Home > Into the Dim (Into The Dim #1)(11)

Into the Dim (Into The Dim #1)(11)
Janet B. Taylor

“Hey, Moira? I—”

“Och, but this place needs a good dustin’,” she cut me off, reaching on tiptoe to swipe a finger across the edge of an upper shelf.

When Moira glanced back to see me standing still and alone in the center of the room, her pursed mouth softened. “Come along then, my lamb,” she said, “’tis time for tea.”

Chapter 5

WHEN MAC WOKE ME FROM A NAP A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER, I felt drained—a wrung sponge left to dry on the sink. My limbs dragged as I moved the book that lay open on the bed beside me, a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine someone had left on my bedside table, and followed him to the stables.

Outside, the lowering sun shot streams of gold through heavy clouds as I trotted through the stable yard astride a sturdy gray mare named Ethel. A fragrant breeze blew past, ruffling my clothes as I stared, astounded by the brutal beauty of the land around me. Beyond the yard, the valley spread out like a rumpled green and purple quilt, with the vast moor just beyond.

Behind us, the fortress-like Christopher Manor guarded the sheep and cattle that roamed between it and the charcoal roofs of a small village. The town lay at the foot of the valley, on the opposite side, nestled between craggy, twin mountains rubbed bald by millennia of wind and rain. A river bisected the gorge and disappeared into the heather and gorse of the moors.

“The uplands look flat,” Mac warned from his perch on a wide gelding. “But ’tis full of dips and hidden burns—those are streams, mind—that cut through the heather before joining the river. Ye’ll come on them sudden-like, especially once ye get closer to the big mountain, so keep our girl here to a nice, easy trot.” The lines in his weathered cheeks deepened as he smiled. “Ethel likes to run, so ye’ll have to hold her back.”

I pivoted in the saddle. “I can go alone?”

The horse danced under me, eager to get moving. When I stilled her with heels and reins, Mac nodded in approval.

“Seems ye handle yourself well enough.”

Every girl of good family should sit a horse well. My mom’s approving voice spoke in my memory.

I’d adored my weekly riding lessons, the only nonacademic hobby my mother had ever allowed. At eleven, I’d never been near a horse before. Yet that very first day, my instructor, Mr. Waterman, told Mom he’d never seen a child take to riding like I did.

Look at her go. It’s like she was born to it, Miz Walton.

Watching me, Mom frowned, though I’d blushed to the roots at the old man’s praise. Used to feeling awkward and klutzy, from the moment I climbed in the saddle it was like my hands and feet took on a mind of their own. On the horse, I’d felt graceful for the first time in my life. The smells and the movement of the horse and leather beneath me was familiar, like returning to an old friend. It felt wonderful. It felt right.

After Mom died, Dad never mentioned the lessons. I could’ve said something, I suppose. But it hadn’t seemed right without her. So I’d kept quiet, and the one activity I had loved slid to the wayside.

“I’m away to the south pasture to check the flock.” Mac walked his horse over to the gate and leaned down to open it. “Ye’ll have but a few hours of peace, lass. I’d enjoy them if I were you. When Lu returns tomorrow, things may become . . . different.”

He frowned, as if he wanted to say more.

“Mac?” I nipped at a cuticle on my free hand. Moira’s warning echoed in my head, but I had to try one last time. “When was my mother here last?” I trailed off as his eyes cut away.

He clucked to his gelding, who ambled over until our knees almost touched.

“Lass,” the word came on a sigh. “I don’t pretend to understand what you’ve suffered. You’ve been through the wringer, and that’s the truth of it. But I’m knowing one thing for certain.” He placed a rough, careworn hand over mine where they gripped the reins. “Our darlin’ Sarah loved ye more than life itself. And she did her best by ye. And so too will all of us here. Ye can take to the bank, aye?”

My throat closed. “Yeah,” I whispered.

“Away with ye now,” he sniffed, and wheeled his horse. “But be careful, aye? And dinna be too long. Moira’ll have my hide if ye miss supper.”

“Thank you, Mac.”

With a backwards wave, he moved off toward the opposite fence.

The horse responded to the barest pressure of my knees as she trotted down the long valley and out onto the magnificence of the Highland moor.

Ethel splashed through the narrow burn, which twisted and turned upon itself, growing deeper and faster the closer we got to the huge mountain range that bordered the uplands to the north. These were higher, misty and still snowcapped, even in June. Weaving through clumps of gorse and thistle with ease, the mare wended her way around the waist-high boulders that sprouted up like mushrooms.

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