Today. Today was the day. The day I would leave my family farm and travel to the village of Greenspire to compete in the annual Horsemen trials.
I rolled over on my bed and stared at the ceiling, excitement twisting my stomach in anticipation. I had dreamed about competing since I was a little girl. Now, finally, my dream was coming true. It almost seemed too good to be real.
The sun was coming over the horizon as I peeled back the covers eagerly. It was a bit early to get up, but I figured if I got my chores done early, then I could leave earlier.
Quickly I dressed and reached for my comb to brush my thick hair. Thankfully it was there this morning and Torin hadn't hidden it from me. Quickly I grabbed a ribbon and braided my hair before tying it off.
Silently I stole through the house, trying not to wake anyone else up. Ever notice how when you're trying to be silent, you seem to make more noise than usual? The floor creaked and I froze. But nobody came out of their bedroom doors, so all was good.
Mother, however, was already up. Knowing that I would want a early start, she was in the kitchen making an early breakfast. She grinned at me as I tiptoed into the main room. "Morning Iris," she whispered, confirming my suspicions that the rest of the house was still asleep.
"Morning wonderful Mother," I replied back as I planted a kiss on her cheek. "I'm going out to milk Bella."
"Alright. You know it is a bit early and she might not be happy about that," replied mother.
"It's not that early, she'll be fine," I reassured. I pulled on my one pair of thick leather boots and laced them up, then stepped out into the quiet world of early dawn.
A low fog drifted over the landscape while the sun cast glowing rays as it rose. Birds were singing out their morning songs, greeting the new day as they had for thousands of years in the rocky country of the Hidor. Our stone barn lay not far from the house, and held two work horses, our milk cow, and sometimes sheep.
A pang stabbed my chest as I realized that I would be leaving all of this for four months. This had been my home since childhood. Over there was the apple tree I used to climb all the time. Then there was the meadow beyond the barn, where the sheep and cow grazed, while I used to pretend to tame wild stallions.
Now I was going to leave all of it.
I brushed the thought away. I wasn't permanently leaving it, I was only going away for four months. I would come back, a accomplished horsewomen, with the rank of one.
As I entered the barn, the two workhorses, Viking and Lancelot, turned to nicker at me. These two had been on the farm since I had been eight years old. I used to clamber up on their broad backs and gently ride them on Sundays when they weren't working.
I walked up to Viking and scratched his forehead. He nodded back and forth in pleasure. A sigh escaped me. "I'm going to miss you two."
Suddenly from the end of the stable came Bella's indignant "Moo!"
I laughed. "Yes, I'll miss you too."
I grabbed my satchel lying by the door and hung it on my shoulders. Chores had been down, breakfast ate, satchel packed. It was time to go.
I turned to mother. "Good-bye Mother."
Her smile was wobbly as she pulled me forward in an embrace. "Good-bye, my sweet Iris," she whispered into my hair.
When she had let me go I turned to Father. He too pulled me into a hug, his beard tickling my head. "Make us proud daughter," he said gruffly.
Finally I turned to my one and only brother, Torin. "Good-bye brother."
His cocky smile never wavered. "Good-bye sister. I'll miss hiding your comb."
I rolled my eyes in reply and turned to head out the door. It was really happening. I was really going to Horsemen Trials!
Greenspire was only three and a half miles away, an easy stroll for me. I followed the dirt road through patches of forest and glades, reveling in the quiet. For the most part I traveled alone.
Greenspire was just in sight when I stopped and leaned against a tree. I slid down its trunk and opened my satchel for my canteen. I wanted to refresh myself before I entered town.
My hand reached down and found the canteen, but also something more, something spiky. I pulled out something wrapped in tissue paper. It looked like... A hairbrush?
I unwrapped it and smiled. It was indeed a hairbrush, a fine one. Its handle was of smooth polished wood, its bristles of the finest horsehair. There was a note attached to it.
"Dear Iris, I hope you find this comb to your satisfaction. I can't wait to hide it when you get back. Love, Torin," I read aloud.
I chuckled and put it away in my satchel. I felt around in there and realized he had exchanged my old brush for the new one. A longing filled my heart for home. I scolded myself. "Now Iris, you can't be homesick already."
As I traveled down the dirt road the town of Greenspire became even clearer. It was a relatively small town, filled with friendly people. Today it looked quite busy.
I was not the only one traveling along the road. Ahead I could see other youths going to Greenspire for the same reason I was. We were going to prove who was the best horseman, or women.
I caught up with another young women about my age and greeted her. "Hello, my name's Iris, what's yours?"
"Mine's Lillian," replied the girl with a smile. "You going to compete?"
I knew exactly what she was talking about. "Yeah, you?"
"Yep. I'm so excited," she said, her eyes twinkling.
We trudged on for awhile in silence. Then she pointed. "Look, an old man."
Sure enough, there was a wizened man ahead of us. His body had all the marks of old age, yet he moved as one younger. He had was carrying two satchels on either side of him.
We caught up to him. He turned to look at us. "Hello," he said quietly.
"Hello," we replied together. "Who are you?" asked Lillian.
"I'm Anthony Blair," he said, in that quiet mouse-like voice of his.
Lillian and I squealed. "Anthony Blair! The Anthony Blair?" I enquired
He smiled slightly at our enthusiasm. "Yes, the Anthony Blair."
"Wow," I murmured in awe. Anthony Blair was one of the most famous old time trainers of horses. He had won the title of Horsemen three times in his day.
"Will you give us any tips Sir?" I couldn't restrain my asking.
He gazed at us steadily but before he could respond there was a great clanging. It was Greenspire's town bell. "Oh, it's already ten!" exclaimed Lillian.
"You had better hurry," Mr. Blair encouraged.
"Yes, we'd better," I said and began running. "Bye!"
A half hour later Lillian and I filed into the town square. Many other youths filled the area.
On a tall box above the mass a thick set man stood. He stamped his foot several times. Immediately the murmuring crowd fell silent.
"Welcome to annual convention of the Horsemen Trials!" he boomed out. Lillian and I cheered along with the rest. My smile was about to break my cheeks. I was here, really here! I was going to compete!
The man raised his hands for quiet. "I'm glad to see your enthusiasm," he said with a smile. "Now, let me explain the rules and how it all works, although your probably familiar with it already."
Chuckles went through the audience. It was true. Since I had been ten years old I had dreamed of the competition and learned all I could about it.
"All of you who have registered will be given a number. You will then go to the pens and choose your horse. Then, for three and a half months, you will work with the horse you have picked. At the end of that time, you will compete. With the horses you have trained, you will compete.
"There will be three stages to the competition. The Training Phase, in which you show all that you have completed with your horse. The Endurance phase, where you will travel with your horse for thirty miles in three days. Finally, the Jumping Phase, where you will demonstrate how fast you can complete a course of jumps with your horse."
He cleared his throat for moment, then continued on. "Here are the rules of competition..."
I sat on the rail above the pens filled with milling horses, watching them. Which one would I pick? They were all so beautiful...