To read the story up to this point, check out parts I and II!
Gran was waiting outside, cloak drawn tight against the wind, with their two horses saddled and looking quite glum and wet. Deryn peered towards the sky…the rain had slowed somewhat, but the clouds were still dark and low in the sky. She put the food in the saddlebag of her stallion, Breck, who snorted his opinion of the venture. “I couldn’t agree more” she mumbled, patting his soft, if damp, nose before mounting up. Her grandmother was ready and waiting with her own steed, Millie. The mare was strangely calm and turned to face the path that led into town. “Let’s be off then.” Gran announced, guiding Millie down the path.
They lived a little farther from the center of Capall, a fairly large town, nestled within rolling green hills, known for its fine wool, vast farms, and horse ranches. The boundaries of the town are marked by low, stone walls and trees that dissect the land into different farming and residential areas, and of course the famed horse ranches. Capall’s steeds are renowned throughout the kingdom of Moineir for their fine breeding, strength, and vitality—sought out by soldiers, wealthy merchants, and sportsmen alike.
Once a year, visitors and horsemen flocked to the town for their famous Three Moons Race, a horserace through the Verdillan Hills to the west that spanned across three days. It was a physically trying race, for both the horse and the rider, and not without its dangers. The hills are lush and beautiful but riddled with caves and deceptively rocky slopes that felled more than one rider on their moonlit ride. Deryn and her grandmother raised sheep, but she hoped to compete in the race herself one day and worked often with one of the neighboring rancher families in exchange for training lessons. She remembers the first time they went to the race—the brave riders coming from all over Moineir, their horses tall, strong, and lively as they pawed the ground in anticipation. The excitement as they all set off. She and Gran would go to the inn each night, waiting for news of the riders. Some would come back early, unable to meet the challenge, or injured from a fall. Mugs of ale and hot stew would be waiting for them, for even attempting the race was something to be admired. Then, on the third day, the whole town would gather anxiously at the foothills, waiting for the victors to gallop back to a hero’s welcome. The townsfolk would have food prepared from the year’s harvest and presented in decorated stalls, the centre of Capall would be filled with coloured banners and music—a true festival. It was the most exciting time of the year, an event that captivated Kyra’s imagination since she was young. She was almost ready, she thought, and had been preparing for the upcoming race after the first harvests, much to her grandmother’s distress. “Watching the race is one thing” she would complain, “but seeing my own granddaughter compete…are you trying to send me to an early grave, my girl?” But Breck was strong, fast, and surefooted. Loyal, too; Kyra had raised the spotted horse since he was a foal and he won’t let anyone else ride him but her. Even now, he was pulling against the bit, wanting to run.
“Gran?” Deryn said questioningly, as Millie began to stray from the path that led into the familiar clusters of wood and stone buildings in the centre of town, and instead towards the hills. Renata turned in the saddle and slowed until Deryn was riding beside her. “We’re not going into town, my dear.” she said, leaning towards her. “We’re going somewhere else, into the hills. Don’t worry”, she added quickly, noting her granddaughter’s concern, “I know the way. We’re going to visit a friend. You’ve never met him, but he’s done much for our family. Just follow close behind, and don’t let Breck stray.” Before Deryn could fumble through the questions growing in her mind, her grandmother faced forward once more and urged Millie into a trot.