“Alright,” I say uneasily. I make the clicking sound with my tongue, like Lance taught me, and Molly starts forward at her slow trot. I delicately direct her toward the opening in the fence ahead. It takes a little getting used to, but Lance’s description of aiming her head where I want to go helps me visualize the process a lot better.
Finally we’re on the street and I look at Lance with a proud grin strapped to my face.
“Ya ready to put on a little speed there, Chelle?” he asks. “It’ll take all day t’git across town at this pace.”
“Um, okay,” I say, my confidence cracking under the idea of changing tempo.
“Hup, hup,” Lance yells and Molly instantly speeds up, turning the slow trot into a rather bouncy gallop. I can’t keep my butt on the seat. Forget about steering, I just don’t want to fall off.
Lance appears at my side. “Keep that toe up,” he says loudly. I almost don’t hear him over my all-encompassing fear, but finally his reminder makes it into my brain and I comply. For whatever reason, it seems to almost immediately steady me on the saddle.
“There ye go,” he cheers. “Now you’re looking like a right EQ.”
“Naw, ya look mighty green yet, but at least yer still upright.”
“I feel pretty good about that.”
“Ye should. Sitting aside idna easy.”
We make it back to the marketplace and find Griff still working the crowd. Now it seems he is the one who is annoying the sellers, as opposed to when I last saw him. They must have realized he doesn’t have any money.
“Hup,” I say as we near Griff. The horse doesn’t stop, or even slow, but the noise is enough to get Griff’s attention. He looks up at me with a scowl. I look back to Lance, who is following closely behind.
“Hup!” he yells. Molly stops.
“Hey Griff,” I shout down. “Having any luck yet?”
“Oh, come on, really? There’s no way you got a horse already!”
I grin proudly.
“Too bad you didn’t define the terms of the Scam-Off before we started,” he says as he comes to my side.
“All I wanted was to have this to hold over your head.”
Lance appears at my side from ground level. I look and see he has tied his horse to a nearby post. He holds his hand up in my direction. “Can I help you down, Chelle?” he asks.
“Chelle?” Griff asks incredulously. “Have I taught you nothing?”
“Chill out,” I reply as I take Lance’s hand to dismount. “It’s not like that name means anything around here.”
“It’s rule number one!” he yells, accentuating every syllable. “Number One! They don’t put it at the top for just any old reason. I think for that alone, you should be considered forfeited.”
“Psh,” I laugh. “Griff, I’d like you to meet my new partner, Lance.”
“A pleasure,” Lance says as he extends his hand in Griff’s direction.
Griff stares at it and then scowls at me more sternly. “New partner? You’re still the apprentice kiddo, you don’t get to choose any partner, new or old.”
“From the looks of it, the student has now become the master,” I say, gesturing to Molly.
“Don’t press your luck, kid.”
“Milady,” Lance cuts in. “If it would not be too much trouble, I should probably return to the field and attend to the horses. Will I be able to find you this evening?”
“Yeah, we’re staying at The Goat and The Mare.”
“Perfect. I’ve business with Agnes to attend to. You have provided the perfect excuse.”
“Oh no you don’t,” Griff shouts. “You can’t come in here and take away both Chelle and Aggie.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I have no intentions of taking anything from you. If I heard correctly, you were attempting to gather some cloth, were you not?”
“What’s it to you?”
“See the woman there in the red dress?”
“You mean the dress that might be red under the years of dirt and grime?” Griff asks gruffly.
“Tis my mother. Tell her I sent you and she will provide you with whatever you need.” He turns from Griff and looks at me. His gaze stares deep into my eyes. “Chelle, I do certainly hope to see you again this evenin’.”
“Well, you’re the guy who takes care of the stables, right?”
“One o’ ‘em.”
“Molly here’s going to need a place to stay the night. Can’t imagine there’s a better place than with you.”
“Then we shall reconvene our merriment tonight, either at the stables or at Agnes’.”
“It’s a date,” I giggle. Lance looks at me with confusion and then turns toward his horse and walks away.
“Kid, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”
“Hey, why don’t we talk about it after I get you the clothes you’re looking for?”
“You’re treading a mighty thin line here.”
“From the looks of it, I’m treading it a heckuva lot better than you.”
Go to Chapter Twenty-Seven