Aluitte quickly fed Jessie the leftover bones of lamb and the stale bread before running back to the barn and brushing Donner until her arms became sore. After setting a little stool just outside the barn and strapping a hat to her head, Aluitte led Donner out of his stable. Aluitte had only just recently mastered the ability to mount Donner bareback, and had taken her new skill to pride. Patting the old mustang on his side, Aluitte kicked herself off the stool and landed heavily on her stomach. After pulling herself up into a sitting position, Aluitte nudged the horse forward with her whole body.
Aluitte started out at an easy walk, finding Donner’s rhythm and testing his obedience. She walked him farther than normal, making sure to ride out of her father’s sight in the sheep pasture. Bringing Donner to a trot, they eventually reached the edge of the open fields and entered the sparse woods. There, Aluitte could ride an intricate course at a faster pace, challenging Donner to not only make it through, but make it through the trees with Aluitte still on his back. Donner was a gentle beast and knew how to be careful with Aluitte, yet at the same time challenge her. All this being said, the horse and the girl learned quickly together
Eventually they reached Aluitte’s favorite place in the world. Deep within the woods was a little pond she could play in, and just next to it was a large maple tree she liked to climb. Tying Donner to one of the maple’s lower branches, Aluitte shared an apple with the horse and began to throw rocks into the pond. Finally, after many unsuccessful tries at skipping stones, Aluitte was able to make one of her stones bounce twice on the water’s surface, cracking it briefly before being swallowed into its murky depths.
After the water calmed into a sheet of glass, Aluitte watched as the wind picked up and made ripples on its shiny surface. She looked up to the tree whose budding tips shone like little green lights, swaying gently in the breeze. With a grin, the girl ran up to the tree, stepped on an old log, flopped onto Donner and jumped to the nearest branch. Aluitte swung her leg over the branch, making her skirt fall down to the ground. She never told her father, but Aluitte had taken to wearing boys pants under her skirt for riding and tree climbing.
After taking up a sloth-like position on the maple’s limb, she hung there for a while, allowing Aluitte to catch her breath and appreciate the world from an upside-down perspective. Finally she pulled herself up, straddling the branch like a horse. The worst of it was over, and now all Aluitte had to do was climb up to where the three main branches met. Her heart pounding, Aluitte pulled off her shoes and settled herself into the seat of the tree.
There were many reasons why Aluitte liked to sit in the tree. One reason was that Aluitte simply liked to see the world from different perspectives, especially tall ones. Another was that she liked to have a place of her own, a place that no one had ever been before, and a place where no one would likely return. The maple tree was her place. It was her place to dream, to think and to solve problems. Right now, her problem was not having a mother.
Aluitte never really felt the absence of her mother. The mother role was always filled either by an old nanny, a tutor, or more commonly, some sort of animal. No, Aluitte never felt the absence of a mother role, although she would often dream of how her real mother would treat her. Aluitte only really missed knowing her mother. Aluitte would spend hours at a time trying to imagine her face, her smile, her voice, her hands, or even her laughter. Her father’s descriptions of her were always brief and indistinct. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t even really know her name.
Closing her eyes, Aluitte ventured back into the reveries that often saved her from the real world. She saw princesses, princes, dragons and fearless sailors. She saw her mother stroking her face lovingly. She saw herself in ten years, the most beautiful and fearless woman in the world, saving animals and riding horses into the horizon.
The sky was beginning to darken when Aluitte woke up. Her heart clenched as she realized she had fallen asleep. Her father would worry about her. She would get into trouble. She would lose his trust and perhaps never get to ride Donner out to the maple tree pond again. Looking down, Aluitte’s heart clenched even tighter. Donner had settled himself into the grass, fast asleep.
Normally Aluitte would climb back down to the lowest branch and lower herself so that she could drop easily onto Donner's back. With Donner asleep, she didn't know how she was going to get back down. Calling the horses name, the girl hoped to wake him up. Donner only twitched his ear and continued snoozing. Aluitte broke off a twig on the tree and chucked it down to Donner. The horse was largely unaffected by the stick. Aluitte called out to Donner, yelling this time, thankful to see his ears twitch. After dropping another stick down on Donner's face, the horse huffed and stood back up, obviously ticked off.
Aluitte didn't care. She needed to get down and ride as quickly as she could back home. Her father was probably searching all over for her. Aluitte clicked for Donner to stand underneath her as she lowered herself into a dangling position over the mustang's rusty-red back. Positioning her legs on either side of his rear, the girl let go of the branch and plopped down onto Donner. She could feel him quiver with anticipation and annoyance as she slid off, slipped on her shoes, untied the rope and got back on. She hadn't even finished her geometry book yet. Her father would be so upset.
With a forceful nudge, Aluitte got the mustang to move forward as a brisk trot. Eventually she warmed him up into a gallop through the trees, following the path Donner and Aluitte both seemed to know by heart. At a couple turns, Aluitte could feel herself slip off his back, but Aluitte quickly grabbed Donner around the neck, making Donner slow down and allow Aluitte to adjust herself. They continued at a brisk trot so as not to risk Aluitte slipping off again.
Once Aluitte cleared the trees, they raced back to the barn. Aluitte bounced up and down on top of the horse but she didn't mind. She could tolerate the pain as long as it meant she would get back before nightfall. At the barn, Aluitte jumped off Donner and quickly led him to his fenced off portion of land next to the barn. As soon as she let him go, Aluitte shut the gate and ran as quick as she could back to the house, not even bothering to take off her hat. Before she could make it to the house however, Aluitte caught the sight of her father talking to someone across the fence to their property.
The girl approached her father at a slower pace, panting and unsure if walking towards him was the best decision at the moment. Before she could change her mind and walk back to the house, her father caught sight of her. At first he looked surprised and almost relieved when his expression turned to scorn. Aluitte took a step forward to explain, but her father stopped her with a raised hand, gesturing for her to go back to the house.
Aluitte was surprised by this. She then looked over to the man who was talking to her father. The man looked to be older than her father, as the grey stubble betrayed, but not by very much. He looked familiar somehow, yet she could not put a name to his face. The man looked directly to Aluitte and held her stare in his eyes. Yes, she had seen him. A face as rugged and crude as his was not easy to forget. He was the local law enforcer.
Aluitte wondered what they could have been talking about, or if the man was there to find her, but her curiosity was interrupted by another wave of her father's hand. Obviously it was something serious that she wasn't allowed to hear. It would be better if she just ran home, cleaned herself up, and waited for her father. Aluitte didn't give her father another chance shoo her away. The little girl turned sharply and sprinted to her home.