The Unchosen Path - Book cover

The Unchosen Path

Madelyn Jane

Chapter One

Book 1


It was halfway through the night when my drunken stepfather, Lugh, slammed the door to our house.

Since my mother’s death two years ago, I had watched Lugh turn from one of the proudest and wealthiest men in our town to a gnawing rat. Always searching for his next meal.

His reckless spending caused us to forfeit the workers at our mill, and we were unable to tend to the land; most of our grain began to die.

Now, instead of working to fix our crops, he drank himself into a stupor almost every night. Tonight was no different.

I quickly rose from my bed and headed downstairs, where the bottom floor held our dining table, a firepit, and a few chairs.

As Lugh shouted for me at the top of his lungs, I felt a shiver run down my spine at the change in the air. He had been gone for almost a week, which had brought me some peace.

The last time he came home, he beat me for not having a meal ready… And the time before that for our mill’s failure… And before that for the sickness that took my mother, his most prized possession.

It was a vicious cycle that I was ready to find a way out of. I quickly put on my shawl and started to prepare something.

Drenched from the rain, the man that hovered in front of me looked nothing like Lugh. His face was dirty and tired; his clothes were ripped and stained with what looked like urine and blood.

“Lugh, would you like me to fetch you a fresh set of clothes and some supper?”

“Come here and give your father a kiss.”

I dared not go closer to him, hoping he was too drunk to read my thoughts. He slumped down onto the floor to clumsily remove his shoes.

I moved over to the cupboard and took out a knife to begin slicing a piece of bread.

“I have great news to share. The farm is saved.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve found a way to save the farm. A way we’ll all be happy in the end.”

Still dripping wet, he tracked in mud from the front door as he sat down at the head of the table, placing a bag of coins in front of him.

I stared at it, a pit in my stomach. I was becoming increasingly aware that he must have settled on a price for my hand, or possibly sold me.

“Two hundred pieces of silver. That’s your worth,” he finally said.

“Lugh, no. I beg of you.”

“You will make a fine wife.”

Tears rolled down my face. My head shaking no.

“I’ve saved you, and most importantly, I’ve saved this farm. ,” he said, shooting out of his seat. He pushed me backward so hard that I fell to the ground. “You should be grateful I didn’t sell you! Your betrothed is a rich man from two towns over. He’ll come to collect you in three days’ time.”

“How could you agree to this without even asking me?”

“Ask you? You should be thanking me for arranging this marriage. Many girls your age have already wed and had children.”

“What do you know about him?” I asked, my fists clenched.

“That he was willing to send a servant ahead of time to pay me in full before collecting you.” His raspy voice laughed. As he removed his cape, he hovered dangerously close to me.

I felt an alarm throughout my body. “You met him a few weeks ago at the market.”

“That old, potbellied man?”

“That man is paying a handsome price for you.”

“He could not even ride on a horse, he was so big!”

“Shut it, girl, and appreciate the decision I have made.” The tone of his voice was dangerous.

“You are correct. This was your decision. You should prepare ~yourself~ to marry him because I refuse to! You have no rightful claim to me to even arrange this,” I screamed at him, immediately regretting it.

He carefully placed his cape over the back of the chair and turned his face toward me in such a way that I felt death itself was staring at me.

As a fox would to its prey, he walked over to me, shoving me against the wall. He forcefully placed his hands around my neck and began whispering in my ear.

“You will marry him. Is that clear? Another word and I’ll snap this pretty little neck.”

The grip around my neck tightened, and I found myself gasping for air. He released one hand and began to stroke the side of my face.

As I watched his body stagger from side to side, the smell of rotting teeth consumed me.

“You look so much like your mother. It’s a shame she won’t be here for your wedding.” He stared at me for what seemed like forever.

It was the same look he would give my mother when she had done something wrong. The same look I had known throughout my childhood, the one that meant to leave immediately, to hide myself away, and not return until the morning.

I thought about all the times I had left my mother alone with him, feeling helpless because I could not save her. The images of her pushing me out of the house seconds before Lugh got his hands on her.

I thought about all the times I’d promised myself he would never lay a hand on me. And then when he had, I would tell myself this would be the last time.

“I shall have my way with you tonight. A parting gift from me.”

Upon hearing these words, the anger inside of me awakened a darkness. I remembered I was clutching the bread knife and slowly began to raise it.

He was leaning down to gather my dress when I felt myself jab it into his neck. I stood there, watching his hands clutch his throat. Blood poured out onto the floor.

I closed my eyes, hearing only his gurgling as he fell to his knees and finally collapsed onto the floor.

When I opened my eyes again to see Lugh’s dead body in front of me, my legs gave way and I fell to the ground.

I sat there, unaware of time, in shock of what I’d just done. The cost of my freedom. n.

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