Here's the start of “Sarina's Challenge.”

“Sarina’s Challenge”  -  a taster.

Sarina is a racing kertle on her way with her master, Jaxaal Oostedd, to compete in “The Challenge” the hardest, most gruelling race on the Island Continent of Fameral. Jaxaal hopes to win fame, fortune and possibly the hand of the girl he loves. Little does he realize that far more rests on his winning the Challenge for he must correct an old injustice and prevent a civil war before any hopes of personal gain. Meeting and helped by relations he never knew he had Jaxaal tackles The Challenge and all the hardships that are thrown at him while combating the highest nobles in the land.

 The book has been reviewed as "atmospheric and imaginative" and a ‘coming of age’ battle against seemingly impossible odds.

 Here are the first chapter for you to sample:-

 

 

 

Five days to the veld, five velds to the alphen, five alphens to the bathern and five bathern’s to the turn.”  Children’s chanting song, taught to teach the Fameral calendar.

 

Chapter 1

‘Why am I doing this?’ Jaxaal yelled as he looked to the sky.  ‘Why am I on this awful journey?’  However, his mood instantly lightened and he laughed as he watched Sarina splashing around in the water.

Loch Mirroord was a welcome gift for both the man and kertle and they were both making the most of the opportunity to relax and get clean. However, Jaxaal didn’t have time to dawdle - he had to get the shroud that Sarina hated and detested so much, clean, dry, and back on her as quickly as possible.

So far, it had been a gruelling three-veld journey - fifteen days of continual travel and there were still several days to go before they could reach Medland.  The dusty roads that lay behind them were the lifelines between the lands of the distant houses to Medland, the capital city that marked the business and governmental centre of the island continent of Fameral.  They were well into the growing bathern and nearing the hottest part of the turn; it was a blessing to be able to cool off, but the grime-encrusted shroud was proving difficult to get clean.

Jaxaal had grown up at High Tor Farm, raised by his Uncle Uster and his Aunt Arianne. His parents were dead; he didn't know much of how or why they had died. His uncle and aunt had volunteered very little information, just enough to satisfy a passing curiosity.

Uster was an expert swordsman and a renowned kertle breeder, and High Tor Farm was well respected, as the source of good drays, palfreys and racers - not that they made much of the racing strains, at least as far as outsiders were aware. It had seemed only natural that Jaxaal should learn both skills from his uncle.

Jaxaal had shown a marked ability in helping with the kertles; he had a talent for spotting those hatchlings that needed help in their first few moments of life, and had proved a valuable asset to Uster's breeding program. He was also an excellent rider, and had been right from an early age. He was gifted with the sensitive touch needed to bring out the best in a kertle and the quiet strength of character to be able to enforce his will on even the most truculent turnling.

Sarina had always been his favourite, right from the time he had helped ease her out of her shell and she had looked adoringly up into his face. Now, two turns later, she looked down on him from well above his own height. Uster had said that she was the best racer he had ever bred and was destined to do great things in the world outside High Tor Farm. It was with unbounded pride and a little apprehension that Jaxaal had taken on the responsibility of looking after her and seeing to her training. She was good, very good. Jaxaal had ridden many racers on the farm, but none of them could fly across the ground in a seemingly effortless surge the way Sarina did.

Uster had insisted that, despite her apparent speed, her training must be aimed at building up her strength and stamina. She was destined to race in the Fameral Challenge, the biggest and most prestigious race event in Fameral - five days of racing over a five-league course that would slowly whittle the contestants down to the last five in order to find an eventual winner.

The Challenge was held every two turns and the next one was just three velds away. Sarina and Jaxaal were bound for the capital, Medland, to register their entry. Uster and Jaxaal, had carefully planned the preparation for the event to bring both kertle and rider to the height of fitness at just the right moment. Built into this plan had been the necessity for the vital last few velds` of training to be take place on the way to the race. However, Jaxaal had been disturbed when Uster revealed that he would not be accompanying them on their journey, and refused to give a reason why. However, his uncle had been adamant and Jaxaal had been forced to accept the decision.

Jaxaal had left High Tor Farm with clear and detailed instructions on his route, the times they had to achieve each section of the journey and the food that both he and Sarina should eat. Jaxaal had been as good as his promise and had followed the carefully constructed plan to the letter. Well, almost.

They should have passed this point of the journey last night, but Jaxaal had dawdled yesterday afternoon. This had nothing to do with wanting to risk the purpose of his expedition, but a lot to do with a pair of sparkling eyes that had watched him as he rode past the wagon in which their owner was travelling. He had passed the caravan yesterday morning, and hadn’t made much headway since.

When he had recovered his composure, Jaxaal had struck up a conversation with one of the drovers that formed a large part of the caravan and discovered that, as he had guessed from the insignia on some of the wagons, that this was the party from the House of Swenland. Like him, they were on their way to the Challenge, and he learned that the occupants of the wagon he had passed were the daughters of Lord Swenland.

He had instantly decided to keep pace with the caravan so that he and they would spend the night in the same place. After all, he had just passed his majority and a permanent relationship was not out of the question.

'Nothing like aiming high,' he told himself with a grin although he realised that it wouldn’t have mattered if the girl and been a simple peasant, those eyes and the beautiful face in which they sat held a fascination Jaxaal couldn’t ignore.

He had found himself a convenient little gully next to the road, opposite the open space that the caravan masters had chosen for their night’s stop. Here he could tether Sarina and see to her needs. She had objected most vehemently when he had refused to take off the shroud that covered her fine racing physique. She snorted at him and stamped her front claws when she realised he was not about to remove the hated shroud.

'Don't be a silly girl,' Jaxaal soothed her. 'I can't let anyone see you as you really are, my sweet. You are far too valuable a kertle. I would be putting temptation in the way of anyone who saw you!'

Jaxaal had always talked to Sarina as if she could understand every word he said, and the kertle would respond to the implied compliment by giving him her complete trust. She slowly calmed down and perked up when Jaxaal prepared and gave her an evening meal of high quality cornmeal. This supplemented the ample supply of ground vegetation that the gully provided.

Despite the temptation to do so, Jaxaal knew he could not leave Sarina unattended; the risk of someone discovering her true nature was too great. However, he dearly wished to be able to go and explore the travellers’ temporary camp, the memory of those sparkling eyes being too strong to ignore so, once Sarina was well settled, he edged his way to the entrance of the gully where he could get a view of most of the campsite.

He searched the immediate area with an intense scrutiny. The first thing that caught his attention was a makeshift stall where a canny young trader, who, obviously travelling with the caravan for just this purpose, had set up a food stall. The smell of roasting kitchen fowl was overpowering, and Jaxaal found himself irresistibly drawn across the track that ran between the gully and the trader’s stall. He looked back guiltily to where Sarina was settling down for the night, but she was fine and he had a good view of her from where he stood.

He set about satisfying his own hunger with a roast leg of kitchen fowl and a chunk of flat bread, which cost him a significant amount of his small supply of spending money. The feelings of guilt were assuaged by the succulent tastes that filled his mouth.

He continued looking all around, trying to identify the wagon he had seen earlier, but there were too many and all very much alike. He took another large mouthful of meat and felt the succulent juices run down his cheek and jaw. Just as he was wiping the greasy juice from his face and clothes, he saw her.

Caught totally unawares, he nearly choked as he tried to swallow the large mouthful. She had obviously seen his discomfort and her stifled laughter only made his embarrassment worse. She was walking down the track towards him accompanied by the plainest girl Jaxaal had ever seen. The girl’s companion was, on closer examination, obviously a relation; there were similarities that linked them and yet, whereas one was the most beautiful woman Jaxaal had ever seen, the other was unfortunate in every respect. She was bigger and clumsier and lacked the graceful carriage that her smaller companion, presumably her sister or cousin, possessed.

Jaxaal managed to regain some form of composure as the two approached. He noticed that a couple of men armed with swords followed the two, at a discreet distance. As they reached the stall, ‘sparkling eyes’ gave both Jaxaal and the stallholder a stunning smile. Jaxaal knew he was lost.

‘Hello, Miss Janilla,’ began the stallholder, ‘can I get you a kitchen fowl dinner again tonight?’

‘Thank you, but no, Milden,’ Janilla replied. ‘Parina and I have already eaten. Anyway, you seem to be doing good business tonight,’ she added, turning her gaze towards Jaxaal.

‘I’m not surprised,’ Jaxaal managed to say. ‘These are excellent,’ and he gestured to the roasted portions lined up for the next customers.

‘Are you not the drover who passed us on the road earlier this morning?’  Janilla asked.

‘Yes, I remember seeing you,’ Jaxaal found himself admitting. ‘You’re the daughter of Lord Swenland, I believe.’

‘You are well informed,’ Janilla replied. ‘I am Janilla and this is my elder sister, Parina. We are both of the House of Swenland.’  Both girls gave a little curtsy followed by a little giggle at the unnecessary formality; both young women were revelling in the freedom and informality that travelling was allowing them.

Jaxaal noticed that Parina’s features were transformed when she smiled, although she was still extremely plain.

‘And I am Jaxaal Oostedd, of High Tor Farm,’ Jaxaal replied, desperately trying to boost his apparent social standing, ‘although I am not affiliated to any of the four houses or any of their fifths.’

‘Are you related to Uster Oostedd?’  Janilla asked.

‘He is my uncle,’ Jaxaal replied, ‘although he has raised me as his son,’ he added, trying to add as much to his slim hereditary as he could. ‘Do you know of him?’

‘His fame as a kertle breeder is well known, all over Fameral I imagine,’ Janilla replied.

‘We have some of his drays in our stable, I believe,’ Parina said, joining in the conversation. ‘Do you ride one of his kertles?’

‘Of course,’ Jaxaal replied and immediately regretted appearing so condescending, ‘she‘s tethered over there.’  He pointed down the gully where, to his relief, he could see Sarina safely dozing in the evening sun.

‘She seems a little slight to be a working dray,’ Janilla commented. ‘I noticed as you passed us earlier.’ This was getting onto dangerous territory and Jaxaal was distressed that their efforts to disguise Sarina’s true nature had been so inadequate.

Sensing Jaxaal’s concern, Janilla quickly added, ‘I suppose she is still young.’

‘Yes, she is barely more than two turns,’ Jaxaal replied, relieved that a reasonable explanation had been offered to him. He couldn’t risk this conversation going any further down a dangerous course.

Luckily, the noisy arrival of a group of young men determined to enjoy themselves interrupted their conversation. The young men had obviously been aiding their enjoyment by drinking freely from the flagons that several carried.

‘Hello sisters!’ one of the young men announced loudly. Jaxaal looked at the speaker and didn’t need the hint in his greeting to realise that he was related to Janilla and Parina,  the family resemblance was palpable.

‘My friends and I are hungry and we’re in need of some of these excellent kitchen fowl,’ continued the man, as he lurched up to Milden’s stall and helped himself to a roasted leg, to the understandable annoyance of the stallholder.

‘Now Neldon,’ Parina said, stepping up beside her brother, ‘you shouldn’t start eating without paying for your food. Milden is not running a charity. Now pay him for what you have taken.’

‘He should think himself lucky to have such highborn customers honouring his establishment,’ Neldon replied arrogantly.

‘I am sure he is grateful for the business, but it is a business. Now pay him.’

‘Yes, big sister,’ Neldon replied in a derisory tone, but he did put the roasted leg in his mouth so that he could use both hands to reach into the leather purse that hung at his waist. He made a big show of extracting a silver Strand and handing it to the stallholder. Milden thanked him and reached for his own purse to get the change due on the transaction.

‘No, you keep the change, my good man,’ Neldon said superciliously and smirked at his friends.

Jaxaal decided that Janilla and Parina’s brother was not someone he wished to get to know and decided to slip away, despite the fact that he really wanted to stay and talk to Janilla for as long as he could.

When the chance came, he quietly gave his apologies to the girls for leaving so abruptly, claiming that he didn’t want to leave his kertle any longer than was necessary, which was true, and hastily made his way back down the gully.

He settled down for the night, wrapping himself in the cape Arianne had made for him especially for this journey. He snuggled down against Sarina as she lay on her side to benefit from her body heat and she gave a contented snuffle.

‘Well, at least I know her name now and I’ve actually talked to her,’ was Jaxaal’s last thought as he followed Sarina into a deep sleep.

They were up and away early the next morning, before most of the caravan had stirred. Jaxaal wanted to make up for lost time and to get another five-league training run completed before night fall. They made good progress and by midmorning were several leagues ahead of the lead wagons of the Swenland party.

Each time he looked behind he became certain that he was being followed. On a busy road like this there would always be people behind and ahead of you, but this was different. He was sure he had seen a black-cloaked figure, only a few hundred paces behind him, who instantly darted into cover at the roadside. 

He had grown up with the spectre of ‘Black Cloaks’ hanging over him. The scary tales told to the village children by their parents, who wanted to use fear to instil some discipline into their offspring, had meant little to Jaxaal. His uncle and aunt had not resorted to such devices. Despite this, Jaxaal knew there must be some truth in the tales for he had seen ‘Black Cloaks’ for himself. At odd moments during his life, as he was growing up, he was sure he was being watched and occasionally would catch a fleeting glance of a black figure disappearing into the shadows.

Uster had not ridiculed him when Jaxaal had broached the subject.

‘Don’t worry your head too much about them,’ he had confided, ‘but don’t take risks either. Tell you what - if you ever see a black cloak, you pick up a stone and throw it at them. It probably won’t do them any harm and it will let them know that you know they are there. And let me know whenever you do see one, alright?’

Jaxaal had felt much better after this and, armed with the confidence his uncle’s words had given him, and since the farm was strewn with a good supply of throwable stones, he had not worried too much about black cloaks since. He did notice, though, that whenever he did report back to Uster that he had seen one, his uncle would wear a sword for a few days whenever he was outside. This was surprising as, although Uster was a superb swordsman, the weapons were an encumbrance when working about the farm.

As Sarina and he had covered another slight rise, Jaxaal was confident that they were far enough ahead to be able to set about a training run. This entailed hoisting up the shroud that disguised Sarina’s athletic body, by pulling the tapes that Arianne had cleverly sewn into the sides of the covering. This lifted the bottom up sufficiently to enable Sarina to run at a full gallop. The fact that she still had to carry the shroud as well as the equipment and supplies they needed on their journey merely served to add to the training value of the exercise.

They had slowly worked up to a full five-league run, which would be a good strength and stamina-building exercise. Jaxaal checked the map he carried and, satisfied that he would know when they had completed the required distance, he prepared Sarina for a run. This had been part of her training right from the start, and ensured that she was mentally prepared for the sudden expenditure of energy. Happy that she was quite aware and ready to run, Jaxaal dug his heels in and whooped at the thrill of the sensation as Sarina took off at a full gallop.

The run went well and Jaxaal was sure that they had covered the five leagues in a good time. He had to admit to himself that he had planned this run carefully so that it would finish just where the road to Under Childe ran beside Loch Mirroord, a large body of fresh water.

He had eventually found a way down from the road to the waterside and was delighted that the twist in the side path and the impenetrable roadside vegetation obscured the loch from the road. It meant that they could both get out of their travelling clothes and have a refreshing swim. Sarina was delighted that she was rid of the cursed shroud and frolicked in the water. Jaxaal played with her, he too revelling in the feel of the water on his naked body. But his chores demanded attention and he set about washing the shroud.

It was as filthy inside as it was out. It was caked in dust from the rich farmlands they had traversed, while the oil, both natural and that which had been applied to cover Sarina’s scales, was rimed in swathes on the inside. It took him an age to scrape off the grime, but at last it was ready to be washed. When that was finished, he laid it out over a bush to dry in the afternoon sun. He then attended to his own clothing.

Jaxaal thought about washing the cape that Arianne had made for him, but decided against it as she had insisted on making it double-sided. On the outer surface were the yellow and brown designs that were immediately recognisable as those of a drover. The inside was a strange mixture of green and blue patterns, the origin of which Jaxaal had no idea. So far he had only worn it with the drover designs showing and it had worked well. The double-stitching and designs had made it very warm, a blessing on cold nights on the road.

After a final swim, he dressed his lower half for decency’s sake - it was possible that others might venture down on to the loch-side; he also shrugged on his shirt and waistcoat before whistling for Sarina to stop playing in the water and join him on dry land. With a last dive and leap out of the water, she launched herself towards the shore and the attention she knew she was about to get.

Jaxaal gathered the things he needed from his pack and began drying off his precious steed. She helped by shaking herself vigorously, her scales sending droplets of water in a fine halo of spray that caught the afternoon sun and caused rainbows to spring into being. She then raised her head as if to say ‘See how beautiful I am’.

‘Yes, you’re a very gorgeous girl,’ Jaxaal told her as he began rubbing her sides with a rough cloth.

‘She is indeed,’ came a voice behind him.

Jaxaal spun on his heel, dumfounded. He’d have recognised that voice anywhere!

‘Er… hello,’ he stammered lamely. ‘I didn’t know there was anyone else about.’

‘We’ve only just arrived,’ Janilla said as she walked up to the drover and his kertle. ‘Parina and I thought it would be nice by the water.’

‘I’ll finish up and get out of your way as quickly as I can,’ Jaxaal blurted out. ‘You’ll want the beach to yourselves.’

‘Oh, don’t go on our account, we’re not planning to swim. It’s just nice to get some of the cooler air down here by the water. This has been the hottest day of our journey so far. And anyway, you have not finished your kertle’s grooming - I take it you intend to oil her?’ Janilla came and stood beside Jaxaal and ran her hands approvingly over Sarina’s shining flank.

‘Well, yes,’ Jaxaal said, delighted that he had Janilla so close and apparently happy to stay in his company.

He began oiling Sarina, applying the contents of a flagon onto a smaller piece of cloth. ‘You know a bit about kertles I take it?’ he asked.

‘If you have another piece of oiling cloth I’ll give you a hand,’ Janilla replied, ‘and yes, I know enough to know that this is no dray kertle.’

‘No, she isn’t,’ Jaxaal admitted, feeling guilty that he was so easily giving away his secrets. ‘She is a racer and we’re on our way to enter the Challenge.’

Janilla had picked up a suitable cloth from Jaxaal’s pack and helped herself to some oil and had begun rubbing it into Sarina’s forequarters. ‘Hoping to win fame and fortune no doubt,’ she joked.

‘Well, I… er…,’ Jaxaal stammered.

‘There’s no shame in hoping for good things,’ Janilla said, relieving his embarrassment. ‘You’ve got a superb kertle here. I don’t think I’ve had my hands on a better one. Does she run as well as she looks?’

‘She is very fast, I think,’ Jaxaal said, realising that he was rapidly getting out of his depth. ‘We’ve never raced for real, only trained.’

‘And you hope to compete in the Challenge! That’s quite an undertaking for your first experience of racing.’

‘Oh, I’ve raced in local village events, but nothing as big as the Fameral Challenge,’ Jaxaal defended himself.

‘There is nothing as big as the Fameral Challenge. That’s why there will be entrants from all five - sorry, four - houses.’

‘I take it the house of Swenland will be entering?’ Jaxaal asked.

‘We always have a large entry, at least we did last time,’ Janilla replied, ‘my brother Neldon being among them. This is my second visit to watch the Challenge. Have you been before?’

‘No, I haven’t,’ Jaxaal admitted, ‘but I’ve heard a lot about it from my uncle and other travellers that have visited High Tor.’

‘Well, I’m sure you’ll be fine,’ Janilla replied, anxious to reassure the novice rider. ‘It’s just that it helps to have a few friendly riders around you, especially on the first day, when over a thousand kertles will be trying to get into the top six hundred and twenty five that qualify for day two. This time we hope to have over fifteen riders in our house colours.’

Jaxaal was impressed. ‘Do all the houses enter such big numbers?’

‘Not all of them. In fact, we expect to have more entrants than any other house,’ Janilla admitted, ‘although I think some of them are only running to make up the numbers. My father and Neldon seem to think it is important. I know that it helps to have a team supporting the best runners.’ She stopped, realising that Jaxaal must be racing on his own without the comfort of a supporting team.

‘I take it that you are a solo rider?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid I am. Is that a problem?’ he asked, noticing the look of alarmed surprise that flashed across Janilla’s face.

‘Well, no. But the first three days can be a bit rough and, without support, survival can be down to luck.’

‘Hear that, Sarina?’ Jaxaal asked, slapping the steed’s neck affectionately. ‘You’ll just have to get in the lead and stay there!’

‘I’m sure she will,’ Janilla laughed, relieved that her warnings were not spoiling the moment.

Sarina nodded her head and snorted in agreement, making Jaxaal and Janilla laugh. Jaxaal felt an elation he had never known before. Janilla was so easy to talk to and genuinely seemed to enjoy his company.

His natural working pattern was to work down a side of the kertle from head to tail and, having finished Sarina’s left side, he moved to stand at her head on her right side. He began oiling Sarina’s head and was delighted when Janilla came to stand right next to him to oil Sarina’s shoulder and foreleg. He gently worked across the kertle’s forehead, working oil into the scales around her Wrain spot in the centre between her eyes. She had always loved this, although Jaxaal took great care as the Wrain spot was very sensitive and a sharp blow there could stun a kertle.

He worked on, as did Janilla; until, with a shock that sent a thrill throughout his whole body, Janilla grabbed his forearm to steady herself as she leaned down to reach Sarina’s fetlock and claw set. He instinctively reached over and took her hand in his so that he could support her.

The sudden intimate contact had a profound effect on both of them, neither wanting it to end.

‘Thank you, Jaxaal,’ Janilla said. ‘I would normally kneel down to deal with a kertle’s claw set, but I’d better not get wet sand all over my travelling dress.’

Having finished the oiling process, she stood up and faced Jaxaal. To his delight, she didn’t free her hand from his clasp; instead, she gave his fingers a gentle squeeze.

Jaxaal was transfixed at the sight of this divine creature and stood, looking adoringly down into her eyes. She returned his look with a smile, and he dearly wished he could shrug off his reticence and kiss her. But the moment passed and she realised the compromising situation that was developing.

Jaxaal couldn’t help feeling disappointed when Janilla called to her sister. Parina had wandered off and was paddling her feet in the edge of the loch, trying to entice some nearby water fowl to come closer to her.

‘That’s typical of Parina,’ Janilla said. ‘She has the sweetest nature and would do anything for anyone if she thought she could help. If one of those water fowl had anything wrong with it, she would adopt it and insist on taking it with her to nurse it back to health. However, at the moment she’s just using them as an excuse to give us some time together. We managed to get away without having armed guards in tow, for a while at least.’

Jaxaal was in a daze. His senses were reeling as a result of Janilla’s closeness, the smell of her hair and her obvious pleasure in his company.

She called again to her sister. Parina looked up, waved and came running over to them, delighted to be included at last.

‘I didn’t want to intrude,’ she said eagerly, arming herself with an oiling cloth and reaching for the oil flagon. She received a sisterly poke in her ribs. ‘What?’ she said in mock surprise.

In pleasant harmony, the three of them worked their way all over Sarina’s body, the kertle revelling in the attention and the luxurious feel of the oil.

As they worked around the kertle, at one point the two girls were together on the same side of the racer with Jaxaal on the other.

‘Are you sure you don’t mind me joining in?’ Parina asked her sister in a hushed voice. Jaxaal was surprised at the question, but instantly realised that Parina had used the high language, presumably assuming that a mere drover such as Jaxaal would not be privy to the language used exclusively by high family members. The fact that Jaxaal was fluent in both the high and the common language used in Fameral was something that he’d been sworn to keep secret. He had never questioned why he had been taught the language, which he could only use within the house at High Tor Farm when alone with his uncle and aunt, but now he was grateful he had received that part of his education.

‘Of course not,’ Janilla replied quietly in the same language. ‘Despite what you might think, there’s nothing going on. He… he’s just a nice lad who needs some help,’ she added, somewhat lamely.

‘And the fact that he is the most handsome man you’ve seen for alphens has nothing to do with it, I suppose?’ Parina teased.

‘Oh, be quiet,’ her sister snapped back good-naturedly. ‘I don’t tease you when you go all gooey-eyed when Bryland Doltary, that young stable hand with the limp brings your riding kertle to the front door at home.’

They worked on in silence for a short while until Janilla resumed the conversation.

‘Will you be travelling through the Childe Cut or the high pass, Jaxaal?’ she asked, reverting back to the common language.

‘I suppose I’ll be using the high pass route,’ Jaxaal replied, guessing that would be the route the Swenland caravan would be using. He was relieved that he hadn’t been caught eaves-dropping on the girls’ private conversation; although he was thrilled by the little he had heard. Perhaps there might be a chance for him with Janilla.

‘It’s a lot longer over the pass - five days, a whole veld instead of the day and a half it would take through the cut, but it’s a lot safer,’ Janilla offered. ‘There are some terrible tales of things that happen in the confines of the cut.’

‘I suppose so,’ Jaxaal agreed. He hadn’t actually thought about it. The plans that he had drawn up with Uster had assumed he would use the cut. He was under instructions to turn his cloak over to expose the green and blue side once he was inside the narrow walls of the ravine, though the reasons for this had not been made clear.

Just as they were finishing the grooming, Jaxaal became aware of noises coming from the direction of the road and realised that he needed to get Sarina’s shroud back on her.

The cleaned shroud had dried in the warm afternoon sun and he expertly folded it so that he could feed it over the kertle’s head and down her neck. Sarina was very unhappy at having the cursed cover put back on her gleaming body and let everyone in the vicinity know just how she felt. Finally, Jaxaal was able to get the skirts of the shroud deployed to hide the kertle’s slender racer’s legs. 

‘Never mind, Sarina,’ Janilla said as she and Parina scratched the racer’s head scales. ‘It won’t be for long, for you’ll be in Medland in just over a veld.’

There was a sudden explosion of noise as half a dozen young men made a rowdy descent from the road onto the beach.

‘Oh, it’s Neldon and his friends,’ Parina said. ‘Come Janilla, you know what he’s like when he’s had a draught or two and he’s with those friends of his.’ She quickly dropped the oiling cloth back onto Jaxaal’s pack and, lifting her skirt so it cleared the sand, made her way up the beach.

‘Yes, I’m sorry. We’ll have to go,’ Janilla confided to Jaxaal and she handed her cloth back to him, using the opportunity to take his hand in hers and giving it a tender squeeze. ‘Perhaps we will be able to meet and talk again as we go up to the Childe Pass.’

‘I… er… I hope so.’ Jaxaal was taken completely by surprise by this sudden change in events, and both astonished and delighted by Janilla’s intimate gesture. He stared in wonder after her as she followed her elder sister up the beach. Things had moved on much further than he would ever have dreamed possible!

As the two girls passed their brother, his companions shouted out some ribald comments which Jaxaal could not quite make out. Parina snapped back a reply that caused a cacophony of laughter to erupt from the young men as they lounged on the sand.

Some more banter was tossed around the group until Neldon rose, unsteadily, to his feet.

‘We’ll soon see what’s been going on,’ he said loudly. He drew his sword and lurched down the beach towards Jaxaal and Sarina.

Jaxaal had been busying himself getting all his possession packed away, and finally heaved the pack up onto Sarina’s back behind the saddle. For some reason, and later would not be able to explain why, he had secured the pack the other way round to his normal practice. This meant that the opening to the pack was facing him as he stood on Sarina’s left side. Normally it would face the other way so that, being right-handed, he could easily access the contents by reaching behind him with his right hand as he sat astride the kertle.

As Neldon swaggered down the beach, obviously showing off in front of his friends, he began calling to Jaxaal and waving his sword above his head.

‘Just what do you think you are doing, young drover?’ he bawled. ‘How dare you talk to the daughters of the highest named family in the land!’

‘I was doing nothing wrong,’ Jaxaal defended himself.

‘Nothing wrong!’ Neldon retorted. ‘How dare you lie to your betters, young drover. I think you need to be taught some manners. Workers of your class do not talk to highborn ladies. What do you think, lads? Shall we teach this fellow his place?’ He called back to his friends, who were watching the proceedings with mixed emotions.

‘Leave him be, he’s only a drover,’ one called, but he was in the minority.

‘Go on, thrash him,’ another taunted.

‘Yeah, teach him a lesson,’ came a third.

There were other calls and gibes, but Jaxaal switched them off from his comprehension - things had taken a serious turn very suddenly.

He looked up the beach in time to see Janilla follow her sister back onto the road out of sight.

Just as well,’ he thought. ‘This is going to turn nasty.’  

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SORRY that's the end of the 'taster.'  To find out what happens in the fight with Neldon you will have to get a copy of the whole book, “Sarina’s Challenge,” ISBN No. 978-1-911113-48-5 available from all usual outlets or direct from the distribtors, simply click here:-  http://ow.ly/Y7MV302qc9n

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Find out more about the author on the Intro to Bob Hambleton page and about the Sarina series on The Sarina Series page.

Don’t forget to check out the other pages and don’t miss the free gift.

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04.11 | 15:54

Hi Maureen, thanks for the message, nice to hear from you.

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04.11 | 11:20

Sorry no message lately. I seemed to have lost items on my laptop. Aileen keept me posted on your activities and have now picked up your Friday offering

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16.02 | 19:30

Thanks for that, wecerytainly hope to be ther. Bob x

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16.02 | 18:36

Hope you feel better soon and we see you next Wednesday at Nova Scotia Folk Club. Take care. Gina x

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