Saturday, 20 November 2010

Great Horse Stories - Petasios' Story

Chestnut stallion
Rider: Hephaestion

Hi there! My name’s Petasios, and I was meant to be Alexander’s warhorse. The royal horsemaster picked me out himself and paid good money for me – well, it was the king’s money, but I think that’s all right since he was buying me for the prince. He ordered the grooms to give me the best stable and polish my coat until it shone fiery red like the rising sun. I got the best oats with herbs and honey, and the best of care. The only bad part was when the horsemaster took it upon himself to train me personally. He’s the sort of rider who expects immediate obedience. As long as you behave yourself, everything’s fine, but if you don’t… look out.

Anyway, I’m a well-bred horse and not one to pick a fight, so we got along well enough until the day Bucephalas saw me practising my battle leaps on the riding ground. He was being led out by his groom, Charmeia. She’s a girl-filly and not very big, so it was a bit much to expect her to hold on to Bucephalas when he leapt the fence and came galloping straight for me with his ears pinned flat to his head and his mouth open wide. He’s huge, and judging by his battle scars he'd won a lot more fights than me. So I whipped round double quick and got out of his way. It’s the only sensible thing to do when your opponent is twice your size and twice as angry. Trouble was, I forgot the horsemaster was on my back at the time. He didn’t turn quite as quickly as I did, and fell off in front of all the king's men.

Oh, was there trouble! The grooms sniggered behind his back because none of them liked him very much. He couldn’t take it out on me, because I was going to be Alexander’s special horse, so he took it out on poor Charm instead. Bucephalas gave me an evil squeal and dominated my dung pile on the way out. That’s a bit humiliating if you’re a stallion, but at least I got back to my stable alive. I knew I should apologise to Bucephalas, because it’s always a good idea to be friends with the dominant stallion in your herd, but he was out the back in the mule stable, so I couldn’t. I didn’t see Bucephalas again until Alexander returned from school and our grooms rushed around in a frenzy to prepare the best horses for him and his friends to ride into battle.

I got a special grooming and they dressed me up in a fancy purple cloth with tassels. It was the finest cloth I’d ever worn. I felt a horse and a half, I can tell you, when the horsemaster led me out to meet my rider. But Alexander took one look at me and said I was too small. He needed a proper mount to thrash the Maedi rebels. His rejection rather took the spring out of my step, I’ll admit, though I was a bit relieved too. Groom gossip said Alexander liked to lead from the front, which meant his horse would be the first to face the enemy spears. That takes a special sort of bravery, and I knew just the horse for it.

Even as Alexander spoke, there was a scuffle over at the gate and Bucephalas, wearing a scruffy cloth, pranced across the riding ground dragging his groom after him. The horsemaster tried to lead me forward, but Alexander got angry and told him he didn’t have a job any more. Bucephalas went down on one knee to let the prince mount. Then the pair of them were up and showing off their battle skills, while Alexander’s friends cheered them on. I got a bit worried they’d leave me behind, so I danced about and whinnied to remind them I didn't have a rider yet. The horsemaster jerked my rein. But Alexander’s friend Hephaestion, who didn’t have a mount yet, put a gentle hand on my nose. “Don’t worry, Petasios,” he said. “I think you’re beautiful. How would you like to carry me?”

At first I was a bit nervous. Hephaestion wanted to ride me at Alexander’s side, and Bucephalas made it clear he didn’t like any other horse’s nose in front of his, especially mine. But I soon worked out he couldn’t see much on his left side, so that’s where I stationed myself. It wasn’t such a bad place to be. While the other horses nipped and squealed at each other behind us, none of them bothered me or Bucephalas. Soon we soon reached the hills, and the Maedi came out to meet us on their scruffy little ponies in full battle cry, and there was no more time to think about nipping or squealing. Bucephalas charged them at once, kicking dust in our faces. Hephaestion muttered a prayer, and we all followed with our riders yelling like maniacs to cover their fear.

I might not have Bucephalas’s size, but I dodged those enemy javelins better than anyone, while Hephaestion wrapped his long legs around my fancy cloth and let me get on with it. I saw a Maedi warrior throw a spear at Bucephalas’s blind side and squealed to warn him. He leapt out of the way just in time. The spear only scratched his flank, while Hephaestion tackled the enemy warrior and knocked him off his pony. The fight was soon over. While the surviving Maedi surrendered to Alexander, Hephaestion patted my foamy neck and whispered, “Well done, Petasios. We just saved his life back there – not that he’ll ever notice, the crazy fool.”

I didn’t think Bucephalas had noticed, either. But on the way home, he turned his great head towards me and blew thanks down his nostrils. It sent all the hairs shivering along my mane. Hephaestion smiled as Alexander leant across to grip his shoulder. “That showed them, didn’t it my friend?” he said with a delighted laugh. “We’re going to make a great army!”

Army was a bit of an exaggeration, since there were only nine of us in those days plus a handful of scruffy scouts. But Alexander had ambitions.

When we got back, the horsemaster had gone and I lost my fine stall to Bucephalas. But Hephaestion told the grooms to put me into the one opposite, which was nearly as good, and meant I could send my new friend whinnies across the passage. He snorted at me in return but he didn’t squeal, so I think he must have been pleased. That was how I survived my first meeting with the Great Horse. From that day on, I became Bucephalas’s left eye and looked after him in battle, just as Hephaestion looked after Alexander, until we fought our last battle at the edge of the world. But that's another story.

Petasios spoke to Katherine Roberts.

The Muse is still waiting for your stories! If nobody sends me any, Katherine will have to write them all, which will be a bit boring. So wake up your muses, introduce them to Bucephalas's herd, and send what they say to the unicorn. It doesn't have to be long. Maybe you can even teach them how to tweet... though with horses, it would have to be called a whinny...


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