It fast became a kind of ritual: after every training session Phuong would offer up the red mare for Gideon to practice his strength and balance on. Where Gideon had felt the development in his recovery slowing to a crawl he now felt the process speed up again. From horseback he did not have to depend on his dodgy leg to support him – up there it did not matter. Not yet, anyway. He could rely on muscle memory to keep the leg in place for now, but he reckoned it would be a challenge to get it to work for him if he ever were to attempt more advanced riding in some kind of distant future. Perhaps this was an over-ambitious thought altogether. Perhaps just a hopeful one. In any case it proved to be the most powerful motivator he had felt in a long time.
And it was a win/win situation: Phuong profited from the dressage teachings he offered in return. Her 7 months without the weekly dressage trainings meant flaws had worked their way into her groundwork, and for someone competing at her level in show jumping this was important to improve.
October progressed as it had always done: the trees blushed in hues of red as if embarrassed by the changing of seasons and the temperature continued to steadily drop. The days were starting to feel markedly shorter, so making the most of the sunny days became a priority. A day arose where Phuong suggested they went on a trailride; a suggestion Gideon eagerly accepted. This was the first chance he had to head off the beaten path and into nature a little – neither his own legs nor a wheelchair fared well on uneven ground, after all.
Hilas did not have such problems but walked confidently along the twisted forest path with Phuong by her side and Gideon on her back. Through the patchy, leaf-clad forest roof the light fell in golden rays that dappled the ground below and made the scene almost shimmery. Some song birds remained in the tree tops – confused by the changes around them, but not quite convinced to pack up and leave just yet. It would not be long until Jack Frost made the final convincing arguments for that to happen.
,,So,” Gideon broke the monotonous clip-clop of horse hooves against autumn ground. ,,I hear you and Simon Kvark are on friendly terms.”
,,Why wouldn’t we be? He works here now. It would be foolish to make enemies with someone you see so many days a week. He’s friendly enough. Very smiling.”
,,Well, yes...” Gideon said. ,,It’s just – I don't know how to say this without coming across as a total jerk, but I’m not sure I’d trust his intentions for being ‘friendly and smiling’ with you...”
Phuong laughed out, a bubbly melodic sound.
,,Oh Gideon. I am 99% sure Simon Kvark is not of the straight persuasion. Relax.”
,,Make that 100% - he isn’t. But that’s not what I meant at all.”
The mere idea of Kvark as a sexual predator out for Phuong… Gideon had to suppress a laugh. The guy barely looked past his own reflection – but in this case, that was exactly the issue.
,,The reason I mistrust his reasons is because… well, he’s not exactly known for being ‘loyal’." He continued. ,,He doesn’t form friendships just for the point of forming friendships. In my experience he only makes ‘friends’ with people he can benefit from somehow.”
Phuong looked up, squinting skeptically.
,,Isn’t an ally in a strange place a kind of benefit?” she asked sweetly. ,,It doesn’t seem so strange to me. Maybe he chose me because I have the added bonus of making him appear taller standing in my presence.”
She said she last phrase with a crooked grin; one that Gideon could not help but return.
,,Right… he’d be sufficiently self-absorbed to consider that, I think.”
,,Being self-absorbed doesn’t make you a bad person.” Phuong went on. ,,Sure, he thinks highly of himself and he has moxie enough to power a small country. But he always asks me how my day has been, how I’m doing and what I think about this and that, and he seems interested in my answers. A 'bad' person wouldn’t bother with such efforts. You two are different, yes, and your ideas of ‘self’ are where the differences are starkest. Arrogance and humility. But you’re the one talking behind his back right now, aren’t you?”
,,…I.. Right. I shouldn’t be doing that.” He sent her an apologetic smile, thinking back on his earlier resolution to thwart those feelings of jealous - Simon was not the problem. And Phuong would certainly not be dumb or naîve enough to let herself be manipulated by a guy like Simon Kvark when she could see right through him. ,,Thank you for pointing it out.”
They changed the subject and continued on their trail. This part of the forest was well known to them all: just around the bend of the road the forest path would open into a vast, green field - a popular place for an open gallop. Almost by instinct Hilas quickened her pace a little but Gideon held her back.
The path opened and the field suddenly lay sprawled before them. Hilas once again lifted her head, ears darting forward and back and forward and back as if she was waiting for the signal to run.
,,Maybe we shou—“
Phuong did not even finish the sentence before the red mare took off across the field and disappeared in a cloud of kicked up grass and dirt. Her voice cranked into a much higher, shriller tone:
,,HILAS?! NO, STOP STOP!”
Phuong’s voice was drowned in the sudden flurry of wind as Hilas accelerated into a gallop. Gideon held on to a tuft of the red mane for balance as he gave the mare additional rein and asked her to fire up the engines even more. Hilas readily complied, throwing herself forward until her back was straight and her legs were beating into the soil in a fast four-beat rhythm. Gideon heaved for breath as he stood up in the saddle to give the horse the back freedom she required and he felt the tugging at his cheeks as a wide grin instinctly spread across his face. 8 months with reduced mobility now concluded in this moment of complete rapture. 8 months dead, now vibrantly alive again. Logic dictated he should be afraid in this moment: what if his strength or balance failed him? But it was not fear he felt: it was Life.
Hilas started to slow her pace as they reached the other end of the field and Gideon brought her around in a soft curve and let her canter smoothly back to where they had left Phuong. The zlesdin was breathing loudly and chewing eagerly on her bit but she did not appear tired in any way. Still, it was better not to overdo things.
They encountered Phuong on their way back. The poor girl had sprinted after them and was practically heaving for breath by the time they reached her.
,,Oh my god Gideon, are you alright?” Phuong gasped urgently. ,,She has never just taken off like that before; I’m so sorry! I should have held---“
,,I made her do it.”
Only now did Phuong notice the big, satisfied smirk plastered across her friend’s face.
,,I… made her do it?”
Less confident now. The smirk was crumbling and confusion began to take its place.
,,You.. you… selfish. PRICK!” Phuong hissed.
Gideon had halted the horse now and watched his friend with barely-hidden fear. He had never seen Phuong angry before.
,,YOU IRRESPONSIBLE SELFISH PRICK!” she continued to all but yell at him; marching closer in a way that made the horse shy back.
,,Phuong,--“ Gideon stammered nervously. ,,Why are you so upset? I’m okay, really—“
She made a grab for the reins.
,,WHAT IF YOU HAD FALLEN OFF?! WHAT THEN?!”
Aye, what then?
,,That would have hurt,” he said drily. ,,But you have no idea what it feels like to be stripped of mobility. To not just be able to stand up and walk somewhere. Look, I’m sorry if I scared you; that was not my intentio—“
,,YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND A THING, DO YOU?!” Spittle was flying, eyes flashing angrily and her cheeks were blushing in the same colours as the trees around them. She inhaled sharply. ,,Well, I’ll tell you what would’ve happened if you had fallen: it would have been ME left to deal with that. ME left to call the ambulance and ME left to watch another of my friends on the brink of death AGAIN. You have NO idea how scared you just made me! So you’re a selfish. Irresponsible. Prick…”
She sniffed loudly and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, drawing a black line of mascara towards her temple. Gideon felt horrified – he had not thought that far. In his excitement and eagerness to once again feel this total freedom he had forgotten to take his friend’s feelings into account. He felt sick to his stomach over his own self-absorption.
,,Phuong,” he said softly and reached for her shoulder. She evaded that.
,,Dismount.” she commanded him and he hesitantly complied.
,,Phuong –“ he tried again, a bit more urgent as he landed on his good leg. Phuong just brushed past him and jumped on Hilas’ back without further ado. She crossed the stirrups in front of her, not bothering to fix their length, and gave the horse her heels.
,,Phuong!” Gideon whined as she zoomed past him. ,,I can’t walk!”
She did not reply – Hilas’ red tail disappearing into the forest again was the last he saw.
If he had felt all-powerful and immortal before, he now felt it 100-fold what is was like to be stripped of his mobility. He was reminded, once again, that he was just a cripple. There was no way he could walk all the way back to the stables – not even if he had had his cane with him.
He fought the urge to scream out his frustration and instead went for his phone.
,,Azaria, it’s Connor,” he pleaded into the device. ,,I’ve been marooned by the green field. Could you please come pick me up?”
,,Come again?” Azaria’s voice at the other end of the line.
,,Marooned. Left. I’m by the –“
,,Yeah, I heard you,” Azaria said. ,,But you just introduced yourself as ‘Connor’.”
To be continued ~
Next: 3.8: Chaim
I don't know if you've noticed this, but this is the first time Con/Gideon has reflections in his eyes again since the accident Until now his eyes have just been 'dead'.
Also, lazy ass background is lazy -- it's just a blurred photo (my own).
So does ZS Hilas Spinosa
Ground texture: own
For the better part of the story we saw Con/Gideon literally sinking into depression - and with good reasons, if I may add. And, since we bid our farewells to TeamSwagadir, I'm quite ready to bet that most of us were more or less resigned to the idea that we would have never seen him on a horse again; it made sense, given where the story was going, but it was quite an heartbreak nonetheless. Then we got episode 3.6 - and that seemed to be the beginning of an a new "era", for both Gideon and Zdarloch. There was hope, wasn't it?
Whatever your settings are, on DA you're bound to see the image before reading the text - which means that the first thing all of us saw was Gideon finally, truly happy to be alive, starting to look a lot more like "Connor" than "Gideon", if this makes sense. We were all cheering for him, because we saw what hell he had been put through - and all we wanted was him to get back to his former self, even if partially. Whatever could get things back to when everything was fine: if Gideon could get back at doing Dressage, why couldn't Kaisa overcome her fear of jumping or Andy getting into a long, long remission?
And here's the thing: we were so absorbed by him finally enjoying some degree of mobility that we completely forgot how actually dangerous that stunt was really. Experienced as he certainly is, Gideon is still someone recovering from a traumatic accident that will leave him permanently impaired for all his life - and has effectively hindered his reflexes and overall mobility. True, Hilas is as safe as it gets, but the chances of something going horribly wrong are on the two-digit spectrum - a thing all of us ignored, being swept away by the joy of finally seeing something going "right". And we all forgot the fact that - simply because Phuong wasn't heavily mentioned during season 1 - she witnessed more or less directly all the misfortunes endured by her friends: Connor's accident; Kaisa's fall with Zdrasti; Andy getting too sick to even stay at Zdarloch - and tried to live up to the expectations bestowed upon her as the sole active showers of the stables, all of this pretty much alone.
But did we took her feelings into account, or the fact that she dreaded something even more horrible to happen? No, obviously not - if any, not until she did what Phuong, until now, has never done: speaking up about her feelings. But we were all so focused on being finally able to feel what being alive was like that we simply ignored the dangers of the situation. Until we were reminded just what dumb, sheer luck prevented everything from going to the dogs, maybe for the last time.
For a moment, we were all Connor. And that is when you know you aced at story-telling. *hats off*
Thank you! I am truly honoured! ; u ; Yes, I am glad you interpreted it this way, because keeping Phuong a bit 'quiet' until now was a sinister little plan of mine. That it would be a SURPRISE to see her blow up in this episode because nobody expected it from her since she has been quiet for so long.
Phuong has absolutely been bottling emotions up throughout this mess of a storyline. She has not had a healthy outlet for it like some of the others because her task was mostly to keep spirits up and perform well in order to try and secure Zdarloch's continued survival. It wiiilll have some effects on her later on, because insane pressure on someone nnnooot quite ready for it... well, that's not necessarily a healthy cocktail
Con/Gid certainly didn't see it coming... if he had known, well, he certainly wouldn't have acted so recklessly. He was a bit too absorbed in his own emotional life to pick up the feelings in others - personally, I can't blame him for it, though obviously it was timed a bit poorly :')
Thank you so much
Luckily he had his phone with him, phew
Thank you! Oh yes, I'm inclined to agree with Phuong in that you can be self-absorbed without being selfish and vice versa In Simon's case... hmm... we'll see what he is ~
That aside, I adore this picture to bits! Seeing Connor happy makes me happy too, and ahh the movement here is just .. wow
Thank you so much! Yaaas, it felt good to draw Con smiling again, hehe >v<
I can't completely blame her for being so upset though, my heart honestly broke to see the sunflower child get upset and cry ; __ ; like even if things aren't happening to her directly, all the chaos happening around her as surely impacted her nerves one way or another. (no one is spared from the drama and heartache )
Really love the bit about there being light and glow back in Con's eyes again, that's such a creative and intriguing fact! C:
Hilas is such a sweetheart, I absolutely adore her, she is easily one of my favorite Zlesdins around I don't know if I have said that enough.
Even in a hand gallop, she looks as graceful as ever, like an elegant deer bounding through the thicket. <3
And absolutely; for Phuong to have such a reaction... it's RARE and it takes a lot. But considering that she has been witness to every single misfortune around the stables recently, well, guess we can't really blame her for being sensitive; even if her reaction was a bit.. much :')
Yaaaasss, Hilas is such an angel; I'm glad you think so I think she's a bit overlooked compared to the other Zdarloch residents because she is very 'anonymous' in her colouration, but I'm glad to hear you like her!
Hehe yeeees; finally he is unleashed and smiling again! If only for a short while. I'm pretty sure Phuong's reaction must have killed his happiness instantly, hehe
Hmm, we'll seee ~ It's an interesting theory
such a beautiful sentence ;-;
seriously, I would instantly buy a novel written by you
But in meantime, Phuong is right too, and kinda scary to see her angry... But everything is alright.. kinda.
And as always, gorgeous work and story!
Phuong angry... was probably something NOBODY could have anticipated; herself included. But troubling times can make people react in strange ways.
Thank you so much!
Poor Phuong, she didn't want him to get hurt, he scared her that's why she is angry.
That horse is an angel, doing he right thing when she is asked.
Azaria will rescue him and cover for him too, she will come up with a reason for him being out on his own in case any of the others ask.
You are absolutely right -- Phuong's reaction was a bit 'much' because she was scared she'd live to see another unfortunate accident. Enough bad luck for once stable in a year, I'd say
Thank you ^^ Hilas is indeed an angel
but damn this is good!
Thank you so much! It felt GOOD to draw him 'alive' and smiling once more x)
Phuong definitely reacted in an unexpected way -- guess she isnt as unaffected by the bad things that have been happening around the stables as you'd think :'D
Thank you so much! I'm so glad to hear that
Also I love the feeling of speed in this piece! Amazing artwork!!!