tagRomanceWild Horses

Wild Horses


"Remember to refill the water trough in the south pasture."

"Well, thanks, Sis, I would never have thought of doing that for the thirtieth time in a row this month if you hadn't reminded me." The porch door banged shut so loudly behind Alec that the four women sitting around the porch table jumped. Vicky looked down at the table and the other three women shared brief meaningful looks before going back to sipping drinks and assembling brochures for Sinclair Horse Ranch boarding stables in the lush, rolling hills to the southwest of Lexington, Virginia.

"So, how's the arrangement with your cute brother to come help you run the ranch working out?" Denise, a Lexington Realtor and a recent divorcee—for the third time—with a roving eye, asked with a straight face.

"He's not cute, and don't you dare do your vamp thing on him," Victoria—Vicky to her friends—Sinclair, their hostess, answered, giving her friend a mock glaring stare. "And we're doing just fine."

"Certainly sounds that way," Denise said, with a snort.

"Stop picking on her, and I saw Alec first," the redhead at the table, Peggy Cooper, said.

Denise Lee, the curvy bottle blond, snorted again and said, "Fat chance that would do either of you any good." She gave a meaningful look at the fourth, raven-haired, voluptuous Spanish woman at the table, Sabela Rios. That Peggy and Sabela, who jointly owned a gift shop in Lexington, which stocked quite a few selections from Sabela's native Galician, northwest Spain, region of origin, were a couple was known and comfortably accommodated by both Vicky and Denise.

In turn, the couple joked with Denise about her propensity to chase, catch, use, and release men and were supporting Vicky through her bereavement. Vicky had lost her husband to a tragic fall from a horse that early spring. Four years earlier, Vicky and John Sinclair had opened a sanctuary ranch for ill-treated horses, where, in addition to boarding and training horses, they brought derelict horses back to health. As a hallmark of and advertisement for the ranch, the Sinclairs had teamed horses they rehabilitated to sleekness to pull an old Western-style stagecoach through Lexington's streets in its Fourth of July Parade the last three years. Their friends, Peggy and Sabela and Denise and whatever man she was matched with that year, joined the Sinclairs in dressing in Old West attire to ride on the stage coach.

The bond between these people had grown deep and they'd all been devastated by John's death earlier that year. July 4th was fast approaching again, and Vicky's three friends had been discussing what to do about the Fourth of July Parade. Thus far it had been obvious to all of them that Vicky wasn't emotionally up to doing that again—at least not this year. It had been John's favorite activity and, because it was his, Vicky had taken it as hers too. Her brother, Alec Gleason, had come to help her out with the ranch, and they were doing all right there, but Vicky just wasn't regaining the spark she once had. At the same time she was clutching at what she still had, which wasn't helpful when there was more work to do than one person could physically manage alone.

As was usual, after the topic had been talked around today but not yet directly tackled, it was Denise who plowed into it. "It's June, Vicky. What were you thinking about doing with the Fourth of July Parade this year?"

"Well, I don't know . . . I haven't given it much—"

"Because Peggy and Sabela won't be able to ride with the stage coach this year, if you were thinking of taking it out and spinning it around downtown. Did Sabela tell you? They're going to a festival in Spain—in the La Estrada region in Galicia, near where Sabela was born—and including a buying spree for stock for the gift shop. I'm thinking of going with them. We . . . I think you should think about doing that too. It would be good for you to get away. I know the July 4th weekend will be hard on you."

"Oh, I couldn't possible get away. The ranch—"

". . . Would be just fine with Alec running it for a while," Denise continued. "It would be good for both of you to separate for a bit. That little set to the two of you had just now about filling a water trough is what made me think of it."

That, of course, was one big fib. The women and Alec had gotten together on this point already.

"You need time away from all of this, and Alec needs to be alone with it for a while for you both to accept that he can handle it, so that both of you will feel comfortable to pull away from it for a few days from time to time."

"Well, I don't know . . . I don't think—"

"Here. Here's a brochure on the hotel we're going to in Galicia," Sabela said on cue, taking a couple of pamphlets out of her purse and fanning them out on the table. "Isn't it great—with that ancient building ruin below the hotel by the pool, with its roof open to the stars and used for open dining? And here's information on the festival. It's an old one, symbolic of going from childhood to adulthood—"

"Ah, a sex rite," Denise interjected, with a laugh.

"Down girl," Sabela said. "It's about horses. Wild horses. Bringing them down from the mountains once a year, checking them for healthiness, ID chipping them, cutting their manes and tails, and branding the foals. They make a three-day celebration out of it."

"Culling the wild horse herds and seeing to their needs?" Vicky asked, showing interest at last and picking up the brochure on the festival.

"Taking care of the horses, like you do here," Peggy said.

"That reminds me of John and how we met," Vicky said. "You know about the wild horses of Chincoteague Island, don't you, over on the Virginia coast?—that every year they have a festival of fording the wild ponies across to the mainland, checking them over, and moving some of them on to domestication, with human owners."

The other three wagged their heads, without committing to how much they knew about that—which was pretty much everything Vicky had in her memories. Alec had told them the story and they were using it now to try to bring their friend back into life.

"One summer," Vicky continued, "I was working in a gift shop on the mainland there and John was one of the young men herding the horses over the stretch of water they had to ford. I went out to watch the annual horse swim. The first time I saw John he was riding bareback on one of these Chincoteague ponies, guiding it to the mainland. He looked so handsome—fit and brown as a berry—and happy. Afterward he came into the gift shop and we talked about the wild horses. We discovered we both wanted to save horses from neglect. Matched interests, just like that. Imagine that."

"Yep, imagine that," Denise said with a straight face. "And so you two went right out and did the deed?"

"On a beach later that night after we'd visited the corral where they were keeping ponies that had been swum over that day and I saw how good he was at handling horses, yes," Vicky answered. She went further than that in her mind—how he'd held her as they walked toward a deserted part of the beach. How she'd known what she wanted him to do—then he'd done it: the kisses and fondling; lying on the beach under him, his hand under her skirt and then inside her panties, and then taking possession of her, driving her into heat. Knowing what he'd do and wanting him to get on with it. Feeling him move into position as they kissed, digging her fingernails into his shoulder blades as he entered her. Then moving with him, against him, bucking with him, exploding with him.

"But that's all I have to say about that," She said, turning her face away from Denise so that the woman couldn't see her blush.

"Yes, who could possibly deny a fit, brown-as-a-berry man who played with wild horses?" Denise quipped, for which Vicky rewarded her by sticking her tongue out at her.

"Well, think about it—about going to Spain with us for the first weekend in July and taking in this festival," Peggy said, moving in to change the subject, her voice gentle and coaxing. "Sabela and I would like all of us to be together again for the Fourth of July—but the usual parade here in Lexington might be just too much to cope with this year. And we'll be gone and can't help you with it, and—"

"Well, I don't know," Vicky said.

"Keep these brochures to look at. We have another set," Sabela said.

Denise opened her mouth to speak again, but Peggy gave her a warning look, conveying that they had planted the seed as well as they could at this point and Denise's continued direct approach might not have the desired effect. Denise wisely snapped her jaw shut.

An hour later, Alec returned from the south pasture and found Vicky sitting alone on the porch, reading through the travel brochures.

"It's done as you commanded, Lord and Master," he said. "The horses in the south pasture have water. I told them to be grateful to you—that'd I'd just let them die of thirst myself, of course."

"I'm sorry I snapped at you," Vicky said. "But it's hard to let loose of the responsibilities around here. I'll try to be better. I know you're capable of doing it all."

"You know what we need," Alec said, acting like he'd just thought of it, even though he'd carefully worked it out with Denise, Peggy, and Sabela.

"No, what?"

"What we need is for you to take a vacation. It would do you a world of good and I'd have a chance to establish that I can handle the work around here—that I can hold up John's end. If you just weren't here for a few days, we'd both learn something. You'd learn to trust me to do my part and I'd learn whether there was something I needed to get a better handle on."

"A vacation? Maybe just a few days?" Vicky mused, fingering the brochures on the hotel and festival in Galicia. "Maybe you're right."

Alec damn well knew he was right—and so did Denise, Peggy, and Sabela.

* * * *

The dishes had been cleared away from the meal in the ancient, roofless stone-building ruin by the pool below the Torre do Rio Hotel in Galicia's Caldas de Reis, a town where they were staying in preparation to go to the start of the A Rapa das Bestas festival, the festival of the gathering of the wild horses, in the mountains near the town of Sabucedo the next day. Brandy had been brought, and a handsome, well-built Spanish man in his late thirties or early forties was playing the guitar and singing quietly in a deep, smooth baritone. His songs had been more lively during dinner, during which he kept looking over at the table the four women sat at and, Vicky imagined, mostly at her. She focused on him more now, with the meal done, because his songs had turned softer, more sensual. She did an assessment on him again; there wasn't a single test of appreciation that he didn't pass without further research and exposure.

"Isn't his singing divine?" Vicky turned to Denise and said. But Denise was only half listening to her. She was looking at a young, sultry, and dark Spanish man at a nearby table. The two had been flirting with each other with their eyes for some time.

"Yes, he's divine," Denise said. But she wasn't talking about the guitarist.

"The mood of the songs has changed," Vicky said to Sabela, turning in her direction.

"He's singing ancient Galician love songs now," Sabela answered.

The three women who weren't openly flirting with the young man at the nearby table gave their full attention to the singing and guitar playing.

A dona que eu am'o e tenho por senhor A dona que eu am' e tenho por senhor Amostráde-mi-a, Deus, se vos en prazer for, senón, dáde-mi a morte. A que tenh' eu por lume destes olhos meus, e por que choran sempre, amostráde-mi-ama, Deus, senón, dáde-mi a morte.

"What is he singing, Sabela? Can you give me the gist?"

"Yes, of course. It's a love song by the thirteenth-century troubadour Bernal de Bonaval. That's according to the notes in Spanish I was given when we came in on what the guitarist would be singing tonight—his name is Uxio Silva, by the way. He's singing it in ancient Galician. It goes something like, 'That lady I love is my dear mistress. If it's your will, show her to me in all her beauty, God. If not, put me to death. And then something about her being the light of his eyes and for God to let him have her or do away with him."

"He looks like he's singing it directly to Vicky," Peggy said. She reached for Sabela's hand from affection—affected by the song and affection with Sabela.

"Yes, yes, it does," Sabela said, with a low laugh.

Vicky was about to say something—she was blushing—but just then the young Spanish man had risen from his table and was there beside their table, addressing Denise in Spanish and giving her a look that suggested that he was looking forward to another dessert course.

"Gustaríache bailar comigo, fermosa?" the young man said, smiling at Denise and extending a hand toward her.

"What is he asking?" Denise queried of Sabela. She was gazing back at the young man, obviously drinking him in and liking everything she saw.

"He's begging you to dance with him. He's calling you a 'pretty lady' in Galician Spanish. But of course—"

"But of course I will dance with you," Denise said to the young man. She accompanied the young man to the terrace by the pool and they went into an immediate close clutch, swaying with and against each other. From the outset, saying they were dancing just seemed to be an excuse for what they really were interested in.

Whatever other spell was being woven at the table was broken, and Vicky rose and said, "Well, if we have to be in this village, Sabucedo, at seven in the morning, I, for one, need to get to bed." She was still blushing as she left.

The singing guitarists watched her go, and it wasn't lost on her as she ascended the several flights of stairs to the hotel proper above that he changed back to more lively music.

Back at the ruins, Peggy and Sabela also prepared to leave. Denise obviously wasn't going anywhere—at least not with them.

"Tell me, you didn't set that up, did you—between the guitarist and Vicky?" Peggy asked Sabela.

"No, certainly not. But it almost worked a charm, don't you think?"

"Well, it has certainly worked a charm with Denise," Peggy answered. "What are the chances she will be climbing the mountain to look for wild horses in the morning with us?"

"Close to something between zero and nil," Sabela said, with a snort.

Later in the night, Vicky could have confirmed the zero chance. She had trouble enough trying to sleep herself with the sounds of ravishment and the thumping of the headboard of the bed in Denise's room next door against the wall behind the headboard of Vicky's bed.

* * * *

Despite being the first weekend in July, it was a bit chilly where they gathered in a small football stadium in the village of Sabucedo at 7:00 the next morning. There were only three of them, of course. Each had knocked on Denise's door at one time or other between 5:30 and when they'd gotten in the rental car to drive to Sabucedo, but none of them had done so with the expectation that Denise would accompanying them that day. They knew Denise all too well.

Others had gathered, as well—many others—for the walk up the nearby mountain. The English speakers had all been gathered together in one group and given instructions on what was to happen that day, which would end with the wild horses they'd rounded up on the mountain being held in a fenced-in area up there overnight and herded back down to this football stadium the next day for the A Rapa Das Bestas—mane-cutting and tagging—ceremony. All of those who had showed up for the festival would be divided into smaller, but still large, groups to gather horses at three different locations before the horses were herded to the mountain enclose.

Some of what was going to happen seemed to be unnecessary to Vicky and her companions, but the ceremony had been set in stone since at least the eighteenth century, with some saying it went back to the Bronze Age as a symbolic coming-of-age ritual, so there was no use making suggestions.

While accepting this, Peggy did say, "I guess it's good Denise didn't come along after all; she would have been trying to force logical change on all of this and undoubtedly would have gotten us sent back to Caldas de Reis in a sealed van."

"And into the arms of her young dancer from last night—" Sabela dropped in.

"And this morning," Vicky interjected.

"And being banished before we had to walk up the mountain would have been her plan all along," Peggy completed. The three laughed.

That's when they saw the handsome guitarist from the hotel the previous evening ride by on a magnificent white stallion. He greeted them in Spanish and gave them a smile as he continued on.

"Gorgeous," Peggy said in his wake.

"Yes, most of the riders milling around are on white horses, and several of them are as magnificent as that one is," Vicky said. "I wonder why there are so many white horses."

"You'll see when we find the group of wild horses we are to gather up," Sabela said. "The riders who herd them up, quiet them down, and guide them to the enclosure from our group will all be on white horses. It's something they are trying as an experiment this year. That is to make them more easily identified from the wild horses by the rest of us, and, theoretically, based on observations from recent years, the other horses seem to react better to guidance by white horses. Most of those horses once were wild too. If their observations pan out, I'm told they will separate the white ones out to train for future ceremonies."

"Interesting, but I was referring to the man, not the horse," Peggy said, with a giggle. The other two joined her in the laugh. Sabela and Peggy carefully refrained from looking at Vicky, who, yes, was blushing.

Once everyone was separated into groups and organized, they started the climb, by separate sylvan pathways under an enclosing canopy of trees, up onto the mountain. It wasn't lost to the three American women that the mounted guitarist—Uxio Silva—remained close to them as the three stayed together for the climb.

It wasn't long before they came across a herd of the wild horses, feeding in a rocky meadow about three-quarters of the way up the mountain. Silently, as they had been instructed, the people who were on foot fanned out around them, encircling them. The horses became skittish from the presence of the humans and started to move en masse—there were at least forty of them, eight or nine being young foals—in a circular motion. They wouldn't come close to a standing human nor try to move between them, so as the people moved into a loose circle, the horses moved in an arc—and into the control of the riders on the white horses.

The three American women were amazed by how simple and effective it had been to gather up the horses. Within the first couple of hours of the day, they had located a herd and in elegant, time-learned ways, the horses had permitted themselves to be pinned down and shunted into the line of white horses they permitted to guide them to a larger enclosure farther up on the mountain, where other groups were bringing in horses. By mid afternoon, well over 100 horses had been corralled on the mountain.

Locals were assigned to stay with them that night, while the rest went back down into the small village of Sabucedo, where a tent city had been set up around the football stadium—but not inside it—for a festival of food and music to be conducted for the evening and into the night. The playing field of the stadium was set up to receive the horses on the morrow, with a fenced corral, called a curro, being created there through the late afternoon and evening.

It wasn't the greatest surprise that Denise had arrived by the time the three women came down from the mountain or that she had in tow the young Spanish heartthrob who had wooed—and apparently been won by—her the previous evening. He was introduced to them as Anton Vasquez, a school teacher on summer break and not that long out of college himself—and, of course, nearly ten years younger than Denise was. That didn't seem to bother either of the two. With Sabela there now to translate, Anton and Denise had the opportunity to converse on an entirely, if probably not nearly as pleasant, a plane as they had been doing. He'd brought her from Caldas de Reis on a motorcycle, and she was glowing from the adventure of it all.

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