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Chapter 05 - Status Quo

Wherein Rose is rather disappointed about the state of affairs, and Bosra works.

 

Days passed. Rose grew numb to the excess noise of the city. Contraptions that had seemed alien that first day now caused little wonder, and the diversity of colours seemed less exotic.

College had started. She'd been admitted, simply because she could pay the fee. She was in a class with a lot of students who didn't even know how to play an instrument, and the teachers were barely paying attention either way. At campus the older year students paid the younger ones no heed at all. And where she’d expected grand halls and auditoriums, the reality was a rather lacklustre merger of functional - pressed earth walls - and false cheer - obscene abstractions of beauty through modern art.

The whole undertaking was starting to feel like a failure.

However, Rose was determined to complete the mandatory introductory course. She wanted to enter the full course, a four-year programme, to learn the Bardic craft from master musicians.

Bosra meanwhile had found work as a stable-hand at a more well to do livery-stable - aptly named Reggie’s Livery Stables - that rented out an array of equine mounts, as well as dire-goats, and boarded riding beasts for some of the gentry that lived in the neighbourhood. She didn't really need the coin, yet, but she could use the contacts. Working with other ruffians - half-greens mostly - came as natural as breathing. After having to curb her tendencies to snort, growl and display teeth, the easy banter and general 'get-it-done' attitude, gave her a reprieve from having to enact city niceties.

Early one morning, she was the only one present in the stables, sweeping the hallway, when a Sovereign Knight led his quartet of horses to the barn. He asked for Reggie. Reggie was out, as were the stable hands. They were towing the feed car that had gotten a wheel stuck in a tube track, the thaumatic enhancer had broken, and now it weighed as much as it should, which was not enough for one slender pony to pull up the incline to the neighbourhood the livery was situated in.

“He’s out,” Bosra remarked eyeing up man’s ponies. “Might not be back for an hour.” She could tell at least one of his four animals wasn’t going to stay patient that long. “Can I help you?”

The Knight grinned awkwardly. “Last time I was here Titan broke out and eh… wrecked half the place to get to the grain storage, because he saw a mouse. Reginald didn’t want him back, but there’s no place else I can go.”

Bosra quickly figured out which of the four was Titan.

He was huge. His withers came up to Bosra’s chest. His hooves were the size of dinner plates. His baroque neck was thick and stocky, his feathered legs sturdy, his chest massive. He also had an evil glint in his eye.

“He’s Pure Sovereign. Nearly ten years old. Well-trained,” the Knight summed up. “I could take him up to the castle district, but I’m only in town for three nights.”

The castle district lay on top of the mount that all of Splendor was around and built upon. It might as well be in a world of its own.

“Fair. Is he prone to hunting mice?”

“Only when he’s bored,” Knight replied.

“I’ll take him on.” It was a challenge. It would be fun. Horses were horses, most of the time. Easy to understand, easy to manage. She’d never had the chance to work with a Pure Sovereign Breed before. Try as the techno-wizards might to construct a war-machine that was both trustworthy and destructive, nothing beat a Breed for sheer destructive force. Poets compared them to ravenous hydras in the body of an oversized unicorn.

“I’ll pay you well.”

“Sure. Settle that with Reggie.”

“You don’t need the coin?”

Bosra shrugged. “Coin isn’t everything.”

The Knight smiled, surprised to find someone who was of the same mind as him, at least on this point. “Very well. I’ll settle it with Reginald. You’re sure you can handle my Titan?”

“Ye-ap.” Bosra opened three stalls for the other horses, before taking the reigns of the brute. She held them for a moment, merely looking at his feet. He tried to step into her, she moved him back. He tried again, she stepped him back again. He tried a third time, she repeated her moves a third time with dispassionate practice. He settled.

The Sovereign Knight watched and was impressed. “I’ll see you get a bonus.”

“Give to someone who needs it more.” Bosra didn’t feel slighted that he’d already forgotten her stance on money. She moved the Breed into his stall. She’d work him later, when he’d had time to mull over what had just happened.

“Would be great if you could recommend me to your friends.”

That was easily agreed to. The Knight promised to return and settle payment, but he had other places to be right now. Bosra didn’t stop him. He’d have to return anyway, if he wanted his horses back.


Early one afternoon, Rose came to find Bosra. Just to be around her and chat. She missed her friend now that she spent almost all hours of the day at college campus. Today she had an unexpected half-day off because one of the teachers had told them last minute he had better things to do than babysit. He'd noted the obligatory attendances and left.

She shadowed Bosra as the Highlander cleaned a stall and petted the dehorned dire-goat that looked ancient, with a shaggy coat and hooves as sharp as knives.

"I don't really know what I'm doing there, Bosra. This morning, the assistant teacher - I think he's an upperclassman - listened to my exposé piece and said I have skill."

"Skill is good." Bosra scooped up a pile of dung and tossed into the oversized wheelbarrow that the roughs had no trouble pushing around.

Rose scrunched her nose. "Not the way he said it."

"Then he's an idiot."

Rose scrunched her nose up further. She didn't like to think negatively about other people. Mother had taught her there was always a redeeming factor to people you didn't like straight away. Still...

Lost in thought she didn't notice the goat trying to slam her into the siding until Bosra shooed the beast away.

"I feel like I'm wasting my time there."

"Means you probably are."

"Thanks for the encouragement," Rose sighed, exiting the stall as Bosra tossed out the last of the muck.

"Call it as I see it. You're a sweet girl. Helpful. Willing. They're farming coin off of that. You pay to attend. They don't teach. Win for them."

"But..." Rose couldn't say Bosra didn't have a point. It hurt tough, to think of herself as cattle. "How do they get real students then? They have to get them from somewhere."

Bosra shrugged her large shoulders. "People pay to attend. People pay to attend longer. The paper they get at the end is just the receipt."

Rose didn't like that idea one bit. "When did you get so cynical?"

Bosra laughed loudly. One of the goats joined in the ruckus and soon every beast was braying. Rose kept her raised eyebrow up until everything had calmed down again.

"I'm not cynical, Pupper. School just doesn't mean a lot to a Highland woman like m'self."

"Hmm. I'm going to give it a few more days," Rose decided. "The introductory course is only six weeks. I should be able to stick it out."

Bosra moved a stall over and repeated the mucking out process. This goat was less amiable and tried to gore the grey-toned woman with his curling ramshorns a few times. Bosra was quick to put a stop to it every time.

"Don't you mind mucking out stalls here? Weren't you planning on setting up a business?" Rose was curious, because her friend didn't appear to be discontent with scooping poop for a living.

"Nope. I ain't dead yet. Call that a win." Bosra put the pitchfork down, leaning on the handle. In the line of work she retired from, the potential for death was much more instantaneous each day. She wouldn't say chances were higher. If your time was up, your time was up, simple as that. The way that ticket got punched... She wanted a say in that.

Probably didn't matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. The clans believed that if she lived a worthy life, she'd be welcomed into the ancestral halls, to dance and dine for eternity at Sunfather's table.

But she'd done her share of dancing, and dining, and though get-togethers with her adventuring crew had been fun, there was always that nagging feeling of something else to be done, at least after a week or more of drinking herself silly.

"Besides, them's good company. Never dishonest." Animals didn't lie. People did, even friends, at the end of the day.

Changing subjects, she asked: "You still playing tonight?"

"Yep. I was thinking of going back to that brewery as well, ask if I can play outside." Rose missed playing for the fun of playing. Her violin only left its carrier for lessons that were far beneath her level, and to play for coin at their living quarters. The proprietor and managerial staff kindly let her use the common room during dinner time.

"You should. Bring me back a cup of brew, will ya?"

Rose giggled. "Sure. Who'd have guessed you liked bitter black drinks?"

"Git, pupper. I'm working," Bosra laughed, purposefully just missing the much smaller girl with her latest scoop of thrown poop.


Three of Cups series cover
Status Quo episode cover
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Three of Cups

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Seashell Bear
What if life was an adventure? Rose has always wanted to be a bard. A musician who inspires emotions by infusing her song with just a thread of magic. The course seems clear. Attend Bardic College in Splendor, the biggest city in the Realm, and graduate their four-year course. It seems easy enough. Along the way to Splendor, Rose meets Bosra, a grey-skinned giant-kin woman who is leaving her adventuring days behind her. Most adventurers don't retire. They either die as heroes or become villains. She intends to enjoy the fortune she's made in the most luxurious place she knows, the city of Splendor. Valentina, princess, contemplates whether there is more to life than what she is accustomed to, when Bosra and Rose find respite to the coffee shop she spends her free afternoons at. One conversation leads to another, and before she knows it, she's encouraged to step out of her gilded cage. Until those who built the cage come to drag her back. A cozy fantasy story.
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