For this week's challenge the theme is "Dire Moment".
Brief: mine is the opening to a historical novel. Unfortunately, at 400 words the hero has yet to step centre stage!
How could his stable be empty? She rushed across to a stable lad, straw and dung already pitched to wheelbarrow. “Where is Tobias?” His face flushed pink, and before she could question him further two shots echoed across the valley. “No-nooo,” her wail, yet her voice seemed somehow distant, not hers at all.
“I be so sorry yer ladyship, but his lordship said as how Tobias were finished. No good to any man.”
“Where, where has he taken him?’
“To the meadow.”
She turned, fled, and on approach to the meadow her heart sank for her brother came striding through the gateway a triumphant air. “How could you do that?” she screamed, heart wrenched by loss of Tobias.
“It had to be done, Emerald,” replied her brother, pistol to hand. “Would you have had him die a slow death?”
“But he looked and sounded so much better this morning.” Tears flooded forth, and it felt so good to pummel her hateful brother’s chest in childlike rage. “We thought him quite well, his breathing sound?”
Ned’s strength far greater than hers, and in spite of pistol in hand he managed to brush her aside and hold her at arm’s length. “We, who is we?”
“Your head groom, who else. Jenkins felt sure Tobias had not broken his wind despite persistent cough, and if you walked him to the meadow did you not hear his steady breath?”
“It is done, Emerald.’ He let slip his grip on her shoulder, and began to stride away. “The horse is now out of its misery, and no more to be said about it.”
“How dare you, take that tone with me. Tobias was my horse.”
He paused, turned to face her his hooded eagle-like eyes those of hardened soldier used to death and of killing. “Your horse, yes, and had you heeded my warning to ride in the manner befitting a lady, Tobias would be alive now, not dead.” She sensed him angered at her for reasons beyond compassion toward her horse, Tobias mere weapon in his arsenal of do as you are told or suffer the consequence. He wished to crush her defiance in refusing the Earl of Moorby’s hand in marriage: confirmed in venomous outburst. “With nothing to hold you here, now perhaps you will see your way to acceptance of the Earl’s offer of marriage.”
“You beast, utter beast. You murdered Tobias, and I shall never forgive you, never.” She drew sob-choked breaths and ran to the meadow. “Poor, poor Tobias. I shall love you always.”
She could not bear to stay there in bright sunshine, for his blood-streaked head and dappled grey lifeless body tore at her heartstrings. She ran across the meadow, the woodland edge a tear-laden blur of green and shadowed gloom. Once inside beneath its comforting cool canopy she trod the path that led to the creek. She would not be wed to a man twice her age. The waters, the waters of the creek, so cold, so inviting: she and Tobias would soon gallop forever.
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Above image is clue to the hero's status!