It was a pale spring morning when a green butterfly failed to save the Alsvid herd. The wind, brisk in the early hour, carried the small creature in its swiftly flowing current. The sun had not quite risen but lit the edges of the world, colouring the sky a still and sullen grey. The butterfly, whose name was Gideon, pulled out of the rigid breeze and swirled down to the empty field below. Landing on a fat coneflower, he hungrily searched for food. An inky black bat swooped and darted behind him.
Gideon took a deep gulp of nectar and then shook his head sadly. He turned to the bat that had landed softly next to him.
“Well, Arkas,” he said gloomily. “I tried.”
Arkas nodded sympathetically and dug around the flower bed, as if he hoped to find something tasty.
“I should have put an arrow through Arion’s heart,” said Gideon, plucking half-heartedly at a petal. “His…and the rest of the horses. They’re all are as good as dead now, anyway.”
Arkas chirped in agreement then scrounged up a strawberry and stuffed it in his mouth. He had begun rooting around for more when a rumble of thunder shook the sky. The ground began to quiver and the trees that lined the meadow swayed wildly from a sudden, howling wind.
“They’re coming!” yelled Gideon over a sharp crack of lightning. “Let’s go, we have to find Daleth and Mareva.” He dove into the air and sped away while Arkas flapped closely behind.
* * *
Mareva awoke with a jolt. Her mate, Hengist, flicked one gray ear at her movement but did not wake. The cave was quiet in the early morning. The queen mare took a deep breath. The tangy smell of smoke reached her nose and lit her senses with an uneasy spark.
She shook her chestnut coat and stepped carefully through the sleeping horses of her herd to the entrance of their cave. Looking out, she faced a long stretch of white sand and deep green sea. As she listened to the rush of the surf, her instinct began to nag in slow whispers. She listened closely, and then crept out of the cave. A cold wind whirled around her, bending the flowers and tearing the leaves from the trees. Shielding herself behind a gnarly oak, she peeked down a worn path to a clearing where several figures were gathered.
“Are those humans?” she asked herself, drawing a deep breath. “Yes…that is the smell of man, but…it’s different somehow.” She inhaled again. Her nose picked up the scent of unfamiliar horses—a dusty smell that didn’t match the burnt-grass odour of her herd, the Harena. She moved closer for a better look, jumping when thunder crashed closely overhead. A storm was coming.
“Do you smell that?” asked a voice from behind. Her younger sister, Daleth, a golden mare with amber eyes and a pearly mane, had followed her. “That is the stench of man and his fire.”
“It doesn’t smell like a regular man,” Mareva said with a puzzled frown. “And that fire is black—that’s not a normal flame. There is something else... a strange scent I would not associate with humans.”
Daleth studied the clearing through narrowed eyes. She flared her nostrils, testing the air for herself.
“You are right, Queen Sister,” she agreed. “It smells like an animal that has lain dead in the sun. It is the Rakhana Army, the Silver City’s most dreadful pick of soldiers, led by that reprobate, General Caucus. That’s him there, the tallest one. I’ve tasted that scent before.” She pushed her sister with her muzzle.
“We should wake the others and hide further in the cave.”
“Not yet,” said the queen, for her instinct had begun to whisper again, telling her to wait… or she would miss it. “Miss what?” she thought as watched a terrible scene unfold in front of her.
The Rakhana had caught a herd of horses, trapping the terrified animals in a ring of black fire. With fat whips, the men lashed any horse that tried to dash out of the blaze. General Caucus, his face hidden by a glinting silver mask, had cornered the herd’s king. The stallion reared and struck, but the man quickly leapt out of the way and jabbed the horse with a long stick. A jet of blue flame stunned the creature and he crumpled to the ground. Men swarmed the horse, tightly pulling ropes around his thrashing form.
The general attacked the stallion’s mate with bolts from his weapon until she too collapsed, only with a loud ‘snap.’ He stood over the mare and watched her flail on the hard ground.
“Oh, no,” Daleth whispered in horror. “Her leg is broken.”
General Caucus pulled a small, silver ball from his cloak and aimed it at the wailing mare, who scrambled to get to her feet. A thunderous boom rang across the field and the mare was still. He kicked at her limp form and then strode away to where the stallion lay struggling against the ropes. Mareva strained her ears and fought to pick up what the man was saying, but his words were lost under the stallion’s furious whinnies. The sisters huddled miserably together.
The moon still cast its faint light across the land as Gideon and Arkas reached the beaches.
“What pretty green wings,” said Daleth dryly, spotting the butterfly who landed at her side. Arkas squealed and flapped over to Daleth. He nuzzled the large horse affectionately.
“Daleth,” Gideon said breathlessly. “It is good to see you, old friend; you too, Mareva.”
“Never mind that,” said Daleth impatiently. “What are you doing here, Forest Man? You’re only a lucky charm for humans. Anytime I see you, it usually means trouble.” She tossed her head warningly at him.
“Gideon, what is going on down there?” asked Mareva anxiously. “Who is that herd?”
“It’s the Alsvid. That fool, King Arion, came here to make a deal with Queen Asura. She wanted animal Bonds with his herd for her soldiers of the Rakhana. In exchange, she promised them immortality.”
“What?” Daleth shrieked. “Immortality…has he been bitten by a rabid fox? How ridiculous!”
“I thought the Alsvid were dead against Bonding,” Mareva murmured.
“So did I,” answered Gideon. “But her falsehoods fed his large ego. He actually believes his herd legends about being created for the Gods and he was lured by the lies of Asura and that wizard of hers.”
“Oh, don’t tell me that scoundrel of a magic maker, Dazra, is still hanging around and stinking up the castle?” Daleth hissed. “Why he and Asura weren’t beheaded for killing their human king is beyond anything I’ve ever…”
“They weren’t beheaded because they rule the Silver City now, in his place,” Gideon interrupted.
“Most people still believe their lies about him dying in a riding accident. An accident while atop your back.”
“Hmpf,” Daleth snorted. “So, they’re still up to their two favourite pastimes, trickery and untruths, are they? I see nothing has changed since I left.”
“It’s gotten worse,” Gideon answered grimly.
“Did you not tell Arion what that so called “queen” has been doing to the animals in the Silver City?” Daleth asked bitterly.
“Of course I told him,” came the reply, followed by a soft pop.
Where a butterfly had been only moments before, stood a tall, lean man. He had a bony face lit by fierce, green eyes. His long hair was the colour of tree bark and he wore a green cloak that brushed the tall grass. Arkas flew up and roosted on his shoulder.
“You’re getting old, Gideon,” said Daleth, studying the lines on his face.
“If Arion was coming to make a deal with the queen, then why are the Rakhana rounding them up?” asked Mareva quietly.
“Because she had no intention of giving them immortality,” Gideon said angrily. “She just plans on turning them all into warhorses. I came to warn him that it was the army coming to meet him, not her, but he didn’t believe me. What a fool.” He watched the soldiers with an expression that was both miserable and furious. “Oh, no,” Mareva whispered, “the entire Alsvid—finished.”
“Not quite,” said Gideon turning to her. “I managed to do one thing right today and that’s where you two come in.”
“What do you mean?” Daleth asked.
“I took his foal.” “Good heavens, you did what?” gasped Mareva.
“I took him,” Gideon replied. “Like I said, Arion wouldn’t believe me when I told him the army was on its way. I stood there arguing with him as the minutes ticked by and with each one the Rakhana grew closer. So, I changed to my butterfly form and teased his foal into following me. He’s so young; there’s no way he could have made the journey from here all the way to the Silver City. The first time he tried to lay down to rest, the Rakhana would have just left him there…that or killed him.”
“Where is he?” Daleth asked.
“I hid him in that brush, just over there.” Gideon pointed to a clearing further up the edge of the forest.
“Oh, Gideon, his son…” Mareva whispered unbelievingly.
“He’s your son now,” said Gideon. “Mareva, I need you to keep him here at the beaches and raise him as your own.” “Wait a minute, you mean you want us…?” Daleth began.
“Daleth,” interrupted Gideon, “I don’t trust anyone else to take him. There’s more to this and I don’t have time to…” he stopped short, as if taking a cue from the worried looks on their faces.
“There is a legend,” he said as the violent wind that whipped his hair, “about a man who rides a ‘white-eyed steed; Alsvid are the only horses to have white eyes, as far as I’ve seen. I must keep him safe. What if he is the horse from the myth?”
“A legend,” Mareva muttered. “But if the legend is about a man and men are rounding them up then wouldn’t—”
“No,” Gideon interrupted shortly. “I need you to trust me, Mareva. Now, tell no one he is here except for the Forest Council, do you understand me?”
Without waiting for their answer, he and Arkas disappeared in a rush of green smoke.
“Good old Gideon,” said Daleth with grudging affection. “Always running around sticking his nose in everyone’s business—turns out it was a good thing, this time.” She turned to Mareva. “You stay behind me and if I tell you to run, you do it, no matter what. Let’s go find that foal.”
Daleth quickly led her sister in the direction that Gideon had pointed. As they reached the small clearing, Mareva caught the fresh-morning scent that always accompanied a young horse. She pushed past Daleth and poked her face into a small hillock.
Huddled in the weeds was a small, shaggy foal. His coat was the deepest shade of midnight and his hooves were as black as coal. He would have looked like a perfectly ordinary horse if not for his white, glowing eyes that shone like two full moons in the dark morning. He looked up at Mareva’s looming figure and gave a surprised snort.
“Daleth, my goodness,” Mareva whispered in amazement. “Look at this!”
“Let me see him,” said Daleth, shoving Mareva aside. She eyed the odd shape on the colt’s flank—a white spiral, bordered with a scattering of tiny, silver spots. “There is his mark,” she muttered. “Alsvid, indeed; we should get him to the cave.” She stared back out at the Rakhana army.
The Alsvid had stopped fighting and were grouped miserably under a swollen storm cloud that had settled solely over them. Under a shroud of pounding rain, the soldiers bound the horses into a long line. The largest soldier led the limping king stallion to the front of the row and began dragging the horse away.
“That is not a fight we can win,” Mareva said warningly, after seeing the blazing look on Daleth’s face.
“And if the Rakhana see you, you will be caught too. Come, Sister, we have to get this foal to safety.”
“Quickly now, little one,” Mareva whispered to the small horse. He shakily got to his feet and they rushed him to the trees outside their cave. Here, they looked him over.
“An Alsvid,” Daleth said wondrously. “I’ve never seen one before. Look at those strange eyes. Oh, how I hate leaving them to this. Now that the army has them, who knows what dreadful things fate has in store for them.”
The foal sank to his knees and laid down between the sisters. Mareva began to wash his coat with soft, gentle licks. Comforted by the queen horse’s affection, his strange eyes grew heavy, and with a deep sigh, he fell fast asleep.
“Look at that,” said Daleth quietly. “He’s settled right in already. How lucky for us too, what with no foals this year.” She swished her tail and gave the foal a small push with her nose.
“I worry about what Hengist will say.” Mareva said with a frown. “Bringing a strange male into the herd will seem like a challenge to him, don’t you think? He won’t like it at all.”
“Well, that’s too bad for Hengist, isn’t it?” Daleth answered, laying her ears back. “You are the Queen of the Harena herd and your stallion will do as you say, if he knows what’s good for him. Besides,” she added, “Gideon told us to take him and trust me—you do not want to go against his wishes.”
Seemingly satisfied with this reasoning, Mareva finished grooming the foal. “There you are,” she whispered. “You don’t need to worry; we are your herd now.”
“I wonder what his name is,” Daleth mused. “Gideon, that twit, he forgot to tell us.”
“Now, now,” chided Mareva. “Gideon might not have known it himself. This poor, little fellow; he must have one. I hate the thought of changing it on him.”
“Well, he can’t tell us what it is and we have to call him something,” Daleth said logically. “What should it be?”
“I don’t know,” answered Mareva as she got to her feet. “You’ve never had a foal. Would you like to name him?”
Daleth looked pleased. “Well,” she replied, licking her lips. “My Bonded human used to shout a very strange word just before he led his army and me into battle. I don’t know why he said it—it didn’t seem to have any effect on the enemy, but he did it every time. I always loved the sound of that word. To me, it meant victory.”
“What was it?” asked Mareva.
“He yelled, ‘Mandamus.’”
“Mandamus,” murmured the queen. “What does it mean?”
“He told me that it meant “we command,” in a very old human language, spoken before creatures decided to use the Common Words that we and the humans share now.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mareva said with a frown. “That sounds dangerous to me, naming him after a human battle cry. It could bring all sorts of problems and we don’t want that for him.”
Daleth snorted. “Right, well if you think this little guy is going to go through this life without running into any problems, then guess again—no one gets off that easy. For starters, he is the last of the free Alsvid… I’d say his troubles have already begun.”
“‘We command,’” said Mareva thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t it be ‘I command’?”
“Absolutely not!” Daleth answered. “Who should be allowed to command on their own? You said I could pick what we call him; now, let’s name him.”
Mareva smiled at her sister’s stubbornness. “Mandamus,” Mareva said softly, touching the foal’s forehead with her muzzle. “By the Goddess Epona, we will call you Mandamus. Mandamus of the Harena.”
The sisters stood over the sleeping foal and listened to the fading sounds of his herd being forced away. When the sun finally rose on that dreadful morning, the Alsvid and the army were gone.
About the Book
Mandamus is only a foal when his herd is captured by the terrible Rakhana Army. Rescued and raised in secrecy, he knows nothing of his heritage until a dreadful incident in the woods brings him to the attention of the Forest council – and everyone else. Sent away for his own protection, he is determined to seek help on behalf of the many animals who have gone missing from the forest, including his own family.
With the help of a troubled man and a stout-hearted bat, can Mandamus save his fellow creatures before it's too late?
Prices/Formats: $2.99 ebook, $7.45 paperback
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Release Date: February 20, 2014
Buy Links: Amazon
About the Author
A chronic “head in the cloudser” K. Madill lives in a rickety house on a well treed street in British Columbia, Canada. When she’s not hanging out with her best equine friend in the woods she can be found trying to stay upright on her roller skates or mediating the affairs of her various furred and feathered friends that rule the aforementioned rickety house.
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