So, here’s a sample. The opening scene:
Ailsa pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and emerged onto the wider trail. Even the sharp, clean scent of pine couldn’t distract her from the dead tree directly across from her, a mature oak that had been green and healthy the last time she rode this way. Now it was bare and the bark was already turning black. Her stomach clenched at the sight. This was very nearly the heart of Far Terra. If the magic was failing even here, how much worse would it be on the fringes, nearer the surrounding desert? Without more mages—and soon—Far Terra would die.
She shook her head as if to clear it. She couldn’t really begin to plan until she knew what kind of magic she had and she couldn’t learn that until she got to the Institute of Magical Arts. Today was supposed to be a farewell ride with her friends. Ailsa should be enjoying that. They’d had to leave early to escape the gaggle of girls who always seemed to be around to flirt with the princes. This was the last chance they’d have to ride like this for at least a year, maybe longer. She wanted to let Pearl have a good run and this seemed like the best place for it. Sav came out onto the trail, Cergio and Perion right behind him.
She grinned, deciding to throw out a challenge she knew they couldn’t refuse. “There’s an old oak farther on, about a quarter mile. Race you there!” She leaned forward and dug her heels into Pearl’s sides.
Sav’s big, leggy black caught up to her and then passed her. Ailsa’s lips thinned. At the last moment, she jerked the reins to the side and guided Pearl onto the narrower track, which also cut off a sweeping bend in the main trail. It wasn’t cheating. She’d only specified the destination, not the path.
Ailsa sat up in the saddle to look ahead. Three fallen logs lay across this less-used trail, with no room for a horse to take a full stride between them. The undergrowth was too dense to allow any chance of going around them. Pearl could jump any one of them easily, but three together with barely room for the mare to gather herself for the next jump was more challenging. Ailsa had faith that Pearl could do it.
She bent low over the withers of her horse and urged her forward. Pearl lifted off, easily clearing the first log, landing, and lifting off again. It felt like flying. Ailsa laughed as the wind of Pearl’s speed whipped her hair into her face. They broke out onto the main trail again only a couple of lengths ahead of Sav.
This time they were going to do it. This time they were going to win. Ailsa turned her head to look over her shoulder. Sav’s long-legged black was gaining on them, but the other two were lost in the dust, too far behind to have a prayer of catching up.
She wasn’t going to come in second. Not this time. A tiny whirlwind of fallen leaves would distract his horse and slow Sav down. She was tempted, but using magic really would be cheating. And that would take the luster off the win. Instead she leaned forward to whisper encouragement into Pearl’s ear. “Go, girl. You can do it.” The mare put on a burst of speed. Ailsa whooped and raised her arms in triumph as they passed the oak tree that marked the finish line.
She jumped down and hugged Pearl’s neck, then grabbed a cloth from her saddlebags and began wiping her down, even though that little run had barely raised a sweat. “You’re wonderful. You’re the best horse ever.”
Sav pulled his black stallion up beside her and dismounted.
Ailsa paused her rub down of Pearl to turn to him. “I told you she could beat your black, didn’t I? She’s faster than she looks.”
Savyon patted Pearl’s shoulder. “No. She just runs her heart out for you. It’s not the same thing.” His eyes glowed oddly as he met Ailsa’s. “It’s a gift. To be able to inspire that kind of loyalty. She runs beyond her abilities for you.”
Ailsa blushed and concentrated on wiping the last traces of sweat off Pearl’s gleaming coat. Pearl liked to run. And if Sav was about to accuse her of using magic to win the race—when she’d specifically restrained herself, too—she’d . . . she’d hit him, prince or not.
Sav looked back down the forest path to a narrow place where Cergio had somehow gotten his bay gelding turned sideways on the trail, blocking Perion. He swallowed and grabbed Ailsa’s hand. “Ailsa, I . . . I . . .”
Why was Sav stammering? He’d never been shy with her before. They’d known each other practically since she could walk, after all. And even if she did occasionally get a little irritated with him, she would never really hit him. She looked up into his eyes. “What is it, Sav?”
With a shout, Ailsa’s cousin, Perion, slipped around Cergio’s horse’s flank and raced towards them. Cergio followed at a slower pace.
Sav grimaced and drew a deep breath. “You will be coming to the ball tonight, won’t you?”
Ailsa nodded. “Yes, of course. It’ll be my last chance before I go south to school. I doubt I’ll get invited to very many parties there. Anyway, I’ll be there to study, not socialize.”
He squeezed her hand. “Promise me a dance?”
Ailsa smiled. “As many as you like, Sav. As always.” She turned back to Pearl to hide her face. Who else am I going to dance with? Perion? Aunt Izbel will prod him to ask me once or twice, but I know he’d rather be dancing with Delea. And Cergio will be on his next romantic campaign. He won’t have time for me.
“I’ll see you there, then,” Sav said and released her hand just as the others rode up.