I staggered to my feet and lurched forward, but my legs proved unequal to the task and I found myself once again on the ground.
The old man, Jack, feigned offers of aid, but I waved him back and forced myself to an upright position. The world spun before me, warning of the unpleasant experiences awaiting me should I be foolish enough to attempt standing. But I showed it; I was foolish enough. Unfortunately, the world was right, and I nearly lost whatever was left undigested from my last meal as the world pulled me back to its surface. But I refused to give in. I gritted my teeth and forced myself up once more; then step by laborious step, I dragged myself to where my horse stood, the old man tagging along behind.
“Where have you been?” I demanded as I finally came abreast of Typhoid and was able to grab his reins.
Typhoid cocked his head toward the old man who was looking first at me, then at Typhoid, before bringing his gaze back to me, his eyes narrowed in confusion as he tried to decide if it were indeed the horse I was talking to.
“Answer me,” I said. Typhoid was rather shy about talking in front of other people. It all stemmed from a colt-hood incident when a couple of cronies horse-napped him and attempted to sell him to a traveling carnival. Of course, the carnival had not been interested. In this age of magic, talking horses were not exactly an uncommon phenomenon, but these thieves had been too stupid to realize that. When they found they could not sell Typhoid, they horse-whipped him, then set him loose in the desert. He would have died had I not happened upon him, and had my hex shooter had a round in it. As it was, I nursed him back to health. It sure lightened my heart to see that my investment had finally paid off.
Finally Typhoid shrugged. “I was busy,” he said.
The old man nearly fell over. “Well, now I’ve seen everything,” he said, shaking his head. “I thought I’d seen my fill of wonders when I’d seen a talking cow, then that pig that flew, a talking fish, even that talking caterpillar that magically transformed itself to a talking butterfly. But this….”
I turned my attention to the old man, for the moment forgetting my anger over my horse’s betrayal. “Who are you?” I demanded.
The man grinned. “The name’s Jack,” he said, then scratched his head. “Thought I told you that. My mistake if I didn’t. The old noggin isn’t quite what it used to be. Same thing’ll happen to you, youngin, when you get to be my age.” With that last remark, Jack held out his finger and wagged it violently at me, giving the cue that I should ignore him now and return to my anger with my steed.
“What do you mean you were busy?”
Again Typhoid shrugged, which is no mean feat for a horse. The muscles in their shoulders bunch up. Their heads bob down as their neck retreats inside their bodies; then everything springs back into its natural position.
“Take it easy,” he said. “It’s not easy trailing twenty dearths without being seen. You’re lucky I came as fast as I did. Besides, there was this mare, a mustang—”
“A what? You left me to rot in the broiling sun all day so you could play hanky-panky with some plains-bred harlot?”
“Oh, I see. It’s all right if we travel half the world after some scrawny, human mare for you, but I want to spend a few hours getting to know someone who’s in the immediate vicinity and suddenly I’m some kind of cloven gigolo?”
I forced myself to some semblance of calm and said through gritted teeth. “Chastity is a job. I don’t intend on sowing my seed with her. Retrieving her means money, and money means food. You like eating, don’t you?”
“I eat grass,” Typhoid said. “It’s free.”
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