The Dun Mare’s Grandchild

Posted: June 18th, 2016 under Excerpt, Story.
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“Again?” Oktar’s mother glared at him. “Bloody nose, black eye, shirt torn, a complaint from the judicar–you’re a disgrace!”

“They said we were dirty stinking horse–” he paused; the word they’d used was forbidden. “–droppings,” he finished.

“You should ignore them,” his mother said. “They are ill-bred; you should not dirty your hands with them.”

Oktar’s hands, bruised and bloody as well as his nose, were at his sides, half-hidden by his long horsefolk shirt, but he knew she knew.

“Who hit first?” she asked.

“Tam Togirdsson.” He touched his nose.

“And you did not duck away. And you hit him–”

“The others were already hitting me.”

“Well. Come and I will clean your face.”

During that painful process–for she insisted on scrubbing out every raw scratch–Oktar took no heed of her words, but went on thinking how he would get back at Tam and the others. It was not his fault. It had never been his fault. He could not help having a horsefolk name, a horsefolk face, living in the neighborhood where the small group of horsefolk in this town clumped together for protection. He’d never stolen anything, but if one of the others stole a plum from a stand in the market on the way home from the grange, he was the one accused. He’d never lied…well, almost never…but he was the one called a liar, if another boy wanted to make trouble. Which they mostly did.

“There,” his mother said finally. His face stung with her scrubbing. “And now you will stay inside until your father comes, and he will deal with you. You are beyond a woman’s strength to beat.”
His father. O Mare of Plenty, if his mother would not merely switch him with the horsetail that hung behind the kitchen door…if she actually meant for his father to punish him! He counted up the days in his head. Yes. He was indeed six days past the time his father had set, and thus…

“You will polish every pot in the kitchen,” his mother said. “And then the floor. And there is no supper for you, until after.”
Araimak Cracolnya sat in their one chair and listened to his wife’s recital of Oktar’s misdeeds without a change of expression. Araimak’s father, Ormaktar, squatted on his heels by the fire as usual, his black eyes gleaming like those of a gnome, his clan tattoos shadowing one side of his face. When the tale was told, Araimak stared at Oktar a long moment.

“I have heard already of this from the market judicar,” he said. His horsefolk accent was much stronger than Oktar’s, less than Ormaktar’s. “It is a bad thing you have done. It is bad for all of us, not only you, not only this hearth, but all the horsefolk hearths. Did I sire or your mother foal a wild ass, that you bray and bite and kick like one?”

Oktar glared back. “It was not my fault,” he said.

“Oh? Because a few horseflies nipped you, you must attack?”

“Because I am not a coward like–” Oktar stopped, at the look on his father’s face, his grandfather’s face.

“Who would you name, little ass?” his grandfather said, rising effortlessly from his squat. “Who of our people?”

You, he wanted to say, but knew he must not.

“Me, perhaps, with my withered arm, for coming here when the tribe bade me go, called me bad luck for them?” His grandfather’s labored Common, mixed with horsefolk terms, was hard to follow word by word, but the meaning was clear: Granfer was angrier than Oktar had ever seen. “You think I should have fought them, bade your father fight them, the whole tribe, and branded them with my bad luck?” He spat at Oktar; the spit landed on Oktar’s chest, an insult barely less than on his face. “You are a fool, and I would say none of your sire’s get, marked with the ass’s stripe, but for your dam, who is blameless in this. Sometimes a foal is born wrong, maybe that is you.”

“No!” His mother spoke, switching to the speech of horsefolk where Oktar could understand only one word in four, if that. Full of hissing and clicking, that tongue was, as if talking to horses. The old man answered in the same, and then his father, and then they all fell silent and looked at him, two sets of black eyes, one of shadowed green.

“It is time you met your own folk,” his father said. “You have a sickness no beating will cure, but healing comes on the grass, from the Mare of Plenty and the Windsteed’s clean wind in your lungs.” He nodded to Oktar’s mother, who slipped away and began rattling dishes and pots.
Was he to have supper after all? And no beating? He could not understand that, and his nose hurt and his black eye and the cuts and bruises on his face and chest and the foot that had been stamped on and the shins that had been kicked. He wanted very much to sit down–to lie down, even–but he could not until his father gave him leave.
Shortly his mother came back with a mug.

“You will drink this,” his father said. “There will be no demons from the town in your belly when you leave; you will go to the People as clean as we can make you.”
His mother stood behind him, firm arms around his body, holding him upright and still, while his father poured the liquid down his throat. He gulped and gagged and shuddered at the taste of it and the knowledge of what it would soon accomplish.

The next morning, before dawn, he could scarcely walk–and not steadily–when his father wakened him, took him outside, and doused him with well water, scrubbing him all over as if he were a shirtling. A hasty drying, and then he was bade dress in his father’s oldest horsefolk clothes. Wool britches with a band of decorative weaving midway down, tied below the knee to shorten them for his shorter legs, a faded wool shirt that came to his knees with more bands of color on the sleeves, a horsehair rope belt, thick wool socks.

His grandfather led their two horses–ponies, the townsfolk called them–to the door, just visible in the light from the lamp inside. No saddles, but wool-stuffed pads held on with a girth and a sheepskin over all. His grandfather accepted the pack his mother handed him, and threw himself up onto the lead horse’s back.

Oktar had seen that before but never accomplished it. Town boys who rode used saddles with stirrups, and climbed on boxes to mount. His father picked him up and set him on the horse.

“Don’t fall off,” he said. “And learn better.”

“But shoes–” Oktar said, fumbling in the dark for reins. He couldn’t find them.

“Horsefolk don’t walk,” his grandfather said from ahead of him. “They ride.” He clucked to the horses and they moved off down the dark street. Oktar’s belly writhed inside, but he had already spewed everything he had; he clung to the sheepskin and wondered if he would survive the day.

(this is just the opening of the story that wants to grow too big.)


  • Comment by becky — June 18, 2016 @ 4:08 pm


    Excellent. Need more!

  • Comment by Ann Neff — June 18, 2016 @ 8:11 pm


    Ooh, it piques

  • Comment by Caryn — June 18, 2016 @ 8:20 pm


    Oh, the implications! Poor boy. His fathers forget that the boy lacked the horse tribe’s cultural support in this foreign land. So much sympathy for them all.

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — June 19, 2016 @ 8:27 am


    The richness of the many cultures that make up Paksworld are one of the reasons that I find it so compelling.

    Please, Ms. Moon, may I have some more?

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 19, 2016 @ 10:28 pm


    Thanks. I’ll try to post more later, but this week I have company coming for ten days. Lots to do.

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — June 21, 2016 @ 4:23 pm


    Wonderful. Writing must be a gift from Deit.

  • Comment by Leo — June 23, 2016 @ 6:24 pm


    let that story grow. it’ll be important. it may be better than the rest. i have a feeling.

  • Comment by Fred — June 25, 2016 @ 5:47 pm


    While we’re on snippets – and Crown of Renewal has been out for long enough that spoilers shouldn’t be an issue: Will we see more of the scene which starts:

    “The rider paused when she caught sight of the great house, dark against the snow, no lights showing at all. She glanced up at Torre’s Necklace high in the sky. Stars shone steady, hardly any glitter at all, but for the light thrown back by the snow itself, each facet of each snowflake sparking with light when she moved her head. So. Midwinter night, and in a house like that all would be together in one room, most likely the kitchen. Lord and lady, if there were a lady, children and servants, all around the bare hearth, telling those stories told only in the dark midwinter, and waiting for the sun’s return.”

    And, being a “bear of very little brain” – I can think of at least three possible riders, the first two being Paks and Dorrin (and wow do I hope you can write the story that starts with the last chapter of “Crown”…!) Care to drop any hints?

    All the best to you and yours,

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 26, 2016 @ 9:06 am


    Right now, I must focus my energies, depleted as they are, on the task at hand, which is the next book on the contract, a sequel to COLD WELCOME. But back when I was writing CROWN OF RENEWAL, I did have ideas about that. They’re tucked away, wrapped carefully in the hall closet of my mind. I hope I get to write them.

  • Comment by Susan — June 26, 2016 @ 8:57 pm


    That hall closet is full of the most delightful things! I hope you do, too. But thank you so much for this snippet!

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — July 2, 2016 @ 12:01 pm


    Haven’t been by in a while. Delighted to find this when I stopped in this morning. Thank you!

  • Comment by B. Ross Ashley — July 12, 2016 @ 10:29 pm


    Oh, the bitter taste. Yum.

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