Nella Ash was born to the smell of warm horse breath and simmering grain.
She was gently loved and in return loved back ferociously with a constant air of mischievous joy at every aspect of her unfurling world.
Nella and Joe rode the back of their fathers dray as he guided the gentle giant Clydesdales to deliver the ale far and wide to the villages scattered through the patchwork of soft rolling hills.
The children delighted in skimming flat stones behind them and seeing how many cows would startle at their games and laughter.
When they reached the inns there were always squalls of boisterous children
running to claim them as family to play. Sometimes they would clamber to nearby streams and catch minnows in little glass jars or make stone wall traps to catch rabbits that were far too wily to be caught.
It was when they arrived home by the glow of lamp light Nella liked best.
She would stay by the great horses heads to hear the slow steady sound they made as they chewed their feed.
She liked to run her small white fingers over the silken part just above their lips and untangle the roughness made by the thick leather driving reins.
Nella’s father had his breeding mares in one of the stable blocks, his horses were desired far and wide for their sound temper and beauty so it was Nella’s mother Elsie who tended to this part of the brewery and oversaw the stable boys duties and the birthing of foals.
Everyone knows that it’s the Gypsy folk who know horses the best so sometimes Elsie would exchange a bag of coins and a barrel or two of ale for a more elegant beast to enhance the breeding line, the dancing ponies her dad called,’spirited beasts’ and Nella and Joe were forbidden to go in to their stalls but Nella did anyway.
There was a stable boy called Alfie, a man who was there from before time began,at least before there was Nella and Joe. He taught Nella how to ride bareback and how to tend wounds from stray fence wires and even yapping ankle biting dogs. Alfie was only half accepted in the village because off the rumours that he was the son of a passing circus performer, his mother was long gone so there was no one to say if it were true and villages could be as blinkered and narrow as a skittish horses in their puritan views. To Nella’s father man was a man and all created wondrously equal.
Joe was more interested in his many hued glass marbles and running in the lane with the other boys in their street. It was such a night when everything changed. Nella helped Alfie take the harnesses from the horses and fill their nose bags while Joe played marbles in the corner with a new-found friend.
Joes friend had never laid eyes on horses at such close quarters and when Nella had gone to the house for supper and bed and Alfie had gone back to his humble rooms, the boys lagging behind thought it a great game to fill buckets with as many oats as could be dragged to the horses stalls. It was the gypsy horses in foal who gorged on the unexpected treat until their bellies were swollen more than you would have thought possible and their bodies began to heave and grow wet with sweat.
That night this was only the first of most terrible events. Nella’s brother knew he had done wrong and he hurried to bed thinking to simply get away with wasting all the oats. In his haste he knocked over the oil lamp by his bed and the slow smouldering took quite some time to begin to ignite the ends of his bed sheets.
Nella stirred to the sound the horses down in the stables whinnying and stomping hooves in distress, she did not stop long enough to smell the acrid tiny curls of smoke already forming but scampered to her beloved horses where a terrible sight met her eyes. Two of the mares were in terrible trouble writhing on the floor with colic, there was no time to run the two streets away to fetch Alfie and Nella knew from Alfie’s teachings what she must do. The horses were wild with fear and without thought for her safety Nella threw rough made rope haters around the stricken horses necks and dragged them up from the ground knowing that if they could be kept upright they may survive the colic. When Nella pushed her way wild-eyed in to the yard the sight that met her eyes was more terrible than anything imaginable, the whole house was engulfed in flames and there were explosions and fireballs from the very core of the brewery.
Nella’s heart raced and her body felt as though it would surely fall and crumble in fear but instead she swung back in to the stable block and flung open every bolt on every door.
The two colicky mares were engulfed in their own pain in the now chaotic yard and before Nella eyes one fell to the ground with an ominous thud, the other who had far less of the oat feast was parching anxiously and rolling her eyes so the whites glimmered against a backdrop of flames and moonlit winter sky.
Nella flung open the yard gate in to the village and clambered on to the back of the mare clinging wildly to her mane with the thunderous hooves of the huge Clydesdales shoes echoing down the village street.
There was no more laughter for a very long time, there was no more tender mother with hair as dark as ravens wings and a heart as soft and strong as silken thread, there was no laughing eyed father with is strong weathered work worn hands and kind eyes. There was no brother to play high jinx and chastise yet truly love, there was no kitchen with soups bubbling to warm the winters nights, nothing, just a girl astride a half-wild horse in the dead of night and Alfie ashen faced in his long johns running towards the ensuing chaos.
There were endless offers of a warm hearth for Nella yet she would always find a way back to Alfie and the horses who were now in the safety of a farmer’s field, Alfie was never more than a breath away from his equine family in a little wooden caravan. No matter how kind the offers of the village women it was with the horses Nella needed to be and so most nights she slept wrapped in an oilskin with Alfie’s little terrier asleep across her ankles.
The horses had to be sold one by one to pay for the ruined brewery expenses, eventually there was only one, heavy with foal was the horse that Nella clung to, the horse that she named ‘Nadya’ because Alfie taught her that meant hope.
The villagers hearts had softened towards Alfie but with the brewery gone and his beloved horses he was anxious to search for his Romany Gypsy father, his only family in the world. For Nella Archie was her only family and of course Nadya.
It was so that on the very evening that Nadya’s foal was born slippery and blinking into Nella’s arms that Alfie and Nella joined Alfie’s true family in a life of Carney wonders.
Under the shadow of the grand big top Nella named the foal Aishe, to the Romany folk that meant ‘Alive’. There was no need for metal bits in Aishe’s mouth or anything other than a magical thread of thought between woman and beast. Watching Nella and Aishe it was said was like watching a daring ballet in which there was only love and a grand feeling of being fully alive. So that was the story written as written by some one who had once witnessed the greatest bareback rider on earth, Miss Nella Ash and her horse Aishe. It is thought that as long as she lived her horse was always called Aishe and Nella could have chosen to curl in the darkness of the moon yet she always chose the light and there she dazzled.