I placed her foot in the stirrup and leapt onto the back of my steed. I barely slipped her other foot into the far stirrup when Gwendolyn reared up and then flung herself forward in a dead run. Farm workers scattered as we galloped through the yard and toward the hills.
Many miles later, Gwendolyn still attempted to break out of my steady grip as we neared a creek. In spite of her run, the mare was fractious, tossing her head and playing with the bit. Every so often she would pause and paw the air with one front leg. I stepped down and laid a hand on Gwen’s chest. Satisfied by the coolness and the regular breaths, I led her over to the stream. The mare drank deeply for merely four swallows before I pulled her up and slipped her head into a halter while removing the bridle and bit. I tied the mare to a tree branch and knelt by the stream.
I was just cupping my hands for a drink when Gwen threw up her head in warning. Her eyes strained towards the bush and she whickered a high-pitched call. A low powerful rumble answered and a boy and horse stepped out of the forest on the other side of the stream.
I jumped to my feet and started toward Gwen. I had no wish to meet a strange man in such a secluded place. He must have left the road to water his horse at the very spot I had stopped to rest.
“Are you Emeline, by chance?” His voice called softly.
I stopped and turned to meet the stranger’s eyes. They shimmered with a kindness and peace that quieted my restless soul for just a breath. Then I recalled where I was. I lifted my chin and glared at him. “Why do you ask, farm boy?”
A twinkle lit his eyes and one corner of his mouth lifted in a hint of a smile. “My Lady Emeline... you are far from home and your steed looks worn out. You have ridden her hard.”
“Yes. Too hard I suppose. It may be my last ride and I purposed to make this day one of pure enjoyment.” I couldn’t begin to understand why the words spilled out to this quiet unassuming farm boy but I saw nothing in him to fear.
“A fine steed like that will need to be ridden oft to keep her biddable. Why do you wish to stop riding her?” He frowned in consternation.
“It is not my wish. I am to be married on the morrow.” The ache inside of me oozed out in those words and I felt the tears welling up once again.
“Is he such a bore that he will forbid you to ride?”
His tone seemed to make light of my trial. “I do not know for I have never met the man. But I overheard Mother and Father discussing him and the words cold-blooded often came up… I fear I will be trapped in a dismal marriage.” I was embarrassed to appear so dramatic and couldn’t face the pity in his kind eyes. I attempted to push my hair back from my face and was suddenly conscious of it’s tangled state. My riding clothes were soiled as well. I kept my eyes down till I heard him slosh across the stream, his horse followed calmly.
He looked Gwen over thoroughly. “That is a fine mare.”
“She is a Thoroughbred… pure lines from several generations.”
“Hot-blooded indeed.” As he spoke he watched me with that twinkle in his eyes. Eyes the color of tea with a touch of cream. The lines crinkled around them when he smiled. He wasn’t a boy as I first thought, but indeed a bit older than myself.
He continued. “My steed is a fine one as well. A draught horse. But he isn’t hot-blooded. No… many would call him and the rest of my horses a cold-blooded bunch.” He looked away and then back at me as if waiting for a response. I was so lost in noticing the strong muscles bulging under long sleeves that had been rolled up, I hadn’t been paying close attention to his words. I shook my head to clear it of the muddle and stood up. I raked my mind to recall what he had been saying. A tingle stiffened my spine. “You have... cold-blooded draught horses?”
His grin widened. “Yes, my lady... a whole stable of them.”
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