This was supposed to be a short little tale. Conceived of while listening to a song called 'Mado Kara Mieru' by Christopher Tin. Just a couple thousand words at most. But then my friend sent me a writing prompt and suddenly it turned into something much bigger and much deeper than I had originally intended. So this one was going to be posted a lot sooner, but it took a lot longer to write than I had thought. And now it is in two parts instead of just one.
The prompt has been split into two parts and makes up the titles of the two chapters.
The prompt was: New adventures, no expectations.
Next chapter will be posted in a few days. Saturday for me.
Enough of my ramblings, enjoy!
To Feel Freedom
Chapter One: New Adventures
I am nervous, my palms are sweating and my heart is pounding. I am not sure that I can do this but my friend, Mara, is pulling me along. She is tugging at my sleeve and she is pulling me to a large grouping of tents that has been spread out in a wide expanse of new spring grass. It is something that appears outside of the main town every spring, but I have never bothered to find out why.
Mara has found out and she has invited me to join for just this one spring. I tried to refuse her, scared of what might happen. She has never told me what it is all about, she has never explained. She says it is better this way.
In the end she finally tears me away from my normal life and convinces me to follow her to where she has spent the previous night. I agree simply because I have not seen her in so long. We live in separate towns and see each other only once a year.
And so now I find myself dragged along behind her. She has told me that I will love what is about to happen, she has said not to worry, but it is hard to know how to feel when you have no clue what is about to happen.
"It is simply a new adventure," Mara says when she sees my nervousness. "Remember, it is nothing but a new adventure. To know more would be to ruin it. Questions only distract from the moment. Do not dwell on them."
I ponder over her words and wonder if it will truly work. Can I still be nervous if I view what is about to happen as just another adventure? Can I be nervous if I am simply enjoying the moment for what it is and not thinking about what might happen?
As I am still thinking on the subject, she shoves me into one of the smaller tents. It is open and airy, the ceiling tall and bright, even though there is not much room. It feels bigger than it should. Against one side of the round dwelling is a small cot and an even smaller table. In the center is a large metal brazier that holds the smoldering remains of last night's fire. To the other side is a large wooden chest that is dark and worn with age.
Mara stops me in the center of the tent, next to the brazier, and then drops to her knees in front of the wooden chest. Her nimble fingers work the latch and she flips open the lid. Inside are many different things which I cannot distinguish. Multiple colors and shapes can be seen and I give up trying to figure out their identity as she begins to shuffle through the contents in search of something.
I am about to protest the secrecy of the whole thing when she finally shouts in triumph and jumps to her feet after slamming the lid on the chest. She bounces over to me and shoves a large bundle into my arms that is wrapped in a dark oilskin.
"These are for you," she says with a smile. "Go ahead, put them on."
She shoves me towards the only other item in the tent, namely a screen divider that blocks off the back section of the small space, and then she is scurrying out the door with a departing statement that is something about getting the other part of my adventure ready.
I stare at the bundle in my arms and frown.
"Just another new adventure," I whisper to myself as I wander reluctantly around to the backside of the screen divider.
Inside the oilskin is another bundle, this one is made of a dark grey cloth that is light and airy. As I unfold it, I see that it is actually a cloak with a royal blue interior. Inside the cloak is a tunic of the same royal blue, and a pair of black breeches. There is also a pair of tall black leather boots that go to my knees and a pair of black leather gloves.
I stare at the pile of garments and give a soft smile. She had known just what kind of color scheme I would have picked. How can I resist such a gift?
I change quickly, slipping into the outfit and marveling at how well everything fits. I am just starting to fasten the clasp of the cloak when Mara returns.
"May I enter?" she asks from outside the tent.
"Yes, please come in," I shout back.
I hear her footsteps and the rustling of the tent fabric as she enters and I step out from behind the screen. She catches sight of me and squeals in delight.
"I had hoped they would fit," she says as she spins me, first one way and then the other. "How does it feel?"
I roll my shoulders and shuffle my feet, getting used to the feel of the leather that is hugging my calves with a gentle pressure.
"It seems to fit perfectly," I say. "How did you get such a fine fit?"
She gives me a mischievous grin. "I have my sources."
It is then that I notice that she has changed as well. She is wearing a similar outfit to mine, but her cloak is a light silvery grey over brilliant emerald green. Her tunic is of the same color green, but her boots, gloves, and breeches are an exact replica of my own.
She looks me over one final time and then she is pulling me out of the tent once more. I protest and ask again where we are going but she just continues forward and repeats her earlier statement.
I sigh and allow myself to be pulled along. I shove down the feelings of nervousness and anxiety and I follow her as she winds her way through the veritable village of tents. They are of all different colors and sizes and there are people talking and laughing throughout.
We pass a space where there had been a large bonfire the night before, the ring of stones and blackened ashes giving it away, and then we head towards a line of trees that borders one whole side of the massive camp. Behind us is a line of people that is starting to drift in the same direction, all of them wearing similar outfits; black breeches and boots, but the tunics all in varying colors. Red, gold, brown, orange, purple, and every shade in between.
What is going on?
I shake my head and banish my questions. It is simply a new adventure, questions only distract.
Mara leads me through the thin line of trees and then we are in another field, this one also filled with shifting grasses, but this one is not cluttered with tents. No, it is something entirely different. This field is filled with horses. There are so many. All of them held in one area by a temporary, yet sophisticated, system of tie lines.
There are already people milling among the horses. Caring for them, watering them, brushing them, and some are riding in long lazy circles around the whole group.
Mara steers me to one side of the massive collection and I see where she is heading. Near the end of the tie lines is a group of people that are standing around the entrance to the one and only tent in the whole field. This one is immense. It is made out of a heavy canvas and, instead of being round like the tents in the previous field, this one is long and rectangular.
We pass through the group of people and slide easily through the opened flap at the front of the tent.
Inside it smells of fresh grass and well-worn leather. I can quickly see why. All along both sides of the tent are at least a hundred stands made of light, yet sturdy, wood. Upon each one is mounted a different saddle. I peer in wonder at the beautiful styles and makes of each one as Mara leads me down the center aisle, occasionally stepping to the side to avoid the center support poles. She stops at the far end of the tent and points to a saddle that is third from the end.
"The black one is for you," she says. "I am off to find mine."
I look down at the saddle that she has pointed out and I am surprised to see that it is a beautiful thing. It is of black leather with silver highlights. There is also a bridle that is of similar design and has a single blue river stone set into the center of the brow band. I marvel at the simplistic design and run my finger over the stone, jumping in surprise when I hear an impatient voice appear just behind me.
"Do not just stand there," Mara says standing behind me with her own saddle and bridle in her arms. "Pick the thing up. We have much to do and I do not want to miss out on any of what is to come."
I carefully slip the bridle and reins over one arm and then heft the saddle. I am surprised to find that the saddle pad underneath is blue as well. Everything I have been given to use is color coordinated. How much time did it take to get all of this together for me?
I follow her out of the tent and back out among the people and horses. The people have grown in number now. They have filtered in from the tent village beyond the trees. More and more horses are being pulled from the tie lines. Mara weaves and dodges through the crowds, heading for the right side of the main group of remaining horses and I struggle to keep up with her while balancing the saddle in my arms.
As we walk along I peer at the variety of horses that we are passing. There are all types here. Blacks, blood bays, chestnuts, dark greys, light greys, palominos, buckskins, sorrels, and others, the names of which I cannot recall.
Halfway down one of the lines she halts, prompting me to stop as well. She sets her saddle on the ground and instructs me to do the same and then she leads me over to one horse in particular; a dark giant that appears to be quite intimidating from where I am standing.
"This is who you will be riding," she says.
She pulls a bucket over that had stood just out of reach of the horses and presses it into my hands. Inside are various brushes and other grooming implements.
"Time to get acquainted," she says before walking off to collect her saddle once more.
"What is his name?" I shout out to her as she walks away.
"Magnus," she yells back without turning or stopping.
I am left standing there with the bucket in my hands and staring up at the horse in front of me. He is a tall thing, I can barely see over his back, and he is entirely black. From the tip of his nose to the end of his tail he is as dark as a moonless night and I am in awe at how truly beautiful he is up close. As I stand, unmoving, Magnus turns his head and peers at me with one large dark brown eye. His gaze is curious and I set the bucket down so that I can reach out to stroke his velvety soft nose.
He snuffles my hand a few times, butts his head against my fingers, and then turns back to whatever it was that he had been doing before. I shrug my shoulders and murmur softly as I begin to groom him.
Grooming is not unfamiliar to me. I have done it thousands of times. Life in general includes horses for me, growing up with draft horses that pull the plow and do the majority of the heavy work around the farm. I have hooked them to the plow for my father and I have hitched them to the wagon to go for supplies, but riding is a newer concept to me.
My family owns a riding horse, but it is my father's. I am not allowed to ride it since it is a fancy thing that he uses only when the wagon will not do. It is more for show than anything else. We do not travel far from our farm very often and when we do it is easier to either walk or use the wagon since my family is so large.
Eventually, Magnus is clean and gleaming and I step back to admire my work. He is standing with his head hanging low and one hind hoof cocked. Several times I had heard him sigh in contentment while I combed, curried, and brushed the dirt out of his fine black coat.
Satisfied with how he looks, I step over to where I left the saddle and I pick it up once more. I drop it by his side and carefully put the saddle pad in place before heaving the saddle up into position. Magnus lazily turns his head to look at me as I shift the whole works around to better fit it on his back, but he never steps away.
I pull the girth strap up and tighten it, careful to make sure that it is not to too tight or pinching anywhere. Then I pull the breast band around and secure it in place before picking up the bridle and moving around to face Magnus straight on. I pull off his halter and bring the bridle around, ready to fight to get the bit into his mouth, but I am happy to see what happens next. He takes one look at the bridle and obediently drops his head so that it is easy to slide on. I slip the bit into his mouth and the bridle over his ears and then buckle everything into place. After adjusting the reins and looping them up over his neck, I am finished.
"He looks beautiful," I hear Mara say as I back him out of the line of horses.
She has appeared out of nowhere, leading an equally tall chestnut mare that glints red in the early morning sunlight.
"I see your grooming skills have not dulled over the last couple of months," she continues. "He shines like a new minted coin."
"As does your horse," I reply.
Mara looks back at her horse and smiles. "Meet Sadira," she says.
Sadira is indeed a beauty to behold. Her coat shines and shimmers with glints of copper and gold, and her tack catches the sunlight with flashes of silver.
Mara steps forward and gently takes Magnus' reins from me. "I shall hold him while you mount."
It takes just a second and I am sitting in the saddle, perched high above the ground and settling myself comfortably into the smooth seat. Once I am up high I take notice of something that I had not realized before. Each and every one of the riders here is dressed to coordinate with the horse that they are riding. Even Mara, with her emerald green cloak and tunic, matches the red highlights of Sadira's coat. My blue goes perfectly with Magnus's deep black. Something special is happening here and I am still clueless, but the fact that I am living in each and every moment is making it all the better. I find myself enjoying the mysterious flow of the day and a broad smile settles itself quite comfortably on my face. I am ready to follow wherever Mara will lead me.
Mara easily swings onto Sadira's back and then she is leading me once more, showing me the way to the next step of this incredible new adventure.
To be continued...