Set shortly before the events in Above Ground. A little insight into the life of a werehorse.
He never noticed the dirt caked under his nails, the streaks of black dust on his arms and legs and no doubt on his face as well, until he stood at the front door of their cottage and reached for the handle.
Each day he’d pause, hand outstretched, and smile ruefully. There was something about the gleaming polish of their wooden door that made him realise how dirty he was. But it was to be expected: being as a blacksmith was hardly tidy work.
Thor pushed the door open and kicked off his black boots to avoid trekking mud into the corridor. His shoes hit the ground heavily, loud enough to wake the entire household. It was just as well they were already awake, and—judging by the giggling—in high spirits.
The sound made him feel guilty. Perhaps his news could wait.
He followed the noise to the kitchen, and paused by the doorway. Addy was cooking, hair tied up to expose her neck. Rose was in her high chair. She kept banging her spoon against her plate, and then laughing at the sound.
Addy noticed his not-so-subtle approach and waved a wooden spoon threateningly. “Hands!”
“I love you, too.” He grinned and scrubbed his hands clean in the kitchen sink, splashing his face for good measure. Then he planted a kiss on Addy’s cheek, sprinkling her with water. He ducked out of the reach of her spoon just in time.
Addy shook her head. “How was work?”
Rose gurgled happily as he sat at the table, waving her plastic fork. Her chestnut curls bounced like little springs.
“A townie came by. Thought it’d be funny to ask me to shoe his horse with silver horseshoes.” Then Thor smirked. “He stopped laughing when I told him the price.”
“You didn’t do it though, did you?”
“He couldn’t afford it.” He saw the disapproval on Addy’s face and hastened to add, “I’d have worn gloves. The poison doesn’t carry through them.”
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t take the risk, honey.”
“I know,” he said soothingly. Him and Addy never met hoof to hoof on this; she didn’t understand that horse-owning humans saw werehorses more as oddities than as people. Which reminded him. . . . But not now. He’d tell her later.
Addy brought over two plates of vegetable stew, setting one down in front of him. She took Rose’s plate and added a small amount of vegetables as well, checking to make sure the food was cool.
Rose dug into the plate happily enough. Most of her food ended up on the table. When a spoonful actually made it to her mouth, Rose sucked on the plastic with stubborn determination.
Thor took his daughter’s cue and dug into his own plate, shovelling down the contents at a pace just slow enough to still be considered polite.
“Like father, like daughter,” Addy muttered with a smile.
They’d just about finished dinner when it happened.
Rose’s face screwed up in abrupt confusion. Then she sneezed all over her own plate. When she looked up, her ears were no longer round or even human; they poked out of the sides of her head, two foal ears, pricked to attention.
Addy clapped her hands together. “Her first change!” She rubbed the tips of Rose’s ears affectionately, reciting the popular rhyme: “First the ears means many years.”
Thor smiled. “Looks like she takes after me in colouring, too.”
“Yes, she’s a real daddy’s girl,” Addy remarked wryly, clearing the plates. She winked at Rose. “Your daddy is going to spoil you rotten, I can tell already.”
Heck, he’d be spoiling Rose even now if they had the money for it. He watched Addy put the dishes in the sink and his smile slipped. Now. He had to tell her now.
“Angus was in touch.” Thor forced his voice to stay light.
Addy froze, her shoulders tense. “What did he want?”
She turned, then, wiping her hands on her apron. “What about the dressing rooms?”
“He . . . he can’t do anything about it. There’s only enough space for one room per act; you know how popular the theatre is.”
Addy’s frown deepened. She grabbed a cloth and moved towards him. “I don’t like it,” she said, wiping down the table. “They’re asking for trouble, rooming you with a bunch of predators.”
“I’m not saying I like it, either, love. But it’s good money.” And then, in an attempt to reassure her, Thor lied: “He’s offered me a pay rise.”
She straightened slowly, glanced at Rose. “Really?”
They needed the money, even Addy knew that. There were no werekin schools nearby, and the humans would need bribing to accept Rose into their ranks. Then they’d have to pay for uniforms, which Rose would quickly outgrow or rip to shreds as she began learning to change.
Thor pushed away the guilt. It was only a white lie, after all; he would be getting extra money, just not from Angus. All he had to do was make sure everything in the theatre went as planned. He wrapped an arm around Addy’s waist. “It’ll be fine, trust me.”
Addy didn’t look convinced. “If you say so.”
Rose, oblivious to the conversation, interrupted them with a loud yawn. Her ears had changed back to human without their noticing. No wonder she looked exhausted; the first few changes always took their toll. Addy moved towards Rose, but Thor stopped her, grateful for the interruption.
“I’ll put her down for the night.” He placed a gentle kiss on Addy’s forehead, then plucked Rose out of the high chair. He cradled her to his chest as he walked out of the kitchen, smiling at his daughter.
As Thor walked up the narrow stairs to the second floor, he couldn’t quite rid himself of the guilt. But they needed the money. He would have to go to The Affected Parade.