Alora went inside and immediately headed over to Loki. He greeted her with a rumbling neigh and a head butt as she opened his stall door. She cursed under her breath as she stumbled back into the partition.
"Big donkey." She murmured as she grabbed one of his ears and pulled on it. He tilted his head for a scratch and Alora surreptitiously glanced around for Islinn. The girl was seated on the hard dirt of the walkway against one of the pillars, her face expressionless. Alora watched her for a moment then knelt down and began to inspect Loki's injury.
"Duran did a good job." She mused as she studied the wound. It was dry and Loki didn't flinch as her slim fingers poked and prodded the ragged flesh. There was no heat or swelling either. She wished she could say the same about her face.
The sudden vision of Islinn undressing in the moonlight floated through her mind and Alora felt her face flush with blood. Even though she was done with her inspection, she stayed where she was. She felt awkward. She'd seen a lot of injuries in her life, mainly ones she'd inflicted with few received in return.
She'd stepped around street brawls, pulled stones from Loki's hooves while drunken men had pulled daggers on each other and gone at it over one slight or another, and had even watching public hangings while pausing for a quick bite to eat before heading down the road. Even when her clan had been slaughtered, the torture had, mercifully, been quick.
But Islinn. That was different. It was the first time Alora had ever seen someone who'd been deliberately and maliciously beaten and had, somehow, managed to survive She knew sanity and reason to be fickle things, which could easily be overcome by anger but to do what she had seen? It beggared her comprehension. Alora suddenly stood up and looked over at Islinn.
"Hey. Are you…all right?" Alora started than stopped. She had felt the need to say…something…but had no idea what.
Islinn's looked over at her, perplexed.
"I'm fine. Oh…I'm sorry."
She got up and started over towards Loki's stall. Alora watched her approach with alarm. Islinn stopped in front of Loki and reached out a cautious hand.
"Behrin didn't let me around the horses much but I can saddle him, if you show me how."
"Why would I want you to saddle him?" Alora managed to stammer. Islinn turned and her brown eyes darkened before she subserviently fixed her gaze downward.
"You bought me. Tell me how to serve you."
"Oh, that last bit had to hurt." Alora thought, amused, as she watched Islinn struggle to assume a submissive posture. She pondered Islinn's question.
"I take care of Loki, I don't need anyone to saddle him for me okay? None of that. Just go…sit back down." Alora said, exasperated. Islinn nodded as she stroked the soft black skin between Loki's nose. Her brown eyes stayed fixed on the dark horse.
"Do you always ride him around…wearing bows?" Islinn asked innocently. One side of her mouth twitched in a half smile as she scratched Loki's neck.
"No,I do not." Alora replied crisply. She reached up and began pulling the red bows from Loki's mane.
"Duran braided him like that, why I don't know. There's something you can do, get all the bows off of him."
Alora stepped out of the stall and shut the partition. She watched as Islinn stepped around to Loki's side and patiently began to untie the brightly colored ribbons. Loki stood like a statue and gazed at Alora, with wide-eyed innocence, as she glared at him. If that had been her in there, he would have already tilted his head as high as he possibly could so she couldn't reach the bows near his ears, or swung around and pinned her against the stall boards with his big black ass.
Alora quietly watched as Islinn patted Loki and untied ribbons. Every now and again a slight smile would crease Islinn's lips as Loki rumbled and arched his neck from all the attention. Alora felt the soft tug of some foreign emotion as she watched the younger girl.
In spite of whatever had happened to her in her life, Islinn still exuded a child-like playfulness that brought a slight smile to Alora's lips. It occurred to Alora that, at one time, Islinn had probably laughed and raced about with her friends, much like Alora had with her own. And now here they both were, opposite ends of some dark spectrum, with all their grief and fears, no friends, or games left to play.
"How long were you with Behrin?" Alora asked in an oddly gentle voice. Islinn's shoulders stiffened.
"Two winters, give or take." Islinn didn't turn around. Her fingers worked busily away on the bows.
"Did he take your village?"
Alora had no idea why she was asking the girl anything. She had never been curious about Behrin's slave trade and she wasn't curious now. Nor was she curious about the day to day drudgery of village life or what it took to keep a croft. Alora realized, with dismay, that days of traveling by herself with only Loki for company had effectively squelched any talent she might have had at conversation. It was going to be a very long ride to Lochedge.
"No. He only took me."
There was a slight catch in Islinn's voice. Her fingers moved rapidly through the bows. Alora was puzzled. Behrin wouldn't ride into a village and only take one person. What a wasteful business venture that would be, for him. No, he was too much of an opportunist to pick and choose.
If he had caught Islinn wandering out in the fields, he still would have taken her village. There was simply no way he could turn around and ride away from all that coin just walking around on its own. Alora opened her mouth to ask another question but stopped as Duran appeared in the Livery doorway with several bundles in his arms which he set down by the water trough .
He wiped the sweat from his face with a forearm and gave a quick nod to Alora. With one last quizzical glance at Islinn ,Alora turned away and went to check on the supplies Duran had bought.