Angel and the Flying Stallions (12 page)

BOOK: Angel and the Flying Stallions
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Chapter 15

The bells of the church in the village square rang out at ten every Sunday morning to call the villagers to morning service. But today was Thursday, and late in the afternoon the bells began their chorus, letting the village know that something special was about to happen.

Issie heard the bells ringing and a tingle ran up her spine.
It was time.

She walked across her bedroom over to the full-length mirror and took one last look at her outfit. She straightened the straps on her dress and smoothed down the full skirt of the pink, lace gown. It was a bit too girly for her tastes, but then bridesmaid’s dresses were always frilly, weren’t they? She remembered an atrocious
mauve gown that Stella had had to wear when she was her cousin’s bridesmaid back in Chevalier Point – at least this dress was prettier than that monstrosity!

The church bells were ringing even louder now, and they sounded so joyful. Issie walked out to the balcony of her room and stood there with her eyes closed, listening to their chimes.

“Hey, you, up there on the balcony!” Issie looked down and saw Alfie smiling at her.

“Come on down!” Alfie said. “I’ve got Nightstorm ready for you.” He was sitting on top of Victorioso and he was leading Nightstorm, the reins held lightly in his hand.

“Any sign of the bride and groom yet?” Issie asked.

Alfie shook his head. “You know what weddings are like. The bride never shows up until the last minute!”

The bridal party was supposed to be gathering together in the cobbled courtyard now and preparing to leave the Nunez hacienda to make the ride up the hillside to the church. The wedding service was due to begin at three.

Issie still couldn’t believe any of this was actually happening. She was about to be a bridesmaid and witness
two of the people she loved the most in the world getting married. Their lives were about to change forever.

“I’m coming!” she told Alfie.

As she raced for the front door, she stopped to grab the bunch of bridesmaid’s flowers sat waiting for her on a chair in the hallway. The bouquet was made up of orange blossom and pink roses to match her gown.
At least
, Issie thought,
I don’t have to carry the ring
. That was Alfie’s job as the best man. Let him have the responsibility for that!

“Wow!” Alfie gave a low wolf whistle as Issie stepped out of the door. “You look beautiful.”

“Thanks!” Issie smiled. “You don’t look too bad yourself!”

Alfie was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and black bow tie. The effect of his outfit was enhanced by the fact that he was mounted up on Victorioso – a jet-black stallion with white roses braided into his mane.

Standing beside Victorioso, Nightstorm had roses braided into his mane too, but his were pink to match Issie’s dress.

“Storm ate two of the roses out of Victorioso’s mane when my back was turned,” Alfie complained as he
passed Issie the reins. “I had to stick some more in. I hope they don’t fall out in the middle of the wedding.” “Well, it is a horseback wedding. Anything could happen,” Issie giggled.

Alfie looked at his watch. “They’re late.” He was beginning to look nervous.

“Maybe, we should go and—”

Alfie was interrupted by the clatter of hooves on the cobbles of the courtyard, announcing the arrival of the rest of the wedding party.

Issie looked up and the first thing she saw was Angel. The grey stallion looked more beautiful than ever before. His long, silken mane flowed loose over his shoulders and had been threaded with silver ribbons that fell almost to the ground. His beautiful coat, the colour of creamy white parchment, was matched almost perfectly to the pale shade of the billowing, silk organza gown that the bride wore as she sat on his back. The skirts of the bride’s dress fell in frothy layers, completely covering the saddle and quite a lot of the stallion as well. The train of the dress draped all the way over Angel’s rump and tail, sweeping the ground. It was like something out of a fairytale. She was the most beautiful bride Issie had ever
seen. An antique, lace veil covered her face, but the bride now lifted this back. She was smiling, her face radiating pure joy.

“Ohmygod!” Issie’s eyes welled with tears. “I can’t believe it! In just a few minutes you’re going to be getting married! This is so incredible.”


Oui
! I know!” Francoise D’arth said as she arranged her veil. Then she looked about smiling nervously. “Where is my husband-to-be?”

There was the sound of hooves on the cobblestones again and Roberto Nunez rode into view. Mrs Brown rode alongside him on Ferdinand, dressed as the maid of honour in a pink dress similar to Isadora’s and a broad-brimmed pink hat.

“Your groom left twenty minutes ago for the chapel,” Roberto reassured Francoise. “He will be there waiting for you.”

Looking back now, Issie felt more than a bit silly about what she’d said to her mum on their ride together. Although, to be fair it wasn’t all her fault. Stella was to
blame as well! When Issie had summoned up the courage and asked Mrs Brown if she was going to marry Roberto, the response was certainly not what she had expected.

Mrs Brown had begun laughing so hard she had nearly fallen off her horse. “What an outlandish conclusion to jump to!” she hooted as Issie turned bright pink with embarrassment. “Of course I enjoy Roberto’s company. It’s been lovely having someone my own age to talk to and swap recipes with. But how did you get it into your head that I was about to up sticks and move to Spain with him?”

“Well, Stella said…” Issie began.

“Oh, I see!” Mrs Brown grinned. “I should have known that Stella would have something to do with this!”

“It wasn’t just Stella!” Issie defended her friend. “You seemed to get on so well with Roberto, and you both like paella…”

“Mutual liking of paella is not a sign of true love! And it is certainly no reason to get married!” Mrs Brown laughed. Then she looked more serious. “Isadora, I’m not planning on marrying Roberto. We’re just friends.”

Issie had felt foolish, but her Mum made her feel much better when she added, “Sweetie, I would never
change our lives so drastically or even think about getting involved with someone without talking it over with you first. Maybe one day I will meet someone special and want to get married again. But I’m in no hurry. I’m very happy with my life as it is, just you and me. In fact, I’m looking forward to getting home again. I love Andalusia, but I’m beginning to miss Chevalier Point!”

Issie smiled. “Me too.”

Mrs Brown laughed, “And I’m going to give that Stella a piece of my mind as soon as we get back!”

Issie had been wrong about her mother and Roberto, but she hadn’t failed to notice the change in the mood at the Nunez hacienda since the night of the harvest dance. When Avery had finally summoned up the courage on the dance floor to tell Francoise how he truly felt about her, Francoise hadn’t had the chance to reply. But afterwards, when the couple were reunited, they admitted to each other for the first time that they really were in love.

“It was the most romantic moment of my life,”
Francoise told Issie later. “We went out riding together. Tom had bought me a diamond engagement ring, and he hid it in a jewel box and hung it from an orange tree in the grove just outside the hacienda. As we rode past it, he pointed out the jewel box in amongst the boughs. I picked it from the branches and opened it up, and when I turned around he was already down off his horse and on one knee asking me to marry him!”

Francoise had said yes, of course, and the couple had been inseparable ever since. And now, just one week later, the church bells were ringing as the bridal party from the hacienda Nunez rode up the hill towards the pretty little stone chapel at the furthest end of the village.

As they rode along the cobbled streets in between the white houses of the village, women waved from their balconies and threw roses. Children raced after them, squealing and giggling as they ran alongside the horses, following the wedding party down the street, staring at the bride in her beautiful white gown.

“She looks amazing, doesn’t she?” Mrs Brown said admiringly.

“She looks really happy,” Issie said.

The service that day was held outside the church so
that the bride and groom could remain on horseback the whole time. The minister in charge of proceedings wore white and gold robes and rode a mule.

“We are here today,” the minister told the assembled guests, “to celebrate the marriage of Tom Avery and Francoise D’arth. If there is anyone here among us who objects to this union, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

The loud clarion call of a stallion’s cry rang out.

“Nightstorm!” Issie shushed her horse. “Be quiet!”

Everyone laughed. Thankfully there were no further interruptions.

“Tom Avery,” the minister continued. “Do you take Francoise D’arth to be your lawfully wedded wife? Will you love, honour and cherish her, make sure you muck out her horse’s stall before your own and keep the hard feed bins clean, for the rest of your life?”

“I will,” Avery said.

“And you, Francoise D’arth,” the minister continued, “will you love, honour and cherish Tom, promise never to use his favourite Pessoa saddle and leave the stirrups on the wrong holes, or clean the horse tack in the kitchen sink, forever and ever?”


Oui!
I will!” Francoise was smiling and there were tears of joy in her eyes.

Issie vaulted down off Nightstorm and held Francoise and Avery’s horses by the reins as the happy couple joined hands.

“Who has the rings?” The minister asked.

Alfie rode forward on Victorioso and handed the wedding bands to Tom and Francoise.

The minister watched as the rings were exchanged. “Tom Avery and Francoise D’arth,” he said, “I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride!”

There wasn’t a dry eye among the assembled crowd when Avery leant over on his horse and his lips touched Francoise’s. And then, in a shower of white roses and confetti, the bride and groom led the procession as the wedding party rode back home with the church bells ringing in their ears.

Chapter 16

The celebrations back at the hacienda lasted late into the night. Roberto had invited all the stable hands and the
jinetes,
and many of the villagers were there too. The party was well underway and Issie was at the buffet fetching a platter of sweet almond cakes when Miguel Vega walked through the door. An uncomfortable silence struck the room and all eyes turned to Vega as he strode across towards Francoise and Avery in the middle of the dance floor.

Vega stood in front of the newlyweds. Issie could see he had something in his hands. It was a silver box. “I have brought you a wedding gift,” he said gruffly, thrusting it into Francoise’s hands. “It is a
toaster,” he added. “I believe this is traditional, no?”

Francoise took the box and smiled, “Thank you, Miguel.”

He turned to Avery now. “Congratulations on your wedding,” he said grudgingly. “You are a very lucky man to have such a beautiful bride.”

He extended his hand and Avery shook it.

Issie was still staring at this when Vega caught her eye and walked over towards her. “Little Chica!” he said. “I want to talk to you!”

Vega’s face furrowed into a frown and Issie could see beads of sweat on his forehead. He pulled out his pocket handkerchief and dabbed at his face before he spoke. “I am told that I owe you a debt of gratitude,” Vega said reluctantly. “They say that you are the one responsible for getting my Laeticia back from the bachelor stallions.”

Alfie had raced to Issie’s aid when he saw Vega approach her, but by the time he arrived at her side Vega was already taking his leave. Issie was wide-eyed with shock! Had Vega really just thanked her?

A moment later Roberto Nunez confirmed this. “I’ve just spoken to Miguel and he praised Isadora’s efforts in
getting Laeticia back,” Roberto said. “He’s also agreed to organise his men and help us to try and catch the stallions.”

Over the past week there had been sightings of the three stallions, but no one had even come close to corralling them.

“They are still out there somewhere in the hills,” Roberto said. “I am certain of it. But if they try again to take our mares, we will have men ready and hopefully we might track them down. It is not easy to catch a bachelor…” he grinned as he watched the bride and groom take to the dance floor for the wedding waltz, “…although it would seem that Francoise has managed the feat quite neatly!”

It had been a whirlwind of planning and preparations that week for the wedding, but now that Avery and Francoise were actually married Issie wondered what would happen next. Would her trainer move to Spain permanently to be with his bride?

It turned out that Issie had nothing to worry about, as she discovered when the future of the happy couple was revealed during the groom’s speech at the wedding dinner that evening.

“My new wife has made me the happiest man in the
world,” Avery told the guests, “and she’s going to be making the eventing riders of New Zealand very happy too…because she will be coming home with me to take up her new role as the head of dressage at Dulmoth Park.”

Issie was thrilled with the news. “Now that you’re coming back with us, you can continue Nightstorm’s dressage training!” Issie told Francoise excitedly.

“Isadora,” Francoise said, “I will be only too happy to help you train, but you are the one who will be in charge of your stallion’s schooling. You have learnt well in your time in the riding school with the
jinetes
. You proved that in your fight against the stallions. You are a true master of the
haute école
.”

It was clear that the
jinetes
agreed with her, for on the table along with the wedding presents there was a gift for Isadora. Jean-Jacques presented it to her and the rest of the
jinetes
stood by as she opened it. It was a polo shirt marked with the El Caballo crest – the letter C with a heart inscribed inside it.

“Only true El Caballo riders have the right to wear the uniform,” Jean-Jacques said. “You have earned this. You are one of us now.”

“Thank you,” Issie was touched. “For everything.”

Issie had always thought that dressage was the most boring part of being an eventer, but not any more. “If I hadn’t known those battle manoeuvres in the canyon that day, Angel and I would never have survived,” she admitted to Francoise.

OK, maybe there wouldn’t be any stallions to fight in her next competition, but she understood now that dressage was all about harnessing the incredible power of the horse – mastering its movements so you could achieve perfection together as horse and rider.

When she expressed this to Roberto, he nodded sagely. “At last you understand what I was trying to tell you,” he said. “Dressage is the basis of everything we do. What good is power without control?”

“I get that now, I really do,” Issie agreed.

“Then you are ready to take the Little One home,” Roberto said, smiling, “and I wish you both well.”

There were many more speeches about the bride and groom, and when it was Roberto’s turn he paid tribute to Francoise. “She has been my head trainer at El Caballo Danza Magnifico for ten years now,” Roberto told the guests. “It pains me very much to lose a great trainer and a great friend, but I am glad that she has found
such happiness with the man I am proud to call my best friend, Tom Avery.” Roberto took a moment to compose himself before he continued.

“Many people have asked me how I will ever replace such a brilliant head trainer. And I am very lucky that I have someone who has proven his skill and expertise and is now ready to take over the reins at my side at El Caballo Danza Magnifico…” Roberto raised his glass in a toast. “I would like you all to drink to the appointment of my new head trainer – my son, Alfonso Nunez!”

There was much hooting and cheering from the
jinetes
at this news. Alfie, who had no idea that his father had planned to give him the job as head trainer, looked completely stunned.

“I told your father that you were the perfect choice for the job,” Francoise said as she gave Alfie a hug. “You are a brilliant trainer, Alfie, and, with you in charge, the horses and the
jinetes
will be in good hands.”

The speeches were over – or at least so Francoise thought – but then Roberto cleared his throat once more and tapped on his crystal sherry glass to get the attention of the room. “I see that you have all left wedding presents on the table for the bride and groom,” he told the crowd.
“However, I have a special gift for the bride that is much too large to leave on the table. I would like to give it to her now.”

As he said this, Jean-Jacques appeared with Francoise’s wedding present. He was leading Angel, who wore a giant silver bow tied around his saddle.

“You are giving Angel to me?” Francoise could not believe it. “But Roberto! He is one of your very best stallions.”

“And you will take the very best care of him – he will be happy with you,” said Roberto, smiling. “Besides, who else can ride him here? You know he will not let a man on his back.”

“He is a great stallion,” Roberto went on. “Perhaps one day we may see more colts and fillies with his famous El Caballo bloodlines filling the fields of Chevalier Point.”

“Thank you, Roberto,” said Francoise, her eyes filling with tears.

Issie was overwhelmed too. They had come here to bring Storm home and now Angel would be returning to Chevalier Point as well!

“I may come and visit you soon,” Alfie told her. “We
are preparing once more for a world tour with the horses and we shall put Chevalier Point on the itinerary.”

Farewells were so much easier when you knew you were going to see each other again.

“It’s crazy,” Issie told her mum. “A week ago I thought you were going to end up staying in Spain with Roberto. Now, it seems like we’re taking half of Spain home with us instead!”

Plans had been made for the horse transporter to pick up Angel and Storm on Sunday morning. And so, on Saturday evening, when Roberto suggested that they all take one last ride together around the farm, everyone agreed. Even Mrs Brown was keen to have a last ride on Ferdinand.

“I shall miss him,” she admitted, patting the chubby chestnut pony on his wide rump.

“Don’t worry Mrs B.,” Avery reassured her, “I have a couple of bomb-proof ponies at Dulmoth Park that would be perfect for you.”

Issie led the way on Storm and the six riders rode in single file around the dusty path that led down past the olive grove and through the hills. The sun was shining brightly, and at one point Issie looked up to the horizon
ahead and saw the glimmering outline of a horse against the skyline. She was certain it was Mystic, silhouetted against the Spanish sun. It was as if he was checking up on Issie and Storm one last time. Then, with a flick of his mane, the grey pony cantered off and was gone.

Nightstorm raised his head in the air, looking out to the horizon, and let out a loud whinny.

“Easy, boy,” Issie reassured him. “He’ll be back. You’ll see him again soon.”

She gave Nightstorm a firm pat on his glossy bay neck. It was hard to believe that tomorrow, after more than a month in Spain, she would finally be taking her horse back to Chevalier Point.

Once the stallion was home, then the real adventure would begin. After all, they had come here to reclaim Storm so that Issie could train him to compete as her international eventing horse. Although, with everything that had happened since they arrived, Issie wondered whether their plans might have changed. But she needn’t have been concerned.

“Storm is everything I had hoped he would become and more,” Avery reassured her. “This horse is destined for greatness, Issie. He’s going to be an international
eventer and you’re going to be on his back all the way to the top.”

They were going home. And they were preparing for a new, even more exciting journey. This time, it was serious.

This time, they were taking on the world.

BOOK: Angel and the Flying Stallions
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