Angel and the Flying Stallions (6 page)

BOOK: Angel and the Flying Stallions
7.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Vega raised an eyebrow and his lips curled up in a wry grin. “It seems that the colt isn’t the only one who has grown up!” he mocked. “Look at you, Alfonso! Acting like a man!”

“At least I act like a man,” Alfie shot back, “not a grass snake like you, Vega.”

The smile on Miguel Vega’s face dropped. “Snake! You are a fine one to talk! You have stolen my best mare.”

“We didn’t take her!” Issie said. “It was the bachelor herd. Three wild stallions. I saw them.”

Vega seemed intrigued. “Wild horses? What flight of fancy is this?”

Issie didn’t get the chance to reply because at that moment Francoise and Avery came to join them. Vega took one look at Francoise in her violet flamenco dress and a lecherous grin spread across his face.

“Hey,
señorita
,” he leered at her. “These children
here are making up stories about wild stallions. Now why don’t you tell the truth and give me back my mare?”

Francoise stiffened at his accusation. “Vega, we have already told you that we do not have her.”

“All right, all right,” Vega said. “Let us not argue, my sweet Francoise.” He smiled at her. “You look uncomfortable up there. Perhaps you would prefer to ride with me today on the back of my horse?”

Francoise couldn’t believe it.

“Come on!” Vega offered her his hand. “Ride with me! You will find my horse far more pleasant than the donkey you are on now.”

Before Francoise could respond, Avery had wheeled Sorcerer around so that he was face to face with Vega.

“She’s not going to be riding on your horse,” he said. “She’s with me. And if I were you, I would leave her alone from now on.”

There was such a fierceness about Avery that Vega’s smirk entirely disappeared.

“I was only joking,” he said backing his horse away. “A bit of fun…” He smiled at Francoise. “I go now, but
my offer remains open,
señorita
. You may ride with me on my horse anytime.” And with that, he spun his chestnut stallion around and cantered off.

Avery turned to smile at Francoise, expecting her to be grateful. Instead he met with a face like thunder.

“How dare you!” Francoise fumed.

“What?” Avery was stunned, “I was standing up for you! Vega is a creep!”

“I know that,” Francoise replied, “but I am quite capable of standing up for myself. I do not need a man to do it for me!”

And with that, she slid down neatly from Sorcerer’s rump and began to storm off across the square.

“Francoise, wait!” Avery called after her. “This is crazy!”

“I’ll tell you what’s crazy!” Francoise yelled back. “Wearing this stupid dress…” She made an angry grab at the violet ruffles that were now threatening to trip her up, “…and riding on the back of your horse when I should have brought my own!”

Then she turned her back on Avery and flounced off in the direction of the gates.

“What about the pimentos?” Avery called after her.

“Eat them yourself!” Francoise snapped. “I am walking home.”

Issie and Alfie watched her go in disbelief.

“Well,” Alfie shook his head in amazement. “This is certainly the most exciting
feria
I have ever been to!”

He turned to Issie and handed her a platter. “Pimento?”

Chapter 7

Issie was fast asleep when a hand crept over the blankets and grasped her by the shoulder. She sat up with a jolt.

“Ohmygod, Alfie! You scared me half to death!”

“Sorry, but I’ve been trying to wake you for ages!” Alfie replied.

Issie could see that Alfie was already dressed in his jodhpurs and boots. Why was he ready so early? “We don’t have to be at the riding school until ten.”

“I know,” Alfie said, “but I’ve got to take a herd of mares out to the upper fields to graze this morning and I thought you might like to saddle Storm up and come with me. We didn’t really get the chance for a proper ride yesterday.”

Issie was suddenly wide awake. “Give me two
minutes,” she said excitedly, jumping out of bed.

Alfie smiled. “I’ll meet you down at the stables.”

At six in the morning the sun had risen, but there was still a chill in the air as Issie walked briskly towards the stallions’ quarters. She found Alfie in one of the stalls saddling a big, black horse that Issie recognised immediately as Victorioso, the jet-black stallion that had once belonged to Miguel Vega. El Caballo had claimed this stallion as part of their prize when Issie won the Silver Bridle and it had irritated Vega greatly. The black stallion was the fastest horse in his stables. Victorioso was built for speed and every inch of his muscular physique showed that he was a true athlete.

“I thought we might want to go for a gallop,” Alfie said, explaining his choice of mount. “I need a horse than can keep up with Storm.”

Issie knew she should saddle Storm up quickly as Alfie was waiting. But if she had her own way, she would have spent ages just standing there and taking in the beauty of the big, bay stallion. Every time she looked at Storm she found new things that marked out the special qualities of her horse. Today, when she looked at Storm’s big brown eyes, she noticed how long his
eyelashes were. Then she noticed how his dark bay ears turned black at the very edges, almost like someone had drawn an ink line around them. She ran a hand down the stallion’s neck and Storm turned to nuzzle her affectionately.

“Want to go for a real ride?” Issie asked her horse. She threw on the saddle blanket and lifted up the heavy Spanish saddle, then cinched the girth and lowered the stirrup irons before slipping the bridle over Storm’s head, doing up the straps and leading him out into the corridor to mount up.

Storm seemed to realise that this was going to be a different kind of outing today. The stallion’s blood was up and he danced and crab-stepped as Issie tried to hold him steady. In the end, she gave up trying to hold him still and simply flung herself from the mounting block so that she was lying across the saddle. Then, as the horse moved off, she swung a leg over and managed to get herself upright and her feet in the stirrups.

Alfie passed her Victorioso’s reins. “Take him for me while I go and bring out the mares. I’ll meet you at the gates.”

Issie rode to the front gates on Storm, leading
Victorioso by her side. A moment later she heard the sound of hooves chiming out against the cobblestones. Alfie was walking towards her, leading nine mares. The mares were roped together in the classic style of a Spanish cobra, with head collars linked from one to the other with ropes, in three rows of three. Alfie undid one of the ropes so that the cobra was split into two and passed the end of this rope to Issie, taking his reins back and mounting up on Victorioso.

“We’ll lead them as far as the gorge,” he explained. “Then we’ll let them loose and drive them the rest of the way between us.”

Outside the gates, on the dusty path that wound around the white stone walls of the compound, the mares settled in alongside the two stallions, and Alfie and Issie began to trot. This was the first time that Issie had ever trotted Storm and she was amazed to feel the length and elevation of his stride. Storm had paces that were as light as air and graceful as a ballerina.

“He has the same movement as Marius – big, floating strides,” Alfie noted admiringly as he rode alongside on Victorioso.

Issie was also surprised at how easy it was to control
four horses like this, as well as the one she was riding. The El Caballo mares were accustomed to being driven in a cobra. They trotted together, keeping pace with Storm, as they left the dusty track and headed out over the green pastures of the lower fields of the hacienda. Ahead of them were the open, broad pastures that led all the way to the narrow gorge that divided the upper and lower grazing lands.

“Why aren’t we letting them graze here?” Issie asked as they rode on. “The grass looks good.”

Alfie shook his head. “We reserve these pastures for mares who have just had their foals. These mares have not foaled this season so they get the second-best grazing, on the upper pasture.”

They kept the mares moving, past the wild olive trees, their boughs sagging with ripe fruit, until they reached the foothills and had to slow down as the terrain became rocky underfoot. Ahead of them was the narrow gorge that led through from the lower grazing of El Caballo to the upper pastures. The rocky pathway cut its way between bare sunburnt cliff faces, with an entrance marked by grey boulders on either side.

Alfie slid off Victorioso’s back and undid the ropes
on the cobra so that the mares were no longer linked to one another.

“We can drive them through from here in single file,” Alfie explained. “The gorge is not wide enough to travel as a cobra. You take the lead and the mares will follow you. I will bring up the rear.”

Issie rode into the gorge and Margarita went behind her with the other mares all following her lead and Alfie at the back making sure the mares did not change their minds and turn around. Not that turning around was easy within the narrow confines of the gorge. The path was not much wider than two horses and a sheer rock face rose high on either side of the path.

The horses were working up a sweat and Issie could see white foam on the reins where they had rubbed against Storm’s neck. The stallion loved being at the front and he held his head high, his muscles quivering with the excitement of going somewhere new, as they rounded the bend of the gorge and the track began to widen again. The open plains spread out ahead of them.

“We are almost through,” Issie called back to Alfie. “What happens when we reach the pasture?”

“You can let the mares go,” Alfie replied. “They will graze here for the rest of the day and we will return at night to bring them home.”

Issie pulled Storm to one side and let the mares trot past her out on to the flat plains of the upper pastures. Here El Caballo’s own grazing lands abutted Vega’s vast estate. The grassy land was good for horses, so it was no great surprise that two of the most powerful and influential horse farms in Spain should be right next to each other like this, side by side.

In the distance, Issie could make out the roofline of Vega’s hacienda, its turrets poking up above the orange grove and the stone walls of the estate.

Alfie had pulled Victorioso up alongside Storm and was busily unstrapping a cowhide-covered canteen from the front of his saddle. He unscrewed the lid and took a deep gulp of water, then passed it to Issie.

But Issie didn’t take it from him. She was distracted, staring out across the pasture, as if she were looking for something.

“I can hear horses,” she said.

Alfie frowned. “Well that’s hardly surprising is it? We are riding horses, and we’ve got nine mares with us!”

“No!” Issie hissed, “Listen! I mean I can hear horses coming towards us. They’re moving fast.”

As she said this, the sound of hoofbeats became quite clear on the morning air. There were horses coming in their direction, currently hidden out of sight behind the hills.

The hoofbeats grew louder, and then, over the brow of the hill, the most stunning sight came into view. Three horses galloping wild, their heads held high and their manes flying in the wind.

“The stallions!” Issie gasped as she recognised them. “Those are the horses that I saw outside the El Caballo gates that night!”

At the front of the herd ran the grey stallion with the two-tone mane. In the daylight the strange dove-soft colour of his coat was even more remarkable.

“Francoise was right! It’s a Sorraia!” said Alfie, transfixed by the beauty of the grey horse.

Beside the Sorraia, galloping and matching him stride for stride, was the dun stallion. Now that Issie could get a good look at him she recognised he was a typical Lusitano, similar in conformation to Alfie’s horse Pepe, with a Roman nose, a wide chest and short legs. At the
rear was the biggest of the three stallions. He was jet black, just like Victorioso, and also solidly built, with the arched neck and haughty presence of a classical Andalusian.

Issie was puzzled. “What about Laeticia?” she asked Alfie. “I thought they had taken Vega’s mare? She should be with them.”

Alfie urgently gathered his reins. “They must have a hiding place where they are grazing. They would not bring mares with them like this. They are on a mission. This is a raiding party.”

Issie suddenly realised what Alfie meant. The stallions were heading for the El Caballo mares that they had just let loose. They were planning to steal more mares to build up their own harem!

“Alfie,” Issie was horrified, “we have to get the mares back before they—”

Her words were drowned out by a piercing stallion’s cry. Not from the three stallions who were approaching, but from the horse beneath her. Storm had his head raised, erect and bristling at the sight of the oncoming marauders. He stamped and pawed at the ground and let out another battle cry, challenging the three stallions to take him on.

“Storm! No!” Issie kicked him firmly and tugged at the reins, but Storm was completely oblivious to her efforts. Nothing Issie could do would distract him.

He gave a third whinny in the same challenging tone and this time the black stallion returned his call. Responding to the young bay stallion’s taunts, he began cantering in Issie’s direction.

Meanwhile, the other two wild stallions were occupied with the mares. Issie shifted her glance from the black stallion for a moment and caught sight of the Sorraia circling the herd, his ears flat back as he lunged at Margarita, nipping at her flanks, trying to separate her from the other mares.

Margarita gave a squeal and shook her head disdainfully, baring her teeth at him. The dun stallion, however, had come to the support of the Sorraia and was now flanking her on the other side, rearing up and swiping viciously with his front hooves. The rest of the herd abandoned Margarita and scattered in every direction, leaving the poor mare to fight alone.

Issie meanwhile was still struggling, as Storm continued to ignore her efforts to make him move.

“Get him out of there!” Alfie shouted. He had been
racing to the aid of the mares, but now he was cantering back to help her. “The black stallion is going to attack!”

“I’m urghhh…I’m trying!” Issie grunted as she tugged again on the reins. The bay stallion’s eyes were on fire. His blood was up and he wanted to fight.

“STORM!” Issie was getting hysterical and was almost in tears. The black stallion had abandoned Margarita to the others and his eyes were fixed on Storm. He pulled to a sudden halt and propped back on his hindquarters just a few metres away from Issie and her horse, assessing this young stallion, considering the best way to launch his attack.

“Issie!” Alfie’s pleas were getting more desperate, “We’ve got to go!”

“I can’t!” Issie shouted back. “He won’t move!”

She was struggling desperately, but Storm was consumed by his anger and totally ignoring her tugs on the reins and impassioned attempts to turn him around.

There was a squeal from the black stallion and he rose up on his hind legs. As Storm rose up to face him, Issie shrieked and clung to his mane.

Alfie shouted, “Now! You have to act now! Turn him while he’s on his hind legs! Do it!”

Issie pulled herself together, gritted her teeth and seized her chance. Catching Storm off-balance in mid-air, she yanked hard on the left rein and spun him around. In one fluid movement, she lifted her own legs as far away from the stallion’s sides as she could and brought them in with a wallop, kicking hard on Storm’s flanks so that he leapt forward in shock.

The jolt was enough to bring Storm back to his senses. He began listening to his rider once more and Issie was able to ride him back towards the gorge, urging him into a gallop, away from the black stallion.

“Wait!” Alfie called after her, “We need to get the mares!”

The Sorraia and the dun had taken Margarita, but the others could still be saved. Issie galloped a wide loop, circling and driving the mares back towards the gorge. As she was doing this, she thought for a moment that she could hear the black stallion’s hoofbeats behind her. She was terrified that Storm would lose his cool for a second time and she’d be embroiled in a fight once more.

“You go ahead!” Alfie yelled at Issie. “The mares will follow you – I’ll drive them from the back!”

Issie didn’t need to be told twice. She aimed Storm
at the entrance to the gorge and galloped him hard. As they entered the narrow gorge she felt a rising wave of panic. What if the black stallion attacked from behind? She would have no way to escape; nowhere to run. She was relieved when she checked over her shoulder and saw that only the mares were following her. Alfie was right behind them too and the black stallion was nowhere to be seen. He must have given up the fight and turned to follow his bachelor gang in the opposite direction instead.

Issie was shaking with fear and didn’t dare slow down out of a canter, even through the twistiest bits of the gorge. By the time she emerged out the other side, she was shaking with exhaustion and Storm was quivering and wet with sweat.

“Are you OK?” Alfie asked. He looked as traumatised as she felt.

“They came out of nowhere,” Issie began, “and Storm wouldn’t listen. He just wanted to fight and…”

“It’s OK,” Alfie told her. “They’re gone now.”

But it wasn’t OK, and they both knew it. The stallions had gone all right – but they had taken Margarita, the favourite mare of El Caballo Danza Magnifico, with them.

BOOK: Angel and the Flying Stallions
7.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Highlander's Sin by Eliza Knight
Beauty's Beasts by Tracy Cooper-Posey
How's the Pain? by Pascal Garnier
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
Training Amy by Anne O'Connell
Delusion in Death by J. D. Robb
Infamy by Robert K. Tanenbaum
The Vacant Chair by Kaylea Cross