An Anxious Day

An Anxious Day

Cleric popped into my officeCleric popped into my office for the third time that morning. “Have you heard from Anna yet?”

I folded my arms in front of me and frowned. I was tired and cranky. It had been a late night followed by an early morning, and I had a lot of work to do. I glared at Cleric. “What did I tell you the last two times you asked?”

“Ummmm…you said you would let me know as soon as you heard?” Cleric blushed and lowered her eyes.

I continued glaring. “And did I let you know anything?”

Cleric looked up and furrowed her brow. “Well, no, Mistress. That is why I am asking.”

I groaned and raked a hand through my hair. “Did it ever occur to you that I have not yet let you know anything because I have not yet heard anything?”

“Maybe I should come back later.” Cleric beat a hasty retreat.

“Yes,” I called after her loudly. “Maybe you should come back after I let you know I heard something!”

Old Dwarf popped into my office“Eh, now how kin ye be lettin’ tha lass be knowin’ ye been hearded summat iffin she do na be comin’ back?” My Old Dwarf entered my office and plopped himself down in a chair opposite me.

“Why are you bothering me?” I scowled at the old reprobate as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a half-eaten sandwich.

The dwarf gave me a look of pure innocence. He took a big bite of his sandwich and talked around the mouthful of food. “I be botherin’ ye, lass?”

“Ye be, er, I mean you are.” I averted my eyes and tried to ignore the bits of food that spewed onto the dwarf’s beard as he chomped his food open-mouthed. “What do you want?”

“I jus’ be wonderin’ wot been happenin’ las’ night at thet auction place ye an’ tha udders been off ta.”

I heaved a big sigh and gave him the short version. “Anna got a pony for Colton.”Anna, Blue, Colton

“Eh?” The dwarf raised one eyebrow and waited. “There mus’ be more ta tha story ’en jus’ thet.”

I glowered at the rotund figure. “Why do you want to know?”

“Jus’ cure-ee-os-ka-tee.”

“Yeah, well, curiosity killed the cat.”

“Wot cat?”

ColtonI heaved a bigger sigh but decided the only way to get rid of the dwarf and get back to work was to give him the rest of the story. “Okay, do you remember Colton, the boy whose pony showed up here several years ago?”

Mystery being led“Aye, he be tha owner o tha wee beastie ye been callin’ Mystery.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/

“That’s right, the one whose name was actually Peaches. She was a therapy animal, specially trained to work with Colton, who is blind.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/

“Aye, I be rememberin’.”

“And you know Peaches died recently.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/sad-news/

The dwarf nodded and took another big bite of his sandwich.

Blue with ears pinned back“Well, shortly after we received the news that Peaches had died, Cleric had a dream. In the dream, Peaches told her where to find another suitable pony for Colton.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

“So’s ye been tellin’ Colton’s mam aboot tha dream, an’ she been getting’ tha pony fer her laddie?”

I shook my head. “No, we couldn’t tell her about the dream. We could never explain that. But we did get her to go to the auction with us.”

My Old Dwarf grunted and stuffed the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth.

I saw he wasn’t going to budge from the chair until he heard every last detail, so I related all that had happened the previous evening at the auction. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/12/what-will-we-find-at-the-auction/ and https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/a-good-deal-or-crazy/

I finished with another sigh. “Since it was so late when we finished getting the pony settled, Anna decided to wait until today to tell Colton about it. She said she’d give me a call later today and let me know what happened.”

Just then, Cleric peeked into the office again. “Any word?”

Before I could explode, my Old Dwarf jumped up and hustled Cleric away, scolding her loudly. “Iffin tha lass been hearin’ anythin’, she been tellin’ ye. Now, ye do na be botherin’ ’er no more taday. She be busy.”

I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and tried to get back to work.

When the phone finally rang about a half-hour later, I checked the caller ID and snatched up the receiver.

On phone with Anna“Anna! What’s the good word?” I held my breath, hoping that Colton had been pleased with his new pony.

“Sorry, Marge, there is no good word today.” The voice on the phone was weary. “When I told Colton at breakfast this morning I had gotten him a new pony, he threw a fit.” Anna did an impression of Colton’s voice. “How could you do that? Peaches can’t just be replaced! She wasn’t a saddle or a truck or a pair of shoes. She was family!”

Anna paused, then continued in a normal tone. “And then he stormed off and locked himself in his bedroom. I could hear him in there crying for over an hour.”

“Oh, Anna, I’m so sorry! I knew it would be hard introducing a new pony so soon after he lost Peaches, but I didn’t think he would react like that. He didn’t even go out to meet Blue?”

“He wouldn’t hear of it.”

I apologized again. “Is there anything we can do?”Petting Old Blue

I heard Anna sigh. “No, but thanks. I’ll give it a few days and see if Colton will at least go out to meet Blue. If not, I guess I’ll have to return the pony to John.”

After promising to let me know if anything else happened, Anna hung up, and I went off in search of Cleric.

* * *

Old Dwarf and ClericThe aged dwarf led Cleric into the conference room. He looked into her cornflower-blue eyes, wet with unshed tears, and he spoke gently to her. “Now, lassie, yer heart be in tha right place, but I do na be thinkin’ thet ye be thinkin’ this through.”

“Wha . . .what do you mean?” Cleric hiccupped with the effort to control her tears.

“Lassie, ye be tha one wot been knowin’ Mystery better’en any o’ us. An’ ye be tha one wot Mystery been talkin’ ta in tha dream. Ye be tha one wot be knowin’ wit’oot a single doubt thet tha new pony be tha one tha laddie be needin’. But ye do na be tha one wot be needin’ ta be talkin’ ta tha laddie.”

Cleric’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”

Gypsy, Old Dwarf and ClericBefore the Old Dwarf could answer, the conference room door opened. The Gypsy lad walked into the room and joined the conversation. “I could not help overhearing . . .”

“Ye coulda been helpin’ it, laddie, iffin yer great big ear dinna been pressin’ agin tha door!” The twinkle in the dwarf’s emerald green eyes belied his annoyance at the lad.

Ignoring the jibe, the Gypsy addressed Cleric. “I agree with the dwarf. You are not the one to talk to Colton. I am.”

When Cleric started to protest, the Gypsy cut her off. “Look, you may be the one who knew Mystery best, but I think I am the one who bonded with Colton.”

Cleric tilted her head, considering her friend’s words. Finally, she nodded. “Very well. But I will go with you.”

The Gypsy turned to go. “We will take the horses.”

Cleric grabbed his arm. “Dragon released the spell after the trail ride last September. I do not have a horse.”

Dragon appears“I will create another illusory horse for you.”

The three companions jumped at the voice. They looked around and saw Dragon shimmering into sight, curled up in front of her ersatz fireplace.

The dwarf gaped at Dragon. “By tha great god’s beard! Be ye tryin’ ta be stoppin’ me heart in me chest? Where did ye be jumpin’ up from?”

Dragon puffed a small cloud of black smoke from her nostrils. “I have found it advantageous at times to remain concealed. Usually that means fewer disturbances of my nap.”

The big beast turned to Cleric. “I presume you want the same horse as before?”

Cleric nodded, and Dragon began intoning an incantation.

Just two hours later, Cleric and the Gypsy dismounted in Anna’s driveway. In the nearby paddock, Blue studiously ignored the newcomers but Anna’s dapple-gray mare, Rosie, whinnied a loud greeting at their approach. Anna appeared at the barn door moments later to see what was disturbing Rosie.

riding up to Colton's

“Clara! Rocky!” Anna called to them, addressing them by the names they had used before. “What brings you here?”

The Gypsy smiled. “We were just taking our horses out for a bit of relaxation on the trail, and we found ourselves on your road. We did not think you would mind an unannounced visit.”

“Of course not! You’re always welcome to drop in.”

“How is Old Blue settling in?” Cleric led her horse over to the fence and reached toward the pony to pet him, but he walked away.

Clara shrugged. “He isn’t a kicker or a biter. When Rosie ran up to him, he just ignored her and walked away. He pretty much ignores me, too.”

“And Colton?” The Gypsy furrowed his brow. “How is he with Colton?”

Clara sighed, and slumped her shoulders. “Colton refuses to come out and meet Blue. I don’t know how to convince him.”

The Gypsy pursed his lips and squared his shoulders. “Perhaps if I talked with him?”

Anna shrugged again. “Be my guest. He’s in his bedroom – upstairs, first door on the right.”

Rocky and ColtonThe Gypsy handed his horse’s reins to Cleric and walked to the house. He found Colton in his bedroom, the door wide open. Remembering Colton was blind, the Gypsy called to him before entering the room. “Colton? Hi! Remember me? Rocky? Clara and I were out riding, and we thought we would stop by and visit. May I come in?”

“Sure. I remember you.” Colton sniffled and rubbed at his eyes. The Gypsy could see the boy had been crying. Before he could say anything, Colton turned toward him and blurted, “Do you know what my mother did? She got a new pony for me! It’s as if Peaches was no different than a pair of shoes I outgrew, or a truck that broke down.” The boy balled his hands into fists, and he punched his pillow. “Peaches can never be replaced!”

Boy_on_a_Horse“Of course not!” The Gypsy sat on the bed next to Colton and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Peaches was very special. She was more than just your pony. She was your friend. Friends can never be replaced.”

“That’s right!” Colton nodded. “I knew you’d understand!”

“Oh, I do!” The Gypsy’s voice caught in his throat. “My family raised horses. It was my job to gentle the colts once they were weaned. Every year, I made friends with these colts, and every year they left for new homes once I had gentled them.”colt

“That’s horrible! You lost your friends over and over again?” Colton’s blind eyes widened.

“I did, but then the next year I would have more colts to gentle, and I would make new friends. I came to realize that none of the colts I helped raise could ever be replaced, but I had enough room in my heart for each new colt that came along. I didn’t stop missing the ones that were gone, but I did make new friends that helped me not miss the old ones so much.”

Colton didn’t say anything for a long time. When he did speak, his voice held a new note of understanding. “You’re saying that this new pony isn’t to replace Peaches, but to help me cope with my loss?”

Coping with loss

The Gypsy nodded and smiled. “That is exactly what I am saying. But there is more to it, something you do not know about the pony.”

“What’s that, Rocky?” Colton sounded curious.

John, Casey, and Old Blue“Old Blue used to belong to a little girl, a girl who couldn’t walk and had to use a wheelchair. She and Blue were best friends. Blue took care of her the way Peaches took care of you. But a few months ago, the little girl died. Blue lost his friend, and now he’s just as sad as you are. He needs someone to help him cope with his loss, too.”

Colton frowned. “Is that the truth, Rocky? The pony’s owner died? You aren’t just saying that to make me feel sorry for the pony?”

“Colton, I do not lie to my friends.”

Colton paused, and furrowed his brow in concentration. Finally, he squared his shoulders and set his jaw. “Rocky, will you introduce me to the pony?”

“Sure I will, Colton! I have a feeling you two are going to be very good friends.”

Will Colton really give the pony a fair chance? Will Blue give Colton a chance? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens when Colton and Blue meet. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Good Deal? Or Crazy?

A Good Deal? Or Crazy?

Cleric blushed deep redCleric blushed deep red. “I most certainly am not kidding!”

Blue roan ponyAnna snorted as she continued to gape at the three-quarter sized blue roan pony standing there with his ears pinned back, and his foot cocked and ready to kick out at the slightest provocation. “Clara, there is no way that pony would make a suitable mount for Colton.”

“That is the one.” Cleric insisted vehemently.

While Anna looked as if she thought Cleric, whom she knew as Clara, had taken leave of her senses, I knew Cleric believed this pony would make the perfect mount for Colton because Colton’s deceased pony, Peaches (AKA Mystery), had told Cleric this in a dream. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

Blue with ears pinned backAs if he knew we were talking about him, the pony gave us a baleful look. He neighed loudly, then walked over to the fence and stared at us sullenly.

Anna frowned. “How can you possibly believe a pony with such a sour disposition could work with Colton?”

Petting Old BlueA nearby man walked over to us. “Old Blue there isn’t all that bad.” He reached over the fence and patted the pony. The animal’s demeanor didn’t change much, but he tolerated the man rubbing his head and scratching behind his ears.

My Gypsy walked over and stood next to the man. “You sound as if you have had experience with the animal. Is he yours?”

The man nodded. “Well, actually, he’s my daughter’s pony. Or he was.”

I gave him an appraising look. “What can you tell us about him, Mister . . .?”

“Denver. John Denver. No relation to the singer.” The man smiled ruefully as he held out his hand.

I shook his hand and made the introductions, then repeated. “So, what can you tell us about the pony?”Introductions

“Well, I can’t tell you too much, really. He was being sold with no prior history at auction about five years ago and I bought him. I don’t know why. He certainly wasn’t a looker or a charmer. But my daughter begged me to get him, so I did. I just couldn’t say no to her.”

I smiled, and John continued. “He was the best thing that ever happened to my daughter. She was handicapped, you see. She couldn’t walk, but Old Blue didn’t care. He was always so gentle and patient with her.”

Anna raised her eyebrows. “Your daughter is handicapped?”

John hung his head, and when he spoke, his words caught in his throat. “She was. Casey passed away six months ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry for your loss!” Anna and I murmured our condolences.

“Thanks.” John swallowed hard. “I’ve kept Blue around since Casey’s death. I just couldn’t bear to get rid of him. But lately I’ve been seeing a change in him. He’s growing more and more sullen. He doesn’t eat, not even treats I try to give him. He doesn’t run around the field with my gelding. He just stands by the gate, as if waiting for Casey to come and ride him.”

John, Casey, and Old BlueThe man sighed, and his voice cracked again when he spoke. “He always took such good care of my little girl, and he always seemed so happy to be around her. I can’t stand to see him so depressed. I figured it was time for him to have another child to take care of. I put an ad in the paper to sell him, but only a few people responded, and Blue really didn’t impress them. So, I figured I’d try my luck here at the auction. But that might have been a mistake. The way he’s been acting, I can’t see anyone bidding on him.”

Cleric stepped forward. “We must have that pony.”

Anna frowned, but before she could say anything, Cleric grabbed her arm. “Anna, this pony has already worked with a handicapped rider. I’m sure he could be trained for Colton.”

John looked at Anna. “You have a handicapped child?”

Peaches and ColtonAnna nodded. “My son, Colton, is blind. His pony, one that had been specially trained to work with a blind rider, passed away from age-related ailments a few months ago.”

“And you need to find another pony for Colton.” John nodded his understanding.

“It’s not that easy.” Anna pursed her lips and scowled. “It can’t be just any pony, not even a pony that’s trained to work with riders suffering other types of handicaps. It has to be one specifically trained to work with a blind rider.”

John continued to nod. “I understand. It’s a shame Old Blue here isn’t what you’re looking for. I think it’s pretty obvious he won’t be finding a good home here tonight.”

Cleric wrinkled her brow and tugged on Anna’s sleeve. “He can be trained. I know he will be the perfect mount for Colton. You need to take this pony home with you.”

Anna shook her head. “I think you’re wrong, Clara. A pony that sour does not have the proper disposition to work with a blind rider. Besides, Colton isn’t ready to think about a new pony.”

John, Casey, and Old Blue 2John cleared his throat and ducked his head. “If it’s Blue’s disposition that scares you, ma’am, all I can tell you is he was a different animal with my Casey. He was a happy pony, always eager to see her come to the barn to ride. He’d whinny and run to the gate as soon as I wheeled her out of the house.”

Anna sighed. “Well, maybe he has a better disposition than he’s showing here tonight, but as I stated, Colton isn’t ready to think about a new pony.”

Cowboy 2Blue with ears pinned back“Maybe not right away, but if he got to know Blue, that might change.” John looked at Anna and then at the rest of us, silent pleading in his eyes. “I really want to make sure Blue gets a good home. He deserves that for all he did for my little girl. If you’d be willing to take him, I’ll withdraw him from the bidding tonight. You can have him, free and clear, just as long as you promise to return him to me if it doesn’t work out with your boy.”

Cleric almost jumped for joy. “You cannot ask for a better deal than that, Anna! And you will see I am right about Blue. He is the pony Colton needs.”

Anna stared at the pony, then looked at me and the rest of our companions. We all nodded our encouragement. Anna sighed and shook her head. “I must be crazy to even consider this sour animal.”

“But you will take him, will you not?” Cleric smiled.

“I suppose it won’t hurt.” Anna turned toward John. “Okay, I’ll give him a month’s trial. If he and Colton don’t get along by the end of that period, you’ll be getting him back.”

Agreeing to take Blue

Will Colton and Blue get along? Will Blue be able to be trained to work with Colton’s handicap? Be sure to come back again next week and see what is happening. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What Will We Find at the Auction?

What Will We Find at the Auction?

On phone with Anna“Oh, no, that will never work.”

I had called Anna to discuss the idea of going to the auction to look at ponies for Colton. She was less than enthusiastic.

“I’m surprised you would suggest it. With your experience with horses, Marge, you must realize a pony for a blind rider isn’t something you can just pick up at an auction. A mount like that needs extraordinary training. Peaches came from a facility that specializes in training horses and ponies for the handicapped. With over thirty animals in their training program at the time we purchased Peaches, she was the only one they had with the proper temperament and extensive training to work with a blind rider.”

Elf“I realize you won’t be able to pick up a finished therapy horse at auction, Anna, but Cler . . . er, I mean Clara thought you might find an inexpensive animal that would be a good candidate for training to work with Colton. It might be cheaper to find a pony at auction and then send it to that facility for training, rather than purchasing a fully trained animal from them.”

“Hmmm. Well, it might be worth a look, but I’m not getting my hopes up.”

“Of course. But it might just be a fun night out for us. I haven’t been to a horse auction in more than 15 years, not since I moved here from New Jersey. And I know that Clara and the others would love to go.”

Pony from dreamshaggy pony facing the other wayWhat I didn’t tell Anna was that Cleric, or Clara as Anna and Colton knew her, was adamant we attend the auction. Cleric knew without a doubt there would be a pony at the auction that would make the perfect mount for Colton. Cleric knew, because Colton’s deceased pony, Peaches (AKA Mystery), had told Cleric this in a dream. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

* * *

Wednesday afternoon, on the way to Anna’s farm, I reminded my characters to address each other by the names they had chosen when we first met Colton and Anna. Sitting in the front passenger seat, Cleric nodded. “I am to be Clara, Dragon is Drey.”

From the back seat, my Gypsy chimed in. “I am Rocky, your Foreman is Tor, and your Young Hero is Cab, correct?”  https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

“Yup. It’s very important you remember that. And also remember to act as if you didn’t just fall out of a manuscript of a novel set in a medieval world. There will be things here tonight you may not have seen before but try not to gape. You need to fit in, to act as if this isn’t your first rodeo.”

Rodeo?” Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “I thought it was an auction.”

I sighed. “It is, it is. It’s not my first rodeo is just an expression, meaning that the person saying so has experience in whatever situation they are discussing.”

“You mean we are to act as if we regularly attend horse auctions in this modern world.” Dragon, or Drey, nodded sagely. “Do not worry. We will not forget.”

When we arrived at Anna’s farm, she was already behind the wheel of her shiny pickup, with a sturdy stock trailer in tow. I beeped and waved, and she put her truck in gear and moved slowly down the driveway. “Anna knows where we’re going, and we wouldn’t all fit in her truck, so we’ll just follow her.”

Truck and trailer

“Is Colton coming?” Cleric craned her neck to try to see the passenger’s seat of Anna’s truck.

I shook my head. “No, he’s staying home tonight with his aunt and uncle. He isn’t ready to think about a new pony.”

parkingAt the auction, Anna was directed to the parking area reserved for vehicles with trailers, and we were pointed toward a large dirt field filled with trailer-less cars and trucks.

“Wow!” When we caught up with Anna, I was the one looking around as if I had never seen a horse auction before. “This is a lot bigger than I had expected.”

“You did say you’ve been to horse auctions before, right?” Anna led the way toward the office, where she and I would register and get our numbers, allowing us to bid on any animal we fancied.

My characters and I followed along. “Oh, yes, many, many years ago. I used to go to New Holland and Doylestown in Pennsylvania a few times a year, as well as Bunchy Grant’s, the Roosevelt Sale, in northern New Jersey. I even attended the pricy auctions at Front Royal in Virginia a few times. But most of the auctions I attended were little rinky-dink local affairs, where you could find the twenty-five-dollar-ponies. I don’t know how many of those auctions are still in existence.”

“Twenty-five dollars for a pony?” Anna’s jaw dropped. “You must be a lot older than you look! Ponies have never been that cheap in my lifetime!”

I laughed. “It was rare to actually get one for that price, but we still called them that, the twenty-five-dollar-ponies. They were the ponies nobody really wanted. Some were half-starved, some hadn’t seen a farrier’s rasp or a curry comb in years. Some had serious conformation or health issues, some were just too nasty to make a good child’s mount, and some looked like they were old enough to have been the colt that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.” I tilted my head, remembering. “Occasionally a real diamond in the rough could be found among them. But not often.”

Twenty-five-dollar-ponies

Anna nodded. “Oh, I agree that you can pick up real bargains at auctions. But I still don’t understand the name for the ponies. Why that amount? Why twenty-five dollars?”

“That was the usual cost back then to adopt a dog or cat through the local shelters. Calling them the twenty-five-dollar-ponies indicated that the only good place for these unfortunate animals was a shelter or rescue facility.”

bidder's numbersOnce Anna and I had our numbers allowing us to place bids, we beckoned my characters to follow as we headed to the stalls and pens to inspect the ponies. We had arrived early enough to allow plenty of time to look before the bidding started.

Stepping into the first barn, myriad odors tickled my nose. The sweet fragrance of fresh hay and molasses feed mingled with the rich smell of well-oiled leather and saddle soap, masking the faint stench of animal urine, manure, and sweat.

first barnThe ponies stalled in this barn were well groomed animals, with excellent confirmation. They looked fit and healthy, and they stood calmly as their handlers snapped lead lines onto expensive leather halters bearing brass name-plates.

“These ponies are the cream of the crop. They have good pedigrees and impeccable show records.” Anna held up one hand and rubbed her thumb over the tips of her index and middle fingers. “You better have a lot of cash on you if you plan to bid on any of these.”

My characters were impressed. My Foreman and the lads walked over to several stalls to give the ponies a closer look. I gave Cleric a surreptitious glance, but she pursed her lips and gave a slight shake of her head. I guessed her dream pony was not among this group.

Flashy all-around ponyAfter examining all these ponies, we filed out of the barn and walked by some paddocks where ponies were being presented to potential buyers. Cleric studied them carefully, paying particular attention to a flashy pinto that was touted by her owner as “. . . an all-around pony. She rides and drives. She can go all day on the trail or bring home a slew of ribbons from the show ring. She’s gentle enough for any child, but when under the hand of an experienced rider, she has spirit.”

Cleric watched the pinto for several minutes before giving me another almost imperceptible shake of her head.

Behind the paddocks, we entered a second barn. This barn had less of the fragrant odor of fresh hay and sweet feed, and none of the rich leather smell. The stench of animal sweat and waste was heavier.

ponies sharing a stallshared stallsThe stalls in this barn were larger, and each held a number of ponies. None had the flawless confirmation or impeccable grooming obvious in the occupants of the first barn, but as I looked them over, no red flags went up in my mind.

Anna confirmed my evaluation. “Most of these ponies would make good family pets or first ponies for a new rider. Some are a bit long of tooth, some haven’t seen enough groceries recently, but they all seem sound and quiet and should go for a decent price.”

We spent about an hour inspecting these ponies, but Cleric’s disappointment showed clearly in her face. The pony of her dream wasn’t in this group either.

“Are there any others?” My Gypsy also looked disappointed.

Anna frowned. “There might be a few in the pens out back. The auction management usually keeps any studs back there, away from the mares. They sometimes put problem animals there as well. I doubt there would be any ponies there that would be suitable for Colton.”

“May we take a quick look anyway? Mayhap we will discover something unexpected.” Cleric was already heading for the back door of the barn.

penned poniesTwenty-five-dollar-poniesThe pens were a shock. In contrast to the high-end animals in the first barn and the perfectly acceptable animals in the second barn, the ponies in these pens were not going to garner many bids. I heard several ponies coughing, and a quick look in the first two pens revealed two ponies with ringbone, another with a huge knot on its knee, several with splayed feet, four that were cow-hocked, and two with ewe necks. Not one of these ponies was groomed, few had seen a farrier recently, and many were far underweight. Several dirt pens were occupied by a single stud pony, not one of which should ever have been considered breeding material. The twenty-five-dollar-ponies still existed, I realized sadly.

Blue roan ponyFurther back, in a grassy pen, a group of ponies huddled tightly together, some rolling their eyes in fear at the large pony standing at the other end of the small enclosure. In that far corner of the pen, a shaggy blue roan gelding had his back to the others, his ears pinned back, and one hind foot cocked and ready to kick out at anything or anybody getting too close. He stood, head hanging, lower lip protruding in an almost human sulk.

Pony from dream

We approached the fence and I was about to comment on the sour-dispositioned animal when Cleric broke into a huge smile. “That is him! He is the one!”

 

We all gaped, first at Cleric, then at the pony. Anna snorted. “You have got to be kidding!”

 

What is Cleric thinking? Could this sorry creature possibly be the pony that Peaches (AKA Mystery) told Cleric to find for Colton? Be sure to come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A New Mystery?

A New Mystery?

Waking to Cleric

It was the middle of the night. I had been in a deep sleep, but I felt myself drifting toward consciousness. I was aware of being gently shaken, and a soft voice was urging me to wake up. I opened my eyes and Cleric’s face was inches from mine.

I was used to it. My characters routinely woke me from a sound night’s sleep, usually to complain about something I had or had not written about them. Sometimes they woke me with a genuine emergency. From the look on Cleric’s face, I feared this might fall squarely into the latter category.

“Whadisit?” I tried not to mumble, but my brain was still mostly asleep.

“Mistress, can we go into the hall? We need to talk, and I do not wish to disturb Master Miles.”

Miles not happy with being woken up“Too late.” The voice came from the other side of the bed, the annoyance barely muffled by the blankets under which Miles was snuggled. He pushed off the covers and sat up, yawning and grumbling.

Cleric blushed and clasped her hands tightly. “I am so sorry! But I must speak with Mistress Writer! Now! It is of the utmost importance!”

I sighed, knowing from the urgency of her tone resistance would be of no use. “Okay, let me grab my robe. Meet me in the kitchen. We can have some hot chocolate while we talk.”

spillingBy the time I had apologized to my husband, found my robe and pulled it on over my pajamas, and stumbled to the kitchen table, Cleric had two large cups of cocoa ready for us. I reached gratefully for the oversized cup, but before I could take the first sip of the warm, soothing elixir, Cleric grabbed my arm, nearly spilling the hot liquid all over us both. She was bouncing with excitement.

“Mistress, I have been talking with Mystery!”

Mystery 2

I blinked then stared at Cleric, trying to determine if she had gone insane. I extracted my arm from her grasp and gulped my hot chocolate, hoping to get at least some in me, rather than on me. After a long drink, I set my cup back down, looked Cleric square in the eye, and cleared my throat. “Cleric, Mystery is dead.”

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She nodded. “I know that, Mistress.”

“You can’t talk to a dead pony.”

“But I did, Mistress! I had a dream and . . .”

I slammed my hand onto the table. “You woke me up . . . because you had a dream?”

Cleric’s eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. “Well, yes, Mistress.” She grabbed my arm again. “Mystery told me . . .”

I pulled my arm from her grip. “Mystery told you nothing. Ponies don’t talk. Besides, she’s dead. You had a dream. I’m going back to bed. I suggest you do the same.”

Boy_on_a_HorseCleric grabbed my arm yet again. “But Mistress, this is important! Mystery told me where to find another pony for Colton.”

I gaped at Cleric, whose face was the picture of sincerity. “Let me get this straight. A dead pony told you . . . in a dream . . . where to find her replacement?”

Cleric nodded, smiling. She was obviously glad I understood. Trouble was, I didn’t.

I felt like pulling my hair out. Instead, I just raked my hand through my tangled tresses and took a deep breath. “Like I said, the pony told you nothing. Ponies don’t talk, especially dead ponies. You had a dream. I’m going back to bed and I suggest you do the same.”

Pony from dreamI started to rise, but Cleric scoffed and continued as if I was sitting there hanging on her every word. “There is an auction, somewhere nearby, very soon. We need to find where and when it is being held. The pony will be there. Mystery told me we will know it when we see it.”

I shook my head vigorously, then hit it several time with the palm of my hand, trying to get my brain to work properly, because I was sure I couldn’t have heard Cleric correctly. “So . . . you don’t know where this auction will be, when this auction will be, or which pony being sold at this auction is the one that is to be Mystery’s replacement?”

ComputerCleric beamed at me, indicating I had understood her perfectly. “I am sure you can find the auction, Mistress. You can research it on your magic box, your computer. There cannot be that many auctions in the immediate vicinity in the very near future. And when we get there, Mystery assured me we would know which pony Anna must get for Colton.”

I chuckled. “And, assuming we can find this auction, just how am I supposed to convince Anna she must purchase a certain pony, based solely on a dream you had wherein a dead pony communicated with you?”

“Oh, you will figure it out, Mistress. I have faith.” Cleric’s smile was warm and genuine, and I could see the tension leave her body as she assumed I would take care of everything. She was in for a rude awakening.

I have a headache. I’m going back to bed. We’ll look into this possible auction in the morning.” The tension was not leaving my body.

“Oh, Mistress, can we not look into it now? I mean, what if the auction is tomorrow? We need to know about it as soon as possible.”

Realizing my character wouldn’t let me go back to bed until I had searched for this alleged auction, I headed for the stairs and beckoned her follow. Once we were seated more-or-less comfortably in my office, I started searching on the computer.checklist

Two hours later, I was ready to throw in the towel. The closest horse and pony auction I could find was a three-hour drive, but it was not being held until two months from now. The auction being held the soonest, the following weekend, was a ten-hour drive. Not exactly checking off the boxes for immediate future or nearby.

Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes clouded, and she chewed her lower lip. Suddenly, she brightened. “Mistress, is there not some other place on your magic box you can look? What about all those places you call social media? Would not an auction like this be advertised there?”

Sign for auction on computerI gaped at Cleric. It still took me aback when one of my medieval characters understood the workings of our modern world. I nodded and brought up several social media sites. On the third site, there it was. A small, weekly auction, held every Wednesday night, known more by word-of-mouth than a large advertising budget. A wide variety of merchandise was run through the auction each week, from horses and ponies, tack and equine equipment, to toys and household items. This week, the auction touted a special event, with a huge number of ponies to be sold. It was only 30 miles from Anna’s farm.

Should I trust Cleric and invite Anna to attend the auction with us? Will the pony Mystery told Cleric to find be there? If so, will Cleric be able to recognize it? Why don’t you come with us next week and see what happens? We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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