Lord Stanton’s Horse by Heikki Hietala
I leaned back, stirring my tea with the spoon. She leaned forward.
“We charged. Damned thing it was, uphill again, straight into a copse loaded with the Boche. A ghastly affair. We were a hundred strong when we launched, and by the time the spearhead reached the brambles, thirty had fallen already.”
“And Charles was among them?”
“No. I was with him in the second group, if you could call it that, a gaggle’s more like it. We made it to the top of the hill all right, but then things started to go wrong. They had four heavy machine guns in that bush, and just as I was about to go in, they hit me right above the elbow. I fell off my horse and was knocked out for a while. I came to with Charles cutting the remaining sinews and applying a tourniquet to the stump.”
“Oh! That must have been terrible pain. Was he hit then?”
I straightened the shoulder titles, first the left, then the right, touching the brass letters LSH to bring me some solace. Esprit de corps and all that.
“No. It was miraculous actually, with all the shrapnel and bullets flying about. Charles made sure I was okay and then he said, ‘I must go and see to Brownie.’ It was absolute hell for the horses. I mean, I lost my first horse, Amethyst, at Ypres, and Nutmeg on the first day of the Somme. Ivory was shot under me at Passchendaele – after that, I didn’t even give them names.”
I had a sip of my cold tea, wincing at the taste. Too much sugar.
“But Charles and Brownie went on together right from the start. He always said Brownie was his good luck charm. No horse was ever better seen to than that beautiful gelding. You just can’t understand the bond between them if you’re not a cavalry officer yourself.”
She was getting impatient. “Pray tell me: what happened to Charles? Did he suffer? Was it German shrapnel that killed him?” A tear fell on her silk lapel and made a run for it, but was absorbed, disappearing from view.
“You have to understand this correctly now, Emily.” Her eyes forced me to continue. “As I lay on the ground, a grenade exploded nearby.”
“Oh, my God! He must have suffered terribly!”
“No, not at all. Brownie took the brunt of the blast and was ripped open. He fell on the ground, bleeding and whinnying. Charles was unscathed. But he saw that Brownie was beyond help, and there was just one thing for him to do. I watched as he took aim with his revolver, right at the white star under his forelock, but I had to turn away before the shot rang.”
“Oh...” she said.
“And then there was that other shot.”
Second Place: The Ghost of Christmas Past
Third Place: Fur