Chapter Three should be out relatively soon, but it could be a couple weeks since I'm moving in less than that and right now packing is taking over my life. :P
Title: Whipstitch (Chapter Two)
Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Angst
Characters: Companion Snow, Xia, Abby Tarhill
Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; this fic and original characters belong to their author.
Summary: He wakes up in the forest, alone and lost in the night, with only a stray cat for company: and to top it all off, he has no idea who he is! Now Snow has a long journey ahead of him if he wants to figure out his real identity and learn the cause of his amnesia. But hey, at least Abby and Xia have his back... right?
Chapter Two: Learn
The two of them quickly left the clearing, the fire and the luckless man far behind them, but, unsurprisingly, trudging through the forest with a five-foot length of rope dangling from around his neck was even harder than doing so without it. It got caught up in everything and was a royal pain to untangle. He found himself muttering curses to no one in particular, because on top of dragging the rope along, his rear end hurt like hell, now: it was a wonder he wasn't bleeding all over the place, considering the size of the chunk of tail he'd left behind.
And on top of it all, he was still completely lost and with a cat for his only company.
Not that Xia was bad company, but she definitely wasn't very skilled in the art of conversation and by late afternoon he was starting to very much crave someone to talk to—not to mention someone who might be able to help him get rid of the rope, and maybe even provide him with some food, because as much as he was sure he could make a meal of browsing plants, somehow the ones all around him didn't seem very appetizing.
As if in agreement with his train of thought, his stomach took the opportunity to growl loudly. If he didn't get something to eat soon it would probably start tucking in to his backbone. Xia, on the other hand, seemed to be doing fine—probably because of whatever it was she had filched from the man's pot back there. All he'd gotten, while she was scarfing down her breakfast, was lassoed.
He huffed at that… then sighed, his steps pausing as he looked around. Off to the side, Xia seemed focused on stalking something in the weeds. He watched her pounce—then pop back out of the bushes with a large cricket in her mouth. She looked very pleased with herself. He just levelled an unimpressed look on her, then started walking again.
Clearly feeling playful, the cat romped after him, chasing the dangling rope end as he continued on.
Not another one. He stopped in his tracks. Sunlight filtered through an obvious break in the trees ahead of him. Theoretically, he should have been excited at the idea of escaping his forest prison, but given his experience at the last clearing they'd stumbled upon, he was understandably a little leery.
Behind him, Xia's interest in the rope disappeared the minute it stopped moving, and she poked at it once or twice more before padding up to sit beside him, blue eyes focused on the clearing ahead. Then she seemed to almost shrug, stood again, and trotted forward, disappearing past the tree line. The little beast really appeared to have no fear whatsoever. He wished that he could say the same for himself.
:Xia, wait up.: Finally, he called after her and moved forward himself, hesitantly pushing through the last few trees between himself and the sunshine beyond.
This clearing was larger than the last one. In the far corner, a bubbling stream ran through the edge—and in the very center was a large fire pit, situated next to a small, one-room building with a tiled roof and only one tiny window in one side.
At first it seemed to be unoccupied. Xia was sniffing around the edge of the fire pit—she sneezed slightly when she got ashes on her nose. He moved farther into the clearing, eyes surveying the area as he finally relaxed. If no one was there then he didn't mind being there. It was a nice break from the dense woods he'd been traveling in all day and—
Then the building's door swung open.
Startled, he jumped, snorting—and that seemed to startle the person who stepped outside as well. The boy—he looked to be about fourteen or fifteen years old—jumped right along with him, eyes wide and shocked. They both froze, then, perfectly still as they stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity while Xia sat and looked back-and-forth between them.
"Ah!" The boy finally gasped, and lifted one hand to wave frantically in front of his face. His other hand held an empty bucket destined for who-knew-what. "I—sorry! I—I know I shouldn't—but no one was here, so I thought—I mean, oh Gods, I'm sorry! I'll go right now! Please don't get me in trouble!"
:I—what? In trouble?: A blank stare, followed by a blink. Why the boy was rambling at him he had no idea. :Why would I—?"
"I know I'm not supposed to be here, and I swear I haven't used anything up! I just needed somewhere to…" Trailing off then, he gave a shocked look. "You Spoke to me! Where's your Herald? Are you—you're not—here for me, are you? I'm just—I'm homeless and an orphan, you don't want m—" Breaking off again, he frowned. "Wait, why do you have a rope around you? Is everything okay?"
The boy was feeding him half-information at best, and what he was sharing was disjointed and hard to follow. Something about the building and something called a "Herald"—did he have one and if so where was it?—and was he there for him? Whuffing, he shifted uncomfortably, then cast a glance back at the trailing rope. Why was it so distressing for him to be sporting one? Sure it was a little awkward to drag around, but…
:A man tried to catch me a few hours ago. I managed to get away.: He looked back at the boy again. :Dragging it is a pain. Do you think you could you get it off of me?:
"Get it—oh! Of course!"
The bucket was dropped in an instant, clanging off the ground when it landed and startling Xia in the process, and the lad hurriedly scurried over to him. The rope had been pulled tight around his neck during his travels, but now it was quickly loosened, then tugged away and discarded. He sighed in relief at that, then lowered his head and shook himself out just to rid himself of the last remaining impressions of the rope.
Meanwhile, the boy was wrapping the rope up into a tidy bundle. "Someone tried to catch you? Why would anyone do that?"
:I guess he thought someone lost me.: A faintly disgusted ripple of hide, and he headed off across the clearing to take a long drink from the stream. He could feel eyes following him until he was finished and moved back over stand by the fire pit. Reaching down, he nudged the fallen bucket, picking it up in his teeth and righting it before setting it down again. :Is there anything to eat here?:
"Eat—?" He sounded confused. "But you're—don't you eat, you know, grass and stuff?"
:I don't know. I think so? But oats or apples sound better.:
"You… think so?" Even more confusion filtered into the boy's voice. He had finished bundling the rope already and now toyed with it absently while he frowned and clearly tried to wrap his mind around what was going on. "I—okay. Okay." Finally he sighed out a quick breath, making a dismissive hand gesture at the same time and then touching the same hand to his chest. "Look, let's start over. I'm Abby—Abner, I mean. What's your name?"
That was a hard question. :I don't know.:
"You don't know?" Disbelief. "What do you mean you don't know?"
:I mean I don't know.: He tried not to sound irritated, but one hoof stamped against the ground restlessly. :I woke up in the forest last night and I can't remember anything. Not my name, not where I'm from, not even what I am. All I know for sure is that I'm not a normal horse.: Sapphire eyes skimmed around before lighting on Xia, who was poking around the woodpile that was stacked against the side of the building beneath the window. There were probably mice scurrying about between the blocks. :Her name is Xia, though. I named her that this morning. She's been following me around all day.:
For his part, Abby simply tried not to gape at the creature in front of him. "But you're a Companion. How can you not know that?"
Abby nodded emphatically. He had seemed pinned in place, but now he began to move again, walking over to drop the coiled rope by the building's door and then heading to pick up the bucket. On his way past the Companion, though, he stopped in his tracks.
"Your tail!" He looked almost stricken. "What happened to your tail?"
:I got it caught in the bushes.:
While it was no longer a fresh wound, the long, fine silver hair of his tail was tinted the faintest red from the bit of blood that had seeped from it in the beginning. Truthfully, his tail had been the farthest thing from his mind the last few minutes, despite how badly it was still hurting. Abby, however, uttered a quiet concerned noise, then vanished into the cabin only to return moments later with a roll of bandages, a cloth and a bowl of clean, warm water. Without even saying anything more, he began cleaning out the injury. The stallion, meanwhile, craned his neck to watch while he worked.
:Why did you think I would get you in trouble?:
"Well, because I'm not a Herald. This is a Waystation, you know?" And then, "—ah. Right. You don't know. You don't remember." Finished with the cleaning, Abby quickly wrapped a section of bandage tightly around his tail, tying it neatly. He winced but didn't say anything. "Waystations are for Heralds and their Companions. They're not for everyday people." He sounded worried, "but I don't have anywhere else to go. I just needed somewhere to sleep—and I always hunt and fish for myself! I don't use up the Waystation supplies!"
The panicked tone to Abby's voice made him flinch lightly. From what he could tell, the boy had nothing to be guilty about. As far as he was concerned, everyone deserved a roof over their head, somewhere warm to sleep—and food. From what Abby was saying, even if he was borrowing the Waystation, he wasn't doing anything wrong.
:I think any Heralds or Companions would understand.: He said, and twitched his tail lightly to test the bandaging. :Thanks for that.:
"Sure. No problem."
Abby began cleaning up, tucking the rest of the roll of bandages under his arm and dumping the bowl of red-tinged water in the tree line behind the Waystation proper. Then he disappeared back inside for a few more minutes, eventually emerging with another bucket, this one clearly full of mixed oats and various grains.
"Here. I figure you're a Companion, so it's okay this time, yeah?"
Even if he had thought it wasn't okay, his stomach clearly disagreed with him. It growled loudly, and he perked at the smell of what was in the pail, then hurried over—and stuck his head in to begin inhaling the meal before Abby could even set it on the ground. The boy laughed softly, amused, then busied himself setting up a fire in the pit nearby.
"'Scuse me… Xia, right?" He nudged the cat out of the way of the woodpile, taking a few logs and then letting Xia go back to hunting whatever it was she was so interested in. "Anyway… what should I call you, if you don't have a name?"
:I dunno.: A shrug, and even though he answered the question, he didn't stop eating. :I mean, I'm sure I have a name, I just don't know it, and—ooh! Dried apples!: A pause then, and he looked up and over toward Abby, chewing the fruit contentedly. :I suppose I should think of something, though. Can't just go around letting people call me Hey You.: Then, contemplatively; :Two questions now: first, does this place have grooming brushes? And second, do you know how to use them?:
Over by the fire pit, Abby was pushing around the first coals of his soon-to-be bonfire. He blinked slightly at the questions, then looked back over his shoulder toward the Waystation. "Maybe. I'd have to look." As for whether or not he knew how to use a currycomb, he pursed his lips lightly. "I can do an okay job, I guess… but I haven't exactly had much experience with horses—or, I mean, not that you're a horse, but you know…" Shaking his head, he finished with, "All I mean is, I could give it a try if you wanted.
:I would very much like that.:
"Okay. I'll look and see if I can find brushes. But there should be some, considering what the Waystation is for and everything."
:Thank you.: His Voice carried heavy overtones of relief. He lowered his head to continue eating. :You are my new best friend, Abby.:
"Heh." Amused. "Don't adopt me so quickly. I can actually be a royal pain in the butt sometimes."
:No parents and all?:
"Yeah… something like that."
The tone to Abby's voice made him pause. He swallowed a mouthful of oats thickly, then looked over at the boy again. Bringing up Abby's parents was clearly not the right thing to do. Chagrined and guilty, he shifted awkwardly. :Sorry. I shouldn't have said that.:
"S'okay. I'm used to it."
With the fire going now, Abby stood, stretched, then returned to the station, reappearing a short time later with a currycomb. The stallion practically did a dance of glee, abandoning the last bits of his dinner to dance over and meet Abby halfway to the Waystation. Craning his neck, he lipped at the boy's hair appreciatively, then turned to present his left side to him. Abby chukled at that, lifting the brush to look at it for a moment before tentatively starting to brush.
The Companion practically melted, sighing out a quiet happy noise. He was in desperate need of a good brushing, his coat full of dirt and dust, tingeing him a off-white yellowish-grey. On top of that his mane and tail were a tangled mess—the brush wouldn't do much for them, but if the Waystation had a brush, it would likely have a comb as well. He hoped Abby would be willing to do that for him as well.
"Wow. You really are white as snow, aren't you? It's amazing."
:All Companions are white and silver?:
"Yep, and with blue eyes too—ah. Sorry kitty, I'm busy right now." Abby paused, looking down when Xia wandered over to rub up against his legs, and reached to give her a scritch before returning to what he had been doing. "I've never seen a real Companion up close before. They don't come out by Zalmon very often. We're about as far from Haven as you can get without leaving Valdemar completely."
:Are they that rare?:
"Well, it depends on where you are. In Haven they're not. That's where Companion's Field is."
:Companion's Field? I don't…: Trailing off, he shook his head. :I've forgotten a lot, haven't I?:
"Yes. But it's okay. If you get back to Haven I'm sure they'll help you." A slightly cheeky grin; "but first let me get you all snowy white again, or they won't recognize you at all." Then a short pause, and Abby tilted his head. "Hey, there you go. I'll call you Snow. What do you think?"
:Snow…?: He echoed, and considered for a moment. :Yeah, I like that. Snow.:
The brushing made him feel cleaner, yes—but having a name made him feel like a person.
To Be Continued.