Annie Mae looked at the array of mechanostriders in front of her, sputtering bilious, oily smoke and keeping up quite a clamor. In her head, she heard the voice of Ol’ Jamie, the man whose farm she’d grown up on, talking about his draft horses, and she sighed, shaking her head, her long brunette ponytail brushing the falling snow off her back.
“Thanks, Milli, but no thanks – Don’t think these fellows are for me.”
“But mechanostriders are the latest in gnome mechanoriding technology! These have updated lamp eyes, duro-plated armor, and a new Gnomish World Tracking System that allows you to never get lost!” Milli Featherwhistle was nothing if not devoted to her job.
“Yeah, but they’s dumb as bricks and noisier than a freight train. And they stink. Sorry, Milli.” And Annie walked off towards Ironforge again, whistling cheerfully, as Milli’s protests rang out against the falling snow.
Annie set her jaw, hands on her hips as she looked pointedly up at the horseman. “M’name’s Annie Mae Spursparkle, I want a job, and ya’ll need hands.”
Randall Hunter laughed. “You’re too short, you’re not strong enough to handle ’em, and we can’t afford you getting hurt.”
“Ya’ll ain’t gettin’ it. I want a job. Don’t care if I’m shovelin’ horse shit, I can muck out a stall with the best of ’em. Ya’ll hire stable boys, right? Well, I’m better than any stable boy, an’ I ain’t gonna go beddin’ down the milkmaid in the haystacks neither.”
He looked slightly taken aback. “Right, and I s’pose you want a horse too.”
“Don’t be daft, y’idjit. I ain’t big enough t’ ride one of them warhorses you sell to th’ poncy Stormwind nobility wantin’ to show off how fancy they’s clothes is when they ride out to kill wolves. I want a damn job, an’ we’ll cross any other bridges when we get there.”
Katie Hunter watched her husband with amusement. He wasn’t often overpowered by anyone, and to watch him flustered by a sunburned, green eyed gnome girl was… She stifled another giggle, and made a mental note to get to know the girl later that evening once she’d gotten settled in.
A few weeks later and Annie had made herself nearly indispensable around the stables. Granted, you never knew she was in a stall but for the incessant whistling of old country farm tunes, but she could certainly keep up with the best of the other hands, and she had an odd ability to keep the horses calm around her while she worked. The farrier liked her, Katie loved her, and even Randall had to admit she was worth every penny they (under)paid her. He’d started teaching her to jog some of the yearlings and two year olds, and she’d proved more than capable of handling them.
He offered to teach her how to ride one morning, and she laughed at him.
“What, you can’t tell me you do all this work and don’t want to learn to ride?”
“Randy, I’ve been ridin’ since I was big enough to not fall out of a saddle. Grew up in Westfall, on Ol’ Jamie Woodward’s farm – my Da makes those harvester mechanical doodads. Can’t jus’ walk out there an’ buy one now though, filthy stinking Defias, and ya’ll would’ve laughed me off this farm if I’d tried to tell you that when I showed up.”
He peered at her. “Show me.” He singled out a little Painted mare, the only surviving horse from a set of twins, who at just under 14 hands was too small for anything else but a noble’s child.
She winked, and went off whistling, setting a young man’s blankets and saddle carefully on the horse, all the while hopping on and off an old crate to be able to reach. When she was finished, she walked the horse back over to him.
“You need a leg up?”
“You sure?” Randall raised an eyebrow.
“Yup.” She flung the reins up over the horse’s neck, grabbed the side of the saddle strap, and in two deft movements was standing on the back of the horse.
He blinked. “You weren’t kidding.”
“Nope. What’s her name?” Annie settled into the saddle, walking the horse around the small jogging arena.
“She don’t have one yet. She’s not good for breeding – too small – so we’re going to sell her off to some nobleman who wants his son or daughter to ride.”
“No, you ain’t. Ya’ll are selling her to me.”
Spring hit Eastvale full force around the beginning of March every year, snapdragons and marigolds littering the gardens, and early spring radishes and lettuces tempting the horses to raid anyone who was dumb enough not to have a high fence around the garden.
“NUTCASE! You daft piece of idiot horseflesh, don’t eat that! C’mon, we’ve got places to go, an’ the road ain’t gettin’ any shorter.”
Katie Hunter laughed as she passed up two baskets of food to the little woman on top of the little horse. “You know, for callin’ that lass Nutmeg, you sure hardly ever use her name.”
“Nah – she don’t mind, do ya Meggy?” Annie patted the horses neck, and she snorted.
“Don’t get hurt, now Annie, y’hear? And if you’re ever here in Elwynn, stop by, alright?”
“Yes’m, you know I will. And thanks again, for everything.” Annie waved at Randall, who was putting a young horse through his paces for a visiting adventurer. He waved back, and she turned and started off at a quick walk down the forest road.
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