Leedia’s Page

Young Aidan dreams of having his own horse. But when Damon’s horse is killed, he’s going to have to put his dreams on hold as he struggles to figure who is killing the horses!  A mystery set in Ashford Castle, Ireland, Dying Flames will keep you entertained on a quiet evening!

Dying Flames                  by Leedia Litvin

The young Thoroughbred’s eyes snapped open when the trailer came to a halt. She heard human voices getting close. The filly flinched when the doors creaked open.

“Hey there, Flame,” said her owner. “Easy girl. Easy.”

Flame gazed at the grand building towering above her as the man snapped a lead on her halter. There was a blonde girl in her early twenties standing nearby with a broad smile on her face. Her blue eyes lit up as she saw Flame staring at her.

“Welcome to Ashford Castle, Mr. Finnigan! I’m Lee and this must be Flame. You weren’t kidding when you said that she’s gorgeous. Look at how the sun is reflecting off her red coat! She will be a fine addition to the stables of Ashford Castle.” Said the girl appreciatively. “Tell me, how old is she?”

“This fine young lady is 4 years old. She’s very well-trained with an English saddle but she still needs an experienced rider because of her sensitivity. I’ve been told that she is a gift to one of the stable hands here as a personal riding horse and that she will be well taken care of. They have assured me that this stable hand is very experienced and can handle even ornery horses. I hope I haven’t been lied to.” He said with a meaningful glance.

As soon as he stopped talking, a whole group of people ran out yelling, “Surprise!!”

Lee was swept up in a young man’s arms. “Happy birthday, Lee!!” As Lee squealed in his arms, Flame snorted and side-stepped at the sound. Her sensitive ears twitched back and forth.

Mr. Finnigan instantly reacted, “Easy girl, easy girl. There, there lass.”

The young man looked over at Flame apologetically. “Oh oops, sorry Mr. Finnigan!  So Lee, what do you think of her? She’s for you, you know. My dad finally decided to let you have your own horse.” He said as his eyes stared earnestly at Lee’s expression. She looked dumbstruck as if she was struck by lightning.

“She’s really for me, Damon?” she breathed.

“Yes, she is. She’s that personal mount that you always wanted to get. No guest can ride her unless you give them permission.” Damon replied with a smile on his face.

“I, uh, better take her to the barn and get her settled in.” Lee said as she shook herself out of her stupor.

“You should take her to the paddock and let her run around for a while. I’m pretty sure that Panther and Jaguar won’t mind a new visitor. Hey, if Jaguar gets along with Flame, then maybe we can go riding together!” Damon suggested.

“I would like that.” She said with a huge grin on her face. Lee took Flame’s lead, thanked Mr. Finnigan and walked towards the back of the castle. Mr. Finnigan smiled after her, then climbed in his truck and drove away.

A young stable boy stared after the truck, wishing that it contained a horse for him. God, that horse is beautiful. She doesn’t deserve her. No, she doesn’t, but I do! He thought as he continued to stare.

He flinched as Damon slapped him on the back.

“Aidan, if you don’t stop that staring, I’m going to start thinking that you’re making eyes at my girl.” Damon said playfully.

Aidan looked at him. “Oh, believe me; I’m not making eyes at Lee. I’m making eyes at Flame. That is one gorgeous horse! Man, I would kill for a horse like that!”

Damon chuckled softly at his little brother. He ruffled Aidan’s hair as he said, “Don’t let Panther hear you say that or he’ll throw a fit!”

“Panther is great and all, but he’s not mine. That’s the problem.” He said sadly.

“Oh don’t you worry lad, your time will come. When I was your age, I had to ride old Ironhide. He was a wonderful mount, but I was never satisfied until I got Jaguar.” Damon said as he gazed at the place that Lee turned with Flame and disappeared behind the castle.

“Yeah, but I’ve been working my butt off ever since I was old enough to hold a brush! They had the money to buy this place from Old Man Jenkins and yet they won’t buy me my own horse.” Aidan said with a bitter edge in his voice.

“That’s because you have to earn your horse, you numbskull! In fact, I heard that a good way to start doing that is to go get the horses from the paddocks. It’s getting late. Go on, you.” Said Damon. He playfully shoved Aidan in the direction of the castle. Aidan looked up at the sky ad saw that Damon was right. The sky was turning red as the sun slowly climbed into bed. He looked around and noticed that everyone was already off to finish their chores, including Damon.  He loped to the paddocks where he saw Flame, Panther, and Jaguar grazing peacefully. He marveled at how Panther and Jaguar’s black coats made Flame’s coat even redder.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” a voice said behind them. Aidan jumped at the sound as Alannah came up to him. She was one his mother’s closest friends and was an excellent cook. Though she was technically a cook, she still helped out with the horses whenever she had free time.

“Yes, they are,” he replied. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping out in the kitchen for dinner? You know how antsy the guests get when they don’t get dinner on time.”

“Yes, I know!” she said playfully. “Young whippersnapper, acts like he knows everything.”

She reached out and tweaked his ear. Aidan twisted away from her cold fingers and stuck out his tongue at her. They both laughed and he ran into the barn, grabbed two leads, and came back to the paddock. He carefully opened the gate and clicked his tongue at Panther. The older gelding looked up at him. He nickered and trotted to the boy. It was obvious how much the horse loved him as he lowered his head to let Aidan snap the lead on his halter. Aidan dropped the rope and told Panther to stay. He slowly walked to Flame, clicking his tongue gently. Flame’s head snapped up and her eyes stared warily at him. He calmly walked to the side of her and held out his hand. The young filly stretched out her head and gently touched her nose to his hand. She stepped forward and sniffed his hair. While she was doing that, Aidan expertly snapped the lead to her halter. Surprised, Flame tried to pull away but was held fast by his firm grip.

“Good girl,” he said as he patted her neck. “I’ll be back for you next, Jaguar!” he called as he started walking towards the gate. He picked up Panther’s lead and walked both horses to the barn.

The barn was bustling with activity as horses were being brought in from the evening ride. Aidan saw Lee brushing down Symphony, her milk-chocolate coat matted with patches of sweat and dirt. He nodded at her and put Panther and Flame in their stalls. Damon ran up to him, breathing hard.

“Aidan! It’s Ironhide. He’s awful sick. You’re good with ill horses; go take a look at him.” He said as he tried to catch his breath. “He’s in his stall, on his side, and he won’t get up!”

Never before has he ever seen his older brother look so afraid. “Alright, don’t panic. Why don’t you go get Jaguar and Lioness from their paddocks for me and I’ll go take a look. Stay calm alright? For the horses’ sake.”

Nodding frantically, Damon snatched the lead ropes out of his hand and raced outside. Shaking his head at him, Aidan jogged to Ironhide’s stall. The sight of the tall gelding near broke his heart. The horse was on the ground, breathing raggedly. He hurried in and ran his hands over Ironhide’s body.  Aidan’s head hung. It was too late for Ironhide. It looked like a very severe case of colic. How am I supposed to tell Damon about this? He thought sadly.

He looked up as Damon ran in. “Well? What’s wrong with him?” Seeing Aidan’s face told him all he needed to know. His eyes blurred as tears formed in his eyes. Damon slowly walked into Ironhide’s stall and cradled the horse’s big head in his lap. The horse gave him a weak nicker, took one last breath and closed his eyes as if he was waiting for Damon to come and say good-bye. He wept uncontrollably. Aidan felt like he was spying on a private moment and not knowing what do, went to finish his chores.

He slowly trudged to the paddock that had Bonfire and River. The two geldings were standing next to each other, their eyes closed in peaceful bliss. The sight of them was a painful reminder of how Ironhide did that just yesterday. Aidan sighed and got the two horses. He sadly led them to their stalls. Seeing that both Bonfire and River were dirty, he began brushing them, starting with Bonfire. As he ran the brush across Bonfire’s red back, he calmed down and his thoughts settled.

Sudden footsteps jarred him out of his mind-wandering. He looked up to see Lee with Bonfire’s feed bucket.

“Did you hear?” he asked.

She shrugged with tears in her eyes. “Yeah, I heard. I can’t believe that Ironhide is gone… He was the horse that taught me everything about riding. He was my first unofficial horse. What happened? How’s Damon holding up?” She asked as she poured the feed into the trough. Bonfire eagerly began eating.

“See for yourself. He’s probably still in Ironhide’s stall. You know, Damon already noticed that Ironhide was off earlier today. But he thought it was due to the fact that Ironhide went on the evening ride yesterday and was probably just tired. He left him in his stall and that’s why we didn’t catch it sooner. He had colic. Maybe one of the guests fed him something. Argghh if only I caught it sooner, I could’ve saved him!”  He snarled with torment in his eyes. Bonfire looked up from his food at Aidan. His ears twitched and he went back to his oats.

Lee stepped back warily.  “I know that you’re upset but don’t take it out on poor Bonfire! The way you’re going, you’re going to wear a hole in his coat!” She joked.

Aidan stepped back and ran his eyes over his work. “Yeah you’re right. I’m going to brush River. Anyone else need brushing? ” He said finally.

“No, but Kenneth loudly suggested that he might need some help with cleaning tack. I was thinking of helping but I think I should see if Damon is okay first.” Lee answered. “I’m going to go see him right now.”

Lee knew that Aidan wasn’t very fond of her and she figured that she should leave him be. She walked down the aisle of stalls until she got to Ironhide’s stall. The body was still there. Damon was still sitting with Ironhide’s head in his lap and faced the stall door. His hands paused stroking Ironhide’s neck when he heard her coming but he didn’t look up at the sound of her footsteps.

“His stall smells like chocolate.” He said suddenly. He lifted his right hand. The hand was smeared liquidy brown. “Somebody fed my horse chocolate. Some idiot killed my horse!” He said, his voice shaking with rage. Lee stared at him coolly and then walked away. She went to Flame’s stall and sat down in the corner. Flame took a step back from her. She stared at her with her chocolate brown eyes completely oblivious to what happened.

Aidan finished brushing River’s coat and went to see Kenneth, one of the older grooms. He could’ve been a star horse trainer if he wanted to but Ashford Castle was his home. The old man was sitting in the tack room cleaning a saddle while humming an old country song. He looked up at Aidan’s mournful face and sighed. “Feels like Cobra all over again.”

“Yeah,” Aidan agreed. “It was only a few weeks ago right?”

“Yep, it was. Cobra was also acting a little off and then in the morning we found him, dead. You know, that week wasn’t going my way already. Lee got angry at me for not letting her go to town, guests were complaining, and then I lost Cobra. ” He sighed. Lee and Kenneth were close. He was like a father to her. Whenever she got angry at him, it always upset him.

Cobra was his personal mount just like Jaguar was to Damon. Kenneth worked hard for him and loved him with all his being. In fact, he didn’t get a new horse yet even though Aidan’s father offered him.

“Have there been any deaths before Cobra? I’m a little foggy on the details.” Aidan asked. He sat down beside the old man and grabbed a bridle to clean.

“Well, there was only one other. Her name was Sky. She was a really good horse but had a temper. It was around the time when Lee arrived. In fact, I remember that Sky bit her once. Ha-ha! Lee didn’t look very happy about that! But then, she wasn’t very cheerful until Damon asked her out. That boy just about saved her.” He said as he finished cleaning his saddle.

“Yeah,” he said. “Man, she was bratty when she first came here! But do you know why?”

“She told me. But she told me in confidence which means that I’m not going to tell you.” Kenneth replied with a pointed glance at Aiden. They fell silent as Lee came in and wordlessly took the last saddle that needed cleaning. She looked at them suspiciously and began scrubbing at the saddle.

Aidan finished cleaning his bridle and walked off without a word. He wasn’t comfortable in Lee’s presence. He decided to go see what Damon was up to. Coming up to the stall, he saw people with blue jumpsuits dragging out Ironhide’s body. A gorgeous German shepherd trotted to him and licked his face.

“Hey, Shark,” he said as he patted the dog’s soft head fur. He looked around for his father. Brian was rarely seen without Shark. The two were inseparable ever since Aidan’s mother died. Shark was originally his mother’s dog. In fact, his father was against getting a dog, but his mother being what she was, he caved. They ended up getting Shark from a local breeder and he was with the family ever since.

Aidan finally saw his father talking to a man clad in a blue jumpsuit but he had an air about him that suggested he was the leader of the crew. He also saw Damon standing next to the stall, out of the way, but close enough to keep Ironhide in his sight. His eyes were bloodshot and his 22 year old face looked like it aged a few extra years.

Aidan gave Shark one more pat on the head and walked up to his father, Shark following close behind him.

“Ah, Aidan!” Brian boomed. “Luke, this is Aidan my younger son.” He gestured towards the man he was talking to.

Luke extended a hand. “Hello, nice to meet you. I wish we met under better circumstances. I’m with the dog food company. Your father here decided that Ironhide would do better good feeding the nation’s dogs than rotting in a hole.”

Aidan nodded. “I see….but Dad, what about Damon? What did he say about this? Surely he’s not okay with this!”

“I did tell him, son. But he told me in a dull voice that I should do what I think is right and I happen to think that this is right. Oh, and Aidan, would you go horse-shopping with me? I’m afraid your mother was the one with the expertise and I handled the business side of things. We can’t be short one horse. The horses we have now can barely keep up with the flood of guests we’ve been having. I was already thinking of getting some new horses but Ironhide’s death forced me to do it sooner.”

“I would, Dad, but Kenneth wants me to ride from the rear of the group all day tomorrow. Lee is going to exercise the horses that are staying behind and muck out the stalls. And Jimmy is sick.” Aidan replied.

Luke shook his father’s hand once more and ran to his truck. The workers already stored Ironhide’s body in the truck.

His dad thoughtfully stroked Shark’s head for a minute and then turned around and called Damon over.

“Yeah, Dad?” he asked as he walked over.  His eyes were dull and he looked like he didn’t sleep last night.

“I want you to take Aidan’s place in the group rides tomorrow. He’s going with me to pick out some new horses and Kenneth needs a rear rider. It’ll help you keep your mind off of all this.”

Damon sighed. “Alright, I guess. What kind of horses are you thinking of getting?”

“Thoroughbred, of course!” Brian exclaimed. “I grew up with them and rarely had a problem. Besides, they give the guests a sense of finery.”

“Well okay. I better get to bed if I want to be able to wake up in the morning. Good night. Love you, Dad.” Damon gave his father a hug, a slap on the shoulder to Aidan, and shuffled off to the castle. His head hung low, but his gait was a little more energetic.

“I think we all should go to bed. I want an early start tomorrow.” Brian said with a yawn. He walked off in Damon’s direction with Shark dutifully trotting at his heels. Aidan said good night to his father and wandered to Panther’s stall. At the sound of his footsteps, the black horse stuck his head out over the stall door. He nickered and nuzzled Aidan’s hand. Aidan walked into his stall and leaned into the horse’s body. Panther was warm, his coat as smooth and soft as silk. The familiar smell of horse and hay made Aidan drowsy. He gave Panther one last pat and went to bed, calling good night to Jim and Eddy, the two grooms that were still finishing their chores.

The next morning Aidan woke to a beautiful sunrise. He and his father woke too early for the kitchen staff to make them breakfast. They piled into their truck that was hitched to a trailer, yelling good mornings to the grooms that had to feed the horses. Aidan saw Damon walk into the barn with Jaguar. His brother looked like he was in higher spirits than last night and he figured it was because Damon had something to keep his mind off of Ironhide. Aidan looked at the pastures and saw Lee letting Flame go graze with Symphony, the old mare that went on the evening ride and therefore earned a rest. Their figures grew smaller and smaller as Brian drove the Silverado out of the driveway.

They stopped at Mr. Finnegan’s farm, Dancing Star Stables. Aidan heard that Mr. Finnegan named the stables after his first horse. The white horse was a legend in their part of Ireland. Dancing Star was a fantastic jumper and had a very calm temperament. Mr. Finnegan was lucky enough that Dancing Star passed on his great qualities to his foals and grand-foals. In fact, Jaguar was one of Dancing Star’s grand-foals that were supposed to be jumpers. Jaguar’s dam was a star jumper too but fortunately for Damon, Jaguar failed to inherit either of his parents’ jumping traits. He turned out to be an average horse that wasn’t very glamorous which was fine for Damon.

Brian and Aidan were met with a cheerful greeting from Mr. Finnegan. He was always happy to see them because whenever they did visit, they always bought a horse.

“How are my best customers?” Mr. Finnegan asked as he eagerly shook Brian’s hand.

“Well, we’re fine. But I’m afraid tragedy struck Ashford Castle once more. Ironhide is dead.” Brian replied sadly.

“Now that is a darn shame!” Mr. Finnegan answered. “That horse was one of the best I ever trained! He was a real winner in his jumping days. It’s a shame that he’s gone. Did you bury him? I’d like to pay my respects to the old fellow.”

“No, I decided to give his body to the meat factory. I figured that his body would do more good feeding the nation than rotting in a hole somewhere. It sounds mean, I know, but sometimes you got to be practical.” Brian replied as he patted Shark’s head.

“I understand. Though I would’ve liked to say good-bye….” The man shook his head and smiled. “Well never mind about the past. Did you come here to let me know about Ironhide or is there something else? I’m afraid I’m too busy for socializing. Got a bunch of yearlings to train.”

“Oh, we’re sorry to bother you but we were hoping that you were selling some horses. Our stable is getting empty and the castle is getting full of guests. We’ve lost three horses so far. Horses that we really needed.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I’m afraid that I’m not selling any horses right now. Maybe if you come in a few months I might have some trained yearlings for you. Flame was my last one. Everyone else around here are stallions, broodmares, and foals. Why don’t you try the farm a few miles from here? I went over there not too long ago and his horses are looking great! I’m actually considering breeding some of my stallions to his mares.”

Aidan’s father nodded his thanks, received the directions to the farm, and they climbed back into the truck.

As they arrived at the farm, Aidan noticed that below the sign that said “Horseshoe Farms”, there was a missing person poster of a young girl only a year or two younger than Lee. The girl looked strangely a lot like Lee. As he pondered that, the truck rumbled to a stop. A young man a little older than Damon came running towards them.

“Welcome! What can I do for you folks? Oh, hey boy!” he exclaimed as Shark trotted up to him and gave him a sniff. Shark, being satisfied with what he found out, accepted a pat on his head and returned to Brian’s side.

“We were hoping that you might have some horses for sale. I want to get three. I assure you that they will be well taken care of and will be used for trail-riding and whatnot at my guest resort, Ashford Castle.” Brian replied with a business-like tone.

“Oh, then let me get my dad. He’s the one that’s in charge of that.” The boy said and loped off to a nearby building that was obviously his house. Aidan took the chance to look around. There was a paddock by the house and he saw a group of horses grazing quietly. They were adults and obviously Thoroughbred. The majority of the horses were bay. Aidan walked over to the fence and leaned on it. Some of the horses looked up at him but quickly went back to grazing. The sheen of their coats told him that they were recently groomed and probably ridden.

A deep-throated “Hello!” made Aidan turn around and see an older man about Brian’s age walk up to his father followed by the young man. While the men talked Aidan and the boy introduced themselves to each other.

The young man was about the same age as Aidan and he introduced himself as Lucas.

“Lucas, why don’t you take Aidan here and show him around?” Lucas’s father said.

“Don’t worry about helping me pick out horses Aidan. Danny is a reliable man and he can help with the choosing. You go on and enjoy yourself.” Brian added.

Lucas and Aidan set off on the tour around the property, while letting the men talk in private. The horses in the paddocks were beautiful and Aidan was already making a mental list of the horses that he liked.

“Lucas, can I ask you something?” Aidan asked suddenly, breaking the amiable silence between the boys.

“Shoot.” He replied.

“Who’s that girl on the missing poster? I saw it as we drove in and she looks oddly familiar.”

Lucas’s face darkened but nonetheless he answered,” That’s my sister, Lee, when she was my age a couple of years ago. Our family was pretty happy. My grandma lived with us and helped us with the farm. She was a great horsewoman. She and Lee were really close until what I call The Event happened. My grandma was training a young horse that was particularly aggressive and she was trying to tame him. We called him Wild Thing. Wild Thing was notorious around the stable for his bites and kicks. Every groom had at least one bruise on their backside from him. The only reason why we didn’t put him down was because he was an excellent jumper. My grandma was determined to tame him but he refused to listen. Every day Grandma would come to dinner with bruises from bites and kicks. Then one day, Wild Thing had enough. Lee was watching close by because she was getting worried about how incredibly mean Wild Thing was getting. Lee called to Grandma to ask her a question and as her back was turned, Wild Thing stopped loping and just trampled her to death. He kept rearing and making these horrible sounds that I have never heard a horse make. Grandma didn’t have a chance. Lee ran to the house and got a gun. She shot Wild Thing over and over again until he looked like a horsey piece of Swiss cheese. After that, Lee hated horses. Eventually, she couldn’t take this place anymore and she ran away.” As Lucas finished, he looked hard at Aidan. He shrugged as if he didn’t care what Aidan thought of him, as long as he got it off his chest he was okay.

Aidan stayed silent for a while, not knowing what to say. What could he say to a story like that? He decided to change the subject and asked Lucas about the horses.

They rounded the property and the men were coming into view. Lucas had to go do something for a groom and Aidan walked alone. Lucas’s father looked like he was upset and didn’t even notice Aidan. He quickly went to the side of a barn that was close by and stopped within earshot of them but out of sight.

“She still doesn’t want to come home?” Lucas’s father asked sadly.

“No, but she seems to be adjusting. I even got her a horse. She’s a chestnut Thoroughbred named Flame. Lee seemed pretty happy. I think she’s better off where she is.” Brian said in a voice that Aidan could hear was strained.

Lucas’s father sighed and said,” So since you already brought the cash and the trailer, I guess you can take the horses right now if you wanted to. Say, why do you need new horses anyway? Last time I came to your barn a couple of months ago you had a full stable!”

Brian shook his head sadly. “We lost three horses so far. All we can make of it was that the horses were fed chocolate. But I know for a fact that chocolate doesn’t kill that fast! I’m at my wit’s end.”

Danny cocked his head thoughtfully and replied,” Around the time that my mother died, I began losing horses too. They were mainly the bad apples that I was trying to train so I wasn’t that worried. But then Lee’s horse died. The only clue that I could find was the smell of chocolate. I asked Lee about it and she got upset and chewed me out. In the morning, she ran off.”

“I think I’m going to have a talk with Lee when we get back. Anyways, thanks for all your help, Danny.” Brian shook Danny’s hand and looked around. “Say, where do you think Lucas took Aidan?”

At that moment Aidan decided to show himself. He pretended to wander around, his eyes looking at the barn. “Oh hey dad, so which horses did you get? Lucas had to go do something so I started walking back.”

“Well, Danny’s grooms are off getting the new horses so I won’t spoil the surprise but I will tell you their names: Riptide, Tempest, and Coral.” Brian answered with a glance at Danny.

Danny shrugged at Aidan’s puzzled look. “We classify each group of foals that were born at the same time into themes to help us keep track of them. The group that your horses are in was a really big one so we picked the theme “ocean”.”

“Oh, I see. So when are they coming?” Aidan asked.

Danny silently pointed behind Aidan. He turned around and saw three magnificent horses approaching him. They had a beautiful gait and were walking politely beside the grooms leading them. One was glossy black, the second was a stormy gray like Ironhide but with a lighter color, and the last was pure white.

“Wow.” He said under his breath. Brian chuckled at Aidan and went to open the trailer they hitched to their truck. As the horses were led inside, he said their names out loud: Riptide for the black one, Tempest for the stormy gray, and Coral for the white one. Aidan saw that Riptide and Tempest were male, while Coral was female.

“They’re awesome.” Aidan gushed at his father. They thanked Danny and got in the truck. Shark crawled in from the back and sat in the middle of the cab.

“I’m glad you like them, Aidan.” He said as he maneuvered out of the driveway. “So what did you hear?”

“What?” Asked Aidan in surprise.

“When you were eavesdropping on me and Danny. What did you hear? Don’t worry, I’m not mad. I’m just curious what you managed to hear.” He looked at Aidan with amusement.

“Well, I heard you talking about Lee.” Aidan paused. “And Lucas told me about what happened. Dad, I think that she’s the one behind all the killings! Kenneth told me about how Sky bit Lee and the next day she ended up dead! Then Lee got angry at Kenneth and the next day, Cobra was dead. And I will bet that Ironhide probably bit her too and that’s why she killed him! What Lucas told me and what Danny told you just adds more evidence that points to her!” Aidan exclaimed, glad to let it all out.

Brian inclined his head thoughtfully as he rubbed Shark’s head with his free hand. “You have a good point, that’s true. But how does she kill them? Chocolate alone isn’t going to kill a horse.”

“No, but I intend to find out. I’m going to spend the night in Panther’s stall to see if she tries anything.” Aidan said firmly, a plan quickly forming in his head.

“Alright, you do that,” said Brian. “I just hope you’re wrong.” He shook his head sadly.

Aidan didn’t say anything. He understood how wounded his father must feel. Shark, sensing Brian’s sadness, whined and leaned against him with his head in Brian’s lap.

They pulled into the road surrounded by trees. The trees created a kind of fence around the property and kept the place private. The truck ambled down the road until they saw the castle looming over them.

Jim and Eddy, the stable grooms, ran to the truck. They were told about the new arrivals before Brian and Aidan left that morning. The two men were already holding three lead ropes, barely containing their excitement. Their faces lit up with awe when Brian opened the trailer door. The three horses stood calmly, looking at the people expectantly. Riptide snorted and stamped his hoof impatiently.

“Well!” Aidan cried playfully, making Jim and Eddy jump. “You heard Riptide. He wants out!”

Obediently, Jim and Eddy put halters on all three. Jim took Coral, who was the last one to be led in, first. He began leading her to the stables, calling to Eddy and Aidan to take the other two to the stalls between Symphony’s and Bonfire’s.

Aidan took Tempest and marveled at the beauty of his coat. Eddy snapped the lead on Riptide’s halter and led him out. The setting sun reflected on his coal-black coat making it gleam with blue highlights. Aidan and Eddy began heading towards the stables while Aidan’s father took the truck back to its place.

“So any excitement today while I was gone?” Aidan asked.

“Well, it was pretty funny. Lee was cooling Flame down when Kenneth yelled at Jim for a poor job at mucking the stalls. When they got close, Flame saw Kenneth waving his arms and got spooked. She reared and knocked Lee down. Lee fell right into a pile of horse poop. Hahaha! She didn’t look very happy about that. Man, that just made my day. They were both okay of course but man, I just about split my sides laughing. Damon seems okay. I think he’s moving on from Iroonhide’s death. We all are.” Eddy replied somberly. He chuckled under his breath at the memory of Lee falling in horse poop.

Aidan didn’t find this funny at all. It meant that Flame was in danger! Thank goodness he figured out that she was the culprit. Looks like Panther is going to have a new roommate, he thought with a grim smile.

“You okay?” Eddy asked with a concerned look on his face.

“Yeah, I’m just tired, thanks. I had to wake up a little earlier than usual. Not to mention that I’m hungry as a bear! Do you think Allanah started dinner yet?” Aidan asked.

Eddy shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been busy doing your chores and mine. Man, its weird how there’s so much extra work when we’re short only one person.”

They walked in companiable silence and put the new horses in their stalls. Aidan had dinner and made a point of showing that he was going to bed. Everyone wished him a good night except his father, who nodded with understanding in his eyes. Aidan grabbed a blanket and a pillow and made his way to Panther’s stall. He took his iPod with him to help keep him from falling asleep.

Panther welcomed his company with a nicker and a nuzzle to his chest. Aidan settled himself in the corner of the stall and began playing games. Panther lied down and leaned his head on Aidan’s lap. Surprised at this show of affection, Aidan stroked the animal’s shiny neck gently and went back to his games.

A few hours later, when his iPod already died, he heard footsteps. They were light but angry. In the moonlight, a slim figure passed him. He instantly knew who it was. Lee! He quietly stood up, Panther already moved to a different sleeping position in his sleep. Trying really hard not to wake Panther, he unlatched the stall door and tip-toed towards the figure, careful to stay in the shadows.

“You wretched thing! You made a laughingstock out of me and now you’re going to pay! Just like Sky, Cobra, Ironhide, and all the others did!” Lee hissed angrily. The strong smell of milk chocolate filled Aidan’s nostrils. Lee stepped into Flame’s stall.

Desperate to stop her, he screeched, ”NOOO!!! Get away from her!” He raced to the stall to see Flame rear up in fear. She stabbed her forelegs forward and hit Lee on the head. Aidan heard the sickening crunch of her skull and she fell to the ground. Blood oozed from her wound and she breathed raggedly. Aidan stood frozen, not knowing what to do. Flame touched down on the ground and one of her hooves landed on Lee’s throat. Surprised, Flame backed off and stared at Lee, the whites of her eyes showing. Lee took a final gurgling breath and sighed a deep sigh, as if her soul left her body.

A snort from Flame shook Aidan out of his stupor and he cautiously came to Lee’s side. He felt her wrist for a pulse but there was none. He sighed tiredly and whispered in her ear, “I hope you found peace wherever you are, Lee.” He stood up and went to Flame. He slowly stroked her neck until she calmed down. Flame’s eyes calmed and she turned to pull at some hay from her hay net. Her jaws worked to chew it.

Aidan gave Flame one last pat and hurried to the castle. He ran to his father’s room and woke him up.

“Dad, wake up. Wake up. It was Lee. She was the one behind the horse killings but something happened. You got to come see.” He whispered.

Brian stood up without a word. He pulled on a bathrobe and followed Aidan to the stables. They turned on the lights and stopped at Flame’s stall. Lee still lay there. Her blood soaked the straw surrounding the stall.

“What happened?!” Brian cried with fear in his eyes. “Did you do this?”

“No, I didn’t, I swear!” Aidan protested. “She was going to kill Flame but I yelled and spooked Flame. She reared and hit Lee on the head. When she touched down, one of her hooves landed on Lee’s throat and that’s what killed her.” He looked at his father earnestly, desperate to make him believe that he wasn’t a murderer.

Brian ran a hand through his hair. He rubbed his eyes and said, “We’re going to have to call the police.”

“But what about Flame? Won’t they want to put her down since she killed somebody?” Aidan asked with fear.

“Don’t worry son, I won’t let them.” Brian promised. “Besides it was an accident.” He put his hand on Aidan’s shoulder. “I think you earned a horse, son. If you want her, Flame is yours.”

Aidan’s eyes lit up. “You mean it? She’s mine?”

“Yep, if you want her. Now I got to go make a phone call.” As Brian turned to leave, Aidan saw tears glistening in his eyes. He wondered how Damon was going to take this. Never mind, he thought. He finally got the horse he was waiting for all his life. Aidan stepped over Lee’s body and came to Flame’s side. She looked at him with her chocolate brown eyes and then looked down on the floor. He saw the piece of milk chocolate and picked it up. He smelled it and an acrid smell hit his nostrils. Rat poison! I’ll tell Dad later. He thought. While he waited for the cops to arrive, he leaned into Flame.

“You’re mine now.” He murmured into her mane. “You’re mine.”

1 Response to Leedia’s Page

  1. Mike says:

    AWesome story!101% AWESOME. THere is nothing you did wrong and nothing to say. GOOD jOB!

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