Continued from The Giant’s Shield (Part VI).
“Trun.” Ask’s voice sounded strained and shaken. He could hear his own panicked heart beating rapidly. “There’s something scary outside the window.” He swallowed, and the lizard in the middle seemed to grin at him with teeth that put Ask’s own to shame. Ask blinked, and they were gone. He swallowed again and slowly turned to the door. His hand rested on the handle, and he looked back. The window was empty.
Sweaty hands opened the door, and Ask looked up at Trun.
“What’s outside?” Trun’s words were crisp as he walked to the window fearlessly and yanked a stool in front of it to stand on. As he looked out, Ask quickly, rapidly described the lizard men.
“There were three of them. Bright red eyes. Covered in scales. They were lizards who walked like men.” He frowned as his eyes caught the expression on Trun’s face. Trun didn’t believe him. Ask felt his belly drop. “I’m not lying.”
“No, you aren’t.” Trun stepped down. “But you might be seeing things. Lay down and rest.”
Ask frowned, then took a deep breath. “Do you have a room with no windows?”
Trun blinked at him, then shook his head. “No. We can pin some cloth over the window, though.”
“Please do that.” The word ‘please’ felt strange and pitiful as it slipped from Ask’s lips, and he didn’t like that feeling of pathetic shame that accompanied it. He watched as Trun walked out and returned with some thick leather that he nailed into place at the top of the window.
Ask already felt safer. “Thanks-” He began to speak, but Trun cut him off.
“Now that’s settled, we need to talk.” Trun’s eyes were just barely turning orange. “You’ll stop looking at Ela like you do. She’s mine. She’ll never be yours. Don’t look at her. Ever.” His tone was harsh, and Ask lowered his head and nodded.
“Good.” Trun’s eyes flashed red for a moment as Ask glanced up, but shifted rapidly back to yellow.
Ask shifted away and tried to make himself small. He closed his eyes tightly.
“You can stay until you’re better, and then we’ll give you what extra supplies we have, and you’ll leave. You won’t mention this conversation to Ela at all.” His eyes narrowed in a final warning as he walked out.
Left alone in the dark room, Ask stepped backward onto his bed, then shifted into the corner and hugged his knees. He was scared of Trun. He couldn’t place why, but the fear he felt didn’t feel right. He squeezed his eyes shut and growled to himself as he covered is head, fingers twining among his messy, coarse hair.
Blackness found him, but he wasn’t hurt enough to know why he was there. Horse was running headlong through something he couldn’t see, and she had to weave through. Her hoofbeats were slow and soft, but grew in speed and volume, and he could see lizard men following her, sometimes obscured, sometimes clawing. His anger grew. How dare they attack Horse.
How dare they.
Horse put on a burst of speed, and Ask jerked from the darkness as he heard her whinny, so close. He darted from the room and out the front door, only to stare at the cold forest. He couldn’t see her anywhere. She sounded so close, but he saw no sign of her.
He forgot his terror of the lizard men and looked around, then cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted with all the air he could pull at once. “Horse!” He took a deep breath and repeated his cry. “Horse!” Again and again. His throat hurt. He felt dizzy. He sucked more air into his lungs, then gaped as, graceful as a rich magician, the familiar horse came into view.
It was almost like he was seeing still shots of her approach as he stared on silently with wide eyes and a wide open mouth. She turned around a tree. She looked at him. She changed course and rode headlong toward him. Shakily, he held his arms out to her. Her teeth suddenly found the back of his vest and lifted him.
Thud! He was on her back. He held on tightly and ducked against her neck. “Inside!”
She ducked her head and rushed in, then stopped and kicked the door shut. Ela and Trun stared dumbfounded at the sudden horse in their main room.
On her back, Ask sobbed and stroked her neck as he murmured the name he gave her. “Stupid horse.”
She whickered and shifted her weight uneasily as one eye turned to face Trun and Ela. Ask followed her gaze and patted her neck as he slid down. “Horse. This is Trun and Ela. They’re nice. They’re letting me stay until I’m not hurt anymore.” He tapped the stone-like wrap around his chest and grimaced. He felt raw underneath it– not to mention incredibly itchy.
Ela rose from her seat and set her string aside. “We have a shed in the back. Perhaps that would be a better place?” She looked down at the dirtied floor with a worried face, and Ask looked away with a glare toward the floor.
“Yeah. Right.” He began to walk toward a door at the back, then paused as he wondered how he knew about it before he continued on and through it. Outside, there was a light snow starting to fall, and the shed looked lonely and far, pressed up against a cliff face. Ask sighed and looked up at it.
It was dreary, and a cold wind chilled him. “I’ll stay with you, Horse.” The words spilled out without a thought as he hurried to the shed with her and opened the door.
As she walked in past him, his eyes roamed her back, side, and flank.
Blood and claw marks stood out sharply against her white hair.
“Horse-” He felt around his clothes, then tore a pocket from his pants and used it to mop up the worst of the blood. “I’m sorry.” He rested his head against her.
When he opened his eyes, he was in the lent bed, with no sign of Horse. He checked his pocket. It was still there.