Sonja laughed, her eyes blurred with tears from the snapping wind as she urged her galloping black mare toward the brook in the field ahead. Behind her, came the throaty shouts of Derek, her betrothed, who rode his own stallion at a break-neck pace to catch up to her.
It had been Sonja's idea to race that morning during their journey to Aubrey manor where they'd be visiting friends who were building a hospice. After several moments of goading, Sonja had convinced the handsome half Scot that they should race. He had agreed only to silence her boasts that not only was she a far better rider than he was, but she had the faster horse.
"Come on, Greta!" Sonja called to her lanky mount. "Let’s show him that a Norse mare is far better than a Scots stallion any day!"
She heard Derek's stallion snorting close to Greta's flank then felt the animal's breath blowing against her leg. Soon the horses raced neck to neck.
She heard Derek's deep chuckle as his horse moved a nose, then a neck, past Greta’s. With a final leap, the war stallion's pounding rear and lashing tail were several lengths ahead. She cursed softy and slowed Greta to a walk alongside Derek's horse who plodded along the brook's muddy bank.
"It's all right, Greta." Sonja patted the mare's sweaty neck. "If there was any real distance to this race, we'd have won. That horse is too bulky to have any stamina."
Derek laughed louder and said in his rich, rolling accent, "You can never admit losing to anybody, can you, lass?"
Sonja shot him a murderous glance but the shimmer in her eyes belied her true feelings for the Scotsman.
She shifted her gaze ahead, but from the corner of her eye admired his tall, rangy build beneath his billowy shirt and tunic which exposed part of his hairy, muscular thigh and knee. They'd met about a year ago, when Sonja had traveled from her homeland to live with her oldest brother Wyborn who had been awarded the village of Ravenhill in Northumbria. Derek had served Ravenhill's previous master, but he and Wyborn took an immediate liking to one another so Derek had remained as one of Wyborn's most trusted men. He'd proved his courage and loyalty by launching a daring rescue of Wyborn and his and Sonja’s younger brother, when they'd been abducted by enemies. In spite of many arguments which hadn't lessened a bit over the past year, Sonja and Derek had fallen in love and their wedding would take place in less than two weeks. They planned to cultivate a plot of land outside of Ravenhill, expanding the village while remaining part of it. Wyborn and his wife, Marion, were thrilled that the couple would be living so close. Both Marion and Sonja were healers and the women shared the workload of tending the sick, caring for the wounded during wartime, and delivering babies.
"I admit you won this time." Sonja cast him a haughty glance and added, "But you had a head start."
Derek's green eyes widened with shock. "The Lord show mercy on your lying tongue! You shouted 'Go!' before I so much as had my foot in the stirrup!"
"I just hope you're not as clumsy on our wedding night as you are mounting horses."
Derek laughed. "Don't concern yourself there. That's one race where my stamina will outlast yours, love."
"Oh really?" Sonja's smiled faded and she lifted an eyebrow.
"No, no." Derek held up a hand in defense. "I'll not make wagers about the sport in our bedroom."
Sonja tugged a fistful of blond hair from her face and murmured to herself, "We'll see about that."