Autumn | Year 1500 | 2179 words
Featuring Frederick and Dusty with mentions of NPC's Fire and Rodrich
The mist of past rains fogged the early light of an early autumn day, rousing Frederick from his sleep among the tall grass.
He lifted his head, snorting as he took in the sights and sounds around him, then got to his feet. The bugs that had taken shelter in the grass beside him fluttered up and away, and he shook his mane free of any remaining gnats before starting to walk.
Frederick was an older stallion with a colorful coat and no herd. His father, a dark dun with chorming, had passed his herd onto his son at the ripe age of 23, and had passed away shortly after. Frederick had taken care of the herd until, one by one, they had passed from old age or illness, leaving him behind with no one to care for.
It was a lonely life, the stallion finding that he was missing the company a dozen mares brought, and so far his lands had been barren with anything in the form of a lady to court. But, still, he went on, keeping an eye on his lands that he wandered and tending to himself.
Frederick snorted again and treaded carefully down the sloping, slippery banks of a swollen river. The water had risen with the just passed downpour of rains, making the area a bit more treacherous than before, but he was sure footed and reached the cool basin without incident, dipping his head to drink from the moving snake of water.
The sooty palomino twisted his neck, stretching the muscles lazily. He blinked sleepily at the sky as it turned from the dark purple-blue of night into the pink-violet of dawn. He smiled. Some would call him an optimist, as he saw potential in every day; others would call him a romantic, as he would sigh at the sheer beauty of the sunrise, as he did now. Indeed, he was a romantic and given to poetic notions. His smile and sigh were tinged with the longing of companionship. He wished to share this beautiful view with someone, hopefully of like mind.
With a shake of his mane, he turned towards the river. The sound of its rushing was inspiring, and his heart raced with it. He chuckled at himself. It was water, but he likened it to the blood in the veins of the earth. How silly was he-! Still smirking at his thoughts, he wended his way down the banks and paused, seeing another horse in the fog.
”Morning! Who’s there?” he called.
You could never be too careful. Dip your head in the river at the wrong time near a stranger, and you might end up in that river, never to come out. Dusty really didn’t want a fight right now. He wanted to chase mares and fill his belly with sweet grass until he felt green himself. However, if this was an enemy--potential or otherwise--he’d give them the good fight.
Keeping his eyes on the mist-shrouded stranger, he positioned himself on more level ground.
Glancing up as a voice rang out from overhead, Frederick looked up as a stranger came forwards out of the mist.
Frederick had no interest in fighting, unless he needed too. He was no coward, nor was he a pacifist, but he would rather not waste the energy if he didn't need to. Perhaps this stranger would be willing to share the river if he replied and showed he didn't want to fight.
"Hello," he called back, flicking an ear. "And morning to you as well."
Turquoise eyes watched as the form before him came closer, standing across the river, and he made out the familiar pattern and color of a horse he remembered from days past.
Dusty peered closer at the stallion and smiled slowly. Could it be? He knew this horse! How many years had it been? Too many.
He continued down the bank, saying, ”The years have been kind, friend. My memory is shaky on names, though. Was it...Stick?”
He knew it wasn’t, but he couldn’t help himself using the old nickname. He waited cautiously, though. If the other stallion was offended or had forgotten...well, he just hoped it wouldn’t come to a beautiful morning being started with bloodshed.
Ha. He hadn't heard that name in years, one that has stuck due to a friend's inability to pronounce his name when he was young.
"You are correct, Dusty." Frederick bobbed his head, a warm smile gracing his features. "It's been a while, I agree. How have you been? You've finally grown into your legs, I see."
The palomino allowed himself to drink a few gulps before replying to the buckskin.
”Yep, finally got them straightened out. Can even walk with them,” he grinned, getting back into the easy pace friends used. It had been too long since he could relax around another stallion.
He continued, ”Been wandering. Just now decided to get a herd together. Found some mares a few hills over. Couple showed some interest. You?”
The mature part of him warned to keep his guard up. Although they’d been friends and talked like them now, Frederick (yep, that was him) was still another stallion and mentioning those mares might cause trouble. But, surely a stallion like Stick had his own by now?
Listening quietly, Frederick shifted the weight of his hips and propped a hoof up in casual ease, nodding slightly. Dusty, from his memories, had always been a stallion that valued family and close relationships. It really wasn't a surprise that the other had a harem, or was at least searching others out. Dusty was a family man.
He shook his head when the question was turned to him, tail swishing. "Old herd passed away. All of them grew old and frail. I just made sure they passed with ease," he relayed. "Haven't had a mare in a few years now. Gets a bit lonely, I will admit... but, I was never one to snake from others."
"But, anyway, you're doing well, I hope? I recall the last time I saw you was shortly after our fathers got into a scuffle."
Dusty felt a weight drop in his chest at the mention of fathers, then he chuckled and whistled low. Maybe it hadn’t been too many years. He hadn’t thought of his father recently, choosing instead to keep his mind clear of the angry, proud stallion who bullied his mares. The stallion he loosely called ‘father’ but firmly vowed not to be like.
”Yeah. Fire could be something, couldn’t he?” Dusty said, referring to his own father by his name instead of the affectionate description. He could still close his eyes and see the bright red dun with the cold blue eyes frowning down at him.
A shake of his mane, then, ”Sorry to hear about the herd. I would’ve stayed, but, you know...reasons.”
It was a lame answer. This stallion deserved something better than a limp, cowardly excuse. He deserved the truth: I left because I couldn’t bear being in the same herd as the stallion that drove my Mom to her death. But, he couldn’t say it. He wasn’t ready to open that wound again.
Ah, yes. Fire. What a fitting name for that stallion.
Frederick had known Fire prior to knowing Dusty himself. His father, Rodrich, had allowed alliances to form between his herd and another that had shared the land and its abundant resources. The other herd had been managed by Fire, as not unexpected, but it had been found out shortly after making the alliance that Fire was not a kind ruler as Rodrich had been.
Frederick remembered the confrontations the red stallion had had with his mares, and the arguments that had stirred up between Rodrich and Fire as a result of the treatment. They had not been pretty, and the last time Frederick had seen Dusty had been after the fight that had left Fire kicked out of the herd and banished from the plains his father ruled.
It was a sad ending, one that left a bad taste in Federick's mouth whenever he had the time to muse over it, but it was in the past. Still, he knew it had been hard for Dusty. He had been young when it had happened and Frederick felt that his young companion had been affected by his surroundings.
"I understand," Frederick responded, gentle. "It was a tough time for you. No need to explain." He shook out his mane. "And I'll find new mares. It will just take me a minute. I'm glad you've found some, however. It's good that you've started up a family of your own."
The palomino chuckled. ”Not that far yet, my friend. Not that far. I’m still at the ‘howya doin’ stage.”
He allowed himself a good chuckle then dipped his head for another drink. Strange, he hadn’t even thought past forming his herd, past ‘getting’ the mares. Foals would follow--it was inevitable. He suddenly felt cold. He’d be a father. He wasn’t sure he’d be a good one. What had turned his Dad into such a jerk? Was it responsibility? The pressure of managing a herd? Or had he always been a jerk?
He cleared his throat, ”You planning on a bunch of foals? I mean, after you’ve got your girls.”
"Of course." Frederick replied. His family had always had plenty of children, and the first boy to be born would be his heir. Not having foals wasn't an option. "I haven't had any yet, due to the herd getting up there in age when I took over, but I would like some. It's part of being a herd leader."
Dusty chewed an itchy spot on his flank then said, ”Ever think we’d come this far? Herd leaders, both of us? Honestly, I sure didn’t.”
He wasn’t lying. He replayed innumerable times in his past where the next moment had seemed uncertain or the next breath impossible. Somehow, he had survived. How? He wasn’t sure. Perhaps it was a combination of luck and skill. Maybe there was a Higher Power looking out for him. Maybe, just maybe, he was meant to live and, more so, thrive. Who really knew why the funny old world let some make it and some fail?
”You’re settling around here?” the palomino asked. ”Might be nice to have friendly company nearby--mares could talk, foals could play, that sort of thing.”
Frederick bobbed his head, turning his head to gesture towards where he had just come from. "Just on the other side of the river, actually," he informed. "And it would be nice. Could never do with too much friendly company."
The elder stallion sighed quietly. Yeah, company would be nice. He missed the thrum of a large herd, and how one was never really alone with one. He would be happy once he had one again.
The air hung pregnant with silence between them for a few moments. So much to say without really anything to say. Adulthood had not so much changed the two stallion as refined their priorities, and, now, there was nothing to talk about but impending responsibilities and past regrets. It felt that way to Dusty, at least. A hundred--a thousand--apologies built up behind his teeth. None of them were for things he had done. No, he would be apologizing for a stallion who never apologized because, in his mind, he had done nothing wrong. How many lives had he shattered? How many souls did he tear down and apart? But, Dusty knew there would never be enough apologizing for Fire. The only thing he could do now in an attempt to make up for his Father’s brutality was to be a better stallion than he ever was.
He smiled, ”That’s funny. I’m just on the other side! There’s a shallow ford about a trot from here so we can cross our herds over at times. Rest the grass for a few suns then switch over, huh?”
No. There would be no contested territory between him and his old friend. No harsh words. No imaginary boundaries drawn on the earth or his heart. He was Stick’s foalhood friend and he would be his friend again now.
”Whatcha say, Stick?” he grinned.
A slow smile stretched across Frederick's muzzle as Dusty proposed a combination of territories, a twinkle in his eye.
He may have lost his herd, but he had gained a friend back in return and the older stallion could only see good things come from such a thing. Only true friends would come back together after so many years apart and make something of what little they had. They'd make their alliance something their fathers couldn't, and there would be no battles to wage.
Dusty was different, and Frederick had known that from the moment he had been born.
Frederick stepped into the river, moving to close the gap and extend a gesture of friendship with a head over the other paint's withers once close enough.
"I'd say I couldn't agree more."