I'm not going to make it, Ellis Halstaff thought to herself. I've lost too much blood.
Escaping through the front door and sprinting to Havenwood proper were not an option. Not before she reached Ralyn. He was practically helpless, barely a year and a half old. He hadn't even mastered walking yet, much less protecting himself in any way.
At the staircase she pulled with her good hand on the banister, dragging her worthless right leg behind her one step at a time.
As her strength ebbed she thought of Sahm and wondered desperately why her daughter was trying to kill her.
After finishing her work, Ellis had gone in to check on Sahm, to see if perhaps she was ready for a bath. Sahm had smiled, pulled Ellis's best carving knife from beneath the sheets, and stabbed her in the leg, then repeatedly in the torso. Five, six times, maybe more. Ellis had spent precious heartbeats immobilized by the shock of the attack before she had finally run.
Ellis's head felt foggy now. She was halfway up the staircase when she heard the rapid padding of Sahm's bare feet on the floor below.
She turned, and there, at the bottom of the stairs, her beautiful blonde-haired daughter stood, clothed in the lacy pink dress Ellis had saved up to buy her for the harvest festival. The cloth was spattered a dark crimson that glistened in the lamplight. Sahm held the knife in her right hand. Blood coated her arm from the elbow down, dripping from the tip of the blade.
"Wait, Mama, I still need to get you!"
She thinks it's a game; how can she think it's a game?
Ellis hauled herself backward up one more step.
Sahm bounded over two of the stairs in one leap. "I said WAIT!" She slipped in the trail of blood on the step, pitching forward, her right arm arcing overhead, burying the blade in the stair Ellis had just cleared.
The sound of her own screams drowned out all other noise as Ellis whipped around and hopped up the last two steps to the second floor. She closed the distance to Ralyn's room in desperate lurches, her useless right leg dragging behind.
Once inside, I can bar the door, then maybe—
Ellis hit the doorway and froze. Ralyn was not in his crib. What was more, the wooden railing had been broken, pieces of it scattered on the floor.
The lightheadedness was more persistent now as Ellis reached out to the broken railing for support. Her limbs felt cold, responding slowly to what her mind willed them to do.
"There you are!"
Ellis spun to see Sahm in the doorway, a huge grin on her face, the kind she got when she would play roughhouse with Papa in the days before he left.
The world teetered. Ellis took a step back. She grasped a splintered piece of railing, long and deathly sharp at one end. She pulled it free and thrust it in front of herself with a shaky hand.
"What did you do, Sahm? What did you do to your brother?"
Sahm lowered her knife. Her puffy lips turned down at the corners, eyebrows knitted, her eyes wide and moist. It was the look she got when she did something she wasn't supposed to and was trying to escape punishment.
"Are you going to hurt me, Mama?"
The floor swayed like the deck of a ship on a restless sea. Ellis was vaguely aware that her hand and the stake were drifting lazily.
"I just want to know why..." Ellis sobbed, her voice sounding detached. "Is it because you're sick? We can get you help; we can go to Bellik and—"
She felt a sharp pain on the back of her good ankle then, a piercing clamp that shot an agonizing jolt through her entire body as she cried out.
Ellis looked down to see Ralyn where he had crawled out from under the crib. He gazed up at her warmly and offered a wide grin, his tiny teeth covered in a layer of bright red.
The world swam away as darkness closed in. Ellis's arm dropped; her head lolled back; and mercifully, she did not feel the long blade as Sahm plunged it through her chest.