Day One Hundred Nineteen
I didn’t sleep much last night. I was cold and wet and couldn’t get comfortable. But no way was I leaving Flecha’s side to search for better shelter. By morning the rain had stopped and I tried again to light a fire. This time the feathery birch bark caught and I was able to make a hot birch tea. It felt good to get warm, and some of my courage came back. I needed it.
By the time I was ready to head out, it was drizzling again. I don’t think there was a muscle in my body that didn’t hurt, and my cuts and bruises from the day before didn’t help. I was hungry, too. I picked some spruce and redbud to chew on, but didn’t want to stop for any serious foraging. I had to get Flecha to a safe place today, no matter what.
We spent another awful day on the road through the woods. Sometimes it was clear, other times it was nearly lost in overgrowth. In some places, trees had fallen and we had to make our own path.
And still the rain wouldn’t let up. Was this the Biblical Deluge all over again? I began praying that God would send an ark to rescue us, or to at least take Flecha. I could find a way, but this was no place for a lame horse.
Finally, in a late afternoon storm that had me in tears, we lost the road altogether and I couldn’t find it again. I tried to keep forging a path, but Flecha limped and hobbled and finally would go no farther. I tugged at her bridle. I begged. I finally stumbled a little ways away and screamed, cursing God and everyone else I could think of. And I cursed myself and my own stupidity, too.
And it was while I was stomping around in the mud, tripping over rocks and fallen branches in the rain, that I found the sign.
I tried to clear the rain and tears out of my eyes and take a closer look. There was a trail here! There was no way of knowing where it led, but it had to go somewhere. I went back to Flecha, bound up her hoof again with the last scraps of my dress, and finally got her to continue.
The trail wound around, with the trees meeting overhead, almost like a tunnel. The ground was muddy but clear of debris, and everything was well-marked. Yes, someone used this path regularly. There really were other humans on this cursed planet! Finally we emerged out of the woods and saw before us a small cabin, and through the haze of rain, a lake.
Begging, pleading and promising, I led Flecha to the cabin door. It felt like the longest journey of my life. There was a light in the window, and it looked so warm and welcoming that I could only pray that whoever lived there would be kind, if not to me then at least to my horse.
I knocked on the door and waited.
Slowly, it opened. A man stood in the doorway, looking at me like I was some sort of apparition. I must’ve been quite a sight, bruised and muddy, my hair coming out of its braid in wet tangles. But what he thought of me wasn’t important. “Do you have a barn? My horse is lame and needs shelter. I can pay.”
“It looks like you could use some help, too.”
“I need a barn for my horse,” I said again.
His eyes wandered toward Flecha, then back to me. “Come inside and rest. I’ll put your horse up.”
I shook my head. I needed to see with my own eyes that she was bedded down safe and warm.
I guess my stubbornness showed, because the man put on a hat and coat against the rain, picked up a lantern and led me and Flecha to a small barn. It had two stalls, but one was being used as storage, and the other contained a donkey. My benefactor led the donkey away, and while he readied the stall for Flecha, I curried and brushed her, worked the tangles out of her mane and tail, and cleaned her hooves. The injured one still felt too warm, and I flushed it clean and checked for signs of thrush or swelling. I didn’t see anything too scary, but the heat and rapid pulse worried me.
“Is there a vet around these parts?” I asked.
“I’ll get someone out in here in the morning. Don’t worry.”
Don’t worry? That was easy for him to say. By now the stall was ready and I led Flecha in. The man gave me a blanket for her, and poured out a measure of oats. Boy, did her ears prick up at that! It was such a relief to see her freshly groomed, snug and warm in a proper stall with hay, oats and water, that I felt my knees buckle and I had to grab onto the stall door to keep from falling.
I turned around. “Just glad to see her safe.”
“You look like you could use a little of the same treatment.”
“A curry comb, oats and a blanket? Sounds good.”
“Come on. I’ll get you fixed up. I can bed the donkey down later.”
“No, let me help. You’ve been so nice. . .”
“What’s your name?”
I had been so intent on Flecha's welfare that I had forgotten to introduce myself! So I told him.
“Well, Diana, I’m going to have to insist. Come to the house with me.”
His name was Charles, and he took me back to the house, where he pumped some water and filled a tub so I could have a bath. He heated a couple of kettles of water to take the chill off, set out some soap and towels and left me in peace. I was so at the limits of my endurance that if he had undressed me, set me in the tub and bathed me like a child, I wouldn’t have thought a thing of it. By this point, modesty seemed ridiculous and the least of my worries.
But he left me alone and I soaked in the warm water, thinking I must be in a dream. I washed my hair, too, and as I was toweling off, there was a tap at the door, and when I looked out, a robe and a pair of dry socks had been left for me. They were warm, as if Charles had heated them in front of the fire, and even though they were a man’s clothes, too big for me, I snuggled into them and thought I must be in Heaven.
There was food and hot tea waiting for me at the kitchen table, and Charles sat with me, sipping a cup of tea and making light conversation that demanded nothing from me. And a good thing, since I had nothing to offer. I was beyond speech, beyond much of anything. I can’t even say what I ate or drank except that it was hot and my body craved it.
And then he put me to bed—a real bed of my own with mattress, pillow and quilts. He left an oil lamp burning and now he’s back out at the stable bedding down his donkey.
What a nice man. He seems to have only good intentions. If he wanted to take advantage, he probably would’ve done so already. But I’m so tired that honestly, I don’t know if I would care at this point. He could do as he pleased with me, and I think I wouldn’t mind, so long as I could have this soft pillow to rest my head on.
I don’t know why I’m even still writing. The pen won’t do what I want, and the words are blurring on the page. It seems too incredible that I’m warm and surrounded by soft things.
I’m going to get some sleep.
◄ Previous Entry
Next Entry ►