Now, we have to take ‘best buddies’ out of conext here. After I said best buddies, you are probably now imagining that they were childhood chums who had adventures together, shared beautiful memories, rolled around in the dirt, and collectively got in trouble. But, best buddies in this instance meant that Minnaela used Jeronimo as her puppet/coverup and Jeronimo only did what she asked because she scared him. He was the only boy in the village that never teased Minnaela, because he what she was capable of. The bruises on his arm from Minnaela frequently punching him was a strong reminder of that fact.
Jeronimo saw Minnaela turn off the path towards his home and wondered if he should hide, or go out and greet her. There was plenty of room in the pigsties to blend in to the dirt. No, he thought. He was better off complying with whatever mischief that crazy girl had up her sleeve. Besides, if she found he’d been hiding, she’d give him another good slug in the arm. But she probably will anyway, Jeronimo thought as he opened his front door.
“J’ro!” Minnaela called out to her buddy, “Just the man I was looking for.”
Oh great. She called me a man. She must really need my help.
“Hi, La” Jeronimo stepped out onto the stone that lay in front of his door. “What do ya want?”
“First of all,” Minnaela aimed a punch at Jeronimo’s left arm, “Don’t call me La.”
Jeronimo flinched in pain, reaching up and rubbing his arm.
“Secon’ of all, I need a lil’ favor” Minnaela put her arms behind her back nervously and tapped her foot, “I need you to come t’the Trepidello Woods with me”
“WHAT?!” Jeronimo stiffened. He didn’t care how scared he was of Minnaela. Jeronimo was more scared of the Trepidello Woods. “There is no way you’re making me climb ‘round in those hills”
“Oh c’mon J’ro,” Minnaela softened her face a little, “There’s nothing dangerous up there!”
“That’s what ya always say,” Jeronimo’s cheeks flushed, “I swear all ya ever do is trick me into doing what ya wants me not to do”
Minnaela, now desperate to get back to the white feather, decided it wouldn’t hurt to let Jeronimo on her little secret. Even if he was a pipsqueak, she knew she could trust him.
“Okie, okie, you’re right” Minnaela admitted, “but this is really important. I found the strangest thing in the forest this morning—“
“You were in the forest this morning? Are you crazy?!” Now that Jeronimo had picked up his courage, he wasn’t holding anything back.
Minnaela could see Jeronimo’s face change from frustration to curiosity already, but shot him an angry glance.
“Yes, I was! For your infermation, I got up there nearly every day. Anyway, I can’t tell you what I found, you need to see it. It’s somethin’ I just can’t put together with the words in my brain”
Jeronimo contemplated for a few seconds.
“La-Minnaela,” Jeronimo pushed for a grown-up sentence, “I can’t trust that you’re telling the truth. For all I know, you didn’t find anything. How c’n I trust what you’re sayin’?”
“Jeronimo, I’m telling ya the honest truth! It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen with m’eyes” Minnaela could tell that Jeronimo was still unconvinced. She had tricked him too many times. “If I stop hittin’ you, will ya come with me?”
“Mum!” Jeronimo called out the back door to his mother, who was sitting in their little garden, “I’ll be back in a lil while!”
“Okie, but be back in time for the learnin’ school!” Widow Grenal called to her son.
“I’ll give anything to miss the learnin’ school” Jeronimo groaned.
“Me too” Minnaela agreed as they ran off down the path.
Minnaela ripped off the loose bark of the hollowed tree in front of a wide-eyed Jeronimo. The entire way up the hill, he had stopped at the slightest of noises; the russling of deer running up and down the deer trails, squirrels screeing at them in curiosity and the crows that would land in the trees every once in a while.
“Crows mean no good” Jeronimo would say each time he saw one.
Minnaela would just roll her eyes and pull Jeronimo farther up.
Now, they were finally at the top, and Minnaela was reaching into the tree for the white feather. She felt the cloth at the bottom, but there was no feather. Wide eyed, Minnaela frantically felt around the entire bottom of the tree for the soft, white feather. But it wasn’t there.
“It’s not here!” Minnaela cried out. “I left it right here!”
Normally Jeronimo would have been angry at Minnaela for fooling him again, but the look on Minnaela’s face looked to real to be… Fake.
“What did you leave there? Can’t you just tell me?” Jeronimo stepped closer to the tree.
“It was the most beautiful thing,” Minnaela felt crushed, “the most whitest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“What was it?”
“It was a feather”
“That’s it?!” Jeronimo grew angry, but was tentative not to get too angry. That tree was big enough to hide a body in it.
“No, no. It wasn’t just a stupid ol’ feather,” Minnaela felt like punching Jeronimo again, “it was HUGE and white. As white as the clouds. Whiter than the clouds. And it was just huge”
Minnaela flopped her hands above her head to exemplify how huge the feather way, then let them drop by her side.
“And now it’s gone, J’ro”
Jeronimo had never seen Minnaela so shaken up. He’d always thought of her as another boy. He’d never seen her act like such a… Well, such a girl.
Jeronimo, suddenly forgetting all his fears wanted to comfort her “It’s okay, it was just a feather” he reached his hand out to touch her arm.
Minnaela flinched away, her eyes hardening in the process.
“It was just a dumb ol’ feather” Minnaela rubbed her arm where Jeronimo was going to touch it, “Don’t get all girly on me J’ro, it doesn’t suit you.”
Minnaela went to punch him in the arm, then stopped. Jeronimo stopped midflinch, opening his eyes a bit to see open forest. No Minnaela.
“MINNAELA!!” Jeronimo’s fears all came back to his head in a flood.
“I’m right here, scaredy!” Minnaela was trotting down the hill. “Now c’mon before I d’cide to leave you behind!”
Jeronimo trotted after her, eyeing a crow that flew over the trees.
Minnaela had chosen to walk a different way home, so that they would come out of te forest behind the blacksmith’s shop. This way, Jeronimo would come out near the learning school and Minnaela would only have to walk a little ways down the village path to Rodge Hillong’s land. Minnaela was skillfully and easily down the hill. Jeronimo, on the other hand, who had only been in the hills 2 other times in his life (both times ending horribly on account of Minnaela’s schemes) picked his way down slowly, slipping on patches of dead leaves, and clutching on every available tree. Whenever he heard a rustle he would freeze. Minnaela would here silence, and then-“MINNAELA!!!”
For the fifth time now, Minnaela was making her way back up the hill to where Jeronimo was.
“J’ro, you chicken, what is it now?” She called up the hill.
Jeronimo was standing, frozen, by a large white sapling, wide eyed with fear.
“There’s someone sniffing in the forest”
“What? J’ro, c’mon now—“
“Sh,” Jeronimo put his hand up to his mouth.
Minnaela stood straight and silent, listening for the imaginary noise, just like all the other ones. But it wasn’t, surprisingly. She could hear a slight sniffling noise. Or rather, a snuffling. It sounded like the noises Yra made when she put her noise up against Minnaela’s hand.
“There’s a horse somewhere nearby” Minnaela whispered.
“How should I know?” Minnaela rasped, annoyed, “but it’s close.”
The two stood next to each other, listening intentally and looking around the hill for any sign of a horse. Suddenly, there was a russling in the branches above them. Minnaela and Jeronimo looked up in sync with each other, both seeing the same thing; both reacting in opposite ways. Tangled in the branches above them was a small, white, colt. They could tell it was a colt because… Well they could see his underside. And then he started to pee.
“I… I… I…” Jeronimo was so stunned, he just stood under the tree, looking up at the white colt that was managing to completely soak his shirt with urine.
Minnaela jumped back, avoiding the pee, and looked in wonder at this white horse. How on earth did it get up there? Suddenly the foal, now noticing that there were people underneath him, started to writh in his tangled chains of branches. He screamed his lungs out, kicking and arching his back. Suddenly, with a large crack, the branch that had been holding the foal captive broke under the pressure and fell, with colt falling after it. Yelling, Minnaela grabbed Jeronimo by the arms and yanked him backwards down the hill on top of her. Both of them tumbled down the hill a little ways before stopping at a dead tree that lay vertically across the ground. Rubbing her head. Minnaela sat up, looking up at the tree where the colt had been moments before. Now, it lay on the ground, still and silent. Minnaela shoved Jeronimo off her legs and ran up the hill to the white figure. Was it still alive? Yes. The dead leaves that littered the forest floor rustled under its breath. Minnaela knelt down and put her hand on the colt’s long face, petting his nose like she did Yra’s when Yra was in pain. The colt opened his eyes, looking up at the sky with a wild look in his face. Minnaela tried to calm him down by patting his side, but the moment she touched his ribs, the colt let out a piercing whinnie and scrambled up, only to fall back down on his opposite side. From behind his right ear, running down his neck, to his right shoulder was a very large, bleeding cut. No doubt the branches had aided in the tear.
“J’ro!” Jeronimo, who had crawled up beside Minnaela flinched when she yelled in her ear.
“Oh” Minnaela, now noticing that he was right next to her jestured toward his coat, “I need your coat. This colt is going to bleed to death. We’re goin’ to have to carry it back to the village”
Jeronimo slipped of his thin coat and pressed it into the horse’s side. By now, the young colt did not even bother to struggle. It just lay there, motionless, as if it were ready to die. It didn’t dare look at the two young kids, but continued to stare up at the sky as if something were going to come and take it away from its misery. The two kids hefted the horse up between them, Minnaela wrapping her arms around the horse’s chest and behind his front legs and Jeronimo put his arms around the rest of the body. Both of them together managed to make it down to the edge of the village in an hour, taking slow deliberate steps so as not to slip on the leaves. Neither of the kids said anything as they made their way down the hill, as they were both scared by this point. Jeronimo couldn’t but think that he was going to miss learning school after all, and Minnaela could see the frustration and disappointment on her da’s face when she came back an hour late with a white horse behind her. When they had reached the end of the trees, and made it onto the path, the two carefully set down the colt on his legs. The colt, not quite sure what to do with himself, stood on strong legs. For the first time, he took a look at his surroundings, and gave both Jeronimo and Minnaela a good stare. He sniffed Minnaela, who held out her hand and pated his nose, but when he turned his head to the right to sniff Jeronimo, his dried blood gaveway, and new blood began to flow out. The horse screamed. sending spatters of spit all over Jeronimo, and letting his front legs collapse underneath him. Minnaela followed, breaking the colt’s fall a bit.
“J’ro, look at me”
Jeronimo looked up at Minnaela, deep fear and concern in his eyes.
“What’re we goin’ to do?” He asked.
“I’m goin’ to go get my da. He’s good with animals. He’ll know what to do.” Minnaela stood up. “Will you be good?”
“Yeh” Jeronimo “I’ll be good. Hurry though. He looks scared”
Minnaela nodded. Jeronimo looked more scared than the horse.
Minnaela ran up the path, past the blacksmith, the dairy house, the smoke barn, and the village inn that was empy almost 90% of the time but also served as the meeting place, dance hall, and common place to eat. She passed to kids who seemed to be scuffling around on the ground with a pig…. Odd… Minnaela was tempted to stop and servey the situation, but then remember why she had a stitch in her side and kept right on running. Finally, she ran up to her door, bounded through and ran straight into her fathers backside. What was he doing bending over?
“DA!” Minnaela tugged at his shirt. Da turned around. But it wasn’t da; it was Rodge. “Oh” Minnaela instinctively wiped her face with her sleeves. She had just touched Rodge’s backside with her face. Who knew what had been there! At least with her da, she knew what she could be expecting.
“Why ‘ello Mini-la!” Rodge laughed kookily, his Scottish accent laying in thickly compared to the country accents of nearly everyone else in the village, “yer da is just out in the barn looking for a shovel. It seems that I’ve dropped a bag of dirt on your floor as I was carrying it through to the garden behind”
“Okay thanks” Minnaela said, without bothing to give the pile of dirt on the floor a second glance. It blended it with the rest of the dust that she failed to sweep up every morning after dish duty.
“Da, da!” Minnaela cried, running into the barn. Again, she ran into another backside. This time, it was definitely her da’s. Bony.
“Oof!” They said in unison.
“There you are!” Rem turned around angrily. “What did I tell you about when you were t’be back, and now look at the sun! It’s half wasted already. Where were ya? Off in the woods again? Breaking your promises?”
“Da, I didn’t break any promises! I went up the forest with Jeronimo and we found a horse and it’s hurt and we don’t know what to do” Minnaela knew her da hated it when she grabbed his sleeves and tried to drag him places, so she ‘matureingly’ left it up to him. Rem crossed his arms thoughtfully.
“You found a horse, in the forest, by the plains?” He said, unsure.
“Yes, and its beautiful. It’s white. And it’s a baby” Minnaela added the baby part at the end for effect. She knew he da’s soft spots.
“Okie then,” Rem walked out of the barn, “Where is she?”
“He. And he’s by he blacksmith’s”
“Okie, Rodge! C’mon and help me with this horse. It’s ingured” Rem beckoned Rodge to join them down the path.
Rodge, glad that he didn’t have to clean up the pile of dirt he had embarrassingly spilled just yet, caught up with them and started jogging in pace.
“An injured horse you say?”