What do rhinos eat for breakfast?
* * 6 * *
“Carey! Go feed your mount. We’re taking off in one hour.”
Carey rolled off of her bed and flopped onto the ground. Eyes groggy, she stared at the floor, pondering the meaning of life, the efficacy of world peace, and the possible reasons why anyone would have ever invented mornings. She worked her way up to a sitting position and, using the bed as support, dragged herself to her feet.
“Did you hear me, Carey? Get downstairs and feed your mount now!”
“I heard you,” she muttered. “I’m on my way.”
With one final burst of effort, Carey took a step forward, caught a glimpse of the bed in her peripheral vision, and collapsed onto it in a heap.
“I’m up,” Carey shouted in surprise. “I’m on my way.”
“You said that ten minutes ago!”
“Well it’s true this time,” she said as she rolled over, snuggling deeper into the warm blankets.
“Private, if you aren’t downstairs feeding your mount in two minutes, we will leave you here again. Don’t test me.”
Carey glanced over at the clock to find that somehow a half hour had slipped by since she first awoke. Panicking, she rushed to her wardrobe, pulled out her armor and sword, and was halfway down the stairs before she realized she had put her breastplate on backwards. She slowed to a tiptoe, hoping she could slip past her commanding officer, Val, without her noticing the faux pas that was her armor at that moment.
Of course, Carey never had been the luckiest person alive.
“I swear,” said Val calmly, “if you go outside with your armor like that, I will personally make sure that it is properly positioned on your body and welded in place so that you never have to worry about it again.”
After returning to her room and adjusting her armor, Carey checked the clock to find that they were about ten minutes from departure time. And she still hadn’t fed her mount.
“Alright, girls. Let’s move!” shouted Val.
Carey could hear the others marching down the stairs and out the doors. Hoping desperately that no one would ask about her mount’s breakfast, Carey slipped into the group to listen to Val’s final remarks.
“You’ve trained for this, you’ve done the scouting, and the entire administration is confident in your abilities. Now get out there and show us what you’re made of!”
A shout went out from the group with Carey reluctantly joining in. She watched as the group broke off and began saddling up. They accentuated the mounts’ natural armor with a couple of plates and a place to sit and attached reins to the horns on their noses. Carey grabbed some supplies and went to prepare her mount.
“She got her breakfast, right?”
Carey snapped to attention. “Absolutely, Val,” she lied. “Just like you said.”
Val smirked. “Good. Then you won’t have any trouble carrying a few extra supplies will you?”
“No, sir. No trouble at all,” she said with far more confidence than she felt.
Val whistled and motioned to a couple of her aids who were struggling with the biggest supply pack Carey had ever seen. It was at least three times as large as a typical one. Under normal circumstances, however, it still would have been a reasonable amount to expect of a mount. Under current circumstances, the same could not be said.
The aids loaded the supplies onto Carey’s mount who already looked exhausted. Carey grimaced as Val strode to the front of the group and mounted up, leading the company into the wilderness beyond the compound gates.
Carey was very worried about her mount. It hadn’t eaten since the day before and they would be riding until late that evening. About halfway across the savannah, the hunger became too much for the poor creature, and it collapsed. A series of shouts passed from one person to the next until news reached Val who brought the company to a halt.
The commanding officer turned and rode back to where Carey was kneeling next to her mount, trying to will it back onto its feet.
Val dropped down next to the collapsed creature and stroked it gently. “Carey,” she said in an all-too-calm voice, “did you or did you not feed this mount?”
Carey panicked. “I did,” she lied. “I swear! I don’t know what’s wrong!”
Val sighed. “There’s a simple test to figure out if you’re telling the truth.” At this point the entire company was gathered around to watch the spectacle. “Put your hand in her mouth.”
“Excuse me?” said Carey.
“If you actually did feed her and something else is wrong, you’ll be fine. Meat really isn’t their first choice. If, however, you have neglected this poor creature and did not feed her this morning . . . well it doesn’t really matter. You fed her, right?”
Carey stared for a long while to see if her commanding officer was joking.
“Go ahead,” said Val more forcefully. “Put your hand in her mouth.”
Carey gulped and knelt close to her mount’s head. “Please,” she whispered, hoping for even an ember of luck to fall her way, “help me out just this once and I promise I’ll feed you only the best from now on.”
She took a deep breath.
And she put her hand in her mount’s mouth.