The feeling of grass between her bare toes encouraged the young girl to run across the sunlit meadow, laughing for the sheer joy of being alive.
The black-clad child hunter watched her from beneath his woollen cowl and smiled thinly. The girl would be an easy capture, he thought, and would suffer greatly for her truancy and the pleasure she was feeling now. The equally dark-clothed woman at his side exuded menace and gloating pleasure in about equal parts. He placed an admonitory hand on her muscular arm.
“Wait,” he ordered in sibilant tones. “Waiting will make your pleasure even greater. And will increase tenfold the shock and shame she will feel.”
Although vibrating with anticipation, the woman did as she was bid, contending herself by watching the girl with hot, hungry eyes.
All unaware of what was happening behind her, the young girl sunk to her knees in the flower-strewn grass and raised her face to the cerulean blueness of the afternoon sky.
“Thank you, lord,” she said softly. “Thank you for joy, and beauty, and for each day.”
She thought she felt a breath on her cheek and a hand at her forehead.
“Enough now,” the man whispered. “You may go and fetch the child to face her punishment.”
The ugly-minded raw-boned woman strode across the grass towards the kneeling figure, with a rope halter in one hand, and her lips pulled back from her yellowed teeth in a travesty of a grin.
She reached the kneeling girl and stretched out a bony hand to grasp her prey. But she found herself holding only a sleeve of rough homespun cloth.
Her scream could be heard for a very long way and it brought the cowled figure running.
“Gone,” she bewailed, “my pretty is gone.”
For a moment, the air shimmered with the laughter of an unseen entity that seemed to have nothing but contempt for the ugliness in the souls of the black-clad man and woman.
Under their feet the white flowers opened to the sun and a butterfly took flight.