To Protect and Preserve, Part One

The courser was eying him just as studiously, and when Evelos went to pull on the handle of the stall door, it sprung into motion. Its horn, still sharp and strong, cracked deep into the wood of the enclosure. Evelos sprung away, shaking. If there hadn’t been four inches of heavy wood between them, he would have been speared.

I used to volunteer at a horse rescue. Some of what Evelos goes through here was inspired by those experiences , though I have never had a rescue horse charge at me (most were too worn out) and have never had to hand-feed a horse (if they had gotten to that point, they were often put down). In the real world, Evelos’ courser probably would have been euthanized, as aggression is a difficult thing to train out of a rescue animal, and hooves that have been neglected long enough to start turning up take a lot of care to get back to normal, if they ever do.

Overall, I feel this little bit of real world knowledge helps to paint a better picture of Evelos however–his stubbornness, his compassion, and his determination to not give up on those who are in just as bad straits as he is…though in this case, the capturing of his fiance Breyd (to reference an ingame roleplay event) probably had something to do with his state of mind here as well.

Author’s Note

The old, weary barn stank. Though the Stormwind Watch had opened the windows and doors, Evelos could smell it on first stepping inside. There was the scent of rot, piss, and old feces, and underlying it all was a sickly scent as well, one that was just a bit sweet—the scent of death.

The other Watch officers muttered darkly, but Evelos was focused on his job. While one of the patrol officers spoke to their informant, he and another of the medics ventured inside. Stall after stall contained dead or dying stock—cattle, horses, goats, even one or two dwarven rams, big enough to ride. The farmer who had owned them had pleaded innocent, saying his livestock had been the victim of a terrible wasting sickness. The neighbors hadn’t thought so, and now, seeing it for himself, Evelos agreed. These animals were suffering from the worst kind of neglect.

He administered the injections swiftly, bringing the final sleep to many of them— what little peace it was still within his power to give. A junior medic took notes as he worked, and he eyed the man—more of a youth—with concern. The human’s face was as pale as a void elf’s, and he kept giving the door anxious looks like he was contemplating how far he could make it outside before he vomited. Evelos ordered him to don a face mask, though he knew that would only partially help with the sick feeling swirling in both their guts on seeing the evidence of the animals’ ill treatment.

Some Evelos deemed could be saved and marked their stalls with a tag, to be later transported to a holding facility under the Watch’s supervision until more suitable homes could be found. On the door of a stag-like creature—a talbuk, one of the Draenei had called it—he also left a note to contact Dustwing, a night elf hunter with the reputation of being good with exotic creatures.

The last stall in the row of the sad barn held a Thalassian charger. Evelos sucked in his breath as he peered in and saw it, standing near the back, just barely visible in the poor lighting. He hadn’t seen such an animal since his childhood in Quel’Thalas.

Its mane and tail were matted, and it was difficult to decipher its true color through the masses of soiled bedding clinging to its coat. The hooves were in dire need of trimming—the back ones beginning to curve upward at the tips.

Though Evelos had remained calm through the earlier grim work, seeing a creature so close to his memories of home sent anger roaring through his chest. Down the way he could hear the negelctful farmer being confronted by the Watch, and briefly entertained the notion frying the man’s head with a spell, until his patchy face was as filled with sores as the ones he could see on the horse’s back—

Evelos shoved the thought from his head, as the tentacles on his neck stirred. It was the n’raqi beast who lived inside him that was given to such violence, not himself, and his job here had nothing to do with seeing the man out front brought to justice. He trusted the other officers could take care of that. His responsibility was here, in the stalls.

Instead, he looked the horse over with a practiced eye, gauging its possibility of recovery. It would be such a shame to lose the beautiful creature, as elven-bred coursers had become incredibly rare ever since the undead plague had blighted so much of their homeland…

The courser was eying him just as studiously, and when Evelos went to pull on the handle of the stall door, it sprung into motion. Its horn, still sharp and strong, cracked deep into the wood of the enclosure. Evelos sprung away, shaking. If there hadn’t been four inches of heavy wood between them, he would have been speared.

The courser roared, a stallion’s challenge, and dug at the ground. Evelos winced as it overturned further heaps of old dung hidden below the sodden sawdust bedding. It fenced at him, slamming its horn into the stall door several more times, splinters flying, until it had to fall back and heave the rasping breaths of the exhausted.

“Do we put that one down, sir?” asked the junior faintly from behind him.

Evelos studied the courser again, as it struck the stall door with a hoof, squealing both in pain and rebellious anger. He pressed a hand to the junior medic’s torso, taking them both out of the horse’s sight so it might calm down.

Perhaps the animal could be saved, Evelos mused. It certainly seemed to have the will to go on living, but such aggression could be deceptive in a horse bred for war. Though he had never ridden his mother’s coursers into battle himself, he remembered his father and uncle talking about them sometimes, how the bravest would drop dead in an instant, hiding their worst injuries from friend and foe alike until they couldn’t go a step further.

Even if this stallion did live, care would have to be taken in retraining it to accept a rider—or even a human standing outside its stall and looking in at it calmly, apparently. Watch policies also demanded any homeless horses brought in to be gelded, unless quality bloodlines could be proved beyond a doubt, and Evelos doubted the animal was little more than a nag sold off to a human who didn’t know any better, who only wanted it for sake of its exotic horn, and not for any conformation purposes.

But he couldn’t condemn the courser to death so easily. With the loss of Breyd still aching daily, he craved something he could put his mind to. Something he could do that he knew how to do. It had been decades—centuries even—since he had helped his mother train their horses, but he could remember the basics, and some of her specialty techniques as well. And winning the heart of such a creature, flying along on its back as it happily stretched its legs in the charge—no one could ever forget that feeling.

The courser gave one last scream of fury from inside the stall, the injustice echoing inside Evelos’ heart as well. He sighed.

“Put a tag on his door,” Evelos told the junior medic. “Put my name in the space for the relocation destination.”

***

In the end, they had to tranquilize the courser to bring it out of the barn. A pair of chains wrapped around its hind fetlocks dragged it out into the stable yard. Seeing it in broad daylight, Evelos’ heart sank further. The extent of its abused condition was more apparent out here. He could count its ribs, and what seemed like a towering monster in the darkness of the stall only came out to about 15 hands—or five feet—at the shoulder, barely taller than a pony, and evidence of poor feeding in its infancy. Being a Thalassian horse, its build was light and wiry, making it seem even thinner.

But Evelos had work to do. While the horse was subdued, he helped in the process of gelding it and treating its sores, then, given the courser’s temperament while awake, saw also to the grooming of its coat and the trimming of its overgrown hooves. The latter Evelos helped a lot with, seeing as how the humans were not as clear on proper care for cloven hooves rather than the singular ones of their southern breeds. He got an odd kind of pleasure, too, out of trimming and brushing out the courser’s gray-white coat. Once the top layer of grime had been loosened, it and wads of dead hair came peeling away, revealing soft, new hair underneath. Some places still had to be shaved away, and the loss of the mats revealed new welts and scars that needed treatment, but the courser began to resemble its once proud self again as its coat gleamed dully in the sun. The fur was still thin and flat from months of a poor diet, but that was one thing Evelos knew could be easily fixed.

The courser’s horn was still solid too, for which Evelos was relieved. A cracked and splintered horn could lead to a cracked and infected skull-case if the split was allowed to grow down past the hide. Though the other medics asked about removing the horn entirely, Evelos declined. Its horn would make the courser more dangerous until it was gentled, but like a cow’s horn, a courser’s horn was not made purely of bone or keratin and would never regrow if amputated. Maybe it was just sentimentality, but Evelos felt a Thalassian courser without its horn was a like a king robbed of his throne.

Evelos wished he could do more for the animal, but there were other animals to be seen to and reports to be made. After making sure the courser was cross-tied between two different sets of handlers—both for safety and to help the horse regain its feet—Evelos administered the reversal drug and then got out of the way as the tranquilizer wore off.

He half expected the courser to come awake all at once—and so did the handlers by their tense expressions and tighter grips on their ropes—but it only dragged itself onto its forefeet and sat halfway up, like a dog, eyes clouded with bewilderment and exhaustion.

Evelos dared to approach it, and the gelding snorted at him, but made no further move.

“You’ll be alright now,” Evelos told it. Then, softer, so the other Watch officers wouldn’t hear and give him a hard time about it later, he murmured, “I promise, you’ll never be badly treated again. The dark time is over, proud one.”

The courser’s head leaned forward until it wearily rested sideways on the ground, and Evelos was afraid it would expire right then and there. And how dare it, after the care he had put into it! But then the horse pushed itself up and forward with a surge of its rear legs. It stood with its naggy, wasted neck at a tired curve, as if it took all its strength to hold its own horn up. It didn’t look at Evelos, still blind with hopelessness and confusion, now that its pain had been eased.

Evelos dared again, reaching out to scratch it under the chin. It bobbed its head slightly, but didn’t pull away, and Evelos rubbed the soft nose, now clean of the crusty scum of before.

“Come on, old man,” he whispered. “Just you and I. We’ll get you checked in, then I’ll show you your new home. I think you will like it.”

He tugged on its beard as if it were a foal unbroken to the halter. The courser huffed and stumped dully after him.

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