Chapter 8- Blue Skies and Grey Clouds.
I was under the impression that a red sky in the evening meant good weather for the following day. That little rhyme, the one about the shepherds, distinctly mentions it. A red sky at night is a shepherd’s delight, a red sky in morning is a shepherd’s warning. Well, as far as this white horse can tell, the shepherds in that rhyme must have been blind.
There was a lovely sunset last night when we stopped at the Waystation. All red and pretty, with emphasis on the red aspect of it. Therefore, according to that rhyme, we should yet again be experiencing sunny weather and naught but blue skies. There’s a Bard’s Apprentice ditty in there somewhere. Back to the point, you may have gathered from my rather aggrieved tone that I am not currently immersed in blue skies and sun drenched stereotypic countryside. You’d be right, too.
I can only ascertain that the first part of that rhyme is false, since the thick grey rain clouds obscured any chance of seeing if the morning sky was red or not. Rain. Ugh. Harali and I are currently engaged in slogging through the ankle deep mud that the road has become due to the rainwater run off from the fields on our left. The well fertilised crop fields that are higher than the road. Yum, mud.
So, back to the rain. It’s raining. Hard. Bet you hadn’t guessed that yet, had you? Well, it is, and all four of us are rather damp. Us poor Companions noticeably more so than our Heralds. Who have oiled rain cloaks, and are sitting on our backs, feet clear of the mud. Which is swirling around Harali and my fetlocks in a rather disturbing manner. That much rain has pelted down since we set off that I feel like we’re trying to walk on the surface of the Terilee river, and I’m half expecting to see some farm animals floating past soon. A sheep maybe, or a half-dozen hens.
Finally! The town of Traderest has just come into view as we round a curve in the road. At least, I think its Traderest, given the mist of water hanging in the air, it could be anything up to and including a settlement of floating barges. Harali catches sight of the faint house lights at the same time that I do and we both prick our ears forward slightly and noticeably pick up our pace, our hooves marking out a dull, sludgy beat on the semi-fluid surface of the road.
Alexander shifts his weight in the saddle slightly as I change gait and he squints through the rain. “Is that Traderest?” He turns partly to look at his mentor, one hand holding his rain cloak in place in a vain attempt to prevent icy rivulets of water from slithering down his neck and back. A very vain attempt, and the sensation of the icy water going down his back causes my hide to shiver involuntarily. Yuck yuck yuck.
“I certainly hope so!” Samyel looks across at me, and then down at Harali. “What do you pair think?”
‘Ali and I look sideways at each other. Brown is really not Harali’s best colour. :As long as it has stables, we don’t care!: We chorus in time, causing our respective Chosen to chuckle.
This brief exchange has taken us right up to the outskirts of the settlement, the thick miasma of moisture in the atmosphere had made the lights seem farther away than they actually were. As we pass between the first houses, small, almost hut like affairs, the hard packed surface of the road makes a welcome reappearance from underneath the swamp-like mud and mine and Ali’s hooves chime down, the sound echoing slightly off the surrounding buildings. The noise that we are making obviously alerts the inhabitants of the town to our presence and within short order a hunched figure scuttles out of the dim grey mess and stops in front of us. I continue walking forwards, I don’t know about ‘Ali, but this particular muddy equine ain’t stopping for no man, hunchback or no.
The figure in front of us obviously comes to the same conclusion and begins to hop backwards. Now that I’m closer to him I can see that he is indeed a he, and he isn’t a hunchback, he’s holding a thick cloak over his head to shelter from the foul weather. He also has thick, beetling black eyebrows and strands of black hair are plastered against his dark-skinned forehead.
“If you’d follow me sirs.” The man bellows, causing me to flatten my ears back against my head. Ow! Alexander senses my discomfit and pats me gently on the neck, as Samyel nods acknowledgement to the man and Harali moves up and follows the stranger, her proximity to him encouraging him to up his pace to a half run-half jog as he leads us towards a large building, set along one side of what appears to be the main town square. Not that I’m paying much attention.
A large, dark oblong looms before us, and turns out to be an open gateway that both Harali and I gratefully crowd through, the musical clattering of our hooves echoing around us as we move through the unexpected tunnel. Part of the building must be built above this entrance. The atmosphere in the tunnel is damp and chilly, which is sadly still a distinct improvement from the general weather. Which I have just emerged back into as I step out of the end of the passageway and into an enclosed yard.
:Yuk yuk yuk. Rain!: I inform my Chosen. Yes, I am regressing to foal-hood, and I don’t care so ner-nicky-ner-ner! I might grow up one day, maybe when I’m dry.
Alexander stifles a chuckle, but I can still feel him shaking slightly in the saddle as we chime hastily across the flat-cobbled yard and into the stables on the opposite side. The brightly lit stables are a welcome relief from the foul elements and the still, hay and horse scented air is deliciously warm.
The man who led us here sheds his cloak and reveals himself to be a groom or common worker of some description, as the pair of Heralds stiffly dismount and remove their sodden wet weather garments. The groom type and our boys aren’t the only human inhabitants of the ample stables, standing near to a doorway that leads out to a covered walkway, are a trio of richly dressed men.
The mayor and the richest two merchants, the so called town elders and leaders of the local council. I cynically decide to myself as the mayor steps forwards with a welcoming smile pasted on his face. He’s taller than both of the boys, has a slightly florid looking face crowned with carefully arranged blonde hair, and is dressed in a fussy looking white shirt and deep red velvet tunic and hose with the gold chains of his office settle precisely on his shoulders and chest.
:I think he’s trying to make a good impression.: Alexander comments quietly to me as the mayor launches into his carefully rehearsed ‘Welcome Good Heralds’ speech.
:Whatever gave you that idea laddy?: I inquire innocently as I look sideways at my Chosen who is now standing next to my head, alongside his mentor, amusement shining in my sapphire eye. Alexander’s lips twitch and he joins Samyel in making the appropriate noises to the mayor, who is still droning on.
This means that Harali and I have ample time to scrutinise the mayor’s flanking compatriots. Both of them are dressed in a similar fashion to the mayor, but obviously without the mayoral chains. The one on the left is clad in forest green velvet and the one on the right in a kind of smoke grey. Very posh, I’m sure.
I do wish that he would finish babbling. I am cold and wet and muddy and I know for a fact that Alex and Sam aren’t in a much better state. We all need to get warm and get fed. Me especially, my stomach is currently attempting to knot itself around several of my other internal organs and digest them. Rumble, rumble. Sigh, I’m under-appreciated, and under-nourished too, in fact, I fear I will soon fade away to nothing and all—yes! He’s finished, finally!
“…and if you’d care to follow me Herald, we have arranged for rooms in this in for you.” The mayor looks expectantly at Samyel as he concludes.
“My thanks,” Sam replies, “however my protégé and I will see to our Companions first, and then we shall join you in the taproom. I hope that is satisfactory?”
From the slightly disgruntled look on the man’s face it isn’t particularly satisfactory. He must be new.
:He’s new, Sam and I had our first Circuit through Traderest, and he wasn’t the mayor then.: Harali informs me. :I don’t recognise him at all, in fact.:
:Curious.: I reply quietly as the delegation retreat to the main body of the inn via the covered walkway and the groom shows Alex and Samyel the two loose boxes that are to be mine and Harali’s home for the next few days.
:Not really, we were only here for a couple of days at the most. This close to Haven there isn’t really time for the judgements to build up like they do in the sticks.: Harali breathes out with relief as Samyel removes her tack and arranges it on a stand to dry and begins to clean her up.
I look sideways at Alex. :I itch.: I inform him as he removes my saddle, and I twitch all my back muscles to illustrate my point. I look like a right sight I imagine. The only truly white part of me at the moment is the saddle-blanket shaped patch on my back, the rest of me is liberally splattered and mired with mud. Alex laughs and puts his head on one side to consider me. Drip drip ooze.
:Well itchy Teva, I think I’m going to have to wash you down first. Kernos only knows how you managed to get so much mud on you.: As he says this, Alex looks around for the groom who is over by a iron stove in the corner of the stables. :Luckily mister Tal is already heating up water.:
:Mister Tal?: I ask slightly stupidly, causing Alex to smile.
:The groom, you weren’t paying attention, were you?: The cheek of it! To imply that I, a supernally wise and all-knowing being wasn’t paying attention!
:I,: I inform my Chosen seriously, :was contemplating higher things of great import.: Alex looks at me disbelievingly and absentmindly thanks Tal for the pail of warm water that he has just set down near to us. :Such as; ‘what’s for dinner?’ and ‘I wonder when we’re going to get fed?’: Alex stifles a laugh and Harali twists her head round enough to give me an amused look.
Alex shakes his head and begins to remove the mud from my hide using a soft cloth and liberal amounts of water, mirroring what Samyel is doing to ‘Ali. Except I have more mud. A lot more mud.
:Teva, I really think you have a gift for collecting mud.: Alex informs me after ten minutes or so of concentrated Companion washing.
:I do!: I reply cheerfully. :I’ll have you know that I am the only grown Companion in possession of the Gift of Mud Attraction!:
Alex pauses, a brush in one hand, to look at me before bursting into a fit of giggles. Samyel looks over at the pair of us and Harali snickers, having been listening in on our conversation as I wasn’t shielding her out.
Sam looks from myself to Alex, and back again. “Do I want to know?” He asks, with amusement as I bat my eyelashes innocently at him.
“Teva was just informing me that she has a very rare Gift.” Alex manages to get out between gasping and giggling.
“Oh?” Harali’s Chosen looks sceptically at me, before turning slightly to regard his snorting and whickering Companion.
“Yes, the Gift of Mud Attraction—“ Alex dissolves into laughter again and I snicker at the expression on Sam’s face.
“You’re all insane.” Samyel shakes his head and tries to look serious, but the slight curve at the corners of his mouth give it away. He turns and begins to run a currycomb along Harali’s flanks with even strokes and she sighs and leans into him. “We’d better get our tails in gear, Alex, else the mayor will think that we’ve been eaten by something.
:You soon will be, by ravenous Companions.: Harali comments with a backwards glance at her Chosen.
He shakes his head and mutters “Insane, the three of you are mental.” With resignation, can’t think why. Beam, innocent Companion, as pure as the driven snow, I never cause any trouble and I’m always serious and sober.
I also have absolutely no idea why you’re all laughing.
After we have been thoroughly fussed over and groomed our boys fill up buckets with grains and water and put them in our ‘luxurious’ loose boxes. I blink and exchange a measured look with Harali.
:More straw please.: I inform Alexander, as Harali says pretty much the same thing to her Chosen. :Get the groom to do it, you go get yourselves warm and fed.:
Samyel sighs and quirks his mouth up at Alexander. “Sounds like we’re being given our marching orders.” He comments wryly to my Chosen before turning and attracting the attention of the old man. “Excuse me, if you could lay more straw in both loose boxes our ladies would be most appreciative.”
The groom looks curiously at the Herald before nodding. “Aye, reckon I can find an extra bale or three knocking about.”
“Thank you, from both of us.” Alexander pipes up as he scratches me behind one ear. Mmmm… itchy, ooo…ooo… up a bit, left a bit…mmmm. I like scratches. With that the pair of Heralds depart the stables, using the same covered walkway that the mayor and his councillors had used earlier, leaving Harali and I alone with the slightly sceptical groom who regards the pair of us slowly before shuffling off in search of straw.
:Well, while he’s gone, I’m eating.: Harali says firmly before moving forwards and burying her nose in her bucket of grains and hot mash. I copy her actions with my own bucket of food and gratefully begin inhaling it.
Footsteps and a dragging sound cause both of us to flick our ears back. :Bet it the groom with our bedding.: I say as I twist my head around. I’m right, it is.
The man looks at us and then looks around whilst muttering to himself. “Don’t see ‘ow I’m s’pposed to spread this lot with them standing in there, not even a halter on…” Harali catches my sight and rolls one blue eye expressively.
:Honestly, just when you think everyone knows that Companions do have two brain cells to rub together…:
:Maybe we should get ‘I am a thinking being’ tattooed on our flanks.: I suggest with a snicker as I back out of the lose box and fix the groom with a blue eye. Tal returns my look blankly and I sigh audibly and point at the loose box with my nose, then at the bales of straw at our feet before nudging him gently on the arm. His expression become slightly awed and he hastens to spread the extra bedding around my box.
:I think you just like terrorising people sometimes.: Harali informs me.
:Me?: I flutter my eyelashes at my friend and snicker again. :Can’t imagine why you’d think that!: Harali just shakes her head and whickers quietly with laughter, causing Tal to look up at her, and then across to me.
“Uh, is this deep enough?” He asks a tad hesitantly, I think he feels silly talking to what look like a pair of horses. I pace past him and test the depth of the straw with a fore hoof before turning and nodding my approval to him. He swallows quietly and begins forking straw into ‘Ali’s box while she watches. I busy myself with the important job of hovering up the rest of my mash and grain ration, and when that’s finished, applying myself to the important job of grazing off hay from the handily placed hay rack. Munch scoff munch guzzle mmmm… food.
Tal finishes and gives us a final look before muttering something under his breath and retreating to the inn. Probably for a few warming mugs of beer. Not that I blame him in miserable weather like this.
I absently pull a few wisps of hap out of the rack and chew on them slowly as one of the equine inhabitants of the stables rattles it’s door and shifts around in it’s stall, the movements marked by the dull clopping of hooves striking wood through a layer of straw.
When Tal the groom left he extinguished all of the oil lanterns and the only light in the stable is and orange glow from the heating stove and a single lamp outside the window by the main door and the warm, dark atmosphere is very relaxing and I find my eyes closing themselves almost of their own accord.
With a sigh I stretch my poor muscles and then relax, standing hipshot and with a drooping head, basking in the warmth. Sensualist? I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m sure.
My mind wanders and I’ve ‘tuned into’ my Alex almost before I can think about it. Both he and Samyel are currently sitting in the main eating room of the inn, close to the roaring fire and with the remains of what looks like a hearty meal cooling on the table in front of them. My Chosen seems very content with the world and from what I can hear through Alexander’s ears, Samyel has just successfully managed to convince the hovering mayor and his cronies that business can wait until tomorrow without the world ending.
Alex stifles a yawn, but the suppressed sensation makes me yawn, my mouth gaping wide open until I feel like my lower jaw is going to drop off. And that would be utterly tragic, I mean, no lower jaw would seriously impede my ability to munch! It doesn’t bear thinking about!
:Go to bed dearling, no-one’ll think any less of you, you have been a-saddle all day in bad weather.: Alex sends me a grin in response to that comment. :Besides,: I add, :going to bed means that they can’t pester you until tomorrow.: An outright mental laugh greets that final comment and I can sense Alex’s agreement.
:I think you’re right, night Teva,: He sends sleepily.
:Goodnight Chosen.: I reply fondly and dim the contact slightly as he makes his excuses and heads upstairs to his room, Samyel follows shortly after and I get the impression that he’s had the same idea about avoiding the mayor until tomorrow.
All things look better in the morning, and my last, very optimistic, thought is that hopefully, tomorrow, we’ll have naught but blue skies ahead of us.
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