by Felix Sagittarius
Text ©2008 Felix Sagittarius; illustration ©2009 Lucius Appaloosius

Home -=- #16 -=- ANTHRO #16 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-
This TBP (Tales of the Blind Pig) story is a sequel to From the Horse’s Hoof, which appeared in Anthro #11
Go here for info on the TBP setting

   The sword whistled as it came at me. I swung slightly and placed my shield in its path—Crack!—and I struck back. “Good block,” the Duke grunted, “but watch that tendency to lower your shield on the return stroke.” Thrust and riposte, shield block and return swing, we continued the training match. At length, the Marshall cried “Hold!” We stepped back and looked around. Another fighter was down, elsewhere. We both judged our match to be a draw, so we walked off, leaving the field to others waiting to practice.
   “You’re greatly improved, my Lord,” his Grace panted. He was too courteous to acknowledge my manifest deficit in swordcraft. He removed his helm and dropped it, then picked up a water bucket for a drink.
   “I’m trying, I truly am,” I replied, unbuckling my sallet. “But I’ll need a lot more practice to get the whole shield and sword action to work together. Even with all your help, it still isn’t a natural flow. But it will be, with more of your time and help. Again, my thanks.” I removed the helm and ran a hand through my sweat-soaked mane, then flipped my ears a couple of times, working them loose after their confinement in the helm. His Grace passed the bucket, and I drank deeply.
   “That’s okay, Lord Felix. You know the trouble I’ve had learning the bow with you. It evens out, one wish for another,” he said. “I’d like to have the smoothness and confidence you have with that horse bow, but the sword has always been my weapon, as the bow is yours. Gettin’ dark out, about time to quit for the night. See you next week?”
   “Certes, your Grace,” I replied and bowed. He chuckled, then turned and lumbered off, heading back to his van. His plate armor rattled and squeaked like an old main battle tank and was little, if any, smaller. Both he and I had been Changed by that damned disease, SCABS; but while I had become a bay horse/centaur, it left his Grace with the size—and many other physical traits—of a grizzly bear. I hung my shield in its usual place on my harness, then shook my arm to get a little feeling back after having absorbed the shock of many blows. I then drew the baldric around so I could sheath my practice sword (a rattan weapon, silvery from its wrapping of duct tape) over my right shoulder and into its scabbard.
   I sighed. I was a Lord in the Society for Creative Anachronism, true, but for my pronounced skills in archery, not as a fighter. I knew I’d never be allowed to fight on the field of battle; as a centaur I fell afoul of the Society’s ruling that fighters cannot have more than two feet, hooves, paws or claws on the ground. Four feet are simply too likely to step on someone while engaged to one’s front and not watching where one’s rear is going in a heavy fight. People had been hurt that way, soon after the Martian Flu started Changing people. Still, I’d always wanted to learn the sword and get my fighting license, even if I could only fight on the list field. His Grace had been kind enough to teach me, and, as a grizzly bear-morph, was big enough to make a good sparring partner for horse-sized me.
   I shook my head again, scattering sweat, then walked over to where I’d placed my gear before we got into the training bout. I put the saddle bags in their place, then removed my arm and leg armor, checking each piece for wear as it came off. I put them all away, then tied the bags, my helmet, and my archery gear to my harness.
   My bow case was on my left flank and the arrow case on the right; I re-checked them to make sure they were secured. I’d been practicing earlier on the range with the Duke, and this sort of caution saved me from some of the problems I’d once had. Having never ridden before I Changed, I didn’t know what the shaking of the trot could do. I’d lost arrows and almost a bow before I found out, and double-checking had become almost an instinct.
   I fished my ‘Robin Hood’ cap out of a bag and settled it on my head, peacock feathers on the left. With my chain shirt chiming softly under tunic and over gambison, I headed out on the long trot home. I deeply enjoyed having the ability to run for long distances, it was something I’d lost down the long years. But now, thank the Gods, as a centaur I had it back, and could run like the wind.
   I soon left the park where we practiced, then turned onto the street heading down into the town. Traffic increased as I got closer to the city center, so I moved to the sidewalk and slowed, first to a trot, then to a walk as pedestrians got thicker. I kept to well lighted streets. Fortunately, nobody wanted to make trouble with someone my size; there was the occasional glare of hate, but I ignored them.
   I was almost halfway home when I remembered his Grace had recommended a SCAB-friendly bar I might want to look into, the Blind Pig Gin Mill. I’d heard about the place from other SCAdian SCABs too. I’ll admit, it did sound interesting. I looked at the street signs: Hmm, it isn’t far, I thought. I haven’t any pressing business at home, so why not? I can always use a stein or two of good ale.
   The tunic, chainmail, and weaponry were always good as a ‘Square-shaker’. The garb made it easier to meet people as they asked about it and I explained. What the heck, I thought, and turned down into an area of town I hadn’t seen before. The traffic and pedestrians dropped off rapidly, and I stepped back up to a trot.
   I’d been in the SCA for what seemed like forever. My health had been failing before I Changed; I was slowly losing endurance and energy. I couldn’t fight, but I’d always wanted to learn the bow, and it was a perfect opportunity. I learned well enough to become recognized for my skill and was elected into the journeyman archers rank. After a lot more hard work, I was promoted into the master level of His Majesty’s own personal troops.
   I’d been working out how to make bows as well: First the longbow, then, after that became ‘easy’, learning how to build the horse bows of the old mounted warriors or the steppes, made with sinew and horn on a wood center, glued together and wrapped with leather. Those earned me awards for craftsmanship, both journeyman and master, and I found there were people who wanted to buy them. I learned the art of fletching (the making of arrows); of making the Flemish bowstring; of leather crafting for quivers, bracers, and bow scabbards; and I soon had a small business going. I was making a reasonable living from what I considered fun.
   Then the Martian Flu came along, shaking the whole of Civilization with its high death rate and its notorious complication—SCABS. I got my life back together after the riots and the great turmoil, and again after SCABS got done turning me into a bay horse/centaur. With the help of friends, I persuaded the Courts to restore my freedom after I fell into the clutches of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Ranch they’d sent me to. Once free, I found a new home, then restarted the archery business under a different, more appropriate name: Chiron’s Bow.
   Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before a crazed mob of religious fanatics had burnt my house, while the police and fire people were blocked from helping me. After I got my life back together for a third time, I headed east, to an area where I wasn’t so well known. At least the insurance company paid up, and the lawsuit against Reverend Benson’s so-called ‘Church’ had gone very well; I was well in the black. My new home was paid for, I had money in savings, and I’d made many friends locally. I restarted my archery company and let people know I was back in business, and new orders were coming in regularly. I was Archer Marshall and Archer Champion of the local Barony, and was working on getting very good with Horse Archery. I was learning to shoot quickly and score well while at full gallop on a course. I was thinking about going to the Horse Archery event in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to compete in the Centaur class next year, even if it was too close to the remains of my old home and its bitter memories for comfort.
    I grinned at the memory as my shoes thudded quietly on the pavement. After I Changed, my first shoes were of steel, and they’d worn well. But when I became a centaur, my farrier had discussed alternatives with me; he recommended the rubber horseshoes. I found that they gave better traction on the street, not to mention being quieter, so I stayed with them, even if they weren’t as durable as metal…
   Coming up to an intersection pulled me out of my memories. I checked the street signs, and saw I was getting close. I turned the corner… and ran into a large group of norms looking toward the Blind Pig. I stopped abruptly; they noticed me and took a step or two back.
    “Well, well, what have we here?” said a large, mean looking man.
    Some of them wore ‘Humans First’ T shirts. There were children who wore that hate-group’s insignia just for the shock value—but these people looked deadly serious. I backed up; they spread out around me.
   “I don’t want a fight,” I said, nervously. “I’m just here to get a beer.”
   “Well, horsey, we don’t want to fight either. We just want to hurt you!” he replied. “Goddamn Monster!”
   “I’m neither monster or horse, I’m a Child of Chiron!” I shouted back. I couldn’t back up any further. I was up against the building.
    He grinned and waved. His mob pulled clubs and knives from hiding; then, he drew a big bowie knife.
   “I believe we’ll shave him first,” he said.
   I shivered for a moment. Then, a memory floated up and I laughed, remembering.
   “What?” he said, stopping just out of reach.
   “I guess you never saw that old movie,” I replied with a chuckle.
   “What’re you talking about? I don’t have time for old movies!” he growled.
   “The one where a punk kid pulls a knife on the hero,” I explained, “The hero says, ‘That’s not a knife.’—” I reached over my shoulder and drew my silvery rattan sword, “—‘Now, this is a knife!’” and I slashed out at him.
   He yelped in surprised panic and jumped back, as did the rest. They certainly hadn’t expected an armed target! Their shock bought me a few moments’ grace, which I used to grab my shield and set it on my arm. Ready, I leaped out at them, crying “Epona and Rudiobus, aid your adopted child!”
   I headed for a cluster of four. They tangled with each other trying to get set and my first strike got the one on the right in the ribs. He screamed and fell to the ground clutching himself, his club dropped and forgotten. The other three spread out to my left; one poked at me with his switchblade. At the same time, I noticed movement behind me, probably going for my hamstrings. I blocked the front attack with my shield as I lashed out with my hind legs. The fellow at the rear leapt back, cursing, as my off-side hoof missed his face by less than an inch; the one in front got the point of my blade solidly in the stomach. He fell down and started vomiting. The one on my right hadn’t yet moved—foolish of him, as I slashed at him and he leaped back to avoid my blow.
   With that bunch spoken for, I reared and charged another group—who scattered at my approach. One was dumb enough to try to outrun me! He got the usual penalty of footmen trying to outrun a ‘mounted’ warrior: I smacked him hard as I passed, and he fell down shrieking in pain. A second rearing turn let me catch the next one by surprise, striking his arm with a sharp crack. He dropped his blade and clutched at his arm, crying out in pain.
   So far, I’d escaped injury by virtue of my speed, skill, and agility, combined with the surprise that I wasn’t going to be easy prey. But when I turned back from my last victim, the rest had spread out into a shallow ‘c’-shaped formation to wait for me. I paused for a moment, considering my options. My bow would have been ideal… but all the arrows I had with me were target points, not blunts. I didn’t want blood on my hands, so that left close combat. I reared, cried “Vivat, Chiron!”, then leaped into a gallop toward the center.
   They split to take me from both sides—excellent! I swerved at the last moment, outflanking them on the left. Surprised yet again, they tried to turn but I was there too quickly. I hit the first one solidly in the ribs, and he knocked most of the rest down as he flew back.
   At this point, I could have kept going and made a clean getaway, but by now, my blood was up. I’d heard of what bigots like these had done to other—innocent—SCABs, and this seemed a perfect time to deal out some payback. I pulled up and turned back, shaking my gambison and chain shirt back into place and taking a moment to breathe deeply.
   Only now were they finally getting themselves together. Those still able to move and fight gathered into a tight group, jeering at me. I knew what they wanted—if I left now, they’d say they drove me off in terror. Not gonna happen! I thought. I reared again, shield and sword up and to each side, pawed the air with my fore hooves, and roared, “Kneel before me, Yahoos, or suffer the consequences!” The big man stepped out and gave me the traditional sign, with his other hand on his biceps for emphasis. I closed at a trot.
   They spread out to meet me again, but this time they stayed much closer to each other. I feinted toward the right end—several on the left jumped out to take the bait. I stepped back, turned and struck out overhand. They fell back as the ones on the right closed in. I kicked out behind again, mostly to discourage the brave and to ‘clear my six’. I grunted as a club hit home, but my return swing brought a yelp of pain; my opponent dropped his weapon and reeled away, holding his arm. Shrieks erupted, testifying to the accuracy of my strikes. As for their strikes, my shield blocked most of them and my sword more. Even so, I couldn’t stop everything. I was just outnumbered too badly! One got under my shield and gashed my flank with his knife; for his trouble, he received a shield bash that left him out cold.
   While I was distracted, their leader made his move: He stabbed up at the side of my human torso. Fortunatly, the results were far from what he’d expected! The blade cut through my tunic, but between the bad angle of his attack, my layers of good armor, and my solid muscle behind said armor, the knife snapped when the links of my chainmail caught it! He froze, shocked and stared at the hilt and the broken half blade he now held. My hard-driven return strike caught him just under the arm. Away he flew, landing in the street with a soggy thud. That broke the last of their morale! Those still able to move ran away. I gave (slow) chase after them for several blocks, howling “Come back, you cowards, and I’ll bite you to death!” My, how they did run!
   I slowed and let them get out of sight, then stopped to catch my breath and let the adrenaline levels drop. I thanked the Gods for their aid, and prayed that no one was badly hurt. The cut on my flank stung as sweat got into it; I could feel blood dripping. I turned and trotted back toward the Blind Pig, holding sword and shield low. I could see several SCABs just in front of me, turning back from where they’d stopped when it became apparent that the thugs were really gone. A large group of other people were standing outside the front door, attracted by all the noise. Mostly predator types, wolves, cats and such, although I also saw a huge bull morph and a morphed mule. None of them were quite sure what to make of me, it seemed.
   “Good eve to thee, good gentles,” I called. “At the risk of a good straight line, is there a doctor in the house? Oh, and you might want to call 911 to come pick up the trash!”
   Five bodies lay moaning in the street, with wolf morphs standing guard over them. The big guy was trying to crawl off, but the cat morph just behind him meant he wouldn’t get get far.
   “Hail and well met, Master Centaur!” called a large wolf-morph wearing a cape, of all things! And he spoke Elizabethian quite well. “Two physickers have we, nay, three! Pray, tell to us thy name, ay?”
   Ah! A kindred soul! I bowed to him and said, “I am Lord Felix Swiftarrow, liegeman to his Majesty the King of the East, Master Archer and Warrior of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I was coming down here on the recommendation of a friend to check out the bar after fighter practice, and ran into that crowd of yahoos. They attacked me with knives and clubs, and you can see the result.”
   “Well, my Lord Felix, ’twould seem you’ve saved someone from a beating or much worse this eve. Pray, won’t you come inside, where your honorable injuries can be healed? Betimes I shall personally see to introductions, and even buy you a pint or two,” he said.
   “The big one there mentioned a shaving,” I replied, as I set the shield in its accustomed place, then pulled the baldric around to slide the sword home.
   “Oh, did he,” the lupine said. “Crave pardon, but before you sheath the blade, may I see it?”
   “Certes,” I replied and handed it over.
   He looked at it, tested the balance and rapped it on the pavement. “Ah, yes, the wicked wicker weapon. I’ve heard of them, but not seen one before.”
   “Aye, made of rattan wrapped with duct tape. The Society doesn’t allow live steel on the fighting field; someone could get hurt!” I replied.
   “Like those fools over there?” he laughed.
   “Well, if they’re stupid enough to fight a trained and armored warrior with only T shirts, toothpicks, and butter knives, that’s not my fault!” I chuckled, accepting the sword back and sheathing it.
   He shook his lupine head, then turned and cried, “Good people, open a path and let a noble warrior enter!”
   The crowd parted with a cheer, I ducked under the casing and entered the Blind Pig, for the first—but not last—time.
   As I crossed the threshhold, I saw there were a number of herbivores in the back, well away from the door—not cowering, but being intelligently cautious. I noticed deer, rabbits, and a fair number of other small animal morphs.
   I paused, removing my cap, and bowed to them. I said, “I am Lord Felix Swiftarrow. I was just set upon by a group of Humans First yahoos. I’m still here—they’re not. I apologize for any distress all the noise may have caused you. Being a horse/centaur morph, I know all too well how herbivores react, so, again, my apologies.” They nodded back, relaxed, and went back to what they had been doing.
   The customers who’d gone outside to see what all the noise was were coming back in, except for those guarding the injured. The wolf types went to one table, the mule morph to the piano; and the huge bull-headed man stepped behind the bar.
   I limped over and asked, “Art thou the publican here?” He looked startled, then nodded and seemed to grin.
   “It seems I’ve yet more apologies to make, sir. First, for any trouble my act of self defense has brought on your establishment, and second, for carrying in weapons that are not peace-bonded. I had to snap the bond on my sword to use it. Will you please take my equipment and place it somewhere safe until it’s time to leave?”
   He nodded again, I put my baldric and sheathed sword on the bar next to my shield, then did likewise with quiver and bow case.
   “Oh, and one final request, if I may. Have you any paper towels or rags?” I asked. “I seem to be leaking and I wouldn’t want to ruin your floor.”
   He handed over a roll of towels; I used them to sop up the blood drips from the cut on my flank.
   “Crave pardon, Lord Felix,” said a voice from behind.
   I turned to see the wolf-morph in the cape.
   “Aye, good sir?” I replied.
   “Introductions are in order, I believe,” he said with that English accent. “I am… The Wanderer.” He bowed, sweeping the cloak around. “And this is Donnie, the bar owner and our patron. Please be aware he doesn’t speak, but he hears very well and does sign.”
   “Ah,” I replied. “I don’t know sign, but I’ve watched it at times during Royal Court.”
   “If you have need of translation, there are people here who can do that. Now, ’twould be best were that gash looked into soonest. Dr. Stein!” he called, “Meseems this myrmidon has some work for you. A rather nasty cut that needs attention.”
   A large form moved away from the wall—a fellow horse-morph, a shire at least by size. He stood on his hind legs, with roughly fingered hands. “Well, little brother, he got you a good one, did he?” he said, reaching into a bag of medical supplies for scissors and a razor to bare the area around the wound.
   “Not as good as I got him,” I replied. “I gave him a shield bash to the head, and he was still out cold when I came in. Which reminds me. Wanderer, did someone call 911 on those yahoos? There’ll be some Boys in Blue with the ambulance.”
   “Yahoos indeed, by their behavior,” he laughed, “yet sent packing by your Swift response! Well! Let me check on the call-in…”
   “Your pardon, Wanderer. On second thought, once they get over their scare, the ones who got away will call it in—probably call the Humans First HQ for reinforcements, too. No doubt they’ll tell everybody they were attacked by an evil SCAB centaur while they were out peacably taking the night air. What we need is at least a newspaper reporter with a cameraman, even better, a TV crew to get this on video.”
   “No problem, dear boy,” he replied.
   I blinked, then said, “This is a SCABS-related event, and the media aren’t terribly friendly to us.”
   “True, but we have a friend in those places,” he replied. “Let me call her and get her down here.”
   “Right,” I said, wincing as the Doctor went about his work. “Now, we wait and see.”
   There was less waiting than I’d feared. First came that ‘friend’ Wanderer spoke of, a reporter named Lisa Underwood; she asked me to come outside for an interview. I reclaimed my equipment from Donnie and was standing just outside the door on three legs, with a large group of SCAB people around us. In the full glare of the TV cameras, the good Doctor sewed up my gash as I spoke with Ms. Underwood, telling her my story. Her questions were neither intrusive nor predjudiced; her viewers would learn the truth, that I’d been forced to defend myself after being attacked by at least a dozen of those nasty people with clubs and knives. I showed her my weapons at her request, making sure to point out that the bow, a lethal weapon, was still securely tied in its case, then handed her the sword for her examination.
   “Why, it’s wood!” she exclaimed. “I thought steel when you said sword.”
   “No, not wood, milady, rattan. It has the weight and balance of a steel blade, without the lethal possibilities. I fight in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and live steel is banned from the field of honor.”
   Right about then is when a large group of other guests arrived; the ambulance, the cops (a norm and a large canine morph in uniform), and a contingent of Humans Firsters. “Excuse us, Ma’am, sir,” said the norm cop. “We have a report of a vicious attack on an innocent group of people by this centaur, and we need to get his side of it. Sir, we need your name, address, phone and so on.”
   I fished my drivers license out of my belt pouch and handed it over. The cop took the information down, then returned it. I said, angrily, “Innocents, in this neighborhood? Merde! Look there in the street, see all the weapons? And look at the gash in my side! I came down here to get a beer and check out the bar, I’m attacked by at least a dozen creeps with clubs and knives, I defend myself with shield and sword, and they have the gall to say that?”
   “Clyde, will you check and round up those weapons?” the norm officer asked his partner. “And see if there’s enough scent to match up weapons to users.” The canine Officer nodded, and got to work; he chalked the outlines of the knives and clubs, tagged them and gathered them up.
   “Here’s his sword, Officer,” she said. “I was just looking at it. It’s made of—rattan, did you say?”
   “Yes,” I said. “Rattan wrapped with fiber tape for durability and safety, then wrapped with duct tape for a silvery appearance.”
   She passed it to the Officer. He said, “Hm, it’s got a number of cuts in it, a couple fairly deep.”
   “Yes sir,” I replied. “I countered a number of knife thrusts with it. Here’s my poor shield. Look what they did to it! It’s all hacked up! It’s plywood, and meant to counter wooden weapons like the one you’re holding, not live steel. I’ll probably have to throw both of them away and make new ones. And look at my tunic! That yahoo over there tried to stab me and cut this hole in it. If it hadn’t been for the chain shirt, I’d have been really hurt!”
   “Hold it—you’re wearing chain armor?” the Officer asked.
   “Aye, indeed!” I said, then pulled the baldric and my tunic up over my head. The chain mail glittered in the camera lights.
   “I’d been at SCA fighter practice earlier this evening—we work out in what we’d wear on the field of battle. My sparring partner had recommended this place, so this evening I decided to come down and give it a look, then go on home. It’s easier to wear mail then carry it, so I still had it on when I was attacked.”
   “Hm,” the Officer said, peering intently at a particular spot on my torso. “Is this where he tried to stab you? Several of the rings are spread, and others are scratched.”
   The TV crew got a close up of the damage.
   “The cloth padding underneath is damaged as well, a nick from the look of it.” He fished an electronic camera out of his shirt pocket and took several shots, including a closeup for the evidence file.
   “Yes, sir,” I replied, “There’s a sore spot there. His blade snapped off, and the pieces are over there. I paid him back with my sword, which isn’t lethal like that knife!”
   The ambulance crew was working on the injured in the street. One of the paramedics came over to speak to the cop. “We’ve got a number of broken bones here, ribs and arms primarily and one broken thigh bone—all impact injuries. There’s a bunch more at the hospital, taken there by their pals.” he said. “We’ve called for more ambulances to take them all. Whoever hit them was strong and accurate—he could have hurt ’em a lot worse than he did. The only head injury is a concussion; the guy’s coming to now, but he’s going to have one hell of a headache.”
   “I sure hope so! He’s the one that cut me!” I grumbled.
   The canine Officer returned after putting the weapons in the trunk of the squad car and said, “The scents on some of the blades and clubs match the people in the street, Sarge. I’ve got the info on them all from the ambulance crew. They’ll be leaving for the hospital when the other ambulances show up and get loaded.”
   A group of Humans Firsters headed over to try to get their version on camera. The SCABs moved to stop them. Insults and profanity flew, and the cops hastily got in between and ordered everyone to back off. Everyone backed up a few paces, but the invective kept on. The cops called for backup; there was real danger of a riot starting.
   “Back off, I said!” the norm cop hollered. “I’ll use pepper spray on the first idiot who throws a stone or a punch, and I don’t care which side they’re on!”
   Grumbling loudly, both sides backed off. Ms. Underwood went over to the Human Firsters, and promised to talk to them when she was done with me, which quieted things down a bit. The cops came back to where we were standing.
   The ambulance attendant (who’d had been talking to Dr. Stein) said to the norm cop, “The Doc said they’ve got a place for the centaur, so we’ll take the load we have and get them seen to when everybody’s been loaded.” Turning to me, he said “That must have been one hell of a fight! You must be damn good if you only took that one wound. The casualties are swearing at their leader, something about ‘Easy, my ass!’” Then he grew serious: “I’d be careful if I were you. These people are vindictive as Satan himself.”
   Another two cop cars roared up, followed shortly by the extra ambulances. The Humans Firsters drifted back into the dark. The camera crew talked to Ms Underwood; she said she was done with me, but needed to do a standup for the camera crew and would see me inside when she was done. The Officer told me they’d need my sword and shield for evidence. They already had the sword, so I passed over the shield, received a receipt for both, and asked what would happen next.
   “To you?” He shrugged and said, “Nothing, probably. It sounds like you defended yourself, and no Court’s going to hassle you about any injuries you inflicted on your assailants. As the gang that attacked you, it’s the prosecuter’s call. But my guess is, armed assault at least. We’ll be getting in touch with you.”
   I nodded, thanked the Officers, then limped into the bar.

   I passed my archery gear back to Donnie, then handed the bow to Dr. Stein when he asked to see it. I asked him to give it to Donnie when he was done, and limped over to meet with Ms. Underwood.
   “Well, Milady Underwood, how well do you think that went?” I said.
   “That was great,” she laughed. “One centaur with a wooden sword against at least a dozen armed ’Firsters, and they either end up on the ground or running—that gave them a black eye for sure!”
   “Only one problem I can see for a while,” I replied, “I’m going to need a place to heal up where they know equine medical care.”
   “I’ll take you out to Epona,” Dr. Stein said. “When you’re fully recovered, you can go on back home.”
   “Thank you!” I said. Well, one problem solved. Only one, unfortunately… “Hmm, I’ll let the Post Office know to hold my mail. I have some time-sensitive contracts—lots of arrows wanted for a big archery event coming up next month—so I’ll need some equipment from my shop. You’re going to use a trailer for transport?” I asked, and the Doctor nodded. “If it’s okay with you, we can swing by my shop, I’ll get the things I need, and carry them out there with me. Are there any norm friends or human morphs out there? The color dipping and sealing chemicals may disturb the true equines, and it really should be done outside. That’ll save my time for fletching, cresting, and nocking. I’ll pay for their time or, if they want, one of my bows and instruction in its use.”
   “I think we can find someone, especially for a bow as beautiful as the one in that scabbard!” said Dr. Stein.
   “Ah, you looked it over? I put a lot of work into that one—it’s my personal weapon. About a hundred pounds draw. I shoot it in the Asian style with a thumb ring, and get excellent accuracy now. Took forever to get good with it, though. The ones I make commercially aren’t quite as pretty, but they work very well and are as exact a copy of the old horse people’s horn bows as I can make.”
   “Lord Felix? If you’ll come, I’ll furnish that beverage and proceed with the intros,” called Wanderer.
   “Ale, and coming,” I replied. “If you will excuse me, good gentles?”
   I limped over to the bar.
   “Now, about that ale, Wanderer,” I said.
   He nodded to Donnie who reached for a stein, filled it with dark ale with a creamy head, and passed it over. I took a sip, and let the flavor flow around my mouth, then took a full swallow.
   “Oh, my! This is some good stuff!” I said. “You have it all the time?”
    Donnie nodded.
   “Louie,” I lisped, “I think thish ish the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
   “Mais oui, mes ami Rick, mais oui,” Wanderer laughed and said, “Well come!”

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