Chapter 1: A Guest at the Monastery

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After spending the last three hours moving horse dung from one corner of the stables to another, I thought my nose would have gotten used to the nauseating stench.

Inna, my favorite mare, shook her shiny white mane while she watched me work myself to death. The way she cocked her head to the side almost made me believe that she actually pitied me. I stuck out my tongue at her, leaning on my shovel to grant my sore back some rest. Undisturbed by my suffering, the mare just continued chewing on the hay in her mouth.

By the Light, I wished I had eaten more fried eggs myself that morning. My stomach rumbled as if to emphasize its emptiness.

Fortunately, I could always distract myself from my pain by looking at the meadows outside through the open doors. Sister Clementine's white dress, the symbol of her status as a member of the Order of the White Sisters, rippled around her plump figure as she pulled at Rafa's reins with all her might in an attempt to make him submit. The Monastery's youngest stallion was truly a handful and the Sister had been trying to tame him for several weeks now, to no avail. He was too wild to give up dominance so easily.

It was needless to say that I admired the horse greatly for that.

A high-pitched shriek cut through the air, causing my heart to stop for a split second. As I watched open-mouthed, Rafa reared up and lashed out at Sister Clementine's face with his hooves, who threw herself onto the ground to dodge his furious attack. Dropping my shovel, I hurried outside with a few stable boys in my wake. Rafa gave a loud snort upon seeing his victory and strode away, glowering at a poor stable boy who extended a trembling hand to grab his reins.

"Sister, are you all right?" I asked, shoving my hands under her shoulders to help her get up. As she turned around, her gray hair a tangled mess and her walnut brown eyes gleaming with barely restrained anger, I had to bite my bottom lip to stifle the giggle working its way up my throat.

"That's it!" Sister Clementine exclaimed, her hands balled into fists. "I'm done with him! If anyone cares to try and ride that spawn of the Void, I'll happily watch them fail from the sideline!"

I chuckled, brushing sand off her shoulder. "Come now, Sister. I'd see it as a challenge to make him obey."

She narrowed her eyes at me, placing her hands on her hips. "Really? Well, Kenna, since you like a challenge every now and then, I'd suggest you give it a try."

Excitement bubbled up in my chest, but I kept my face neutral. "If you deem that a wise idea, Sister."

She scoffed. "Wise? No. But I can see how much you gloat at my failure, so you'd make my day if you failed at taming him yourself. The Light knows I haven't had a good laugh in the longest time."

Oh, she knew how to play me, all right. Judging by the mischievous glint in the Sister's eyes, she knew all too well that I would never be able to resist a challenge like that.

Baring my teeth into a wide grin, I wrapped up the sleeves of my own white dress, wound my purple scarf a bit tighter around my neck to protect my sensitive skin against the cold and swiveled around to face Rafa. The black stallion stood on the opposite side of the ring, eyeing me suspiciously while I took a few casual strides in his direction. "We're going to be great friends, you and me," I reassured the horse, holding out my hands with the palms up. Almost as if he hated the curiosity that drove him forward, Rafa stretched his elegant neck to sniff at my hands from a safe distance. "See? Nothing to worry about."

Rafa's warm breath tickled my skin as he leaned even closer, nibbling at my fingers. I glanced over my shoulder at where Sister Clementine and the stable boys were watching us with amazement, and I beamed triumphantly. Careful not to scare him off, I stroked Rafa's neck with one hand while he was still focused on the other. His strong muscles tensed under my touch.

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