Alton has left the women in Oak Mother’s sacred grove. Following Revanth alone, he can make better speed. He crosses the river, sending a mental message to Revanth, to let him know he’s coming.
Revanth had not been well treated in his captivity. He was covered with mud and black fly bites. A stone had lodged in his hoof, so he walked with a limp. The men weren’t interested in that, though they did stop and wash him before entering town.
Horse and men made their slow way to the town. The men decided to look for a buyer before approaching the auction in town. If that didn’t pan out, they could still put Revanth on the auction block.
The first potential buyer was a wealthy merchant from the Southern Continent. He was lavishly dressed in flowing robes in bright colors.
Revanth did his best to look disconsolate and down trodden. Unfortunately, his noble bearing (as horse or man) couldn’t be hidden. He tried to exaggerate his limp, but it wasn’t until the man tried to examine his teeth, that his opportunity came. The fellow reached soft, pampered hands to Revanth’s mouth. The horse-man bared strong, white teeth. A snarl curled his upper lip, and he snapped.
The hands approached once more. Revanth opened his jaws, biting firmly, though not as much as he could have. He was still a gentleman, and the merchant hadn’t wronged him. Besides, he sensed his captors would beat him senseless, if he seriously injured a potential buyer.
The merchant hopped back, squawking in panic. “Vicious beast!” He swatted at Revanth.
A horse’s body doesn’t lend itself to laughter, but he could snort and twitch his ears. Revanth’s attitude certainly conveyed mirth.
“Get away from me, you brute! How can you ask someone to buy a horse like that?”
Other attempted sales went much the same way. The thieves decided to stop at a seedy tavern for a cup of cheap ale.
“If we can’t find a wealthy buyer, any will do,” the leader growled.
“Sly, we should take him to the auction.”
“Where the entire city can see how badly he behaves? Are you mad, Grit? If we don’t sell him in the next hour, we’ll kill him, and cut our loses.”
“I hate doing that, Sly. He’s a beautiful beast.”
“Pretty or not, he’s a burden. We can’t keep him. He’s too distinctive. What would a pair of drifters like us be doing with a warhorse?”
Sly picked up his tankard, draining it. With a click, he set it on the table, signaling for another.
Alton wandered into view. He spotted the men and Revanth nearby. Swaggering over to the tavern, he ordered a cup of mead. Once it was served, he made a show of examining the crowd. His eyes slowly drifted to where the two thieves sat, heedless of his presence. His eyes narrowed as he plunked down his tankard.
“That’s—my horse!” He pointed to Revanth. “What are you blackguards doing with him? He put his hand on his sword hilt, advancing on the hapless pair.
The crowd spread quickly, giving him space to approach the men. They froze, cups of ale suspended halfway to gaping mouths.
“I’ve been after you bastards for two days. Call the watch!” he bellowed. “Hold them,” he commanded.
The men finally decided it was time to flee. They rose from their seats, turning to run away. Bystanders surrounded them, closing the space between them. Horse theft was a serious crime in these parts. The wouldn’t get away.
The city watch arrived moments later. The sergeant quickly ascertained the situation, with a few carefully worded questions of the crowd. He addressed particular individuals, whose word he seemed to consider reliable. When he was done, he granted Alton leave to question the thieves.
The furious wood sprite advanced on the leader, standing mere inches from Sly. Before he could speak, the man started babbling.
“We didn’t steal him, young master. We found him wandering the road. We brought him here to see if we could find his owner.”
“Then why did you try to sell him to anyone as would look at him?” the tavern wench spoke up. “If you was trying so hard to find his owner?”
“He were wandering, like,” Sly persisted.
“Liar! My horse is battle trained. He doesn’t wander off. He disappeared from the tavern where we stayed two nights hence.”
“Would that be Tom Joyce’s tavern?” the sergeant asked.
“I don’t recall his name, but he passes himself off as magistrate there.”
“That’s the one,” the sergeant said. “Lock them up,” the sergeant ordered. “You may get away with theft in Tom Joyce’s jurisdiction, but you won’t do so here. You’re in Baylor Fallow’s territory now, and he won’t hold with horse theft. Take ’em away.”
He turned to Alton. “Now, sir. Prove to me that’s your horse.”
“Gladly.” The wood sprite stepped forward. “Revanth, come.”
Revanth snorted, lifting his head. He stepped forward, limping. Alton dashed to his side.
“See here, he’s lame! May I get some aid? Where’s the stableman?”
A sturdy, black bearded man approached, a tool in hand. “I’m stable master here. I’ll have a look.”
He warily approached the big, black horse. Alton supported his friend, speaking quietly to him, as the stableman expertly hefted the affected hoof. Revanth stood quietly, shivering slightly as the man removed the stone and cleaned the area, examining the soft tissue with care. Once the stableman had bathed and put a poultice on hoof, he set the hoof down once more.
The nobleman-steed, sighed with relief. He nudged the big man, nodding his head in thanks.
“You’re welcome, young feller. Glad to help.” He patted Revanth on the neck. “He ought not to travel today, milord. I’d like overnight in the poultice. Feed and rest him well, he be good to travel tomorrow.”
“Thank you, good man. Your name?”
“Bastian,” he replied. “Do you have a mind to mate him He’s a fine steed.”
Alarm filled Alton’s mind. Revanth recoiled from the idea of servicing a mare. His body was that of a horse, but his mind was all man.
“Not right now, I think. We need to be underway as soon as he’s well enough to travel.”
“If you change your mind, I’ve a mare in season.”
Alton paid him for his service. He made arrangements to spend the night in the stable with Revanth. He took a meal in the tavern, finding the food exceptionally good. He tucked the remains of his meal in his bag, adding some fruit for Revanth.
The stableman, Bastian, saw to it he had a healthy hot mash with nuts, sweetened with cane syrup. He also added some herbs to ease the pain, and help Revanth sleep.
They bedded down early, both exhausted by their trip. Revanth’s hoof ached, but not enough for him to complain. Alton fell into a deep sleep, his head on Revanth’s side.
Alton walked into a dreamscape, which was as real to him as the stable where he slept. It was a forest grove, much like where he had grown up. A stream ran through, pooling in the center, the soft bubble comforting.
“My love!” Soft hands grasped him from behind. Velda appeared, hands touching his sleeves. She moved closer. Alton turned to face her, taking her in his arms.
“I miss you, my love,” he breathed.
“Did you find Revanth?”
“He’s here with me. He had a stone in his hoof, but he’s not badly injured otherwise. We’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Take your time. We miss you.”
“And we miss you.”
“When you return, we will talk about what we must do to lift his curse. It will be very dangerous,” Velda continued. “Eleion will not give up easily.”
“It’s not something we can solve tonight.”
“Astrid is fairing better in the sacred grove than she did at home, but she weakens. Revanth will too if they remain apart too long.”
“We will get on the road as soon as we’re able.”
“You need to rise early and return. So, kiss me, love. Then sleep.”
Alton did as she wished. He felt the dreamscape fade away, replaced by a normal dream.
The horse and sprite spent a quiet night. They woke when the stableman came in to check on Revanth. He greeted Alton with a smile.
“How’s the foot?” he asked Revanth.
The horse-man snorted, holding it up for inspection. Bastian unwrapped it, smiling.
“Excellent. Much better. After a good breakfast, you can be on your way. Take it slow,” he cautioned.
“Oh, aye,” Alton replied. “And I’ll be walking.”
“Good of you. Not all would.”
Alton clapped Revanth on the neck. “He is my friend,” he replied proudly. “And that’s far more important than just a horse.”
“Would that more thought as you you, sir. I’d see far fewer injured animals.” He gave Revanth his meal, grinning as the big horse ate.
Alton broke his fast in the tavern with a very respectable meal. Feeling better, they set out from town. When they were a safe distance away, Alton slowed at the foot of a tall, ancient oak. Revanth kept watch as Alton took off his gloves, lovingly touching the bark. Laying his cheek against it, he closed his eyes, reaching out for Velda.
“We are on the road back to you, my love. We’ll take it slowly as Revanth’s foot is still a bit sore. Expect us around sunset.” He waited a few minutes in case Velda replied. She didn’t. However, when they reached the river, three blue heads rose from the glossy surface.
“Greetings, Lord Alton,” the first naiad said. Her hair was midnight blue. “My sisters and I bring word from Velda. She awaits anxiously—and has much to tell you.”
“Thank you, Sister,” Alton replied.
The second, whose hair was blue as sky at midday, spoke next. “And for you, Revanth, your lady sends her love. She begs you return safely.”
The third, and youngest, whose hair was like a storm cloud, finally spoke.
“You have questions, Alton. You and your brother face a quest.”
“He’s not my brother—” Alton’s protest was cut short by a flick of her smoky hair.
It wasn’t until that moment he noticed her eyes were the same color as her hair—the entire surface was a pearly gray.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes