My father was always a careful man. That was the main thing I could remember about him. While his appearance was only kept fresh in my mind from photographs, I never forgot how cautious he was in some respects, not that I'd known him very long.
He was the sort to go for extended camping trips with old friends from university and rough it out in the wilderness. He was never particularly cautious about his own physical safety, but in all other respects he was. One of my memories of him, one of my favorites actually, was also the first time I remembered visiting a hospital.
I couldn't've been more than seven or eight years old at the time. I'd just gotten home from school when my mother, in a rushed flurry of activity, swept me up in her arms and fairly threw me into the backseat of the car with no explanation. Too scared to ask questions, I sat in silence. Every turn sent me scrambling for a handhold to keep from falling over since I'd forgotten about the convenient thing that is a seatbelt.
As soon as the hospital was in sight, I asked my mother what was wrong with Dad – because why else would we be rushing to the hospital?
"He has no sense of self-preservation," my mother had said rather stiffly, "that's what's wrong with him."
I remembered that line because I didn't know what "self-preservation" meant. In fact, I had to ask my father about it later. He'd chuckled and said, "Och, aye. It only means that your mama dosna think I am capable of taking care of myself."
See, he had been rock climbing with a friend when there'd been a malfunction with the equipment – a clip that was attached incorrectly – that had led to a fall and, consequently, my father's broken arm, leg, and a few fractured ribs. The arm and leg were already in plasters by the time we'd arrived and my father had had a nurse pick up a set of paints from the gift shop. They were set next to his bed and he told them that they were for me and for him. He said he found the white of the plaster dull and wanted me to decorate them for him, if I didna mind.
I've never been a very good artist and I was even worse as a child though I was also considerably less self-conscious about the fact. I covered every inch with bright colors and terribly misshapen woodland creatures and when the casts had to be removed and new ones applied (I never understood why, but my father assured me it was not my fault so I was all right with it) I covered those as well. I was ridiculously proud of my handiwork and so was my father. I believe my mother was as well but she had to at least play the part of the adult in our family.
She would roll her eyes at our antics but – in the case of the rock climbing incident – would pose us for pictures that she then would proudly flaunt to her friends and coworkers.
It damn near killed her when he died two years later, and from cancer of all things.
Then, once she'd remarried to a stuffy, old, rich man, did I remember my father's view on wealth. He never strove for it, like society expected him to. No, instead he worked to earn enough for us to get by and no more. I remember having a comfortable life as a child but it wasn't nearly as luxurious as the time period after my mother remarried.
It's not that my father had no respect for money but rather he had a plethora of it. Even when I was a small child, he would warn me that material wealth was not a true benefit but a soul-crushing responsibility… some of his lessons were a bit heavy handed. The possession of wealth offered a false sense of security. People would lessen their morality in order to pursue comfort. In order to properly possess wealth, a body had to be willing and able to use it for the benefit of those outside of his or her own personal sphere. Most men, he told me, fell far short of that sort of selflessness.
There were times when I would take Dauntless out that my father's memory felt uncomfortably close. For the most part, I separated myself from my step-father's sense of entitlement, choosing to work part time jobs to provide for myself, except for Dauntless. The horse was a needless waste of money. From all the horses in the UK, I'd demanded to have one imported. It was poorly handled wealth and at times I was overcome with a cloying sense of guilt.
But at the same time I knew it was the Iverach side of my nature that drove me to horseback riding. My father was a risk taker with his own person. As was I. While I'd also inherited my mother's fear of extreme heights that prevented me from attempting to scale cliffs, eventing on a horse made me feel as though I were soaring. Well, any sort of riding in any type of discipline. I dabbled in them all while somehow having managed nearly no formal training.
Most of the part time positions I'd held had been at boarding stables where I exchanged my labor for a stall and a small stipend. I'd take care of the beautiful thoroughbreds, deal with the uppity owners, and watch the trainers work with their students. In the evenings, when the work was about finished, I'd saddle Dauntless and explore the estate, jumping any and all fences I possibly could.
But this fence was not one that my horse could jump – at least without breaking a leg.
"Come on." I brought Dauntless over to the right. "I think I can see a break further down."
I could see the stones from where I was, which made the fence issue all the more irritating. Did they not realize this was a tourist destination? Fortunately though, it was a gap I'd seen and Dauntless was willing enough to listen.
The climb up the hill was uneven at best but Dauntless was more than up for the challenge and before long we were at the crest of the hill, standing among the stones.
It was impossible to deny there was a certain sort of… unsettling feeling. The stones appeared to be both a natural part of the landscape and unbelievably foreign. The way the wind rushed through the circle made the hair on the back of my neck stand on edge. But was it supernatural?
I laughed, mostly for my own benefit of hearing a human voice, and cued Dauntless to approach one stone in particular. It was enormous and split down the centre, like a tree struck by lightning. Together, the two parts of the stone made a large V, too narrow at the bottom for a horse but plenty wide enough at the top. It would be a perfect, easy jump.
I gave Dauntless a little squeeze to get him up to speed and then I jumped, and he jumped.
Saying that something was wrong was an understatement. As we passed through the rock, it felt simultaneously as though every molecule in my body were being torn apart and shoved together. There was noise everywhere – sound with physical mass – but I could still hear Dauntless' panicked whinny. Was that me screaming, too? We were going to die, I knew it. And then, for the first time in my life, I was desperately clinging to a horse moving at a true gallop. I could not hear, could not see. The only thing I could do was desperately hold on.