The Wicked Web excerpt
There are some sounds a child never expects to hear. And the scream, which pierced the castle’s upper floors and echoed through his body was so unexpected it froze him to the spot for a brief moment before a surge of fear drove him from his room at lightning speed.
At the age of fifteen, Richard William Thomas Seymour, recently titled sixth Duke of Craythorne and Billy to his mates, knew that his life was one of privilege, position and power. The privilege part was obvious to him on a daily basis. He had more servants than he could dream up tasks for. An estate, which encompassed the majority of Yorkshire. A home, which was large enough to warrant the label, castle. All in all, apart from the recent passing of his father, he had enjoyed a lifestyle most young children could only dream about. But as the moonlight slipped out from behind the cloud and fell upon the lifeless body of his mother, crumbled at the bottom of the stairwell, he knew, as he took a shuddering breath, he had but a moment to make a decision, not a lifetime to hone the skill.
Should he stay and fight or should he run? He took a heartbeat to slide his shaky palm across his mother’s eyes and close the lids and place a parting kiss on her forehead, before he lent down and snapped off the chain around her neck and hastily shoved it in his pocket. The words, “I’m sorry,” fell from his lips, even though she couldn’t hear him.
In the gallery, above the stairs, his uncle bellowed. Wild with rage as he stormed and smashed his way through the previous Duke’s suites. The threats, which poured from his mouth left Richard in no doubt that his uncle and cousin, now they had dispatched his mother, were coming after him next. He’d sensed the tension building between his mother and uncle, but when he’d tetatively broached the topic with his mother she’d patted his arm and told him it was a trivial matter. He had no need to concern himself with the challenges she faced. As the Duchess of Craythorne, she was well schooled to manage the situation. The inference that he couldn’t miss was that he was too young to be of help. And God help him, when he looked down at her now, he knew she was right. He had failed her and his father.
He had taken two steps towards the upper level when a hand pulled him back. Jefferies, his father’s valet, unceremoniously tugged him in the opposite direction, “Master Richard, don’t go there! Come this way instead,” he reverted, in his distress, to a previous title of address.
For an instant, torn between revenge and pure unadulterated terror, Richard hesitated.
“Master Richard, he’ll murder you before you can raise an arm to him. You’ve got to leave now,” Jefferies urged. “There’s four of them up there, Master Richard, and your older cousin as well. You’ll make it easy for them. We have no weapons to help you.”
“But…” Wildly, Richard’s gaze had swung from the trusted and familiar valet to the top of the stairs where the hallway branched off and lead to his father’s room. Rooms, which would be his, one day, but presently were suffering an unprecedented assault. Wood was splintering; glass smashing and the curses filling the air drenched the whole surrounds with evil intent. He remained motionless. He had neither father nor mother now. No brothers or sisters, the family lineage consisted and entailed, only one. His murderous uncle and cousin he’d wiped from family connections the moment he’d stumbled upon his mother’s body. How to decide what to do? Where was a weapon he could use? He latched onto a tabletop vase and tipped the roses to the floor. The petals scattered over his mother’s hand.
Reacting quickly, Jefferies clutched at him, “No, please, listen to me. Come this way. You can escape out the back. Samuel has already got a horse saddled.”
“But, what about you all? It’s my duty to protect you.”
“It’s your duty to survive,” came Jefferies terse reply. “And if you’re dead, we’ll have no hope. He’ll inherit all this. Would you rather leave us at his mercy?”
A door slammed as Jefferies finished speaking and someone yelled, “He’s here. Come on.” A flood of footsteps thundered above him and the small group exited the bedroom and rushed for the stairway.
With no need for further persuasion, Richard spun on his heel and fled. At the end of the east wing, Jefferies tugged him to the side of the hallway; he lifted a long embroidered hanging and pushed him through a hidden doorway. Richard kept a hand on Jefferies leading shoulder; quickly they made their way towards a dim light in the distance. At the end of the narrow corridor, Jefferies pushed through a rusted iron doorway. It took more than a shove or two to before it creaked and begrudgingly deigned to open. Finally, on the outside, they paused and gathered their wits. Jefferies whistled, and he’d barely caught his breath before Jefferies pushed him towards the oncoming horse.
“Go,” Jefferies admonished him. “Down the path, don’t stop at the village, but head straight through. Head south, don’t stop. Keep moving until you find somewhere safe to rest your head. Samuel will come with you.”
Grabbing the reins tossed to him, Richard held them tight, “I don’t know what to do?” he’d said, as he stared at the valet. The man who’d known his father for more years than he had, and his voice had broken for the first time that night.
“Of course you do. You’re the Duke. Whatever you do will be right. Trust your instincts. At the very least, mount up and ride like hell out of here.” The gruff response belied the catch he’d heard in Jefferies voice.
Immediately, Richard obeyed. He gave one sweeping glance towards Craythorne Castle, which stood aglow with lights, a false illusion of warmth and geity, against the sullen black background. And with nothing, but the clothes he wore on his back and his mother’s locket in his pocket, he kicked his horse into a gallop.
He rode as fast as he could towards the edge of the Yew trees and hurried into their shadowy cover. He didn’t stop riding until he nearly fell from the saddle in exhaustion and Craythorne Castle many shires away.