Angel and the Flying Stallions (9 page)

BOOK: Angel and the Flying Stallions
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“Is there something you want, Miguel?” Francoise frowned.

“What? Oh yes, yes,
!” Vega said.

“Well?” Francoise sighed. “What is it?”

,” Vega looked nervous. A bead of sweat ran down his brow. “It would be a great honour to me if you would accept my invitation and accompany me to the harvest dance next weekend.”

Francoise looked like she didn’t know what to say. She glanced back over her shoulder down the hallway, as if she was giving Tom Avery one last chance to emerge into the hall and ask her instead. But Avery did not appear. So, with a look of grim acceptance of her fate, Francoise took a deep breath and said, “All right.”

Vega’s eyes grew wide with shock. “All right? That means yes?

,” Francoise said flatly.

“Excellent! Excellent!” Vega broke out in a victorious grin. “Then I shall see you here on the night. You may ride on the back of my horse with me!”

“I’d prefer to ride my own horse,” Francoise clarified.

Vega nodded agreeably. “Whatever you say, my dear. It is a date!” And with that, he reached out and grabbed Francoise’s hand and raised it so that he could plant an oily kiss on the top of it.

“Good night! See you then, my love!” he smiled as he backed away down the steps and mounted his horse to ride off.

As Francoise watched him go, she wiped the kiss off the back of her hand on to her jodhpurs. Her face remained stony and expressionless. Meanwhile, in the sun lounge, Issie and Alfie’s faces were wide-eyed with shock and horror. Francoise D’arth had just agreed to go to the harvest dance…with Miguel Vega!

Chapter 10

Issie and Alfie had to make a mad dash to get back to the dining room and take their seats before Francoise came back down the hall to join them.

“What on earth are you two up to?” Mrs Brown frowned at her daughter as she sat down. “Where did you race off to?”

Issie didn’t get a chance to answer. Francoise was already walking back in the door, looking rather shell-shocked.

“Well?” Roberto looked at her expectantly. “What did Vega want? He told me it was personal and he needed to speak with you alone.”

Francoise sat down at her place at the table and
composed herself. She looked directly at Avery as she spoke. “Miguel came here tonight to ask me to be his partner at the harvest dance.”

There was a choking noise from across the table. Avery, who had been sipping on a glass of sherry, appeared to have swallowed some the wrong way and was now having a coughing fit.

“Vega asked you to the dance?” he managed to gasp out. “What did you say?”

“I told him yes,” Francoise said, ignoring everyone’s shocked stares and focusing on the plate of food in front of her. “This looks delicious, Roberto,” she said with a stiff politeness in her voice, “I hope I did not keep you all waiting? We should eat now before it gets cold.”

For the rest of the dinner Avery pushed his food around his plate distractedly, looking like he was about to explode. He had finally summoned up the nerve to ask Francoise out and Vega had beaten him to it!

Having a date for the harvest dance didn’t seem to improve Francoise’s mood either. She was still scowling
and stroppy as she brushed down Marius before training the next morning.

“Of course I do not want to go with Vega!” Francoise snapped when Issie asked her about it. “But you know what traditions are like here. I could not go to the dance on my own. Does Tom expect me to sit there like some wallflower for the rest of my life waiting for him to notice me? No! He left me no choice but to accept Vega’s invitation.”

When Issie told Alfie he shook his head and groaned. “She is too proud, that is her problem. If she wanted Avery to go to the dance with her, why didn’t she ask him herself?”

“It’s not her fault,” Issie said standing up for Francoise. “Tom had told everyone that he thought the dance was a waste of time. How could she know that he was going to ask her? He left it too late!”

After the scene at last night’s dinner Issie had confided in Alfie about Francoise and Tom. She knew she really shouldn’t gossip, but she trusted him. And it was nice to finally be able to share the secret.

If Stella had been here instead of Alfie, then by now they would have been working on a secret plan to bring Avery and Francoise together. But Alfie wasn’t interested in being a matchmaker. “Let them sort out their own
love lives,” he shrugged. “We have bigger things to worry about. Like getting Margarita back.”

The bachelor stallions that had raided El Caballo’s herd still hadn’t been found. Roberto had sent his men out in search parties, combing the terrain, but there was no sign of the stallions or the mares that they had taken.

Issie felt dreadful about losing Margarita. “If only Storm hadn’t behaved like that, we might have been able to get Margarita back through the gorge to safety with the others,” Issie told Alfie.

“No,” Alfie shook his head, “we were outnumbered and unprepared. You do not take on a band of three bachelors. Those stallions are willing to fight – to the bitter end if necessary. We were right to run.”

It was amazing how different wild stallions were to the horses here in the stables at El Caballo Danza Magnifico, Issie pondered, as she saddled up Angel for training. Angel was every bit as powerful as the wild bachelors, but his gentle temperament, training and breeding set him apart from them. After riding him in the Silver Bridle, Issie would have trusted the big, grey Andalusian with her life and over the past few weeks of intensive schooling her faith in the stallion had grown
even stronger. She just hoped that she was ready to ride him to the next level.

“We will warm up today with a basic quadrille,” Francoise told Issie and the
as they lined up in the arena.

Quadrilles were a regular part of the training at El Caballo. The choreographed routines where the riders rode in perfect lines and kept time with the rider opposite them as they danced across the school were a vital part of the troupe’s performance. Issie had been practising the various quadrilles with the
for the past few weeks and she knew all of the set pieces off by heart. As Francoise gave the cue for the music to be played over the loudspeaker, Issie took her place in the line opposite Jean-Jacques and held Angel firmly, waiting to begin.

The song that came over the loudspeaker was one of the staples of the El Caballo Danza Magnifico performance, a piece of classical music called ‘Zadok the Priest’, full of swelling violins, just perfect for gathering
the horses up and cantering half-passes across the arena. Issie did exactly that now, coming down the centre line and swishing sideways, cutting neatly in between Jean-Jacques and Wolfgang, who were cantering in the opposite direction. Then she circled around and slowed Angel to a trot in perfect step with the rest of the ride, bringing the big, grey horse back into line to cross the arena and stop in the dead centre, along with the eleven others, and perform a piaffe. Then they all changed direction and cantered the perimeter before crossing the arena on the diagonal, one after the other, doing flying changes with every second stride. Issie never missed a beat. As the music ended and the riders lined up to take their bows to an imaginary audience, Issie was shaking with exhaustion and exhilaration. It had been a perfect performance!

Francoise clearly thought so too. “Nicely done, everyone,” she gave them a round of applause.

She came over to Issie and took hold of Angel’s reins. “I think you are ready to try the ‘airs above ground’ today.”

“Really?” Issie squeaked. She was pleased that Francoise thought she was ready, but still felt terrified at the prospect.

“We’ll begin with the levade,” Francoise said. “Watch Jean-Jacques, he will show you how it is done.”

Jean-Jacques brought his horse, Trieste, over to demonstrate the manoeuvre for her. He pulled the horse to a halt in front of Issie and Francoise and then positioned himself with his legs well back. Using his dressage whip to tap the horse on the shoulder, he asked the stallion to go up on his hind legs. Trieste, an elegant grey with a very dark, steel-coloured mane and tail, neatly obliged, rocking back on his hocks and lifting his front legs up off the ground so that they were tucked up in the air, like a dog begging for treats. As the horse reared up, Jean-Jacques barely moved in the saddle. He sat calm and still as Trieste held the pose, and then, after a few moments, he tapped the stallion’s front leg lightly with his dressage whip. Trieste lowered back down so that he was on all fours once more.

“Perfect!” Francoise said. “That is the levade. Isadora, why don’t you try?”

Issie rode Angel into the centre of the arena and Francoise stepped forward to stand right up close to the grey stallion.

“You put your leg here,” she said, gripping Issie’s calf
muscle firmly and guiding her leg into position. “Your hands must be perfectly still and up high. Now you give him a nudge, but your hands hold him back. Good! Tap his shoulder with the whip to let him know you want him to go up on his hindquarters.”

Issie gave Angel a tap and the stallion snorted indignantly and leapt forward! Issie managed to hang on and turned Angel around and brought him back into position to try again.

“Do not startle him with your whip,” Francoise told her. “Give him regular little taps, like this.” She took the whip from Issie’s hands and tapped Angel with tiny flicks on his shoulder. Angel immediately understood what was being asked of him. He rose up on his hind legs and Issie felt the strangest sensation as he lifted up beneath her. She panicked for a moment that she was going to slide backwards out of the saddle and down his rump!

“You won’t,” Francoise reassured her when she said this. “Keep your position exactly the same. Do not move – let Angel find his balance. There you go! Perfect.”

Angel was balanced on his hind legs, his front legs tucked under his chest.

“Now tap his leg to let him know you are ready to come back down,” Francoise instructed, handing her back the whip.

Issie tapped his leg and Angel lowered his front legs back down on to the sand floor of the arena.

“Very well done!” Francoise enthused. “Now the courbette!”

This was the
haute école
move that Issie had performed by mistake on her first day in the school when she was asking for an extended trot.

“You must have tickled him by mistake with the dressage whip on his flank,” Francoise pointed out. “That is the cue to leap up and do a courbette.”

Even though she had previously managed to do it accidentally, when Issie tried to do the courbette this time it was much harder than the levade. Issie had to get Angel to rear back and then once he was balanced on his hind legs she had to tickle his flank to make him bunny hop across the arena.

There were several failed attempts as Angel went up on his hind legs, but failed to leap. Jean-Jacques tried to help, showing Issie how it was done on Trieste and eventually, with Francoise wielding the whip on her
behalf, Issie managed to get one desultory hop out of Angel before he dropped back down with all four legs on the arena’s sand surface once more.

“Not bad for your first time,” Francoise insisted, but Issie could hear the hesitation in the trainer’s voice. It had been a ham-fisted attempt and Issie knew it.

“The last one that we will try for today is the capriole,” Francoise told her. “Just watch as Jean-Jacques does it. That will give you the idea and then you can try it.”

Jean-Jacques took Trieste into the middle of the arena to prepare for the capriole. He balanced the stallion on his hind legs, then, unleashing the horse’s power in a swift and sudden movement, he urged Trieste on to take a flying leap through the air. In mid-air the horse did a stunning ballerina kick with his hind legs, thrusting them out behind him before he gathered himself up and landed back down on the ground again.

Issie was amazed. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that,” she sighed.

Francoise was not so defeatist. “It is just hard training and focus.” She wasn’t about to let Issie off the hook. “Your turn. Bring Angel into the centre of the arena.”

She saw the nervous look on Issie’s face and tried to
reassure her. “You know how to do this. A tap on his shoulder to make him go up on his hindquarters, then one on his rump to jump up and a third tap lower down on his hind leg to make him kick out in mid-air, OK?”

As Issie rode Angel back out into the centre of the arena she tried so hard to listen to what Francoise was saying, to follow Jean-Jacques’s example and think of everything she had to remember. She was shaking so much with nerves that it was hard to keep a steady hand on the reins.

“Keep calm,” Francoise was saying. “Concentrate on your timing and your preparation…”

In the middle of the arena, Issie brought Angel to a halt and prepared to do the capriole. She put her legs in what she hoped was the right position and when she thought the stallion was ready she tapped his shoulder to get him up on his hindquarters and then brought the dressage whip down briskly on his bottom as Francoise had instructed. She expected Angel to leap into the capriole. But instead he simply bolted, panicking and breaking into a gallop down the length of the arena. Issie tried to hang on, but she had lost her stirrups and in the shock of the sudden gallop she lost her reins.

“Pull him up!” Francoise shouted. But it was too late. Issie slipped down the side of the saddle, made a futile attempt to regain her balance and felt the ground rushing up to meet her. The crash was even worse for its inevitability. She tried to roll with it, but still felt the hard crunch in her shoulder and the wind knocked out of her. By the time Francoise reached her side Issie was standing up and brushing herself down.

“Your timing was all wrong,” was the first thing that Francoise said to her. “You need to tap him with your whip at the same moment that you give with the reins.”

Yeah, I’ll try and remember that next time,
Issie thought sourly as she dusted the sand off her jodhpurs.

Angel had stopped galloping at the end of the arena and Jean-Jacques had caught the horse and brought him back to Issie. Despite her reservations, Issie mounted up again and prepared herself for another try.

“Keep him steady,” Francoise instructed as Angel went up on his hind legs. “Now! Tap his rump with the whip and let go!”

This time, as the ground rushed up to meet Issie once more, at least she wasn’t surprised.

BOOK: Angel and the Flying Stallions
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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