The White Foal
April 1114, Rhemuth, Gwynedd
Seven year old Kelson glanced over his shoulder as he passed through the archway that led to the Royal Stables. The predawn chill penetrated his wool tunic and he hunched in his cloak against the cold. He was grateful for the garment's warmth, but he wished his mother had given the Twelfth Night gift in some other color than the royal crimson. It was very hard to be inconspicuous when one's clothing proclaimed one's identity as the Prince.
Fortunately, he didn't see anyone about other than the sleepy gate guards, and they happened to be some men who had a soft spot for him and wouldn't report his truancy to his parents. He slipped into the warm, redolent stable and headed for the stall where the mare that had born a new colt two days before resided. Most of the horses were still dozing and the few who whickered at his passage quieted as he patted noses and hushed them. The grooms were still asleep. He could hear snores from the hayloft above. He hoisted himself up on the temporary gate to the mare's stall and gazed fascinated at the colt that lay curled up at the bay's hooves. It's hide gleamed in the light of the full moon that streamed into the stables from the windows high in the stone structure.
He hadn't believed the words of the servant who had gossiped while helping him dress for the court banquet two days before. How could a bay mare and a black stallion create a white foal? Kelson had asked his father if he could see the marvel, but Brion had been distracted by the discourse of a visiting ambassador and had brushed the query off. His mother would not have approved of his curiosity, he was sure, and his uncle, Duke Nigel, was likewise occupied with visiting nobles, so he decided to go see for himself in the morning.
Unfortunately, the following morning had found him closeted with his Uncle Nigel and the other young nobles who made up the Page's School in the castle library, researching family lines and heraldry recognition because one of the newer pages had mistaken the Earl of Eastmarch with a lesser lord and inadvertently insulted the noble. Kelson had felt sorry for the red-haired youngster, but didn't appreciate having to spend a beautiful early spring day inside the musty, scroll and book filled library, especially when he had wanted to see the new colt. When they'd finally been released from their studies, Kelson had been summoned to spend several hours with his mother -- a summons he dared not disobey.
Thus he now found himself where he wanted to be, at least two hours before cocks crow. He smiled as the colt stirred and wakened to stagger up on spindly legs and nuzzle at his mother's flank before beginning to nurse.
Suddenly, he heard the shuffling sound of a soft leather sole on cobbles and he looked about wildly for a moment, before dodging into the empty stall beyond the mare's, to hunch down behind the partition that separated the stalls. He didn't want to get caught away from his room. Not that he worried about being thrashed, but he truly hated the thought of having to endure one of his mother's lectures on the correct behavior expected of a prince.
The shuffling sound moved closer then stopped, being replaced by the sound of shifting straw and the whicker of a sleepy horse. Kelson's curiosity was piqued. He peeked out around the partition but could see no one in the moon-washed passage. He eased out of the stall, moving as quietly as he could toward the stall the intruder had entered.
The sound of straw bedding shifting came again, then, as Kelson paused, his hand resting on the gate of the mare's stall, he heard the sound of sobbing. It was muffled, but unmistakable.
The prince moved forward and looked into the stall, forgetting that he would be backlit by the brilliant moonlight. He got a glimpse of a shaggy mountain pony before a short figure charged out of the stall and tackled him, knocking him to the floor. He grappled with the slighter attacker and managed to get a good grip on the pummeling arms and rolled to kneel on top of the boy. For boy it turned out to be, with tearstained, freckled face that was pale in the moonlight, beneath a shock of unruly red hair. Kelson lowered the fist he'd raised to strike him as he recognized the youth as the unfortunate page who'd caused the heraldry lesson.
He sat back on his heels, releasing the younger boy. As the moonlight illuminated his face, the redhead, who had scrambled into a sitting position, suddenly gasped in recognition.
"I'm sorry, your highness! I didn't know it was you!" He began to bow.
"Stop that!" Kelson whispered irritably. "You'll wake up the grooms." He stood and hauled the boy to his feet, and gazed across at him. "What's your name?"
"MacArdry." he mumbled, not meeting Kelson's gray eyes, "Dhugal MacArdry from Transha." Dhugal scrubbed a fist at his still wet eyes and glanced briefly at Kelson before returning his gaze to his feet.
"And you're homesick." The prince nodded in sudden understanding. "Is that your pony?" He indicated the stocky mount who was peering at them from beneath a shaggy forelock.
"Aye, your highness. Sean's all I have of home here." His voice held the lilt of the borders. He reached out to rub the pony's forehead as he spoke. "He keeps my secrets."
"Don't worry," Kelson said, "I won't tattle on you." He plopped down on the straw at the pony's feet and yanked the border lad to sit next to him. "What's Transha like?" He listened to the boy's at-first-hesitant, whispered description of his home and family, learning about brothers far older and grown, and of a twin sister who teased him unmercifully. The border accent made the usual events of a noble's hall seem different and exotic.
"I didna want to come here," Dhugal finished. "And th'other boys laugh at me and my border speech and ways. We're not bar-bar-barbarians" He stumbled over the word.
Kelson's eyes narrowed. His cousin, Conall had spoken disparagingly of some of the pages who hailed from demenses far from the Capital city, using that term. "Of course not!" He put his arm across the smaller boy's shoulder. "Don't worry about what they say. We'll show them." He felt Dhugal flinch beneath his touch and draw away. "What's wrong?"
Dhugal shrugged, grimacing a bit in discomfort. "His excellency, the Earl of Eastmarch, wasn't happy with my--mistake. And he has a heavy hand."
Kelson stared at him for a moment. "What--was that why you were crying?"
His companion nodded, ducking his head.
Kelson, spared most physical discipline because of his rank and position sat in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes before jumping to his feet, startling the pony behind them into a whicker. "Have you seen the new colt?" He pulled Dhugal up and over to the gated stall. "I've never seen a while one like this before."
The foal had finished it's meal and, curious, turned toward Kelson's whispered voice. It blinked it's eyes gleaming pinkly as it passed into the shaft of moonlight.
"An albino," Dhugal breathed. "My da had a stallion that was like that, pink eyes and all white." He turned to face Kelson and grinned, revealing a gap of missing front teeth. "He was a great warhorse."
"Maybe when this one's grown up he'll be my father's war horse."
Before Dhugal could respond, the sound of the bells at Saint Hillary's tolled the hour. Four melodious clangs echoed in the stone stables and the boys started.
"I've got to get back before I'm caught out," Dhugal whispered. "I don't want another thrashing."
"Well, you won't get thrashed for tonight. Come on." Kelson cast a final glance at the foal before hauling Dhugal from the stables. "I'll get you back in without anyone noticing."
He led the way along the perimeter of the courtyard, avoiding the guards by keeping to the shadows until he reached the door he'd used to leave the main keep.
Once through it, he ran his fingers along the wooden paneling of the corridor until a catch triggered, and a gap opened in the wood. He grinned at Dhugal and pulled the surprised boy inside. Sliding the panel closed behind him, he scooped up the shielded lantern he'd left in the secret passage when he'd headed for the stables. "We've got to be quiet." Opening one side of the lantern, he was relieved to find the candle inside had not burned down completely. "Come on!"
After a twisting journey through the narrow secret passage, Kelson stood with Dhugal in the torchlit corridor outside the dormitory. "Here you are."
The russet-haired boy grinned at him, then thrust a grimy hand toward Kelson.
Kelson took the proffered hand and grinned back. "See you in the morning. And you can tell me more about your father's white horse."
The rattle of a patrolling guard's armor around the corner interrupted them, sending Dhugal scurrying into the pages' room while Kelson ducked into the secret passage again. He slipped into his own tower room through another panel, bypassing the attendants sleeping in the outer chamber. Yawning, he crawled into his bed for what little remained of the night, thinking sleepily of his new found friend and planning adventures for the day to come.
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