To celebrate the arrival of the Heroic Plans print edition at last, I have put the first chapter here for you to read! Enjoy!
“Argh, gerroff me, you feckin' lump of a dog!” Kat groans. Batman, her Corgi/Blue Heeler cross, has trotted in and found her sprawled flat on his couch and is now attempting to use her as a cushion in protest. She pushes at Batman with her hard-muscled, tattooed arms, but he uses his low centre of gravity and nestles down a bit harder, his stumpy blue-speckled legs braced on either side of her skinny body. He has his huge, pointy, black ears held out to the sides with determination, and I watch idly and wonder who will win in the end. They're as stubborn as each other, those two.
Kat heaves again and manages to get Batman's elbows off her ribs, so she calls it good for now, relaxing under his weight as best she can and turning her attention back to the telly. Batman wins!
We're on the couches again, watching tv. Actually it's been ages since we did this, just us two, but tonight Seamus and Jimmy are off at a bucks' night for some guy Seamus shoes horses for and who Jimmy just knows. I don't know how he knows him. Jimmy knows everyone, it sometimes seems.
So anyway, we've got the couches to ourselves, and we're making good use of them.
“Shite, will you listen to that?” Kat is saying now. “Sings worse than me!”
We're watching one of the singing reality shows. I have no idea which one. I've been lost in my own thoughts while Kat chats away about the singers. She loves those shows, though she herself sings like a puppy with a stubbed toe. Luckily, she doesn't seem to need any input from me, because I'm too distracted.
I've got a big problem. I mean, I know it's a First World problem and not even a very big one for most people in the First World, but to me it's huge. My horse doesn't like the same sport as me. I've known it for a while now. Prince Willie, my young Warmblood, was meant to be my next dressage star, but he is five now, and though I've brought him along slowly and carefully and tried to keep it fun for him, he just doesn't want to do it. Not exclusively anyway.
My big problem is, Prince William has the heart of an adventurer, and dressage bores him to tears. What lights up his big brown eyes is jumping, though at five he has only just got to the age where he will begin to be allowed to jump properly. Sadly, the sport that reduces me to a trembling mass of jelly is the very thing that fires up Willie. I'm a dressage queen through and through. Even the cavallettis I've been using in the arena to keep him happy while doing our schooling make me feel a bit weak at the knees.
An ad comes on tv and Kat is once more available for chat, so I say, “What shall I do?” We've been having this conversation for five minutes at a time during ad breaks. It's a bit frustrating, but at least the show keeps Kat in one place for an hour. Lively as a flea, she's always been a hard woman to pin down for long, but is even more so now she's so tied up with her business on top of all the other stuff she still does.
“Seems pretty simple to me,” Kat says, wriggling under the crushing load of her Sumo-wrestler dog at the same time. “Jayzuz, Batman, you're right on my bladder!” she groans, then goes on to say, “It is simple. You buy a jumping saddle and you take up eventing. Might as well use your dressage for something. It's that or sell him, and I can't see you doing that.”
“No, I can't do that,” I agree. I've had him since he was a weanling. I've put four and half years of time, money, and, more importantly, love, into his large and magnificent self, and I'm not parting with him now. “But, I'm such a chicken. I'll be useless at jumping.”
“That horse is going to be a point and shoot jumper,” Kat tells me firmly. “He loves it so much his ears prick up just at the sight of a jump. All you're going to have to do is stay on and try to keep your eyes open. You can do that. I have faith in you. You have more courage than you know, Tam, my girl,”
To hear Kat say this warms my heart, because she's a hero to me, this feisty little woman who has seen so much more of the world and coped with more than I can even imagine. Not that she looks very heroic right now as she starts to wrestle with her dog again, short hair sticking out in all directions, muppet eyebrows (as she calls them) lowered fiercely over her equally fierce hazel eyes. “Aha!” she finally yells, as she manages to shunt Batman off the couch. He jumps back on again in one springy move, but this time she's ready for him and manages to wrangle him to the end of the couch under her legs, where he settles down with a snort of disgust.
I smugly stroke my own dog, Elly, who snuggles her long body beside mine on my couch. She groans with pleasure and stretches, tucking her streamlined Greyhound nose into my neck under my hair. Elly would never do anything so undignified as to wrestle.
“His lines are mostly showjumping, even if his dad was a dressage star,” Kat goes on. “You should have known he might have shown signs of wanting to go that way.”
“Yeah but Greta let me have him cheaply. How else would I ever have afforded a classy Warmblood like him?” I argue. Greta is my boss and she owns Willie's dad. She's really kind to me, but she still pays pretty crappy wages. You don't work in the horse world for big dollars, that's for sure. Especially at the bottom end. I'm really lucky in my employer, and I know it. Greta letting me buy Willie cheaply and pay him off was going above and beyond for the average horsey boss.
Kat always argues that Greta did it to keep me because I'm such a wonderful, valuable employee. Kat's always saying kind things about me. I think she's deluded, but I appreciate it anyway.
“I know!” says Kat, suddenly half sitting up, which makes Batman jump up and bark. “Shut up Barnsey! I can't hear myself think!” She wrestles her dog back into a lying position using both legs and hands, then says, “That old school friend of Chris's, you know, the one who's just come back from England? He's holding a hunter trial at his place. That's just the cross country bit of the event. He's doing it to raise money for that new local horse rescue and the bottom level is going to be pretty potty. Why don't you take Willie along to that and see how he goes?”
Easy for Kat to say, “potty”. She's jumping enormous jumps with her boy, Lingo, these days. The two of them seem more bird than horse and human at times. Anything over a horse's knees seems too high for me, however. Still, it's that or force my horse into a sport he's not cut out for and make him unhappy, and that isn't what I'm about. I figure he'll let me do some dressage as long as he gets to jump as well. Teamwork. If you aren't in it for the teamwork, you should go buy a motorbike.
“How small is, “potty”?” I ask cautiously.
A new singer is on tv, but Kat drags her eyes back to me for a second. “I think he's doing three levels. The lowest is forty-five centimetres. Willie could walk over them. And, you can pay to do another round if you want, so you can do it a couple of times and get over your nerves a bit.”
“That or collapse utterly,” I mutter, but Kat is lost back to the goggle box. She doesn't get my fear of, well, of most things actually, but she herself had such a bad racing crash as an apprentice that she gave up race-riding, so she should be a bit sympathetic to my plight. Not that horse-racing is in any way comparable to a bunch of jumps you could step over yourself without breaking a sweat!
Sadly, thinking of those low jumps has already made me sweat... with nerves... so I turn my mind to the other thing Kat mentioned: Chris Schiffmaker, ex-boyfriend of mine, ex-casual lover of Kat's as well, and his friend, St. John Stirling. What a name! It's pronounced Sin-jun, apparently. Trust Kat, as soon as she'd met him, she'd turned and wiggled those eyebrows at me and whispered, “SIN-jun! I'd like to do a bit of sinning with him, that's for sure!”
Actually Kat is off the market well and truly, but she still likes to talk big. She and Seamus are still totally in love after four years, even though they work together as well. Luckily Seamus is confident enough in himself to just laugh when she talks like that, and why wouldn't he be? He's totally gorgeous, with his long, curly red hair, his sky blue eyes, and his farrier's muscles. Even someone as clueless as me could see the chemistry between them from the very first time they met, and that hasn't changed.
St. John, Sin-jun, is kind of the opposite to Seamus. He's tall and dark-haired, with a square hero's jaw with a dimple in it. His hair is short and styled neatly, and the day I met him, he was wearing sunnies, a pair of jeans, a red button-up shirt, and a black jacket, looking like some sort of model in an ad for casual business clothes. I know I'm stupid about men (Kat tells me I am all the time) but I still got an instant crush on him.
He has lovely dark brown eyes. I know that because I saw him lift up his sunnies to take a second look at me, that time he came round to talk to Chris not long after he got back from the UK. I swear Chris looked sort of proud that they have such a good looking employee, as if he'd made me somehow. I know that it sounds really conceited to say I'm good looking, but I'd have to be a moron not to know that I'm considered conventionally attractive. People tell me so all the time. I mean, I get that I've got long legs and a slim figure, and long blonde hair, but to me, my face is too round and featureless, my eyes more grey than blue, and a wishy-washy pale colour. To me, my cheeks are too round, my lips too wide, and I hate how easily my light skin blushes. What I see in the mirror is not what other people see, apparently, or maybe the figure is enough for them to class me as attractive.
You want to see gorgeous? You should see my four sisters, and my mum! Same figures as me, but taller, and with cheekbones and smiles to die for. They have an attitude that I missed out on too. Something about their manner and way of walking. I'm the mouse of the family, believe it or not. Even dad's a hunk!
Anyway, St. John was kind enough not to ogle at me once he'd had that first glance. He just gave me a friendly smile and went back to talking to Chris. He's come back to live in Australia after living in the UK and competing there and in Europe for a few years. The news has been all over the very small and gossipy horse world here. He's going to run an eventing place, with lessons for outside riders and horses, is also doing specialised agistment for eventing horses, and will breed and bring on special eventing types of horse as well. He's brought back a superstar stallion that he'll offer at stud too. I'm no eventing fan (not until now) but even I know his dappled-grey Irish Draft boy, Winsome Pies Startracker. Gee they let sponsorship go a bit far in the UK, don't they? What a crappy name!
Startracker won at Badminton and came very close to getting selected for the Olympics. He's in his late teens now, though. Time to retire him and make some money off his service fees. I'd have thought it would be better to leave him in the UK. More rich horse people over there, but I guess they can send frozen semen anywhere, and maybe St. John is fond of him.
At any rate, there's plenty of money in the Stirling family already. Luckily. As the wry joke goes, “Want to make a million dollars with horses? Start with two million...” These sort of considerations seem like they're no issue for St. John, though. As soon as he got back to town, he bought the fanciest horse place in the Swan Valley, and immediately set about making it fancier.
You'd think I'd be shy of another go-round with a rich guy after what happened between me and Chris, but apparently I'm a glutton for punishment. It's not the money I'm attracted to, it's the security, the order, that they represent. And, if I'm honest, they kind of remind me of my dad, who is a businessman and always looks powerful, assured and well-groomed too. Like St. John. Like Chris.
Thinking about Chris makes my heart smart a bit, so I deliberately stroke my lovely, sleek, black Greyhound for comfort and turn my attention back to the tv. Maybe I should pledge to be celibate. It'd be safer for my heart... if I could stick to it!
The guys aren't expected to be home till late, so Kat and I toddle off to our rooms at a sensible hour. I have morning stables tomorrow extra early, and Jimmy and Seamus have the morning off, so Kat will have to do more work than usual over at Knotty's place. They still call it that, even though they really run the stables there now, what with Knotty’s bad heart and all.
I wake up long enough to hear the two blokes tripping over things in the hallway and giggling, yes giggling, and then I'm out to it again. I'm glad it's not me who has to have a drunk bloke fall on the bed with me at whatever ungodly hour this is. So I tell myself anyway...