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What I Gave, What I’ll Give

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The Prince In The Fields is Margot’s pride, joy and singular treasure. Margot’s entire world.

 

 

The horse glows in sunlight. The metallic sheen of him glints cool bronzy-white as he romps in the pasture with his head held high and his hooves flashing bright in the sun.

 

Margot loves riding with him above anything else, but she is just as content to lean on the fence in her mucking boots and watch him happy and gallivanting in the acre he’s allotted, showing off for the mares in the next pasture.

 

The Prince In The Fields is a purebred Akhal-Teke and perfectly stunning. The horse is, first and foremost, hers. Second, he is her father’s showy and extravagant gift.

 

Margot had earned first place at only eleven and three-quarter years old in the regional Dressage competition.  Usually limited to sixteen and up, she was able to compete and clean house with the singular award for Adequan and then USDF Rider Of The Year. She achieved them riding with Riversong, a glossy, spritely quarterhorse who seemed half-fae, but knew her business and performed it admirably beneath Margot’s hands directing her. Margot’s father can’t help but be impressed.

 

Margot’s twelfth birthday is in a month, and her father is efficient and always penny-pinching when it comes to her. If he can knock out two birds with one sparkling stone, well, Margot is just grateful she can count The Prince in her favor; among all the gifts that might have come from the numbers run on Molson Verger’s spreadsheets.

 

 

 

The Prince In The Fields’ mane and tail are bright blond, lighter than her blonde; cream washing to just this side of pure white. When she braids them, and grooms him, he gleams even under the stable lights. He’s perfect. He’s hers.

 

 

 

 

Margot knows how pretty they look together when they’re riding.

 

 

She knows because Mason is there.

 

 

Mason is always watching. First with something like awe or admiration.

 

 

Then with a blank face, and then scowling, and then reproachful. He watches even still, leaning against the boundaries of the indoor ring they’re working today. Margot shivers under his gaze and tries to ignore it.

His attention still pulses like a migraine right beside her temple. She focuses on guiding The Prince over the jump they are barreling towards at a full canter. The low striped beams feel suddenly like a warning.

 

It’s a only a beginner’s jump she set up for them, knowing herself and knowing The Prince In The Fields. The crossed logs are set at barely three feet from the ground, lifted only to the first rung. The pair of them are new at this, and still learning.

 

Margot closes her eyes and hopes. She expects that The Prince will falter and shy; worst-case scenario, he’ll rear up in protest and throw her off into the dirt.

 

He’s done it before.

 

But instead she feels—for the first time— The Prince gather himself up beneath her and prepare. He trusts where she’s leading them. He’s tied his own well-being to her direction, fickle, obstinate, lovely one he is, and Margot is feels a sudden rush of deep affection for him.

 

She will not let him down, will not misuse his trust, not ever.

 

The Prince In The Fields launches himself over the jump with a powerful leap and soars.

 

 

Margot’s flying with him. They clear the jump with probably over a foot of clearance between his back hooves and the rail. For a moment, they’re weightless, and unstoppable. A breath, her heartbeat ringing in her ears, and then they’re over; it’s done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Prince finds his footing on the soft other-side ground, tail swishing proudly, head held high. Nevermind just now all the points judges would mark off for his head not being carried low and well in hand.

 

 

They would be triumphant, and Margot would be dreaming of running away, of dashing over fields and plains, flying over fences, and nothing stopping them.

 

 

But Margot hears the loud, slow, bitter applause from Mason.

 

Margot forces the lump down her throat. She pats praise into the side of the Prince’s neck. He keeps his head high and pointed towards Mason, neck arched extravagantly, always a sucker for an audience.

 

Margot tries to fend off the inevitable, smiling and waving up at the figure bent over the wall. The wall between them is just two spaces and three too-narrow stacked planks, easily overcome. Mason doesn’t wave back.

 

Mason watches Margot and The Prince together, with fury and jealousy and disappointment clearly written in his frame.

 

Her heart sinks, and then she goes numb, and the rest of the ride melts into familiar shades of gray until she doesn’t remember anything that happens after the jump at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Prince In The Fields is always, but always  stubborn, and haughty, and mean.

 

 

 

The Prince bites with his ears flush back against his skull at anyone who isn’t Margot.

At anyone in Margot’s presence, he still bites and he still means it. But not so much, not really, more for show.

 

 

 

When it’s just Margot, though, The Prince In The Fields is gentle as a lamb, and lovingly sweet, and hardly startles at anything. Akhal-Tekes bond with just one person, and he’s hers.

 

Because the stablehands are tired and unionized, and threatening to revolt about dodging his kicks and his bites and his oblivious horse mass crushing them against a wall, Margot is given full control of —tasked with, to use the actual verbiage—The Prince In The Fields’ care and keeping by her father.

 

Margot gets to spend time out of the house and out from under Mason, in the stables. In its wide sprawling halls that feel a little like school, and a little safer, swept meticulously clean of dust.

 

Margot spends hours just grooming The Prince In The Fields, spoils him with treats. She brushes all his fur until he shines as only Akhal-Tekes can. She teaches him tricks like raising his front hoof or bowing, or giving a little rear and throwing his head to toss his mane so it shines and catches the light. Margot has modeled before, and taken pictures with him, and it seems she still has something to learn from her horse.

 

The Prince In The Fields is her treasure, and Margot loves him with all her heart.

 

They’ve been six months into knowing, understanding each other. Their rides have become a melody of request and accept, ask and give, and all the time becoming a more perfect harmony of wills.

 

 

 

Margot is only twelve, when Mason has had enough. Mason can’t stand it any longer.

 

Mason puts nails and iron filings in the oats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because The Prince In The Fields is needy and she’s always in the stables these days, Margot sees Mason leave. She keeps rubbing leather conditioner into her favorite saddle as she watches Mason find his way to the exit.

 

And then the fact that Mason has been in the stables at all registers as important and dire in her brain.

 

Mason shouldn’t have been there, specifically, in the first place.

 

And Mason didn’t take the chance he always takes to look at her. Rather, he avoided her, ducking his head. Margot knows something is desperately wrong.

 

She runs to the stall.

 

 

She can’t breathe.

 

 

 

Her baby is just putting his big long face into his feed, sniffing around and hesitant because it wasn’t Margot who gave it to him.

 

Margot screams with no air in her lungs.

 

She hits The Prince In The Fields against his face with a closed fist and all the strength twelve years of her can muster, until he backs away from his feed bucket, no easy task. She sees the hurt and startled fear in the horse’s eyes, and hopes he won’t hate her like everyone else. She inspects the grain, sees the sharp points of nails and the dull gray iron shavings, and wetness like blood, and knows Mason put them there.

 

 

 

 

 

Margot has always seen the world in shades of distant gray and hazy, ever since Mason dragged her into his room by the arm and had his way when she was five or six, she can’t remember.

 

 

But now, the only color she sees is red.

 

 

She’s calm. She hoists the feed bucket off its moorings, staggers backwards with its weight. She feels the thump as it crashes into the straw bedding in the stall. She drags and hefts it piecemeal with little hopping spurts all the long way to the dumpster. It’s too heavy to lift into the bin, so she leaves it by the tall rusted side.

 

Margot hopes someone else will take care of the rest. She prays someone will see the gory pain Mason intended for her horse set there beside the dumpster, the violence of it, and tell her father.

 

At twelve years and three months old, she knows in her bones someone will see it, dispose of it, and they might pray, but they’ll ignore it. Hide the harm away.

 

Margot returns to the feed room. She inspects the grain three times before she is satisfied, running her hands through it just in case. Only then does she dare to retrieve a new hanging feed bucket, put it in The Prince’s stall. She carries every coffeecan-ful of sweetgrain to it, dumps it in with a singular, fervent prayer.

 

The Prince In The Fields is hesitant at first, not wishing another hit from Margot, but the smell of the grain is too much to ignore. He tucks in when Margot dumps the third canful of grain in and encourages him, “Go on, love.”

 

She watches him eat, listens to his happy little grunts and snuffles until the bucket is empty.

 

She gets an apple from her bag and holds it out for him in her palm. The Prince eats it in five bites, his muzzle soft and delicate and careful on the last three. He never once hurts her.

Margot feels like crying.

 

She can’t give him more treats— he’ll get spoiled— but she can show her love another way, so she does. She goes to the tack room to fetch her grooming tools, her neat little bucket with curry combs and slicker brushes and oil and rubber bands all stacked in orderly fashion.

 

Margot brushes him and brushes him until The Prince In The Fields absolutely shines. Brushes him until her shining precious treasure is almost dozing on his feet, head low and lazy and contented, and she feels like she could feel better. She doesn’t, but the Prince is safe and happy, so she leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margot’s still seething anger, still seeing shades of red when she bursts open the door to Mason’s room instead of asking permission. She knows hay and horse manure and dust cling to her riding gear from hours ago, and everything that happened after. Margot doesn’t care. She doesn’t quail at the doorstep like usual. Margot just stalks in to where Mason’s sat in his chair, looking up from his phone, caught by surprise.

 

Margot is taller than him for once. Standing over Mason, looking down— she doesn’t let it go to waste.

 

“Don’t you dare go near him or his stall ever again. You can still watch us ride, if you want, but you will not ever hurt him.”

 

Margot takes a breath in, feeling her way along new, unproven ground. She pushes forward anyway, red rage a present and electric pool from which to draw strength.

 

“If I see you anywhere near my horse, I won’t ever touch you like you want me to again. -I won’t even speak to you, not even in company. Do you hear me? Not ever again.

 

Mason pales. Because— because of course  Margot has made their usually unspoken abominations into the spoken. She’s called it out, and named the bribe. Named her price to continue.

 

Mason smiles the uncertain, obeisant, placating kind of smile that he reserves only for their father.

 

 

“I get it. I Get It. Margot, be reasonable,” he says, starting to lift himself up from the chair.

 

Before he can take the higher ground and stand, Margot pushes Mason back down with a hard shove to his shoulders, “Never again. Not even in company.”

 

Mason quails, retreating into the safety of the chair. “Okay, okay, sorry, okay,” he says, hands held out as if to fend her off, though Margot hasn’t moved again, hasn’t tried to hurt him yet.

 

 

“The horse is yours. Okay.”

 

 

Margot feels what she imagines it’s like to be drunk. She leans in, hands on the arms of the chair, bracketing Mason, crowding into the space he retreats from.

 

 

 

They’re so close they could kiss, but Margot is snarling and Mason looks so scared and so young and so starving.

 

“Say it,” she hisses, and wishes true poisonous venom to well up from her gums and teeth to spit in his face.

 

“I won’t ever go to his stall. I won’t look at it. I won’t ever look at him again. If I go to see you ride, I’ll— I’ll use the side door, and I’ll be careful. I’ll never touch him. I will never touch him, Margot, please,” Mason begs, with wide eyes and his hands braced over his stomach and chest against her onslaught.

 

Margot considers how she could push further, how she could lean in and truly break him.

 

But Mason is her brother, and he loves her. The only person she knows who does. It’s ugly, and it hurts, and he loves her. It’s written all over his face.

 

She pulls away.

 

“Good,” she says, through the lump in her throat. She straightens her back and turns to walk out of his door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’ll pay for this, she knows, and that knowledge creeps in, settles, seeps the red away until all she’s left with is shades of gray. She shuts the door to her own room and shakes as she sinks to the floor.

 

She bought The Prince’s safety by forfeiting her own, and Mason is their father’s son. A very sore loser, and always quick with a loophole.

 

 

She’s won, for once— for the first time in her life—but it’s a victory with pain licking at her heels.

 

 

 

It’s worth it anyway, for the mean and haughty Prince sleeping in his stall. She can endure it for him. She gets up, and locks her door.

 

She puts herself to bed and tries to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep never comes.

 

Instead, she does the arithmetic of what is bought and what is owed, and finds herself lacking. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It always comes out the same.

 

 

She cries. Stinging wet tears soak her pillow, and then she sneaks out to the stables. She finds The Prince In The Fields truly asleep. He’s resting in the far corner, legs tucked around himself and his nose nestled up against his knees.

 

Margot just watches him, chin on her arms folded on the rim of his stall, for as long as she possibly can. She memorizes the way his fur catches the light. Memorizes how there’s still a proud arch to his head, even in this vulnerable kind of sleep. She tell him goodbye.

 

 

 

 

The tears come again, but Margot refuses to make a sound as they fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the morning, she knocks on the door to her father’s office. Molson Verger’s office is dark, and her father’s face is darker for having been interrupted.

 

“Come in. Yes, what?”

 

“Good morning, Father. I hope you’re well,” Margot begins, not daring to actually sit in the plush chair she stands beside, her gaze focused on the silk wood of the desk some respectful distance away from Molson’s person and his documents.

 

“What is it? Stop hovering there fidgeting.”

 

“I—“ Margot begins, and she can’t go through with it.

 

The words catch in her throat. She bites back tears with teeth digging into her cheek and her nails splitting red crescents into her palms. She cannot cry. Not now. Her eyes burn, but nothing else.

 

“You what?”

 

Molson is a hard man to appease on good days, and she is failing. Margot straightens her spine against what she wants to say.

 

Mason hurts me. Mason hurts me every day and he tried to kill my horse and I hate him I hate him I hate him and I hate you and I will burn this whole estate down to its ashes I will burn everything down to bedrock and clean white bones

 

 

Margot swallows it all down, and the world becomes black and white and easy. She’s watching herself speak.

 

“Thank you very much, but I don’t want The Prince In The Fields. He can’t jump. If he can’t jump, I’ll never win riding him in competition. I want a new horse. Something less vain and more hardworking. I’ll even go back to working with Riversong again.”

 

Molson Verger turns a hawkish, apparaising eye to Margot, with her eyes cast down and her hands fisted by her sides.

Molson looks like he can see what she’s hiding.

 

“It was expensive. Approaching one hundred thirty thousand, and just for your birthday, because you placed so well.”

 

“But it’s not good enough, and I want something better. Something I can actually work with.” Margot doesn’t know where the false right words come from, but they come when they are called. They taste like bitter ash.

 

“I want something with more spirit, not just attitude. Something to contrast me so I won’t blend in with it so much. I want something that can actually perform and not just flaunt.”

 

 

 

Molson looks like he’s considering it, but that could mean anything. Margot’s heart stutters, and the she just sees gray, so she’ll be alright.

 

“Fine. I know someone who wanted the horse anyway. He’ll take it off my hands at a profit. But you’ll make do with whatever horse I find to fit your… specifications. And I expect that all this time and money won’t be wasted when awards season comes around.”

 

“I won Rider of The Year on Riversong, of all horses. Of course I’ll win again.” Margot, working on instinct, lets The Prince’s haughtiness fill out her tone.

 

Molson seems pleased at that bravado, and Margot tries not to feel her heart break as she wins. She bows and leaves Molson’s office, closing in around her like a marble tomb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margot doesn’t go back to the stables after her visit, leaving the stablehands to their fates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margot watches from the shadows where she can’t be seen as the trailer comes and The Prince In The Fields is loaded into it. His tail swishes anxiously and he holds his head high, looking for her face, for some reassurance.

 

Margot doesn’t watch the trailer carrying her whole heart leave the estate.

 

Margot doesn’t cry.

 

 

Margot doesn’t feel anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You did a good, wise, thing, Margot, and I’m proud of you,” Mason says, wrapping her up in his arms.