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...

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