The Dun Mare’s Grandchild 3

Posted: July 12th, 2016 under snippet, Story.
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When he had the flasks full; Oktar splashed back to hand them up.  His feet were bruised by rocks, aching from cold.  His grandfather looked down at him.  “Drink one swallow.  Then give flask. Catch your horse.”

His horse.  He looked around wildly.  His horse had crossed the stream and now grazed on the far side, the rein trailing.

“And take off socks before you walk on the land. Wring dry, tuck in shirt.”

The socks were not dry, but cold and damp when he dropped them down the neck of his shirt. Carefully, wincing at the rocks under his feet, he made it to the other side of the creek and up onto the muddy bank.  The horse eyed him and ambled on a few steps.  At least the ground, once he was up, had grass on it.  He walked toward the horse; the horse moved away.  No matter how he tried, he could not get within reach of that trailing rein.

“Sit down, fool!  And call horse.”

He sat down: his legs were shaky anyway.  But call the horse?  How?

“I taught you horse-calling chant: were you not listening?”

That droning song? Oktar hadn’t understood any of the words, but the rhythm stuck with him.  He tried it without words.  His grandfather joined in, this time facing him; he tried to copy all the sounds.  From behind him he heard a slight swish, then a warm breath caressed the back of his neck.  Finally, the horse bumped him with its muzzle.  Cautiously, he reached back with one hand and felt the rein in the grass and grasped it.

“Now you turn, sitting, and breathe into horse nose.”

That was ridiculous.  But he had no choice; he wiggled around and faced the horse, whose muzzle was then only a handspan from his face.  From here on the ground, the horse looked looked impossibly tall.  The horse reached out to sniff, and Oktar breathed carefully into one of the large nostrils, then the other.  The horse blew slobber all over his face.  Oktar wiped it off on his sleeve, then reached out to scratch under the horse’s chin, something he remembered his father doing.

“Now up, one down jerk on rein, put leg over neck, pull mane up, horse lift you.”

Oktar followed these directions with misgiving, and the horse’s abrupt lift almost made him fall again.  He squirmed back to a balanced position, but behind him was the bulge of the pad and sheepskin.  He had no idea how he was going to get back onto it.  His grandfather offered no advice.  Oktar tried one thing after another, finally discovering that bracing his knees on the horse’s shoulderblades and his arms on the neck allowed him to raise his backside enough to lift himself back into the hollow his morning’s ride had created.

“Follow me this way,” his grandfather said, and rode out of the creek on the far side.

Oktar’s horse followed. He sat on the sheepskin, his rump warming up a little, but the rest of him shivering in the wind that blew from the north down the little valley they followed.  His damp socks, a cold lump next to his belly, warmed very slowly as he rode. He clutched the single rein tightly, not sure what to do with it–he had never seen a horse ridden with a single rein.

His grandfather sang.  Oktar’s horse walked a little faster until it was almost beside his grandfather’s horse.  His grandfather did not look at him.  Sometime in the afternoon, when his clothes had dried, his grandfather handed him one of the flasks.
“One swallow.  Don’t drop it.”

The flask had a thong loop through the neck.  After taking a swallow, Oktar worked the end of the loop through his belt and around the belly of the flask, so it hung at his side, as his grandfather’s hung.  They rode on.  Oktar’s stomach ached, demanding food.  He had no food.  He wasn’t sure his grandfather had food.  When the sun had dropped well behind one of the hills, his grandfather stopped his horse and rolled lightly off its back.  He handed his rein to Oktar.

“Hold this. Wait.”  He took a long time untying the pack, lifting it one-armed from the horse, opening it on the ground.  Most of the bulk was a pair of wool cloaks; inside them were four small packets.  Then his grandfather looked at him.  “Get down.  Do this.”  He took the rein of his horse back from Oktar and tucked it into his belt.

Oktar slid off awkwardly, biting his lip when his bruised feet hit the ground.  He tucked his rein as his grandfather had.  His grandfather was doing something with the girth of his own horse’s pad.  Oktar looked…there was a knot, sort of.  He found it on his horse, worked it loose, then pulled off the pad and sheepskin.

“Take off this.”  His grandfather was pulling the bridle off his horse; Oktar did the same, wondering how they would keep the horses from wandering away.  But the two horses walked into the creek, drank, then set to grazing along the creek’s edge.

Supper was a handful of raw oats–one for him, one for his horse, who lipped it from his hand and then walked off to graze again.  He had never eaten raw oats; he had thought them food for horses.  But he was hungry so he chewed and swallowed without complaint.  His grandfather brought back some leaves of a plant Oktar didn’t recognize and gave him two.  He ate the bitter leaves, drank the four swallows of water his grandfather ordered.

Oktar had never slept anywhere but on a straw-stuffed bag on the floor of his father’s house, where walls kept out the wind and rain.  Now, for the first time, he lay on the ground under stars, wrapped in one of the cloaks, the hill wind finding every opening and every damp fiber of his clothes.  His grandfather had shown him how to fold the pad to support his head, and use the sheepskin under his neck and upper body.

“Demons in ground steal heart,” his grandfather said.  “Never lie down on ground without sheepskin.”

In the morning, he rolled the pack up with his grandfather’s instructions, put the pad and sheepskin back on his horse, then–this time without difficulty–got his horse to lift him up again.  His grandfather made him get off.  “Girth loose,” he said.  Oktar tightened it until the old man nodded.  The horse sighed heavily, but lifted Oktar up on its neck again.  He squirmed back into place, wishing he wasn’t as sore.

“We go faster or no food,” his grandfather said.  “Lean back.”  And booted his mount into a bouncy trot.

Oktar’s horse followed, and Oktar grabbed for mane.  Leaning back made no sense, but he did it, and then took the pounding on his tailbone until his grandfather said “Hyah!” to his horse and both of them broke into a faster gait.  Smoother, too, a sort of up and down rocking motion.

The land came at them faster.  Soon the creek was narrow enough to step over and then just a trickle in the grass, and the horses were lunging up a steeper slope.

“Hoy!” his grandfather said when they were high enough Oktar could see over the top; the horses slowed to a halt.  On the far side of the rise, the land was a tumbled mass of hills, with a distant line of higher ground against the sky.

“We go down a little.  Never stop on ridge.”  His grandfather’s horse picked its way down slowly; Oktar followed.  His grandfather’s horse stopped, lowered its head.  “You never drop rein,” Oktar’s father said.  “But you stand on horse back.”

To Oktar’s surprise, the old man bent over, put his crooked hand on his horse’s withers, got his knees on his horse’s back, and then stood up, still holding the rein in his good hand.  He looked completely at ease.  “You!” he said to Oktar.

Oktar used both hands on his mount’s withers and slowly–breathing hard–got his knees up.  It felt far worse than sitting, sore as his rump was.  He felt unbalanced and he wasn’t even on his feet.

“Look at hill, not grass!”  Oktar obeyed.  “Tuck feet under–stand!”

Wobbling, nearly-but-not-quite-falling, Oktar finally made it to his feet, arms wide, the rein still clutched in his sweaty heart-hand.  He swayed, but caught himself…and then began to feel stable.

“Now we go,” his grandfather said, pulling on his horse’s rein.  Up came the head.  His grandfather said something in horsefolk talk, and his horse walked off, while he stood on its back as if rooted to it.

Oktar’s horse lifted its head–the movement of muscles in its back almost threw him–and walked after the other.  Oktar half-crouched, trying to stay in balance with it, but they were going down-slope, the horse picking its way with uneven steps over small rocks and around larger ones.  Oktar’s toes clung to the sheepskin, digging into the fleece…and there ahead was his grandfather, straight as a pole. He could see, from behind, how his grandfather’s knees were slightly bent, and his hips moved with the horse’s movement, while his shoulders stayed level.  Oktar tried to copy that, but his legs were shaking with the effort by the time his grandfather turned to look at him.

“Now down,” his grandfather said, with a nod that might have been approval or not.  He sat down on his mount, and did not wait to see if Oktar had made it back to the horse’s back before kicking his own into the faster rocking gait.

Oktar grabbed mane and managed to stay on, just barely.  He reeled in the length of rein he’d let out.  He was shaky, hungry, but…he had stood up on the back of a horse, a moving horse.  He’d never done that before.  None of the boys he’d fought had done that.  He imagined showing them…but his grandfather’s horse jumped something ahead of him.  He felt his horse gather itself, a great shove–a jolting landing–and he was off-balance, losing his grip on the mane–he was falling.  He hit the ground hard, rolled over rocks and finally lay still, stunned.  His shoulder hurt, his back hurt.  He tried to sit up and his head spun.  He heard hoofbeats coming toward him.

“Is not my blood!  Must be false.”

Oktar looked.  His grandfather was sitting on his horse, looking up at the sky.  His own horse was standing a distance away, the rein dragging and the sheepskin pulled awry.

“Cannot be.  My seed does not fall off horse.  Twice in two days.”  The old man spat aside.  “Not my son’s son.

Something rumbled.  Oktar stared.  The morning’s milky blue sky now curdled into clouds, thickened more, darkened at the base, and a roiling tower of white rose high, gleaming in the sun.

“I try.  I tell him.  Has no…nothing of horse in him.”

A louder rumble, then a roar; Oktar’s ears popped.  A cold wind buffeted him; the horses turned tail to it, heads down.  He struggled to his feet, only to be battered by a fall of rocks–of ice, he realized, hard cold lumps falling out of the cloud that now broke right on top of him.  He fell to the ground, covering his head with his arms, as the ice pounded his back, his legs, his arms.  What about his grandfather?  He tried to look; through the confusing blur of falling ice, he saw his grandfather’s horse…and on the ground, a dark lump.  His grandfather was down?  Hurt?

Despite the battering ice, Oktar forced himself up, staggering, slipping on the ice that now covered the ground, ice-rocks battering his head, to get to his grandfather.  His grandfather lay still, his pack over his head.

“Granfer!  Are you–” At the sound of his voice, his grandfather peered out from under the pack.

“You!  Why come?”

“I thought you were hurt.”

“Use eyes.  Under horse no ice falls.  Put head under.”

Oktar put his head under the horse’s belly, above his grandfather.  Nothing hit his head.  A last few lumps of ice pounded his back and legs, and then it was rain, hard and cold.  He shivered; he couldn’t help it.  Then his teeth chattered.  His grandfather blew a long, horselike sound through his lips.

“Get under all the way, stupid one.”


  • Comment by Caryn — July 12, 2016 @ 4:34 pm


    Awww. Poor Oktar. Poor Granfer!

  • Comment by Eowyn — July 13, 2016 @ 10:16 am


    I love these snippets. Poor Oktar’s horse!

  • Comment by Susan — July 13, 2016 @ 9:13 pm


    Thank you for the wonderful counter to the week I’m having! Poor Oktar is certainly having to learn the hard way.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 13, 2016 @ 9:28 pm


    Eowyn: Oktar’s horse isn’t suffering as much as it might–he’s a kid, not very heavy. The horse is actually fine with being out in the hills, headed toward where it came from. And, being a horse, it’s capable of taking its own sweet revenge on the novice. Horsefolk “ponies” have a sense of humor, like some of the horses I’ve owned. One of my horses, if I got off balance, would swing back under me…but I watched that same horse swing out from under another rider that it had put off balance. Another of my horses (this being the one inherited from its real owner, ahem) would get out from under me on purpose.)

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 13, 2016 @ 9:29 pm


    Susan: I’m delighted that this story is helping you through a rough week. Yes, Oktar’s having a difficult learning experience. And it’s not over yet. But he will find an unexpected ally in the next segment.

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — July 13, 2016 @ 10:39 pm


    Have I mentioned how much I like your writing? How you can take something from your personal experience and fold it and shape it so nicely into your fictional universe?


  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — July 14, 2016 @ 6:59 pm


    Part 3 and the promise of a fourth. 😀 Thank you.

  • Comment by cgbookcat1 — July 14, 2016 @ 9:49 pm


    Thank you! I am really enjoying Oktar’s story.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 15, 2016 @ 5:55 am


    Thank you! (And thanks thrown into the past for Martha D- and her horse Pokey! Pokey was the classic babysitter mare, willing to be used as a jungle gym by smaller children.)

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 15, 2016 @ 5:56 am


    Glad you’re enjoying it.

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