At first there was no one about the stables, as Wilhelm had planned. Entertaining even the thought of an audience was not wise. The news of his father's illness spread like wildfire, he had no doubt, and so would the beast teaching Beauty his beastly ways. It took one stupid servant to let the entire village to deafen these woods with their whispering an done farmer in his cups make wind of something that seemed, without thought or consequence, very silly. But underestimating one's opponent can be your enemy's greatest ally and Wilhelm intended to be the enemy of every demon in the shadows. He aimed to be underestimated.
The boy was probably only just nodding his sleepy head awake, as it was only just daybreak on a rest day. The horses still needed tending to, though the fishing could be put off for a day. Some chores where required of daily life and others could have a holiday from them. Jacob's job, though his workload was a bit less on this day in the calendar, it by no means was to be forgotten. That meant if he was to be hidden in mountain wood with his pupil in tow, he hadn't much time.
He quickened his pace, breaking the ground with his steps. His long legs aided him well, causing Analise to run after him in her oversized boots. When he reached Tess's stall, his shoulders softened, his stance relaxed. He was in a hurry, but spooking a creature which seemed to favor him less and less as the days grew cold, could not get him done any faster. Within the stall he changed the harness to a bridle and opened the door wide. "Now," he said, walking Tess toward her and handing her the lead rope. "Your job, wench, will be to hold her head."
"Alright," Analise said with wide eyes. Her encounter with horses the other day made her unafraid in the sense that she knew these beings were but gentle giants. But Tess's size being what it was could not fully alleviate her apprehension. When coming close to Analise, Tess' ears flew back, just as apprehensive of the human standing before her. She sensed fear. As he tethered Black outside his stall, Wilhelm's reaction was instantaneous. He felt his own shoulders tense in anticipation, but kept his voice level and calm.
"Are you talking to me or the horse?"
His mouth quirked up on one side. "Both of you, I suppose." He laid the saddle down carefully at Tess' feet and walked soundlessly up behind Analise. If it was one lesson he must give he would have to allot time for this one. She thought by just one encounter with horses—as he suspected it was only one—she knew them pretty well. But if she was ever going to let go of her fear she had to understand that of which she was afraid.
"Horses are very sensitive beasts." He brought her hand up to stroke the side of Tess' head. "They are obedient and loyal, well attuned to the inner workings of emotional currents. They will alert you to danger, but they are quick to mistrust. What endeared her to you yesterday was your confidence in rescuing Jacob, your rivalry in regards to me, and," he whispered the last part, "that smile you keep hidden from the world."
She turned toward him, her fear lost in Tess' brown eyes. "Was it really only yesterday?"
"Yes," he said simply, letting his arm fall and going back to saddling his horse. Black, after all, was not a patient steed, stamping and shifting from one spot to the other. "There's a lot you don't remember and the why as to that is what we are going to find out."
She looked at him questioningly. This was not the arrogant horror that showed up at her murky castle, nor the conceited oaf which imprisoned her, albeit not forcibly, in his castle. For one moment he seemed thoroughly uninterested in running his kingdom and now—something had changed in him. Still full of himself as ever, but there was something remarkably similar to caring in his eyes.
He waved her attention toward Tess. "Keep your body relaxed and your voice calm. She doesn't care what you say, only the sound of your voice."
How ridiculous, she thought, looking up at Tess. What was there to say to a horse?! What did you say yesterday? Ugh, I don't remember Wilhelm put the weight of a saddle on her back, causing her to move about restlessly. "Easy," Analise whispered unconsciously. She stroked the star running down between her eyes. Her soft hands seemed as coarse parchment against the mare's coat. She seemed in a labyrinth without time simply by cooing words of nonsense and stroking with both discovery and joy. By the time Wilhelm had both horses saddled—it took no time really, it only felt longer—Analise was smiling.
"Now," he said with great finality. "You will be riding with me." He offered her a hand to swing up on Black and she stared at it stupidly. He looked past her quickly and saw the stable boy meandering slowly toward them, looking at his dragging feet. With a frustrated growl, Wilhelm disappeared into a small storage building, producing from it a simple and somewhat neglected riding cloak. She tried to take a step back but he lassoed it around the back of her neck and proceeded to tie it. It billowed out and down level with her ankles to hide her figure and the hood he brought up to conceal her hair.
"I can ride on my own, I remember how."
He chuckled in brief amusement. "Now's not time to be agreeable," he said, mounting Black and pulling her up in front of him. She gave little thought to it previously but it began to fill her senses that it was impossible to keep ones distance on the back of a horse.
Her initial thought was to scoot as far up in the saddle as possible but the second Black lurched forward her backside slid, causing them to collide together. He reached out for Tess' reins and folded her fingers around it. "Do not let go," he demanded. Just as Jacob was to pass through the doors he wrapped on arm around Analise and kicked Black into a gallop.
Black had little time to awaken his muscles but that deterred him not. All he let show was a snort of protest and he carried them behind the castle and to the right, up a winding mountain trail. It led them to the very top and beyond the crest the rock and dirt was dotted with well-rooted collection of dense trees. Beyond her skirt of forest, the Naphterian mountain beheld a venerating meadow at her feet.
It was at the foot of that mountain under the camouflage of trees that Wilhelm reigned in a panting Black. His coat shown with the effort of carrying his passengers up the mountain but at the site of the meadow he didn't complain. On the contrary, he wanted to run, laden or not, in the tall grass and wide fields. He paced back and forth, his momentum still welling within him, but Wilhelm had none of it. With his master's harsh word, Black threw his ears back in annoyance, but complied.
Wilhelm descended to the ground as Analise swung her leg over to jump down. He steadied her with a hand on each arm and drew the cloak from her face. Now that he was here he wasn't quite sure where to begin. It wasn't knowledge that led him amiss. And yea, it wasn't skill. It was magic. It was what he didn't understand and what he couldn't see and what he had no control over. Like his fascination with Analise. But he supposed a beginning would have to be made.
All this he thought in a second, untying her cloak and tossing it aside. What followed was a somewhat awkward moment in which each was aware of the other on all levels. But he quickly set to work. She needed to be like any other soldier in his command or this would not succeed. And he knew how stubborn she could be. So as he set up camp he thought to let Black and Tess have their desire. He unhitched them and let them have full run over the meadow.
"Won't they run away?!"
He set down Tess's saddle and was surprised that she was the first to speak. Her innocent question made him smile. "No. Not if the boy has done his job. Which, last time I checked, he had done it well." He took a look at Black trotting elatedly toward the middle of the field and stop to look back at Tess, whose slow gate could be nothing but frustrating for him. He reared in play and trotted in a circle to which she gave no response. "Now," Wilhelm said moving to tower over Analise. She stubbornly lifted her chin as she did in his chamber. "You are henceforth my pupil."
"And I expect you'll want thorough obedience." There was that spark he saw when he'd first met her in front of her keep. She crossed her arms over her chest, her legs set wide apart. "What if—"
"Don't even finish that sentence, wench." His voice grew soft and stern. "There is no room for error and none for your female stubbornness. You will do as I say or I swear I shall let the demons have you."
"What makes you think that would be a worse fate?"
He sardonically considered this. "If you wish to test that theory, I shan't stop you." He moved away from her and whistled, making Black stop his futile wooing to become completely alert. Tess too stuck her head up and let her ears stand toward the calling sound. As Black made to advance upon Wilhelm, Tess followed. Jacob had done his job in training these magnificent creatures well. Wilhelm reached in Black's saddle pouch and pulled out two sugar bits. He placed one in Analise's hands, keeping one to himself as if he didn't have it. "Today you will learn about horses. Stay just as you are," he said, referring to her stance that she was about to change in anticipation. "Do not move about and offer no reward. Expect them to follow and expect them to do just as you say. That confidence will carry you far with such an intelligent creature."
Just as he'd expected her to, Tess avoided Wilhelm and went straight to Analise. She took her time smelling over her new friend and it seemed she would never stop. Then her searching nose fell upon the smell of sweetness in her hand and that is where the velvet muzzle came to a stop. She blew and took a step back, knowing what was to come if she either had the patience to wait or the acumen to manipulate her new master. It worked like a charm and she sought to enjoy her sugar bit.
Wilhelm offered Analise Tess's bridle. "Now, as the sugar is still dissolving in her mouth, force the bit in between her teeth."
"The metal." As he spoke he made Black his example. "Spread it amidst your hands, bring it to her mouth and she will not protest, thinking it another reward. As soon as it's in her mouth, keep it taunt, place this behind her ears and fasten it on the bottom."
She mimicked him. The bitterness of the metal soon cut through the sweetness of the sugar but by the time Tess put this together the bridle was already being buckled before her neck. In her training it served as a weight for her, causing her not to tarry for she knew she was to remain still for the saddle.
It took Analise three attempts to lift the saddle high enough, upsetting Tess into a whinny. Even as she finally lifted the saddle past her shoulders, her arms gave out and it landed in the grass again. "This is impossible," she said under her breath. She didn't look at Wilhelm, whose horse had already been saddled and ready to go. She was sure he took great pains to keep his teasing remarks to himself. Silence from him, though, seemed even more unsettling than insults. "You can do this."
As he had instructed her, she pulled back the stirrup towards her across the seat, grabbed saddle from front to back and lifted. It wasn't heavy, not even the first time. But lifting it so high was difficult and her arms tired with every failed endeavor. At this fourth time, it felt as if it weighed a ton. Yet she lifted.
When it landed squarely on Tess's sturdy back it took Analise a second to comprehend she'd finally done it. Her hands were still gripping the leather and she looked from one to the other, seeing horseflesh underneath, and her face shown.
Wilhelm let out a deep chuckle that reached her ears and she looked up at him. She was beaming with triumph. Truly, she looked like a little child and just like a child she didn't care who saw it. Not even him. So he was amused, so what. She had done it! Analise sobered then, wanting to accomplish something else. But he had moved ahead of her. "What now?"
"Reach under her and pull the strap around her belly."
She squatted down, inspecting her next task. The strap dangled, taunting her. She would have to actually take a swooping reach, going under Tess for a second or two, to obtain it. Because of the creature's girth, it wasn't just a simple act of pulling the strap toward her. Oh boy, she thought. Wilhelm came and squatted down beside her, looking first at her expression and then at Tess's hooves which she concentrated so intently at. He chuckled again, took a step and bent easily under Tess and retrieved the strap for her.
She stood and smiled sweetly. "Thank…"
He let it go, let it swing back to where it was whenever she tried to take it from him. Instantly, in lee of her disbelief, she thought vile, mutinous things about him, wishing like mad that she had had a sword. He gave her a sinister smile. "You actually thought…"
"I did," she practically yelled, becoming mad at herself.
He gripped her chin and she shook her head angrily out of his grasp. "Evil often chooses beauty and generosity. Never underestimate even your companion. Now," he said, not letting her respond with what he knew to be a back lash. "Reach under her and pull the strap around her belly."
She did. Out of anger more than anything, it smoothed over her novice hands and mutilated her fear. She was silent, deadly silent, the whole time he instructed her how tight to buckle the strap, how to make sure the saddle was in place. She mounted with ease, having figured that out on her own once before. As she was about to turn Tess away from him, she almost lost her balance, losing the reins as she gripped Tess' mane.
"Pull yourself straight. Sit toward the front of the saddle but center all your weight at the base of your spine." He mounted Black to rode toward her, his back straight, his hips moving with the motion of the horse. She mimicked him. "Dig your knees into her, enough to keep you, not enough to cause her immediate discomfort. She will read you just as well if not better atop her as she did on the ground." He made his voice low, leaning toward her with a grin. "So before you think of riding off with your silly, female pride resting on your pretty little shoulders, imagine falling on that pretty little arse of yours."