Chapter Twenty Two- Feet and Mouths.
:Hello wall!: I steadfastly ignore any strange looks I may be getting from anyone in the vicinity and concentrate on the stable yard wall in front of me. :How are you today, wall?: The mortared stone doesn’t make any reply but I decide, from the colour of the lichen, that the wall is perfectly happy with its lot and wonders how I am.
:Well, wall,: I lean close to it in a conspiratorial fashion. :I’m in the bad books of quite a few people at the moment; most notably my sexually frustrated Chosen.: The moss growing in the damp cracks near the ground looks faintly interested in what I have to say, so I elaborate.
:You see, I tried to give him some advice and he didn’t take it well and had a sulking fit at me. Then he got into a further snit because I piggybacked in Samyel’s head for a bit— as an aside, Sam’s in a snit with both Harali and myself about that— and we had an argument and I was a bit tactless.: I sigh loudly and shake my head. :And now he’s in an absolutely towering bad temper and has blocked me out.: I think for a long moment.
Possibly I should be feeling guilty about the state of things at the moment. If I concentrate for a moment, I’m sure I’ll be able to produce something resembling guilt—
:You look constipated.:
—or as if I need more fibre in my diet.
I twitch an ear and stare at Harali from the corner of one eye. :I am not constipated.: I say. :I was just explaining things to the wall and figuring out that maybe I should pretend to feel a bit guilty or something.:
‘Ali rolls her eyes. :I’ll take the ‘or something’ please.: She completes wandering over to stand next to me and we both stare at the lichen on the wall with mutual expressions of vague irritation.
:At least,: I say slowly, :We’re talking to each other, even if no-one else is.:
:Alex has you blocked out?:
I snort and nod my head. :You could say that. I suppose I should feel upset and hurt… instead I just feel—:
:Irritated.: Harali pulls a face. :I know exactly where you’re heading.: She shifts her weight from hoof to hoof and I subconsciously echo her movements. From a distance we probably look as if we’re standing on the deck of a fishing boat.
I sigh loudly. :Exactly.:
Silence descends upon us and allows the distant sounds of a stable hand whistling as he mucks out stalls in the barn to reach us. Overhead a few wispy clouds dot against the blue sky and the sun continues to shine down in a…well… sunny fashion. ‘Ali groans loudly and flattens her ears as the whistling takes on a discordant note.
:If I wasn’t a Companion, I’d go over there and kick him.: She complains. :People without pitch and melody shouldn’t be allowed to make those kinds of noises in public.: Her ears flatten further and her tail twitches.
:I think…: I cock my head to one side and make a show of listening to the tuneless sounds. :That’s supposed to be the chorus from ‘It Was A Dark And Stormy Night’.:
:Hah!: Harali looks unimpressed and I have a sudden flash of a thought.
:Were you a Bard in a past life?:
This comment makes Harali gain a shifty and overly innocent demeanour. :What makes you say that?:
I eye her slowly. :Call it a hunch.:
She sighs and deflates slightly. :Oh. Well, I was, yes.:
Smug feeling. :I get good hunches.:
‘Ali turns her head and stares at me for a long moment. :Which explains why we’re currently in the dog house with the boys?:
I produce an innocent expression that I had been practicing earlier and flick my tail in an adroit fashion whilst maintaining a silence. I’d like to think of it as a wise kind of silence, although, realistically, I know that it’s merely the kind of silence that indicates that my mouth is shut, and therefore I can’t be sticking my hooves into it.
A fly buzzes past my head and hones in on one of Harali’s ears— she flinches and snaps at it in irritation, before turning her attention back to me. :So what are we going to do?:
A snort. :I can think of any number of things to do to them.: I say in a tart voice. :Although the first half dozen or so are merely variations on a theme.:
:The kicking theme or the shutting naked in a room alone together theme?: ‘Ali sounds deadly serious.
:A cunning combination of the two.: I deadpan back at her.
:The mind fairly boggles.: She says slowly, eyeing me up and down. :Are you going to elaborate?:
I shift my weight from one side to the other, scraping my hooves across the flat cobbles of the stable yard. :Maybe,: I decide. :I need some further information first though. Do you know where Samyel is?:
:I’ll just consult the blank spot in my head.: She says in a acidic tone.
Harali sighs. :Well, I may not be able to Speak to him or directly track him at the moment, but I have my means and methods,: as she says that, the mare steps back from our position near to the wall and turns around so that she’s facing out into the yard. Eyes closed she steps forwards a few steps, her head held up high, then proceeded to shuffle a short distance in each direction in turn.
She’s not going to win any dancing competitions.
:He’s in the main hall.: Harali says slowly. :In fact, they must be doing something Judgemental; I can feel him Calling a vrondi up for Truthspell.:
I raise my head slightly and concentrate myself; now that ‘Ali mentions it, there is the tell-tale shiver in the air of Calling magic being used. :So they are…: I mutter to myself. :Maybe Mister Arrow Target has finally woken up?:
:Well, if he is, we won’t find out about it, will we?: ‘Ali sounds aggrieved.
A long sigh. :That is true,: I admit.
I stare at the wall, then at Harali, who is still standing towards the middle of the yard, glaring at the bulk of the House of Healing. One of her ears twitches back as the aforementioned tuneless whistling becomes louder and the culprit responsible appears from inside the stables, pushing a wheelbarrow full of manure.
He nods his head to both of us as he passes, the wheel of his barrow making a squeaky sound that completely does not harmonise with his atrocious whistling, and vanishes around a corner… presumably in the direction of a compost heap or something.
:I think that was supposed to be ‘Valdemar’s Battle’.: I venture after a moment.
‘Ali sticks her tongue out. :If I had a grave, I’d be spinning in it.: She says in a truly aggrieved tone of voice. :First I get blocked out by my Chosen, and then I’m forced to listen to country bumpkins murder my song—:
:Uh…: I stare at the mare as she paces back and forth, before finally stopping and stamping a hoof.
:The chorus is on the descent, it’s the counterpoint that ascends!:
Subtly I glance around for a path to freedom. Being trapped with an aggravated Companion who used to be a Bard, who’s just apparently heard one of her Masterworks being mutilated, is not something that I really want to spend my life doing.
Wisely, I keep my mouth shut. I’m not willing to risk provoking Harali further. Instead I concentrate on looking anywhere but at my friend, who is now muttering darkly to herself. Therefore, I’m looking straight at the door in the side of the House when it opens and disgorges an excited looking Healer trainee.
“Wasn’t that a shock?” Vadi stops in front of me and waves his hands back to the large building. “I mean— who’d’ve thought?”
:Deh?: I sound very intelligent.
“That.” He waves at the House of Healing again as Harali comes out of her bad mood long enough to stare at his back.
:What the Hells is he gabbering about?: She asks me.
:I look like I know?:
A confused look is directed at Vadi, who sighs. “Didn’t you see? In the hall— the Heralds and the Truthspell and then that Lord pulling the sword—?”
I jerk my head up in surprise. :Who did what?!:
Vadi’s turn for a confused look. “In the Hall… didn’t you See?”
Harali gives a disgusted snort and I look shifty. :Humour us with a potted recount of the event.:
“Um, okay…” Vadi looks between Harali and myself and shakes himself slightly. “So, um, Lord Ardin woke up about a mark ago and the Heralds and Daska went to speak to him. Then they called everyone to the Main Hall and said that they knew who the shooter was—“ a pause for breath, and then the young man is off again, “—and they put the Truthspell on the Head hunter person, but it wasn’t just the blue-glow one, and it made him tell the truth entirely.”
:And?: I prompt.
“Lord Darberly paid him to find someone to attempt to shoot Lord Ardin. Apparently, he’s been planning it for weeks— and the hunter found a poacher in the woods and paid him to shoot Ardin.”
:Well, well, well.: ‘Ali puts in to me. :We’d better get tacked up then.:
:Deh?: It’s her turn to receive my Stare of Non-Comprehending. It gets used quite a lot.
:Poacher hunting?: Harali walks over to the tack shed and belts the door with one hoof, the loud ringing thud echoing through the air.
:Oh yeah,: I have a brain. Honestly I do… I just don’t know how to use it.
“I’m supposed to tell a stable hand to tack you up—“ Vadi trails off and gives Harali a slightly nervous look, as a groom appears from the stables, takes one look at ‘Ali doing the whole I Art Companion: Tremble ‘Neath Me! thing, does an about turn and vanishes in search of our tack… presumably.
:You get used to her after a while.: I assure him. :Really she’s like a fuzzy kitten inside—: I trail off and grin at the flat expression on Harali’s face. I really should invest in that rag, shouldn’t I?
Further amusement is interrupted by the arrival of the groom with our tack, and a friend to help him put it on us. He comes over to me, giving Harali a wide berth and I snicker silently. I think she scared him. Bells jingle loudly as my tack is arranged and I sniff.
:We’re going ‘hunting’ right?: I ask.
:And this poacher type we’re hunting is stone deaf is he?:
Harali stares blankly at me for a long moment and I shake my head for emphasis. I sound like a silver smithy collapsing… a harmonious silver smithy, but still a collapsing one. :You may have a point here…:
:I know.: Smug me. :Vadi, tell them to detach all the bells and stuff from our tack, there’s a good boy?:
“Huh?” He shakes his head, then relays my request to the grooms, who trade significant looks with each other and quickly remove anything jingly from our get up.
About that time the Amazing Angst Twins appear from inside the House of Healing. Both look like they have thunderclouds parked firmly over their tails and Daska is walking a few steps behind them. She’s talking, too—
“—sent a runner to the nearest Guard post; they should be arriving any time within the next quarter mark, I’ll send them down the road after you.”
Samyel swings up into Harali’s saddle in one easy movement. “Good. Until then, keep Darberly and the Hunt master locked in separate rooms.”
Daska nods sharply. “It’s already been seen to. Good hunting.”
Sam grunts and ‘Ali turns out towards the road, carrying her hooves high. I wait for Alex to get his sulky rear settled and follow her. His shields are that solid, it’s like he’s got a iron bucket on his head… um… sort of. I’m fully aware that a tin bucket probably isn’t the best metaphorical comparison for mind shields anyone’s ever come up with.
:Bouncy bouncy bouncy—!: This is a purely experimental yodel.
Neither Herald twitches even as much as a hair. Completely shielding us poor Companions out still then.
:La! La! Bouncy! La!: I chirp to myself, completely ignoring the incredulous look that Harali has fixed on me.
:Hunting poacher assassins, la! La!:
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