Animal Characters & an Excerpt from A Verse for Witches

I love some of the animal characters in the books I read. From the heroic nature of Dean Koontz' goldens, through the tragic descent into madness of Stephen King's Cujo, to the comic distractions of almost any pet, animal characters just add depth and breadth to any tale.

In A Verse for Witches I've developed a character that I'm having so much fun with that I felt compelled to share with you in an excerpt. Following is Tsing telling the story of how he and his horse met.

A short time later, Tsing sat across the table from Erin, a steaming bowl of stew before him. The cavern had indeed heated up to a comfortable temperature, and they had both removed their coats, which were slung over the backs of their chairs.

He blew on his stew to cool it and glanced at the horses. Brawn and Sura were munching companionably from feedbags on the far side of the cavern. “He’s taken a liking to her,” he remarked. “Brawn doesn’t always get along with other horses, but he’s very comfortable around Sura.” He looked at Erin, leaving the trailing thought, as I am with you, unvoiced.

Erin smiled. “He’s a smart horse.” A speculative look crossed her face. “He really is. I often get the feeling he follows our conversation—that he often knows what you’re thinking.”

“We’ve been together a while,” he admitted. “Nearly as long as I’ve been in Panprama.”

“How long has that been?”

He screwed his eyes up in thought. “Seven … maybe, eight years. That horse is a big reason why I’m here.”

She raised her eyebrows. “How so?”

“I was a … um … sailor. For years. All over the Great Sea. We’d put in to Arleanne for supplies and a break for the crew. I was wandering through the marketplace and happened upon a horse auction. There was this amazing black stallion on the block and a bidding war in progress.”

“So, you outbid the others?”

He shook his head. “I had no money. I was just watching. The auctioneer was very skilled, and he was able to drive the bid far above what such an animal was worth.”

Across the chamber, Brawn nickered.

“Sorry,” Tsing chuckled. “Far above what a normal animal was worth.” Brawn gave a snort in response.

Erin giggled. “He understands you.”

Tsing nodded. “He understands everything. I’m totally convinced of it.”

Erin leaned forward, her elbows on the table, cupping her chin in her palms. “So, what happened?”

“Huh?” He’d become lost for a moment in her bright green eyes.

She smiled. “How did you and Brawn end up together if you didn’t buy him?”

He swallowed. “Right. Well, finally a wealthy nobleman bid an amount no one else was willing to top. He directed one of his handlers to lead Brawn away, but I could see something wasn’t right. Brawn was uneasy with the man—he didn’t want to go with him. The man began whipping Brawn, and I called him out for it.”

Erin nodded. “I’ve never believed in the whip myself.”

“Honestly, I was as much concerned for the man’s welfare as the horse’s. There was a fire in Brawn’s eye—I believe he would have killed the man had I not intervened.”

“I’m sure the man was grateful for that.”

“Not at all. He turned the whip on me—or, tried to. The nobleman who’d purchased Brawn stayed his hand. They argued. The handler insisted Brawn would be unrideable if he was not broken with the whip. The nobleman turned to me and asked my opinion. I said I thought Brawn could be ridden without the whip.”

“You knew horses.”

He shook his head. “I had never ridden a horse in my life. And I believe the handler recognized that. He challenged me to prove my words, and the nobleman agreed to let me try.”

Erin’s eyes widened. “And you rode him?”

“I did, and the rest is history.”

Brawn whinnied in complaint.

Erin giggled. “You’re not telling the whole story.”

Brawn nickered in agreement.

“Well, it’s a little embarrassing, to be honest,” he admitted.

“What happened?

“Well, the man handed me the reins, and I just stood there for a moment, not sure what to do. Then Brawn sort of nudged me around to his left side and gave me a look.”

Brawn nickered.

Tsing looked at the horse and chuckled. “A look much like that one, actually. So, I somehow managed to climb onto his back, pointed in the right direction, and as soon as I was settled, he took off.”

“Were you able to stay on?”

“Somehow. I think we did one circuit around the marketplace before he took off down a side street, me hanging on for dear life. He didn’t slow down until we reached the outskirts of the city. When he finally stopped, I jumped off. I remember I could barely walk. I took his bridle off and offered him his freedom. But he kept following me around, and I soon realized I had a horse.” He looked at Brawn. “Which I had absolutely no use for.”

Brawn snorted.

“No use?”

He spread his arms in a shrug. “I was a pira … um … sailor. I didn’t even know how to ride. No place for a horse on a ship.” He sighed. “But I couldn’t return to the ship, anyway. I soon discovered I was not only a horse owner, but a horse thief. The nobleman had put a price on my head, and they were cutting off the hands of thieves in Arleanne at the time.”

She frowned. “I think they still are.” A smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “That’s quite a story. Yet, you seem to have done alright for yourselves since, you and Brawn.”

He grunted. Brawn gave an echoing snort.

“You said you were a pirate.”

“Sailor,” he corrected.

“You almost said pirate—just now.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t.”

Her smile broadened. “You’re an interesting man, Shing. I’m beginning to see why—.”

“Why what?”

“Um … nothing. I … uh … it’s just … um … interesting how Brawn recognized your …” She shrugged. “… worthiness?”

He snorted. “I’m glad you think so.” For a moment they sat gazing across the table at each other. It struck him once again how beautiful her heart-shaped face was cupped between her long, slender fingers. And how he wished his own hands were cupped around her face so that he could pull her full lips to his own and—.

Suddenly, she broke eye contact. She blushed and cleared her throat. “The stew’s getting cold,” she murmured, and began purposefully spooning mouthfuls.

“Right,” he nodded, spooning a mouthful of his own.

They finished their meal in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

Well, that's it for now. Happy Reading!
-Red Wolf John

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