The Dun Mare’s Grandchild, Episode 4

Posted: July 17th, 2016 under Background, Story.
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When the storm passed, they rode on, over the melting lumps of ice and the wet grass.  Oktar’s sheepskin, sodden with rain, hung over his horse’s rump; he walked, leading his mount, his bare feet so cold from the ice he could not feel the bruises.  His grandfather rode ahead, not speaking to him, but muttering continually to the horses, who bobbed their heads as if they understood.

Home was too far behind to imagine, that cold night. 

Two days later, they topped a rise to see far ahead a herd of animals grazing on the plain.  His grandfather stood up on his horse, shading his eyes.

“See pole?  See colors?”

Oktar had no idea where to look, but in trying to follow his grandfather’s gaze, saw a flash of color that was not grass or rock: red. Fluttering.

“Is ours,” his grandfather said.  He threw back his head and let out a long, wavering cry, then another, then barked like a dog four times.

“What is—”

“Quiet.  Wait.”

Oktar looked around, seeing nothing but grass blowing in the wind, hearing nothing but wind hissing in the grass.  The herd was mere dark specks against the tawny grass, moving slowly away from them.

Then–between one turn of his head and the next–someone appeared, not four horse-lengths away.  Man and horse, the man sitting as Oktar’s grandfather sat, as if his backbone grew from the horse’s back. The same dark hair, but unstreaked by any gray, hung in braids adorned with beads and feathers.  A horsefolk face, wide, the color the townsfolk called saddle leather, high cheekbones under ruddy cheeks, black eyes like his grandfather’s and his own.  The same clothes, with the same pattern woven into the pants and shirt-sleeves, the long shirt belted, the vest over it open in front, showing a red lining.  On his head a twisted scarf, red and yellow, with one end hanging down behind.  And on this man’s feet, knee-high boots whose soles were embroidered in brilliant colors, set with chips of bone or shell.  The man had pulled his toes up, as if to make sure they saw every detail of the intricate design.

How did he walk on those, Oktar wondered.  He must, but how?  The colors were bright, undimmed by dirt.  He glanced at his grandfather.  For a long moment, his grandfather did not move or speak.  Then his grandfather tipped his head up toward the sky and began chanting in the horsefolk tongue.  The other man said nothing, sat motionless on his horse.  His grandfather paused in the chant, and gestured at Oktar, then fell silent.

The man looked at Oktar.  He had the same beady black eyes as Oktar’s grandfather and father, with the same tattoos in swirls and dots covering the heart-hand side of his face, and the same expression on it: contempt for the boy who didn’t measure up.  The man opened his mouth and said something short and emphatic.  Oktar couldn’t understand the words, but the tone confirmed the eyes: contempt.

His grandfather rode forward, held out his withered arm, and shouted, as loud as Oktar had ever heard him, right in the man’s face; the man’s horse pinned its ears and pivoted away.  The man jerked the rein, brought it back around.  The two men stared at each other a long moment, silent.

Then the man uttered another phrase, in a completely different tone, turned his horse, and the horse picked up a brisk trot.

“Come!” Oktar’s grandfather followed the man without a backward look, only that one word, and Oktar rode after him, his stomach clenching.

These were “his people?”  This man, of the same tribe as his grandfather and father, this man who disliked him on sight, as the horsefolk back in town had, as everyone had?  Would he ever find anyone who would give him a chance?

For the first time since leaving home, the hateful voices in his head drowned out everything around him.  The boys at the grange, the horsefolk adults, the Marshal, the market judicar, everyone he had ever known: they all hated him; they always had.

He glared at his grandfather’s receding back, at the other man.  He hated them–the way they sat their horses, the way they looked at him, the way they rode on paying no attention to him, despising him.

He yanked at the rein; his horse threw its head up but stopped.  The distance between him and his grandfather lengthened.  Fine.  Let him go on.  Let him go back to the tribe; they were not Oktar’s people.  Not now, not ever.

He pulled his horse’s head around and booted it in the ribs; it turned a tight circle, shaking its head.  It wanted to follow the others.  But he did not.  He would go back–not to the same house, to his father’s anger and his mother’s scoldings and the town that hated him.  He would find another town.  There must be one somewhere.

He tried again to turn his horse, this time using the few words he now knew, and the horse wiggled its ears, and took a few hesitant steps before trying to swing around again.  He said the words again, louder, kicked with both legs, and the horse moved on the direction he meant.  He sat back against the trot, kicked again, and it picked up a canter.  Behind him, he heard a yell, the sound of hooves.  He kicked, kicked with each stride, until the horse was galloping, then leaned forward.  He had no thought left but escape, no thought of the days traveled, the food he did not have, anything but away, escape, freedom.

Then his horse skidded to a sudden halt, Oktar’s fingers and legs lost their grip, and he slid off the horse’s back, right over its lowered neck, onto the ground.  Again.  He wanted to sink into that ground before his grandfather arrived, before another humiliation.  The ground did not cooperate.  He blinked, opened his eyes, and saw in front of him two dark hooves, and between them a dark muzzle.  His horse?  He looked up, into the face of a horse he had never seen, a peculiar yellowish color, with a long dark forelock, and two astonishing dark eyes looking into his.

Whuff!  Its breath smelled of the grass and herbs under his face.  The nostrils quivered, coming nearer.    Without thinking, he breathed back into them, lifted a hand to touch that muzzle.  The horse’s upper lip extended a little, touched his hand, then the horse sniffed up his arm, finger to wrist to elbow to shoulder…and the next thing he knew had gripped his shirt in its teeth and lifted him as if he weighed nothing, setting him on his feet.  Then it let go and stepped back.

Nearby, his horse stood, watching not him but the other horse.  The new one, he could see now, had a body all that golden yellow color with legs dark to the knees and hocks, a dark mane and tail, and a dark stripe down the back.  And–even he could tell this–it was a mare.  Every story he’d been told brought a sudden chill down his backbone, weakness to his legs.  This was a dun horse–a dun mare–a daughter of the Mare of Plenty, a mare among mares, the herd’s wise leader.

The mare cocked her head, then reached out and took his hand in her teeth. Her big square yellow teeth closed very gently around his fingers, then tugged just a little.  He took a step forward.  She released his hand, nodded like a human, came closer and butted him with her head.  He stumbled back; she turned sideways to him, lowered her head to the ground and ripped up a mouthful of grass.  One of those big dark eyes watched him; the ear on that side pointed to him.  When he did not move, she gave another loud Whuff! and stamped the near foreleg.

He knew what she wanted.  But it was impossible.  If she was the Mare of Plenty, consort of the Windsteed, mother of all the herds of the horsefolk, no human dared mount her.  She was not to be ridden.

The mare swung her hindquarters closer to him, and her tail lashed him.  Then she presented her neck again, this time looking at him with both eyes, both ears pricked.

Get on, fool of a boy.  Clear as if she had human speech.

Would she run away with him?  Would she buck him off?  Trample him?

Only if you stand there.

It was hard to take that step, hard to lift his leg and step over that lowered neck, hard to imagine what it would be like–and as he thought that, the mare jerked her head up and he found himself sliding right over her low withers and onto her bare back.  She stood motionless a moment, then walked toward his grandfather and the other man, both of them now only a few lengths away, staring at him in a very different way.

His horse—the one he had been riding—trailed alongside, its head near the mare’s flank.  As the mare walked toward, and then past, his grandfather, the two men turned their horses to ride one on either side.

“You were run away.”

His grandfather sounded scornful, as usual.  But no familiar surge of anger came; he could scarcely recall what he’d been doing, or why.  Under him, the mare’s back swayed, and from her emanated a sense of comfort and safety he had not felt since early childhood, since the days his mother had carried him, had protected him from the older children, before he knew that who he was, who she was, who they all were, made any difference.

“What means you?” his grandfather asked.

He had no words to answer he thought his grandfather would understand.   “She came to me,” he said.

The other man laughed, and said something to his grandfather that made his grandfather laugh.

“She knows horse from ass,” his grandfather said.  “You are son’s son after all.”  He reined back, moved alongside the horse Oktar had been riding, and scooped up the trailing rein in his withered arm, grabbing it then with his good hand.  He moved back up beside Oktar.  “You take rein.  I go.”

Oktar took the rein his grandfather held out; the other man said something emphatic to his grandfather.  The words hissed and clicked; all three horses pricked their ears.

“It make trouble, I go there,” Oktar’s grandfather said to him.  “I not go.  He want, give me food.  I stay here, but only tonight.”

“You’re leaving me?  I can’t talk—”

“You learn.  You learn, son’s son.  You horse-folk.  She says.”  He pointed his elbow at the mare; she flicked an ear.

“But I don’t know—who is he?”

“Family,” his grandfather said.  He waved his hand; the other man nodded, and kicked his horse forward.


  • Comment by Caryn — July 17, 2016 @ 10:19 am


    More, please.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 17, 2016 @ 10:57 am


    There’s not a lot more…there should be, but it just trailed off at one point that I now realize was when the Wall was there but I hadn’t hit it yet. There’s one more episode. Probably next week.

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — July 17, 2016 @ 9:14 pm


    An excellent surprise twist. More, please.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — July 19, 2016 @ 2:52 am


    I’ll be delighted if the next post proves me wrong, but right now I believe the story has achieved a satisfying resolution – fulfilling its title – and no more is needed. If Oktar wants more of his life told then I’m ready for him to fast forward from here to the start of his next story.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 19, 2016 @ 7:29 am


    Richard: That’s an interesting idea. What more I know of the Oktar’s story (beyond what is written) brings a more satisfying resolution to me–answers what *I* wanted to know–and this amount leaves too much open. But then, the part that’s actually written, going beyond this, satisfies intermediate writer-desire that may or may not be necessary to readers.

    We have seen, overall, less development of background cultures than I know and have wanted to include. If Gird’s daughter’s book had not died on me, it would’ve been the third book completing the Gird/Luap/…? group, making clear from early on what the loss of the friendship between the Rosemage and Gird’s daughter (due to Luap leading the mages away to Kolobia) meant for the Fellowship of Gird in the critical early years. And that book died at the point when the horsefolk got involved. Stories kept being truncated (Aris and Seri’s, you recall) when the mainstream characters ran into the horsefolk one way or another.

    Situating a young character in that culture lets me explore it more fully. I know, from “Dream’s Quarry,” something about their clan structure, but that story isn’t well known–it came out in HORSE FANTASTIC in 1991. This story gives me somewhat more scope. It also could give Oktar time for more growth…and more surprises. But I’ll think on this. It’s always possible for a writer to be too enthusiastic about a work.

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — July 20, 2016 @ 11:43 pm


    Thank you, anticipating #5.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — July 22, 2016 @ 4:01 am


    Elizabeth, that is more of an answer and has taken me deeper than I expected. You said the story wants to become a novel – I didn’t mean to suggest it shouldn’t.

    One side question arising – chapter 29 of Luap’s book: “in reports of the gossips, [Gird’s daughter’s] influence lasted beyond her own death. She was blamed for a militant and violent strain of Girdish rule… [Others argued she had compromised] only to ensure that women retained their rights in the grange organization.” Did you add that passage before or after her own book died? Because with those words that loose end from Gird’s story was tied off while reminding readers that the world extends beyond the frame.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 22, 2016 @ 10:20 am


    On the timing of that passage…I honestly have no idea. Luap’s book was written in the aftermath of my mother’s death, and then heavily rewritten when Editor-then pointed out its early failings (writing in a grief-fog means–for this writer anyway–not noticing when all the sensory elements disappear from the book.) I do not remember whether I had started (and gotten stuck in) Rahel’s book between finishing (I thought) Luap’s and then getting the rewrite request. Anyway, I reworked Liar’s Oath head to tail as fast as I could (appalled at what I hadn’t included the first time) but I may have been struggling with Rahel’s book (in draft) at the same time. Or maybe I’d already given up on it. Or maybe it lopped over the end…I wasn’t keeping notes on things like that, and the notes I did keep were in WordStar.

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — July 23, 2016 @ 10:03 am


    It’s interesting how the reality of your loss of notes and faded recollections are equally reflected in the confusion and uncertainty among the Girdish. Luap’s meddling was likely the primary problem for the Girdish, but schism and religious disputes arise even without the likes of Luap. As your personal experience demonstrates.

  • Comment by Tuppenny — July 26, 2016 @ 12:02 pm


    Ooooh. Lovely. A nice glimpse into the Horsefolk. I’ve been curious about them from the first hints you gave of their existence.

  • Comment by Sherri Campbell — August 12, 2016 @ 7:49 pm


    Lovely. Just inhaled the four parts posted, nice (well, not for Oktar) but like the view into the horse nomads life.

    Thank you.

  • Comment by Dan Rylander — August 29, 2016 @ 1:58 am


    This is beyond wonderful if another word is never written about young Oktar Cracolnya.

    Makes me think about the interaction with horse folk throughout particularly when Arcolin had their help with the inysin.

    Again thanks so much from this Paksworld obsessive.

  • Comment by elizabeth — August 29, 2016 @ 7:25 am


    Thanks, Dan.

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