Disclaimer: Anything and everything recognizable as belonging to the world of Velgarth and the Kingdom Of Valdemar is the sole property of the author of Mercedes Lackey. The freak with the fungus phobia (and the disasters she causes) are entirely the fault of etcetera-cat.
Notes: Yay procrastination?
In a previous life— one that I don’t remember being shot in or blown up in or pulling off a Final Strike or anything equally dramatic— I must have done something truly horrendous. Gone on a murderous rampage, or maybe put a few hundred people to the sword. Or something. See, there’s no other possible explanation for the situation I’m currently in than stupendously bad stains on my soul.
Because, really? I am chest deep in stagnant swamp mud and I am not impressed with it.
Alexander, after an ill-timed comment about the rejuvenating effect of mud baths is standing next to me, up to his shoulders in fetid swamp mud, having just resurfaced after I dumped him off my back.
He looks like some of the things that always seem to chase us around the forest bit of the Pelagirs Four Circuit. He’s also spluttering and spitting out bits of mud and rotting weed.
“There was no need for that.” Alex’s baleful glare is met by a wall-eyed look on my own part.
:I thought you’d appreciate the ‘high mineral content’ as well.:
“You have no sense of humour,” Alex groans as he pulls his arms out of the mud with a disgusting sucking sound and holds them above the surface of the muck we’re in the middle of.
:It wisely decided to stay behind on dry land.:
I turn my head to stare at Alex as he gamely tries to wade close enough to my side to mount. It seems to involve a lot of swearing and acrobatic arm flailing.
“The alternative to laughing at this is— well.” Alex grasps hold of the saddle in the general area of the pommel and grunts loudly as he utterly fails to haul himself onto my back.
:Laughing at your utter lack of upper body strength, instead?: I ask ingeniously. :I can do that.:
“Hey!” Alex aims a swat at one of my ears, an action that merely catapults a large blob of mud at an inoffensive tree a short distance away. “I’ll have you know that I have plenty of upper body strength!”
I wrinkle my nose in my Chosen’s direction. :Yes, dear, I know. So does Harali.:
Alex pauses in a second attempt to crawl back into my saddle and gives me a suspicious look. “What’s Harali got to do with anything?”
:Let’s just say that you and Samyel don’t shield all that well when you’re… distracted. I must say, though, I didn’t realize that a headboard could be put to such a novel use.:
“Teva!” Alexander’s head makes a squishing sound as he thunks it against my side. I snicker loudly. “I cannot believe that you pair have been eavesdropping!”
:Eavesdropping,: I say in a superior tone of voice. :Implies that either of us actually wanted to witness your bedroom athletics, which we didn’t. You were both being very loud. And enthusiastic. I suppose because Sam and ‘Ali had just gotten back from Circuit and you had all kinds of pent up bouncy to get rid of.:
Anything else I might add is cut short by Alex actually managing to regain his position in the saddle. After, that is, he mountaineers up my side and kicks me in the ribs several times. Ow.
:You know, I think you missed one or two spots on my other side,: I say acidly. :Bruises won’t wash off like this god-awful mud.:
Alex sighs loudly and ignores my moaning. He’s had many years of practice at this.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got any hint of where Keeli and Ralin are?”
I plaster my ears back against my skull and snort loudly. Mud comes out my nose and— just— yuck.
:Not a peep,: I say sourly. :And I don’t care about Heraldic protocol or tradition or anything, Alexander. I’m telling you now that as soon as we find those pair of utter cretins I am booting the pair of them into the nearest bottomless pit.:
Alex sighs but— for once— doesn’t take me to task for the distinctly homicidal attitude I have towards his luckless intern. Most definitely his. I’m distancing myself from them as much as possible because, my Gods. I’m pretty sure they’re some kind of cosmic joke and I’m really not sure how either of them made it to near-adulthood without actually dying in a completely ridiculous fashion.
Ralin has to be one of the most… featherbrained… Companions ever to have swanned around in white fur and his Chosen is— well. Let’s just say that they’re perfectly suited to each other and leave it at that. If Keeli wasn’t one of the strongest Mindspeakers going, I’m also pretty sure that she’d have never made it into Whites. As it is, I’m pretty much convinced that this internship is going to be her one and only Circuit and that as soon as we’re back in Haven (if, you know, we ever find them and bits of us haven’t dropped off with rot) she’s going to be permanently assigned to the Palace.
“Well, I guess we just keep on looking.” Alex shakes his arms in a dispirited fashion and I groan loudly. Isn’t him that’s got to drag both of our sorry behinds through this bleeding mess.
:You’d think, what with the Gift for Mindspeech and everything, Keeli would have heard all the yelling we’ve been doing for the past five marks,: I complain loudly as I shove my way through the swamp. Unidentifiable things crackle beneath my hooves and I am not thinking about how many different kinds of evil, evil fungus grow in the swamp.
Alex sighs loudly and scrapes a collection of mud and rancid weeds out of his hair. “Unfortunately, the bit she’s best at is shielding,” he reminds me. “And she shields both herself and Ralin— and that Change-lion did pop out of nowhere, and she startles easily— automatically.”
I focus my attention on heading for what appears to be a marginally drier patch of land and grunt.
“I think that was the logic behind putting her on Pelagirs Three with us. Try and steady her nerve against shocks somewhat.” Alex considers this for a moment while I concentrate on clambering up on what turns out to be a hillock of ground that is actually only saturated and can therefore sort of bear our weight.
It’s a sad, sad occurrence when the highlight of your day is merely sinking up to your fetlocks in mud.
:I’m going to tie the Dean’s arms in a knot between his crotch when we get back,: I say as I stare down at my black and brown legs and submerged hooves. :If I can actually walk still when we get out of here. If we ever even get out of here.:
“Sidri’s Companion might have something to say about that.”
:Alexander.: I twist my head around and give him a firm look. :I do not give a flying Artificer what Sidri’s Companion may or may not think. I am covered in Kernos only knows what, I have bruises— and mud— in places that I am avoiding thinking about, the pair of us smell like a compost heap, and we’ve lost your intern halfway through her first Circuit.:
Alex quirks one side of his mouth up into a grin. “You’re also standing next to a rather impressive toadstool,” he points out.
:What?: I whip my head around and stare at the giant red and white speckled apparition of evil for a long moment before shrieking and diving off the hillock and back into the swamp.
We make quite an impressive pair of splashes. Myself because, well. Large horse-shaped creature hitting a viscous liquid? You figure it out. Alexander makes a splash because I think I startle him and the mud all over us is very slippery so he sort of flies over my head and nosedives into a large patch of something mouldy-looking and green.
I slide around in a very undignified fashion before getting my hooves firmly planted under myself. Alexander surfaces with a string of expletives that I’ve not heard him utter since that time on the Pelagirs Four Circuit when the wasp nest fell out the tree and hit him on the head, and spits mouldy green algae and mud everywhere.
“Thanks for that, Teva,” Alex coughs as he half wades, half paddles over to my side.
I glare at the evil, mushroom infested hillock. :Fungus, Alexander,: I remind him forcefully. :I do not do fungus.:
“I’d noticed that, thanks,” Alex grumbles as he wades over to me. “Hydatha’s tits it’s going to take me a week to get clean of all this muck.”
:Huh,: I snort and wade away from him. :You can talk: I don’t see you sporting a mane or tail.:
“Teva, wait up!” Alex sloshes and slips after me. “And, no I’m eternally glad I only have your mane and tail to contend with as they are more than enough for any sane person.”
:What is that supposed to mean?: I circle around a half-submerged tree stump and sigh with relief as I spot a straggly line of water reeds marking the edge of the swamp.
“It means—“ Alex huffs— and then bubbles as he loses his footing and briefly slips beneath the surface of the mud— and puffs, “— that I seem to spend an inordinate amount of my time cleaning the Gods only know what out of your hair.”
I squelch through the reeds and up a shallow bank. Once on the relatively stable and dry ground and shake myself and turn to give my Chosen a thoroughly superior look. He trips over something and plants himself face first into the mud.
I knock my superior expression up a few notches as he resurfaces and sort of floats there, glaring at me.
“You know, I may just shave you bald instead of trying to wash that filth off you,” he says grumpily.
I expertly flick a hoof-load of mud in the direction of his head. :Try it and I will push you in the bottomless pit, too,: I threaten. :May I remind you just who lost his intern in a swamp and precipitated this whole mess?:
“There was a Change lion!”
I roll my eyes and sniff. :You can float around like an oversized and drastically deformed lily pad if you wish, but I am going back to the Waystation for the night.:
I turn (soggily) on my heel and strike out in the general direction that I think the Waystation lies in.
“Teva!” I ignore the shout and the damp sounding scramble behind me. “Teva!”
:I’m sure if anything had happened to them we’d have heard the screams. I’m cold and wet and muddy and I want my dinner.:
A wad of leaves and mud whistles past my ear and I stop and turn to give my Chosen an offended look.
:You want me to solidify into a statue and starve to death? Some Chosen you are!:
Alex gains an expression like he’s considering beating his head against something solid. “The Waystation’s this way,” he says, pointing in the opposite direction to the one I was headed in.
:I knew that. I was just testing you.:
“I’m sure.” Alex rolls his eyes and manages to haul himself up into the saddle as I amble past him. In the correct direction this time.
Someone’s lit a fire. I can smell the smoke on the breeze and I halt under the cover of a large marsh willow and try to catch Alexander’s attention.
“Huh— what?” Alex blinks down at me as I twist my head to look at him. “Why’ve you stopped?”
:There’s a fire up ahead. I think someone’s in the Waystation.:
Alex sighs and I echo the sentiment. We have just spent the past two marks picking along the edge of the swamp to get back to the Waystation. Mister I Can Navigate In Swamp Land Herald is entirely to blame for this.
“Visitors. That’s all we need.”
:I am not in the mood to share anything tonight. Hold on.:
“Teva— what—?” Alex yelps as I paw at the ground with one fore hoof and then launch us forwards with a deafening battle cry.
:Get your nose out of my oats!:
I pound into the clearing, and the Gods only know what we must look like, but I’m hoping suitably awful and like something that’ll chow down on a group of travelers without a second thought.
Alex seems to be getting into the spirit— if the yelps and shouts coming from my back are any indication— unless, that is, he’s trying to tell me off. I opt to believe the former and add my own whoops and hollers to the almighty racket we’re kicking up as I charge directly for the Waystation, baring my teeth and rolling my eyes.
:Demons!: The startled Mindvoice cuts across the second battle cry I’m about to utter and I lock my legs and begin to skid to a halt, because I recognize that voice as belonging to Ralin.
Alex lurches forwards in the saddle— not particularly far, as two marks of drying off seems to have pretty much glued us together— and grasps wildly at my matted mane as a large white shape bursts out of the lean-to stable built onto the side of the Waystation and rears at us in challenge.
:For Valdemar!: Ralin proclaims loudly. :You shall not have my Chosen, foul beasts!:
Someone’s been getting his Chosen to read too much in the way of epic poetry.
:Ralin?: I squawk as I finish my skid to a halt and scramble to maintain my balance within a spreading cloud of dried swamp mud dust and who knows what else.
Ralin returns to all fours and stares at us with an expression remarkably similar to that of a concussed sheep. :Teva, is that you?:
“Leave my Companion alone monsters!”
A concussive wave of mental force slams into myself and Alexander and— aided in no small part by the fact that this swamp mud seems to rival the finest grease for its lubrication properties— we shoot across the clearing. Needless to say, both of us are yelling fit to bring down bats.
We only stop when Ralin— showing intelligence for the first time in his life— manages to convince Keeli that; 1) we’re not monsters, 2) or demons, and, 3) killing your mentor is not how internships are successfully completed.
The large pond also helps.
I sink until I’m firmly sitting on the bottom, with only my head and neck out of the water. Alexander maintains his death grip around my neck and we both glare at the suddenly extremely confused and embarrassed looking Intern and Companion in front of the Waystation.
“Uh… Alexander?” Keeli squints at us and hesitantly approaches, Ralin trailing around behind her like a naughty puppy and peering around his Chosen’s side with a worried expression.
I feel a hundred responses flit through my Chosen’s mind, but he settles for the eminently diplomatic: “Yes.”
Myself? Down a bottomless pit filled with bees as soon as I find one wide enough to fit their fat heads.
“Are you okay? We’ve been waiting here for you most of the day.” Keeli gives us a small, air-headed smile. In the privacy of my head, I commit murder.
Despite my urging to do extremely unHeraldic things to both of them, Alex settles for sliding off my neck and into the pond water. “That’s nice,” he says levelly.
“I made dinner, as well.”
“That’s nice,” Alex repeats. I’m going to take Teva’s tack off now. You can clean it while we sit here in the pond and soak for a while.”
“And then I can feed you,” Keeli adds brightly.
Alex sags against my side, pausing his fumbling for the cinch of my saddle. “Yes,” he says tonelessly. “Then we can have a bit of a chat about today, alright?”
I stay exactly where I am as Alex peels— with assorted truly disgusting sucking sounds— all of my tack off of me and sloshes to the edge of the pond to hand it to Keeli. He sits down in the shallows and the pair of us watch as she practically skips up to the Waystation.
Alex’s sigh is purely mental, but mine is all too audible and world weary.
I watch as my Chosen scoots himself right up to the edge of the pond and then lies full length in the water, mud beginning to cloud the water around him as he half-heartedly brushes at himself. After a long moment, I finally turn my attention to Ralin, has sidled around the water’s edge so that he’s somewhat closer to me.
:What happened to you?: he asks in an honestly curious fashion. I wonder if Alex would lend me his opposable thumbs long enough to throttle a certain stallion.
:I have two things to say to you, Ralin: Large pit and bees, understand?: The water around me swirls slightly as I settle deeper into the silt of the pond bottom.
:You were attacked by bees?:
I stare at Ralin’s openly confused expression and narrowly avoid shrieking at him. At least I now understand how the pair of them have made it to adulthood. They turn those around them insane long before they have the chance to murder them.
:Teva? You look uncomfortable, is something the matter?:
I grit my teeth down on any number of replies and give some serious thought to getting up and stamping on Ralin’s head. I’m just about to shift myself, in fact— because he keeps on asking me; the Companion shaped mud sculpture sitting in the middle of a pond with half her brains knocked all the way to Rethwellan by his Chosen, if I’m okay— when a frog jumps out of the water and lands on my nose.
I cross my eyes and attempt to glare at it.
Ralin finally seems to catch the hint that maybe I’m not in the best frame of mind right now and beats a hasty retreat to check on his Chosen.
:This is absolutely the last pair, Alexander.: I shake my head and try to dislodge my visitor.
“What?” Alex mumbles and props himself up on his elbows to squint at me, just as the frog decides to mountaineer up my face.
:I mean it. No more interns. Ever.: I flatten my ears and glare in the general direction of the Waystation. :From now on our Circuits are just going to be you, me, and whatever big hairy thing with teeth sees fit to chase us around the Pelagirs.:
“Deal,” Alex says with a groan, before flopping back down with a splash. “I’m sure no-one else has this trouble.”
:I’ll hold you to that promise when we get back to Haven,: I say as the frog finally reaches the top of my head, makes itself comfortable in my mane and begins croaking the frog equivalent of the bouncy song.
Alex waves one hand half-heartedly in my direction. “Whatever,” he says. “By the way, nice frog.”
Make that a bee filled bottomless pit large enough for three to fit in.