Disclaimer: All concepts relating to the world of Velgarth, and kingdom of Valdemar, are the sole property of the author Mecedes Lackey.
Notes: The sort-of prequel to this is Sparkle, and the sort-of sequel to this is A Question of Style.
:Oh my—: Regin stopped abruptly with his head inside the open-sided shed attached onto the side of the Companion Stables and stared with wide-eyed surprise at the sight within.
:Don’t say a word Regin,: Kit warned him flatly. :Not one word.: A large clod of muddy earth slid down the side of her face, leaving a wide brown streak, before falling onto the paved floor with an audible ‘plop’.
The rangy Companion stallion blinked and continued to stare at his friend; uniformly, she was splattered in thick mud from head to rump, her mane and tail hanging in knotted snarls. It wasn’t until she shook her head, splattering the vicinity with droplets of mud and water, and he heard the pathetic, clogged jingling of the bridle bells she insisted on wearing, that Regin realised that Kit was wearing her tack.
Kit groaned in a heartfelt fashion. :Equestrian lessons on the obstacle course.:
:Oh.: Regin stepped into the shed properly as a groom emerged from wherever it was that they emerged from and proceeded to strip the short mare of tack, leaving patches of shining white hide where the saddle blanket, saddle and hackamore had been.
Despite Kit giving him dangerous looks, Regin could feel the laugh working its way up from his belly. :You look like—:
:I will kick you so hard Regin!:
:—a skewbald farm pony—: he dissolved into snorts of both mental and audible laughter as Kit stiffened, ear flat against her head, and looked offended.
The groom ignored both of their antics and hung the sodden and grimy tack over the top of a wooden stand, before going in search of warm water and cloths.
For his part, Regin couldn’t seem to get a handle on his giggles, and was soon wheezing away like a spavined nag, head hung low by his front hooves and he tried to catch his breath.
Vaguely, he could hear Kit muttering to herself about idiotic friends who mistakenly thought that they were funny, whilst the groom used the water and an assortment of cloths and combs to excavate the mare from the mud.
After several more minutes of snorting and snickering, Regin managed to collect himself enough to raise his head and look at the soggy Kit—
—only to receive a face full of mud, expertly flicked from one of Kit’s front hooves.
:You deserved that on so many levels, Regin.: Kit sniffed and gave Regin a smug look as he blinked at her through the star-burst shaped face mask he now wore.
:Ugh… this stuff is cold!:
Kit rolled her eyes. :Funnily enough, I’d noticed that.
:Really cold.: Regin’s expression, what could be seen of it under the mud dripping down his face and off the end of his nose, was aghast, and Kit voiced a laugh of her own.
:Just be thankful you don’t have to run the obstacle course in this miserable weather.:
Regin shook his head and wrinkled his nose. :I need to sneeze—: he began, :well, I’d say that was because I haven’t yet Chosen. Where is Venni, anyway?:
Kit lifted her head slightly and cocked it to one side for a moment before replying. :She’s up to her nose in a bath tub full of hot water.: A sigh. :They need to install Companion sized baths in here.:
:Oh—: Regin gained an expression of near-bliss, :that would be wonderful… the candle marks we could spend broiling our tails off!:
:I know…: Kit flicked an ear. :You need to go Choose a Hawkbrother. Kalin and her Starfox Gated back to Starfox’s home Vale yesterday for the Midwinter Solstice. They have pools big enough for anyone.:
:I’ll make sure to tell my Call that for you.: Regin twitched his nose again, causing a further lump of mud to splatter onto the ground. :Where has that groom gone?:
Kit looked around the shed, then rippled her hide in a shrug. :He must have gone to do… groomy things.:
:Yes.: She nodded decisively.
:But I have mud on my face still!: Regin wailed.
:I told you; you deserved it.: Kit shot a sideways look full of amusement at her friend. :Stick your head in the trough, that’ll wash it off.:
:That’s not funny.: Regin looked unimpressed.
:Who said I was joking?:
Unable, for once, to produce a witty comeback, Regin settled for the same kind of dark muttering that Kit had been indulging in beforehand, stalking over to the trough nearest the open side of the shed, eying the rippling surface with mistrust. :It looks cold—:
:The Terilee would be colder, and that’s the only alternative.: Kit pointed out brightly.
Muttering again, Regin flattened his ears, sucked in a breath and plunged his head into the trough. As he had predicted; the water was cold, and it rushed into his ears with a roaring sound. Shaking his head back and forth under the water in an attempt to dislodge the mud clinging to his fur, the Companion blessed the fact that only Kit was witnessing his strange antics.
Then again, the uncomfortable thought sidled into the front of his mind, I know Kit and she’ll tell anyone that she can… with pictures.
Regin groaned— then, having discovered that that wasn’t really a clever thing to do with one’s head under water, he spluttered and inadvertently inhaled a nose full of the cold water.
:Agh!: Backing up, water flying from his sopping wet mane, and dancing in place as he shook his head from side to side, Regin sneezed the water out of his nose for several long moments.
Once he’d stopped prancing around, he wheeled to face Kit, who was shaking with laughter. :It’s not funny!: He insisted.
:It—is!: She giggled breathlessly. Blinking innocently into Regin’s affronted glare, she produced a winsome ‘smile’. :I’m going to track down some hot mash, you want to come with me?:
Regin sighed at Kit’s unrepentant nature. :No, I’ve already eaten. I think I’ll go for a walk around the Field.:
:See you later then.: Kit nodded at him and made her way into the main building of the Stables. Moment’s later, Regin heard a loud nicker— Kit’s way of letting the humans that she was around and wanted food.
Shaking his head, ignoring the wet slapping of tendrils of his mane against his neck, Regin back tracked his way out of the warming shed, across the wooden bridge spanning the river and into the open space of the Companion’s Field.
Here and there patches of frozen slush marked the remains of the snow falls of last week, before the warmer weather of the previous two days caused an abrupt thaw. The dull steel colour of the low lying clouds covering the sky indicated— as did the sudden return to a cold snap— that more snow was imminent. The grass of the Field itself seemed to be a gilded brown colour rather than green and it contrasted sharply with the evergreen trees dotted in the copses and the distant smudge of the Grove.
Regin moved out over the gently undulating ground at an easy trot, noting the few other visible Companions in the Field. Most of the Companions with Chosen who were trainees— such as Kalin— and even a good fair few who were partnered with full Heralds had returned to the familial homes of the humans in their lives for the Midwinter celebration.
In residence still were those who’s Chosen lived in Haven itself; or had made Haven their home, or those— like Regin— who were unBonded.
At least I won’t bump into anyone…
Once he was a distance from the Palace complex, and his muscles had warmed, Regin stretched his legs out into a canter, flinching slightly as the icy cold wind seemed to latch onto the water still clinging around his mane and face, but not abating his pace.
He was past the Grove when the first few flakes of snow drifted down to the ground, causing Regin to cast a glance upwards. The clouds were low, indistinct and with swollen bellies and, as the stallion was assessing them, they began to release their load of snow in a series of flurries and falls.
Regin slowed his pace to a walk and continued looking upwards as he moved. Ever since he had been a foal, Regin had been fascinated by snow and had often stood outside, staring up as the flakes danced down towards his nose.
Within a few minutes, the ground was covered in a white blanket and the air was thick with snow flakes, obscuring the distant buildings of the Palace and everything beyond a few feet away. With the cut down of vision there also came the muffling of the distant sounds that Regin didn’t realise he had been hearing until they were gone.
Continuing at a walk, hooves creaking musically in the settling snow, Regin wandered aimlessly across the Field, not really caring or knowing where he was headed. He had been feeling strangely out of sorts for the past few days and he wasn’t entirely sure of the cause. Now seemed as good a time as any to try and analyse his current state of mind.
One silver front hoof scuffed through the snow, throwing up a short spray, followed by a similar pattern from the other hoof as Regin meandered along, involved in his own thoughts.
A murky shadow ahead of him resolved in front of his nose to a copse of trees and he drifted in between the trees, shaking himself to discard his overcoat of snow, before continuing his scuffing walk amongst the leaf litter.
I think— Regin blinked with something akin to surprise, —that it may be my Call manifesting… He examined the notion for a long moment before deciding that it wasn’t completely daft. Well… the Companion wasn’t entirely sure how he felt; happy, certainly but also… nervous.
I just hope I don’t turn into Kit and start bouncing around, squeaking about being ‘pretty!’ all the time. A slight shudder at that memory. Spending the better part of three weeks in the company of Kit whilst she was on Search had been interesting… in a monotonous sort of fashion.
In comparison, arriving back and having to explain to Dadero why exactly he’d decided to elope from Haven for a Call that wasn’t even his own, had been a whole new level of excitement. If Companions could blush, Regin would have been pinking up at the memory, despite there being no-one else in the vicinity—
A branch cracked a short distance away, and Regin wheeled, alert suddenly as he searched the cold dimness under the trees for the cause of the unexpected sound.
“H—hello?” the voice sounded uncertain, and Regin cocked his head to one side as the owner emerged from round a knarled thorn bush, revealing themselves to be a youngish looking figure bundled up in a thick winter coat, covered over by a dark blue cloak and a matching scarf, the ends of which trailed untidily down the person’s back.
“Oh…” the figure looked Regin up and down, as he returned the favour. “I… don’t think I recognise you…um.. do you know which way the Palace is? I’ve sort of got turned around in the snow…” One black gloved hand pulled the scarf down from the face, whilst the other dislodged the matching knitted hat and clutched hold of it.
Regin stared at the unmistakable, pointed features of the heir to the throne of Valdemar. Oh. My.
He continued to stare into the princess’s blue eyes as she gave him a puzzled look and gestured around. “I was walking and got lost…” she added after a moment filled only with snowy silence.
Regin knew— but a very large part of him was insisting that if he degenerated into the kind of sap that Kit had produced then he would beat himself unconscious with his own hay net. Which left him in somewhat of a quandary…
:Happy Midwinter—: he managed, noting vaguely the look of shock on her face at him Speaking to her.
Regin paced forwards slowly. :Happy Midwinter.: He repeated, followed by, :I can take you back to the Palace…Halla.:
Stopping in front of her, he lowered his head and stared deeply into her eyes; knowing for the first time why Bonded Companions always looked so smug, :I Choose you.:
“Oh—“ Halla’s gasp of surprise was partly muffled in his neck as she clung to him with a fierce hug. Voice indistinct, she pointed out, “your mane is wet—“ she stepped back slightly and looked up at him, blushing slightly.
Will not let brain trickle out ears. Will not let brain trickle out ears—
:Um, I know…: the mental equivalent of a cough. :Get on, I’ll take you back to the Palace.: After a moment, he remembered something. :My name is Regin.:
Regin sidled over to a fallen log and stood still as his Chosen clambered onto his back. Once Halla was settled properly, Regin turned around carefully and made his way to the edge of the copse, still resisting the urge to succumb to the fluffy, sappy depths he hadn’t known his mind possessed.
As the pair were swallowed up by the snow falling from the sky, a thought occurred to him.
:Could you talk to your father about installing hot baths in the Companion Stables?:
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