To Protect and Preserve, Part Three

“Is that the same horse?” called one of the officers, and Evelos grinned, but couldn’t find the breath to spare for an answer when Protector, sensing his slipping attention, tried to break into a canter.

It was another long day, with several difficult forensic tests and a patient who couldn’t stop staring at his tentacles like he was some kind of monster. Evelos had almost forgotten the courser until it pushed its head through the window of his cottage at the sound of his approach, maneuvering its horn through the small opening with almost comical delicacy. On seeing him, the courser snorted and jerked its head back inside. Evelos winced and made a note to himself to better reinforce the window’s frame to prevent any accidents.

Between his own weariness and the courser’s distrust, it took him nearly a full candlemark to clean the horse’s soiled bedding, dancing about each other with his rake held out in case the courser decided to charge him. The courser seemed content to merely hold its distance though, some of its natural equine gentleness returning now that it was feeling better. It moved well, and Evelos began to wonder if it wasn’t so poorly bred after all. He caught himself wishing he had convinced the Watch to let him keep the courser an uncut stallion and so help repopulate the unique Thalassian breed, but just as quickly reminded himself he had little interest in trying to control such a creature or go through the rigors that finding the proper pairings would take.

He deposited the muck outside, raking it out so it might dry in the sun and become decent fertilizer for the garden. Evelos next refilled the horse’s water and grain buckets, seeing with satisfaction that the courser had broken its fast, nibbling at its food throughout the day. Thalassian horses were notoriously hard keepers despite their litheness, and Evelos made a note to buy more oats the next time he was in town. Next he pulled out some brushes he had borrowed from the Watch’s stables. “Now I will groom you,” he told the horse. It blew a snort, staring at him uneasily.

Evelos poured a little more grain into the feed bucket and shook it, and the courser’s ears came forward. Evelos hung the bucket just inside the stall, then stood over it. The horse would have to come to him to get the treat.

The courser paced back and forth in the small space, snorting unhappily. When it seemed at its most calm, Evelos gave the bucket another enticing shake; when at its most frustrated, he unhitched the bucket, and, taking it with him, turned around until the courser was done fussing. Hunger eventually won out over caution, and the courser stretched its neck to reach the grain. Evelos tilted the bucket slightly, so it didn’t have to reach all the way in, so able to keep an eye on him while it ate.

The horse took a mouthful, a step closer, then another mouthful. Then it breathed a sigh, shuddering its anxiety out, and raised its head to look directly at him.

“Hello, proud one,” Evelos murmured. Slowly, slowly, he moved his hand up from below to place it on the courser’s nose. It nodded at him, then stood still, breathing another, warm sigh into Evelos’ palm.

After a gentle rub, Evelos refilled its grain and picked up a brush. As the courser continued to eat, eyeing him warily, Evelos groomed its neck and mane. He had made it to the horse’s shoulders, when, done eating, the courser had decided it had had enough and trotted to the far side of the cottage with an annoyed swish of its tail.

Evelos let it go. Obedience would come later, after the animal had had a chance to calm down and fatten up. Being able to touch it without it threatening its horn at him was enough of an accomplishment for the day.

***

Two days later saw the courser standing outside, watching Evelos quizzically as he began to put up the fence for a small enclosure. The courser had gotten steadily braver with gentle treatment, and when Evelos reached behind him for his hammer, he instead met a soft, blowing nose, and grinned as he rubbed it.

Four days later the courser stood at the fence line and nickered when it saw Evelos coming; five days and it consented to pick up its hind feet for him so he could clean them and give them a good trim. With the better diet, the horse’s hooves and coat were growing in shiny and thick, and Evelos was proud despite himself of his choice. Though the courser’s neck was still too naggy and its eyes too odd a shape to be a perfect representation of a Thalassian horse, he felt like he had preserved a little part of Silvermoon—one of the best parts of Silvermoon—in the very human city of Stormwind.

The cottage was finally airing out after its un-housebroken occupant, but Evelos found himself spending more time outside regardless. The courser enjoyed taking long naps on its side or stomach, and Evelos enjoyed taking a book and reading it nestled against the horse’s back, rubbing a few tufts of its mane between his fingers. The horse’s mane had been so matted he’d been forced to trim it, and it stood out from its neck like a guardsman’s crest. For this reason, and his first encounter with the beast, he had named it “Protector”.

Having the close contact with a humanoid was good for the horse, but it was also good for Evelos. His obvious infusion of the Void continued to be a source of discomfort for himself and his clients, but Protector didn’t seem to care. It would sometimes consent to laying its head in Evelos’ lap and snoozing while he treated its horn with a sealant—warding away any cracking—only picking up its head to shake away the flies. It always looked at him in confusion when he scolded it for almost clouting him upside the head with the horn when it did so, before falling to begging to have its ears scritched by rubbing them on Evelos’ shoulder.

After two week Evelos began taking the horse for long walks to help build up its strength; after three weeks, he began trying it with a saddle.

He half-expected Protector to buck and kick as soon as it felt the unfamiliar weight on its back and the girth being cinched tight under its ribs, but the horse stood calmly, looking back at him with an inquisitive air as it questioning why Evelos took such great caution around such an everyday object. The courser’s unfazedness was so great, Evelos mounted up the same day on a whim. The narrow back, so much smaller between his knees than any of the Stormwind-bred horses, felt wonderfully familiar, and Evelos gave it a gentle squeeze.

Only now did the courser show its lack of training—or perhaps just limited training—as it took off like a shot.

Evelos grabbed for a chunk of mane, but Protector’s was still cut too short to get a good grip. Instead Evelos leaned forward to prevent overbalancing off the horse’s rear, and Protector took it as a sign to go faster. It leapt down the hilly trail that led from Evelos’ cottage to the town, stepping so lightly Evelos felt he was flying. It snorted happily, and Evelos wondered what he had gotten himself into.

It was just as much the courser’s own skittishness as any cue Evelos gave that it slowed down upon entering the crowded cobbled streets of the city. Evelos worked the reins and his heels until he felt the courser’s neck arch under him and its feet pick up. “If we’re going to ride fast, you’re going to do it properly,” he muttered to the horse. Protector stuck out at a prancing trot, as if teasing him in return.

They rounded the Cathedral square, passing by the Watch office as Evelos posted gamely to keep from being trounced about. “Is that the same horse?” called one of the officers, and Evelos grinned, but couldn’t find the breath to spare for an answer when Protector, sensing his slipping attention, tried to break into a canter. He got the horse pulled up again by the time they reached the end of the street, but he could hear the others’ laughter echoing behind him.

“Your pride will be the death of mine,” Evelos told the courser, and it nickered as if chuckling at him.

Another two weeks and Evelos considered the courser broken in enough to become his mount of choice on patrols and to be stabled with the Watch horses during the work week. Four weeks later was the raid on the Sunwalker estate to extract Breyd, and Evelos temporarily forgot about Protector, trusting it to the care of the Watch’s skilled grooms, at least until he could return.

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