Remember, my goal for ROW80 was pretty simple: write 750 words a week. I like achievable goals. They make me happy. Here we have the second chapter of The Rebel’s Hero, something that I wrote three times because each time I wasn’t hitting the right tone. Read the first draft of chapter one.
What do you think about this chapter? Is the characterization over the top? Is Tempest unbelievable, given that she’s a tomboy during the Civil War?
After they finished their silent dinner, Tempest followed Howard and Sophronia to the parlor. Still stinging from Howard’s remark of her “wildness,” Tempest made sure to float across the room and sink into her chair with no more noise than a soft sigh. She kept her posture rigid, her eyes narrowed, and her hands clenched in her lap.
Howard paid no attention, which meant she was giving herself a headache for nothing. Sophronia lounged on a chaise in a dark corner, a handkerchief laid across her eyes. There would be no help from that corner, of that Tempest was certain.
Tempest’s mind raced. Howard had been serious at dinner, she knew he had been serious. And her mother had sat there, sipping her soup because Howard had instructed her to. Tempest worked her jaw in an effort to fight the telltale growing pressure of impending tears.
Of all people, why Walter?
Fifteen minutes passed as the three of them listened to the grandfather clock ticking from the hallway. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Tempest cursed her heart for the way it continued to beat, keeping time with the clock, as if the world had not just ended. Tick. Tock. Everything slowed and Tempest just knew if she did not leave at that instant, she would scream. At the chime of the quarter hour, Tempest jumped to her feet.
“Pardon me, I have a headache,” she said in stiff tones. She held her chin high and refused to look at either Howard or Sophronia as she sailed from the room, her wide skirts swaying with the speed of her escape.
She walked to the front porch of the house and stared out at their farmland. No doubt this was why Walter was agreeing to marry her. It was always about land with these stupid men. Tempest shook her head. She would never understand it. How could a man marry a woman he knew didn’t love him, didn’t even like him, would prefer to spit on the ground than speak to him, just for some dirt?
Howard is hiding something.
Tempest sat on the swing that hung from the rafters of the porch and with smooth, practiced motions, lifted her skirts high, and dropped the hoop skirt then and there for all the world to see. Not that anyone could or would see, it was just her and the slaves and the farm and the black sky. Not even the stars dared shine tonight, not under the threat of Tempest’s furious frown.
Freed of her hoops, Tempest crouched easily to remove her shoes and stockings, discarding them where Howard would be able to see them when he came out for his evening smoke. Might as well. He already thought she was wild, and one evening of perfect behavior wouldn’t change his mind. Tempest tucked the hem of her skirt into her waistband so she could do what she had been wanting to do since hearing Howard’s awful news. Run.
Why now? she thought, knowing she would get a stitch in her side if she ran as hard as she wanted to, thanks to the stupid corset she was forced to wear. I’ve been of age for two years, why now? And why Walter?
Leaping from the front porch, Tempest ran. She ran from the house in her bare feet with sure strides that belied the way her stomach sloshed with every step. The tears she refused to show to Howard now flowed freely, hanging in the air like rain drops as she sped to her tree by the creek.
Walter. The name sent shivers down her back even though the air was thick with hot humidity. Her hair curled at her temples at at the back of her neck. Her arms became slick with sweat. Walter the Breaker, she had once heard him called on a bright morning before Sunday church. Breaker of spirits, horse and human. Another shiver.
It’s because I’ve been asking questions.
Tempest’s toughened feet paid no mind to the grass, twigs, and bugs they crushed. Tempest was the very embodiment of her name, dust flying, birds squawking, as she reached her tree. She caught a low-hanging branch without bothering to slow down. She swung around and kicked off the side of the tree trunk to jettison upwards. She caught another branch, and another, scrambling up the tree with the speed of a squirrel. She stopped when she was high enough to see the farmhouse.
Plopping onto a branch that was thick enough to hold her weight, Tempest leaned back against the tree trunk and crossed her arms over her panting chest as she wheezed.
Things had not been right since her father’s death. Everyone said Reginald Granville died via an unfortunate accident with the drink, but Tempest knew better. Reginald had never had problems with drinking. Even Tempest, at eight years old, had known that her father wasn’t a drinker, that he couldn’t have smashed his head into the cellar floor because he had tripped over his own feet. But that was what Howard had insisted, with tears in his eyes.
Tempest scraped the back of her hand against her traitorous tears. She should have known better than to ask Sophronia about Reginald’s death the other day. She should have known her questions would send Sophronia into ten years of latent hysterics, and Howard would come running. Tempest hadn’t expected to trigger Sophronia’s bad habit of sleepwalking to the cellar, though. No doubt that was why Howard was trying to get rid of her. To silence her questions and stop causing her mother’s hysterics and sleepwalking. Things could be peaceful at the farmhouse, if only Tempest wasn’t around.
Her chin jutted out. If Howard wanted to get rid of her, he didn’t have to marry her off.
A plan began to form. Hadn’t Sophronia received a letter not too long ago? They so rarely received letters these days. Tempest had been surprised at how dismissive her mother had been about it. If only she could find that letter. Someone knew they existed, even though as a principle, the family refused to leave the farm for anything but church.
Maybe, just maybe, Tempest could find that letter, and find the writer of it, and get some of the answers her family refused to reveal. No doubt this person had a history with Sophronia, one that went longer than the last ten years, and lived far enough away to not know how she had changed.
Everyone in the village knew Sophronia was not of this world any longer. She floated through it, suffered it, paid no mind. Someone knew her before Reginald’s death, and cared enough to write. Whoever this person was, whoever it was that cared about her mother, this was Tempest’s best option.
“One of these days, Howard,” Tempest muttered as she climbed down the tree, “you’re going to regret pushing Reginald Granville’s family around.”
All the best,
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