Melaina Chapter 3

A branch slapped her across the face making her toss her head back and snort in alarm. It immediately tangled in her mane like fingers seeking hidden knots, tugging and pulling. How she hated this unending forest that seemed to stretch onwards always over the horizon.

For almost a month she had moved steadily north and east through moorland and then meadows and fields and now into the depths of ancient woodland. The wind had been as unrelenting as the view; damp, misty with a constant aroma of decay. Now and again she had smelt wood smoke and twice she had run in terror from dogs and the sound of humans hunting the magnificent deer who claimed the forest as their own.

She was sick of being dirty and tired now matter how she tried to keep herself clean. Her legs were covered in scratches and knee deep in mud, her feathers stiff and brittle, not any sort of shape for one such as she.

She was more than this, better than the longing and deep seated sadness that never seemed to go away. Perhaps it really was just as her mother had predicted, the same longing that took them all, desperately seeking something that was forever beyond their grasp. A way back to what they knew, but for Melaina who had never been in Olympus, never experienced the wonders it was not the same, how could she possibly long for something so passionately that she had no recollection of?

She stopped and turned her gaze to a murky pond and distracted by the half hidden reflection of herself, she reached closer trying to see that thing that was not there and disturbed a minnow which swam frantically away shattering her reflection and her daydreams. The rain was on its way again and she had to find shelter before dark. She moved on in a sullen mood.

The hollow she had mistakenly chosen soon became a quagmire under her feet as the rain hammered down on the trees, the noise almost deafening after so much silence. In fear that the sides would become too slippy for her to escape she made a panicked exit up the bank and moved on carefully in the pitch darkness.

Miserable, exhausted and now soaked through from walking for hours it took her several minutes to realise that she had reached what seemed to be the end of the forest. The trees seemed to just stop abruptly but it was only a small glade running along the edge of a stream which was full to bursting. Without going miles out of her way to get across she would have to either try and jump across or find a shallow spot and ford it. Swimming and wading were not enjoyable prospects and there was simply nothing around she could levitate over as a makeshift bridge. Scanning the banks in the dark was hard but she figured long and low was the best way to have a chance.

She trotted back into the trees a little way to get a good run up and went for it, breaking out into a fast canter on the rough ground she waited til the last moment and leapt with all her might into the dark. Her hind feet splooshed into the shallow edge on the other side but she had made it! With a snort of relief she hurried on still heading north and east. At some point the sun would rise and she intended to find somewhere where she could sleep out of the rain if it killed her.

The trees continued to thin and the variety changed from conifers and pine to oaks and birch, less protection from the rain but much easier to navigate as the forest floor cleared. She thought it was her imagination at first to hear the tolling of a bell somewhere in the distance, it seemed to beckon her on and distracted by the sound she missed the first scent of many horses who seemed to frequent the game path she was now walking along. It made the hairs along her spine tingle with the familiarity, and more than familiarity recognition, there were Aksiothos in this herd! Aksiothos meant safety so when she came across a well worn path that lead into a grove of thick conifers practically hiding a partial ruin she almost groaned in relief. The heavy branches covered a hole in the corner of the roof but the rest of the space was dry, warm and empty.

How long she had stood shivering in the shelter she didn’t know but even with her dulled senses she could still recognise another presence coming closer, she tensed realising that the shelter could also be a trap with only one route of escape when a ghostlike form appeared in the arched doorway scaring her half to death.

“There’s no place for you here, you should go.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t know, please don’t make me leave there’s nowhere else!”
“I don’t share and there’s not enough room for two.” The dark shape loomed closer revealing itself as a stallion with an icy white mane just like Melaina’s. He was a lot taller than she was and his bulk filled the doorway. With the addition of a magnificent set of horns he was clearly well beyond her years in age and ability.
“Please, just for tonight, there’s surely enough room if I move right over, I’m so cold.” She pleaded with him, dropping her head submissively, she had no doubt he could hurt her and she had no idea what his powers might be. He snorted in annoyance and shook his head.
“Foolish foals who can not look after themselves should not be away from their dams.” A sudden wind whipped around her making her squeeze her eyes shut but when it stopped her coat was mostly dry.
“I’m not a foal, I am almost four!” She whispered defensively stomping a hoof as she shuffled as far over into the corner as she could. He entered the shelter and turned around to face the archway so she could move a little more back towards him and the warmth he seemed to radiate.
He declined to respond but at least didn’t stop her from shuffling even closer to him, she was still shivering. In the distance, but much closer the bell tolled once more then stopped making the silence except for the rain complete.

From out of nowhere a sudden spark of fire made her flinch but as she watched the flame grew and settled into a pit she hadn’t noticed near the doorway. Like him it radiated heat and she sighed in relief as the air around them warmed.

She dropped into a doze, her muzzle resting next to his warm shoulder feeling safe for the first time since she had left her mother’s herd. Perhaps this was what she had been looking for.

The stallion turned his head, watching her in the gloom and flickering light of the fire he had created, he was still learning this new trick and had been half afraid he would set fire to the entire building with them in it. Her breath ruffled the hairs on his shoulder as she got closer and closer to him seeking warmth, a pretty thing that he had seen from the glimpses of her making her way into his shelter, but too young no matter what she told him and he had no need of company when the herd at tincture vale was only down the hill. He would take her there in the morning and let them play nursemaid.

He stood resting a hind leg listening to the softly hypnotic breathing of this young mare and dozed himself, mentally noting that her nose and ears were distinctly cold but that she smelt comfortingly of wild things and heather. Why he should be bothered by what she smelt like he couldn’t fathom but he would at least know her should their paths cross in the future. She had clearly had no intention of leaving tonight even if he had attempted to frighten her out of his shelter. Foolish foals.