THE APPRENTICE-BOOK1-THE CALLING CHAPTERS 9 – 10

CHAPTER NINE

For Shane, the months of May and June were filled with chores, going fishing with Tayvian, and watching the young ladies at the laundry spot where everyone in the village took their clothes to wash. Early in the morning, the girls would gather there to wash clothes when it was still cool.

Tayvian had his eye fixed on a raven-haired young lady named Karyn. She had little if any idea that he even existed to judge by her actions but the entire village knew he had a secret crush on her.

She was being coy and playing hard to get but in her heart, she was only waiting for him to present himself to her like a gentleman and court her properly. As young men were expected to do in those times.

Tayvian was considered quite a catch by most of the other girls and their mother’s as well because he was sturdy, strong and reliable. That and the fact that he came from a family of better than average means meant that he would be able to provide a nice living for his own family.

Tayvian wanted desperately to ask Karyn to be his girl and court her but he was far too shy to take the first step. Only after countless days of endless harassment and cajoling from Shane did he finally agree to ask, Karyn to accompany him to Shane’s 16th birthday celebration.

He nearly ran away when she approached him at the laundry spot but somehow he managed to stand his ground. His biggest fear was if she said no, or that she might laugh at him but then he thought what if she didn’t laugh and he never asked? What if the answer would have been yes and he never knew?

That decided the issue then and there. Tayvian thought he might faint a time or two, but somehow he managed to get through it alive and conscious. The next thing he knew, Karyn was smiling at him and telling him she, “Would love to go to the party with him,”

“You will?! Great!” Tayvian said then he took off running for home without another word. Until it occurred to him that he had not told her when the party was, or anything else. He turned around and went back to where Karyn was still standing to wait for his return with a huge smile on her face and a basket full of wet laundry resting on one hip.

“Yes?” she asked with a giggle as he came running back up again. ”Did you forget something?”

“Uh, yeah, I did. The party starts at 9 am. This Saturday,”

“Yes, I have heard that,” Karyn said coyly.

“So you want to meet me there at Shane’s house, or would you prefer that I come to pick you up at home?”

“I would prefer an escort sir,” Karyn said demurely.

“Okay,” Tayvian said and then he turned around and rn off again. He had not taken five steps when he hollered, “Oh!” and ran back to ask her but she stopped him and said,

“I will be ready to go at 8:30 you may come for me then,”

“Right! 8:30. Got it!” Tayvian assured her before he ran all the way home. His feet barely even touching the ground beneath him.

Shane, on the other hand, was far more fickle when it came to choosing a future bride for himself so he had yet to set his sights on any one maiden.

He really liked one girl named Caterina. She had even let Shane kiss her once which had been very nice. But if the truth were told Shane’s heart had been enchanted by a beautiful blond haired goddess, named Carrie Lynn.

In his eyes she made Aphrodite look like a wart covered old hag. The problem was she had a younger sister named Amber Lynn and Shane was not yet sure which one of them he was actually more in love with. A very confusing situation to be sure.

The reason for his confusion was that they were identical twins. Only their own parents could tell them apart and even they had to admit they were not always sure.

The sisters fostered this confusion by insistingupon dressing the same all the time, or not at all. As many identical twins do they would even pose as one another which only added to the general confusion. If you were to say, “Good morning, Carrie Lynn,” she would invariably insist she was Amber Lynn and visa versa. Her sister would always do the same so the only way to be sure was if you saw them walking together. People had taken to calling them, Miss Lynn.

Amber Lynn was the one that Shane liked the most but both of the girls liked him the same way. Of course, that meant that he was caught up in a weird and fierce rivalry between them for who was going to be the future Mrs. Shane St. Cloud.

Poor Shane tried everything he could think of to tell them apart only to be thwarted at every turn. First, he tried leaving a present just for Amber Lynn on her doorstep. A beautiful blue gingham dress.

But when next he saw her in the village square the sisters were wearing matching blue gingham blouses they had sewn together from the dress material.

Then he tried to trick her by leaving her a bracelet he had traded his labor for with the local jewelry maker but somehow they managed to find a matching one. Shane lived in constant fear of calling one by the other one’s name and he had a feeling they were giving him the runaround but there was no way he could prove it.

He finally decided to go with the flow and see what came of it. He could only marry one of them. Since they were identical twins how could he lose? He delivered the invitations for his birthday party personally. To Amber and Carrie Lynn’s mother, he gave a special one made just for the girls.

In those days when a young man turned 16, he was considered a man. One who was ready and able to marry and start his own family and Shane’s 16th birthday party was slated to be a real wing-ding. His parents were not rich by any means but they had been saving up for the party since Shane was five years old and had socked away a large nest egg just forthe occasion.

His father slaughtered a hog and a lamb that had been stuffed with a goose, a pheasant and Temperance’s prize acorn stuffing. Shane’s dad put them on a spit and cooked them together all night long. Temperance went all out in her kitchen so the table was set with enough food for an army brigade to gorge themselves silly on.

There were cream cakes, and trifles, pies, and pastries of every kind imaginable. There was a ton of potato salad, kidney pies, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, and even pork pie.

There was no shortage of fresh baked bread and tubs of butter whipped with honey, sugar cookies, and fresh pressed apple cider for the women and children. There was plenty of hard cider on hand that day for the menfolk.

There were delicious baked apples, and baked beans and thanks to the hard cider, more than a few baked neighbors at the party.

All day long the celebration went on with neighbors competing with one another for special prizes and bragging rights in such games as horseshoes, there were foot races for all age groups and tests of strength such as stone toss and heavy lifting. Shane won the foot race in his age group and as usual, his father won the wood chopping contests handily.

Shane spent most of that day courting the Lynn twins and showing off for their benefit. Early in the day, he thought he had finally gotten one over on them and tried to single out Amber Lynn by addressing her when they were together because only one of them could answer him. the one that did was the one he kept his eye on all day.

At one point in the festivities, he pretended to be shooing a bee away from her in order to put a tiny blueberry stain on the back of her dress. It worked perfectly too. Right up until when he excused himself from their company to compete in the sack races. When he returned, both girls acted as though nothing had happened. But when he looked at the backs of their dresses, both had an identical blueberry stain. He could no longer tell them apart. Again.

He had been stalemated by them once more. Shane finally gave up in exasperation and decided he would just marry whichever one of them showed up at the altar and leave the rest in God’s hands. He figured a man could do a lot worse than to be married to either one of them.

The first feast of the day was at noon and the second feast was held at dinner time after all of the contests had been contested and settled. During the meal, a traveling storyteller stood in front of the diners and told the tale of Choralys the White and his epic battle with the evil dragon, Charybdis in the highlands of Scotland.

Next, he told the tale of King Francis the VI and his 3 days long battle with the wicked Sir Goren, known also, as the Black Knight. That one was the crowd’s favorite. It earned the minstrel a standing ovation and a shower of coins from his appreciative audience.

At sunset torches were lit and set around the table, then a number of Shane’s friends including Tayvian who had been on cloud nine with Karyn all day, stood up, one after the other, and told funny and often embarrassing anecdotes about Shane that he would just as soon they had kept to themselves.

After they had their turn Randal gave him a short speech about what it meant to be a man. Finally, he raised his mug and toasted his son’s birthday to the hearty cheers and well wishes of the crowd.

Now it was time for Shane to receive his birthday presents. Most of the villagers in attendance, which was nearly everyone, had snuck their birth presents in so that it looked as though nobody had brought him anything. It was an old tradition that went back many generations so he knew better than to fall for it.

There was no such thing then as wrapping paper, but the tradition of wrapping gifts goes further back than that so most of the gifts were wrapped in bright cloth or pieces of leather that Shane could also use as clothing.

Many of the gifts were the usual. Britches, knitted sweaters, and woolen mittens. The Lynn twins gave him a long blue scarf they had knitted along with a matching cap.

Tayvian gave him a crossbow and two dozen bolts he’d made for it, while his parents gave him a plot of land and a purse. The same one he had given to his father after he sold all the sheep to old Charney. In the purse were the same 9 gold crowns plus an additional 6 crowns his parents had thrown in to help him start his own household with either Amber Lynn or Carrie Lynn. Whichever the case should be.

That was never going to happen but finding himself in sudden possession of all that money did put thoughts in his head of asking one of the Lynn twins to marry him that same night. All he would have to do was ask both of them and marry whoever said yes first. Problem solved.

Once the last of the gifts had been given, Shane’s father stood up and called for everyone’s attention.

“I have one last gift to present to my son.” he said, “Early this morning a messenger came to my bedroom window and awakened my wife and me,”

“Yeah, interrupted you two is more likely,” an unseen voice suggested from one end of the tables.

“Yes, well, be that as it may, Verne,” Randal said with a sly smile, “I have my own story and I’m sticking to it if it’s all the same to you,” The men burst out laughing while Temperance blushed until even her feet were crimson red.

As I was saying, before I was rudely interrupted, again, (more bawdy laughter followed this) a messenger from very far away came to my window this morning and told me to get dressed and meet him outside. He told me that his master had sent him all the way from Darvonshire with some special gifts for Shane and he instructed me to hide them in the barn until now. He said the first gift is from the wizard Choralys the White and is for all of us,”

That said he raised a torch over his head and waved it back and forth over his head. “He said we were to watch the sky over yonder,” he said and all eyes turned that way to watch expectantly. They didn’t have long to wait either.

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CHAPTER TEN

Way out in the meadow, one of Shane’s friends saw the signal and touched a glowing ember from his own torch to the fuse of the first giant skyrocket. The fuse fizzed and hissed as it burned down. Then FWISHH! it leaped skyward climbing to a soaring height of 500 feet before it exploded in a fantastic burst of blue, yellow, and red colored fire that fanned out and made a huge spider web in the sky.

All the people of Kilcairn pointed up and shouted in awe as the trails of fire fell from the sky towards the meadow. Shane, however, was a million miles away. The mention of the deceased wizard’s name along with the news of a messenger from afar had struck a chord in his memory.

A memory of a promise made and a future promise to call on that debt. Tayvian came hurrying over just then with Karyn and her spinster Aunt who was chaperoning them and was close on their heels.

“Did your dad say these fireworks came from, Choralys?” he asked excitedly. “Yes he did,” Shane said without taking his eyes from the sky. Just then the second skyrocket exploded with a deafening roar and a white burst of fire.

“What do you think it means?” Tayvian wondered aloud.

“I think it might mean that I am going to be called upon to discharge our debts very soon is what I think it means,” Shane said solemnly. The third skyrocket exploded sending a shower of fire and a bright yellow flower blossom streaking across the sky.

“You two know Choralys the White? The old wizard who lives in Mayrewood?

“Yes, but that is a story I will have to tell you another time,” Tayvian said to her. ” Do you think this is the calling he spoke of?” he asked, Shane.

“Yes, I’m afraid I do, Tay. I thought maybe he would forget all about it but obviously, he remembered,” Just then two purple spider webs filled the sky bringing a round of oohs and ah’s from the awe-stricken gathering.

“Let’s hope you are wrong,” he added hopefully. Shane did not share his optimism.

There were a dozen skyrockets in all that Choralys had sent for the celebration. Once they had all been detonated, Randal stood up and asked for their attention once more.

“Now before we strike up the band and start the dancing, there is still one more present for Shane that he must take possession of. It was also brought by the messenger but he would not tell me anything about who had sent it. All he said was that it was from his master and that you, Shane would know what it is for,”

“Uh oh, brother,” Tayvian whispered, “Don’t look now but methinks thy fat is in the fire for sure now.”

“You don’t say,” Shane whispered back.

Just then his father whistled once through his teeth and before the notes had fallen from his lips, the door to the barn swung open. seemingly by itself, and stood open wide. The guests stared into the darkness but there was nothing to be seen there but darkness.

Then with a sudden clop clopping sound, the darkness moved and seemed to detach itself from the darkness inside the barn. As they all watched, that moving darkness became a horse. A midnight black stallion that had a white star in the middle of his forehead and four white socks.

In the light from the torches, his mane and tail glistened midnight black. The stallion was fully equipped with bridle, reins, saddle, and bags. The blanket beneath the saddle was made of white mink and Shane could see that the gleaming metalwork on the livery was made of gold.

The guests crowded all around the horse for no finer animal had ever graced the village of Kilcairn before then. They pressed in on him but had to make way again when the stallion pushed through them and walked straight up to Shane. There he stopped and stood there, looking at him impassively.

“This, this horse is for me?” he said unable to believe his luck.

“Yes it is, according to the messenger who delivered it. He’s a birthday present from his master. That was all he would say before he handed me his reins and left. No wait, he did say one other thing,”

“What was that?” Shane asked anxiously. He was sure it was the message he’d been waiting for. The calling.

“He said the horse’s name is Dark Star, and you are to take extra good care of him,”

“It doesn’t matter if his name is Bonny Prince Charlie. What am I supposed to do with a horse?” Shane asked his father.

The big stallion snorted just then and blew through his lips as he nudged Shane with his massive black head, nearly knocking the boy over backward.

“Hey! Watch it!” he said but the stallion merely shook its head again and crowded in even closer to him.

“I think he likes you, Shane,” Tayvian observed, laughing as the black stallion placed his big head on Shane’s shoulder. He then used his neck as leverage to push Shane over to his right side.

“I think he’s trying to kill me,” Shane replied laughing. “That’s what I think!” he added. The stallion took two steps forward so that Shane was looking at the right-hand saddlebag. Shane could see now that the bag had been tied shut with red twine and the knot had been covered with red sealing wax that bore the seal of an unknown dignitary.

“I think your horse wants you to open that saddle bag,” Tayvian said.

“Don’t be a loon Tay,” Shane told him. “It’s only a horse. It’s not that smart.” Shane said looking at his friend so that he failed to see Dark Star turn to look at him when he commented on his intelligence.

“You’re forgetting where he came probably came from, Shane,” Tayvian warned. As he watched, the horse reached over towards, Shane’s exposed backside.

“What does that have to do with… “OWW!” Shane hollered as he jumped back and grabbed his left buttock where the stallion had nipped it with his teeth. “Did you see that?” he cried as he rubbed the sore spot tenderly.

But his question was lost in the uproarious laughter from the crowd. Not to mention the bawdy commentary coming from the hard cider bunch who were well into their cups by then.

“He really nipped him in the bud didn’t he?” they cackled. They thought they were hilarious anyway.

Shane spun around to face the stallion and he could have sworn the animal was laughing at him. He was no longer unsure of this when the stallion bared his teeth at him, tossed his coal black mane petulantly and turned away from him again.

At the same time, he moved his rump closer to Shane by shifting his weight from one side to the other. He bumped Shane and brought the saddle bag back to his attention.

Tayvian came up beside Shane to admire the black stallion closer. “Somebody went to great expense to send you this creature. I have never seen such a magnificent horse in my life!” he gushed.

“Aye, he is a beautiful beast at that. I wonder who sent him,” Shane said as he looked the horse over more closely.

“If I were you I think I would have a look inside of that saddle bag, son,” Randal said coming up to inspect the horse as well.

“Aye, sir. Perhaps I should. It must be sealed for some reason,” Shane observed.

Dark Star sighed heavily then and shook his head slowly.

“Nobody asked you,” Shane told him as he reached up and tugged at the twine, breaking the wax seal as he pulled the bow knot loose. He pulled the heavy twine away and opened the ornately tooled leather bag.

The first thing he saw was an envelope. It too was sealed with red wax but it bore a different seal. It was the seal of Choralys the White. Shane remembered it from his meeting with the wizard.

Carefully he broke the seal and opened the envelope. The parchment letter was already dried out and brittle with age. He took out a single sheet of folded paper on which the now dead wizard had written, Happy 16th birthday my young apprentice. Your calling and your destiny await you in Darvonshire. Godspeed. Choralys the White.

The letter had been dated one week after they had last seen him in Mayrewood.

“So much for hoping he forgot about you, eh?’ Tayvian said, reading the letter over Shane’s shoulder.

“Aye,” Shane agreed. His heart was heavy now.

“I’m going to put the band to work now so we can start the dancing, son.” his father said as he clapped him on the shoulder. He then went his way to find the players and strike up the band.

Shane looked inside the saddle bag again and found a small scroll that was well oiled and obviously newer than the letter. Shane broke the tiny thread that tied it shut and unrolled it. Inside he read these words.

“Greetings and salutations, young man on this your day of becoming a man. In the event you have yet to realize it, it has been assigned to me to supervise the discharge of your debt of service to my brother, Choralys the White. You are to leave your home by the first light of the morrow, being the 29th day of July, and you are to proceed as directly as possible to my home in the Fraen Valley in Darvonshire where I await your arrival.

Please take the time during your journey to familiarize yourself with the enclosed handbook which you will find to be most helpful to you during your time in my service. Dark Star knows the way home so let him be your guide and trust him. Just be very careful what you say as he does have a most wicked sense of humor for a horse. Sincerely, Sheldrake the Elder.”

“Who is Sheldrake the Elder?” Karyn wanted to know.

“I have no idea,” Shane told her, ”I’ve never heard that name before in my life,”

“Is he a wizard too?

“I would have to say that is a distinct possibility, yes,” Shane admitted, looking at the stallion again.

Right then the band struck up a lively reel, drawing Tayvian and Karyn away to the dance circle that Randal had ringed about with torches. Leaving, Shane allalone with his new friend. Before he could gather up the stallion’s reins to lead him back to the barn, however; who else should show up but the Lynn twins.

“Ooh! they cried in unison, “He’s so beautiful!’

“Aye, that he is,” Shane had to admit.

“Who gave him to you, Shane?” Asked Amber Lynn, or Carrie Lynn. Shane could not tell which.

“A friend I was unaware of,” Shane replied with a shrug.

“When are you going to take us for a ride on him?” Carrie Lynn asked. Or was it Amber Lynn? Who knew?

“It will have to be right now,” Shane replied.

They both squealed, ”Ooh, goodie!” with delight at the offer.

“Who wants to ride first? I’ll let you two decide for yourselves,”

“Carrie can go first so that you and I can take a longer ride,” Amber said. Or was it really Carrie?

“Ladies first,” Shane said as he helped, Carrie Lynn up onto Dark Star’s back. She sat side saddle in the fashion of the day for ladies. Ever the gentleman, Shane hopped up behind her on Star’s rump.

They rode out of the yard and down along the low stone wall that marked the boundary of Randal’s graze lands. The moon overhead was only half full but it gave off enough light to see their way by.

Shortly enough they returned and Amber Lynn took her seat in the black stallion’s saddle.

They had barely left the yard when Amber turned to Shane and said, “I am beginning to think you are never going to ask for my hand, Shane. Why have you not asked me yet? Do you fancy someone else?”

“No, of course not,” Shane assured her. “I have been meaning to ask you after today. Once I had my land and some money together so I could provide you with a decent home and a comfortable life for us,” he explained.

“I see. Are you ready to ask me now? she asked demurely.

“Aye, and never more so. But there is a slight complication that has only just come up,”

“What complication? Tell me,” she demanded.

As the black stallion walked along the mill race down toward the pond, Shane told her all about the trip to Mayrewood, of their being rescued from the dragon, and the subsequent pledge of service he’d made to the wizard that would bind him for the next four years.

“What does all that have to do with you asking to marry me?” Amber Lynn asked after he had related the story to her. “Has he ever called you?” she demanded to know.

“Yes,”

“When?”

“Tonight,” Shane said quietly in anticipation of her reaction.

“Tonight!? Are you playing games with me, Shane?”

“No! I’m not playing games, it’s the truth, That is where the fireworks came from,”

“When do you have to go? Next month, next year, when?” She demanded to know.

”The letter says I have to leave at first light tomorrow morning,”

“What!? Amber Lynn cried, “You can’t do that! What about us? What about our house up in the high valley?”

“I still want all of that but I gave my word and I cannot break it. I have to go,”

“What if you don’t go?” Amber Lynn asked.

“You don’t tell a wizard no, Amber,, and you do not break a promise to one either.”

“But what if you do? What can they do about it? ”

“Believe me you do not want to know,” Shane sighed.

“You just don’t wish to marry me, do you?” she pouted.

“Of course I do,” Shane protested. “I’m asking you now. Amber Lynn will you have me for your husband?” he asked her.

“Yes, Shane! Of course, I will!” Amber Lynn cried as she threw her arms around his neck and squeezed him so hard he nearly passed out. “Oh it will be so wonderful, Shane,” she assured him. “We can get married in September when the leaves change colors an the weather is cooler,”

“Sure thing. Whatever you want. I’m just happy you are willing to wait the four years for me,” Shane said, relieved.

Amber Lynn released him then and shoved him away from her with both hands. “Waiting? Who said anything to you about anybody waiting, Shane?!”

“But, I thought..” he stuttered before she cut him off.

‘Well then you thought all wrong didn’t you?” she yelled in his face.

“But… I…,” he tried to say.

“And don’t you ever call me butt eye again you cad! she added. “If you expect me to sit by my window with a candle burning for you until you finally decide to come back and marry me then you must have fallen on your head one too many times!”

“But…”

“But nothing, Sir love-em-and-leave-em. If you are not going to marry me this September then you can just go ahead and marry your stupid old horse for all I care!”

Dark Star had been plodding along slowly up until this time but now he stopped and looked back balefully at the scorned woman on his back. His violently shaking head and whinny left them little room to wonder what he thought of that idea.

“Oh shut up. Nobody asked you,” Shane told him gruffly and the stallion resumed walking along the edge of the millstream.

“I can no more escape this obligation than I can marry this crazy old horse,” Shane pleaded but she was unmoved and remained adamant about her demands. He either had to choose her or lose her.

He even told her about the huge boulder Choralys had split in two that demonstrated his options but Amber Lynn remained unimpressed and unmoved.

“I don’t care,” she pouted and refused to look at him now. Unless of course, he was going to give in to her demands. Which he couldn’t do either. No matter how much he wanted to.

Even though he had been hoodwinked by the cagey old wizard, Shane had made a promise to repay a life debt and in his book that was binding on him regardless of anything else.

“You don’t really love me!” she cried out and refused to hear his protestations to the contrary. She simply plugged her ears and sang “La la la la la,” to drown his voice out altogether when he begged her to try and understand.”I’m sorry but I cannot hear a word you are saying,” she said

“’ I am truly sorry, Amber Lynn,” he said in final resignation. “but the choice is not mine to make. Whatever you decide to do, I have to leave for Darvonshire in the morning. If you are still unwed when I return in four years then I will ask for your hand again,”

“And I shall say no. Now please take me back to the party, sir. I no longer care to keep your company.” she said with cold finality.

The black stallion spun around just then and headed back to the farm at a dead run that nearly rattled Amber Lynn’s teeth from her head, and threatened to throw her from her seat.

“Stop! Stop it I say!” she hollered as she did her best to hold on but the stallion had taken the reins in his teeth and was not responding to any commands.

“I can’t. He won’t stop!” Shane yelled back. He too was being jarred to pieces on the spine of the warhorse and was hanging on for dear life the same as she was. “Try to hang on!” he advised her.

When they reached the farm again most everyone was dancing and the band was in full swing. Everyone else was gathered around the circle watching them. Nobody noticed them when they came flying back into the yard except for Carrie Lynn who was waiting to find out if Shane has proposed to her sister or not.

Amber Lynn did not even wait for Shane to dismount and help her down from the saddle. She gathered her skirts and jumped down on her own.

Carrie Lynn sensed something was amiss and came running up to see what it was just as her sister turned and lit into Shane one last time.

“You just go ahead and run off with wizards and cater to your stupid old horse, Sir Loser. See if I care! I hope you both walk off a cliff and take that stupid old wizard with you!” she hissed through tightly clenched teeth.

“What is the matter, sister?” Carrie Lynn wanted to know. Her voice filled with concern.

“I caught this creep trying to peek at my petticoats is what is wrong, sister,” Amber Lynn said indignantly. “Come. Let us depart from the company of this sexual deviant,” she said taking her sister by the hand to lead her away toward the dancing circle.

“Pervert!” Carrie Lynn spat at Shane as they turned to walk away.

Shane, of course, wished to protest his innocence but before the first word could pass his lips Dark Star lashed out with his long tail, which almost reached the ground behind him, and laid it right across the faces of both girls. It instantly covered them with wet horse hair that clung to their faces.

Amber Lynn who was already as mad as a nest of wet hornets anyway, spit and sputtered as she clawed the clingy horse hair out of her mouth as did Carrie Lynn.

Amber’s mood went from scorned to livid red rage. “You stupid horse!” she screamed. In the throes of rage, words failed her but she did not lack enthusiasm for the task.

“OOOOH!!” she growled in her throat so it came out more of a muffled scream as she turned on her heel to storm off indignantly. Like a woman scorned is prone to do. But before she could take the first step, the stallion’s tail flicked out again and slapped her squarely across the chops once more.

A few people heard the commotion and were watching from a distance. A few of them had seen the stallion tail-slap the Lynn twins the first time. That in itself was funny enough, but when he got Amber Lynn the second time? Let’s suffice it to say that several members of the Hard Cider Gang were forced to run home and change their britches afterward from laughing so hard.

If it is even possible to be madder than a state of livid red rage it is quite possible that Amber Lynn was the first person in history to achieve that lofty plateau of anger.

She found her voice again and used it to hurl a string of choice expletives that fortunately I do not have to relate to you now. When Amber turned around to recite them for Shane and his stupid horse, that same stupid horse was watching her out of the corner of his eye taking her measure.

With a long practiced flick of his tail, he sent it flying in her face again and it wrapped itself around her head. Wet tail hair filled her open mouth in mid-swear, choking off her scathing diatribe before it even got started.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain why several more members of the Hard Cider Gang had to run home for dry britches then. Or why most of them were now rolling on the ground holding their sides while tears of mirth ran down their faces. But I will anyway.

By this time, Amber Lynn was beside herself with rage. She could hear the roar of their laughter and it rang in her ears. Even Shane was laughing at her. and that was simply too much for her to take.

Her rage suddenly dissolved in hot tears of humiliation as it dawned on her that the “stupid horse” had just made a complete jackass out of her in front of God and everyone and she knew she would never live it down.

She clawed the wet horse hair out of her mouth and away from her face, spitting out loose hairs, and other things she didn’t care to think about, from her mouth.

She looked up at Shane who could only shrug his shoulders as if to say, “Don’t look at me. I didn’t do it,” She opened her mouth again to make a retort but the only thing she could force from her constricted throat was a loud, choking sob.

Rather than stand there and wait for the horse to slap her across the face again, she spun on her heel and set off across the barnyard without even waiting for her sister. Her only thought as she began to run was to escape the laughter of her friends and neighbors.

She got off to a really good start too. Right up until she slipped in a fresh pile of horse apples courtesy of you know who. Her fancy slipper slipped right out from under her and she went down hard landing squarely in the pile of horse manure with a loud, wet plop!

As you can well imagine that was the last straw not only for Amber Lynn, whom you almost had to feel sorry for, but for the Hard Cider Gang who were now laughing so hard that two of them passed out cold and three more required stitches in their sides where they had split wide open.

Even the ladies and worst of all the children were laughing at her as she sat there, completely mortified. When it finally dawned her what she was sitting in that really tore it for her. A wail of anguish rose from her throat and escaped from her lips drawing yet more attention to her plight.

Carrie Lynn rushed over to help her sister up but was brushed off rudely,

”Leave me alone!” she screamed as she got up on her own. Or tried to rather. As she was getting back to her feet she slipped again and went down she went face first in the pile of manure.

The entire audiencenearly came unglued then. Even the band had to stop playing because all of the musicians were laughing too hard to play.

This time when her sister offered her a hand it was not refused. As Shane watched Amber Lynn arise from the muck with her beautiful new party dress covered with unimaginable filth, he could not help but wonder if her sister was going to jump in too so they would match again. He guessed probably not.

The Lynn twins left the barnyard quietly after that and it would be the last time he would ever lay eyes on either of them again.

”Now I see what Sheldrake meant when he said you have a wicked sense of humor, sir horse,” Shane said to the stallion as they watched them leave.

To his utter amazement, the black stallion raised his head and laughed at Amber Lynn’s retreating figure.

Black Beauty

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