Ula is pacing.
His head is lifted and arched, eyes glittering darkly as he stares in the direction of the sea. I can hear the waves crashing against the cliffs but I can’t see them- it is too black for that, except for in the direction of Skarmouth, where I can see the glow of festival. Mother is already there, no doubt in the pub, but I stayed at the farm. For one, Ula needs feeding. For another…
I can’t do it.
It is one thing to have my name on the board. Even the thought makes my heart beat faster. My hands shake as I pump water and lug a bucket, slipping it under Ula’s iron- reinforced fence before dancing away from his teeth. I can’t do the festival. The prospect makes me nervous- I’m going to stand on a rock and say words that thousands over the course of hundreds- thousands, maybe- of years have said as well. I’m going to be a part of history, as surely as the Capall are a part of Thisby.
I enter the house and stare at myself in the mirror. Shadows sweep across my face, making me look dark, unbeatable. The red sweater I wear is dramatic, deep as my blood that will drip across the rock I will spill it on.
“I will return…. As a rider.” I announce grimly to the house. It echoes back, unimpressed, but I rush out before I can change my mind.
Skarmouth is wild. Drumbeats fill my heart as I push through the crowds, searching for the rock. In the night it is a different town, as though all the buildings have rearranged themselves. Tourists stare down at me and then dismiss me, turning to their souvenirs and cinnamon twists and-
Cinnamon twists! I recognize Palssons, and disorientation fades as I realize where I am. The rock I’m supposed to be at is only a quick walk away. Spinning on my heels, I duck and dive through the crowds until I find it. A line of riders line up, staring at Epona. I strain to get a glance, but two tall men stand in front of me, discussing odds. My name is mentioned and I snap to attention, but they merely say, “she’s got a good horse under her. That other Capall, Metra, is one to watch as well.” They mention a few more names I don’t recognize, and a butterfly joins the swarm already flapping in my stomach. I will be riding against these people- unless, in the next few weeks, we end up dead in the ocean.
An energy changes in the audience. Peg is standing on the rock now, and the first rider climbs up. I shove through the tall men and start my way towards it. After an Amanda, I barge up the rock. Peg stares at me impassively. I return the solemn stare And hold out my hand.
“Morgan….” Here I pause, because I don’t have a last name. It’s odd anywhere, but people here are used to it by now. “Ula. I will ride. By my blood.” A feeling of power rises in me. This is more real than anything I’ve done in my life. This is galloping, this is waiting by the cliffs at night, this is fear and love and adrenaline and the scent of salt and wind and horse mixed up into a single moment. It is not one I’ll forget.
Peg lurches forwards and slices my finger and then I am off the rock before I can process what has happened, but now I stand by a fire, feeling the wind whip my hair across my face, and watch everyone else take their turn. There’s something prehistoric about the entire thing- a glimmer in everyone’s eyes, the mingling of blood and the deadly horses waiting at home for us. I suck on my finger, trying to stop the blood flow, when it hits me.
I am a rider now.
Hello everyone! Sorry for being so late, this happened to fall right during my midterms. :P
I’m Emily, I’m a college student in the middle of my final semester (wahoo!). I have an off-track thoroughbred named Kieran and am going to start taking lessons with Icelandic horses soon!
I won’t lie, it’s been…2 years since I last read the book, and I haven’t had time to re-read it this week. I anticipated The Scorpio Races more than any other book that Maggie wrote because two of my biggest passions are Celtic mythologies and horses - those combined with Maggie’s astounding novel writing ability made it a story I could hardly wait for. I was on an internship in the arctic when the book came out, so I bought it and read it in about two days. It worth the wait.
I’ve seen so many reviews saying that the book was dull, but it was not. It was slow, yes, but it played out so realistically that it felt like I was there. The entire thing was astoundingly nostalgic, despite the fact that I’ve never been to Ireland or ridden a horse in a race on the beach (or encountered a flesh-eating horse, for that matter). She made it seem so real, so moving, that it was as though I’d known Puck and Sean all of my life. Sean’s relationship with Corr and Puck’s relationship with Dove were so moving and powerful to me.
My father knocks on the door to the bathroom before his voice rings out, “Jemma, parade starts at eleven. We have to get going. It’s already ten thirty.”
I call back that “I’ll be ready in a minute, father,” but really, I don’t think I want to go. The festival and declaring that we would be riding is the final straw. It’s like jumping into the sea, you know what will happen, but you don’t know how you’ll go or how fast it would happen. You declare your name and there’s no backing out because everyone on this island knew who you were and they would call you a coward. I couldn’t do that, I would not.
I steeled myself and opened the door. My father was still there, he must’ve been waiting. A small smile pulls at the edges of his lips, a strange sight. “You look wonderful, sweetheart.” I was wearing what I usually did for events though. It was nothing special. I wore a black skirt which came to just a few inches above my kneecaps, the only detail on it were two white stripes across the bottom near the hem. And paired with the skirt I wore a simple white button up blouse. It was the opposite of the skirt in the way that along the quarter sleeves, there were two black stripes. Black and white seemed to symbolize the races for me. The extremes of how the races would turn out, there were only two options. Black, you wouldn’t make it to see next years’ races. Or white, you’d be lucky enough to see the next day and go home.
My father was still dressed more casually than me, though it seemed men were always more casual anyway. Anyway, in the next few moment, we headed out of the Malvern’s guest house and towards Skarmouth. We decided to walk, it reminded my father of the good-old-days when he used to walk everywhere around the island with his buddies. Off in the distance, we could see the pale red glow in the darkened night sky. The festivities had already begun earlier that day and we were going to be late for the rider’s parade. “Maybe we should’ve gotten a ride,” my father says to himself. But we make it on time anyway.
My father gives my shoulder a gentle squeeze, he’ll let me go do whatever things I have to do alone. He thinks it’s better for me to experience it alone. He says that he’s heading to the Black-Eyed Girl, which is apparently a pub. Father points a long finger toward a green faced building that had people spilling out of it before heading that way, calling out over his shoulder, “good luck, Jem! You’ll do great!”
There’s noise everywhere and barely any room to navigate the roads of Skarmouth because there were so many people. The tourists got in the way because they were trying to figure out exactly where they were going when the little city was only so big. But the vendors and everyone else involved with the festival crowded the streets also. The Scorpio Drummers beat noise into the air. There were so many drummers but each of them beat at the same time, like the collective heartbeat of the island and everyone on it. Up on the cliff, I saw people throwing tinder into the huge bonfire at the top of the cliff. A little ways away, I see people throwing things over the cliff into the rising waters.
Tonight, thankfully, was clear. But the dark, dark Scorpio Sea was still reaching up toward us to claim another unsuspecting victim. I make my way up the incline toward where all the other jockeys had probably already gathered. Everything was beginning to start. The wind whipped my short hair around my face and flung little embers from the fire over the edge of the cliff. Little specs of light fizzled out just a few feet over the cliff. I stand among the outer rings of the people and wait as the ceremony begins.
A man climbs up onto that gigantic flat rock with a wooden bowl. His voice is strong and rings out above the noise of the crowd. “It falls to me to speak for the man—“
“Or woman!” Someone shouts from the crowd, interrupting his ancient speech. The voice sounded close and female.
He continues, “Or woman who will not ride. Rider without a name. Horse without a name. By his or her blood.” As the man continues, he tips the bowl and blood splashes down onto the burgundy stained rock. He makes his exit and Epona, the woman in that old horses head with blood running down her tunic, takes his place. Someone earlier had found that shell that she drops every year. The foolish person wished to win the races. You can’t just rely on magic for that, you have to have skill too. Epona prays to the skies and the winds above us and all noise begins to die down. No one wants to interrupt and have the spirit of Thisby angry at them. I wrench my eyes off of the horse-headed woman to take a look around who was gathered. I find the usual throng of men, but scattered among the crowd were many young girls. That Connolly girl really paved the way for all of us this year.
By the time I look back to the rock, Peg Gratton had taken Epona’s place. The thing I noticed right away was the knife in her hand. The first few men rise up onto the rock and declare their names and steeds. I hear the names Lenna Sutherly, Amanda, Acheson, Morgan, and so many others. They all sound so confident, even if they didn’t think they were. If I didn’t do this now, I would be the last one, and I didn’t want to be last. So I push my way through a few people and make my way up onto the rock.
I can feel my nerves, I can feel my hand shaking. But my voice does not waver. “I will ride.” Awkwardly, I push my hand towards Peg Gratton, she flashes the dagger out and makes a small cut on my index finger. I then move my hand over the rock and look out into the crowd. Everyone’s face are aglow in the orange light. They all look demonic, shadows are cast too long and too dark over all of their faces.
“Jemma Cardiff. Mealla. By my blood.”
I stand on the rock for a few more seconds looking into the crowd, just thinking to myself. If Puck could win the races on that little island pony of hers, these men have something to fear if we’re on the backs of capaill.