As if choreographed, the First Barn mare and the Second Barn stallion converged on each other. Eira’s upswept wing hid the other horse, then revealed him on the downbeat. Nia gripped her mare with her legs and leaned forward, anticipating impact. She forced her eyes away from Catrin’s approaching lance, focusing instead on the other rider’s armored torso. The horses’ wings beat in unison, down at the same time. Now! Nia’s lance struck somewhere near her opponent’s shoulder and slipped off her armor. Meanwhile, Catrin’s lance connected with Nia’s left shoulder, great pain accompanying the sound of the wooden lance thunking against armor. The impact jerked Nia back, the restraining straps tightening against her legs, straining to hold her in place as Nia fought against the weight of her armor to regain her balance in the saddle. Eira’s wingstrokes broke rhythm as the weight on her back shifted. Panic roared inside Nia’s helmet like the most violent storm, to be replaced by fury as she regained her balance. Eira resumed the powerful wingstrokes that kept her aloft, and Nia patted the now-sweaty neck.
Fighting the urge to clap a hand to her injured shoulder, Nia struggled to maintain her hold on the lance, now dipping and swaying above Eira’s head as if it had a mind of its own. The mare flattened her ears against her head, and her neck stretched out straight in front of her. Miraculously, the powerful wings beat cleanly as the mare swept past the other horse, feathers brushing his tail.
Nia got the lance stabilized into its upright holding position and clutched it with her right hand. Left shoulder throbbing, she guided Eira to the ground in front of First Barn. The mare landed harder than usual, no doubt due to the extra weight she carried, and jarred Nia’s shoulder. The pain inflamed her anger. Her left hand, freed of the reins, clasped her amulet. She hoped serenity would flow into her from the necklace.
Catrin circled in to land at Second Barn as Tristan hurried toward Nia. “What happened? You were supposed to go three passes!” he shouted up to her.
He was her barn leader, so tall she had to look up at him from her five foot height when she was on the ground. Seven years older than her own seventeen years, Tristan sometimes seemed younger. His blond hair was always neatly combed, but his dark eyes were charged with emotion. If she ever wanted to know how Tristan felt about something, she read his eyes instead of listening to his words. Right now he was angry. Well, so was she.
|Author Linda Ulleseit.|