Even though she is just a teenager, Elizabeth would never have as much fun anywhere else, nor at any other time of her life, as she did staying with the Chavez family. It’s not commonplace for a girl to throw off her stuffy manners and play with the king’s sons and their friend. With her mother and father on business, several months would pass before the family would have to sail back to the mainland again. She was going to enjoy every minute of her time away.
“You have the best discernment in horses, Marques .” Elizabeth scratched the chin of the chestnut Arabian and separated the thick strands of mane with her fingers.
“You favor Cinnamon to Magic?” Marques grinned as he threw a bridle over his shoulder. Elizabeth nodded a greeting to Martim and Valerio as they entered the stables.
“I love her.”
“She’s not the most majestic horse we have, you know.”
“Of course not. Your Frisian is the most beautiful horse I have ever seen but I can’t look at him while I’m on his back. Besides, I prefer a smaller horse.”
“Often a smaller horse has more power, more gumption. This little mare can take off like a cannon ball. Perhaps you need something more mild-mannered?” Valerio bowed graciously as he gave his advice, but Elizabeth resented that he, or any of the boys thought she might need a tamer steed.
“I can handle an Arabian as well as I can handle a fox.”
Martim raised his eyebrow, winked at Valerio, and stepped into the stall with a saddle. “Let the lady have the horse and the fox!” he laughed.
Elizabeth gave them all a wry smile.
Once the four were mounted they walked their horses through the aspens, enjoying conversation that ranged from conceptualizing the kingdom’s new building codes, weathering storms and repairing creaky old boats, to hypothesizing new cavalry disciplines. When the boys were finished with their fantasies, Elizabeth laughed and prodded her horse ahead of theirs.
“The meadow is green and dry and I have a horse with wings. I dare you to catch me.”
They were off. The wind beat against her face. She stood in the stirrups as the horse rocked, hoofs floated over the grass spewing dew through the air. The mare bounded over ditches and dodged the gopher holes. Pounding and breathing and sweating, they flew as one body on angel wings.
Elizabeth looked back once. The boys were plodding far behind. She had either taken them by surprise, or Cinnamon was the fastest horse in the kingdom. Enough. She tired. She pulled in the reins, but the mare kept on, a mind of her own and that’s when Elizabeth became afraid.
“Whoa!” she said, but the mare raised her head and lunged ahead even faster. Elizabeth bounced and hit the saddle hard and then lost her balance and slid. She had enough of her senses to kick the stirrup free as she fell and spun in the grass.
The world stopped. The blue sky mocked her, white clouds laughing as she squinted and brushed the hair from her face. Mud landed on her cheek when she did. Valerio stood over her and laughed, and offered her a hand, his strength pulled her to her feet.
“I see you caught the fox!”