I fell asleep again, as I had on my last horse ride, and awoke sometime in the middle of the day. The sun was bright through the trees and I could hear the distant echo of Seva birds calling. I was joined on this horse by a new soldier; taller and larger than Glen but just as smelly as the others. He wore no helmet and his greasy orange hair was tied in a sloppy tail. This time I was seated behind him and realized my hands were bound around his obtuse waist. He began to notice my struggling and peered over his shoulder at me.
“Ah, g’mornin sleepin beauty.” He joked, speaking in an accent I’d never heard before. “You want ya hands back, dontcha.”
“Yes, please.” I asked weakly, my own conscious mind slowly coming into focus.
“These wee fingers of yours are just aboot the most precious thing I’ve seen since-”
“Rigel-” A nearby soldier interjected, hoping to interrupt him.
“me dear sweet baby Abigale was born! Oh, what a fine day it was-”
“Not again, Rigel. No one wants to hear-” The same soldier tried again.
“It all started with her mum. She was the sweetest lass in all of Hardbrook! On sunny afternoons like this one we would be...” There were audible groans of tortuous anticipation coming from the soldiers within earshot. As my hands were unbound this so-called Rigel continued on with and absurdly detailed account of the beauty of his wife and eventually the beauty of his daughters, going so far as to recount each occasion they had walked and talked for the first time.
By the time Rigel settled into a resolution to his story he managed to cover even more. I learned about his contemptuous feelings for a malevolent stepmother, pride for his great grandfather’s achievements as a warrior and city mayor, and a particularly well documented account of how Rigel himself saved a baby goat from a burning barn during a terrible thunderstorm and therefore possesses a rather “sixth sense” about animals being in peril.
“I’m telling ya little miss, there must be some sorcery in these old bones or that little billy wouldn’t still be gnawing on the grassy fields of Hardbrook today.” Rigel finished. By that time the sun was below the treetops and making swift for the horizon.
My stomach had been turning and growling with intense hunger all day as we rode. My last meal was at the cottage with the girls, a hot veggie soup with generous chunks of celery, carrots, mushrooms, onions and radishes that had been stewed for hours making the broth the most delicious part. My mouth watered at the thought until I suddenly remembered the bowl of mush these soldiers had offered me the previous night. I didn’t care what it was made of, I was so hungry even THAT sounded appetizing.
I was snapped out of my edible fantasy when Rigel and the surrounding soldiers halted their horses and began to dismount.
“Only a couple hours of daylight left, little miss. Time to make camp.” Said Rigel. “Tommy, will you help her off? I can’t dismount without giving this poor lass a kick in the noggin.”
“Yup." Said a blond haired, round faced soldier as he lifted me off the horse and plopped be on ground. He stood there and smiled at me for a moment while I adjusted the skirt to my dress. Just as it was becoming awkward Rigel spoke up.
“Well, paint her portrait why don’t you, Tommy? Go on now! Don’t you have a fire to make?”
“Yup!” Tommy stated abruptly before trotting off to assist some other soldiers with unpacking.
“Damn kids. Have they never seen a young lady before?” Complained Rigel. Just as I turned to acknowledge the statement the red-haired soldier released an immeasurably large and heavy pack into my arms, nearly tipping me over.
“What’s going on, Rigel?” I heard the inquisitive voice of Glen, but couldn’t see him from over the pack I was holding.