“Have you read this?” Phoenix smacked a newspaper on the table, sending bits of Alexander’s breakfast all over the place, “Look!”
Alexander picked a bit of sausage off his shirt and scrunched his nose up at it, “Thanks ’Nix, I actually wanted to eat this – not wear it!”
“Oh shut up moaning, this is important!” She snapped back, flipping through the pages of the newspaper until she reached the one she wanted. She turned it my way so I could see it.
I looked back up at her blankly, “Er ’Nix, I can’t read Italian.”
She rolled her eyes, tutting as she did, “There’s a farm – not too far from here.”
Alexander was still getting the egg out of his hair, “A farm? That’s new.”
“Shh,” Phoenix tapped the photo alongside the article, “Look at this, it’s a horse... With wings.”
Alexander stopped scraping the bacon off his shoulder mid-brush.
I stared at her.
“This is a newspaper article about a myth surrounding the farm. Every one hundred years a horse with wings is born at the farm and the surrounding townsfolk slaughter it as an offering to their Gods.”
I raised an eyebrow at her, “A horse, with wings?” I murmured skeptically.
Alexander cleared his throat, “You mean, like, Pegasus?”
“I mean exactly like Pegasus.” She grinned, “Come on, finish your breakfast! We don’t want to be late.”
“Late?” Alexander repeated, “Late for what?”
Phoenix picked up the glass, holding the remainder of Alexander’s orange juice, and drank what was left. She set it down gently, “Don’t you want to ride on a flying horse?”
The drive wasn’t long at all, Phoenix had been right, and soon we were rolling up the dirt driveway towards a farmhouse. Italy, especially the Verona area, was known for it’s luscious vineyards and growing olives. Except this farm, this farm appeared to grow only horses instead. As we drove along we passed fenced-off green pastures filled with steeds of every shape and colour.
I eased my speed and I crawled along with the sound of tires cracking against the small stones underneath. I pulled on the handbrake and took the keys out the ignition and the car became lifeless. Phoenix and I got out of the car, the air was incredibly dry which was why I could taste dust on my tongue, I strolled up to the porch. Only the two of us had come to the farm, the men decided to stay behind and were packing – afterwards Eztil was going to teach Alexander how to sword fight.
On the porch of the farmhouse, sat in a rocking chair, was a man in a flannel shirt and overalls, he didn’t look Italian in the slightest but I greeted him with a “Buongiorno Singore!” anyway. At his side was a dog, panting in the hot sun, whom lifted his head tiredly as I spoke.
“Buongiorno,” He replied, “What can I do for you two young ladies?”
He was definitely not Italian, he was English.
I stepped up onto the first step of the porch, “We’d like to ask you a few questions...”
“About the horse with the wings?” Phoenix added from behind me.
The man’s face changed from a friendly smile into a scowl. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” He grumbled, almost inaudibly.
“We saw a newspaper article about your farm,” I explained, unfolding the newspaper in my hand and handing it to the man. The dog yapped at my ankles, rubbing against my shins until I bent down to give his head a pat.
He glowered at the page, his eyes scanning over the words. Finally he growled through gritted teeth, “I don’t know who has written this but it’s a lie.” He crossed his arms, looking as if he was trying to control his glower as not to come across as too furious.
“But...” Phoenix began to whine but the farmer shot her a look more sour than a lemon and she closed her mouth.
There was the sound of boots scuffing across the ground and the soft creak of leather from behind us. I turned to see the farmhand carrying a harness.
“This is my son, Jonathan.” The farmer said, “He deals with all the animals here, he’ll tell you of no such thing.”
Jonathan’s face, dirty and sweaty from the day’s hard labor, peered at me. His mop of dark hair covered his grey, brooding eyes as he stared at me. He was wearing a white tank top, fitting tightly to show off the muscles built on his arms, and a pair of tight cowboy jeans made from light denim, two green and muddy Wellington boots were placed upon his feet.
“Hello,” He murmured in greeting, setting the saddle down on a nearby railing.
“These two girls were asking about a horse with wings,” The other man laughed, which turned into a chesty cough, “I’ve never heard anything so absurd.”
“You wouldn’t mind us having a look around one of your barns then?” Phoenix suggested, her eyebrow raising.
The farmer nodded, “Of course not, we have nothing to hide,” He sat back in his chair, “Jonathan, show them to the stables.”
Wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand Jonathan nodded in agreement, brushing off the chaff stuck to the back of his neck.
“Afterwards,” The man continued, “I’d like you both to leave.”
Jonathan led us down a track that had been beaten into one of the wide open fields, the hard-packed earth harsh beneath my feet. The sunshine brightened up every shade of green, making their colours appear more vivid. The weather was warm, my clothes began to stick to me after a few minutes and my hair follicles rose, causing my skin to tingle under the intense heat. We passed through wooden gates, squeaking as they opened and closed, a few had horse hair pinched in their creases. Horses whinnied to one another, also to us as we passed, and Jonathan whistled back to them.
We had arrived at the giant barn that sat in the middle of the farmer’s land. I had never been on a proper yard before, although had always had a passion for horses. On one side there was a line of stalls, filled with beautiful mustangs and mares, of all shades, who were snorting in the stuffy atmosphere. The other side was stacked with bales of fresh straw, that smelt musty, and row upon row of horse tack.
The barn was alive with foreign noises; the rustling of hay, the sound of hooves stamping, equines scratching against posts in their stables, the clattering of grain spilling from a horse’s mouth back into a metal trough. I watched as two mice skittered across the center of the floor and the entire building creaked. It was all oddly tranquil.
“You really don’t have a flying horse then?” Phoenix’s face fell after she’d run round and checked all of the stalls.
Jonathan shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other and I saw him gulp, “Erm, no.” There was something odd about him, he was on edge and looked very agitated. Very jumpy. And incredibly pale, even with his tan.
“Are you sure?” I batted at a fly with my hand that buzzed round my head.
Jonathan’s smile was wiped clean off his face, and he shook his head.
“No?!” Phoenix practically squealed.
“Shh!” Jonathan put a finger against his lip, he seemed jittery and alarmed.
I lowered my voice, “So, you do have a horse with wings?”
His eyes shifted from left to right, as if looking for someone behind me, maybe his father? “I think you better see for yourself.”
Jonathan sneaked us across two more fields, his entire body tense as he crept through the grass. Finally we arrived at what looked like a deserted shed. All three of us stepped swiftly into the abandoned barn and Jonathan slammed the door, bolting it closed behind us. He exhaled, as if relieved, then turned to face Phoenix and I. “This is it.”
Jonathan led us to a stall at the far end of the barn, opposite a line of pitch-forks and shovels covered in cobwebs. He outstretched his arm, “Here.”
I peeked over the stable door and my eyes met a young colt. Stood behind him was his mother, nudging him gently between bites of her hay. The colt was blacker than coal with bright blue eyes, and he just stood there, gazing at me.
“I don’t know what to do.” Jonathan sighed, on the brink of tears.
I looked back at the foal, he was scratching his ear with his hind leg, like a dog. I stared at the animal, searching for something I wasn’t sure I would find. I traced along it’s back with my eyes and gasped, clutching my hand to my mouth. “Wow.” I breathed.
Beautifully placed on the colt’s back was a tiny pair of wings, as black as his coat.
“He’s got wings!” Phoenix purred excitedly, “Wings Ivy!”
“Would you keep your voice down?” Jonathan hissed, “What am I going to do with him?”
“Why can’t you keep him?” Phoenix asked, although we both already knew the answer.
I opened the latch on the stable door, closing it behind me, and crouched down to the foal’s level. I waited for him to come to me, I stayed silent and incredibly still. I listened closely to the sound of the baby’s mother munching on a mouthful of hay as she swished her tail patiently.
Jonathan muttered, “The people of this town think this creature is a bad omen. My father wanted to put him down as soon as he was born, he left me with the job.” It sounded like he was crying, “But I couldn’t do it!” He wailed, “I couldn’t kill an innocent animal like that, especially one this magnificent.”
“He’s beautiful,” I hushed, as the colt came over and nudged me with his velvet nose, “It’s Pegasus.” I was in complete shock and looked at this beast with utter wonder. I rubbed his ears and he nickered at me with glee.
“I’m glad you didn’t let your father murder him,” Phoenix admitted, placing a hand gently on Jonathan’s forearm. “Is there anything we can do to help?” She offered.
“I need you to take him,” Jonathan pleaded, “If my father ever found out the foal wasn’t dead, he’d kill it himself.”
I tilted my head back to meet his solemn eyes, “I’m sorry Jonathan. We can’t take him.” I stood up, causing the colt to jump away giddily and hide close to his mother, who cocooned him in her neck and soothed him. “But we know someone who will.”
Jonathan closed his eyes slowly, his tears split over the brim of his eyelids and slithered down his cheeks. He reached both of his arms out towards me and Phoenix, hugging us both tightly. “Thank you.” He whispered into my shoulder, “Thank you.”
Before I left the stable, I went over to the mare and I laid my hand out flat to reveal a carrot on my palm. There was a dry, hairy tickle of her lips nibbling the vegetable up gently and then a loud crunching noise as she scoffed it down. I patted her flank and ran a hand through her mane, then I exited the stall.
I heard Phoenix’s voice ring out, she was already on the phone. “Morgan?” She inquired, “Yeah, it’s Phoenix. Listen, we need a favor.”
“So,” A pair of hands slid around my waist from behind me, I met them with mine, grinning immediately, “When are we going to tell them?” Alexander pressed his lips against my neck.
I watched the horizon, the last bit of light lapped at the tops of the buildings, the birds tweeting overhead. I was stood on the balcony of the hotel, the sun was high in the sky creating a warm feeling on my skin. There was next to no breeze, but the little wind that there was caressed my hair fondly as if I were its lover. I had come outside to escape from everything, to think about our next vital steps.
I rubbed my palms against Alexander’s knuckles, “About what?”
I felt the corners of his mouth twitch into a smile as he said, “About us.”
I span round in his embrace, our noses touching, our eyes meeting. I was absorbed in him within moments, I didn’t want to ever leave the safe feel of his arms cloaked around me, “Whenever you like,” I murmured, leaning forwards for our mouths to meet one another, like old friends on the street. It was easy to be with him, around him, I was never pushed to find the right words or the right action, everything came from the pit of my stomach and everything I did to interact with him was fueled by my heart.
“I love the feel of your lips,” He breathed against the skin of my cheek. Alexander brushed his lips against mine softly, I tried to hide a smile. My entire body felt home to thousands of tiny butterflies, swarming romantically in my stomach.
“Hmmm,” I swayed, light-headed from his kisses and his touch. “We should go inside.”
Alexander pushed a strand of hair away from my face and nodded, “Okay.”
“Let’s go grab some lunch,” I beamed, “Phoenix and I wanted to do some last minute shopping this afternoon before we leave.”
Alexander placed his hand in mine, our fingers interlocking, “I don’t think I’ll ever get it. What is it with girls and shopping?”
I opened the balcony door and stepped inside, “It fills our empty hearts,” I replied dryly. “We are in Verona, after all.”