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"Hey, Pia," hissed James, sticking his head over Drummer's stable door, "lend us You-know-who for a bit, will you?"
"What's the problem?"
"I need to ask Moth why she's started to drop her hind legs over jumps, taking the poles with her. I bet it's something I'm doing wrong." James added, "It always is."
I handed James the tiny statue of a tiny stone woman sitting sideways on a tiny stone horse that I always, always have hidden safely in my pocket. It's with me whenever I go to the stable yard where I keep Drummer. Moth is stabled next door to Drum, and no one-but no one-except James and me knows the secret of Epona-code name You-Know-Who-and we've both sworn to keep it that way!
"Thanks!" he said, and disappeared to have a talk with his pony. That's right-a bit of a chat. Because even though her nose is missing and she's nearly two-thousand-odd years old, Epona (Are you ready for this?) has the power to let whoever is holding her hear what horses and ponies are saying and be able to talk with them.
I know! When I found the ancient homage to the Celtic and Roman goddess of horses and heard Drummer talking to me, I could hardly believe it either. But because of Epona, and because I hadn't had the sense to keep what I had discovered about the horses and ponies around me to myself, I had been proclaimed the Pony Whisperer, and all hell had broken loose. I'd helped horses and ponies who had problems; I'd upset people by telling them things they didn't want to hear; I'd even been on TV-twice! Since then, I've tried to live it down and escape the public eye because, believe me, being the Pony Whisperer may sound glamorous (I thought so, too, until it all got out of hand), but Epona gets me into the sort of fixes I try to avoid these days.
Avoiding attention has not been one of my most successful ventures.
Of course, with Epona helping James I couldn't carry on the conversation I'd been having with Drummer, but as Katy and Bean chose that moment to lean on Drummer's stable door like idiot twins, it was just as well. As Katy has red hair and is shorter than me, and Bean is nothing like her, they don't look anything like twins, but you get where I'm coming from.
"Pia," announced Katy, shoving her hair off her face and puffing out her cheeks, "you and Drum have got to be on our team, right, Bean?"
"Yeah, yeah, you've sooo got to be," agreed Bean, beaming at me. Her real name was Charlotte Beanie, but everyone called her Bean. With her height (tall), build (slim), and hair color (blond), she was the perfect match for her elegant palomino pony, Tiffany.
I was delighted they wanted to include me, as I still felt very much the new girl at the yard. Everyone else there had known one another forever, and although my Pony Whisperer title had ensured I hadn't stayed out of the limelight, I didn't feel like I was really one of the gang. Drummer had been welcomed with open hooves by his fellow equines-apart from one, who I'll tell you about...
"We're taking the Sublime Equine Challenge," Katy announced, "and we just need you to complete our team of four."
"Yeah, we need someone to do the wild card," explained Bean. "Tiffany and I are doing the show jumping, and Katy and Bluey are our cross-country entry, of course!"
"I can't wait!" enthused Katy. "It'll be an opportunity to wear my new cross-country colors."
"What color are they?" I teased. Katy has a thing, bordering on obsession, about purple, and her last cross country shirt and matching skullcap cover would have made a Roman emperor envious. Her new colors were reputed to be even flashier.
When I'd first met Katy, I had been able to tell her-courtesy of Epona-that her chunky blue roan pony Bluey longed to go cross-country jumping. Katy was nervous, but Bluey's talent soon built her confidence. It was one of my pony whispering successes, before things had taken a downward turn.
"Any chance of starting from the beginning?" I asked them.
For an answer, Katy shoved the latest PONY magazine under my nose and jabbed her finger on the full-page ad that read: Are you ready for the sublime equine challenge?
Yes, I thought, I definitely am. It was the start of summer vacation, and I was looking forward to six weeks of being with Drummer, entering some shows, and going riding, especially with James, as often as I could. Did I mention that James is totally adorable? No? Well, he is. The trouble is, I'm not the only one who thinks so...