Anna brushed her brown bangs out of her eyes as she knelt down in the sand and grabbed the starfish before the next wave could crash in and steal it away. She had seen dead ones before but this was the first time she had come across a living one she was able to hold. As she fled the next wave, a sea gull screamed and swept down toward her, looking for the meal in her hands she thought.
She tucked the starfish away and hurried back up the beach where Katherine waited for her.
“Look,” Anna said, showing the urchin to her teacher.
“What will you do with it?” Katherine asked her, brushing back a long dark hair strand that had escaped her pony tail. The hair danced around her head in the wind but she was finally able to coral it and tuck it back into place.
“Well, I’ll put him back, of course,” Anna replied staring at the sea creature. “But I wanted a good look so that I can draw him in my notebook.”
“You’ve seen the ones I have, you can draw from them,” Katherine said.
“Look, how he moves,” Anna went on. “Yours are hard and don’t move this one is so. . .”
A loud shout caused them both to turn. Scrambling down the wide path that led from the tall salt cliffs to the beach, a rider approached quickly.
“Alive,” Anna finished quietly.
The gulls seemed to swarm around the rapidly approaching figure. He was riding with wild abandoned toward the two of them.
“Something is wrong,” Katherine said quickly, “I’ll have to go. You will have to walk back, you’ll be fine.”
Anna smiled back, trying to recreate the same expression that Katherine gave her moments ago.
“That’s my brother,” she said, indicating the small boy on horseback rapidly approaching. “Maybe he’s coming for me.”
The rider stormed toward them. Ivan was a decent rider, Anna knew, but he was skinny and awkward. Plus he was riding Storm, a massive, just barely tame horse. He should have never been on him, only Anna and a few other’s had ridden him before.
“By the darkness,” Anna swore as the horse and rider arrived. Anna and Katherine both had to move quickly out of the way as the horse and rider barreled past them.
“Katherine!” Ivan shouted. “Kat!”
Ivan tried to control the horse and they turned, almost throwing him from the saddle. Anna quickly dropped the starfish into her belt pouch and approached them with her arms up.
“Woah, Woah,” she beckoned toward Storm. The horse’s eye were wild but he was barely winded. A gallop from the castle to the beach bearing practically no load was not enough to even warm up the large animal
“Stop pulling him Ivan!” she demanded. Storm had his bit clenched hard between his teeth.
Anna finally got a hold of this bridle and pulled hard, lifting herself off the ground as Storm pulled back. But she was finally able to touch him, and look into his eyes.
The horse bucked once more, hard, and sent Ivan flying into the sand. Anna landed back on the beach with one side of the bridle in her right hand. She managed to re-seat the bit in the horses mouth and then pulled his head hard down into her body.
“Annie!” Katherine shrieked, but Anna forgot she was there.
The horse was two thousand pounds of muscle and Anna was a tiny, insignificant load to him. But she held on tight to the reins as he lifted her off the ground again.
“Storm. Storm. Storm,” She repeated, over and over until the horse stopped kicking, dropped his head and lowered her back to the bleach white sand.
“It’s OK,” she cooed to the horse, scanning the beach for her brother and her mentor. They both appeared to be alright and conversing several feet away from her.
Katherine dashed toward her.
“Easy,” Anna warned. “He’s really worked up.”
“My Uncle has been hurt. I need to get up there,” Katherine said, indicating the huge structure setting hundreds of feet above them with a nod. Anna saw a new look in her eyes when Katherine turned back and the hair on her arms suddenly went erect. “Give me the horse.”
“Storm,” Annie said softly still calming the horse.
“Kat,” she said quietly, turning toward her teacher. “He will drop you on the first turn.”
Katherine regarded the large beast.
“Take me,” she said quickly with a hitch in her voice that Anna had never heard before.
“Give me one minute,” Anna said. “He is all out of sorts.”
“I don’t have one minute,” Katherine replied heavily.
But Anna led the horse a few steps away from Katherine and Ivan approached. She rubbed his mane and shoulders and wished she had a brush but knew something was terribly wrong at home. For someone to put Ivan on this beautiful, terrible beast and send him down here after Katherine, she knew something was wrong.
She grabbed the reins and pulled herself onto the horse. Turning him away from the others she kicked him hard and he bolted toward the waves. As they approached the water she pulled to the left and veered him away back toward Katherine and Ivan.
Anna pulled him to a quick stop before them, sand spraying in the air. She had him under as much control as she could in the short amount of time she had with him.
“Let’s go,” she said reaching down for Katherine. Kat grasped Anna’s arm and pulled herself up behind her in the saddle. Anna managed to refrain from yelping at the pain of pulling her up. While Katherine was not large, Anna had younger and smaller and had very little upper body strength and had to hold hard to Storm’s saddle to get Katherine behind her.
“Go, Anna,” Katherine said in her ear.
Anna almost kicked Storm into action but then glanced back down at her little brother. His face was white and had a dark red welt over his left eye. She knew his weight wouldn’t matter on the winding path back up to the Keep.
“Grab Ivan,” She said circling the horse near him. “Maybe he can explain what the darkness is going on.”
Katherine did but they were not able to speak as Storm flew back up the road to their home.