Chapter Ten- Secrets and Schemes
We have finally escaped from the home of the sheep obsessives, also known as Traderest. It only took us five, well six, days get away from there. The first three days were filled with Alex and Samyel dealing with the judgements, most of which seemed to involve assorted combinations of five different farmers and their Gods-be-damned sheep, pigs and crops. The boys spent the rest of the time dealing with the other messes and, after that, decided not to leave right away as there was no particular rush and we were kind of bogged down with small children for most of the time after that first afternoon, so we stayed at Traderest for an extra day, and set out early the next morning.
The weather isn’t as nice as it had been, oh, there are blue skies all right, they’re just obscured at times by the clouds. Not the heavy, low lying blackened rain-clouds of before, but grey and white clouds that are scudding across the sky, heading down to the south of Valdemar, towards Karse, and maybe western Hardorn.
I wonder what it’s like down there now… When I last saw it, it was pretty grim, despite the fact that we weren’t at war with Karse, the incursions of the ‘bandits’ were taking a heavy toll on the southern Borderlands and it wasn’t exactly a prime holiday destination, if you get my meaning. Mind you, I imagine parts of it look worse now, and parts look better, such is the nature of things.
Well, back to the present, and enough almost gloomy pondering on things that are very much in the past. We are currently trotting our way along the road towards the next town on our Circuit, Trevale. We are still heading East, on the main Trade Road that leads from Haven to the Hardornen Border and beyond, to the capital, Crown City. Imaginative naming there. Mind you, I suppose it cuts down on confusion in the long run.
Since it’s a main road, and therefore wide, Harali and I are side by side, our hoof beats chiming on the hard-packed road pretty much in time. I swear that we are not doing that deliberately. Honest! Look at this face, would I lie? I never lie, I simply, ahem, edit the truth on occasion.
So! Moving swiftly onwards!
We have been making fairly good time so far, although we will still have to stop in a Waystation tonight, and probably for the next couple of nights as well. Not that we’ll be simply travelling along the road, there are several small farming settlements in this area, to the north mainly, as the southern side of the road gets boggy and marshy, until it actually turns into the Barred Marsh. I don’t know about ‘Ali and the boys, but this particular white horse doesn’t particularly want to go in search of an all over mud pack anytime soon!
So, back to the settlements, they’re not even large enough to be villages really, and they can’t even really be called hamlets, as they tend not to be made up of different houses, if anything they’re more like spread out farmsteads, with usually about twenty plus people living in a veritable rabbit warren of run together buildings.
I remember Derri telling me something about the settlements down near the Karsite Border, the Holderfolk I think they’re called. Apparently they’re fiercely patriarchal, polygamous, and usually hidebound to the point of idiocy. Apparently they’ve just defected, if that’s the word, from Karse, and are broadly speaking now are part of Valdemar. From what Derri had to say about them, it sounds as if what they’d really like do is build a big wall around themselves and ignore both Karse and Valdemar.
Well, back to the point, apparently the Holderfolk live in farmstead arrangements similar to the ones around here. Obviously the ones round here don’t consist of one husband and multiple wives; I don’t think they do anyway.
Well, I suppose I’ll find out soon enough, at any rate.
A teasing wind races over the road, heading in our direction, kicking up small dust swirls in the dried mud and dirt at the sides of the road, before it reaches us and tangles into mine and Harali’s mane and tails, whipping them into silvery knots and licking my forelock back and forth across my face, causing me to blink and snort slightly in irritation.
I can feel Alex shifting his weight on my back as he leans forward and scrapes my wayward hair back with one hand.
:Thank you dearling.: I send to him fondly. I wish I had hands still.
:That’s okay silly Teva.: Alex replies with a grin and a pat on my head. :What were you thinking about?:
:Oh, nothing much.: I say vaguely. I can’t really tell Alexander about what I was thinking about, Companion secrets.
Alex fixes a look between my ears. :If you say so.: He says sceptically. I flick my ears innocently and maintain a diplomatic silence.
Samyel looks over at us. “I gather that you pair are winding each other up again, given the expressions both of you a wearing.”
I snort and look innocent and concentrate on really matching my pace to Harali, so that our respective hooves hit the ground at precisely the same time, as Alex clears his throat and produces a look nearly as innocent as mine. “Us?”
Harali snickers and Sam shakes his head. “I think you’ve had each other in your head for too long, Kernos only knows what you pair are going to be like in ten years time!”
:Absolutely brilliant is what we’ll be.: I announce confidently, Harali giggles and relays this to her Chosen who laughs.
“Maybe you will be at that.” He says, with a wink for me and a wide grin. What an odd feeling. My face feels all warm, wait, it’s not my face. I’m picking up from my Chosen, and he’s blushing… Well well well, I wonder what exactly this could mean?
Before I have a chance to quiz my strawberry-coloured Heraldic counterpart, Samyel changes the topic and starts to test Alexander’s knowledge of local laws and I quickly phase out of the conversation. Another advantage to being a Companion, you know all the laws and the like and that’s its for most of the time.
So, now I have more pondering and musing time. I think I’ve quite exhausted the possibilities of my past life and the Karse situation, I think I’ll turn my attention towards the reactions of a certain Alexander Malken just now. I wonder what he was blushing at?
Without making it obvious I kind of, well, ooze into my Chosen’s mind and do a subtle bit of reconnaissance. I’m not really being immoral, just plain nosey really, besides, I’m in his head most of the time anyway so it’s really just examining the bits of him that I already know because they’re bits of me as well.
:You’d have thought that the Saga of the Sheep would have given both Samyel and Alex their fill of ownership laws, wouldn’t you?: Harali asks with a sigh.
:The what—who?: I reply with a start, having been busy pottering around the inside of my own head. Alright picky, around the inside of my own and my Chosen’s head.
:You were off in your own little world again?: ‘Ali asks with amusement.
I look slightly contrite. :Maybe.: I admit. :I was thinking.:
:About what?: Harali asks with interest.
:Alexander.: I reply with a flick of my tail.
Harali looks at me with amusement. :Anything in particular about him, or just general wondering?:
:Specifically his reactions before.: I say slowly as ‘Ali looks over with interest.
:Yees…?: She asks with a whicker of amusement. :Or am I going to have to drag every detail out of you word by word?:
:Oops.: I send her the impression of a grin. :Sorry, I have a tendency to do that.:
:Dreamer! Just tell me!: Harali mock threatens with a laugh, causing both Alex and Samyel to briefly glance down at us, then to trade knowing looks with each other. Once again, Alex blushes slightly. How odd.
:Alex did it again, he keeps on blushing and I can’t figure out why!: Harali looks over at me.
:You know that you’re daft?: She asks me.
:Yup.: I readily agree. :But it’s still niggling at me, besides, trying to figure out the mystery of the strawberry tinted Herald is far more interesting than listening to in depth discussions on local council laws.:
:That’s the plain truth!: Harali agrees with a laugh. :So,: she continues with a brief glance up at my Chosen, :when has he been blushing exactly then? If we can figure out if there is any common thread then we can speculate on the cause!:
I send ‘Ali another grin and return to my pondering. :Well, there was just now, and before, when your Samyel was teasing us…hmmm…:
:Any more times than that?: Harali asks.
:Well, now that I think about it, several times since we started on this little adventure. I only really registered it subconsciously before, probably because we were in Traderest and Alex was busy being Herald-like and doing judgments and all—: I pause for a moment and think back some more.
Oh, my! I think to myself suddenly. I think I’ve solved the mystery!
:Teva?: Harali asks curiously. :Is there something wrong?:
I shake my head, setting my bridle bells chiming and blink. :What? Oh, no… I think I just solved the mystery though.: I say.
:Well?: Harali asks eagerly. :What is it? Tell me!:
A silent mental cough to myself. :Well, put it this way, umm…Alex, ahem, likes someone we both know.:
Brilliant Teva. Really fantastic, silly horse, you’re going to win literary accolades with that statement aren’t you? I berate myself quietly as Harali gives me a slightly puzzled look, then her eyes widen and she gasps slightly.
:Oh! You mean that he—?: She asks, with a significant glance backwards at Samyel, who seems totally oblivious to what’s going on, quite literally under his nose.
:I think so, yes.: I reply glumly. :Oh dear.:
Yet again Harali fixes me with a puzzled look. :Why ‘oh dear’?: She asks curiously. :It’s kind of sweet, I think.:
:Yes, but..: I pause. :I mean like as in like…not as in looks up to, ummm…: I trail off, not knowing how to continue.
:I know what you mean silly Dreamer.: Harali informs me with amusement. :I’m pleased to tell you that I am the only lady-love in my Chosen’s life!:
:He—what?!: Undignified squeak and I get the feeling that I currently look like Harali just lamped me around the back of the head with a tree branch. I manage to keep my actual jaws together, but mental speaking my lower jaw is currently making acquaintance with the surface of the road.
Harali is now quite blatantly laughing at me. :If you mean, ‘is Samyel shaych?’ the answer is yes.: She giggles at me and I blink several times.
:I had no idea!: I’m still squeaking slightly. :I mean, not that I’d really thought about it or anything.:
Harali gives me another look, this one filled with amusement, as our respective Chosen finally notice that we’ve been acting rather odd for a while.
“Teva?” Alex looks at my ears, and I flick them as Samyel regards me, and then ‘Ali.
:Yes Chosen?: I ask, trying to project an aura of calmness. I’m absolutely not an interfering old so and so, there’s no reason to suspect me of anything at all, la la la…
“Do we want to know—should we know what you pair are scheming about?” Samyel asks suspiciously.
:Teva, what are you up to?: Alex asks, switching over to Mindspeech.
:We’re not up to anything.: Harali says with a twitch of her tail as Samyel regards her sceptically.
I decide to follow Harali’s suit of total denial and protestations of innocence. :Absolutely nothing.: I say to my Chosen, lacing the sending with the sensation of innocence.
Samyel sighs and looks over at my Chosen. “Well, whatever it is, ‘Ali isn’t telling.”
“Teva’s doing the same.” Alex agrees. “I’m sure we’ll find out at some point.”
“Surely.” Samyel concurs, as both Harali and I concentrate on appearing as innocent and pure as the driven snow. Somehow I don’t think we’re really convincing our Heralds.
I turn my head slightly and give my Chosen and Samyel a superior look. :We’re not up to anything, you’re just being an overly suspicious pair of Heralds.: Harali nods wisely and relays what I’m saying to Sam, who sighs with resignation.
Companion secrets, I’ll never understand.”
Alexander looks over at him with question in his eyes. “Companion secrets?” He asks curiously.
Samyel laughs. “Haven’t you noticed that with Teva? All Companions seem to have this big set of secrets and they take great delight in trotting around looking smug about it. “Sometimes I think it’s just because they like appearing as all wise beings of near legend!”
Harali joins me in a snort of derision, and furthermore, she breaks unannounced into a harsh trot, jangling ahead of us and thoroughly jolting Samyel around the saddle.
“Ow! Ow! Okay, I apologise!” Samyel gasps with a laugh and Harali comes to a dead stop in the middle of the road, waiting for me to catch up with her. Samyel shifts in his saddle and loosens his grip on Harali’s reins as I reach the pair of them and draw to a halt beside them, casting one laughter filled blue eye up at ‘Ali’s Chosen.
Samyel runs one hand through his dark blonde hair and returns my look. “Don’t you start missy.” He jokes, I just bat my eyes at him.
:Well if he really wants, you could swap places and I could jangle him down the road for a bit.: I announce mischievously to Alexander, who stifles a laugh and repeats it to Samyel.
Sam raises an eyebrow. “Thanks for the offer Teva, but I think I’ll stick to Harali.”
Harali snorts with amusement. :You better believe it mister!: She jokingly menaces her Chosen who pats her between the ears and chuckles.
:We should move over, I can hear a wagon coming.: I say to ‘Ali, who pricks her ears up and nods in agreement. We start forwards again, this time over to the left-hand side of the road, rather than in the middle of it.
Sure enough, a large wagon, loaded down with farm produce of some kind, vegetables in sacks I think, rounds the corner, two large black and white shire horses pulling it. The wagon driver sights us, not that we exactly blend well into the brown and grey of the road, and the green of the shrubbery to the side.
“Good day to ye sir Heralds!” The man greets our boys cheerfully, before rummaging in an open bag at his side.
“Good day to you too.” Alex says with a inclination of his head.
“Are you off to Haven?” Asks Samyel politely as we draw level with the wagon team and the man reins the pair of horses into a halt. Harali and I also draw to a halt and regard the horses, which are giving us a few uncertain looks.
“Aye,” The man replies, “I’m collecting veggibles from some of the local farms hereabout and takin’em to t’markets in the capital. You’m be on a Circuit?” The man’s face sharpens with interest.
“Yes, we are, just setting out in fact.” Samyel easily admits as he shifts his weight in the saddle.
“Arr, well, good luck to ye sirs, and I hopes that you’ll accept these for yer ladies.” Saying this, the man produces a handful of carrots and leans over to hand them to Samyel, who’s closer to the wagon than myself and Alex.
“My thanks,” Samyel says as he accepts the vegetables, “and I hope you get a good price in the markets.”
“Aye” The wagon driver agrees as he clucks the horses onwards and they lean into the harness. The wagon creaks slightly and then begins to roll forwards.
“Good morrow to thee!” The man cries over his shoulder as the wagon picks up pace.
“And to you!” My Chosen calls back as we move off ourselves.
I amble along at and easy walk, once again alongside ‘Ali and we both turn entreating blue gazes on her Chosen who laughs and hands half of the carrots over to Alex.
“I take it that you two want these now?” He asks teasingly.
:Indeed.: Harali announces. :And I’m prepared to blackmail for them, how about another bounce along the road?: she snickers wickedly and Sam straightens in the saddle.
“I think not, terrible horse!” He replies with a mock look of horror. “I’d better feed you these before you rend me with tooth and hoof. With that he leans over and offers Harali a carrot, which she takes and happily begins crunching it up.
:Well?: Alex laughs and leans forward over my neck with a carrot in hand. I curve my neck back and twist my head to take it from his hand and begin munching with enjoyment. :Mmmm.: I send in approval. :More! More!:
“You’re going to end up round as a barrel.” Alex states.
:Pfft, no I’m not.: I insist. :I’m the one doing all the ambulatory movement out of the pair of us if you hadn’t noticed!: I fix a mischievous azure eye on my Chosen. :Of course, if you want to eat the carrots, I’d be only too happy to let you have a go at carrying me for a league or so!:
“Ahh… thanks, but I think I’ll pass.” Alex replies hastily as Samyel shoots a curious glance at him.
“Is Teva threatening a,” Sam pauses, “what’s that word she’s so fond of?”
:Glooping!: I chorus in time with Harali.
“That’s it, a ‘glooping’ if she doesn’t get those carrots now?” Samyel concludes.
“Worse, she’s offering to trade places with me if I don’t give them to her!” Alex announces with a tragic expression on his face, which quickly dissolves into a slight blush when Samyel laughs.
“I’d feed her those carrots quicker if I was you.” He advises impudently as I snort.
:That’s another one!: Harali announces gleefully to me as we finish the carrots and move up to a smooth, rolling trot. :You realise what we’ve got to do now, of course.:
:No,: I laugh, :what?:
:Well, first I have to have a little dig around in Samyel’s mind to confirm some suspicions, and then we can get down to some serious matchmaking!: Harali grins and me and I whicker in amusement.
:You think that he likes Alexander, you know…: I ask with acute interest.
:I have distinct suspicions!: ‘Ali announces with a positively evil snigger. Methinks that she’s been talking to Evil-Teva.
:Well, hurry up and report!: I insist. :I feel matchmaker tendencies breaking out as we speak!:
:Yes, ma’am!: Harali accompanies this with the impression of a soldier saluting and we both dissolve into giggles, both actual and mental.
Alex and Samyel yet again look suspiciously at us and Sam shakes his head.
“Companion secrets, I don’t know…” He tuts and shares a conspiratorial smile with my Chosen, but us hard working white horses aren’t going to be distracted this time, oooh no! We have some serious scheming to do, and our boys don’t know the half of it.
Not yet, at any rate.
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