In Which Vonya Does a Good Deed and is Punished For It.
Vonya’s vanilla-colored hair lashed around her pale face as the chill mountain wind spun wickedly around her, gleefully whipping her skirts into a frenzy. The draenei stood for a moment, surveying the area. It was rocky, and a bit barren. Far too desolate for her own taste. The nearest town was a goodly distance away, and even the seldom-traveled road was tucked out of sight. The grassy hummocks that dotted the mountainside were lush and green; there should be plenty of fodder for Esmerelda to graze on. And although she had not seen any of the actual beasts, there were split-hoofed footprints the size of her head pressed into some of the softer dirt, so her rose-scented nuisance should easily find companionship, should that be her desire.
This would be perfect.
Vonya patted Meena gratefully on the shoulder before turning to Esmerelda. Her frostsaber had been very patient with this whole business, carrying her through brush and unbroken territory for most of the day as she searched for the perfect place to release their rose-scented companion.
Vonya held the worn lead rope in her hand and surveyed Esmerelda. The goat was in fine fettle, her nostrils wide and quivering, ears twitching and hooves stamping nervously. “Well, Esmerelda, I cannot say that it has been fun, but it most certainly has been interesting. May you find what you seek in the freedom I grant you. No creature should be held against her will, nor should she be destroyed simply for having an opinion. Farewell, and good speed.” Smiling slightly at the absurdity of bidding such a formal farewell to a creature that, to all appearances, would eat anything she came in contact with, Vonya reached up and gently unlatched the halter on Esmerelda’s head.
As the worn leather slid away, Esmerelda started and danced backward, her head held high. Vonya gathered up the discarded tack and carefully packed it away in one of Meena’s bags.
Esmerelda snorted and pawed at the ground, ears flicking back and forth. Vonya slid comfortably to the saddle of the graceful Kaldorei cat, then laughed when she saw the ram’s confusion.
“Go then, you are free now, Esmerelda of the Mountains.” Vonya lifted her arms and made a quick flapping motion towards the goat, who reared back, then burst into a gallop, darting around an outcropping of rock and disappearing from sight.
Vonya waited a few seconds until the sound of hoofbeats on rock subsided, then turned to Meena with a sigh. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the great cat’s neck, stroking gently. “Ah, you are too good to me, Meena.” Straightening, she assumed proper riding posture and nudged the frostsaber toward the road. “To Ironforge, my friend! As I hear it, the dwarves have an excellent recipe for beer-basted boar ribs, I shall make an inquiry, and see that you get a serving with your evening meal. You have most certainly earned it.”
The moments drifted lazily by as Meena picked her way through the tumbled rocks. Neither she nor her mistress was in a hurry, and it was a lovely day. The chill wind of the higher reaches dissipated into a gentle breeze as they descended amidst the cheerful twitterings of birdsong and the peaceful whisper of wind-brushed foliage.
Vonya let her mind wander as the spotted cat padded along. The absurdity of it. Me, riding one of those ridiculous rams? To be certain, Esmerelda had seemed a singular ram. After she’d been properly bathed, she had utterly lost the musty, sharp ram smell. And although the beast had been pushy and demanding, it was true that she had been amusing. Rather polite, in her own way. So long as her desires were being met, Esmerelda had been rather pleasant to have around. She’d never offered obstinancy, excepting those times when she judged that she was to be restrained or asked to be ridden. Such as last night, when one of the stableboys had taken it into his mind that he should like to try her for a bit and had been rewarded for his impudence with a hoof to the groin. Luckily, the innkeeper had found the whole incident amusing, and had sent her on her way amidst a barrage of laughter. For a time, it had seemed almost as though Esmerelda were laughing too. She could almost imagine that she could hear the sharp bleating of…wait, she could hear bleating!
Meena had already stopped, turning her broad head to glance behind them, her oval ears tilted forward. Vonya glanced back as well, to see Esmerelda cantering toward them, head held high. When she finally caught up with them, she slowed and stopped a few feet away, tail twitching.
“What is this? Go! You are free!” Vonya repeated the flapping motion to shoo her away, but Esmerelda simply tossed her head and stamped her hoof. “What is wrong with you? What do you want?”
In answer, Esmerelda craned her neck forward and lipped softly at the shoulder of her robes.
“You cannot come with me! I am far too busy! I cannot possibly take care of a second mount. Please, go back.”
Turning her back resolutely, Vonya nudged Meena forward. After a second’s hesitation, the unmistakable sound of hoofbeats followed behind.
Sighing, she brought Meena to a halt and dismounted. “Well, if you do not wish to be free, perhaps I can find some other owner for you. One who will not wish to breed or ride you.” As she spoke, she lifted the bundled halter and leadrope from Meena’s packs, but when she turned to Esmerelda, the goat danced away, refusing to let her close enough to use them.
“Esmerelda, this is ridiculous! You cannot be both free and not free! You must choose!” She strode forward, but again the white goat leaped away.
Giving up, she returned to Meena and replaced the tack in her bags. As soon as the mouth of the bag was secured, she felt a pressure against her shoulder. Esmerelda.
She reached up and scratched gently behind the ram’s ears, around her horns. She sighed, standing in silence for a moment, the weight of the ram’s head on her shoulder increasing as Esmerelda leaned into the scratching.
Almost companionably, she spoke, giving the ram a sideways glance as she did so. “I do not suppose that you would be willing to let me ride you, if you will not allow some other caretaker?”
Immediately, Esmerelda pinned her ears back and snorted.
Vonya sighed. “Well, then it looks as though I have aquired a very expensive, and very large pet.” Esmerelda nickered, deep in her throat. A satisfied, pleased sound.
* * *
Later that day, Paxtor Ramstein was startled to see a lithe, beautiful draenei astride a graceful Kaldorei frostsaber. Not because she was a draenei, for as stablemaster of the most respected inn in all of Ironforge, he had seen more than his fair share of the horned newcomers (and modified his share of stalls to accomodate their oversized mounts). Nor was it because she was astride one of the night elf mounts, though it was rare indeed that the secretive Kaldorei bestowed their riding cats on anyone without ears the size of good carrots. No, it was the delicate white ram wearing no tack whatsoever, not even a halter, that danced along in their wake, like a particularly large kitten. It was that which caused him to widen his eyes and wonder if perhaps he’d hit the sauce a wee bit too hard the night before.
When this draenei drew to a stop in front of his stables and, in a rich, velvety voice requested lodging for both cat and goat, he obliged. He even managed to keep from laughing when she relayed a detailed list of instructions for their care, though it taxed him sorely to bite his tongue. She specifically asked that the cat be given some of Thunderbrew’s best beer-basted boar ribs for dinner. And the ram be left untacked in a loose box stall, as she would stop by later to give them both a thorough grooming. He only barely managed to shut his mouth and avoid inquiring if her majesty would prefer he tuck them both in at night.
And when the draenei left in a swish of skirts, he’d had himself a good long laugh, then counted her coin. Then he’d counted it again, more slowly, and sent one of the newer stableboys down to Kharanos to pick up some ribs, and an armful of sweet peacebloom for the goatling besides. She’d left him a tip large enough that he might actually have read the beasties a bedtime story, had she requested it.
He was going to see to it that this particular draenei never saw reason to visit any other stables in Ironforge. On this whole continent, if he had his way.