I 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?”
The 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.”
I nodded. “I just got off the phone with Anna.”
“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.”
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.”
My 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.”
My 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?”
I 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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
Miles 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.”
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.”
“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.
“Well, we have to find some way to help Colton find a new pony!” Cleric squared her shoulders and set her jaw.
“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.
My 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.”
After 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.”
Cleric 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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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!”
“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!”
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.
My Young Hero nudged his horse up next to Colton and my Gypsy. “Hey, guys, what is that big bird sleeping on the log?”
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.
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.
“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.