Warning: I wrote these chapters some time ago, and have every intention of finishing them. Eventually. But right now, I am working on my Doctor Who fiction, and this takes second place.
Jule sat firmly on the lean colt she rode. The sun had just risen over the horizon, kissing all of the fields and buildings with golden beams. The young horse was nervous and eager- and fast. Jule sat firmly in his saddle, a streamlined, stripped down, thinner version of the typical saddle, with nothing to keep the rider on but his or her own muscles. She kept a tight hold on the colt- Nightwind- holding him at a prancing crabstep to keep him from bolting, as she approached the line. Her uncle waited several yards before it, ready to lead the nervous young colt to the start. A recent decree had made it track rule to have at least one attendant per animal, on the grounds of greater equality and control over the horses.
Greater equality, my ass. He just wanted to get a one up on his opponets by having HIS servants start their horses.
Jule lead Nightwind to the line. He needed to become used to waiting before he went off to race for the purses in Haven. She felt him tense as she stopped him before the line, instead of sending him off at a walk. He wanted to RUN!
He fidgeted, eager for the hand on his mouth to disappear and her signal to run, but obedient to her commands. Her Uncle, Lord Devoi's trainer, kept a firm hand on the young colt's mouth.
"Take him around a mile at a slow gallop, then breeze him the last quarter. Make sure he doesn't go to fast for the mile."
Jule nodded her comprehension. Then she turned her attention to the black colt she rode, readying herself for the explosion of speed that would follow her signal.
Her uncle released his hold, and Jule nudged the colt, hard, with her heels . Nightwind stood perfectly still for a heartbeat, and then was off like a bowshot! Jule's hands were lost in his thick mane as she firmly worked the reins, pull and release, to get him to slow down. Nightwind didn't like it- he tossed his head, lashing mane across Jule's face, but he slowed his speed.
His steady hoofbeats sounded as light thuds in the soft dirt of the track, relaxed and not at all like the lightning quick sounds he could have made. Ah, this was what she lived for!
They were traveling at a good clip, but not very fast. The mile post was still a quarter of the track away. Then it was upon them! Heavily she pumped her legs against the horse's sides, though he needed little urging.
He moved into a gallop Jule was sure rivaled even a Companion's; so fast, the scenery blurred. All to soon, they crossed the finish line. She slowed the colt to a tight canter, then to a bouncing trot, and finally to a prancing walk, where she slid off him.
The colt was shiny with sweat, but he still pranced and chomped his bit like he was ready for another work. A groom took Nightwind's bridle as Jule slid the saddle and blanket off the colt's back. The man, one of Lord Devoi's new hirelings began to walk him cool, and lead him back to the stables for a grooming. The horse resisted being lead off the track, pulling his head off to the side to glance back.
Jule laughed as she swung the saddle over the fence to dry before she put it away. He looked like a small child plaintively asking to play just one more game.
She pulled the practice helm borrowed from the armory off her head and shook out her sweaty chestnut hair, which had been bound- ineffectually- with a leather cord under the helm. Placing the helm on a fence post, she then undid the ties on the borrowed leather practice armor around her midsection.
Her Uncle made her wear the practice armor as an attempt at protection should she take a fall. She often complained that it made her look foolish in front of the jockeys. Jule was only an exercise rider, one of the people who worked the horses in the mornings and afternoons, not a jockey, who rode the horses in their races at Haven, but she had plans for her future.
She picked up her gear and slung it over the saddle, which was now only damp, and approached the two men on the rail, watching the big colt's progress toward the stable.
She greeted the both of them, nodding to one, her uncle, and to the other-
"Good Morning, My Lord." She gave him a smile. Devoi often came to watch his colt's progress before beginning the business of the day.
Devoi smiled back at her. "Good ride, Julia. That horse settled down for you like he will for no one else."
Jule blushed. "I don't know about that, my lord. He likes to go, but he'll listen. The fight he gives you is mostly just show. He's like a little boy, and if he thinks he can get his way, he'll try to. Get his way, I mean." She blushed again, realizing how much she sounded like she was babbling.
Devoi smiled again. "Still, he listens to you, even when he doesn't like it. Jos hasn't been doing too well on him lately, and without the willingness to listen to his rider and wait to make his move in a race, he'll never be more than a sprinter; he'll just run himself out in every distance race I put him in."
"Sir, the Ashkevron sponsored race is coming up in Haven. Perhaps…" her uncle began.
"Ah, yes. Well, how about this, lass; if you continue to do well on him, perhaps you can come with us to Haven for the Ashkevron race."
Jule floundered for a moment, trying to remember how to close her mouth.
"Tha-thank you, My lord."
"You'll work harder than you've ever worked before; Jule," Uncle Travis cautioned "There's a thousand and one things that go wrong on a racing campaign: a girth snaps, a horse wanders off or goes lame; you rise with the sun, eat on the run, and go to bed long after the sunset. You up to it?"
"Yes. Yes!" Jule answered, voice full of conviction. "I don't care how hard I work. It will be worth it to see Nightwind race, and beat all those fancy Ashkevron stallions!"
Travis smiled proudly on his niece.
"See, milord? Told you she'd take the job even if it was washing wraps and making dinner!"
Devoi smiled a little ruefully.
"You did, and I didn't believe you. Well, Julia, if you want the job, I suggest you get a mount of your own. Search the stables for someone to ride, then report yourself to the head groom. He'll have to do without his best exercise rider; her trainer needs her more."
Devoi smiled at her once more, then left.
Once he was gone, Jule through her arms around her uncle.
"Thankyousomuch!" She cried quietly, so not to disturb the spirited and high-strung racehorses.
Travis returned the hug, holding her close. "I wanted to bring you before, but you were too young, and there was no reason to. Now we just have to tell your mother."