face to look up at the sky, the master of the carriage saw a smile that moved him. 

She was a beautiful young maiden, her blonde hair tied into a single braid that rested on her shoulder. When the wind hit her face, her slender fingers tucked away the unruly strands of hair that covered her face.

Despite the heavy rain and cloudy day, he could still see her quite clearly. 

Her features were rather delicate and to his liking, and if he could, he would have gone over to speak with her, but he had other matters to attend to. Pressing matters which needed his attention.

Seeing his master settle back into his seat, the coachman asked him, knowing that he might not receive an immediate reply, "Shall we leave, Master?"

Damien breathed a single word, "Yes," taking one final look at the girl who had caught his eye.

Tired of being out in the rain for so long, he was thankful that he could resume their journey to some shelter, hurriedly pulling the reins to rush the horses onward.

Penny continued to wait in the rain until she felt it had been too long since her uncle and aunt had left her here. She grew worried, fearful something had happened to them. She wondered whether she should go look for them to make sure they were okay. Her aunt and uncle were no longer young, and the rain could have caused them to slip and fall.

Before she could decide, she saw a figure through the rain, walking towards her with an umbrella. It was a man wearing a large coat over his body. Penny guessed that he was the customer in question. 

He was late! 

Penny disliked that just because they were poor, and others could treat them however they wanted. Their time was just as important as theirs!

The man approached her, and when he was close enough, she berated him, "Mister, it's an hour past the time we agreed on. Don't you know the vegetables will soak in the water due to your carelessness? You will have to pay extra for wasting our time." She raised her brows accusingly to make sure he understood what she said.

The man stared at her, his black eyes inspecting her from top to bottom, causing her discomfort. 

"Where is your uncle?" 

He had a scar that ran across his mouth that made her wary of him.

"Because of your tardiness, they left to search for you in the rain, but they should be back any second now. You are Mr. Joseph, right?" she inquired full of suspicion.

"Yes," he said, scanning the vicinity to ensure no one was present. 

Most of the villagers had taken shelter under their homes to avoid being drenched and catching a fever.

"Your goods are right here. Pay up, and you can take it." She patted the sack of potatoes and turnips that were stuffed inside the sack.

The man stared at her, a smile forming on his lips.

"The payment has already been made…"

Since when? Penny gave him a look of doubt as she pondered his claim. Maybe the man trusted her uncle, and they shared a business history with him. As unlikely as that sounds, it was still technically possi—WHOA!

Suddenly, instead of taking the sack next to her, the man seized her wrist and dragged her towards him.

"What are you doing, Mister?!" Penny was startled by this sudden change. "Let go of my hand," she said firmly as she tried to pull it out of his grip, but he was too strong. 

Unable to pull away from him, she picked up a rotten carrot she had previously placed on the slab to throw away later. Taking hold of it, she jabbed it right into his face, digging into his eyes and making him yelp in pain. He instinctively let go of her hand. 

Without pause, she closed her umbrella and smashed his head with the edge of the handle as hard as she could before sprinting away. With the countless puddles that littered the ground, every step she took was accompanied with a large splash. One of her hands held the front of her dress as she made a mad dash through the streets.

She heard larger and more aggressive splashes chasing her footsteps. Unfortunately, the attacker was persistent in following her. She ran with all her might, turning into alleys and crossing the little streets until she found a large pillar located past a corner to hide behind.

Penny gasped for air. It had been ages since she had last run so desperately. 

The last time occurred when she was being chased by a cow. She had not done anything to anger the bovine. The animal disliked her for no apparent reason and seemed to pursue her out of boredom. To her joy and her aunt's dismay, the cow was sold two months ago.

Hearing the splashing sound approach her hiding spot, she covered her mouth and pulled her wet dress between her legs, praying he would pass the pillar without stopping. 

She could feel her heart pounding against her chest. 

When the man stopped to see where she had gone, she carefully peeked from the edge of the pillar. This alley led to a three-way fork, and from the man's perspective, she could have picked any one of them. Penny did not care which he picked as long as it was not the fourth option, the spot behind this pillar!

Thankfully, the man picked the second route.

Penny squeezed out of her hiding spot before running back to her starting point, hoping her aunt and uncle had returned by now. Reaching the storefront, they still had not returned, leaving her clueless about what she should do. Taking into account that she was unable to carry the sack of vegetables very far and that the rain had most likely ruined the entire bag by now, she decided to leave it here. 

Since she was already drenched, she did not bother with the umbrella and began walking home directly, letting rain flow onto her head and dress without reservation.

A quarter of the way home, she suddenly had a bad premonition. She paused and suddenly turned around to see if someone was following her, but when she saw nobody behind her, she let out a sigh of relief. When she faced forward again, all she could see was Mr. Joseph standing in front of her. Not a second later, his hand came right at her, and she blacked out.

Thunder growled in the sky as the wind changed directions, and the rain finally came to a stop. In only a few minutes, a young girl was abducted with no witnesses.

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