Kern was having a miserable morning. Cursing under his breath, the serkethian struggled to maintain his balance with a giant beam weighing down on his shoulders. He paused for a moment to readjust his grip on the beam and then gave a mighty shove. The beam slid further over to the side, across the lip of the stone cylinder he’d already constructed, and it seemed to be steady.
Smiling to himself, Kern adjusted so that only one shoulder was underneath the beam, allowing him to dig his hooves into the dirt floor and push with all his strength. With both arms wrapped around the beam he carefully guided it forward across the width of his unfinished furnace. Everything seemed to be going well until, without warning, one of the bricks in the furnace slipped a bit.
“Fuck!” He exclaimed as the weight of the beam shifted the other direction and was almost ripped from his grip. His arms strained as he held the beam down, trying to keep it from see-sawing completely over the other end of the furnace. For a long while he managed to hold it, but struggle as he may he couldn’t pull the heavy beam back down to where it had been. “This was a dumb idea.”
Finally, before the beam managed to shove any more of the bricks out of place, he gave up. With a frustrated growl he let go and watched the beam as it slowly tilted up and slid off the other end of the stone cylinder. He wasn’t surprised to see the pressure of the shifting beam ruin more of his amateur stonework as several bricks went tumbling down inside the structure.
What he didn’t expect was the direction the beam began to fall. His eyes widened and he rushed around the side to try and catch it before the stupid thing caused any more damage, but he was too late. Once the beam gained momentum and cleared the other side of the furnace, it tipped off the other end and fell straight for one of the horse stalls at the side of the barn. There was a terrible sound of splintering wood, and Kern was staring at the beam lying in the midst of wreckage and hay.
“Kern? You okay?” Curtis’ voice came from outside.
The frustrated blacksmith sighed heavily and ran a hand across his eyes. Of course Curtis got back in time to see this. Of fucking course. “Yeah I’m fine.” He called out loud enough to be heard.
Now that he wasn’t focused entirely on the beam and his failed project, he could hear the muffled sound of hooves and cart wheels in the snow. He turned and left the barn then, waving his arm at the fallen beam in utter disgust. Once outside he stood and let the snowflakes cool him off, despite the fact he was wearing nothing but a pair of pants. The fur on his body kept him plenty warm, and working in the barn he had actually gotten fairly warm.
Curtis’ cart pulled up to the barn moments later, and Kern reached out to pat Terrance as the old horse came to a stop. He looked up to see the Fry siblings looking from him to the barn and back again with worry on their faces.
“What happened? That sounded awful!” Lissa said earnestly. She climbed down from the cart before it had fully stopped and rushed over to him.
“It’s alright Lissa, I’m fine. I won’t be needing the help of a priestess today.” He couldn’t help but smile at her eagerness to help, and he held his arms out for a hug. “It’s good to see you though. Hope your week went better than mine did.”
Leaning in for her hug, Lissa gave a little frustrated sigh. “Mostly good, except for today, but I don’t really want to talk about mean people. What was that noise anyway?”
Curtis hopped down from the cart and came around Terrance, giving the horse another treat. “Don’t tell me you tried to place the cross beam by yourself.”
“Course I fuckin’ did. What do you think I am? Smart?” Kern growled, his frustration boiling over.
“Man I said I’d help you when I got back.” Curtis smiled slightly, and as always Kern felt a bit of his temper was away at the sight of that man’s smile.
He stepped back from Lissa and cleared his throat a bit. “I just figured I’d give it a try. Didn’t expect failure would end with this kinda fuck-up. I kinda shattered one of the horse stalls. Sorry.” As he spoke he accompanied the two siblings into the barn.
Curtis pulled on Terrance’s bridle and led the horse and cart into the barn as he followed. Lissa went ahead into the barn, and Kern heard her give a quiet exclamation and, he thought, a giggle. When he pulled the heavy door open for Curtis to lead the cart through, he saw Lissa standing off to the side with both mittens over her mouth. He could tell she was smiling by the light in her eyes, though she tried not to let him see it.
“Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh.” He grumbled, even though it was wonderful to see her smiling. Her melancholy had been upsetting these past months, and he was happy to see her at least momentarily happy.
Once Curtis was able to see, he wasted no effort in attempting to conceal his laughter. Kern’s crossbeam was laying across the barn’s dirt floor half in a horse stall amid the wreckage of what had been the stall’s front gate and one side wall. A few scattered bricks at the base of his unfinished furnace told the rest of the story. Curtis laughed loud and hard, which only encouraged Lissa who joined in moments later.
“Yeah, ha ha.” Kern grumbled, just as embarrassed as he was pleased to see them laughing.
“No, no you don’t get it.” Curtis tried to speak as he led Terrance to the side and began to unbuckle him. “It’s an old joke.”
“What old joke?” Kern asked, confused.
Lissa poked at some of the debris with her snow boot, letting it tumble over the other side of the beam. She was still giggling as she spoke. “This stall has been broken eight times just in my lifetime. Daddy used to say it was cursed.”
“Yeah I’ve fixed this thing five times myself.” Curtis added. “Don’t worry about it for now, we’ll get it tomorrow.”
“Eight times?” Kern walked over to look down at the debris.
With a nod of her head, Lissa patted his arm. “A lot more than that, I think. Don’t feel bad, the stall just needed to break again I guess. This wasn’t your fault.”
“You talk like this thing has a mind.” Kern looked up at the remains of the stall. “And is a masochist.”
Curtis and Lissa laughed again, and this time Kern couldn’t help but join them. While they were laughing, the door at the other end of the barn opened and a crimson face framed by night-black hair peeked in. Kern looked to see that it was Sorsasta, one of the elves staying with them on the farm.
“We heard a terrible crash.” The elf said with concern in her voice. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine, Sorsasta.” Lissa said as she managed to bring her laughter under control.
She went over to greet the elf, and Kern couldn’t hear their conversation from across the barn. Not that he was terribly interested in what an elf had to say anyway, so he went over to help Curtis unhook Terrance from the cart.
“Honestly, I’m sorry about the stall.” He said as they finished up.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m serious; at this point it’s just an assumption that that stall will be damaged.” Curtis smiled and patted his shoulder. “One time Gale even managed to break it just by walking through the barn.”
Kern laughed. “Come on. Really?”
“No shit!” Curtis nodded his head emphatically. He lifted the harness from Terrance and carried it off to the side, while Kern led the trusty old horse into his personal stall.
A thought occurred to him. “I guess that’s why you never put Terrance in that stall then.”
“Well he also likes that stall more than the others. But yeah, I wouldn’t ever put him in the bad stall.” The human grunted as he tossed the harness up onto its normal place, and then brushed his hands off as he came back over to Kern. “You should seriously wear something against the cold though. I mean, fur or not, it’s cold out.”
Kern smiled and let Terrance settle in, patting the horse as he began munching on his favorite feed. The serkethian turned and headed out of the stall, closing the gate behind him. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry. If it ever gets cold enough that I need to wear winter gear, we’ll have bigger problems.”
The two of them laughed and headed back out of the barn, walking slowly up toward the house. Kern couldn’t help but ask about something that had been bothering him. “Look I don’t mean to pry, but Lissa said something about mean people. She alright?”
Curtis’ expression soured a bit, and he nodded his head. “She says she’s fine, and I hope so. Apparently some old lady today recognized her from before…from when she was…you know.”
Kern had to think for a moment before it dawned on him what Curtis was referring to. He had only ever known Lissa as she was now, and it simply never entered his mind that she had ever been anything else. The idea that someone had upset her with something that no longer even applied to the beautiful young woman stoked his considerable temper almost instantly. “Who the hell was this?” He growled.
The human smiled, and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Thanks for the thought, old friend. But honestly, she says she’s fine. Wouldn’t even tell me who it was, cause I had the same reaction.”
With a sigh, Kern nodded his head. “Not surprising. Well then I won’t bring it up.”
“Thanks.” Curtis said softly. The two of them had reached the house. Curtis reached for the front door, but looked over as Kern went to sit down in one of the snow-covered chairs out front. “You coming? I’m gonna cook that buck we got this morning.”
“Yeah I’ll be in, I just wanna cool of a bit.” Kern smiled.
Curtis nodded and shrugged. “Alright, don’t freeze to death.”
As his friend headed inside, Kern brushed the snow from his chair and sat down. The chair creaked a bit, but it was the sturdiest chair in the house aside from the one inside that was designated as his. He looked out over the snow-draped countryside for some while, taking in the sight of the farmland Curtis’ family was contracted to work. Kern had always grown up in cities, and this was the first time he had lived on a farm. Though he had helped get everything ready over the last few months, he wasn’t terribly excited for the coming spring.
Once again the thought of going home came to mind. It had come more frequently over the past couple weeks, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. Letters from his parents told him that they understood his decision to not come home immediately, but more and more he was beginning to question that decision. Every day it was becoming more apparent that Curtis didn’t think of him in the same way.
Not like it was much of a surprise. Kern had known from early on that Curtis was interested in women and not men, but he’d allowed himself a foolish hope. Besides, it wasn’t all bad. He genuinely considered Curtis to be his best friend, and he’d come to care for Lissa as if she was his own sister. They were good people, and he enjoyed staying with them. None of that changed the fact that he missed his home.
Plus…he really didn’t want to be a farmer.