Talking to Ezraine was always difficult, as is often the way with horses.
He didn’t believe in bowing to ‘human sensitivities’ as he had once so indelicately worded it and preferred to cut directly to the point.
“I need them.”
I snorted. ‘Need’ seemed a bit of an exaggeration. He returned my mockery with an ungraceful snort of his own, disdainfully stating, “It’s hardly a long walk.”
“Oh, perhaps for you, maybe, but I’ve never been out that far before! And, never alone!”
Ezraine didn’t so much as glance over at me, instead, he remained with his nose to the ground, snuffling around the overgrown grass at the edge of the clearing. “Besides, Ezraine, if they- are you even listening!? They’d notice if I was gone that long – I’d be mucking out the stables for weeks!”
There was a loud crunch. “Perhaps,” he admitted, as he munched on a stray apple that had fallen to the ground, “hmmm, not quite ripe enough.”
“Well, it’s not yet warm enough. That one shouldn’t have even fallen now.”
“It’s plenty warm. Warm enough for Aramanthas to grow. And now, about those flowers - you simply must get them. I’ve been craving them all winter.”
Ezraine paused and fixed his gaze on mine. “As I recall, you already owe me for that little secret I told you several months ago, and,” he gave a brief pause, flicking his eyes around before continuing in a quieter tone. “I’ll tell you what. You get me those flowers, while your mothers are away travelling to the markets, yes, remember? Then I’ll tell you another little secret I’m certain you’ll find very interesting.” He fixed me with a pointed, and somewhat irritating look, then dipped his head back down to continue grazing.
Shamefully, I had to actually bite my tongue to stop myself from licking my lips. That certainly caught my attention, I was much too nosey and curious for my own good, if I was a cat, I’d be dead a thousand times over, and I’ve got the scars and list of punishment-chores to prove it. Actually, I’ve always wondered, why, or rather how, did curiosity kill the cat? Ugh, never mind, my point is, promise me secrets, secrets as good as Ezraine’s, and I am desperate for them. My mothers are always careful in what they tell me, but Ezraine is much freer, as long as he gets something in return.
He told me what the vine-like plant of mother’s growing by the stables did, so long as he got to watch when I added it to a batch of my own special hair-grow potion I brewed in secret.
The cat sprouting long, green tresses entertained him greatly, but as did the lecture I received in punishment. Oh, ha! I guess that’s how curiosity killed the cat (not that he died, I did have a basic antidote on me, I’m at least a little prepared for my accidents).
I also learnt that you had to be cautious with Ezraine - people think cats are the devious ones, but truly, it is horses.
“What kind of secret?” I asked, working to keep my voice neutral.
“Well, it has to do with you, and your mothers, annnnnd things they’d rather not tell you just yet.” He wandered over to me now, certain he’d caught my attention.
He had. They never told me anything they ‘didn’t think I was ready for’.
But Ezraine would have to try a little harder if he wanted me to run halfway across the forest.
“Why, that could mean anything at all, they’d rather not tell me anything just yet.” His snort of annoyance rumbled through his large, dark frame, and he knocked his head into my shoulder, forcing me back a little ways.
“Don’t be so disrespectful of my secrets Ole, have they ever let you down?”
“Yes!” I poked him on the nose, “You know they have and you enjoyed it immensely.” He tossed his head and pranced a few steps, he was giggling. He was actually giggling at me. “And,” I continued, now exasperated, “do you know what? You’re not even supposed to have those flowers! Mother says they can be quite dangerous!”
He ignored that last part.
“Well, little girl, did you know you aren’t supposed to know all the little secrets I tell you? But this one, it has to do with where you came from.”
“Where I – I come from here stupid! Oh, how were you ever bonded to Nyluss? You are nothing like her, and you are so devious and rude.” Ezraine gave me a reproachful glance, well, as much as a horse could anyway.
“Why, such a big word for such a little girl. I’m hardly devious. But there’s an awful lot you don’t know about your mothers, silly child.” He sighed mockingly, “Children never do.”
“I’m fifteen!” He snorted again as if he’d proved a point.
“Hrrmph,” I crossed my arms, and then quickly uncrossed them as I realised how much it looked like I was pouting. “I won’t do it.”
“Now try again, like you mean it.” He glared me down. “I dare you."
My fingers started to twitch. I squared my shoulders and threw back an equally determined stare, trying to remain impassive.
It didn’t work.
“Fine! I’ll get your stupid flowers, I’ll get you a whole bunch! Just don’t be so, so, well, rude.” I sighed and stepped closer, poking him in the nose once more for good measure. “Now, tell me how.”
The glee that he suddenly radiated almost made me regret my decision.
It was only difficult to follow Ezraine’s special kind of directions if you thought about it too much. I followed an invisible path through the forest to where I knew they would be. Though I had never ventured here before, following the trail was like following a memory; it was foreign but rooted deep within my mind. This knowledge was a gift for me in exchange for another. For the secret.
I clambered through a small opening in the trees and there, a simple but open meadow with a small pond, which one might call plain if it weren't for the lovely waterfall that spilt out over the rocks and stirred the water beneath. I had found them, Aramanthas, growing among the rocks and cracks in the bank, the loveliest flower I had ever seen, and there was a dragonfly lazily buzzing around them. I recognised them as the ones that had filled my mind's eye for the last two hours.
Deep gold centres gave way to petals just as rich and dark as the colour of the plum wine my mothers kept hidden beneath the floorboards. They were thick and pointed with a delicate curl, and layered seemingly endlessly. I thought them even more magnificent than the most elegant flowers mother grew, though I would never dare tell her. I wandered carefully over - they were enchantingly beautiful, but not enough to distract me from remembering that I’d been gone a while now, and I was quite a ways from home.
The air was warm and heavy with the scent of honeysuckle, and something a little headier. As I began to pick the Aramantha, I realised it came from them, a strong clear scent like nothing I had ever known before then. It almost reminded me of a rose, but far more distinct, and affecting. I found I liked the scent, dizzying as it was – like standing right at the top of a cliff and daring oneself to look down. I collected as many as I could fill my basket with.
Surely Ezraine would be pleased, this must be more than he could consume in a week. Though, there really was no telling with him. I pulled a small patched cloth out from my apron pocket and draped it over the flowers in the basket, mostly obscuring them from view, and stood to dust off my dress.
Yawning, I looked to the sky for the sun; it could not be later than early afternoon - I had hoped to make it back before lunch. But now I felt unexplainably drowsy. I wanted nothing more than to curl up on the warm grass by the water and dream of flying. And then of children laughing and chittering, they play in fields of grass and beside houses - lots of them all crowded together bordering small roads. They were dressed in bright colours, boys, and girls, they played together, they had mothers and fathers. Frowning, I found myself sitting back down. I tried reaching for the strange image again, so many people, so many children all together in one place.
The intoxicating scent of the Aramanthas felt like a cool breeze and a warm blanket at the same moment, coaxing me into slumber, filling my mind with other, more distracting and fantastical imaginings. But there was something else in my mind, something just a little bit stronger, a little bit more surreal. It wasn't quite a voice in my head, but it wasn't just images either. I found myself acting as if of my own free will, but I knew that these were not my thoughts. How peculiar a feeling it was!
I wondered dazedly further down the path, knowing but not caring that I would soon be missed, that I was passing the out of the borders my mothers had forbidden me to cross. I wanted to see.
But now there was a breeze, it was cold across my face, and colder in my chest. I felt the beginnings of a headache tightening its grip around my temples, I felt unbalanced and a little confused.
Where was I again?
My eyes darted around, the world seemed to be moving too fast for me to see it but blinking the haze from my vision I forced myself to concentrate. I saw that I had followed the stream west, towards the village.
I dropped to my knees by the water and scooped the cool liquid into my hands and splashed it against my face, my hands were sticky from the flowers. Already, I felt more awake and alert. “Ezraine should have warned me how potent they were before I left,” I muttered under my breath. What a pain he was, at least he had told me to wash my hands afterwards.
This had best be worth all the trouble.
A. S. Deller      5/02/19 2:20 PMA great start! I want to know what happens next. It cuts off in the middle of the dialogue, but there's no part 2 yet.