Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Alfred the Great by Rick Haynes

Rick Haynes is the master of short fiction, whether in short stories, drabbles or poems. One of hos collections - Drabbles 'n' Shorts' - contains on of my favourite stories of his. Rick has generously allowed me to post that story and add it to the Short Fiction Archive here on my blog.

I hope you enjoy the story as much as I did and if you do then you should check out the book it's taken from.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

ALFRED THE GREAT – THE OLD BULL

THE CHAINS THAT BIND


Alfred the Great was a King with no subjects, unless the ticks, fleas and flies that infested his coat were taken into consideration. Over the years, he had wandered the field, his field. It was a solitary, lonely existence. He regularly considered his fate for his life was mundane and completely lacking in anything remotely exciting. Yet once a year his passion soared. For on that one special day he was obligated to service the prize herd of cows. Then, he was truly the King of the Bulls. There was never a need for introductions- he never saw their faces anyway. The girls were paraded in the next meadow. He would perform and then be allowed to relax. The farmer did not believe in artificial insemination so it was Alfred’s responsibility. It was both his duty and his pleasure for he took great pride in being a champion bull of absolute pedigree. His offspring already numbered in the dozens; more and more would follow. That was his role; the only reason that he was allowed to live. It was produce or die. He had little choice in his destiny.

Monotony was his constant enemy as little by little it diminished his strength. It ate away at his heart but, because he so desperately wanted to live, he mounted the cows with vigour every year. That was his true birthday but he knew that it could not last for much longer. A prize bull should have enormous size and power. Alfred was known to have both but the passing of too many seasons was slowing him down. Sooner, rather than later, he would fail in his duty. He knew that death would quickly follow. It was not a pleasant thought.

The dull patch of earth on which he stood he knew as home. The adjacent field was the breeding ground but everywhere else, apart from the winter barn, remained a mystery. At times, little outside of the field mattered to him, for his brain had diminished with the weariness of age and tedium. Yet on other days his imagination wandered to pastures new. On this day he surveyed his familiar surroundings with contempt as he trod his lonely path. He knew every blade of grass, every root, plant and weed. He was bored in every fibre of his body.
At the top end of his field, he could just make out the roof of the farm in the next hollow. The red tiles looked scoured and weathered, but the tall chimneys stood proud, poking their snouts up to the flecked skyline. The twist of wood smoke wafted its way upwards and towards him. He hated the smell, as it seemed both alien and obnoxious to his senses. Messages of disgust flowed from his brain. It was time to move on. He turned his proud head and began the descent to the lower areas.

At the far end of his prison, liquid trickled through his own muddy prints, depositing the filthy mixture in to the frothy mess of the water wallow. The weeping willow looked unusually graceful as its long slender branches danced across the stream. They appeared to be serenading him as they crooned in the wind. The tree sang as it greedily sucked in the running effluent through its monstrous roots.

The droplets of water from the recent downpour gently dripped into the stream from its branches. However, even this semblance of nature’s beauty could dissuade Alfred. This was not a pleasant place to live. He hated it!

For the thousandth time he surveyed the walls of his prison. He saw the electric wires running through a line of posts, carefully situated just inside of the periphery bushes. The current was permanently live. The bushes beyond the wires held their own unpleasant surprise. Blackthorn had been carefully entwined to create a continuous hedgerow barrier. Needle sharp thorns grew on every branch. The bushes were gnarled with the seasons, deep-rooted and extremely tough. The combined barriers made escape seem impossible.

Over the years, some blackthorn thorns had even managed to pierce Alfred’s face. He had stuck his head through the wires when the electric current failed and received a mouthful of pain for his trouble. He failed to suppress a wan smile as the memory of times gone by manifested itself.

The rest of his paddock was reasonably flat, but there was a long hump in the middle. It was his normal resting place for here he had a good view all around. It was the place where he thought, dreamed and planned.


It was only the sky that gave him any real pleasure. No matter the weather, he stubbornly shunned the barn. The farmer had learned some years ago that it was far less troublesome to let his bull remain in the field. Only extreme weather conditions would force Alfred into the barn. He was happy with that.

Be it summer or winter, the old bull looked upwards. The view was never the same; it constantly changed. Some days were bright and sunny, others cloudy and wet, but the sky was open. It was at liberty to move as it wished. It was free.

Freedom was something that he desired with all his heart.

That desire had been gradually building up inside of him, and like a volcano, it was ready to erupt. The old bull knew exactly what he had to do.

He was going to escape.


DREAMS AND DESIRES

For the last two years, he had often dreamed of his breakout from confinement. That very thought had urged him to consider ways to achieve his goal.

The fences were high, the gates strong and always locked. He knew that he could run off at feeding time, as the gate would stay open for a short time. The farmer would stand between him and the gate, but in his rush for freedom, a tragedy would occur. The farmer would likely be trampled. The old bull had always had an affinity with him. The man was kind, had treated him well, and had always known when to stay out of his way. Alfred was huge, he looked dangerous, but he never thought of himself as violent. But he was a pragmatist. It was obvious that an early capture would ensue, should he burst through the open metal gate. That was the last thing that he wanted. He yearned to slip quietly away, to enjoy a few days or even a few hours of freedom.

He reminded himself that the drab colours of the pasture, the oak trees with their rotting branches, and the muddy wallow in the bottom corner, were not going to be his main memories. He desired far more than that.

On one side of his confinement, he could hear the sounds of a herd of cows drifting up over the steep wall. He had never seen them up close unless they were the ones that he had been obliged to mount. Even then, they would be strangers. He thought that it was the only real pleasure he had enjoyed over the years. But regrettably short lived.

Some years ago, a cow told him that there was a green, green field, high on the hill to the south. From there you could see to the edge of the world. She said that an enormous pond stretched forever and that when the moon was bright and the wind at ease, it would appear to shimmer and dance in the moonlight. Alfred desperately wanted to escape and realise his dreams that had engulfed his mind. He had thought of little else over the years. His desire to see the end of the world and the dance of the water grew daily. If he delayed too long it would be too late.

His thoughts and senses wandered on the wind like the fluffy white clouds, high, high above.

There was another bull not too far away; he could smell his powerful odour on the gentle breeze filtering through his meadow. He had often wondered what he was like. Large? Powerful? Rival? Mental images regularly appeared in his mind and not only of the other bull. He had much to consider.

Alfred stood on his mound, his eyes seeking solace in the heavens. His movements were few and far between over the next few days as he contemplated his future.

He questioned everything in his waking hours as doubts and determination fought for prominence in his troubled head. He hoped that his dreams and thoughts would become reality.

Freedom was all around. The taste of it hurt deeply. It was a constant pain in his muscular chest. It never waned, never receded. The anguish was so real that freedom had become an obsession.

The weeks passed by.

Something had to give; soon!


THE FAMILY BIGGINS

Edward and Samantha Biggins lived in Moor End Farm, adjacent to Dartmoor. They worked the land, as their parents had farmed before them. Being the proud parents of five children they had a lot of mouths to feed. Occasionally the family had a short break but life was tough. They coped!

Ed had spoken to Sam about the worsening weather. He was only slightly concerned as all the forecasters were in agreement; snow would fall but it would be light and slushy. There would not be a freeze.

As he stood by the farmhouse door he sighed, as he contemplated another, slightly harder, day looming. Another day, another headache, he mused.

Walking across the yard, he pulled himself into the comfortable cab of his tractor. The reassuring paintings and messages from his children welcomed him. They always did. As he looked out of the large windscreen he watched a flock of starlings wheeling against a background of blue and grey. The ballet was flowing with graceful purpose and Ed warmly appreciated it.

His thoughts turned to the afternoon jobs that required his attention - the animals would need a little extra feed, should the cold spell last - he would need to coax Alfred into the barn - seasoned fire wood would be required indoors and the second tractor required a top up of anti-freeze. As his mind produced the list his body automatically selected first gear. The tractor rolled forward with Ed wondering why the list of his chores never ended.

Sam’s last words were ringing in his ears as he turned out of the farmyard.

‘You be late for your dinner husband and the pigs are getting it.’


TIME TO GO

Winter had fallen and with it came the long hours of darkness. Alfred knew that his best chance to leave was now. He had to go; there was no other way. He felt that he would succumb to madness if he did not.

The fence post in the corner, the one farthest away from prying eyes, had not yet taken the full force of his massive bulk. However, his constant pushing in the last few days had nicely loosened the post.

As the black curtain of night enveloped the meadow, the old bull looked at the post with a rising anger. He carefully stepped back, measured his run, and then slammed his mighty head forward with all the power that he possessed. The post moved but did not succumb. In his mind the post became the symbol of his imprisonment so his anger turned to fury as he prepared to charge once more. Another short run, a furious roar and the old bull hurtled headlong to meet his destiny.

Snap!

The pulse of the electric fence was no more.

Alfred knew that freedom was imminent, so without hesitation he launched his final assault. He savagely head-butted the cause of his hatred again and again, until the post lay in pieces on the ground. Once the first post lay smashed, his anger evaporated as fast as it had arrived. The second and third broke easily to his more measured attack. He forced his bulk over the strands of the electrified wire and through the blackthorn hedge. He was stabbed by the thorns, and blood flowed from his nose and face but he ignored the pain.

Alfred was through and liberated.

The cry of freedom echoed all around him and he paused to savour the moment. He had waited a long time for this. He was not going to rush now, especially as there were so many options available.

Inhaling deeply, he already felt more alive than ever before. The air seemed so different in the richness of the night on the other side of the fence. His long tongue lolled over his teeth and gums as if tasting the air. Alfred smiled with contentment and pondered his next move.

He had to go south to see the dance of the water. His journey would take him upwards and away from the farm, away from his captive surroundings and into the unknown. Small steps, big steps, he held sway over his own destiny and gloried in the thought of it.

Alfred heard a sound. He turned and saw the familiar outline of the farm dog trotting towards him. As his mind prepared for the worst, Alfred lowered his head in challenge. Molly, the black Labrador from the farm, completely ignored his posturing. She wagged her tail as she approached, giving a welcoming bark. Away from the commands of the farmer, this was a different Molly. She had come to greet him, not to betray him.

The old bull grinned at her. He began to swish his tail in acknowledgement of her friendship. Thinking that she may join him in his quest Alfred followed her along the track. Unfortunately, Molly speedily disappeared into a row of tall nettles and grasses. Her departing back told Alfred all he needed to know. She had already lost interest and he was on his own.

He stretched his powerful frame, looked back over his shoulder, and then restarted his trek along the track leading up to the hill. It was cold, dark and empty, but to the old fella it was sheer heaven. The worsening weather meant little to him. The track was thick with mud but it was quickly turning into a slushy morass as the first snowflakes began to fall. The sky had turned to grey so Alfred knew that the white shroud was an illusion. He could feel the temperature dropping. The land would surely harden as the freeze took hold.

He paused in his journey.

He snorted! It was a quiet snort at first, but as his confidence grew, he repeated it as loudly as he could! It felt good to be alive, to choose, to decide.

The journeying to the top of the hill took over thirty minutes, not that it was particularly arduous, for Alfred the Great took his time. To him it felt like hours as he savoured his freedom. The old fella walked, tossed his head in the air and stamped in the snow. He was young and carefree again, wearing the invincible cloak of youth with intense pride.

Heightened senses revelled in the sombre grey of the sky and the total contrast of the whiteness of the ground. His gaze took in the surrounding features of the landscape. Trees devoid of their foliage were being covered in soft white blankets, as if wrapped up against the cold of night. They appeared to extend fluffy white tentacles of yielding softness. His eyes viewed everything both real and imaginary in his desire for today.

He hoped that he would survive until tomorrow.


ALONE

At the top of the climb, he stopped to view his new world. The falling snowflakes obscured some of his view so what he could not see, he imagined. To him, the clouds in the north sky were distant mountains. He searched for the twinkling stars in the south which normally appeared as pin holes in the curtain of night. Unfortunately for Alfred the dark was closing in, drawing a veil over the fields. The skies to the east and west were obscured so he was forced to ignore them as his disappointment grew.

Alfred the Great had a massive decision to make over the route that he should take. He had to avoid the farmer and man in general. He thought about whether the farmer would notice his absence tonight, but doubted it. Nevertheless, he still wanted to leave the area as soon as possible.

Now he had left the confinement of his meadow he had no wish to resume his previous life style. With each step that he had taken, his confidence had grown. The desire to stay free, never to return was growing stronger. Alfred was growing bolder by the minute.

He made the decision to head south, which would take him on a circular route. Unfortunately, it was likely that he would pass the field of the other bull. Alfred had little choice but to walk in that direction, as there appeared to be no other way which would lead him towards the water dance.

The air tasted even cleaner and fresher as more soft flakes fell. The snow provided a degree of illumination but the blackness of the night still prevailed. He had no fears for he relished the night. To Alfred the darkness offered comfort, for a land devoid of lights had the converse effect of a welcoming beacon. He walked confidently towards the unknown, towards the unseen bull and his destiny.

The track veered to the left and then descended into and through a copse of beech and hazelnut trees. Here the path was muddy but not slippery, as the low hanging branches provided some shelter from the snow.

On reaching a five bar gate he paused. He clearly heard the sound of approaching hooves. It had to be the other bull. The sound grew louder and louder until a young bull stood defiantly before him. It had the impetuosity of youth stamped all over its head and agile flanks.

Alfred snorted a greeting which was quickly challenged. Clearly, this young immature bull wished to dominate. Sadness washed over Alfred’s body. Turning his head away, he just avoided a goring of his face as the younger animal charged. The young bull’s head hit the gate and smashed through the panelling. Nicely stuck and winded, he looked a forlorn sight. Alfred hit him firmly in the face with a quick butt. The message he gave out was very clear. Behave or be off.

The young bull decided that discretion was the better part of valour and so beat a hasty retreat, withdrawing a touch slower than he had arrived. Sighing, the old fella licked the taste of fresh blood from his nose. He knew it was not his and he felt angry with himself for acting so hastily. The youngster had so much pride, but then again so did Alfred. Images of the young bull taking his place on his ‘birthday’ troubled him. He wondered if he was to be his replacement.

He sighed again. It was time to move on. He still had much to do and yet, perhaps little time in which to do it.

As he turned to depart, he noticed a large male tawny owl perched on a fence post. The bird was looking at him intently through large piercing yellow eyes. As Alfred approached, the bird cocked its head on one side. He saw a very old owl with many years under its wings. It was a seasoned veteran of countless miles and insufficient patience. The cold gaze of the bird held him transfixed as it appeared to be conducting an examination; as if it knew about the great escape. Alfred felt like a traveller lost in a sea of uncertainty.

The owl turned his head and flapped his wings as if deriding Alfred for his slow progress. He seemed to pour scorn on his headway, as if suggesting that Alfred was suited to going nowhere. Without further ado the veteran bird hooted loudly and flew to a high hanging branch of a weathered oak.

As the mocking sound of the bird vanished on the air, the old bull walked slowly away with his head low to the earth. He pondered over the owl’s actions, wondering whether he was right.

Taking time to re-evaluate his plans and pull himself out of his self-pity, Alfred sought solace under the elderly oak. Steam was rising from his flanks as he stood under the tree. He could hear the owl high above him in the uppermost branches.

He castigated himself for his doubts, reiterated his purpose to proceed and planned to enjoy his time of freedom. Enough was enough; he needed to push on so he told his heavy bulk to move along the track. The end of the world was calling louder than ever and the call needed to be answered.

Snowflakes were now falling with more purpose for they settled as they hit the ground. The transformation from old rutted tracks to a dangerous carpet of white sparkle was in full swing. Large flakes fell on the old bull’s nose as he trudged along, so he snorted loudly to clear them off. He felt so alive and so full of energy, that he raised his huge head up to the falling snowflakes. He opened his mouth wide to allow them to settle on his tongue. He relished them melting on the sensitive pinkness and swung his head from side to side in sheer pleasure.

Whilst he admired the stillness and the freedom, the voice of the owl still bit into his brain. But Alfred was determined to prove him wrong. He moved forward a little faster, to try to give the illusion that he knew where he was going. He liked his new life, his new choice.

As he walked forwards, he noticed that the track was narrowing and gently slipping downhill. It was turning him back the way he had come. It was the wrong route. Nevertheless, he had little choice but to continue. The surrounding fences were just too high, even for one of his size.

Alfred was beginning to doubt whether he would see the end of the world on this night of constant snow. His sense of direction was failing, for the snow was blinding his eyes, impairing his vision. He slowly continued but the seeds of doubt were growing inside his head.

With the fall of snow increasing, it was becoming difficult for him to know north from south and east from west.

Alfred the Great felt very uneasy.

He was tiring, he was cold.

And he began to wonder whether he was in fact, lost.


ROSIE

Some thirty minutes earlier, a very young and very active Rosie Biggins had unlatched the stable door of her farmhouse kitchen. Wearing her bright cape and colourful wellies, she had decided to venture outside to play in the snow. She shrieked with joy for she had never seen snow before. Her eyes sparkled; her body transfixed by the wonder of the flakes gently caressing her face. She giggled as they tickled her nose. Rosie tried to catch them all, as they fell and swayed through the air.

As she skipped and danced, she edged closer to the lane and danger. The lane was out of bounds to little Rosie, but the white thistledown blanket was seducing her into a false sense of security. Before she realised that the snowflakes had played tricks with her eyes, she had exited the farmyard.

Normally, Rosie loved to play, to climb and leap, and especially to dance. Her boundless energy and carefree attitude had already ensured a constant stream of cuts and bruises. Yet she always bounced back for nothing seemed to deter her exploring nature. However, a heavy snowfall was something new and alien to her. She had no idea of the dangers for her mind was urging her to play, and to have fun.

Her fervent imagination took over and she began to see little animals in the snow. They were joining her in dance. She imagined that a squirrel had landed on her back. Rosie spun and tried to catch it, but it ran away and then quickly vanished.

In her mind a bright and cheeky robin flew in and out of the snowflakes, calling for Rosie to follow. She did just that which took her farther away from the safety of home.

A fluffy bunny manifested itself before her. It was white with black ears, identical to her pet rabbit – Roger. It leaped in the air, ran rings around her and urged Rosie to join in the ballet of the snowflakes. Utterly lost in her own make believe world, she joined in ardently. Rosie squealed with delight as she twisted and turned. Her own vivid imagination held her in its sway. Only Rosie could break free. She was on a snow slope to disaster but Rosie was far too happy to care.

As the snow fell with increasing intensity, she became hopelessly lost. Her nice warm hands began to tingle with pain, even though she wore waterproof gloves. The cold had penetrated through her clothes and her skin had begun to chill. Rosie cried out for help. She shouted for her parents but all her pleas failed. They were absorbed into the white and the black of the heavens.

For the first time in her life, no one answered her cries. Her parents did not arrive to comfort her and to soothe away her hurt. Strong farmhands did not appear to pick her up. Nothing came except fear. It flowed effortlessly into her mind, as easily as the flakes fell on her troubled head. Fear had begun its contamination of her brain.

However, little Rosie was a fighter for a 3 year old. She fought to stay warm and as she did, remembered what her mother had always taught her. If she ever got lost on the farm, she had to remain where she was. Rosie knew that their farm was a dangerous place to explore because she had the bruises, and a few stitches to prove it.

Therefore, she sat down near a small bush and pulled her cape tighter around herself. Mummy will come she thought. She always did.


THE MEETING

In the deteriorating visibility, the old bull sensed rather than saw movement ahead. If the track had not considerably narrowed at that point, he would probably have missed seeing anything at all. An alien patch of bright yellow sprang up through the sea of white. Alfred instantly sensed danger. His senses urged caution. He was very, very nervous.

Being cautious of anything different, he carefully moved forward. Alfred lowered his head to nose at the yellow plastic. It had already been partially obscured for the descending white blanket had seen to that.

To his utter astonishment, the plastic cape revealed a small child. He could see the fear in the child’s eyes. A fear that he knew only too well. The child jumped and moved, but did not cry out. In his surprise, Alfred panicked and nearly lost his footing on the treacherous surface.

He had seen children on the farm and tended to be indifferent to their comings and goings. To him they were just too noisy to tolerate. This one however looked different. She was quiet, unusual to say the least, but she was very young. He knew that this little child was far too young to be out on such a cold night. The freezing conditions were beginning to turn his blood to slush, so he wondered how this baby human would survive. He was troubled for himself and concerned for the child. What was she doing here?

He saw the fear dissipate from her ice blue eyes so he moved gently forward once again. Immediately, Rosie leaned forward and grabbed the ring in his nose. She held on tightly as she pulled herself upright. It appeared to be her only lifeline in the blizzard wilderness.

The noises she made were unintelligible to the old bull but the intention was clear; she needed help. She was as much lost as he was. A wave of empathy surged through his veins as compassion tried to engulf him. Yet he knew that all humans were dangerous and danger was now extremely close indeed.

He looked at her small frame and knew that she could not have been out here for too long; otherwise she would already be a stiff body on the ground. He had seen it all before in a bygone winter. The farm men had arrived to coax him into the barn. On the way, he had literally fallen over a frozen body hidden deep in the snow. The tramp, covered by the snow flurries, had pale ghostly features and long icy talons. They had hung from his jaws like a cat baring its teeth in a fight. The tramp was dead, the body as hard as the ground itself. Alfred remembered it all. It was not a memory that he wished to see repeated.

The old bull wanted to move away but he did not want this little one to end up the same way as the man tramp. His heart was torn between her survival and his desire to see the big pond water dance.

The child looked deep into his eyes with such a longing; a desire to be safe and warm. He moved to the left and she held onto his ring. He moved to the right and she did the same. He backed away and still she held on. Her strength surprised him.

Alfred wanted to leave, but he did not want to hurt the shivering wraith-like child by wrenching his head backwards.

Her eyes were cutting into him, pleading, begging for help. He could take no more. Alfred’s resolve crumpled in an instant as compassion overtook his desire to depart. A shudder coursed through his massive flanks and he snorted into the air. It was time to move.

Taking the only course of action he could, Alfred gently turned around. He thought that humans were more likely to be near the young bull, than anywhere else on the farm. Rosie hung on stubbornly to his bowed head. Her feet slithered and slipped in the drifting snow, but she did not let go.

Alfred knew with all certainty that he would never, never see, the end of the world, the pond and the water dance.


PANIC

Rosie was the second youngest child of Edward and Samantha. Her little brother Daniel was 18 months old. She was used to the rough play of her two elder brothers James and Col, and adored her elder sister Dolly. The boys treated her like a brother and Dolly picked up the pieces. Farms were dangerous places, life was tough, but generations of farming had taught them how to survive. Rosie seemed to bounce when she fell but she always bounced back.

Rosie's parents were not initially concerned about her disappearance. It was a common habit of hers to hide around the farmyard. They knew that she preferred playing with her brothers, so at first they were more concerned about the safety of their animals. She was a little toughie and she had her wet weather gear on. Rosie had to be close by.

When a search of all the normal hiding places yielded nothing, Ed and Sam started to worry. Their concerns rocketed when her siblings confirmed her absence. She had not been playing with them.

Rosie was missing!


THE SEARCH WAS ON

As the weather worsened, and the falling snow obliterated tracks, their confidence dissipated as fast as phantoms on the wind. The cry for help went out to all their neighbours, friends and the police. Calls were made to emergency rescue and search teams. Men and dogs began to pour in to the areas surrounding the farm but none of the specialists were confident of a successful outcome.

Tom, their chief hand was co-ordinating the search as he had previous experience in locating a missing person. He made sure that another search be carried out within the farmyard and outbuildings, and had made further appeals to nearby farmers. They would need to comb the whole area as well as the land adjacent to Moor End Farm. Ed and Sam were relieved that Tom had taken control of the search and rescue efforts for they were too closely involved to think effectively. With his previous knowledge, Tom’s leadership was easily accepted.

Tom swore loudly after being informed that Alfred the Great had disappeared. Now there were two problems to contend with. It was hard enough to track down a small child in the poor conditions, let alone keep an eye out for a testy bull. The search teams would have to take a few extra precautions but the child would come first.

Time moved quickly and yet there were still no signs of Rosie. All of the available lights in the area had been switched on. Tom made sure of that for even the smallest glow might catch Rosie’s attention. Search parties had been organised and sent out to comb the land around the farmhouse but the job was getting harder. Bit by bit, sleepy, fluffy snow began to cover the whole area. The wind had increased and a few small drifts were already building up.

Wondrous to see by some, snow made the work of farmers and their families much, much harder. Their attitude was one of resignation. They did not like it, but as there was little they could do about it, they put up with it. In this case, the farming folk loudly cursed the appalling weather, for it made the hunt and rescue of Rosie Biggins that much harder. They also prayed for her deliverance.

The visibility closed up like thick drapes shutting out the cold. In reality, the snow drapes were just another part of the problem as the cold prevailed.

One of the search teams were scouring up the lane so Edward and Samantha moved in the opposite direction. Tom moved the Land Rover to give them extra light, as their torches were ineffective in the conditions. Even the bright headlights reflected back on themselves as the snow and the dark seemed intent on sucking the light out of them.

Progress was slow, as they had to prod poles into the few deeper drifts. Sam was trying desperately to be optimistic but her face betrayed her. Their team reached a fork. Tom drove forward and pointed the 4x4 towards the left hand track. They would commence the search on this one, as the team behind them would search the right hand track.

The wind suddenly ebbed and died. A strange stillness enveloped the land. The sound of distance voices travelled across a neighbouring field as the snowstorm soundlessly vanished. The communications chatter via mobile phones and walkie-talkies, was suddenly loud and devastating. It was all negative. Ed and Sam’s anxiety grew with every passing minute.

Time was running out!

If not found soon, little Rosie Biggins would die!


A RING OF HOPE

Slowly, ever so slowly, Alfred the Great edged along the lane with Little Rosie hanging onto his nose ring. She was almost trance like in her shuffling movements, so he took great care not to knock her under his hooves. She would not perish by his carelessness. He constantly peered into the gloom and then back to his small charge for he sought a light in the wilderness, any light. A light meant humans and humans meant her only chance of survival.

As if on cue, he saw faint red lights ahead of him glowing in the darkness, but not moving. He thought that this was very odd because lights were usually white, but a beacon like this would have to do. Alfred heard voices ahead. Although slightly muffled by the falling snow the sounds were becoming stronger and stronger as the wind ceased. He plodded onwards, his head still low to the ground. The humans were close. He heard a deep voice, looked up and almost hit the back of the Land Rover.

Samantha Biggins turned around, her female intuition telling her to do so. Her little girl, her yellow caped Rosie came into view, and then the huge massive body of the bull filled her sight. She screamed! It was a scream of relief and a scream of fear, all rolled into one. Samantha Biggins quickly recovered and tried to race towards her young daughter. Her feet slipped in the muck. She fell heavily onto her backside as her footing gave way. Her brain gave out contradictory messages as it urged instant action yet at a snail’s pace to ensure success. The latter option seemed to be the more prudent one so very carefully Samantha stood up. With arms extended, she was going to grab her child no matter what.

Alfred saw the women, heard her scream and panicked. As hard as he tried, he could not keep his footing on the snow-covered morass. His legs would not respond to his brain’s command to stand still.

Slipping on the blanket of rutted ice and snow, his tremendous bulk crashed forward heavily to the ground taking the small figure with him. He bellowed out in pain and anguish. Completely unafraid Rosie Biggins held on. It was as if Rosie knew that he now needed her support, however fragile it was. Lying in the snow next to the old bull, she tried to coax him up. She was very cold and weary beyond belief, but she would not give up. Rosie tugged and pulled but he was just so huge and so heavy.

Alfred lay motionless in the snow. He could not comprehend why the little human had tried to help him, but he was grateful. He thought that this human, this little child, would soon look after him. He would be good to her. Alfred saw her smile; he was safe, so he closed his eyes.


THE END OF THE WATER DANCE

As Samantha tried once more to secure her footing and go to aid her child, Edward Biggins stepped forward. He had to protect his daughter so he took the only option that was open to him. He raised a high powered rifle to his shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. The projectile flew forward to thud into Alfred’s proud forehead. Death was instantaneous. Blood sprayed all over little Rosie. She sat motionless in the snow as she watched the crimson stain spread out to engulf her. Tears flowed freely down her young face.

As her mother ran forward, tiny Rosie Biggins uttered the only words she would say for many a year.

“My friend! My friend!”

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