The stallion's legs pounded along like pistons, its nostrils wide from the exertion. The magnificence of the animal was echoed by the black rider who looked as if he had ridden from the flames of hell to this desolate place. The powerful beast rapidly closed the distance between them.
Helen looked down at Romano who seemed to have become rather nervous. "It's only Papa," she said, patting his shoulder.
"This is your father?" Pietro shook his head in wonder.
"Yes," Helen murmured, standing up once more. "I hope he hasn't come to interfere."
The hooves beat a staccato across the expanse of the moor. Helen noticed that her father was hatless. Whether he had left the manor that way or not was uncertain. It was not unknown for him to ignore such niceties. At least that beast Cerberus was not with him. The black wolfhound recognized no master but he. Helen decided she ought not mention the dog to signore Romano.
Helen took a few steps forward and waved wildly. Her father raised a hand in greeting, corrected his trajectory slightly, and seemed to increase his pace. The great black horse was upon them and her father swung down from his back as the horse snorted and danced.
"Darling Papa, how kind of you to come all this way." Helen stepped up to kiss her father on the cheek.
"Your mother demanded I find out whether you were dead," her father said, his voice gruff though his expression revealed kindness. The scars on his face suggested a past tragedy and his left eye showed a milky blindness. "Is he dead then?" he continued, pointing at Romano, one eyebrow raised.
Pietro coughed and tried to stand. "No, signore, I am just a little bruised, but I shall be on my feet in a moment." However, he staggered immediately and sat back down on the hard ground, holding his head and wincing.
"Don't be a fool, signore!" Helen cried. "Papa, we must take him back to the house to wait on Doctor Ponsonby. I shouldn't like to find he's had a concussion."
"Sit down, you Italian nincompoop." Helen's father leaned in to take a closer look at Romano's wound. "It doesn't look that bad," he said at last. "Best to be certain."
"He shall take Belial and be back in no time," Helen said, giving a quick nod of her head.
Her father laughed. "I'd like to see that."
"Papa! You must see it is the best thing."
"Signore, how are your riding skills?" Helen's father narrowed his good eye at Pietro. "This horse is a veritable devil. You'll have to be a better one to stay on him."
The Italian looked alarmed. "I don't know—"
"You must," Helen said. "You'll be perfectly fine."
Her father laughed.