Mi’Raah heard about it from her prison cell.
A manumitted Trystian paced on the right side of her bars in a fine red robe. Syramon crossed his arms. “It boils down to want. Women want to dance, men want to watch them–no matter their ranks. Usually, it would offend these high-brow ladies, but now they are being told they cannot silver their hair after you did it, High Priestess. The women had a fit-and-a-half, as they say in Tryst… It was another way of street-dancing when they were too good for it, that is clear. Changing their hair color started the riot you heard guards talking about.”
Syramon continued, “Free and wide and clear like the Seas. Everyone wants a right to be like this now.”
“I’m sure the Queen wants it the worst, her silver head’s in desperate need of putting back on.”
“But you are a High Priestess. Can you not raise the dead?”
Mi’Raah winked, no batted an eyelash, as if there was a gnat. “Syramon, my friend, that depends on what sort of death it is. A woman is forced b’neath a guillotine because she wants to steal my hair-style, well then, that’s not worth fixing…”
“But if a man’s blood is spilt, and it’s got a silver sheen to it–that’s a whole new style, I think. I need to see just how he does it. So, go on and tell me the other tidbit… how is that Odentalis faring? I know King Baeltheon wouldn’t spare expense to save his life now that he’s also mortally short a Queen. Before the hair-riot you described, the guards here also said that old and young and all their mommas too watched an axe-man fix the queen.”
The sinewy Trystian dancer advised Mi’Raah that the High Horse Priest Odentalis had last been seen fleeing in his bandages to the Royal Stables. The physicians tried but couldn’t find Odentalis, which was strange in his condition. Who knew if the High Priest even lived?
“I know a place Odentalis might have gone… Well, here’s your piece of music, Syramon. In exchange, I happen to know that Prince Bonnis seduced a Holy Rider while he lived. That should be enough to buy your lover’s freedom. Oh! How romantic, look at all the people I’m helping…”
“Mi’Raah. Your closest worshiper was sent to jail for stabbing the High Horse Priest, who may be dead. The waif-Queen of Jyst who made the mistake of admiring you after all that had her head chopped off as a reward. The King of Jyst, Baeltheon himself, is deeply regretting ever giving you a chance in the first place because his kingdom is presently in violent upheaval over it. And now, the only person who really likes you, Mi’Raah, is myself–because I was recently a slave and have no other choice. Oh yes, and then there’s the talk about Arudelle the Pirate King being your friend.”
She fidgeted. “…So?”
This Syramon person shook his head. “Nevermind it. If I am going to stand up to Bonnis’ heirs, without money enough to purchase my love’s freedom, then I need something more damaging than a mere rumor about their father. If I can have an actual name from you, Mi’Raah, and a when…?”
“Understand, I was holding out on you for the same reason that King Baeltheon has kept me alive in here–who knows when the enemy will come or what he may want next? I can only tell you the name, once I’m freed. Did you bring the keys, Syramon?”
“When they were dragging you down to the dungeons, we passed for but a moment and you whispered few precious words, a generous telling that enabled me to buy my freedom. Now, because of another valuable hint you gave when I properly visited here and paid my homage, mere days ago–my lady, of course I have swiped the keys.”
“Then escort me to the fields tonight. Once I find Odentalis, I’ll scream out the name you need to save your man and start a new life.”
Syramon knelt by the bars and undid the lock. He whispered, as if this were the worst part of their conversation, “Thank you. I’ve prayed before, many times, but the Trystian goddess was never so merciful–”
Mi’Raah prevented him from opening the gate. “What if… you can’t have quit your faith in exchange for what I’ve been dealing up and down the island this past month?”
Syramon leaned on the bars. “I understand what you’ve done. Truly powerful, immortal creatures couldn’t be so humbled, could they? So, you are doing a little of both–maybe even as much as you can. But, no matter what, people need something to believe in. I don’t feel betrayed, Mi’Raah. How can I? I do like you, for trying, which means we are friends.”
“Maybe I gambled well by picking you out of the crowd in a hurry, lifting up a man who was obviously in an impossible situation? He might feel beholden to me, forever. Visit me in the dungeon for as long as it took, tell me anything I needed to know, no matter the risk. Had you considered it?”
Syramon used strong muscles to wrench the gate from her soft grasp. “I have a question for you as well. What are you so afraid of, Mi’Raah, that you would rather be locked down here? The world is not going to end, simply because you opposed the royal order. Some of us will go to Tryst, have a light drink, and then wait for Arudelle to finish scattering these arrogant horses, no?”
Mi’Raah took one tentative step through the bars. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything damning about the Pirate King Arudelle that he hasn’t already used to become so disgustingly successful at conquest, would you?”
Syramon did not understand, so he laughed. “High Priestess, I like your style of miracles. They involve scandalizing all that won’t shake its tail, otherwise! Come, come, let’s go find Odentalis…”
“No, I work miracles more out of naked spite. You’ll see when I shout out her bald-headed, betrayer’s name…”
Later, behind the Royal Stables, at the Sacred Field…
Mi’Raah warned Syramon to stay back, but the Trystian hugged her when he knew they might never see one another again.
“In three days, come to Leeaire’s Bodega in the Trystian high district. There will be an extra seat near Thom and myself and a glass of wine waiting for you. Please, Mi’Raah, consider it. As I said, no matter if I was once a royal slave, you will always be my friend.”
She hugged tighter, promised nothing, then went off into the tall grass. It did not take long. To Mi’Raah, the air had colors, kinder things lifted. Heart beats expanded in bright pulses that rivaled fireflies. The flow never ended. Impossible not to know if there was disharmony. Mi’Raah followed an ink-deep ripple of power now, hand flat out, reaching…
“Ah. There he is…”
Only, the dark form laid out at her feet was not some wounded memory of an obnoxious man. It was a large horse with the exact blade-wound Koriandra had given, but across its flank. Mi’Raah clicked her tongue gently, knickering to the stalllion as she knelt down. Odeon lashed a foreleg and tried to rise, but only rough snorts passed through his nostrils and over large, white teeth. The blood shone silver, where it pooled beneath the animal.
Well, that confirmed it. “Look at me.” She pricked herself, “This proves we are the same. Though, I admit, I did not realize it meant you were truly a horse.”
Now that he spoke with a horse’s mouth, Mi’Raah found the anger trivialized, somewhat. The whole of the hallowed creature became apparent then. His Odentalis was never reasonable, nor accessible enough because the horse did not how to be human. Then, Mi’Raah inhaled sharp laughter when she realized the real male, Odeon never cared enough about mortals to be so convincing. So this was his greatest, secret flaw. The horse was lazy and unimpressed with life, in general. Odeon just cared to eat what he liked from one day to the next, that was the goal of the feed-tithes, that was the point of the entire deception.
“All this, to gain the power to feed yourself while captive?”
Odeon snorted forcefully and wilted grass, “If I can’t get off this damned island, then I’ll be damned if some stupid mortal decides to give me stale hay, and just short of sunrise, for three weeks’ straight–”
“And now I go, Hahaha!”
“It isn’t funny. You aren’t funny, Naah Maah Mi’Raah. I wish that I had recognized your name, but you were only just crafted back in our time, correct?”
“Beyond the fact that none of the First Ones shared political doings with you, a very able horse.” she petted him. “Poor animal. You weren’t made for this life.”
“Are you angry that I took advantage of people?”
“Why do you suddenly care what I think? I can’t train you out of it, I don’t know horses. Though, it’s sweet that you still long to take orders.”
“Only from the First Ones. Our world was good, back then. Before the first time it was wrecked. This is another apocalypse coming on, I can feel it. I must have sensed that, then spooked.”
More giggling. “Here, now. Don’t you go being angry at me, Odeon. Stay still, lend your energy to living… I’ve learned, in the worst way, that it does no good to be better than other creatures. Even if mortal lives are smaller, those are still lives, those are still hearts and minds driving flesh to build your temples and age your wines. What hurts one of us, when we share this world, will eventually hurt all of us. I had the power to stop it, back home. At my command, I could have overwhelmed Arudelle with a united army on first sight of him. I could have got close, I could have boiled the blood in his body with a thought. One breath of my own, and he would have never been a threat to any of us. I can’t even imagine… how stupid I was, to miss that chance. I never believed it could happen to me, because I could not die easily. The world would go on and on, my sisters and I could shut up in our fortress again, to come out once things were nicer and the green had come back.” She raised hands and dropped them empty, with a soft pum in the grass at her sides, “But it turned out Arudelle was as good as I was, just as worthy of life. Just as capable of torturing me. What a strange person… Arudelle grew up watching pirates burn his city, but he came to admire their cruelty. And then, at the apex of his youth, he observed an immortal creature, named Mi’Raah, wield people’s hearts together in a grand mechanism… sacrificing their virgins, pouring out their blood in libation, calling herself a goddess. No, he was not some sheep to be bowed by it too. Arudelle marveled at the destruction. He wanted a turn.”
“And now he likes the pure-breed of horses who helped settle the Known Seas according to Jyst’s favor.”
“No, Arudelle just wants you, Odeon. It’s actually lucky I never met you this way, as an animal. Arudelle would have ordered me steal you off, at once. And that would have been a grand mess of us tearing one another with our immortal teeth while the kingdom flew apart, wouldn’t it?”
Odeon’s breath startled through flared nostrils, when his pain surged, and Mi’Raah quickly apologized that she hadn’t tried to heal him sooner. She continued speaking, with hands placed on his swollen stomach. “Once Arudelle captured me in his homeland, and studied me long enough, he reasoned that the mighty Jystians and their barbarous pirates were never worshipping a real horse god, just an ancient, well-bred warhorse capable of stamping excellent traits on any animal. Arudelle is keeping Sirenian horses on one of those ships out there–that is what you are fated for, Odeon. To purify the Sirenian horse breed. Arudelle is convinced it will lead to a creature with explosive advantage over any other. Then, after, he will go on to conquer another island. Each one has got a treasure, I imagine.”
“You admire Arudelle.”
“I do not!”
“Then why isn’t he dead? Why, with all your power, haven’t you at least tried?”
Mi’Raah had no answer at first. “If you remember what I said at court, when this all began… it’s what terror does to a person–to a woman. He hurt me and destroyed me. No one else was witness. This… I am, today… the consequence of so much fighting… after willing myself to die… but I stand again. I know where the lines are, that I cannot cross. I’m still terrified, I don’t know what else to do–you could never understand it.”
Odeon relented. “Perhaps that is true. Maybe I should not have pressed.”
A time passed.
He tried again, “Mi’Raah, this is what I believe. Mortals like to see a difference between themselves and the animals, don’t they? Yes, they are right to. It is just like that with immortal creatures and mortal creatures. Immortals and mortals are not the same. We don’t even occupy the same space… what happens to them does not happen to us. Maybe some of them need religion but we don’t need it. We are aware of the absolutes of this life. There are no gods–”
“Yes there are.”
“I suppose you, fallen you, are one of them?”
“Life is liquid and vast, what do we know? There is, at least, a balance. I’m being punished for once pretending to be a goddess across the Sea, that’s certain.”
Odeon lashed a tail, the blue energy Mi’Raah willed into him began to do its work. “We were among the First Ones. We, if anything in this life, have the full right to say what there is and what there isn’t, when we saw it first being made and broken. There are no gods.”
“Then there are no kings.”
“What is a king? He is someone whom everyone else agrees is bigger–and he physically isn’t. And he’s supposed to have more money–which he just took from others, more land–it’s not his land. Whose name is really stamped forever and finally, down beneath the earth…”
“Mi’Raah, it doesn’t have to be written down. People live like it, that is the way they have to think about it, they have to work along what is–what is effected, made to be, in order to survive.”
“Exactly. Things are, as you see them.” She lifted a finger to his objections, “Yes, you’re right, I can’t close my eyes, decide that King Baeltheon doesn’t exist and expect that he hasn’t sent some prison guard to fetch me, and violently, right now… but, evenso, some things are a matter of interpretation, when nothing, like kings or gods, are ever absolute. Like goodness, like a promise to make things better… if I say I will make things better, and then I try, and I succeed!” she smiled brightly, “…then it is more likely to happen. If I pray, and something wonderful comes into my life, then perhaps something or someone up there did listen.”
“I suppose now, you’ll say that there’s a good energy floating around and some people have bad energy and are damned and all that nonsense.”
“Whatever it is, I can see it. I don’t know who it came from. But, it flows into me, through the top of my silver head, I theorize, and then conducts down through these fingers to knit your flesh and feed your blood so that it heals muscle faster.”
He flitted spade ear at something. “Why did I think you would have actual evidence. Still, though, whether there’s a benign, undefinable multiplicity motivating us, or a personality, we don’t have its real, hallowed name, even if it is an–it.”
“Which reminds me… KORIANDRAAAAA!”
Odeon fought to get up and perhaps dash away. He kept rolling himself to get upright. Mi’Raah shushed him. “No, that was just a part of our deal. Giving that woman’s name over to the authorities. Well, a slave who will eventually deliver the information to the authorities–such soldiers are not around us now. Woah, Odeon.”
“I hate that word, don’t say that word! And how perfectly your theory falls apart when I recall that Koriandra woman has suddenly fallen out of your plan for saving the world–which, you aren’t, if you are going to put a bloodthirsty, twisted scoundrel like Arudelle on the Jystian throne.”
“No, on the Sirenian throne, and also the Jystian one.”
“Don’t play with me.”
“Is that why Kori stabbed you? Because she discovered that you were a horse at the Yearling Festival, and that it meant you never offered her a better life, you only took her mares and ruined her life–”
“I transformed it.
“You took her best friends in this world and abused them, then simply forgot about it, didn’t you? Selfish animal.”
“Well, Mi’Raah, if we are going by your rules, that state belief might as well go as we’d have it when nobody knows anything, anyways–you should accept that Koriandra came to believe in you, and that you had the power to defy the King of Jyst or at least destroy me on her behalf, but you just let her down.”
“Kori told me once, that she knew neither of us was right. She believes in a Great Hunter god.”
“Rider Koriandra was our pawn, flitting from one to the other of us, desperately angry about improving her situation. I was a false idol. You were not a real friend.”
“I didn’t…” Mi’Raah took a hand off his surging black-hided horse belly, to consider it, then apologized again, and returned to healing him. “But I can’t be Koriandra’s friend. She should not have assumed that an immortal creature could be her friend, her life is so brief. Just like Syramon, the slave, who invited me to wine after Arudelle’s apocalypse. What’s wrong with mortals thinking on such small terms! What comfort could we ever bring one another?”
“And that is what I always believed, Mi’Raah. Why try? You should have heard Koriandra’s deranged speech at the Yearling Festival, about us being able to resolve all the ills of mankind, on a whim.”
“You’re right on that, at least. It’s too large a task.” Mi’Raah shut her eyes. “No. Odeon, we are perceiving this wrong. It is not too large, not in our terms. What is a thousand years of serving Arudelle and his greedy heirs? I’d already thought of that. But, suppose the world is better when my enslavement is done? It doesn’t have to be a misery.”
“You’re enslaved? I don’t see any shackles.”
“If Arudelle dies, or I fail here, then my sisters will be slain… but listen to what I am saying. What happens if I make Koriandra’s life better? My life will be better. This whole time, I’ve been terrified of playing goddess again, but this would be different…”
“Yes, you could help, but not by much. It’s like letting that mosquito on your shoulder live.”
Mi’Raah squeaked and swatted it.
“Now, get back to healing me.”
“But it’s not just Koriandra’s little life. Possibly thousands… my good deed could last for generations.”
“Ugh, we already tried playing god, as you said…”
“I am talking about love, about friendship. Big creatures like us need faith too. We all need to participate. It’s not them believing, and us trying to either benefit or hide from all the attention… my life is a misery unless I’m truly a part of the whole. And it’s no good to do it with words. No matter our size, must give back. Please, help me Odeon–”
“Help you do what?”
“We’ll team up and aid Arudelle.”
“I thought this conversation was leading to you grabbing a saddle and me galloping across the waves, with your powers, away from this mess.”
“But I already explained about my sisters–Arudelle is too powerful, now that I’ve been thinking of Koriandra and Syramon, so many others like them… there is still something I can do.”
“Oh. You can’t make people or horses walk on water? How about a pretty canter? I might could still do those…”
Mi’Raah continued to beg him. Odeon was finally well enough to get up on four legs and nudge her over with his horse head.
“Ow, that hurt! And I’m being serious, Odeon. We have work to do. We can save the world.”
“You don’t think I can see that? I’m a little out of shape now, but regularly, I’m a horse bred for war over thousands of years and that was back when I was birthed about a thousand years more ago… and I never did explain how I learned to change myself into a person.”
“Alright, fine, how?”
“I ate one.”
“Ugh! Wind and fury take it, I can’t speak to you anymore, Odentalis, Odeon, whatever you want to be!”
“Mi’Raah, this is simple. You and I will fight Arudelle. He is a bug. We will squash him. And then, we will both live happily ever after on a better island, with sweeter grass and all your sisters and my mares dancing in a happy circle along the field. And, we will be surrounded by an impenetrable wall of constant tidal waves to keep all the smelly mortals out.” he stamped his hoof. “I feel better and I know where the rest of my tackle is. Climb on up.”
Mi’Raah wiped silver hair from her face and chewed her fingernails. “I can’t.”
“Why not? If you think about it, what we really need to do is destroy a certain gold bottle that keeps showing up every single time something goes wrong in my kingdom. Without it, Arudelle has no power over any of us. I’ve been thinking, he needs to send it to you again, eventually, doesn’t he?”
Mi’Raah hugged her knees. “I don’t know, I don’t know…” she whimpered over and over, then made fists, raged and sobbed. “He is Arudelle. He is the strongest and the smartest. One like him isn’t born every day, maybe only once every thousand years… I must obey the order. Besides, tidal waves would just create earthquakes and destroy the world in a worse way… ”
“No, you only think you must obey him. You’ve been seduced and lied to, Mi’Raah, by the enemy. Whatever twisted sense of comfort he gives you, because you miss daddy or you never kissed a boy before he showed up, let that go.”
She screamed it out. “The world ended before. I saw it happen, we were there. My real father died… the seal closed on him but we could still hear it. I can’t lose my sisters too. I can’t let another child lose their father… I sinned once across the Sea with the Wild Tribes, but now I have another chance. I can prevent death, this time. Odeon, I won’t go through any of it again, can’t you get that through your thick equine skull? This time, I must obey the balance.”
Odeon came nearer, snuffed onto her shoulder, “Is this something near to me not being able to go against the orders of the First Ones, like not biting the same hand that gives me a carrot?”
Mi’Raah looked up at the black horse. “Without me, Arudelle is solely a force of destruction. He would have come here anyways. It was his plan all along. Conquer the Wild Tribes, take wood from their hallowed black forests, build a fleet of ships to rival Jyst… I made it happen faster. And then, there is the feel of the world I can’t ignore. There is a vortex around Arudelle. It prefers him, it follows him. It all must pass through him. Things are going to end, again. I can’t look away. My sisters and I can’t allow life to end again, en masse, nor in miniature. He was right, ‘she cannot be saved, who can never be redeemed.’ I am made to respect the flow of things, I have to protect it all, I can’t get away from everything that I’ve done, right and wrong, most of all, the very evil things, to stay alive and keep the world alive.”
“I don’t understand. After everything, Arudelle is some hero, to you?”
“No. He is a villain. He is like the winter before spring comes. He is needed.”
“A thosuand lonely years have gone by, you’ve never been in love before, and you’re obsessed with a man and his abuse. But, you won’t admit it. That is what I think. You and your faith–did you really ever think such fine things about life or were you trying to convince me help you and Arudelle? Because, if you really believed immortals need to have faith, then you would be able to see your way out of this, away from a man who only means to use and destroy you. Mi’Raah, if this insanity is really what you want, I will not help you. My own immortal life would be endangered–I’ll not go to such a master. And what of my favorite mares? I would be forced to defend my herd and fight against you.”
She stood and faced him. “Truly then, horse-kin? You care so little, not for mortals, nor righteousness, not even for yourself or your future? The future of life? Arudelle and his Black Armada will be here tomorrow, in that case. And, we aren’t just going to fight, Odeon. To prevent total oblivion, I am going to put divine anger to work and ignite all the horror and sear of war directly over that narrow head of yours!”
Odeon charged at her. Mi’Raah slashed an arm across herself, and the air chilled to shards of sharp ice.
“What happened to ending me with a mere thought?” he whinnied proud laughter, “You can’t have that advantage when there’s somebody else with silver blood, now can you!”
The black stallion reared up, but Mi’Raah had gone. She had a head start, and her tricks with the air and water helped, but Odeon was as he said, an animal trained for war. He avoided obstacles with growing ease, had the speed to pursue her at length and trample her. Mi’Raah used arms to push the tall grass aside, and throw more beads of ice up from their dewey tendrils. She raced to keep one foot sure in front of the other. The night sky was quiet as she ran for her life.
Mi’Raah came to the cliff-edge of those Sacred Fields. White surf crashed onto rocks, far below. She recognized it as the place where she had summoned up a wall of water-horse at the solstice, to embarrass Odeon in front of the King. Now, the real animal was snorting hard, riding fast, and it was surely worse.
Do it again, Mi’Raah. Smash him.
But then also, you take the whole plateau with it, and crush the fortress Arudelle needs.
Hooves thundered harder. Mi’Raah knew that she’d made a terrible mistake. Odeon was not a fat slob with no real passion. He was harnessed violence, which never made a move before, because he was his own master. Only now, had the warhorse found a reason to fight.
Mi’Raah cried, reached for raging Odeon in her daze. She realized that with her sisters entrapped, a horse was her only kin. Mortals with tiny lives, like Koriandra and Syramon, had been her only friends. And she’d been a wife to Arudelle in every single way except without the blessing of real vows. Who would ever sanctify their coming together to destroy the world? Unholy bond. Mortal to immortal. The real cruelty was in the hope itself: they were the same. Even if she tried, it would not matter. Belief was only belief. Suffering would always be suffering.
1, Mi’raah’s Virtue :: 2, The Dancing Beaches :: 3, On His High Horse :: 4, Off His High Horse :: 5, Bottled Message :: 6, Horse Huntress :: 7, Rider Koriandra :: 8, Oh No He Di’int :: 9, Talking Horses :: 10, That Damned Bottle Again :: 11, Believing is Seeing :: 12, A Choice Between Two Lovers :: 13, Last Vortextual Process :: 14, End of the Prose