Title: On the Riverbank
Word Count 424
On the Riverbank
The red sound and the smell of the canon, and his horse fighting for his head. Percy swerved them off the road. Between the trees now, and the branches tore at his hat, whipped his face. Closer now, and the sound shook him, and the taste-smell was of terror.
The smoke stank in the air.
“Come starboard a point.” That was Mr Kennedy.
The men heaved and groaned. They were quick, Percy would give them that. Sailors knew little of the world, but they were quick with cannon.
Hornblower now, on foot, crashing through the underbrush. He carried his sword in one hand, awkward and useless.
Fear was pouring off of Hornblower too. It stained his words, pleading words--
Smoke. The motion across the river was indistinct. The cannon ripped the trees.
His horse shuffled, the footing too soft. He put a hand to her shoulder. “Hush, Dolly.” She heard him, dropped her head to blow.
Kennedy didn't look up. He was soaked with sweat, gathered tight past shaking, like a clay pot boiled dry, such men could crack. Percy had seen it.
He was gathering his own voice when Hornblower spoke again. He spoke sharp this time, and that was right, that was needed.
“Mr Kennedy, report.”
The white face turned, gulped.
“Enemy musket fire across the river-- they took us by surprise, they--”
“Any attempt on the bridge?” That was Percy. A hard fact question. He kept his voice hard too. Something to stand on.
Hardness helped. Kennedy was facing him now, as if on parade, hands at his sides, but still the white throat throbbed with gulping. He had blue eyes, And there was intelligence there, and sadness. Blue was Kennedy's color too, Percy realized. He had not seen it before. Kennedy was the color the sky at sea, just where it pales above the horizon.
“Hold your fire.”
Far better to see the worst, whatever it was. Why had they had not attempted to take the bridge if they had surprise?
Percy felt his neck prickle.
They were all looking now, straining to see. The trees across the river were innocent, dull.
“Mr Kennedy, I suggest you reform your men.”
“Aye-aye,” Kennedy flicked a smile. “Yes, Sir.”
“Musket fire only?” Hornblower was puzzled too. “Where is their artillery?”
And that, of course, was the right question.