• Published 28th Aug 2016
  • 8,058 Views, 237 Comments

Strange Gifts - Rocinante



Sometimes you're given what you wanted most, without ever knowing you wanted it.

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Warmth

“Hey, Gold.”

“Yeah, Mary?” the old stallion answered, looking up from his bench with a file rattling in his mouth.

I couldn’t help but cringe. My teeth still hurt every time I saw him gripping bare metal tools with his mouth.

“I got those stones set. I’m going to make a short day of it; need to mow the yard before that rain comes through.”

Spitting the file out, Golden Ring gave me a smile that reminded me of my grandfather. Really, everything about Gold reminded me of my grandfather; other than the being a pony thing, of course. “That’s fine. Have a good weekend. Just don’t go throwing away that clover you got growing in your side yard.”

Walking across the room, I laughed. “Tell you what. I’ll make a salad out of it, and bring it to you tomorrow. I’ll even make those biscuits you like.”

Gold’s eyes brightened as he stood to follow me out of the shop and into the showroom. “Now don’t you go teasing an old stallion with home cooking.”

Poor guy had lost his wife years ago, and with no children, he’d more or less adopted me after learning we had the same profession. “I’ll bring it over around eleven. We can have brunch together.”

Gold gave me a smiling nod. “I’ll look forward to it,” he said, before turning to go back into the shop as I left.

Ponyville is a tiny little hamlet. I could probably lap the whole place in an hour, so it only took me a few minutes to reach my quaint little cottage. Just seventy-four more payments and it would be all mine.

I was going to jump straight into mowing, but unfortunately some wild critter had apparently made a hobby of rock starring my garbage can. “Third time this week...” I grumbled, picking up the mess. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but for some reason it really pissed me off. On the plus side, the foul mood spurred me to push that archaic sickle mower at record speed.

As I put the mower away, the weather crew were just kicking into high gear. The cool smell of pending rain calmed me down a bit and reminded me to fetch some of the clover I’d cut. Going inside, I fetched my biggest colander, then went back out to fill it. My mind drifted as I gathered the cut clover, looking from my trashcan to the pegasi working the sky. It’d be a good thirty minutes before the rain started.

Back inside, I gave the greens a good rinse, then put them in the icebox before heading back out. The jog across town was refreshing, just long enough to get my heartrate up, without totally winding me. I slowed to a walk as I reached the bridge, giving me plenty of time to catch my breath before knocking on Fluttershy’s door.

“Be right there,” the little pegasus called from somewhere inside her house. I could tell she’d herded most of her pets in to shelter them from the scheduled storm. A moment later, she poked her head out the door.

“Oh, hello, Mary. Um, you know it’s about to storm, don’t you?”

Resisting the urge to pet her, I just nodded. “Yeah, I was just hoping to borrow one of your cage traps. Something keeps getting into my garbage. I want to catch it before it eats something that’ll hurt it.”

Fluttershy frowned for a moment, then nodded. “Poor thing.” Stepping outside, she walked past me towards her feed shed. “Here, take the big one,” she said as she opened the door for me. “Just be careful with it. Check it every chance you get, and come get me if you have any problems.”

Looking inside, I spotted a trap easily big enough for a large dog behind a sack of bird feed. “Thanks, Fluttershy,” I said, prying the trap from its resting place.

Back at my place, I set the trap beside my garbage, baiting it with some leftover fish and tofu. Whatever it was, it seemed to like digging out my old fishbones, so hopefully this would be too much to resist. A few boards and an old tarp disguised the metal cage the best I could.

The rain started coming down not long after I got back inside. I could tell it was going to be a real downpour, even without the weather schedule. Heading into the kitchen, I started in on making that salad and some dill scones. After that was done, I decided to go upstairs, and read till the rain put me to sleep.

- - -

Something screamed.

I jolted out of bed. I couldn’t even remember where I was for a moment, but then some awful sound from outside brought me back to my little house in Equestria. Scrambling to my feet, I waited for the sound again. Another agonized cry confirmed it was definitely coming from outside. It had a human tone that chilled my blood. A pegasus downed by lightning perhaps. Whatever it was, it sounded hurt.

Hurrying into my robe, I ran down the stairs and out my front door, turning on every light I could as I passed. Rain fell in sheets just beyond the shelter of my porch, but the falling water couldn’t mute the sound of something crying out in the storm. Moving to the edge of my shelter, I tried to figure out where the whimpering was coming from. The rain and thunder made it hard to pinpoint, but it was near, just beside my house. I tried to see it, but my porch light was a poor weapon against this dark night and rain.

I cursed and stepped into the rain. My robe was instantly soaked through. I clung to it as I stepped barefoot through the pooling water. Another cry pierced the storm, allowing me to pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. Practically feeling my way towards it, my heart sank when my hand found my trashcan.

The creature yelped, then cried out, “Don’t hurt me...”

“Damn me,” I cursed.

Throwing aside the trashcan, I tore the tarp off the trap to reveal terror-filled eyes lit by the flash of distant lightning.

“I’m so sorry,” I blurted out. Fumbling with the cage, I tried to unlatch it, but I couldn’t figure out the mechanism in the dark. “Hold on. I’ll get you out in a second.”

The creature trembled, but didn’t say anything.

Hefting the cage, I moved as quick as I could with the awkward weight, not stopping until I was inside my house. It was only as I sat the cage down in the living room that I realized I had trapped a very young griffon. Soaked to the bone, he was shivering cold and pressed against the back of the cage in absolute terror.

“Shh... It’s okay,” I said in my mother’s voice. I finally found the catch and disarmed the door’s spring, letting it fall open.

I expected him to dart out, but he only pressed harder against the back of the cage.

Sitting in front of the cage, I lowered myself down to his level. “Come on out. We’ll get you warmed up and back home.”

“No,” he said, his eyes darting around the room. “You’ll eat me.”

I had to laugh. I didn’t want to, but the seriousness of the accusation was absurd. “Do I look like that much of a monster?” I asked, still chuckling.

I thought he was actually going to say yes for a moment, but instead he answered with, “No...”

Starting to get a chill myself, I stood to go dry off and change clothes. I’d have a hard time playing the adult if I was curled up shivering too. “I’ll be right back. Don’t run away. I’d feel bad if you got hurt out in that storm.”

Thankfully, I kept a change of clothing in the downstairs bathroom. I didn’t bother to close the door as I peeled out of the wet robe. Nudity meant very little here, and I wanted to keep an eye on the griffon—who watched me with a mixture of awe and fear.

“Where’s your home?” I asked, slipping on a clean shirt. I’d have to take a shower before going back to bed, but that could wait a little while.

“Cherry tree.”

Looking at him with some measure of disbelief, I paused. “The cherry tree behind my house?”

He only nodded.

I’d picked from that tree just the other day. It was an old thing, easily big and bushy enough to conceal the little griffon. But still... “Where are your parents?”

The child wilted at the question. “There was a storm. We had to land, but then the wooden wolves came. They... died.” His voice seized up, his gaze drifting to the bottom of the cage.

“Why didn’t you—” I bit my words off. Now was not the time to grill the poor thing. Sitting back down beside the cage, I took a moment to really look him over. Ribs showed through a mangy coat. His head and wings were a mess of half-mangled feathers. Then there was the smell... It was something of a mix between wet dog and hobo.

I undid the remaining latches on the of the cage, letting me take the top off entirely and allowing the other three sides to fall.

The griffon winced, but stayed curled into a ball.

“I’m Mary,” I said, holding out my hand to him.

“My name is Lambert.” Putting a talon in my hand, he let me help him stand. He was still shivering, but seemed unharmed.

“Would you like me to make you a warm meal?”

Lambert perked up, looking around like it was a cruel joke. “That, would be nice,” he said. His gaze drifted to the floor as if he was ashamed of his answer.

Smiling at Lambert as I stood up, I pointed up the stairs. “The first door is a bathroom. Why don’t you take a hot shower while I cook us something?”

“First door?” he asked, looking towards the stairway with trepidation.

It was probably better to show him, so I headed upstairs. “I’ll show you,” I said, motioning for him to follow. He was just small enough that he looked clumsy following me up the steps, but big enough that he didn’t need any help. “How old are you?”

“Eight,” he said, before skipping the last few steps with a flap of his wings.

That was about what I was expecting. In the bathroom, I turned on the shower to warm, then rummaged for a bottle of shampoo that didn’t smell of strawberries. I could only assume boys were universal in their desire to not smell of fruit. Finding the tea tree shampoo I occasionally used, I sat it in the shower for him.

“There you go,” I said, laying an extra towel out for him. “Take your time. I’ll be in the kitchen.”

Downstairs, I put a skillet on the stove. SInce I knew he liked fish, I’d make him a proper meal of it. It was the least I owed him. Unwrapping some white fish, I sat it to cook while I boiled water for some pre-seasoned couscous I had in a box, then sat a few leftover biscuits from breakfast in the oven to warm.

About halfway through cooking, Lambert appeared at the base of the stairs, watching me with an expression I couldn't quite read. The soap had revealed what I had thought was brown fur to be chesnut, and the tea-colored feathers of his head to be ivory. “You can have a seat, if you want,” I said, pointing to the barstool on the other side of the cooking island.

I tried not to stare at him as he walked across the room and fluttered atop the stool, but I couldn’t help but notice he had a half-wild feel to him. I was sure it would only take me clapping my hands to send him scurrying under the couch. Still... I had to smile as he sniffed at the air and watched my every move with the food.

Once the fish was good and golden, I pulled it out of the pan to let it rest. Leaving nothing to waste, I sprinkled a little flour in the pan to brown in the grease. I had half an onion left over from yesterday, so I chopped that up and let it caramelise in the fish roux before pitching some tomato sauce on top. Salt and pepper finished it off.

Properly, I should have had some celery in there and let it reduce for a bit; but this was midnight chow, not Sunday dinner.

“Ready to eat?” I asked, pulling out two plates.

Lambert nodded, his eyes as big as saucers.

Putting a generous pile of couscous on each plate, I topped it with the fish and covered it all in sauce. Two hot biscuits garnished the side of the plates along with a fork.

“Here you go,” I said, setting the plate in front of him.

For a moment, I really thought he was going to cry. He stared at the food, seemingly unable to decide what he was supposed to do. Deciding to lead by example, I picking up my fork, and gathered a bit of couscous and fish. “Go on, eat up.”

Taking the fork in his talon, he tore a bit of fish loose and chewed carefully. I’d expected him to shovel the meal down, but instead he seemed intent on eating as slowly as he could.

“This is really good,” he said after trying a bit of the biscuit.

Going to the ice box, I pulled out the pitcher of water I kept there. “Eat all you like,” I said, pouring us each some water.

After we’d both cleaned our plates in silence, I looked to the wall clock. It was nearly midnight. Taking up the dishes, I went to the sink to wash them.

“Umm, Miss Mary...” The little griffon’s words trailed off.

“Yes?” I asked, forcing a bit more sweetness into my voice than was natural for me at this hour. Looking over my shoulder, I could see him watching the rain hitting the window.

“Can I- Would it be okay if I slept on your porch when it’s raining?”

He was dead serious. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or give him a hug. “Lambert, you’re not sleeping outside. I’ll make you a bed on the couch for tonight. In the morning, we’re going to see the mayor or the princess about finding you a proper home somewhere.”

The feathers around Lambert’s neck puffed, making it look like his entire head was smiling. “I can sleep inside?”

“I’d be a pretty horrible person to send you back out.” Walking into the living room, I opened the closet to fish out the spare blankets and pillows. A few moments later and I had made a perfectly nice bed on the couch.

Hesitantly, the little griffon crossed the room. He stared at the pillow for a moment, before jumping up to the couch. “I can sleep here?” he asked, still standing up.

“For tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll find you a better place.”

Lambert blinked, then looked around before lying down.

“You know where the bathroom is. Don’t hesitate to use it.” Reaching down, I pulled the quilt over him. “If you wake up before me, just knock on my door.”

“Okay.” Lambert nuzzled deeper into his bedding, and I’m pretty sure he was asleep before I got to the stairs.