“Shift your stumps, Crapboy! I’ve a new job for you – the Thane wants y’to bring Sassybritches off to the Temple fer t’be blessed!”
Ofeig startled, nearly dropping the pitchfork he’d been leaning on while making calf-eyes towards the forge. He turned and tried to look as though he was very busy shoveling manure. “Eh, what’s that now-?”
He kept his head bent low in deference, but couldn’t help but eye the man’s fine winter furs with awe. Ulris Wolfmantle was the Thane’s brother, and well renowned as a fine hunter. He was one of the few men allowed by the Thane to take the hawks from the mews without express permission, and often returned from hunts with impressive kills. Ofeig was always very careful to tend his horse with extra diligence, and for all that the man was brusque with the stableboy, the youth couldn’t fail to notice how vigilant Ulris was about making sure his beasts had the best of care… nor the pride the hunter seemed to take in keeping his animals in prime condition. It endeared him to the lad, despite the harsh words.
“Are you stupid? Y’heard me – my idjit brother thinks Mara gives a blind rat’s arse about his damn horse! Now stir yerself; you can bet yer ma’s bonnet you won’t see me tryin’ to haul a horse into a chapel!”
The stripling blinked in surprise, then in horror. “Awww gee, y’don’t really mean it, do ya? He really wants that-?” But already, he was mentally preparing himself for the blasphemy he was about to commit. Hell, Thane said jump, he jumped – he had to, Ma was counting on the coin he made here just to make ends meet.
Ulris’ response was to cuff Ofeig over the head, though the blow wasn’t so much painful as it was a warning. “A’course he does, I said so, didn’t I? Now get goin’. Looks like y’got a lot of shit t’sweep here, boy-o, and don’t think y’kin be slackin’ off just because it’s a holiday!”
Ofeig yelped and scrambled, bobbing his head in deference. “Yassir, I’ll – I’ll bring Sassybritches t’the Chapel fer t’be blessed…” His mind reeled. There was no way the Maran priestesses would allow a horse inside the Chapel. Heart sinking to the pit of his stomach, he retrieved a harness and began to prep Sassy for their journey to the Chapel.
“Ha! That brother of mine – s’a real idjit sometimes, but he means well. Look, shitsweeper – I’ll toss in a few extra coins, yeah? Gods know you’re gonna earn ‘em tonight. An’ make sure Hjilda’s got some’a those apples I know the cook’s squirreled away somewhere – it’s a holiday, innit?”
Ulris’ craggy features softened slightly at the mention of his prized hunting mare, and he scratched his beard, grinning to himself before casting another pitying glance at Ofeig. “S’been a good harvest – but damn if it ain’t a winter froze enough ta freeze yer knickers right off if y’aren’t careful. Here, boy – y’kin borrow my cloak. S’the spirit of the season, an’ y’don’t look as if y’got one yerself what’ll keep yeh from becomin’ a shitcicle, haw!”
The heavy fur cloak just about bowled him over as Ulris tossed it carelessly to the lad, and by the time he managed to make a choking sound to indicate the awe-struck gratitude he felt, Ulris Wolfmantle had already left the stables. Ofeig gulped a few times, before smoothing the fur with a humble fingertip.
As he trudged the long, cold trek to the Temple of Mara with Sassybritches in tow, Ofeig reflected that this must be what it was like to feel like a real man, and not a baseborn stableboy. Hell, he could barely feel the cold at all!
“’Scuse me, miss… I – I was wonderin’ if y’might consider a bit of an odd request.”
The middle-aged priestess eyed the unimpressive youth in the fancy fur cloak with a skeptical loft of one eyebrow, tilting her head. Not for the first time, she steeled herself in preparation for what Mara’s gentleness might bring upon her. If it’s another case of groin pox…
“W-well… y’see… my lord Thane wants ya t’bless his mare.”
The words burst from the young man in a sudden avalanche, and his pimpled features turned bright red as he looked anywhere but her face. The priestess’s eyebrow raised just a bit higher, and her arms folded across her chest.
“W-well! It’s, ah. It’s gonna be her first year havin’ a foal and all, an’ I know she’s nought but a horse t’you, but she’s real important to the Thane, see – and he’s willin’ t’pay the donation and all, seeing as it’s North Winds Prayer, right-? A-and so he figgered – he figgered he’d send me and see if you might be willin’ to…”
“You want me to bless… a horse.”
Ofeig frowned, rubbing the back of his head, and nodding sheepishly. “… yeh. That’s – that’s about the jist of it.”
The priestess exhaled a long-suffering sigh, unfolding her arms to prod her fingers against her temples. “My son, you do realize that we do important work here, yes-? We save lives. We feed children and counsel the sick at heart. We cure diseases that do terrible things to the body, and purge daedric influence from fevered minds. We help women to bear children, and offer hope to the hopeless.”
Here, she looked up from her hands to pin the lad with a disapproving stare.
“- But we do not bless horses.”
The young man seemed to shrink within himself, and began to stutter. “I – I apologize, miss – it was never my intention to – I just do what I’m told, I – I thought it’d be better t’ask than to bring the horse into yer nice clean chapel and… didn’t mean no disrespect…”
His mumbles grew smaller and smaller beneath the priestess’s stare, and he shuffled back a few paces, features a shade of beet. The priestess considered her charge, and couldn’t quite restrain the twitch of her lips – but it was too late. The expression was spreading like an cold through an infirmary, and her eyes crinkled with mirth. She smiled at the poor, sodden stableboy before her, and shook her head. Somehow, he reminded her exactly of her younger brother.
“Alright, alright, I get it. Wasn’t something you did to offend. Still, it’s hardly an appropriate use of my abilities, to bless a horse – it’s preposterous, really! What kind of knuckle-headed Thane would come up with that bit of nonsense?”
“W-well…” Ofeig offered a timid glance to the woman, eyes wide and hopeful as he brushed a coarse hand across the uneven scruff that barely marked his weak chin. “He’s – he’s only tryin’ to look out for them what matter most to him, miss. S’not like that’d be me or my ma, see – it’s the horses he cares about. They’re good, strong creatures, an’ he just wants to make sure Sassybritches has a healthy firstborn, yeah?”
It was a little bit of a stretch; so far as Ofeig knew, the Thane didn’t care for much more than himself and his mead. But somewhere in his cups he’d come up with the notion that his horse ought to be blessed of Mara, so… that implied that he really, truly cared for Sassybritches’ well-being, didn’t it?
He swallowed hard. Was stretching the truth to a priestess enough to make Mara crook with him? Biting his lip, he offered up a silent prayer of apology to the Goddess. He didn’t want to have to go home and tell them he hadn’t gotten Sassy blessed…
The priestess frowned hard, and resumed rubbing her temples, as though a deep headache was building there. As if she could read his thoughts, she sighed.
“… you’re going to be beaten if you tell them we wouldn’t bless your mare, aren’t you?”
Chagrined, the young man nodded.
“I… I suppose we haven’t had many supplicants today. The weather’s too nasty, even though it’s North Winds Prayer. Very well, young man. I will bless your Thane’s horse – but only this once. And for the love of Mara, don’t go telling everyone about it, alright?”
“Aww, gee! You have no idea how happy this’ll make the Thane – yer a real rose among thorns, miss! I – I really appreciate it, I know it ain’t right, an’ I won’t tell a soul ‘cept the Thane himself – Sassybritches is a real sweet mare, she’s got fine lines an’ a gentleness to her… if Mara was a horse, I bet you she’d be just like Sassybritches, miss!”
Inwardly, the priestess sighed, and followed the babbling man out of the chapel.