Pepper took Mikaela deeper into the mountains, following a well worn trail. Snow was piled in clumps and slowly filled in the trail until it was fully covered.
The trees became iced over the further they traveled. Mikaela could see her breath. She started to become concerned as she did not have anything with her to keep her warm. She whispered to Pepper, “I am cold. We need shelter.”
Pepper shook his head in acknowledgment. They came to a fork in the trail and he chose to go right, following a semi-frozen stream. The trail continued on with no shelter in sight.
Mikaela bent forward, trying to keep warm against Pepper’s back. She had already pulled out her other top and the nightgown and dress she had in her pack and layered them on, but nothing would stop the chill in the air.
The cold made Mikaela numb. Eventually she faded and passed out against Pepper’s back. Pepper continued on, knowing exactly where he needed to bring her. Pepper rounded a curve in the trail and in the distance stood a small cottage with a barn to its side. Pepper’s steps picked up when he spotted smoke coming out of the chimney. He knew he was home, and he knew he would help.
Pepper walked up to the cottage and with his front hooves, pounded on the step, hoping someone inside heard him.
Mikaela woke up to find she was in another dream. She found herself covered in homemade blankets on a makeshift wood-framed bed. She was still chilled to the bone, but warmth radiated from the fireplace in the center of the cottage which was right next to her. She stirred and started to sit up.
A kind male voice called out from the other side of the fire. “Would you like something warm to drink?”
Mikaela first shook her head, but realized he couldn’t see her. “Yes, please.”
When he came around the corner, he had a small mug in his hand, and bent down to hand it to her. The light from the fire danced in his eyes. She remembered those eyes from her dreams. She believed this to be another dream about him.
She took the mug and slowly sipped. Tea! She thanked her companion for his hospitality. “May I ask, what is your name?”
The man smiled at her, “I am known as Kester. And you?”
“I’m Mikaela.” Finally I know your name, she thought to herself. She smiled. “How did I get here?”
Kester looked at her, “About that, I’m really sorry. Pepper dragged you all the way out here.”
“Pepper?” Mikaela realized this wasn’t a dream in a dream….Kester was, well, still a dream but not a dream inside of a dream. “He’s been a real help actually. He saved me more than once. But, where am I, Kester?”
Kester smiled and waved his hands around. “Well, you are Here. This is my home. It’s not much, but it works for me.”
Mikaela looked around. It was cozy, missing a woman’s touch, but nice. “Thanks for bringing me in and warming me up. But why did Pepper bring me here? And how do you know the horse?”
Kester ran his hands across his short hair and looked down, slightly embarrassed. “Well, Pepper is one of my horses. He likes to go off and find things for me for some reason. Last time he brought home this cute little guy.” Kester petted a blue merle Australian shepherd sitting at his feet. “His name is Rex.” Rex wandered over to Mikaela for a pet, which she happily obliged including some scratches right behind his ears. “But you are a first, the first woman he’s ever brought here.”
Mikaela was touched, smiled, and blushed a bit. She wondered what Pepper had up his sleeve by bringing her here. “So, what do you do Here Kester?”
Kester’s eyes lit up. “During the warmer months, oh, it is glorious to live here. Plenty of room to explore, and I have a small garden I get going for fruits and vegetables. During the winter, I try to stock up plenty to make it through the lean months. I work on wood projects as well as write a bit.”
“Wow, that’s amazing. I want to hear more,” Mikaela’s mind spun, could life get back to being so simple yet full away from There?
Kester and Mikaela talked with each other over the next few hours, then the fire started dying down. Kester spoke up, “It’s getting late. Why don’t you sleep there tonight and we’ll figure out what to do in the morning. I’ll lay out some blankets over here and get some rest.”
Mikaela looked back at the bed, “There’s room for two, no need for you to sleep on the floor. Besides, we’ll both be warmer this way.”
Kester blushed a little bit, but accepted and crawled into bed next to her. They both started to giggle as they tried to get situated. “Are you sure this is okay?” he asked.
“Yes, I think so.” She smiled sweetly as he rested his arm on her waist. She settled her head on his other arm. Soon they both drifted off to sleep.