Erden gave a stolid nod to Luwain before he took hold of the rope halter on her head. He loosened its bindings and lifted it past her horns, “We won’t need to keep up any appearances here unless other folks are around.”
“Thank you, I hate being led around like, well… Like a cow. It was Bruno’s idea to make me less, conspicuous, on the way over.”
“It’s no bother,” Erden nodded as Luwain shook her head free of the halter. He coiled the rope of the lead and harness before hanging it on the fencepost beside them. Erden then moved to Luwain’s side and grabbed the leather strap across her back that balanced the paired saddlebags.
“Oh, you are a gentleman! I’d give you a tip, but I don’t have my purse at hand,” she said as the farmer gripped the bags.
“Thank you, Mame,” Erden grunted as he lifted the bags and draped them over his shoulder. “What do you have in these things? Bricks?”
“No, books. I’ll need them to research a counter-spell for my affliction. Should my magic fail to resurface, I’ll share my findings with whomever is brought in to reverse the transmogrification.”
Erden raised an eyebrow, “What are you going to do? Turn the pages with your tongue?”
“I… haven’t worked that out yet… Perhaps you could assist?” Luwain batted the lashes of her brown eyes at the farmer before he rolled his.
“Come on,” Erden groaned as he turned to walk up the hill. “Follow me and I’ll show you around before I get you situated.”
Luwain followed him hesitantly at first, then edged up alongside Erden. “Thank you again for not leading me around with a rope.”
“Ahyuh,” he nodded.
“Is there anyone else that you need to introduce me to around here?”
“Not anyone on two legs,” the dairyman said approaching a second line of fencing. “It’s just me and the animals since my daughter got married last year. I get the occasional visitor, but it’s usually quiet.” Stopping at a wooden gate, he grabbed the fixed loop of old rope that held it closed.
Luwain looked up the gentle slope beyond the fence, “You must have an impressive view up there.”
Erden removed a wooden peg that held the loop in place. “I suppose. On a day like today you can see past the south woods into Neep, and if you look hard you might see the ruins of the Grey Keep past the heather mire to the north.”
Luwain squinted as she raised and lowered her neck. “I’m sure it’s pretty, but I’ll need to take your word for it. Since my transformation, it’s hard to focus on details. It’s very strange; I can see all around, but everything is in a reddish hue and it’s hard to tell a hole from a shadow. Perhaps I can spend some time and wander to take it all in later?”
Erden nodded as the rope came loose, “After I show you what to avoid, you’ll be free to roam.” He took a hold of the gate and walked forward to swing it inwards. The freeman then leaned on the top rail of the wooden gate and watched the heifer enter. “Forgive me, but what you said about your sight has gotten me nosey. I’ve got questions.”
Luwain cleared the gate and watched Erden start to close it, “I’d like to think that they will be questions about how I had a key role in repelling the host of Urtz, or even how I didn’t intend to burn that damned bridge down… But they’re going to be cow-related, aren’t they?”
“Ahyuh,” the farmer nodded hooking the loop back on the gate. “I’ve been talking to cows for most of my life, but you’re the only one that has spoken back.”
Luwain sighed. “Alright, ask away.”
Erden finished securing the gate and then motioned Luwain to follow as he walked past her. “What’s it like? You know, being a cow and all?”
“What’s it like?” Luwain echoed with perked ears. “Well… To start, I’m huge… I’ve gone from ten stone to over a hundred, I’m sure. Between that and clomping around on all fours I’ve been terribly clumsy. But I’m not as bad today as I was yesterday when I almost broke poor Thorn’s foot.”
Erden snorted at the thought of scrawny Thorn Rosklin, fated adversary of Urtz, being stomped by a cow. “You stepped on the wielder of the Deathrose Blade?”
“I’ve stepped on a lot of things so far, so consider yourself warned!” The wiry man nodded before Luwain spoke again. “To continue with your first question, however, the weirdest thing about it for me is that I’m naked. Yet nobody seems to think anything of it except for me…”
Erden looked back at Luwain and squinted. “You know, it probably won’t make you feel any better, but I hadn’t even given that a moment’s thought until you mentioned it.”
Luwain gave a swat of her tail as they continued to walk up the hillside path. “My womanly endowments are now doubled, enormous and swaying just above the ground for all the world to see. Do you have any idea how awkward that is?”
Erden’s eyes darted to the swaying motion of Luwain’s udder before he turned away. “I… can imagine.” The pair walked in silence for several moments before the farmer found his voice again and nodded, “It’s nothing that I don’t see every day though, Mame, so don’t feel embarrassed on my account. But if you really want, I could see what I could stitch together from some sackcloth and—”
“—No. I’ll just… keep getting used to it,” Luwain sighed. “Bruno is right that I should stay inconspicuous, but maybe if I get cold, you could lend me a blanket?”
“Of course. I’ve got an old horse blanket that’ll do the trick.”
They approached the fence of the outer corral and five Olst Reds lifted their heads from their grazing. The milch cows mooed a greeting as Erden stopped and waved them over. “Greetings ladies, I’ve brought a new friend.”
“You’re not going to put me in there, are you?” Luwain cringed eyeing the animals.
“Not today, they need to get used to you first or you’ll upset them.” The cattle bellowed to their spring calves and together they plodded towards the edge of the fence as Erden extended a hand to them under a wooden rail. “I’ve got a modest pen and covered stall that I use as a spare when one of ladies is sick or hurt. You can have that space all to yourself.”
“That sounds, lovely,” Luwain said as Erden rubbed the snout of the first cow to reach him.
Erden brushed the ear of the russet colored milch cow as she leaned into his palm and mooed. “Well, lovely would be a bit generous…but it’s clean and dry. The usual tenants don’t complain, anyways.” He looked back at Luwain, “You’ll have to get used to the other ladies soon though, because all of you will be sharing the pasture.”
“I didn’t expect to be boarded in a house,” Luwain said eyeing the reddish brown cattle gathering before her, “but do you have to put me in with your animals? I’m… I’m not like them.”
“You won’t be overnighting with them, but you’ll need to graze and to do that you’ll have to share the pasture.” Erden turned his attention back to the herd and ruffled the head of a curious calf.
Luwain continued to look at the cows, then shook her horns. “I’d rather not. Couldn’t I eat somewhere else without being fenced in with common cattle?”
Erden turned around and faced Luwain as he hooked his thumbs over his belt. “Look, I get it. You’ve still got your mind, and your tongue, but you and I both know that you ain’t got the body of a woman at the moment.”
The farmer watched Luwain look away and then back again before she reluctantly nodded. “Yes, obviously… But I’m still me. I don’t want to be locked away all day with no one to talk to.”
Erden shook his head, and gestured to the russet colored cattle behind him. “Oh, I won’t make it like that. It’s just that like the other ladies, you’re going to spend a lot of time grazing and cudding, or you’ll starve. Behind the pasture fence is the only safe place for you to do that, with rustlers and wolves and whatnot about.”
Luwain lifted her dun colored head and flicked her ears, “I hadn’t really thought about it that way…”
The dairyman turned back to his cattle behind the wooden rails. “Once the ladies are used to you, you’ll see how the herd takes care of their own. You’ll be far safer with them than by yourself… How about we make a deal, Luwain? If you can play nice and eat your greens with the herd, I’ll let you out after grazing when I can. Then you can talk my ear off about this and the other as much as you want.”
“Deal,” Luwain said with a firm nod as she watched Erden reach for another cow mooing for his attention. “I will hold you to that!”
Erden nodded as he felt his palm nuzzled and licked by the next cow pressing in to greet him. “You’re a guest, not a captive, Mame. Besides, I’ve missed a woman’s voice around here since Meleen wed and had the baby.”
“Thank you, I’ll try my best with… Eating.” Luwain summoned a small smile to her lips and displayed one of the few signs that she was more than an ordinary heifer.
“Have you tasted any clover yet? There’s a lot of it around here and the ladies sure seem to like it.”
“If it’s anything like the mouthfuls of grass I’ve choked down, I’m sure that I’ll hate it,” she said from behind the farmer.
“Let’s hope it’s an acquired taste then.” Erden made sure that he gave each remaining member of the small herd lounging over the rail of the fence a friendly head rub, then turned to leave.
“Gods, I’m huge even compared to other cows,” Luwain sighed before he could start back up the path again.
Erden waved her to follow, “Oh, you’re just a bigger breed… A prize example too, if you ask me.”
“Well, I’m flattered.”
“You should be,” the farmer said as the pair walked away from the cows watching from behind the wooden rails. “I don’t say it often.” The dirt path curved gently as they walked it, hugging the edge of the fence as it continued up the slow rise of the large hill.
Luwain squinted at the blurry approach of a small paddock ahead, fenced off from the main pasture. “Is that the pen you have set aside for me?” she asked the dairyman straining her brown eyes to make out any more detail of the structure.
Erden was slow to respond as they continued to walk, “Oh, that… No, you definitely won’t be going in there.”
Luwain turned her head and focused her red-tinted vision on Erden beside her, catching the farmer rubbing his unkempt goatee in thoughtful silence. “Alright, what’s crossed your mind? Another cow-related question?”
“No,” he said still scratching his chin. “I was actually thinking about the Solstice Fair. It’s coming up in a month you know…”
“And what of it?” the bovine wizardess asked as she plodded up the path with her tail gently swaying.
A grin grew on Erden’s lips. “Well, it’s been a hard few years and all… And a big win at the fair could really turn things around—”
“—You’re joking!” Luwain snapped back at him, her flank bumping the fencing beside her. “You want to display me in all my bloated glory for the whole county to see?! I’d never—”
“—But you’re a beauty! Neither Gwillis or Cleia and her sons ain’t got a cow half as fine as you. All you would need to do is keep your mouth shut and walk around—”
“—I can’t believe that we’re having this conversation! No!” she protested as her tail thrashed like a whip.
“Awe, come on, Luwain… Wouldn’t you like being complimented and the center of attention all day?”
“Not as a cow!”
“You’d walk away the winner of the brass bell, queen of the fair!”
“No, no, no-oooooooo!” her reply bellowed out like a long moo, the first cow-like sound Erden had heard her make. They both stopped in their tracks as Luwain blinked her eyes in shock at the bovine noise she had just uttered.
She shook-off her surprise with a snort, then thrust her muzzle snout-to-nose with Erden. “I’m frightened enough of losing my mind to this ‘blessing’ from the Goddess as it is!” she shouted. “Am I really so pathetic now that while my friends are facing death, I’m going to prance around and play the pretty heifer?!”
Erden raised his hands in surrender as Luwain took a few steps backwards, huffing. She clumsily pressed against the fencepost behind her and doing so the old wood and rails groaned from her weight. Luwain stopped short of doing any harm, looking back at the rails and then herself before she closed her eyes and slumped her horned head in dejection. A moment later Erden heard a sob.
Luwain was surprised when she felt Erden’s hand brush the furred ridge of her neck. “I’m an idiot,” he said as her ears perked. “I won’t mention it again.”
She raised her dun colored head and opened her eyes. With a nod she started to speak, but stopped cold with a gaping mouth. Her eyes shot wide as something wet poked itself past her tail and nudged her posterior.
The dairyman lost his hat as Luwain bolted past him with a shrill cry, nearly knocking him over. Erden regained his footing as the hundred stone cow huddled behind him. “Woah! Easy now boy!” he shouted to the reddish-brown bull snorting and licking his nose over the top fence rail.
Luwain stood with her forelegs splayed and short horns lowered as Erden approached the bull, “By the Seven Gods! He didn’t just put his—”
“—It was his nose,” Erden interjected moving to scratch the bull’s chin. “Old Xune here is a rascal, but a gentleman with the ladies.” The farmer continued to pat the bull as the animal stared at Luwain, chewing and licking. Erden looked to her and chuckled dryly and grinned as the chestnut bull raised his head high to see over him. “I can tell that you’ll need to be watchful around him, however, he’s got eyes for you!”
Luwain let out a groan of disgust and shivered as the bull preened his long horns and head to gain her favor before Erden shooed him away. As she watched the animal leave, she noticed a limp and a long gash running down his flank. The injury had been cleaned and cauterized shut with a heated brand.
“What happened to him?” Luwain asked turning to Erden.
“Saberwolf. A few days ago the bastard broke in under full daylight and killed one of my ladies. I got there just as the dog intervened, and Fleet was all snarl and bark as he and the wolf locked jaws… But it was old Xune that did that son-of-a-bitch in with a kick after he bit him.”
“And your dog?”
“I buried him right over there.” Erden pointed to a spot overlooking a beautiful view of the heather mire far beyond them. He said nothing more as he retrieved his fallen hat, re-shouldered the saddle bags and walked off towards the thatched roofs of the farm buildings. Luwain looked back at the bull, and then at the other cows father away, before she clomped after the farmer.
The finale of Out to Pasture will be posted on Saturday, April 25th.
Copyright © 2015 Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.