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Dear Jessica, Halley and Rachael,
I want to tell you a story about horses. I hope you will like the story. It is very exciting and it will show you something about grownups who play Wizards of America.
Once upon a time, far, far away, there was a green and beautiful country. In that country were wide-open spaces of lovely green grass, waving in warm breezes under soft blue skies. Every afternoon there were showers to water the vast plains. In this country lived a race of horses who were strong and healthy, with shiny coats and clear eyes. They had all they needed to be happy.
One afternoon a young filly, which is a girl horse, was running like the wind through the fields of grass. Her four little hooves pounded out a steady rhythm on the ground. The air whistled past her ears. Her mane stretched out behind her as she dashed uphill and then down the other side. She ran and ran as free as the breeze, just bursting with the joy of being alive!
Then Jessita, for that was her name, came to the top of a hill. Just a little out of breath, she stopped to rest. She had never been this far from her home pastures before. From where she stood, she could see the river and a trail down below. On the trail were five horses. But they looked very strange, for on their backs they carried large bundles. And they looked very sad. Their heads were held low as they walked along dragging their hooves.
The first horse's bundle was not like the others. It was taller and looked a little like a tree trunk. Wait! It wasn't a bundle at all. It was alive! The strange creature had a tiny head with no snout at all and two eyes right next to each other. How ugly! What was it doing on top of that horse? She stamped the ground nervously with her hoofs and whinnied to the horses. Six heads came up and six pairs of eyes spotted her high above them. The strange creature became very excited. He started his horse running up the hill. One of the other horses called out, "Run! Run as fast as you can and as far as you can! Don't look back!"
Well, that seemed like very sound advice. Jessita spun around and in a flash she was running at top speed. She streaked homeward. She ran and ran and ran until she thought her lungs would burst.
Finally Jessita saw her family grazing peacefully off in the distance. The sight of them gave her new energy. In just a few more minutes she closed the distance between them. Oh, yes! There was Mom and Dad and her sisters, Hallita and Rachelita! In her excitement, Jessita was going too fast. She put all her feet down and leaned way back. Too late! She slid right into Hallita and they both went tumbling to the ground.
Her mother, Deborita, exclaimed, "My word, Jessita, you must be more careful. Whatever has gotten into you!"
But Jessita was too out of breath to answer. She simply struggled to her feet still frightened and a little shaken. She looked back the way she had come. With relief she saw no sign of the flat-faced creature riding a horse. Her father trotted over to her side.
"What is it Jessita dearest, you seem very frightened," said Ronaldo. She told him the whole story. Her father didn't say a word for a long time. He just stared off into the blue sky thoughtfully. Then he began to explain.
"Jessita, long before you were born, your mother and I and all our families lived many weeks travel from here. It was a beautiful country just like this one. We were all very happy. Then the wizards came. The creature you saw riding on the horse was one of them. They are also called men. They captured all the horses and made slaves of them. That's why the horses you saw were carrying bundles. Only your mother and I managed to remain free. But we could do nothing to help. So we went far away. We hoped the wizards would never be able to find us. But now they have."
"Oh, Papa, I'm so sorry. It's all my fault. Now the wizards know we are here. What can we do?" asked Jessita tearfully. "You mustn't blame yourself, little one. I suppose it was bound to happen someday," he said comfortingly. "We must leave this place. It is dangerous to stay here now. We will all graze this afternoon, sleep tonight, and then set out in the morning at first light. We must find a new country."
It was a beautiful sunset, the clouds all gold and magenta with rays of sunlight beaming through. The moon was a silver crescent. Before long, the younger girls were settled down and fast asleep. But Jessita still lay awake. She could hear her parents talking in whispers about where to go. Her mother said the wizards would never stop until all horses were made slaves. Her father said they had to try. Finally, Jessita fell into a fitful sleep.
In her dreams she was being chased by wizards. She tried to run but could not. It felt like she was in deep mud. Just before they caught her, she woke with a start. It was very dark and very still, too still. She could not hear the normal sounds of the night animals. Jessita slowly stood up. Her ears turned forward and back trying to detect a mouse or a cricket. Nothing. An icy chill stabbed her heart. Something was very wrong. She whinnied softly to her parents but, being sound asleep, they didn't answer.
Jessita moved forward a few steps. Her legs felt like wood. She lowered her head and turned it from side to side trying to see in the wall of darkness. She sniffed the cool air. There was a strange odor. She took a few more cautious steps forward and stopped, very tense. The muscles in her legs trembled, her lips quivered slightly. She lowered her head, then quickly brought it back up. Leaning far forward she slowly stretched her neck out and sniffed again. "Sniff, Sniff, Sniff."
Then, a terrible scream split the night air. Oh, no! A net had been thrown over her! Rough hands were dragging her to the ground. The scream was her own! She bucked and struggled. But they had her. The commotion had roused the family. She heard her father yell, "Run, everyone run!"
Torches were lit. Jessita was pressed to the ground, trapped by the weight of many bodies. Now in the flickering light, she could see the wizards as they tied fetters on her feet and a rope around her neck. She was loaded into a cart. A voice said, "The others got away, but we'll get them another time. Let's take this one back to the corral."
Far off in the distance, Jessita's family stopped to catch their breath. It was a wonder they hadn't gotten separated in the dark. Deborita wanted to go back, but Ronaldo thought they would only end up being captured themselves. Besides, they must think of their two little girls.
"What about your older brother?" asked Deborita. "Couldn't he help?" "You mean Roberto? He was captured and found a way to escape, it's true. Stories are told that he now frees other horses. But he lives in the hills in our old country. It may take some time to find him." "Oh, Ronaldo, you must try, you must!"
And so Ronaldo set out that very day for the old country after finding a hidden valley for his little family. By traveling fast during the day and grazing at night, he made good time. He avoided the main trails where he was likely to see wizards. In only twelve days he found Roberto. They were very glad to see one another. Roberto was living with a small herd of former slave horses who had freed themselves. They spent most of their time trying to free the others.
"But," Roberto said, "a strange thing has happened. The wizards have gotten control of the minds of horses. Horses that were once as free as the wind are now afraid to live outside of corrals. They have been taught to believe it is very dangerous on the open plains. The wizards have convinced them they will starve unless someone feeds them. When we open the gates to set them free, none of them will come out! They believe that horses are only free in corrals. They tell us that we better get back in or we'll be sorry. No amount of reason will change their minds. So horses carry heavy loads and give rides to wizards. Slaves do all the work and wizards get all the benefit. We must hurry to set Jessita free before they capture her mind as well as her body."
On the way back, Roberto showed his brother how to open corral gates, but just as he had said, none of the horses would come out. Ronaldo could not quite get the knack of gate opening so he was very happy Roberto had agreed to come with him. He couldn't help but wonder, would Jessita refuse to come out, too?
Back at the corral Jessita was unloaded. The sun was up and it was a lovely morning. But Jessita was far too lonely and frightened to notice. One of the men said, "Get her started in horse school right away. We want to teach her to give allegiance to wizards. We want her to do everything we tell her. We must get control of her mind. Horses are too big and strong for us to control their bodies alone."
Jessita missed her Mom and Dad very much. That night she cried herself to sleep. The next morning she started school with several other young horses. But they were not allowed to talk to one another. One of the wizards was their teacher. He said, "All of you raise your right hoof. Now say 'I pledge allegiance to the wizards of this green and beautiful country.'" The other horses did it right away. Jessita didn't want to do it. It seemed silly. Then the man said, "All horses count to three." And all horses counted to three. Except Jessita. That's how it went all morning. Jessita was a refusenik.
At noon the young horses ate lunch. Afterwards, they walked into a field to romp. Jessita didn't know any of these horses so she just stood to one side. Soon a couple of horses came over to her. "You're new here aren't you?" asked one. "Yes," she answered. "Well, we don't like know-it-alls who won't do what they're told!" said the other. "You'll find none of the horses will be your friend if you won't obey the wizards because they feed us and take care of us," said the first. "The wizards have set you free and you're being very ungrateful." And they trotted off. Sure enough, none of the horses asked her to play.
Jessita was lonely and wanted the others to like her so badly. So after lunch she started doing what she was told. In a few days she was just like all the other slave horses. Three weeks slowly passed.
Ronaldo and Roberto at last arrived at the corral where Jessita was being held. They waited until all the wizards had left for the night. In the twilight Roberto lifted the latch on the gate and it swung open. Ronaldo spotted Jessita.
"Jessita!" he called, "Jessita, it is your Papa-dearest and your Uncle, Roberto. We have come to take you home!" "Father, Father, it is so good to see you!" she said. "But I dare not leave the corral. It is far too dangerous in the open and there is nothing to eat. These horses are my friends. Besides, I've come to enjoy being free and I have very important work to do here." The other slaves muttered their agreement. They all crowded together, as far as possible from the gate.
"You must help her get control of her own mind again." said Roberto. "You must help her see that the lies of the wizards are only meant to make a willing slave of her." "I will try," said Ronaldo.
Ronaldo trotted over to Jessita. He nuzzled her gently with his soft nose. "Little one, I want to help you. Those men have gotten control of your thoughts. They have made you give allegiance to them. They have made you believe things that are not true. Think back. Can't you remember when you and I and your mother and sisters lived happily on the plains? We were free. We were safe. We had plenty to eat. You loved to run like the wind. You can't do that in a corral or while carrying a heavy load."
Jessita listened and remembered. She was living in a different world now, a fantasy world created in her head by the men who captured her. They had forced her to go to many classes and hear the same words over and over again until she could think of nothing else.
"You must do whatever men tell you. You must obey the wizards. The wizards will protect you from a dangerous world. The wizards will feed you. The wizards will set you free! You are helpless without the wizards."
Over and over these things were drummed into her head. Now she believed. Her belief held her captive better than any corral or rope ever could. Her father's words were calling up another world she dimly remembered. The real world. It was like a battle going on in her mind. The lies of men against the truth her father was telling her.
Run like the wind. Yes, she did remember that. Hoofs pounding the ground in time with all nature. Mane waving in the breeze. Breath coming in great gulps. Dashing across the landscape, the feel of grass rushing by. Yes, she did love to run. But it seemed so long ago, like a fairy tale. "Run like the wind, Jessita. Come with us and we'll run like the wind!" her father said.
His voice seemed to be coming from the end of a long tunnel, but it was enough. Jessita took a step forward and then another. "She has to get her mind free herself." said Roberto, "No one else can do it for her. She must want it more than anything else." Roberto notices how thin she is and the marks left on her back from heavy straps.
The other horses called to her, "Jessita, don't be crazy! Don't leave, it's nice and safe here!" She hesitated a moment, uncertain; then she moved toward the gate slowly with her head held low.
Jessita was outside the gate without a wizard's permission for the first time since she was captured. It felt so odd, so strange. Her father and uncle broke into a trot. Jessita followed mechanically. She was on the way back. Her body was free again but it would be some time before her thoughts would be her own - some time before the wizard's lies would stop echoing in her mind.
Roberto told his brother that the wizard's power was broken once a horse got his mind free of their control. "I don't know how I ever woke up, but I did." explained Roberto. "After that, it was just a matter of watching how they closed the latch. I thank God, who made this green and beautiful world, that I have control of my own thoughts. Jessita is safe now."
Her mother and sisters were so very happy to see her, and she them. She knew the wizards couldn't trick her twice. No one should ever control another's mind. It is a very bad thing. Soon Jessita would be happy again and running like the wind. When that happened, she wanted to find a way to set other horses free. There had to be a way, there just had to be. . .