Chapter VIII - Thundering Steps


Okay, I'm just using this A/N as a venue to advertise for one of my best friends, Phil, who has entered a contest at Harry Potter dot com. I would REALLY REALLY appreciate it if all of you would vote for him -- if he wins, there's no telling how many reviews and sequels you'll get! -- as this would make him very happy. The link is as follows www. Harry Potter .com /goblet (just remove the spaces). His entrance names are PhillipS653 and MichaelS327. You can vote for both once a day, and again, please vote!

Alright, done blabbering, on with the story.


Tavington found himself humming to drown out whatever sound came from the closet. He didn't know exactly what he was humming, just that he was humming, something he was sure he had never done before. At one point, he thought he heard a loud thunk of something or other, but dismissed it as the simple endeavors of Marion trying to get into a corset and hoopskirt contraption in such close quarters. He began rocking back and forth in impatience, his spurs ringing like spiked bells, and another minute passed. But his soldier's sense began buzzing; something was not right.

He moved forward, rapping lightly on the closet door with his knuckles, "Miss Foster?" he said, trying his best to sound pleasant. "Miss Fost-?" A door slammed from somewhere downstairs and Tavington felt himself pale. She was running. Cornwallis is going to love this.

"Bloody minx!" he roared, whirling on himself, his boots pounding a haggard tattoo against the wood floor. The colonel galloped down the long hall, leaping down the stairs two at a time, and out the front door. His heart beat in his ears the entire time, a small voice in his head taunting him. If you let her get away, Cornwallis will never let you command again, it said.

Outside, he was relieved to see not only his horse, but hers as well pawing the ground lazily. Surely she would have taken Isolde? No, she knows she can't outrun me on horseback. "Miss Foster!" he yelled, more of a scream, to see if he could shake her out of hiding. No answer. "I swear on my eyes," he grumbled, mounting his horse quickly and slapping the creature into a canter with a swish of the reins.

--

While Tavington had been humming away, Marion had descended the hidden stairs as quietly as she could, coming out into the eaves beneath one of the foyer staircases. She tiptoed quietly out of the shadow of the great staircase, finding herself directly beneath the prize chandelier. Her face fell as she looked upwards. If only they could see me now.

But she couldn't let anything stop her. Freedom was only a few feet away, the door was within her grasp. Marion opened the door carefully, knowing full well how squeaky it could be, and stepped out onto the porch. Without thinking, she shut the door with a snap and winced as the slam hit her ears. "Damn," she cursed, clenching her teeth. The girl only allowed a split-second to collect herself before setting off at a run, not caring how much noise she was making as she clambered onto the lawn.

She thought she heard a roar of frustration, Tavington no doubt, and she ran faster, almost flying across the grass. Rounding the house, she could see the cotton fields. If she could into the back fields she could lose him in the neighboring forest and make her way north. Her feet carried her quickly and the smooth lawn turned to the paths between the rows of cotton, beaten flat by generations of slaves.

Marion heard hoof beats, and, not daring to look back, dove beneath one of the plants, hiding in the leaves. True, she was visible upon close inspection but from afar she was as safe as she could hope for. Tavington was closing fast; she could hear the horse move from grass to the gravel road that split the field in two. Luckily, she was a few rows away from him, and she was sure he wouldn't be able to see her. Almost sure, that is.

"Miss Foster!" Tavington called, holding his horse steady. His jaw was set sternly as his cold eyes took a quick sweep of the surrounding fields. He knew she was not far, not on foot at least. And if she had any ounce of sense, she would be hiding in the fields, making her way to the forest or the stables if she was daring. "Miss Foster!" Again there was no answer, not even a rustle in the cotton. The colonel smirked, "Hiding, are we?" He clucked his tongue, "Not a wise move, madam."

Marion had to bite her tongue to keep from replying. That colonel was so full of himself she wanted to scream. She watched him through the cotton, waiting for him to turn his head. For a moment, she couldn't help but think him handsome. It wasn't the first - or last - time she would think so.

Crouched as low as she could, Marion moved back into the path, backing away towards the stables. If she could get to a horse and mount in the woods, she may have a chance. Those British ponies never were good in heavy brush anyways.

Her eyes were still fixed on Tavington, whose attention was now fully on the field on his left (for she was on his right), and she moved quietly but quickly towards the stables. Again, her lack of attention would be her downfall. A twig snapped loudly beneath her foot and she dropped to the ground instinctively. What a state my dress is in now, she thought bitterly, cursing at herself.

Tavington turned his head so quickly he thought he heard his neck crack and he scanned the fields again. Nothing. But a cloud of dust rising slowly, halfway between himself and the stables, looked worth investigated. The dust was, of course, thrown up by the speed at which Marion had thrown herself to the ground. He snapped the reins and the horse set off down the gravel road that both split and lined the perimeter of fields. Marion felt her heart rise into her throat; it was now or never.

She ran, she ran faster than she ever thought she could. There was a moment of silence behind her, then the thunder of hooves erupted. "Foster!" Tavington roared, closing in on her fast. He was nearly there, but she disappeared into the stables. Slowing his horse to a walk, he followed. There was only one way in and out of the barn; there would be no escape for Marion this time. "Miss Foster?" he crooned, this time his voice was no longer a roar, but a purr, like a panther stalking its prey with seduction rather than claws.

It appeared the stables had been cleared out and, unfortunately for our heroine, the horses had been as well. The plantation was deserted in every sense of the word and the war was certainly to blame.

From behind a stall door, Marion had sank to the floor, trying to slow her breathing. Every breath she drew sounded like deafening thunder. She was pink in the face from running, her hair falling in sweaty strands over her face and around her neck. . Tavington was getting close, she could hear the steps of the horse getting nearer with every second. Fumbling through the straw as quietly as she could, her hands closed around something hard and cold; an old horseshoe.

It was covered in rust, but heavy, and would have to do. "Come out, come out," she heard Tavington chuckle. The spurs on his boots rang as he dismounted. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword and he swaggered towards the horse stalls lining the far wall. Eyeing the stalls, he searched for something, anything, that could tell him which one she was hiding in. As if guided by some otherworldly force, his eyes fell on the dirt floor and a set of small footprints that ended at the stall directly in front of him.

Meanwhile, Marion had straightened so that she was back on her feet, horseshoe in hand. The door shuddered as Tavington gripped the handle, yanking hard on it. It didn't budge and Marion felt herself smirked. "Wench!" Tavington cursed, pulling again, and the door shook harder, holding strong.

But all suddenly fell silent and again Marion thought her breathing loud. It was quiet for a long while and she pressed her face against the small crack in the door where it hinged. She found herself face to face with the barrel of a small pistol and yelped, pulling away in time to see the hinge explode. Now hanging on one hinge, Tavington kicked out with his booted foot, opening the door for good.

Remembering the horseshoe, Marion swung it at him with all her might. But Tavington was not colonel of the Green Dragoons for nothing. He caught her wrist deftly, twisting it until she dropped her iron weapon. Marion's mouth hung open in pain, her wrist feeling as if it was being broken a thousand times. "Colonel-!" she yelled, raising her other hand to swat him away.

Again, Tavington caught her wrist, and now she was completely subdued, unable to move away from him. "You'll find that forgiveness is not in my nature," he growled, towering over her. Marion looked up at him, fear flashing in her eyes. "Do not do this again, Miss Foster."

"If you're going to order me about like cattle, sir," Marion spat in return, forgetting her fear, "You may as well call me by my first name." She glowered and she thought she saw amusement in his eyes.

His grip softened and he let her go, "Very well."

She pushed past him, finding she couldn't keep such close quarters with him for long. "Good," she shot back, sending him a look a pure venom. Tavington sighed to himself, following her back to the house (he on horse, she on foot). She was going to cause him many a headache, this one.