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"Oh, Stonefoot, I'm so sorry!" Kativa clung to Stonefoot's big nose, one hand on his nosering and one arm wrapped around as far as she could reach to hold his head still. "Keep still, be quiet. I know it's hard. But it's only a yiirk bite, don't worry." One of the wretched little creatures had gotten into a food bag, and when it found itself trapped on the snowy's back, had run out on Stonefoot's tail and bit him in a panic. The wound had gone septic, and the group of rangers had already drained it twice. Stonefoot had become sluggish, that day, and uninterested in grazing. "Think of what a story this will be to tell," she murmured to him. "You'll impress all the mares." Author's Notes
The big, thick-furred snow-unicorn shifted, and when he made a motion to rise from his knees, Kativa gave a sharp reminder tweak to the nosering and whistled the 'stay' command before continuing to murmur at him.
"It's going to have to go," Fala said sadly, conferring with Birka. "We could go back and ask Kalitelm to be sure, but I know that's what she'll say."
Birka was nodding agreement. "I don't think we can wait to get back to her, either,"she added.
The two of them were standing at the opposite end of the snow-unicorn from Kativa, voices barely loud enough for her to hear. Kether had the end of Stonefoot's tail in both hands, holding it hard against the reflexive twitch. Tolnam and Anler were standing on either side of the snow-unicorn's hindquarters, and all of them were ready to leap back if Kativa failed to control the giant creature.
Fala had shaved back the hair on Stonefoot's tail around the area. It was nearly black around the wound, oozing unhealthy-smelling pus, and swollen. The bandage that had just been removed was packed with saturated herbs, but they clearly had not done their job.
As surgeries went, it was a simple job - the amputation of a tail was not unheard of in case of infection - but this was not an ideal place for a surgery.
The group was several days' travel from the summer coastal camp, high in the foothills, and they did not have supplies to sedate something the size of a snow-unicorn.
"Rotten apples?" Tolnam suggested wildly. "It works for shagbacks." It was too early in the season for those, of course.
Anler had a flask of fermented snowy milk, but it would barely be a swallow to the snow-unicorn, not enough to numb its pain, let alone render it unconscious. "Besides," he said wryly, "I think we'll need that after we're done here."
The other snowies knew that something was up and they constantly had to be whistled back. Being 'underfoot' to a snowy was not just a minor nuisance!
Eventually, Fala and Anler decided to climb the foothills and find a cache of ice to numb the spot. They returned swiftly, with large blocks of compressed snow slung in milk bags off of their saddle toggles.
Stonefoot was uncooperative, shifting and complaining as they attempted to numb his weeping tail with the blocks of snow. Kativa hung on his face, reciting children's rhymes and humming tunelessly, a hand always at his nosering.
At the other end, Fala and Birka and Anler frowned and plotted. Fala's ancient-metal spear had the sharpest blade, though it wasn't broad enough to take the full thing off with one swing. The hunting knives they all carried had the best blades, but didn't have enough swing. Anler had a sickle with a longer handle, but it was of a poorer quality metal that was difficult to keep an edge on. After much debate, they decided to use it anyway, knowing the chance of getting a second swing would be slim. Anler crouched down and began sharpening it while the tail continued to numb at the space above the infection where Fala had shaved it.
"He's not going to stay much longer," Kativa finally warned, and the group knew they were at a moment of truth - the tail was as numb as it was going to get, Anler's sickle was a sharp as it would be, and the mottled gray snowy was not going to hold still for any longer.
"Wait!" At the last moment, Birka came to Stonefoot's head, a shirt in her hands. "Bind his eyes," she suggested, and Fala's laughter was a bright spot in the otherwise solemn event. Kativa was puzzled, and Tolnam and Kether also looked confused, but Anler gave a surprising giggle before he finished with his sickle.
They bound the confused Stonefoot's eyes, using a combination of the shirt and leather bindings to span his massive head. By the end of it, Kativa was as nervous as Stonefoot was, and more than ready to get things over with.
It was as clean a slice as could be expected, a massive *CRUNCH* as it broke through the bone onto the stone below, driven by all the strength that Anler could muster. The sickle would be ruined from the impact, and, even numbed, the pain from the slice drove Stonefoot to his hooves. The northerners scrambled back from his shrieking surge, and Kativa, letting go too late, was flung three times the length of her body to the ground.
The cut wasn't clean through - the tail clung to the stub by a strip of skin and muscle, and Stonefoot spun and bucked and screamed, flinging streaming blood across the entire party.
The other snowies panicked, breaking their hobbles and thundering away from Stonefoot's rampage.
Kativa tried three time to draw air back into her lungs to whistle him back, or call out, but could only gaze at the sky above her and hope that his antics didn't bring him close enough to trample her.
Tolnam eventually brought him back, exhausted and hung-head, with gentle words and stern whistles, shaking in every limb, his make-shift blindfold half-fallen from his face.
Fala cut the remaining skin holding the tail on with a swipe of her spear, and Stonefoot seemed less bothered by the lack of tail than he had the hanging bits of it. He even let them whistle him down to his knees, shivering. Carefully ready to leap back if he bolted again, they bound the raw end of his tailstub while Kativa discovered she could still walk and was basically unharmed. One wrist felt strained and sore - Kether bound it while they finished with Pumice. Anler had a bleeding scrape across one cheek from falling badly to get out of the way, and Birka's coat sported a new tear from her mad scramble back from the crazed snowy.
It was a subdued group that returned to the summer village from their grazing journey early, without the harvests they had hoped for.
"What happened?!" Kalitelm demanded, taking a worried eyeful of the new bloodstains on their clothing, the bound wrist on Kativa, and the sulky group of snowies.
Fala opened her mouth to explain, and found a laugh there instead. It was contagious, and only after all of the rangers had laughed themselves exhausted was Tolnam able to explain: "It was only a yiirk bite!"
Kalitelm looked at the copious number of new stains on their clothing, Anler's raw, scraped cheek, and the way that Kativa was wincing and holding her side. Stonefoot, the only one of the group to have returned to his former fine spirit, turned his head to snap the air above a rider, exposing the sorry stub that remained of his once-fine tail. "Only a yiirk bite," the short healer said with disbelief. "It must have been some yiirk!"
This was written for the February 9th, 2010 Muse Fusion. It was prompted by Lorna and Toni, and sponsored by Toni.