Will Arthur be a Problem?

Will Arthur be a Problem?

Arthur extracting himself from bushesI don’t know how he managed it, but Arthur succeeded in extracting himself from the shrubbery with no sign of embarrassment. He did not blush, he did not lower his eyes, he did not sweat or slump or shuffle his feet. In fact, he looked rather arrogant. His brown eyes narrowed behind his dark-framed glasses, and his mustache and goatee didn’t quite hide the smug smile that pulled at his mouth. He brushed off his threadbare suit with an air of impatience and looked down his nose at the assembled group gawking at him. Not exactly the actions I would expect from a grown man found lurking in the foliage.

“I asked what you’re doing hiding in a clump of bushes, Arthur.” I glared at the man.

“So you did.” His tone was dismissive, and he continued brushing off his jacket and slacks.

“Well?” I crossed my arms over my chest and raised one eyebrow.

Arthur ignored me.

annaArt - leader - multi-genre (2)“Who is this man?” Anna stepped toward us.

“This is Arthur, a journalist and author who runs the writer’s group Lost in the Words.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/still-searching-for-answers/

Anna placed her hands on her hips and gave Arthur the once-over. “So, what is he doing on my property, uninvited, and why is he lurking in the bushes, scaring my son’s pony?” Her voice was harsh, and her face hard.

“I don’t know, Anna.” We both continued to glare at the intruder. “Care to explain, Arthur?”

The man shrugged. “I am exercising due diligence.”

Rocky confronting ArthurMy characters, who had been edging closer and forming a semi-circle around Arthur, Anna, and me, snorted at the man’s explanation. Rocky moved forward, standing toe-to-toe with Arthur. “And just what is that supposed to mean? You almost caused Anna’s son, Colton, a serious injury by spooking his pony.”

“Yes.” Arthur snickered. “The pony is rather flighty for a therapy animal, one supposedly well-trained to work with the blind.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about my son’s pony.” Anna pushed past Rocky to confront Arthur. She was visibly struggling to keep her temper under control.

“Yes, I do. And now I know everything I need to know.” Arthur started to turn away, but my characters blocked his path.

I cleared my throat. “From the beginning, Arthur?” I worded it as a request, but I was sure my expression left no doubt it was a command.

Art - leader - multi-genre (1)Colton and BlueArthur sighed. “Very well. I was alerted to the possibility of a wonderful human-interest story. A boy, blind from birth, had a therapy pony who was so well trained to work with the blind, the boy was able to ride him on the trails all by himself with no chance of danger.”

newspaperArthur paused and studied his fingernails for several moments before continuing, a sour look on his face. “I have been tipped off before to possible story ideas. When I was younger and less experienced, I would go right to the subject and tell them I wanted to do a story. Half-way through an interview, I would realize there was no story. But people get angry after you’ve told them you are going to write a feature article about them in their local paper, but then you have to tell them they are not worth a story.”

He paused, looking down his nose at us. “So, I started to research more carefully, to verify the facts I was given before approaching potential subjects. Most times, I found the tips I had been given were baseless.”

Arthur pointed at Colton and Blue. “Case in point. I was told your son and his pony would make for wonderful copy. So, I decided to observe them, to see if the pony was as great as I had been told. And, of course, it’s not.”

“He is too!” Colton’s face was red, and his hands were balled into fists. “And there’s already a journalist who’s going to write a story about Blue and me.”

“Oh?” Suddenly, Arthur didn’t look so smug.

“Yes.” Anna nodded. “Someone contacted me yesterday. She said she was a friend of yours, Marge, so I figured you had told her about Colton and Blue.”

I shook my head. “I never mentioned them to anyone. What’s this journalist’s name?”

Anna’s brow furrowed, and she rubbed her chin. “Didi something-or-other. I can’t remember her last name.”

What?” Arthur guffawed, sounding like a braying donkey. “Didi? That hack? She can’t put two words together and have them make sense.”

Anna frowned and started rubbing her forehead. “Marge?”

Didi 2Backyard 050I reluctantly started to agree with Arthur, but then I saw Colton’s face crumple. I sighed. “I do know a writer named Didi. She’s a member of Lost in the Words. I never told her about Colton and Blue, but if you’ve agreed to let her write a story about them, I’ll help her.”

“That pathetic little sneak probably saw my notes and decided to scoop me.” Arthur was so angry he was almost spitting as he whirled to confront me. “And if she gave you as a reference, you were probably in on it with her! Two hacks trying to steal my story! Well, I get the last laugh! There is no story here!”

I shook my head. “I didn’t try to steal anyone’s story, Arthur, but I have news for you. The laugh’s on you. There’s a whale of a story here, and I’ll make sure Didi gets it all – every single column inch of it.”

I continued smirking until Arthur narrowed his eyes and took a step toward me. He lowered his voice to a near-feral growl. “You’ll regret this!”

I blanched and my blood ran cold as I remembered Crawford’s warning. “You know, you’ve made a powerful enemy in Arthur.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/08/still-looking-for-answers/

I gulped as I watched the writer turn on his heel, push past my characters, and storm off toward the road.

Blue calmed downOnce Arthur was gone, Blue settled down. Anna still wanted to cancel the ride, but Colton begged so hard, she capitulated. “But you must promise to keep Blue in the middle of the group, where other riders can help you if you get into trouble.”

“I promise, mom, but I just know Blue and I will be fine.”

Tor and Centaur

Various terrains for the ridewildlife on the trailMy Foreman, Tor, led off on his ebony stallion, Centaur, setting an easy pace. The trail wound through a variety of terrains. We rode through woods and past farm fields, through an outcropping of rocks, along the banks of a large lake, and across a shallow stream. Blue was nothing short of amazing, deftly taking his young, blind rider around all obstacles and never once shying at any of the birds and wildlife that popped up along the trail. Soon, Colton and Rocky were competing again to see who could identify the most birds.

“That’s four for me, and only three for you.” Colton laughed.

“Four? What four? You got two.” Rocky was laughing, too.

“Oh, no! I got four.” Colton was adamant. “I heard the cheer-cheer-cheer-purty-purty-purty of a Northern Cardinal back by Mr. Mulligan’s fence.”

Northern Cardinal - male (2)

“Okay, I will give you that one. It was a beautiful male. But I got a female Northern Cardinal along the outcropping of rocks further along the trail. So that’s one apiece.” Rocky sounded smug.

Northern Cardinal - female

Colton nodded. “Then in that same spot where you saw the female cardinal, I heard the feee-beee and the chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee of some Black-capped Chickadees. And I heard the Ol’-Sam-Peabody-Peabody-Peabody of a White-throated Sparrow there, too.”

“Okay, but that is still only three.” Rocky grinned.

Colton held up four fingers. “I also heard the eh-eh-eh of some White-breasted nuthatches there, making four for me. There were a lot of birds on that area. You said it looked like someone had thrown some bird seed and cracked corn on the rocks there.”

“Yes, I saw Dark-eyed Juncos and a Fox Sparrow eating there.”

Colton grinned. “Yup. Three for you, four for me.”

“I think you are cheating.” Rocky laughed. “I think Blue is telling you where the birds are hiding.”

Colton scoffed. “You’ve forgotten to listen. You’re only using your eyes, and a lot of times the birds are hidden.” Suddenly, a huge smile split his face as he pointed toward the lake we were riding past. “Do you hear that bird? Sort of like ohhh-OHH, ohhh-OHH? That sounds like a Trumpeter Swan. That’s five for me!”

Trumpeter Swans

Rocky looked over toward the sound. “Yes, there is a pair of swans there. But I also see some Wood Ducks and Pied-billed Grebes. So, we’re tied again, five apiece.”

“But I hear the honking of Canada Geese and the quacking of Mallards. Seven to five!” Colton laughed again.

Looking around as the trail veered away from the water, Rocky cried out in triumph. “A pair of American Goldfinches and an Eastern Meadowlark! We are tied again!”

Colton shook his head. “Sorry, but I hear the cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o of an American Robin in the tree. I’m ahead by one.”

American Robin

“There are some White-crowned Sparrows in the underbrush and on the ground. Tied again.” Rocky laughed.

“I hear something chattering.” Colton listened intently. “But I guess I can’t count a Red Squirrel, can I?”

Red Squirrel

“Nope. The contest remains a tie.” Rocky sounded smug.

By the time we had returned to Anna’s farm at the end of the ride, the score was still tied, and between them, the two boys had racked up an impressive total of 30 species.

barbecueIt took a while to unsaddle all the horses, water them, groom them, and turn them out to graze in the paddock, then wipe down our saddles and put all our saddle blankets on racks to dry from the horses’ sweat. My characters and I took care of Anna’s mount, Rosie, so Anna could start the barbecue. By the time we were done, the tantalizing smell of grilling dinner was causing our stomachs to rumble and our mouths to water.

picnic tableClara sat next to me at the picnic table. She smiled as we talked about the ride. “Blue is a superb successor to Peaches, or Mystery, as we knew her. Colton was listening for birds and talking to Rocky while depending on Blue to carry him safely along the trail, just like Mystery used to.”

I nodded and raised an eyebrow. “Well, Mystery did tell you where to find a new pony for Colton.”

Clara, my cleric, smiled at the memory. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

Blue calmed downSoon Anna joined us. “What do you two think?” She nodded toward her son. “Didn’t Colton and Blue do great on the ride today?”

Clara and I nodded.

I grinned at Anna as she refilled our glasses with sweet tea. “I don’t think you could have found a better pony for Colton if you had cloned Peaches.”

“You will make sure this girl, Didi, does a good job on the article, won’t you?” Anna furrowed her brow. “If any of Colton’s classmates read it, I want Colton to be proud of the article.”

“Do you have Didi’s phone number?”

business card“I’ll give you her business card before you leave.”

“Then I’ll call her tomorrow and let her know I’ll help her with this.” I gave Anna a reassuring smile, and she returned it warmly.

The barbecue was a big hit. We were all enjoying ourselves so much, no one was in a hurry to go home. By the time my characters and I saddled up again and headed for home, we were all very full, very tired, but very happy.

Elf cleric close-up

Appaloosa for me 2“I saw Anna give you one of Didi’s business cards.” Dray was riding alongside me. “Are you really going to help her with the article?”

“You don’t think I should?” I frowned.

“I think there is more to Arthur than meets the eye, and I do not think he will like you helping Didi.”

“You may be right, but I’ve already promised Anna and Colton. So, I’ll deal with Arthur if the need arises.”

We will deal with Arthur . . . when the need arises.” Dray smiled a wicked smile.

What does Dragon, aka Dray, sense about Arthur? Will the need really arise to deal with him? Will I need Dragon’s help? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

A Surprising Situation

A Surprising Situation

Anna running after Colton and Blue

As soon as Blue bolted for the barn, dragging Colton along with him (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/10/06/heading-for-the-trail-ride/), Anna dropped Rosie’s reins and raced after her son. My characters started to follow.

Stop

“Hold it!” I quickly dismounted, turned to my characters, and put up my hands to stop the stampede. “Clara, Rocky, come with me. Everyone else stay here with the horses. And one of you grab Rosie so she doesn’t step on her reins and hurt herself.”Anna and Colton

Anna had already reached Colton and Blue by the time my two characters and I entered the barn. I heard the panic in her voice when she spoke to her son. “Are you all right, Colton? What happened?”

Colton turned toward his mom’s voice. “I’m okay, mom, really. I just don’t know what happened out there. Blue had been doing so well with his training. He’s never run off like this before! Is he okay? He’s not hurt, is he?”

“Do not worry, Colton. Clara will examine him. She is very good with horses.” Rocky joined Colton and his mom and put a hand on Colton’s shoulder. The boy nodded and smiled at Rocky.

Clara walked over to the wide-eyed pony, who snorted and pinned his ears back. Slowly, as Clara murmured soothingly to him, Blue relaxed. He rubbed his head against Clara’s shoulder and nickered. “He appears to be uninjured, Colton. He just seems to be fearful of something.”

“Maybe you were right, Marge.” Anna looked up from where she was still fussing over her son, checking him for cuts and bruises. “Maybe Blue just got spooked by so many new horses all at once.”

Clara and BlueClara stroked the pony’s neck. She leaned against the sturdy animal, placing her forehead to his. After a few moments, she turned to face me. She gave me an almost imperceptible shake of her head and whispered so Anna and Colton could not hear. “I do not believe it was the horses that alarmed Blue.”

I furrowed my brow. I wanted to question my Cleric but knew I could not speak with her in front of Anna and Colton, who only knew her as my friend, Clara. It would be far too difficult to try to explain her real identity and origin. It could also be dangerous for all my characters should the wrong people ever learned of their existence.

I removed my hat, raked my hand through my hair, then plopped the hat back on my head. “Anna, why don’t you and Rocky take Colton back outside? It will be easier to check for injuries in the sunlight. Clara and I will stay here with Blue until he is completely calm.”

Hay bales in the wayAnna nodded, and helped her son navigate the pathway to the door. “There’s a bale of hay there, Colton. We have to walk around it.”

“I know, mom.” Colton grinned, and turned back to where he had last heard our voices. “Gee, the way she treats me, you’d think I was blind or something.”

“Oh, Colton!” Anna did not sound amused.

Rocky laughed, though, and leaned over to whisper to the other boy. “You and I share the same sense of humor, Colton!”

Colton let his mom and Rocky lead him the rest of the way to the barn door. I waited until they were outside before turning to Clara. “Okay, what did Blue tell you?”

Clara, my Cleric with the innate ability to communicate with animals, continued to stroke Blue’s neck. “He planted a picture in my mind. From the image, I believe there is someone lurking around the farm, someone not very nice.”

I frowned. “Can Blue determine the person’s motives for lurking?”

Clara sighed. “If he can, he is unable to communicate them to me. That is too complex a concept to express in an image.”

I rubbed my jaw. “Can you describe for me this lurker Blue revealed to you?”

Clara nodded. “It is an older human male, with a bald head, but neatly trimmed facial hair . . . what I believe you term a mustache and a goatee. He wears small, rectangular spectacles with dark frames, a threadbare suit of indistinct color, and a funny little bow around the collar of his shirt.”Art - leader - multi-genre (1)

My jaw dropped. “What? That sounds like Arthur from the writers’ group Lost in the Words!” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/still-searching-for-answers/

I shook my head and scoffed. “But what would Arthur be doing here, lurking? If he has legitimate business here, why not just announce himself?”

Clara shrugged. “We should take Blue outside. Maybe he can show us where this Arthur person is and you can ask him that question.”

I nodded.

Clara placed her forehead on Blue’s again and communicated to him our intention. Once he understood, Blue seemed perfectly content following us out of the barn. Once outside, he tugged on his lead and led Clara over to where my other characters had gathered around Colton and his mom. The pony ignored my characters and the illusory horses. He nickered and rubbed his head against Colton’s shoulder.

Not bothered by illusory horses“Aw, that’s okay, boy. I know you didn’t mean to do anything that could have gotten me hurt. You were just frightened of something.” Colton put his arms around Blue’s neck and gave the pony a hug.

“Whatever frightened him before does not seem to be bothering him now, so it could not have been our horses.” Rocky gestured toward the illusory horses milling around behind my other characters and looked at Clara. He raised an eyebrow at her questioningly, but she shook her head.

Anna sighed. “Well, I hate to be a wet blanket, but I think we should call off the trail ride.”

“Aw, mom!” Colton’s face crumpled. “I’ve been looking forward to this so much, and our friends came all the way over here . . .” The boy swiped at a tear that threatened to roll down his cheek.

Anna pursed her lips at her son’s inevitable protest. “I know, honey, but I just think it’s too dangerous for you to be riding Blue on the trail if there’s any chance he might bolt again.”

“Anna, I’d like to try something, if it’s okay with you and Colton.”Colton

“What do you want to try, Marge?” It was Colton who answered.

Anna“Well, Colton, I’d like to have Clara lead Blue around out here and see if we can discover what he’s afraid of.” I answered the question for Colton but looked at Anna for approval.

“I’m okay with that, if Colton is.”

Colton nodded. “It would be good to find out, so we can help him overcome his fear.”

I gestured to my other characters to take their horses and move back, giving Clara and Blue some room. Then Clara started to lead Blue over to where he and Colton had been standing when the pony had bolted. “We’ll start there and see what happens.”

The pair had not taken two steps when Blue planted his feet, pinned his ears back, and whinnied loudly.

I followed the pony’s gaze. “Well, let’s see what’s upsetting Blue.” I walked over to a nearby thicket and parted the thick vegetation. “Well, would you look at this! Care to explain what you’re doing hiding in a clump of bushes, Arthur?”Hello Arthur

 

What is Arthur doing lurking around Anna’s farm? Be sure to come back next week and see how he explains his actions. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Heading For The Trail Ride

Heading For The Trail Ride

Morning

The day of the trail ride dawned clear and bright, with a cool autumn nip in the air. A gentle breeze carried with it the sharp tang of woodsmoke from several fireplaces throughout the neighborhood, and birdsong fell from the trees like rain.

Grooming horses

My Foreman and the lads had been up since before dawn, first feeding and watering the illusory horses, then grooming them to a shiny gloss before saddling them. Dragon, Cleric, and I joined them at a more reasonable hour.

“Well, it looks like thanks are in order.” I nodded my appreciation to the three horsemen, who had taken care of our mounts as well as their own.

“We could not wait for you slugabeds to join us.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and grinned at us, as Cleric tried to stifle a big yawn.

“Oh, prithee, stop being so jocular this early in the morn!” Cleric scowled at my Gypsy, then rubbed her eyes and tried unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn.

“Indeed,” Dragon agreed, glowering at the lad. “If such annoying gleefulness continues, I may be forced to start this evening’s barbecue a bit early.”

“He’s been like this all morning.” My Foreman chuckled and reached over to tousle the lad’s hair. “Now, if you ladies are sufficiently awake, mayhap you should mount up and walk your horses around the paddock to loosen up a bit.”

Dragon scoffed. “Is it not too early?” She turned to me. “What time are Anna and Colton expecting us?”

what time is it

“They thought we could begin our trail ride from their place between nine and ten this morning.” I checked my watch. “If we leave now, we should have no problem arriving at their place by then.”

Dragon sighed. “Then let us mount up, and I will cast a new spell of concealment over horses and riders alike, so we can leave this property unseen by any of our neighbors. I can release the spell once we are on the backroad, hidden by the trees and brush.”

We all nodded.

Appaloosa for meAs I swung up onto the compact blanket Appaloosa Dragon had created for me, I called to my characters, “Everyone needs to remember the names we used last time. Do not slip and call me Mistress. You may call me Missy, as is your custom in public, even though Anna and Colton will be calling me Marge. This black and white appy I’m riding is Scribe.”

Tor and Centaur

My Foreman nodded as he stepped up onto his ebony stallion. “I am called Tor, and my mount is Centaur.”

Rocky and Gypsy

My Gypsy vaulted into the saddle of his black-and-white cob. “My name is Rocky, and this is Gypsy.”

Cab and Hero

My Young Hero gave his chocolate palomino pony a pat on the neck as he mounted. “I am Cab, and this is Hero.”Clara and Blessing

 

Cleric led her tall, strawberry roan mare over to the mounting block. “The name I use is Clara, and I ride Blessing.”Dray and Dragon

Dragon clambered onto her stocky Palomino. “I am known as Dray and my mount is Dragon.”

I smiled, satisfied that everyone would remember. As Dray nudged her horse to stand next to mine, I raised a questioning eyebrow at her. “Have you completed casting your spell?”

Dray nodded. “We can leave the property unseen.”

We walked our horses single file along the side of the house and onto the street. As we proceeded past the other houses in the neighborhood, invisible to all and sundry, we had to dodge several cars pulling out of driveways as people headed off for work and school. When we passed Bastina’s house, I saw her and her daughter, Marisol, standing in their front yard.Riding past Marisol

Squirrel and horsessquirrelI almost fell off my horse in a dead faint when I saw the little girl’s eyes widen, and I watched her tug on her mother’s skirt. When she pointed in our direction, Dray and I exchanged looks bordering on shear panic. Our wide-eyed dread turned to relief, as Marisol continued to point, her gesture following the path of a fat, sassy squirrel that had been running alongside our horses. The child and her mother laughed at the animal as it scrambled up a tree, and sat there, clutching an acorn and scolding loudly. We continued trotting along the street and headed, still unseen, toward our destination.

Dirt roadovergrown two-trackIt took us less than an hour to make the trip to Anna’s farm. Half-way there, after traveling for fifteen minutes along a wide dirt road remarkably devoid of traffic, Dray released the spell of concealment that had kept horses and riders hidden from passersby. Moments later, we left the road and walked our mounts carefully along an overgrown two-track that would take us to our destination.

As we trotted up the driveway, we saw Anna saddling her flashy dapple-gray mare, Rosie. We waved and exchanged greetings.

“Where are Colton and Blue?” Clara was looking around, a worried expression on her face. “The last time we came here for a trail ride, Colton was already mounted and waiting for us.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

“Oh, don’t worry! Colton’s been waiting for you for over an hour now. He was so nervous you wouldn’t be able to come today, even though I told him a dozen times or more you accepted the invitation.” Anna smiled broadly. “He just took Blue into the barn a few minutes ago. He forgot his jacket there when he fed Blue this morning, and he thinks he might need it today.”

Colton and BlueMoments later, the young boy came out of the barn, shoving one arm into the sleeve of his jacket as he held his pony’s lead with the other hand. “Did I hear voices?”

“Hi, Colton!” A chorus of greetings brought a huge smile to Colton’s face.

“Hi, everyone! I was hoping you’d come! I can’t wait to get on the trail and show you all how great Blue is!” Colton, blind since birth, continued walking toward our voices, unaware his therapy pony, Blue, had stopped dead, feet planted firmly. Colton came to an abrupt halt when he reached the end of the lead that attached him to the pony.

“Wha…? What’s wrong, Blue?” Colton felt his way back along the lead line and stroked Blue’s neck once he reached the balky pony. “It’s okay, Blue. These are our friends.”

Anna furrowed her brow. “What’s wrong? Blue never acted this way around the other horses and ponies at the training facility.”

“It’s not surprising.” I motioned to my characters to move their horses back a bit. “Blue knew all the other animals at the facility and was comfortable around them. He probably just needs a few minutes to get to know us and our horses. Maybe if we introduced our mounts one at a time . . .”

But Blue wasn’t having any part of it. He pinned his ears back, turned, and trotted back into the barn, practically dragging Colton along with him.Colton and Blue going back to barn

 

 

What’s happened to Blue? Why is he acting this way? Be sure to come back next week and see what’s happening. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Sad News

Sad News

cryingtelephone1I put down the phone and wiped away a tear. I left my office and headed upstairs. As I approached the landing by the front door, I was almost bowled over by my Old Dwarf, who was barreling down the stairs. “Ah, there ye be, lass! Yer mister be wantin’ ta knowed iffin ye be ready fer some lunch.”

I nodded, half-heartedly. “I suppose so.”

My Old Dwarf furrowed his brow and gave me a sharp look. “Summat be bodderin’ ye, lass? Ye still be feelin’ sick?

I shook my head. “No, I’m pretty sure I’m well over my bout of pneumonia now. I’ve finished with both of my prescriptions, most of my congestion has cleared, and I’m breathing a lot better.”

“But summat be wrong.” It was a statement rather than a question.

I nodded. “I have some news to share. Will everyone be at lunch?”

dwarfThe rotund figure stroked his beard, and scrunched up his face in concentration. “Wale, I be thinkin’ tha Annoyin’ One an’ ’is cohort mighten be eatin’ alone, out in their sank-tee-ary in tha shed, but e’eryone elsens oughtten be at tha table, an’ be waitin’ on ussins right now.”

I nodded and trudged up the remaining steps in silence, the dwarf trailing behind.

My Old Dwarf took his seat at the table, and loudly hushed everyone. I stood behind my chair and looked around the table.

 

“What is it, Mistress?” Cleric gave me an appraising look. “You seem distressed.”Anna

I nodded. “I just got off the phone with Anna.”

Colton“Colton’s mother?” My Gypsy furrowed his brow.

I nodded again. “She called about Colton’s pony, Peaches, who we initially knew as Mystery.” I swallowed hard. “Anna wanted to let us know Peaches passed away at the end of February.”

shaggy pony 2

(The saga of Mystery started with the December 31, 2017 blog, https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/ and continued each week until the mystery was solved in the March 25, 2018 blog https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/)

Everyone looked shocked. There was a chorus of comments from around the table. “Oh, no!” “Not Mystery!” “Not Peaches!” How did it happen?” “Colton must be devastated.”

I sighed. “Anna said that the vet performed a necropsy, and it appears the pony died of natural causes. Peaches was very old and had not been doing well this winter. Anna said she had the vet out numerous times for the pony, for ailments ranging from colic to a serious respiratory infection that resulted in heaves.”

mens-991728_1280My Foreman looked shocked. “The animal looked vigorous and robust the last time we saw her.”

I agreed. “But that was seven months ago, before the hard winter took its toll on her health.”

Young Hero cryingMy Young Hero slumped in his chair and swiped at a tear that leaked from the corner of his eye. His voice was raspy. “What is Colton going to do without that pony?”

Colton riding Peaches barebackI shook my head. “I don’t know. The pony was Colton’s eyes. Being blind from birth, Colton felt very isolated, even though he participated in some school activities. Anna confided in me that the other kids didn’t go out of their way to include Colton in their plans. With Peaches, the boy felt like he had some independence, and felt the equal of his peers. He was able to go on trail rides with the other kids. He was even talking about joining 4-H.”Young Hero crying

“I recall our trail ride with Colton and his mom. It was hard to remember he was blind, watching how confidently he rode Peaches.” My Young Hero’s words caught in his throat, and he wiped away another tear.

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy nodded. “I wish we had taken the opportunity to ride with him again. I really like Colton, and enjoyed our friendly competition identifying birds by ear.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

“Well, maybe Colton will be able to get a new pony eventually. Anna said she tried to talk to him about it, but it’s too soon. He doesn’t want to think about another pony.”

Cleric cryingColton and Peaches 2“Even if he decides at some point in the future he wants another pony, it will be hard to replace Peaches.” Cleric dabbed at her eyes, wet with unshed tears. “She was such a remarkable animal!”

I nodded. “She was, but there are other horses trained to work with handicapped riders. Anna’s going to call the facility that trained Peaches and see if they have any other ponies available.”

Milesstadium jumpingMiles furrowed his brow. “I don’t know a lot about horses, but I do remember seeing a program on television about a blind rider. He competed in stadium jumping. The thing that sticks out in my mind is the way the rider had to use vocal cues from other people stationed around the arena in order to know in which direction to ride, and when to prepare for a jump.”

I nodded. “I remember seeing that program, too.”

“But you said Colton used to ride Peaches out on the trail, sometimes even going out alone.”Colton riding Peaches bareback

Again I nodded.

Miles rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, Peaches must have been trained more like a seeing-eye dog. She must have been aware of all the various dangers and situations they could encounter on the trail and know how to keep her rider safe. Otherwise, Colton could have been knocked off the pony by overhanging branches, or he could have fallen if the pony did something unexpected, like jump a small obstacle on the trail.”

Cleric dabbed at her eyes again. “I told you that pony was a very remarkable animal! She will be all but impossible to replace.”

DwarfElf cleric“Mebbe the beastie here kin be illusionin’ a pony fer tha lad.” My Old Dwarf pointed at Dragon. “She been creatin’ illusory horsies fer yer Foreman and tha two lads, and she been makin’ some fer tha rest o ye who been on tha trail ride with ’em. She could be illusionin’ a horsie wot can be doin’ all tha thin’s tha other horsie useta been able ta be doin’ ta be keepin’ its rider safe-like. An’ wit’ a make-believe horsie, tha laddie would na e’er be havin’ ta be worryin’ aboot it be gittin’ sick or be diein’.”

I raked my hand through my hair and heaved a huge sigh. “That’s a very kind, compassionate idea, old friend, but I don’t think it wise to be creating illusions for outsiders, for people who do not understand whence you all came, and what powers some of you wield.”

“I agree.” Dragon nodded.

Elf facing right“Well, we have to find some way to help Colton find a new pony!” Cleric squared her shoulders and set her jaw.Stu-04-NatGal

“And how do you propose to do that?” Sorceress lifted an eyebrow at her friend.

Cleric tossed her head defiantly. “I do not know. But we will. We must!”

How will Cleric and the others help Colton? Come back next week and see if they come up with any ideas. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

An Old Mystery Revisited

An Old Mystery Revisited

Sitting on deck watching horsesMy Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero had just finished a morning workout with their illusory horses. Cleric and I, along with the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, had watched them from the deck as they put their horses through their paces. Now, Cleric set out a tall pitcher of lemonade and six glasses while my Foreman and the lads finished grooming their horses and turning them out to pasture.

Cleric filled a glass and passed it to me. “Watching the riding exhibition this morning, my mind kept straying back to Mystery . . . I mean Peaches . . . and her young master, Colton. I wonder how they are faring these days.”

shaggy pony facing the other wayI knew Cleric was referring to a small horse that had shown up in our yard last December. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/

Peaches and ColtonAfter a fantastic adventure that included Mystery being possessed by creatures inadvertently brought to our world by Dragon, we had finally discovered that the little horse was actually named Peaches. She was a very special horse, trained to work with a blind rider, and she was owned by a young boy named Colton. She gave Colton a bit of freedom and normalcy in his life. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/

“Funny you should ask about Mystery.” I smiled.

“What about Mystery?” My Foreman gratefully accepted a glass of lemonade and sat down on a deck chair to drink it. The two lads also grabbed cool drinks and settled down to join the conversation.

I grinned. “Cleric had just mentioned our old friend, Mystery, a.k.a. Peaches, and the little horse’s master, Colton. I was about to tell her that Colton’s mom, Anna, called me this morning. Colton has invited us to go trail riding with him.”

Elf facing rightCleric furrowed her brow and chewed her lower lip. “Mistress, I have never ridden a horse.”

“The servant of the goddess of the horse has never ridden one of her deity’s favored creatures?” I gaped at Cleric, who blushed furiously and hung her head.Elf cleric

“I have never ridden, either.” Dragon pursed her lips. “I am not sure I want to.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s up to you, but Colton will be very disappointed. He told his mom to be sure I understood that the invitation was for the three wonderful ladies who brought Peaches back to him – me, Dray, and Clara.”

Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes widened. “He remembered the names we used!” A smile flashed across her face, but immediately faded to a frown. “But even if we wanted to go riding, we do not have any horses.”

Dragon rubbed the back of her neck and furrowed her brow. “I suppose, if it is really important to the boy, I could produce some illusory horses, similar to the ones I created for our three resident horsemen.”

I nodded. “That would be wonderful, and I’m sure Colton will be happy to have us visit and go riding with him.”

My Young Hero cleared his throat. “Mistress, is there any way the three of us could join you?” He gestured at himself, my Gypsy, and my Foreman.

“Sure. Anna said we should feel free to bring more friends with us.”

The lad smiled, and he had a faraway look in his eyes. “I remember the splendid times I had with my brother, riding through the countryside. We were rarely, if ever, confined within a fence when we rode.” Suddenly, he blushed. “But I do not mean to complain! I know you, Dragon, have gone to a lot of trouble creating the illusory horses and stable for us, and keeping everything hidden from the neighbors with a spell of concealment. And you, Foreman, have spent much time instructing me and the Gypsy, and helping us improve our horsemanship.” He gulped some of the lemonade and fiddled with his glass. Finally, he sighed. “But it would be so nice to ride through woods and fields again.”

Dragon furrowed her brow and looked at me. “When is this trail ride?”

“This weekend, if we can make it.”

“Good. That will give me time to create three more illusory horses with the requisite interwoven spell of concealment, and for the three of us to become accustomed to our mounts. Or should that be four more horses? Will Master Miles be joining us?”

I shook my head. “No, I’m afraid my husband isn’t very keen on horses. He’ll hold down the fort here while we’re off riding.”

My Foreman grinned. “I will teach you ladies how to ride well enough to manage on this trail ride with Colton.”

I looked at my Foreman. “You can concentrate your efforts on Dragon and Cleric. I have no need of instruction. I just need to see if these old bones will hold together while I attempt to mount a horse after all these years.”

Dragon quickly went about creating the illusory horses – a palomino for herself, a strawberry roan for Cleric, and a small Appaloosa for me. “I remember you telling us that you had several Appaloosas back at your stable in New Jersey, and that the Appy was your favorite breed.”

I smiled, remembering those days.

With my Foreman and the two lads instructing them, it didn’t take Cleric or Dragon long to learn the basics of horsemanship and riding. Cleric seemed proud of her accomplishment, as she urged her mount into a trot. “I guess we have watched the three of you for so long, it has become ingrained already.”

“Are you sure they will be okay?” Miles watched the group trotting around the paddock.

I nodded. “They might not be expert riders, but they’ll be no worse off than someone who rents a horse at a public hack stable for an afternoon’s ride. They might be a bit sore the next day, but I’m sure I will be, too.”

Miles chuckled. “I’m sure you will. Have you given any thought about how to get to Colton’s place with the horses? I don’t imagine Dragon is going to conjure up trucks and trailers for you.”

“The farm we’re going to is not far from here. We’ll lead the horses off the property and down the road while they’re still under Dragon’s spell of concealment, just like we did with Mystery. To anyone seeing us, we’ll just look like a group of friends walking down the side of the road. When we reach the first dirt road, we’ll turn. There are no houses along that road, and little traffic. As soon as we’re far enough down that lane so we can’t be seen from the main road, Dragon will let the horses become visible and we’ll mount up and ride the rest of the way. We’ll do the reverse coming back at the end of the day. Now, I had better call Anna, and let her and Colton know when we’ll be there.”

Dragon, Cleric, and I spent the rest of the week working our horses, the other two learning how to ride passably well, and me slowly getting my muscles used to riding again so I would be able to endure several hours in the saddle. Early Saturday morning, my five characters gave up their usual garb and dressed in modern day outfits appropriate for riding, complete with Western boots.

We led our horses along the grassy verge of the main highway until we turned down a wide dirt road. A few yards along that lane, we were able to mount up. In minutes, we were at a two-track that went off through the forest to the left.

“This is so much faster than when we had to lead Mystery along this trail!” Cleric gently reined her horse down the path toward our destination.

“Four legs are always faster than two.” My Young Hero’s smile lit up his whole face.

A few minutes later, we arrived at the farm. Colton and his mom were waiting for us. Anna stood next to a showy dapple-gray. Colton was already mounted on Peaches, the little horse we had known as Mystery. Both horses whinnied a greeting, which our horses echoed.

“Hi, Anna! Hi, Colton!” I waved at them, and they waved back.

Anna smiled. “Hi! I was just about to tack up Rosie. It’ll only take me a few minutes.”

I nodded and trotted over to the fence to talk with her son. “Hey, Colton! Thanks for inviting us to go on a trail ride!”

“Hi, Marge!” I was surprised he remembered my voice. “I hear more than three horses. Who else did you bring?”

I motioned for everyone to come over. “Good ear, Colton! You know Clara and Dray.”

Cleric and Dragon exchanged greetings with the boy.

“And these are three more of my friends, Cab, Tor, and Rocky.” I introduced them, using names we had decided on earlier.

“Hi! I’m Colton and this is Peaches.” He patted his pony’s neck. “Do any of your horses kick or bite?”

I smiled. “Nope. You and Peaches are perfectly safe.”

“I was more concerned with my mom. Peaches is good at sensing other horses’ moods, but mom and Rosie sometimes don’t pick up on the clues. Rosie’s been kicked and bitten several times.”

“We will be certain to stay alert to our horses’ moods today, Colton. We will not allow anything to happen to your mother or her horse.” My Foreman, Tor, smiled at Colton, even though he knew the boy couldn’t see him.

“Thanks.” Colton smiled in the general direction of my Foreman’s voice. “Can you tell me about everyone’s horse?”

My Foreman nodded. “Well, Colton, I am on Centaur, a large black stallion with a long, wavy mane and tail.”

 

“Cab is riding Hero, a chocolate palomino pony.”

 

“Rocky has a black-and-white Gypsy Vanner, very imaginatively named Gypsy.”

 

“Dray is on a stocky palomino named Dragon.”

 

“Clara is riding Blessing, a tall strawberry roan.”

 

“And Missy is on Scribe, a black Appaloosa three-quarter horse with a small blanket.”

Appaloosa for me

Colton frowned. “Missy?”

“That’s their nickname for me.” I laughed. “I probably have more names than . . .” I was about to say more names than Carter’s has liver pills, but I doubted the youngster would get such an outdated reference. “More names than a cat has lives,” I finished lamely.

“Okay, I’m ready.” Anna swung up onto her horse and reined it around. “I hope no one objects to a short ride today, but I’m expecting a delivery of feed and hay later today. I need to be back in just a few hours.”

We all nodded and waited for Anna and Colton to exit the paddock and join us. Then we all rode our horses at a sedate walk, single file, down the driveway and along the wooded path away from the farm, with Colton proudly taking the lead.

Colton riding Peaches bareback

I watched the small boy and his horse as they led the way down the two-track next to their farm, and onto a wider trail through the woods. Colton rode confidently, obviously trusting his mount to keep him safe. It was hard to remember the boy was blind.

He half-turned in the saddle to talk to me. “So, what do you prefer, Marge or Missy?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Why don’t we stick with Marge?”

He nodded. “Okay, Marge.”

As we rode out of the woods and along the edge of a field, Colton pointed up to something in the trees. “Marge, do you hear that?”

I listened. “I hear a robin in the trees.”Bird - Robin
“Colton smiled. “Yup, American Robin.” Cheer-a-lee . . . cheer-a-lee the robin called again.

A loud conk-a-reeeeeeeee had Colton twisting toward the cat-tails on the opposite side of the field. “Red-winged Blackbird.”

 

I looked across the field. “You’re right! There’s one in the reeds and another in the trees.”

Another sound, a squeaky readle-eak had him pointing at the treetops. “Common Grackle.”Bird - Common Grackle

“You have a good ear.” I was impressed.

“Black-capped Chickadee!” He pointed to a tree where several small birds sang chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Then, before I could reply, he pointed at another tree-top serenader, singing cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer-purty-purty-purty. “Cardinal.” And twisting around in the saddle, he pointed in the direction of another bird singing witchety-witchety-witchety. “Common Yellowthroat.”

I called back over my shoulder to my Gypsy. “Hey, Rocky! Colton could give you a run for your money identifying birds by ear!”

My Gypsy trotted his horse up and joined us at the front of the group of riders. “Really?”

“Really! He’s identified six birds already.”

My Gypsy took up the challenge. “Did you hear that one? Eastern Phoebe in the tree to the left. Fee-beee.” He flawlessly imitated the bird, following it up with a perfect imitation of the buzzes and trills that were coming from the trees to the right. “Song Sparrows.”

 

The distinctive notes of an American Goldfinch reached my Gypsy’s ear – bay-beee . . . bay-beee – and he called back, imitating them perfectly.

“American Goldfinch!” Colton beamed at my Gypsy.

“Yes. There is a flock of goldfinches feasting on some thistle that has gone to seed in the clearing on the right.” My Gypsy pointed, then remembered Colton was blind, and he dropped his arm.

“Wow! You’re good!” Colton grinned at him. “I don’t know many people who are interested in birds, and I don’t know anyone at all who can imitate their calls!”

The two of them started a friendly competition. Colton identified the first bird, as it called queedle-queedle-queedle, then screeched cat! cat! cat! “Blue Jay!”

Bird - Blue Jay

“Yup! It just flew down and grabbed an acorn! But, that one was too easy!” My Gypsy’s tone let Colton know the lad was just teasing.

My Gypsy scored the next identification. A harsh chatter caught his attention, and he scanned the trees to the left. “Eastern Bluebirds! Two males, squabbling over some food.”

Not to be outdone, Colton pointed overhead, where a bird called cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o, chink. “Rose-breasted Grosbeak!”

Bird - Rose-breasted Grosbeak

My Gypsy quickly came back with “Cedar Waxwing! Zeee-zeee-zeee.” It was a perfect imitation of the bird calling from a lone tree in the middle of the field to the right.
Bird - Cedar Waxwing
My Young Hero nudged his horse up next to Colton and my Gypsy. “Hey, guys, what is that big bird sleeping on the log?”
Bird - GHO 3
Colton shrugged. “If I can’t hear it, I can’t identify it.”

“Yeah, Cab, no cheating! Ears only.” My Gypsy stuck his tongue out at his friend, who retaliated in kind. Just then, the bird woke up, turned around, and gave a sleepy hoo-ho HOOOO-hoo-hoo, peering at us with one half-opened eye.


Colton and my Gypsy cried out in unison. “Great Horned Owl!”

Colton turned in the saddle at a sound behind us, a loud drumming, followed by a muffled churr-churr-churr. “Red-bellied Woodpecker!” He grinned.
Bird - Red-bellied Woodpecker
He got the next one, too. “Barn Swallows.” He pointed to a tree where some birds were twittering and whirring.


Suddenly, I heard a familiar call. “Sandhill Cranes!”

Colton nodded. “They’re probably feasting in the cornfields on the other side of these woods. We can go there and see them.”

It didn’t take long to jog our horses over to the fields. As we rode closer, the rattling call of the flock grew louder and louder. I was impressed to see none of the horses were bothered by it. None shied from the sight of the big birds, either.

“Missy! These birds are as tall as you!” My Cleric grinned at me.

“Yes, thank you for noticing that.” I glowered at her, then chuckled to let her know I wasn’t really upset.

We spent a few long minutes gawking at the impressive birds before heading back through the woods. Suddenly, Colton ducked. “Ruby-throated Hummingbird!”

“How did you know?” I was amazed.

“I could feel Peaches tense up just as I heard several birds calling chee-dit almost in my ear.”

“There are a couple in the tree right above you!” My Gypsy confirmed the identification.


The boys continued their friendly competition, and by the time we arrived back at the barn, they had identified more than thirty species.

Colton and Peaches“We have to do this again!” Colton was all smiles as he swung down from his saddle and patted Peaches on her neck.

“Can we?” My Gypsy looked at me.

“I don’t see why not.”

We all dismounted. Anna and Colton unsaddled their horses and brushed them down before turning them out in the pasture. The rest of us loosened our saddles so our horses could have a breather before we started back to our own house.

Colton had a huge smile on his face as he thanked each one of us for coming on the trail ride. We promised to do it again soon as we tightened our cinches, mounted up and turned for home.

We hope you enjoyed our little trail ride this week. Be sure to join us again next week for another of our little adventures. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
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