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Nine White Horses: Nine Tales of Horses and Magic

Nine White Horses: Nine Tales of Horses and Magic

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Nine White Horses: Nine Tales of Horses and Magic

Longueur:
296 pages
5 heures
Sortie:
Nov 29, 2014
ISBN:
9781611384376
Format:
Livre

Description

Nine stories of horses and their people. Nine tales of magic and enchantment.

Horses of the ancient world, horses of the Middle Ages and the Arabian Nights, horses of the present and the future, even horses (and not quite horses) of a world that never was.

When a mysterious stranger steals the Emperor Charlemagne’s favorite horse, the Emperor’s page goes hunting for the thief and the horse–and uncovers a secret older than gods.

Drawn to a stableyard full of legendary white horses, a passerby finds a greater legend still, and an ancient treasure.

In a far future world, horses are no longer precisely horses–except for one precious herd, which alone preserves the ancient bloodlines. When that herd is ordered to conform to modern laws of genetics, the results are not at all what the laws’ makers expect.

In these and other stories, horsewoman and author and historian Judith Tarr celebrates the lore and legend of the horse, and the age-old bond between horse and human.

Sortie:
Nov 29, 2014
ISBN:
9781611384376
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Judith Tarr is the author of more than twenty widely praised novels, including The Throne of Isis, White Mare's Daughter, and Queen of Swords, as well as five previous volumes in the Avaryan Chronicles: The Hall of the Mountain King, The Lady of Han-Gilen and A Fall of Princes (collected in one volume as Avaryan Rising), Arrows of the Sun, and Spear of Heaven. A graduate of Yale and Cambridge University, Judith Tarr holds degrees in ancient and medieval history, and breeds Lipizzan horses at Dancing Horse Farm, her home in Vail, Arizona.

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Nine White Horses - Judith Tarr

Tarr

Table of Contents

Introduction

I. Horses of Legend

Nine White Horses

Classical Horses

Kehailan

Al-Ghazalah

II. Horses Present and to Come

Dealing in Futures

Dame à la Licorne

III. Horses of the Dawn

The God of Chariots

In the Name of the King

IV. In the Kingdom of Valdemar

Widdershins

Copyright & Credits

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Other Titles by Judith Tarr

About Book View Café

Sample Chapter: Lady of Horses

Introduction

Some of us are born with the gene. We’re drawn to horses from the time we can walk or talk. We dream about them, write about them, try our best to find ways to be around them.

Sometimes we grow out of it. We discover the opposite sex. We find other passions, other hobbies and avocations. Maybe we miss the old one occasionally, but not enough to do anything about it.

And sometimes, either it never stops, or if there is a hiatus—for pursuing our education, for lack of funds, for building a career or a family—inevitably we find ourselves drawn back to these peculiarly fascinating animals.

There’s a magic in them. Dogs are beloved companions, cats are mysterious and obviously divine. Horses are beauty and power, and a level of companionship that may startle those who have never spent time with them.

Horses are deeply important to a large number of human cultures. Thanks to the horse, humans had the strength and the speed and the reach of animals much larger than themselves, the ability to travel farther, spread wider, and wage war more powerfully and efficiently than they could have done on their own. They could plow more fields more quickly, transport goods and people in greater quantities over greater distances, and communicate with one another more rapidly.

There is more to the connection between horses and humans than pure utility. Horses have minds of their own, and personalities that mesh remarkably well with those of humans. When humans allow it to happen, and horses are raised and trained to trust it, there’s a genuine partnership between the species.

These nine stories range from fantasy to historical to science fiction and back again. They take place in the modern United States, in the distant and not quite so distant past, in an imagined future, and even in a completely imaginary world, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar (which she generously shares with her friends, and where real horses as well as her magical Companions live and thrive). But wherever they are, and whenever they are, horses are still horses—and people still love them. That, in my mind, is a universal constant. Or by all means should be.

As the man said, God forbid there be a heaven in which there are no horses. I would say the same of any world, past or present or to come.

Return to Table of Contents

I.

Horses of Legend

Nine White Horses

For Jonathan

The king’s grief knew no bounds. His nephew whom he loved, his Paladins, his wise and worldly Archbishop, were dead. Betrayal and treason had killed them—and the fault, in the end, was entirely his.

He had a kingdom to grow and defend, pagan Saxons raiding again in the north and east, Rome demanding that he render unto it what was God’s and a good part of what was his as well, and a pack of obstreperous nobles baying so loud he could barely hear himself think. He sat in his camp outside of Narbonne, which was not his ally nor exactly his enemy, and found in himself no desire to move. He could not even weep. He had shed all the tears that were in him.

His cooks tried to tempt him with fine meats and local delicacies. He had no appetite for any of them. His mayor of the palace brought him accounts to figure and decisions to make. He turned his face away. He was empty; a hollow king. He was not sure that he would ever be full of either life or joy again.

In the morning—it might have been the third day in that place, or the fifth; it did not matter—he thought he might shut himself in his tent and simply not come out again. But the wind was blowing off the sea, buffeting the walls; each gust smote harder than the last. Even in his state of dire accidia, he observed that the rear wall was close to slipping its moorings.

He watched as the pegs worked their way loose, dazzling him with glimpses of merciless sunlight—for the storm was all wind; the sky was bitterly, brilliantly clear. The wall tore free and boomed like a sail, with a hapless page clinging to one corner.

Other tents within the camp had given away altogether and gone flying inland, giving him a clear view all the way to the horselines. Those were in less disarray than he might expect: his master of horse was good at what he did.

Amid the tossing manes and scrambling horseboys, Carl’s eye found the one who had, one way and another, come into his heart and refused to leave. He was a big horse, a fit mount for as big a man as the king, grey as ash, with a high arched neck and a waterfall of silver-grey mane.

Tencendur, Carl said, and even in his grief he smiled.

He could swear the little curling ears pricked, though they could hardly have caught the sound of his voice through the howl of the wind. Tencendur my heart, he said.

It was no day to be out on a horse—even the best horseman might struggle to keep his seat—but Carl hated his tent suddenly, hated the chair he had been sitting in and the tent that was tearing itself apart around him. He braced himself and forayed out into the gale.

It struck the breath out of him, buffeted his body and flattened his cheeks to the skull. It was like a gate with half the defenders of a city on the other side, barricading it against him. But he was stronger, just.

He could not see where he was going; he had to navigate by memory and by occasional glances to the side, to straighten his path if it started to wander. The wind blew the smell of the horses toward him. Then he was among them, and the gale was somewhat less in the shelter of their bodies.

The wiser among them had turned tail to the wind and dropped their heads and resolved to endure. The younger and the more foolish started and skittered and deafened each other with the explosive snorts of alarm, but hours of wind had taken the edge off all but the worst.

He made his way to Tencendur’s place in the line. Someone was there with the stallion, a wild-haired boy in a rough shirt and bare feet. The feet were filthy, but something about them made Carl pause.

It was not that they were particularly small, but they were narrow, and they lacked the calluses that distinguished the habitually barefoot. These feet were accustomed to be shod, but not for a while, from the look: they were scratched and bruised as well as thick with dirt.

The boy was doing something with Tencendur’s tether: securing it, one would think. Except that, like the feet, something was not right there, either.

Just as Carl hurled himself against the wind, the boy tugged the tether free and clambered onto the stallion’s back.

And Tencendur allowed it. All too well the king knew how little tolerant he was of strangers on his back. He would not suffer to be ridden without a saddle at all, and even Carl, who was by no means an ill horseman, had eaten a fair few mouthfuls of dirt in persuading the horse to accept him.

Tencendur bore this ragged scrap of a child as if he had been the most docile of plow horses, and obeyed him without so much as the slant of an ear: sat down on his haunches, wheeled and sprang full into the gale.

o0o

The boy was a witch, there was no other explanation. By the time a party had scrambled together and mounted for pursuit, he was long gone, and the king’s best-loved charger with him.

They knew where he had gone. He had galloped straight toward Narbonne. And that, in the king’s mind, shifted the city perceptibly away from friendship and into hostility.

Carl had not survived so long in this world of strife by allowing his temper to overcome his good sense. But he was angry, and when he was angry, people walked very, very softly and hoped to keep their heads.

o0o

Aymery the page heard them talking under the somewhat diminished roar of the wind: king and commanders arguing over the taking of Narbonne. Some said it was a waste, that they should leave this place and go back to Italy, go back to Francia, go back to Germania—go anywhere but here. Others were all hot for a fight, to wipe away the shame and the folly of Roncesvalles.

It was a good thing Aymery was only a page and not a general, or he would have had plenty to say to that. He had lost father and brothers and cousins in those mountains. He was all alone in this part of the world.

He had not felt anything since he walked the battlefield, turning over the bodies and naming those he knew. His father had been in six pieces. Six. He had counted. He still counted them every night in his dreams.

If they went back to Francia, he would have to face his mother and tell her what he had seen. His mother was a daughter of the old blood; she bent her knee to the new religion and said the words that were safe to say, but he knew to whom she prayed in the sanctuary of her own house. She could curse, too, with an aim as sure as a Saracen archer’s.

If she cursed him, he would bow his head and endure it. If she cursed the king…that was something he thought about often, in these long useless days outside of Narbonne.

Now the king’s horse was stolen. Horse of ash, whose name meant Strife—Carl had won him in a battle, speared his rider through the heart and hurled the body into a ford.

The horse had not taken kindly to being conquered. He had flung the king off when he tried to mount, and forced him to make do with another horse for the rest of that battle. But the king loved him, had loved him from the moment he crashed to the ground and saw those deadly hooves rise up and over him and forbear to trample him. He had forbidden his Companions to punish the horse, and commanded them to capture him and take him back to the camp.

He had persevered until the beast let him stay in the saddle. And I’m much the better horseman for it, he had said to Aymery, who happened to be at hand on the day he managed the whole of a ride without being pitched off.

Love was strange. Aymery did not love the horse, and he was not sure about the king. But he was doing nothing of any great use here, and he had grown up in the woods of old Armorica. He knew how to hunt. What he hunted, he always found.

It was a gift. People said he got it from his mother, along with his small stature and his nut-brown skin and his thick black hair. In Spain he had as often as not been taken for a Moor. In these parts he could pass for a child of the old Romans, or of older people still—and that was true enough in its way.

While the king and his council went on with their arguing, Aymery put on his plainest clothes and hid his knife under his tunic and slipped out into the wind. It was little more than a brisk breeze now, though still strong enough to make the banners flap and strain.

The king’s tent was a tattered remnant; he had had to set up housekeeping in a relic of one of the Spanish battles, a captured Saracen emir’s pavilion, all silks and tassels and bejeweled carpets. Aymery’s feet had grown unreasonably fond of those carpets. It was hard to forsake them for sere summer grass and bare dusty earth.

But needs must. He ducked his head and made himself invisible, which was another gift he had. As swift and silent as a shadow, he ghosted through the camp.

o0o

Everyone else said the horse had gone into the city. Aymery had a habit of ignoring what people said. He followed the tracks in the dust.

They led him toward the city, but angling gradually around it. They never went near the gates at all.

The city was locked shut. The farmsteads outside of it were deserted; the road was empty. No one in the king’s army had done anything to encourage it, but it looked and felt like a siege.

Aymery was even more careful than before to pass like a whisper of wind. Even invisible, he felt the twitch between his shoulder blades, as he caught the glint of metal atop the wall. There were archers up there, armed and ready to shoot.

He had no particular thought of stopping a war. He was curious, more than anything: to know why a vagabond child would do such a thing, and how he had managed to tame that of all horses. One would think that the horse and the boy knew each other.

Aymery was a little off his head, maybe. He had been since the battle in the pass. So many had died already; the gates of Heaven must be crowded with souls clamoring to get in.

Well then, he had better find the horse.

He passed under the walls without taking an arrow in the back or setting off the alarms. But his luck had failed in another way: the horse’s trail was gone. A flock of sheep had run across it, and what looked like a fleet of oxcarts after that.

None of them had lingered. He knelt in the road where the tracks were most tangled and confused. The horse’s hoofprints were still there, buried under all the rest; the memory of his passing was in the road still, and dissipating in the air.

The wind had died to a whisper of breeze. It stirred up the dust. When Aymery closed his eyes, he could see the horse tripping lightly past the city, with his rider perched insouciantly on his back.

He followed that memory, that sensation like a shaft of sun on his face. If he turned too far, it faded. He aimed toward the direction where it was strongest, walking with eyes shut as often as not, because it was easier that way.

o0o

Are you blind, then?

The horse’s track was stronger now, the road as deserted as ever. The voice came out of empty air. It was clear and imperious, and it spoke priestly Latin with a distinct southern lilt.

Aymery opened his eyes. He was still under the wind-tossed sky, but there was no city to be seen—and it should have been looming behind him. He stood on a wide and empty heath, an expanse of summer-seared grass and wild thyme that rolled down toward a tumbled sea.

There was a road ahead of him, perfectly straight. Its paving stones were worn but still smooth.

Romans had built this. It stretched behind him, though he did not remember the feel of it under his feet, and it stretched ahead, vanishing into a fold of the hills.

There was no living creature anywhere in sight. Aymery addressed the direction from which the voice had come, civilly, as one was wise to do in the presence of magic. What should I be seeing?

What is in front of your face. The voice was full of laughter. It had shifted from the side to the front, but there was still nothing to see, not even a ripple in the air.

For lack of greater inspiration, Aymery walked forward. He half expected to collide with an unseen body, but the way was clear.

He decided to find that encouraging. It could be a trap, but he had a nose for that, and it detected only thyme and the sea.

And something else. Something faint, slightly pungent, more pleasant than not. The smell of horse, hanging in the air ahead of him.

He followed it down the straight track into the hills.

o0o

The hills opened as he had known they must. The green was somewhat less wild here, the roll of the land divided with walls of unmortared stone. The heart of it was such a place as one saw everywhere that Rome had been: villa and outbuildings, stables and storehouses.

Aymery saw no cattle in the fields and no flocks of sheep in the hills, and no ash-grey stallion grazing in safety near the villa. Everything was still, as if the earth itself forbore to breathe.

The road led straight to the villa’s gate. No bird called, no insect buzzed. He walked through an empty world, into a deep and eerie silence.

And yet he was not afraid. The horse’s scent led him still. In front of the gate was a pile of droppings, so neat it seemed to mock him, and more fresh than not.

The gate opened before him. He paused, remembering tales of traps and dangerous deceptions. But the horse had gone in, and Tencendur was even warier than the run of his kind.

That did not mean Aymery was safe, at all. Still, the horse was inside; that, his bones were sure of. He took a breath and stepped over the threshold.

Chickens clucked and fluttered in the courtyard. Cattle lowed in the byre beyond. Sheep bleated. Life teemed and hummed and buzzed as it did everywhere that humans were.

He was in the world again, but where exactly it was, he could not have said. It was solid under his feet, and the sky was open overhead. And there was a woman coming toward him in the fading daylight.

She looked ordinary enough: a sturdy woman in a plain and practical gown, with a long bony face, and dark hair gone mostly grey. Good evening, she said civilly in Latin, with an accent that Aymery had not heard before: low and liquid, with a strong rhythm, almost as if she sang the words rather than spoke them. She was not the one who had addressed him on the heath, but he thought she might be a relative.

A fair evening to you, he answered her with equal civility.

You are welcome in this house, she said.

He bowed as if she had been a lady of the king’s court.

That seemed to amuse her: her lips twitched and her big dark eyes glinted. She turned with a flourish that took him by surprise, swirling her skirts, and strode before him with her thick long braid swinging to her substantial haunches.

He was gaping like an idiot. He shut his mouth and hastened after her.

o0o

The villa had been quite grand once, with a pool in the courtyard and mosaics on the floors. The pool had long since been filled in; a kitchen garden flourished there now, with the chickens keeping the weeds and the insects at bay. The floors were still lovely though faded, especially in the dining room, where the rest of the inhabitants of the house were gathered.

Aymery had little time to appreciate the glory underfoot, though he did manage to notice the number of horses leaping and gamboling and peacefully grazing in fields of malachite and golden glass. There were live and breathing beauties gathered around the table.

They were all kin, or near enough: the same cast of face and the same eyes, and even the same hair: from black flecked lightly with silver to white just touched with black. The faces framed in it were not all old or even middle-aged; one or two seemed hardly more than children.

There were six of them—seven, with the lady who had led him there. The two youngest were round-bellied with child.

Aymery looked for signs of husbands or sons or father, but there were only the women, and a table laden with plates and bowls and cups, and a feast that made his stomach growl appallingly loud.

They all laughed at that, but not in mockery: warmly, with a plate filled for him and a chair set in the midst of them. He found himself surrounded by ladies, feasting on new milk and cream, eggs and early apples and sweet berries, a fine sallet of greens and herbs, and so many different kinds of cheese that he almost failed to notice that there was no meat at all. They plied him with honey mead and something that tasted of herbs and sunlight and made his head spin straight out of the night and into a fierce bright morning.

o0o

He lay nursing a noble headache and trying to remember the last thing he saw. One more face, younger than the rest, and slim brown hands pouring that dangerous cordial into a cup of blue-green glass, ancient and precious. He had been terrified of dropping it, he seemed to recall. She had plucked it from his fingers and held it to his lips, and laughed as he choked on the fiery cordial.

It had not been cruel laughter. He told himself that.

He was lying in a soft clean bed, and he was clean, too, and as bare as he was born. He surged up, gasped at the pain that split his skull, but saw his own clothes folded on the chest at the bed’s foot.

They were as clean as the bed, and the seams that had been starting to give way because he was growing again were neatly mended. When he had put them on, he discovered that he was not locked in, either. He was a guest, then, and honored at that.

His head stopped pounding quite so much as he made his way down the passage. There were doors, all shut, and one at the end that opened on the courtyard.

He followed his nose back to the dining room. The table had been cleared, but there was a plate at his former place, with bread of the new day’s baking, and a bowl of pickled onions, and a cup of milk still warm from the cow.

His hosts were nowhere to be seen or heard. The house was silent and seemed to be deserted; the kitchen when he found his way to it was dark, the hearth fire banked.

Someone had fed the cattle and turned them loose in the fields, and milked the cows—none of them was lowing for release. The barns and byres were swept and clean. But he was the only human creature anywhere that he could think to go.

o0o

In the field farthest from the house, on the other side of

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