The nights were growing cooler, and Ask’s back almost didn’t hurt at all anymore. Despite his recovery, Korenila insisted he should stay, and he couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t mind taking orders from her. She was kind. That must have been why, he was sure. He was given his freedom to wander the barnyard, however, and wander he did.
Horse was never far behind, and nobody seemed worried about Ask’s presence. He expected people to avoid him, or to be rude to him. Instead, the stable hands were polite and helpful, and several offered to help him saddle Horse. He declined in the most polite way he knew, and a few laughed good-naturedly, while others frowned at him for his poor word choice.
After his initial exploration period, he began to prefer certain places. Laying in a pile of sun-warmed straw or watching the stable hands exercise the horses took up much of his free time, and the days began to fall into a pattern. Breakfast, ‘physical therapy’, tending his wounds, lunch, free time, dinner, and sleep. It was nice, but he felt lazy.
This sensation of laziness finally began to draw him farther and farther from the stables in an attempt to prevent himself from getting too lazy, and he eventually began to climb the grain storage tower to stare out at the sands all around.
It was just on the cusp of the changing season that he thought he spotted something in the distance. Suspicion rose in his gut, and he climbed down. “Hey.” He called out to a stable hand. “Climb on top of the grain tower and look that way.” He pointed in the direction of what he saw. “Something’s out there.”
“Sorry, I don’t have time.” The stable hand waved him off and continued with his chores.
Ask grunted, then yelped as a large nose nudged the back of his head. He looked up crossly, but then his eyes lit. “Horse. Let me up.”
The creature stared at him for a moment before she shifted her weight, and her front legs slid forward in a horse bow, with one curled.
“How tall do you think I am?” He nonetheless grabbed her mane and pulled himself up. Once he settled in, he patted her neck. “I’m on.”
The stable hand stared. “Who trained your horse?”
“No idea.” He shrugged, then paused. “Why?”
“Most horses make the rider do the work of getting on.”
Ask shrugged. “I don’t know who trained her. I stole her, and I was going to eat her, but she saved my life.” He smirked as he watched the hand stare.
The man’s jaw dropped, and Horse rose with a toss of her head. She looked in the direction of what Ask saw, then took off. Ask’s hands wrapped up in her mane were all that kept the goblin on as she sped forward without any warning.
Ask bounced horribly on the beast’s back, and for the first time, he was thankful that he was gelded, or he would be in more pain than he was already. Bounce, bounce, bounce! It felt like a paddling! He held on tightly, and only his willpower kept his claws from digging into Horse’s sides.
Sand flew up behind them as Horse’s hooves tossed it up with each rapid step, and although Ask assumed the sand would be hard to run through, Horse showed no problems, and when she topped a sand dune, he spotted what he saw before. Closer now, he could make out a camp. There wasn’t much cover he could use. Despite this, he urged Horse to slow down, but to keep going closer. He carefully led her around the dunes and clung to her back.
The people from the camp site looked up and began to point at Ask. One stood up and waved. Warily, Ask approached.
The camp was tidy, and a pavilion was set up to provide some shade for the scruffy men and women inside. Each was armed, and wore rusted armor. They reminded Ask of soldiers, and when they offered him a drink, they seemed friendly enough.
“Thanks.” The goblin accepted the water skin. “Riding Horse in the desert is dry.” He took a sip, then handed the skin back. In his mind, it would be bad to drink too much, because the soldiers might grow angry.
“So, goblin. Where you come here from?” Her smile had missing teeth.
“They called it a hospital.” He suddenly felt his stomach knot as the group looked at each other, and then back at him with grim, dangerous expressions. For a few moments, all was silent. “What’s wrong?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Nothing. You should stay for a time.” One of the men placed a hand on his dagger– a clear threat. More awkward quietness ruled the half-tent.
Finally, he broke the silence. “Horse!”
She grabbed him by the back of his vest with her teeth and carried him at a run. For a short time, the soldiers, or perhaps the bandits, chased him through the desert. Before they came into view of the hospital, they suddenly withdrew. At the fence, Horse set Ask down on the ground. His vest was soaked in drool, but he didn’t mind. “Come on.” He hurried to his feet, and immediately regretted it. The ache in his back had returned, though it wasn’t unbearable. The goblin ran past spooked stable hands and toward Evoxe and Korenila. He had to warn them!
Unfortunately, neither was there.
Desperately, he looked and asked around. They went into town. They wouldn’t be back for several hours.
The goblin darted from the stables and headed toward the main building. The sight of its walls was not unfamiliar, but only once had he been inside that he recalled, and then he made some quick enemies despite his injuries. Large feet carried him through the side doors, and he hurried to look for anyone who would listen. “Bandits! There are bandits outside!”