Rider Magic - Excerpt
Rider Magic - Excerpt
My panic-stricken gaze swept the area. There had to be something . . .
Half-a-dozen saddled chargers dozed at a hitching rail. If I was fast enough . . . I nearly caused a stampede as they stared at the crazy apparition that charged towards them. In a desperately calm voice, I soothed the closest charger, grabbed the reins with one hand, and manhandled Talon onto the saddle with the other. The horse’s big dark eye swivelled back and he was already bolting as I vaulted into the saddle. Guess he didn’t like fuzzy purple creatures that smelled funny on his back.
He slammed into the others who caught his panic, jerked away from the rail, and the entire bunch took off. I managed to point my mount towards the rapidly-narrowing gate, clamped my legs, and screamed in its ear.
That did it! The fuzzy purple thing had been joined by a screaming banshee! No self-respecting horse would tolerate that! He overtook his less motivated mates and, in seconds, we were at a full gallop.
Soldiers converged on the gate; the mages, now on the ramparts threw spells, but the resultant explosions only convinced my mount to flee faster. It ducked around the explosions and leaped a low wall near the gate where he made a sliding, scrambling turn and charged for freedom. I uttered a prayer to whatever deity was current and laid flat over the horse’s neck.
I was squishing Talon but it kept him on the horse. Since he was still dead weight (I hoped that was metaphorical), it was difficult to keep him from sliding off and there was nothing to hook him onto.
As arrows struck the courtyard around us, I threw up a shield and closed my eyes. It was going to be close.
Something grazed my back then with a great clattering of hooves, we were galloping down the road, the horses’ necks stretched, nostrils flared. The good news was we might be out of range of the mages. The bad news was I needed two hands to control my horse and one to hold Talon. Also, the man whose horse I’d stolen had longer legs than I, so my feet wouldn’t reach the stirrups. One sharp turn and I was history.
When we’d gotten far enough, I hoped to get the panicked animal stopped so I could check on Talon. His prehensile toes were slack and he wasn’t complaining — neither of which were good signs.
I knew the road ahead made a steep dip then a sharp turn to the left — which I thought I could handle. Thankful for childhood riding experience, I clamped my legs, held Talon with one hand and the reins with the other, hoping the horse would follow the road. As the herd thundered into the turn, I sucked in a breath. A monstrous tree had blown across the road and we were moving way too fast to stop. Crap!
I felt the horse gather for the jump and realized I’d never stay with him if I didn’t hold onto something — which, unfortunately, meant letting go of something. I don’t know if it was a subconscious decision or not but, suddenly both hands were twisted in his mane and I was leaned over his neck. As he launched himself into the air, something slid from beneath my belly, and a purple object flew through the air. I winced as it hit the ground, bounced a couple of times, and rolled to a stop.
Now that my hands were free, I brought my mount to a dancing, lathered semi-stop. He danced in place, anxious to move on with the others whose hoof-beats were fading into the distance. Barely maintaining control of my mount, I heard the sounds of pursuit. I needed a distraction.
I tied the reins together, leapt to the ground, pointed the excited horse back to the road, and slapped him on the butt. That was all he needed. Now the crazy people were off, he galloped away with an equine “wait for me” neigh as he tore up the road after his friends.
I dove beneath the cover of the nearest bush seconds ahead of half-a-dozen mounted soldiers who charged after the fleeing horses and yours truly. As the last thundered by, I realized my fingers were burning — and discovered I’d hidden behind a rose bush. I jerked my hands away to find them covered in tiny thorns, each burning like fire. Although I groaned aloud, I’d have to deal with it after I found Talon.
I slipped through the trees in the direction I’d seen him fall and hunted around in the long grass. I was about to think he’d disappeared when I heard a groan. I pricked up my ears.
“Talon?” I whispered, as loud as I dared. “Where are you?”
Another groan. He was at the base of a tree struggling to sit up. At least he was alive. I skittered to him and noticed his eyes were unfocussed, goggles askew.
“Are you okay?”
He moaned and rubbed his arm. “I think my arm’s broken! What happened?”
I remembered him sailing through the air and thought he’d react badly if I told him I’d dropped him from a charging horse. “Ummm . . . what do you recall?”
“I remember the trap door, moving up through it then a flash of light and falling.” He put a hand to his head and rubbed it. “What’s this?” He poked gently. “I’ve got a bump! In fact, I’ve got several — and my fur is singed!” He sent me an accusing glare.
“Well, I didn’t do it!” I flared. “Those mages charged into the room and started throwing magic around after you triggered a privacy spell!”
“I got a broken arm, bumps on my head, bruised knees and hands all from landing on a floor?” He looked down at himself. “I have grass and weeds all over me! I look like I was rolled through a swamp!”
Sure enough, dandelion fluff, spear grass, and an assortment of other plants were stuck in his fur.
I looked to the side and down. “I couldn’t catch you before you landed on the stone floor — and there were lots of hot spells flying around. Then I carried you (he didn’t need to know I’d had him by the leg, leaving his head thumping along the floor) and, successfully I might add, outran snake light to the courtyard where I stole a horse and escaped. When I arrived here, I got both of us dismounted (that part was true) and hid in the bushes. Soldiers were pursuing so I let the horse lead them away.”
I put on an expression of angry self-justification. “Maybe you should thank me for saving your life instead of blaming me because you didn’t react fast enough! You didn’t have to stick your head in that hole!” I stared straight into his suspicious orbs. If you’re going to bluff, go the whole way.
He stared back, no doubt looking for inconsistencies in my story. There were several but I wasn’t about to point them out.
His pale purple eyes thinned to mere slits. “Why would you save my life?”
“As you pointed out, your skills are helpful — and Angus would’ve been mad at me if I’d left you there.”
After more staring, he heaved a sigh, pressed careful fingers to the swellings on his head and mumbled something.
“What was that?”
He scowled at me. “I said, thank you for saving my life.” Each word, no doubt, was more excruciating than his broken arm.
I looked at the dusty, weed-littered, battered figure. “You’re welcome.” And I said it with a straight face too.