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For Want of a Nail

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Vanyel Ashkevron, most feared Herald-Mage of the country of Valdemar, stepped into a fast-running creek with a shiver. His white boots had long since soaked through, and were barely any protection from the frigid water. He shivered again as he glanced over his shoulder to watch a white form drift out of the trees behind him to limp towards the creek.

“It’s fast, but shallow, love.” He spoke up softly, voice breaking the night silence.

Yfandes heaved a sigh and hobbled down the shallow bank. :Thank you, Chosen.: Doing her best to keep her left hoof from touching the ground, the snowy white Companion limped through the water and out the other side. She paused to nuzzle her Chosen’s shoulder before moving forward again. Horses were meant to move on four legs, not three, and Companions were no different.

The pair found themselves slowed nearly to a snail’s pace after a brief run-in with some Karsites left Yfandes injured without a Healer close enough to help.

Vanyel walked just ahead of his Companion, feeling guilty for not being able to Heal his beloved. Of all the Gifts he’d had the dubious honor of having, the Healer’s Gift was annoyingly absent. Every other Gift known to the Heraldic Collegium, and none of them were any help at this moment. Between outposts, out of reach of any but the strongest MindSpeakers - and none of them would even know to look in this direction - and he could do nothing but ply the field medic practices he’d learned.

“Stars above!” Van cursed, spinning on the icy ground to - he wasn’t sure what. He could do precious little to help Yfandes if she fell. In escaping from an unexpected ambush, the mare had come down wrong on a rock and split her left forehoof from rim to crown and twisted her ‘ankle’. It had been sheer dumb luck that had seen Vanyel thrown from the saddle and Yfandes fallen to the ground as arrows flew through the space they’d just occupied. Drawing far more attention to their position than he’d preferred, he had called lightning down on the three men who had foolishly stood, no doubt thinking they’d killed the Demon Rider.

It appeared to have been an ambush of opportunity, though, when no others came to investigate the light show that had broken the night’s darkness.

Cursing his lack of Healing Gift then, as now, Van could do nothing for his Companion but tear up one of his spare tunics to bind her hoof tightly and wrap supportive bandages around the joint that was already starting to swell. Of course she would be injured when they were returning with the signed treaty with Rethwellen, when no-one was quite sure which route they would be taking; it would be hours before anyone realized that they had not been heard from.

Unfortunately, with Yfandes injured, they could not safely stick to the roads. Moving at a Companion’s swift pace they might’ve been safe - except obviously not - but at such a slow pace they made too much of a target out in the open of the roadway. Better to take the slower, narrower game trail. In the snowy dark, a Companion and her white rider might be overlooked as yet more deer on the move in the cold. Especially when said rider was stuck on foot.

:Careful, my heart. No sense in you getting hurt, too.: Yfandes murmured into Vanyel’s mind, pausing to get her feet under her on the icy ground before limping forward again. :If I fall, I fall. I will get back up, and later we will both chuckle at my sad attempt to ice skate.: An absolutely preposterous comment, and Van couldn’t help but chuckle at the image she supplied, of a horse with metal skates bound to its hooves.

Van snorted. “A horrible thought, but thank you for putting it in my mind. I wonder if my brother could convince father to try it some year. Perhaps with the Stud’s more recalcitrant offspring?" He shook his head, remembering the ugly stallion his brother Mekeal had been so proud of.

:It will take Stefan's help to manage that, love. And not even then, I'm sure.: Yfandes pointed out with a snicker, before nuzzling Vanyel's hair when he sighed. :We will be there soon enough, and once a Healer sees to me, we can go home.:

"I suppose you're right. As you generally are." Vanyel smiled when Yfandes snorted and pushed at his shoulder with her nose. "I'll be happy to see dry boots, right now, let alone Stefan. Hot tea, a warm mash and a Healer for you, and then a stall filled knee-deep in straw. I'd rather sleep with you tonight regardless of where we end up."

:There's no need for that.: Yfandes protested, though Van could sense a trace of gratitude behind the words. Neither of them truly liked to be separated when one of them was injured, a feeling that had been made all the stronger by Vanyel's early days as Yfandes Chosen, when he'd been injured to the soul by the death of his life-bonded Tylendel. But that was neither here nor there, at this point, and Yfandes was touched by Van's determination to stay with her.

They trod along in silence, then, for an indeterminate time, before Yfandes heard something that made her stumble to a stop, head coming up and nostrils flaring. Vanyel froze, peering about them in the dark and trying to figure out what had caught her attention. He readied a quick spell that would shield them from attack, but didn’t cast it yet, uncertain of where the threat might be coming from. When Yfandes whickered suddenly Van nearly jumped out of his boots, and turned to stare at her instead of the dark, mutely demanding an explanation.

Yfandes nuzzled Van’s cheek. :Someone heard our wishes, it would seem. Help is coming. Help me get to the road.:

Van blinked. “Who…?” He shook his head. “No matter.” He cast around for the feel of another mind while studying the ground around them for a place where the underbrush seemed a little thinner. They’d been following a trail that ran near the road, and actually seemed near just such a space. Wary, even with Yfandes’ confidence that there was help approaching, he moved as quietly as he could - as quietly as she could with such a handicap - without using a mage light to make it easier to see. When they both stumbled out of the underbrush onto the road, Van was finally able to hear the soft chiming of Companion hooves in the distance, and he relaxed. No horse - or magic - could duplicate the sound of a Companion’s stride, just like there wasn’t a magic or dye around that could change a Companion’s silvery coat to anything more ‘normal’. “Forgive my doubt, sweetheart?”

:Always.: Yfandes told him fondly, before waiting for the other Companion and its Herald to arrive. Maybe they would make it back to Haven before the snows all melted after all.