"Good evening, men."
" 'Evening, Lieutenant."
"You look distracted."
"Sir, can you tell us what that ... terrific smell is?"
"Smell?" (Moves nearer.) "Oh. Bother. I expect it's Lacey."
"Lacey? The mare?"
"Yes. You might want to move along. If you stay here much longer, or if there's a good gust–"
"Hey!" "Lord!" "Whoa!" "HO-ly St. Martin on a crutch!"
"–like that one. Go sit down on that patch of grass. With luck, it'll be dewy."
"That's little Lacey?"
"Indeed. I thought I caught a whiff this afternoon during horse-care. She'll need to be out in pasture tomorrow, our Lacey. A girl needs a bit of privacy when it's her time. Or we need her to have it."
"Why sit on the grass? Oh, I see. It's like a cold shower."
"Why aren't you affected, sir?"
"Who says I'm not? But it's just anno domini, lads. I've had years' more practice and I'm just plain older. You're particularly susceptible, being fresh changed."
"How long do we sit here? We're supposed to be back in barracks in a few minutes."
"Wait until the wind shifts or, failing that, until it gets darker and we can more or less maintain the decencies. Captain Fletcher is very forgiving in matters like this."
"Sir, maybe we should, you know, just walk away quietly."
"We are clearly visible from the road and the houses across it. I don't want to bet that no one is looking or that no one will come along at just the wrong time. We have lived down sillier things, but I'd rather not have to. Are any of you in a fit state to rise?"
"I think we already have, sir."
"This passed ridiculous a while ago. At least you're all taking it well."
"How so, sir?"
"Sometimes, around this point, it first hits some fellows that they are not just four-legged men now, but horses, too—really horses, and a different species' feelings are leading them around by the nose."
("By some organ or other.")
"They get upset and it's all very existential. But clearly you lads are firmly retaining your human self-control. Right?" (Mumbled assents.) "You wouldn't find a stallion-simple ... ah..."
"Sitting around in cold, wet grass?"
(Return of waiting.)
"She does smell gorgeous..."
"Poor little Lacey! Wardley, at your size, you'd–"
"That's enough, Darneley."
"What's stupid, Weldon?"
"Nothing, sir. I would have been, is all."
"You weren't, though. Someone introduce a new subject of conversation."
"Ed told me about this some."
"That's not– Oh, never mind. Did he? That's very candid of him. What did he tell you?"
("Poor bugger. If he's master of horse, how does he ever get away from it?")
("Maybe it's a perk.")
(Overriding.) "He told me this stuff when he was home for Christmas last year, because he knew I was enlisting. He says he stays upwind and asks someone from the standard cavalry to help if he has to. He says that if the jokes get too raw, he says, 'You're just envious.'"
(Chuckles. "Good on Ed." "Remember that one.")
"Wise words." (Sighs.) "I suppose I could fetch a couple of buckets of cold water... No, I'd need six."
"Sir, this is starting to hurt."
"Very well. Lacey: one, decencies: zero. On the word, trot lively for the barracks, though I'm afraid that will be a bit uncomfortable–"
"Can I help, Lieutenant?"
"Captain! I didn't hear you."
"You were understandably preoccupied. I saw your predicament. Here, pass round these. They're the nose plugs. Came in just this afternoon. Menthol-soaked, lads, for people who have to work around, ah, difficult odors. Everyone half-blind with mint? Good. Off to barracks, then, and try to calm down."
"That may take a while, sir. May I have a couple? I'm starting to wear thin."
"Certainly. Sorry I didn't get here sooner. Is it Lacey?"
"I'm pretty sure, sir. Are you weeping? Or laughing?"
"It's just from the nose plugs. Really. Get on home. I'll drop by the grooms' office and leave a note about Lacey."
Return to Cavalry Cycle
Return to Inkliverse
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2017