I reach the bridge to cross the river. The water seems a lot more peaceful now. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying to cross through it.
A park comes into view up ahead on the right. Within the park I see a large herd of horses roaming around within a fenced-in area. Seeing as horses are a standard form of travel here in the Middle Ages, maybe it’s a small number. I don’t really have a good frame of reference.
I hasten my pace, reminding myself that I’m in the midst of a competition.
Originally, I had thought a Good Samaritan would be the fastest way to get this task done, but now that I’m here, I don’t see much I could fix, were I to break it.
I guess I could try to mend the fence, but breaking it alone would probably be more effort than its worth. And the folks around here certainly have more experience fixing fences than I do, making it a rather moot point.
The tall muscular young man leaning against the fence seems especially better inclined toward fence repair than I, and more appropriately dressed as well.
He’s as best of an option for a person in charge of the horses as I’ve got. In lieu of going in with a plan, I choose to wing it, hoping the mark gives me something I can work with. I walk toward him, taking on the air of nobility as I do, hoping my dress might offer me some additional favor with the peasantry.
The boy doesn’t notice me as I near, so I am forced to make the first move. I hate making the first move. I’m going on absolutely no knowledge of the sucker, meaning I could choose a method he might be completely impervious to.
I decide to go with the old standard: helpless, but bold, female. What Griff likes to call the Damsel in Distress.
“Excuse me,” I say in my best Victorian English.
The boy turns and our eyes immediately lock onto each other. Two beautiful blue eyes barely emerge from beneath an unkempt mess of light brown hair. Although from his clothing and overall lack of cleanliness he is obviously about as low of a class level as you can get around here, there’s something about him that makes me feel warm inside.
I remind myself of Rule #6: “Never get emotionally involved” and shake away the foggy romantic feelings which threaten to erupt from within me. The boy smiles in my direction, appearing to be sizing me up as well. My heart leaps at the thought of him showing interest in me before I gain control once again and move forward with my new plan of attack.
“Yes, mum?” the boy asks, a light smirk on his face as he looks me over.
“I’m sorry, but I’m merely visiting this lovely town and it would appear my horse has been taken off for boarding. Do you, mayhaps, have any idea whereabouts my steed would have gotten off to?”
“If your horse has been boarded, it’s certain to be here,” he says, gesturing to the roaming animals. “All of the local stables bring the animals here to feed and play. Can you not see your mare?”
“Well,” I say, loosely gesturing to my clothes. “As I’m certain you are aware, a woman of my status does not generally consort too closely with their steed.”
“I wasn’t aware,” the boy answers. “I would think anyone who cares for an animal would be very familiar with them.”
“Sure,” I stammer, “but, you see. Well, the thing is, I had just purchased the animal yesterday from a local businessman and I have yet to fully get to know the creature.”
“Oh, well then, maybe I can help. What was the man’s name you bought the animal from?”
“Oh, yeah, um,” I realize I’m completely failing at this attempt to scam and decide to take things in a different direction. “Oh, never mind, I see my horse just there,” I say, pointing to a beautiful black stallion standing alone by a tree.
“Are you certain, mum?” the boy asks, cocking his head at me.
“Why yes, I am definitely certain.” I climb over the fence without much grace. “I couldn’t mistake that horse for any other.”
“I’ll agree the horse is one of a kind. However, I find it difficult to believe Lord Charles would have given up his prized destrier, especially considering–”
“Charles!” I exclaim, snapping my fingers in feigned recognition as I point at the boy. “That’s right. Old Charlie boy was the one who sold the animal to me. It wasn’t easy to buy it from him, mind you. But I told him I simply must have the horse and money was no object. Once he realized I was serious, he knew debating me on the matter was completely pointless.”
I walk toward the animal with my head high. The beast becomes aware of my presence and eyes me up suspiciously as I near it.
“I’m sorry, mum.” The boy runs to catch up to me. “I’m not certain you know what you are talking about. This horse is–”
I turn to look at the boy, shooting him my most coldest of stares as I begin to berate him. “Do you dare attempt to tell me that you do not believe the word of a lady? You? A mere peasant boy? I don’t know how you people are raised here within the walls of Avalon, but back in my –“
“I’m sorry, miss, it’s—“
“You dare interrupt me?” I scream, finding it difficult to take myself seriously, especially while using the accent. But I have to sell it now or risk ruining the simple scam I’ve built. “If you keep from talking to me again, I shall be kind enough not to tell your master of this insurrection.”
The boy stops in his tracks. The sadness and confusion in his eyes breaks my heart. He hasn’t done anything wrong and definitely doesn’t deserve my wrath.
I force down my emotions, keep my head held high, and continue my confident stride toward the muscular beast ahead of me. It snorts angrily at my arrival, stopping me in my tracks.
I fight the urge to look back at the boy and see if he has noticed my sudden fear of this large animal. I’ve never actually ridden a horse before and the one I’ve chosen to steal is a monster of an animal, seemingly riddled with muscles. And those dark eyes glare at me with such intensity I can’t help but believe it was bred to do nothing but hate me. Cautiously I take another step forward. The horse lifts its head and snorts again.
I reach out my hand toward the horse, speaking softly as I do. “Good girl,” I whisper. “Just help me get through this and I—“
The horse rears back onto its hind legs as my hand touches its neck. I’m thrown to the ground and a flurry of action happens above me. Slowly, I make out that the boy has stepped between me and the animal and has taken hold of its reins, after tossing me out of harm’s way.
Once he has calmed the animal, he looks down at me with a worried look on his face, reaches his hand out, and helps me to my feet.
“Are you alright, Miss?” he asks as I regain my footing. I’m visibly shaking. “I had tried to warn you. Lord Charles’ horse has not yet been broken in for a lady such as yourself. In fact, since it is a destrier, I highly doubt it shall ever be truly broken in.”
“Oh,” I say, still in a daze from the recent event. “Thanks.”
“Not a problem, Miss,” the boy says.
“Oh, maybe it was that horse over there,” I say, pointing to the only other black horse I see in the field, an old one, whose back is sunken.
“Old Mack?” the boy asks. “Although I’m sure no one would be too concerned were you to take him, I highly doubt that’s the one you’re looking for either. That’s the horse The Wizard came in on. Lord Charles would not dare attempt to sell him.”
“Oh,” I repeat, realizing I have completely failed in this scam.
“Excuse me for saying this,” the boy offers, “but if you’re just looking to steal a horse, I might be able to point one out no one would notice as missing.”
“What?” I say, being taken completely aback.
“I mean no offense, milady,” the boy says defensively. “Tis merely offering that if you were in need of assistance in choosing a horse who may not be noticed as missing, I may be able to help.”
I look at the boy, trying to determine if he’s entrapping me, or if he is truly offering to assist me in my misdeeds.
“Then again, perhaps I didn’t say such a thing,” the boy continues. “Perhaps I was merely stating how you may wish to be careful in choosing which horses you buy from fellows whom have been away in battle for the last year and are long presumed to be dead.”
“Lord Charles?” I ask sheepishly. The boy nods in response.
“Don’t worry Miss, I won’t tell anyone. Ain’t my business. Most of these horses haven’t seen the outside of these walls for just as long and I’d be much obliged to anyone who would be willing to help them in getting their exercise.”
“But isn’t The Wizard kind of against people and things going out of the city?”
“There may have been a law passed to that effect, I suppose,” the boy answers. “Ain’t none of my business either. My job is to ensure the horses are taken care of. You look as though you’re someone who would make sure to take care of an animal, even if you’ve never ridden one before.”
“You can tell?”
“Not too many folks would walk up to a war horse like you did and attempt to stare it down.”
“Oh,” I say softly. “So, um, about the horse?”
The boy gestures to a smaller brown and white horse standing on the top of a hill, currently running in circles. “I call her Molly. She’s been here since she was a wee little pony and has never made it outside the walls. She’s filled with energy, she is, but real good with strangers and newbies.”
“Oh, yeah,” the boy smiles. “Been training her with my little sis. Molly’s a gem, she is.”
“And, no one will notice her missing?”
“Outside a me and my sis, ain’t a single soul come to see her in over a year. Her owner is off fightin’ the war as well.”
“Can I meet her?”
“Oh, sure,” the boy says as he takes my hand and leads me to the pony. I shudder at his touch, feeling the grit of his worn hands against my own soft fingers. “Ya know, we dunna see much o’ the Moors around here.” He lifts my hand and helps me stroke Molly’s soft mane.
“Ain’tcha a Moor?” he asks. “I know I shouldn’ta assumed, but with your skin an’ your odd form of speech an’ all.”
I suddenly realize I had forgotten to keep up with my attempts to sound British. “Um, oh, yeah, a Moor. Sorry, I thought you said something else.”
“So, are ya’?”
“A Moor?” I ask, stalling as I try to think of what a Moor might be.
“Yeah,” he laughs lightly.
I look at him in silence briefly and then answer with a slowly stated, “No?”
“Awright then,” I notice his accent is also different from when we first began talking. It fits him well and, coincidentally, I feel my cheeks get warm.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help but notice you’re talking differently than when I met you,” I question. “Not that it’s a bad thing or anything, but—“
“Ah, yes,” he begins, that playful smirk reappearing. “Y’see, when ya ‘ad first stopped by, you ‘ad me fooled. I like to talk pretty for the noble ladies, as they tend to react kindly to the well-spoken lads. Now tha’ I know tha’ truth abou’ choo, mum, I can tell I don’t need ta’ put on airs.”
“Oh,” I say feeling dejected. “Only care about the ones with money, huh?”
“Not as much, mum. Jus’ prefer ‘em to flirt than treat me like dirt, you know?”
“Oh, yeah,” I say, remembering how I had treated him. “Sorry about that.”
“Dunna worry, lass. I unnerstan’ how it goes.”
“So, Molly?” I say to the horse. “Fancy coming off with me?”
“Well, there is one small matter t’ attend to first,” the boy says.
“Oh,” I say unhappily. “I suppose silence isn’t cheap, is it?”
“What?” the boy recoils. “Oh, no. I dunna need yer money. I was talkin’ aboo ‘how y’ dunna know how to ride a horse. Would ya care fer some lessons?”
“Oh,” I repeat. “Um, yeah, I guess that wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
“Perfect,” he smiles a bright grin. Sure, his teeth might be yellow and crooked, but that’s forgivable in medieval England, isn’t it? Plus, something about his snaggle-toothed smile makes him that much more irresistible. He holds his hand out in my direction. “My name’s Lance, if’n you were lookin’ for somethin’ to call me.”
“Oh, thanks, Lance,” I reply. “My, umm, well, my name’s Chelle.” And there it is…while doing incredibly poorly at trying not to break Rule #6, I find myself completely breaking Rule #1 of the Grifter’s Code, “Never use your real name.”
Go to Chapter Twenty-Five