Van grimaced and hugged his shin tighter. He looked up at Horace with his bravest face and spoke through clenched teeth, “I – ooh, I think it's broken. I'd love to help but... I can't take another step! Go on without me. I'll find some way... home.”
For effect, Van let escape a long, drawn out sigh and wondered if he could drum up any tears.
Morley nodded, “He may need assistance.”
“Assistance? No, I'm good.”
Suddenly, rough hands grasped Van by his collar and lifted him from the ground as if he were little more than a linen sack.
There was a moment of dizziness as the sky relieved the ground of its dominance of Van's vision. His stomach roiled in protest, “Hey! No, I need no assistance. I can manage on my own. If you'd just – oof!”
It had been Horace who had plucked Van from the ground. He had then set Van rather crudely atop the mighty white steed, not on his rump but on his chest.
Embarrassment burned hot in Van's face; he felt his cheeks blush a deep red as he tried to pick up his head, “What in blazes are you –? You're not about to spank me, are you?”
He heard some of the other riders chuckle around him, but to Van it seemed like a reasonable question in light of his current compromised position.
“Of course not,” spoke Horace, “'twould take too much time.”
“Oh, I see. Humor! You're being funny. That's fine, I will laugh along. Just put me down and – Hey!”
The horse began galloping at a terrifying pace, terrifying for Van because it seemed his face was mere inches from being fatally struck by thundering horseshoes with each powerful stride as his body bounced atop the steed's broad shoulder blades. Grass wizzed past his eyes in a green blur, the occasional tall weed slapping at his nose. He said nothing for as long as he dared, but after a while his chest hurt and he found it difficult to breathe.
“You're not joking, are you?”
“Joking? No. We are hurrying. He who tarries will surely be late to his own funeral.”
“Is that a quote? How dismal. I'd like to avoid my own funeral altogether if its all the same to you.”
Horace's voice took on the timbre of a man fuel by importance. He bellowed, “Remember, boy: there is great honor in death!”
To which the others hurrahed.
“No there isn't. There's great dirt in death. Dirt and silence. Now at least let me ride behind you with the last of my dignity!”
And like that Van was suspended in the air by one of Horace's enormous hands. Again the world spun and again Van's stomach wondered if now might be a good time to empty itself. He landed hard enough on the galloping horse's well-muscled backside to make his teeth snap down hard. It would well have severed his tongue, had it been unlucky enough to get caught in that space upon impact. He held on to Horace's shining armor and thought, This is going to be one crappy day, I can tell.
He looked briefly to his left and saw Morley riding alongside. The old man's eyes virtually twinkled beneath those bushy gray eyebrows of his. The old man looked at Van and cried, “Adventure!”
Van rolled his eyes and twirled one finger in the air: yippee.