Wren-at-Dawn was a man of his word. He repeated the same phrase to himself as he got up early Sunday morning to live up to his lost bet. He’d do all the stables today – his first day in charge while Pierre was off-world with Ben. But he would take two hours off for church. He would go to church because Atticus was a wise minister and the music lifted his spirits. It had nothing to do with the new recruit named Lanza who sang in the choir. Well, not much.
Lost in thoughts of a sweet face, silver-white hair and the voice of an angel, Wren-at-Dawn jumped when Hreno said, “See, I told you he’d be here by now.”
Jeremy, accompanied by his best friend Magyar, nodded and picked up a pitchfork.
“I’m going to lay down over here, Jeremy,” the dog said. The boy nodded.
Jeremy and Magyar spent their summers at the Ranch. Five years earlier, Jeremy had been one of the students kidnapped by a Strategia Oscuro during the Battle of Crystal Lake. Magyar had risked her life to rescue him. Hreno and Wren-at-Dawn had been part of the portal which brought him home. He had to repeat the seventh grade that year, but from that point on, he knew what he wanted out of life – to be a veterinarian – and he did everything it took to reach that goal. His tests and grades were good enough to go to one of the International Baccalaureates or Collegiate High Schools in the county, but George Jenkins High had one of the best agricultural departments, so he refused their invitations. He was a junior there now with a 3.9 GPA. He’d been given a full four-year scholarship to UF and would work on his Vet degree along with his bachelors. The scholarship was from the Refuge. He was proud of that. And he knew that as soon as he was able, he’d move up here and become Ben’s partner. Ben was the best vet anywhere, all the animals agreed on that. But they also felt it wouldn’t hurt to have one who could talk to animals, like Jeremy could.
“I still can’t believe the Queen didn’t get her way.” Hreno brought an empty wheelbarrow over to Wren-at-Dawn.
“It’s about time Ben stood up to her. She’s become a spoiled brat.” He took off his shirt. With his exertion, the normally pale scar bisecting the area between his left shoulder and collarbone was a vivid red against his tanned skin. He rarely noticed the scar anymore, except when an extremely powerful portal was being woven. Then it ached and burned.
Jeremy took off his shirt, too. It wasn’t that he was mimicking his hero; it was just warm in the stable. “More like spoiled pet. That’s what the horses call her.”
“A pet? That’s how they feel about her?” Hreno sneezed.
Jeremy nodded before sneezing, too.
“Bless you,” Wren-at-Dawn said. “What she needs is a swift kick.”
Jeremy sneezed again. “Really?” He stopped what he was doing to stare at his hero. Wren-at-Dawn was probably only a year or two older than Jeremy, but where Jeremy was still a high school kid, Wren-at-Dawn was a man. And Wren-at-Dawn thought that what Venutha needed was a swift kiss. He could do that. He could kiss the Queen.
With Hreno’s and Jeremy’s help, Wren-at-Dawn only had one stable left to do. They were showered and dressed for church and whistling up horses when Magyar rubbed her head against Jeremy’s leg. He bent down and cupped her head lovingly in his hands.
“I’m going to stay in the bunkhouse while you go on to church.”
“Are you OK?” Jeremy asked.
“Sure. It’s just been a long morning. And Ohamaha has started nesting, so I’d just as soon stay out of her way for a while.”
The boy pressed soft kisses on his dog’s forehead. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Hreno put her hand on his elbow as they watched the ancient warrior pad slowly back to the boy’s bunkhouse. Jeremy looked down at her, tears filling his eyes, “She’s dying.”
Hreno nodded but didn’t say anything. She was great that way.
Chinan pulled the truck up to the farmhouse. The truck’s front right headlight was busted.
“What happened?” Wren-at-Dawn asked calmly.
Chinan shook his head and tried to match the horseman’s reserve. “I went into town this morning.”
The truck bounced as a dozen teens climbed into the truck bed or the backseat – depending on their seniority.
“Courtney’s a pretty girl,” Wren-at-Dawn nodded.
“I met with her family at Bob Evans. They’re good people. And they like me.”
“Crazy people,” Jeremy gently shoved the young horseman’s head toward the steering wheel.
“When I came out, the light was busted.” He picked a wadded piece of paper up and handed it to Wren-at-Dawn. This was on the windshield. I can’t read, but it made Courtney blush and her father got angry and said perhaps I should think about moving into town.”
Wren-at-Dawn handed the paper to Jeremy. “And?”
“And start going to First Baptist.”
Jeremy read the message aloud, “Go home you damned freaks.”
“You shouldn’t have gone alone.”
Jeremy scowled but didn’t question Wren-at-Dawn in front of the others.
“Take a dog with you, or let one of the other horsemen ride along.”
“Make sure all the Horsemen and Dog Guards know this. There are some people in town who have their minds set to hate us. We don’t need any trouble while Pop and Dad are away.”
Hreno leaned into Jeremy’s ear and whispered, “Atticus and the priest of First Baptist are having talks. But not a week goes by that one of our trucks doesn’t get damaged – slashed tires, busted lights, dented panels. And they like leaving nasty messages on the windshield or painted on the doors.”
Venusha leaned into him from the other side, “Sometimes they pee in the cab. We have to lock the doors.”
To Hold Back the Dark
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.