Seventeen years. Seventeen years on earth, curling my toes in the mud, gravel crunching under my fingernails, grass caressing my calluses.
It sounds like freedom; it most definitely is not.
I press the pads of my feet into the stirrups, letting my cotton skirts slide slowly over the leather saddle. This creature is a gift for my years of life. An Auvergne horse: quick-witted, steadfast with a russet mane. When Papa had led me out to the paddock where she waited, sniffing the sweet, spring sky, I had almost fainted.
‘You’re seventeen now’ he had merely said, but I had known there was a deeper meaning to those words. Seventeen means I am older but to be older is a curse in this society. They expect me to marry another merchant’s son, build a business and a diligent family. But I want more than a life that has already been lived; as long as I have this horse, more is finally an option; she is my ticket to freedom.
We set off through the meadow. Raw air scrapes along my cheekbones; my eyes, like glossy copper, sting and water beneath my lashes. I could ride anywhere, past the fields of Aveyron that lie far from here, beside the streams and trickles and lakes and up and over the blanched peaks, find a curious town, cunningly concealed in the mountains and live out my days in an abandoned château, my horse and no one else to irk me.
The air turns crisp with the oncoming twilight, a gentle breeze now slivers down my nose, breathing lightly on the cocoa freckles which loiter lazily upon it. Everything is fresh with the promise of freedom, and as I sit atop my Auvergne horse, I can almost taste liberty on the tip of my tongue.