Chapter 61 - The Band
After an awkward hour of more work and hay spreading the sun was in the middle of the sky and surprisingly most if not all of the strain between them had managed to melt away.
Brandon was happy to let the silence wash away the confusion and embarrassment and the nervousness that he had felt during the shower and during his and Ezekiel’s talk. And since neither one of them seemed determined to dwell on it, or even analyze what had happed or had been said Brandon soon found himself panting and taking a standing break next to Ezekiel.
Ezekiel, who had plopped down on a bench in the shade created by the roof of the barn also seemed content to move on and settled back into the cool manner that seemed so natural for him. Exerted from work, both of them took their time cooling off and catching their breaths before Ezekiel disappeared off inside of the barn, only to reemerge a few minutes later with two plastic flasks, each frosted over on the bottom, suggesting that he had retrieved them from the cooler.
“Here, drink some water and take it easy.....” Ezekiel instructed, handing Brandon a chilled flask, which he felt all the way through his gloves, before turning and stretching out on the bench with a sigh. “I can’t believe that we managed to finish all that work so fast, doing it solo would have taken me at least another three hours.” “I know that they pace was a little rigorous for you....are you feeling okay....is you side hurting you?”
Not exactly used to being asked about his health Brandon didn’t want to respond. But he also wanted the awkward moments of before to fade away. He didn’t want to think about the vison he had had in the shower....or about Ezekiel’s lips on his skin....he didn’t want to think about any of that. He wanted to get back to a simple outing with a Shifter that he barely knew. Not a Shifter that he had kissed....and for some ungodly reason....wanted to kiss again.
“No....no I’m...uh...I’m fine....” Bandon found himself responding to the question Ezekiel had posed, just to get away from his own confused thoughts. He swallowed looking away from Ezekiel and finding the prospect of silence undesirable he quickly fashioned a meaningless question to fill the space between them. “So when do you have to bring in the hogs again?”
“We don’t.” Ezekiel told him softly, twirling the canteen of water in his hands. “Remember, I told you that the Hogs won’t be here for another couple of days, you and me have done our part....and a darn good one if I had to put a label on it.” Ezekiel said, then he unscrewed his water and tilted the container up. After a moment he sighed, dropped the container and wiped his mouth. “It definitely looks more alive out here after the work we got done, don’t you think?”
Brandon glanced around and nodded, the muddy open patches placed al throughout the fences surrounding the fields looked much neater with the hay spread about and the newly cleaned and water filled troughs that dotted the area looked cool and inviting....at least enough to impress a pig. Finding that like Ezekiel he was satisfied with their work, he turned back to Ezekiel and asked him.
“So what happens now....is there more work to do some place else or is this all you had on your schedule?” Brandon sighed, lifting one leg and then the other feeling his knee caps popping as he swiftly stretched his legs, then placed them back into the grass.
He wanted to take a load off his feet, but secretly debated weather sitting on the bench at that moment would only renew the awkward silence that he had only just managed to break away from. To Brandon’s peace of mind Ezekiel didn’t attempt to offer him a seat or bring up that the spot beside him was open, he simply looked at Brandon and answered his question.
“There’s always more work to do...” He began softly, leaning over and placing his water bottle at his feet. Then Ezekiel leaned back and folded his arms over his chest. “But I happen to have a little leeway in my patrols or Schedule as you might say.” Ezekiel said gesturing out towards the fields.
“I could take you to see one of the sights in the Clan Lands as a way to repay you....I know you don’t want to spend your entire day out in the field doing hard labor with me. So this time I could go and show you some stuff....?” Ezekiel shrugged and glanced out over the empty farm as he waited on Brandon to respond.
“Well, I didn’t mind the work that we did....but what sights are you taking about?” Brandon eventually said with raised eyebrows. He had indeed enjoyed the work on the farm, but he was also slightly interested in exploring since he had been cooped up for so many days.
“What’s to see in this place besides open fields and pine trees?” he asked not trying to be offensive, but also stating the obvious. So far all he had seen was open earth and sky and thought the Leopards Lands were beautiful, they didn’t seem to hold much.
“Well there’s lots of stuff.” Ezekiel easily answered a prideful smile spreading over his face, making it apparent how much he respected his home and its beauty. “Like the four villages, the mountains and even the Mansion has a lot of rooms to be explored, but the most amazing is the Lake. ” Ezekiel told him softly. “There’s a Grand lake, a Shifter built one, approximately a mile to the north of our mansion, you’ve got to see it.”
“What do you mean “Shifter Built” Grand Lake? Brandon asked him finally closing the space between them and taking a seat on the edge of the bench. Completely squashing the slight hesitation that tried to keep him on his feet.
He felt ridiculous dancing from foot to foot when there was a place to sit right in his face and Brandon knew that he didn’t have to worry that Ezekiel would try to kiss him again. In fact when Brandon took a seat beside him, Ezekiel didn’t even shift in his seat, he kept his arms over his chest and only turned his gaze to follow Brandon as he steeled down. He waited a moment for Brandon to sit back on the bench before he took a breath and replied to his question.
“The water that fills the Grand Lake I’m speaking of, actually comes from a geyser that was discovered burrowed deep in the underground caverns inside of the mountain that our home was built on.” Ezekiel explained to Brandon as he brushed an overly curious bug off the edge of his shirt. Once the bug skedaddled off into the air with a slight buzz of thin wings, Ezekiel turned his gaze back on him and said.
“Soon after the geyser was found, my father, and a few of the Leopards in our clan got together and bust the cavern open. Then they opened up the geyser so that the water became a waterfall, which eventually filled up a huge empty basin behind our mansion turning it into a self-replenishing “Shifter built” lake. What we like to call The Grand Lake.”
“Hmmm.” Brandon mused silently then he shrugged. “I don’t know, wouldn’t taking me all the way back to the mansion be a bit of a long walk?”
“It could take a while to get there, I guess.” Ezekiel answered seeming unconcerned as he cast a small smile and dipped his head in Brandon’s direction. “It would only be a few miles though it that a problem?”
“Well I don’t mind going to see this lake, but I don’t really want to trek out that far if were already out here..... And I’m not exactly ready to get back to the mansion.” Brandon admitted running a hand across his brow and pushing back his hair.
“Would you prefer to do something else?” Ezekiel suddenly suggested a breath later, pushing up off the side of the farm and sitting up strait on the bench like he had made a decision of some kind.
“Like?” Brandon replied, raising his own flask of water and taking a few swallows, before screwing the top back over the top. All while Ezekiel said to him.
“Well, we could always go and visit the Band.” Ezekiel began, a huge smile of anticipation growing on his handsome face. “I would love to introduce you to Crystal.”
“The Band? Crystal?” Brandon inquired completely unfamiliar with the term and unsure what he was proposing, and seeming to pick up on this, Ezekiel chuckled in apology and explained.
“A Band is another term used for Horse Herd or Horse family.” Ezekiel explained briefly. “My Father and a Shifter named Martin began a horse Farm a few years back. Now it’s one of the biggest piece of farm land we’ve got. With over eighty percent of the horses belonging to the Martina Clans Men who run the farm, while the other twenty percent belongs to my family, as well as a few of the best Mares and the one Stallion that is the head of that entire Band. And Crystal...is my pet.”
With this being the only real option available aside from returning to the Mansion Brandon shrugged and said. “Let’s go cheek it out then...”
After that they hung out at the farm for a few more minutes simply resting, until Ezekiel asked him if he was ready to set out and with slight trepidation Brandon followed behind him as they began their journey away from the pig Farm and out into the open fields. Traveling to the northwest.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Are you tired” Ezekiel asked over his shoulder as Brandon fell further behind, dragging his feet slightly. IT was only now....as he sensed that he and Ezekiel were getting closer to their destination that Brandon had begun to fear that he had made a bad....a terrible decision.
“I should have really said this earlier, but ...I’m not good with big animals Ezekiel.” Brandon admitted as they continued to transverse the low grasses beyond the farm house. The warm wind stirring across the fields that he could glimpse from behind Ezekiel back, seemed to stretch on into the horizon, but Brandon guessed that the farm lands only extended a few dozen miles towards the sun, before ending.
Brown black and white colored, tall and four legged shapes with swishing tails dotted the expanse of the farm lands, some of the horses standing so far out in the fields that Brandon could only just make out their shapes as square dots off in the green field. “Most of them tend to hate me actually.”
“Well, that doesn’t exactly surprise me...” Ezekiel scoffed, as he held open the fence to the stable yard, and stepped back, he used his eyes to direct Brandon to go ahead of him. So with heavy feet Brandon walked past the rickety gate, and waited on Ezekiel as he shut the latch behind himself. “You have this unfortunate habit of rubbing.....sensitive creatures the wrong way...Like my brother Lander for example.”
“Come on...” Brandon rebuffed him. “He keeps starting the fights, it not just me.”
“Oh....and why do you think you keep getting into fights at every turn? Is it your positive, inviting attitude? Or your charming glare?” Ezekiel teased him, looking up from the gate with a small smirk on his face that softened words that otherwise would have seemed insulting.
Brandon grimaced at Ezekiels gibe, and said nothing, but he knew that animals not liking him, actually had nothing to do with his attitude. Being around animals was always sketchy for him. Their energy was so easy to feel. A soft beat...or a buzz. The energy, the flame inside of him sought out these things and the animals....sensed it hunting. Sensed the monster in him reaching out to them and they often stirred clear of him.
Its because I tend to kill everything and anything that comes near me....
Is what Brandon wanted to say, but as always he choose to curb his true words.
“Hey, it beats me...” Brandon offered lamely as he brushed past the Shifter, walking along the fences inner line. “But.....” He said, stopping at a random distance a few feet later, and dropping down into the warm grass beside a sturdy pole. “I’ll be staying here if it’s all the same to you.”
“All right.” Ezekiel agreed with a head shake, before he moved off into the broader area of the fields. He had only a few steps, but the moment Ezekiel got more than two feet away from him, he put his fingers to his lips and let out a sharp shrill whistle.
Brandon sat alone behind Ezekiel as the horses all around began to flock towards the Shifter.
All colors and shapes and sizes meandered into the fields, snorting, huffing and pawing the earth as they veyed for Ezekiels attention and his space. They seemed to adore him or they thought that he had some kind of treat for him, as one by one they nuzzled, nipped, sniffed and called to him. And Ezekiel responded in kind, cooing names and patting down the smooth twitching sides and elongated snouts of each horse affectionately.
It took Brandon a moment to sort through all of the movement and legs, but he eventually realized that there were at least fifteen horses, now prancing before him. And from what Ezekiel had told him all of the houses that he was seeing were female. The band seemed wholly uninterested in him and for the most part Brandon was simply happy to sit in the warm grass and feel the vibration of hooves in the soil.
“Hey...Brandon listen...” Ezekiel’s voice echoed over the fence of bodies around him some time later, pulling Brandon from his thoughts and the warm grass. In the minutes that had passed since the dozen or so horses had come to visit Brandon hadn’t been able to see Ezekiel or speak to him. Ezekiel called over the horses once more.
“Brandon come here...I wanna show you this....” But the rest of his words were drowned out as a few of the horses let out thick raspberries and neighed. A black horse even went so far as to buck and bolt off for no reason that Brandon could discern. Glancing at the black horse as it pranced away Brandon forced himself to pay attention to what Ezekiel had said.
“Ezkeiel?” Brandon asked and stood up. Ignoring the sharp zing that laced down his hip and leg as he put a sudden strain on the temporarily forgotten stitches. Swallowing the zing Brandon called over the space. “What did you say Ezekiel, I didn’t catch that?”
“I said, I wanna show you something....It....” Ezekiel tried to reply louder, but to Brandon’s annoyance his words were once more drowned out by the horses buzzing around him, blowing air, swishing tails, pawing the earth and neighing.
“Say that again...! ” Brando called...and this time.....he didn’t get a response. “Whatever it is, just tell me.” Brandon told him, shouting slightly to make sure that he would be heard, and then he waited for a response....but Ezekiel seemed as muffled from his own side beyond the horses and once more didn’t respond.
“Ezekiel?” Brandon called again, across the mummer of neighing and raspberry’s and swishing of long tails. Unconsciously following the sound of where he had pinpointed Ezekiels voice into the huddle of mares that had surrounded him.
But along the way Brandon made a mistake.
He steeped to the side too fast, stumbled and had to put out his hands to stop himself from tumbling. Unfortunately his leather encased palms pressed into the side of one very large grey mare on the out skirts of the crowd.
If horses could scream, this is what Brandon would have described the horse’s voice as doing when it registered Brandon’s touch against its heaving side. When its instincts told it that death was near.....that he was near.
Like a ripple of chaos and panic all of the horses took up the call and bolted out in different directions. No bucking or kicking, just a mad dash away from the center of the crowd and out into the open.
“I...I didn’t do it! I swear!” Brandon offered as a quick defense to suspicion that Ezekiel haven’t even expressed yet. He knew that it was odd for such large and smart beasts to shy away from him in fear and for no discernable reason. And Brandon wanted divert any suspicion or anger that may have fell on him in the next few seconds.....but to his relief Ezekiel simply sat in the chaos, watching the mares disperse and then with a shake of his head he looked at Brandon and shackled.
“Uh...Wow...okay. Did that just happen because of you?” Ezekiel laughed as the sound of multiple retreating hooves on grass began to thin out.
“I didn’t do anything....I just stumbled into one of them....and it got scared.” Brandon repeated, slightly sour. “But I told you Id start a stampeded if I came in here....Im no good with animals” Brandon offered in defense as he looked to his left and right, where deep equine eyes watched him and Ezekiel’s....but Brandon knew that the fear was mostly because of him.
The spooked mares stood scattered about the near area, snorting and pawing the grasses, eying Brandon and Ezekiel with what Brandon would have described as trepidation. “So you weren’t kidding were you? Animals actually run away from you....” Ezekiel began as he did a swift turn and glanced at the mares standing at a safe distance, about twelve feet away, before he finally turned to Brandon and smiled.
But Ezekiel quickly seemed to pick up on how much the horse’s reaction got to him and tried to make light of the situation. “Hey, it’s okay you know.....it’s no big deal. Most horses are skittish by nature.....” He said and shrugged his shoulders. “And I normally can’t get anything done with all those mares swarming me for attention.” “And since were burning daylight let’s get to work.”
“More Farmers work.” Brandon said with a sigh. “I thought you were a bad ass guardian, Ezekiel fighting crime and chasing down intruders...” He teased referring to himself. “Is this really what you do...all he time?” he asked genuinely curious.
“Yes...I do farmers work all the time Brandon.” Ezekiel chuckled slightly then sighed and looked out over the fields. The sigh was content and serious at the same time. “Its not all about being a Bad ass....but you know I’d rather be doing this, then arresting Shifters or breaking up fights or worse investigating a murder.” Ezekiel told him softly. “Just simple farmers work means to me that there is peace in our Lands and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Realizing that he may have committed a verbal blunder Brandon dropped the slum on his shoulder and stood up strait. “Well I never really thought of it like that.” He said softly, looking out over the fields himself now. “If hats the case....is there anything I can do to help. Spread more hay? Since I can’t really pet the horses?”
Ezekiel looked as though he appreciated the offer, but was also hesitant.
“Its just simple grunt work this time....” He put out with a meaningless shrug. “I can honestly handle it myself if you just want to relax and catch your breath.” He offered, but Brandon didn’t find the offer appealing.
“No, Its fine, somethings better than nothing. I need the exercise” He pushed and Ezekiel nodded.
“Well if you’re up to it....” He began. “How about you come over to the troughs and help me lay down some fresh water?” He suggested and with a slight sigh Brandon crossed his arms and looked at all of the horses littering the fields and clopping around in search of fresh grass.
“You...uh....You want me to go deeper into the fields with the horses?” Brandon tried to clarify without giving away how much the idea made him anxious. “I don’t think that’s a good idea....
“Its fine they’ll get used to you soon enough once we’ve fed them and watered them. I promise, there’s nothing to worry about.” Ezekiel assured him. But Brandon wasn’t swayed, and he knew that his face easily reflected that. Apparently taking his hesitation for fear Ezekiels tried to coax him into agreeing.
“Come on Brandon what’s to be scared of....” He said, gesturing to a big brown horse only a few feet away that was swallowing and sniffing the ground. “They honestly wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Ezekiel finished stepping towards the brown horse and patting its round meaty shoulder.
“I’m not scared of anything.....I just don’t want to make a mistake and start a stampede or something...” Brandon tried to balk, but Ezekiel stepped to his side and tapped his arm. A brush of his knuckles on his shoulder, but it could have been a hold around his wrist as well as it halted Brandon’s progress.
It was silly but the Shifters approach always made him feel overwhelmed. When he grew near...it didn’t escape Brandon that he was tempted to mimic the move, to step into his space freely as Ezekiel stepped into his thoughtlessly....but it was a strange urge that he wanted to turn away and forget all together much like he still wished he could forget the day dream he had had in the shower.....but no such luck for him.
With a small shake of his head Brandon came back out of his own head and queued into what Ezekiel had been telling him for the last five seconds.
“....Listen there won’t be any stampedes....Most of the mares in this band are pretty level headed and tend to remain calm even in stormy weather or in highly stressful situation....I doubt you could stir up enough anxiety to make them stampeded, let alone gallop.” Ezekiel told him. “Besides I’m not gonna make you interact with them, you’ll just be pumping the water for me into some troughs.”
Well, that doesn’t sound so bad....
Brandon thought to himself.
I helped him fill the pig troughs and that was simple enough...at least water wont smell like fresh, oily vomit and mold.....
Brandon thought. He still didn’t know how any animal could enjoy slimy vegetable peels and gruel that smelled like....
But that was totally beside the point now. Brandon shook his head.
These chores don’t seem like they are ever going to end. I can’t believe Ezekiel and his family run around all day doing this stuff on top of being Healers and Guardians in the villages...
A tap of Ezekiels knuckle against his shoulder alerted Brandon to the fact that he haven’t yet responded to Ezekiels proposal.
“Don’t do that.” Brandon told Ezekiel first, stepping away from him slightly, then looking around, but not seeing any kind of storage device or container with a lever for him to pull. He shrugged and finally replied. “I guess I’ll help you pump water if I can, but what are we supposed to pump it out from exactly?”
“Drums...we have about twelve of them stationed against the left side of the far fences. ” Ezekiel responded, completely ignoring the space that Brandon had put between them. He raised his hand and pointed towards a cluster of cylindrical shapes out in the distance stationed at the far end of the thirteen dry troughs leading up to it.
“How do we get the water to the troughs?” Brandon asked, squinting his eyes trying to spot some kind of water line or cart.
Ezekiel rolled his eyes to the heavens and motioned to Brandon to start walking with him.
“Stop wasting time. You don’t have to worry about that part of the job, you just focus on pumping the water.....AND keeping the ladies off me.” Ezekiel said, with a swift wink, before he turned to the left and began to head out into the open fields, leaving Brandon to accompany him when he was ready.
“Oh Goody.” Brandon mumbled sarcastically as he soon up un-rooted his feet and followed Ezekiel halfway across the field and trailed behind him as they walked along the line of thirteen heavy wooden troughs that were nearly devoid of water.
All while the few horses that still remained in the vicinity skittishly tried to inch closer to Ezekiel, but then shied away once they noticed Brandon once more.