I Ain't Convinced That's A Horse

It was the morning after Coronation. Rebecca was wide awake before the fingers of dawn's orange caressed the horizon. Apparently her relatives liked to sleep in, because she didn't find anyone about as she prowled the castle of cold stone and too few windows. She had finally gone outside to check on Demon. It was there she discovered the Royal Stables.

Rebecca waved off another helpful stablehand as she walked slowly among the stalls. There were some of the most beautiful examples of horseflesh she had ever seen in the most astonishingly gorgeous stables she had ever imagined. Seriously — who put stained glass windows in a stable?

Apparently the Royal Family of Amber.

She snorted as she paused to read a brass name plate beside one of the stalls that identified the horse, breed, and its owner. The Percheron in front of her paused in its eating to regard the woman. She had never heard of the bred, but she knew it was a draft horse. A damned big one. She stood on the bottom rail of the stall door and offered the horse one of the big sticks of peppermint she carried around for Demon and whatever other horses she came across. The beast sniffed at her and the candy before carefully taking it from her hand. Rebecca smiled and murmured quietly to the surprised horse.

She discovered his name - Lothiar - was taken from a famous iron hulled clipper. It suited the Roan Bay, and was appropriate to its owner. He preened when she called him a handsome fella, and she was reminded of Gerard. Rebecca promised to return for another visit later, and told him she would pass on his message to Gerard without actually telling Gerard it was a message from his horse. She had no intention of letting the world know she could converse with horses.

Rifling through her pockets for a butterscotch, she didn't notice as she passed from the regular stalls to the "Special Stalls" Not until she looked up at the sound of a horse blowing a strong breath out of its nose. She looked to her right and froze. Then she lifted her eyes up…. and up some more.

Rebecca's jaw dropped. "Great fiery damn," she breathed.

The Grey was a giant of a horse. The hoof she could see through the slats of the reinforced stall door was bigger then her head. It swung it's great head around to regard her and she froze again. Was this even a horse? She looked at the plate beside the stall. No breed was listed. But his name and owner were and she remembered her father making a joke or two about the size of Julian's horse. Jokes that didn't exactly reflect well on Julian's self image, and said volumes about his personal insecurities.

Rebecca walked slowly closer to the stall and kept eye contact with the beast. This was a Knight's horse. One that could easily carry a fully armored man for long distances, in extended battles. Demon could do serious damage with his hooves, but Morgenstern's had to several times worse. From his weight alone, if nothing else. She had an insane desire to ride him, to thunder across open plains for miles on that broad back. Hell, a body could lay down and take a nap on his back.

She pushed her hat back, the chin cord catching and sliding down to her neck so her hat rested between her shoulder blades. Rebecca glanced up the aisle to make sure there were no stable hands in range. Then she took a step closer and gave the mighty stallion an respectful nod.

"Mornin'," she said in the language only she and the horses knew.

The Great and Mighty Morgenstern regarded his visitor for several moments, taking a heavy step back, then simply said coldly, "Greetings."

She wasn't discouraged by his reaction. Horses were all different, and reacted different when faced with someone who could actually speak with them.

"I'm Rebecca," she offered. "Can't say I've ever come 'cross any horse like yerself, an' I'm a horse rancher, so I've seen a lot. Might I ask ya some questions?"

"You might." Morgenstern took the time to process everything she said to him before answering, it seemed.

Normally she would stand on the rail of the stall door to talk to a horse, but this would literally bite her head off if he took a mind to. So she stayed a ways back instead until she was more sure of him.

Rebecca cocked her head to one side and pondered where to start. "Yer not Amber born an' bred, are ya?"

"Not entirely… You?" His voice was like a rock, like the voice of mighty giants.

Rebecca smiled crookedly and leaned a shoulder against the support post. "Nope. My sire's from here. My dame passed on recently. I'm from a place o' wide, open plains, tall snow topped mountains, and endless skies."

"Sounds nice enough… The place I mean," Morgenstern said. "How are you doing this? I will have to tell my master of your peculiar… language faculties. And if you think you can get information about him through me…" He let the threat trail off.

Rebecca looked genuinely surprised to hear Julian referred to as Master. None of the Lone Pine horses did that. They were Companions, not subjugated and enslaved. If someone had even suggested Demon call her Mistress, the horse would have laughed at them. Her eyes went to the nameplate again, lingering a moment before returning to Morgenstern.

"I ain't here to spy on Julian," she frowned at the horse's suspicions. "If'n I want ta talk ta him, I'll talk ta him."

"This-," she pointed between herself and Morgenstern. "-is a gift. It ain't all that rare where I come from. My Dame could do it. Got several folks on the ranch I grew up can do the same."

"Interesting. You didn't seem the mystic type but I assumed it was a charm of some sort. Where's your friend?" Morgenstern swayed his large head from side to side and looked into other stalls around him.

She looked too. That's just how it works. "Oh. Demon?" She smiled. "Findin' him was the closest I come to mystic. He's out at pasture a'ready. Jest as well; he's sure ta give me an earful 'bout how we got here last yesterday. First Trump trip. Had ta placate him with a bucket o' beer."

She reached in her pocket and unwrapped a candy stick. "Peppermint?"

"I'm not supposed to take candy from strangers." From the tone of things, Rebecca is unsure if Morgenstern is making a joke or actually being serious.

Rebecca snorted a laugh, her eyes dancing with amusement. "I ain't a stranger. We've introduced ourselves proper." She broke off one end of the stick and popped it into her mouth. She crunched it between her teeth. "Ain't nothin' but peppermint. Speaker's Honor."

She stepped forward and offered the rest of the stick to him. "I got butterscotch, an' cherry if'n ya'd rather have one o' those."

Morgenstern regarded her for a little while before stepping his dinner plate sized hoof forward and leaning his head to grab the peppermint out of Rebecca's hand.

"Not bad," he said as he masticated the stick loudly. "Not bad at all." Morgenstern snorted loudly, sniffing air in and out to smell Rebecca now that she was so close to him.

She grinned and left her hand out for him to scent on. There was always the faint scent of leather around Rebecca because she never went anywhere without her boots, belt and whip. But she also smelled of clean mountain air (thanks to the soap Eric had thoughtfully provided), and the crisp scent of cotton. She didn't smell like a horse, but she definitely gave off the aural impression that she belonged among them. It was part of being a Horse Speaker.

"Only tha best fer my friends." She reached her other hand towards the side of his neck, but stops before getting too close. "May I?"

Morgenstern is hesitant but eventually answers, "Alright." She can feel his mind calculating wildly even though his answers make him appear slow.

She stepped up on the rail at the bottom of the stall door so she could reach further. Rebecca stroked soothingly along the side of his neck, feeling the texture of his hide and the play of muscles under her hand. She paused to flip over a part of mane that was laying out of place.

"Yer a right handsome fella," she observed lowly. And he was - despite those red eyes. "Demon might be jealous, 'cept I'm fair certain his ego'll prevent it."

Morgenstern leaned into her strokes. After a little while, he straightened up and Rebecca could hear someone entering the stables.

Julian was wearing his full armor minus the helmet which he held in his left hand. He looked at Rebecca then Morgenstern as he approached.

Rebecca gave the great beast a final pat before stepping back off the rail. She pivoted on one foot to face Julian. "Mornin'", she greeted him all friendly like with a cheerful smile. She would have tipped her hat but it was currently hanging between her shoulder blades. "Right handsome fella ya got here. Reckon ya know that already though."

She cocked her head to one side. "I don' think we were introduced proper last night. M'name's Rebecca."

Julian's eyes narrowed as he strode forward, his armor clanking very minimally considering the sort of armor it was. A smile appeared on his face and he studied Rebecca carefully. His features were sharper than most of his brothers', but in an attractive, almost vainly defiant way.

"Please to meet you properly, then. I am Julian, I'm sure you've heard enough about me," he answered, putting his helmet onto the post and leaving his hand up there, looking at her.

"Not really," she replied with a Mona Lisa smile. Rebecca leaned against the post once more, one fisted hand on her hip. She let her eyes rake over from boots back to his face slowly. Damn, but her father's half-brothers were fine. "Not nearly 'nough."

Morgenstern does something funny then: he actually seems to be bowing his massive head low, his eyes shifting from Julian to Rebecca.

Rebecca watched the gray from the periphery. What in the hell was he doing? Actin' like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"Where is your mount? I've already heard impressive tales about… Beast, was it?"

She smirked. "Demon. Name's right appropriate too. He's out ta pasture soon as tha sun's up. He's not one much fer bein' shut in. No matter how fancy tha box. Kinda like me. Don' really feel up ta his bitchin' this mornin' either. Gave me an earful last night as it was."

Julian looked at Rebecca, then Morgenstern. Morgenstern lifted his head high and Rebecca could feel an exchange between the two, but they were not talking the way she did.

"I see," Julian said. "A neat trick, Rebecca… Do you apply your talent to other animals?" He almost smiled, something she can tell he is not accustomed to.

In contrast, Rebecca's smile was easy. "Pretty sure I'm limited ta horses, an' Man, since tha barn cats ignore me at ev'ry turn. Think I would go right mad if'n I could understand all of 'em. Some critters never shut up."

"Let me ask ya; if Morgenstern was agreeable, what're tha chances ya'd let me take him out for a ride one o' these days?"

His smile disappeared much more naturally and he said, "I hope you don't imagine that I think little of your riding skills, but Morgenstern is unusual in many ways. I'm not keen on the idea of the King's own daughter suffering injuries because of my poor judgment in the matter. In fact I trust my judgment better than his and for that reason alone, I must answer no."

"I hear what yer sayin, and I can see yer concerns. But I can see fer myself he's unusual," she pointed out. Despite his assurances to the contrary, she couldn't help but feel mildly insulted. "An' I weren't contemplatin' a thundering race across tha plains — such as they are here." She quirked a smile that was slightly sly. "An' I promise ya, my Dad has ta know I'd want a ride once I we met, an' I'm right stubborn when I set my mind ta somethin'."

There was a look in her eye that made it quite unclear whether she was still talking about riding Morgenstern. Rebecca wasn't sure herself. Damn, but she missed Wyatt.

Morgenstern stepped forward up to the gate, staring at Rebecca. She saw Julian move his lips but no sound comes out, not even a whisper and Morgenstern took a step back. Reverting his attention back to Rebecca, Julian's brow furrowed, his eyes as narrowed as she's seen them so far.

"It's possible Eric would consider letting you ride this monster if you insisted… But Morgenstern is trained to handle one rider only and that is not you." With that comment he unlocked the gate and stepped into the stall with Morgenstern.

"Ain't no reason to get yer dander up," she replied mildly while moving back to her original position leaning against the post. "Didn' mean to imply I was plannin' on going' over yer head, or behind yer back, or anythin'. Far be it from me ta come between a man an' his horse. I might've been born in a barn, but I ain't stupid."

Rebecca pulled her hat back up and set the post between her shoulder blades so she could watch the man and his horse. "Ya can't honestly blame me, can ya? He's magnificent, an' reflects well on you that ya've got him as a companion. I'm right impressed."

She turned her head at the sound of hooves on marble floors of the Royal Stable and smiled. "Ah, there's my fella." The sunlight streaming in the windows glinted gloriously on the spun gold of the tall black's mane as he sauntered proudly down between the lines of stalls to where Rebecca was already unwrapping a stick of butterscotch.

"I don't mind you talking to him and admiring him all you want, and I'm pretty certain he wouldn't have let you ride him while I was away either, so I'm not worried about it." He walked over to the heavy gear that fit the horse and picked it up. Without straining he continueed talking, "But just because you're not allowed to ride him doesn't mean you can't ride alongside him… Are you previously engaged today?" He glanced at Demon.

Demon huffed at Rebecca, still upset about that sudden and unexplained before hand Trump trip last night. She tugged his ear affectionately and gave him his candy before answering Julian.

"Nope. As I recall, my instructions were ta 'have a look see and get ta know tha place'." She gave him a rueful smile. "It ain't nuthin' like home, I can already tell ya that. It's — weird ta look out my winda and not see a mountain range, an' it's too dang quiet." It was also weird to wake up without Wyatt, but he didn't need to know that. She wasn't sure what she felt more keenly this morning; the differences between the Lone Pine and the castle, or the absence of Wyatt.

Seeing where this was going, Demon ambled over to a stall across from Morgenstern's while crunching up his candy. He opened the unlatched door with his chin and went inside. Rebecca glanced at her horse and then back at Julian with a look that could possibly be described as hopeful. "Is that an invite?"

"Yes," he said matter-of-factly. "You don't know Amber until you've been riding a horse through Arden." All the while he strapped the ancient-looking saddle and snapped everything into place very quickly. He picked up his helmet, threw it up, catching the saddle horn. Morgenstern lifted his forward left leg to create a step for him to use. Considering the amount of armor the man was wearing, it was an impressive feat to see him climb on top of Morgenstern as easily as he did. He quickly put on his helmet and looked at Rebecca and Demon from up high.

Julian did this so quickly that Rebecca suspected he has trained both Morgenstern and himself to get this routine through more times than she's ridden a horse.

Considering both of them are older then Rebecca and the core staff of the Lone Pine combined, that's hardly a surprise. Rebecca gives him an absolutely dazzling grin and goes to ready her own horse.

Wyatt and Zach had made Demon's tack themselves only a few years ago, the black leather was bossed in gold to match the saddle her mother had given her when Rebecca came home with her Spirit Quest gift. Demon was just vain enough to be aware he looked good in it. Eric had fed the stallion's ego even more by giving him a black saddle blanket edged with gold knotwork horses.

Rebecca led him out of the stall before she swung up in the saddle herself. She gives Julian a wry smile and indicates her own jeans worn to almost white and the denim shirt in the same state. "I feel terrible under-dressed compared ta the rest of ya." Demon tossed his mane and snorted, making Rebecca laugh.

"He's right opinionated."

Julian gave a small laugh and enough of a smile to show teeth. "Bah, we will try not to judge you for your appearance then."

He did the thing again, where his lips move but no words escape, and the gate opened for both of them. Morgenstern then sprang out at remarkable speed. Even as tall as they reach, the royal stables' lowest beams are a few feet above where Julian could reach with his hand.

Demon pretended he was above everything - including being intimidated by Julian's giant horse. Actually, he refused to acknowledge that he may be in anyway genetically related to the monstrous thing. Demon was taller then average, but he was still shorter then Julian's massive stead. The fact that Julian could comfortably ride on a horse as broad of back as Morgenstern for gave her ideas she probably shouldn't think about this early in morning. It would likely get her into trouble right quick.

The black stepped smartly after the gray and fell into step beside him without looking like he had to move quickly to do it.

"So how is it I can know Amber by ridin' through Arden?" she asked curiously. Rebecca tried to take in the surroundings without looking like a tourist, no matter how different it all was from what she knew.

in progress


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