My Fair Lady

POSTED: Tue Jun 16, 2020 1:40 pm

Time: Late afternoon; backdated to the twelfth of June 2020.
Place: The outskirts of what used to be Freetown
Weather: Sunny and windy with some cloud cover and a damp warmth.

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"Is that all you got?"

The wolf, scar-addled and frost-gray, was trying to smile at her. Shale knew it was an attempt to hide a sneer at the meager helpings laid at his feet. A makeshift bag full of pouches and leather cords, lashings made of dry vines, an elk-antler hide-scraper, some carved wooden spinners.... Oh, and a bottle of moonshine purchased from Mr. de los Santos, of course. Shale had only used a little to clean a cut on her paw the day before. Did no one else see the wisdom in using such brews on their wounds?

"Unfortunately, yes." Shale kept her expression neutral, ears slightly low. "I know it won't buy me much, but I'll take anything you have, even if it's just one." The wolf barked a laugh at her.

"'Even just one'? Lady, you must be desperate. These two here aren't for much more than food, though the colt has potential. Why don't you take your pick - unless you've got more to offer?"

Before he could throw a tempting grin at her, Shale replied, "Just the one, then," before stepping away from him. Keeping her distance from the animals, she scanned each with pursed lips, unimpressed. Despite the greenery all around Freetown, the two rough-coated horses had ribs showing. One smoky gelding black gelding was covered in nicks and scars from fights, and the other.... Bless her, there were halter marks all over her face. The plain bay mare stood with a wary look, weary trying to chew some grass that fell from her mouth. Bad teeth, thought Shale, and she approached the mare as the gelding snorted and stepped back. He wasn't bolting, but he didn't like Shale coming close.

"What's this one's story?" Shale asked, holding out her one paw. The mare leaned forward to sniff it, the wolf saying, "Older thing. Pulled a cart, or at least used - got her because her owner couldn't ride her anymore. She came from a ranch, I think, to the west of here. Maybe Chesapeake Bay?"

"So a farm horse," Shale said. The mare pricked her ears a little, letting out a slow breath. "How's her teeth? Her feet?"

"Haven't been able to get near her mouth without her shying. Her old halter was digging in when I got her, so I think she don't like her head touched and they didn't do anything with her. She does what you say, though, and I got shoes on her at least. Leather sackcloth, but it's better than nothing."

"So just the teeth?" The wolf grunted. Shale looked over the old bay and then back at the gelding, weighing her options. As much as she hated to admit it, the gelding would get her a slice more than the mare would. He was young and undamaged, a little wild but not something that time and patience couldn't fix. If she left the mare behind, though, the only way the mare would go was into someone's stew-pot. It was likely the old girl didn't have much left in her with how worn-down and tired she looked.

"Can she do anything?" Shale asked. The wolf shrugged.

"I think she can still pull a light load or two. I tried her with a small pack and she didn't do too bad, though it was a bit hard to lead her."

Shale considered this for several moments. She held her hand out to the mare again for her to sniff. With a careful step, the wolf was able to come around to the mare's shoulder. Her paw was gentle as it laid upon the mare's coat, the fur dusty and dry under Shale's pads. Had the wolf even groomed his stock? How long had he had these two?

Now the mare turned her head to look at Shale, cautious and careful but not mean. Ember-red eyes met a pair soulful and deep, earth-brown and exhausted. Each of their glances didn't move away, and when they did, it was the mare that pulled away first. Shale frowned, running a hand along the mare's bony side.

"I'll take this one."
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