Chapter Nine- Greetings and Grumbles.
I’m experiencing the distinct sensation of déjà vu. I’m currently standing in a field, cautiously regarding a lush looking patch of grass laced with yellow flowers, contemplating the prospect of colic and whether the grass looks nice enough to be worth it. Regretfully I decide not, and move onto another patch of grass that has the advantage of no stomach-cramp-inducing flora sprinkled over it.
You know what? Derri was right, the grass in Companion’s Field does taste the best.
We have been in Traderest for, um, three days now I think, well this’ll be the third. I think that Harali jinxed it when she said that towns this close to Haven didn’t build up their complaints the same way that the Border outposts and country backwaters did. Either that or some of the residents in and around Traderest are extraordinarily mono-focused. Actually, given what our long-suffering boys have been dealing with for the past half week, I’d definitely go for the latter to a definite extent.
Sheep. All these people think about is sheep. And pigs. Haven’s forefend that I should forget the pigs. If it’s not Farmer A accusing Farmer B of half-inching his sheep, then it’s Farmer C claiming that the sheep are in fact his, because Farmer A stole some of them and mated them to his prize ram. Either that or Farmer B claiming that both Farmer A and Farmer C are naught but ner-do-wells, both of whom are jealous of his prize winning flock and whilst we’re on the subject of thieving, would Farmer D care to explain why he stole some crop seeds and sneakily planted them in his own fields, the resulting crops of which were eating by Farmer A and Farmer B’s pigs. Farmer B considers this poetic justice, and Farmer A is outraged at the slander on his good name. And so on.
Excuse me whilst I consider beating myself to death with a wisp of hay.
Samyel and Alexander are currently embroiled in the sheep saga in the town hall, a saga which if getting more complex by the hour and at this rate looks like it’s going to end up as the subject of a comic ballard.
Harali and myself have spent the past few days at our ease. For which I am grateful. The first day we took a quick poll and decided that staying indoors was a definite winner. The still foul weather had absolutely no bearing on that little decision. Actually, that day was quite boring, I mean, there’s only so many things to look at in a stable. My Chosen had to put up with me in his head for the most of that day, where else was I going to find something to do?
Luckily the weather broke that evening and yesterday dawned bright and sunny, if a little damp still. By that point ‘Ali and I weren’t really bothered and were both determined to get some fresh air. And views. Which brings me back to where I am now, and where I spent all of yesterday, in the field on the south side of Traderest, which has now dried out quite satisfactorily from the rain of the past few days.
Speaking of Harali, I haven’t seen her for a bit. I raise my head up from the grass I had been cropping and sweep the field with my gaze. I’m standing in the far corner from the village, just out of the shade of the hedgerow that separates this field from others containing crops and the ever present sheep, and I spy ‘Ali over on the other side of the field, near to the wooden bar fence that borders the edge of the town and the edge of the field.
I flick my tail slightly to discourage a noisily droning fly and begin to make my way over towards the white form of the other Companion, my hooves sinking slightly in the still-damp, almost spongy ground with a soft squelching. Despite the warmth of the sun, there is still a chill in the air from a slight breeze.
:Hello ‘Ali.: The mare twitches her ears and twists her head around to look at me.
:Afternoon Teva.: She replies. :I see the endless tale of the sheep is still going on.:
I snicker and bob my head. :I think it’s gotten to saga like proportions, at this rate Alex and I are going to spend our entire Circuit here in Traderest!:
Harali laughs and swallows a mouthful of grass before shaking her head slightly to remove her forelock from her eyes. :The Saga of the Sheep. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?:
I send her an impression of a grin and am about to reply, when a growing selection of sounds catch my attention. :What in the Havens is that racket?: I send to Harali before turning to look in the direction of the sounds, which are coming from the direction of the town itself.
The cause of the disturbance isn’t long in revealing itself, and it appears to be an en-masse deployment of every child in the town over five and under sixteen. :Baby-talk closing on the left.: I send to Harali, only half in jest. People do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time ‘oochy coochy cooing’ at Companions. I mean, we’re not exactly the right size or shape for even a blind man to mistake us for something to be dressed in a bonnet and given a rattle!
Harali regards the approaching gaggle with one jaded blue eye and sighs quietly. :I’m beginning to think that you have the right idea.: She sends to me.
:What’s that then?: I inquire as the group of children and youngsters approach the fence, more slowly now that they’ve noticed that we’ve noticed them, and the loud babble decreases by a proportional amount.
:Getting ‘I am a thinking being’ tattooed on my flank. I feel it has possibilities.:
:That is does!: I reply to ‘Ali with a whicker of amusement, causing the youngling’s gaze to switch between us before they go into a multi-way huddle of fierce whispering, with many covert glances in our direction.
Oh, Havens, I’m going to look like a floral display. I think to myself as I reach a curious thread of consciousness towards Alex.
:Rescue me and I’ll rescue you.: I inform him.
:Teva?: He sounds slightly surprised. I think I woke him up, mentally speaking. How many other Companions does he have?! Mind you, I shouldn’t really pick on him for that, I mean, I wit-wander enough and come out with gems like ‘huh, you mean Alex?’ when asked how my Chosen is, so, um… cough cough, forget I said what I just said.
:The one and only!: I reply cheerfully, rather than inquiring how many white horses Alex has stashed around the place. Maybe I could match up his imaginary stashed Companions with the imaginary stashed Herald Trainees my subconscious decided I had in my stall last year… Maybe I should get to the point, too.
:Rescue you from what?: Alex inquires with a slight mental grin.
I flash a Teva’s-eye-view of the kiddy-consortium at him. :Them!: I exclaim. :Before you know it I’ll be covered in sticky handprints, flowers and other assorted foliage and my brain will have leaked out of my ivy bedecked ears from all the baby talk!: Alexander laughs at me.
:It can’t be that bad Teva.: He sends with a definite mental grin. :Oh, wait,: he continues, :I forgot your allergy to small children.: Finally the lad is catching on! I am not a kiddy person unless they can be returned, preferably as soon as possible. He is still laughing at me however. This calls for, drum-roll, Evil-Teva! Cackle cackle!
:How are Farmers A through D?: I inquire innocently, causing my Chosen to groan. Cue much giggling from Evil-Teva, she who pokes fun at her Chosen.
:They’re fine, apart from the fact that Farmer E is now slandering their collective good name.: I try to stifle my amusement, I really honestly do. Evil-Teva however has other ideas, and she points and laughs, mentally speaking, at Alexander.
Alex mentally raises an eyebrow at me. :If you’re not careful I won’t groom you after you get flowered and sticky.: He mock threatens me. Eep! I think I’d better be good!
I send him an image of me looking as innocent and pure as a cloud and bat the image’s eyes at him. In reply, my Chosen snorts with laughter.
:Make it a storm-cloud and you’ll be getting there!: He exclaims.
:Pfft.: I reply. :I’m going to go and get sticky now.: I inform him.
:Try not to rain on the children, storm-cloud-Teva.: Alex impudently advises me before dimming the link and turning his attention back towards the assorted argument of farmers. The cheek of it! Actually, being a storm-cloud would be fun… for one thing, I could rain on Baren. Cue evil laughter. And then! There’s the lightning! And thunder! Muahaha…!
My little internal vision of much cackling and chasing Baren round and lobbing lightning bolts at his behind is interrupted by the approach of the kiddies to the fence. It’s almost hypnotic watching them, they seem to move forward as a consensual single unit, trying at the same time to be at the front in order to get a good eyeful of ‘Ali and myself, and trying to be at the back because of nerves.
As they actually reach the fence and stand hanging onto and over it, Harali and I returned their many-eyed gaze with our inscrutable sapphire gazes.
One of the girls, a tall skinny looking person of about fifteen takes a breath and clears her throat. “Um, we just thought that, well, um… Hello.” She concludes and stutters to a halt whilst a pair of only-just-not toddlers peer owlishly round her skirts at us.
Harali sends me the impression of her rolling her eyes and a mental sigh. :What’s the betting that they’ve been told by the mayor to ‘not bother the Heralds and their Companions whilst they are here.’?:
:Even odds at least.: I reply to her as I bob my head in greeting to the group.
The girl breaks out in a tentative grin, but before she can continue, one of the littles pipes up. “We brung you apples.” The small child announces and promptly crawls under the fence and gets to its feet in front of me an apple in one hand. I look down at the small child. I honestly cannot tell you if it’s male or female. It’s dressed in the all-purpose smock and trews of heavy wearing material that seem to be the staple clothing of the small children. Mind you, given the opportunities for messiness around here, I don’t blame the parents.
The tall girl’s faces flames with embarrassment and she hisses at the small child in a quiet whisper. “Tasha, you know we’re not s’pposed to go in there, if any of the grown-ups catch you, we’ll all be for it!”
Ah, A girl then. The small girl, Tasha, studiously ignores the older girl and holds the apple up in the general direction of my nose. I gently take it from her and crunch it up, before touching her on one cheek with my nose in thanks. Tasha giggles in delight and starts to stroke along the bridge of my nose. This seems to be some sort of unspoken ‘all clear’ for the rest of the group and they quickly clamber over and under the fence until Harali and myself are surrounded by chattering children who seem bizarrely happy to feed the pair of us apples and other assorted fruit and to stroke us.
This isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, although I still have the feeling that I’m going to have to enlist the aid of my Chosen to un-sticky myself later. I glance up and notice that there is still one member of the crowd still on the other side of the fence, it’s the girl who first spoke and she’s looking at us with longing, but then glancing around and back towards the town with nervous worry.
The small girl, who is now standing under my head and neck, calls out to her. “Jenni, come in! Please, they’re really nice an’ I have no apples left an’ you do.”
The girl, Jenni, bites her lip and shifts her weight from foot to foot. “Tasha, we’re going to get in big trouble if anyone sees us, you all should come out now.” Typically, the rest of the children ignore her and she sighs and glances back at the town again.
Tasha pipes up again. “Jenni, want apples!”
“Okay, okay, but really quickly, promise?” With a sigh of defeat Jenni climbs between the bars of the fence and walks slowly towards us and the group of children.
As she reaches us, she digs into her pocket and produces an apple and a carrot. Tasha, darts forwards with a crow of delight and swipes the apple, trotting off to offer it to Harali. I prick my ears forward and look appealingly at Jenni and she hesitates slightly, and then offers the carrot to me.
I gently remove it from her hand and happily munch it and bob my head in thanks, causing Jenni to grin slightly and reach out a hand to softly touch my mane. When I don’t run for the hills, she becomes bolder and begins to scratch along the crest of my mane and I sigh in satisfaction and lean into the motion slightly. Jenni breaks into a real grin and even manages a chuckle as she continues with running her hands through my mane.
“I wish… I knew your name.” She says softly. Somehow, I get the feeling that the pause was as she stopped herself from saying ‘I wish I had a Companion.’ She scratches almost as well as Alexander. I think to myself with a smile.
Almost as if that thought has summoned my Chosen, his Mindvoice echoes into my head. :We finally finished!:
:Fantastic!: I reply. :I’m in the field getting fussed over. I found someone who scratches almost as well as you to pay me attention.: Alexander laughs at that.
:I’m coming out now.: He sends. :I’ve had enough of indoors over the past few days!:
I send him a simple feeling of laughter and happiness in return and turn my head expectantly towards the town. Sure enough, I can spy two white-clad persons making their way over to us, surrounded by a good portion of the adult population of Traderest, probably all of the people from the hall I decide to myself.
The mayor is obviously among them, as his voice rings out loudly and he bustles his way forwards. “What did I tell you? Well?”
At his somewhat strident vocalisations the children crowded around Harali and myself freeze with guilty looks on their faces, and Jenni snatches her hand away from my mane whilst simultaneously turning pretty much the same colour as me.
The mayor reaches the fence and glares at the still children. “Well?” He repeats, louder and continues to glare until the children reluctantly leave ‘Ali and myself and wiggle back through the fence to stand in a defiant knot in front of the mayor.
The rest of the adults and our boys draw close to the mayor and the children as Harali and I exchange puzzled glances.
The mayor fixes his gaze on Jenni, and she seems to wilt under his gaze. “I would have thought that you would have known better. You’re the oldest here and I expect you at least to remember what I said!”
Alex and Samyel trade confused looks with each other and Samyel moves up to look quizzically at the mayor. “Is there a problem here?” He asks calmly.
The mayor splutters slightly and looks over at the Heralds, plainly the silly man had forgotten about them entirely. Not like the Whites or the Companions right in front of his nose are any big indication or anything.
“I, uh, well, we, told the children not to bother you sir, whilst you were here.” The mayor coughs and looks a tad embarrassed as Samyel raises his eyebrow slowly and regards the mayor.
“My thanks, although that really wasn’t necessary.”
:Tell him to get that stick out of his rear.: I tell Harali to tell Samyel and watch his lips twitch slightly.
“Neither us or our Companions mind seeing littles, in fact, I believe we are done for the day?” Samyel concludes swiftly, a tone of dismissal in his voice.
:He doesn’t like Mr Big-pants Mayor.: Harali confides to me with a silent snicker as both of our Chosen soothe and disperse the adults, gently shooing them back towards the town, leaving the silent group of children near to the fence.
Alexander and Samyel turn back to the children with matching welcoming smiles.
“Thank you for taking care of our ladies this afternoon.” Alex says with a smile, which turns into a grin as the younger children immediately lose their wariness and crowd towards the Heralds, excitedly telling them who fed whom what and which Companion who patted and where.
Actually, taking a second look at the group, most of them are littles, or at least under the age of twelve and they are the ones crowding around Alexander and Samyel as they move back towards us and climb easily over the fence, quickly followed by the children. Once again, Jenni, who I can now see is the oldest by far and away, is left hanging shyly back, this time she’s made it through the fence, but she’s hanging back and biting her lip again.
:Chosen.: I attract Alexander’s attention and he looks over at me from his current position of kneeling on the ground, retying the laces on a little’s shoe.
:Mmhmm? You called Lady Storm-cloud?: He asks with a mental grin which I return with a mental snort of amusement.
:Hanger-back by the fence.: I tell him, and he glances briefly over towards Jenni. :She’s called Jenni.: I add helpfully as he gets to his feet and walks over to Jenni.
“Hello there.” He says reassuringly. “My name’s Alex, you’re Jenni, right?”
Jenni gapes at him briefly in shock. “Yes I—how did you know my name?” She asks.
Alex grins at her. “My Companion told me, she can be useful like that sometimes.”
:Piffle.: I send to Alex. :And tell her that my name’s Teva, she wanted to know before.:
:Piffle?: Alex asks with amusement.
:Yes.: I insist with a superior sniff. :Now tell her my name, and thank her for the carrot.:
:Yea, oh wise one.: Alex replies, before returning his attention to Jenni.
“She says to thank you for the carrot, and that her name is Teva.” Alex smiles as Jenni’s face gradually becomes more awestruck and her eyes widen. “She’s anyone’s if they feed her.” He adds with a wicked grin in my direction. The utter cheek of it!
:Oi!: I squeak at him, provoking a chuckle. :Cheek!: Just imagine me standing here and huffing like a fishwife who’s been short-changed and you’ll get some idea of the mental picture I send to my wayward Chosen as I pace forwards and shove him in one shoulder with my nose.
:Silly Teva.: He sends fondly to me and reaches up to scratch along my crest and I sigh in defeat. He always does his to me. I wonder how Traderest would feel about some municipal redecoration in the form of me innards?
Under Alexander’s prompting Jenni joins him in running her fingers through my mane and I sigh in contentment and lean in to the scratches as Harali gets fussed over by the rest of the littles under the supervision of Samyel.
:I think you’ll need a grooming later.: Alex says meditatively as he looks along my flanks with an internal chuckle. :I see what you mean about the stickiness.:
:Mmph,: I agree wordlessly, :later, I’m too busy being fussed over now.: Alex laughs, but seems quite content to continue playing with my mane, even if he does have to share me, for the moment at least.
Looks like I was right about prophesising blue skies a few days ago, life certainly feels good at the moment, may many more blue skies follow us.
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