“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!