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Authors: Lyndon Stacey

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‘You would appear to be leaking.'

The policeman shone his torch at Ben's right arm, and he lifted it to find blood running down the back of his hand.

‘Oh, bugger. That was the dogs, earlier.'

It was Logan's turn to raise his eyebrows.

‘Not that hairy mongrel of yours, surely!'

‘No. Truman's guard dogs.'

Logan shook his head and sighed.

‘I think, when you've got yourself patched up, that you and I are going to have to have a very long talk,' he said.

Epilogue

The Csikós' last performance of their first short tour of England was a sell-out long before they arrived at Brinkley Castle in Hertfordshire. They had, in fact, sold out three performances on three consecutive nights.

Work to prepare the grounds of the stately home for both the show and the influx of people it was expected to generate, took nearly a week. Ben knew, from past conversations with Jakob, that the full road crew that normally accompanied the troupe in Europe had been shipped over beforehand to set up the complicated technical equipment needed to stage the French-style
son et lumière
show.

As the Mitsubishi joined the back of the slow-moving queue for Brinkley Castle, Ben smiled at Lisa, then looked in his rear-view mirror, where he could see Stephen and Mikey engaged in a good-natured debate which apparently revolved around something or someone they had seen in a passing car. The two boys, only a year apart in
age, had, over the last few days, formed what looked like becoming a lasting friendship. Stephen already had a maturity that Ben's brother would probably never achieve, but Mikey's growing reputation as an amateur jockey had seen his confidence blossom and, somehow, with their shared love of horses, they functioned as equals. Normally quiet and introspective, Stephen seemed relaxed in Mikey's company.

After the disaster of Truman's interference, the idea of a reunion between Helen and Nico seemed to die a death, with no real inclination on either side. For each, it seemed, the present reality of the other was so far removed from their gilt-edged memories that they might as well have been strangers. So even now, seventeen years on, Truman had managed to come between them. They had exchanged a few words on that wretched night near Bath, but it seemed that Helen had taken Ben's advice on board, and nothing had been said about Stephen.

Nico knew now, of course, and had received the news from Ben with a mixture of wonder and incredulity.

‘Does he know? Will he see me?' he'd asked after a moment. Then, more sombrely, ‘Do you think he should, my friend?'

Ben had repeated his conviction that the boy should decide.

While her father was absent, awaiting trial, Fliss had taken over the reins at Castle Ridge, and so far there had been few complaints from any quarter. The horses had continued to show good form and Mikey, who was aware of Belinda
Kepple's offer, had nevertheless elected to stay with the bigger stable for the time being, especially since Finch had been shown the door by Helen.

Stephen had come back from his holiday with knowledge of the events surrounding his birth, but still in ignorance of his father's true identity, and Ben had braced himself to bring the subject up.

In the end it had been unnecessary. Mikey had provided the information when Ben went with him to Wincanton one day.

‘Stephen says he's going to Hungary in the summer,' Mikey told Ben as they walked through the crowds to the weighing-room. ‘He wants to look for his father.'

‘You didn't tell him about Nico?'

‘No. You said not to.'

‘Good. Thanks for that.'

The Csikós' show, entitled ‘Kings of the Wind', was a masterly blend of special effects and quite staggering horsemanship. The action took place on a natural, grassy stage in front of Brinkley Castle and just across the river from the audience; it was also relayed via a big screen to one side.

Even Ben, who had grown accustomed to the beauty and skill of their performances, was captivated. The
son et lumière
element turned the whole experience into a thing of wonder and, when he could drag his eyes from the spectacle, he was rewarded by the utter fascination of Lisa and the boys.

When the final bows had been taken and the
floodlights came on to assist with the dispersal of the crowd, Ben instructed his party to stick close to him. He fought his way to the river's edge, from where he led them to a narrow bridge, and from there to the field where the Csikós' transporters were drawn up in the familiar pattern.

The first person they encountered in the backstage bustle was Jakob, leading four of the Magyar horses, two lead reins in each hand.

‘Ben! How did you like the show? It was good, yes?'

‘Very good,' Ben said warmly. ‘Absolutely brilliant!'

He introduced Lisa and the two youngsters, and Jakob greeted them all with his usual charm, his eyes lingering thoughtfully on Stephen.

‘And how is Gyorgy?'

‘Yes, he is well,' Jakob said. ‘His arm is on the mending.'

‘On the mend,' Ben corrected, with a smile. ‘I'll find him in a minute and thank him again. And I want to thank you, too. Nico says it was you who persuaded him not to wait for us alone.'

Jakob frowned. ‘I had a bad feeling. In here,' he said, tapping his chest.

‘Well, I'm sorry for what happened to your brother, but I think it might just have saved Nico from much worse.'

‘My father was Hungarian,' Stephen put in suddenly. ‘He was a jockey.'

Jakob nodded, his eyes suspiciously bright. ‘I thought as much,' he said, adding to Ben, ‘He's seeing to Bajnok, I think.'

Following Jakob's directions, they caught up with Nico as he led the black horse back to his stable. Still wearing his black and gold braided jacket, his dark face flushed with the high of performing, he presented a picture such as any fatherless boy might conjure up in his fantasies.

The Hungarian greeted them with a flash of his brilliant smile and then faltered, as the significance of the dark-haired, dark-eyed youngster at Ben's side clearly hit home.

Stephen looked faintly puzzled by Nico's reaction and glanced up at Ben enquiringly.

‘Mikey told me you wanted to know,' Ben said gently. ‘But we don't have to do this. We can turn back right now and never mention it again. It's up to you.'

Stephen's eyes narrowed and he looked back at Nico.

‘You . . .?'he asked.

Nico nodded, slowly.

It was Mikey who broke the tension, with a characteristic, low-voiced, ‘Wow! I wish he was my dad!'

Nico smiled, but his eyes quickly returned to Stephen.

‘I have to see to my horse,' he announced, patting Bajnok's sleek black neck. ‘You can come, if you like.'

He turned and walked away, and for a moment it looked as though Stephen would let him go, but then, with a fleeting glance at the others, he followed.

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Epub ISBN: 9781409069263

Version 1.0

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Published by Arrow Books in 2006

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Copyright © Lyndon Stacey 2005

The right of Lyndon Stacey to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

First published by Hutchinson in 2005

Arrow Books

The Random House Group Limited

20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

www.randomhouse.co.uk

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 9780099463443 (from January 2007)

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