~ * ~
The canons resonated in her ears, though she knew them stopped. She rose to her knees unable to believe she lived. Debris shifted off her buckler, falling to the rent ground. There was nothing left inside her. No feeling or thought as she walked the body-strewn landscape. There was nothing to be done for Tomel. He was either dead or dying. Muted groans and cries penetrated the ringing in her ears. They rose from all around her, competing with the hollow hum in her head. Shaky with fatigue she pushed herself, willed her feet to move, stupefied to the sights, sounds, and smells of death teeming around her. What had happened? Other confused figures milled about in the mayhem.
Too distraught, too stunned, to comprehend the spectacle, she wandered through the thick, dead-still air. Bother. Fudge. Had they survived? She twirled to find the direction, but she was lost, everything so changed. That hill, that was it, wasn't it? No. That one. She walked. It was. It must be. Three times she stopped to rest while climbing the hill. Her heart sank. A shell had struck nearby. No buckskin horse, no shaggy brown dog waited. The wounded men were gone, the earth torn asunder.
A dead pony lay on the ground; his neck stretched forward, tongue extended in a comic, grotesque way. Its back end was missing, entrails spilling on the ground. She backed away from the grizzly sight. Kissre swallowed hard. It wasn't Bother. Not Bother. Not again. She spun, searching the ground. Nothing. The land lay clutched in a creeping yellow blanket of fog. She shouted, whistled, shouted some more. Staggered the length of the hill and back. Nothing but bodies appeared through the grisly clouds. She sank to her knees.
A shadow moved slowly beyond some ghostly bones of shrubbery. The form walked toward her out of the amber haze enveloping the hilltop. An errant breeze exploded the acrid and discolored air with a strong whipping gust. A faint roll of thunder echoed through the hills.
She walked forward and fell on Bother's neck, half-hearing her own sobbing relief, her apologies, and her babbling encouragement. She felt him realign his weight and looked down. Blood rolled down his left foreleg. Frantic she inspected the wound and sighed with relief. It was a minor gash. Slowly and methodically she searched his body for wounds. A few raw patches, a few more small gashes, none threatening, but attesting to his nearness to death. He needed care.
A low whimper broke her inane chatter. "Fudge?" Another low whine answered her. She renewed her search. It took an eternity to find him. He lay under the pony carcass. Trapped. She tried to pull him free. He yipped and bit at her hands. Grabbing the dead horse's front legs, she pulled. Only half the animal was still too heavy. What did half a pony weigh? She had to do it, so she kept trying.
~ * ~
The purchase link for Acceptance is in the column to the right.