Photo in the public domain by Jack Kurzenknabe
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Wolf Slave 13 – Alex Ankarr
Oh, Penn hates wolves.
Penn can ride. (Not that Hotstaat has cared to check, just assumed again. It can hardly be that he has bothered to check Penn’s paperwork for a list of skills and qualifications. No, he will merely be assuming that Penn is a tool fit for purpose, like any other slave. Then he’ll be liable to throw a fit should it prove not to be so. Penn’s well used to it. Lucky he spent time on a farm with one pack and had some hard riding to do driving off rustlers a time or two.)
When it comes to it, Hotstaat sets him up on a good enough mount – rather cracky and temperamental, but a nice bit of horseflesh – and sets a cracking pace too. They only slow a little once well out into the wilds of the estate, between farm and farm, Hotstaat easing the pace to check on fence posts and barbed wire. He talks more than Penn expects: but it’s only commonplaces about the weather, and the scenery, and passersby like tenant farmers and field-workers. Penn sticks to the most neutral anodyne responses he can find, and it seems to suffice. Hotstaat only seems to ease his shoulders a lot, at Penn’s non-responses: to cast him the odd glance with an unreadable expression.
It’s odd to think, though, that this expressionless, slightly intimidating fellow, in ownership of papers that hold life and death over Penn, with power to discipline him for the slightest infraction, is the same rowdy, affectionate kid who was his boon companion when they were both knee-high to – well, when both their ambulatory skills were still uncertain enough that the odd tumble was taken as a matter of course. He doesn’t mention it, not alluding to it in the slightest degree, of course. Hotstaat may have referenced it, just the once, in parting, but that’s up to him. Any return comment on their shared past history might be reckoned insolence or presumption, and that isn’t a risk he cares to take.
Perhaps Hotstaat is thinking of it, just the same, though. Because as he finally slows further, when they come to the edge of a beautiful monster of a lake, green blue in the midday sun, he gives Penn a look – one of those looks, that seem to mean something but could really mean anything. And he says, ‘It’s a fair long time since we last took a dip together, Penn. I remember my old nurse tipping me into the paddling pool, when I didn’t want to get in the bath, back when we were little as gnats. And you took it into your head to squirt your juice-sipper over my head, perhaps on grounds that I was wet enough already and it’d make no difference.’
© Copyright Alex Ankarr 2013 All rights reserved to the author. No inspirations for characters drawn from real-life individuals, no resemblance to real individuals intended.