“You’re back sooner than expected,” Culia noted when Pelith arrived. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to besides Marawyn over there and those rowdy worker boys around here.” Marawyn was a stuck-up unicorn. He thought he was better than any of the other stable animals because he could talk and had a horn. Most of the horses and donkeys could only communicate through animal noises, but occasionally a talking beast would turn up. Unicorns almost always talked, but they were rare these days.
You might think that Marawyn would be a prefered choice for Pelith. He was, indeed, easy on the eyes, but Pelith had only to look him in the eyes to discover the truth of his conceited and arrogant attitude. Marawyn would never allow any to ride on him, anyways, and the only other animal he would even share a trough with was Culia, as she was the only other animal Pelith’s family had that talked. But, like Pelith, Culia despised his demeanor.
The ‘rowdy worker boys’ were young boys from town who were looking for a way to earn some money so they worked here in the stables. Most of them weren’t used to talking animals. A few had become accustomed to Culia and Marawyn, and some had a talking animal of their own, but talking beasts were still too rare for most of these boys to feel comfortable having a full-hearted conversation with one. The only one of them that seemed to feel at ease with Culia was Jeridus, though he tended to avoid Marawyn. That was understandable, as Marawyn didn't exactly receive a multitude of love letters and fan mail from anyone who had ever met him. The only reason Pelith’s family decided to keep him was because they would never turn their backs on any animal-even one as narrow-minded and spiteful as that unicorn.
“Well, I came to say thank you for helping bring the deer home, and I thought an extra couple of the best Ziatajie apples could show my gratitude,” Pelith smiled at her horse playfully. “And I arrived early because I managed to weave my way out of getting any horrid stitches-with the help of Trylia, of course. I can’t stay long. Really, I should be in my room cleaning myself up and trying to look presentable right now,” she confessed with the slightest hint of mockery and imitation of her mother’s voice.
“What? Why would you have to go and do all that? And at sundown? Are your relatives from Qigondra visiting?” Culia threw questions at Pelith in such a rush, Pelith could hardly keep up.
“I don’t know. After telling me to clean up, my mom rushed to her own room. All else she said was to brush my hair and wait for her outside her room. I don’t know why she’s acting this way, but I suppose I’ll find out tonight.” Silence stretched between the two as they thought of different theories for Calioniel’s strange behavior until a familiar, unwelcomed voice sliced through their thoughts like a dagger through dirt: effortlessly, but messy, leaving a trail needing to be cleaned up.
“Well, why not now? Wouldn’t you like to be prepared for this? Or would you prefer to barge in unaware of anything?” Cold blue eyes pierced through Pelith’s from long silvery white lashes surrounded by the same color of fur. Light from a flickering candle reflected from a long, thin smooth object growing from this speaker’s head and danced in and out of Pelith’s eyes so that she had to squint to see properly.
“Yes, Marawyn, that would be nice, but I’m sure Mama has her reasons for not giving me information. Perhaps she knew I would come here to the stabled to see Culia and didn’t want and information to slip through certain ears,” Pelith answered, unable to hold back the cold bite in her voice that would have made Jack Frost jealous.
But Marawyn just chuckled in amusement. “Well, if you insist…” He mumbled something Pelith and Culia could not hear before chuckling and leaving with false authority in his trot.
“Wretched beast,” Pelith whispered after him, and Culia nodded in agreement. Pelith turned to leave when Marawyn’s lazy voice sing-songed out, “I heard that, my dearies.”
Pelith shuddered at the emotionless noise and turned to Culia. “Walk me out?” she pleaded. Culia nodded and moved to the side of her friend. Pelith remembered the terrible sound of Marawyn’s laugh and despised him all the more. She reached her hand up to Culia’s back for support. Culia. Her friend. Pelith was sure she would completely blow her composure to small bits of confetti without this friend. With this friend, she was safe. With this friend-and a bit of luck, if she was honest-she just might have a chance of making it through this crazy life and ending up half sane.