Alora was relieved to finally reach the Livery. It was a tidy, low-slung building, a veritable silk purse a midst the sow's ear known as Leomedon. The stable was run by Duran and Havnor, two brothers that shared a love for horses and little else. She'd never even seen Havnor. His rules of Livery conduct were passed along to her, in a shameful mumble, through Duran. She liked Duran and, as unlikely as it seemed, she felt he liked her. Or...at least tolerated her on a level that allowed him to sleep at night.
The large oak doors were propped open in hopes of catching a wayward breeze and she dismounted outside. She grasped Loki's reins in one hand and walked in, squinting slightly from the sudden change from light to dark. She was relieved to notice it was also several degrees cooler, a welcome relief from the blazing inferno outside. She was used to being out in all types of weather but the day had caught up with her. Her temples thumped with a sluggish beat and her mouth was like sandpaper in spite of frequent, small sips of water. She'd given most of the water to Loki though; being black he absorbed heat like a large prickley pear cactus and she was always worried he was going to collapse, leaving the great Twiceborn afoot and lugging all her own crap.
Duran looked up from his seat against one of the wooden pillars as a shadow fell across the bridle he was cleaning. He immediately felt his face grow hotter than the mid-day sun. An idiotic smile creased his lips as he stared at the dream familar figure clad in black leather leggings neatly pegged down into oh-so-soft knee high doeskin boots and a sleeveless leather jerkin that exposed sinewy, tanned arms. He didnt associate his rush of emotion as being the first throes of calves' love. No,it had to be more than that. What he felt was clean and pure and powerful and it thrummed through him with the combined strength of every crack of thunder he'd ever heard. It couldn't have anything to do with him having seen only seventeen winters. He was also caught in that awkward time where he was expected to do the work of an adult while still being treated as a child.
To combat this, he'd begun to cultivate a few small hairs over his upper lip. So far, this attempt at a moustache resembled a dirt stain. Still and all, he was a good-looking boy with shaggy brown hair and grey eyes the shade of wet river stones. He was also good natured enough to ignore the catcalls of "Hey girlie!" when he walked by Fetch's Tavern.
"Looks like Havnor's keeping you pretty busy." Alora commented as she scrubbed her nails against the dried sweat beneath Loki's cheekpiece. The big horse tilted his head blissfully.
"Uhh. Hello. Yes. Yes,very busy." He stammered and got to his feet. His grey eyes flitted up and down her body and committed everything to memory with meticulous detail. His mind would worry this vision to tatters in just a few short days
"How's Loki been?" He asked. He couldn't bring himself to include her in his query. He felt it would be too close along the lines of a friendly conversation and the first step towards having his I'd-die-for-you infatuation discovered.
"He's fine. Tired though. This heat just saps him." Alora could read Duran's shining eyes like a book. But it was different with him. His stare never made her uncomfortable. His eyes lacked that peculiar flat greasy shine she was accustomed to. And he worshipped Loki.
Duran walked over and ran a cursory hand down the stallion's legs. Whenever he stood near Alora he felt a little light-headed. She had the ability to make even the simplest of movements seem like a herculean task on his part. He straightened and wiped his hands on his stained breeches.
"His legs are good." Duran tried another smile. "No heat or swelling anywhere. How long you leaving him?"
Alora was silent for a few moments. She glanced around the stable. It was filled with the same nervous energy as the streets only in animal form. Donkeys brayed petulantly and several equistags were short-tied in hastily constructed stalls. She wondered if Duran had the room to put Loki somewhere away from the treacherous little horse/deer crosses. They were the cheap mount of the traveling merchant and itinerant thief. In her opinion,they weren't worth the few coppers people paid for them.
The deer in them made them fast and agile. They could easily out manuever a war horse. The deer in them also made them flighty and prone to buck and kick without warning. She'd witnessed quite a few equistag explosions and was always amazed when the person on board wasn't killed.
"Do you have room for him?" She asked, taking in all the stomping, snorting, squealing, and kicking. Duran put his hands on his hips and grinned. He nodded but his face was peaked and drawn.
"Where's Havnor?" Alora demanded. Obviously the older brother had his sibling by the short hairs. Duran did all the work while he raked in all the money. Her sense of fairness was ruffled like fur on a dog's back and she frowned as she looked around at the chaos. Duran was a good kid. He needed this kind of treatment about as much as he needed another horse to board. She glanced dubiously at Loki. Another big, fat horse that, when bored, cribbed wood. Loki could gnaw down stall partitions like corn on the cob.
The flash of concern for him washed over Duran in a warm wave.
"Oh,Havnor's off buying food in Yuthonian. Left me in charge." He said off-handedly. Only an hour ago he'd been fuming about how the son of a bitch slacker was never there when it got busy but that had faded into hazy uninportance.
Alora briefly considered offering to help but she was pretty well whipped and her stomach had been hollering for food ever since she'd left Leomedon.
"Well...I'll be needing a stall for about two days,I guess."
She mentally counted the time off in her mind. That should be long enough to catch up on some sleep and buy some supplies. Loki could lounge around a bit and rest up. Eat some wood.
An ear-splitting squeal ripped through the air and Loki shied, pulling her a few steps back with a strong,upward thrust of his head. A large equistag had managed to bury its teeth in the neck of a smaller 'stag in spite of being tied short. The smaller stag, blood dimpling its crest, screamed again, outraged,and tried to kick its nemesis.
Duran quickly ran over and untied the bigger stag and relocated it to another stall. He turned and approached Loki. He held his hands out and talked to the stallion in a low,soothing tone. Loki eyed the 'stags with eye-rolling fascination but stood his ground.
"I'll double up some of the 'stags so he can be by the other horses."
He wanted to reassure her so she'd know she wasn't leaving Loki in the middle of a free-for-all. If he thought it would make her happy he'd turn every one of the damned 'stags loose and to hell with Havnor.
"Why are you so crowded?" Alora asked. Leomedon wasn't exactly known for summer festivals.
Duran drew in a deep breath and his fingers picked nervously at Loki's noseband. It had been a long,trying day and now he got to be the bearer of bad news. The fleeting image of his brother knocking back ale in Yuthonian played in front of his eyes like a wistful dream.