I pulled the boy out through the hole that I had created and into the deep snow that had formed in a drift beside the shack. He almost disappeared, as he couldn’t have been more than four foot ten.
“Grab the back of my belt,” said I. “I will guide you. The first thing we must do is find my noble steed.”
“The stable is on the other side of the inn, just beyond the cart path.”
“Very good. Come along. I am sure that the noise of our escape was heard and any moment I may have to fight off a dozen or so angry villagers with pitchforks and such.”
“Do you have a weapon?” asked the boy.
“I have a knife in my boot, but I would be loath to stick it into a person over such a thing as this.”
“They deserve it,” said the boy, now trailing along behind me as I negotiated my way around the buildings in the gloomy night. “If my father was here, he’d lay waste to this town.”
“Quite the fierce cobbler was he?”
“Um… yes. Before he died…leaving me an orphan.”
I trudged through the snow, around the large building that I now knew was the inn, and crossed the cart path, distinguishable from the rest of the landscape by two parallel ruts in which the snow was not quite as deep as everywhere else. I perceived no danger from any direction and indeed could still hear the voices of men and women singing in the inn. The stable, which I would have recognized even without the orphan’s help, was dark and silent. The pleasant aroma of horse dung enveloped me as the slight breeze turned in my direction. I crept up to the large double door and pulled one side open slightly.
“Hysteria,” I called in a whisper and was answered by a gentle knicker, which is to say the sound that horses make when they are neither angry nor excited nor otherwise engaged.
Inside the stable was pitch black, and I cast around for a lantern, but the lad needed no such artifice.
“I see your horse in the last stall,” said he.
“You have very good night vision, orphan,” said I.
The little ragamuffin guided me by the hand to the far stall and by the time we arrived there I could make out the more prominent shapes, including that of Hysteria, which is to say my horse, who tossed her head in greeting.
“Poor girl,” said I, running my hands over her. “They didn’t even bother to unsaddle you or remove your bit and bridle.”
“All the better for us and our escape,” said the boy.
I led Hysteria out of the stall, through the dark of the stable, and into the lesser dark of the night. It was in fact, quite a good night for traveling, at least as far as light was concerned. The moon was reflected off the white snow, and though the ghostly illumination created monsters of the many gaunt and gnarled trees, they were easily negotiated through. This put me in mind of a number of similar nights, when the moon was shining upon the snow. It seems somehow unfair that I more than most find myself sneaking in or out of town on cold, dark nights. I am not one to complain about my lot in life though. Then at that moment, as if to remind me that the lot of others was worse than my own, the boy tugged at my sleeve.
“What are you doing?” said he.
“I am pondering life,” I replied.
“Can you ponder life once we’ve made our escape from this wretched town?”
“Quite so,” said I, placing my foot in the stirrup. Once I was in the saddle, I reached down for my charge. “Come along orphan.”
“In some circles it might be considered rude to keep calling me an orphan,” he opined.
“Your parents are dead and so you are an orphan,” said I, lifting him up to sit behind me. “If I call you something else, your parents will still be dead.”
“Even so,” he agreed. “Let us get out of here.”
“Not until we make this town pay for its injustice and our indignities,” said I.
I spurred Hysteria forward, though truth be told I did not spur her precisely because I do not wear spurs. Spurs seem unnecessarily mean and pointed and Hysteria is possessed of something of a fragile ego. If one speaks harshly too her, she is likely to go into a mope for weeks on end, and jabbing her haunches or belly with pointy metal objects could send her into a serious downward spiral of depression. It would be a sad thing to see. So I encouraged her forward. I urged her forward. I coaxed her forward. I asked her to go forward and she went forward, which now that I think about it, is the direction that she is usually most likely to go.
I guided her through the snow, across the cart path, and around the corner of the inn to the spot where upon I had first been laid hold of. I fully expected that the pie I had originally seen would, by now, be gone. As cold as the weather was, the pie would have gone from hot to warm to cool to quite cold in the time that I had spent escaping from the shack and rescuing my valiant steed, which is to say Hysteria. I was not wrong. The pie was gone. But Ho! There were now two new pies sitting on the very same window ledge.
Sitting astride Hysteria as I was, the pies were now at a level between my shoulder and my waist, and I could easily look inside the window. A fat woman with red cheeks and red hair and wearing a white apron was rolling out dough with a rolling pin. She was too busy to notice me. That was not the case with the stout fellow who at that moment entered from the common room beyond. He caught sight of me and let out a yell that could have, and in fact did, summon everyone in the place. The sounds of singing stopped as others rushed to see the source of his consternation.
“Let this be a lesson to you not to waylay innocent travelers!” I shouted, scooping up the pies, one in each hand. I urged Hysteria onward, but no doubt feeling the warm air exiting the window, she was loath to move. The orphan fixed that by slapping her on the backside, her fragile ego notwithstanding. She jumped and shot around to the front of the inn just as the gang of toughs from inside came out the front door. They were just in time to watch us race off into the darkness with two warm and steamy pies.