My wonderful friend Jo pushed me aside and had a play with the start and lo it was good. I've been having a play too and, though not quite there yet, I thought I post some of it for you to see:
Rachel stood at the entrance to the castle, watching as the ragged line of men, horses and wagons wound its weary way up the incline towards her, a moving column of blacks and browns against the spreading purple heather haze on either side. She felt the solid ground beneath her feet – and the same warm breeze that buffeted the manes of the horses below her in the valley, kept blowing her hair into her face and obscuring her vision. Somewhere down there in the line of men, her brother Duncan and beside him, she did not doubt, Fleance.
Rachel’s reserves of stillness and calm were legendary among all who know her – but right now, she shifted impatiently from one foot to the other. Hurry up. Be here. It was a warm spring afternoon and she had been waiting since morning, hour after empty hour – and at last they were home. Rachel smiled with relief. Her affection for her dear friend and her eagerness to see her brother’s face again, bubbled up inside her – an uncontainable surge of happiness filled her heart.
She lifted her head, listening intently for the first sounds of the approaching procession. At first, all she could hear were the martlets, wheeling above her in the cracks and crevices of the castle walls. But gradually, she detected new sounds – the chink of shields piled together on a cart, the whinny of a horse as it sighted familiar castle walls at last – and the deep grumbling of the metal-bound wooden wheels against the stones on the track. Behind her, someone speaks her own hope aloud “Duncan comes here tonight.” She can’t place the voice – and it is as if the castle walls themselves have uttered the words. Rachel shivered suddenly, despite the warmth of the air around her but kept her eyes on the line of warriors trudging up the hill towards her. Where is he? Which one is he?
Closer and closer they come and Rachel starts to search the faces, searching for Duncan’s familiar cloak, her eyes flicking over the animals, looking for the familiar shambling bulk of Willow, Fleance’s horse. Now the first riders are close enough to be recognised and she smiles in anticipation.
But these men are not walking like the victors she knows them to be. Something is wrong, she thinks, as the front man puts his shield down and the second rider lowers his hood. First one, then another and then another. Every single one turns towards her, silently, their faces smeared with blood and dirt. As they come closer, Rachel cannot turn away and her horrified eyes see the terrible details: here an arm snapped and hanging useless, beyond all her healing powers. There, a yellowing, dripping wound.
Over the dull trudge of battered feet on stones, a low moan of grief reaches her ears. The stench is overpowering and the smell of death and despair overwhelm her. She steps back in horror as a man falls from his horse in front of her, his face still hidden by a torn and stinking hood. Overhead, a swift screams echoing her own despair. She hears a voice pleading hoarsely to her. ‘We are lost Princess! He is dead. We could not save him.’
Rachel’s stomach turns to stone.
Now they are all around her, needing her help but she can do nothing. Her own tears well up as she reaches down to turn back the hood from this dear face, sees the blood on her own hands, and recoils in horror.
‘Rachel, lass! Will you wake?’
Morag’s voice broke through her nightmare and Rachel opened her eyes. She is in her own bed, in her own room inside the castle. For a moment, she lay utterly confused, the moans of the men ringing in her ears and remembers the vision. She sat up, the feeling of terrible grief still so real. ‘Tell me, Morag,’ she asked. ‘He’s not dead is he?’
The older woman clucked. ‘Come now, child. You’ve just been having a bad dream.’
‘But I saw him on the ground and there was so much blood.’ She pulled the covers up and saw that her hands were shaking.
Morag sat on the bed next to her princess, and took Rachel in her arms. ‘Hush. This will never do. You were dreaming, bairn. No one is dead. We would have heard.’