This story is by Steven Reid and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Braedon LaMarque bolted down the steps and out into the pasture behind his house. He refused to slow down as his father called after him to stop. He rarely was one to defy his father, but this time was different. This time, his father was being unreasonable. This time, his father was wrong.
He ran to the stable. He’d get on his horse and ride. He’d leave this place forever. He didn’t care what his father’s title was. Titles meant nothing when forced to choose between his inheritance and the person he loved.
Once in the stable, he headed straight for Asher. If he could get him saddled quickly, he’d be gone before his father could catch him.
“Good afternoon, Master Braedon. Is there something I can help you with?” asked Emerson, the head groom of the estate since Braedon’s grandfather was the 11th Earl of Davenford.
“I know how to saddle my own horse, thank you,” the young man snipped.
“Of course, Master Braedon. I wasn’t implying that you didn’t. I was simply offering my assistance.”
“If you want to be of assistance, leave me alone!” he shouted.
“Very well, sir,” Emerson replied, and left the young man and returned to his work tending to his duties.
Mansfield LaMarque charged into the stables, huffing from the exertion that was far more than his usual routine, and bellowed at Emerson.
“Have you seen that hard-headed son of mine?” he demanded.
“Master Braedon is saddling his horse, sir,” Emerson replied, pointing to the younger LaMarque, who was still busy adjusting Asher’s saddle.
“Where, exactly, do you think you’re going?” said Mansfield.
“Away from here. Away from you,” Braedon replied.
“You most certainly will not. You will not be leaving the estate now or for the foreseeable future,” said the older LaMarque. Lowering his voice to prevent being overheard, he added, “I will not have you parading around town, knowing how you are.”
“How I am?” Braedon shouted, ensuring everyone in earshot overheard. “Are you saying you don’t want everyone to know your son has a boyfriend?”
“Keep your voice down,” Mansfield hissed. “And yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. And more importantly, that is exactly what will happen.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“I will alert the constable about how you are, and I will have them arrest you. I’m sure he will do it discreetly considering my position.”
“And what will you tell everyone when your only heir mysteriously disappears?”
“That you’re visiting relatives… far away. And that you died of a fever while you were away.”
Braedon dropped the reins to his horse. “You wouldn’t.”
“I will do whatever it takes to protect the family name and this estate. If it means handing it over to my brother instead of a filthy, little poofter, that’s exactly what I’ll do!”
The Earl spun on his heels and headed out of the stable. Stopping at the door, he turned to Emerson, who was mucking out one of the stalls. “He is not to leave the estate. Do whatever it takes to stop him. Bash him with that shovel if you have to.” With that, he stormed out of the stable and back up to the manor.
Emerson put his shovel down and walked over to find Braedon leaning against the stall, sobbing quietly.
“Are you alright, Master Braedon?” he asked.
“You heard my father. You know what’s wrong with me,” Braedon replied.
“I didn’t ask about your father. I asked if you were alright.
“My father just said I’m either to remain his prison here, or he’ll have me arrested and probably killed. How do you think I am?”
“I understand how you feel, Master Braedon,” Emerson said.
“How could you possibly understand how I feel?”
“I’m sure you’re right sir. I’m sorry to have disturbed you,” he said and returned to his work.
Braedon took his time removing Asher’s saddle. He was in no hurry to return to his father’s house, so he brushed his horse for a bit, trying to get his mind off what his father had said. After a while, he put away the brush and started out of the stable but paused when he saw Emerson working with one of the horses in the corral. He watched the older man work with a level of expertise that, if he was honest with himself, made him jealous.
“What did you mean when you said you know how I feel?” he asked. The words were out of his mouth before he realized what he had said. “You have children and grandchildren. You’re not like me.”
Emerson made his way over to the fence where Braedon stood. “You’re right. I am married, and I do have children. But, I know how it feels to have your parents turn their back on you.”
“What did you do to make them do that?” Braedon asked.
“Nothing. My father had a gambling problem. He’d bet on anything, and he usually lost. When I was about eight years old, he ran up a massive debt. He raised the money the only way he knew how. He sold me to your grandfather.”
“What? You can’t sell a child!”
“You can’t now. But in 1830 you could.”
“And my grandfather bought you?”
“People who worked for him bought me in Africa. I was taken to his sugar plantation in Barbados. I was working there when I met your grandfather. When slavery was abolished, he brought me here to work in the stables. I’ve been here ever since.”
“Why didn’t you leave?”
“Where would I go?”
Braedon thought on this, then asked, “But how is your situation like mine?”
“My father made my decision for me. You need to decide if you want the same fate. Good day, Master Braedon.”
Emerson turned and walked back to the horse he’d been training. Braedon watched for a while longer, thinking about what the groom had said. Was this old man the wisest person on the estate?
Over the next few days, Braedon found himself spending more time at the stables talking with the groom. His father had given him permission to ride, but only if Emerson accompanied him, and only on the grounds of the estate. Much to Braedon’s surprise, Emerson agreed, and they began riding daily, covering every corner of the expansive Davenford Estate. Much of their time was spent discussing Braedon’s situation with his father and how much he missed his boyfriend, Terrance, the son of the local blacksmith, and how he wished he could leave the estate forever. Emerson provided the only sympathetic ear for Braedon to talk about such things.
After a few weeks, at the groom’s request, the Earl relaxed his requirements, allowing Braedon and Emerson to hunt in the nearby forest, if they avoided the town on the other side. Emerson hoped this would raise Braedon’s spirits and alleviate some of the melancholy surrounding the young man, but it seemed as if his mood only grew darker.
One morning, Braedon entered the stables to find his horse already saddled and loaded with gear for their daily excursion. Emerson was already in the saddle of his own horse, ready to set off.
“Are we in a hurry today?” asked Braedon, climbing into the saddle.
“I wanted to get an early start. Your father left for London half an hour ago, and he won’t be back for a week. I thought you’d relish the freedom of him not watching your every move.”
“That is true,” Braedon said. “Where shall we go today?”
“I know of a perfect spot to do a bit of hunting today. I’m sure you’ll find it enjoyable.”
Emerson led the way, and soon Braedon found himself in an unfamiliar area in the woods.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“You’ll see soon enough, Master Braedon. We’re almost there.”
They continued on a bit farther and came upon an old road that appeared as if it hadn’t been used in years. A carriage sat on the road, waiting, and next to it, was Terrence.
“What is this?” asked Braedon, jumping down from his horse.
“You said you wanted to leave the estate for good. Here’s your chance,” Emerson replied. “I’ve packed a few things for your journey. That should get you to the seaport. A ship awaits to take you away.”
“To where?” Braedon asked.
“Some place we can be together and safe,” answered Terrence.
“What will you tell my father?”
“That you hit me over the head and escaped toward the mountains,” replied Emerson, smiling at the two young men. “But you must hurry. You’ll need to be aboard the ship before nightfall.”
“I can’t thank you enough for this,” he said, hugging the groom.
“You will thank me by leading a happy life together. Farewell, Master Braedon.”
Jumping into the carriage and pulling the door shut as it started away, he yelled out the window, “It’s simply ‘Braedon’ now, Mister Emerson.”