“Lady Ailynn! I thought I would find you out here.” Martin’s voice startled me and I looked up to see him striding across the meadow leading two of the biggest horses I had ever seen.
“What are those?” I exclaimed, trying to keep my jaw from dropping entirely as I crossed the meadow to meet him.
“I refuse to believe the lady has never seen a horse before.” His eyes glittered wickedly as he teased me. “Your uncle keeps many in the stables. Have you never been there?”
“The lady has seen horses before, just none so big. These are practically monstrous! Where did you get them?” the darker one leaned down and sniffed my outstretched hand, his velvet muzzle tickling my palm.
“They are called Garrons, and we used them to ride into battle. They are renowned abroad for their great strength and stamina. They have been brought back to be bred with our local stock to produce a better farming horse or, as is my plan today, to carry ladies across their uncles estates as fast as they wish to ride.” He smiled warmly as he offered to hand me up into the saddle. I took it and looked up, way up, where the saddle sat nearly a foot above my head and chewed my lip, “Unless the lady is afraid?”
“Will I be able to control him?” I looked into Martins face, worried.
“Yes, he’s one of the Royal mounts, he is very gentle. Unless you cannot ride. You can ride, of course?” his mouth twitched as he watched me and I gave him a determined look.
“Yes I can ride, just never something so big.” I wanted to pinch him, but I could see Elsbeth watching me closely from the raspberry patch.
“There’s a first time for everything, Lady Ailynn.” He moved behind me and lifted me by my waist to the saddle. I threw my leg over and slipped my feet into the stirrups which were, to my surprise, measured perfectly. Martin only returned my querying look with a blank look of innocence as he mounted the other Garron and turned toward the path.
“Bring her back before eventide, Master Martin. I must not be forced to imagine an excuse for her absence.” Elsbeth called from the berry patch.
“Elsbeth, you must be blind, neither horse is a mare and I can assure you, these mounts will not be missed until at least three weeks hence!” Martin shot Elsbeth a devious grin, which she returned with a sharp laugh.
“Master Martin, you are in the presence of innocent ears, be careful what you say!” she scolded, handing my cloak up to me.
“I did not know you had taken the vow of maidenhood, Elsbeth, my apologies.” Martin winked over his shoulder at me, still grinning at Elsbeth.
“Master Martin, do not give me a reason to have Lord Rothchester run you off of his property for speaking so around Lady Ailynn.” She narrowed her eyes at him, giving me a serious look as Martin only laughed and waved before we disappeared into the trees.
The path we took wound through the little forest and up to the top of a ridge. I had taken this path before on my little palfrey, but to break through the trees at the top of the ridge and look down at my uncles lands from such a tall creature was a new experience. At Martins urging, we galloped along the crest of the ridge and down into the opposite valley until we met back up with the road that wound lazily through my uncle’s land and back to the keep. It was a lovely day for a ride, although slightly cool, and I did not want to ride directly back to the keep, so I led Martin off of the road to the top of a hill. I stopped here and looked out over my uncle’s land, marvelling at the bright colors the dazzling sunlight brought out of the land beneath us.
A gentle wind blew across the fields of greening wheat beneath us, ruffled my hair, and caused me to shiver despite the warmth of the day. I reached for my cloak, which I had thrown across the back of the saddle as I rode, but found that Martin had already taken it and was wrapping it around my shoulders. He smiled warmly as he drew the cloak closed in front of me, tying the ribbons carefully with a strangely quiet look on his face.
“Elsbeth would never forgive me if I allowed you to catch cold while under my care.” He said softly, running his fingers along the embroidered edge of my cloak.
Something in his manner, the way his dark eyes watched mine, how his fingers paused as he touched the edge of my cloak, frightened me. It was not the kind of fear one has after a nightmare or when they are in fear for their life, but the kind of giddy fear that raises butterflies in your belly and causes your hands to shake for no obvious reason. As I watched him I realized that he seemed to be experiencing the same giddy feeling. I could see his face pause, his eyes watching mine as if he did not know what to do next. We sat there a moment, watching each other on horseback, the breeze ruffling my already wild hair. A wisp of it fell in front of my eyes and he moved a hand to brush it out of my face, his fingers resting under my chin after tucking the hair behind my ear. Slowly, gently, he lifted my chin, leaned down, and placed his lips tentatively on mine.
I melted, my lips fitting his firm ones as if they had always belonged there. I felt him draw me to him, as well as he could while both of us remained in the saddle, wrapping his arm around my waist and engulfing me in the warmest embrace. I placed my fingers on his neck and felt his pulse throbbing beneath them before he pulled away, his dark eyes watching me tenderly.
“Lady…” he paused, watching me as he held me, his fingers caressing my cheek so gently it was as if he thought he would break me, “Lady, there is something you must know, something I need to tell you…”
He didn’t finish. Horsemen, led by Allmain, came crashing up the road beneath us. Quickly, Martin let me go, drawing my hood up around my suddenly reddening face. He gave me a reassuring smile as we turned and came down the hill to meet the horsemen.