Hey guys, today you’re getting a short story. This is a really rough cut but would essentially be a beginning to a longer portal fiction story. Let me know what you think, what’s confusing, what you would change, what you like. Honestly, this was written mainly as a fun little project and is entirely based on the title, although I originally intended to take it in an entirely different direction.
Icy rain drops stuck stubbornly to Aubrey’s coat and eyelashes despite the steadily rising temperature that had nearly found the 0 degree celsius mark. Aubrey didn’t even try to wipe them away. She leaned comfortably on a fence post and watched animals shift under the shelter of the windbreak, black backs coated in ice.
From a distance all looked well but a quarter mile away Aubrey had shuddered at the site of a calf, curled up as though to keep warm, but frozen in place with its nose tucked in its flank. The cow to match the ill-fated calf was nowhere to be seen then. Aubrey sighed and hoisted herself back up into the saddle, her red-dun mutt of a horse–Henry–sighed back and they wandered towards the cattle casually.
The cattle looked at the horse with some trepidation but his meandering gait gave no reason for concern. Aubrey slowly sifted through the group, looking for any cows that had obviously just calved. She eventually settled on a big but thin cow who’s udder bulged in all directions. Henry deftly sorted the cattle, abruptly changing from lumbering to catty with only the lift of a rein. Five cows, including Aubrey’s choice, ended up pushed out of the herd and Aubrey deftly directed the cattle towards the fence line.
Time was a sort of slow-fast, that Aubrey thought of as unique to agriculture, that morning. Every movement of Henry’s muscles was snappy and purposeful, but they moved the cows with a standard peacefulness and at a low speed away from the group. It seemed slow-fast was always the best way to work with animals, you had to be just fast enough to be one step ahead of them but not so fast that they got scared. These commercial cows were very quiet though, Aubrey had noticed since she arrived two months earlier.
Aubrey let Henry have his head. He knew where they were headed and pushed the cattle on towards a set of pens a mile away. As they got within site of the pens Aubrey spotted a break in the fence line and tapped Henry up to cut the cattle away from the barbed wire barrier. The cattle suddenly seemed fractious though, they pressed on along the fence line, speeding up and refusing to allow Henry to slip in beside the fence.
The hole in the fence was coming up fast and Aubrey groaned as she saw all her work bringing the cattle to the pens go up in smoke. Regardless, something had to be done, she dragged Henry’s nose to the inside and galloped past the cattle turning and stopping Henry ahead of them and unfortunately scattering the cows in the process. She watched as the cows suddenly objected to their relative loneliness and took off towards where they had come from.
Briefly she contemplated pelting after the uddered up cow but facing south again the freezing rain blew into her face harder and faster making her give up the idea for the moment. No way would that cow, worked up and all alone, turn around and come all the way back without a fight. She would probably go for the hole in the fence if Aubrey did get her back this far and knowing Murphy’s law Henry would probably slip in the icy, muddy slush and that could leave them both injured in the middle of nowhere.
Aubrey slipped off Henry and rubbed his neck. “We’ll go back and get her once we fix the fence, hey Hen?” The horse just nuzzled her pocket.
Together, Aubrey and Henry walked to the break in the fenced peered at it. All four wires were cleanly cut by the looks of the ends Aubrey picked up. She tossed them down disgustedly. Some recreational vehicle driver wanted a bit more space to ride probably, and just didn’t want to take the time to find a gate. It seemed silly though, what with the pens right there. Open a gate and you could drive straight into the alleyway of the pens and the gate into the pasture from the alleyway was open. Why cut a fence?
It was really inconsequential to Aubrey, it needed fixing either way. She fished around her saddle bags to see what she had for tools. The search produced enough extra wire to get the job done, a few staples, and a wire cutter. She grabbed one end of the bottom wire and brought it as close to the other as possible and then the other. She would need a stick to put a bit of tension in the wire. With Henry ambling after her on a loose rein she stepped across the fence line to cut branches of the trees in the ditch.
Her eyes burned momentarily with sudden brightness and she covered them with her arm until they adjusted. Opening her eyes she saw sand ahead of her, a warm breeze slipped by her cheek and Henry snorted. Looking behind her Aubrey couldn’t see a fence, she could’t see a blade of grass either. There was only sand and of course Henry. Looking ahead there was more sand and what looked like a group of camels, perhaps, headed towards her from an oasis. Aubrey stepped backwards two steps, trying to find her way back to a Canadian prairie, but there was no change. Sand shifted and nothing else.
The group coming towards her became more and more clear and made less and less sense. Aubrey contemplated mounting Henry again just to feel a little safer but was froze in confusion. The beasts, she realized as they came closer, where actually the size of a large pony but their colour was very similar to a camel, in all other respects they could be considered almost grey-hound like, clearly canine at least. They did have riders though. Henry flared his nostrils and blew out hard, his snort screamed nervousness but he stood firm, only glancing worriedly at Aubrey.
The giant dogs stopped and one of the riders handed off his reins and dismounted.
“Al sumarkeen samala garath.”
Aubrey blinked and shook her head. Trying to think of a way to explain she didn’t understand. It was then she remembered she was wearing her winter clothes. She tugged her silk wild rag down off the bridge of her nose, shifting it so it was around her neck and pulled the hood of her oil skin down. She didn’t want to appear hostile by staying entirely covered.
“Umm, sorry,” she began, “I speak English or French or Mandarin. Do you speak English? Francais?” She gestured back to the man.
“I simply said, greetings and mercy to you friend,” the stranger explained in accented English.
“Oh. Thank you, greetings to you and your friends as well. I’m sorry, I am somewhat lost, can you tell me where abouts I am?”
The man regarded her quizzically but answered, “You’re near the eastern edge of the Arhurrian in the jurisdiction of the kingdom of Tamarin.”
“Relative to North America, where would that be?” Aubrey inquired tentatively.
Now the man appeared confused and went back to his companions. Aubrey wondered if she had offended him, she thought she knew her geography reasonably well but neither Arhurrian or Tamarin was ringing a bell. He had an animated conversation with his companions before returning, with both of them, and all their dogs, trailing. Henry made a high pitched snort and his head jolted higher, dancing to either side he made his sentiments about giant rideable dogs known. Aubrey pulled him towards her and elbowed him in the shoulder to get his attention before placing a steadying hand on his neck and speaking a few words. The man waited patiently.
“Neither I nor my companions know of a place called North America, you seem perhaps more off track than you realize. My name is Bartholomew, and this is Markus and Artor.”
“Aubrey,” she replied, holding out a hand.
The men stepped away slightly as her hand came out and Aubrey, suddenly worried she had done something wrong, quickly withdrew it.
“Is there a city nearby that I could head towards then?” Aubrey inquired.
Now the man called Markus spoke, “Meloria is fairly nearby, but taking your beast there may not be the best idea.”
“You mean Henry?” Aubrey asked incredulous. “He’s entirely harmless, totally bomb proof.”
The men looked around at each other. “I think you misunderstand my companion, ” Bartholomew explained. “The creature you call Henry, he is… how does one explain it… he would be considered an incarnate god in Balerta, the kingdom within which Meloria lies.”
Aubrey stared at the men.
“An animal like this is rarely seen in these lands, in Balerta specifically your subjugation of him would be considered an offence punishable by death,” Bartholomew added, as though it clarified anything.
Aubrey turned to Henry and looked at him. “They think your a god Henry,” she whispered. “I’m not sure what to do.” Henry lowered his head and pressed his nose into her stomach, sighing into her jacket. Aubrey sighed back.
Turning around she addressed the men again. “Then where can I go? I need to reach a university or a library at the very least.”
Now Bartholomew’s nut brown face cracked to reveal a brilliant white smile. “Why then you are already in the right place. We ride out to you from Garindiga, you see the beginning of an oasis string which is home to great university. Garindiga starts just beyond the trees there.”
Aubrey looked at the oasis sceptically. These people could be lying to her, or they may not be. The real question was, did she have any options.
“Right. Then I will go there,” Aubrey replied.
She swung up onto Henry’s back lightly. The men in front of her gaped.
“Is there something wrong?” Aubrey asked, anxiety building.
“Your beast, he lets you not only adorn him with items, but ride him?” Markus looked as though he shivered as he spoke.
“I mean, Henry and I have our disagreements, but for the most part he’s happy to get me where I need to go.”
Bartholomew motioned to his companions and they mounted their dogs, he glanced at Aubrey again as Markus and Artor rode a little ways away to wait.
“I am leader of the guard in Garindiga and you are welcome to be our guest but be careful, even here many will be awed, afraid, or even hostile towards you if you carry on this way.”
“What should I do? What’s wrong?” Aubrey asked.
“You ride a creature hardly ever seen, and by many revered as a holy messenger. Many in Garindiga are of Tamarin and will not be worried by you, but those who are not will be very hostile.”
“So what do I do?”
“Dismount, remove the equipment on Henry and walk into the city with me.”
Aubrey slid back down and untacked Henry. She removed her halter from her saddle bags and replaced his bridle with it. She looked at her saddle lying in a heap on the ground. It was a nice saddle, her favourite actually, comfortable and simple.
“I’ll send someone back to retrieve it,” Bartholomew offered. “Remove that head piece too though.”
“But he’ll be totally loose,” Aubrey replied.
Aubrey turned away. How had she ended up here? She looked at Henry. They had done a lot together, he was a steady and trustworthy companion. Tears welled up in her eyes, he could die out here. Despite herself her shaking fingers settled on the knot of the halter. She untied it and let the halter drop. She brought her hands to his cheeks and drew Henry’s forehead to hers, closing her eyes. “Be safe little Hen, I’ll meet you back in Canada.”
For a few long moments they breathed each others air and then Aubrey’s hands clapped together. Her eyes snapped open. Henry had vanished. He wasn’t just galloping off into the distance, he wasn’t a little ways away looking for something to eat. His jaw had been between her hands and now all of him was gone. Aubrey’s chest heaved and her whole body shook. Where was Henry?
Hands grabbed her and she was spun around with such force her feet nearly slipped out from under her.
“What have you done!” Bartholomew whispered desperately. His grip on her wrists closed with vice like strength.
Aubrey opened her palms face up and shook her head speechlessly.
“This has not gone unnoticed!”
Bartholomew looked over his shoulder and Aubrey raised her eyes to see what he was looking at. Dust rose behind Markus he sprinted his dog towards the oasis. Artos remained but the look he directed at Bartholomew was full of meaning.
“This will be trouble,” Bartholomew growled.