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One shots are short stories or scenes from one of my novels. This is chapter 2 of Redundant (a prequel to Summoned which can be viewed on wattpad.com)
Neala cradled the newborn and rested her head back to see him more clearly. Soft blond hair poked out from beneath the linens. His eyes, a clear and stunning blue, studied her as if her were a man, not a babe a few hours old. His coloring was Quinn’s opposite and an old hag’s prophecy rang in her head.
You shall birth a fair one from the sea, and a dark one from the earth… Two must be only one. The abomination must die.
How long the past few months had seemed, waiting, planning, and preparing for this arrival. Quinn’s birth was easy compared to the past two days of labor. She shifted. But then, this child should never have been conceived.
Arden McCasey. Where other mothers would feel an upwelling with a newborn cradled in their arms, Naela knew better than to become attached to one who had no future.
“Forgive me,” she whispered, then handed him over to the wet nurse.
Quinn halted at the doorway as the nurse took the small bundle from her arms. He had been tiptoeing around lately, spooked like a young colt in a storm. Neala was weary of his sniveling, cowering presence.
“Come, Quinn. Take action or be off.”
Quinn stepped inside, stopping well away from her bed. He stared at the infant as the nurse brushed past him.
“What’s to be his name, Mathair?”
Neala rubbed her eyes, irritated by her exhaustion. She hated feeling so weak.
“He is Arden. Have you finish your studies?”
Neala motioned for him to approach. Quinn had been schooled not touch her. No hug, no warm embrace; she never tolerated physical intimacy.
“You’ve blocked your thoughts again, child. Your father mentioned how strong this skill has become.”
Her oldest, her beloved, shifted his weight from foot to foot, keeping his center of balance low and forward as trained. She caught the gesture and smiled. It was a defensive stance which allowed him to protect, and an offensive stance that gave him an opportunity to strike.
“Athair probes too much,” he said. “Am I not allowed any of my own thoughts?”
“Such arrogance coming from one who knows so little.” Neala sat up and grimaced as pain tore through her belly. Quinn made no move to help. Even if he did, she’d never accept his compassion.
“It was you who taught me to question,” Quinn said. His boldness bordered on arrogance. “That child, my brother, I believe he’s a mistake.”
Neala’s eyes narrowed, just a fraction. “I made no mistake. He’s come for you.”
Quinn lost his balance and stumbled back. He appeared to Neala now as a lost child. A weak and terrified child in need of comfort.
“You’ve heard him speak,” she said. “Perhaps he’s even said those words?”
He swallowed. Bright splotches stained his cheeks. She pressed on, giving him no room to bolt.
“You’re to rise early tomorrow, finish chores before the sun brightens the horizon.”
Quinn released a great breath.
“And when finished,” she said, “you will ride the Dunn.”
“He’s a stallion, a mere colt. None have handled him yet.”
The warrior evaluated the response and cut through the defensiveness.
“Stronger mounts you’ve handled. Think of this as a test.”
“Respect.” Neala shifted on the bed. “You’ve to earn the right to question, young Quinn, remember that when we next speak.”
Quinn resumed his stance, prepared for her attack.
“Not today, my love, but soon. Go now, you’ve a big day ahead of you. The Dunn awaits.”
Quinn backed slowly from the room until he cleared the threshold, then he turned and ran. He ran to his mother’s laughter ringing down the hall.
Dawn broke with a pale glow which gradually built into a blasting, roaring symphony of pink and orange spraying out from the horizon. Had Quinn taken note, he might’ve been moved by the glorious sunrise. Instead, he faced an ugly colt standing before him in a paddock, evaluating his mother’s demand.
The Dunn pawed the ground, issuing a challenge and its muscles rippled beneath its filthy, brown coat. He’d witness the foul attitude of this animal before as it tormented and picked fights with the other two-year-old colts in the pastures. No doubt it would one day sire many off-spring, but for now its value lie in its ability to work. And that wasn’t something it was willing to do.
Vapor puffed from its nostrils, joining the mist hugging the ground. The horse snorted, throwing its head. And Quinn completed his evaluation–he wouldn’t survive a ride on this nasty beast.
That small voice, the one he now knew belonged to Arden, wormed its way inside. He worked hard to shut him out, harder still not to react to his brother’s every torment.
“I’m no coward. I understand what’s to be done.”
So do it.
Quinn adjusted his grip on a leather whip, and shifted his gaze from animal to enclosure. It was small enough to contain and large enough to keep him from being trampled. It was time to exhaust the horse and break its spirit.
“Run now, Dunn,” he said. The whip cracked the air. “Run like you’ve been born to do. Run ‘til you have nothing left.”
The horse reared.
“I said run, damn you.” Quinn snapped the whip again.
The Dunn broke and charged him. Quinn’s heart pounded in his chest as he stood his ground and raised the whip. The next snap drew blood from the horse’s shoulder. And if he hadn’t won the battle, he’d at least won the challenge. The colt veered off and began its run around the pen, bucking and kicking up sand.
Arden chuckled with glee.
Quinn tuned him out and kept the colt running. If the Dunn slowed he’d use the whip although it would only touch flesh if the animal came after him again. Minute after minute ticked by and still the horse powered on. It was going to take a long time to exhaust this young stallion. And was it right to break a horse’s spirit this way? Handled correctly, one so fierce could also become a loyal companion.
Dare you? Dare you defy Mathair?
Arden’s small voice cut through Quinn’s concentration. He dropped his whip and turned from his teaching.
“‘Tis fright that’s oft used to bend a will, but compassion can serve one better.”
These were the thoughts he blocked from his father. Now Arden understood. Quinn had no doubt his brother would use this knowledge to his advantage in the future.
That’s right. And I will be her chosen. You’ll see…
“Destiny has already made its choice, brother. Watch now and learn.”
A light breeze lifted the shaggy mane of the colt. The fidgety, frightened animal, acted on pure instinct and snorted through its blood-red nostrils. Quinn would never out-muscle the Dunn. Ordered or not, there was no chance of riding the beast that day.
But he could learn the instincts of the animal and together they could build trust. His voice was too high to bring comfort, so he spoke quietly, as if addressing a scared child.
“Here now, Dunn. That’s not the way of it.”
The horse took a few nervous steps, as if to bolt.
“Quiet now. You’d be smarter than that. Come, let’s do this together.”
Quinn held still with his hand outstretched and waited. A moment passed. The horse tested. A few fearful steps, then retreat. And when nothing happened-no whips, no yelling, the horse lowered its head, fought through instinct and approached.
Quinn smiled as sunlight brightened the paddock. Let his mother punish him. Let Arden see he wasn’t afraid of her. He’d learn the Dunn and they would ride only when they were both good and ready.