Chapter Eighteen

 

Pete rolled over and groggily spat what felt like tree bark out of his mouth. His head throbbed and thirst clawed at him as though he had not taken drink for weeks. With effort, he opened his eyes and groaned. As soon as he saw where he lay, he flopped his head back onto the ground with an impatient groan.

 I am so bloody tired of waking up in some bloody unknown place wi’ no bloody idea how I ‘ave bloody gotten ‘ere! Is no’ three times in as many weeks quite enough?

 Briefly, he considered simply lying there for another day until whatever meddlesome goddess who had decided to make sport of him ceased to amuse herself with his life and plopped him back someplace that made sense before abandoning him to kinder fates.

But stronger than that desire was his grave thirst, and his desperation grew with each passing minute. Agonizingly, he rolled over onto his side and pushed himself up into a sitting position, grunting as his mostly-healed wounds protested. Too drained and muzzy-headed to stand instantly, he pushed himself onto his hands and feet and slowly walked his palms back towards his toes, his rear end wagging in the air like a toddler’s.

Once standing, he turned around in a slow circle to take stock of his bearings. Tree, tree, tree, wineskin, guitar, horse, tree, tree, tree, tree.

He was in the midst of a forest, but he could see a clearing with a dusty path about two-hundred paces from where he stood. Something nagged at his sleep-fogged brain, and the instant that it registered he whirled around to stare at what had caught his attention.

 A horse. Where on earth did I get a bloody horse? Do I e’en KNOW any horses?

It was not Morley, for Morley was a beautiful chestnut-brown, and this horse was sort of dun-grey. Moreover, Morley had an appearance of intelligence to him, whereas this horse looked as though he might not recognize grass unless one shoved it between his teeth. Pete further noticed that the horse was not even tied to a tree… it appeared that the horse had stayed where Pete had left him simply because it was too dumb to contemplate moving elsewhere. But from whence did I acquire a horse?

NOT thinking about this now, Pete thought. Not until I’ve ‘ad something to drink.

Pete seized the wineskin and tilted it to his lips, but nary was a drop left. He threw it to the ground and turned in a circle once again, praying against hope that there was a stream nearby. He sniffed the air, hoping to smell water, but all he smelled was a sort of noxious fug, the horse having chosen that exact moment to make free with a rather disgustingly audible passage of wind.

Gagging, Pete walked a few paces away and strained his ears.

Was ‘e imagining it, or did ‘e detect a faint burbling off to ‘is left?

He walked twenty paces or so in that direction, and was relieved to hear the sound getting distinctly louder. Allowing his ears to guide him, Pete staggered through the trees until he came upon a stream. It took him a few minutes more until he could find a break in the brush whereby to reach the water, but when he finally crashed through, he threw himself upon his knees by the bank and scooped palm-full after palm-full of the cool water into his mouth.

 Once he had drunk his fill, he ran a hand down the sopping front of his jerkin and stood. Carefully, he picked his way back to the horse, retrieved the wineskin, and returned again to the stream. He dunked the wineskin beneath the surface of the cool water, sighing as he listened to the water bubble and burp its way into the vessel. Corking the wineskin tightly, he ambled back to where the horse still stood and slowly sat down with his back braced against the trunk of a tree to sort his thoughts.

 Point number one: I am lost.

Point number two: Me ‘ead still ‘urts, but I shall deal with that later.

Point number three: I ‘ave in me possession one wineskin filled with water, one guitar – Od’s blood, now I remember, I took that from Ariana! All righ’, not dealing wi’ that now either – and a distinctly gaseous horse.

Pete took a long guzzle from the wineskin and wiped his mouth upon his sleeve.

This is not good. A guitar I can handle, ‘tis naught but petty theft an’ I need it more than she does.

All righ’, ALL RIGH’! Pete answered the tiny voice of conscience nagging at his gut. That may or may no’ be fact, but in any event, the thing is done now. I cannot UN-do it at this exact moment.  Therefore, I shall no’ think about it any further.

 But the horse. Now, that be another matter altogether. Nicking apples from carts when th’ merchant’s back is turned is one thing, but horse thievery is quite another! Od’s wounds, they HANG horse thieves if they be merciful, and draw and quarter them if they be not!

Pete looked at the horse, which looked back at him in placid stupidity. The animal in question let loose with another passage of wind - one which reverberated so noisily amongst the trees that the horse turned his own head around to survey his behind, as though wondering how such an ordinary-looking bit of flesh could have produced such a mighty thunderclap.

Pete waved his hand in front of his nose and took another sip from the wineskin. He had no recollection of where he had gotten the horse, but the odds of him having actually purchased the beast were pathetically slim. So it stood to reason that Pete had stolen the blighter.

And is not that jus’ me luck? Catmint fever or no, of all th’ horses in the world, I ‘ave to go and risk me neck to nick this one.

Well, the sober light of day was famed for bringing reason to man… and the only reasonable course of action was to point the beast back in the direction from whence they had come and hope that it would amble home, where its master would hopefully presume that it had wandered off of its own volition.

And then wha’? 

Now that his head had cleared and the nausea was past, he came to the realization that in addition to feeling thirst, he was terribly, desperately hungry. Pete patted his pockets for a coin, but found none.

All righ’, so, without th’ horse, I ‘ave one guitar, one wineskin full of water and… nothing else. Which means tha’ I ‘ave no choice but to find some work.

  Pete pushed himself to his feet and dusted off his breeches as best he could. He cast a disconsolate eye at his own body. He looked like a patched cur if e’er one had been seen. His brand new shirt looked crisp and clean, but thoroughly out of place alongside a far-too-old pair of breeches with a hole in the inseam and a persistent bloodstain on the front. He possessed no jerkin to speak of, and his head bore a decidedly ratty muffin hat in an indistinct shade of brown. He sported nearly two-weeks’ growth of beard, but the small bit of him that claimed Irish blood made it patchy, so that his chin rather resembled a scrubby hill with handfuls of its grass ripped out at the roots.

Od’s blood, how’m’I supposed to find employment looking like this?

 Profoundly disgusted with how Fate had harassed him of late, Pete snatched the guitar by the neck and slung the wineskin over his shoulder, where it dangled from a thin leather strap.

Send the horse back. Right. But where?

Pete had no earthly idea from which direction he had come. He looked to all sides, but his memory of last night was so muddled that he might as well have simply appeared here out of thin air. Finally, he decided that the direction the horse was already pointing was as good as any other, and marched over to its side.

 Raising his hand, he shouted, “Hyah!”, and gave the creature a resounding smack on the rump. Startled, the horse let loose with a final burst of flatulence that barked its way around the forest as the beast cantered off into the trees without a backwards glance.

 Pete gagged, nearly spitting up the small bit of water in his stomach. Violently, he shook his head and waved his arm before his face to move the air, then – not nearly as steadily as the noxious horse - staggered off in the opposite direction.