Storms in Hildebrand come like wolf packs; silent at first, and then roaring with rage. The grey clouds pile up behind the mountains bordering the high moors and circle in the tumultuous winds, but the peaks seem to shelter the barren highlands from sound. The sky is tight, and the air has an electric tang. Breathlessly, even the wildlife cower underneath flimsy shelters of frilly heather in fear of what they know is coming.
Then, the wind begins. It howls straight down from the mountains and rips across the moor, savagely cold fangs sinking into unwary flesh. The grass ripples like a sea as humans sprint for cover, almost pulled off their feet; birds have long since taken cover, and the only creatures left unafraid are the tall wild horses that rear and play, as fearless of the storm as a child is of its father.
Finally, the wind forces the clouds past the mountains and they spill across the sky in a ravaging pack. Lightning turns the world into a blinding negative image. The rain comes in fat droplets that sting like whips at first, and then in a roaring curtain. In minutes the moors have become strange and unfamiliar, water gushing down the deer trails, thunder and wind so loud that one’s own thoughts become muffled.
It was in the middle of one of these storms that Sir Flannery Marquess of Hildebrand (only he wasn’t, anymore) rode home, or what he was supposed to call home. In reality, he had spent as little time as humanly possible in the stern stone castle of Aimara. His father had sent him to the capital to begin his knight training when he was seven.
Pushing back his hood just enough that he could look up at the angry lines of the defiant fortress, he reined in his horse for a moment and tried not to be afraid. Not of the castle – he commanded it now, he guessed – but of the memories it held. Memories of a little dark-haired, blue-eyed girl, singing in the fields, getting underfoot in the stables, running sobbing down the long vaulted corridors and into the only comforting pair of arms she’d ever known; those of Flann, her brother. He had avoided the castle even more than usual since the worst day of his life (which was saying something) a few years ago. Because Annie Belle was no longer a voice in the fields or a smile in the stables; just a sadly tiny gravestone, marked with a morning glory.
But there was no more avoiding it any longer. “You know,” Flann said quietly to his horse, who turned back an ear to listen, “his timing sucked. Right to the end.”
Then he sighed and urged the gelding onwards over the drawbridge and into Aimara. He had left Hildebrand as a Marquess; he returned to a duchy with one more gravestone, and he returned as a Duke.
[Student Exercise (b), page 37]
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