Abby led Leander over to the stump of the tree to the right of the trail that marked the bottom of the dell. He nickered softly, his tone frightened and confused. He danced from side to side. Abby tugged gentled on the reins she was using to lead him.
“Settle down, Lee. I know you have bad memories of this place. I do too. That is why we are here, to remember, so I can accept what I did.”
Leander responded instantly to her voice tone and physical demeanor. People often misread Abby’s slender frame, short chestnut hair, calm brown eyes and controlled facial expressions as meaning that she lacked in will and determination. Her horses never did. They knew the strength that laid behind the softness of her hands on the reins and the whipcord muscles that allowed to almost always be relaxed and precise in her seat on their backs. Highly empathic around people and animals, Abby almost always knew exactly how to move and what to say to achieve her intent.
Abby sat down on the squared off stump. She wanted to remember. This small clearing at the bottom of the dell held so many memories for her. Tonight, she was here to remember Rick.
Two years ago,on this same midsummer night had been almost as cloudless as tonight’s. That night’s full moon had lite up the trail and the woods with bright, pale, yellow light, just as it did tonight. The light was magical, almost surreal. But there was one crucial difference. On that night two years ago, one small, single, dark cloud had drifted over the moon at just the wrong time, turning the bottom of the dell pitch black. There was no such cloud tonight.
On that night, the breeze had been soft and steady. Tonight’s wind was strong, pulling Abby’s hair back after she took off her helmet and placed it at the back of the large stump. The stump was that of a big beech tree, four feet round at its base. No one was quite sure why it has fallen, but fallen it had, turning the normally safe driving trail through the bottom of dell into a death trap for a galloping horse that had not seen the fallen until it was too late.
Much had changed here in the past two years. Except for the stump, every sign of the fallen beech tree was gone. Abby slowed her breathing so she would remain calm. She wanted to grieve, bringing up by her memories of that night. But she no longer wanted to cry.
Years of training horses has taught her the mental disciplines which allowed her to be one way on the outside and another within. Leander, sensitive as he always was to her, picked up nothing but calm from her. Within however, she was reliving the grief she always felt when she allowed herself to miss Rick.
On that night two years ago, she had remained calm while same time experiencing horror at what she had found at the bottom of the dell. The wreck of horse and carriage had been revealed starkly once the small cloud moon light block cloud had drifted past the moon.
Sitting on the stump with Leander standing quietly beside her, Abby relived her memories of that night. She pushed them away, so that she was looking at them as if they were a movie in which she played a part. She could see the events of that night playing out before her. Only now she was watching what she had done then, giving herself some distance from the feeling she had experienced on that night.
Abby rode Leander slowly down the dark trail leading to the bottom of the dell. She knew something was seriously wrong. The sound of the crash had come back up the trail to her, riding several hundred feet behind Rick’s carriage. She had lost sight of horse, driver and carriage as he started down the slope that led to the bottom of the dell. Just as he did so, a small perverse cloud rolled over the moon, spoiling a perfect moonlight sky/ What had been a bright trail down into the dell hard turned into a sucking hole of darkness.
She urged Leander into a trot as soon as the moonlight came back.There was an easy, wide left turn in the trail just as it bottomed out at the lowest point of the dell. The turn kept her from seeing what was ahead as Leander trotted down the slope. The turn also hid the long shallow slope of the trail up out of the dell. One of the delights of riding or driving down into the dell was coming round this bottom turn and seeing the long, wide, easy, upward sloping trail carving a bright, clear path up through the dark trees up to the shining horizon that topped out the dell.
Abby trotted into the turn. Leader dropped to a walk beneath her and started to snort. He stopped and started to back up. She took him firmly in hand, and urged him forward. As she came out of the turn, she saw the broken horse and carriage trapped up against the fallen trunk which blocked the trail.
She dismounted. Calming Leander came first. She covered his eyes with her sweater. Deprived of his sight, he quickly settled down. All the horses she trained were taught to stand quietly or be led calmly when their eyes were covered. Leander responded instantly. She tied the reins up so that they would not fall down and trip him if he did run off. But as long as he could not see, he would not. Slowly, she led him forward.
Abby turned. She could not see Paris’s head. She guessed that it was draped over the far side of the fallen tree trunk. A light wind was moving his mane around softly over his turned down neck.
The crown of the fallen beech was somewhere far off the left side of the trail. Its half shattered branches had kept the three foot thick trunk high enough of the ground so that the galloping horse had struck it square on his chest, halting him instantly. The impact had probably broken his neck, and caved in the front of his rib cage. Abby thought that Paris had most likely been killed the moment he had struck the trunk.
Abby thought that Rick, who knew this trail so well, had just kept galloping forward when the cloud’s dark had fallen, trusting to his instincts and his driving skill and his trust in Paris to get the horse to get round the turn and up the slope out of the dell. She knew full well that neither horse or driver could have seen the fallen tree till before Paris had collided with it. There was no sign that Paris has tried to stop or serve. He had just run straight into the tree at full gallop, going as fast as Rick could drive him.
Paris’s body was still hitched to Rick’s marathon four wheel carriage. One of the two thick leather traces that connected Paris;s harness to the carriage on either side had pulled the harness up, over and back along on the far side of Paris’s body. The carriage had swung round right and turned over at the impact. It now lay on one side, its top tucked lengthwise against the tree trunk. The upper front wheel was no longer there. The bare axle top that normally centered it was a spear pointed up at the sky. The back upper wheel was turning slowly, as if it were in a slow motion film. Rick’s marathon cross country vehicle tonight was built to take the punishment of racing across rough trails through the countryside. The carriage had suffered a minimum of damage. Another sign of the speed with which Paris had hit the fallen tree trunk.
Abby led Leaner back up the trail, so that he could no longer see the wreck. She pulled her sweater out from the brow band of his bridle. She led him over to the side of the trail and pointed him up it. She loosely draped his rein over the branch of a tree. Given his training, it was not likely that he would move. But if he did, he would safely make his way back to her stable, which was at the beginning of this trail. Leaving him there for the moment, she walked back down the trail and crawled over the fallen trunk, as far from Paris’s body as she could manage.
Rick’s driving reins had flown out straight ahead down the trail from the bit in Paris’s mouth. She could now see that Rick had been thrown forward, over Paris, and laid in the middle of the trail, will clear of the wreck. He was laying on his back, feet back towards the tree trunk. She walked slowly towards Rick, straining to see the rise and fall of his chest. Nothing. When she reached him, she sank down on her knees beside his right side. She put her fingers against the pulse point in his neck. No pulse. Abby knew that he had died at the moment that his catapulted body has struck the ground, the sheer force of the impact enough to stop his heart and his mind and shatter his body. What she could not figure out was how he had come to laying the way he was, feet first to the trunk. Logic and driving sense told her that he would be on his face. She had a sudden mind flash in which she saw him desperately twisting in the air, trying to control his flight through the air.
She leaned over and kissed his forehead. There was nothing she could do for Rick and Paris. There was much she could do to preserve her life if she was not found here. She rose, turned and made her way back quietly to Leander. She slowly stroked his neck and leaned against his solid warmth. Then she mounted him, urging him into a gallop, leaving the husk of the man she loved most and the wreck of a horse she has raised from a colt behind her.