Odeon looked at himself in the mirror. It felt good to be a man. It had taken him months to perfect the transformation, and now, he felt that he had finally reached the peak of his powers. Awkwardly, he stretched and flexed the many muscles in his hands. To have hands… that was how men were the masters of things. With hands, one could scrape, claw, and slash. Hands could grab hold of something, or wield a weapon, pull reins on a horse. Trembling a little with the new feeling of reaching for something with a forelimb, Odeon now grasped the mirror with a tinge of relief. He held it in a stranglehold, fearing that he might drop it at any moment. The precious platinum filigree intertwined in branches and flowers along the mirror frame. The silver surface beamed bright sunlight into his face. The delicate metal pinched his fingers, and he relaxed his grasp, though reluctantly. He had no idea how much force it would take to manipulate something so fragile. But then, he realized his own careful hold could damage the object as well. Slowly, he eased his grip. It amazed Odeon how the tips of his fingers embraced the object as easily as if it was a natural extension of his very ethereal will.
“So this is the magic of using tools…” Odeon thought aloud.
“Maashterrr.” An inhuman growl filled the open doorway. Odeon turned to his servant, a pig turned man. The spotted swine had been a farm animal until he and some faithful companions made the daring move to help the Lord of Beasts. Odeon’s hooves had been chained to the ground, his mouth gagged with a bit that made it impossible to move his head where he would have wanted. Odeon had been at the mercy of men, and the swine, more populous than their human keepers, overwhelmed the men one day and helped Odeon to escape. Eventually, they swore their lives to him and his cause. Odeon shared his powers with them, teaching them how to speak like men, and transforming them so that they could use fingers as men did, and be swift on two feet. When he learned to speak, the black and white spotted swine said the farmer had called him Jasper. Jasper, one of few guards who had names, was Odeon’s head guard.
“You must be more careful to pronounce your “s”.” There is a difference between “sh” and “ss”. Do you hear it?”
Jasper twisted up his long snout thinking about it. Then he growled shh and sss over and over until he realized the difference. “Masssterr.” He tried again.
Odeon did not laugh at the animal’s primitive efforts at speech. Learning to speak again was a noble effort for all animals, and he intended for every animal to regain this capability, as he had, so that they could put aside their savage bestial differences and remake the world as it was.
“Am I convincing, Jasper? What do you think?”
“You look more better than the Farmerssh.”
“Farmers.” Odeon said, enunciating the s at the end.
“Faahrmersss.” Jasper repeated.
“Good, then.” Odeon rose from his seat at the vanity and faced the pig man.
“My goal is to look like a powerful human. I believe this form is best. Too many muscles make me look a brute, but this figure…” Odeon smoothed large hands down lean stomach muscles of his long torso, lengthened the look of his narrow hips in the mirror to make his point, “I like this take best. This is lanky,” he nodded with emphasis, as if teaching Jasper a lesson. “A human man of noble birth might have this jawline as well, and this smooth brow and a long, straight nose. Like mine. Like mine?”
“Only maybe I like it. All humansss be ugly to me.”
“No–All humans are ugly to me. And it’s damned better than Odentalis once was, that’s for sure.”
Jasper repeated the correction, and Odeon chuckled. It was a hearty, booming laugh. Jasper flinched.
“I do not like that sound.”
“I think I do. It feels good to laugh… perhaps this is how a dog feels when he barks? But, it’s peculiar. It’s not offensive, is it? It’s an expression of a shared positive emotion. It is good to make and hear. I wonder how other humans will react to it.”
“You need clothes.” Jasper grunted.
Odeon agreed. He pulled a long, wavy, silken lock from over his shoulder. His hair was black, oddly black. Blacker than a starless night, than ink, than a raven’s feathers.
“It has an odd quality to it, doesn’t it? I have seen stone like this… obsidian I think.”
Jasper grunted his approval.
“Thank you Jasper.”
“You are welcome, Master.” Jasper rubbed his snout against his brown tunic, and turned to leave, but Odeon grabbed his shoulder.
“I will go and fetch you clothing, Master.”
“Good. Bring clothing of the same color… it is important what humans wear. I have spent a long time watching them. Bring as many pieces as you can. Get others to help you.”
“And tell Matriarch Cirra that I will walk among the humans today. I do not think I need protection, but have her keep agents close by. She is to stay here. Make sure that she does not follow me herself. That is an order.”
Jasper tossed his head in salute. It was a purposeful toss. Once up and then down. It was something that all animals could do, because it built on animal behavior. That it was done only once distinguished it from any natural gesture. All who served the Lord of Beasts, and there were many, knew it well.
Odeon rode into town on a beautiful white mare. Many onlookers remarked at how unkempt she looked. She was clean, but her mane and tail were tangled and but were unusually long. This mare kept tossing her head to keep the long wavy locks out of her eyes. Still, it was evident that the horse had noble origins and remarkable bloodlines. She stood sixteen hands high, but still had a strong hindquarter and swift, agile legs, much unlike the thick warhorses villagers were used to seeing. Their own horses were sturdy workhorses, and these grew nervous and jittered out of the way of the white mare when she passed by them. Stallions became unusually docile and shy. She wore no horseshoes. When her rider clucked his tongue and she trotted, the fullness of her personality came out: she was elegant, could be bold, even wild, but she was choosing to be obedient. She focused on it. When her master alighted in the town square, this white mare kept her muzzle just over his shoulder and followed him everywhere, though he did not hold her reins. Both rider and mount were decorated in very old, exotic riding gear that no one recognized.
A woman leading a younger, bay mare hitched to a cart yelled and swore when her own horse stopped mid stride, then turned them over the cobblestone without any direction whatsoever. The bay took off after the strolling nobleman and his white mare. This pale carthorse clashed with the mature mare near the well and statue set up at the humble brick crossroads. The freer animal reared up at the other. The woman driving cart and holding on for life, would have certainly lost her horse to a broken leg or herself to a snapped collarbone if the strange nobleman had not intervened at the right moment.
“Daisy!” the human woman shrieked.
The huge white mare stayed up on two legs. Heavy, unshod hooves stuck and pawed menacingly through air, for their heads. Now the young bay was terrified, and tried to stagger backward, but the rocking cart was a hindrance. That was when the man in white jacket ran up from behind and stood directly under his beast. He didn’t say anything. He spread, then raised his arms. People all around had been shouting, they now hushed one another, because he must have said something, some magical word…
His white mare stayed on her strong hindquarters and relaxed her forelegs, as if a circus horse. But this was not a trick. She looked made for war and everyone else felt it—she was ready and angry. This animal, who could choose her obedience, had amazing control over every single muscle.
The nobleman lowered his arms. She let herself down, chewing, snorting because holding the position for an unnatural while, for him, had in fact strained her. Down. She got down. She balanced on fours again. Then, a toss of mane, one ear strayed easily back and she leaned on a fourth fetlock like it was all nothing. Just a girl-fight.
“I apologize for this horse. Usually she is very docile, not at all disloyal.”
The cartwoman gazed up into the man’s eyes. They were large and dark. His skin was pale, as a woman’s should be, but his strong, lean body proved otherwise. This man smelled, looked, spoke of exactly the wrong sort of intensity with every movement. He had his back to his white mare, as if he disproved of her behavior, but then he set a hand on his hip, into his pocket, and leaned into the same careless, better-than demeanor.
“Who? Oh, Lord Lamont,” she blushed, “That’s your name. I’m Grace…” the woman managed. Lamont smiled because he had not told her that he was a Lord of anything, yet somehow she’d sensed him and found it out. Ho-um, all simple creatures in this brief domain do tend to…
“There is a beautiful poem about grace…” is what he began to say, though he hadn’t been thinking of it, “Men have always adored this word. Is it that you possess that same delicate beauty and strength? Grace?”
The woman hastily told her horse to shut up, because it was snorting and such. Townspeople laughed and began to re-arrange themselves according to business. The wheels underneath those two swerved. It caused the cart to sway in a certain, lonely, familiar ache.
“Yes… how is it possible to be beautiful but not strong? In nature, those things that are fragile are weak, and doomed to die. To be strong is to be beautiful, of course it is. And to be beautiful, I believe, is to be, also sexually pleasing… it is the way that we choose partners… do you know what I mean?”
They were now closer together. Very few good townsfolk had heard that. Surely, not.
“Ehm… I don’t know your meaning… I am not a woman like that—”
“Why are you alone?”
“Because I do the best that I can…”
“Men are for women, and women are for men, are they not? We are made to fit together, to serve one another. This horse,” he nodded over his shoulder, “Is a perfect example. She is beautiful. Don’t disagree with me, now, she’ll kick you.”
“Well, yes, definitely, she is… Ehrm, I shouldn’t be seen alone here, really…”
“Yes, this mare is perfect.” Lamont smiled fondly, “Well tempered, strong, beautiful. She is the perfect match for a good stallion who is also beautiful and strong. It makes sense. She is for him and he is for her.”
“I fear I am… afraid of whatever you are talking about. To me, in the daylight.”
“It doesn’t have to be daylight—” then the horse said something horse-like and cut Lamont’s charming, right off.
“My Lord… can I serve you in some way? I’m afraid that I don’t understand what it is you want, and I have to go to market before they all leave.”
Odeon laughed and then looked this woman over.
“You do not find me desirable then?”
The woman blushed redder. It was certainly, certainly not polite to speak openly of these things.
“Then you do not.” The playful smile on his smooth face cooled. “Have a good day, Madam, I’ll not keep you any longer.” He walked to his horse.
“Sir!” Grace did not know what to say, but did not want him to leave. “I … I have an orchard. It’s near the end of the forest. I sell fruit… After I drop this off for the people waiting on me… I’m headed back there in a little while. Would you like a fresh apple?”
The white mare pricked up her ears, but when Odeon looked to her sharply, she pretended not to have heard.
“How, my lady, did you know that I like apples?”
“I… you know, I just guessed. Lots of people like apples… and if not for you then for your horse. To make up for startling her earlier.”
“You’re not the one who owes me.”
“I know that, but—”
“…unless I make you feel that way.”
Odeon studied the woman. He was not impressed by her. She did not look strong, or particularly attractive, or even smart. He did not know what a man was supposed to find attractive in a woman… she wore a faded blue dress that covered her completely. He could see nothing of her body… he realized that her body would look nothing like his own, and there was no way to know whether this woman was desirable or not from just meeting her. He would need to get close to a woman, very close enough to learn what was under the clothing. Thinking of her undressed gave Odeon an odd sensation. It was new to him as a man, but not as a male. He smiled wickedly at having recognized it at last.
“I think she would like that.”
This white mare whinnied high, heady, too-timely laughter. In that it was almost fully sentient, coming from an animal, made it sinister.