Friday, 17 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Harpinna's Story

Roan mare
Rider: Ptolemy

Harpinna here. I might be a mare, but I’ve never been much interested in foals. When Ptolemy chose me to be part of Alexander’s guard, I saw my chance to learn from the great Bucephalas, who has seen more battles than any of us and has the scars to prove it. I’ve fought at his side in the mountains of Thrace, outside the thick walls of Thebes, and at the battle of the River Granicus… where he finally he noticed me. While we were having a breather at Halicarnassus, he broke his tether to visit me in the night.

I thought he’d come to do mutual grooming with me, like he does sometimes with his best friend Petasios. But I was in season, so he’d come to make a foal with me instead. I fought him like a stallion, with my hooves and teeth. He won, though, and little Hoplite was born on our way down the coast. Don’t ask me where. It was a quick birth, and we marched on as soon as my colt could trot after me (which wasn’t very long, because all foals can walk within a few hours of being born).

I wanted to rejoin the Guard straight away, but Ptolemy wouldn’t let me. He said the Persian army was on its way to meet us, and little Hoplite would only get in the way in a battle. I suppose he was right. So we had to stay with the baggage train and the wounded at Issus, while Bucephalas and the other horses went to catch the Persians coming through a narrow pass in the mountains. There were two passes, but Alexander seemed sure he’d chosen the right one.

I soon got bored suckling my new colt. Hoplite had a nasty habit of biting my teats, which hurts, I can tell you. So I’d nip him to tell him off, and he would squeal at me, and I’d squeal back. I’m not into spoiling foals, as you might have gathered. Anyway, we were having one of our squealing-and-nipping matches, when we smelled strange horses sneaking through the pass behind us - and the next thing we knew, we were surrounded by the Persian army.

Little Hoplite bounded out to fight them, making the Persians laugh. “Look at that little speckled colt!” they said. “Maybe Alexander’s come to breed horses instead of fight us? He’s a fool to leave his camp unprotected here.” Then they burst into the tent where the wounded were being treated, and we heard screams. Soon one of our men came staggering out without his hands. The Persians came out after him, their scimitars dripping blood. “Right,” said their officer. “Get a bridle on that ugly old mare, and we’ll send this young upstart Alexander a message he won’t forget. We’ll keep the little colt as a present for King Darius.”

Well, I might not be a pretty broodmare like Aura. But Hoplite was MY FOAL, and nobody was going to take him away from me. So when the Persians tried to get the bit in my mouth, I reared up and acted wild. Little Hoplite copied me, rearing and squealing in his high voice, until they had to give up. The prisoner laughed at them. “You can’t even handle one of Alexander’s mares,” he said. “You haven’t a hope of handling Alexander!”

Eventually they got the prisoner on the back of a mule and tied the reins to his arms. “Don’t fall off!” they teased. "Alexander will want to know what happens to those who invade other people's countries." They gave the mule a whack on the backside, and it cantered off into the hills followed by the rest of our wounded, also without their hands.

Alexander must have got the message, because the next day there was a big battle down on the plain of Issus. Our herd was WILD. We heard the pounding hooves and shouts and clashing swords from the next valley. The Persians fled through the second pass, abandoning us and their camp. Afterwards, Bucephalas came charging up to me in the horselines and sniffed Hoplite all over to make sure he was unhurt. Then, since I wasn't in season this time, he rested his strong teeth on my withers and... glory of glories... began to mutual groom with me.

While we were scratching away at each other’s manes, the muleteer came to see us, his stumps freshly bandaged. “That’s right, brave mare,” he grunted. “We showed them Persians what Alexander’s army’s made of, didn’t we? We’re not goin’ home yet, you mark my words.” And he was right, because when my little Hoplite was all grown up he fought beside me as fiercely as his father Bucephalas, and the Persians lost some of their hands when Alexander took his revenge… but that’s another story.


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