On the run in the Middle Ages with the Mongolian warpony, Targa, and Knight Henryk’s stout (some would say portly) horse Chouchou.
MEAGAN WAS HAPPY to get back to the road, even if it meant another ballad from Henryk. The path splayed over rolling hills of knee-high grass, then dipped as they entered a thicker part of the woods. It was dark beneath the trees and the air was heavy.
Henryk stopped singing when Targa raised her head and whinnied. A horse’s neigh answered from within the woods. The young knight snapped his head around, looking for the source. Targa pranced in a circle, and as she turned, Meagan looked down the part of the road they had just traveled. Someone was following them. Someone who had not been there before.
Black shapes moved quickly in the far trees.
“Meagan!” Henryk urged Chouchou forward. “We go!”
Crashing vegetation and cries sounded from the right, and Meagan saw distant forms leaping through underbrush. Chouchou continued his leisurely walk, undisturbed by Henryk’s efforts to accelerate.
Meagan hesitated, afraid to leave them behind. Henryk and Chouchou were a waddling target. “Hurry up, Henryk!” she screamed. “They are coming!”
“I try!” Henryk was flailing his legs without result.
On the road behind them, their pursuer dropped to one knee and reached for the bow behind his back. Meagan turned and closed her legs—Targa leapt forward, and before the man could string his arrow the pony was coming fast upon him. The man leaped out of their path, dropping his bow on the road. Meagan pulled up and turned back, deliberately taking Targa over the bow until she heard a sharp snap.
Further up the road, Henryk was still trying to kick his mount into something faster than a slow jog. Meagan galloped back again, passing men just breaking free of the trees. She pulled up beside the hapless knight and together they looked back. Eight men were gaining quickly, brandishing staffs and long knives.
Henryk’s face was blotched with exhaustion. Giving up on Chouchou, he stopped kicking and drew his sword, holding it out and waiting for the attack. On impulse, Meagan reached out and grabbed the sword from him. It was heavier than she realized and the blade drooped.
“Arrêt, Meagan! No!”
Circling Targa, she wrestled with the sword before swinging the flat of the blade across Chouchou’s hindquarters. The startled horse shuffled forward a few steps and slowed again to a creeping walk … and then Targa pinned her ears and bit down on the base of the waddler’s tail. The pony had had quite enough of his dullness.
Chouchou gave a squeal and tripped into higher gear, with Henryk holding on as if riding a runaway. The horse rumbled down the dirt road, his eyes ringed white with fear, as Meagan kept Targa close behind him for motivation.
Their pursuers fell behind. The path rose and trees thinned into open land. Safe now, Henryk pulled on the reins and nearly bounced off as Chouchou broke into a rough trot. He took his sword from Meagan sheepishly, deliberately giving Targa a wide berth.
“That was a good girl,” Meagan said, patting Targa’s neck. “Never mind them.”
Henryk smoothed the ruffled tufts of hair on Chouchou’s plump hindquarters. “Lunatique,” he murmured privately to his scandalized mount. Both sent offended looks in the pony’s direction.
Copyright © 2008 John Royce
Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of the trilogy) won national awards including the Eric Hoffer Award for best Young Adult Fiction, and the Mom’s Choice Award for best family-friendly Young Adult Fantasy.