Chapter Seven

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The packbeasts had been led away to graze on a grassy meadow close to the stream. Farinka and Piet walked across the meadow slowly.

There were perhaps twenty animals in all, including mares and youngstock. All but one were shades of black, bay, dun, brown or chestnut. Farinka's eyes were drawn to the only grey amongst them – a bigger, finer animal than the others, close to pure white with just a hint of silvering here and there, and he looked to be around fifteen hands. None of them were gelded, but in spite of some petty bickering among the other males, none of them approached this one.

Piet laughed when he saw which way she was looking.

"He's no good," he said with a grin.

"Why not?"

"Well, he's a white one. If you've handled so many packbeast – "

"Never one like that," she said.

"You've not had one of these?" Piet asked. "You're lucky. The whites are no good to anyone. They won't be tamed – won't even be caught. You can't even eat 'em – that's the worst luck anyone can bring on himself, so I've heard. You eat a white one and the others will never work for you again. One day soon he'll be off – he'll just go. They always do. Some folk even say it's unlucky to have one around – but I've never found it so. We've had several. Usually one born every couple of years – but then the adults always get to serve the mares they want – the other stallions won't fight 'em for it. Not that they want many; they're unusually choosy."

He stopped and sat on a fallen tree, looking at the beasts.

"The red mare's a good one – but she's got a foal at foot and he's not old enough to wean. You could have any of them, really."

Farinka kept watching the grey colt – for he was not really mature enough to warrant the title of stallion. Perhaps three, maybe four, she thought, looking at him. Ever since she had walked onto the meadow he had been watching her, sometimes out of the corner of his eye while he grazed, sometimes lifting his head and gazing squarely at her.

"I'd like to take him – if he'll let me," she said.

"Well, you being a Seeker might make a difference. There are old, old legends," he added thoughtfully. "You're welcome to try. I tell you now he's never been touched – he certainly won't let me near him. I'll leave you to it. If you can't catch him, pick another. I'll see you back by the hearth, with whatever you bring back." He stood up, looked at the grey thoughtfully, and strolled off in the direction of the village. Farinka noticed that he stopped under the shade of a big tree, almost hiding behind it, to watch her progress.

Farinka cast her Awareness towards the grey, almost as though focussing a spotlight on him. As soon as her mind touched him he lifted his head, instantly Aware of her. A kindred spirit, she found herself thinking. He stopped chewing, blades of grass sticking out from the corner of his lips.

Well, big fella?

He tipped his head on one side, and chewed thoughtfully. She sensed the lack of fear in his thoughts – and a burning curiosity, almost excitement. He swallowed, and kept his gaze on her.

Will you let me come to you, big fella?

He dipped his head once – it was so like a nod of assent that she almost laughed. She stood up from the log, leaving behind the rope halter that Piet had left with her, and walked across the meadow. He kept his eyes constantly on her, shifting his weight from foot to foot, his ears pricked, his nostrils flared. She came to a halt a few paces from him.

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