Today the Muse is delighted to bring you a story written specially for this blog series by Alzrith, who chose to talk to Xanthus... enjoy!
My name is Xanthus, and you should know right away that I'm no Black Beauty―
No, that isn't proper. It's Bucephalas' line. I should think of a better one to impress those fools of horses leaning over the wooden rails to reach the carrots the grooms dangle teasingly before our eyes. Some horses manage to reach carrots and crunch them with their teeth, but most squeal softly in frustration. I stay in the middle of the ring of wooden rails. To me, it's prison. I ignore some grooms whistling like birds to me, dangling some carrots. I’d rather eat the dirt inside my hooves.
My coat is the colour of glittering yellow metals from the deepest mines, but that’s where the resemblance stops. I have a big head well-proportioned to my muscular, equine body; most of my scars are etched forever on my back and they are the colour of copper. At least they don’t spoil my beauty…
Still sounds like Bucephalas. Shrug. Who will notice? Once I make a proper introduction they’ll forget who Bucephalas―
Wait. Have they ever known him? Perhaps no. But what if yes? In places such as this, there should be one horse brave enough to―
“You’re a newbie, right? Haven’t seen anyone your colour here before. I wish to know your name.”
I had my head down all the while I thought of an introduction for myself, watching through my thick, yellow eyelashes as others took their breakfast. I did not notice the grey colt approaching until he spoke. I raise my chin, looking down at him with one raised eyebrow. He stares at me expectantly.
“I am Xanthus the Golden, big and bold and handsome. One day, when Bucephalas is old and lame, Alexander will ride ME into battle, and MY name will go down in the history books as the world’s greatest horse…”
Whoah. I didn’t practice that one. It’s always a surprise how my mouth speaks words I don’t think of earlier. My tongue finally had its warm up after some hunters caught me in the woods yesterday. I had run away from the taunting of that old, mean Bucephalas. I couldn’t face him, not with the –literally speaking! – horrid dung he hoofed to my nose. I ran to a lake and dipped my nose there, malicious thoughts already running in my mind, unaware that there were humans sneaking behind the bushes. When my senses detected them, I galloped. In my panic, I didn’t notice a mire, and I dove into it. They waited until my ears were the only part of me to be seen above the mire before they hauled me out of that muddy hell.
I don’t exactly know what happened that night. I lost all my senses there and regained them the next morning. Among the grooms I don’t recognize the ones that caught me.
“Bucephalas?” This single word from the grey colt makes my eyes shoot a warning at him. But he continues coolly, “Wasn’t he the horse who was ridden by Alexander the Great into battles, won and lost with his master?”
By that time, the horses abandon the grooms’ carrots and are watching me with interest. I flick my head to get a strand of golden hair out of my eye and I raise the other eyebrow. “So?” I say.
They glance questioningly at each other. They part a little, allowing space where I can pace freely as I say, “He may be Alexander’s favourite horse. But the horse is no spring chicken any more. Once he dies,” I pass them my confident look, “I’ll be the Great’s favourite and our tandem will be called Alexanthus.”
I mean it. Even if I have to leave Craterus in the middle of a battle and run to Alexander during his banquet, I mean it.
But, oh, what’s this?
The horses squeal in laughter after a moment’s silence. What could these idiots know about a battle horse? They look like plough horses or lesser than that. Still, I cannot resist stamping my fore hooves simultaneously, shouting, “Shut up!”
They only shut their muzzles when the grey colt steps forward. “Your story is no spring chicken, either,” he says. I narrow my eyes to him. The snickers in the background make my blood boil. “Bucephalas’ name already goes down in history books as the world’s greatest horse. You cannot change that anymore.”
Then there are cheers. “Yeah, it’s already been thousands of years ago,” a horse says. “You’re too late! Bucephalas and Alexander are long dead.”
I shake my head slightly. “What do you mean?”
The grey colt sighs. “You live off dreams. Open your eyes. Wake up…”
And so I found out the truth.
That night, I escaped. I can’t remember how I did it ― my blood was in my ears. But there are flakes of wood stuck to my mane. Flying small but blink-fast, nut-shaped missiles try to hit me from behind. I dive into the forest with the moonlight lighting my way and reach my destination. There are huge, black, smoke-belching buildings by the lake… oh my great Creator, where’s the lake? The huge area where I feel the lake might have been is now solid. I trot along its shore to find the mire I fell into. I spot a mossy boulder. I sniff at it and I smell mud.
I lose time analyzing the situation because the hunters are upon me in an instant. They carry long, metallic weapons unknown to me. At first, they calmly come near me. But when my hoof breaks a skull, one of them pulls the hanging thing by that weapon’s handle and there is a BANGing sound across my head. It echoes in the night.
And then my senses shut down.
Muse: Ah, another sad one - Alexander's horses had such hard lives. Thank you very much, Alzrith! Like many of the best short stories, this one leaves the reader thinking at the end... what do you think happened to Xanthus? Where do you think this story takes place? Did he ever get his wish to carry Alexander into battle and be history's greatest horse?
(Answer: see Thirteenth Hoofprint of "I am the Great Horse")