Tuesday Tidbit: Ailing Great-Haulers

In which a great-hauler needs some TLC . . .

“Saxo, what are you doing?” A firm hand grabbed the back of his neck and collars and hauled him upright. “Boy, I told you—” Master Agri stopped. “That bird’s leg.”

The young, grey-tan great-hauler gelding walked back and forth in his pen, nibbling a little of the fresh food Saxo had given him after he poulticed the bird’s leg. A green smear and lump showed the thick blend of herbs just above the feather line at the base of the skin-covered lower leg. The gelding moved more easily than he had that morning. He swallowed the grain and greens blend, blinked, then ate more.

“Sir? It hurt and couldn’t pull. I tried to help it stop hurting.” Saxo tried not to whine. Master Agri had told him to make the bird comfortable and to take care of it until the beast healer came in two days. “It’s the same poultice that Goodwife Eadburg uses on people.” He’d been washing the container he’d blended the herbs in when Master Agri caught him.

The wrinkled man scowled. “What made you think it would work, boy?” He shook Saxo.

“It did before, on the lead female on Goodman Folker’s team after she got bitten by the stinging flies before Rella’s summer feast, sir.” He didn’t like seeing beasts in pain, and Goodman Folker had been happy to let him try the sticky, green paste that worked so well on people’s bruises and swellings with carbuncles. It helped the birds as well as it did people, and had even made the stingers pop out of the leg flesh. The bird stopped trying to scratch and chewing at the leg. That alone made the leg heal faster, even before the power of the herbs rebalanced the bird’s natures, drawing out the extra heat.

Master Agri stared from the bird to boy and back. He shook Saxo again. “Don’t do it again unless the beast healer gives his permission, hear me?” A third shake came with the words.

“Yes, sir.” How was he to ask? Not a good question. There were no good questions for Master Agri, unless it was “What else needs doing, sir?”

The bird-raiser let go of his collar. “Clean that, then get on with your work. Huw can’t do it all.”

“Yes, sir.” Huw never did all his work, just the half he wanted to do. He left the dirty, nasty, hard things for Saxo, unless Master Agri or Mistress Carys watched him. But Huw was almost a journeyman, and was an apprentice under contract, not a charity apprentice.

Saxo finished washing out the little clay pot and the scrap of cloth, then put them in the shed with the other containers. Then he got the dung scoop and eased into the large pen holding six mated female birds. They liked to nip if they thought he was too close. He kept one eye on the birds and one on the ground, scraping up the mounds of droppings with the curved wooden shovel. The metal edge keep the old wood from breaking. Saxo piled the dung just outside the bottom of the pen, slipping the scoop’s blade between the wooden rails and tipping out the contents. The light brown four-year-old female snapped, crimson crest feathers slicked back. He flattened himself against the side of the pen. She nipped hard and left big, deep bruises. The female snapped again, then ignored him. He waited until her crest feathers fluffed, then several heartbeats more. Only then did he gather the last bit of waste. Task done, he eased out of the pen and made triple sure that both latches closed and locked. The pale grey female had learned how to undo one latch, but not the new one. Yet.

Saxo got a different shovel and a dung-cart. He loaded the mound of dusty, sour-smelling waste into the cart and pushed the cart to the heap. He’d gotten all the pens cleaned. The birds in the pasture scattered their waste on their own, like the wild birds did. Saxo shoveled the droppings onto the dark brown mound. Goodman Folker would come tomorrow to collect it to spread on his fields. He only had six great-haulers, all the smaller, darker kind from the eastern hills. Master Agri grumbled about that. Huw said that the eastern birds didn’t work as hard as Master Agri’s did. Saxo shrugged as he returned the cart to its place. Goodman Folker’s birds liked him better than his master’s birds did. Only Yoorst knew why, and the god of beasts had other things to do besides explain His ways to charity apprentices like Saxo.

Just before Rella’s light dimmed for the day, Saxo checked on the male in the healing pen. Saxo gave the male more water. The three-year-old, pale brown and grey gelding hissed a little at something on the other side of the pen, then stalked toward the water trough. He moved more easily, and kicked toward Saxo. That was good, sort of, as long as the gelding missed—he still had his claws, and the kick alone could break a man’s arm or leg. The bird’s head and neck feathers fluffed out as he calmed down. Saxo watched the bird a little longer, then plodded toward the barn where Master Agri stored the wagons, carts, harnesses, and other equipment. The apprentices slept there, up in a loft, so they could guard the barn.

Saxo rinsed his hands and face, and brushed off his clothes. Mistress Carys had left his food in the barn. Huw ate in the house, since he was a senior apprentice, almost a journeyman. Saxo didn’t care. The thick bread, pottage with bits of sausage, and wilted herbs tasted very good, no matter where he ate it, and Saxo wiped up every bit of pottage with the bread. It was too late in the season for much fresh fruit, and the dried fruit needed to be saved for later, or so he’d heard Mistress Carys telling her husband. Goodman Folker said that the signs pointed to a mild winter, since there weren’t as many nuts and fruits this season. Saxo shrugged. Great-haulers mattered more to him than wild nuts and fruits.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.


11 thoughts on “Tuesday Tidbit: Ailing Great-Haulers

  1. I do not like Master Agri.

    Breeding for temperament is a very high priority, not an afterthought.

    Most animals aren’t all that smart, but they’ve got little to think of besides escaping. They’re always watching, and always probing for weaknesses. If you don’t take the time to latch the gate correctly, the odds of them escaping approach unity.

  2. Poor kid did original sin as far as his master is concerned, had a useful thought before the master did. The other apprentice sounds like a suck up. Won’t last long on his own if he doesn’t do the dirty work.

  3. Hehehe, I see ‘payback’ in the future for a couple of players… And Saxo will be the winner!

    • Only in a just world. Which is why this is fiction. (A cynic is an optimist by nature and a realist by sad experience.)

  4. Is there is miss or sentence fragment where Saxo is scooping up the dung? “The metal edge to keep the old wood from breaking.” ?
    Otherwise, when will this be published? 🙂 John

Comments are closed.