Chores at the Farm
Some months after the Scouts’ awards ceremony in Chapter 90
“You’re early,” was all Historia noted when she saw Eren arriving on horseback just before dawn.
“Thought I’d help you clean the stables,” he replied, dismounting nimbly.
She was carrying a bale of hay with both hands, so with her chin she pointed to the cleaning tools, “Stuff’s over there.”
Wordlessly they divide the stable between themselves, taking five stalls each. They took turns turning the horses out so they could muck out the stalls. Eren watched as Historia led hers, a bay field hunter, into the field. She positioned herself between the horse and the gate, opening the gate wide for both of them to pass through easily at the same time. Still holding the horse, she turned back and closed the gate. He watched as she led the horse a good distance into the field and away from the entrance, then turning around so that the horse was once more looking toward the gate.
Historia faced the horse and took its halter off quietly, patting the horse and stepping back from it. Without turning her back on it she walked backward steadily toward the gate, watching the horse all the time. After she was out of the gate Eren took his first in line, a beautiful chestnut quarter horse. They take turns with the other horses. While doing so Eren’s mind drifts to the conversation he had with Armin a fortnight ago.
“So, no newly discovered memories?” the blond had asked, looking at him closely.
“Nope, nothing so far,” Eren shook his head.
“Maybe simply holding hands doesn’t work anymore…perhaps you two should try something else,” Armin ventured.
The Attack Titan holder shot his fellow shifter a look of annoyance. “What do you mean, something else?”
Armin sensed his friend’s irritation and switched to an appeasing tone. “Thing is, Eren, you and Historia haven’t been able to dig up more memories. It’s been months after the awards ceremony; the two of you have been having memory retrieval sessions since then and nothing. You’ve given the military no new information. There’s a saying that goes, ‘Stupidity is repeating exactly the same thing and expecting different results’.”
“Just what exactly do you want me to do?” Eren had snapped, unable to hide the resentment and frustration in his voice. Lately his mood can turn on a dime.
“Come up with something else, that’s all.”
“That accusatory tone in your voice gets on my nerves,” he’d responded, crossly. “You think I’m not trying hard enough.”
It was Armin’s turn to be cranky. “I’m not accusing you of anything!” Even he surprised himself at how acrimonious he sounded, but he was frustrated, too. The girl Eren wanted to be with was alive, full of life, able to carry a conversation, reciprocate tenderness. He, on the other hand, was in love with a girl crystallised inside a stupid rock. “Say something!” he wanted to scream at Annie’s mute form during his clockwork visits, and he would have if not for Hitch watching him with a frown, overly protective of what might as well be a fossil for all they knew.
At least Eren had a warm hand to hold.
But none of this was Eren’s fault, and his friend was certainly not responsible for the infuriating feelings he had for the frozen girl. Breathing deeply, he repeated, this time in a non-confrontational tone, “Come up with something else.”
“Don’t fuck with me, Armin. Be more specific.”
“I don’t know! Arm wrestle, perhaps. Tickle each other until you both start crying, maybe. Pinch each other… choke each other out… something, anything at all as long as it’s something you haven’t done before!”
“Screw you. I’m not gonna choke the queen.”
“I was just saying!” came the defensive retort, and then, more calmly, “Look, Eren. Maybe you two just need a change of scenery. So far you’ve been having the sessions inside the royal palace. Move it somewhere else, and do something else, something new beforehand.”
“Where else should a queen be but in a royal palace?” came the sarcastic response. “And what gives some plebian the right to drag her out of it?”
Armin decided to ignore the rancor. He knew Eren was just as frustrated as he was. “Historia visits the farm every weekend, helps out with the orphanage and the barn chores and stays overnight at her country house. You could see her there, for a change. Horseback riding would be good for you two. The horses get exercised, you both get some fresh mountain air. What’s not to like?”
Eren knew Armin was right. He was more concerned about something else, but decided to keep it to himself.
So that was how he ended up here in the countryside, doing farm chores with the queen.
When all the horses were taken into the field Historia took a pitch fork and removed any visible droppings, searching carefully under the straw bedding and lifting each pile with some bedding underneath. She tipped the droppings into a skip, then separated the clean and dirty beddings. Eren loaded all the dirty bedding into a wheelbarrow. Tossing the clean bedding up into the air and piling them against the wall, Historia made sure there were no hidden droppings. She piled the bedding against two different walls.
Eren knew Historia wanted to ensure that each part of the bank was broken up every other day. It was one of the things you learned under her command, how thorough she was with giving the working animals a comfortable abode, the stables being no exception. She may be the queen, but was just a farm girl at heart.
So Eren brushed the remaining droppings, dirty bedding and dust into a pile in the center of the stall, ready to remove. With the clean bedding piled up along the walls he leaves the rest of the floor as clean as possible. He then shovels the pile of dirty material into the wheelbarrow.
Grinning sardonically to himself as he rolled the wheelbarrow to the manure pile, Eren thought of Levi’s words when he had come to him for advice.
“Gentle hand-holding no longer working?” the captain had raised an eyebrow at him. “Take her down with a foot sweep, then set up a variety of leglocks including heel hooks, knee bars and ankle locks.”
When Eren stared at him in disbelief, the blunt man with the piercing grey eyes merely shrugged. “Or just throw her over your shoulder and tie her up and when she screams, headbutt her. Maybe the memories will appear, heightened emotional state and all.”
It was such a Levi thing to say Eren didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Jean was no better. “You’re doing it all wrong, dude. Maybe holding hands only works once. There are other parts of the body, you know,” he said affably, grinning wickedly the whole time.
At the farm, both titan shifter and queen still hadn’t spoken as they sat on the fence surrounding the field, watching the horses after having finished cleaning up the entire stableyard. Eren loved the sight of them roaming free. They not only got food and exercise, but also the opportunity for social interaction.
How fun it was for a horse to be its own master from time to time! He thought about how one can learn a lot about a horse’s character by seeing how it behaves when turned out with others. One of them, a gray show pony, was jumping for joy. He noticed how Historia kept her eye on it until it settled down. The chestnut quarter he turned out first was greeting its friends. He watched as they nuzzled each other, touching each other muzzle to muzzle. The bay field hunter was displaying dominance through its body language; the palomino in front of it had flattened its ears, showing tension. He could imagine how the bay established itself atop the social order through biting and kicking. Even small herds had a hierarchy of dominance.
Historia was the first to speak. “That bay used to be bullied.”
“At Rod’s old stable. Several horses picked on it constantly without reason. There was a fight for dominance, with the bay never accepting the dominance of another. I deemed it best to remove the victimized horse and let it establish itself in my new stable here.”
“Look at it now. King of the stable,” Eren noted with a smile.
“Yeah, battle scars everywhere. He’s calmed down a lot since then.”
“Beautiful stallion you’ve got there, Historia,” he said approvingly.
Eren fed and watered his own horse and let it rest. It was the bay Historia decided to exercise first. He was looking at the field and thinking of which horse to catch for himself when Historia asked him to help her with the bay.
The bay was a difficult horse. But it had a loyal companion by its side, a brown quarter horse whose coat was so dark it was almost black. The two were grazing together. Historia followed Eren’s gaze and nodded. He understood. The bond between the two horses was stronger than the bay’s desire to avoid being caught, so he was to catch the companion horse first. He quietly leads the black horse away until the bay follows.
Eren watched as Historia slowly approached the bay from the front and slightly to its left. While holding the halter behind her back, she talks to the horse in low, soothing tones.
“The hills await you, my boy…,” she says quietly, knowing the animal sees and hears her. Naturally curious, the bay looks up as Historia approaches. She stands still as the horse acknowledges her presence, moving toward her, and she lets it sniff at her open hand. The bay moves away, but Historia walks around in an arc until she is in the approach position again, standing still as the horse approaches her once more. So as not to startle the horse she slowly brings the halter into view.
She talks to it the whole time. “Easy, boy, easy…”
Holding both sides of the halter and gently raising the noseband until it was in its final position, she keeps her left hand steady, working the headpiece up the far side of the horse’s neck with her right hand and putting it over the top of its head. She fastens the buckle, then pats the bay on the neck, a pleased tone in her voice.
But she does not relax yet. She knows the horse may still pull away suddenly, and if it did escape, it would be more difficult to catch the second time. So she keeps talking to the horse, about the fresh mountain air, the green grass, how it could gallop all it wanted.
Eren watches the queen from the corner of his eyes.
Look how gentle and patient she is with the horses. She whispers to the wildest of them and they listen to her, letting themselves be tamed by her. Her and only her.
He had already put the halter in place on the black horse. It was a sweet, docile one, very much unlike the skittish, excitable bay.
Historia leads the bay toward the gate. “Thank you, Eren,” she says to him with a warm smile, blue eyes sparkling. Against his will, his heart skips a beat.
Dammit. Get a hold of yourself. It’s only Historia.
They give each horse a quick groom, then ride them up the hills overlooking the ocean. The closest building to Historia’s cabin was a lighthouse a few miles away. The nearest village was a half-hour ride. It was fitting, he thought, how Historia liked to spend time up here on a mountain overlooking the island. Like a vanguard for a young nation that needed its queen’s protection to keep on moving forward.
He lets her take the lead, lets her ride in front of him, her long golden hair blowing in the wind, her body thin and light as air possessing an ethereal, wraith-like beauty. Watching the straight lines of her small back, taking in the delicate curve of neck and the gentle slope of her shoulders, he shudders, but not because of the cold. He gazes at her petite, perfect form balancing so easily atop the galloping horse and feels utterly tormented, his belly a knot of despair.
Why, oh, why, did she have to turn out like this? Why did she have to be so fucking beautiful and desirable and amazing?
And how many layers of stupid am I wearing, he asked himself, that I’d let myself fall for someone so precious when my life is guaranteed to end in a few years’ time?
Thank you so much for reading! Please take a moment to share a thought or two in the comment section below. Your comments give me life and are a real source of encouragement. xoxo, hana
Next – Chapter 2: By the Fireplace
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Vogel, Colin (2003). Complete Horse Care Manual (2nd ed.). London: Dorling Kindersley.