A wet pink tongue slobbered my face and heavy paws tangled in my skirts. I pushed the warm, soft, furry body away from me then brushed away the tears that clouded my eyes.
In my lap was one of this spring’s pups. A small bitch with white and tan coat, long ears and lean body. She licked my hands and whined.
I sighed and lay down on the road. The pup jumped about me, sticking her black wet nose into me and tongue licking bare skin. She pawed at me and nipped me when I didn’t move.
‘Did you get lost too?’ I finally asked.
I pulled myself up and climbed to my feet. I petted the dog, feeling relieved.
‘As everyone else still out here? Do you think you can find them for me?’
The pup licked my fingers and bounced around me.
‘You are better then nothing,’ I uttered.
I set off again, muddy paw prints on my skirts and my boots scuffed up. The dog followed me, tail held high and nose sniffing the air. I thought once or twice she was tracking the rest of the pack but actually she was chasing rabbit in the undergrowth.
Giving up on her, I followed my feet and soon felt the dip in the track. At least I knew where I was but I was far from home now.
On a normal day, walking here was a joy but in this thick fog, strong wind and cold air it was unpleasant. I wished for a horse or for my father’s car.
Somewhere to my left was a fallen tree that made a good seat to rest on. Without thinking much about it, I headed over there and felt the rough bark under my fingers. I sat for a few minutes and the dog joined me. She lay down, panting heavily at my feet.
The wind shifted the trees and stirred up the leaves. I looked up at the path and saw the fog seeming to part. A figure emerged dressed in dark clothes and a black riding hat.
‘Hello?’ I called out.
The dog growled and stood up defensively in front of me.
The figure shifted, moving between the trees slowly, staying just out of clear sight and using the fog as a mask.
‘Stop playing games!’ I snapped, ‘it’s not funny.’
My brothers had always teased me and played tricks on me. Was this them doing so again? It would have been easy enough for them to scare me in this fog.
‘Go and get him,’ I said to the dog and give her little shove forward.
The dog didn’t move. She stood her ground and carried on growling at the figure.
If it had been one of my brothers she wouldn’t be reacting that way. She knew all the family and servants well, like any of the hunting pack dogs. One of the guests then? but why would they want to scare me? They were all old men from my father’s army days, they had fought together in The Great War.
The figure vanished behind a thick tree, the fog rolling back around to claim the space.
‘I didn’t imagine that,’ I muttered, ‘you saw it too, girl.’
I called the dog back to me and she sat on my feet, staring around as if waiting for the figure to come back.
We had no choice but to continue. Hoping there were no more figures and we arrived home quickly, I sort out the road again and carried on. The dog padded at my side and I felt better for my companion.
We hadn’t gone far when the wind picked up and forcefully swept around us. Leaves flew up and scratched against me. The dog jumped and chased them as they went by. The trees rubbed together, creaking and cracking threateningly. A voice spoke something, a single word which I didn’t catch.
‘Hello!’ I screamed.
The wind snatched my voice away and wrapped my skirts and cloak around my legs. I struggled for breath, feeling like I had ice in my lungs. The dog started barking sharply then switched to growling.
The voice came again, it sounded like a whisper of my name.
The dog backed away and pressed against my boots. She curled around me, cowering and starting to shake.
‘I’m not afraid,’ I called out.
‘Rufina,’ a voice breathed in my ear.
To Be Continued…