Dakota remembered the capital from a previous visit. Magical is the only word to describe Rome, especially at night. The giant buildings, carved thousands of years ago, seemed oddly sad to her, and she loved and longed to stare at them for hours. She felt as though they understood how she felt. Surrounded by people, but completely alone.
As she worked through the routine with Apollo, she saw a movement in the stands. Slipping off him, she led Apollo over to the edge of the ring.
"Who is there?"
A small pair of hands gripped a bench and then a face appeared, followed by another pair of hands and a face. Two small children were looking at her, wide eyed, with dirt in their hair, on their clothes and covering their skin. As they stared at her with fear in their wide eyes, Dakota realised they had to be only five at the most, so small and innocent were they. She stopped frowning and smiled tentatively.
The little boy continued to stare, but the little girl, a black haired creature with curls that shone like raven feathers, gave a quick grin before covering her teeth, which were grubby and uncleaned.
"What are you doing here?" Dakota asked quietly. The children continued to stare, and she realised they must not be able to understand her. Italian was not one of the languages she spoke, but she tried Spanish in hope. There was no response. She gave up trying to ask them questions and let go of Apollo, climbing over the ring and towards the children. She sat next to them.
"That is my horse, Apollo. He doesn't like other people, only me. But if you want I can see if he'd let you stroke him."
The little girl slipped her hand in to Dakota's and she was shocked at first, but then lightly squeezed her hand. The girl followed Dakota to the ring and was lifted up to Apollo's level. At first he shied away a little, but then as Dakota stroked him, the little girl reached out and stroked his nose, and he did not try to bite her or move away. Dakota smiled.
The little boy soon joined them, but he hid behind Dakota and would not go near Apollo. Then there was the sound of shouting and a man appeared through the opening of the tent.
"Carlos! Amira!" The man barged towards the children and Dakota, and roughly grabbed them from her. He was shouting at them in Italian, shaking the little girl.
"Stop! Stop it!" Dakota yelled. The man had clearly been drinking, he smelled of stale alcohol covered with fresh. His eyes were bloodshot and rolling. He spat at Dakota and pushed her away. She flushed and was about to punch him when Apollo whinnied in anger at his mistress being treated like that, and kicked the man with a hoof. The man fell back, the children rolling with him. They stood unhurt, but he groaned from the floor. Dakota held Apollo back before he trampled the man, and Jerin, Batholomew, Cassius, Cassidy and Alianna ran in to the ring, having heard the commotion.