My next release is going to be a twist on the traditional Gothic 'dark and stormy' tale many of us may have grown up with, be it the Bronte sisters, Daphne DuMaurier or others' work. In fact at least the working title for my tale is Dark and Stormy. That alludes not only t the atmosphere prevailing as the tale begins but some aspects of life in the manor house at which my first hero arrives to begin a new life for himself after some unfortunate happenings alter his circumstances. He finds even darker events have taken place with the new circle in which he finds himself and must learn new loyalties ultimately finding even love.
Yes, for instead of the traditional young gentlewoman impoverished by events beyond her control who must take employment or seek shelter outside of her familiar environment, I have a young man who finds himself on a remote estate where he becomes involved with some tragic and violent events! I am having a great time creating the atmosphere, characters and events here, borrowing inspiration from a wide range of sources--some of those old books I devoured years back, a tiny bit of tongue-in-cheek parody and even an episode of Castle, one of the few TV shows I follow fairly consistently.
No cover yet but that will come before a possible release date of about July. Anyway, here, totally unedited and still a bit rough is the opening scene of Dark and Stormy. In it you will meet Martin Fitzhugh, the impoverished young man and a mysterious dark horseman... So without further ado:
Martin FitzHugh leaned forward and peered through the coach's rain‑streaked isinglass window. Even when a flash of lightning briefly lit the night, he could see nothing. The rest of the time, so deep was the darkness he felt it to be solid. But sound made up for any lack of vision. The wind, shrieking as if in torment, ripped the remaining leaves from the trees and hurled them down where a pounding rain flattened them into the mud. The great hooves of the four horses squelched and shlupped as they strained into the traces. The coach itself creaked and groaned as it twisted and lurched along.
Martin slumped back, bracing himself in a corner and praying the vehicle would not upset, while he tried to shut the storm out of his awareness. For the tenth or perhaps fiftieth time, he questioned his sanity. What had possessed him to accept a position at some remote Welsh hold? It might as well be Darkest Africa for all the civilization he had seen the past two days while they followed a deteriorating road deep and yet deeper into the hill‑cut region. Surely by now they were in an impenetrable wilderness.
Although he could barely understand the driver's thick accent, Martin thought he had said something like "Ve iz nearly there now, Sor," in answer to his timid question as to their whereabouts. That had been hours ago, around sundown, before the storm struck.
I believe my life is turning into a cliché. Martin gave a wry chuckle at the wild thought. Indeed it was a dark and stormy night, surely the darkest and most stormy he had ever experienced. His waning faith that he would arrive safely at Ravensrawn declined to nothing. If the coach was not struck by lightning or crushed beneath a falling tree, surely the horses would bolt causing it to careen from the road and sink into a bottomless swamp or go flying off a cliff.
Abruptly, the coach halted. Martin only realized it once he noted no more jolts, tilts and sloshes. The storm had scarcely abated, but the wind carried broken snatches of speech to him, though too little to make any sense of it. Much as he dreaded to sink his new boots into the muck, he contemplated alighting, simply to find out what had happened. Had the coach mired or broken some critical part? Surely there would not be highwaymen out on such a night as this.
Before he could act upon the thought, the door against which he had been leaning fell open so quickly he almost tumbled out. Black against black, a hulking figure loomed near and a pair of quick, strong hands seized him before he actually fell, and before he could resist. He muttered an oath of protest upon finding himself borne through space. For a moment, wind and rain lashed him. Then, he felt himself settle upon hard thighs and the rounded pommel of a saddle, as an enormous oily‑textured cloak enveloped him, cutting off the wind, the wet and the cold. A powerful arm gathered him close as the horse surged and wheeled away from the coach.
Martin found himself bundled so thoroughly he could barely find a crack to stick his nose through. He inhaled the cool, damp air and willed himself not to give in to the fear which threatened to overwhelm him. Had terrible suddenly turned to even worse?
However, even terror could not nullify his native curiosity. Although he doubted his captor could hear him above the noise of the storm to which was added the sounds of the massive horse, driving through the night, he framed several anxious and indignant questions. "Who are you? Where are you taking me? What do you think you’re doing, anyway?"
The answer came in a low‑pitched rumble of a voice, somewhere above him. "I do not think I am doing anything, I’m merely doing it. What I am doing is taking you to Ravensrawn, bypassing a bridge washed out by this devil‑spawned storm. As to who I am, ‘tis nothing you have need to know. It would never do to have the urgently needed tutor for the young earl and his sister swept away to sea in a flood, so I came to fetch you thither. My apologies if the conveyance does not suit. I could arrange for no better at short notice."
"You know me then, who I am, I mean?" The revelation took Martin by surprise. How could this faceless man recognize him in the pitch dark night?
When the rider laughed, the motion rocked him a little in those powerful arms. "But then, how could there be so many young gentlemen traveling to Ravensrawn, when the road leads nowhere else, and by his Grace's coach at that? Who else could you be but young Master Fitzhugh?"
"Aye. There is that. I must admit, I am he. Now, you are one better than I, for you know who I am, but I do not know who you are."
"I am but your humble servant who needs must remain nameless. The deed is of moment, not the doer. Hang on now, for Nightwind must leap a gorge. It's not so very wide nor deep, but if you stuggle, it might unbalance him."
"I'll be very still," Martin managed, turning his face inward against the warm, solid bulk of the man's body. Although he considered himself a courageous person, he shut his eyes tightly. There seemed to be nothing to which he could literally hang on though he felt around inside the bulky cloak.
One had to be mad to go around leaping unseen gorges in total darkness. He could come to no other conclusion. He was the prisoner of a giant of a mad man taking him who‑knew‑ where. With a free hand, he gathered a handful of the stiff cloak, the only thing within reach. Before he was quite ready, he felt the horse gather itself and spring.
For a moment, it felt like flying and then he heard a splashy thud and knew they were again on solid ground. He could not forebear from a sigh of relief. In a few more moments, he heard the hollow clatter of hooves upon wood, perhaps another bridge. Then, through a gap in the cloak, he could see light ‑‑ smoky, sputtering torches thrust at intervals into metal brackets on a stone wall.
Moments later, Martin found himself standing on wet cobbles. He swayed for a moment, relieved of the cloak and surprised to feel the rain had ceased and the wind no longer reached him. He turned to thank his strange benefactor, hoping for a glimpse of his face, only to find the dim lights did not penetrate the shadow of the rider’s hooded cape. "Thank you, good sir, whoever you might be. I do believe this is Ravensrawn and I have arrived safely due to your concern."
His benefactor replied to that appreciation with clipped, terse words. "T'is of no moment. I’d have been riding anyhow. ‘Twas but a short distance out of my way. Good morrow, Master Fitzhugh. I must be off now."
"Stay," Martin called. "At least tell me your name so I may inform my employer of the service you’ve done for both him and me."
"He'll know." Those final words were flung back as the stranger wheeled the tall, dark horse and it leaped away into the gloom. Horse and rider seemed almost to vanish in front of Martin’s eyes, swallowed by the night.