“He’s an absolute beauty!” Eamonn said to his master, pleasure obvious in his tone and the smile that creased his face. Today was the day Eamonn would be getting his own horse.
The pair had arrived at the stables in the early morning after brief journey from Aaren’s lodge in the forest to a little ways north-west. Aaren had been careful to withhold as much information along the way, and his apprentice didn’t have long to wait as he quickly handed the reins of his first horse. Even Aaren had struggled to keep his emotions in check, getting your first horse was an exciting time for a new apprentice, it would be the same for Eamonn as it was for Aaren.
Around the dinner table the previous night, he’d casually brought up the subject with Eamonn, apart from telling his student that he was going to have another thing on his plate, he kept his mouth closed on the topic, preferring to dangle a carrot before his young friend’s eyes. Just as he did the previous night, he grinned to himself at the delightful pun he thought he’d made as they were eating dinner at the time. For his part, Eamonn was delighted by this turn of events. So far the extra responsibilities Aaren had piled onto him had been laden with the burden of constant practice and plenty of hard work.
While this would require more work and dedication, as he was staring at the face of a new friend, that responsibility would be well worth it as he formed a bond with this animal. He looked into the big intelligent eyes of the horse and something stirred in his mind. He had met this horse before, the way it returned the look into his own eyes made him remember. When travelling to Lyverild’s stables in the outskirts of the castle’s gaze to the north-west, he had been given the wrong horse, at least that’s what he had been led to believe. At the time, he’d thought nothing of it, nothing more than a misunderstanding.
“It’s the same bay isn’t it?” Eamonn asked his teacher, “the one I rode to the stables from Faraday?” he elaborated.
Once again that smile broke out on Aaren’s face, glad to see that his apprentice had made the connection. “Yes. We wanted to make sure that you could ride as well as be responsible for taking care of them, assigning you to work in the stables was a good opportunity for us to test you” he confirmed.
Aaren had explained, with minor details, how they had dealt with his placing at the stables under Lyverild, with the opportunity there to discuss it, Eamonn decided it was time to push for a little more information.
“You’ve said a few times now, ‘we’ but never the why? why did you have to test me before I became your student, couldn’t you have simply taken me on as your student then test me?” There was a hint of anger in his voice. The boy’s frustration didn’t seem to affect Aaren though.
The two were standing, arms hanging over the barriers of one of the pens, watching as the horse grazed. Usually it was rife with travelers and stable hands, however, given that it was the weekly day off, the place was fairly empty. Aaren moved over to the railing of the pen that contained the bay horse.
“I was told a while ago to watch over you by the Commission. I saw you do many things. I saw everything I needed to see. One thing I wasn’t sure about was whether or not you could control and ride the horses. By all accounts you never really gave yourself the opportunity. Your teachers said that you balked repeatedly when near those horses that you all rode in your town. I decided that it’d be best that we see how you would go with it. I contacted Maddox, who informed me that you would be making your way to his office a few days after that. We had in fact organized it with Lyverild for you to be placed with her for a while, once you showed that you had that required skills, I would take you on” he said, “unfortunately, there were prying ears at the time and we were forced to abandon that arrangement, we kept with you going the Lyverild, except we were careful to make no mention of our plans for you.”
Those prying ears as Aaren had described were the man that had been seated at the rear of Maddox’s office when Sam and Eamonn were placed into their selective groups.
“Let’s see you ride him” Aaren proposed.
Sliding between the bars of the pen, Aaren walked quickly across to the horse. Eamonn followed suit, then called to his master, “What would have happened if I hadn’t passed the test?” Aaren stopped at the awaiting horse, stroked its muzzle.
Then he considered his apprentice, “Well, you remember how Maddox said that there were other paths that led on from working the stables?” he asked, Eamonn quickly nodding, remembering the discussion he had had with the baron almost six months ago now, “Well you probably would have found that in another few months or so, you would have been moved on to work alongside many of the new recruits in the knight’s academy” he told Eamonn, “Take the bridle and slip it on. Give him the mouthpiece first. I’ll saddle him while you do that and I’ll help boost you up onto him.”
“First thing that I want you to do is take it easy, relax and take a few deep breaths” Aaren told the boy, he handed him the reins, taking them, Eamonn held them in a vice-like grip.
It had been easy enough getting him up there and he sat easily for a moment or so, then as his foot came clear of the stirrups, Eamonn had the sudden feeling of falling, he had discarded the reins horse, roughly grabbing at the pommel and hugging the body of the horse who snorted in turn.
The stirrups length was slightly too long for him so Aaren set about adjusting them and handed back the reins. “Start off in a slow walk and then progressively build it up, until I think you’re comfortable I’ll hold onto the bridle and lead you around the pen. I want you to get used to how he moves along, he’ll have his own style which you’ll have to get used to.” He instructed.
Eamonn shifted in the saddle, trying to find that comfortable position. Aaren checked to see that there was nothing loose and that everything was all in order. When instructed, Eamonn nudged the horse’s side with his knee and the horse quickly set off into a walk.
He let Aaren lead the horse in a circle around the pen several times. At his urging, Aaren removed the lead on the bridle and led Eamonn, letting Eamonn simply follow him along.
There was a slalom course that had been set up and Aaren directed him to that now, “Take your time through it. Get used to changing directions.”
Gradually, he felt the need to shift less each run through and each time Aaren encouraged him to increase the speed, until he was travelling at a slow canter. On one of the runs, Eamonn noticed a logged fence though smaller than the fencing of the pen, he made his way over to inspect it.
“It’s a jump” Aaren said, coming towards him from the right, he was wary that the horse, with a new rider, might be easily startled and so gave him a wide berth.
“Can I give it a shot?” His pupil asked. Aaren seemed to consider the question for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders, “May as well, from experience I can tell you that you’ll need to make plenty of them” he told the youth.
Eamonn turned his horse to a reasonable distance to get some momentum, “The horse will make the jump as it’s been trained to do, you just make sure that you direct him, and try and sit as lightly on him through the jump as possible” Aaren told him, patted the horse then moved away from the pair.
Eamonn stroked the horse’s mane, “Ready, boy?” he asked it, expectantly, there was no response.
He touched the horse flanks light and he set off, feeling the acceleration of the horse as it bound away from a standstill. Taking Eamonn by surprise, he struggled to keep his balance, managing to do so in time as he felt the horse gather itself and within the last few meters launched itself over the small jump, landing softly on the other side, Eamonn let the horse carry on for a few moments before bringing them both to a halt.
Eamonn grunted slightly as the horse landed, quickly dismounting the horse. His foot caught on the falling reins and he barely managed to maintain his feet as he freed himself. He quickly loosened the girth straps as he’d been shown to do.
“He certainly is a good one” a stranger said, “Dusty here, is a rather unique bay.” The stranger said in their usual pleasant voice. Eamonn recognised the newcomer as Lyverild, his temporary master before deferring to the Ayleserowan Royal Commission.
The woman smiled kindly in response, “It’s good to see you again Eamonn, I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon, I suppose you’ve been busy with Aaren here”
Eamonn turned red in embarrassment, the last time he had seen her was the day she had given him the day off. “He’s been making decent progress.” Aaren said, stepping in for Eamonn.
“You horse is a hybrid,” Lyverild said, getting back to the matter of the horse, “his mother was a retired scout’s horse, and his father was one of the specially bred horses of the academy here in the regions of Faraday. We had a few experiments until we got it right, needless to say all of this one’s ancestors had a good home and were loved. He’s the one that we’ve found has the best mix of the two, it’s taken almost twenty years, hopefully he’ll be the first in a long line of horses perfected for the Commission.” She told them.
“My horse is an earlier attempt” Aaren said as he approached the horse, scratching Dusty the way he liked between the ears. “Lyverild has been at it since before I was your age, trying to get the formula right so that the horses are suited to life on the plains and in the forest, running for what sometimes feels like an eternity, also for battle.” He said, taking the reins from his apprentice leading the horse out of the pen and back towards the stables.
“Dusty might not be quite as fast as a scout’s horse but he should be able to maintain a higher speed for just as much time as them, he’s also much more nimble than the academy horses, though not as powerful” Aaren put in.
The three passed several other people, responding to their greetings as they went. “Aaren’s correct,” Lyverild began, in her soft voice, “while his horse is faster than yours also, it isn’t as strong in its legs, we’ve found that the horses around the time Aaren received his were often crippled by a form of arthritis, the wearing of the bones, in their later years. They tended to be retired at a younger age, younger than we wanted. Your horse has much more muscle and the leg tendons are strong and won’t wear out quickly.” Lyverild told them.
Aaren led Dusty into his stall, handing Eamonn the reins to look after him, Aaren might have saddled the horse earlier, at the time that was out of deference to Eamonn’s nerves and knew the boy was capable of looking after the horse himself.
“Speaking of my horse,” Aaren began, changing the topic, “I was wondering if we could get on the road before nightfall. I trust that Storm hasn’t been a bother this morning while I’ve been out here?” He asked the aging woman.
Lyverild nodded and gestured for him to follow, she turned to Eamonn, suggesting that the boy might pack his things into the nearby saddle bags for the horse to carry and then turned to tend to Aaren.
“Not at all, when you sent me the letter last week to come down here, I was more than happy to make the trip, you know how I love seeing some of my old friends” she said as they wondered into the stalls. Coming to Storm’s, Lyverild moved into the pen, rubbing the horse’s ears and paying particular attention to stroking her soft muzzle.
“Thank-you for your time, Lyverild.” Aaren said, then he called to Eamonn down the line, “We’ll be heading off in a few minutes, Eamonn, just as soon as I get my mare back.” He turned back, grinning at Lyverild as she said a few private words of goodbye to Aaren’s horse.