The grass may not be disgusting. But would I prefer a juicy steak over it? Absolutely. But I don’t think the herd would appreciate it if I came back smelling like rabbits’ blood. I love them all to death, but they don’t understand what it’s like to be like this. To be a shifter.
I walk in steady gait through the woodland alone, my flanks raising heavily as I take in a deep breath. There’s that same fallen log. And there’s that same berry tree. Hmm, berries don’t sound half bad right now. I trot over and gently nip a few mulberries from the tree, trying to not stain my coat with them. Not again, it took forever to get out of my dapple-grey coat last time.
“Thane?” says Nero from behind me.
I turn around and lick the last of the mulberry from my lips. “Want me to get you some?” I look over my shoulder at the tree. “I kinda ate all the lowest ones.”
He shakes his head at me, tossing his black mane. “You’re one of the tallest horses in the herd and you still eat from the bottom first.”
“I’m sorry, Nero,” I say in a fake whiny voice. “Anyways, what’s up?”
“Cyrus wants us to have a herd meeting in twenty. Thought I’d come grab you to make sure you’d make it.”
“Thanks, man. I don’t want to piss him off again.”
We laugh and start walking back towards the clearing.
“Yeah…he was not happy when you missed the last one,” says Nero.
“It wasn’t even that important,” I snort. “What was it? Something about eating the longer grass first.”
He gives me a sideways look. “You’d know exactly what it was about if you’d been there, you know.”
I step to the side and nudge him with my shoulder. “Yeah, yeah.”
“Careful, you’ll get that pretty coat of yours dirty,” he teases and steps over a protruding tree root.
“Hey now. Just cause I don’t go rolling in the dirt like you do. It blends with your coat! I’d look like an utter mess.”
He snorts a laugh at me.
“What do you think it’ll be about?” he asks.
“Who knows. Maybe we’re moving to a new clearing soon. I’d love that, we’ve been here for ages.”
“Is that a shifter thing? Getting bored of places so quick?”
“Nah I think it’s just a me thing,” I say with a laugh. I wouldn’t know what is or isn’t a shifter thing anymore. It’s been years since I’ve spoken to another one of my kind. I sigh and push the thought away.
The whole herd is already gathered before Cyrus, the head stallion. He radiates strength and leadership, not to mention has the healthiest black coat I’ve ever seen. It shines under the sun. I bet he would make a handsome human.
“Okay, now that the whole herd is here, let’s start.” His voice is deep and demands respect. Not that he must work to have ours, he is the best leader a herd could ask for.
“As mentioned in the last meeting, the grass levels are depleting in the current clearing.”
Nero gives me a look and I shush him, tapping his front hock with my hoof.
“Rest well tonight as tomorrow morning we will begin to make our way to the next location.”
“Hah, can’t believe I guessed it,” I whisper to Nero.
We rotate four main clearings in the area during the year to maintain a balance of growth and eating. So even though it’ll be a change of scenery, it’s still one I know all too well. Sigh.
“We have new foals this rotation,” he says and motions to the bubs at the front. “So, we will be taking it easy and use as many breaks as necessary.”
The foals can barely contain their excitement for their first rotation. We’ll have to protect them closely from mountain lions this time of year though. It shouldn’t be too dangerous, we’ve never lost a family member from predators since I joined four years ago, and I haven’t heard any mention of an attack prior either. Not when Cyrus is here to protect them.
We do as he says and settle down early. It’s a cold night so a couple of the foals are tucked close to me for warmth. As a shifter, I generate more heat than the others and boy they did not take long to realise. I look down at them fondly as they sleep peacefully. I would do anything for you guys. For any of my family. I fall asleep with a warmth in my heart that follows into my dreams.
I’m woken by a light nudge to my shoulder. I crack open my eyes and see Cyrus standing there. Why is he waking me up so early? I thought we needed a good night’s sleep. I carefully move away from the sleeping foals and stretch out my limbs with a yawn.
“Is everything okay, Cyrus?”
“Yes, there’s nothing wrong. I just wanted to tell you something. In private.”
“Oh, okay.” I feel like I’m a little foal in trouble.
We walk through the clearing and to the edge of the trees without a word being spoken. My mind is just racing with ideas of what I could have done.
“I couldn’t think of an easy to ease you into this,” he starts and my anxiety spikes. “So…Ghia saw two shifters in the woods yesterday. They were horses.”
The shock smashes into me and I can’t find the words to speak.
“She saw them during their shift, so she’s certain they’re shifters.”
“I-I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. Or do.”
“That’s up to you to decide. I just knew you had to know.”
“I haven’t seen shifters for years, Cyrus. Since I was fifteen. What if they’re a part of my parent’s herd? What if they knew them?” I start walking around in a circle as thoughts fill my mind. I stop and look at him. “Do you think they’d take me in?” I instantly feel a pang of guilt. “Not that I want to leave this family, I just-”
“Thane,” he says calmly. “I already told you; this is your decision.” He takes a step closer. “And whatever you choose to do, we will understand. We’re family, son, and always will be. But you also deserve to be with shifters like you. If you decide that’s what you want.”
I rest my neck and head against him and close my eyes. “Thank you, Cyrus. For everything.”