Chapter Eight Part Two

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I followed him, through a meadow, a sort of  tract of grassland in an upland area.  It was serving as a hayfield.  Taking this route, it was now easy to reach the stables.

I could already hear the horses’ happy neighs, as a greeting to the others.  I proceeded cautiously, following in his footsteps.  The last thing I wished for today, was a spooked horse, which was at best unpredictable and can be very dangerous.  Knowing that they are perceptive animals, I didn’t make a sound the whole way there. 

Aland stood at the stable doors.  He told me that today would be like a first lesson and that he would be telling me some interesting facts about horses that may influence my way of perceiving them.  I waited outside the stable until he returned with a black stallion.  It was indeed a beautiful animal.  Leading it by the reigns, the animal followed, making a  low, rumbling sound that came from its throat.

“What is that?”  I asked cautiously.
“The sound it’s making is called the “nicker”.  Steph, this is Boaz – like from the Bible.  Boaz means "swiftness" in Hebrew.  Most horses have four gaits; walk, trot, canter and gallop, but we’ll come to that later.”
“Hello Boaz…he doesn’t bite or plan on being swift today?”  Aland snorted.
“No only when I prompt him to, he will surely be swift.  Aland stroked it gently towards the nostrils, over the velvety part of its nose.  Boaz made a  rather loud, bugling and free sounding call.
“This is called ‘whinny”.  That is one of the most loved sounds horses make.”

The horse surely loved Aland and nuzzled its snout against Aland’s head.  Now it was time to mount Boaz.  I was unsure and once again fearful when I noticed the size of this animal.

“Steph,” he stood in front of me, “Look at me,”  I looked up at him and saw the compassion in his eyes.  “Don’t be scared, the moment you start acting like life is a blessing, it starts feeling like one.  Will you remember that?  Let me help you overcome this.”  I could see that he meant every word he said and I relied on his good judgement. 

This man would one day rule Utopia.  Surely he had to be accountable.  I for once, had to accept his help to mount this horse! He guided me much in the same way as Carnell did, that night in the woods.  That was easy enough, but what I didn’t take into account, was that the dress I was wearing, was a pencil pattern.  There was no way to sit with them either side of the horse.

Aland saw my predicament and asked if I could sit with both legs to one side.  I wasn’t interested in that solution, as it would make me feel even more lopsided.  Weirdly dangling, I was trying to cooperate fully until Aland hauled me down again.

“Okay then, let’s get you off.”  Now what?  I thought.
“This is not working.  Take this sack and go and change there.”  He pointed to the rear of the stables.
“What is this?” I started untying the drawstrings and opening the sack.  Inside I found a leathery jacket and trousers and a pair of excellent suede boots.  When I ran my hand over it, I felt the soft, napped surface.  It was beautifully made, having a comfortable heel height.  There were rows and rows of suede fringes rounding it off. 

He smiled at me and explained, “Lily’s…. had all of this made especially for her.  All fired up to take riding lessons from me, but lost interest.  The clothes and boots are still brand new and I thought, why not bring it along?  Seems my hunch was right about your dress.”
“Wow this is beautiful!  I assume Mr Mortimer and Delbert Huber?”
“Yes, they do exquisite work, although I must add that those boots are too fancy for horse riding, but that’s Lily for you.  Now, get on with it before we die of hunger!”
“No one will see me here?”
“No Steph, there is no one here.” 

I went behind the stables and started to undress.  I hoped that everything would fit me.  Well, not quite, but I squeezed into it without too much trouble.  The boots were the perfect size.  I did however, feel a bit like a kinky actress with the tight clothing, someone who only needed a whip to complete the picture.  The zipper at the front of the jacket also wouldn’t pull up adequately, which left me with a deeper cleavage than I aniticipated.

The lovely Lily definitely had a meager bust in comparison to me.
“Steph, we still have to ride to the brook to have lunch.  Can you speed it up a little please?”  He was getting restless.

I came out from behind the stables feeling self-conscious, but swallowed my pride and decided that a tight fitting suit will not impair our day.  I moved stiffly, but retained my posture and handed him the sack containing my dress.  He slowly took it from me and silently glanced me over.  He also had a change of clothes.  Something similar to mine, a leathery suit in appearance and texture.

Fastening the sack onto the saddle of the horse, he took a few more looks and only grinned by himself.  Before helping me on the horse, he came up to me and without drama, tried pulling the zipper higher.  He saw that it was stuck. 

“Well, to say you look pretty, would not be fair…”
Okay then, I thought, I do look trashy, but too late for tears now.  What am I supposed to do anyway?  He quickly viewed my appearance once more and added; “You look ravishing!”  I felt my face  emanating flushes of bright red and smiled bashfully.
“Thanks, help me up please…”  He did and took his place behind me.

  I fastened my hair with the hairband he handed to me.  He preferred to feel the wind through his hair whenever he was riding.
Boaz was a calm horse that moved at a comfortable pace.  Aland’s hair was loose now and at times, I could feel the ticklish sensation of it when a slight breeze made it brush against my neck.  When he was speaking, he would lean forward slightly and the warmth of his breath in my neck, gave me a sensation that I found hard to describe.  It was ticklish and at the same time, gave me goosebumps and shivers.

Aland told me that horses were incredibly valuable commodities in Medieval society - essential for transport, communication, and for use in battle.  He explained that, although these weren’t medieval times, they still practiced the same traditions.

As we were leaving the castle grounds, the tower was something that still stood out from afar.  For me it was extremely picturesque.  I asked him about the purpose of it.  Crucially, these enclosures, were actually called a  'Shell Keep' and built of stone. Wooden ones  were both quick and cheap to build, but had the flaw of being vulnerable to fire.  That is why they were preferably re-wrapped within a jacket of stone.  It was a safe place whenever danger lurked and even valuables, like jewelry were hidden there, as the keep was mostly impenetrable.

We were nearing a tree filled part of land and Boaz came to a standstill under one of the trees.  The horse immediately started grazing on the lush grass.  It was a remote and private place.  I could hear water rippling as it rose and fell over rocks and pebbles.

“How was it?  Hopefully pleasant?”
“Yes, I felt safe, thank you.  It’s heavenly here!”
“It is.  I come here often to clear my head and read.  Boaz would be able to gallop here, blindfolded I guess.  Walk with me to the brook.”  He grabbed the basket and took me by my arm, leading the way.  He turned back as he forgot something.
“Wait there.” 

Hurriedly he took something out of the sack and returned.  We walked on and then I saw the clear, slow moving brook.  It made me feel so peaceful.  The scenic, rocky banks  made a wonderful stone seating and I decided to take the boots off to experience the cool, clear water.  I took handfuls of it and swallowed it greedily.  All the while, Aland was sitting under a tree, watching me from the riverbank.

When I eventually looked for him, he waved from there with a very content expression.
“The water is wonderfully sweet and refreshing!” 
“I thought you were hungry.  Come, have something to eat.” 
I carefully returned to him, taking care not to stumble and fall.  The picnic basket was emptied, its contents neatly laid out on the grass.  He poured us some wine and offered me some cheese.

Once again  Laila  had outdone herself with the picnic.  There was such appetizing treats.  It was filled with meat and bread, fruit, wine, mead, boiled chicken eggs and smoked chicken.  There was soup in a stainless steel type of container, as well as quail eggs, cheese and milk. 

I learned that milk was usually reserved for the very young or elderly, so we were treated and felt privileged.
“Sorry, no blanket, forgot that…,” he explained.
“No worries, the grass is clean enough. I am not finicky.”
“That is what I like about you.  You seem quite an outdoorsy girl.” His eyebrows lifting in surprise.  “So how is it that you have never been on a horse?”

“It’s just not something I used to do.”  I told him what I did for relaxation, back home.

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