Friday, 31 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - poem by Caspia


CASPIA
chestnut filly
Rider: Prince Ochus

I am Caspia, named after the sea
where they found me orphaned and small.
They gave me to Aura, who had milk for her lost foal –
a curse on Alexander by the Persian god, they said.
So that makes me a blessing, I guess.

I am Caspia, friend of Prince Ochus,
who lost his mother just like me.
Together we crossed mountains, high and cold,
breathing ice while men and horses died
And Alexander looked for the edge of the world.

I am Caspia, joker of the herd.
Wearing elephant skin, the other horses took fright
so I lay in the mud and made everyone laugh.
Alexander did not fear elephants, they said.
The Indians would die when they battled us.

I am Caspia, who fought at the Indus,
where Bucephalas fell and did not get up.
I smelled elephants so I lay in the mud
but forgot Prince Ochus, whose spirit I crushed.
The day was lost and the rain never stopped.

I am Caspia. I only tried my best.
They discharged me from the army and let me rest.
I saw Bucephalas heal and talk to a ghost,
but Alexander has gone into legend at last
and we who are left graze the greenest grass.

***
I've given Caspia the last word. But you can still read Bucephalas' story of Alexander the Great "I am the Great Horse" as an ebook, now available from:

 



Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Zephyr's Story


ZEPHYR
dun mare
Rider: Philotas

Philotas was the one who named me Zephyr. Before that, I was just “the dun mare”. I don’t have pretty dapples like Aura, and I’m not a mare-who-thinks-she’s-a-stallion like Harpinna. I’m the sort of mare nobody notices. Maybe that’s why Bucephalas never made a foal with me?

Philotas grumbles it’s the same for him. “Nobody notices how bravely I fight,” he told me one day at the start of the war with Persia, back when we were still part of Alexander’s special Guard. “I’m just 'General Parmenio’s son'... and I don't think Alexander likes me.” I whinnied in sympathy, because we all knew Alexander didn’t like old Parmenio very much. That’s probably why he threw me and Philotas out of the Guard as soon as he could get away with it and gave us some Greek cavalry to command, whose horses wouldn’t mind being bossed about by a dun mare.

Philotas was pretty pleased with his promotion at first. But he soon worked out we were always ordered to fight the most dangerous parts of the battle, and being in charge of a herd of Greeks is no substitute for being in terror of your life every time we meet the enemy, believe me. “He’s trying to get us killed, Zephyr,” he grumbled. “This whole stupid war is ridiculous. King Darius is dead! We’ve won. We should all have gone home to our families long ago, instead of riding further east in search of more battles… He’s got to be stopped!”

It might have been all right if he’d stopped there. But he kept on grumbling behind Alexander’s back, riding me out in the dark to meet equally grumpy men in cloaks, who then plotted and whispered together for hours, while anyone who saw me waiting for him in the shadows soon forgot they had seen me because I’m only “the dun mare”.

We were camping at a place called Lake Seistan when Alexander found out about all the grumbling. It’s miles and miles from home, and most of us had given up ever seeing Macedonia again – except for Philotas, who pulled my ears and promised me: “Not long now, my sweet Zephyr, not long now.”

I didn’t quite know what he meant by that. Then one night Alexander’s men burst into Philotas’ tent and dragged my poor rider out of his bed. I heard him screaming from the horse lines. The screams went on and on, disturbing us horses, but by morning they had stopped and a strange silence settled over the camp. A lot of other horses’ riders got arrested, too, and shortly afterwards a groom came down to the horse line to shave off my mane. “Sorry, little dun mare,” he said as my curls fell unnoticed into the mud. “Don’t worry, I'm sure you’ll get a new rider soon.”

I got one of the Greeks, whose horse had gone lame in our last battle. He rode me in a big parade that Alexander had ordered. It was a relief, really. We had all been penned up in the camp for days, unable to get out past the double guard on the gates, and we were itching for a good gallop. A parade is mostly trotting, but it’s better than standing in the horse lines. Any rate, after we’d bucked and kicked up our heels for a bit, we formed our battle lines and waited for Alexander and Bucephalas to come and order us around as usual.

Bucephalas came out squealing, made himself huge, and gave us all flat ears. I kept my head down and hoped he wouldn’t notice me – there are some advantages to being “the dun mare”. Without Philotas on my back, I don’t think even Alexander recognized me.

For a long time nothing much happened. Then, as we fidgeted and gave each other sly nips and kicks, three camels came racing in from the west and barged straight through our lines, setting us all off bucking and kicking again. The leading jockey threw a blood-stained sack at Alexander, and my rider swore and drew his sword, thinking it was a Persian assassin. But Bucephalas went up on his hind legs to avoid it, and Alexander laughed, the plumes of his helmet flying against the sky. “See!” he yelled in his high voice, pointing his sword at the sack, which had spilled its contents under Bucephalas’ hooves. “That’s what’ll happen to any of you who dare plot against me in future!”

It was a man’s head, covered in blood and flies, and it STANK. It’s hot in Persia, and the camels had been on the road three days bringing their burden from Ecbatana, where we’d left Philotas' father General Parmenio to rest his old bones. I suppose his bones are still there, except for his skull, because that was in the head rolling before us. When the flies cleared off, my new rider whispered, “Oh Zeus, he’s killed poor old Parmenio, too!” and went very still. I could feel him trembling with terror.

After that there was no more talk of going home, and the men kept their grumbling for their horses’ ears alone. I never saw Philotas again, and soon became “the dun mare” as before, because nobody could remember what he’d called me.

I’m not too upset. Getting noticed by Alexander these days can be a dangerous business, and Zephyr was far too posh a name for a mare like me, anyway. Better to be ignored and alive than famous and dead, that’s what I say!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Great Horse Christmas Story - Zoroaster's Story


ZOROASTER
White gelding
Rider: none

I am the Sacred Horse of the Sun, named after the prophet Zoroaster, which makes me immortal – so this is going to be a happy story with no horses dying in it. I travelled with the Persian King Darius, until Alexander captured his camp after the battle of Issus. I survived in Bucephalas’ herd because I was gelding and not expected to fight. Then, a few hundred years after Alexander died, I carried a small white kitten out of Persia hidden in my mane (thank you, catdownunder!) and joined the Magi, who were following a star into the west.

Their camels were laden with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for a newborn king, and they took me along as their fourth gift – a beautiful white horse for the young prince to ride when he was grown. I wore my finest tasselled cloth and a bridle of soft red leather, with silver bells plaited into my mane and tail, just like I was on parade. They make such a pretty tinkling when I trot.

Soon we came to a little town called Bethlehem, where the Magi led me into the stable for the night while they took rooms at the inn. (You might have heard there was no room, but gold opens doors the world over.) And – you’ll never believe it – right there in the stable, lying in my manger with the starlight all shining around him, was the very newborn king we had come to see! His parents didn’t have enough money for a room. So the Magi gave them the gold, frankincense and myrrh they had brought. Finally, they led me over in my red bridle with my silver bells, and said that the baby Jesus could ride me when he grew up since I was an immortal horse and would never grow old.

His mother Mary stroked my nose and said I was indeed very beautiful, but they already had a donkey and did not need a horse. His father Joseph laughed and said I was a horse fit for an Emperor, not a carpenter’s son. He said they didn’t have the room to keep me back in Nazareth... though I suspect he was thinking an immortal horse like me would soon eat them out of house and home. But they thanked the Magi for the gold, frankincense and myrhh – those would be very useful.

So the next morning the Magi took me back to Persia with them, trotting behind their camels. But, unknown to his parents, the baby Jesus did get a fourth gift that night. For when I lowered my head over his manger, the little white kitten had jumped out of my mane and curled up to sleep in the straw beside him. As far as I know, the family took the kitten back to Nazareth with them, where she no doubt made herself useful catching mice in the carpenter’s shop, while Jesus loved her as he loved all animals, until eventually she had some kittens of her own.

This is why you share your homes with cats today - and why later on, when he had become famous, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a white horse... though it is said that if you listen very carefully on Christmas Eve, you can hear the silver bells in my mane and tail tinkling faintly in the distance.

tinkle… tinkle… tinkle

The Muse wishes all his blog readers a truly magical Christmas!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Xanthus' Story by Alzrith

Xanthus
Chestnut stallion
Rider: Craterus

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")

Monday, 20 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - poem by Borealis


BOREALIS
Brown stallion
Rider: Leonnatus

I was named after the North Wind,
but crueller winds blow on me today
bringing ice from the edge of the world
to chill my pale bones

Which haunt the trail
where I lay down to rest
during our march up and over
the highest pass of the Hindu Kush.

My friends trotted down into the mist
leaving me with a mane full of snow.
If I wait here long enough
they will return for me, I know.

Leonnatus will bring me a warm cloth,
honeyed oats and a bridle of gold -
See, here they come now all in a froth
from climbing the trail so steep and cold.

I greet them with a whinny of delight,
and watch my bold friend Bucephalas
rear up high and pick a fight
with King Alexander, no less.

Oh, he is acting wild!
And now the other horses are taking fright.
I can't understand why they won’t pass,
until I get out of their way at last.

Now Alexander jumps off to take the lead
and approaches me, all squinting and slow.
“Borealis?” he whispers, “Are you still here?”
So where else did he expect me to go?

Bucephalas snorts as he passes me.
Obedient, I fall in at the back
and we all trot down into India
where the rains turn everything black.

And if you think ghosts don’t remember
then think again, my friend.
For at Bucephalas’ side I remain
faithful Borealis unto the end.

Muse note: Borealis was one of the many horses who died during Alexander’s forced march over the Hindu Kush in winter. His ghost waited by the path until the army retraced their steps on the way to India, where it could follow Bucephalas again.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Harpinna's Story

HARPINNA
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.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Great Horse Stories – Bucephalas’ foals.

Bucephalas took time off from fighting to sire three foals: Electra, Hoplite, and Indus. Now they are grown, the Muse is delighted to bring you this exclusive interview with them.


Q. I know Bucephalas fathered all of you, but who was your mother?
Electra: Psylla. She’s dead now, but she was really brave. She was smaller than me, but she carried Alexander at the Battle of Granicus after Bucephalas got captured by the Persians, and she died fighting. I am determined to fight like her and make Bucephalas proud of me!
Hoplite: Harpinna. She’s got silly white speckles in her coat and she passed them on to me, so I’m not all black like Bucephalas. Alexander says I’ve inherited her bad temper, too. He can talk.
Indus: Aura! She had a stillborn foal before me, so she’s really protective. When the horsemaster tried to steal me in India, she got really fierce and reared up and knocked him over. Her coat’s white with age now, but I gather she was quite a looker when she was younger.

Q. Where were you born?
Electra: Pella, Macedonia, the same as Alexander. It’s a lovely place with green pastures between the mountains and the sea. I grew up and learnt how to carry a rider there before joining the army.
Hoplite: Some godforsaken place in Asia. Halicarnassus, I think, one of the many cities Alexander dominated. I didn’t get to see much of it. I had to march with the army almost as soon as I could walk and Harpinna wouldn’t wait for me. She was a hopeless mother.
Indus: India, at the edge of the world. It was raining.

Q. What does your name mean, and what do you think of it?
Electra: I’m named after the famous Electra Gate of Thebes, a Greek city Alexander burnt to the ground on the day I was born. I quite like my name.
Hoplite: It means “foot soldier”, because I was born in the army. I think it’s a bit common, considering Bucephalas’ blood runs in my veins, but what do you expect from grooms? Everyone knows they’ve got no imagination.
Indus: The grooms named me after the great river that flows at the edge of the world, where Bucephalas and Alexander had their last battle against the Indians. At least they didn't name me after an elephant.

Q. What do you think of your sire, Bucephalas?
Electra: He’s big and strong and he always looks after me in battle. No one could have a better dad.
Hoplite: He keeps giving me flat ears! I don’t think he likes the silly white freckles in my coat.
Indus: I never really knew him. He fell in battle at the Indus, but while he was sick he roused himself up with the last of his strength to protect me and Aura, so I know he loved me. Everyone says I look like him. I’m not as brave, though. I’m glad the war’s over so I won’t have to fight as many battles as he did.

Q. Who’s your rider?
Electra: Demetrius. He used to ride Aura, until Bucephalas got her in foal (with Indus). He’s kind and gentle, and he carries the great Shield of Achilles for Alexander so I usually get to gallop beside Bucephalas.
Hoplite: Don’t ask me! First it was Tydeos, a common groom! I soon bucked him off. Then some soldier called Peucestas, I think. I bucked him off, too. Then Alexander rode me while Bucephalas was lame. I tried to buck him off as well, but he got angry with me and we had a fight, which he won. Nobody likes riding me very much… not sure why.
Indus: Charmeia, Bucephalas’ groom, after he was injured in the last battle and could not be ridden any more. She’s very sweet and kind, so I feel lucky to have her.

Q. What do you think of your brothers and sister?
Electra: Little brothers? They’re always a pain, aren’t they? Hoplite’s the worst, though.
Hoplite: Electra’s really stuck up and keeps telling me off, just because she’s older than me and fights in battles. Indus is such a baby. It’s hard being the middle foal.
Indus: I like Electra – she looks after me when Aura needs a rest. Hoplite’s a big bully, so I keep out of his way when he’s in a bad mood.

Thank you, Bucephalas’ foals! The Muse thinks you are all beautiful, even Hoplite with his speckled coat. And when you have foals of your own, Bucephalas’ bloodline will continue - ha! (as he would say)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Apollo's story.


APOLLO
Palomino stallion
Rider: Perdiccas

They call me Apollo after the sun god, and (as you can probably tell from my portrait) I was not born to be a warhorse.

It’s obvious King Philip bought me for my beauty. When the sun shines, my coat glows gold and my mane gleams pale as ripe flax. When the grooms comb it out properly, my tail ripples like a banner AND I can carry it just as high as any silly Persian gelding! I should have been Prince Alexander’s royal horse. We should all have stayed at home in Pella and taken part in parades, where everyone would have thrown rose petals over us and cheered, without us having to fight any bloody battles in the wilds of Asia.

But then Bucephalas turned up, and the silly boy decided he’d rather ride a battle-scarred old warhorse than a handsome parade horse like me. Of course Bucephalas made himself huge and pranced about like an overgrown colt, which went to Alexander’s head. Pretty soon all his friends started talking about war, and before I knew it I was part of the Royal Guard with Perdiccas riding on my cloth armed with a nasty sharp spear.

It was an absolute nightmare, I can tell you. Overnight, perfectly sensible boys turned into heroes when Alexander asked them to follow him. Even my rider Perdiccas got the bug, and volunteered to sneak through a side gate into Thebes and open the main gates for the rest of the army, nearly getting us both killed in the process. I just hoped Perdiccas wouldn’t die, because you know what they do to you if you lose your rider? It makes me shudder even to think of it… they cut off your mane!

Fortunately, Perdiccas recovered so I kept my mane at Thebes. But not for long. Almost as soon as we set foot on Asian soil Bucephalas got himself swept downriver fighting the Persians, and we were left to follow a MARE into battle. Psylla had just lost her own rider and was brave enough to carry Alexander, but she was hardly a war horse, and the silly thing got herself killed in the first charge. There's not much point cutting off a dead horse's mane, so instead Alexander ordered all of ours cut off in mourning for Hector and Psylla… the entire Guard shorn like foals for an unimportant man-colt and a mousy little mare!

The other horses stood quietly while the grooms set to work with their blades, but I fought them more wildly than Bucephalas had fought the Persians. With me rearing and squealing and biting, it took three men to get a muzzle on me. Bucephalas gave me a painful nip on the withers, and then the grooms got a rope around my hind leg and tied it to my neck, so in the end I had to stand on three legs while my beautiful flaxen locks – still frizzy from the River Granicus – fell into the mud.

It half broke my heart to see them go, I can tell you. But I suppose it didn’t kill me, and it’s better than losing your rider like poor Psylla did. When it was all over, Perdiccas came to feed me an apple and patted my sweaty neck. “Don’t worry, boy,” he whispered. “It’ll grow again. You’re such a handsome horse, you don’t need a long mane to make you beautiful.”

In the morning I noticed Bucephalas still had every single long black hair of his mane, so I knew this must be true. Some of us are just born more beautiful than others… only don’t tell Bucephalas I said that, will you? I do so hate violence.

NOTE: The Greeks used to cut off their horses' manes in mourning when a cavalryman died. Poor Apollo tells how this happened to him at the River Granicus, even though his rider survived the battle. Needless to say, nobody dared touch Bucephalas' mane!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Great Horse Stories - Psylla's Story


PSYLLA
Dark bay mare
Rider: Hector

My name's Psylla, and I was the first of our herd to have a foal by Bucephalas! True, Aura was away at the time, or it might not have happened. But the new horsemaster didn’t realize I was in season when he turned me out in the pasture, and Bucephalas had not run with a mare for years, and… well, one thing led to another. Anyway, eleven months later I gave birth to a beautiful black filly. She was big like her sire, so it wasn’t easy getting her out, but I’m a determined mare and managed it in the middle of the night without any help. I do so hate to make a fuss. It was hard to leave my sweet filly behind when we left for Persia, but she was much too young to fight. The grooms called her Electra, and promised she would join us just as soon as she was old enough to be ridden. I didn’t know I would not live to see that day.

The Persian army was waiting for us at the River Granicus. Though it was after sunset, Alexander immediately galloped Bucephalas into the water, and so of course we all followed him. But when we scrambled out on the other side, we found ourselves trapped on a horrible little beach. Arrows hissed down from the bank above us, while the Persians attacked us from both sides. My rider Hector got hit by an arrow, and I felt him slip off my cloth. Then he was gone, just like that.

It’s a terrible thing to lose your rider, almost as bad as weaning a foal. I thought my battle days were over and I’d be sent home in disgrace. But Bucephalas had been swept away downriver in the dark and I was the only spare horse. The next morning, when the Guard mounted up to continue the battle, Alexander himself leapt on my cloth and urged me back towards the river again.

Can you imagine? Me, little Psylla, leading the herd! Well, I can't begin to tell you how amazing that felt! You can’t help but be brave when Alexander is on your cloth. Call me a reckless mare if you like, but I swam that foaming river and led the charge on the enemy line with Alexander on my back yelling his war cry, and never once thought of the enemy spears flying at us.

When the first one hit me, I didn’t even feel the pain. I kept on galloping, fast as I could. But the second spear stuck deep into my chest and brought me to my knees. From then on, everything was a blur. Alexander somersaulted over my head. I think he landed on his feet, but a bright light was shining in my eyes so I couldn’t see properly. Then, somehow, I was back on my feet, too. I trotted out of the way, feeling light and free. It was very strange. Horses galloped past me, but I couldn’t smell them. My body lay in the mud with the spears sticking out of it. I didn’t really want to go back to it. Alexander stared at it sadly. Then suddenly Bucephalas was there, with his girl-filly groom clinging to his mane. He sent me a whinny of thanks as he knelt in the mud for Alexander to mount, and then they bounded up and charged the enemy who had speared me. Hephaestion pulled the groom up on Petasios and galloped with her across the river to safety. Since Alexander didn't need me any more, I followed. And – this is really strange – when I entered the water, my hooves didn’t even get wet!

There are advantages to being dead. I soon worked out I could go anywhere I liked without getting wet or tired or hungry or ordered to fight for anyone. So I kept on galloping, right back across the Hellespont and all the way to Macedonia, where I’d left my beautiful black filly. Electra looked fit and happy, stretching her long legs in the pasture. I jumped the fence and galloped alongside her until she stopped to graze, then blew into her nostrils. She couldn’t see ghosts like Bucephalas of course but I think she felt me, because she snorted in surprise. “Be brave,” I told her, “and one day you might carry Alexander like I did.”

Then I left my filly to grow big and strong, and went into the ghost pastures to wait for Bucephalas.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Greek National Literature Translator Award

The Muse interrupts the Great Horse stories to bring you some exciting news… we have just heard that the lovely Anna Vasileiadi-Dardalis has been nominated for the National Literature Translator Award by the Greek Ministry of Culture for her fabulous translation of “I am the Great Horse” into the Greek language.

For an interview with Anna, see this post.

Congratulations, Anna! Wishing you the best of luck in the next stage.

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