This is an evolving story, if you missed the beginning, start here.
Ald let out a heavy sigh and lead Pistol past Ellie towards the tack shed. After a few steps he said, “An animal with big eyes, then?”
Ellie followed to the side, she knew better than to follow directly behind a horse. She kicked at a loose rock in her path and replied, “Well, sort of, I think. In The Book of Three it was a pig named Hen Wen. I guess pigs do have big eyes…” she trailed off as Ald spun to face her.
Pistol jerked his head, not expecting Ald’s sudden motion. The horse lifted his top lip and laid his ears back in annoyance. Ald reached a hand to stroke Pistol’s muzzle and frowned at Ellie, “Come on Elle, really? Am I missing something? How is a bug-eyed animal going to tell us where the treasure is?”
“Well, ‘cause it’s the first thing that came to my mind.” She narrowed her eyes at Ald, “And you know what that means.”
It was explanation enough for Ald, he turned to continue towards the hitching post. With deft, familiar movements, he tied Pistol’s lead around the pole and disappeared into the wooden tack shed. Ellie approached the doorway and waited. Ald’s arm extended out, offering a brush. She grabbed the wooden handle securing the soft bristles and turned back to Pistol. As she stroked the horse’s yellow fur and removed loose hair and dirt, she hummed to herself. Ellie couldn’t see over Pistol’s back. He was seventeen hands tall, according to Ald. But she was certain he was at least thirty of her own. She raised onto her tip toes in an attempt to reach his shoulders and back. Pistol shook his head, his mane disarranging as he did so, but was otherwise calm. This was a routine the three of them were all used to.
Ellie stepped back as Ald approached with the blanket. He tossed it up onto Pistol’s back and then adjusted it, being sure it was even on each side and resting far enough forward on the horse’s withers. With a nod to himself, Ald ducked back into the shed and promptly reemerged lugging the leather saddle. Ald’s father didn’t believe in child-sized objects, especially when it came to riding equipment. The worn western saddle weighed close to thirty-five pounds, Ellie couldn’t lift it on her own. She admired how easy her friend made carrying the object look. Ald grunted under his breath as he hoisted the saddle up onto Pistol’s back. Pistol turned his head in their direction and laid his ears back, but that was the extent of his objections. Ellie reached out to pet the horse’s neck as Ald worked on securing the saddle.
“So how do we find the animals with big eyes?” Ald asked as he adjusted the cinch.
“Well, first we need to get the sticks that let us understand what the animal is going to tell us.” Ellie said.
Ald furrowed his brow but kept working, “What do sticks have to do with this?”
“We have to give the sticks to the animal so that it can communicate with us. It’s not like we’re going to find an animal that really talks.” If Ald was offended by her tone, it didn’t visibly show. She made a mental note to try not to be so cheeky for the remainder of the day.
Ald lifted his foot to stick it in the stirrup and then pulled himself onto Pistol’s back. Ellie untied the lead and handed the reins to Ald then moved to stand at his foot.
“Where do we get the sticks?” Ald asked as he pulled his foot from the stirrup and bent his knee, moving his leg out of the way. He gripped the saddle horn with one hand and leaned down, offering the other to Ellie.
Ellie grabbed his hand and lifted her own foot to use the stirrup to help her onto Pistol’s back. Her legs straddled the horse’s loins, her bottom rested on his soft, fatty croup. “We have to go to the willow by the big pond. It has the right size branches,” she replied as she grabbed onto the back lip of the saddle cantle with both hands. Holding onto Ald for balance was reserved for fast paces, and only as a last resort. She wasn’t a sissy like most girls her age, and she knew Ald agreed.
Ald slipped his foot back into the stirrup and clicked his tongue as he pulled the reins to the side, urging Pistol away from the shed. Pistol let out a snort and complied, choosing the smooth gait of walking. Ellie was thankful for the pace, but the recent memory of falling off Pistol prompted her to make a request from Ald, “No trotting, ‘kay?”
Ellie couldn’t see Ald’s face, but she could hear the grin through his response, “I’ll try my best, but you know how Pistol gets when we take the trail along the canal. Sometimes it’s best to just let him have his way…” He trailed off, knowing he was egging Ellie on.
She couldn’t help that her voice went up an octave, no matter how strongly she struggled to keep calm, “Ald! You know it’s hard to sit back here! He bounces a lot. It’s not funny when I fall off.”
Ald waved one hand in the air dismissively, steering Pistol out onto the dirt road that ran in front of their houses, “Yeah, yeah, I get it Elle. No trots.”
Ellie let out a sigh of relief and looked towards the bridge leading over the canal ahead, she was allowed a moment of calm before Ald interrupted, “Hang on, we’re gonna speed up.”
Ellie grimaced and clutched the saddle tighter. Her position over Pistol’s loins made it so that she couldn’t grip much with her legs. The sensitive position of her feet threatened to urge Pistol to jump or speed up unexpectedly if she didn’t constantly pay attention. Riding behind the saddle wasn’t ideal, but Ellie preferred it over walking.
Ald nudged Pistol’s sides with his heels, urging the horse into a trot. He laughed as he heard Ellie’s intake of breath and subsequent grunts as she bounced to Pistol’s jarring gait. Ald only tortured her for a few steps, asking Pistol to speed up with another nudge. Thankfully for Ellie, the horse complied.