Grass is Greener
Disclaimer: Everything relating to the world of Velgarth, and the kingdom of Valdemar, is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.
Chapter Twenty-Eight- Black and Whites.
In the end, all that it took to prise the pair of utter hedonists that Harali and I are unfortunately Bonded to out of the Waystation was Samyel’s minor Gift of Foresight. A Gift that, apparently, is normally so weak that Sam never even counts it as a Gift and usually forgets to mention it, concentrating more on his Mindspeech and Fetching Gifts.
Still, minor or not, it decided to pounce on him two days ago, so we’re now most definitely on the road again.
I’ve even managed to recover a little of my mostly-lost dubious-moral high ground, something which I’m not exploiting in the slightest. Really. I may have to buy Sam’s Foresight a bunch of flowers or something to say thank you, since it is rather directly responsible for my return to smugness.
You see, in the true tradition of spooky abilities to see the future, the vision it gave him didn’t arrive at a sensible hour of the day, when he was sitting around doing nothing much. Oh-ho no, it decided to turn up at half-past-silly o’clock; a time when any normal person would be sleeping. Which should have meant nightmares, as Foresight is kind of sneaky like that.
However, you may notice that I specifically said ‘normal’, and no Herald is ever normal. Particularly not any Herald that’s just discovered the joys of bouncy.
You can guess where this is going, can’t you?
Therefore, I am once again a smug Companion.
Sam’s Foresight vision meant that we arrived at a farm yesterday in the nick of time to sally to the rescue and pull people out of burning barns and organise bucket chains and prevent the entire farmstead from going up in smoke. Heraldic type things.
We camped overnight at the farm, but set out early this morning to avoid taxing what little resources the owners of the farm have left. We’re going to have to stop soon, however, because one thing a fire is good for is dumping soot and ash into places that a person wasn’t even aware that they possessed.
Basically, both of the boys need to do laundry again. That, I’m not-so smug about, because we all know what happened the last time Alex and Sam were deprived of clean, dry clothes for an evening. At least I won’t have to turn myself into a door stop to instigate it this time.
This road seems to go on forever and I’m bored. A mental poke at my Chosen. :Are we nearly there yet?: Plaintive tone of voice.
Alex shifts slightly in the saddle and chuckles. “You’re the one who’s walking.” He points out.
:Hah.: I snort rudely. :I thought you were supposed to be the wise and all-knowing Herald?: I cast a wicked glance back at him and twitch both of my ears. :Or are you too busy mooning?:
“Teva,” Alex warns me in a good natured tone of voice. I, of course, ignore him.
:There’s something in the air tonight, carried on the breeze from your lips—!: I carol the lyrics to a popular love song loudly, managing to completely miss any of the notes involved with the actual tune. :And the stars shine briiiiight—: To accompany my delightful serenading, I buck into an exaggerated trot and prance ahead of Harali and Samyel. For some reason, they’re giving me a strange look.
“Teva!” Alex bats at my ears with one hand and he grasps at the pommel of the saddle with the other. “What have you been eating this morning?”
I abruptly skid to a halt. :Nothing.: I say brightly. :Because you pair of cruel task-masters wouldn’t let us have breakfast at that farm because they’ll need all of their food for themselves this winter.: Quickly changing mental direction, I twist my head and give Alex and mournful look. :I’m going to waste away if I’m not fed soon.:
“I’m sure.” My Chosen says dryly.
‘Ali comes to a rather more sedate halt next to me. :That,: she tells me firmly, on the ‘Companion only’ level of Mindspeech, :was even worse singing than that stable hand.: A somewhat pointed look. :I don’t know what I did to warrant a life as a horse, stuck listening to people murder music, but it must have been bad.:
I grin at her. :Burnt down a few villages, maybe?: I suggest helpfully.
:Oh, given your singing just now, worse than that.: She says glumly. :At least multiple murders… maybe I committed regicide?:
I snicker, my sides shaking; something that elicits a puzzled feeling from Alexander. I ignore him. Again. :Maybe you should ask the Groveborn?:
Harali eyeballs me. :I think I’ll leave the job of asking Veran daft questions to you.: She says judiciously.
Sticking my tongue out at her I swish my tail and begin walking once again. :Why thank you.: I try to muster up as sardonic a tone as I can manage. I’m not very successful.
:You’re welcome.: Harali matches her pace to mine and we continue along the road under the morning… well, it’s not sunlight. It’s more a sort-of overcast and cloudy, but bright, but that doesn’t sound as good. So… imagine that it’s sunny.
Whilst you’re busy imagining some decent weather, do you think you could be pushed to imagine away the inevitable monotony of road travel as well?
Only a question…
Until my dying day— and beyond— I’m going to insist that the monotony and the road and my complete lack of an appreciable attention span or many of the higher cognitive abilities usually thought to be useful, were the reasons that I missed the turning for the Waystation. They are also the reason that, not only did I miss the turning, but that I also missed the fact that Harali had to cross in front of me to make the turning herself.
We won’t even go near the fact that Alexander was flicking one of my ears and shouting variations on a theme of ‘pay attention, Teva!’ for a good few moments. Or that the only reason I finally twigged that something was up was because the massive roll of thunder that battered across the sky nearly gave me a heart attack.
:Argh!: Pathetic scream, followed rapidly by the even more pathetic what the Hells was that, is it mushrooms? dance of confusion.
Alex swears and clings to the saddle gamely. “Teva!” For some reason, he sounds exasperated.
:The mushrooms are coming to get me!:
A firm poke in the side of my neck makes me pause, one back foot and one front foot still in the air, and I stare backwards at Alexander.
“It’s a storm.” He points out in a level tone of voice.
:Oh,: I cough in an embarrassed fashion, before belatedly realising that standing on two feet is not the most stable past-time for a four-footed creature. I wobble, then manage to plant all four of my hooves on the road. :Where’re ‘Ali and Sam?:
A resigned sigh. “I imagine halfway to the Waystation you missed the turning for,” Alexander tells me. “Safe in the knowledge that they won’t get wet as they’ll be under cover when this storm arrives properly.”
You know, I think that was a bit sarcastic, there.
Although I’m not looking at him, I can tell that Alex is rolling his eyes, which I ignore as I turn myself around and start back down the road at a trot. A second rumble of thunder, this one quieter, but somehow closer sounding than the first one has me picking up my pace from a trot to a hasty canter.
“Teva!” Alex nudges me with his heels and I flatten my ears.
:What?: I snap testily, as the thunder rolls again.
A long suffering sigh. “You’ve missed the turning again.”
I stop for a second time and turn around again, before sheepishly backtracking and actually managing to find the narrow path that leads to the Waystation.
This burst of thunder is accompanied by a brilliant crack of lightning, followed, mere moments later, by the heavens suddenly opening. To say that Alexander and I get wet is an understatement; I know fish that are drier than us.
:Ew! Yuck! Argh!: I complain loudly to Alex as I skit along the path like there’s a whole massacre of mushrooms on my tail. :Wet! Cold!:
The next lot of thunder drowns out any reply that Alexander may make to my stunning observations.
The Waystation building looms suddenly out of the rain-mist gloom that the storm has brought with it and I notice that the door to the outer porch area is wide open, creating an arch of shadow against the dull grey of the stone building. Without slowing I scramble right up to the Waystation and through the door. Luckily, Alex anticipates my actions and ducks forwards over my neck before I manage to brain him on the door lintel.
:Yuck, yuck, yuck—: I complain loudly.
The outer door of the Waystation closes with a bang and a click and I crane my head around to find Sam looking at us with an amused expression. Harali sticks her head in from the main Waystation room.
:You look half drowned.: She observes. :Have you got the Gift of Rain Attraction, as well as the Gift of Mud Attraction?:
I give her a flat look as I fidget, shifting my weight from foot to foot. :You’re not funny.:
Alex dismounts awkwardly and plucks at the front of his tunic with one hand. “I think we’d’ve been drier if we went for a swim in Lake Evendim.”
Sam quirks one eyebrow at him, then hands him a towel. “Why don’t you go and get changed, and I’ll see to Teva?” He offers.
Alex nods gratefully and begins scrubbing at his head, wringing water out of his hair, with the towel. Then, he walks through into the Waystation proper, sidling past Harali, who is blocking most of the door.
I stand and drip on the floor.
I stand, drip on the floor and sulk. Harali eyes me silently, then wisely decides to retreat from view.
Sam rolls his eyes at me and begins peeling off my sodden tack, starting with the hackamore. “You were only outside for a short time, how did you manage to get so wet?” I treat his question as rhetorical, and ignore him.
The blonde Herald snorts and pokes me in the side with one finger, before holding up my soggy saddle blanket in front of my face. “Seriously, how did you get this wet? Did you jump in a nearby pond or something?”
I twitch my hide and sidestep, before attempting to glare at Samyel. My forelock, trailing wetly into my eyes, scuppers this plan. :I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.: I tell him.
Sam laughs loudly and steps around me to hang up the blanket next to my saddle, both arranged so that they drip onto the paved floor only. “Of course you don’t.” He agrees easily. I’m not entirely sure I know what to do with this new Samyel— although there wasn’t really much I did with the old Samyel, except to snipe pointlessly and invent names for him.
Pretty much the same as what I did to Alexander, actually.
From somewhere Sam has managed to spirit up my grooming kit and he proceeds to dry me off and attempts to bring some kind of order to the brush-eating fearsome beast that masquerades as my mane. Come to think of it, it masquerades as my tail as well. A tug on my tail makes me flinch and I turn around to glare backwards at Sam. :Ow! Watch it, mister.:
Samyel gives me an unrepentant look. “Now I know what Alex was always complaining about.” He says cryptically. “I’m afraid you’ll have to do; at least you’re dry enough to go into the Waystation now.”
:Huh.: I snort and flounce through the doorway and into the Waystation. Alex is seated on the bed, wearing a towel that leaves little to the imagination. His wet uniform is hung near the fireplace— in which a cook fire is merrily burning and Harali is standing near it, staring myopically at a steaming pot.
:The soup’s boiling.: She announces. :Someone with hands get their tail over here before it burns.:
Alex starts to stand up, one hand clutching the towel around his waist. :Oh, no.: I say firmly, and move quickly forwards to plant myself in his path. Given the size of the Waystation, it’s not that hard. :You just sit right back down, Mister Naked; we don’t want Sam getting any ideas.:
Alex blinks at me in surprise, then a slow grin spreads across his face. Evil Teva heads straight back down the latrine pit, taking my imagination with her.
:Don’t even think it at me.: I warn Alex flatly. :Not even a hint.:
He laughs and I flatten my ears. I really don’t need to be reminded that my Chosen has a positively evil cackle of a laugh when he sets his mind to it.
“What’s so funny?” Sam asks as he walks into the room.
Alex opens his mouth and I quickly override him. :Nothing!: An almost shout. :Absolutely nothing at all.: Harali’s Chosen gives me a puzzled look and I can still hear Alex sniggering away under his breath. :You just go sort out your soup.: I command Samyel, before swinging my attention back to my own Chosen. :And you just go and sit down.:
Harali snorts. :And what am I to do?: She asks facetiously. I stick my tongue out at her.
:Be on my side against those two—: I jerk my nose towards Sam, who is doing things to the soup with a spoon, and Alex, who is sitting on the bed again, :—of course.:
:Right.: Harali gives me a long look.
:You want them to start pawing each other whilst we’re trapped in an enclosed space with them?: I argue. Harali’s ears flatten and she gains an unimpressed expression.
:You have a point.:
“Hey!” Alex and Sam exclaim in unison, Sam dropping the spoon in the pot of soup to turn around and glare at his Companion.
“Enough of that lip, madam,” Samyel tells Harali, who snorts and twitches her tail in response.
I look pointedly from the Herald to my mostly-naked Chosen and back again. :I wouldn’t put anything past you.: I tell them both snippily. :And I’m telling you now; any hanky-panky, and we’ll lock you outside the Waystation!:
The boys blink and stare at me and I nod decisively. :You heard me; now go get ‘Ali and myself something to eat before you stuff your faces.: I add.
I actually sound like I’m in control of the situation, and something in my tone of voice must be working, because Alex pulls on a pair of clean-ish under breeches and pads over to the grain bin— which luckily is stored inside in this Waystation— and begins scooping grain into a pair of buckets.
I prick my ears and look pleased. This is a novel experience. I only hope that the hormones don’t ruin the evening for us— Harali and myself, that is.
Somehow, I think the boys are cursing this storm more than we are.