Continued from The Giant’s Shield (Part IV).
Sometime before the arrival at the pair’s home, the older goblin jostled his ribs just right, and Ask’s world turned black. Horse was running free. He couldn’t see her surroundings. His dream shifted through a haze, and he saw Korenila praying. Her words wove through the confusion.
“Bring Ask back to us safely. May he find food and shelter, may he still be alive.” She took a deep, shaking breath, and it rattled through Ask’s entire being. “He fell only recently off the drop. His horse has run away from us, going to the south. Keep her safe. Evoxe is going to build a sign for the two. Should they get lost, and look up, they’ll know where we are, he assures me.” She held back a sob. “Please, keep everybody safe. Peace with us.”
A faint voice behind her spoke, and she smiled. It was the scarred girl. Korenila’s voice faded as she spoke normally.
Ask’s eyes opened. He was inside a wooden room that was much warmer than the outside. He sat and looked around. His ribs felt stiff.
The elf smiled. “Ah, he’s awake!” She called toward a door. She seemed to be spinning thread.
As the old man entered, Ask spoke up. “I’m Ask.”
“Ask. Odd name. I’m Trun Iceheart. This is Ela. Don’t even bother with her full name; she’s noble.”
Ela shot him a playful glare. “And Trun is an old man.” She laughed, and Ask’s ears rose as he swore he heard bells in the sound.
Ask shook his head to clear such weird thoughts from his mind. “So. Now what?” He scratched at his scalp, just behind his ear.
“We were hoping you could tell us what you were doing hiding in a badger’s hole, Ask.” Ela spoke with a voice that reminded him of Korenila’s, but somehow more soft and pretty. It reminded him of soft raindrops, and he scratched his head to banish those thoughts.
“I was sleeping there.” He blinked at their disapproving and concerned faces. “It isn’t like I had anywhere else. I fell down here and almost got eaten by an evil lizard, and when I tried to climb out, the rocks punched me in the chest, and I landed near the hole, so I crawled in.” He crossed his arms defensively, then blinked as he felt something weird on his chest. Slowly, he looked down. There was some kind of paste there that was strangely solid. He knocked on it, and scowled. “What’s this?”
“It’s to help your chest heal. Ela tells me it’s helpful.” Trun rolled his eyes.
“I tell you so because it is.” She slowly rose to her feet. “Now, Trun, you may keep him company. I am going to begin work on dinner.” Ela nodded and walked out of the room. Her body was thin as air, and she moved with more silence than Ask ever heard in his life.
He stared at her back until she turned, and then kept staring until Trun clobbered him in the shoulder. “Stop that.” His snarl was possessive, and Ask quickly lowered his head, cheeks hot.
Sudden, building pressure and pain reminded him of the bad meat he ate, and he grimaced. “Where can I shit?” He was surprised he couldn’t speak without taking a deep breath beforehand. “Bad meat.”
For a time, he felt Trun’s eyes slowly making holes in his head. “Chamber pot’s under the bed. I’ll empty it tonight, before bed.” The old goblin walked to the other side of the room at the pace Ask expected of old men– slow and purposeful, and a little shaky. His eyes narrowed as he watched the display before he relieved himself.
It was painful, and it was messy, and once Ask cleaned himself, he decided he didn’t want to think about it ever again. It was more foul than the time he saw a dead pregnant woman’s belly get sliced open on the side of the road so a homeless man could see if her meat was any good. He closed his eyes and forced the image away as he climbed back onto the bed. “Sorry.” He looked away in hopes his red, shame-filled face wasn’t too visible.
“Augh! You were right about bad meat, boy!” Trun grabbed the pot and hurried out with it as Ask tried to hide in the blankets. Right about now, he almost wished he’d been found by the lizard thing.
Even after Trun’s footsteps returned, all was quiet as the two sat or laid in awkward silence together.
The silence was suddenly broken. Trun cleared his throat. “So, where you from, boy?”
“Njolr, in a city bordering the desert, but I wasn’t always in that one place. Always in Njolr, though.” Ask spoke slowly, and he felt like he was back there. The forests, hot and around rivers and lakes, were right up against the mountains. Each river and lake tasted different, and he could remember each he lived next to.
“Njolr.” Trun repeated it slowly. “That’s the country north of here. Goblins don’t live up there.”
“I couldn’t help it. I was born there. My parents died, so I stayed.” He shrugged, and a warm hand rested on his shoulder. He looked back with a scowl. “It’s common enough, no need to give me that stupid look,” Ask snapped.
Trun’s expression hardened. “Oh, get off it. It wasn’t common last time I was out in the world.” His words were like a whip– one that echoed back from the post in Njolr.
“Just… There’s a war.” The words came out with a strange fierceness that normally would have shocked him. “I was raised in Njolr, and they hated me, even told me I had to die because I saved someone from getting raped!” The words spilled out. “They made my back horrible, and they cut my balls, and they threw me into the desert, and the only people who saved me were a horse and the people who I was raised to think were my enemies.” He snarled and lashed out at the wall in an anger he hadn’t felt since back at the house of healing, back in their stables.