To Protect and Preserve, Part Two

Evelos hadn’t yet built a paddock or barn for his new horse, seeing as how he hadn’t expected to own one until his impulsive choice at the barn of the criminally neglectful farmer. He only hesitated a little before bringing the ragged courser right with in into his cottage. It was due to rain for most of the week, and Evelos didn’t think the courser could make it in the cold and wet in its poor condition.

He covered the floorboards with straw as well as some sawdust left over from the maintenance he had been doing on the old shepherd’s hutch-turned-home, and built up a barrier of pieces of Medi’s rejected shelving between the horse’s makeshift stall and his own living area. Finally he sat down to make a meal and a bedroll on the other side, wondering what he would do if the courser came fully awake and decided to charge him through the barrier. For now, the courser stood as far away as it could get from him, eyeing him with tired suspicion. It refused all food.

Evelos was glad for his unusual decision when, in the middle of the night, the courser went down with a thud that literally shook Evelos from sleep. He leaped over the barrier to reach its head, finding it dangerously dehydrated and within a few steps of capitulating to starvation, still having refused its feed. Evelos flew out of the cottage and down to the town, seeking materials for a bran mash, milk laced with honey, and spoons and baby bottles to help get it into the large animal.  Then back up the long path with his load, and onto his knees in the sawdust, he went, tugging the courser’s head into his lap and trying to get it to respond to his poking. It lipped at his fingers when he dipped them in the milk, but it wouldn’t take a bottle until several hours had passed of Evelos massaging its mouth with his hands and getting it to lick up half the milk he had brought, drip by drip, from his bare skin.

“You’re not giving up on me that easy,” Evelos muttered to it over and over. He didn’t think of the future, of what happened if the courser died and he had to haul it out of there only to come back to a dark, empty cottage, alone once again.

Finally the courser consented to sucking from the bottle, even nibbling with vague interest at the bran mash Evelos had warmed over the hearth. Wish, Evelos’ black cat, sauntered inside about this time and curled up in a warm spot between the horse’s knees. The horse snuffled at it and lay still. Evelos hoped it was for the sake of the cat and not its own ill health that the horse remained down; though Thalassian coursers were more lightly built and so not as susceptible to the internal trouble most horses were for laying down for long periods of time, its disinterest in standing still filled Evelos with dread.

He stayed up with it through the night, propping himself against its back. He tried to remain awake, but the soft whooshing of its breath and the throaty purring of the cat lulled him into sleep. He had no dreams, which was a first since Breyd had been taken.

***

When Evelos woke, it was to the itchy scratching of straw on his cheek and the sweet smell of the sawdust. He remembered where he was in the next instant, and moved his head slowly and carefully, not wanting to spook the horse and get himself trampled.

The courser was standing a few feet away. Though it hadn’t touched its food yet, that it was on its feet at all gave Evelos a measure of hope.

He very slowly rolled over, realizing the horse was now more alert, and still very afraid of people. It raised its head slightly and stared at him at the movement, but otherwise remained calm.

Evelos smiled. “Hungry, big guy?”

The courser snorted and patted a forehoof on the ground, but the gleam in its eyes was more curious than angry. Still, Evelos took it under advisement to crawl back under the barrier he had made and keep it between him and the courser’s long horn as he set about making the horse’s breakfast.

The courser was less picky this time, though it still only ate a half measure of the bran. Evelos sighed, before hauling fresh water up to the cottage and pitching in a new load of hay. He also opened the windows and reinforced the barrier between his living quarters and that of the courser’s before stepping outside. “I have to do my shift with the Watch,” he told it, “but I’ll be back. You’ll be safe here, and you’ll have Wish to keep you company.”

At his name, the cat jumped up and began sniffing around in the courser’s unfinished bran as if the fare was his own special privilege. The horse snorted at him, and the cat skittered along, meowing plaintively at the rebuke.

“Serves you right,” said Evelos with a chuckle. He reached out to lay a hand on the horse’s nose but took it away again just as quickly when the courser shied back. Evelos sighed.

“You’ll learn to trust me,” he told it gently. “Now, stay out of each other’s way while I’m gone. I don’t have the time now, but I’ll give you a good grooming this afternoon. Promise.”

Evelos then left the cottage, though he left the door unlocked behind him. He felt a little warm glow when the courser whinnied after him, and Wish meowed in response.

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