Rose for a Thorn

That winter brought both joys and heartaches. Mirium came to visit for the solstice, and Keelath proudly showed her the new addition to the courser herd. Rosen was ill-inclined to let them near its mares, and Mirium said it acted like an overprotective father, but the courser did allow Mirium to stand close to it and stroke its nose. It even dropped its head against her, begging for scratches, and Mirium’s bright eyes looking at him over Rosen’s frosted mane reminded Keelath why he put up with it all.

There were other troubles however, beyond the keeping of the coursers. Keelon had planned to retire that winter, but he couldn’t with Keelath active in the military, and he still distrusted Mirium as a potential baroness. Keelath’s mother was ailing too, now rarely leaving her bed, and Keelon spent more time tending her than he did seeing to the needs of the barony.

Reluctantly, Tyrric and Keelath helped pick up the slack. Tyrric was now courting suitors, too, but he seemed incapable of making a decision, flitting from one to the other, often without fully informing the first he had decided to move on before kissing the second. Keelath had to break up more than a few fights, and he felt less rested and more harried now than he had while out on the front.

Mirium proved to be his savior in those days. Though raised as a commoner, she had a good head for numbers and quickly picked up on the barony’s accounting. She stayed at the cottage now whenever her troupe rolled in, picketing her wagon on a patch of ground that seemed less muddy than the rest. On some nights, when they were working long hours together in Keelon’s study, she would lean her head against Keelath’s chest and fall into a doze. He felt as proud as Rosen was when it was courting a mare at those times, though Keelath didn’t let out any loud whinnies.

Just when the foals dropped that spring, Keelath wasn’t entirely sure. The herd had migrated up into the upper hills of Eversong, across the river and into grassier territory. Keelath and Tyrric would take long rambles to find them each morning, checking on their well-being and monitoring the progress of the mares. Rosen was more tractable now that the breeding season was over, and the courser had a way of pointing Keelath out to any of the herd that needed tending, long before Keelath noticed himself. He was coming to better understand the courser’s signals, though he still hadn’t achieved the seemingly telepathic bond the other riders had had with their mounts.

To his chagrin, Tyrric picked up on courser body language even quicker than he did. He first noticed it when one of the mares came down out of the hills with a new, wobbly, white foal at her side. As was the way with equines, the mare had given birth alone, and now that the foal was a bit steadier on its feet, she had returned to the herd. The little foal, on spying Tyrric, had wandered right up to the quel’dorei and bit him on the rear.

Tyrric reacted with delight rather than with anger, and Keelath had a sneaking suspicion courser or rider had just made their Choice, much like Rosen had with Keelath. Tyrric took to calling the little foal “King”, after its regal arrogance, and he got along well with the dam as well. When the foal grew to be a little more independent, Tyrric took his first rides on her back, until it was common to see both of them trotting around the grounds together, with King keeping pace at Tyrric’s knee.

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