I am immersed in finishing NaNoWriMo before tomorrow (November 30) and so have drawn up a random snippet of the book to share. This is not a wonderful snippet, or representative of the book, but here you go. Cartoon to follow. 🙂
Ivy opened her eyes. Had she died, again?
No. While it hurt to breathe, she could smell leaves and mud, and hear birds arguing in the distance, and what she saw, straight ahead of her, was a cloudless blue sky.
She heard a snort. It was her horse, Barnaby, probably nearby, contentedly feasting on shoots of fescue and wildflowers, instead of returning back to the ranch riderless, thus alerting Sable and Mr Clarence and Dean and all the others that there had been an accident, that there was an emergency.
And there had been an accident. Ivy felt like she was hanging upside down, and while she couldn’t move, she could see that she lay on a steep slope, a rocky slope with persistent white flowers and creeping horsehairs that grew from every crevice and crack. She could move her right hand, and her fingers wrapped around a handful of gravel.
“Barnaby— shoo!” she cried, but her voice was ragged and raspy, and barely above a whisper. She heard him snort. He was a nice horse, a handsome horse— a glossy coat speckled with white, grey, and soft brown— and a good horse, but he wasn’t hers. They hadn’t bonded the way Dean had bonded with his working horse, or Clarence with his old mare, and even Sable and her lively stallion seemed to have a special connection.
She was Barnaby’s temporary burden, and Barnaby was her temporary mount, or he would have sensed that she was in grave danger, and raced back to the ranch instead of hanging about, taking a break, snacking on sweet grass, enjoying the sunshine, with no one pulling at him this way and that way— someone inexperienced, green, and who pulled too hard or not hard enough, jostled on his back like a sack of rocks, and almost strangled him when they dismounted.
Barnaby didn’t know she was injured, in trouble. For all he knew, she was taking a pleasant break in a rather harrowing ride, just as he was.
For she had ridden him hard, across the meadow and through the river, anxious to prove herself to Dean and Sable, because she wanted to enter the race. The race was all anyone talked about. Even Mrs Donovan’s pregnant ladies, when Ivy accompanied her on her rounds, talked about the Nettle River Cross County Race.
If you were underage, as Ivy was, you needed a sponsor. Mr Clarence, Dean, the ranch manager, and Sable agreed she wasn’t ready. She’d made good progress! She’d graduated from the corral to the trail quickly, and what she lacked in innate skill she made up for in determination.
Of course, neither Ivy nor Sable told Dean or anyone that she was learning to ride so she could go with the other Immortals on a grand, dangerous adventure. They were to join an army, Sable said, an army on horseback. They would travel across country, camp in tents, learn to protect themselves with swords and agility, defend the weak against the powerful. Sable said it was a lark for the ages. Sable said they would live on their horses, and Ivy needed to learn to ride, quickly and very well.
It was crazy that they wouldn’t let Ivy race. She could handle Barnaby. Barnaby was fast, when she let him. She was smart enough to give him free rein across the wide spaces, and to let him pick his way through a narrow path on the side of a mountain, and to let him choose the safest route down a steep incline— but wait.
The long meadow ended just beside Peggy’s Rock. They flew over the edge of the cliff, because that’s what all the riders did. The drop looked steeper than it was, and the horses gained their footing quickly. The trick then was to lean back, keep the reins loose, and let the mount fly down the hill, then take control again at the bottom.
Ivy got scared. Yes, that’s what happened. She knew the cliff was less fearsome than it appeared, but as she and Barnaby approached, she was reminded of the cliffs at the plateau, the ones that surrounded the cave, and how the drop from those ledges was a drop into nothingness, to mist, to death.
So she pulled up on Barnaby. In a panic, she pulled on the rough leather reins with both hands as they cleared the ledge and, for a few seconds, they seemed to float. Barnaby was off balance though, and instead of landing cleanly he faltered, tripped forward, and there were several moments of sheer panic as the horse tried to regain balance, before Ivy was thrown.
Then the blackness, then the awakening to a sky.
Ivy felt a sudden stab of pain in the back of her neck, then her left shoulder blade. She realized her left eye was closed, and there was something wet on her cheek and neck.
She could just make out Barnaby from the corner of her eye. He was not bothered by the steepness, he relaxed his legs and lowered his elegant neck and pulled vegetation from between the rocks with his teeth. His tail swished.
With all the strength she could muster, she lifted her right hand from the ground. It trembled, it resisted, but she heaved the handful of gravel as hard as she could at Barnaby’s rump.
“Go!” she tried to shout. “Shoo!”
The small rocks landed near Barnaby’s hind hooves, and he lifted one as if in acknowledgement of a small distraction, then continued to feed on the grasses.
Ivy couldn’t see her hand, so she opened it flat and groped and scratched blindly across the earth until her palm found a rock about the size of a ping pong ball. She gasped with a new pain as she raised her right forearm again, and taking as deep a breath as she could, flung the stone with all her might.
The rock found its target. Barnaby felt an intense sting on his rump, kicked, and if suddenly snapped from an idyll, he shook his head and started scrambling up over the ledge, where he disappeared.
Where there had been no pain, a blanket of agony slowly began to cover Ivy with its heavy warmth, and she started to cry like a child.