Racing the Wind, Part 4

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Photo credit: 10b travelling via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The next day Angharad led Eridan to a large field behind the keep. Several small cylinders were set up in a row with four of them wrapped in red cloth. “What is this?” Eridan asked.

“Archery,” Angharad said. “The goal is to hit the red targets.”

Eridan looked grim. “I have never been an archer,” he said. “This may end our courtship.”

Angharad fought to hide her disappointment. “You’ll never know until you try. The gods may favor you.” She lowered her voice. “As I do.”

Eridan raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The two of them took their places at the firing line. “Eridan, as the suitor, you have the right to choose. Do you wish to go first? Or would you prefer to see Angharad go before you?” Lord Idwal asked.

Eridan was silent for a moment. “I’d like to see Angharad shoot. I want to know what I’m up against.”

“Very well,” Lord Idwal said. “Angharad, take your place.”

Angharad stepped into place in front of the targets, which had been placed 180 yards ahead. It was just short of the farthest limit any longbow could reach. She took a few deep breaths and then fired the first of three arrows. The first one went wide, striking one of the dust colored cylinders. Her next two struck the red covered ones.

“That’s two out of four,” Angharad said, a slight catch in her voice as she stepped back. “You’ll have to hit all three to beat me.”

“Eridan, take your place,” Lord Idwal said.

Eridan took the spot that Angharad had just vacated. One of his servants handed him an ebony bow. Angharad marveled at the beauty. “Idwal, that could be a magic bow,” Lady Moirea said. “I’ve not seen one of that color before.”

“My lady, it isn’t magical,” Eridan said. “But if you wish to have your house mage examine it, I will allow that.” He paused. “If he puts a spell on it, I will kill him.”

The house mage was summoned. “Angharad, you hold the bow. You’ll know if I try to cast anything on it,” he said. Angharad accepted the bow. The mage closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, they were pure white. Then they returned to normal. “It’s an ordinary bow, my lord. Nothing strange about it, other than the fact that the wood comes from an ebony tree. It’s one of the rarest trees in existence and whoever gave this to him must have held him in high regard because there’s no way he would have been able to buy this on his own.” The mage bowed and he headed back to the keep.

Lord Idwal gestured to the faint line drawn in the dirt. “Eridan, take your place.”

Eridan moved to the spot once more. He drew out his first arrow and sighted down it. Angharad watched him take several deep breaths. He adjusted his stance and his grip. A light breeze picked up. Eridan changed the position of the bow. His eyes closed for a moment before he opened them and released the arrow.

Angharad held her breath as the black and silver projectile sped towards the tiny targets. It slammed into one of the top red cylinders. She bit back a cheer. He still had to take down two more.

Eridan lifted his second arrow and repeated the process. thwack A second target went down. Angharad clutched her bow in both hands. She began praying, begging the gods to give him the accuracy to remove the third target.

Eridan lowered his bow and wiped his forehead. He wiped his hands on his pants and motioned for his servant to bring him a cup of water. His eyes were haunted and he was as pale as the shirt he wore.

He lifted his bow one last time. He slowly sighted down the arrow, holding himself rock steady. His breathing was slow and mostly steady, though every now and then there was a minor hitch. Angharad clenched her teeth together, willing him strength.

Eridan released the arrow. A sudden gust kicked up some dust and the arrow’s trajectory shifted. Angharad gasped, sure her chance of having the man of her choice as a husband was gone.

Eridan grabbed a fourth arrow and shot quickly, knocking it back towards the target. Surprisingly, the trick worked. His third arrow slammed into a third red cylinder and it toppled over.

“That’s cheating,” Colum said, his words slurred. He slurped from a pitcher of wine, ignoring the dark red liquid slopping all over his tunic. “He shot a fourth arrow.”

“I see no cheating,” Angharad said. “If the wind can alter the direction of the arrow, there’s no reason why we can’t fix that. I’ve done it too, though I’ve never been that successful.”

Lord Idwal nodded. “Angharad is right, Colum. I’ve allowed her to do it. I’m going to accept Eridan doing the same thing.” He paused, then smiled at Eridan. “Eridan, congratulations. You have done what no other man has. You have won my daughter’s hand.”

Angharad dropped her bow and flung herself into Eridan’s arms. He grabbed her and pressed his lips against hers. She felt the scar. It was rough on her face, but she didn’t care. This is what she’d been dreaming of since they’d gone to get the horses.

“It seems our daughter approves,” Lady Moirea said wryly.

Angharad stepped back, blushing. “I’m sorry, Mother.”

“Don’t be,” Lady Moirea said. “The light in both of your eyes proves you two were meant for each other.”

“Come,” Lord Idwal said. “Tonight we will have the normal dinner. Tomorrow we feast!” Angharad followed her father into the keep, her fingers intertwined with Eridan’s. His hands were trembling and he was still pale. The haunted look hadn’t left him, but there was definitely some happiness there too.

Eridan took her hand and pressed it to his lips. “Join me in the library this evening, after dinner,” he murmured. “I will tell you why I look more like a ghost than a man right now.” Startled that he recognized what she thought, she nodded. He kissed the top of her head and they took their seats at the table.

Racing the Wind, Part 3

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Photo via Visual Hunt

Angharad gave Eridan a few days to recover from his journey before approaching him. “Are you ready for the first challenge?” she asked.

“I am,” he said, smiling. She loved how his eyes lit up and the scar puckered at the corner of his mouth. It gave his face character. Her brother called him ugly. He wasn’t handsome, but his face was intriguing and proved he was more than just another nobleman trying to add to his holdings. “What is this challenge?”

“Catching and riding one of the wild horses that roam the lands around our keep,” Angharad said. “They are notoriously difficult to handle, and any man who can tame one can hold my wild heart in his.”

“I will endeavor to do well in this, to please you and win your hand,” Eridan said, bowing.

Angharad blushed. She’d never blushed with any of her other suitors. She’d despised them. “Follow me,” she said, turning her back on him to hide her face. She led him down and out of the keep.

Two horses were saddled and waiting for them, all of the tools they’d need strapped to their saddles. She admired his horse once again. It was a beautiful animal. The blackness of its hide was so intense it swallowed the light.

Eridan mounted and waited for her to do the same. “Where do we ride?” he asked.

“I cannot say, for the location of the valley they dwell in is a secret I must keep from everyone but my suitors,” Angharad said. “And you must swear on the gods that you won’t tell anyone no matter the outcome of the challenges.”

“I so swear,” Eridan said solemnly.

“Then follow me,” Angharad said. She nudged her horse with her heels and pulled the reins to the left. She led the horse out of the keep’s gate and down the road.

It took three hours to get to the valley. Eridan made no complaint. He was so much better than any of her other suitors. She prayed to the gods he would win the challenges. She’d never wanted someone as much as she wanted him.

“They’re beautiful,” he said, breaking into her musings as they reached the entrance to the valley. The horses were milling around in plain sight.

She took a moment to admire the gorgeous scene. “They are,” she agreed. “This has always been one of my favorite places to come, even when I’m not trying to wrangle them. My father brought me here as soon as I got to an age where I could choose one to train so I could ride it.” She patted her horse’s neck. “Sinowa came from here. She’s one of the horses I caught during the challenges.”

“What do you do with the horses we catch?” Eridan asked.

“We sell them, unless one of the suitors wants theirs,” Angharad said. She dismounted, tying and hobbling her. Eridan followed her example. She grabbed her gear and led Eridan into the valley. “You go to the right. I go to the left. You have until the sun reaches its zenith to succeed or fail at the challenge.” Eridan nodded and slipped off.

Angharad made her way around the edge of the valley, searching for the perfect horse. Her mother was in need of a new one. Lady Moirea’s little mare was older than Angharad and the poor thing needed to be put out to pasture.

She saw a flash of white and focused on it. She saw a mare with a dark gray hide and a white mane and tail. She was something to behold, and she thought her mother would love her.

She shook the rope loose from her shoulder and began spinning it in the air. She flipped her wrist and sent the loop winging through the air. It wrapped around the horse’s neck and she caught it on the first try.

Of course the mare protested violently and Angharad was pulled in several directions. She gritted her teeth, planted her feet, braced herself, and leaned back with all her weight.

The horse finally stopped moving, but Angharad didn’t trust her. She kept the rope taut as she moved closer. As she got within arm’s reach the mare struck out with her teeth, trying to bite whatever she could reach. Angharad smacked her nose, something that startled the young mare.

“You keep to yourself, young miss,” Angharad said in a soft voice. She moved closer and began rubbing the horse’s neck. “You’re a pretty girl, aren’t you? Just think how gorgeous you’d be decked out in my family’s colors.”

Angharad pulled the saddle blanket off her back and tossed it over the horse’s back. The mare shied away, shaking to rid herself of the blanket. Angharad went over, picked it up, and put it back on the mare. She shook it off again.

It took nearly an hour before the horse finally let her put the blanket on. She walked the mare around, letting her get used to the blanket and the rope around her neck. Next came one of the hard parts. She pulled out a hackamore and tried to slip it over the mare’s face.

The mare was having none of that. She tried to bite Angharad again. She got smacked in the nose for her efforts. “I told you that wasn’t going to get you anywhere,” Angharad said. “Now, this isn’t all that bad. At least it isn’t the regular bridle. I strongly doubt you’d appreciate the standard bit and bridle.”

She glanced at the sky. She didn’t have much time left. She continued trying and finally got the hackamore on. She cut the walk short, only going in circles for a few minutes before taking hold of the reins attached to the hackamore and climbing on the horse’s back.

The mare exploded into a flurry of kicks and bucking. Angharad held on for dear life. She waited until the horse wore herself out. She tugged on the right hand rein and nudged the horse with her right foot. The horse turned to the right and started walking back towards the mouth of the valley.

Angharad reached the rendezvous spot and saw Eridan sitting astride a dark brown mare with white patches on the rump. “She gave me a lot of trouble,” he said as she came up. There was a fresh cut on his face and he was leaning forward a little. “But I got her before the time was up.”

Angharad smiled. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “Let’s tie these two to the backs of our saddles and take them home.”

“That sounds perfect,” Eridan said. They put words into actions and headed back to the keep.

To be continued…….