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Malaamig gave the train attendant a hopeful smile, arms full of wriggling puppies, as other passengers boarded around him, most of them exclaiming in delight over his burden.Author's Notes
"Citizen, you can't travel with those in the passenger car," the uniformed attendant said, but it was weakly. The boy puppy that the breeder swore was part-kasiyarf was waggling its fringed tail in greeting, and the girl puppy was trying to lick the young woman's closest hand.
"Cease," Malaamig told the puppy, distracting her with an awkward scratch to the ears from his canine-laden hands. It worked for the length of her attention span - about two ticks. "I'm sorry," he said, giving the attendant a sheepish grin. "I hadn't planned to buy these."
It was a white lie - he had planned to buy one, but the second had been a surprise, and he had forgotten to account for either on his return train license.
The girl, a slip of a thing with honey-colored Glifai features, frowned over the train license, and the temporary ownership license that had come with their purchase. "Pets are supposed to travel in cargo," she said faintly, petting the girl puppy, who whined in delight and wiggled her entire body with her tail. "What's her name?" she asked, giggling at the boy puppy's jealousy over the attention.
"I haven't named them yet," he confessed. "I was going to let my new wife name her. If I survive the fact that I bought them instead of only coming home with a marriage license."
The attendant gave him a long, considering look, and Malaamig wondered if he'd poured it on too thick. He endeavored to look meek and contrite, a challenge for the very large figure he knew that he presented; his head was just inches from the arched roof of the train car, and he took up most of the aisle.
"What if they make a mess?" she asked, at last, as another passenger who was boarding exclaimed in delight and stopped to scratch the boy puppy's ears.
"They're housebroken," Malaamig assured her, hoping they really were. "They did their business just before I got here, and we're only traveling a few hours. They'll probably sleep most of the trip. And I'll clean up any mess they make." Did he sound as desperate as he feared?
She pursed her lips together, absently petting the little girl, who licked at her and chewed gently on an offered finger.
"What if we put them in a box?" one of the other passengers offered. He was a book salesman, by the looks of it, and had several small crates that he was putting into the overhead storage. He also turned out to be Malaamig's seat neighbor.
The attendant relented, laughing in defeat, and Malaamig was quick to give the bookseller grateful smile as he started reorganizing his boxes to empty one of them. They were the object of most of the attention in the car, and Malaamig suspected it was no coincidence that the bookseller made several discrete sales of his titles while the attendant pretended not to notice.
"Disgusting mongrels," one passenger grumbled loudly, and Malaamig took a quick, worried look at him. No one else seemed bothered by the prospect of traveling with the puppies, but one sour citizen could spoil it, if he wanted, and no one wanted a license challenge.
"They're adorable," the sweet-faced girl beside him said chidingly, dark curls bouncing around her face. A child in the seat in front of them was peering over the back of his chair with wide eyes fixed on the puppies.
"They're dirty," the man replied, giving his gray rag a rustling shake. Malaamig could see little of him over his seat other than thinning dark hair and broad, soft shoulders under blue scientist robes. The gray rag appeared to be standard gossip fare, opened to the economics section.
The girl beside laughed, bell-like, and shook her head, before returning to the slim book in her own lap.
The puppies investigated the box they were deposited in with interest, sniffing at the corners and testing the height of the sides with big paws.
"They're going to be quite large, aren't they?" the bookseller said, toying with the boy's paws against the side of the box. The puppy took that well, allowing him to lift his paws and ruffle his ears without complaint while he panted in delight and stole a few licks. "Hunters?"
Malaamig nodded. "I take expeditions out to the north with the Wayfarer's Guild," he said in explanation. "We use working dogs."
"What are their names?" a plump woman from across the aisle asked. Malaamig had learned long ago that this was the most common thing asked of anyone traveling with a pet.
"I haven't named them yet," Malaamig said, and that invited a flurry of suggestions: "My aunt's name is Yela," someone offered. "How about Alurf?" "I like Joiko!" "Maybe Dika?"
They were conversing cheerfully on the topic ("Ugh, I hate that one," "That would be hard to call!" and "That's pretty, but it doesn't really suit a dog..."), mostly without Malaamig's input, when the train whistle called out and the car jerked out of the station.
As he had hoped, the puppies, while initially a little alarmed by the attention and then the motion of the train, had already had an exciting day, and within a tentick, had curled up together and fallen asleep.
He bought a copy of the man's book in thanks, trying not to grit his teeth too obviously as he passed over his last coin. He had asked to buy it before he heard the price, so it was his own fault. It was a slim collection of myths with scientific explanations, not something Malaamig would normally have spent money on, and a peek at the official rating chart showed that it was unlikely to be easy reading. Larli was going to skin him, coming home with two puppies and far less in their bank than they had planned. He should have gotten her a gift, he realized belatedly. Neither of them read much; the book was unlikely to appease her much.
"Thank you for the box," he said gruffly to his neighbor. "I should have thought to buy one myself."
In front of him, the grouchy man with the gray rag made a grunt of rude agreement, and added, "And put them in cargo where they belonged."
Beside him, the curly-haired girl made a noise of disapproval, and turned in her seat to ask, "You're with the Wayfarer's Guild? How does your new wife like that?" She must have overheard him with the attendant.
Malaamig blushed and couldn't help smiling. Larli - his wife! "She complains I'm gone too much, of course," he said quietly, too aware of the unpleasant gray rag reader to be completely comfortable talking. "But, the guild is good to us, and they give me two tendays in a row off every three months."
"Oo, that must be nice," the girl said. She was wearing scribe robes, and Malaamig guessed from what he could see of her book that she was in the science track of schooling; lots of long words and strings of numbers, no illustration. "My name is Omaa," she introduced herself. "I'm thinking I might -"
Whatever the girl was thinking was interrupted by a sudden, earsplitting wail from her seat-neighbor, who writhed in his seat as if he were being burned, lifting his feet off of the ground in alarm. "It bit me!" he shouted, and he began kicking wildly.
Malaamig looked down in alarm, to find that only the boy puppy was still there, looking up at him in sleepy alarm.
There was one shrill yip from under the seat, and Malaamig was immediately trying to squeeze himself down into the legspace to find his escapee, at the same time as the bookseller, who was himself not small. Once they had untangled their inevitable collision, punctuated by the outraged man, who was now flailing around with his rolled gray rag, managing to hit the scribe beside him and the heads of the people sitting in front of him, Malaamig was out in the aisle, peering under the seats in worry.
"It bit me!" the man insisted again. "I'll have your license for pet ownership revoked," he threatened. "I'll have you fired," he told the traincar attendant. "I'll have you all listed as complicit!" he said generally, to the interested (and largely amused) audience that was staring at his outburst.
"She probably thought your shoes were toys," Malaamig said, apologetically. They were incredibly ugly shoes: bright red and purple leather in a swirled, stitched pattern, with a heel of several inches. "I doubt she could draw blood," he fumbled. He was keenly aware of the attention they had drawn, and the worried frown of the attendant; they were reconsidering their early delight in the puppies. He groped blindly under the seat with his long arms, and caused another flurry of shrieks and screams when he accidentally grabbed one of the feet encased in the hideous shoes. "Sorry!"
"These shoes cost thirty Imperials!" the man howled in outrage. "If that creature has scratched the leather, I'm putting a claim on your license for the full cost!"
Malaamig swallowed, thinking about his empty wallet and empty bank account.
"Here she is," Omaa said, scooping the puppy up from the floor. The little girl, completely un-phased by the wild yells of the grumpy gray-rag reader, wiggled in happiness and licked at her face, tail wagging like a flag in a windstorm.
"It's a menace!" the offended man stated. "I demand that it be put down!"
Like a sea turning tide, the mood in the car shifted. Whatever sympathy he had gotten had weakened in the face of his ugly shoes, and dissolved away from him utterly now. The attendant's worried frown focused on him; she had a pad out and was beginning a disturbance note.
"You can't do that," Omaa said, cuddling the puppy. "She's just a puppy, and she was only playing. You aren't even hurt!"
"Let's see the damage on those shoes," the bookseller demanded. "Before you file us all as 'complicit'."
The shoes were removed, and were even more ugly on closer inspection, with bright white stitching and variable quality leather. Just as Malaamig was privately thinking that a scratch might improve them, the bookseller said scornfully, "You paid thirty Imperials for those? You got robbed, man. That's shoddy leather work."
The man just scowled, an expression as ugly as his shoes, and pointed triumphantly at a long, deep scratch along the ankle of one shoe.
"That's an old scratch," the bookseller said with authority. "Look how the leather has darkened in it; it would be much brighter if it had just been caused. I have a leather binding license, if you'd like to see it."
That took the wind out of the man's sails, and he snatched his shoe back, muttering about licenses and filthy animals and the taste of the masses.
Omaa reluctantly handed the girl puppy back to Malaamig. There were tail wags of greeting between the two puppies when they were back in the box together, and Malaamig put the lid more careful over them this time and weighted it with his foot.
The attendant took all their names - Thriilom was the unpleasant man's name, and the bookseller, who agreed to make a statement about the age of the scratch in question, looked very smug indeed, and turned out to be named Ratyii. The attendant drew Thriilom aside for a private discussion when too many people heckled his comments as he made them.
The rest of the journey was peaceful and the puppies slumbered as only infant animals could, after their adventures. Malaamig had short, quiet conversations with Omaa and Ratyii, but spent most of the ride staring out the window.
"I'm very sorry for the disturbance," he told the attendant in an undertone as they pulled into the station and people began to rise and collect their bags. "I didn't mean to make trouble for you."
She laughed and brushed him away. "I don't think anything will come of it," she said quietly in an aside to him, glancing back at where the man with the awful shoes was struggling with an oversized bag. "He asked me not to file the disturbance after I pointed out that claiming untrue damages might cause him might be considered a false challenge." A false challenge could get your license revoked, especially if you had a series of them. Considering the strident nature of the man, Malaamig wouldn't have been surprised if he had filed several already.
"I'm glad," he said in relief. "You were very kind to let me keep them with me."
He was holding the box, which the bookseller had insisted he keep, and the attendant reached in to ruffle the ears of the boy, who had woken and was scrabbling at the side.
He apologized to Omaa, as well, but she only laughed and said, "It was much more interesting than the book I brought!"
He took one of Ratyii's calling cards, and thanked him many times. "You saved the trip," Malaamig insisted. "I don't know what I would have done without your help and your box."
"I travel this route twice a tenday," Ratyii said, as they walked out of the traincar onto the platform. "And this is the most fun I've ever had on it." He pressed another copy of his book on Malaamig, his own box overflowing, despite Malaamig's protests that he had no more money. "Take it," he insisted. "I feel quite well paid." He considered, as they walked towards the end of the platform. "Though it could have been better if the shoes had actually been damaged; I'd have been happy to see the end of things so ugly."
Malaamig laughed, not exactly agreeing, and shook his head. They parted ways at the platform's end, and Malaamig felt his spirits lift. He was going home, home to his new wife, with two beautiful new puppies, and he had never been so happy to put a commute behind him.
A story for Edward, who asked what happened next to Malaamig's puppies, and wanted a story about a commute.