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She knew she should never have come to the woods that night. It was true that she had been well paid, and that the money would help to buy the new cow her family needed, but money would be no use to her if the huge dog that snapped and slathered at the top of the slope were to catch her: she could not spend the gold coins that jangled in her purse if she were dead.
She glanced behind, aware that the animal was beginning to gain on her, loping through the woods in a deceptively unhurried gait that was faster than anything two legs could achieve. She had heard stories in the village about the massive white dog that haunted the abandoned plague village of Barchester. It was known to be a ferocious beast, given to tearing out the throats of its victims, and it was said that even to set eyes on the thing was sufficient to set a person on the road to doom and disaster.
A Wicked Deed (Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles)
She tried not to think about it. She reached the River Lark, and waded across it, falling headlong into the cold water that surged around her legs. Gasping for breath and dashing the droplets from her eyes, she splashed through the shallows on the other side, and began to force her way through the trees on the opposite bank.
Suddenly, she was out of the woods that surrounded Barchester, and was at the edge of the neat strip-fields that belonged to Roland Deblunville, the lord of the manor whose land lay next to her village.
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She knew what would happen if he caught her trampling his barley, but she did not care. Her only concern was to escape the white dog, the hot breath of which she could almost feel on the back of her neck as she left the trees and began sprinting across the ploughed earth. It was a dark night, and the moon was obscured by a thick covering of cloud.
She stumbled over a particularly deep furrow and fell, grazing her elbows and knees on the stony soil. She clambered upright and plunged on, too frightened to look behind to see if the dog was still there. The ground was becoming more uneven, and she fell again almost immediately.
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This time, she did not rise, but lay on the ground, weeping with fear and exhaustion. Gradually, as she lay motionless on the cold earth, her breathing returned to normal, the thudding of her heart subsided, and the blind terror began to recede. She had escaped! Scarcely daring to believe her luck, she relaxed her tense muscles, and sat up to peer around.
She could see nothing in the dark, but it seemed as though her prayers had been answered, and that the dog had abandoned the chase and allowed her to live.
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