They’re early to the market, and in luck. Apparently everyone wishes to get rid of their goats this year. (Later, Nasir will state sourly that this should have made them suspicious.) They wander from pen to pen, and eventually Agron whispers in Nasir’s ear, “They all look the fucking same.”
“I suppose we just… pick ones that look healthy?”
Agron straightens and points at a black-and-white goat in a separate pen. “That one. I wish to examine it.”
Five seconds later, on his back on the ground, clutching the stomach that the goat rammed, he snarls grimly, “We’ll take it.”
It seems a simple thing. Agron remembers it from his childhood: his mother leaning close to a goat’s warm hide, murmuring assurance while her fingers worked underneath its belly, bringing forth milk.
Unfortunately, memory does not translate into competence, especially with hands not up to the challenge of squeezing. He stands by Nasir’s shoulder, offering useless instruction.
“Fuck, I don’t know. Squeeze and twist? Gently but firmly.”
“Nothing is coming,” Nasir says irritably.
Agron grins, struck by inspiration. “Work it like swollen cock.”
Nasir frowns at him, but adjusts his grip.
Milk flows. The goat settles. Agron whoops his triumph.
Lightning first struck at dusk and hasn’t stopped since. Agron delights in the wild weather, the first since they crossed the Alps; but the goats are terrified, and Nasir seems moody.
Agron elbows him. “The thunder god swings his cock across the sky. Why do you frown?”
Nasir shrugs. “The last time it rained…” He looks aside and Agron suddenly understands.
“I feel him in the rain, too.” His throat tightens. “It’s how he stays with us.”
Nasir grips his hand. “Thunder seems fitting tribute.”
They sit together, listening, until the panicked goats come pushing into the cabin, seeking shelter.
The wolf has been preying on the goats for weeks. Nasir and Agron track it through the winter woods until Nasir’s spear brings it down.
Agron kicks the lean body. “Fucking wolves.”
A high-pitched yip cuts through the air; something crawls from a nearby den.
There’s only one pup, near-black like its mother. Agron grabs it by the scruff, grinning when it snaps at him. “We could use a guard wolf.”
Nasir frowns. “How would we train it?”
“As Spartacus trained you,” Agron teases.
Nasir smiles, remembering. “And that turned out so well.”
The pup snarls.
They name her Naevia.
A battle-hardened warrior staring in panic at a goat about to give birth may be an entertaining sight, but now is not the time for amusement. Nasir feels the distressed animal’s belly and grimaces in sympathy. “It has not turned. We may have to… reach inside.”
The goat and Agron look equally dismayed. “I am not in the habit of sticking things into females.”
Nasir snorts. “Nor I. Yet necessity-”
“…demands that your hands do the deed. They’re smaller, with better grip.”
Nasir swallows. “Go calm the goat.”
Agron’s fingers brush his nape in passing, reassuringly. “You can do this.”
Of the two kids, one dies an hour after the mother. The living one latches onto Nasir’s fingertips, sucking until he finally manages to convince one of the other nannies to let it nurse.
Even after that, the little splotched thing follows Nasir everywhere, bleating plaintively when he goes too far, curling up by his feet along with Naevia.
Agron can’t stop laughing at the sight of them: the wolf, the man, the tiny goat. “Shall I ever get you to myself again?”
Nasir pulls him down for a thorough kiss. “If you are swift about using opportunity,” he purrs.
The black-and-white buck has strong opinions about humans, wolves, and other goats, namely, that they should not exist. Even Naevia avoids him, and visitors have an interesting time reaching the cabin.
Belesa learned her lesson last time; she clambers nimbly across the fence and escapes with just a small tear in her skirts. The buck glares through the fence, ramming his horns against the wood.
“Perhaps we should get rid of him,” Nasir says reluctantly. Agron crosses his arms.
“No! He’s my goat of the arena.”
Nasir rolls his eyes, but Belesa grins, nodding. “He suits you,” she tells Agron.
The fireplace is piled high with crackling wood, and Agron has him spread out on the furs before the fire, his teeth sunk into Nasir’s shoulder as he moves powerfully inside him. Nasir thinks he’d be burning up even if there was no fire, if they were outside in the snow.
“Gods,” he curses, and rolls his hips. “Again.”
The door creaks open. Something prances across the cabin and sticks a wet nose into Nasir’s face. He yelps and jerks away. Agron shouts, swatting angrily at the intruder. “Fucking goats!”
It takes them a while to get the mood back.
That first spring, they decide to take a few of their best goats to market. It’s feels odd to sell them, Agron thinks. They’re only animals, for sure, but he remembers standing on display himself: all too aware of Duro’s tension beside him, and his own dread at the thought that someone might make an offer for just one of them.
So when a man in costly robes approaches, announcing proudly, “These seem fine animals – I’ll take five for sacrifices to the gods,” Agron steps up and snarls, with no thought to business, “Fuck your gods. Not our fucking goats.”
They’re woken early by a great clatter in the main room. Agron stumbles nakedly down from their sleeping loft, Nasir right behind him.
Three goats flee outside, leaving behind a mess of broken crockery and torn clothes. A fourth remains by the hearth, chewing contentedly on Agron’s deerskin trousers.
Agron swears viciously. “Fucking door was latched!”
“They’re clever.” Nasir’s mouth twitches, just a bit.
Agron glumly surveys the room. “They’ve eaten all my clothes.”
Nasir is suddenly in his arms, naked himself and grinning mischievously. “No great misfortune,” he murmurs, pressing lips to skin.
Agron soon forgets about the goats.
One day, Nasir’s little shadow doesn’t come in for her feed.
They search for days. It’s been raining heavily; the wolf can’t pick up a scent. By the second night, Agron’s hope is running low – she’s a small goat, and not hardy.
“Perhaps…” But he takes one look at Nasir’s anguished face and shuts his mouth.
They find her in the gorge, one of her hind legs smashed by a fallen rock.
“She’ll make it,” Nasir insists. Agron nods and lights a fire to heat his blade.
She proves hardy after all. She prances just as nimbly on three legs.
They return late from the village. Agron is thoroughly drunk when Nasir manoeuvres him into bed, so it’s somewhat alarming to wake in the night to find Agron gone. Nasir yanks on clothes and stumbles outside. There’s light in the goat shed. Nasir pushes open the door and stares.
Agron has herded two goats into the separate stall they use to encourage mating. He’s helpfully lifting one goat on top of the other, despite their bleated protests.
Agron waves. “Nasir! M’helping…”
“Those are both bucks!”
“Oh.” Agron frowns, then beams hugely. “So?”
Nasir groans. “Just… come back to bed.”
It’s a bad winter; the worst yet. Agron is used to going hungry for a month or two, but it’s a different story when there’s a village nearby full of people he cares about: hollow-eyed children, desperate mothers. Laeta’s youngest is wilting away.
Nasir looks grim as they survey the lean goats. They’re almost out of feed. “We need to thin the herd.”
Agron nods shortly. One of the does, gentle-mannered and now sick with age, comes to nudge at his knee. She’s a favourite, although he’d never admit it. Agron draws his knife.
“Apologies,” he murmurs in her ear.
The day is late; the sun hangs low in the sky, limning the world in shades of dusky rose and gold. Nasir sits on the slight rise above the meadow, watching the goats frolic in the long grass. They’re well-fed and healthy-looking.
His instincts have dulled somewhat since the end of the war. He doesn’t hear the rustle of the grass until Agron is already upon him. He settles down behind Nasir, long legs stretching out on either side of him, and pulls him close.
Nasir smiles, leaning back against Agron’s chest. They don’t speak.
He’s getting used to peace.