There’s something to be said about a rumor. While some rumors can be helpful, most tend to fall into the extremely detrimental category. Such was the case for one particular rumor that had reached Centurion’s ears. The summer heat was baring down upon the plains, baking the ground until it was nearly too hot to stand. Lucky for the rocks and the shade they provided, or the bay stallion was sure he would die from the sweltering temperatures. That is, until he had heard said rumor. Water. More specifically, a natural spring.
Centurion had mulled over the thought for several days. He was in no hurry. There were still scattered puddles nestled in the deeper crevices of rock that were sufficient enough to soothe his dry throat. Soon enough though, they too were gone, and the stallion was left with little choice. Visit the spring, and by extension other horses, or die of dehydration and/or heat stroke. It was with that resolution that he ventured away from the auburn spires he’d come to call home and toward the unknown.
It was faint, but the occasional gust of wind carried with it the unmistakable scent of fresh water. Following his nose, he found himself moving in the direction of the border between the North and South territories. He was still relatively new to the area but had quickly picked up on the animosity between the two and preferred to steer clear of both. If the spring was truly at the border, he supposed his luck had run out. His nostrils shuddered in a scoff. How typical.
Soon he came upon a gap carved into the side of the canyon. The click of his hooves echoed off the stone as he moved between the walls. The spring was near. The rock parted abruptly to reveal a small clearing. Nestled in the shadow of the canyon was the spring. Lush green grass covered the ground in a thick carpet. The heavy stallion stepped forward, relief washing over him at the sensation of soft foliage underfoot instead of hard packed earth.
His eyes scanned the clearing carefully as he approached the water. He could smell the fresh aromas of horses who had recently been here, but now no one was near. It seemed his luck hadn’t failed him after all. Allowing a slight upward curl of his lips he sauntered to the bank and drank deeply. The shade provided by the cliff had kept the sun off the pool’s surface, preventing it from warming during the heat of the day. The temptation to roll was insatiable.
Taking one more survey of the clearing, Centurion lowered himself into the water slowly. It was refreshingly cold, and he kicked his legs eagerly. The water covered his belly, then his back and the crest of his neck. Such pleasure was certainly worth the journey here. The stallion waded deeper into the pool until the water touched his stomach. Might as well enjoy it to the fullest while he was here.
Just when Ielae thought she'd found herself some peace and quiet - other than the brief meeting with Bastille - a new development rocked the landscape and brought waves of surrounding equines into her self-designated home. Part of her completely resented the renewed chance of running into, well, anyone, but the practical part of her knew that it was a prime opportunity. While the Northerns may show up just to throw their weight around, it was the Southerners she was interested in - they were the ones who might be able to take her where she wanted to be. She needed distance from her old home and her old insecurities, and a battle-hungry South was exactly the sort of place she could excel. They didn't need her to be beautiful or pleasant, they needed her to be smart, and that was where her strength showed.
So she didn't avoid the new spring like she otherwise would have. Instead she hesitantly, grudgingly, made her way there, stepping over the loose rubble and rock and traipsing half-heartedly into the recently unexplored area. It was such a strange alcove, she couldn't help but thinking - how in the world had it formed? But that hardly mattered, because the lush green vegetation in one corner hinted that the rumors were true. There was water here, an untouched source, and her dry mouth chafed at the thought. She'd been living in the borderlands so long, and while it seemed more pleasant than the South, fresh water was hard to find. The Barrens held next to none, and the Safe Haven was filled with aggressive mares ready to chase off an interloper. Out of desperation one desperate summer week she'd drank the salty, unbearable water near the Great Wall and her gut had twisted and screamed in a way that made her think she was going to die, miserable and childless. But, of course, she'd survived, and with more experience to boot. She knew that she needed to find a herd if she was going to survive being away from the North, and this was probably the place to find someone tolerable.
She was halfway to the spring before she realized it was occupied. Stupid, but fresh water could well cloud the senses of the dehydrated in that way. She paused, eyes wary of what she suspected was a stallion due to sheer size. She hadn't had bad experiences with them, necessarily, but she was sharp enough to know the dangers well enough. She had no protection, though she'd get a head start if she had to run since he was quagmired in the cool water. But she wasn't here to run, she was here to take a risk, even if she found the whole thing idiotic and distasteful. She longed for a stretch of prairie where she could live without ever talking to another soul. Ah, to dream.
She approached, stiff-legged and ears pinned, though she did not show any other sign of aggression - this was simply who she was.
I hope you're not planning on claiming that as your own personal bathing spot, she said tartly, hovering just a foot or so away from the edge. Not knowing where this stallion came from, she didn't know whether it was an entitled wallow of the North or pure relief from one from the South. She wasn't going to dip her head an expose her neck for a drink until she knew if there was danger, anyway.
She doesn't know how to be nice even when she wants something, whoops
It was really the simple pleasures that life was all about. The quiet moments to oneself in which there was naught to tax the mind other than one’s own thoughts. Such was the moment Centurion found himself. The slight breeze coursing through the valley walls provided a pleasant sensation on the stallion’s damp face and neck. The lazy swirl of water lapping at the hairs of his stomach as he waded deeper into the pool. What tranquility it was to enjoy the wealthy spring all to himself. His head lowered until he was near fully submerged, his nostrils resting just along the surface. He let his breathe out slowly, the bubbles that formed and popped tickling his lips. Surely if anyone saw him enjoying himself in such a childish manner he might kill them to preserve his dignity.
The thought of which made him sigh. He had lingered too long as it was. His chest rumbled in a snort when he blew the vestiges of water from his nose. Centurion moved to the shallower end of the pool and shook out his coat. For a moment, he was surrounded by a cloud of glitter as the water droplets caught the light. Then he was just a damp horse standing up to his knees in what was now most unfortunately muddy water. No matter though. It had been worth it. At least he would be thoroughly dry by the time he returned home.
If Centurion noticed the mare approaching slowly, he did not hint at it. Too intent on shaking out the last remnants of water. Then, her rolling timbre broke him from the serene spell he was in. His body turned slowly, thankful he at least hadn’t been caught blowing bubbles. The stallion eyed her carefully from the corner of his eye as his head turned to face her. Her coat was a royal blue with white ticking. Her eyes dark and full of caution. He smiled. At least she didn’t seem to be a fool. He approached her insouciantly from the spring onto the sandy bank.
“And if I was? I had not heard of a rule against it…not to mention you’re the one spying on a stallion during his bathing.” The deep resonance of his voice had returned, his throat no longer dry and parched. His lips quirked in a small smirk, his eyes dancing with mirth. “No matter. The pool is all yours. I was just finished,” he said.
Ielae's ears remained pinned as the stallion moved out of the pool - dark, swirling with dirt that would eventually settle, but still unappetizing to look at. She was still technically a Northern, after all, having not lived in the South quite yet. But unappetizing didn't mean much in the face of her thirst in the borderlands, so perhaps the transition had already begun.
After hearing the stallion speak, she still wasn't any closer to deciding where he came from. She did know that the answer irritated her - because as dark and strong as he looked dripping with water, it took more than a pretty face to distract her. There's no rule, but there are manners, she said flippantly, walking past him as if he wasn't there to dip her mouth to the clouded surface. She might not know who he was, but he didn't particularly seem like a threat. Then she lifted her lips to hover just above the water, steeling herself, before turning to face him. She had a goal, and even if she didn't know where this stallion was from, insulting and ignoring him wasn't going to get her any closer.
North or South? she asked bluntly, and part of her wish she was able to seem more enthusiastic about the prospect of small talk. Well, assuming you're from one or the other. You've half got the look of some wandering rogue. It was odd that she could be so tactical and intelligent in battle, and yet she couldn't navigate her way through social interaction so save her life. Which it might well do, if it helped her find a herd. The best she could hope for was that this stallion had a sense of humor, otherwise she'd have to talk to someone new... and another... until she found someone willing to put up with her. And that was altogether a terrifying and exhausting prospect.