|Wood carving is a special feature in the magic realm of Ghost Horse Hollow.|
Farmer Jake MacKennon is the son of a Dryad Prince named Lord Ellevar.
In this selection you will meet two more wonderful characters.
“Evenin‘, boys,” the farmer called to his men. “Fine batch of wood you’ve got stacked there.”
As the primary caretaker of Ghost Horse Hollow, Jake praised every individual for his or her contribution to the upkeep of the place. His friends, Aaron Ray and Jonas White Hand, paused to wipe their brows. They scooped water into their cupped hands from a metal spigot before continuing their unofficial contest. Water droplets mixed with salty sweat dripped down their chins. These muscled farmhands would be hard-pressed to finish a second load of wood before Lady MacKennon rang the dinner bell.
Jake leaned his walking stick against the side of the barn, removed his outer jacket, and grabbed a third axe. As he turned his shoulders to a rough log, the farmer realized that he would have to apply himself, if he wanted to keep up with his two stout companions.
To MacKennon’s right stood Aaron Ray, whose chest was as round as the water barrel itself. At six-foot-six, Aaron was a formidable opponent in a fistfight or country brawl. Jake had found him, barely alive, washed up on the bleak, southern shores of the Muddy Jaygon. With his short, clipped hair, MacKennon had rightly guessed that Aaron Ray had been a leader in some sort of military gang in the ruined city on the far side of the river. He certainly had the scars to prove it.
Aaron’s ancestors had once been slaves on rich plantations in the Caribbean Islands long, long ago. The strong man walked tall, never forgetting his costly heritage; consequently, he could not abide prejudice or cruelty of any sort. The MacKennons had taken Aaron in as a member of their close family and had encouraged the fugitive to learn a highly respectable trade. Over time, Aaron had become invaluable to the homesteaders, because an inventive metalworker was nearly impossible to replace after the Time of Great Change.
“It’s about time you showed up for work,” Aaron chuckled.
“I heard your awful singing down by the creek and had to come put an end to it. You’re gonna kill those two dogs of yours with that ruckus,” Jake countered with a grin.
MacKennon knew full well that it was Aaron’s voice that had fashioned the work song. He was very fond of making up tunes and playing a battered, twelve-string guitar most evenings on the front porch. The homestead’s metalworker was accustomed to charming all the ladies with his sweet melodies and lively dance tunes. Aaron Ray could make donkeys bray and dogs howl right along with his music, particularly his two large Blue Tick hounds, Bugle and Belle. The dogs, ever at Aaron’s side, slouched against the tobacco barn in the lingering light, watching the kindling fall from the stumps with their chocolate-colored eyes.
|Jonas White Hand is Jake's closest friend and advisor, along with Aaron Ray.|
To MacKennon’s left, an equally tall man applied his strength to the task of splitting wood. Jonas White Hand’s axe sliced through a massive oak log like a table knife slicing through a stick of soft butter. His rhythmic swings resembled those of a warrior beating a drum, for Jonas was of Native descent. He wore elk-hide clothing with sliced bone buttons, which he had fashioned himself. His double-bladed knife was handcrafted, as well, from fine river flint. It had a rugged, deer-antler handle. What Jake appreciated the most about Jonas was his friend’s honesty. Though White Hand spoke very quietly, the sinewy man was not shy. He simply preferred to listen. His silence made some folks feel uneasy. Jonas was comfortable with himself, and that state of mind was all that concerned the Native warrior.
Unlike Aaron Ray, dogs did not choose to follow White Hand about the farm or into the woods. Jonas hunted alone. Occasionally, a black wolf with yellow eyes would visit him, like a whisper out of the forest. White Hand referred to Nightwolf as his teacher. Her enormous paw prints were unmistakable in the frosts of late March, when she made her early spring appearance beneath the willows of Crescent Moon Lake. Nightwolf never wore a collar. She was a free spirit, as wild as the wind.
“Rest a spell, I’ll take it from here,” MacKennon offered.
“Just getting started,” White Hand protested as he joined the fun. “You are too skinny and weak, like a sapling.”
“Listen, old man, you better let Jake have a go at it,” Aaron Ray taunted the Native warrior, never breaking his swing.
“Him? Let the Plow Man try to match my pace. I am younger than I look. The years have been unkind.”
Actually, the other men thought that Jonas appeared much younger than his fifty-five years. Only his hands, tough as leather, indicated his many decades of service to others and hard-earned wisdom. Outdoor living and a clear conscience had blessed White Hand with ageless form. His inner strength he attributed to the Creature Teachers and his devotion to walking a good pathway in life. Jonas wore two Red-tailed hawk feathers in his thick, black braid, which dropped to his waist, as a reminder to himself to stay on what he called the Good Red Road. The feathers had been a gift from Nightwolf. They represented both male and female instincts held in perfect balance, since the feathers had been shed from the left and right wings of a noble bird.
“Watch this axe fly,” MacKennon played along as he set up his first hunk of wood on a convenient stump.
Jake hacked the log clean in two. Looking over his shoulder, the farmer noticed his friend’s eyes filled with laughter. White Hand leaned his weight into his next blow and the chunk of oak before him divided neatly into four sticks of firewood. Jonas silently tapped a small doeskin pouch hanging at the base of his throat, reminding Jake that true power came from a man’s connection to all things.
“I’m just warmin’ up!” the farmer protested, recalling the first, and only, time he had glimpsed the sacred objects in White Hand’s Medicine bag. Jake had given Jonas an eagle talon that he had found on a rocky ledge on the side of Grandfather Mountain. The farmer remembered that the two friends had been deer-hunting on a cool October morning several years back. White Hand had briefly removed his Medicine bag to add the eagle claw to its contents. A scrap of buffalo hide, a wolf tooth, and a piece of torn red cloth, as well as tobacco and sage, had lain in White Hand’s outstretched palm. There were other items, but MacKennon knew better than to pry into Jonas’s spiritual path. Jake had tremendous respect for the Native warrior, for White Hand was not only the finest tracker and bow-hunter in all the Fairylands, but was also Jake’s closest advisor.
|The mountain stream where Jake MacKennon met with Old Spit. |
(Scroll down to #2 installment to meet the Coyote King's messenger.)
With a few more swings of his axe, the Plow Man decided to break the news to his trusted co-workers. “Gentlemen, the Coyote King has summoned me to the Dead Oak Tree this very evenin‘.” Jake drew in a deep breath and held it. To his left and right, axes hovered in mid-swing. “I dare not refuse. Tormac will be there,” the farmer continued flatly. MacKennon exhaled and waited.
“The Coyote King brings trouble to all. He should be playing tricks and making us laugh at ourselves so that harmony might be shared. Instead, this leader is greedy, like a hungry termite. He takes more than his share of the kill,” White Hand responded with his eyes on Jake.
The three men sank their axes into the logs before them as the wind rushed past the black walnut tree under which they stood. Gnarled, bare branches rattled and clawed at the darkening sky, while a mass of decaying leaves, rotten walnut husks, and bits of bark swirled upward from the ground. Bending down on one knee, White Hand read the omen that was scattered before the men of Ghost Horse Hollow.
“One day soon, the coyote pack will turn against their king,” Jonas warned.
“Jake, you’re going to need us tonight,” Aaron Ray commented as he sat down on his chopping stump. The big man placed his axe across his knees and rolled the long handle back and forth, toying with the sharp blade as it reflected the sunset’s brilliant light. Aaron waited patiently for MacKennon to speak.
“I won’t ask either of you to risk your life for me,” the farmer returned. “I’ll be takin‘ Panther. She can handle Tormac, and she can understand his strange speech.” Jake looked down at his boots. He was not sure how this decision would go over on the farm. Everyone loved his daughter. She was like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or perhaps the rainbow itself, always bringing hope to any situation. No one would care to see her in any danger. Still, she was the only one in Ghost Horse Hollow who could speak, read, and write Ancient Fairy Scroll. Like her mother before her, Panther MacKennon had agreed to complete a seven-year apprenticeship with Lady Titrimia, the Starlight Fairy Queen. Hannah’s childhood studies, unfortunately, had been interrupted by her disapproving family. Lady MacKennon had finished only four years of the rigorous training in the forest. Panther, however, had but one year to go before she graduated from fairy school.
Jake frowned, disappointed with himself for not being able to think of another option. His daughter was about to face Tormac, the most feared of all the Starlight Fairy offspring. The wily prince would be sure to use the Ancient Fairy Scroll at the meeting tonight, just to confuse and annoy MacKennon. Panther was the only member of the family who had the ability to translate their conversation—go, she must!
“Then we will be there,” Aaron said as he spun toward the farmer. “We won’t let the two of you face that mangy fur-tail alone. Ain’t that right, White Hand?” Jonas gave the farmer one of his piercing looks, like a falcon over a wheat field before it dives. Jake knew immediately that it was pointless to argue with his two allies. Besides, he welcomed their company and protection.
“All right, but it’ll be a bad job. Bring your axes,” MacKennon concluded. White Hand hefted his chopping tool and threw it cleanly, end over end, toward the side of the barn. With a swift thunk, it cracked a long board from top to bottom.
|The Coyote King is part wolf and part coyote. |
He is a powerful member of the Woodland Keepers.
“The Coyote King will hear the Ancestors laughing in his ears before the dawn star rises,” White Hand declared simply, as was his custom.
The iron dinner bell rang across the late November fields and neatly tended gardens, calling the workers to their evening meal. The three men rinsed their hands in the cold water from the spigot, before heading for the farmhouse on the next hill across from the old barn. Jake wondered how he was going to tell his wife about taking their slender daughter to face Tormac. Somehow, Hannah must be persuaded to let Panther go. The future of Ghost Horse Hollow—indeed the very lives of the homesteaders—hung upon her decision.
Hope you enjoyed the conclusion of Chapter II : A Terrible Decision. In the next installment of THE HOLLY KING, we shall meet some of the real Ghost Horses in the story and Jake's unusual wife Hannah ...