Thomas staggered through the clearing gripping one of his arms. “Arrgh,” he moaned. Then he collapsed in the grass, kicking his feet in the air and pretending to wrestle with a sea monster. Around him eight of his brothers and sisters clapped their hands or complained, “That’s not how it happened!”
Their da had told a particularly good tale last night about a wounded knight who had managed, with his dying breath, to kill a sea beast. The next day the little ones had begged Thomas to act out the story. He did not mind doing this, for it gave him a chance to think about what to do if he should ever really come face to face with a sea monster, or what to do if he had only one breath left to live. Furthermore, he’d used the request to get his brothers and sisters to promise that they’d follow him to the river afterward.
It was now warm enough to bathe in the river, and Thomas, as the eldest, was in charge of their much-needed summer scrubbing-up. After shushing all arguments about his retelling of Da’s tale, he put baby Isabel on her bottom in the middle of the ankle-deep stream and then got busy chasing down several others to get them washed.
From behind him he heard Isabel cry, “Horsey!”
“We left your toy at home, Izzy,” he called over his shoulder as he made a grab for his dirtiest little brother, Peter.
“Horsey!” The little girl giggled.
It was a new word for Isabel, who’d just gotten a carved wooden horse from their father. Since she used the word often, Thomas did not bother to look when she laughed and said, “Horsey!” a third time.
It was not until another sister pointed toward the stream and cried, “There’s a knight!” that Thomas turned and saw a great black warhorse coming quickly around the bend of the rocky riverbed. It was bearing down upon his baby sister. The knight on its back seemed to be looking down, not ahead of him where Isabel sat in the shallow water and clapped joyfully.
“Is-a-bel!” screamed Thomas as he let Peter loose and raced toward the riverbed. “Stop!” Thomas shouted at the knight. He waved his arms frantically.
The knight did not look up; instead, he lurched in his saddle and almost fell off.
He can’t hear me! Thomas felt his heart tearing in two. He flew toward his sister—but there were boulders and tree roots in the way. He’d never make it in time. She’d be trampled. “Is-a-bel!”
“Horsey!” She pointed. “Me want.” Her hands opened and closed as she leaned toward the oncoming animal.
Thomas’s shin smacked against a boulder and he went tumbling headfirst over it. He scrambled back up. As he did, he grabbed a stone and hurled it with all his might at the horse, and missed. He was limping now, and he moaned as he grabbed another large stone. He saw his brother Albert and his sister Margaret racing toward Isabel as well. They would not make it in time. His arm arced back and the stone shot forward. It hit the horse on its muzzle.
The horse reared—its big hooves almost above Isabel’s head, its mane, as black as midnight, whipping back—and a high-pitched eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee split the air.
Isabel’s lower lip quivered. She screwed up her face and bellowed a cry of baby-temper that echoed the horse’s cry of panic. “Ah . . . eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
The knight slipped sideways into the stream, and the frightened animal bolted up the opposite bank—nostrils flaring and eyes rolling. Snorting and stamping, it got tangled in the brambles along the bank.
Thomas bent forward and grabbed at his side. He tried to catch his breath and thought he was going to be sick. A second later, he raised his head and saw his baby sister safe, but bawling big disappointed tears as she turned on her bottom to watch the horse. Her little hands were still opening and closing—demanding, Give me. The knight, perhaps knocked to his senses by the fall, was struggling to rise.
Copyright © 2010 by Shutta Crum. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.