Charles sat up in the saddle as they neared the large wooden gates and sighed with relief as they exited the village knowing that soon, he would be surrounded with the quiet nature he had learned to call home.
He bent forward and stood in the stirrups as the steed stretched its legs and sped towards the glades. A cloud of dust formed behind them as it dug its hooves into the traveled path, shaking the ground with every step.
Charles closed his eyes and smiled as the wind rushed by his face and tore at his clothes, making some of the mud fly off.
The black charger slid to a halt when they reached the glade and bowed down, forcing its owner off of its back.
“Yes, yes, I’m getting off,” he grumbled. “No need to be so impatient.”
He removed the bridle, supply bags, saddle and his weapons to release it of its burden and leave it free to roam in the fresh grass for some time. The forest was cozy and peaceful, but far from ideal for a horse of this size. His mount needed plenty of room to stretch and fresh grass to nibble on; the glade was a perfect place for that. He made sure to visit it every now and then.
Charles sat down to have a small lunch and groaned when he saw three boys running towards them. It’s not that he didn’t like children; it’s what they reminded him of he didn’t like. The horse shook its mane and trotted towards them playfully.
The kids pat the charger and walked towards Charles, observing him from a polite distance.
“Do your parents know you’re here?” he asked without looking up from his meal.
The boys shook their heads. “No sir.”
Charles continued eating quietly hoping that if he ignored them, they would eventually go away.
“Don’t even think about it,” he said with a mouthful as his horse neared the saddle bags and trotted away when it got caught.
The kids laughed and took a few tentative steps forward.
“Can we ride it?” one of the boys asked, his eyes fixed on the beautiful animal.
Charles shook his head and took another bite.
The boy couldn’t hide his disappointment or the laugher that escaped him when he saw the horse approach the saddle bags again. Charles turned around to see it trotting away proudly with an apple in its mouth.
“Those are for later,” Charles said closing the bag tightly.
“What’s his name?” The youngest of them asked.
“Apollo,” he said laying in the grass to rest.
The horse’s ears turned forward when it heard its name and resumed eating grass.
“Why is he so big?” the little boy asked.
Charles sighed. “Because his whole family is also big,” he replied, avoiding a long lineage discussion the boy wouldn’t understand. “That’s how his breed is.”
“Let’s go home before mother finds out where we are,” the oldest boy said. “You know how she gets now with the raiders being back.”
“The raiders?” Charles asked suddenly interested. He hadn’t heard of them in a long time. “But they were driven off by the King…”
The boy shrugged. "Royal guards posted notices about them everywhere in the kingdom. They attacked southern villages a month ago.”
Charles thanked the boys as they left and stood up. A pang of fear resonated deep within him. This wasn’t good news at all. He took the bridle from the ground and Apollo dipped its head to allow him to put it on.
“We’ll have to be careful. Guards are bound to patrol this area and we don’t want to cross more of those do we?”
The horse puffed air in his face in response and tried to reach for the saddle bags on the ground once more.
“You’re persistent,” he said with a chuckle.
He opened the apple bags, took a few of them out and closed it again.
“Let me put the rest of this on you and they’re all yours,” he said placing them on the ground next to him.
The horse lowered its head and stood completely still as Charles secured the saddle, supplies, bow and sword on. He then slowly crouched to grab the apples and extended a hand out, palm up. Apollo immediately arched its neck and lifted one of its front legs, taking a battle steed pose. He smiled and closed his palm making the steed sit on the ground.
He chuckled again, enjoying the funny sight. “What you wouldn’t do for apples,” he said handing them to Apollo who bobbed its head happily.
“Now let’s go home.”
He mounted and Apollo stretched its long legs once more, quickly speeding up to a full gallop and slowing down only when they neared the forest.