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Jayna - The Race:
© 2008 by Jodi Krangle
"NO! You can't take him!"
Jayna was being forcibly held back by two burly villager-types as she attempted to stop the men that took her lovely Tavi's reigns. The horse was coming dangerously near to rearing, his eyes wide and rolling, and she feared that if he did, they might harm him, the money from the "race", be damned.
He snorted, pawing at the ground with one well-shaped, muscular leg. His black coat was shining with sweat. He'd just won the race in question. And this was his reward. To be taken from the one he was closest with. And he could tell that she was distressed. One of the reasons Tavi was such a good racer was because he could anticipate his rider's every request - and because he had a mind of his own - both qualities that the Wolf Nomads highly prized in their mounts. Both qualities that made Tavi a superior example of his breed. The only break in the black of his velvet hide was the white patch on one foreleg, close to his hoof, and the patch of white around his left eye that made him look somewhat wilder than was strictly true.
"Please ... Don't DO this!" She'd never begged for anything in her life. Not ever. But she begged now. And the villagers were clearly uncomfortable with this emotional display from a young woman who had generally seemed rather stoic and quiet compared to the others in the race.
One of the men holding her arms gave her a wrench that made her gasp with pain. "Shut UP!" he hissed in her ear. "You brought this on yourself, conspiring to steal from us. We're just taking our due. Or would you rather hang from the nearest tree? We can arrange that too." Though his fellow restrainer looked a little less comfortable with that statement, he didn't let go of his grip on the young woman - just a girl, really.
"You really think she's in on this, Riley?" he asked the other man.
"Who knows? Doesn't really matter. Lots of folk lost lots of money and someone has to pay. Better the horses than their riders, I say. Those horses are good stock - especially this one. He won the race, after all. He'll fetch a lot of gold along with the others, pay back the debt, we'll get to keep our limbs intact, and the riders will go their own way. It's better than some in the village would do for them. They're strangers, after all. We don't know what they're capable of. Someone was in on this scam. Might not be this girl here. But that doesn't matter just now, does it."
Jayna's heart went stone cold in her chest. She watched them lead Tavi away, the stallion still fighting his handlers, refusing to go easy. He had spirit. She always liked that about him... Her father would be so disappointed in her ... But she doesn't want to think about that.
"None of the riders knew anything about this," she says, looking from one man to the other, her grey eyes intense, memorizing every detail. The one the other called Riley was a big man - nearly twice her own size. Brown, lanky hair, a muscular physique and brown eyes. The only distinguishing mark, really, was a scar at his left jaw and his slightly crooked nose. No doubt, it had been broken more than once.
The other fellow, who's name she knew to be Daniel, having heard the two men speaking earlier, was just as tall as Riley though perhaps a little less muscular. Lean. Sandy blonde hair with eyes of a muddy kind of green. She'd recognize either of them if she ever saw them again. She wasn't sure just how deeply they were involved in things. Maybe they'd just bet on the horses like everyone else and were expecting their winnings ... but maybe not. Riley mentioned keeping his limbs intact. What did he mean by that? Were they in on the scam? Did they know more about this than they were telling anyone? Maybe ... But she kept her mouth shut. The last thing she needed was to have them decide she knew too much. That might make them decide to shut her up - for good. And she could never get Tavi back if she was dead.
So she stopped struggling. There was no way to win this day. She'd won the race ... and lost ...everything.
She was supposed to get out of here with a pocket full of gold. This was supposed to be a yearly event, put on by a wealthy trader in the area named Oliver Jacobs. When she'd come here, she'd discovered that, well, this was the first year. But that they intended to have it happen every year. Yes, they did.
She was na´ve. She believed them. It was a good race, too. If Tavi had won, there were many riders that could have taken the race at other times had luck worked differently. She admired them all. But Tavi had the heart needed to win the battle. And win, he did. She would have to remember that her horse was not the only one to be confiscated. She looked around at all the faces of the various riders as their horses were led away. They all seemed as heartbroken as she. No. None of them were in on this. And the two men restraining her, knew it. Or at least Riley did. Daniel might have suspected ... but she didn't think he knew all of what Riley was into.
She clenched her jaw and eventually the two men let her go. "Go back home where you belong, girl," said Riley. Not entirely unkindly ... but firmly. "And don't come back here. It would be bad for you if you did."
But of course, exiled as she was, there was no "home" to go home to.
So. She just walked. She'd get Tavi back. Eventually.