13-Hook, Line, and Sinker

Galhara was a coastal city that had never been known for its horses—but I had. From childhood I spent as much time with them as I could, and had been known to do really stupid things like wander off and climb on any horse I met in the field. I did not differentiate between trained or untrained. If I wanted to ride a horse I convinced it to let me—usually with nothing more than a rope and patience. Some horses were easier than others, but they all obliged eventually. I, of course, had no idea this wasn’t normal until I was older and people started petitioning the king to let me to help them with their difficult animals.

The Head Groom’s monster was a spectacle in motion with a glossy black coat and a smart eye. He blustered along, tossing his head and threatening to rear every couple steps, barely restrained by the young groom trying to lead him into the corral. He was a fairly young horse—probably five or six years of age—with a well-shaped, muscular body and natural pride in each floating step. And you got an eyeful, too, because once the groom got him into the corral he pulled free and bolted. The other grooms rushed to close the gate—and the hapless handler climbed over it. Leaving me in the corral with a horse who obviously didn’t want to be around people.

“He was shipped here with a couple other horses because the marquis was looking to add some black to his stock,” explained the Head Groom. “None of the lot came with manners at all. We’ve not saddle broken a single one, on account of their wildness, and he’s the worst of them. He’s snapped quite a number of ropes around here—and nearly some hands, too.”

I nodded, keeping my eyes on the horse. Easy enough to believe. Especially two feet of broken lead rope hanging off the horse’s halter. He tore around the circular paddock with his head up, blowing hard at the people on the fence line. He was trying to ignore me, but kept flicking a curious ear in my direction almost in spite of himself. When the black broke stride I’d flap my arms and he’d pick up pace again. We might spend our hour doing this alone, I thought ruefully. I willed myself to forget about time and focus on the colt. Occasionally I’d dart ahead him to make him change his direction—which he didn’t totally appreciate—but mostly I waited. The black was stubborn and brave—they would be good qualities eventually, but for now they kept him running at a steady pace around and around the pen. I hoped he wouldn’t decide to make a day of it. I would feel the miles before he would, and I was already tired. I thoroughly lost track of time—it was just me and the circling black horse—forever in a contest of authority.

Before I expected it, he dropped his head. His jaw relaxed and his flicking ear settled on me attentively.

“That’s it, I’m not going to hurt you,” abruptly I turned away from him, and waited some more. He stopped running the moment I turned away and I listened to him come up behind me at a cautious walk. After a moment’s consideration, he came close and puffed out a breath by my ear. I swiveled and reached a hand to rub his face. He shuddered, but stayed put.

I took a step away from him and he followed. Hooked. I smiled and took a few more steps. He kept following. I stopped and rubbed his forehead again. He sighed heavily, as if the weight of a thousand fat men was slipping off him. “I’ll call you Hook,” I told him.

He didn’t object.

He didn’t object to the saddle and bridle either, nor the rider—though he gave me some extremely skeptical looks. When I slid off his back, Ayglos and the Head Groom entered the round pen.

The Head Groom looked stunned. “If I didn’t know the horse, and didn’t watch you the whole time, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

I patted Hook. “How long did that take?” I asked, pretty sure it was two or three hours of work—at least—could have been all day for all I knew.

“An hour exactly,” replied Ayglos with a lopsided grin.

“Really?”

The Head Groom wiped his forehead. “Really…” He looked the horse up and down. “I guess he’s yours.”

If we didn’t need a horse so badly, the mourning in the groom’s voice would have persuaded me to give my prize back. But Hook was mine, now. The Groom would have to deal with the wrath of the marquis himself if there was wrath to be had.

I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “Have anyone else I can take off your hands?”

By the time Ayglos and I were headed back up the road I’d claimed two more of the useless money eaters from the farm; an impish donkey I’d dubbed Line, for the dorsal stripe and the cross bar on his back, and an aging draft who at this point simply needed to be named Sinker. I wasn’t sure why the Groom was parting with the draft, but it was easy enough to imagine why he would let go the devilish donkey—I overheard something about unlocking all doors and gates.

I rode Hook, Ayglos rode Sinker, and Line trotted along behind us, gamely keeping up with the larger horses. It was late morning, by now, but hopefully our success would convince the others to forgive us the delay. Particularly Namal.

*

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