Linnifrid darted to him and wrapped her arms around his large neck. “Oh, Bucky. I was so worried about you. Wherever did you go?”
“I’ve been to a very magical place, beyond the veil of the forest’s edge. It’s a wonderful place full of wonderful things. I know you’ll love it.”
“What forever do you mean, my dear horse?”
“I’m going to take you there and we can live together, forever and ever and ever. Won’t you like that?”
“No. No, Bucky. I’m going to take you home.”
“But that is my home now. It’s where I belong. I have value and purpose there,” Bucky asserted.
“No. You belong on the farm with me. I think you are confused. Maybe you are dehydrated. We’ll make a torch and I’ll lead you to the water.”
Bucky grew stern. “You can lead me to water, but you cannot make me drink. Now climb on and I will take you to the special place.”
Linnifrid backed away from him slowly. “There’s something different about you, Bucky. You’ve never been a mean horse, or a pushy horse, not ever in your whole life. You seem so jittery. What happened to you out here?”
Bucky scraped at the ground with a hoof. “I’ve found a new way for me, a better way.”
“I don’t understand what you are talking about. What’s this about a new way? There’s been some rather large thoughts going through that head of yours, hasn’t there? Hmm. And behind my back, too.”
“Come with me and you’ll find out. If you don’t like it, you can go back home. I swear to you on a big bucket of oats.”
“I can’t come with you, Bucky. It’s Papa. He’s passed. I have to go back for a proper burial. I have to!”
Bucky paused in the dim light and the girl could feel his warm breath lightly glance her face. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Bucky said. “He was a nice enough man, I suppose, but he will turn to dust one way or another. Your life must go on. Come with me.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say, and I’m not coming with you. I’m going home!”
It was when Linnifrid turned to gather her things that the shrunken and deformed people came out of the darkness and formed a ring around her in the firelight. They pressed the tips of their walking sticks firmly into the ground and gazed at her with psychotic purpose. There were about ten of them, dressed in rags, burned by fire, beaten down by a world of greed and war. Some were bald, or half bald, and others were full of wild hair, but they were all dirty and grumbly, and somewhat cold of heart. They studied the girl with great interest as she fell silent and afraid before them.
One of them stepped forward and grunted. “Is this the one? Is this the girl you were talking about?”
“It is her,” Bucky answered. “I’m afraid she is refusing to come with us. You’ll have to… Persuade her.”
The one that came forward moved closer to the girl, looked her up and down, and sniffed. “You haven’t bathed recently, have you?” he wanted to know.
Linnifrid looked at his grossness and made a face. “And I wonder if you even know what a bath is.”
The turnip-like little man made a commanding gesture in the air, and Linnifrid cried out as they came at her — all of them, sticks hoisted high and then down hard upon her. The girl struggled. She did her best to shield their blows. But it was too much, too furious, too violent of an attack, and so the girl fell into a deep and dark unconsciousness that lasted for a seemingly long time.
When Linnifrid awoke, she was on her back and looking up at fresh splashes of morning sunlight soaking a green forest. There was rope tied around her hands and ankles and she was being dragged along the floor of the woods in something like a tarp. She was sore and dirty, and her dress was torn and her once perfectly beautiful hair of raven black was now caked with wet dirt and leaves. The girl tried to cry out, but she was too sore. She craned her neck and saw that the little people were the ones hauling her along like a pack of sled dogs; Bucky was out front and leading the way. She tried again to speak, and the words came out scraggly. “Hey! What are you doing to me!?”
The ten small people stopped, all were men she thought, but there might have been a woman or two, it was hard to tell because they were all so caked over with grime and burns. “Where are you taking me?” Linnifrid demanded to know. They said nothing to her but simply grumbled and turned to Bucky for an answer. The horse turned around and came back to where she was lying on the ground. He put his long face close to her and butted at her shoulder with his nose. He sniffed at her. “We’re taking you to sanctuary,” Bucky said. “The world is no longer a safe place for you to live as you once did. It’s over. Your old life is over, and you must come with us now. There is no alternative.”
Linnifrid looked up at him and licked at her dry lips. “But must you tie me up and drag me along the ground like an animal? I’ve done nothing wrong and yet you treat me like this. I don’t understand.”
“You’re an animal just like me.”
“Yes, but …”
“Will you walk peacefully?” Bucky suddenly sympathized.
“If you try to run away, I will tell them to kill you. Do you know that? I have no problem with doing it.”
“I understand… But at the same time, I don’t. Bucky? Did you join a cult?”
The horse looked at her and was hesitant to answer the question. Then he ignored it all together and ordered some of the small people to untie her and help her to her feet.
“Are you cold?” the horse asked her.
“Bring her a cover,” Bucky ordered, and one of the small people came over and gave her a smelly blanket and patted her arms. Linnifrid was convinced it was a female. She had a sweet look beyond the scared gray eyes, and she may have even been a mother to someone in the past. “Thank you,” Linnifrid said softly.
Bucky moved to the front of the line again and everyone started marching along once more. Linnifrid was glad to be up off the ground and walking by her own will. The horse had ordered two of the small people to walk closely behind her, to watch her and make sure she didn’t try to get away.
They made their way through the long and endless forest at a steady pace. Linnifrid was tired and thirsty. She wanted to stop and rest but they would not let her.
“Almost there,” one of the tubby ones grumbled. “Almost there, and you will be free at last.”
TO BE CONTINUED