The Dun Mare’s Grandchild, Part Two

Posted: June 26th, 2016 under snippet, Story, the writing life.
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As light revealed the land around them, Oktar knew they were north of the town, riding north, winterwards as the horsefolk said, and the reason he hadn’t been able to feel the rein was that he had none–his grandfather held Oktar’s horse’s rein as well as his own in his one good hand.  The horses moved at a brisk walk, ears forward, alongside a stone wall with sheep on the other side of it.  Oktar turned to look behind.  Nothing of the town showed but a blur of smoke in the distance. 

Eventually the stone wall turned away around the bulge of a hill, and nothing was in front of them but rolling land, grass with stones showing here and there, and clumps of trees in the hollows.  Oktar no longer felt nauseated, but he was hungry and thirsty and all of yesterday’s bruises and scrapes hurt.  So did his legs. Ahead of him, his grandfather’s back was straight, shoulders level, legs dangling easily.

That posture signaled, as clearly as words, that the old man did not want to hear anything from his grandson.  Not complaints, not questions, not chatter.  As day brightened around them, Oktar heard a new noise–a droning sound that he finally recognized as his grandfather…singing.  Singing in the horsefolk tongue, of course.  Oktar did not understand the words, and whatever it was had no melody like the songs the townsfolk sang in the taverns or while working at their crafts.  What it did have was rhythm, the rhythm of the horses, of their hooves and the sway of their bodies, the swish of their tails.  Oktar found himself humming in the same tuneless way, minus words.

They rode on through the morning, as the ground rose and lowered, but mostly rose.  They passed through a wood where birds racketed away from them on noisy wings and out again onto a stony slope tufted with patches of reed.  Oktar saw many trails beaten into the earth by unknown feet…some narrower, some wider.  Sheep?  Horses?  Wild animals?   He had no idea.  He had never been so far from town; he had never meant to be where he was, and it confused him.  So much sky overhead; so wide a land; so empty of people.

When the sun was high overhead, and they were riding alongside a narrow fast-moving stream, his grandfather stopped; Oktar’s horse stopped too, lowered its head, and blew a long rattling sigh.  Now his grandfather turned to him.

“Ah.  You did not fall off.  That is good.  We rest horses, water horses, let them feed.”

“We get off?” Oktar asked.  He wanted to ease his legs, lie down on the grass and rest.

“No!  We are horsefolk: we ride.  Watch and learn, foal.”  His grandfather nudged his horse into the water; Oktar’s followed, lowered its head to drink.  His grandfather tossed Oktar’s rein back to him without warning; Oktar reached, but didn’t catch it, and almost fell off.  The horse ignored the rein trailing in the water.  “Dig your toes in the girth…lean forward, bracing on neck…pull up on mane behind ears.”

Oktar managed this on the third try, clutching his mount’s neck, and the horse’s head came up from the water.

“Now take rein,” his grandfather said.

Oktar let go the neck with one arm, and reached.  His horse swung sideways, away from his weight.  He fell into the cold water with a splash.

“Stupid,” his grandfather said.  “Since already wet, fill water-flasks.”

Oktar clambered up, fighting the pull of the knee-deep water, his wet wool clothes heavy with it, his feet flinching from the sharp edges of rock.  His grandfather threw the flasks, again without warning; this time he caught one, but the other splashed in the water and immediately bobbed away.

“GET IT!” his grandfather said.  Oktar stumbled and slipped downstream; his socks were no real protection from the rocks.  Finally the flask caught between two rocks and he grabbed it before it slipped away, then splashed back to where his grandfather sat on his mount.  “Fill.”

He started to dip the flasks in the water, but his grandfather growled.  He stopped.
“Up there.”  His grandfather jerked his head to indicate upstream.  “Clean water.  Not near horses.”


  • Comment by gareth — June 27, 2016 @ 9:48 am


    Love these spin-off stories that might develop but even if not help feel the breadth of the world.

  • Comment by Caryn — June 29, 2016 @ 1:10 am


    Ppoor kid

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 29, 2016 @ 7:40 am


    He was having a rotten life in the city/town, though, and this may lead to something better. Different, anyway.

  • Comment by Cricket — July 6, 2016 @ 7:02 am


    I enjoy how the Oktar’s voice narrates. Young, rebellious andunhappy

  • Comment by Cricket — July 6, 2016 @ 7:07 am


    Trying again.

    I enjoy how the narrator uses Oktar’s voice: young , rebellious but resigned. Annoyed at the situation but even in his mind he isn’t lashing out at his grandfather, or his own lack of skill, although he is a bit frustrated. He takes his cue from his grandfathe, or maybe he inherited it. Accepts that he will need instruction and practice.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 12, 2016 @ 5:07 pm


    Cricket: Oktar is, at the moment of episode 1, well on the way to a bad end. But he’s still young enough–and the pretreatment he received strong enough (nothing like an emetic and purge to sap energy and leave little for lashing out)–that he can learn. Not necessarily easily, because he’s definitely convinced all his problems are someone else’s fault (not all the Horsefolk kids get into as much trouble), but he’s not stupid. There is systematic racism going on here, combined with a distaste for some Horsefolk cultural practices (sewing yourself into your winter clothes all winter, and thus stinking to high heaven, is a big one. The signs “No Horsefolk” in taverns in winter is definitely related to that. Girdish folk are consistent bathers, and so are Pargunese. “You stink” is both insult and accurate description of Horsefolk males in winter.) There’s the Horsefolk religion, which utilizes terms for men, women, and children that the dominant religion thinks are weird at best and disgusting at worst. But the claims that they’re all dishonest, all thieves, and casual killers are founded purely on racial grounds.

    Caryn: Granfer isn’t suffering much. He’s plotting. Oktar doesn’t know why his grandfather was banished, or why his father followed him, or even whether his mother is from the same tribe. He certainly does not know what Granfer thinks will happen. Granfer’s bluster is in part a calculated challenge to Horsefolk gods. He wants Oktar to be ashamed of himself for not knowing horses any more than he does (and for having, in the past, declared a preference for the townsmen’s very different mounts, and called the Horsefolks’ mounts ponies, and useless.) But he wants the gods to make good on something he thinks he was promised, that hasn’t happened yet. And may not…the story’s not finished.

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