Continued from The Sand Flea (Part IX).
“Hey, something’s ahead!” Evoxe’s voice was sudden, and woke Ask from his doze. His head was somewhere soft, and the sun’s warmth felt nice on his skin. He looked upward, and saw Korenila’s face. He was resting his head against her chest, and she was leaning against the forward wall of the straw cart. Beside him, Horse had her nose under his hand.
Korenila opened her eyes. “What is it, Evoxe?”
“I think it’s-” he trailed off momentarily before he continued, “It’s a house. Nobody should be living this close to the Drop.”
The woman’s brow furrowed. “Let’s say hello.”
A momentary jolt shook the cart. “You can’t be serious. Fine.” He agreed so readily. Ask was in awe for the moment– Evoxe was so willing– eager, even– to follow what Korenila asked of him. It still seemed strange to the young goblin that the elf obeyed a woman without question.
“Are we stopping?” Ask queried as he climbed to his feet, only to fall onto his face as the cart stopped. Hands softened by his infirmity pushed him up, and he rose. “Hey! Let us out! I want to see where we are!”
Behind the eager goblin, Korenila laughed. Ask even tried again to climb the side, only to slide back down.
“Oof!” He grunted as he landed on his rear, tangled up in Horse’s legs. Korenila only laughed harder as she helped him up. His face felt red, and he and the woman hurriedly helped Horse onto her feet as the back of the cart opened to form a ramp. “Careful, Horse. It’s slippery.” Slowly, he led her down to the ground. It was a grassy plain, so unlike the desert he grew up near. The grass was dry, and rustled in the soft breeze. It was unlike anything he’d seen before.
Yellow eyes were wide as he looked around. Without a command or a thought, Horse lowered herself, and Ask scrambled onto her.
“Where are you going?” Korenila’s voice cut through the reverie of the pair, and both looked to her as one.
“Uh.” Ask scratched his head. “I don’t know. We’ll come back.”
The human woman sighed. “Be back before sunset.” Her head dropped, and she shook it with a laugh. The pair was off before she could look up again.
First, the pace wasn’t too uncomfortable, and then it became jolting. It smoothed out after a time, and Ask leaned forward with a gleeful shout. It felt like there was no end to these grassy lands, and as long as he was on Horse’s back, riding, his troubles felt so very distant– as though they were just from a story, overheard in passing.
His own shouts of glee quickly became hoarse as he rode Horse. She neighed in response, and her head shot forward.
She moved so much faster, and he leaned across her neck and simply held on and enjoyed the ride. He was laughing, but no sound reached his long ears except the sound of the wind rushing past as Horse charged about this way and that just to enjoy the sensation of running with no limits save when time to sleep came.
For an eternity, it felt like they simply ran, until the sun began to set. Horse turned suddenly, and Ask yelped as he struggled to hold on. Her head bobbed as she forced herself to speed, and it became very difficult for the small goblin on her back to cling tight enough, but as she slowed to a stop, and he slid off onto his rear, they arrived as the top sliver of the sun lowered beneath the horizon.
His laughter seemed loud in the quiet plain, and the door to the house opened, sending a square of light down onto the breathless pair. Evoxe shook his head as he walked out. “Come on. Your horse can go into the stable for the night, and you can sleep with her or in the house– your choice, once you get dinner. I’ll feed her.” He extended a hand toward Ask and helped the smaller male to his feet.
“Thanks.” Ask darted into the house. His stomach growled, and he paused at the door and peered in cautiously before he darted towards a visible plate of steaming, high-piled food. He grabbed the plate and carried it to a corner to eat with his back to the corner as he watched the silhouette of Korenila working on something on the other side of a curtain.
Ask’s days passed happily. While Korenila and Evoxe worked on taking care of the owner of the house, Ask and Horse ran– no, flew– through the fields of dry grass.
All was peaceful, and Ask felt himself grow strong in leg and hip, and in the mornings, when he helped Evoxe and Korenila, he felt himself grow stronger in arm and back. He felt like there was almost nothing he couldn’t fight, and that made him restless.
The nights became longer, and the air chilled, and it wasn’t long before a heavy deep snow kept Ask and Horse indoors. Despite the miserable weather, Ask felt happy.
He was often content to just lay against Horse and rest, and in his dreams, instead of visions of fire, he saw visions of golden fields of dry grass, of a white and grey horse, of a quiet, fatherly elf and a gentle, sweet human. He dreamed of other goblins, and he dreamed of being strong.
Spring came, and Ask, with Horse, waited impatiently for the snow to melt and the weather to dry, and somewhere in his mind, during their first ride of the new season, he felt like this was where he belonged– here, with the hodgepodge of beings he felt safe with.
Evoxe was so like the father he used to dream he might have, and more. Korenila was soft and sweet, and she cared for him, even when it was easier to leave him behind. Horse was a stupid animal that liked him more than a horse that was going to be a meal should.
He felt happy.