Herman stumbled out of bed, mouth dry, eyes bloodshot and red. The brightness of the sunlight pouring in through the window made him wince, the wind-toughened skin of his face crinkling like leather. He sat for a moment holding his head gingerly in his hands, then noticed that the angle of the shadows on the walls and floor were all wrong. He had overslept.
He cursed to himself as he practically fell out of the bed. Trying to ignore the ache that pulsed through his skull with every heartbeat, he stumbled to an empty wash-basin. A sharp pain flared in his right hand as he lifted a nearby pitcher of lukewarm water, cutting through the haze of alcohol even now beginning to recede from his system like a high tide vanishing under the far away influence of the moon. Images flashed through his brain, blurry and indistinct, but quickly coming into focus.
A recollection that teased at the edges of his mind suddenly crystalized and bloomed into solid existence. He whirled around, blinking sleep from his eyes as he searched the floor of the main room, looking for…
There it was.
Fetched up on its side against a chair under the small kitchen table lay the black stewpot, cold and empty. And with it the memories of the night and early morning hours rushed back in a tidal wave.
His first thought was about Bobos:
I bet the bastard liked that stew, gods know I spent enough time making it.
The next thought that popped into his head was also about Bobos:
Damned little shit better not have made me hurt my prize pig.
Herman stomped across the field up the hill to the pig pen, struggling to control his anger and his worry. He only barely remembered his fight with Bobos from last night, but enough details filtered through the haze to remember that Mitzi had been involved. Beyond that he could pick out no details; try as he might too much of the affair had been erased from his memory.
But he knew she might have been hurt. That thought bounced around his mind with every step he took, cascading from neuron to neuron as the log-jam of alcohol continued to break and splinter.
It also made him panic.
Mitzi was the single most important key to his success. More than the crops he grew, the beer he brewed, the other animals he bred, she was what brought in the lion’s share of both recognition and – more to the point – money to his coffers. From her early days on the farm she had grown into a marvelous freak of nature – an accidental lucky mix of genetics had blessed her over time with both enormous size and a proportionately large number of teats with which to suckle offspring: well over twenty as compared to ten to twelve that was the norm. These characteristics allowed her in turn to produce large litters of similarly extraordinary piglets. And as Mitzi’s reputation had grown beyond Oakmere, so too did demand for her babies. Now they commanded exorbitant prices from both breeders and butchers across Lordaeron and beyond; in recent months the demand had reached such heights that Herman had been forced to institute a waiting list. Even Princess, the prize-winning sow of Stonefield Farms in Elwynn, did not enjoy the same level of recognition and prestige as Mitzi of Oakmere.
Mitzi was getting on in age now, but she still had productive years left and he meant to make the most of them before her end inevitably came.
The vacant field had been turned to lumpy sludge during the night and early morning rains and Herman’s worn boots soon were covered in a thick paste of it, which didn’t do anything to improve his sour mood as he crested the small hill. Mitzi’s mud-covered body was difficult to spot among the dirt of the pen, but he eventually found her lying close by the trough. Despite the sounds of his boots making sucking noises as they pulled from the mud with each step, she gave no indication that she heard the noise of his approach. She was still and silent. Herman stopped momentarily and studied her from afar.
A brief flurry of emotions ran through him and his worry intensified as he stared at her still body, too far away yet to see if there was any rise and fall to her chest. The moments ticked by with a slight surreal quality to them and he felt a brief wave of dizziness, but then one of Mitzi’s ears flapped briefly to shoo away a horsefly that had ventured too close and the world tinged back into solidity and stability.
He started moving again, approaching the fence. Of Bobos he could see no sign but there were tracks in the mud that indicated that the boy had crawled away towards the barn. Herman stared briefly into the darkness beyond the open door but couldn’t see anything. He shrugged to himself: it didn’t matter. What was important was his prize pig.
He stepped over the fence and strode through the mud to Mitzi’s side. She squealed at his approach, and Herman swore he could detect notes of anger and reproach.
“Aww, come on now, Mitzi, don’t be like that,” he said, reaching out to her. She jerked back and scrambled clumsily to her feet. Herman moved closer, put his hand on her head; she flinched again, but stayed still, eyes tinged with wildness and fear. Steam curled up from her flaring nostrils, hot breath condensing in the cool morning air.
“There’s a good girl, Mitzi,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you got hurt.” He laced his voice with as much softness and soothing overtones as he could muster. “It wasn’t my fault, Mitzi,” he continued, almost imploring, “It was that damned-”
He stopped, eyes glancing again to the barn door. He thought he had heard something.
“Best stay inside, boy, and outta my way,” he said in a low, but soft, voice. “If my pig is hurt…” He let the implied threat hang in the air. If Bobos was indeed listening, he might not understand the words but the tone was unmistakable.
Herman turned back to Mitzi and began to pat her gently. “Easy girl, easy,” he whispered. He pulled out an apple and held in front of her. If he’d been more observant, he might have noticed what would have looked like a roll of the eyes as her glance shifted briefly over to the abandoned burlap sack that Bobos had used to bring her apples just last night. But she took the apple anyway. Herman, oblivious, continued patting her as she ate the fruit. Then, slowly and very carefully, he began to probe along Mitzi’s body, her sides and legs, watching her for signs of pain.
As his hands moved, hands which could be as precise and practiced as they could be brutal and tough, they settled into a familiar routine. As a farmer Herman had many times needed to diagnose injuries and illness among his animals, and as a former ring fighter himself and later as a cornerman for other fighters, he knew the kinds of things to look for, knew what aches and pains were serious and which weren’t. His medical skills were necessarily limited, but within his domain he was as skilled as any physician. And when it came down to physical injuries, he had found that men and animals weren’t too terribly different. Ironically, the same knowledge he used to inflict pain was the very same he used in diagnosing.
A few minutes later, Herman sat back on his heels with a satisfied look on his face: Mitzi was bruised along the ribs, but nothing seemed broken or cracked. She should be okay in no time.
Still kneeling in the cool mud, relief flowing through him, Herman’s thoughts ranged back through the years, back to when he had first acquired Mitzi in a bet. She had been a scrawny thing back then, malnourished and sickly, and Herman had been furious when she was presented to him as his winnings. But Hazel was delighted, naming her “Mitzi” after an enormously obese but beloved great aunt, and that was the end of that.
Herman thought the pitiable little thing wouldn’t last very long so he voiced only a few token objections, only to be surprised as Mitzi blossomed first into a fine pig and then into an extraordinary one as Hazel doted on her. She had that knack, he remembered, for seeing the best in all creatures and an even greater talent for drawing it out.
That had been the true start of his farm. Oh, he and Hazel had worked their property even before, but despite their best efforts it amounted to little more than subsistence farming. Mitzi, though, seemed to be a good luck charm, and the farm began to flourish along with the little piglet. And Herman was happy.
Then Hazel had died, Herman fell apart, and the farm fell into disrepair, abandoned as he lost himself to anger, despair, and drink. But eventually, when the bottle failed to kill him outright, he climbed out of his stupor and dedicated himself to the farm again, working hard to make it something unique. He no longer wanted to just eke out an existence like everyone else; rather he now aspired to more, saw it as his destiny to be better than the common rabble he had come up from. And so he took the same considerable focus that had propelled him to success as a fighter and redirected it into improving the farm.
He planted pumpkins, cabbages, cucumbers, and as many other crops as he could handle; threw himself into learning all he could of plant breeding and animal husbandry. Re-establishing the farm had come along slowly at first, but soon his crops were producing yields of amazing quality and size, his pumpkins surpassing even those of the famed Brackwell Pumpkin Patch.
It was almost unnatural how quickly his farm began to prosper, and behind his back people would mutter and whisper to themselves. They said that Herman communed with dark forces, or that he sucked out all that was bad and corrupt in the soil into himself, cleansing the land so that his farm would prosper even as his soul rotted.
All nonsense of course, and Herman paid it no heed.
A splashing sound brought him out of his memories: Mitzi had ambled over to the water trough and was busy dunking her head to slake her thirst. Then, eyes still on Herman, she plodded through the mud to where the burlap sack of apples still lay embedded in the mud after the chaos of last night. She grabbed a corner of it with her teeth and pulled it clear.
Herman’s eyes narrowed. Where did that come from?
Mitzi poked a snout inside and pulled out first one apple and then another, wolfing them down noisily.
Apples? And then he knew.
A growl escaped through teeth suddenly clenched. Abruptly, he stood up, took a step towards the darkness of the barn. And just as suddenly, as if he’d been splashed with a bucket of ice water, the anger in him dissipated, fizzled away; the tension seeped from his body as a realization burst forth deep within his brain. Mitzi had defended Bobos last night, had risked herself for him. He had known that there was some bond between the two, but he never imagined how strong it was.
Then again, how could it be otherwise? Mitzi had literally saved Bobos’ life, had kept him alive and fed over the early years of his life before Bobos was able to fend for himself, had essentially raised him. And in turn, Bobos had saved Mitzi, given her a purpose, became what Hazel had been to her and more. Herman would have thought that deprived of Hazel’s care, Mitzi would have regressed, wilted away. But that had not happened, and now Herman understood why: whatever gift Hazel had, it was alive in Bobos.
Which meant he was vital to the health and emotional well-being of his main income stream. The boy had been a thorn in his side for years now, not necessarily a physical one but certainly an emotional one, nagging like a dull toothache. But now, as he walked away back down to the cottage, he began to think how he might turn that to his favor…
The next years showed a marked change in the relationship (or previous lack thereof) between Herman and Bobos.
As the effects of war came to be felt in Lordaeron, Herman began to put Bobos to work around the farm. Landless refugees from human settlements near Stormwind, driven from their homes by the surge of orc tribes from the Dark Portal, brought with them a spike in the need for food. And as prices rose sharply, Herman saw an opportunity.
So Bobos became the farm’s first beast of burden, pulling a beat-up old plow through endless rows of dirt in fields that had been fallow for years, Mama Pig always by his side. Often, she would nudge Bobos gently out of the way and take the harness as best she could. Later, Bobos modified the harness so that it was more adapted to her, and she slowly and happily took on the pulling duties while Bobos directed. Herman balked at this arrangement at first, but when he saw how quick and strong she was, and how happy she was helping Bobos, he let it slide. After all, it didn’t seem to bother her, in fact hardly even seemed to stress her, and she grew even larger and stronger, dwarfing the other pigs.
It had been a difficult situation for Bobos at first, dealing with the Bulbous Red-Nosed Mean Man with the Yellow Corn Cob Pipe. Mainly, it was issues of trust and a fairly large language barrier that complicated things. Bobos had learned only the very rudiments of the human tongue of the region, and primarily epithets and curses at that.
He could communicate with Mama Pig, of course; over the years she had taught him through grunts and squeals and facial expressions, much like a mother bear and her cub, so that they understood each other perfectly: the tiniest little hair would rise on Mama Pig’s back and Bobos would know her exact thought and likewise Mama Pig could detect Bobos’ emotional state simply by his scent, so in tune were the two.
But Bobos quickly learned to read the Mean Man too, understanding his wants and needs – not through words, but in the same way he had intuitively learned to understand Mama Pig, through a heightened awareness and sensitivity to sounds and smell, like a fisherman would learn to read the habits of the fish he caught.
So in the long run, Herman established a manageable working relationship with the feral Bobos and Mama Pig (for again, the two were inseparable).
The situation in Lordaeron became even more tenuous when Stormwind itself fell to siege, and famine became a serious issue as farms and villages were overrun and destroyed. Bands of orcs were even occasionally spotted roving near the Capital City and nearby settlements.
Herman thrived amidst the growing the turmoil and upheaval, buying up the most overgrown and rocky, barren parcels of land and having Bobos and Mama Pig clear them and making them farmable. Chopping down and hauling away trees, pulling obstinate stumps from the ground, nothing proved beyond the capabilities of the two and their efforts formed the basis for Herman’s continuing success.
The sheer physical effort would have done in even a strong adult, but the rapidly growing Bobos soaked it all in like a sponge, packing inches and pounds onto his already impressive frame: by the age of ten, he was already six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds of pure muscle. In return, Herman fed him. Stingily of course, and Bobos was always hungry, but enough that Bobos could get by with what his father provided in addition to his normal scavenging: Herman realized that he needed to feed the engine that kept his farm running.
Bobos ate everything and anything put in front of him (except for pork, naturally) but no matter how much he consumed, no matter how much meat and fruits and fish and nuts and vegetables and grain he pushed down his gullet, he was never not hungry. Hunger pangs tormented him constantly, as did the constant growing pains.
But he could deal with it all because he had Mama Pig. They were utterly inseparable: she accompanied him on his chores through the day and he curled up with her at night.
Their favorite shared activity in the summer months was swimming in nearby Lake Lordamere. They explored all bodies of water near the farm, including the ocean, but Lordamere was closest. For in water, Mama Pig was free, buoyant, and graceful; her bulk did not hinder her. Together, she and Bobos would frolic for hours, performing an intricate dance both under and above the waves as the spirit moved them, Mama Pig occasionally breaching the surface and spouting water like a whale while Bobos catapulted off her body high into the air before arcing into a perfect jack-knife dive into the depths.
It was some of the best years of young Bobos’ life. There were still beatings and bruises, Herman being who he was, but for the most part he left Bobos be; Herman knew, after all, on what side his bread was buttered on.
Still, the work was brutally hard and time began to drag for Bobos. The days themselves blurred together into an endless litany of labor that threatened to overwhelm him and numb his very soul.
And then Bobos met Miss Joyce.