Sneaking In Amongst Runners (Garatt/Tolfast)


Laura Walker
 

Sometimes, when you were a Candidate, you got sent on errands. Sometimes, when Garatt was lucky, the errands took him right past the runner fields. And sometimes they didn’t and he “got lost” or engineered a shortcut  that took him past there anyway. It only meant a five minute stop but five minutes could be a blissful thing.


He had his own particular runner he’d been working on making friends with, a lovely dark brown creature he’d quietly fallen in love with. Swiping a piece of fruit or vegetable from meals was doing well for him; she was already starting to recognise him as ‘friend’ or at least ‘food’ and canter over when he passed by. And that made life easier because it meant he could make the most of that five minutes rather than spending most of it leaning over a fence staring at her and making hopeful calling noises.


Tolfast had become accustomed to the faces that frequented the stable yard, as they tended to be either under his tutelage or owners of the animals he oversaw. He was aware when a candidate had begun lingering near the runners occasionally, standing out like a sore thumb in his well-oiled machine. As the boy had not caused any trouble, he had made a habit of letting the journeymen know not to shoo the lad off too fast whenever he arrived. He would have to go back to his lessons, but Tolfast saw no harm in allowing him to dawdle *a little*.


Informed that the boy had shown up again, Tolfast decided it was time to make an introduction. Stuffing a few sweet cubes into his pocket, he made his way out to the runner pens in search of him. Before intruding on the scene by making himself known, though, he waited a short distance away and merely watched the interaction between candidate and beast. 


"What's your name?" He asked at last. 


Garatt had been quite happy scratching the runner behind one ear. With no idea of what she was called he’d been trying to think up a name for her but nothing seemed to fit. He startled guiltily at the question.


Responses flickered through his head ranging from denial (I was just passing through and she was friendly!) to excuse (It was only an orangeroot and those are good for you!) to self-justification (Anyway, she was hungry!) The ‘oh shards, I’ve been caught’ look was quite quite clear for that moment before he remembered himself and drew himself up as his father had taught him to. Not that standing straight made any difference when you were talking to a veritable giant but still.


“Garatt.” No ‘sir’, his father had been stern on that, you started greeting stables-folk with ‘sir’ and even if you were a small boy it didn’t look good. Still, even as he was trying to look like someone who didn’t have to justify himself he was blushing.


Tolfast watched the boy without a hint of amusement on his face, though that guilty expression had made it hard to suppress laughter. Looking him up and down as though weighing how best to proceed, his gaze left momentarily to the runner standing placidly on the other side of the fence. He knew that one, not the friendliest mare he'd ever met - that she was waiting patiently indicated to Tolfast that the boy had done his work in earning her trust already. His lips twitched in the effort of hiding his smile. 


"Right then, Garatt. Where are you s'posed to be right now?"


The guilt intensified. Garatt had been scolded often enough for standing around dreaming over runners and canines when he was meant to be working. Here came another one. He resigned himself to it, shoulders hunching a little unconsciously in preparation for the likely lecture. “Back with the Harpers,” he admitted. “But one of the journeymen needed a message running and she came to say hello so I stopped.” And had just happened to have an orangeroot in his pocket. And definitely had never stopped before.


The runner, impatient with so much attention not being shown to her, whickered and leaned to nose at him, hoping he might be hiding more snacks.


Tolfast finally let crack his smile, glancing between the runner and the boy while Garatt spoke. "She's choosy, that one. Doesn't like just anyone," he explained, fixing the boy with a softened gaze and a quirk of his eyebrow. "Got to have the right touch to lure her in, otherwise she'd ignore ya all day. You can call me Tolfast, Garatt." That look on the younger's face, the defensive posture as he prepared for a tongue lashing - he knew them well. No need to spook him with the authority of Tolfast's rank.


"Have you had many chances to see runners before?" He asked, hazarding a guess. "Used to spend every moment I could find in the stables at the old Hold, when I was your age. They're lovely, ain't they?"


“When I was a kid.” Because fourteen was clearly far beyond being a kid. Garatt relaxed as it seemed no scolding was forthcoming, twisting a little to try to settle the runner with one hand. “My aunt let us muck around on them.” 


Unsatisfied with only getting half his attention the runner blew an exasperated snort down her nose at him and he laughed, turning to look at her. “It’s no good complaining when you ate it already.”


Tolfast smirked at the mare's insistence. The boy's response told him just how long he'd been lingering there, and he couldn't help but be reminded of himself many Turns ago. He'd been right where this lad was then, facing the stablemaster, but Tolfast wanted to make sure that this time things went differently. 


"Say, you want to spend a few candlemarks here every day? I could sure use the extra hands." Tolfast was certain he could speak to Nayari about some sort of arrangement. There was no justice in denying the boy his dreams. "And I bet our gal here wouldn't mind the steady orangeroot deliveries."


Can I?” Garatt’s eyes went wide and hopeful for a moment before he wilted. “Thanks, but I’m not meant to,” he said, even as one hand went to stroke the mare’s neck. His father would undoubtedly be displeased if he ever somehow found out.


Tolfast couldn't hide the laugh that left him to watch the sudden change, the boy's face so starkly different from one moment to the next. "What makes you so sure?" He asked, grinning from ear to ear. "I've got some weight to throw around, y'know." Shifting one shoulder forward so they were easier to make out, Tolfast pointed to the Master's knots pinned thereon. "I've got a good eye for folks and I know someone with a love of the beasts when I see it." His hands settled with his thumbs casually caught in his pockets, looking around with a playfully conspiratorial glance. "A little flit told me this ain't your first visit, and I'd like for you to have a chance to feel out what it's like to work this side of the Weyr. Maybe you'll want to stick around. Or.. maybe you'll find it too tough." Tolfast shrugged, pretending not to care though he very much did, prodding at the boy's pride. "Not just anyone can stick it out."


“My father doesn’t like me to,” Garatt admitted, and maybe there was a whole explanation just there in the way he referred to him; ‘My father’ rather than Da or Dad or even just Father. “I’m not meant to waste time messing around with them when I ought to be doing proper work.” And even here, where it was unlikely his father would ever come without a Hatching to bring him, he had kept obediently to those restrictions, ducking the disapproval of an invisible father figure even as he crept out to the runners when he could.


“I could though,” he added fiercely, pride successfully pricked. “They used to let me help at my aunt’s and I was only little then.” He turned his face towards the mare, and his expression said the ‘yes, oh please, yes’ that his words said no to. “She’s really lovely though, isn’t she?” he said wistfully, as she nosed at his uniform, clearly debating whether buttons were edible.


Tolfast caught the note of implied authority when Garatt spoke of his father, and he scrubbed at his beard absently in thought. A parent who thought of work like this as 'messing around' wouldn't have taken kindly to the boy's interests from the get-go. He could empathize with that a great deal. As the boy straightened his spine, the smile on Tolfast's face reappeared. "Ah, well I didn't know that. You *do* sound like you have some idea of how things ought to go 'round here already." He drew out the next pause, this time in playful suspense, before curling his fingers in a thumbs-up gesture. 


"You leave it to me. I'll find a way to get you some extra candlemarks here. Can't go lettin' a brave lad like yourself go to waste when there's a mare here who needs ya'."


The hopeful smile teased out by that promise suggested that all Garatt’s birthdays had maybe come at once. “I’d love that,” he breathed wistfully, staring at the runner. “I’d work at anything.” He stroked her neck again, looking a little shyly at the terrifying adult authority figure turned unexpectedly friendly. “What’s her name?”


Grinning broadly now, Tolfast inclined his head. “Good. It’s settled.” He would speak to one of the candidatemasters later that day to work out the details, but for now, the boy could be allowed to stay a little longer. At the query, he glanced toward the mare craning her neck to stick that big head over the fence. “That one I call Dara, but I imagine she’ll answer to just about anything if you’ve got a handful of her favorite treat.”




--

Blackadder: I mean, what about the people that do all the work?
Baldrick: The servants.
Blackadder: No, me; *I'm* the people who do all the work.

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