Ralph’s legs burned. He clutched his ribcage and rubbed the twitching muscle which begged him to stop. The intercept lay two hundred yards ahead. Holding the flaming torch higher he inhaled, hardened his resolve and pushed himself forward.
His blood beat in his ears and he struggled to quiet his breathing. He slowed, as he approached the archway. Moving with caution, he allowed the flames to illuminate his surroundings and he checked the shadows. No one lurked, no sign of ambush. Beyond the opening was a solid wall, his choice was to turn north or south. His torch showed nothing but an empty corridor running in both directions.
“Am I too late?” he wondered.
Somewhere water dripped, creating a steady cadence that echoed in the dark tunnel. Ralph leaned forward. He twisted his head to the right, extended his left arm to push the sputtering light as far from his ears as he could manage. He strained to decipher the second sound hidden in the reverberations. It was almost imperceptible, but there was the sound of a slow plodding horse.
“We’re in a race against time. Why would he move so slowly? Was it someone else? A trap?”
The flame crackled and sputtered. It had served its purpose, and he extinguished it. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he listened again. It was difficult to figure the direction of travel, but the footfalls grew clearer, getting closer. If it was the prince, he would approach from the south. Ralph moved to the right side of the arch hidden from whoever approached but granting him an unobstructed view of the corridor.
He waited, as the steady trod advanced toward him.
A tall black stallion proceeded into the intersection, carrying a large dark bundle. Ralph stepped around the archway and peered into the darkness. Nothing and no one followed. He clicked softly.
“Whoa, boy,” he said. The horse snorted and stopped.
As he moved closer, he could tell it wasn’t a pack, but a man strapped to the horse’s back. Ralph made soothing sounds, reached for the bridle and led the stallion into the shadows. He patted its neck and turned his attention to the rider. The man’s black cloak bore the royal crest. He lifted his head twisting his face towards him.
His eyelids fluttered, and he struggled to focus.
“Ralph,” he said, “Ralph, we must hurry. No time to….”
He didn’t wait to hear more. He mounted, situating himself behind the slumped form, his feet found the stirrups and he grabbed the reins.
“Yah,” he called as he leaned over the prince’s body. The horse jolted forward, and they raced into the night.
Keep on writing.
Jo Hawk The Writer