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Old Jan 5 2015, 07:39 AM   #1

Kath's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Oop North

Fan of: Moreta
Default A Day at the Races

She'd never had any especial love for runners, but it was clear from the look on her brother's face that time had not dimmed his. Leaving the distant racers to B'lerion to track, Oklina watched Alessan closely, recognising each and every shift of his features. There was the tempered, cautious delight of Alessan-the-breeder, certain that even heavily handicapped his prize mare would outclass every other runner present. The slight tightening of his lips that surely marked the field negotiating the loose dirt of the orchard-bend, followed by a nod of satisfaction as the danger passed. Then, the slowly broadening grin, creasing his face into lines that none but his close family might recognise, as the fleet sorrel mare sprinted towards them, and the finish.

How much of a lead do they have, Hannath? she asked her queen, still more entranced by her brother's rare moment of relaxed delight.

Half a length now, the dragon answered lazily from the heights. But I don't think they'll keep it.

Oh? Oklina brought her focus back to the then and there, and was surprised to see that Hannath was right. A second runner, a dark bay, had broken free of the pack and was closing on Alessan's sorrel rapidly. Half a dragon-length became half a runner-length in almost no time at all, and then it was the bay leading the way by a neck, a slight figure crouched low over the runner's neck.

Is that...? Oklina shook her head in amazement. Earlier in the morning, Hannath had been most insistent that that was the mount her rider ought to wager her marks on, and if it hadn't been for the Boll colours on the saddle-blanket, Oklina would have done just that. I never would have taken you for an expert on runners. Why, you only usually notice them if they're fat enough to whet your appetite!

Hannath's mind suddenly became smug and close, sure sign that she was concealing something from her life partner.

What? What is it, Hannath?

The queen held her silence, but Oklina chose not to press her - the race was heading into its final dragon-lengths now, and would be a close-run thing. Alessan had risen up onto his toes, his former composure lost as he bellowed encouragement to his runner just as loudly as anyone else. And then the galloping runners were past them and across the finish-line, the marshal waving his flag furiously, and the whole crowd fell silent, waiting.

She's done it! Hannath announced with delight, while beside her on the heights, Nabeth bugled triumphantly. B'lerion's cheer followed a moment later, even as the red chevrons of Southern Boll Hold were raised and the whole crowd went wild at the unforeseen upset.

"Who's done what?" Oklina demanded.

It was Alessan who answered her, beaming with pride. "I should have known! Should have recognised the gelding if nothing else. Damn the girl!"

Oklina blinked, and wiped a speck of dust from her eyes. "The rider's Moreta?" she asked, squinting through the haze at the bay and its rider as they circled to a halt.

B'lerion's cheer cut off abruptly. "The rider's 'Reta? I wagered four marks on little 'Reta?"

Four marks! Oklina thumped him in the arm. "So Nabeth was in on it too, was he?"

"Nabeth?" Alessan murmured, and now Oklina saw a shadow of conflicting emotions crossing his face: regret, grief, love, and pride she read, aided as ever by the light touch of Hannath in her mind.

She's started hearing you, hasn't she? Oklina asked her queen. That was how you knew?

Yes, Hannath said. She heard the watch dragon first, and he told me, and she swore us both to secrecy. I saw no harm in it - not for so short a while.

Because it wouldn't and couldn't be a closely-kept secret, not with a clutch so soon to be laid on Benden's sands. And the runner? Oklina asked.

She sold it to the Boll race-master, on condition she'd be the one to rider it today. Your brother wouldn't let her carry Ruatha's honour, and she was determined to prove her worth as a rider.

"Damn the girl!" Alessan repeated. "Shard her, she'll not be spending my marks buying him back! Not that I have so many to spare after today." But the love and pride had won out, the warmth on his face a benison he'd long denied himself.

Oklina rested a hand lightly on her brother's arm, and returned his smile. "I've a better wager for you, brother."

"She'll make a fine rider, won't she?" he murmured, and Oklina could sense that he already understood.
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