Horace gives his canine perspective on the 6th season’s OLD ARES HAD A FARM, in which the former God of War must adjust to the mortal state he chose to save Xena in MOTHERHOOD.
“It’s a dog’s life.” Yup. Humans say that. Not always in a good way, if I’ve learned to understand them right. What do they know? They ever been one? Oh, right. I hear some of `em have lived before. You know, as another creature. Makes sense they might be a dog at some point. Too bad if they don’t appreciate it. What goes around comes around. Gotta take the ups with the downs. That’s how it’s been with me. Except, far as I can remember, I’m the dog I always was.
I got born into a pretty good situation. At least with the little humans. The big ones didn’t bother with me too much. Said I had “mismatched” eyes. Spooked `em I guess. But not the mean pack that attacked when I was still a pup. They left with just about everything, including me. Their leader didn’t seem that keen on dogs, so much as my eyes being different colors, like his. Called me his “good luck charm.” He sure wasn’t mine. Stunk from the inside out. Killed for no reason. His idea of “play,” not mine. Probably why they called him “Gasgar the Terrible.”
Soon’s I could survive on my own, I was outta there. Harder than I thought it would be. Dodging wild animals. Satisfying myself with their leftovers. Not the same as meals the humans ate and put out for me. I was used to shelter too. Being rubbed and talked to. After two or three cold seasons I decided to hook up with this old human. He went on the road with stuff humans wanted from his wagon. He liked my company. Treated me well enough. I got to move around, sniff out other situations without worrying about my health.
Thing is, when we were alone, the old one slept a lot. Or talked a lot. Expected me to lie there staring at him like that was better than chasing rabbits or having my underside scratched. I got restless. My nose twitched when we stopped near a place that reminded me of when I was young. Lots of land, water to drink and cool off in. Shelter if I needed. No big creatures with fangs. Only thing missing was nice humans. Then I saw three of `em headed that way. Two females and a male. I followed.
Sure enough, they pulled up at the place and started settling in. I got a good feeling about the smaller female right off. Warm voice, easy on the ears. Wasn’t sure yet about the other two. With what they had on and carried, they reminded me more of the mean pack. I watched `em awhile. They changed into “clothes” that looked less threatening. Didn’t knock each other down or get loud in a way that meant trouble. Helped each other. The two females anyway. All in all, I didn’t sense anything bad. A lot more interesting than the old one. Loyalty has its place, but nothing wrong exploring something better.
Now, you can’t always rush into new situations. You want attention, but in the right way. You have to test. Train. I started with the male. He sat around outside a lot, maybe waiting for more fun than what the females were doing. Heh. I hid their things when they weren’t looking. I saw the male do the same. Yes! He understood the game! I buried more of their things, mostly what reminded me of the mean pack. Pretty soon all three humans came out to search and dig. This was more like it!
I hid myself where I could see them. And be seen, if one of `em was smart enough. The male found me. I growled a bit to throw him off, then leaped out onto him and marked his face with my tongue. He didn’t know what to do with me, like he hadn’t met my kind before. The females had. Their hands felt so good on me! Got my tail wagging like leaves in the wind. Maybe they’d help teach the male how to win me over.
I could tell the male and I had something else in common. He expected attention – more than he got from the females. When they weren’t busy with the place, the smaller one attended the bigger one. The bigger one petted that horse of hers more than either me or the male. He had his nose open for her, even though she didn’t seem the kind to jump up and down just because he was there. Well, loyalty’s a two-way street. No sense whining over what’s higher than you can leap. I’d have to show him why I would be better than any human at making him feel like top dog.
My first chance to get on his good side came when the females left us alone and another one showed up. The male puffed up like the dog’s “ruff ruff.” Tried to shoo me away until he saw how my charms drew the new female’s attention to him. He fell through the top of his shelter. I rushed in to make him feel better. Later, I helped him chase those feathered creatures that try to peck you if you get too close. Something else he didn’t seem to know much about. What mattered is, he was learning what to do with me. I rewarded him with licks whenever I could. I’m pretty sure he appreciated that.
Ah, talk about a dog’s life. The females took care of us, made sure we had all the comforts of home. My male let me lay my head on him. Just when I thought I had it made, the worst of the old times came back to bite me. A mean pack rode up. The small female acted nice to `em, like other humans who let danger in, but get picky over the littlest bone. She watched as one of them knocked my male to the ground. Before I could move, the bigger female appeared, dressed in her threatening clothes. The mean men helped my male up, then she growled at him! Was this one of their rougher games? I barked in confusion, no longer certain who was friend or enemy.
Suddenly her fingers struck my male. He fell. No! Next thing I know I’m planting my teeth where she sits. It’s not much, but her yelp says she got the message. She helps my male. Soon after, she rides off one way and the mean pack another. My male seems to be okay. I’m sitting atop a horse, trying to make sense of it all, when she reappears. This time speaking nice to my male. But not to me. I had a feeling those threatening clothes fit her more than the soft ones. I sure wouldn’t want to see again that look she gave me when she threw something to make me scamper off. Turned out okay though. My male picked me up, defending me as I had him. Carried me off like we belonged together. Finally!
I still don’t understand what these three humans were to each other. For all the scolding between them and that incident with the mean pack, they did seem to care as much as they’d led me to believe. Once again we settled into a nice life. Once again I went from up to down. This time at the sound of the old one calling out. He’d found me! I took off, maybe hoping neither he nor my male would see me with the other. That I could make space to choose.
Loyalty can be so hard sometimes. My male still had his females. The old one came after me, reminding me he was alone. I returned to him. I brought with me one of my male’s things. I was playing with it in the wagon when I heard a voice that made my fur stand on end. Gasgar The Terrible! He didn’t get a good look at me, but he saw what I had in my paws. The old one gave it to him. I had a bad feeling he meant to hurt my male and that I had put him on the scent.
I ran faster than I ever have to warn my male. I found him sitting outside as usual. And so happy to see me! The females rode up with the air that everything would be all right. Dressed as when I first saw them. They didn’t go inside. The bigger one walked up to my male. I got a little nervous when she leaned toward him. Would she strike him again? No, it seemed she might lick his face. Instead, she petted it. She gave me a warm look that said she forgave me for attacking her. She looked at my male as if to say he should be happy about me. And then she and other one rode away.
The females have not returned. Perhaps they’re playing one of those human games. If it’s for good, my male may need some convincing. He misses them more than I. Sure makes a mess of what they did well. I’ve sometimes had to bury what he’s put out for me to eat. Instead of getting better at being busy, he stares at things as if they’ll do what he wants on their own. Often strikes the air with his hands or with shiny sticks that aren’t much use for digging in the ground. He keeps telling me we don’t belong here. Points his finger at us, shakes and growls like some wild thing, spreads his arms, yells, “Go!” He looks both sad and happy that I stay.
Sometimes he points at me and says “dog” and at himself and says “god backwards.” Does it mean he’s more like me? Not quite like other humans? When he says it, he lifts his head, his body rumbles, and a strange sound comes out his mouth. Kind of happy and ticked off at the same time. I do the best I can at understanding him. Keeping him playful. Warming him when he sleeps. Giving him my ears, which he likes best. He’ll look into one of my eyes, then the other, and pull my head to him to rub. Like I’m his “good luck charm.” I hope so, as I feel he’s mine.
Where do we go from here? Hard to tell. I don’t mind staying. The way his nose twitches, maybe we should try new places. For now, we sniff the ground each other walks on. Paw in hand. Whatever he has in mind, all I think about is how good I have it now. He’ll always have my loyalty, even if he sees something better. Other humans have called me many things, like the bigger female’s “Your Little Dog.” Far as I’m concerned, I answer to the name he gave me. “Horace.” The females called him “Ares.” To me he’ll be what he’s called himself while he’s been all mine. “God Backwards.” Hey, maybe it means we’ve rubbed off on each other. He’s certainly learned about a dog’s life. Maybe he’ll even come back as one! In the same litter as me! Ruff ruff!
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