I promised Tip a long time ago that I’d write more of this story. Here is the latest chapter. And yes, it’s a slow mover.
Rachel found trews and rough sturdy footwear at the end of the bed in the morning. She dressed quickly and headed down to see if there was breakfast. The kitchen was a chaotic mess of noise, smells, people and Maggie hollering orders.
“You! Get a bowl and some porridge! The master wants to see you out at the barns!” Maggie yelled at Rachel.
Rachel nodded, grabbed the bowl a girl handed her and ate quickly. The girl traded her empty bowl for a cloth wrapped bundle of food and a water jug. She also pointed Rachel towards the door to the courtyard. Rachel thanked her and headed outside.
It was no quieter outside. Chickens, ducks and geese roamed around the back. Men moved from building to stable or garden and back. It didn’t take long for Rachel to find the master. He was hollering at the top of his lungs giving directions to a man trying to work a horse in a corral. She walked up near the master and stood there waiting to be noticed.
“Get a hand on the beast you fool!” hollered Raven. He winced as the man dove to one side to avoid being kicked. The horse was working the man. “Damn idiot!” He turned to head for the gate when he ran into Rachel.
“Get out of the … Oh. Sorry girl,” he said stopping short.
“Sorry sir,” she said eyes down.
“Are you really any good with horses?’ Raven asked the girl as he put his hand under her chin to bring her eyes up to his.
“Yes sir,” she answered.
“Then get in there and work that horse,” he said.
Rachel put her bundle of food on a pile of hay, tucked her braids into the back of her shirt and climbed the fence. She walked slowly over to the horse, never making eye contact. The other man had run to the other side of the corral and left. When she was near the horse, she stood there and let him come to her. The horse was curious and after a moment, he walked over to her and snuffed. Rachel held still and let the horse smell her. After a moment, she lifted a hand and slowly brought it up to the horse’s muzzle. The horse snuffed at it and then relaxed.
Raven watched the girl from the gate. He’d expected her to have run, but was surprised at her luck with the horse. He watched as she slowly touched the horse. First the head, and then the ears and neck. If the horse moved, she stood still. When it went to nip at her, she wasn’t there. In a quarter of an hour she’d done more with the horse than the groom had in an hour.
Rachel was talking quietly to the big animal. He’d been hurt by the groom who’d been in here before her and she had to win it’s trust. Slowly she stroked the broad back and hind quarters. The horse flinched when she accidentally hit a whip mark. Rachel moved to another part of the animal, always moving slowly. When she’d touched or stroked most of the horse, she slowly walked away towards the halter hanging from a post. When she had it to hand, she walked back to the horse. She rubbed it on the horse, and tried to make the animal comfortable.
“Damn,” said Raven. The girl had the horse following her around the corral. He watched as she placed the halter in front of the horse. It literally walked into it and with slow movements, she had it haltered. Then she began to walk around with slack reins. The horse moved with her. After three times around the corral, she began to walk faster until she was running. The horse followed and then mid-stride, she stopped and began to let the horse pivot around her. The horse moved with the halter like it had worn it all it’s life.
Rachel was trying to catch her breath. The horse was long legged and moving to the center and keeping some of the slack pulled out of the reins took effort. However, the horse was doing what she asked. After three more times around her, she walked the horse over to the master.
“Is this good enough for the day?” she asked.
“I believe so Rachel. Walk him a minute and then put him in his stall,” Raven said. “Then go with George over there and check out the mares in the field.”
Rachel nodded and led the horse around again until he was cool. Then she took him into the barn. Tod was standing next to an empty box stall and waved at Rachel when she walked in the barn.
“Here Rachel!” he called.
She smiled and led the horse into the box and took the lead rope off the halter. “Thank you Tod,” she said.
He smiled and ran off.
It was near dusk when Rachel and George got back to the barn. They wiped down their horses, put the tack away and then headed towards the kitchen.
“Better clean up here miss,” said George as he stopped next to the water trough.
“What?” she said.
“Maggie won’t let you in the kitchen smelling of horse,” he said.
“Oh! Thanks George,” she said. Rachel washed her face and hands and pulled her long braids out from her shirt. She dried her hands on a bit of rag George handed her and then they went into the kitchen.
“Bout time you two showed up!” Maggie said loudly. She handed each a bowl of stew and a chunk of bread. They sat down at the table and ate. The stew was hot and tasty. Rachel mopped the last of the gravy out of the bowl with her bread and then put it in the sink. She was almost to the hallway leading up to the sleeping quarters when Maggie caught up with her.
“Master wants you in his sitting room now,” she said and bustled off the other direction.
Rachel stopped, changed direction and headed back towards the library. Surprisingly, she didn’t get lost. She knocked on the door and waited.
“Come in!” came the voice from the other side of the door.
Rachel walked in to find the master sitting next to the fire. A mug of tea and a bowl sat on a table next to him. She closed the door and walked over to where he sat.
“That was fine handling of that horse today. Thank you,” Raven said.
“You’re welcome sir,” said Rachel.
“Do you read?” he asked.
“Yes sir, a bit. Had to for the stud books,” she answered.
“Would you like to read for pleasure?” Raven asked. He thought if he could interest her in things other than horses she might think twice about running back to her family.
“I… I don’t know sir,” she said honestly.
“Well then, let’s find you a book,” Raven said. He stood and walked to the shelves that covered the one wall and after a moment he found one. Predictably, it was about horses. He handed it to Rachel.
Rachel took the book, and looked at the title, “Horses. Breeding and Training” . “Thank you sir, I’ll take it up to my room if you don’t mind,” she said.
“No, sit here and read for a bit,” Raven requested. He pointed to a chair next to the fire and off to one side of his own. Rachel looked and then sat and began to read the book. He watched as her mouth moved as she read. The firelight highlighted her hair and he found himself thinking how those heavy tresses would feel under his hand. “Not now!” he thought to himself and turned his attentions back to his own book.
An hour later, Raven looked over to see Rachel had fallen asleep in the chair. He carefully removed the book from her hands and picked her up. It only took him a few minutes to carry her up to her bed. Catching the edge of the covers with his foot, he tossed them off and then lay Rachel on the bed. He pulled off her boots and then covered her up. He left the sleeping loft quickly.
Maggie came to check on her master and found him standing in front of the fireplace. “What’s on your mind?” she asked.
“Wondering how to tame and not break a free spirit,” he said. “And thinking how good she felt in my arms as I carried her up to her bed. Oh that it was my bed she was in!” he thought.
“Ah, you speaking of that new horse or the girl?” Maggie asked with a grin.
“Both to be honest. She worked that horse today as if it had been hers from birth, and not a man killing devil. Then she fell asleep reading a book here by the fire and I…” he stopped, realizing that he was about to say too much.
“And you found yourself thinkin’ that maybe, just maybe you’d found your match?” Maggie asked with a smile.
“No! Good grief Maggie. She’s still a slave for a year. When the time is done, she has to have a choice, not just live with what decisions I make. I can’t do that to her, nor will I,” Raven declared.
“Ah, so you have fallen for her,” she said. “About bloody time!” she thought.
Raven looked at Maggie, threw his hands up and then flopped into his chair. “Oh just be quiet,” he said.
“No, I won’t. You’re like my own son. Stubborn, pigheaded and just plain stupid some times. I could see the moment you brought her in here that you wanted her. So don’t go all high and noble on me! Sooner you talk plain to her, the better. Otherwise, she’ll run. Run and get hurt. Don’t be an idiot Raven!” Maggie said and then left after she grabbed the dinner tray.
Raven sat there with his head in his hands. He knew Maggie was right. Knew he should be open and honest with Rachel, but… he also knew the laws. A year had to pass. And he wouldn’t have Rachel if she felt he’d manipulated her. He wouldn’t break her spirit no more than he would that horse in the corral today.