[P] something slow happening inside the cold
A long, miserable loll from the cow made Whisper fold her ears back. This earned her a sympathetic look from Blanche, who sighed as she looked at the fat animal over.

The barn was warm despite the chill outside, owing in part to its insulation and the many bodies within. At present, though, the sheep and goats were out with Flint. Many of the larger animals had less freedom to roam, while some – like the cow – were restricted for other reasons.

As one of the primary workers within Marrgerd, the majority of Whisper's work revolved around the horses. With only seven of these here, her presence allowed her father to dedicate the majority of his time to their larger barn in the north. Since these horses were often borrowed by pack members, Whisper did not always need to worry about seeing them exercised. She made efforts to reinforce training with all of them, of course, and especially focused her attention on the youngest filly. Shakti was now nearing two-years of age, however, and had grown to a tremendous size. This made her discipline all the more important, though luckily for Salsola her temperament was ideal.

The change in behavior had been one of the first clues that something was wrong with Turnip. The normally easy-going cow had suddenly become stubborn and problematic. She was less receptive to going out, constantly thirsty, and increasingly vocal. Worse, as of yesterday morning she had developed liquid diarrhea that stunk to high hell. They had removed her from her pen immediately and brought her outdoors, where for the first time Whisper became aware of how coarse her normally smooth coat felt. Perturbed by this, she had inquired if anything had changed with the cow's diet. Blanche insisted it had not, but admitted she could not be certain if the animal had gotten into anything when she had been turned out to graze.

Concerned about what to do, Whisper had asked her father for advice. He had mentioned the man to her – a would-be apprentice of the Cleric who, according to Grievous, “ought to know about cattle”. Unsure as to why this would be the case, Whisper had nevertheless sought out Anders Holt and asked for him to come to the barn at his soonest availability.

She had cleaned the stall thoroughly, but uncertain as to whether or not moving Turnip would spread her sickness to others, put her back when the work was done. This proved to be an exercise in futility, for much to Whisper's dismay, the cow's guts remained unhappy and expelled putrid excrement onto the fresh sawdust beneath her.

[+ 4]

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A small cough announced Anders’ watery-eyed presence as the stench of liquified feces so warmly greeted him.

”Sorry, I got tied up with something at the Clinic,” he said. His explanation, and his approach, was cut-off by llama face blocking his path as the fluffy camelid leaned over the stall door to snuffle at him. He gave the long neck a quick scratch, somewhat grateful for an interruption that prevented him from oversharing — as his delay had been his own fault, a near-mishap making a tincture that had caused his short life to flash before his eyes. Nothing terrible would have happened had he not caught the mistake in time, but the sin of wasting herbs as a new Associate seemed heavier than it probably was.

When he stopped at the longhaired cow’s stall and saw the brown puddle within, something about his expression — one of suffering he was long resigned to, and of forced albeit good-natured earnestness, that contorted his long muzzle into an overripe smile — caused Blanche to laugh.

”Thank you for joining us in this unique torment, Anders.”

The familiarity of his name made his ears twitch, but his grin broadened all the more genuinely. He reasoned that he must have made a decent impression on the Confidant after letting her boss him around every other day since he joined — or that he was young and nonthreatening enough that she didn’t bother with the formality. He wouldn’t take offense at such a thing, though.

”We probably aren’t suffering as much as poor Turnip,” he remarked, frowning. ”Do you want help cleaning this back up, Arbiter?” he asked, glancing at the other merle wolfdog with a small smile and wag of his tail. His look suggested, unspoken, that help with meant I will do it for you. Like any Holt, he would not turn his nose up at dirty work (especially cognizant of his low station here), and took pride in the capability of handling this labor himself.

His eyes were drawn back to the stinking mess despite his all his senses’ desire to ignore it. ”Has it mostly been… this?” he asked, frowning. ”Has she vomited?” Vomiting might point to something like ingestion of a poisonous plant, but the diarrhea reminded him of other possibilities.
[Image: 2-2-anders.png]
He was not a terribly remarkable looking man – a dog, she thought, but a big one like a wolf. He had a wolf's face. It was not nearly as obvious as Whisper, who was tall and heavy and had sharp angles and features. Her ears and pelt's color suggested her true heritage, which would be obvious when she stood between her parents. She was a perfect balance of the pair, even if her talents had taken after her father.

She thought him to be a good looking man, though this was an objective way of describing the blonde. He was unique looking, she supposed, and that made him more interesting. Still, she did not spend all that much time looking at him. Blanche's laugh made her turn her head towards the older woman.

That Blanche was familiar enough to know and greet him as casually as she did told Whisper they had met before. Her father had neglected to mention this. Was he testing her, she wondered?

Whisper puzzled over this as she turned her attention to the Associate. He was quick to offer his help for the messier part of the work, which told her a lot about his character. Labor was not beneath him. This boded well for Anders. As she thought on this, she remembered that he had been among those aiding Eden at the Clinic. If he was going to be a medic, he would need to be prepared for the untidy parts of life.

His second question was more important.

“Not since I've been here, and there wasn't anything that looked like vomit in her stall when I cleaned it before,” Whisper answered.

“I haven't seen anything like that either,” Blanche responded in turn.

“Take her out again,” the Arbiter suggested, though her tone made this sound more like a command. Reinforcing her higher position among the pack needed to be done, especially when working alongside someone still learning the ways of their culture. “I don't want her standing in this.”

As Blanche drew the sad looking cow out, Whisper turned to Anders. “I was told you know about cattle,” she said bluntly. “What do you think is wrong with her?”

[+ 3]

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Relief eased his posture as he nodded in acknowledgment, his eyes roaming back over the longhaired cow. As Blanche led Turnip out of the stall, he reached out for a moment to touch the animal’s fur, then rubbed his fingers together as some hair came off. His attention bounced back to Whisper afterward, his eyes respectfully cast low; he understood how much she outranked him.

The woman did not mince words, but while Anders was equally content to soften his sentences with niceties, he was used to directness too. His teacher had been blunt, not to mention his grandfather Amalrick.

”Since she isn’t vomiting, I don’t think she grazed on anything poisonous,” Anders said, ruling this out first. He felt Blanche’s icy eyes on the back of his neck then; the notion that they’d allow such plants in the pasture must have offended her, though she said nothing aloud. ”Then there’s her coat.” That unique symptom lent credence to his working theory.

”There is an illness that’s affected the Holt herd before,” he continued, soft-spoken but confident. ”It happened once when the pasture was overgrazed, and it caused the same symptoms.” He wasn’t sure whether the overgrazing had been the cause, as other farmers had had issues before — it could have been a fluke (perhaps literally, though Anders did not know this). He didn’t want to suggest that Salsola had managed its pasture badly, though; it wasn’t as if any of the other animals had gotten sick. Turnip might have been unlucky.

”It could be a kind of… worm,” Anders said, and fanned his ears. ”Some of the same medicines help. I haven’t seen them wriggling in cattle dung, but maybe they’re smaller than when, well, we have them.” Parasites were a fact of life when hunting animals out in the wild. ”But sweet gale, the bark, can help with symptoms. And chicory.” His eyes brightened with confidence on this note. ”Actually, that’s it — my old mentor in Portland suggested chicory for our herd, because it’s good for them to eat anyway. Giving them a lot as forage made it so fewer of them ever got sick.”

The problem, of course, was having a large enough amount for a cow to feed on. Spring would come, but not soon enough. The possible parasites themselves might not kill Turnip, but dehydration and malnutrition certainly could.
[Image: 2-2-anders.png]
An overgrazed area – like a muddy patch, or bare ground. Whisper wondered if the cattle might have made such a thing, but with the ground covered in snow so often it was hard to tell. By spring they would have a better idea of any sections which might need oversight, or if there was something that should not be present.

Whisper stared at the word worm. As she connected the theory, his worries about the ground, she began to imagine worms growing inside of the cow. Despite her usual stone-faced look, there was an obvious change. Her lips pulled back, her tongue stuck out, and she scowled with disgust. It sounded horrible. She hated the idea of it, and more horrifying, the idea of it being able to spread. If cattle could carry worms, anything could carry worms.

“Yes, if it is worms you need to get rid of the worms,” she insisted. “I think you should feed her all of that, just to be safe. We'll probably need to keep her away from the other cows for now, right?”

“I would. Besides, if it's worms, you'll need to get rid of the dung.”

Not wanting to think about how they would manage this, Whisper turned her attention back to the cow, and then back to Anders. He had grown up on a cattle farm, it sounded like. No wonder her father had suggested she ask him for help. Wondering why he had focused his livelihood towards healing, she puzzled the question over but chose not to ask it. He was still a stranger to her, and she didn't want to interrogate the Cleric's apprentice.

“And sweet gale? What is that?”

“Bog-myrtle,” Blanche provided. “There might be some in the garden, but you might have to look elsewhere for it.”

Whisper grunted and ran her hands over the cow's bony hips. They were strange looking animals, she thought. Not graceful or suitable for riding like horses, though she imagined someone could ride one if they were willing. They made delicious things, though, and were pleasant enough that Whisper enjoyed their company.

“If you think feeding her those things that will help her, I'll help you get them. Do you need to make anything else? We could move some of the others around and get her isolated for now. Keep her away from the sheep and Clarence too. I'll just empty the cattle stalls to be safe,” Whisper said. “That way they can dry out until she's better. How long do you think that will take?”

[+ 4]

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