~ The red eyes of the wolf ~
The horses were rather noisy while Pallas prepared their food. They neighed and complained by kicking the ground with their hooves, however, he didn’t let himself get distracted by them. In a way, he got used to their arrogant behavior.
Preparing the feed was a bit troublesome because Pallas had to give them the exact amount of grazing, hay, haylage, or straw based on the desired weight, not the current one, of each individual horse. He also knew that some of them had certain likes and dislikes for what he fed them. In some cases, the horse would end up biting him if he brought the wrong food. There was also the whole balanced diet thing he had to watch out for. Pallas didn’t want to end up causing any nutritional problems for the king’s favorite pets.
All in all, this was a very complicated and meddlesome job to do, especially since he wasn’t much of an expert on horses. He did work in stables before, but usually, the stable master handled the complicated stuff. While Pallas did manage to pick up most of the basics during those times, there were many other things for which he ended up needing to ask the local horse groomers about. Most of them were regarding diseases and other health-related problems the horses could have. Until now, he had been lucky, and the horses were as healthy as they could be.
While Pallas was on the second floor of the stable selecting and preparing the feed, he heard a few guards talking just outside of the stable. They weren’t exactly next to it, but rather up on the wall. They were doing an excellent job guarding it by leaning on their spears and yawning every so often. Not the most effective method if one were to ask.
Curious, Pallas stopped for a moment what he was doing and listened in on their conversation. This wasn’t the first time he did it, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The various gossips around the castle kept his mind busy and offered him a bit of fun from time to time, all this while he worked.
“I have to say, this morning, lady Adelia was angrier than a mad bull!” said one of them.
“What happened?” he asked.
“It seems one of the servants broke one of her favorite Bartmann jugs.”
“That’s all?” the guard asked a bit surprised by this.
He didn’t see why this could be a reason to be mad at someone.
Pallas knew all too well who was the servant in question. He would need to apologize to the old maid later.
Maybe I should buy her a new one when I have the chance. he thought.
“Well yes, but you know lady Adelia. If one of us accidentally drops a spec of dust on her carpets, she’ll immediately scold the one who did it, no matter the rank and class! They say when our king was young and came back from a hunting party covered in dirt and mud, she made him wash all the carpets he sullied! Since then, after he returns from a hunt, his majesty always changes his clothes before entering the castle or at least his boots!”
“I did hear that she was tough, but I never would have guessed she made his majesty clean the carpets!” said the guard surprised.
“Even if she was right with her scolding, in another kingdom she would have been hanged or sentenced to a thousand whips! This gives to show just how kind our king truly is!”
“Indeed, if his majesty does something wrong, he will always take responsibility for it, not use his authority to make it… disappear.” the guard said right before he sneezed.
“Bless you.” said the other.
The sneeze made Pallas’ ears ring a bit, but he recovered fast.
“Thanks. By the way, speaking of hunting parties, I passed by the dinning room, where the king’s guests were having their lunch, and I heard them talking about going on one with the king’s horses. Who do you think the king will pick as a guard?” asked the other.
“I don’t know, maybe Sir Ulfred… or…” the guard’s words ended as Pallas didn’t listen in on their conversation anymore.
He was so surprised by this news, his jaw dropped to the ground. If the king entered the stable now, he would find the stalls filled with manure, dirty, and with the horses unfed. Pallas feared his majesty’s wrath would send him out of the castle or even get him thrown into jail. Now it wasn’t only about getting the king mad, but also about embarrassing him in front of his guests. It was the worst thing that could possibly happen to Pallas right now.
“Sigh… The gods probably cursed me more than I already am! If I lose this job, I will have to get out of the castle, maybe even the capital. I can’t go yet…” he sighed again and then shook his head.
Just as he said, he couldn’t afford to leave. Ever since he arrived in this city, he had been searching for whatever called him out here. He could feel the pull, and even if it was weak and feint, he knew it came from somewhere inside this castle. He just had to find it and make it stop, so he could be on his way to another village or city.
Thinking about this, Pallas remembered what happened the night before. For a single moment, he felt the pull a bit stronger than he did in the past. It was coming from somewhere above him and when he turned around to try to find the source, he knocked over Adelia’s Bartmann jug. Ever since then, the pull felt feint and very weak.
Did I lose it? Maybe I shouldn’t have worried about Adelia and simply followed it. he thought and let out a deep sigh.
He looked over at the shovel and then at the mess the horses made during the night. They kept neighing and striking the ground with their hooves as if they were displeased by his very presence, or maybe just because they wanted to be fed already.
He let out another heavy sigh and then thought There’s too much to do here. I will never finish in time! At least… not going at my usual pace…
“Guess I have no choice but to do that…” he said as he looked at his own hand and clenched it into a tight fist.
Without any further delay, he perked up his ears and listened in for any possible people close enough to accidentally spot him as he worked in the stable. After just a few seconds, he realized the guards up on the walls were the only ones there. They were currently chatting about some cute waitress at an inn in the city. Except the king and maybe Hingrid, who checked up on him once in a while to see if he wasn’t sleeping on the job, no one else usually visited the Royal Stable.
Sensing he was safe, Pallas closed his eyes. A small smirk moved up on the tip of his lips. When he opened them again, his light-blue human eyes would start to change rapidly into a pair of red wolf eyes. The irises grew, engulfing the white until there was only a small line along the edge of his eyes left. When the process was over, Pallas could see better and his senses were enhanced beyond those of a normal human. He could even hear the powerful beating hearts of all the horses in the stable.
Speaking of which, the animals also sensed his transformation. The horses stopped neighing and hitting the ground with their hooves. They went quiet and didn’t dare to make a single sound. They didn’t fuss over his status anymore and didn’t try to back away from him. They were calm and looked at him with both fear and respect. They understood there was something different about him, something that placed him above all the kings and emperors in the world, at least in their eyes.
“Now you are quiet? Figures… When I change, no beast dares to challenge me, but when I’m normal, all of them want to chew my head off!” said Pallas when he noticed the sudden change in them.
They were quiet and well behaved, looking carefully at the man in front of them. They couldn’t dare to move. Every fiber in their bodies told them Pallas was dangerous. He could kill them in a split second if he wanted to. Normally, they would have tried to run away, flee from him at any cost, but there was something about him that told them they had a better chance of survival by obeying him. The horses behaved like loyal servants in front of their king.
Seeing them like this, Pallas wanted to be annoyed a bit, but he shrugged it of and without any complaints, he began to clean the stable.
Unlike before, he was now much faster and stronger. The buckets got filled with manure one after another in the blink of an eye. Pallas moved at an impossible speed for a normal human being, and he wasn’t even sweating.
The only thing that bothered him was the strong smell. For a normal human nose, it would have gone by almost unnoticed, but for him, it was like a powerful punch straight to the face. The worst part was the fact that the horses had the habit of taking a wee on the fresh softwood shavings bedding every time it got changed. Either this was a territorial thing, or they were simply messing with him.
Pallas finished cleaning up the stalls and changing the bedding in around twenty minutes. He was so fast the horses didn’t even realize when he did it. With this out of the way, all he had to do now was give them some water and then feed them properly. Luckily, he prepared the feed before he started cleaning. The reason for this was mostly out of preference. Once they would have quenched their thirst, the only thing left would be to deliver their feed. During that time, he could just rest and relax.
Now, all he had to do was go outside, turn on the water for the horses and then get some fresh fruits and vegetables from the storehouse, mainly carrots, apples, and a few turnips for the more picky ones. The problem was he couldn’t go outside with his eyes looking like a wolf’s. If someone spotted him, all Hell would break loose. People would scream, ask questions, or downright attack him. Just the thought of it made Pallas shiver in fear. He certainly didn’t want that to happen to him.
After letting out a heavy sigh, he calmed his fast beating heart and closed his eyes. When he opened them, the wolf eyes turned into the beautiful human light-blue. Almost immediately the horses neighed and hit the floor with their hooves. They returned to their usual behavior of acting all high and mighty in front of him.
Pallas didn’t even bother scolding them. He simply shook his head and ignored them. These horses were sometimes too proud for their own good. If the king hadn’t taken a liking to them, they would have most certainly met with the cold edge of a sharp blade impaled deep within their hearts. A behavior like that was considered a sign of madness by the lower classes.
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