And The Children Shall Lead (Children of the Knight #4)
The Los Angeles Equestrian Center wasn’t far from New Camelot, technically in the city of Burbank, right at the northern tip of Griffith Park. At seventy-five acres, it was the largest such venue in Southern California and boasted trail riding, cricket fields, training rings, the Equidome Show Ring for Olympic-style events, and acres of barns and stables, grass and dirt, and lots of large shade trees, all surrounded by two-tiered white fencing.
Lance and Ricky had never been there. It had always been Arthur or his rotating knights that visited Llamrei, or the horse had been driven to New Camelot. Lance was impressed by the sheer immensity of the center as Ryan pulled in through the gigantic, barn-shaped entry and into the parking lot. Gibson’s beamer slid into an empty spot beside them and everyone piled out.
He could see by their faces that Dakota and Kai had never seen anything like this, either. As he looked around, Lance spotted several sleek, beautiful horses being put through their paces by trainers. He glanced back at the others, all in their fancy Indian regalia, and grinned. Dakota’s hair hung loose down his back as always, restrained by a colorful headpiece, while Kai wore his hair in his usual braids with a traditional headband as adornment. With all four sporting bows and quivers of arrows slung across their backs, they’d absolutely call attention to themselves, but not as Knights of the Round Table.
As had been pre-arranged by Arthur, one of the directors of the center met them in the parking lot. He eyed the boys and their attire with curiosity, but didn’t ask questions. Arthur had explained that they were Native American knights who were also expert horsemen and the director simply led the group past numerous horse stalls in search of Llamrei. The Indian boys could not take their eyes off every horse they passed, and Lance could tell they wanted to stop and interact with each one in turn.
Finally, they saw a white head sticking out of a stall window, long flowing mane flicking lightly from side to side as Llamrei shook her head at some annoyance or other. Lance broke into a huge grin.
“Llamrei!” he called out, and pelted toward the mare. Upon hearing her name, she turned her massive head and whinnied. Lance stopped just in front of her and grinned. He hadn’t seen her in such a long while and didn’t want to spook her.
“I’m sorry, girl, for not visiting,” he apologized quietly as the others joined him. “Can you forgive me?”
Llamrei neighed and stuck her head out further, rubbing her muzzle against the boy’s cheek and causing Lance to laugh with delight.
“I guess that’s a yes,” Ricky said with a grin, reaching out to stroke the silky mane before him.
Kai let out a soft breath of amazement. “She’s beautiful.”
Dakota stepped forward and held out his hand to the mare. Llamrei sniffed it and then immediately began rubbing her snout into his palm.
Lance was impressed. “Wow. She likes you.”
Dakota grunted, but said nothing more. He placed his hand on her neck and stroked it, softly and with reverence. Llamrei loved it. She turned her head to eye the boy, and Dakota eyed her right back. No words were spoken, but Lance could instantly see a connection.
“I wish to ride her,” Dakota said, his deep voice soft and respectful. “That’s why we’re here,” Lance said, petting Llamrei, as well.
The director had the stable hands saddle Llamrei and another horse for Kai. Lance and Ricky wanted to see what the boys could do, and after they’d demonstrated their aptitude as horsemen, then other mounts would be brought around for Lance, Ricky and Chris to take a trail ride through Griffith Park.
Ryan and Gibson stood on high alert, suspiciously observing anyone who even looked in their direction. As it was morning on a weekday, there weren’t many visitors. Dakota eased up onto Llamrei’s back as though he belonged there, and Lance could tell the mare was smitten. Ricky had been right––Dakota was some kind of horse whisperer. He deftly directed the mare out of the stable area with barely a command and cantered her out to the nearest training circle. She instinctively knew what he wanted. Lance was deeply impressed.
Kai was almost as proficient with his own mare named Lady, a brown American quarter horse with a short tail and mane compared to Llamrei, four white socks and a white snout. As with Dakota, the horse instantly slipped into the boy’s rhythm and they became a single entity as he trotted her around the open area alongside Dakota.
Lance and Ricky watched Kai and Dakota direct their horses into one of the training circles and execute easy, fluid moves with their mounts.
“Yep,” Ricky muttered, “that’s horse whispering all right.”
He tousled Chris’s hair and Lance chuckled as they observed the boys put their horses through a series of trots, gallops, and reverses.
After several minutes, Kai and Dakota happily cantered over to where Lance and Ricky stood with the others. The director began telling them what impressive riders they were when he was suddenly flung backwards with a strangled “Oomph!” and fell sprawling to the ground, dazed.
Everyone spun quickly to see several golf-cart type vehicles plowing up the road toward them, each carrying two men, one man in each cart with his arm outstretched aiming a long-barreled handgun straight at them. Everything seemed to happen at once. Ryan grabbed Chris and they dropped to the ground as Gibson pulled his gun.
“Lance!” Dakota called out. Lance spun to see the Indian with his hand outstretched, and instantly understood.
“Ricky, with Kai,” he shouted as he stretched out his hand and clasped Dakota’s. The Indian pulled as Lance leapt and suddenly he was up and into the saddle behind the other.
“Lance!” he heard Ricky yell even as Kai trotted up to him, hand outstretched. “Do it, Ricky!” Lance yelled and suddenly Ricky’s hand was in Kai’s and he was up and into the saddle behind the other boy.
Terrified, never having been on a horse before, Ricky clung tightly to Kai. He glanced at Lance, whose own arms encircled Dakota’s waist, and then the two Indians dug in their heels and the horses bolted.
Ricky almost lost his balance, but managed to hang on, noting in his peripheral vision that Lance was having an easier time.
Behind him, Lance heard Gibson fire his gun and then they were away from the practice circle and galloping headlong down the road toward an open gate. Lance felt something whiz past his head and knew they were being shot at. He glanced over at Ricky, clinging desperately to Kai as the quarter horse paced Llamrei, and then turned to look over his shoulder.
The three golf carts were chasing them now, leaving Ryan and Gibson scrambling in the distance for some way to pursue. Lance saw Gibson raise his phone as Ryan yanked Chris to his feet and began running sidelong toward some other golf carts parked by the fence.
Their pursuers were gaining, but he couldn’t get a clear shot facing forward. Another bullet whizzed past him as Dakota rode Llamrei in a zigzagging pattern.
“Dakota!” he called out against the wind, flinging the dangling feathers away from his eyes. “I’m gonna flip around so I can shoot. When I do, throw the reins over me and tug tight so I don’t fall.”
“You got it!” he heard, but Dakota’s eyes remained forward. By now they were out of the Equestrian Center and galloping onto the light traffic of Riverside Drive, dodging and weaving in between cars and creating a spectacle for so early on a weekday.
“Head into the park!” Kai called out as the roadway took them over the L.A. River, and Dakota yelled, “Right!”
Ricky watched in horror as Lance looked over at him. Bouncing up and down was already giving him a headache, but hearing what Lance intended to do scared the crap out of him.
Lance slipped his right leg up and behind Dakota’s back carefully, his arms remaining around the other boy’s torso. He let out a sigh of relief when he was over and sitting sidesaddle behind the Indian youth. Then, with a desperate grin at Ricky, Lance flung his left leg up and over Llamrei’s rear, reaching behind desperately for Dakota’s body to hold on to. He overshot the move slightly, and began to slip.
“Lance!” Ricky screamed in horror, but Dakota’s right hand let go the reins and flung back to grab Lance’s arm, righting him on the horse.
“Thanks, man!” Lance called out, his heart pumping with momentary terror. “Now toss me the reins!”
Dakota flung the long circular rein over his and Lance’s head. Lance caught it and tugged, signaling Dakota to pull taut, which he did. Lance felt the tightness of the reins against his midsection, and knew he wouldn’t fall. Now he could fight back.