The dawn chorus woke her with the first rays of sunshine peeking through the trees surrounding the ruins. He was already gone and no warmth was left from the fire he had created and for a moment she half believed that she had imagined him until he appeared again at the doorway. His pale mane and muzzle covered in shining drops of water which cascaded off him as he shook his head. They stood there staring at each other awkwardly until once more the bells began to toll down the valley.
"Time to go" He said flickering his ears at the sound.
"The Vale. You will find other Cavitto to assist you." He responded as he turned and lead the way out of the ruins and down a game path towards the valley below. She followed him dubiously at a little distance lest he be aggravated by her being right behind him. Now she was fully dry she itched and longed to be able to groom herself. What a mess she must look trudging along behind him.
"You're already trying to get rid of me, and you haven't introduced yourself yet." Mel muttered sighing. His abrupt halt caught her by surprise and she walked straight into him. He stomped a hoof an annoyance and turned back towards her.
"She called me Fabio." There was no need to ask who "she" was. He had stated it reverently, exactly the same way her mother spoke of her previous life. "Fabio." She bumped her nose to his side. "I am Melaina." She didn't really expect a response from him but he nodded and turned back along the path, assuming she would continue to follow him.
After some time they reached the edge of the woods and he halted, allowing her to catch up. When she reached him she moved close so she could peer through the gap that he was using, forgetting her awkwardness as she pushed her nose under his. He put his ears back but said nothing as she gasped at the view.
"There are humans down there! Why would Cavitto stay here? We aren't safe!" She said in alarm as she threw her head up and wafted him with her mane. "Stop panicking." He groused nipping her neck. "They are used to the herd and don't bother us. There is a lot you will need to learn if you intend to stay here. Some Cavitto have human friends much like we did with the Gods. They work and play together." He turned back to the magnificent view of the warm coloured stone abbey rising out of a large group of buildings in the centre of the vale, surrounded by ancient oak trees in the park and acres of lush grass to the woods surrounding them.
To the east end of the complex of buildings along the edge of the river stood a group of several horses playing and grazing, and further along the path leading up the hill towards another building walked several humans. The horses ignored the humans, even as they ignored the horses in turn which shocked Melaina even more than everything else.
"How is this possible?" She whispered flattening her ears.
"As you grow older you will learn that everything is possible." Fabio replied turning to walk along the treeline heading slightly east as the cliffs dropped down towards the vale. Hidden by the trees below them she could hear the rush of running water and was delighted to find a fresh clean pond being fed by a tributary before it fell gracefully over cliff and down into the main river. He gracefully leaped over the narrow stream and started to walk off again when she called back and stopped him.
"There is no way I am going down there looking like this." Without waiting for an answer she braved the cold water and walked straight in up to her withers and began splashing water over her back with her nose, sloshing around to loosen the dried mud. Enjoying herself a little too much she flicked water deliberately towards him with her tail and snorted with laughter when he grunted and stood further away from her reach. She surprised him further with a display of her power by raising hundreds of bright orbs of water above her head before letting them go to rain down on her, washing her mane and back clean.
"Are you not done yet." Came a slightly aggrieved mutter from the opposite bank.
"I guess so." She sighed half swimming towards him and clambering out. She shook herself vigorously once more covering him liberally. Not to be out done he sent the wind to dry out her coat leaving her gasping as he had the night before.
The sun was beginning to warm the earth and plants, making them steam gently as the rain from the previous night started to evaporate, though by the time they had made down to the valley and back across the somewhat larger stream on its way towards the river Melaina felt as soaked through as what she had coming out of the pond.
"How many are here?" She asked slowing down as the footing eased into short clover and meadow grass.
"Enough, and more every year." Was the short answer. He snorted as she stopped to catch up some of the sweet clover.
"Don't be grumpy, I've barely eaten for days." She said continuing to graze. He muttered but stayed, cropping the grass along side her.
"You are only delaying the inevitable." He said after a while. He had already noticed that some of the other horses had caught sight of them on the horizon, but out of respect for him had not come to investigate. They had learnt to leave him alone unless he voluntarily approached them. Even Desdemona and Spring were cautious but Cleopatra was a lore unto herself and between the three of tham had managed with some ease to keep an eye on him.
"Maybe, but I really was hungry." She said brushing her nose against his chest as he walked past her. He was surprised all over again at how easily she made physical contact with him, and despite her initial fear seemed not to be bothered by either his rather dishevelled appearance or antisocial demeanour.
As they skirted along the roadway leading down the valley towards the towering ruins of the abbey he pointed out the few major landmarks. The converted gatehouse in the east behind them, the two ponds used by the monks in the meadows, the ancient oaks skirting the border between the woods and the grazing areas, and finally the many different buildings in the almost chaotic maze in front of them, topped by the broken towers of the abbey church itself, around which lazy ravens flew.
As they got closer to the abbey she could see so many things going on it was almost overwhelming, even though it was only a few hours after dawn both humans, horses and a variety of other smaller creatures milled around the buildings whilst the foals played among them all. By the time they were on the main track leading in between the buildings she was ready to give up and flee. The only thing that prevented her from doing so was her pride and a desperate need not to shame herself in front of him. She took a deep breath and kept walking but subconsciously walked a little closer to him as they were now being scrutinized by several horses who had stopped their activities.
A group of mares walked towards them but one broke away from the group first, a stunning young mare with dark mane and tail and grey coat which faded into a luminous purple down her legs. Melaina was surprised again to see small cloud like formations clinging to her mane, and sparkling on her legs lay a myriad of stars. An anomaly to be certain, and one she had never seen before. The mare stopped and touched noses with Fabio.
"Sire, a new friend?" She asked turning to Melaina.
"A stray who found her way to my safe place last night during the storm. You are well Imber?"
"I am well. Welcome to Tincture Vale. You were lucky my sire didn't chase you away!"
"He tried but I was stubborn and cold. I'm Melaina, it's nice to meet you Imber." Mel touched noses with Imber catching her scent. Imber motioned to the others stood a little way behind her.
"They are all eager to meet you, come let me introduce you." She turned and walked away expecting Melaina to follow but she paused and looked back at Fabio.
"You will be safe here." He said by way of a goodbye and turned to leave.
"Wait, you're not staying?"
"You have more than enough company now." He said over his shoulder continuing to walk back down the track. Mel stood and watched him go, a strange feeling making her heart heavy.
"Do not be concerned over my sires lack of desire to be among us. He is still heartsick from the aftermath and angry with the world. He prefers his own company." Imber said walking back to stand next to her. The other mares had joined them and Mel turned regretfully to make their acquaintance.