End of Chapter Four - 750 words
Short scene this time. This is definitely a character development scene, an almost vignette that comes at the end of a long chapter. I want this chapter to end with a tired, contemplative, almost depressed ending. Besides the obvious character development, it will help provide contrast to the next chapter which begins at a party where I'll be introducing my villain.
You can ignore the "why" behind some of the dialogue. The relationship between Simon and his father, and the reasons behind it, have been dealt with earlier.
Thomas eased the front door of the Gates house shut behind him, stifling a yawn. He rubbed at his arms, trying to retain what little heat he had left. He wanted to stamp his feet, get his blood flowing, but it was well into the night and he didn’t want to wake anyone.
Charles had been right about the guns, they were in sad shape. Some of them were decades old. But at least the first shipments of new guns out of Maridon were starting to trickle in. The capital’s workshops must be hard at work to supply the mobilization, and the first fruits of that labor were beginning to appear.
“Rotten damned fruit,” he muttered as he stripped off his coat. The new guns had been manufactured in haste, and they weren’t much better than the old. Most of them could be salvaged, but it was going to be weeks before even one in three of the men would have a reliable weapon. There were going to be more long nights ahead.
He yawned again as he passed the door to the kitchen and almost missed the murmuring coming from the half-open door. He paused for a moment to peek through the narrow opening.
A small pool of light from a flickering oil lamp sitting in the middle of a rough wooden table illuminated the otherwise dark room. Simon sat at the table, leaning over the surface with his head buried in his arms. He might have been asleep, but for the gentle shaking of his shoulders.
Mrs. Hill sat beside him, smoothing his hair as she spoke. Thomas could barely make out the words.
“Now these weren’t the people that had gone to fight the King,” she said. “Nary a one o’ them that went to fight the Last War ever came back. No, these were the ones they left behind, the wives and the daughters and the sons, them that couldn’t fight for themselves. They seen the fire and the lights that lit the sky to the east and south, and they knew their men weren’t gonna be comin’ home no more. They knew the King had won. So they gathered up what they could and they fled across the narrow sea to the north, to the last island o’ free men.”
Thomas moved away from the door and stepped lightly down the hall, draping his coat over one arm as he entered the dim parlor where an inviting flame still crackled in the hearth. He sank down in the chair closest to the fire, legs splayed out on the rug, and let his head fall back with a deep sigh. The weariness began to seep out of his body, slowly replaced by the warmth of the fire.
“Long day, Mr. Mathews?”
He started awake, knocking his coat to the floor and almost rising out of his seat before remembering where he was. He hadn’t intended to fall asleep.
Elizabeth watched with an amused smile from her place on the couch across from him. She held a pair of knitting needles in her hand, and a half-finished crimson scarf lay draped across her lap.
Thomas bent to retrieve his coat. “Longer than I’d like.” He settled back into the chair and rubbed at his eyes, letting loose another jaw-cracking yawn. “And yourself, Miss Gates? Isn’t it a little late for you to be up?”
She held up her hands, displaying the swathe of red wool. “I can’t work on this during the day. I might get caught.”
She returned to her work. “It’s for Simon’s birthday.”
Thomas stretched his feet closer to the fire. “I passed him in the kitchen. Your housekeeper was with him.” He frowned down at the mud that caked his boots. “He seemed upset.”
The needles clicked softly as they rocked back and forth in her hands. “Simon asked our father about taking another trip to visit the camp, but he had just come in from mother’s grave.” The needles paused for a moment. “It was not a good time to ask.”
Thomas stared into the fire and hugged his arms across his chest. The red glow of the blaze seemed suddenly harsh, without warmth.
He woke as the first rays of the morning sun filtered through frost-covered windows, pouring white light on the dead ashes of the hearth. He had no memory of drifting off, only of colorless dreams of both men and guns that did not always seem to function as they should.