|2046-09-15 Beggars Will Ride|
|Location||A Horse Farm - New Jersey|
|Summary||If wishes were horses and all that. Rohan gets offered a side-job that's almost suspiciously nice. I mean, nice things never happen to Rohan.|
Jersey wasn't an utter hellhole.
Rohan wasn't quite sure what he was expecting, after all of Richard's warnings. To be fair, upon reflection, he probably had been through New Jersey before on his stargazing trips; he'd just never paid attention to it before.
Where he ended up, after following the directions Jan had messaged him, was some perfectly pleasant farmland, with trees and rolling pastures. True, there was some urban wasteland along the way, but it gave way to grass eventually.
The end destination was a horse farm. It was not a stable the way the Prospect Park stables were--they were a trail riding stable for the tourists with a basic lesson program attached, scrambling for space in the park and increasingly makeshift in a world where horses had ceased to matter a century ago. Probably living on borrowed time, to be honest. Rohan had heard the complaints about horse shit in the park. Nobody knew how to deal with nature any more.
This was a proper farm, with green pastures with board fences, and a long, long drive that led between the pastures. A long-legged foal regarded him curiously through the fence as he rode up the drive; its copper-coated dam, busy cropping grass, ignored him.
The drive had a turn-off that led to a house of apparently obscene dimensions; the main drive carried onto to the stableyard, where Jan and her beat-up truck were waiting beside a lofty cedar-sided barn that appeared to be either a reproduction of an antique barn, or an antique lovingly restored.
"What took you so long, Whitaker?" she asked.
"Nice place," he replied. "Your second home?"
"Ha," she said, turning toward the barn. "Belongs to a friend of mine."
"Is your friend single and, if not, can I borrow money?" asked Rohan.
Jan snorted in reply. She ventured to explain, while rolling open the door to the barn with a rumble. "We grew up together. Two horse crazy girls in the Bronx, doing whatever it took to ride. Spent a memorable winter after high school, grooming around the Florida circuit, driving our parents to distraction because they wanted us to go to college or find real jobs. Well, I never got a real job. Decided the way to stick around horses was to work with them. She was smarter--she realized the real way to enjoy horses was to get a job that would allow her the money to enjoy them. Became a hot shot lawyer, made a lot of money, then married someone even richer and cleaned him out in the divorced. Not saying she married him for his money, but I always thought she preferred girls before him. Anyway," she said, striding down the barn aisle, "she has a daughter. Spoilt little brat. Thought she'd buy said daughter all sorts of expensive ponies when she entered the horsey phase because it was so hard for us to get access to horses and she didn't want Daughter Dearest to have to go through that."
"I'm guessing that didn't end well," said Rohan, glancing around him. The barn was disturbingly clean for a barn, and smelt richly of horses and hay. Each stall had a sliding, barred door, unmarred by the chewing of bored horses, with a blanket and a halter hung on each door. The nameplates were brass, polished to a gleam.
"Bingo," said Jan. "Kid's got some talent, but--she's a mess. Moved onto boys, and ran wild. Drugs, petty theft, etc. My friend's finally decided to take her to Europe for two years and see if she'll straighten out away from her friends."
"I may be wrong," said Rohan, "but that doesn't sound like it's going to work to me."
"That's what I said. But apparently since I don't have kids, my opinion doesn't count. Anyway, she left me in charge of the horses while she's gone. Not exclusively, thank goodness--there's a groom and a caretaker here, as well as a security guy at night--I really didn't want to be responsible for this much expensive stuff. But she thinks her precious darling is going to be all straightened out and ready to embark on becoming an Olympic rider when she gets back, and she wants her horses to be fit. And they're all fancy warmbloods, and you know how they are. Thoroughbreds'll keep themselves fit by fretting, but warmbloods fall into a pile of goo if they're not worked for a couple of days." Jan ran a hand over her hair and approached one of the end stalls. "I'm thinking of bringing a couple of them to the park--makes me a bit nervous, because they're probably worth more than the rest of the string put together, but, you know, horses are always trying to kill themselves anyway. There's no reason they'll be more successful at the park than here. But this guy I can't bring there."
Rohan peered through the stall bars. The occupant left off lipping at hay in the corner, and turned around to greet him.
It was a huge stall, piled lavishly with straw, sunlight slipping through an exterior window to pool, golden, in the straw, and linger on the horse's coat. Said horse had obviously just been brought in; his coat did not gleam in the sunlight but was so covered with dust and dried mud it wasn't quite clear whether he was black or dark bay. It was clear he had a lot of white on him, even through the dirt; four stockings of varying length, a splash on one hindquarter as if he'd been hit with a snowball, and a narrow, wandering blaze that started in one corner of his forehead and ended at the opposite nostril.
There was something about this horse. He had a presence to him, a quiet confidence, a clear intelligence in his liquid eyes. He wandered up to the bars and snorted toward Rohan in greeting.
Rohan stared at him for almost a minute before he understood Jan's last remark.
"He's all man," he said.
"Yes," said Jan, with a sigh of frustration, leaning against the stall wall. "Do you have any idea what stallions do to insurance policies, Whitaker? Costs go through the roof. I can't have him at the park stables. I can't stable him with mares. I can't have minors handling him. He's actually a really well-behaved boy--never been bred, which is probably part of it--but someone's taught him manners. A bit exuberant at times, but a puppy dog. Doesn't make any difference to the insurers, of course. Still wouldn't let any of the horse crazy girls at the stables handle him."
"Is there a reason he's a stalion?" asked Rohan. "Hey there," he said quietly to the horse in question, who pricked his ears toward him, watching.
"Born that way," said Jan drily. "That said, he has a fantastic pedigree, great conformation, lovely movement and a really promising jump. Imported from Holland as a yearling. He's not the sort of horse you look at and think he doesn't deserve his balls. On the other hand, he hasn't done anything in particular to deserve them either. I keep saying that a good stallion makes a great gelding and he'd be happier if he was gelded and could be turned out with other horses--but she never listens. And don't wince, Whitaker."
"What?" said Rohan, reaching out between the bars to rub the stallion's forehead. The horse was watching him still, gaze keen, but he leaned into Rohan's hand.
"You winced," said Jan."Men always wince when people talk about gelding. It's like you can't help the sympathy."
"I didn't," said Rohan, although his attention was now on the horse.
"You did." Jan sounded very sure of herself. She sighed. "I even suggested she freeze him, if she really wanted to breed him, and then geld. Nope, no one listening. Anyway. So there's the thing. He's been out at grass for a year now. Dear daughter was afraid of him, I think. He's seriously unfit and that needs to change. The only way to fix that is a lot of wet saddle blankets, and I just don't have the time. I need an adult with their own transport and the common sense not to go gooey over a black stallion, so that's where you come in. But I really don't want this horse to get fucked up--and I think I probably don't want you to die either--so you're going to give him a good grooming, which he seriously needs, tack him up, take him for a spin around the outdoor and if it goes well, we'll talk."
The horse was, indeed, black. After several minutes of vigourous brushing, dried mud splattering the concrete around Rohan's boots, his coat shone glossy black, with deep blue highlights, albeit with the rusty sheen over his back of a horse who'd spent a lot of time in the sun. He watched Rohan through the grooming, mouthing at the cross ties as if he needed to keep his mouth busy, ears bright, ears pricked. There was a sense of energy through the lines of his entire body, but it wasn't anxiety or nerves. It was an energy of anticipation. This horse was ready to go.
The nameplate on his halter said 'MAGNANIMOUS.' "That's a stupid name," Rohan informed the horse. "I'm going to call you Magpie. Goes with your colours." The newly-christened Magpie did not seem to object.
Rohan had been working on mounting from the ground, but with Magpie he used the mounting block. The young stallion was tall. Tall, with a rounded barrel that took up Rohan's leg nicely. It was always nice when your leg seemed to fit a horse.
And then he started to move.
He wasn't perfect. He was clearly very green; sometimes he seemed confused by Rohan's aids, although he always tried. "He's just a baby," said Jan. "Only six. Has his bascs, but that's about it. Keep your aids straightforward and clear; don't ask him for anything complicated."
He was unfit. Half a ring of canter left him puffing, and he was breathing hard even at the trot.
But the way he moved…
He moved with a power that Rohan had never felt, with the energy of a coiled spring, ready to unleash when asked. He moved as if he always knew exactly where each hoof was, able to recover himself in situations where another horse might stumble, He was elastic, bending like putty at the ask of Rohan's hands and legs.
Rohan felt disloyal for thinking it, but moving from Bucky, who he usually rode, to this horse, was like going from a rickety old scooter to a racing bike.
Even as he let the exhausted Magpie collapse beneath him into a walk on a loose rein, he moved with a long, swinging stride, power and grace evident in every moment.
Rohan was grinning. He couldn't help it.
"Bet you've never been on a horse this nice, have you?" asked Jan, watching his face. "Well, make the most of it. These chances for us wishes were horses types don't come around often. He seems to get on with you well enough. Can you get out here three, four times a week?"
"It's more than a hour's drive from Manhattan," pointed out Rohan.
"Shorter than it is for me from Brooklyn. And it's not a working stable and there's no one to disturb, so come whenever you like. There's an indoor and lights in the outdoor, so, hell, come in the middle of the night if you're being a crazy insomniac again. Just remember the horse has to sleep, too." Jan took a step back, thrusting her hands in her pockets. "Three exericse rides a week. At least a hour. There's a nice little trail around the property if you want variety, but be careful. Fourth ride, I'll come out and give you both a lesson. Remember, he's still green and you're training him every time you ride. Two hundred a week."
Rohan's heart plunged. "I can't afford that."
"No, silly," said Jan. "I'm paying you to ride him. He needs the exercise, and Shelly's paying me a silly amount of money to manage her horses, so I'm spreading it around. Give it back to me to buy a lesson at the park every so often; you'll need to stay in practice. You're getting paid to ride the nicest horse you've never been on, and that doesn't happen often. Don't be stupid."
"Well, in that case," said Rohan. "Don't think I can say no."
"Good," said Jan. "If you can't make all rides in a week, let me know, and I'll adjust pay and make arrangements. For the love of god, if you disappear for a month again, let me know in advance. He needs to be ridden, no matter where you're off to. I'll introduce you to the groom and caretaker; if there's anything even slightly off about him or any of the others, let the groom know immediately. If she's not here, call me. The gate's usually locked; I'll get you the security code."
Rohan swung down off the horse. It was a long way down to the ground. He ran up one stirrup before he said, "You're being really generous. But--well. Does your friend know you're giving a mutant ex-merc run of the place?"
"Are you planning to steal or destroy anything?" asked Jan.
Rohan loosened the girth a hole and looked back to Jan. "No, of course."
"Well, then." Jan leaned against the fence. "Let me introduce you to a magic phrase. "He works for a charity." Or homeless shelter or halfway house, or however specific you want to be. You can even admit it's for mutants. It'd piss some people off, but make you look even more noble and self-sacrificing to everyone else. It makes people trust you. Use it when you need to."
Rohan moved around the horse to run up the other stirrup. He squinted at Jan. Magpie sniffed at his hair.
"You're an adult," said Jan. "I'm not going to outline all the expectations, but I think you know the drill. Don't steal or destroy anything, look after things, clean up after yourself, etc. If anything's wrong with the property, tell the caretaker. Don't touch any of the other horses unless it's an emergency. Don't go in the house, but Shelly's actually okay with people using the pool, so feel free to take a swim if you like. Don't throw wild parties or anything, but if you actually know someone who's willing to come sit around Jersey for a couple of hours while you ride, you might want to bring them. When riding a green horse on a nearly deserted farm, sometimes it's nice to know there's someone else to call 911 if necessary. And if anything does happen that shouldn't on your watch, I'll come down on your ass like a ton of bricks. Deal?"
Rohan looked over to Magpie. The stallion watched him, bright-eyed, ears pricked."Deal," he said.