Conar And The Red Horse - The Story

NB, I have reposted this story EP Link
as it became too tiresome to read in the new format, also to add illustrations

Once upon a time there was a young Irish boy called Conar O'Rourke.

Conar lived on a drab housing estate in Dublin, the tenth floor of a large block of flats.

He loved animals but the rules stated that no pets were allowed in the flats and they didn't have a garden.

Conar's parents had separated many years ago and his mother's latest boyfriend was far more interested in sprawing on the sofa than encouraging Conar's love of animals and nature.

One day Conar saw a large red horse tethered to a tree on nearby common land. It was not unusual to see horses tethered , they could be bought very cheaply and sold on for a profit at horse fairs.

But this particular horse made Conar feel very sad, he was especially tall and thin and stood motionless, as if fully resigned to whatever fate lay ahead.

Conar walked over and stroked the horse who lifted his head and looked trustingly at Conar through dark sad eyes.

( a passer by might have noticed striking similarities, both boy and horse had russet red hair, both were thin and obviously uncared for)

Conar gently stroked the horse's stringy dirty mane and wished he could spirit the horse away, somewhere he would be safe and well looked after.

Unable to sleep that night, Conar tossed and turned thinking about the red horse .

Eventually he fell asleep and dreamt he was riding a magnificent fiery red horse, galloping triumphantly through the sky

Conar woke the next day with a brilliant idea.

Leaving for School especially early, Conar bought apples and carrots in the local shop with his dinner money . Then checking no one was watching, he headed for the common instead of school . Conar had a plan, a crazy plan, but it was all he could think of.

The horse hungrily gobbled the carrots and apples, then looked at Conar with huge brown eyes as if to say he'd like some more.The boy leaned forward and whispered, "Don't worry. I will help you". And off he ran.

Gasping for breath, Conar ran in the school gate just as the bell stopped ringing. 

All through lessons Conar thought of his plan to rescue the sad red horse.

" CONAR!! " Conar jumped as his sharp tempered French teacher banged on his desk. " PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS! "

'I'm sorry Mr. DuBois' said Conar apologetically. But he couldn't stop thinking about the plan.
He knew there was no way he could stay at school till the end of his classes. He had to see his best buddy, Roland.

Roland lived in a strange little house on the edge of the city. Most people were afraid of him, but not Conar. Conar accepted him, as he was, and they had been best friends since they were very young. Roland had a special secret power, that Conar was sure could help in this situation.....

Roland was at the end of his garden mending a bicycle tyre and he grinned when he saw his friend run down the path.  "  Hi Conar, what's up? "

His grin changed to a serious expression when Conar explained about the thin sad horse on the common. How he planned to rescue him and take him to a rich man he'd seen on television who had lots of land and happy, well cared for horses.

Roland knew at once that Conar was talking about Sean Mcfaffity. Mr Mcfaffity had made his fortune on horse racing but for many years now he had used all his money and land to care for retired racehorses. 

A large, white haired bearded figure, Sean Mcfaffity was a well known public figure and often seen on television. But he lived in Tipperary, well over a hundred miles from Dublin.  And Conar's sad horse on the common would certainly not be any kind of racehorse. 

" Oh hallo Conar, always good to see you."Roland's mum poked her head out the kitchen window with a cheery smile. " Would you boys like some cake fresh from the oven?"
" Ooh, yes please!." said Conar, suddenly aware of his rumbling stomach. He was never left hungry at Roland's house. 

" You know horses on that Common always belong to the Harvey brothers don't you ?" said Roland, when they'd finished munching large slices of fruit cake.
" Yes, " said Conar, and the boys fell silent.

The Harvey brothers were well known for animal neglect and had been to court numerous times. They were rough nasty men that everyone on the estate tried to avoid at all costs.

Conar knew that stealing wasn't right, but it wasn't right to mistreat animals either. Besides, he remembered how his mum always told him to stick up for the boys that got bullied and that's how he and Roland had become best friends. Roland had been picked on for a long time, for his name, because he was skinny and because had a bit of a stammer and seemed a little odd. Conar had stood up to the bullies and he and Roland became best friends.

" You're being bullied too, aren't you, boy?", whispered Conar as he fed the grateful horse another carrot from his bulging knapsack.
"Are you sure we should do this,Conar?"
" I'm sure, Roland.", answered Conar, flashing him a huge grin. "Well get him fattened up and feeling stronger and then we'll make our move!"

All week, before and after school, the boys went to the common with treats to fatten the horse up. The Harvey brothers left scraps of hay, but never enough for a proper meal .

Conar and Roland brushed the dirt and dust from the horse's coat and it became much lighter, a more orangey-red colour. The boys named the horse Rusty. They planned to take the horse at the weekend but on Friday morning the boys had a shock.

That's the Harvey's truck," whispered Conar, pointing to a filthy grey truck parked near Rusty. The boys crouched down quickly so they wouldn't be seen.
Patrick Harvey stood beside Rusty with his arm raised and he was shouting at the horse. Rusty reared back on his hind legs

"Just you wait!!!" The boys heard Patrick shout, as he dodged the terrified horse's hoofs and ran back to his truck." You'll be sorry!! Shane wont stand no messin' from you!!" Patrick slammed the door of his truck and drove off.

The boys guessed he had gone to fetch his even nastier brother. " Oh no! They must be taking Rusty to the Balgriffen Horse Fair on Sunday, whispered Roland.

" We must take Rusty now," said Conar, "it's our only chance.".

Roland stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out a smooth white pebble and a scrap of folded paper. " Here's a map of the safest route to Tipperary. Stay off the main roads and watch for people who can help you. Look deep into their eyes and you will know their hearts.You'll know who to trust." 

He solemnly handed his friend the pebble. "Take my lucky stone with you, Conar. It will help you find the way."
Conar grasped the charm tightly in his hand and hugged his friend. He knew that Roland carried the stone with him always and he knew it was a special gift.

Other boys thought Roland was weird, but Conar knew he was the best friend he could ever have. Roland had a way of knowing things. 

He put the stone safely in his pocket and slung his knapsack over his shoulder, watching as Roland sprinted across the Common, yelling and hollering and dancing in wild contortions. Conar saw everyone in the Common turn their eyes to the crazy boy causing all the commotion, and with his heart beating so fast he thought it might explode, Conar quickly untied the rope that held Rusty.

Roland ran in circles, gesturing wildly, shouting and laughing gleefully like a boy possessed by a banshee. Everyone in the Common turned to witness the odd spectacle. Suddenly, he collapsed to the ground and the townspeople rushed to him to see what was the matter with this strange boy.

Peeping from one eye, Roland saw that Conar and Rusty were gone. Conar grinned when he saw Roland start the distraction routine. In various forms it worked for the boys every time!

With no clear idea where to go, Conar had quickly led Rusty into a back street on the sprawling housing estate.
Rusty seemed a lot taller now.. almost twice as tall as Conar who was average height for his nine .. nearly ten years.
" It's ok, boy, everything's gonna be just fine." Conar stroked the nervous horse's neck and tried to sound confident as he pulled Roland's map from his pocket. 

" Oh, and what do we have we here? If it isn't little Conar O'Rourke taking his pet horse for a walk!"
Conar looked round and his heart sank, his head began to spin and his legs felt paralyzed and chained to the ground.
The notorious Noonan gang; Brendon, Lian, Declan and the twins, stood just yards away, leering at him

" What's the matter boy, horsey ate your tongue?" sneered Brendon. The others laughed.

" That's not his horse, that's the horse from the common, it belongs to the Harvey brothers, " said Liam. " Where are you taking their horse? Shouldn't you be in school with all the others losers, huh? "

Walking slowly and menacingly, with their hands in their pockets, the gang began to form a ring around Conar and Rusty . Brendon spat at Conar 's feet then snatched the map from his hand, " What's this then? "

Conar swallowed hard, his mouth had dried up. He felt in his pocket for the lucky pebble Roland had given him. Clutching the pebble gave Conar courage, he looked straight into Brendon's steely grey eyes. " It's .. It's a map ... I'm taking the horse to a friend."

Brendon laughed heartily. "You're a brave one, little Conar".

Conar held his gaze on Brendon. He knew he didn't stand a chance with this gang of bullies. His plan was ruined before it even began and he fought back the tears that threatened to come. At least he wouldn't go down as a coward.

The other teens laughed along with their leader and advanced toward him. Liam reached out to grab him on his arm when Conar saw Brendon issue his pals a warning look. 

"Leave the kid alone. Those miserable Harvey brothers deserve every bit of grief they get." 
And with that, Brendon scooped Conar up and plopped him onto Rusty's back, handed him the map, and gave the horse a whack. "Good luck, kid. You're going to need it."

Conar heard the gang whooping and laughing behind him as the horse sped off toward the main road.

Conar held on tightly to Rusty's thick mane as the horse cantered across the main road and then onto moorland. Despite Conar pleading for him to stop Rusty only slowed down and came to a halt when he stopped to eat. .. on a hillside!

Conar flew over Rusty's bowed head and rolled straight to the bottom of the hill. "Ouch!!," 

Feeling dazed, Conar sat up slowly and gingerly felt his arms and legs .. he couldn't feel any broken bones. He looked around anxiously, Rusty was still on the hillside, nonchalently munching grass.

."Hey!" A boyish looking girl in dungerees and gum boots ran towards him . " I saw you fly off your horse, are you ok?"
" Um ..yes, I think so ." said Conar, wincing as he stood up and brushed the mud from his ripped trousers.

" Oh my God! " said the girl and burst out laughing. " That was just Sooooooooooo funny!  Sorry, I'm Aisling, " added the girl, who looked around 12 years old.

"I'm Conar and the horse is called Rusty,"

" Don't you know how to ride?" said Aisling, " Where are you going with your horse? He's too thin but really handsome . Is he a thoroughbred ?"

Aisling was asking far too many questions and Conar had no idea if he could trust her. But then he remembered Roland's advice and he looked straight into a pair of very pretty sparkling green eyes. Conar decided to trust Aisling and told her the whole story as they walked up the hill. When he'd finished Aisling let out a long tomboyish whistle .. . " Wow! "

But then she wanted to know how long would it take and where would they sleep.  Wouldn't his mum and dad worry and be out trying to find him? And what about the Harvey brothers , wouldn't they be after him too ?

Conar felt embarrassed becaus he hadn't planned the journey at all. He had no idea how long it would take, or where they would stay. He told Aisling he hadn't got a dad and he often spent weekends at Roland's so his mum might not wonder where he was till Monday . As for the Harvey brothers, Conar told Aisling that he didnt think they would know where to start looking.

Conar looked so crestfallen that soft hearted Aisling at once tried to focus on practical things..
" Ok ." said Aisling. "I think the first thing is that you really must learn to ride."

She led Rusty to a flat field and for the couple of hours Aisling taught Conar how to ride bareback. She tied the rope through the bridle to make strong reins and showed Conar how to grip Rusty with his legs and clearly instruct the horse.

Conar was quick to learn and soon able to instruct Rusty to run faster, turn left or right, to slow down and stop . Rusty was very obedient when he understood what Conar was asking him to do.

After the riding lessons, they sat in the grass and Aisling studied Roland's map . " Ok, so you can ride straight down here to Kildare but you will never get there today. My grandad, Michael Wallace, lives in this village, about half way down. He lives in an old cottage with just his dog for company. If you tell him you're a friend of mine he will love to have you to stay the night. You can't miss Grandads cottage,... the front garden is full of bright red geraniums, mum and I planted last year.  Oh, It's so exciting, I wish I could go with you, I will get some food for you to take ."

After a short time Aisling ran back with soda bread, cheese and cake. She thrust the bag of food at him. " Conar, you had better go, dad wants to know what I'm doing out here and if he comes out there's sure to be trouble.

Aisling helped Conar climb onto Rusty's back then she ran off before he could thank her.

" Hey, you!!" A very large man, who looked like a farmer, an angry farmer, was striding towards them.

"Let's go Fella! Conor urged Rusty on.  "Hurry!"

Rusty took off as if he and the boy had been riding together forever. Conar smiled and let out a whoop as they flew past the farmer, who stood there shaking his fist at them. He could actually ride a horse!

As they trotted along, Conar thought about his day. He knew Roland's lucky stone was working. Thinking about his friend made him wish Roland were here with them sharing their adventure. He'd have so much to tell him.

"I sure hope Roland isn't in trouble for helping us escape, Rusty".

In the distance behind them Conar heard the rumble and rattle of a vehicle. Glancing back over his shoulder, he spied a rickety old pick up truck. He gasped and quickly turned Rusty off the road and behind a hedgerow, sure it was the Harvey brothers looking for them. As the truck roared by, Conar could see that it was just an old farmer.

Conar hugged Rusty's neck, feeling a bit foolish about his mistake, but Rusty didn't seem to mind as he grazed in the field. The boy gobbled the soda bread and cheese that Aisling had packed for him and fed a juicy apple to the horse. He was happy she hadn't forgotten about Rusty.

"Can you believe it, Rusty? We actually did it!", he marveled, stroking the horse's nose.

Conar climbed up on Rusty's back just as Aisling had taught him and smiled, his whole face beaming with pride. They had put some distance between the Commons and themselves and he was beginning to feel less anxious. He suddenly realized he was feeling very happy. More happy than he had felt in a long time.

It wasn't long before Conar started to notice landmarks that Aisling had told him to keep a watch for. Finally he spotted the thatched roof and red geraniums that marked her grandfather's cottage. The white haired old man looked up from hoeing his garden when he saw them approach. He leaned on his hoe and wiped his brow with a kerchief, watching as Conar dismounted. The boy couldn't help but notice the man's kindly blue eyes.

"Hello, sir. I'm Conar, a friend of Aisling. She sent me here."

" Well, well now if it isn't young Paddy " said the old man as he helped Conar down from Rusty,
" It's been far too long laddie . Come in, come on in! "

Feeling a bit bewildered, Conar tied Rusty to a tree and followed the old man into his cottage. The low roofed room was dim and Conar nearly jumped out of his skin when a dog ran up barking.

Mr Wallace laughed, " Oh, that's just Megan, dont mind her, she 's very friendly really.!" Conar patted the collie who licked his hand and then ran round wagging her tail excitedly.

" Now then lad, sit yerself down and tell me all yer craic." 

Llifting the permanently boiling kettle from the Aga, the old man made mugs of steaming hot tea. Conar started to say that he was not called Paddy and that Aisling sent him..  .. but Mr Wallace only heard Aisling's name.

" Aisling, ah my word, now she's a grand girl she is. She and her mother put those shelves up for me." He pointed to shelves buckling under the weight of countless family photos .

" That's Aisling, " Mr Wallace pointed to a large photo, " when she was a wee girl and that's Eamon before he left for Cork. The old man pointed out photo after photo and Conar of course had no idea who he was talking about.

Conar looked enviously at the happy smiling family photographs... neices, nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Conar only had his mum, he had never known his dad's parents and his mums parents lived in Galway.. he hadn't seem them since he and his mum moved to Dublin around 4 years ago.

" Now then , you must be hungry, be a good lad and fetch some salad from the garden . Put your horse in the paddock with old Nelly, she loves company."

Conar led Rusty to a paddock at the back of the cottage where he was greeted by a friendly grey donkey . He patted the donkey and Rusty blew and snorted in the donkeys face .. which seemed to be a friendly greeting.

Conar left the two together in the paddock and went to find the vegetable patch. There was everything growing in neat rows , runner beans, cabbages , potatoes, lettice, onions radishes, cucumbers., tomatoes.

Conar picked some lettice , cucumber and tomatoes and took them back to Mr Wallace who was boiling eggs. 

" I cant tell you how grand it is to see you Paddy , just give 'em all a quick rinse under that tap there ." 
Conar did as he was told and very soon the two were sitting down to a delicious meal of warm soda bread ,boiled eggs and salad .

" Now then Paddy, tell us all your craic, how's the family? And are you taking that handsome horse of yours to the Balgriffen Fair on Sunday?"
Conar shook his head and tried to tell him that he was called Conar and he was taking Rusty to Tipperary 

" Speak up lad, I don't hear so well these day .. TIPPERARY you say? 

Ah .. Tipperary! I used to go dancing there when I was a young lad, not much older than you. Me and the boys went to the Rovers Inn every Friday night and we had the best craic ever .. oh, those were the days alright .

Moving across the room with renewed vigour, the old man lifted a wooden dusty lid and started to bang the keys of an ancient piano. His blue eyes shone , his feet began to tap the floor and then he started to sing .. ...

It's a long way to Tipperary,

It's a long way to go,

It's a long way to Tipperary,

To the sweetest girl I know!

Goodbye Piccadilly! Farewell Leicester Square!

It's a long, long way to Tipperary,

But my heart's right there!

Paddy wrote a letter to his Irish Molly O',

Saying "Should you not receive it, write and let me know!

If I make mistakes in spelling, Molly dear", said he,

"Remember it's the pen that's bad, don't lay the blame on me"

It's a long way to Tipperary,

It's a long way to go,

It's a long way to Tipperary,

To the sweetest girl I know!

Goodbye Piccadilly! Farewell Leicester Square!

It's a long, long way to Tipperary,

But my heart's right there!

Molly wrote a neat reply to Irish Paddy O',

Saying "Mike Maloney wants to marry me, and so,

Leave the Strand and Piccadilly, or you'll be to blame,

For love has fairly drove me silly - hoping you're the same!"

It's a long way to Tipperary,

It's a long way to go,

It's a long way to Tipperary,

To the sweetest girl I know!

Goodbye Piccadilly! Farewell Leicester Square!

It's a long, long way to Tipperary,

But my heart's right there

Conar grinned and sang along with the old man as he belting out the song with a surprisingly strong voice ..

When he had finished singing Conar cheered and clapped ..

But others were clapping too ..

"Well look who's here, Paddy! It's the Mulligan boys!"

Inside the doorway stood the boys-- two grey-haired old men, still dancing a jig, identical grins on their flushed round faces.

"Come in! Come in! These are the fellas I was telling you about, lad. Young Paddy here is taking his horse to the fair in Tipperary. I was just tellin' him how we used to set the dance floor on fire there every Friday night."

Mr Wallace sat back down at the ivories and began to pound out a rousing tune.

"Show Paddy how it's done, boys."

A brother stepped to each side of Conar, linked an arm in his, and their feet began to fly, tapping out rhythm on the hardwood cottage floor. At first Conar couldn't keep up and the brothers roared with laughter, but soon his feet began to fly, too. The cottage shook with merriment as they showed him one step after another. 

After they had exhausted themselves with music and dancing, they all sat around the kitchen table with glasses of apple cider and sweet breads. The men regaled Conar with tales of their youth, each one outdoing the other. Tears ran down Conar's cheeks, he was laughing so hard. He was having the best evening of his life.

After the brothers left, still singing as they bid farewell, Mr Wallace showed Conar to the spare room and wished him a good night's sleep. Conar climbed into bed and placed the lucky stone on the table beside him, thinking again of all the things he wanted to tell Roland.
Megan leaped onto the bed and settled beside him, nudging his hand with her muzzle. As he petted her, Conar gazed out the window where the bright moonlight illuminated Rusty and the donkey asleep in the paddock. It wasn't long before he was sleeping too.

Conar awoke to kisses from Megan and the smell of cinnamon toast. He found the old man bustling about in the kitchen preparing a breakfast for him. As they ate the warm toast, Mr Wallace told him about his friend, Mrs Taggert who bakes the best pies in all of Ireland.

"You'll be coming on to her house just around supper time. You be sure to stop there. And give her my regards."
Wiping crumbs from his mouth, Conar rose from the table. "I guess I better get started. I still have a long way to go."

Mr Wallace hugged the boy tightly and handed him a sack. "I packed a little something for you to eat on the way. You come back soon, Paddy. And don't forget to stop at Mrs Taggert's place for some supper and pie. Be sure to tell her I said she's still as pretty as ever."

"I will, sir. Thank you for everything."

Conar led Rusty to the road and climbed up on his back. He turned to see the old man waving at him, and felt a pang of sadness that he had to say good-bye. Waving back, the boy and the horse set off again for Tipperary.It was a bright sunny morning and Saturday shoppers called out cheery greetings to Conar as he rode through their village. 

Every garden and street tub was full of the brightest prettiest flowers, birds sang loudly and the air smelt of tree blossoms .

Conar bobbed up and down on Rusty's back smiling and waving, he felt on top of the world. 

He thought of his mother and her boyfriend far away on their bleak Dublin estate and doubted they'd even given him a second thought. They would just assume he was at Roland's house as usual. 

Thinking of his friend made him feel for his lucky pebble, it was still nestled safely in his bottom of his trouser pocket.

As they rode out the village they passed an orchard and Conar gasped. The orchard was not apple or plum trees but row after row of CHERRY trees!

Conar had never seen a cherry tree before, the cherries looked delicious and made his mouth water. 

" Hey Rusty, Slow down boy. Whoa!! " 

Rusty seemed strangely reluctant to stop and enter the orchard, Conar had to kick him gently to urge him on through the open iron gate. 

Conar felt excited as he reached up to pluck a bunch of dangling crimson cherries ..

" Yap-Yap-Yap!-Yap!!" A ferocious terrier dog appeared from nowhere, he snarled and snapped at Rusty's heels.

Fruit branches whipped and scratched Conar's face as Rusty fled through the orchard. Coner jerked the reins and called him to stop but Rusty ran on and on until he was running through a field littered with large patches of manure.. 

To Conar's dismay, Rusty slipped and Conar was thrown face down in a large puddle of foul smelling cow poo..

" Eurgh, Yuck!!" Conar sat up and wiped his face with his sleeve . He struggled to stand but there was something badly wrong with his left leg, it hurt a lot and he could barely move it.

Conar wiped his hands onto the grass trying to remove the mess. His leg throbbed and he was afraid that he couldn't stand. He thrust his hand into his pocket and clenched the lucky stone in his fist and tried to think what Roland would say. Calm down. Yes, he had to calm down. Where's Rusty? Conar's eyed darted around the field, suddenly afraid that the horse had run away. But Rusty was standing just behind him, grazing. See if you can get up. Rusty can help you, Roland's voice spoke in his mind.

Conar returned the pebble to his pocket and called to Rusty. "Here fella. Come here Rusty."

And much to his relief, Rusty came at once and stood beside him. Conar reached out and held onto the horse and slowly stood onto his good right leg. His left leg hurt a lot and when he tried to put weight on it, pain shot from his ankle to his knee. He threw his arms around Rusty's neck and ever so slowly pulled himself onto the horse's back. Once he had mounted he felt he would be able to ride and he hoped it wouldn't be too far to Mrs Taggert's house.

Conar began to smell fragrant spices of pie just about the same time he saw the stone wall with the cheerful blue wooden gate that Mr Wallace had told him to keep a watch for. In the dooryard a short, plump white-haired lady stood on tiptoe hanging laundry on a line, humming softly as she worked. Conar stopped at the gate and swung himself over the side of the horse. He winced and cried in pain as his left foot hit the ground, and he collapsed.

"Oh my! Are you hurt, young man?", cried Mrs Taggert, dropping the pllow case she was hanging on the clothes line and rushing to him.

"I fell off my horse a ways up the road and I think I broke my leg", Conar moaned, relieved to have someone to tell, especially someone with kindly green eyes whose voice carried a note of concern.

" Well, let's have a look at it" chirped Mrs Taggert in friendly yet no nonsense manner as she tied the horse to the gate post. She plopped to the ground beside him and took his leg in her chubby hands and prodded and pressed and twisted it  this way and that way, all the while asking if this hurt or that hurt. When she was done with her examination she asked him to try to stand and bend his knee, which he did with her help.

" It's not broken, lad, but it's badly bruised. I'll mix up a poultice of comfrey, yarrow, and mullein and you'll be right as rain in no time. Come, let's get you to the house and clean you up and get you treated."

Conar sat at the time-worn wooden kitchen table wearing one of Mrs Taggert's much too large robes, drinking a glass of lemonade and explaining how he had arrived at her door while Mrs Taggert applied the poultice of herbs she had picked from her garden and mixed with sweet oil. The concoction felt cool and comforting on his bruises. She covered the herbs with a muslin cloth and tied it on with long thin pieces she had cut.

"And Mr Wallace said to give you his regards", he finished, taking a huge gulp of lemonade.

Mrs Taggert beamed. "If you come recommended by Mike Wallace, I'm happy to have you. You sit and rest while I wash out these clothes. Seems like you brought most of the pasture with you! Then I'll fix some dinner. And for dessert we'll have fresh apple pie."

Conar usually kept his thoughts to himself when it came to talking with grown-ups, but there was something about the way Mrs Taggert smiled and nodded, seeming interested and asking questions that made him feel like telling her things. As she prepared dinner he unfolded the whole story of how he came to have the horse and of how he was trying to get Rusty to Tipperary to the man who rescues horses.

"Yes, I know of Sean Mcfaffity", she said thoughtfully. "That's quite a large plan for one so young as yourself, Conar! I think you must have great things in you."

Conar felt a warm happiness start in his belly and spread all the way to his face where it broke forth in a huge grin. She hadn't said it was a crazy idea, or that she would have to call his mother or report him to authorities! 

"Why, when I was your age I was always dragging home a bird with an injured wing or a baby rabbit who had lost its mother. Once I managed to sneak off with a dog whose cruel master was beating him and take it to my grandfather's farm. I never could abide seeing an animal being harmed."

As they ate their meal Conar answered her questions about his mother and her boyfriend and his life in Dublin. The only detail that he didn't include was that his mother had no idea he was making this journey. He told her about school, and about his best friend Roland . He even showed her his lucky stone. At last Mr Wallace was proved right. Conar had a large slice of the best apple pie he had ever tasted.

Mrs Taggert made up the sofa for him with sweet smelling sheets fresh off the laundry line and soft quilts and down pillows.Before he retired she examined his leg again, once more pressing and prodding, twisting and turning and asking if this hurt or that hurt, this time with a smile and a wink. He admitted gladly that it felt much better already. She placed a fresh poultice on the bruises, patted his head and pronounced he would be nearly as good as new by morning.

Conar stretched out on the sofa and Mrs Taggert pulled the covers over him, tucking them under his chin. She leaned down and gave him a quick peck on his cheek, and thus did Conar receive the first good-night kiss he could remember since he was a very small boy.

Conar stretched his arms and blinked his sleepy eyes open. Bright sunlight flooded a cosy sitting room. A vase of orange flowers decorated a small table and the most delicious smell of frying bacon wafted past his nose. Conar shook his head to wake from the dream.

Mrs Taggert bustled in carrying a tray of plates and cutlery. " Good Morning young Master Conar, you slept as fine as a log. Breakfast will be ready in five minutes. You'll find all your clothes as good as new hanging in the bathroom."

Remembering where he was, Conar leapt off the sofa, " Ouch!" .. he had forgotten about his leg! It still hurt, but it was loads better than yesterday, at least he could walk on it today.

Conar looked out the window, Rusty was gone!!

" Now don't you go worrying about that great red horse of yours," said Mrs Taggert, " He's just fine and out the back making a meal of my lawn, the good Lord knows it needed a tidy."

When Conar returned he gasped , Mrs Taggert had prepared a FEAST! The little table heaved with fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages, a massive plate of hot buttered toast and giant mugs of steaming tea. 

Mrs Taggert sat at the table and beamed up at him, " Come on , sit yerself down and tuck in while it's hot , a growing lad needs a good breakfast to start him up for the day." 

After breakfast, Mrs Taggert gently quizzed Conar as they looked at Roland's map. She studied it thoughtfully. " I see, yes, you will be avoiding the towns by going cross country. Mr McFaffity's fields are bound by bearberry hedge which is covered in small orange flowers at this time of year. His horses all look so healthy and happy, you will know his land at once. But it's a mighty long way to go, you are only half way to Tipperary , where will you sleep tonight ?"

Conar shiffed uncomfortably, it was time to leave. He felt for his pebble , it was still safe in his pocket, he clutched it and wondered what Roland would say. Then it came to him ...

" Gosh! These are really beautiful flowers, Mrs Taggert," Conar leaned forward and touched a petal of one of the large orange flowers in the vase, " Are they from your garden?" 

Mrs Tagert puffed out her well upholstered bosom and smiled proudly at Conar, " Yes, of course they are, come on outside and see for yourself. " 

" We really have to go now," said Conar, after a full garden tour where he had effusely praised all Mrs Taggarty's flowers, fruit and vegetables. 

Mrs Taggert patted Rusty, hugged Conar and presented him with a bulging food parcel, " Just a small snack for later. " 
Then she stood at her cottage door waving both podgy arms till Conar and Rust were well out of sight. 

Conar rode past large families on their way to Sunday mass. Church bells rang loudly and joyously and Conar felt a deep lonliness. 

They rode towards a large roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary , Conar had ridden passed many shrines, but today he stopped and said a silent prayer.

" Dear Mother of Jesus, Please help us get to Mr Mcfaffitys safely, Please let him love and care for Rusty, Please dont let my mother be angry. Please God, let everything be ok. Amen. "

Conar bowed his head and made the sign of the cross .

After he had said his prayer to the Virgin Mary, Conar felt more confident and peaceful. And as they rode out the small village he talked lovingly to Rusty, telling him about a wonderful new life that would soon be his, for ever.

They reached open countryside and Rusty broke into a spirited canter. The air was warm but windy and Conar held onto Rusty's long mane as well as his reins. They passed lots of people walking and some on horseback, but no one gave them a second glance.

They had covered quite a few miles when and it began to rain .. softly at first, but then the clouds quickly grew darker and the rain began to pelt down heavily.

Conar slithered off Rustys sodden back and led them to shelter under a group of trees with a thick canopy.

After half an hour or so, the rain stopped and sunshine returned. It was late afternoon and Conar was feeling hungry so he took the bulging food parcel from his wet rucksack.

Conar was just about to untie the string when he became aware of voices . He looked round but couldn't see anyone.

Feeling curious, Conar led Rusty through the trees .. a squelchy sound in the wet ground made Conar freeze .
A strong, rough hand gripped Conar's shoulder ...

"Why are you here, chavi?"

Conar's eyes met the gaze of piercing dark eyes set in a weathered brown face, stern but not unkind. The slender man with the shock of white hair and large mustache wore a collarless shirt and dark waistcoat.

A Romani! Conar felt frozen to the spot, unable to talk or move.

" I...I'm.." stammered the boy, as he tried to find words, fearful that this gypsy would steal Rusty from him.

"You ride bareback like the Children of the Wind, as a part of the horse", observed the man. "Yet you wear the clothes of the city folk."

Conar thrust his hand in his pocket and clasped his lucky stone into his fist. " I am on a journey to Tipperary. I am taking the horse to a new home."

"Does this horse belong to you?" The man searched Conar's face with those dark eyes, seeming to look into him, not at him. Seeming to see into his heart and his mind.

" What should I say?" thought Conar. He looked deeply into the man's eyes and saw only curiosity and amusement.

"Not exactly. No. The horse isn't mine. I took him from a man who was beating him. I'm taking him to Tipperary to a man who will give him a good life."

The man threw back his head, laughing with a loud booming sound. "You are a wise young chavi!People try to buy the Earth and the gifts of the Earth! But no matter how much you pay for them, you can never own her or her gifts. You can only ever borrow the Earth and her treasures, as you can only borrow all that comes into your life!"

He clapped Conar heartily on the back and commanded him to bring his horse and follow him.

As they walked through the woods the sound of many voices grew louder, then the smell of a campfire wafted toward them. Brightly painted wagons came into view. Women in colorful skirts, arms laden with copper bracelets that jangled when they moved tended to food cooking over the open fire.
A group of children ran to greet them, shouting "Puro, Puro, Teacher! Who is this gaujo?"

"Ah", laughed the old man, "This chavi may seem a gaujo, an outsider, but I think he has some Romani blood in his veins! Take his horse and put it to graze with the others.The boy will join us for supper and spend the night at our camp!"

Conar followed the man to the campfire and sat beside him, surrounded by the children and other men. He was served a bowl of rich rabbit stew with large chunks of vegetables. Conar dug into the spicy stew and smiled his approval.

"You have joined us for supper on a day when the rabbit volunteered to give of itself for our sustenance. What ever you find on your path has volunteered something of itself for you", explained the man, as the children and other men nodded.
" Now, tell us the story of this red horse!"

As violins and guitars began to play and a soulful voice sang a ballad accompanied by the clapping of many hands, Conar told the men the tale of the horse and the commons in Dublin and all that had led him to this campfire. 

"So you have become a traveller just as we are", the Puro smiled at him. "Children, take Conar to check on his horse. I wish to speak to the men in private."

Conar followed the other children to the hedgerow where shaggy piebald horses and one lone red horse grazed on the tender grasses. Rusty seemed quite content to share the company of the band of gypsy horses. Conar glanced back at the campfire and saw that the men were talking seriously, nodding their heads in some sort of agreement, and he began to worry. He had heard the old stories about gypsies stealing children and animals. Clutching his lucky stone, he wondered if he should jump onto Rusty's back and try to make a run for it. Yet, the man, the one the children called Teacher or Puro, seemed kind and the children obviously were very fond of him. 

The Puro whistled and waved, motioning the children to return to the campfire. "Sit. We have reached a decision."
Conar felt a lump arise in his throat, but he was surrounded by Romani and had no choice but to sit.

The Teacher sat beside him, took his hands, and looked deeply into his eyes. "We have decided to give you your secret Romani name. Once we tell it to you, we may call you by this name. But never utter it to outsiders or those you do not trust. It will protect you against bad spells and all negative influences. When harmful forces are denied knowledge of all your names, they can do you no harm. It will keep you untouched by evil. It will keep you strong as you finish your journey."

A log was thrown onto the fire sending up a shower of sparks and causing the embers to glow brighter. The music played faster and faster, and a soulful tenor voice began to sing adding to the magic of the moment. The man leaned forward and whispered a name into Conar's ear.

"Now your secret name will join with your white stone in keeping you safe", the man said, nodding toward the stone in Conar's fist. " I have noticed that you call on its power often", he added with a wink.

Conar grinned. A lucky stone and a secret name! He could hardly wait to tell Roland!

Later, after listening to many stories around the campfire and even learning the words to a gypsy ballad, Conar joined the children in sleeping under the stars. In the morning, after breakfast, his new friends gave him advice about the best route for this leg of his journey. Puro hugged him and whispered his secret name in his ear once again.

Conar mounted his horse and waved goodbye as his new friends shouted "Safe travels! Until we meet again!".

Conar's head whirled as he rode away. He felt so excited thinking of the Gipsies vibrant laughter, their music, singing and dancing around the campfire, and the wonderful night under the beautiful star filled sky .

He turned once more to wave at the smiling children, but there was no one there . There was no sign anyone had ever been there, just empty moorland surrounding a beech tree copse.

Conar's mood changed, he felt sad and wondered if he'd really just fallen asleep, alone under the trees.
The name the Romani men had gifted him, his special name that meant daring, brave and victorious, was that all just part of a crazy dream?

Conar shook his head to try and free his muddled thoughts. Then looking determindly ahead he shortened the reins and clicked his tongue loudly, " Come on boy, let's go! We will reach Tipperary tonight . "

It was a dull windy morning and they saw few people as Rusty cantered along the grassy verge.
They travelled a few miles and then stopped to rest by a small glen . Conar opened his bulging rucksack and found the large food parcel Mrs Taggert had made for him . Conar remembered he was unwrapping it when he met the Puro. Surely then it must be true that he spent the night with Romani Gypsies and it wasn't a dream after all.

As Conar tucked into the most delicious plum pie he noticed a red ribbon tied in Rusty's tail. It looked just the same as the silk ribbon a young gypsy girl had worn in her hair as she danced around the fire.

So it WAS true, it was ALL true!!!

Conar jumped up and down and did an Irish jig .. .. just as Mr Wallace's friends had taught him!

He stopped when he heard rustling noises from a nearby hedge .. he parted the leaves and saw gentle blue eyes looking trustingly at him, Conar laughed when he saw that the blue eyes belonged to a white calf. An inquisitive calf who had wandered from it's mother's side to peep through the hedge at the dancing boy!.

A bird whistled from a tree branch, a tiny bird with an orange head .Conar had never seen such a bird and for the hundredth time he wished he lived in the countryside. He threw his remaining pie crumbs towards the mysterious bird and watched as the bird boldly flew down and ate them all.

After their lunch time rest they set off again and Rusty trotted along a main highway which led into a village. It was market day and people turned to stare at them. They seemed unfriendly as they looked, turned away then looked back again.

Conar was feeling very uncomfortable when a girl pointed at them and shouted, " That's them! That's the red headed boy they're looking for!"
Conar's heart pounded, it must be the Harvey's. The Harvey brothers were chasing him, they wanted Rusty back and they were sure going to be very angry and very nasty.

Conar looked round nervously, he couldn't see the Harvey brothers but he saw a parked Garda car, a white car with a blue and yellow *****. They were always screeching round his estate with their sirens going full blast as they chased trouble makers. The brothers must have reported him to the Garda for stealing their horse and now they were out looking for him.

" Quickly, Rusty!" he kicked a startled Rusty into galloping out the village.

They were back on open land when Conar heard the Garda's car siren ..  it was becoming louder and LOUDER

Conar prayed. He prayed to everything he knew and more, he prayed to Mary, sweet Mother of Jesus , to Roland, his lucky pebble, to his own mother, he whispered his Romani name to Rusty and promised him that somehow everything was going to be OK.

Then Conar realised the siren had stopped and he looked back over his shoulder. 
What he saw made him laugh out loud!

Two brightly coloured Romani waggons led by large piebald horses were inching their way across the main road, preventing the Garda car following him.

Conar raised his arm in victorious delight and cheered ..  and they galloped on full speed ahead ..

Rusty must have felt Conar's exuberance because he galloped faster and faster until his hoofs no longer seemed to touch the ground. The sky and ground became one and as the setting sun shone on Rusty's coat it seemed to glow a dazzling fiery red.

Then Conar remembered his dream . .his dream of riding on the red horse through the sky ..  THIS was his dream!!!!

There was a whirring noise overhead , a helicopter ... and shouting from a loud speaker but Conar couldn't hear a thing .. he was flying through the air on a red horse .. and it felt FANTASTIC!!

A line of orange danced and shimmered on the horizon and as they got closer it became a hedge of orange flowers.

Rusty leapt over the hedge and galloped past horse after horse grazing peacefully in the lush green fields.

A thrilled Conar clutched Rusty's flowing mane as he raced on and on towards a crowd of clapping cheering people. .. ...

There were two Garda cars, a helicopter and what looked like a TV crew.

As they rode towards the sea of faces, Conar saw his mum, her boyfriend and a familiar looking red haired man.
He saw Roland with his mum, Aisling, Mr Wallace.

And a huge smiling bearded man, that he knew was Mr Mcfaffity, was walking out to meet them ...

A tall lady with light blond hair and a perfect smile rushed to Conar and thrust a microphone in his face. "Conar, how did you manage to make this long journey all on your own?"

McFaffity, still grinning from ear to ear, ran forward, helped Conar dismount, and took Rusty's lead, booming loudly, "By Jove! It really is Red Dawn Flyer of Lough Ennell, three time winner of the Irish Derby, now retired, and stolen from this very stable under cover of darkness two long years ago!"

His mother dashed to Conar and wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace, tears streaming down her face, "Thank God you're safe! We were so worried about you." 

Roland leaped to him, dancing and whooping with jubilation. "You did it! You did it! I knew you would!"

Conar's head was spinning as people swirled round him, hugging and clapping him on the back. Camera men snapped pictures and the lady reporter shouted more questions in staccato bursts. At the edge of the crowd he saw the Puro and a group of gypsy children smile and wave then slip off into the orange hedges.

A policeman marched up and took Conar by the arm. "Let me speak to the boy", he said, drawing Conar away from the noisy throng.
Conar stiffened warily. "Will I go to jail, sir?"

The man tried to appear stern and official, but the ghost of a smile crossed his face. "Go to jail for returning a stolen horse to his rightful owner? No, son, it appears that you are a national hero, even though your actions were a wee bit rash."

Conar tried his hardest to look contrite and sorry for his rash actions, but his face could not belie his relief and he broke into a huge grin.

The policeman broke into a grin himself. "And it appears that the ones in trouble will be the Harvey brothers. They were seen lurking around the stables the very day Red Dawn Flyer was stolen!"

The man in the crisp dark uniform explained to Conar that when his mother realized he wasn't at Roland's house, she pieced together their plan to free the neglected and mistreated horse and a huge search had begun. The story was featured on all the news and Conar and the red horse had become instant celebrities.

The Mulligan boys had been the first to see him on the television and to contact the police. Then Aisling had reported her encounter with the pair. His trail was traced to Mr Wallace's cottage then on to Mrs Taggerty's place and then the trail was lost, but they knew he was headed for Tipperary and the stables of Mr McFaffity so they had all gathered there.

The man motioned for Conar's mother, who rushed to him, still weeping, followed by the red headed man. The boy threw his arms around her, begging, " Please don't be mad, Mum. I just wanted to help Rusty."

His mother brushed a tear from her eye and held him tightly. "You're such a good hearted boy and I love you so very much."

The red headed man stepped forward expectantly, looking first at Conar's mother and then at the boy. She nodded at the man. He laid his hand upon the boy's shoulder, leaned down looking him squarely in the eye and spoke. " Conar, I'm your father."

The story unfolded that his parents had divorced and his mother had taken him to Dublin, far away from his father's farm and had broken all contact with him. She was a city girl and couldn't stand all the animals and open spaces that his dad had so loved. She thought it would be easier for the boy this way, but she knew now that she had been very wrong. His father had seen him on the news and had hurried to Tipperary from his farm a few miles away, thrilled to know that he had finally found his son.

Conar stood in the pasture feeding Rusty crisp carrots while his father, Roland and a little strawberry blond girl looked on. He thought of that day nearly a year ago and how his life had changed since then. Ainsling and Mr Wallace and Mrs Taggerty had become a regular part of his life, becoming extended family he had never before known. The Romanis had held a huge celebration for him with much dancing and singing and rich foods. The girl with the red ribbon in her hair sat by him at the campfire enrapt as he told the tale of the famous red horse. The Romani even gave Roland his own secret name!

Even more wonderful, his mother allowed him to stay at his father's country home often now, and many times Roland came with him. He adored his little half sister, Bridget, who spent hours with him playing with the cats and dogs at the farm. She took him for walks in the woods and taught him the names of the wildflowers and trees. His father said he could have a horse there and they were looking for the perfect one. And his father made sure they visited Rusty as often as they could.

Conar buried his head in the horse's soft neck and whispered, "I wanted to help you. But it was you that helped me even more."


Orangetas Orangetas
51-55, F
Jan 22, 2013