Excerpt from Chapter Twenty

The thundering of hooves echoed off the sheer rockface lining both sides of the Trackerin Gorge, sounding so many distinct beats it could have been an entire cavalry on the move. Progressing through the gorge, the white granitine cliffs widening and barren dirt giving way to grasses, the cascade of hoofbeats thinned and grew recognizable to the ear – a single lone horse, galloping straight for the plush meadow filled with saffron and cardinal wildflowers. The sound of thunder was distant; she had outridden the storm.

To Vespa, tucked up with her face obscured in Sidian’s wind-blown mane, the pounding cadence was music. She let the sound fill her, every hollow space. For the first time in the week since she’d returned to AvonLea she felt free, unbound by the watchful eyes of her family. Sidian had galloped the kilometer away from the estate freely, but now, as she took feel of the reins, he kicked into a new gear.

The gelding’s stride lengthened; he flattened toward the ground. Vespa soared across the meadow. This was as close as she could get to flying in the open, outside an airblade. Her heart pounded, her eyes teared from the rush of wind.

Sidian’s muscles tensed. Vespa stiffened, knowing instinctively he might have acquired the inclination to break into a fit of brazen bucks over the sheer joy of running free after months apart. Then she realized he had spotted the swale ahead. Generally only wet in early spring when the snow melted, a steady stream of runoff still trickled through it. Never breaking stride, Sidian launched with the same power he used when it raged with a springtime torrent, catapulting them over the swale. He landed surefooted and seized the bit in his teeth – and this time Vespa was sure her trusty friend really had set his mind to dumping her in the grass for old time’s sake.

Instead he merely played, shaking his head and striking out with his right front leg. Despite her lack of saddle time, Vespa stayed atop him even as he dolphined about with abandon in a patch of firepoppies.

“Whoa, whoa,” she soothed, tugging on the reins. Begrudgingly Sidian pranced to a trot, yanking down on the bridle firmly enough that a fresh ache erupted in Vespa’s newly healed shoulder. For good measure he snorted a protest at their romp ending sooner than he would have liked.