Want to start at the beginning? - Emma Part 1
Emma had seen horses before, with human riders as they passed through Paldurain. The dwin of the city had always shied away from them, giving the large animals a wide berth as they traveled the ornate, stone-paved streets of the city. Dwin held to the dwarven belief that animals were meant for laborious work, not for riding, and so had no horses. Instead they bred large plow animals to help seed fields and pull carts of ore and stone. Emma had ridden one of those, thanks to a permissive herdsman. The animal was clearly uncomfortable with her on its back, and she had a hard time keeping her balance with her short legs wrapped around it. It had been fun, a small adventure, but what she really longed for was to mount a horse and fly across the land, faster than she’d ever gone before. The camp was a short distance away, but still far enough that the conversation sounded like a jumble of noise. The horses were next to a fallen tree, each wore a leather bridle with long straps looped around the tree's trunk. Light from the camp danced across the animals' hides. She approached the smallest horse, which stood a short distance from the others. It was many times her size and her head was level with its muscled shoulders. It was a pale tan color with firelight reflecting in its large, black eyes. She lifted her hand out, reaching for its long face. The horse snorted, its breath fogging in the chilled air, and leaned its head down, almost touching her fingers with its snout. “Most dwin don’t like horses.” Emma jumped at the voice and the horse pulled away, snorting again, its breath trailing off into the night air. Hidden mostly in shadows between the horses, a tall human stood, his hands on his waist. “I’ve seen dwin handle mules and those dwarven oxen you have, but not a man’s horse.” “Kewel.” She said, squinting to try and see his face. “What?” He stepped forward into the firelight, exposing half his face, and leaving the other half in shadow. He had short black hair, dark eyes, and red lips that stood out against his pale face. He wore a short leather jacket, cracked and dirty from heavy use. “They aren’t oxen, they’re called kewel.” Emma continued, “Are these your horses?” She lifted her hand, gesturing to the horse beside her. “They are.” His tone was light and playful,” And you’re they two young ladies Deem told use about, aren’t you.”
“Is he here?” Rilen asked, taking a few steps closer, but staying well away from the horses.
“He’s over by the fire,” the man tilted his head back, but did not take his eyes away from the girls, “Deem, your guests have arrived!” Then he addressed the girls, asking, “Which one of you is the noble woman?” He jutted his hand out, “No. Let me guess.” He barely looked at Rilen, then let his gaze linger on Emma, one side of his red lips pull up in a grin. “It’s the young lady who’s sweet on my horse.”
“This one is your horse?’ She asked eagerly.
She studied his face, trying to see if he resembled the handful of humans she’d met.
Humans and dwin looked much alike; in features dwins resembled humans much more than they did dwarves. The statues that remained showed dwarves as awkward things, with overlarge heads and arms down to their knees. Dwin had none of that and resembled, in almost every way, abnormally small humans. But their strange eyes, yellow and orange and red, marked them as dwarf relations, and long centuries of tradition linked them to dwarven heritage.
Emma’s eyes were a soft orange, like dying embers in a fire, and they examined the man, taking in his mud-spattered clothes and narrow frame.
She was intimidated to talk to a human, but far too excited about the horses to let it stop her.
“Yep, she’s mine." The man said, affection clear in his voice, "Her name is Juniper.”
“She has a name?” She wrinkled her brow in doubt.
“Humans name everything, Emma, even their beasts.” Deem walked out from the camp and toward Emma, “I’m glad you could make it. I think you’ll be very interested to meet my friends.”
He wrapped his arms around hers, squeezing her forearms. She squeezed back.
“Deem, I hope we’re not too late.” Rilen walked over to her brother and embraced him.
They had matching red eyes, but Deen was almost two decades older than his sister and much taller, with skin burned dark tan and wrinkled by countless days under a harsh sun.
“Not at all.” He started back toward the campfire, Rilen followed.
“Why did you name your horse?” Emma asked, not moving to follow.
The man smiled and shrugged, “I guess so I have something to yell at her when she makes me mad.”
“Is she a bad horse?” Emma looked at the long face of the animal.
The man laughed, “No, no, she’s a sweet thing.” He walked over and patted the horse on the rump, then turned to inspect Emma, “Do you want to ride her?”
Emma’s eyes widened and her heart speed up, but before she could say anything Deem spoke, turning back form the camp, “Don’t be a fool Lison, she can’t ride a horse. She’d break her neck, or your horse’s leg.”
“I can do it. I was going to ask if I could.” Emma moved to the horse’s side, ignoring the worried look on Rilen’s face, and Deem’s disapproving scowl. “Just help me up.”
“How old are you little Lady?” Lison asked, “It’s very hard to tell with your people.”
“I’m only twenty-seven.” She cast her eyes down, afraid he would now see her as a child.
“Only twenty-seven.” His eyes went wide.
“Remember Lison, we have the longevity of our dwarven kin, twenty-seven is little more than a child among the dwin.” Deem said, which made Emma feel even worse.
“Then how old are you Deem?” Lison asked.
Lison laughed, “You’re kidding, I wouldn’t have guessed much more than thirty.”
“Yes, well a boy of thirty wouldn’t be able to hold the ranking I do among the Assembly of Merchants. Now, we should get to business.”
Lison ignored him and turned back to Emma.
“In a human city twenty-seven is more than old enough to ride a horse.”
Emma knew the glint in his eyes was only firelight, but it still looked exciting and roguish.
“I’m certain I could do it.” She tried to sound like her mother, commanding and in charge and she held her back straight, with her feet wide.
“Emma, please, leave it alone. You can play with the horses later, let’s go join the others.” Rilen pleaded.
“Let her have a ride,” Lison rested his hand on the horse’s back, “she’ll have more fun with Juniper than she would listening to our convoluted scheme.” He leaned over Emma, putting his hands on either side of her waist. “You ready?”
“Yes,” she said, putting her hands over his and smiling widely.
He lifted her into the air and she reach out, wrapping her arms around the horse’s neck and swinging her leg over its back. The warm hide felt good against her hands and she felt the muscles in the horses back shift as it took a small, cautious steps.
“Are you well seated?” Lison asked.
“I think so.”
He inspected her posture, making sure she was steady.
“Fine,” Deem said, “but if something happens I’m not the one who’ll tell the Lady of Laudriel that we let a horse trample her daughter.”
Deem and Rilen walked to the campfire and joined the others, Lison scoffed after them.
Emma moved around some, adjusting her legs and running her hands through the long brown main, surprised at how fine the hair was, expecting something coarser.
“Normally she’d be saddled, of course,” Lison explained as he took the horse by the bridle and led it away from the others, “but this will do for a quick ride.”
Emma leaned down, resting her face against the horse’s neck. The warm, rough skin felt comforting. She could hear the stomp of each hoof on the ground as Lison guided the horse around in a circle.
They continued like that for some time, Lison leading the horse, Emma enjoying the ride, sometimes watching around her, sometimes closing her eyes.
“How fast can she go?” She finally asked.
He smiled up at her. They had left the ring of firelight around the camp, so she could only clearly see the glint of light reflected in his eyes.
“Let’s find out.”
He gripped the horse and threw his weight on her so his belly rested briefly on her back, just behind Emma. Then he swung his legs around and up into the air and brought them down on either side of the horse, brushing Emma as he twisted himself to a sitting position.
Emma turned her head to look up at him and smile.
He made a clicking noise with his tongue and patted the horse on the side of the neck, guiding her to the left.
“Let’s just get out onto a road first, on a night this dark it’d be too easy to hit a hole or root galloping in this field.”
“That would hurt the horse?” Emma asked.
“It would very badly hurt her. If she can't see were to put her feet and trips over something she could break her leg.”
“Wouldn’t the leg heal?”
“Sometimes, but not usually. Horses spend their whole lives on their feet. If they can’t stand on all four of their legs they start to get sick, they start of stuffer. You have to put them down.”
“Oh, we don’t have to do this,” Emma tensed, “I don’t want Juniper to get hurt.” She clung to the horses main.
Lison laughed, “Don’t worry little Lady, Juniper will be fine. We’re almost to the road.”
Continue to Part 3