Title: Anomalous Odds (Part 1)
Pairings/Characters: No immediate pairing. Neil Griffon, Alessandro Rivera, brief appearance by Primeval team.
* * * *
Its eyes were brown, but the rest of it wasn't right at all!
For one thing, it had no right to be wandering out of Lancat's box, just as if it owned the place!
For another – no pony that I'd ever seen wore thin white zebra-stripes on its brown hide, nor sported that stiff, upright crest on head and neck where a mane should be flowing.
And for that matter, we didn't house ponies of any kind here at Rowley Lodge. Our expensive guests were all thoroughbreds – the cream of the crop! Even the hacks that Etty and I rode to the gallops were retired aristocracy.
I regarded the odd-looking interloper with puzzled exasperation; and it looked back with mild and milky curiosity.
"Where did you escape from?" I asked it; not daring yet to make any sudden move, or physical overtures in case it was only half tamed, or came from a zoo.
It dropped its neat head to crop an errant tuft of grass that had somehow snuck through the flagged stones of the yard (I must speak to George about weeds!) then shook itself leisurely and gave out a sound.
It wasn't a whinny – not quite. It was as if that sound might one day be a proper neigh; but at the moment was more like the sound of wintry old stable hinge.
In reply, six further ponies trotted out of Lancat's empty box. Startled, I peered inside.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of some kind of weird, fractured light; and then the place was quiet and empty, just as Lancat had left it, two seasons ago.
I'd never used that box again. Etty kept making pointed comments whenever a newcomer appeared; but somehow I couldn't bring myself to house anyone else there.
It was a reminder; and a memorial.
But now – baffled – I watched the string of ponies troop out; and wondered if – like Enso Rivera – I was slowly going mad. At least, I reflected, if I was it wouldn't be for the same sordid reason as Enso!
The shoulder-high ponies crowded around me. They looked to stand about twelve hands – barely respectable for riding. I was more and more convinced that they were escapees – but how had they managed to find Lancat's empty box?
I turned in some irritation. Ever since Alessandro had discovered my habit of rising earlier even than the stable-lads to wander round my little empire alone in the pre-dawn, he'd started to appear as well. Slight, perennially underweight and gaunt, he was the best stable jockey in Newmarket; also the most self-contained and difficult.
"Sandro! Looks like we have visitors."
Alessandro quick-stepped through the striped herd to my side.
"Hoo-ey! What ARE they, Boss?"
"I've no idea! They're not a breed I've ever seen before."
He bent and ran an imperious hand down the right fore of the nearest specimen.
"Hey, Boss! Look!" he called, lifting the pony's leg to cradle the hoof in one hand.
"Got three toes! Middle one – hoof; but two others, much longer than usual. Pretty little things; but no use!"
Alessandro's only obsession was to win as many races as possible; on the best horses available. Therefore, a small herd of ponies – however strange – wasn't going to interest him at all.
"Wait a bit! I check …."
He was gone back in the direction of the office and its computer facilities.
I waited, feeding my full emergency store of pocketed carrots to the herd, in strict rotation.
* * * *
It didn't take long for Alessandro to reappear, waving some sheets of hardcopy.
"Here!" he panted, moving dainty horseflesh out of the way with impartial carelessness and holding the paper high in case one of them decided to test it for edibility.
I looked from the colour illustration to the living beasts.
"That's them alright, but …."
Merychippus; I read; Ancestral horse, Miocene period. The first of the equines to have the distinguishable head of today's horses. At about 12 hands, it was the tallest equine so far. The foot was fully supported by ligaments, and the middle toe developed into a hoof ……
"Not possible!" said Alessandro positively.
"No!" I agreed, "Unless …. An experiment with fossil DNA at the Equine Research Institute?"
Alessandro looked sceptical; but then his face blanked in thought.
"If so – don't send them back; keep them!" he suggested, adding simply, "Need freedom!"
He was a great one for "freedom" was Alessandro Rivera. It was the one thing his overwhelming and violent father had denied him.
I looked thoughtfully at the milling herd; and temporised.
"Let's get them into the summer paddock anyway!" I suggested, "That way, they'll be out of sight of the drive, and out of Etty's way when the first shift starts!"
"Good idea!" he replied seriously.
As I led off, with the remaining carrots prominently displayed, I thought (but not aloud) that SOMEONE would want to know where these pretties had got to. There was trouble looming on the horizon again!
* * * *
They came midmorning, just as the string had taken off to the gallops; and I was about to turn back and get myself spruced up for the afternoon's race meeting.
With a screech of tyres and harsh spraying of gravel, a big anonymous truck plus an attendant motorbike outrider halted just outside the yard gates. I observed from the office window as Alessandro, half-transformed into respectability in his dark suit trousers and track-suit top erupted from the lads' hostel.
The leather-clad biker sprang from his machine and loped towards my stable jockey, removing his helmet. He was a raw-boned redhead who looked like he wouldn't stand for too much nonsense.
Behind him, the truck discharged its load – an army team, led by a young professional complete with dark shades and matching hardware, the muzzle of which was pointed vaguely in Alessandro's direction.
I sighed. Not again!
Then I walked out to meet the guns.