I’m writing romances, so my stories need two main characters. And most of them have an antagonist or two to throw barriers in the way of my protagonists’ happy ending. But few indeed are the stories—mine or other people’s—without other people important to the plot because of their supporting role. Today’s work-in-progress Wednesday is dedicated to those others: to the confidants, the best friends, the offsiders, the sisters, even the rivals.
Usual rules. I show you mine, and you show me yours in the comments. This is Jonno Price, the teenage valet of my injured Major Alexander Redepenning (retired). The piece is from the first chapter of A Raging Madness.
Out in front of the house, Alex’s chaise waited, with his man Jonno—stripling boy, rather, barely out of his seventeenth year—leaning against a tree at the head of the horses. Alex was nearly up to him before he jerked fully upright.
“Major!” Jonno’s brain woke a second after his tongue, and he corrected himself. “Mr Redepenning, sir. Are we off, then?”
Alex ignored the slip and the stab of regret it caused. “Back to the inn, Jonno. I’d like to make an early start of it. There’s heavy weather coming, they were telling me, and if we have to hole up until it is over, I’d rather do it in a decent sized town than in an inn at the rear end of nowhere.”
“Right you are, sir. Close lot they have here, sir.” Jonno kept up a comfortable patter as he put down the modified step that allowed Alex to drag his bad leg up into the chaise with the minimum of help from his man. Jonno’s conversational overtures had been rebuffed, no refreshments had been offered to man or beast, and Jonno had been directed to water for the horses only reluctantly, after a direct request.
Alex let the boy’s words wash over him as he settled into his seat stifling a groan. Eight hours on the road followed by all this standing around had inflamed the constant ache he lived with into active knives of pain. Jonno, having folded away the step, led the horses around to face the carriage way, then leapt up beside Alex, released the brake, and chirruped the pair into movement. His unconscious ease of movement made Alex’s command sharper than Jonno deserved.
“Give me the reins. I’m not dead yet.”
Jonno handed them over, wisely saying nothing, though his face spoke for him.
“I don’t drive with my legs, Jonno,” Alex said, trying to sound more conciliatory. With Jonno on the brake, and a tired pair of not particularly fine post horses, he was putting less strain on the damned limbs than he would sitting tense beside Jonno fretting about his incapacity. He had a flash of memory: a carriage race in Syria, every bone and muscle in his body called into glorious service as he and his colonel’s four blood horses swept to victory against the competitors from three other brigades, his own screaming support from every hillock along the track.
Never again. Those days were behind him.
Jonno whistled. “What a beauty!”
The colt paced them in the half light of dusk, whickering at the stranger horses on the other side of the stone wall that closed him in, then tired at the lack of response and kicked up his heels, racing off into the gloom.
Jonno and Alex shared a smile. “A fine yearling,” Alex observed, “and bidding fair to be a racer, I would say. Are we still on Melville lands? He has the look of Captain Melville’s old horse.”
“It’s a Melville field, right enough,” Jonno agreed. “That old oak we’re passing? Marks the boundary, they told me in the village. We’ll be back at the inn in a few minutes, sir.”