Miles and I were in the kitchen, preparing breakfast, when Cleric and Dragon came rushing in.
“Mistress Writer!” Cleric’s voice rang out with joy. She was absolutely glowing, and had her smile been any broader, she would have needed a second face to hold it all. “We were just in the shed visiting with Mystery. Now that she is free of the hold the snow devils had on her mind, I am able to communicate with her!”
“That’s wonderful!” I smiled broadly as I took her hands and gave them a squeeze. “I know how worried you were when you couldn’t reach her mind.”
“Indeed! I found it most disheartening that I, a cleric of the goddess of the horse, was able to communicate with essentially every animal in this world, save the one most favored by my deity!”
“Have you learned anything from her?” Miles glanced over at Cleric as he removed the large skillet of scrambled eggs from the stove.
Cleric nodded and clasped her hands together. “Oh, yes, Master Miles! Mystery is a most remarkable little horse!”
I raised an eyebrow. “I hope you’re not getting too attached to Mystery. Now that you and Dragon have assisted the snow devils to return to their home, we need to find Mystery’s owner and get her back home as well.”
Cleric looked wistful. “Well, I will certainly miss her. I do wish that I had had more time to get to know her. But I understand she needs to go back to her owner.”
“And that needs to happen as expeditiously as possible.” My Arrogant One swept into the room, nose in the air, one hand fluttering about, waving dismissively at everyone. “I demand you remove that vile, odoriferous creature from my private retreat without delay!”
My Bounty Hunter, following behind my Arrogant One like the elf’s ever-present shadow, nodded in agreement with his obnoxious cohort. “We really have been more than patient.”
“Wale, ye kin jest be patient a wee bit longer. It be time ta be breakin’ our fast, an the horsey kin be waitin’ ’till we be finished eatin’ our food.” My Old Dwarf pushed past the other two, scowling, and took his place at the table.
My Arrogant One was about to reply, but he bit back his words when he saw the warning look on my face. He and his companion took their seats with no further discussion, although the elf continued to stare daggers at my Old Dwarf. The rest of my characters arrived and soon everyone was seated and passing around platters laden with the delicious breakfast fare Miles had prepared.
I glanced longingly at the mouthwatering food being passed around as I took a container of fat-free yogurt from the refrigerator and sat down next to my husband. “I guess we should call the sheriff’s office this morning and report finding a horse in our yard.” I wrinkled my nose, as much at what had to be done as at the taste of the yogurt.
My Old Dwarf nearly choked on a mouthful of fried potatoes. “Oh, no, lass! Ye can na be meanin’ ta be doin’ thet!”
“Why not?” I feigned innocence.
My Old Dwarf scowled fiercely. “I be thinkin’ ye be knowin’ thet I do na much be fancyin’ anudder encounter wit the intrepid Deputy Dawg and ’is equally stalwart partner, Deputy Whitewash.” The old reprobate took another bite of potato from his fork before using the utensil to punctuate his next statement, stabbing the air in time with his words. “Asides, ye do na be wantin’ ta be havin’ Mace and Gloria ta be seein’ the horsey here. They’d be usin’ it as an excuse ta be even more snoopy-like than they already be.”
I laughed. “That’s true. But how are we to find Mystery’s owner and return her?”
From the other end of the table, Cleric addressed me. “Do not worry, Mistress. Dragon and I have devised a plan. Mystery told me whence she was abducted by the snow devils . . . well, she placed an image of it in my head. It is not far from here. Dragon can cast a spell of concealment on Mystery, and we can walk her off the property unbeknownst to Mace and Gloria. We can walk her all the way back to her home. It is just a mile or so down the road.” Cleric paused, and furrowed her brow. “I do think it best if we depart this very morn, though. Mystery is most anxious to return home. I got a sense of growing urgency from her when she thought about her owner.”
I nodded and took another spoonful of yogurt before answering. “I will accompany you and Dragon when you take Mystery home.”
“Good! You can commence right after breakfast!” My Arrogant One was issuing orders again. “Then the three of you can go in and clean out every trace of that malodorous beast.” He waved his hand in the direction of my Foreman, my Gypsy and my Young Hero.
“Excuse me.” My Gypsy glared at the elf. “Were you speaking to us?”
“Yes, yes, of course! The three of you enjoy taking care of barnyard animals. You can . . .”
“You can stop right there.” My Foreman eyed the elf through narrowed eyes. “If you want the shed cleaned out, you can do it yourself.”
“Me?” My Arrogant One’s voice shot up to that crystal-shattering shriek he so often employed. “I most assuredly will not!” He wrinkled his nose and studied his fingernails. “I was not the one who brought that creature into the shed. Besides, such menial labor is beneath my station.”
My Young Hero rolled his eyes and smirked. “You are always telling us how adept you are at magic. Just enchant a few brooms and mops and magic the mess away.”
My Arrogant One curled his lip contemptuously. “I am an illusionist, not a sorcerer.”
“Then why do ye na occasionally be creatin’ the illusion thet ye be workin’, instead o al’ays be expectin’ others ta be doin’ yer work fer ye, ye consarned, pompous, annoyin’ little elfie?” My Old Dwarf reached past the annoying elf for another helping of flapjacks.
My Arrogant One turned redder than a stop light. “Do not call me elfie!”
I think dogs three states away were howling in pain at the screeching elf.
* * *
The sun was shining brightly, and the temperature was surprisingly warm when Dragon (in her usual guise of an elf maiden), Cleric, and I took Mystery out of the shed. The little horse was invisible to anyone but the three of us, thanks to Dragon’s spell of concealment. Dragon would wait until we were within sight of Mystery’s home before releasing the spell.
Once we left our neighborhood and started along the highway, I got nervous. “I hope Mystery’s traffic broke.”
Dragon tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “Traffic broke?”
“Trained not to spook from traffic.” I looked at the approaching vehicles. “At this time of day, I don’t think there will be much of a problem, but this is a popular truck route.”
Cleric turned to Mystery, placed a hand on the little horse’s neck, and spoke softly. Mystery nickered and bobbed her head up and down. Cleric continued to look at the horse, as if she were listening. I suspected that Mystery was planting another picture in Cleric’s mind in response to the question.
Cleric confirmed my suspicion. “From the images she shared, I do not believe Mystery will have any problem with traffic. She is accustomed to vehicles. A stable she called home at one time in her life was in a very urban area.”
We had only been walking about 15 minutes when Mystery whinnied and tugged hard on the lead. Cleric patted the little horse on her withers. “I believe this is where we turn, Mistress.”
Dragon wrinkled her nose and crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you sure?”
The thoroughfare Mystery was leading us onto was a wide dirt road. Despite the day’s spring-like weather, deep snow still covered the verge on both sides of the road, and an icy puddle of mud stretched the width of the lane at the bottom of a steep hill.
I shared Dragon’s skepticism. “I don’t like the looks of this road, and I don’t know of any stables around here.”
Cleric smiled. “Mystery knows where she is going.”
We slogged along the slick, muddy dirt road for the better part of an hour. Conversation was limited mainly to squeals of distress as one or another of us slipped, accompanied by the muttering of a variety of colorful oaths. Finally, Mystery started tugging on her lead again, pulling us toward a two-track going off through the forest to the left.
“This can’t be right.” I peered down the lane, but I could see nothing.
“There is evidence of a vehicle having used this road recently.” Dragon pointed to the tire tracks biting deep into the soft ground.
Cleric shrugged. “It is where Mystery desires to go.”
We trudged along the muddy track for another half-hour before Mystery came to a sudden halt at the mouth of a driveway. Through the trees, I could see a barn and some fencing. I turned to Cleric. “Is this the place?”
Mystery pawed at the ground and bobbed her head up and down.
“I would say so, Mistress.” Cleric patted the small horse, who nickered softly.
Dragon placed her hands on Mystery’s back and mumbled a few words. “There. I have released the spell. Let us take her in and see if her owner is home.”
I knocked on the door of the house, while Dragon and Cleric stood in the driveway with Mystery. The woman who answered my knock looked tired. I judged her to be in her forties, though she may have looked older than she really was. Her face was careworn, and she had dark circles under her brown eyes. Her unkempt sandy-brown hair was streaked with gray. She wiped her hands on her gingham apron before warily opening the door just a crack. “Yes?” Her voice was anxious.
“Please excuse the intrusion. I was wondering if you had lost a . . .”
I never got to finish. The woman looked over my shoulder and saw Mystery. She threw the door wide open and ran past me. She dashed down the steps and threw her arms around the little horse. “Peaches! Oh, Peaches!”
It took the woman a few minutes to compose herself. “Oh, you must think I’m fookish, making such a fuss over a horse.”
“Not at all.” I smiled warmly. “Would you like us to turn her out to pasture for you, or perhaps put her in a stall?”
The woman bit her lower lip and wrung her hands. “Are you in a hurry? Do you have time to hold Peaches here for a few moments? I’d like to bring my son out here. He’s been so upset since we discovered the horse was missing.”
“We have all the time in the world.” Cleric smiled at the woman and touched her arm reassuringly. The woman looked relieved and dashed back into the house.
She returned a few minutes later, holding the hand of a boy whom I judged to be about eight or nine years old. She carefully led him down the steps and over to the small horse she had called Peaches. The horse stood as still as a statue while the woman placed the boy’s hand on the animal’s nose.
“Peaches?” The boy’s voice was small, and he sounded uncertain.
Peaches nickered softly and nuzzled the boy’s arm.
“Peaches!” The boy whooped and threw his arms around the horse’s neck. “Oh, mom, she came back! I knew she would!”
“These nice ladies brought her back, son.”
The boy turned toward his mother’s voice. “Where are they, mom? I want to thank them.”
“They are right next to me. Ladies, please excuse my manners. I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Anna, and I’d like you to meet my son, Colton.”
“Hello, Anna. Hi, Colton.”
The boy stuck his hand out and smiled in the direction of my voice.
Realizing he could not see, I walked around to face him and took his outstretched hand. “I’m Marge. These are my friends . . .” I didn’t know how to introduce them.
Sensing my problem, Dragon came to my rescue. “Most people can not pronounce my name. Just call me Dray. Our other friend is Clara. We are very pleased to meet you”
“Marge, Dray, and Clara.” The boy repeated our names softly as if trying to memorize them. “Nice to meet you! Thank you so much for bringing Peaches home.”
“You are most welcome, Colton.” Cleric beamed at the youngster and placed the horse’s lead line in his hand.
“Mom, can I ride her now?”
“Well . . .”
Peaches nickered and bobbed her head up and down.
Colton’s mom laughed. “I suppose you can. But don’t tire yourself out.” She took Colton’s hand and led him and Peaches over to a gate. She opened it and guided the boy and his horse through, and into the field beyond. “Stay in the paddock and give Peaches her head. There are still some icy spots here you can’t see.”
“I will, mom. Don’t worry. Peaches will take care of me.” He felt for the little horse’s back and hopped right up, bareback. Using just the halter and lead rope as a bridle and reins, he turned Peaches around and trotted off down the fence line.
Colton’s mom turned toward us. “I can’t tell you how much it means to Colton to have his horse back. We’ve been gone from the farm for the past month. Colton was having surgery on his eyes.” She paused and looked down at her hands. “It wasn’t successful.”
“I’m so sorry, Anna!” I placed a hand on her arm.
“Thank you.” She stood quietly, watching her son trotting the little horse around the field. Finally, she continued.
“While we were away, a friend was stopping by every day to take care of our animals. Unfortunately, he got sick. He asked someone else to take his place, another friend who had taken care of the farm for us in the past. However, that person wasn’t aware we had gotten a new horse since the last time he had been here. Peaches wasn’t missed until we arrived back home late last night and couldn’t find her.”
Anna turned toward us. “Where did you find her, and how did you know where to bring her home?”
I furrowed my brow. “She showed up in our neighborhood, and she’s been our guest for a while now. I was trying to find who might have lost her. I checked the internet, and talked with some sheriff’s deputies, but no one had reported a missing horse. I used to have horses, so I knew how to care for her while we searched for her owner.”
Cleric picked up the tale. “This morning, we noticed that Mystery . . . I mean Peaches – we called her Mystery because we did not know her name. Anyway, this morning, she seemed restless. When we put a halter and lead line on her, she started pulling us toward the road. We figured she was ready to go home, so we let her lead us here.”
“Bless you for that.” Anna smile warmly at the three of us. “Peaches is specially trained to work with a blind rider. She acts as my son’s eyes, and she gives Colton some semblance of normalcy in his life. Riding her, he can be the equal of his friends, share in their equine activities, and forget his handicap at least for a while.”
“I knew she was a remarkable animal!” Cleric beamed at Peaches and the confident young rider so capably handling the little horse.
We watched Colton and Peaches a while longer, then said our goodbyes, promising to return for a visit sometime. As we started home, I noticed Cleric’s eyes looked moist.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded. “I am going to miss that most remarkable horse. But this is one mystery I am overjoyed to have solved.”
We hope you’ve enjoyed our little Peach(es) of a Mystery. Join us again next week to see what my characters are up to. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.