This section was written by Deborah Kinnard. Deb is the author of three published novels, POWERLINE and OAKWOOD (Treble Heart Books) and ANGEL WITH A RAY GUN (ByGrace Publishing). Click here for Deb's website.
Enough! Griffin shook his head at his foolishness. After so long an absence, the household would surely welcome him and his party. They must . . .
They must, for he’d worried the alternative in his mind like a hound gnaws a bone. He couldn’t leave it alone. Arbonne’s call had become too strong to endure; he couldn’t tolerate his old life in Banipur a moment longer.
He touched his heels to the gelding’s side and surged forward. Leather harness creaked behind him as the coachman slapped the reins against the team’s flanks. Griffin lifted his head to draw deep into his lungs the cool, bracing air of the northland. It smelled of low-growing pine, of autumn-browned heather, of all homely things. He stifled the uncertainty. Could home still smell of acceptance?
The path to the manor house crested the hilltop, then down through the valley of the clear-running beck. The stables straggled out to the right of the great house. It was from them that the first welcome issued. Several of his father’s great gray hounds bounded out as Griffin approached, barking and snarling a challenge.
“Wella! Max! Get on away from that, you great dumdollies.” From the shadowed stables emerged Emory, his father’s horse master and general caretaker of the “part outside.” His windburned face looked years more weathered but not appreciably older. At the sight of Griffin trying to curb his alarmed and overtired mount, Emory’s grip loosened on the crop in his hand, dropping it into the frozen mud of the yard. “Great heavens alive!”
“Yes,” said Griffin. His heart bounded in response. “The prodigal son returns.”
Emory approached and Griffin dismounted, handing off the reins into the older man’s willing glove. “It does m’heart good to see you, sir, that it does. My lord’ll be just . . .” Words failed, and instead of searching for them, he ran his gaze up and down Griffin’s travel-stained clothing.
“Surprised? Angered? Speak plain if you will, for I’m travel-worn. If there’s no welcome for me here, we’ll have to seek it elsewhere.”
“‘Twill be a surprise for certain, young sir,” said Emory. “Is that your equipage?”
Griffin rubbed his gloved hands together, trying with friction to warm them. Already the northern chill had settled into his bones, his sinews objecting most strenuously to English weather. “No, a hired rig. Emory . . . shall I announce myself? My party needs warmth and food and a roof to sleep under tonight.”
“No, sir. Let me but stable your horse, and I shall go break the news to them within.”
He is home. After all this journey, I feared he would have gone to Carlisle or to the outlying farms. “My mother is at home?”
“Aye. You’ll find her much changed.”
His heart contracted painfully and he turned to the carriage. Mama, altered? It cannot be. “Disha, Verity, come. No, child, do not hang back. This is Emory Pfeifer, of whom I have told you. The one who raised me—this man you must not fear, ladies.”