He glanced up from his leather repair and watched Alora get to her feet. At one time,the sound of his name coming off her lips would have been fantasy fodder for days but now he was just hopeful that she wanted him to get Loki saddled for her trip to Lochedge.
Alora stretched and slowly moved her head from side to side in an attempt to loosen up the already sore muscles. A few days of Loki's platter-footed canter was going to be the kind of steady torture a priest would refer to as penance. Alora was well acquainted with Loki's rocking horse gaits.
She was also well-acquainted with his uncanny ability to know when she was saddle sore. Once she was found out, he would slam his hooves against the ground with malicious glee for as many miles as he could muster. It was times like these she wished she had a wagon with an old mule to pull it.
"Do you have any mares for sale?"
Duran shook his head and set the bridle he was working on aside.
"No. I have two warhorses I took in trade but they both have bad hooves. Looks like sand cracks."
Alora looked over towards Loki's stall.
"Islinn. Come here."
Islinn walked over and stopped, her gaze directed downward. Alora frowned. The bootlicking posture was getting old and she didn't like being treated as a slave owner. It was all too much like Behrin. Alora snapped her fingers and Islinn quickly looked up.
"I'm up here,okay? " Alora said, her tone clipped. "Can you ride?"
"Yes." Islinn struggled not to drop her head back down.
"Duran, do you have anything suitable for sale?"
Duran nodded reluctantly.
"Well, I have some 'stags. I've only got one though that'll tolerate cold-bloods. A little filly stag. She's back there in the corner."
Alora walked over to the far stall and looked in at the odd creature. The animal had inherited more deer than horse and its legs were long and dainty. There was a certain amount of stockiness around its pony face but its oddest features were the white spots that covered its brown coat. There was white intermingled in its stumpy tail and two small antlers protruded from between the small equine ears. The neck was long and slender and the large doe-like eyes regarded her fearlessly. It stood its ground and stamped a hoof in warning. Not taking her eyes off the creature, Alora signaled for Islinn.
"Do you think you can ride her?"
Islinn studied the animal dubiously.
"Do you think she'll let me ride her?"
Alora shrugged. She didn't like little surly equistags but she wasn't riding Islinn behind her all the way to Lochedge, it was as simple as that. Not to mention that occasionally Loki would suddenly decide he deserved better treatment and would simply refuse to carry any extra weight.
Alora had loaded out her packs once until they bulged like well-fed ticks and Loki had just stood with his head down, and whipped his mulish tail back and forth in protest. She had been unable to get him to move an inch and once he'd gotten tired of her prodding with her heels, he'd threatened to lay down. She'd wound up leaving half her gear behind because he'd refused to move.
"Duran, how broke is she?" Alora asked as Duran came over to peer at the little filly 'stag. Duran lifted his hands in an I -don't -know gesture.
"The man rode her in here. He said she had too much deer in her and couldn't bear him like a stag that has more horse. Traded even for a stockier mount."
Alora nodded and broodily studied the little beast. Islinn reached a hand out and spoke in a soft voice. The 'stag eyed her and stamped its hoof again. Alora dug a hand into her leathers until she found a piece of tobacco and held it out to Islinn. The girl hesitated.
"Here. It's just tobacco." Alora stated, annoyed. "I don't think you'll be carried off by demons if you take it from my hand."
Islinn quickly took the tobacco but not before Alora caught a quick glimpse of anger . She grinned. Islinn took the tobacco leaves and ignored Alora as she called out to the little stag and held out the leaves.
The furry brown ears pulled forward at the sound of Islinn's voice and the stag came to the front of the stall. Delicate lips picked daintily at the tobacco. Islinn smiled and stroked the soft quivering nostrils. She reached a hand upward and caressed the fuzzy ears, laughing softly at their texture.
Alora smiled benignly and felt a great sense of relief. The mere thought of Loki's bone-jarring trot and the feel of Islinn pressed against her as she rode along towards Lochedge had made her feel queasy but now, half of the problem was solved.
"I can sell you the stag for four copper. She's sound as far as I can tell and not as spooky as some. I don't think she's ever been saddled though. Man rode her in bareback."
Alora nodded, unsurprised. Not many 'stags would take a saddle.
"Fair enough. We'll be heading out then once you get Loki ready to go."
Duran nodded and watched Alora count out coins.
"You got a deal. It won't take me long to get Loki ready. I'll add in extra grain to your packs. The filly likes honeycomb, I'll put some in your bags for her."
Alora nodded wordlessly. She had a sneaking suspicion that she'd be foraging in a few days while Loki and the stag were getting fat off of grain and treats. Alora lay the coins on the corner of the stag's stall partition then reached a cautious hand out to pat the angular neck. The 'stag chuffed at her, eyes wide, but didn't move away.
Alora gave Islinn a sideways glance. The girl appeared pleased. "I wonder how happy she'll be after she hits the ground a few times." Alora thought, as she studied the filly stag. She had a tremendous amount of deer in her. Probably could move faster than a striking rattler. Not a comforting thought. Alora felt Islinn glance at her then look away. Alora ignored her. The third time Islinn did it, Alora raked her with a bitter scowl.
Islinn drew in a deep breath. Her fingers picked nervously at the little stag's wispy forelock. She shook her head.
"If you're not sure you can ride her, you can pick something else. Just…speak up."
"No,I can ride her."
Alora waited. Islinn continued to stroke the little stag's face but Alora could tell she was struggling to say something. Alora had infinite patience when it came to waiting on people to summon up the courage to speak to her, patience borne of practice, but she could not imagine how she was going to deal with Islinn's battle over every word or breath. Her eyes fell on the four pieces of copper she'd stacked neatly on the stall frame.
"If you're worried about accepting a gift from me, you're more than welcome to run along behind Loki." Alora flatly stated."I like to let him run on the flat though. Make sure you keep up."
Islinn turned to face Alora, her brown eyes affixed on the ground.
"No. It's just…thank you. Behrin wasn't one for gifts."
Alora felt that same sense of awkwardness she'd felt earlier. She gave a terse nod and headed over to help Duran with Loki. It was going to be a very, very long ride to Lochedge.