Chapter 13- Deserts and Just Desserts.
The Healer, Daska, arrived about a quarter mark ago and has been poking me ever since and asking lots of questions about how I feel. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but, heyla! Standing up over here, in case you hadn’t noticed! She finally seems satisfied that I’m not about to fall over or have my ears drop off or something and stands back and regards me thoughtfully.
“Well, you seem to have no after effects, although I wouldn’t recommend using Black Angels as a regular fixture in the condiment department.” I blink at her and mentally raise an eyebrow for Harali and Alexander’s benefit. Oh, and Samyel’s. Cough, cough innocent cough.
:That hadn’t occurred to me.: I add dryly with a twitch of my tail.
Harali sends a slight grin to me and Alex ‘tsks’ quietly and nudges me in the side of the neck with one elbow as the Healer looks between us with a slightly sceptical expression on her face. Probably because she’s the only one in the stable that I’m not Bespeaking. Yet again, I have to protest my obvious innocence over here. Alright… I know, I need a better story, or maybe a better solicitor…? Well, I’m going to file that particular train of pondering for later contemplation and get back to the real world.
Time for some more explanations I think.
:How are Ruska’s cattle? And why, exactly, were they able to trot around still after months of eating tainted food, whereas I went down like a ton of the proverbial bricks?: Alex relays my inquires to Daska, who listens carefully for a moment, before turning to me.
“A combination of bad luck and bad timing.” She informs me in her rich contralto voice. “Yes, the cattle have been exposed to the poison for a good time, but the dosage was a lot less, the solution of Black Angels used in their feed was much more diluted than the hit of it you got. They had a chance to build up enough of a resistance to it that it just made them ill and affected the newborns.”
“Why were the grains that Teva had dosed with stronger stuff?” Samyel asks suddenly, causing the Healer to blink and switch her gaze to the older Herald.
“I honestly don’t know.” She admits. “I think it was a mistake on the part of the poisoner, several mistakes, in fact—“
“Meaning?” It’s Alexander’s turns to interrupt the poor woman now. Honestly, men! Let her speak!
Daska catches sight of me rolling my eyes in conjunction with that thought and stifles a smile before continuing. “Well, firstly, lacing the horse-feed with the poison. I think he, or she, only did that because the grains were in the cattle feed shed. Ruska tells me that he normally stores the feeds separately and it was only because one of the grain bins in the stable feed store was rotten that some of the horse feed was stored with the cattle feed.” Daska pauses and rubs her eyes with one hand. She doesn’t look like she’s gotten much sleep recently.
“Secondly, the strength of the solution dumped on the grains Teva ate. It was much stronger than the one the cattle have been getting and I think whoever the poisoner is didn’t dilute the mushroom extract properly.” Both Alex and Samyel look thoughtful at this.
:Surely this isn’t new information for you pair?: I ask testily. :I would’ve thought you’d have been tearing the farm apart looking for the poisoner!: I admit, I sound slightly snappy, but, hey, can you blame this particular mushroom-seasoned equine? I’m not asking too much for Knights in White to gallop to my rescue, am I? Well… Sam could gallop with Harali’s help. Alex can walk.
Alex looks slightly stricken, and Samyel gifts me with a startled look, as I blink slowly. I know, I know! Boo! Hiss! I’m an evil and ungrateful horse and my Chosen has been dying a death over my useless form or the past half-week.
It’s just so frustrating though! I want to know who did this. I have one word for justification of my waspishness: Glooping. Specifically of any fungus inclined personages in the immediate vicinity.
I send a worthless burst of apology to my Chosen, and reach forward to touch his check with my nose, and, after a moment of consideration, repeat the sending and touch with Samyel. Obviously not as strong a sending, Sam isn’t mine, after all. But enough I think.
Maybe the Black Angels did addle my mind…
Harali is giving me a measuring look. :Are you alright Teva?: She asks hesitantly.
:I’m fine.: I assure her. :No, really. I am.: I add as Sam and Alex both look at me. Eep, déjà vu!
I get the feeling that I’m repeating myself. I get the feeling that I’m repeating myself. I get the—alright! I’ll be good now. Heark at my beaming innocence.
Daska has been waiting patiently for us to finish, obviously aware that she is hearing less than half of the conversation happening around her. Lucky her, she’s gets to miss moany Teva! Cackle, cackle.
“Unfortunately, since all of the farmhands come into contact with the cattle feed on a regular basis, all of them show traces of Black Angel mushrooms on their skin, so any of them could potentially be the poisoner.” The Healer looks expectantly at the pair of Heralds.
Samyel runs his right hand through his hair, scraping it out of his face and replies to her. “Well, no-one has left the farm since Teva—well, since we arrived, five days ago.”
Hang on! Five days?! Harali said I’d been out of it for four days! I’m obviously projecting enough for her to pick up as she hastily explains to me. :You were! This is the afternoon of the fifth day, and you went down on the evening of the first, technically it is four days.: Hmm… Logical I suppose. Although, Meh! Logic is for the logical! I want glooping dammit!
The Heralds and Healer go into a conference, obviously planning…something… I can’t really hear what they’re saying. Well, I can, I just can’t seem to muster the effort to concentrate on what they are saying. Despite my assurances to the others, I am still feeling a tad wobbly, truth to tell.
Healer Daska notices my wandering attention and fixes me with a look, and then blinks and appears to look through me. “I think we can continue this elsewhere, my patient is in need of sleep.”
:Hmm?: I mumble and look around to see who she is talking about, before realising that she means me. Alex stifles the inevitable ‘Are you alright?’ as a brief look of worry flits across his features, before he actually focuses on his rather battered Companion.
“Teva, you should have said that you were tired.”
:Hmm?: I repeat, and blink absentmindedly at him. Sound intelligent, don’t I? :’m fine.:
“Get some sleep Teva.” Samyel is adding in his silvers worth. Sigh. They’re all ganging up on me.
I send assent. Or, at least, I presume I do, as the three humans move towards the stable door and ‘Ali trails after them after bobbing her head at me.
Oh well, I suppose I’d better get some sleep them. I decide to myself, and sink slowly back onto the straw. Against all reason, I think I remember my hair aching last week.
Well, a yawn, both mental and physical, which causes a very physical response in my Chosen, snicker snicker, and I settle my head onto the straw and drift off to sleep. Hopefully Alex and company will have gotten to the bottom of this poisoner business by the time I’ve woken up.
… A thundering cacophony of chiming echoes through my ears…
… “For Valdemar and the King!”…
… The world dissolves into glare and shadows…
Heyla! I manage to claw my way up out of the depths of sleep and squash the fleeting fragments of my memories back down into my subconscious.
I become aware that I am snorting slightly, almost as if I’ve been running. With a shake of my head I lurch to my feet and concentrate on regulating my breathing. Once I sound less like a punctured pair of bellows, I scuff my way through the thick straw of my loose box and bury my nose in the pail of cold water hanging on the left hand wall of the open-fronted box.
In less than a few moments I have drained my pail of water, and I’m still thirsty. Hmmm… After a moment of consideration I slink out of my straw filled loose box and inhale the water in Harali’s pail as well.
:I’m afraid I’m stealing your water.: I send to Harali, who responds with a mental chuckle.
:Awake again then?: She asks me.
:Mmhmm.: I reply. :Any luck with—you know—yet?:
:Well, Sam and you Alex have Truth Spelled everyone on the farm and no-one seems to know anything about the poisoning of the grains.: Harali sounds peeved.
:Meh.: I reply, with a burst of mingled and disgust and frustration, which ‘Ali echoes, before the thread of Mindspeech between us fades and I contemplate the insides of my head for a few moments.
Still thirsty. Meh.
Let’s ponder this for a moment; there’s no more conveniently located pails of water for me to half inch the contents of, so it looks like I’ll have to venture outside.
Speaking of which, I’ve just noticed that it’s daylight, afternoon again if I’m the judge of the shadows, and since I definitely feel like I’ve slept more than a quarter mark, I’m guessing that it’s the next day at the very least. One disadvantage of being Healed, it knocks you for six for a while.
There’s no sign of the other’s anywhere in the stable, so I’m guessing they’re off being my Knights in White…um… and Lady in White, oh, and Lady in Green… Seeking out the evil perpetrator of poisoning, at any rate.
Lord and Lady! Will you listen to me rattling on! I sound like a third-rate minstrel with Bardic pretensions!
Silly horse. I scold myself. You’re supposed to be looking for a drink, not giving literary critiques of your own internal ramblings!
With that, I carefully make my way to the entrance of the stable—the words ‘spavined’ and ‘nag’ come to mind, pretty much in that order—in search of a water trough of some description.
Sure enough, there is a large stone trough set against the grey stone and timber side of the building. Unfortunately, it’s empty. As I stare glumly at the resolutely dry bottom of the trough, words similar to ‘piffle’ and ‘dang’ come to mind.
Broadly similar words, at any rate. Cough cough innocent cough.
Luck appears to be shining down on this particular horse once more, however, as I barely have time for my mental commentary to get through its first paragraph, when someone clears their throat behind me.
I whip my ears backwards in surprise—yes, I’m being that observant—and twist my head round to catch sight of whoever it is standing next to me. It’s one of the farmhands, who looks a bit wide eyed at me and sways slightly as if curbing the instinct to step back from me.
Large scary white horse that I am and all. Mind you, I presume that the boys have been Truth-spelling the inhabitants of the farm complex left, right and centre so I’m not really surprised that he looks slightly wary as I look down at him with sapphire eyes.
“Uh, ye be wanting a drink lady?” The man asks in one of the broadest country accents I have ever heard.
Yes please. I think to myself as I bob my head in agreement. The farmhand sidles closer to the trough, reaches over to twist an ingenious looking metal fixture that turns out to be a tap and steps back again as cold, clear water cascades into the trough and boils around in the hollow stone structure.
I nicker my thanks to him and stick my nose in the water, which is cold, and begin to not-quite-gulp large mouthfuls of the liquid as the man waits for the water level to climb the side of the trough and near the top before twisting the tap again and stemming the flow of water. And reach the top it does, despite my best efforts.
I think one of the famed Haighli deserts has taken up residence in my stomach, I’m that dried up inside! The farmhand looks sideways at me as I continue to absorb the water at a respectable rate, and then goes back to whatever it was he was doing before he came to my rescue.
Another Knight Errant, perhaps? Not that I’m at all going Chivalry obsessed over here. I blame the mushrooms. Hey that could become a fairly good catch-all excuse if I use it wisely.
Mental note to self: It was the mushrooms. The mushrooms made me do it. I blame the mushrooms. Heh heh heh.
Well, now I feel less like dried travel rations I have more than a passing interest in the location of my Chosen and his co-defenders of my honour. I told you: Not Chivalry obsessed. I blame the mushrooms!
Ground, centre and reach… and there we have one Alexander, who’s in one of the barns, concentrating on something. Concentrating hard. Hmm…curious, I wonder what he’s up to?
Only one way to find out I suppose. I decide to myself and lift my head and scent around me for a moment to orientate mine and Alex’s relative positions before setting off, still very slowly, in the direction that my internal ‘Alex’ is telling me. There’s something very familiar about his concentration actually. Think silly horse, what does it feel like?
Stupid Companion! I berate myself. Of course the concentration feeling is very familiar! Feeling of blue, intense concentration on the part of the involved Herald and…yup…and several invisible patches of ‘cloud’ hovering well within my sensing distance. It can only be a Truth Spell, and Alex is casting it. I wonder if I can blame the mushrooms for this lapse of anything remotely resembling thought on my part?
But—hang on… Didn’t Harali say that they’d already Truth Spelled everyone on the farm? Concentrate silly horse, I urge myself, yes! She did! Who in the name of Hydatha are they questioning then?
I get the feeling that this question is important, and I pick up my pace somewhat, so that my hooves actually begin to make their characteristic chiming sound at an audible level as I simultaneously reach out for Harali again, my Chosen being ‘slippery’ due to his spell-casting, and I don’t want to distract him.
Personal experience- having one’s spells interrupted is very annoying. Not that the Heralds know that Truth Spell actually is a spell anymore. The unmentionable ‘m’ word again.
:Teva?: Harali sounds slightly surprised as I brush against her shields, possibly as I can sense that she was just about to reach for contact with me. I’m just that good that I pre-empted her. Preen.
:Who’s Alex Spelling?: I ask without preamble. For once.
:Uh—: My unusual directness obviously confuses Harali for a moment and she mentally blinks and recollects herself before answering me. :Two of the grain merchant’s workers. They just arrived with this month’s load of feed.:
:Yes? And?: I prompt her.
:Daska took one look at it and declared that it was riddled with Black Angel extract, the younger one’s under Truth Spell at the moment, but he doesn’t seem to know anything.: Harali fades for a moment, then returns. :The older one is looking a bit shifty however, Ruska’s just walked in and he’s going to great pains to avoid our host getting a good luck at him. I think that—:
Harali’s sending is suddenly interrupted by a mixed burst of startlement-shock-anger, which makes me shake my head to get the ringing out of my ears and she dissolves into incoherency as her attention snaps away from me and locks onto something, or someone, else.
What in Havens? The thought flits across my mind and I snort slightly in shock, the unfocused sending I’m now getting from ‘Ali is getting a tad too similar to my hallucinations for comfort.
I dim the line of her sending and pick up my pace even more, now I can hear raised voices, and, as I round the corner of a wooden shed of some description, my keen ears inform me that they are coming from the large hay barn directly ahead of me, across a small cobbled yard.
Alex is back in my head, whatever the disturbance is, it has broken his concentration and the vrondi he had called take the opportunity to skedaddle, and I decide I might as well see what’s happening before I blunder in there. I know, forward thinking from me, of all people. I blame the mushrooms.
I slide my way into my Chosen’s head and co-opt his vision, so to speak. A very interesting view I get, too. First off, Samyel is standing off to Alexander’s right, clutching his face and stomach and—I’ll just borrow Alex’s ears as well—yes, groaning, Harali is next to him, alternating worried nuzzles of her Chosen with flat, icy blue glares at the—well, he must be the older grain merchant, the one she said was looking shifty, and trust me on this, he looks shifty. With a capital ‘Shi’.
Mainly I think this is because he’s got a young lad, presumably his delivery partner in a throat hold of some kind, with what looks like a baling knife held close to his face.
Ruska, the farmer, is standing on Alex’s left, slightly back so that he’s only really in my Chosen’s peripheral vision meaning I can’t get a good look at him. I can, however, hear him grinding his teeth, and see enough that he is flushed bright red with anger.
I stop dead in the yard and concentrate on the unfolding events in the barn.
“…We can surely talk about this before you do anything anyone will regret.” That’s Samyel, he still sounds a trifle out of breath, but he seems to have recovered from having the wind knocked out of him. By Mr. Shifty, I’m guessing. His voice sounds different, more so than him being winded would account for, however, and, after a moment I realise that it’s because I’m hearing him through Alexander’s ears, not my own. Interesting, but this is hardly the time for speculation of that sort.
“There’s nowt to talk about.” Ugh, Mr. Shifty’s voice sounds even shiftier than he looks, if that’s at all possible.
“There’s plenty to discuss.” Until she spoke up, I hadn’t even noticed Daska, standing next to a large wagon full of sacks of what must be grain and feed. Poisoned grains and feed. “For instance, why exactly you’ve been doctoring these.” She jerks her head towards the wagon, her arms crossed in front of her chest, to give a pose of casualty. I get the impression, however, that beneath the cover of her Greens and arms, her fists are clenched with tension.
“Why don’t you ask the good farmer Ruska.” Mr. Shifty hisses and tightens his grip on the boy, shifting his weight backwards so that the pair of them move towards the door, step by step.
“Ah caught ye stealing man.” Ruska rumbles angrily. Mr. Shifty is an ex-farmhand of Ruska’s? This was a petty revenge?! I nearly died because someone got booted out of a job?!
“So ya threw me out with nowt but the clothes on me back? And set yer bully boys on me.” Shifty spits back as he continues to edge backwards, even getting as far as being able to kick the barn door open more. As the door creaks outwards on it’s hinges both Heralds and Ruska move forwards, only to fall back as Mr. Shifty makes a derisive sound and menaces the boy with the baling knife.
Ruska growls something inarticulate before composing himself enough to reply. “I didna set anybody on ya, y’damnfool! Ye tried it on with Astlar’s young daughter! That’s why t’lads went for ye, an’ I don’t blame ‘em either!”
“So you poisoned his feed supplies?” That is Alex, sounding very angry, there’s an almost ‘vibrating harp-string’ quality to his voice and I hastily shunt some low level calming influence across our bond before he acts hastily.
Mr. Shifty looks defiant. “So what iffna did?” He asks somewhat arrogantly, mind you, he is the one with the weapon and the hostage. Still, I have to shunt more calming feelings across to my Chosen, despite the fact that rising visions of gloopings are wreathing about the insides of my head. I also get the distinct impression that Harali is having to do the same for her Chosen, although in their case, it might be more that Sam is trying to calm ‘Ali. Mr’ Shifty did thump her Chosen after all.
“My Companion ate some of those grains.” Uh oh, Alex sounds too calm. This is definitely one instance where I’m glad that he isn’t a mage, or even knows about magic.
“Well now…” Mr. Shifty trails off and starts to look a tad worried, his eyes darting from side to side. “I think it’s about time me an’ t’lad here left… and no trouble from the likes of ye—“ Mr. Shifty waves the knife at the boys, “—or I’ll stick ‘im.” To emphasise his point he presses the flat of the knife briefly against the boy’s cheek before holding his arm cocked in an easy position to overhand knife the boy.
Something my own eyes are clamouring to tell me distracts me, and I momentarily phase out of ‘the Alex experience’ and impatiently query myself. My eyes, plus the little bit of inner self that was keeping tabs on my actual surroundings, is only to happy to call me unobservant before announcing that the barn door across the yard from me just creaked open.
Ergo, silly horse, I realise, you’re directly behind Mr. Shifty, and he doesn’t know it. Well now, this could be useful. I shake my head slightly and ghost across the remainder of the yard, so that I am squarely in front of the creaking barn door, which shudders open some more as Shifty gives it another kick, giving me a view into the barn. Luckily, I’m standing off to one side slightly, so the others in the barn can’t see me and react, which would give the game away to My. Shifty. Good good.
As well as seeing into the barn…kind of… I can also hear the whimper that the boy makes as Mr. Shifty waves the knife around again in warning as Ruska and the boys strain to move forwards.
Shifty chuckles in a distinctly sinister fashion—think spiders skittering up and down your back, yea, that kind of sinister, and backs out of the door. Uh oh, out of time, do something silly horse!
I don’t even think really, just let the inner (Evil) Teva take over. The upshot being that Mr. Shifty suddenly finds that his clear getaway with a hostage is going to be nothing of the sort, owing to the fact that his knife hand is now clamped, at the wrist, in my mouth.
He lets out a shout—which turns into a whimper as I begin to squeeze—of rage and kicks against the door, causing it to swing open fully.
The Heralds, Healer, Companion and farmer look at the pretty tableau that I’m making with various expression of shock on their face.
:Drop it.: I flatly advise Mr. Shifty, and emphasise my statement by increasing the pressure on his wrist until his hand goes an interesting purple colour and I can feel vibrations as his carpel bones start to grind together.
The knife clatters musically on the cobbles and Shifty whimpers and pales. Doesn’t seem to be able to connect the dots, so to speak, though.
:Let go of the boy.: I prompt coldly. Honestly, shifty and stupid!
The boy, Lord and Lady only know what his name is, stumbles away from us and into the waiting arms of Daska who begins to check him over for signs of shock as the boys and Ruska make their way hastily over to me and my captive.
Before I let go of him I squeeze a bit harder and jerk my head to one side. Yup, I’m evil and nasty. He poisoned me however. I blame the mushrooms. Innocent blinking.
Within short order Mr. Shifty is tied up and locked in a secure cellar room awaiting the arrival of the Guard, to be summoned by a farmhand dispatched at the run to Trevale, and I am being praised as the saviour of the day. Mmmm… scratches… I also, for the first time feel like something approaching a Companion, rather than a mushroom repository.
As it should be.
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