Saturday, November 19, 2005

Chapter One, Part Two

Despite her determination to remain calm, Lise felt her hands trembling. Maiden mares — trust them to fool you. Often they foaled before they were due, but three weeks was almost too early. She left the stall and went back to the office to pick up the phone, dialling automatically and letting it ring. She unzipped her coat, feeling unusually warm all of a sudden.

“Allo?” A tired voice finally answered.

“Bonjour Papa. Got a surprise for you. Lucky’s first one is on the way.”

“What? Sotisse? Already?”

“She hasn’t broken her water yet, but this might not take long, the way she’s been so far. Are you coming?” It wasn’t meant as a question. She knew her voice betrayed her faltering composure. She didn’t like the pause at the other end.

“Damn, Lise, I’ve got an important meeting I have to get to.” Her father hesitated briefly. “You can handle this. Get Gilles up to help you out.”

Lise choked back a laugh. “Oh, that’ll go over well.”

“Well, he wanted to move into that apartment. Remind him that this mare’s probably still paying for his education. Call Ben, too, and make sure he’s around.”

Lise hung up the phone and glanced up the stairs that led to the apartment her brother shared with one of the farm’s exercise riders. She glanced at her watch — six forty-five. Not exactly the time Gilles would appreciate getting up on a Saturday morning. First she picked up the phone again and called Ben Thomas, the farm vet, expecting and getting his pager. Once she punched in the farm number, she put the receiver back on its cradle and then stepped lightly up the stairs. A vet’s presence wasn’t neccessary at most foalings — Lise had delivered many babies on the farm over the years — but with the value of this mare, and the fact that Sotisse was early, she would feel better knowing Dr. Thomas was aware.

Though she intended to knock softly, her hand beat an involuntary staccato on the apartment door. If Gilles had lived there alone, she wouldn’t have bothered with the courtesy; she simply would have gone in and dragged him unceremoniously out of bed.

It wasn’t a surprise when his roommate answered, but she found herself embarrassed because of her anxiety. That reputation with the farm staff of one always businesslike and under control was definitely not coming off at the moment. She was sure he would see the welling combination of panic and excitement in her dark blue eyes, or notice the tremor of adrenaline rushing through her body. This was it; this was the one. This foal would carry on the legacy created by its parents, who had turned the tides of chance for their Triple Stripe Stud. Nothing they had bred or raced since those two had come anywhere close.

“Hi.” Pete stepped back to let her inside with his usual warm, unassuming smile, though he was clearly a bit surprised to see her. “Pretty cold out there, I guess, eh?”

“I suppose there’s no point in asking if Gilles is up,” she said, adjusting to the new language, her English softly accented. She could hear the sound of a Toronto radio station’s morning show playing softly in the background as she tentatively stepped through the doorway, overly conscious about her presence in the apartment.

Pete laughed. “Yeah, he’s still dead to the world, I think.”

“Figured as much. I’ve got to get him up anyway. The big mare’s started, and my father can’t make it. I could call Jean to come over from the broodmare barn, but they’ll be starting to turn out soon and he’s got a couple people off today. I just want to make sure I have some help if I need it.” She heard her sentences running together. The well-heated room only made her nervous perspiration more evident, and she found it hard to recall just how cold it had been outside.

“Wow, she’s pretty early, isn’t she?”

“Three weeks. Not early enough to call premature, at least.”

“I could give you a hand,” Pete offered casually, seeming to disregard her mounting tension.
Lise considered his proposal quickly. Pete Miller’s help would no doubt be more effective than her half-conscious brother. “Okay. Great,” she said, deciding. “I’ll give Guy a call and tell him we’ll be late.” She eyed Pete— he looked ready for work, dressed for the cold with a turtleneck under his sweatshirt, wearing a pair of faded jeans. “Will you be long?”

“Right behind you,” he said, and reached for a coat that was slung over a nearby chair.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Chapter One, Part One

She was once just a dream, an image in the mind's eye....

Lise Lachance walked briskly through the darkness of the snow-covered lane, head buried deep in the collar of her down-filled jacket. The squeak of her boots on the hard-packed surface seemed to reverberate through the surrounding stillness, leaving little doubt that the night had been one of the winter’s coldest. Bare old maples loomed like huge shadows on either side, evenly spaced along the neat white stud rails that enclosed expanses of empty fields. A silent layer of snow rested protectively over the landscape.

Fading stars hung on in the clear sky, a colourful glow in the east giving wishful promise of at least some warmth to cut through the bitterness. She tried to pull the collar closer to her ears. Blue eyes picked up her destination about a hundred metres ahead, at the end of the fenceline on her left — a small white barn with blue trim, apartment overhead. With a sudden feeling of anticipation, she put her head down resolutely and picked up the pace.

The barn would offer a certain amount of relief from the cold, but something more drew her. Even though the six-year-old Thoroughbred mare stabled there wasn’t due to drop her first foal for three weeks, the mere thought of that rapidly approaching date set a whole rampage of neurons firing. Many foals would be born at her father’s King City breeding operation that year, but this one, more so than any other, would be special. This mare carried all the hopes and dreams that were the Sport of Kings in her belly, for the foal was destined to be a champion.

This baby’s birthright had been decided the first day the chosen stallion had covered the chestnut mare some ten months ago. There was a strong heritage in these bloodlines — both sire and grandsire of the precious fetus had won the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most prestigious race, the expectant mare herself running second in the classic. The hopes resting on this baby were obvious. It was, admittedly, quite an expectation for the unknown, a creature as yet unborn, but that fusion of cells could do no less than inspire greatness.

She slid through the barn door and shook off the cold, immediately feeling the dampness around her eyes as the frost condensed on her dark lashes. Though the barn was well-insulated, it still amazed her that just two horses could keep the temperature bearable. It was only a simple four-stall barn, one of the original buildings on the property, and now housed the farm office. Lise flipped on the lights and loosened the collar of her jacket, automatically pulling the elastic scrunchie from her long hair and readjusting it. A single, distinct whinny greeted her over the rustle of straw.

The in-foal mare was noticeably absent from the routine, and Lise walked down to the stalls expecting her twinge of concern to be alleviated. Looking in as she flipped the blue feed tub hanging beside the door, she saw the mare standing quietly in the corner of the deep straw, oblivious.

The steam rising off the chestnut mare was a dead giveaway. Tail slightly raised, a hint of sweat on the flank and girth…Sotisse took a deliberate turn around the stall, huge belly swollen with the life she carried. Lise shook her head in disbelief. Damn, mare, this is it...

Fifty Gold Sovereigns -- A Novel

Introduction

When I was eight years old, I began writing a novel about a tiny black filly, royally bred, whose destiny was to run in the Queen's Plate. Through the years the story has evolved, as I learned more about racing and eventually worked extensively in the industry. Still, this story is based in fantasy, and I've taken some liberties as a result!

I won't be posting the whole novel here, only pieces, teasers of a sort, hopefully getting some feedback. I may add thoughts here and there as I go, little extras that aren't part of the body of the actual novel as it stands at the moment. The joy of the blog format is that it will allow me to include illustrations and photographs as I go, as in the "real world" I'm an equine artist. I do, however, appreciate the value of letting the reader form his or her own images of the settings and characters, so hopefully my additions won't get in the way of that. If this is so successful someone wants to make it into a movie though, I'm afraid we'll have to live with it! :)

So, here we go...hope you'll come along for the ride!