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Tall, Dark & Heartless, Page 1

R. L. Mathewson

Page 1



  A small village in Scotland, just north of the English border


  "Come on, lad. Jump and take it if ye want it!"

  "Give it back!" Caine snapped, sick of being taunted because of his size. He was sixteen winters and he was being mocked by a boy two winters younger than him, in front of all the men in the village no less.

  "Make me, brat," the boy said, reaching out and shoving him. He stumbled back and tripped over his bare feet and landed in the mud next to four of his cousins.

  "Get up!" Jacob hissed as he reached down and grabbed Caine by the scruff of his neck, forcing him back to his feet. "If ye let 'em knock ye down again I'll wring yer neck," his cousin promised as he shoved him back towards the large boy.

  Caine glowered over his shoulder at his cousin as he uselessly wiped at the mud now coating his dirty tunic and plaid. He knew his cousin thought he was helping, but sadly he wasn't. After he dealt with this horse's ass he'd have to run and hide in his cave for a few days. At least until his cousin forgot that he owed him a beating or his aunt sent the dogs after him, again.

  He forced himself to walk up to the large boy who towered over him and held up his fists, ready to get this over with. The lad and his friends laughed as the boy gave Caine a shove, but this time he managed to hold his ground. The only thing that would save him from a sound beating from his cousin was to try to fight. Jacob would still clobber him, but at least he'd be able to walk afterwards.

  As he stepped back in front of the lad towering over him and hell bent on humiliating him, he ignored the teasing and the taunts from the other children and even the adults. He knew he was small, too small for his age, which made him the talk of the village. It was a daily humiliation that was only made worse when his ten year old cousin Lachlan had a growth spurt a month ago and now towered over him.

  No one knew what was wrong with him. He was born small and didn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to grow. Around five years ago he simply stopped growing. It didn't matter what he ate or what vile concoctions his aunt shoved down his throat, his body refused to grow. It was not only embarrassing, but intolerable at this point.

  At his age he should be earning a man's wage working out in the fields or learning a trade. Instead, no one would hire him. No matter where he went he could not find work. It was a sore spot with his aunt. The only reason she hadn't turned him out yet was because he didn't have much of an appetite. In fact, for the past year and a half he really hadn't eaten anything at all.

  He should be dead, he knew that much at least. While his cousins were fighting over scraps of food he was sitting back, bored while his cousins fought over every last bit of food. Although he felt hunger, it wasn't for any food he could think of. The constant hunger was only a mild irritation, something he didn't usually think about. The few times he tried to eat, his stomach would hurt him and he'd lose what little food he'd managed to swallow.

  After that, he decided not to touch any of the food since it would only be taking it away from his cousins who needed it more. If anyone had noticed that he wasn't eating they hadn't said anything, probably because they didn't care. Not that he could blame them. He remembered only too well how it felt to go hungry.

  Even though his aunt did her best to put food on the table it normally wasn't enough. Being on the smaller side meant that he usually got his food last and of course he would have been fed last anyway since he was just a charity case. His father hadn't wanted him anymore than his aunt did, but his aunt wouldn't turn her back on free labor, which was the only thing he seemed good enough for.

  "Ah, look at that, lad," the big brute said, gesturing to the whores, who lived in a shack down by the river and only came to the village to eat or earn some coin on their backs, "even they're laughing at ye. "

  He felt his cheeks burn as he dared a glance at the women only to discover that they were indeed laughing at him. That wasn't surprising or anything new since everyone laughed at him.

  "Ah, go on, lad. Show 'em yer wee willy," the bastard said as he shoved Caine. When the boy reached to yank away his plaid he did something he knew he'd regret the moment his cousin got his hands on him.

  He ran.

  He ran past the men and women laughing at him, past the pigs and chickens that roamed the streets, down to the woods, over the stream and headed for his cave where he planned to stay until he figured out where to go next. He ignored his cousin's demands to come back and kept going, ducking beneath branches and through prickly patches, knowing that no one bigger than him would be able to follow. He ran up the side of the rock hill and after making sure that no one was looking he slid behind a large boulder and allowed himself to slide down the slant that took him through the entrance tunnel and down into his cave.

  Very little light made its way into the cave, but that was okay, he didn't really need it. He reached out and pressed his small hand against the side of the smooth rock wall and made his way to his real home, the place where he didn't have to worry about anyone pointing and laughing at him, where he didn't have to worry about his aunt finally getting sick of the very sight of him and casting him out. This was his home and here he was a man.

  A loud yawn escaped him as he continued to make his way through the pitch black cave followed by another one. He couldn't remember ever feeling so tired so quickly before. The last few days he'd fallen asleep in the oddest places. Twice he'd woken up in the field to his aunt slapping and kicking him. He really didn't know why he was so tired lately, but for once he wasn't going to fight it. Sleeping would give him something to do until he figured out what he should do with the rest of his life.

  For a man that looked like a young boy there really wasn't much to do except hide out like the freak that he was. It was only a matter of time before the good townspeople chained him up and demanded that he be checked to see if he was a demon or a witch, again. Soon they wouldn't be satisfied with just throwing rotten food at him or spitting on him. When his aunt cast him out they would probably just kill him and be done with it.

  Maybe that would be for the best, he thought, yawning as he found the pallet, which he'd made with leaves and old straw, in the dark and laid down. Maybe it would be for the best if he fell asleep and never woke up again, he thought as he drifted off.


  "Don't bother gettin' up," he heard Ian, his aunt's closest neighbor and the real owner of the cave, say as the cool tip of a sword registered in Caine's mind.

  He opened his mouth to speak, but the only thing that came out was a hoarse whisper. Caine tried to move his arms and legs, but they were too heavy to move so he settled for opening his eyes and was forced to immediately shut them as bright light from several torches nearly blinded him.

  "I'm not gonna ask ye again, what are ye doing on me property?" Ian demanded as the tip of the sword bit into his skin, making his over sensitized skin scream in agony.

  "W-w-," he had to swallow hard to find his voice, "what are you doing, Ian?" he asked in a daze as the sound of his voice registered in his mind and when it did he nearly jumped to sit up, but thankfully he was still too weak to move.

  "How do ye ken my name?" Ian demanded in a hard tone as a hand suddenly grabbed Caine by a handful of his hair and yanked him up until he was sitting, barely able to stay up on his own. He forced his eyes open and squinted at Ian and his two sons as they glared at him with their swords drawn.