This brick-paved, north-south street is in significantly better repair than the roads leading into town. It's nearly impossible to tell what color the original bricks were, or in what pattern they were laid, but someone has made sure that no hole gaped too large without being plugged with something. The roadbed is a patchwork of multicolored bricks, chunks of cinderblock, and large, flat stones. The mere thought of riding a vehicle over the resulting uneven swells is almost physically painful.
Most of the buildings along the street have not fared even this well. In fact, it is clear that much of the brick in the road was scavenged from the more ramshackle structures. Yet there are signs of life: a cafe with a newly painted sign, a clean welcome mat on the library's decrepit porch, a windowbox full of vivid flowers clinging to a crumbling windowsill. The brick-paved road extends less than a quarter mile before disappearing again into grass and chunks of decaying asphalt.
Ursa Diner Dock Farm Road LIbrary Post Office Katahdin Road Edge of Town
Just off to one side of Main Street, Rex plies an axe, splitting wood on an old stump in Old Man Collins' front yard. There are only a few chunks left; the rest is neatly stacked along the fence. For once, Rex seems to be deferring to the weather, and is wearing a thick flannel shirt of a faded Blackwatch plaid, as well as his usual armored leggings. His sword is sheltering beneath the edge of the porch.
The rhythmic soft thupping of hooves gradually grows louder, approaching along the road from the south, the occasional crunch of gravel interspersed with the even more occasional chime of a shod hoof striking one of the few scattered cobbles remaining on the old Main Street. The large outline generating the sounds eventually resolves itself into two distinct forms -- the smith, Lucas, wearing a long oiled overcoat, its collar unbuttoned against the drifting snow and leading a pony laden with neatly wrapped bundles. The smith lacks a hat, and the wind ripples through his short, damp curls.
Rex pauses to roll his sleeves up. Despite the chill, he's sweating from the late afternoon's work. At the sound from the south, he looks up, combing his dripping forelock back out of his eyes. "Good afternoon, Mr. Maker, sir!" he calls.
Lucas looks up at the hail, squinting against the weather. "Hullo, Rex! Working up to a big dinner it looks like. That wood for Miz Sashenka?"
Rex shakes his head and mops his forehead. "Naw. Miss Anita needed more wood, an' Old Man Collins threw his back out a week ago, so I said I'd finish up his woodpile for him, since they let me have their Jimmy's room in real bad weather. Sashenka's got herself a whole crew there -- she don't need me to chop wood." This last is said with a smile. "'M almost done here. You need a hand with anything?"
Lucas' brows lift. "In bad weather? Where d'you usually sleep?" As he draws to a halt, the pony keeps plodding until it has come abreast of him, where it stops, cocking a hoof and settling into its left hip. Lucas unconsciously rests an arm across its withers, scratching the side of its neck up under the damp mane. "Ah was just taking this load of scrap up to the barn & then Ah was gonna rub down Missy here and then get some dinner. If you're not all in a hurry to get dinner in you, Ah reckon Ah wouldn't turn down the help."
Rex nods. "I'm fine. Miss Anita tells me I'm a bottomless pit for food anyway." He grins mischievously. "More work won't make no difference." He straightens up his work area quickly, retrieves his sword and leather jacket, and trots out to meet the smith.
The smith grins warmly, the sunbrowned skin wrinkling around his blue eyes, and nudges the pony back into motion. The beast perks up considerably as they turn onto the road home. "So you're something of a swordsman, eh?" the smith asks conversationally.
Rex blushes slightly. "I'd like t'be, someday. I ain't much good at it now, though I done okay against some bully-boys down the Trail some, and got in a couple licks at the Hive. I s'pose that was mostly El Cid, though." He pats the scabbard on his right hip lovingly.
Lucas levels the lion-kin an appraising glance. "Well, Ah reckon we could all stand t'be in better trim than we are. Ah've been meaning to have a word with Julen Fire-in-the-Dusk about gettin' the folks who plan to be protectin' the caern into something like a regular practice." His wide mouth presses into a line. "It won't do t'have everybody all soft with an active Hive right next door." He shakes his head. "Makes me nervous, that's certain."
Rex nods. "Sure does!" he says earnestly. "I practice every day. Well, what I do know. Which ain't much." He progressively deflates with each statement. "Well, I s'pose it ain't a bad thing to work out with it. Even if I don't know much?" He peers up into the smith's face hopefully.
The smith had been scowling off into the middle distance, planning or ruminating, but Rex's words jerk him back to the present. "You've been practicing alone?" He seems genuinely surprised. "None of you do any sparring at all?" The scowl returns and he opens his mouth to speak, but bites down on whatever it was he was going to say and shakes his head. "Well, doing kata is good, but you need a proper kata to do, first, and then you need to practice with a real flesh and blood opponent, to keep it in your head that a kata will only take y'so far, eh?" His smile seems a little forced, but the anger buzzing just under his warm baritone isn't for Rex. "What say you and Ah get a regular practice goin', and see about gettin' the others to come along, too?" he suggests. "Ah did my turn as Aga-khan at my old gumi, and it looks like Ah'll be taking a turn here."
Rex barely manages to contain himself, although his feet do an involuntary little skip at the smith's suggestion of practice. "I had a few sessions with Miss Julen, t'learn some stuff," he says, a little defensive for the alpha, "but she's so busy keeping the caern safe, I hate to bother her. An' I know you're busy too," he says, a little sheepish. "Are you sure you have the time for me? I don't want to be a bother." There is an almost worshipful shine in his eyes, though, as he smiles up at Lucas.
The big smith seems taken aback, and a little bemused at the strength of the younger man's reaction. "Well, Ah reckon it's exactly the sort of thing Ah'm supposed to be busy *with*, eh?" he assures Rex. "Oh, here we are -- you wanna grab that door?" Arriving at the barn, Lucas waves Rex ahead of him to haul open the door for the pair of them and the pony.
Rex bounds ahead with an abundance of energy that he shouldn't have after an afternoon of woodchopping, and puts his back into opening the door.
Lucas leads the pony through, trusting Rex to haul the door shut again behind them without being prompted, and makes his way past the double row of stalls to the open place at the back. Several long, equine heads appear from the gloom over the half-doors of the stalls, and the smith answers their low, whickered greetings with a soft, wordless rumble of his own. Looping the pony's reins over a rail, he begins loosening the packs.
Rex does, in fact, shut the door again, and moves to help Lucas with the packs. He's distracted by the horses, though, and pauses to stare at them admiringly. "Nice," he says. "Didn't get to see many horses around home. They didn't much like the predator smell, y'know. An' on the Trail, lots of folks had horses, but none too pretty."
"These are okay," Lucas remarks. The bundles are *heavy*, but he easily maneuvers them to an out of the way corner. "The New Moon folks took in a lot of strays in the early years of the farm -- there's only a handful here with any blood to speak of. But Ah've been keeping an eye out on some of my scrap trips & there're a few critters here and there that Ah think we can work out some breeding deals with, get the stock here improved." The packs out of the way, he picks up a couple bits of old sacking from one of the many bins along the wall. He tosses one to Rex, and begins working over the pony with the other, rubbing off the sweat from where the packs had been, rubbing down the length of the legs.
Rex catches the sacking and does his best to imitate the smith on the other side of the pony. "What d'you look for when y'say 'blood'? I s'pose there's some sort o' look you want on the horse?" He pauses just long enough to shed his jacket and toss it onto a bale of hay.
Lucas hums softly to himself as he works, the motion of the work seeming to soothe him even as it does the pony -- the frown lines soften and the blue eyes clear. He breaks off humming to answer, "There are good looking horses, same as there are good-looking people --" His even blue gaze seems to pause for the barest instant on his young companion. "And just like in people, what's 'good-looking' generally is 'good health'. You want sound limbs, sound lungs, good proportions, good temperament, smarts..." Finishing the rundown, he tosses the sack aside and leads the pony to an empty stall. "Missy here, she's got a good, flat back, and solid legs, but see how her chest is kinda narrow? She's got a weak wind, and that means I can only use her on short trips, and we gotta take it slow." He secures the door behind Missy in her stall and ducks back into the storage area for a pail of oats. The pony lips at them eagerly when he's poured them into her trough. "Need to find her a boyfriend with a good broad barrel, don't we baby?" This last to Missy herself as he gives her rump an affectionate pat.