Christopher Key, chapter six, scene two

The knights, consulted, gave their permission. Grudgingly. Christopher got the impression they only did it because Crown wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He didn’t care. The palace stables held the best horseflesh he’d ever seen. “Father holds three stud farms among the family estates,” the girl Crown said. “We get a fifth of our crown revenue from supplying the army with horses. Mules too—nothing bothers good mules, not even dragonfire, they’re worth their weight in gold. Look at that mare. She’s got a fine head, and good legs too. Sir Inconnu, what became of the gelding I was riding last year? The chestnut hunter with the stockings.”
“That gelding? Melinda Solmont has it. It’s stabled at Solborough House.”
“I want something even better then. Let’s look.” She strode off down the stable aisle.
“Christopher, I’ll pick you out a quiet mount,” Sir Inconnu said. He was a short man, gone grey early at the temples, with a bony intelligent face and a direct look, like a born teacher. Whenever he looked at any of the girls, he pulled thoughtfully at his mustaches. When he looked at Christopher he winced and looked away. “Have you ridden before?”
“Yes, sir, I have, many—”
Mere came toward them, leading a haltered grey mare. “I’ve found my old Lady,” she said. “How pleasant.”
“Ah,” Sir Inconnu said. “Your Lady has the best manners and the smoothest gait of anything here. I’ll put Christopher up on her.” He held out his hand. “Well done, Mere.”
Mere didn’t say a word. She only stood still for a moment, looking at nothing, and then let Sir Inconnu take the grey’s reins.
Crown reappeared at this point, riding down the aisle at a reckless swift trot, girls and stableboys scrambling out of her way. She was on a white hotblood with a raking stride. Christopher thought she rode well, and she seemed to have a shrewd eye, because she took in the scene and said at once, “Sir Inconnu, you’re not to take Mere’s mare away from her. I’ve already lost my chestnut hunter, it would be one injustice too many,” and she and Sir Inconnu began to wrangle.
Everyone was looking at them. Christopher moved quietly off to the side, and then went down the stable aisle and through a doorway.
No one had noticed. And now that he was away from the others, no one looked twice at him. He walked as if he had an errand, threading his way through a knot of stableboys, rows of stalls and horses on either side. These stables were huge. Maybe he’d find out where the knights kept their destriers. Or if he discovered a way into the rest of the palace, he could explore.
“Christopher!” Sir Inconnu, his voice raised. “Come back here.”
Christopher halted. “I was looking at this roan mare,” he said. “Can I ride her?”
He expected to be scolded. But Sir Inconnu barely said a word (though he looked long and critically at the roan mare) and what was more, he let Christopher tend to his saddling himself. Christopher mounted very fast as soon as he was done, to avoid being offered a hand up.
Crown waited, drumming fingers on her saddle leathers, while everyone else scrambled to get mounted and it was determined that, yes, Christopher knew how to handle his reins—she looked bored, impatient, a little scornful. Her eye on Christopher, as he acquainted himself with the roan mare, was even more critical than Sir Inconnu’s. Christopher decided she was the sort whose face shouted out her every thought for good or ill.
She said abruptly, “I know. Let’s go to the top of Folly Hill.”
Sir Inconnu inclined his head. “Your grace, we shouldn’t leave the palace.”
“Nonsense. There’s nowhere to ride here. And no harm in it. Is there?”
Sir Inconnu looked severe as stone (he looked like even his mustache would be rock-tough) but then a tiny perfect doll of a girl ran up crying, “Da, put me up on my pony,” and his face went soft as summer butter. Crown flung her arms up as if that settled everything, and rode off toward the stableyard.
A reedy voice drifted to Christopher’s ears. “Cousin Alexane’s got a lover.”
A second, identical voice commented: “She’s seething because the betrothal’s been called off.”
“Quiet, Pellmell,” Mere said.

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