War Front, Book Two

How does Azzir manage to do farrier work when he has a bad back? Don’t ask me. The scene wrote itself. I swear!

Author’s Note

“Hey, ashskin! I’ve got a treat for you.”

Azzir looked up, wiping the sweat from his forehead. The horse he was shoeing shifted experimentally, and Azzir hiked its hoof up a little further between his legs. A few futile pumps of the leg later, it sighed and relaxed, and Azzir did also, shifting his grip down the leg.

“I’m a little busy,” he told the Nord looking at him from between the slats of the blacksmith shed.

“Naw, but this is a treat you can’t miss,” said Gaolyf. “They captured one of those Khajiit cat beasts in from the front. I heard stories, but just you imagine now, riding an overlarge house cat into battle! HA! No wonder the Dominion rely so much on magic.”

“I’ve heard of lions being tamed on the Gold Coast,” Azzir murmured. He checked the fit of the horseshoe against the horse’s foot again, then, satisfied, dropped it in water to quench. The horse snorted slightly at the sudden hiss of the superheated water, and Azzir gave it a reassuring pat.

“How many more of those you got left, ashskin?” asked Gaolyf, gesturing to the horse’s feet.

“Last one,” said Azzir, pulling the shoe out again, and setting it to the hoof. The horse wriggled anxiously as Azzir set and pounded the nails flat, working as quickly as he could. Finished, he waited until the horse relaxed again before dropping the hoof, and brushed his hands off on his blacksmith apron. He straightened with an audible snap of his back and a sharp grunt of pain, and the horse looked at him nervously from the corner of its eye.

“Alright, you’re done, you fidgety bastard,” Azzir told it irritably, running the lead rope out from its ring. He was more irritated with his back than the horse, and turned it out in one of the round pens to await its owner coming by later in the day. The horse walked about in short little steps, ears pricking and snorting at the strange new objects on its feet.

“You’ll get used to it,” Azzir said with a grunt, before turning back to the Nord, and met his smile with an uncertain grin. “Okay, show me this cat.”

Gaolyf led him past three more round pens built into the courtyard of the fort. The last was more of a cage than a round pen, with wire mesh pulled across the top. It protected any bystanders from anything leaping out, but also cut off the escape route of any poor trainers locked in the pen with dangerous animals. Azzir went to rest his arms on the bars of the pen out of habit, but found his way blocked by the wire. He shifted around, trying to find a more comfortable position for his smarting back, eventually bracing one foot against the wood planks lining the bottom of the pen.

The wires didn’t at all block his view of what was going on inside. An Imperial trainer stood in the center of the pen, swishing a lunge whip at a tawny-colored senche-tiger with no markings. A bar attached to the cat’s halter instead of a lead rope. The cat stalked back and forth along it, eyeing the trainer with hatred, but no matter which way it turned, the trainer kept the bar between them, and the cat could not pounce without twisting its neck.

“Walk on!” commanded the trainer, and tugged the bar out to the left. The senche-tiger balked, and the trainer jerked the bar, the halter snapping against the cat’s sensitive head. The command was followed by a slash of the lunge whip at the cat’s hindquarters, and the animal squawled and twisted about to avoid it. “On!” said the trainer. “Walk on. That direction!” The senche-tiger growled, and danced back and forth on the end of the bar in aggravation.

“Trying to lunge a cat like a horse.” Gaolyf laughed. “What do you think, ashskin? Dangerous enough for you?”

“It does not look like a lion,” Azzir said at length. “The face is not long enough.”

“Hell if I know,” answered Gaolyf. “And I’m not sure how you can tell. A cat’s a cat, and it’s any damn fool that tries to train one! Horses and wolves at least get along with their own kind. I suppose we could always starve it and then drop it in the middle of a siege. What do you think?”

Azzir just shook his head as he watched the trainer and the cat turn circles around each other, the bar between them. Azzir wondered with morbid curiosity if the trainer would ever drop the bar and leave himself exposed, but he did not. Spying his customer come back for her horse, he thanked Gaolyf for the treat, and walked away.

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