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Old 10-28-2003, 05:43 PM   #190
Shadow of Tyrn Gorthad
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Location: The Fencing Lyst
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Leading the three horses, Sigrid had only walked a few paces in the direction of the inn when the horse whose lead she held abruptly shied and half-reared, lifting Sigrid's slight figure completely off her feet. Behind her, the other two horses shied and danced nervously as well. She could hear Kajsa, the dog, bark and growl in the attempt to keep the horses under control. When her feet touched down again, Sigrid looked back at the inn just in time to see the stable's roof collapse under a cloud of black smoke. Orange sparks billowed skyward followed by tongues of bright flame. She winced as the sound of screaming horses struck her ears, the terrified voices of the animals trapped inside.

The bay reared again. This time, Sigrid loosened her grip on the rope and let it feed through her fingers. When the bay stallion came down again, she turned him away from the inn and whistled to the dog. What she was doing was not going to work. She was going to have to blindfold the horses and try to put a lead rope of some kind on the other two, not just the bay.

Still holding the rope in one hand, she bent down and opened her bundle of clothing, taking out two shawls and a long apron. Having retied the bundle, she left it and the garments she had taken out of it on the ground and turned her attention to the lead rope. It was long, much longer than she really needed for a single horse. With a little ingenuity, she could fashion it into a tether with which she could lead all three horses. She should have done that in the first place, she knew, but it was better to have the idea late than not at all.

Speaking soothingly again to the frightened horses, she drew the rope out between her fingers until about five feet existed between her hand and the lead horse. She tied an overhand knot in the rope, then, approaching the small gray, slid the end of the rope through the hardware of the mare's halter. Pulling the rope through until the knot touched the hardware, she tied a second knot to hold the rope in place. She secured the third horse in the same fashion, tying the end of the rope with a solid knot she had learned from her father. She didn't know what the knot was called, but was certain it would not come undone. Still speaking softly to the three horses and gently patting their necks, she went back to the lead horse and tied one of the shawls over his eyes. Then, in turn, she tied the other shawl and the apron over the eyes of the remaining two. With their blindfolds in place, the horses seemed calmer, but their ears twitched nervously at the tortured sounds of the horses trapped and dying in the stable ahead.

Picking up her bundle of clothes, Sigrid hesitated and glanced back in the direction of a large liveoak tree she had passed a few minutes earlier by the side of the road. Her temptation was to lead the horses over there to wait in safety until the fire at the inn was under control, but decided against it. She did not want her arrival at the inn for the first time to be tainted by an accusation of horse-thieving. Reluctantly, she turned and made her way to the inn yard. The heat was intense and people still ran to and fro heaving water on the fire, trying to subdue the blaze, their faces grim and streaked in soot.

Sigrid whistled Kajsa to heel, then led the horses to a quiet corner of the yard as far as she could get from the burning stable. The bay whinnied loudly and shook his head. The shawl Sigrid had tied around his eyes came loose and fell to the ground. Sigrid stooped to pick it up and, as she straightened, saw a dark-haired girl of about her own age running toward her across the yard, crying out in Rohirric. The horse whinnied again, softer this time. Sigrid stepped out of the way as the girl flung herself on to the neck of the bay horse, weeping as though her heart would burst from joy.

Watching, Sigrid instinctively dropped a hand toward Kajsa, and smiled as the dog's cold little nose touched her palm. She understood what emotions the dark-haired girl was experiencing. Animals had a way of getting under her skin, sometimes more than people. To lose one that was loved the way this girl loved her horse.... well, she didn't want to think about it. People here had lost horses.

"I presume he belongs to you, then," Sigrid said softly to the girl.

"Thank you for rescuing him," the girl said gratefully. "He's the only thing I've got in all the world. My name's Etheldreda." Laughing nervously, the girl held out a soapy hand to Sigrid.

"Sigrid," answered Sigrid, smiling warmly and shaking the girl's hand. "Come on, let's help the rest of these horses!" she added, as a pair of loose horses wandered over to join the three in Sigrid's charge.

Etheldreda nodded and ran off for more water. Sigrid watched her go, smiling at the girl's back. She hoped she could become friends with this girl. The soap on her hands said that she was probably not just a guest at the inn and most likely worked somewhere in the neighborhood, if not at the inn. Sigrid hoped that was so. She would like very much to have a friend her own age, especially one who would not be leaving again immediately.

As Etheldreda disappeared into the crowd that filled the courtyard around the well, Sigrid looked around at her surroundings. It seemed such a busy place, so many people and horses, so many different accents in the sea of voices. Surely there would be room for one more.
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