A shout of warning rang out moments before a barrel was dropped, the sound of it crashing down to the stone caused one of the big black horses in front to spook. Leopold watched, stunned as his own mount shifted below him. The big black beast bucked and kicked, and the rider stayed up, moving with the animal trying to wrest control back. What followed was over in a matter of seconds but seemed to play out in slow motion. One moment, the rider was hanging up on top of the bucking horse, the next the rider appeared to disappear from the front of the horse, which took off, without anything on his back. Leopold looked down to the ground to see the cursing rider still seated in the saddle. The courtyard fell silent, as though on tenterhooks, waiting with bated breath to see what would happen next.
The rider stood up, a long braided rope of fiery red hair slipped over the shoulder to fall down their back to rest at gently curved hips. Gloved hands had fisted at their side moments before the tirade broke out in a surprisingly feminine voice.
"Son-of-a-bitch! Someone get that−" the speaker leant down, gracing Leopold with a full view of a perfect arse as the soft leather of her breeches pulled taut, before she lifted the saddle with practised ease, tossing it away from her, "−piece of shit to the Saddler for repair before morning." She strode away, anger in every step. Her head turned over her shoulder briefly as she called back, "Dick, Donaghue. The war-room. Now." And then she was gone. Swallowed up by the castle as she passed through the gaping maul of the open doors.
There was a moment of silence before the courtyard burst out in activity again. An older warrior disappeared into the keep following the angry woman.
Richard rode up beside Leo, a genial laugh released from him. "Close your mouth, cousin. You'll catch flies. Come on. Jac wants me in the War-room with old Don. Walk with me. I'll introduce you, and we'll find out what's got her so riled up."
They both dismounted, handing reins over to young squires who rushed up to take them.
Leopold barked out a humourless laugh. "You mean being thrown from a horse isn't enough to rile up a body?"
Richard shook his head with a smile as they passed through the doorway. "Not Jac. She would generally be laughing that one off."
"Jac? She? You mean that was−."
"Lady Jacqueline, Duchess of Wolvarden."
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