Knight of the Ribbons - Chapter 1

Although in some corners of the world Clay Logan might have been considered young, he was a well known and respected man in Defiance County and beyond, known as the most natural stagecoach driver in hundreds of miles. They called him, embarrassingly, the Prince of the Road. His grip was like a vise, his forearms like corded steel. He could guide a coach at speed around the worst of curves on the muddiest or snowiest or iciest of roads. He had been readying himself to handle the lines since he was four years old. People would come out to wave at him when his coach passed by, to stare in awe at the Prince of the Road and his four beautifully matched chestnut geldings. He was gallant, brave, a hero of the people. Such was generally believed of any coach driver, but there were those who said, because Clay had the gift, that he was the greatest, the most revered of them all. To Clay, more than any other driver on these Ohio byways, was applied the heroic name, knight of the ribbons.

And Clay knew horses. He was legendary for that knowledge as well as his deft handling of the lines, also known in stage driving circles as ribbons. That was what made this ride back home so long and painful, the horrible knowledge running through his mind that he had killed a magnificent thoroughbred that he could have saved had he but applied everything he knew to that ride. Domino . . .

He couldn’t stand to look down fifteen minutes later when they rolled past the gray. The doctor hardened his jaw but didn’t look over at Clay and said nothing.

The pain overtook Clay’s entire body, and cold sweat stood on his face and trickled down his cheeks, his neck, his chest and back. His body went from cold to hot and back again as they drove, and several times he thought he would have to vomit over the side of the dray. But they kept rolling through the night, and the rhythmic clopping of the big horses’ hooves, the sliding, metallic rattle of the steel wagon tires mesmerized him and seemed to make the pain recede into the darkness of his mind.

The world was black and dreamlike, but he remembered stopping the doctor at his little house, and he recalled jumping, almost falling, from the wagon seat. He ran to the house, where inside several lamps glowed dim. Samantha lay on a four poster bed in a room with pale yellow walls. The sheets were thrown down low, and she was soaked with sweat. And between her legs on the bed it was pooled, while handprints made of it stained the sheets and blankets . . . blood. The blood of his wife.

Clay didn’t want to touch Samantha. He didn’t want to find out yet if she was going to move. But he had to. He reached out slowly, and his fingers felt her sleeve, which was warm. She turned her head slowly, and a smile broke over his face. In her arms she cradled a tiny bundle. Her lips moved when Clay spoke her name. She smiled, and pent-up tears rolled down both sides of her face.

"Oh, my Clay. He would have looked like you. Just like you."

He stared, and soon realized the little bundle was as still as a deserted house. There was no crying, and no rise of breath. And when he looked back at Samantha her eyes were fading, and the doctor, with his stethoscope over her heart, closed his own eyes before turning his head to look up at Clay. He looked down at all the darkness on the sheets and blankets, and in his head he must have been estimating the amount of blood that had left the woman’s body. Her face was ashen, hardly a hint of pink in the dim lamplight.