The next morning, all three girls woke nearly at the same time. Willow stood from the floor and stretched before dressing and going downstairs. She saw that their guest wasn't up yet, so she went outside to feed the horses and tend to their stalls. When she finished, she came back into the house for some breakfast and discovered that Donald was up eating with Dawn and Tara. Willow took her place at the table.
"Good morning. I trust you slept well?" Willow asked purely out of courtesy than interest.
"Yes ma'am. Thank you." Donald said around a mouthful of bread.
Willow nodded before resuming her own breakfast. She finished quickly and returned upstairs to retrieve the pistol from under the bed.
"Dawn, would you come up here please?" She called. She heard Dawn's steps in the stairs and then her sister entered the room. Willow beckoned her over to the bed and placed the pistol in her hand.
"I want you to keep this with you today until I get home. He should be gone soon, but keep it with you all day in case he comes back. Do you understand?"
Dawn nodded her understanding.
"Good. Leave it here until I go. Then come upstairs and get it and hide it somewhere where you can get to it if you need it."
Dawn nodded again and Willow gave her a slight smile and hugged her.
"You're growing up too fast, you know that?"
"Yeah, that's what you tell me."
Willow laughed and released Dawn from her hold. She relinquished the gun to her younger sister and Dawn set it under the blanket on the bed. They both went downstairs and Willow tied back her hair and said goodbye to Dawn and Tara.
"I don't mean to be ill-mannered, but I think it best that you are gone before I return from work."
"I understand. Thank you again for your kindness." Donald said with a little too much enthusiasm. Willow gave him a suspicious look before motioning Tara to follow her outside.
"I left a pistol with Dawn in the house. She's to use it if he gives you any trouble. I'll be home later on tonight. I love you." Willow said in a near whisper. She kissed Tara briefly before setting out on her way to work.
Donald eyed Dawn as she bustled about the kitchen. The other two were outside on the porch. The younger sibling was pretty, but Donald fancied the older girl over her. Tara, he thought, was more his type. Pretty and full-bodied, she wasn't lacking in any physical department. He heard the front door close and Tara came back to the kitchen. She helped Dawn clear the breakfast dishes and Donald stood up.
"I want to show my gratitude to you folks for lettin' me stay here. I'm going to go out to the field and make myself useful."
"That's really not necessary-" Dawn began, but was cut off by Donald.
"No, I insist." His smile was similar to a snake's as he bowed slightly to the girls and left through the back door, presumably heading towards the barn for farming equipment. Tara watched him go.
"I don't like him." Dawn said as she watched him through the kitchen window.
"I don't much like him either. Didn't Willow leave something for you? Upstairs perhaps?" Tara motioned toward the stairs.
"Oh! I forgot!" Dawn quickly went up the stairs and to the bedroom, retrieving the pistol from underneath the blanket. She went back down the stairs and to the kitchen and placed the gun in a cabinet near where she would be working for most of the morning. Tara nodded and finished helping Dawn in the kitchen. They hadn't seen their unwanted guest emerge from the barn yet and so assumed that he hadn't. Tara and Dawn did a few more things around the house and Dawn made up Donald's bed, and then ventured to the kitchen for some more work. Tara had gone upstairs to make the beds. Dawn thought she heard the front door open but when she went to see if it had, it was closed and there was no sign that anyone had entered the house. Dawn went back to the kitchen and began to slice vegetables for supper. She heard what sounded like a muffled scream, and a strange thump on the ceiling over her head. She quickly grabbed the pistol from its hiding place and ran up the stairs two at a time. She didn't hear the noises any more so she started opening doors at random. She opened Tara's first, then her own and found nothing.
"Tara?" She called quietly. She approached Willow's door slowly and saw a shadow moving under the door. She quickly ran to the door and threw it open. Donald was standing over Tara with his breeches undone, and Tara was unconscious by the look of it. He turned toward the door quickly and ran at Dawn, who attempted to raise the gun and fire. She was so shocked and frightened by what she saw that she barely had time to get the gun up before he tackled her. They flew backward into the hallway and landed with a heavy thud. Dawn kicked him violently until he rolled off of her in pain. She stood and ran to the edge of the stairs where the gun had fallen. She had just enough time to turn and fire a shot before Donald knocked her backwards down the stairs. She heard his cry of pain right before her head struck a stair and her world went dark.
Willow dropped her loaded cart and straightened to wipe the sweat from her eyes. She'd had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach since she had left the plantation that morning. She looked up and saw her foreman standing about twenty feet away. Carting the rocks over to the growing pile, she dumped them and headed over to see her boss.
"I need to go home, sir." She said when she approached the burly man.
"Why?" He practically yelled.
"I don't feel well sir." It wasn't completely a lie, she reasoned.
"No, get back to work."
"You can either get back to work or go home permanently Rosenberg! Which is it?"
Willow set her jaw firmly and looked her foreman squarely in the eyes.
"Then I say thank you and good day sir." She turned on her heel and marched away, leaving the big man looking bewildered. By the time Willow got to the outskirts of the quarry, she broke into a full run in her hurry to get home. She knew something was wrong. The closer to home she got, the more sickening the feeling in the pit of her stomach became. She burst through her front door nearly out of breath.
"Dawn! Tara! Where are you?!" Willow ran to the stairs and found Dawn unconscious at the bottom. There was a large cut above her eye. Willow picked up her sister in her arms and laid her head in her lap.
"Dawn? Dawn can you hear me? Dawn?" Willow had tears in her eyes as she looked for any other injuries on Dawn's body. Dawn's eyes fluttered open and she looked at her sister in confusion.
"W-will? Is he gone? Where is he?" Dawn's eyes were wild as she looked around in fear.
"Who did this? Was it Donald?" Willow was furious and nearly beyond control. Dawn nodded and tears began to spill from her eyes. Willow held her shaking sister in her arms as she looked over to the stairs. There was a thick trail of blood that lead from the top of the stairs down and through the kitchen doorway.
"Where's Tara? Is she okay?" Willow asked her now wildly sobbing sister.
"Upstairs. Willow, I think he did something horrible to her..." Dawn trailed off into another episode of hysterics. Willow pulled her to her feet and nearly carried her up the stairs.
"Tara? Tara!?! Where are you?" Willow searched until she found Tara, exactly in the same place she was when Dawn had interrupted earlier. Willow rushed to her side, leaving Dawn to lean on the doorframe. Willow had tears running down her face as she picked up and cradled Tara in her arms as she had Dawn. She gently ran a hand down the side of Tara's face and pushed her hair behind her ear. When she pulled her hand away, she had blood on her fingertips from the wound on the side of Tara's head.
"Tara? Tara wake up. Please Tara, wake up!" Willow cried. She could see that Tara was breathing very shallowly. She carefully picked her up and eased her into the bed, then placed a gentle kiss on her lips.
"Dawn, will you be okay here?" Willow asked with a shaky voice.
"Please don't leave us here Will! Please!" Dawn began to cry again. Willow crossed the room and gathered Dawn in her arms.
"Dawn, I have to go fetch a doctor. Tara won't wake up, and you need to be examined as well, but first I am going to find the bastard who did this. You injured him, of that I'm sure. He can't have gotten far."
"No, leave him. I don't want to stay here by myself!"
"Dawn, I need you to watch over Tara. I'll be quick." Willow pulled her sister away and held her at arms length, placing her hands on the sides of Dawn's face.
"Stay and watch Tara. I love you and I'll be back soon. I promise." Willow kissed her sister on the forehead and strode with purposeful steps out the door and down the stairs. She followed the trail of blood out the back door and down the steps of the porch. The trail grew more sparse as it reached the tree line of the woods near the plantation. Willow stepped into the woods and had walked nearly one hundred feet when she heard a stick crack off to her right. She quietly picked her way through the brush and trees and stopped near a small clearing. A stream trickled through it that was perhaps two feet deep and for a moment she wished that she could just stop everything and enjoy the pleasant scenery. Suddenly she was tackled from the side. She felt something slice across her side and she and her attacker tumbled into the clearing. She looked up and met the eyes of Donald, who was weak and pale from the gunshot wound to his belly. He was wielding a knife in his bloody hands. Willow didn't hesitate to charge him and tackle him into the stream. She quickly gained the upper hand and held him below the rushing waters of the stream. His struggles did him little good and in a matter of a few moments, he stopped moving. Breathing hard from exertion and the pain of the slash wound across her ribcage, she released him and watched his body float down the stream. She shook her head and sloshed her way to the bank of the stream. As she stumbled out, she placed a hand to her wound and found that although it was painful, it was not threatening. Still she knew she had to find a doctor soon, before she bled too much and became too weak to be of help to Dawn and Tara. She set off at a quick pace toward town, hoping that the doctor was home.