The mountains loomed, frowning granite face flanking a cleft of green velvet high in their cupped palm, like an offering to the unseeing eye of the summer sky. Where scraggy bushes and scraps of greenery clung to the steep rocky cliffs, pegasi could be found cropping the tough grass, wings half spread for balance, tails blowing in the constant wind. The yearlings and foal-heavy mares populated the valley below, scattered like freckles on one side of the river's shining path, which bubbled and frothed wherever it encountered the fingers of rock poking up from the mountain's bed below the green. That river was a fearsome thing, and would carry away any unwary foal foolish enough to frolic in its swift and unforgiving waters.
A small pale grey foal, probably no more than a month or two old, was standing on a slight rise near the river, staring across at the other side. Deep shadow pooled under the thick boughs of ancient trees, and as the foal gazed curiously across the water, the wind gusted down the valley and made the branches in the canopy toss and rustle like old green stallions tired of a foal's rudeness.
Startled by the movement and the noise, the foal's speckled wings flapped open as she reared, squealing in surprise. Of course, her brother started to laugh. He was dark dappled grey with a funny white blaze on one side of his face. It made him look like he was laughing all the time, which he pretty much was. Prancing up to her, he swing his hips around and kicked her, though not nearly hard enough to hurt.
"Scaredy-baby!" he jeered, snorting merrily. "It's just the wind, silly. Even you should know that!"
"I do know that, Jax. It just surprised me, that's all." With a little kick and a snort, the little filly showed her disregard for the forest and trotted down the little slope, only to pause at the bottom and look back again. "But... what's in there, do you think? I mean, is it really unicorns in there, like they say, or do they just say that to keep us on this side of the river?"
That seemed to pique Jax's interest, and he twisted about on himself to look at the forest with wide-eyed wonder. There was a familiar glimmer in his eyes - the sort that meant adventure, and probably trouble.
"You're not thinking of crossing the river, are you?" This was a soft-spoken young colt, splashy black and white with china-blue eyes. He wasn't blind, but he looked that way, and it made some of the other foals nervous of him, as though blindness might be catching. This colt held his head low, speaking in an earnest, nervous tone. "You know what Rayne said about the water. It's too fast, and we'd drown."
Jax whipped around with a dangerous grin. "Not if we can fly," he pointed out with a grin. "Whaddya say Tam? Daisy? When we're big enough, we'll cross the river and see what's really over there. I'm not scared of no stupid unicorns!"
"You should be." The shadow of their babysitter fell across them, and Jax spun around like a little grey tornado, staring up at her silhouetted by the sunshine and imagining he was about to die. Rainsong was a relatively plain bay mare, her high black stockings making it look like she'd waded through mud to look after her rambunctious little charges. But even as she stretched and resettled her huge ruddy wings (a gesture she hoped would intimidate the little colts into listening to her) she could see that Jax had that defiant look in his eyes.
"A real stallion isn't afraid of anything," he objected stoutly, puffing out his narrow little chest and spreading his own fluffy little wings, which looked stunted without the adult plumage he wouldn't grow for another year at least.
Rain snorted and lowered her head so she could look Jax straight in the eye. "You would be surprised to know what scares a grown peg," she said softly, "and usually, it's when we're scared of losing little foals because they're too silly to listen to their elders." Then giving him a buffet with her nose, she nudged him away from the river. "Back to the meadow. Go on. I have more foals to look after than just you three."
"Four," called Tam, who was shuffling his long piebald legs about nervously. "There are four of us. Just Lilly decided to take a nap." He pointed his patchy nose toward the buttercups where their friend had lain down. Seeing the other three on their way to the meadow, Rain moved over to the buttercups, where she found the delinquent Lilly, curled up in a little blue roan ball under the nodding yellow flowers. Rain couldn't help but tip her ears in amusement, touched by the site of the tiny filly.
"Lilly," she murmured softly, and lowered her head to nose the foal awake. "It's time to wake up. We're going back to the meadow now."
Up came the little head, her fuzzy black mane sticking out in all directions and sleep blurring her dark eyes. Rain nudged her to her feet and got her moving in the right direction, unable to suppress a faint, wistful sigh. She wanted a little foal of her own, but until she was chosen by a stallion, she would have to make do with watching over other mares' offspring. And perhaps it wouldn't be such a trial if they hadn't lost so many stallions in the winter battles, but... but they had, and that was the way things were.
Pausing a moment at the edge of the meadow, she looked back toward the river that divided their home almost in half. There the dark forest crouched like a predator waiting to spring. She could almost imagine the sharp horns and bright eyes of their enemy waiting in the shadows. Shaking her head, the mare tossed her dark mane and the dark thoughts from her eyes, leaving them flying behind her as she cantered after the foals, who were already many lengths ahead and running for the pond where they could play with the others their age. She would do her duty, and no one would judge her for it if she wished for a more exciting life than she had.