Continued from The Sand Flea series.
Dull but happy days came and went. Ask slept in until two hours past sunrise, ate filling and delicious meals to break his nightly fast, rode through the plains and ate on Horse’s back as they flew through the grass, then returned as the sun began to slip down past the horizon, just in time for a dinner that left him full and drowsy. After that meal, provided by Evoxe’s hunting and Korenila’s stores, their small company sat around the fireplace and told stories and sang songs until one by one, they excused themselves to sleep. Ask slept with Horse in her stall, and the cycle continued as the seasons changed.
Spring became summer, which became fall, and the mystery that lived behind the curtain finally revealed herself– a young human woman, covered in scars that were old and new, who moved carefully and flinched each time Ask or Evoxe raised a hand, even if it wasn’t in her direction. Her flesh was pale, like someone who was not accustomed to the sun, and her yellow hair made Ask’s heart do strange flips inside his chest when it caught the light or framed her face.
Eventually, he asked about her condition, but was met with silence. The next time, she changed the subject clumsily. Finally, after one last try, she simply walked away. Ask didn’t ask again, and the pair got along well enough. She even sat next to him during the two meals he ate at her home.
Ask dismissed her condition from his mind, and concentrated instead on the joy of riding the days away on Horse’s back.
Eventually, a chilly day came, and Ask could smell a coming frost in the air. His nose felt strange in the cold, after growing up in such a warm climate.
Evoxe stood in the way of the stable door. Horse couldn’t get through. For several moments, Ask and Evoxe stared at each other. Finally, Ask spoke. “Move. I want to go out riding.” He jerked his chin toward the door, past the elf.
“You can do that later today. I need you to do some work with me.” The elf crossed his arms and set his weight, then blinked as Ask slid from Horse’s bare back without any objections.
Ask looked at him and blinked. When Evoxe left his mouth open, he looked like a fish. “What?”
“I expected you to protest.”
“Huh?” The goblin scratched his head. “Make sense.”
“I thought you would be mad.”
Evoxe chuckled. “I’m keeping you from your ride.”
“Oh. It’s fine. Horse can go without me today.” He swatted the beast’s rump, and earned a glare from her, which he met with a grin. He looked at Evoxe. “What do you need to do with me?” He scratched at his head, and absently wondered if he had mites in his hair.
“I’m going to teach you to fight during the winter. Korenila insisted.”
A wide grin spread across Ask’s features, and he felt air against his pointed teeth. He forgot he knew how to grin this wide. A lead ball rolled around in his belly, and he felt uncommon energy; he was eager. His tail became rigid and flicked from side to side slowly– just the tip.
Evoxe laughed. “It won’t be fun, and it won’t be easy. By the end of your first lesson, you’ll be bored, sore, and likely swear undying hatred for either me or what I’m teaching.” His grin widened, and Ask could see the man’s white, perfectly straight teeth.
“Why?” Ask squinted at him suspiciously.
“Well, the way I’m going to teach you to fight will let you fight longer, hit harder, and move faster than any other goblin alive.”
The youth’s ears rose slightly, and his shoulders relaxed. “I’ll try it.”
Slap! “No, you won’t. You’ll do it. The word ‘try’ is one that you will never speak again. It is no longer part of your vocabulary.”
Ask could only stare as he rubbed his sore cheek. “What?”
“Vocabulary is the set of words you know and use.” After the boy nodded, he continued his previous tangent. “From now on, you either will do something, or you won’t do something. This is the place from which a fighter’s endurance comes.”
“I don’t get it.” The goblin began to feel uncertain, and took a step back, only to bump into Horse– she hadn’t left, and she was blocking his exit… somewhat.
“You will understand as our lessons continue. To begin, chant ‘I will do this.’ while you do something I like to call ‘twenty pull-ups’…”
By lunch, Ask’s body felt wobbly, like the branches of the willow tree he saw near a temple once in Njolr. He descended on his lunch like a beast, and ate until Evoxe stopped him, and urged him to control his eating– something about getting a stomach ache. Sullenly, Ask withdrew, and instead of riding Horse immediately, he napped beside her until she pulled him onto her back by his vest and began to rise.
He woke and shifted himself into position as light entered his yellow eyes, and the two took off.
From behind, he heard Evoxe speak, although it was faint. “He recovered far too quickly.”
Those words made him worried, but as the sound was whipped away by the winds, so were his worries. Tonight, there would be a frost, and the morning tomorrow would be beautiful, if he could watch the sun rise in peace.
Already, a plan formed to escape his lesson with Evoxe just long enough to watch the sun rise over the plains, turning the new frost into gold and precious stones on each stick of grass.
Last year, it made him stop breathing, it was so pretty. He had to see it again, just in case he missed something the first time! This time, he decided, he would watch it from near the Drop. He wanted to see the house turn to gold and stones in the morning sun when it was covered in the almost-snow called frost.