Stormwind of the North Country

By Jodi Auborn

Young adult, General fiction, Action & adventure

Paperback, eBook

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75
7 mins

 

Excerpt from Chapter 3. "Tragedy and Hope:"


...I didn't know how my father would react, but now I needed his help. "Dad!" I shouted as Stormwind raced up the long driveway, kicking up gravel behind her. "Dad!"

The garage door was closed, the radio silent.

I tied Stormwind to the porch railing and burst into the house. "Dad! Daddy!" I was getting hysterical. "Dad!"

I found him at work redecorating the guestroom, his clothes splattered with fresh paint. "Katherine! What in the -"

"Daddy! It's Stormwind...and Lorraine, and...she's got a gun, and...and Commodore's dead!" I collapsed into a nearby chair and covered my face, shaking, squeezing my eyes shut against the tears that threatened to fall.

He put his hands on my shoulders. "Shhh, Kat...try to calm down, and tell me what happened."

I took a deep breath and stood up. "Follow me."

He gasped at the sight of Stormwind, who stood there puffing and trembling with exhaustion, bleeding from the whip wounds across her body. "Oh, my..." He gently touched Stormwind's sweaty neck as she snorted and danced away.

Dad sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Oh, honey. You were telling me the truth. I should've believed you...and now, that poor animal..." He sighed again. "If only I had -"

"It's not your fault, Dad."

Suddenly he straightened up, his voice firm. "And it's not yours, either. It's that woman's. You're not going back there, Katherine...and neither is the horse. Now, we have to get her out of sight. Let's take her in the barn. We've got to get her cleaned up, if she's gonna be yours."

"Mine? But I thought you couldn't afford a horse -"

"I'll find a way. Now, I'm going to get her some medicine, and I'll bring the portable phone out in the barn. We've gotta make some calls."

Far down the road I heard a car approaching, driven at an insane speed by the madwoman we'd just escaped from. "Stillwater!" I screamed. I led Stormwind at a trot toward the barn, but we didn't make it. Stillwater's car almost overturned when it careened into the driveway and sped toward the house. The woman burst out of the car and would have reached Stormwind and me if Dad had not turned back and stood before us.

"Leave my property, you!" he shouted. "You're not welcome here!"

"Your daughter stole my horse! I'm simply here to regain my horse!" Stillwater reached over Dad's shoulder and slapped Stormwind's muzzle. "She is mine, and you and that little criminal are not to tell me otherwise!"

Stormwind lunged at Stillwater, almost knocking Dad down, and bit Stillwater's arm. It started bleeding. "Why you..."

Dad pushed her back to her car. "Looks like the horse doesn't want to be with you," he said. "Don't you think you've done enough around here? Stormwind means the world to my daughter. She belongs to her."

"What!"

"Get out of here, before I call the police!"

"The police! You bet I'll call the police! I won't stop there! I will take you to court!"

Dad laughed. "That's just what I was planning on doing. That junkyard of yours will be condemned, and you'll never lay your hands on another animal again."

Stillwater gunned her engine, pulled onto the road, and tore away for home.


Excerpt from Chapter 7. "Parson's Road:"


...Thunder rumbled in the distance the next morning as I ate some oatmeal and listened to the radio, static nearly drowning out the music. I wondered if Dad had called the police or forest rangers yet, and if Dave kept my plan a secret...

"...And now, to local news. Police are searching for a Sprucewood girl, who has been missing from her home for two days. It is suspected that she left home under her own volition." I frowned and turned up the volume. "Fourteen-year-old Katherine Normith is probably riding a small white horse and is accompanied by a black German shepherd dog. Anyone approaching her for questioning should use caution, since the dog may attack. Katherine is described as -"

A burst of static crackled as the radio lost the weak signal.

I sighed and turned it off, disappointed that I didn't hear what else they said about me. But plenty of other people did. Maybe they even showed my picture on TV! Maybe people were heading down Parson's Road that minute! I left my oatmeal and began to gather up my supplies.

At the same time, though, I was pleased with what I heard. Maybe Dad was so worried about me that he's ignoring Lavina, just as I planned.

I saddled up but didn't ride. After yesterday's fall, Stormwind was lucky that she didn't lose her baby. I'd walk until I got tired, ride slowly for a while, then walk again...

...The distant thunder came and went as we walked down Parson's Road that morning. As the miles passed, we swished our way through knee-high grass and ferns, plodded up and down rocky hills, and detoured around rotting trees and brush that had blown down in storms. Light rain dampened my clothes, falling from a gray sky that showed no promise of sun.

Soon the trail stopped at a narrow river bordered by a steep, mossy bank. Bubbling white water swirled around the rocks on its way downstream. I spotted the remains of a wide wooden bridge rotting on each bank, broken in the middle, then studied the shallow spots where the rocks protruded above the water. It shouldn't be too hard to cross, I thought. I took off my boots and socks and we waded in.

The current threw me against Stormwind with greater force than I had expected. Glad that I had leashed Hesperus and tied the leash to my belt, I held Stormwind's mane, looped my arm through the reins and moved through the icy waist-high water. I hoisted my backpack higher on my shoulders and hoped my equipment wouldn't get wet.

Although I stumbled on the small round rocks, I tried to avoid the larger ones that would cut my feet. I didn't pay attention as the water got deeper and deeper. When it reached my chest Stormwind began swimming, and the current finally knocked me off my feet. I shrieked and got a mouthful of water as I realized that my arm was tangled in the reins and we were all being carried off!

Soon I couldn't touch bottom. The current slammed us together, then yanked us apart until the reins wrenched the bit in Stormwind's mouth. The plastic sack of Stormwind's feed shifted and burst open, spilling thousands of feed pellets into the churning water.

Meanwhile, I struggled to free my arm from the reins as Hesperus, wide-eyed, tried climbing on me. Foaming water broke over our heads and tumbled us on our sides. Bound to Stormwind, I couldn't avoid her kicks as she swam desperately. I sawed at the reins with my jackknife, working underwater by feel until the old leather snapped and I was jerked free of Stormwind.

Hesperus and I were battered against rocks as I helplessly watched my horse whinny in terror and flare her nostrils as she was swept away down the river. Soon her white head was lost among the foamy water and I could hear her whinnies no more.

****

We finally made it to the opposite bank. I pulled myself up to the treeline, choking on water as Hesperus shook herself and lay down. The drizzle had become a downpour. I sat up with my arms around my legs and stared down between my knees, shivering and thinking about Stormwind. I didn't notice as the cold rain dripped off the leaves, soaking into my sopping shirt and trickling into my eyes. Stormwind must surely be dead, and it was my fault. Did I rescue her from Stillwater, only to lose her now? If I had paid attention to my footing and ignored the sharp rocks, we wouldn't be in this mess.

My battered legs throbbed and my hand stung. I looked at my hand, horrified by the spreading bloodstain left on my faded jeans. I gasped and watched as blood trickled from my slashed palm and fingers, only to be washed away by the rain. I must've cut myself when I cut the reins, but hadn't felt a thing until now.

I stood up, shaky and sore, and we wandered into the woods along the water. "Stormwind!" I shouted over the river and rain. If she had washed up by then, I could only hope that she was alive. But I had to find her, even though I was afraid of finding only her body.


Excerpt from Chapter 18. "Settling Back In:"


...As I walked back to the house, a gleaming white limousine sat in the driveway, its uniformed driver patiently reading a magazine. I groaned. Aunt Betsy! If it wasn't one judgmental visitor, it was another.

I sighed and went in the living room where I found Dad and Aunt Betsy on the couch, my aunt dabbing at her teary eyes with a handkerchief.

"There she is," she moaned as she hurried toward me. She grabbed my shoulders and gave me a sloppy peck on each cheek. "Your father just told me you came home, and I rushed up here as soon as I heard the news! You should be ashamed of yourself, young lady! Don't you know how worried we all were?"

"That was sort of the point," I mumbled.

"Do not mumble! Speak clearly!" She held me out at arms length and gasped. "Oh, my! Your hair! What did you -"

"I cut it, Aunt Betsy."

"With what? A hacksaw? You had such long, beautiful hair! And...turn around, and let me get a look at you. Why, you're so thin!"

"I lost twenty pounds."

"And that was weight that you could not afford to lose. Oh well, I just wish I had your metabolism, dear. And what is that smell?" She stepped away from me, sniffing daintily.

I couldn't smell anything out of the ordinary. "It's...Stormwind?" I guessed.

"You mean that dirty horse of yours? That must be it. You go right upstairs and change your clothes, and remember to scrub your hands!"

I sighed and headed upstairs. There was no arguing with Aunt Betsy, so I changed into a fresh pair of cut-offs and a T-shirt.

Randy met me in the hallway. "Kat!" he whispered. "I've been stuck up here forever. There's some frou-frou woman downstairs. What's going on?"

"Oh, that's Aunt Betsy. The one I told you about, remember? Now, why don't you come down and meet her?"

"Um, I don't think -"

"Oh, c'mon." I muttered something about moral support and pulled Randy down the hall. Our bare feet slapped on the worn wooden stairs as we headed for the living room, where we found Lavina charming Aunt Betsy.

Lavina simpered. "It was wonderful to meet you, Mrs. -"

"Betsy. Call me Betsy." She turned to look at Randy and me. "That's better, Katherine," she said as she looked me up and down. "We still need to do something about your wardrobe...but at least now you don't smell like a horse. And who is this?"

Dad stood and walked over to us. "Betsy, this is Randy. He's going to be staying with us for a while."

"Um...hi." Randy looked at the floor. Aunt Betsy just stared at him like he was something that crawled out from under a log.

Taking Randy's big sinewy hand, I moved closer to him and smiled mischievously at my aunt. "We met in the woods this summer," I announced. "We shared the same lean-to. We ended up sharing everything." My smile broadened as I glanced at Randy, who just looked bewildered.

Aunt Betsy gasped. "You lived in the wilds totally unsupervised...with a boy?" She sank into a chair and began fanning her face.

"Now, Betsy -"

"You stay out of this, Luke. Katherine and I are going to her room to have a talk."

She dragged me off, leaving Randy standing alone looking humiliated, and Lavina smirking at me with a knowing look.

****

"Oh, what have you done?" Aunt Betsy moaned. "Why, your mother must be rolling in her grave. Cohabiting with a boy!"

"We weren't cohabiting. We were camping -"

"It amounts to the same thing. You ruined your reputation, and brought shame to the family."

I snickered. "Shame?"

"Don't you laugh at me, Katherine Amanda Normith! The shenanigans you pulled with that boy are improper, and inexcusable!" 

"But we didn't do anything improper -"

"Nonsense. You teenagers are all alike! Boys that age have only one thing on their minds -"

"But Randy's not like that. He respects me. And he we both had more important things to think about. Like whether we'd have anything to eat the next day."

"Well, if you had stayed at home where you belonged, you wouldn't have had to worry about that."

"But -"

"And that is a rude young man! He addresses a lady with 'um...hi?' What kind of a proper greeting is that?"

"He's just shy, Aunt Betsy."

"That doesn't matter. He should learn some manners. People are judged by the company they keep, Katherine, and if your companion is an ill-mannered, pony-tailed hoodlum -"

"Aunt Betsy, Randy is a very nice person. And I don't appreciate people calling my friends names-"

"And not only that, but I just learned something very interesting today: your father did not buy you that horse, as I was led to believe. Instead, come to find out, you stole it from your neighbor's farm in the middle of the night! That means that you're nothing more than a burglar now, a common thief-"

"But if I didn't, she'd be-"

"Stop it! I don't need to hear your excuses. I obviously cannot talk any sense into you. You're just like your father." Aunt Betsy headed for the front door, dabbing her eyes again. "Oh, Katherine," she said with a quivering sigh. "Lavina is such a delightful girl. Why can't you be more like her?"

I could still hear my aunt weeping downstairs. "Oh, I am so embarrassed, Luke," she whimpered. "Embarrassed and ashamed. My only niece...turned into a bad girl!"

After Aunt Betsy left, I sighed and flopped facedown on my bed, idly picking at the chenille blanket. Why couldn't people just leave me alone?






     


     



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