Ghost Horse Hollow ... because a Fantasy should last a lifetime!

Friday, December 02, 2011

THE HOLLY KING, a Family Holiday Tale #10

Our journey this holiday continues with the 10th episode of THE HOLLY KING.  We  are in the middle of Chapter IV: The Battle of the Ponies and the Hounds

White Hand has just received a very important letter ...

The second delivery intrigued the entire family, for Jonas had never received a letter before. White Hand hesitantly passed his envelope to Panther. The expert bowman was illiterate, for his schooling had been limited to the woodlands. Panther had agreed to teach White Hand to read in exchange for learning to speak his Native language. For now, he needed her help. Graciously, she opened the small packet and unfolded a yellow slip of paper, which had been hastily torn from a larger sheet and covered with green, plant juice ink. Panther was careful not to smudge the faint, child-like lettering. She cleared her throat, sat up straight, and read aloud:

This beautiful, young girl looks a lot like Salina Little Dove

           Grandfather … I come to you. My mother says I belong with you. I wish to learn the Old Ways. I will wait for you in the Valley of the Drums, near the hidden cave of our Ancestors. I will come before the Moon When Deer Sheds His Antlers. Please do not be angry with me. I would walk all the way to you, but I do not know the way. By the time this letter reaches you, I will have begun my journey. My stepfather will not keep me. I am afraid of him. He says I see too much.

 … Forever Yours …

Salina Little Dove

In the polite, but awkward, silence that followed, Panther noticed that the hounds on the back of her father’s chair had pricked up their ears and leaned forward. Other than this unintentional display of concern, MacKennon’s reaction to the letter was casual. The farmer scratched his chin. Jake’s wooden dogs always reflected his hidden emotions; as the carved ponies displayed Hannah’s passionate moods. The tops of Lady MacKennon’s chair pointed their sleek, pretty noses toward one another, their necks arched in graceful question marks.

Panther’s mother passed the blackberry jelly over to Addie and helped her youngest daughter with the sticky serving spoon. Everyone else continued eating quietly, except for Lyla Morning Sky, who mumbled something about castoff seeds returning to the sender. Panther squirmed in her seat with excitement.

“What hidden cave?” she asked aloud, scattering the collective tension like a dog shaking off the morning dew.

“It is a forgotten site that was once sacred to the People,” White Hand explained slowly. “From deep inside a limestone cavern, clear water gushes out of an underground spring. Medicine elders from many tribes are buried in the shelves of rock and in the open fields nearby. The grasslands are called the Valley of the Drums. The entranceway is hard to find, so buffalo still graze there, as they once did long ago. A group of young hunters, boys and girls of Panther’s age, known as the Wolf Society, have recently spotted a white buffalo calf in this Valley. The white buffalo is the most sacred creature for all the tribes. It is a sign that balance is returning to our world.”

The buffalo roam freely one hundred years
 in the future in the Valley of the Drums!

Lyla Morning Sky cleared her throat and added to the mystery of her brother’s explanation, “Tell Panther more about the history of the spring, White Hand. She should know of its power.”

“The spring is deep beyond measure,” the warrior continued with his arms crossed in front of his chest, as if he were protecting his heart. “Long ago, when the stars were bright in the night sky, a brave swimmer named Yellow Otter dove into the spring to find its depth. He never returned. It is said his spirit guards the cave and that his Medicine Bundle is still lodged inside. It is also said that this Medicine Bundle contains great wisdom to heal the Earth,” Jonas finished with a worried glance at his elder sister.

Panther tingled with curiosity. Lyla and Jonas were concealing something. Perhaps Yellow Otter’s Medicine Bundle was too sacred to discuss. Besides, she only knew of two other magic springs. One was called Elven Falls, where a magnificent brook cascaded down a series of flat limestone formations. The Fairy Queen had been very cautious when talking about this watercourse and had refused to visit the wondrous place. Seldom would Titrimia and her fair Green Maidens play near such a source of unbridled enchantment. Panther was also familiar with the Well of Brigga in the northeastern corner of the Fairylands. This icy fountain was famous for its restorative waters, a fluid so pure and vital that it cured any illness, even old age and fairy freezing spells, though no one had ever been able to capture a drop of the precious liquid. Panther had never heard of a sacred spring inside a cave that housed buried shamans.

Elven Falls houses a secret cave where spring water gushes into a mountain stream.
The Starlight Fairy maidens will not play there.
Occasionally a Moonlight Fairy of great power,
such as the Moonlight Fairy Princess, will hide there.

“But the Moon When Deer Sheds His Antlers is so soon!” The girl looked pleadingly from one end of the table to the other. Both Hannah and Jake immediately sensed that their daughter wished to accompany White Hand to find Salina Little Dove. Panther had already guessed correctly that her parents would be quite willing to rescue a desperate child.

“Will wonders never cease?” Hannah responded to Panther’s unspoken request. “Looks like the girls are finally going to have a friend to play with. I know this Hollow gets mighty lonesome. I suppose Panther will want to ride in the wagon to fetch Salina.” Hannah passed the gravy to Eli with a gesture for him to save some for others. “Jonas, just how old is your granddaughter?”

“Little Dove is entering her twelfth year. She was born in the Moon of Falling Leaves.” White Hand stared at his dinner plate. He seemed troubled and unwilling to say more.

Morning Sky cleared her throat once more and began removing the dirty dishes from the table. Gracie quietlyjoined the Medicine Woman in clearing the main course away and replacing it with spicy peach pie, blackberry cobbler, and apple dumplings.

“Jonas bears no love for Salina’s stepfather,” Lyla began in a serious tone as she placed a slice of pie in front of her brother. “Valente does not honor the wild creatures that he hunts. He sells the teeth and hides, but he does not eat the meat or use the bones. He shows little respect for Salina’s mother, as well. Tita has never been treated as an equal. He is violent in his home, like an angry badger. This has troubled White Hand and me for many years.”

Morning Sky clicked her tongue to encourage Pelbert to hop onto Addie’s shoulder. The little girl smiled and held up a bite of flaky crust for the bird to peck. Hannah, for once, was allowing the crow to eat at the table. She was too busy making a wordless decision with her husband. Lady MacKennon looked expectantly at the far end of the table. Jake leaned back in his chair and winked at his wife.

A log cabin surrounded by a split rail fence in the Smokey Mountains.

“We must make a place for Salina in the old log cabin with Jonas and Lyla. She can move into the empty storeroom under the sleeping loft,” Hannah announced cheerfully. “I’ll bring in the old sleigh bed, a nice rockin‘ chair, and a wash basin. That storeroom has a lovely bay window. We would all be pleased to have her on the farm. Ain’t that right, Jake?”

“Salina Little Dove would be most welcome,” MacKennon offered aloud. Panther’s father glanced at his eldest daughter’s eager expression. “Yep, you can go with White Hand, if’n you promise to behave yourself, and if’n it’s all right with Hannah.”

Lady MacKennon gave Panther one of her special, twinkling grins. The whole family began talking at once, such was their joy in anticipating another voice in Ghost Horse Hollow. The homesteaders did not hear the screen door slam as Black Bottom the Rooster strutted in. The chicken made his way toward the talkative table and crowed, announcing his presence. Everyone observed that Black Bottom’s tail feathers had been immaculately preened, and that his leg spurs had been polished with beeswax. The rooster approached Jake MacKennon’s chair with the air of a proud soldier reporting for duty.

“Ready for battle, sir.” Black Bottom lifted one of his bright yellow legs in a stiff salute. The great effort tilted the rooster off balance. He fell sideways with an awkward squawk while batting his wings. Miss Gracie leaned over politely and helped Black Bottom to his toes. She tried not to laugh at his disgrace, but could not help giggling into her napkin. Cousin Eli nudged her with his elbow and made a flapping gesture, and the two teenagers burst into laughter. Hannah thought it good to see Gracie brighten, for the girl’s mood these past few months had been nothing but tragic. Alma Barder was on top of the situation in a heartbeat, forever playing the lively matchmaker.

Black Bottom the Rooster was named for his Beautiful Tail Feathers!

“Bless my buttons! You two puppies can help me with the dishes later on,” the retired schoolteacher said, widening her eyes with anticipation. “Black Bottom, tell us all about this battle. Are you goin‘ fighting down at the Wish Wash Cafe again? Are the raccoons having another contest with all-you-can-eat crawdads as the prize?” Alma’s question caught MacKennon off guard. He turned suddenly toward the chicken with a warning glance, but Black Bottom was too fluffed up with self-importance to notice.

“Madame, I am joining the team of warriors attending Master Jake, our brave and noteworthy farmer. We are to face grave and terrible danger this night at the Dead Oak Tree, where Tormac and the Coyote King await us,” the rooster replied gallantly. “Pelbert the Crow has informed the barnyard that a certain young lady, namely Miss Genevieve of the Honey-Hair, is to serve the party of valiant, but foolhardy, warriors as an interpreter. This is a fact which Pelbert the Crow received from very reliable sources, otherwise known as Bugle and Belle, the esteemed hounds of Master Aaron Ray.”

Pelbert let out a squeaky whistle and hid within the folds of Morning Sky’s loose shawl. Hannah gasped in stunned surprise. Jake threw a hunk of cold cornbread at the rooster’s head, but Black Bottom quickly ducked and popped his wings.

“I guess Jake ain’t told her yet,” Aaron said as he looked intently at White Hand. Both men artfully excused themselves from the table to continue their evening chores. The dishes suddenly needed washing very badly by several people, and Panther thought it was a most excellent idea to give her little sister a bath. Within a few hurried moments, the long benches on either side of the trestle table were empty. Hannah and Jake, whose ponies and hounds were alternately neighing and barking, stood stubbornly facing one another down the length of the cluttered table.

As Panther slipped out of the kitchen with Addie by her side and Glowgold flitting along behind, she wondered what Black Bottom had meant about her serving as an interpreter for Tormac. She had never met the Autumn Fairy Prince. Now her Wind-sight visions from earlier that day were beginning to make sense. The Starlight Fairy Queen had disliked her third son’s volatile temper and had rarely allowed him to address the royal court. Panther decided to put her sister to bed as soon as possible and then listen to her parents’ heated conversation from the top of the stairs in the front hall. Hannah and Jake rarely fought except upon occasion when they had a significant difference of opinion. Tonight’s disagreement promised to be a doozie.

“Come along, Glowgold,” Panther whispered. “I don’t want to miss this.”

“By the sound of it, My Little Firefly, no one will miss this fight. I shall see to Miss Adeline’s bath and put her to bed for you. Meet you on the stairs.”

“Why can’t I stay up and listen?” Addie complained to her favorite fairy.

“You are entirely too young for such an altercation,” said Sir Finnias, waving his wand.

Luka Shen, the eldest of the Green Fairy Maidens, looks a bit like this image from Bing.
Luka Shen was always jealous of Lady Hannah MacKennon.

While Glowgold went on to explain the meaning of altercation to Addie and whisk her into a bubble bath, Panther took her place at the top of the first flight of stairs in the MacKennon home. Already, sparks were flying around the corner of the hall below. The girl could distinctly hear the rooster trying to fit inside her mother’s cookie jar, as was his usual habit during a quarrel of any sort. She heard the jar crash to the floor, and then a befuddled black chicken wandered out of the kitchen.

“Up here!” Panther whispered loudly.

“Coming, Miss Genevieve,” Black Bottom responded amiably. Panther grinned, remembering how her feathered friend was afraid of all cats, let alone big ones.

“You did say Tormac and the Coyote King?” she inquired.

“Indeed, Miss Genevieve. Your skills are needed, and much adventure is afoot. But first, we must await the outcome of the Battle of the Ponies and the Hounds!”

Join our blog tomorrow for the next installment of THE HOLLY KING.
We shall begin Chapter V : The Cloak of Wheels!

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