Here's a bit of Bonewytch for your Thanksgiving reading!
......Saorsa heard bells ringing in the city in celebration as the start time drew closer. And then, the echo of a starting pistol sounded in the valley, and the chariots began to move.
Saorsa didn't have a terribly good view from where they stood but understood when the race had finished by the wild response of the crowd. Several men in official-looking uniforms made certain that nothing and no one was blocking the track into the city, keeping the advancing crowd back behind the ropes.
Saorsa heard singing. The winning horses and their charioteer were approaching the winner's circle, followed by a massive throng of people, who were singing and cheering. Saorsa couldn't understand any of it.
The chariot moved into the circle to tremendous applause. The crowd pushed forward; Saorsa and Alex were separated, with Alex being pushed in the direction of the dignitaries' box and Saorsa being shoved towards the waiting ceremonial chariot. Saorsa didn't realize Alex had been moved so far from her at first; her eyes were on the winner's circle.
A man dressed in ceremonial garb, probably a priest, was speaking to the hushed crowd about the winner. A young man dressed in black approached, holding a white silk pillow, while a young woman carrying a gold incense burner trailing a sweet-smelling smoke walked a step or two behind him. On the white silk pillow lay a large iron key.
And then chaos erupted.
A man Saorsa hadn't seen before pushed his way into the winner's circle. The guards in the area were all busy with crowd control; none of them happened to be facing the circle and the ceremony at that moment. Before anyone could process what was happening, the man snatched the key from the pillow, turned, and darted towards the waiting ceremonial chariot.
There was no one in the vicinity on horseback to give chase. No one was blocking the road. And two fresh, eager mares, reins already looped over a handle in the chariot, were waiting.
The thief leapt into the chariot as the first shouts erupted behind him, picked up the reins, and took off towards the city.
But not before Saorsa Stuart, who was standing next to the chariot, hurled herself headfirst, legs kicking in the air, over the backside of the vehicle and into the chariot behind the stranger and his prize.
Saorsa had been watching the key. But Alex had been watching Saorsa, trying to subtly move through the crowd to find her side again.
"Son of a bitch!" Alex shouted, and reversed direction, frantically pushing his way against the crowd towards the tethered horses. The mob was in a frenzy now, shoving and shouting past the guards and overflowing their borders into the street attempting to follow the ceremonial chariot and the stolen key.
There were five horses tethered nearby, and Alex's eyes fell on a tall black stallion that was close to the road. A man was headed for the horse, clearly intending to give chase; Alex had other ideas.
He pressed his way violently forward as the man was swinging his way up into the saddle. Alex lunged, grabbed hold of the man's clothes, pulled his foot out of the stirrup and hauled him to the ground. Half a moment later he was swinging into the saddle himself, reins in hand, and wheeled the horse neatly around, narrowly missing the man he'd just ambushed. He urged the horse to a gallop with his heels and a habitual sharp command in Gaelic, and the stallion raced off in pursuit of the chariot.
The thief was extremely surprised to discover a woman crawling to her feet in the chariot-box behind him and made an abortive attempt to shove Saorsa out, but he quickly discovered he couldn't both drive and evict his tenacious unwanted female passenger at the same time. The chariot was moving at high speed down the dirt track, but they were fast approaching a bridge that would lead to the city where the terrain would change to cobblestone streets and narrow roads with buildings on both sides.
And Alexander Scott was gaining ground on them. His steed thundered behind the chariot towards the city, mane and tail whipping in the wind, eyes wild and mouth frothing. Alex saw the bridge and the road beyond, and it seemed to him that the chariot driver didn't have complete control of his horses; Alex needed to get to Saorsa quickly. If the charioteer chose not to slow his team once they were within the city, there was a very high chance that the chariot would wreck itself against the buildings and stones of Diyu.
He did a quick assessment of the state of his horse and equipment. The horse was quite fresh but had a wild, sensitive temperament; not exactly the best for attempting what might be a high-speed rescue. The stirrups were a bit too short for Alex, which was affecting his flexibility and mobility in the saddle somewhat. But the horse did have speed and an incredibly long stride and responded well to the pressure of Alex's legs on its flank. Alex was glad things were going well on that front; he’d sensed that the ink-colored stallion had been contemplating trying to throw him off as soon as he’d hit the saddle but had since decided against it.
The son of the Scottish Borders molded himself to the shape of the horse and the flow of the wind, and rode like hell towards the bridge, channeling his reiver ancestors.
Saorsa braced herself against the side of the chariot as the vehicle bumped and rattled over the bridge. The key. She'd seen the man holding the key, but it was no longer in his hands. She stared at him for a long moment, unsure where on his person he might have hidden it. He was wearing a style of dress unfamiliar to her, and she had no idea where any pockets or similar hiding places might be. He was wearing a long jacket in a bright red color; it had a belt at the waist, and Saorsa saw several bags, like her own, hanging from it. She could either wait until the chariot stopped and try to tackle this man, who looked larger and stronger than she, or attempt to relieve him of the key now while he couldn't get away and was forced to keep his hands on the reins. She made her decision and threw herself towards him, trying to tear the bags off his belt by the straps.
The chariot careened wildly around its first corner as the man attempted to fight Saorsa off. The streets here had not been cleared the way the track had been. They were off the parade route, and obstacles bordered the narrow streets. Barrels and carts, crates and the occasional person made appearances in the road ahead. Saorsa closed her eyes briefly and asked the Goddess to protect anyone in their path.
Reins. The man seemed hell-bent on reaching the center of the city, but perhaps if Saorsa could slow the chariot somewhat, things would be safer for those around them. They barely scraped past a tower of wooden boxes on the left, and then there was a flurry of white feathers in the air on the right, which Saorsa was fairly certain meant they’d run over a chicken. She tore one of the bags loose from the driver’s belt, and a shower of some sort of herb fell out. No key.
The cart turned again, rocking wildly, and there was a tremendous thud as they hit something on the street. The loud bang thoroughly spooked the horses, who were now running full-out in senseless terror. Saorsa saw as they turned another corner that there were lines of drying washing stretched overhead and in front of them, and both Saorsa and the driver ducked to avoid them. She was shocked that the waving cloth hadn’t deterred the horses, but they seemed to have lost their minds completely.
We’re going to wreck, Saorsa thought. We’re going to kill someone or crash into the side of a building. She began screeching at the driver in English and trying to tear the reins out of his hands, but at that moment they hit a section of the street that was under repair. They tore through a wooden barrier and over an extremely uneven stretch of road, spraying mud and bits of gravel into the air. The chariot lurched and instead of gaining the reins, Saorsa found herself with her hands on the thief’s belt. She wrenched on the second bag hanging there with all her might, attempting to dislodge it.
He was screaming back at her now in Chinese and swung at her with an open hand. She ducked, but as the chariot lurched yet again, she found herself clinging to his clothes to stay upright. He shouted and attempted to hit her again. This time he made contact, backhanding her across the cheek and ear.
And in that motion, the key fell out of his clothing.
It landed on the floor, and the man let loose a string of obscenities. Saorsa saw it and dove for it as it bounced below her, and accidentally knocked her adversary off balance.
Behind them, Alex narrowly missed running over a mother and her young child as he turned a corner and urged the horse onward. The beast was in a lather underneath him, and Alex’s heart was in his throat as he saw a chunk of the chariot ahead get torn away as it smashed past a vegetable cart parked on the right side of the lane. The cart containing Saorsa and the thief was slowly coming apart, and Alex was absolutely sure that the horses had spooked and the driver now had minimal, if any, control over them. It was only a matter of time before the chariot came fully and completely apart against an obstacle or over treacherous ground.
Saorsa could hear people screaming as the chariot turned once more. Her hand closed around the key, and the chariot rocked wildly and hit a bump that sent Saorsa several feet into the air and ended in a painful landing on the floor of the chariot.
She looked up. Her attacker was gone. She pulled herself to her feet, alone in the chariot, and realized what had happened.
He’d been knocked out of the runaway vehicle.
And so had the reins.
Saorsa could see them, tangling themselves in the architecture of the chariot. And Saorsa, her heart pounding, knew that she was at the end of her ride. They’d turned away from the city center at some point, and the buildings on both sides were opening the distance between them. And dead ahead was a steep downward slope. She could see it now; the horses plummeting downhill, the rattled chariot flipping over, and the axle that had been waiting to break finally breaking.
She’d be killed. Orla would never be born. The gem with the Violet Woman inside would shatter.
And Alex, not knowing who he was, would be trapped here, slowly forgetting her completely, most likely at the Violet Woman’s mercy. Saorsa, not knowing what else to do, jammed the key into her bone kit bag. Goddess, I am coming home.
But then, something appeared just behind her. A black horse and rider, and an outstretched hand.
“Siuthad!” Alex cried, gesturing at her. Come on! He intended to haul her off the chariot mid-flight, pulling her up onto his horse. There is no way, Saorsa thought. There is no way this is working. I’m going to be trampled.
But if she was going to die, she wanted to have her last moment be one where she had his hand in hers. She reached out, trying to grab onto a moving target. He wasn’t close enough. “Dèan cabhag! Dèan cabhag! Faodaidh tu seo a dhèanamh!” Alex yelled, leaning forward. Hurry! Hurry! You can do this!
Their hands were inches apart. Alex dug his heels into the horse, begging for more speed. His mount leapt ahead.
“Tha thu agam! Leum!” Alex shouted. I’ve got you! Jump!
Bonewytch is Book Five in The Spiral Pathways Series. To begin your adventure with Book One: Wyldwood, visit https://www.amazon.com/Wyldwood-Scottish-Borders-Spiral-Pathways/dp/B0CMJPCWJQ/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GK1IASOXIGQP&keywords=wyldwood&qid=1700779465&s=books&sprefix=weldwood%2Cstripbooks%2C64&sr=1-1
Wyldwood is available as an e-book, a paperback with oversize print, and as an audiobook through iTunes, Audible, and Amazon.