by Michæl W. Bard
©2009 Michæl W. Bard
-= Forgotten Betrayals =-
The next morning I was up with the dawn and on my way. The centaurs had lived in Thessaly, but after the war with the Lapiths, theyd been 'driven off. To where? Likely eastward, given the medieval references to centaurs at Troy. And since I was headed East anyway
Each day I arose with the dawn and traveled until late afternoon, gathering olives and grains as I passed. Then, using the miraculous bow Id been given by Apollo, I would hunt small game. When I had some I would light a small fire, skin it, roast it, and eat it. Each time, I saved the furs.
At first I used one of the arrowheads to skin and cut the meat. But, as I passed through small villages, I traded for small things. A knife , first; later flint and tinder, packs, and supplies so that I could travel faster. I was often greeted with suspicion, and ended up shouting over wooden or earthen walls and taking only what they offered. Sometimes I asked about other centaurs; Id always be told they had gone westward a generation ago.
At least I was on the right track.
Traveling on, I passed north from Greece into Macedon, Macedon into Thrace, and from Thrace into the endless grass sea. But that time I was supplied and provisioned, and well-dressed against the coming coolness of winter. Game and food grew scarce, but by skirting the Black Sea I was able to bring down seabirds, and old bones and driftwood along the coast served as fuel for my campfires. I often wondered what had happened to the mares; I missed their company. Throughout my first months in the grass sea, I never saw any horses. But then I never saw any tribesmen either.
I was alone, except for my memories, my dreams of what could have been, and my hate.
One day I came upon a winter camp of proto-Scythians; they hid before I could coax them out. After all, I was a stranger. However, the horses recognized me, and their comfort finally brought the humans out to talk—or maybe one of them recognized the tattoos that still covered my body. The language had changed, but our speech was mutually comprehensible. I ended up trading the few furs Id saved while I crossed the grasslands for a pair of mares. Theyd allow me to travel faster, and theyd provide some company.
The exchange took far longer than it really should have. The first candidate mares bucked and held back; I didnt understand it, nor did the tribesmen. They tried many other horses, but each new pair of mares would back away and have to be caught, and when caught they struggled. Only two remained quiet. These animals were always in front, always pushed themselves towards me, but the humans held them back.
It took most of the day before the proto-Scythians finally gave in to the inevitable. With regret they sold me the two mares, telling me that their names were Raparthax and Philyanax.
Each time the reluctant horses were led back, and a new pair led forward, I talked with some of the other tribesmen about other things. I kept it general, making sure not to tell them who I was, and I never used my proto-Scythian name. When I asked them about other creatures like me, I was told theyd seen some traveling west a few days ago.
I was definitely on the right track.
When the two willing mares were finally led to me, they nickered that they knew who I was, and that traveling with me would be a great honour. But they wouldnt say anything else, and I didnt want to speak to them with the proto-Scythians around. It was only the next day, after Id left and set camp, that I was ready to talk to them.
Philyanax spoke before I could: Great mother told us.
Great mother..? It took a second for that to sink in. Who do you mean? Raparthax was looming over me.
Want know why. Philyanax snorted. She want know why. Her spirit want know why.
All their spirits, Raparthax neighed.
Odd as it may seem, I started getting nervous. I dont know who youre talking about. It wasnt denial; I really didnt know
And then Raparthaxs teeth ripped a chunk of flesh off my human shoulder.
Shocked, I took a step backward. What are you doing?
You remember! Philyanax screamed.
Remember what!? I dont know what youre talking about! Who was your great mother!? I refused to let myself force my will on them. I could feel the power. In my madness I would have, but now no! Not now.
Anarcharax! Philyanax screamed.
Sauliux! Raparthax screamed.
Oh dear gods It cant be Right in front of me were two forms, ghostly, transparent. Horse spirits. All that was left of Sauliux and Modyexa. I remembered what Id done to them: I remembered snapping Sauliuxs leg, and then cracking her skull. I remembered snapping Modyexas leg.
I sobbed into my hands.
All the wrongs Id committed, both in my madness and whilst nominally sane Chiron had paid the price. Philya, my sister, had paid the price. And the three mares whod stood by me through so much, had paid the price.
And Id completely forgotten about them. Gods damn Poseidon!
The two living mares nipped gently at my horse flanks. Then the spirits, cold and warm, wet and dry, slipped past and through my hands and pressed into and through my eyes.
The ghosts were me, and I was the ghosts. They were all that was left of the mares Id betrayed.
Why? They both wanted to know. Why? Anarcharax had stayed behind to nurse the child Chiron, and theyd never seen her again. They wanted to know why. But most of all, they wanted to know why Id wronged them.
They didnt understand.
Theyd trusted me and Id let them down.
I could feel their souls in my head rooting around, searching for answers, and I let them. They deserved answers.
While they searched my mind, their memories flashed through me: Hot bursts of sudden pain. The shock of my abrupt desertion. The moment of love and pride at the birth of their gods son. The soft velvety feel of the childs flesh as they licked it clean. The warmth and love and respect theyd once had for me. Times of joy as they galloped with me, times of fear as they searched me out when I snuck away.
And long years of cold hatred as they wandered alone together.
Theyd been old, far older than horses usually get, when they finally let themselves be taken by a group of proto-Scythians. They were tired of the cold and the loneliness, and wanted some companionship before they died. The few children they bore in the tribes herd had been wild, untamable, but stronger and bigger than any others. The humans had kept the children and bred them amongst themselves, and with others. All their children, too, were larger and more powerful. Most had been traded to other tribes, kept to improve the breed but never to be ridden. They were revered by the tribe; it was only because of the age of Raparthax and Philyanax, and their sudden docility, that Id been allowed to buy them. The other horses had all backed away at their request, because they had the clearest memories of who I was. And when they recognized me, that recognition had brought back the remnants of the two mares.
The two mares that had died, but could not rest. My betrayal was too deep, too sudden, too inexplicable.
Im sorry, I whispered. So, so sorry
I dont know why, but their spirits forgave me. In my head they said that now they understood; they knew I wasnt to blame.
But I was weak! I failed my son, I failed you!
How could you fight the power of a god? they asked in my mind.
And then their warmth flowed through me, erasing all doubt.
In the morning I woke up and the two mares were on either side of me. One was gently nibbling at the spine of my horse half, and the other was rubbing her muzzle up and down along the front of my human half.
And the two ghosts were inside me still. They were small, a fraction of what theyd been. But they were there, a source of toneless warmth and love that would never leave me.
Theyre still here
Anyway, thats when Philyanax jumped to her hooves and screamed out loud: Centaurs!
Startled, I turned and spotted them in the distance; they were galloping towards us.
-= Dominance =-
I leapt to my feet and hooves; Raparthax and Philyanax clambered up and stood beside me. Then we waited.
The group of eight centaurs stopped about 50 metres away. They were all of the classical design, a human torso on the body of a horse. One was a light bay, all the rest had chestnut horse bodies with dark hair and mane. In all cases their skin was dark and tanned. They were armed with bows, crude ox- or horse-hide shields, and carrying short, heavy spears.
The bay walked forward. All were panting for breath. He stopped in front of me and I waited for him to speak.
It cant be he said dubiously.
What cant be?
We have tales of a great warrior like you, but he couldnt talk. And he left us when we needed him most!
Did I want to admit to being the madman whod fought beside them? There would be benefits, and problems No, it was me, and I refused to hide any part of myself. And I needed them—they were the first step to the fulfillment of my vengeance. Yes, I admitted. I did leave you, then. Im a different person now. Poseidon had changed me, shaped me like bronze in a forge.
You..! He spit on the ground in front of me. Why shouldnt I just kill you now? Youve been following us!
I looked at him; he calmly ignored the mares as they bared their teeth. Kill me? You havent the skill. And Ive been seeking you for a long time.
Then come with us—if you dare. The eldest was a colt when the great warrior was among us. Hell recognize you, or not. With that he turned, kicked a tuft of grass in my face, and trotted over to the others.
No, not now I thought-spoke to the bristling mares. Stay with me, but dont attack until I tell you to. I knew how these things worked; if I was in danger, there was no way I could persuade them to stay out of harms way. I called to the centaurs: Lead the way!
There was a whispered conference, and then the whole group leapt into a fast gallop. I struggled to follow but slowly fell behind. It was one of the curses of this variant form. Fortunately it wasnt far, but I was still almost half a kilometer behind them when I saw their camp.
The camp was small, with maybe a hundred centaurs in it. There were a few tents, which seemed to be used only for storage. Scattered amongst them were a few dung fires, and I could smell roasting horse.
Raparthax snorted beside me.
All the centaurs I could see bore weapons, and there were no colts.
The group wed been following stopped and, as I galloped towards them, the bay shouted, Hey, warrior! Had trouble keeping up? The entire group burst into laughter.
I clenched my hands but forced myself not to react, though I was close to being pushed too far. Id killed too many already. So I merely stated: If you wish to announce me, my name is Stephan.
I think it was the coldness of my voice that made them pause in their laughter. But, after an awkward moment, the bay stated, So the mad one has a name! A couple of the others snickered. Follow us down—if you can. And they all moved towards the camp at a fast trot. I almost had to canter to keep up.
As we closed, the stench of the camp reached my nose. There was no cleanliness, no fixed area to eliminate waste. One had to watch where one stepped. As they saw us, the others dropped what they were doing and cantered and galloped over to watch.
Every one of them was male.
Where were the females? Some had been mentioned in the myths, and painted on pottery. But I couldnt see any here
The crowd milled around, mumbling, then cleared a path. An ancient centaur, as white as ivory, slowly walked towards me; he held a staff he obviously needed for support. I waited patiently, putting one hand on each of my mares heads to hold them back. The old ones hide was scarred, and there were patches of naked skin. His tail was short and ragged, and his mane was almost non-existent. I gave a small bow of respect as he stopped in front of me.
I recognize the scent, he whispered. If only I could see
He looked at me. His eyes were pale spheres.
Slowly, the one hand that was not clenched around the staff reached up and moved itself along my face. The fingers were rough, the skin cracked and scarred. I stood as still as I could as he read my face and then moved down along my chest. He traced some of my tattoos and some of my scars.
Suddenly he backed away, almost falling down but managing to hold himself upright with the staff. It is him! Its the mad one returned!
There was an ugly murmuring in the crowd. I backed away a little bit to allow the old centaur some room. One of the others, the youngest Id seen, trotted forward and helped the old one away.
Whyd you abandon us?
You let us die!
How dare you come back!
Another centaur, larger than the rest, walked out of the crowd towards me; the others bowed their heads, but I remained standing. The huge brute was a dark brown, almost black. White socks embraced all of his legs, and a massive scar ran along the left side of his horses body. It was not the only scar—just the biggest.
So--the great warrior has returned.
The bay whod met me spoke up: Hes the one whos been following us, Gryneos. I led him here because I thought youd want to see him.
Doesnt look like much, does he? Gryneos asked. Deformed. Cant gallop. Useless. He deserves death.
The muttering grew uglier.
It seemed that all they respected was strength and age. I didnt look old, so strength it would have to be. Useless, am I!? Tell me, Gryneos: How many Lapiths did I kill while I was with you?
Your tally was cleared when you left us, you bastard! They lured us into a false wedding, and then they slaughtered us!
Someone else spoke accusingly: Where were you when we needed you!?
Gryneos stopped right in front of me, his hot breath rustling the hair on the top of my head. He was nearly a foot taller than I was, and built like a draft horse. Looking at the crowd, he shouted, He cant be the legend. Just look at him! Hes weak. Look at those horses with him! He spit out the last.
Only the pressure of my physical touch kept Raparthax and Philyanax from leaping at him.
I tried to keep my voice calm. If you think youre stronger, then take me. All around I heard knives snicking from scabbards. Or do you need their help? I sneered.
There was silence.
You seem to need, and his voice turned disdainful, horses to hold you up.
Raparthax, Philyanax, move away.
This is between me and him. You cant interfere.
Oh, my! How noble! The big, brave monster wont let his food interfere. The sarcasm and hatred rolled off each syllable.
Why was he forcing a confrontation? Still, if he wanted one, Ixions blood in my veins would give him one. My hatred of Poseidon would fuel my strength. Gryneos, I give you one chance to apologize. Otherwise this will end in death.
Apologize? To you? Youre not worth one, he spit out. With that he screamed and reared, yanking a thick spear from his back. Around us the others were backing away to form a circle about 20 metres in diameter.
Think! part of my mind shouted, but I was beyond thought. I had only a hot rage. Raparthax—Philyanax—stay back! I roared. I didnt have a spear, and I couldnt bring Apollos bow to bear at this range. And as Id never had enough furs to trade for a sword, the only weapons I had were three javelins. With a long-practiced motion, I drew one from where it was slung over my back.
Oooh, look at that baby little spear!
With my blood pumping hot inside me, I whipped my arm back and threw the first javelin forward with all my strength. It sped, its bronze head quivering in its hunger. Somehow, Gryneos spun in place and the javelin impaled one of the bystanders, who fell to the ground screaming. The others backed away; my two mares screamed in triumph. I reached for another javelin.
Gryneos might be a brute, but he was no fool. He knew his spear was too heavy to serve as an effective missile weapon, so hed have to attack me like a lone hoplite. Dropping the spear, he drew his heavy bronze sword.
Shock poured through me: I recognized that blade! It was my fathers sword, lost in the Black Sea so long ago. The sudden recognition didnt cool my rage, it made it hotter—because that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned Poseidon must have arranged this!
With sword in hand, Gryneos advanced. He was cautious, hesitant. I circled away from him. A javelin is an excellent throwing weapon, but in hand-to-hand combat, its far less useful than a sword. Dimly I could hear the crowd jeering at me, but though I was angry, I wasnt stupid, either. Gryneos had proven his speed; I had to wait.
His muscles tensed, and he leapt towards me. And, when I saw the tensing I let the second javelin fly. It flew true, hungry, but Gryneos saw it. His momentum kept him from spinning out of the way but somehow he managed to throw his arm in the javelins path and partially deflect the hungering bronze. It opened a long wound along his left arm, which began oozing blood; then it wobbled off and thudded to the ground.
I had just enough time to duck underneath his swing and bound past him.
Both of us spun; I drawing my last javelin, he turning to face me.
Thanks to his wound, he had to force the combat before he weakened. And I couldnt throw this javelin as it was the last I had. Shaking my head to get my sweat-damp hair clear of my eyes, I determined to end this. Now.
Gryneos was cautious, not pushing his attack. That didnt make sense: He had to be weakening from moment to moment. The sane part of me said to wait, to circle and let him bleed. Ixions blood overpowered sanity. Id have one chance—
Without any warning, he suddenly leapt into a gallop and shoved his body on top of mine. His sword hadnt moved, but his mass and his momentum bowled me over and I rolled onto the ground. As I fell I shoved my last javelin (its bronze head hungry to avenge its compatriots failure) into Gryneos horse-chest. Just in time, too; even as his sword tumbled from his suddenly-weak grip, he was already swinging it around for a death blow.
I held the javelin as his momentum carried him on top of me, the avenging bronze ripping his chest open and burying me in a pile of blood and guts.
We both screamed as I staggered to my feet and threw his dying body away from me. Drenched in blood , I reached down and wrenched my fathers sword from where it quivered in the ground, point buried.
All around was silence.
I claim the herd! I dont know where that came from, possibly the mares that shared my mind.
There was muttering, and then the bay whod found me spit out, Only a true blood can rule!
A true blood!?
Look at your legs!
My legs!? My blood pumped hotter. I had won and they dared—dared—refuse!? Well, I needed them for my vengeance and Id have them, no matter the cost. If my legs are the problem, then watch!
With that I walked over to Gryneos body. He wasnt dead yet. I pressed one foreleg onto his human chest and pressed it backwards until his spine snapped. And then I kept pressing to keep him from moving. Two quick snicker-snack strokes severed his two forelegs at the upper thigh.
Watch! All of you, watch! If you want a true blood, youll get a true blood! I screamed out.
And with that I reared up, holding my fathers sword in my right arm and I chopped off my left foreleg. Blood sprayed out, and red-hot pain spread up and through me, but I didnt care. Limping, leaving a trail of spurting blood, I took one step and leaned down and pulled Gryneos severed left leg off the ground.
Rearing, and then staggering backwards to remain on my hind legs, I butted the dying leg up against my crimson stump and screamed from the pain. From deep within me, I summoned a healing warmth, forcing it down and into my new limb. Cells that had once belonged to Gryneos fought me as they died, but I forced my will, my blood, my cells to replace them. Muscle swirled and grew, my new leg bound itself to my body.
I collapsed down onto my new leg. It was longer than my human leg, but it held my weight, though the muscles and bone were still growing. The entire herd was silent as I staggered over to the other severed leg. Taking my fathers sword in my other hand, I reared up and chopped off my remaining human leg. My vision blurred. Again I leaned down, this time to grab Gryneos other leg. Again I reared, staggering backwards, as I shoved it against my stump and willed the healing to make it mine!
And again the muscles, screaming in pain and hate, grew and twisted and joined with the foreign flesh, and then corrupted it into my own. With the muscles still growing, I let myself fall onto my two forehooves. My new legs were longer, my human body was raised higher. The warmth swept through me and my hind legs thickened to bear the new weight distribution.
I! Claim! The! Herd!
Through gritted teeth and force of will I remained conscious, slowly turning around as each centaur bowed.
Only when the last one acknowledged my dominance did I let myself collapse into unconsciousness.
-= Sobering Up =-
I woke up late the next day. Someone had raised a tent over me, and Raparthax and Philyanax were standing guard. All around I could hear movement.
Had I actually done what I remembered doing..?
Yes, I had. A quick look at my new forehooves confirmed that. They were dark, much darker than my rear hooves. The fur on my forelegs was still black, and there was a sudden transition to my normal ivory colour where my forelegs merged with the rest of my body. Looking over the rest of me, I could see that my body had thickened, not in the barrel, but in the legs and both hips. At least I wasnt as bulked up as Gryneos had been.
With a groan I heaved myself up onto my forehooves, and almost fell again. How had I walked yesterday?
Like this, said a voice in my head that I recognized as Sauliux. Let me share the memories with you, she continued. With that, thoughts and poured into me; the sensation of muscles moving, of hooves pounding on the earth, of walking and trotting and cantering and galloping. It only took an instant, though it seemed much longer, and immediately my body felt more right.
The new information helped—but my new body was rather different from either my old one or the bodies the mares had had. I stepped carefully out of my tent.At least I didnt keep trying to put my ankles down on the ground. Raparthax and Philyanax followed behind me, staying close.
The bay whod found me was waiting. So, he who is mad no longer has indeed returned.
I looked at him and he almost immediately backed down. My name is Stephan, my voice came out as a raspy croak and I tried clearing my throat. It didnt help much. Water. Now.
He bowed and turned and galloped off. I stood and waited.
All around me the camp was quiet. Most of the centaurs lay on the ground and I could smell wine in the air. Everybody that I could see was adult, and scarred. And most were past middle age. Nowhere was there any sign of females.
The bay clattered to a stop in front of me with a huge skin tied shut. I took it from him and opened it and—
A wonderful scent swirled up, calling me—
Before it possessed me I threw the entire skin to the ground. The bay tried grabbing it but I shoved him aside, and then crushed the skin with my left forehoof until it burst, spraying red all over the grass. I could smell its sweet, seductive call but I refused to let it claim me. A silence swept through the few who were conscious and they started to move towards me.
I said water, I meant water. It probably would have worked better if my voice was something more than a croak.
The bay kicked the ground with his forehoof. Stephan We dont have water.
I closed my eyes. They didnt have any water at all? Well, it was time for a change.
I turned to Philyanax as I drew my knife—which could have been useful against Gryneos, had I not completely forgotten it in my rage. Philyanax, may I drink of your blood? Lowering her neck, she agreed. I accepted the gift, cut into her flesh, and took what I needed. When I was done I cleared my throat twice more until it felt almost normal. Licking the blood from my lips, I wiped the blade of the knife on my new left foreleg as there was nothing else handy. Then I scabbarded it.
I turned to the bay centaur. Whats your name?
Doryalos, where are the women and the children?
Closing my eyes I lowered my head. I heard hooves shuffling on the ground all around me. I opened them and asked, What happened?
The Lapiths killed them.
And so the centaurs disappear from mythology. And because of that you waste the rest of your lives in drunken squalor?
A few turned away from me shamefully, most didnt.
I could feel my anger rising. My anger at Poseidon, my anger at this tragedy, my anger at fate. I want all the wine in the camp here. And I want it now. Some started moving off. Wake up those still sleeping it off! And if anybody thinks to hide any, Ill kill them.
A single flinch went through those listening.
Turning, they fled. All except Doryalos.
I looked at him. You dont have any?
I did, he swallowed, until you He pointed downwards.
Well then, youre the first to enter the new order.
Ill tell everybody when theyre back.
Will you really kill—
Yes. Crossing my hands behind my human back, I waited for the others. Doryalos, how many are left.
One hundred and eighteen.
How certain are you?
I was taught by Chiron.
Chiron He was my son.
Its past now. Chirons life, his death, his goodness. My love and happiness.
He nodded and waited with me for the others.
They came, in pairs and one at a time, each carrying one or more skins. One actually had ten. Their horse halves were mostly chestnut with a scattering of black, bay and one white. Every last one, even the old centaur whod recognized me, had wine. They were all scarred, tired, dejected. Most had white in their mane and tail, but all except the one whod recognized me were still fit.
By the time the entire herd had fully assembled, there were almost 300 skins on the ground in a massive pile in front of me. Then, with my hands still behind my back, I walked back and forth in front of the pile, pushing them away with the mass of my body. When they were 20 metres away I stopped. Going back, I pulled one skin from the pile, a big one, and then trotted out until was halfway between the pile and the herd.
I untied the wineskin.
Then, holding it in one hand, I held it upside down and let the wine start dribbling out. I could hear it crying in my head, begging me not to destroy it. I refused to listen.
The herd pushed and muttered, some reached out hands, but I moved the stream of purple liquid out of their grasp.
Listen! Listen all of you!
I had to raise my voice to be heard over their muttering.
Look at you! Once you had promise. Once you were noble. You fought and slowly lost, but you fought as Greeks! What have you become? Ill tell you what youve become: Ruined shadows, creatures without hope. Barbarians! Do you know why? Do you know why!?
One, a young adult, crept out of the herd and started sneaking towards the pile behind me. I dropped the nearly empty skin I was holding and made sure to step on it as I headed him off.
You idiots! Its wine thats done this! Wine defeated you, where the Lapiths ouldnt!
The muttering was getting ugly. I didnt care. Maybe Id read too much of the classics in school, but I refused to let the race Id become die like like this. I refused to let them die in ignominy, forgotten and sneaking off into the far corners of the world to fade away in a drunken stupor.
The youngster, a dark chestnut with brown mane and tail, made a run for the pile. I caught up to him, grabbed him by his tail, and amost ripped it out as I skidded to a stop, and yanking him to a standstill with me.
You gods-be-damned idiots! Do you want to die like this? Forgotten?
He was just standing there, blood dripping from ripped flesh around his tail. Somebody threw a knife that sank into my hindquarters; I ignored it. Crouching down, I got my hands under the young sots horse-belly and lifted, staggering back onto my hooves, and then lifting him over my head. I could feel him struggling to breathe; he kicked me in the head, drawing blood, so I squeezed my hands into his chest.
He screamed from the pain.
Holding the centaur aloft, I slowly turned towards the rest, who had started backing away. There will be no more wine! And then I threw him into the crowd. He screamed, and the others tried fleeing but were thrown to the ground when the body landed on top. I heard at least one bone break.
Doryalos! I roared. I want torches, wood! I want them now! I drew out Apollos bow from its quiver over my shoulder and strung it. A pair of blacks made a run for the pile of skins.
I shot them both in their rear hips and they fell stumbling to the ground, screaming.
Where are those torches!?
Doryalos galloped through the mob and handed me a pair of torches, unlit. I want wood—all the wood in the camp—brought here! Now! Another centaur, this one a light chestnut with four white stockings, made a gallop for the pile of wine; another arrow sent him screaming to the ground.
That broke the mob: they fled off in all directions. I could see a few, Doryalos amongst them, grabbing coals from the few fires, wrapping them in damp furs, and bringing them towards me.
The torches lit fairly easily. I recognized them as proto-Scythian make. When they were nicely burning, I stuck each in the ground. I grabbed one skin and sprayed its contents over the others, and did the same with another, and then another. I went through ten in all. A few centaurs had returned, and I had to shoot one more in his human half when he tried to grab a skin.
The wine didnt burn well, but there was enough alcohol to at least get it started. And as they piled fuel on, coals and dried dung and finally bones, it all went up in smoke.
-= Gifts =-
After my demonstration, it seemed that all the fight had gone out of the surviving centaurs. The wounded ones had been left to lie. Id walked over and, one at a time, pulled out the arrows and successfully healed most of them. It seems that they were horse enough for my powers to work—or at least their horse body was horse enough. The one Id shot in his human half, I couldnt do anything for.
Id turned back to watch the dying fire, when a flame slowly fell from the heavens and landed. It was the two flaming horses pulling Apollos chariot, and Apollo. Appearing beside me, Raparthax and Philyanax snorted at the two flaming horses who didnt react.
I see youve been busy, Apollo stated, motioning to the fire. The light from his eyes outshone the flame.
Doubt swept through me, momentarily overpowering the hatred. All the pain Id caused The centaur Id thrown had died before I could get to him. Id pushed the pain back because I was afraid to show any weakness before the herd. Did I do the right thing?
Apollo turned and looked at the fire. Did you? I dont know.
And you call yourself the god of prophecy!
He spun around. You may be divine, but that does not give you the right to insult me! Ill forgive it. Once.
I glared at him. So did the mares.
Suddenly, he laughed. There is far too much hate in you, Stephan.
I put my hands against my sides. Why are you here?
I have a gift. Id have preferred to deliver it in a flash and a celebration, but that isnt going to happen tonight.
He walked over to his chariot and pulled out a heavy wrapped bundle of bronze. It was almost as big as he was, yet he carried it with ease. Somehow maintaining his perfect balance, he lugged it over and let it fall to the grass in front of me.
I looked down and realized it was armour.
From the forges of Hephæstus? I asked in an awed voice.
Quotations from the Illiad starting flowing through my mind:
He left her thus, and to his forge returnd;
The bellows then directing to the fire,
He bade them work; through twenty pipes at once
Forthwith they pourd their diverse-temperd blasts;
Now briskly seconding his eager haste,
Now at his will, and as the work requird.
The stubborn brass, and tin, and precious gold,
And silver, first he melted in the fire,
Then on its stand his weighty anvil placd;
And with one hand the hammers pondrous weight
He wielded, while the other graspd the tongs*
The first thing I picked up was the shield. It wasnt as complex as the one described in the Illiad—not even close. It wasnt made of bronze, nor did it show two cities down to the level of every individual citizen. And while at first I thought it was leather stretched on a light frame, like those commonly used by Mycenean warriors, it wasnt. Its basic design was the same—a massive figure eight shield covered in ox hide—but the back was entirely constructed of close-fitting oak, not just a wooden frame, and its entire rim was polished bronze. A human could have lifted the thing, but they could never have used it in battle. With my strength it was perfect.
After the shield came the armour.
The shield completed, vast and strong, he forgd
A breastplate, dazzling bright as flame of fire;
And next, a weighty helmet for his head,
Fair, richly wrought, with crest of gold above;
Then last, well-fitting greaves of pliant tin.*
Unlike Homers description, my armour was a massive suit of Dendrite panoply: curved plates of bronze held together by leather thongs. In my case there were two sets of armour. The first was similar to what a human would have worn, and covered my human body. Historical Dendrite armour had curved plates on each side, front and rear. My front plates were almost the standard model, going down just past my waist, but each of the rear plates were actually two smaller plates, one for either side, with a small gap in between them for my mane. Finally, there was only one piece below the shoulder—which made sense, given that I had a horses body sticking out of me. There was also Dendrite-style barding for my horse-body. This consisted of a series of roughly half-circle plates that ran along my horses spine to the midpoint of the hips of my rear legs. Historical Dendrite armour was worn over a thick linen shirt; my armour had some sort of padding sewn on the inside. I dont know what the padding was made of, but it felt like leather, and was amazingly tough and soft.
For my head, there was a massive, plumed bronze helmet. It was typical noble Mycenean, consisting of a bronze cap, two hinged bronze cheek pieces, and a bronze fin along the top to support the plume (which was of horsehair died a solid blood red). There were also four greaves, two for the upper portion of my forelegs, and two for the lower portion. As was typical of the Mycenean period, they tied to the leg by leather straps wrapped around their outside and they were also padded like my armour. They didnt cover my entire leg, but left room for my knee and hip to move freely.
The final items were the weapons. There were six heavy javelins, each with an ornate bronze head. To hold them there were two leather bandoliers, each one with three wide loops/slots that held one javelin apiece. The entire assemblage sat overtop of my horse back under the armour, the racks coming out below the edge of the plates, and could be secured by ties. There was also a bronze scabbard that fit into a kind of socket at my waist, on the left side. The scabbards only decoration was an ornate pattern of etched lines, except if you chose to count the red ceramic that was somehow bonded to its wide, flat edges. There was no sword.
All over the armour were fine silver images of centaurs in battle. All were unarmoured, and all were anatomically perfect and exquisitely fine. The centaurs were large, and most pieces had two rearing centaur stallions facing the center of the armour plate. The helmet was the exception; it had one horse mare on either side of the cap, again rearing, with each one facing towards my face.
I put the last piece down. I dont know what to say.
Its a gift from myself and Athena.
Athena!? I thought she was on the side of the Greeks? I knew that Apollo was on the side of the Trojans.
She wanted this for you. If youre so insistent on a glorious death, then you should at least look the part.
I thank you both, and I thank Hephæstus. But I do have one question.
Why is there no sword?
There was no need. You have your fathers sword.
I shook my head. Of course the gods would have known of my preference, my obligation, to use my fathers sword. Thank you.
-= Barbarians =-
The day was sullen and overcast, which matched my mood. The armour still glowed though, which said much of its construction. The centaurs were still there, hating me, resenting me. Well, fine! I grabbed one of my Hephæstus-made javelins and turned to look at them.
Look at you! Look at all of you!
They flinched at my voice.
You had the glory of the divine in your veins and you gave it up! And for what? What? A liquid—a mortal creation!
My mind was working ahead. I would not allow things to end like this. And I would not let my race die this way!
You we are all thats left. I trotted towards them, around them, circling and circling, herding them together as I beat it into them. By the rites of combat, I am your leader. And yes, we are dead. Our race is dead. Nothing can change that.
Look at me, damn you all! You will listen to me, and you are going to learn! We are not animals! None of us are! We may be dead, but we will die with honour! Because we are centaurs!
A few of them looked at me, the fire growing in their souls. I could tell, as it was the same fire that burned hotter and hotter in mine: The blood of Ixion.
What we are going to do—what all of us are going to do—is to go. Go to fair Illium, that is also called Troy. Not across the wine-dark sea, but around it. It will give us time. Time to prepare. Time to learn, to grow. We will go, we will fight, and we will be remembered.
Though our race will die, our name will live on through all time!
I stopped, sides heaving. My blood was hot, my soul heavy with hatred and anger; anger at Poseidon, anger at the world
Most of the centaurs didnt share my passion. A few did, the youngest. But even in them it only flickered, a bare ember of what it should be.
I could smell the wine still on their breaths, the desire in their souls, even as Raparthax and Philyanax trotted beside me.
The herd—my herd—glared at me with hate. With need. Well, that was good enough for now; it seemed there was only one thing they would understand.
What could have been
What we are going to do, is to go to Troy. We will walk to Troy. All of us. And as we move, I will teach; you will listen. You think you know pain now? I pointed to one of the ones Id healed. I can break your legs, hunt you down, shove a javelin through your heart. And you know what? You wont die. Youll feel pain—by the Gods, youll feel pain! And when I think youve learned, then, and only then will I yank out the shaft of piercing wood, and then and only then will I heal you. You know I can.
If they were Barbarians, then I would drag them all kicking and screaming back to sanity!
One of the older ones, whod been quiet, who hadnt said a word or fought or even surrendered wine looked at me. I stared at him, forced my eyes into him. He flinched, turned. Others shied away, instincts warring with their minds. Then he fled, galloping for all he was worth. For a moment I watched, the herd, my herd, flicking their tails, pressing against each other. Their instincts wanted them to follow, to panic and flee; their instincts wanted them to stay with me, their leader. I could smell the fear.
Without moving more than I had to, I expertly flung a javelin at him. It hummed through the air, its glittering bronze hungering as it sped towards my victim. Its sharpened blade pierced the soft flank, tore its way through skin and sinew—
The centaur screamed his pain, slammed onto the ground from the force of the blow. Thudding to the ground, he lay there, screaming, shouting.
I ignored him and turned to the others.
You are mine. All of you are mine! You will follow me, do what I do, do what I say. You will learn from me, and I will rebuild your souls. Youll hate me, by Zeus youll hate me. But— I stepped forward, ignoring the screaming in the distance and they all stepped back. —in the end, you will live forever!
Doryalos looked at me. Glared with hatred as the screaming faded in the background to a dull whimpering. The others looked away.
I shoved my way through them and went to heal the one whod fled.
I would save them. Whatever it took, I would save all of them.
-= Preparations =-
It took us six months to make our way around the far end of the Black Sea. Since they only listened to force, that was how I ruled them. I dont think I was completely sane after all Id done to win them. I dont think I was completely sane until after I died.
We traveled slowly, scouts hunting along the way. There were a lot more mouths to feed than just mine. Based on my experiences, we kept the furs and traded them for bows and equipment from Scythians we ran into. The centaurs wanted to kill the first group we encountered, as there were only fifty or so, but I refused. I had to shoot down two to stop them.
That was the last time they ever refused to listen to me.
Id discovered that the centaurs carried heavy thrusting spears, and a few had daggers or knives in addition. As soon as wed acquired some bows, I started training the herd in their use. When we encountered a stand of trees where a river emptied into the sea, we stopped for almost a month, constructing javelins, arrows, and shields. Fortunately, extreme accuracy wasnt needed for mass combat. By the time we rounded the eastern end of the sea and were heading west through the Hittite Empire, they could all at least shoot and throw straight. Some showed promise; these, I drilled endlessly into small skirmisher groups of six to ten.
Only after everybody was armed with bow and javelin did I start trading for swords. Sword fighting is not an easy skill to learn. There is no time to think, one just has to do as an individual. We passed around the first swords I got, and those few who showed a natural skill I let keep the blades and made them part of my unit. They couldnt hope to stop any of the major Greek heroes, but at least generic troops wouldnt just kill them.
There was another reason I left the sword to last: Tactics. The Scythians were almost entirely horse archers. In combat, they broke into small units, ten to twenty individuals apiece, to encircle the enemy. Enemy forces on foot were doomed. As for mounted soldiers, if any tried to charge one of the Scythian skirmishers, that unit would evade away, whilst the others would continue the missile barrage. In addition, they maintained a few small units for close combat; these would charge and break enemy units once they were pinned or disordered by missile fire. My plan was simple: Id lead our single close-combat unit, whilst the rest of the centaurs were the missile skirmishers.
Dont think Im a tactical genius or anything; Im just well-informed. I picked up some from the Scythians, but most if it came from my youth as a human. Id always been interested in Greek history, and even while my education was specializing towards Mycenean archeology, I played historical miniatures games, and participated in various hoplite re-enactment groups to get a hands-on feel for how it might have been. Sure, it was all fake, but we tried to be as realistic as possible. I never did find a Mycenean-era reenactment group
At any rate, I tried to instill in them some idea of what it all meant. Of the difference between civilized and barbarian. I told them the myths Id studied so often, except for those involving the Illiad and the Odyssey—in this place, those hadnt happened yet. I told them of why Achilles choose to go to Illium, of his choice of eternal glory over a long and happy life. I told them of Heracles, Theseus, and Perseus. I told them the legends of Pegasus and Bellerophon. I tried to make them understand why, and how, they should fight at Illium in the Trojan War.
Most of my knowledge of the Trojan War came from my studies, some of it mythological, the rest historical. Troy had either been a Greek city allied with the Hittite Empire, or an outpost of the Hittite Empire. Helen might never have existed; if she did, she was probably just a pretext for the Achean Greeks to invade, likely for control of access to the Black Sea. One theory I'd read even suggested that the Greeks had aimed for Egypt, but got off course in a storm. It was hard in the classical period to navigate over open water. However they'd gotten there, as a ten-year-long siege was patently impossible, it had been believed that the Greeks roamed through the near east burning and pillaging. I expected to encounter the raiding parties long before reaching Illium.
Travelling to Illium, I made sure we stayed along the southern coast of the Black Sea. This let us avoid the mountains, and though the region was officially part of the Hittite Empire, in practice it was unclaimed territory.
The last thing I wanted was to run into the Hittite Army.
It took us almost a year of blessedly incident-free travel, in all, to reach the Bosporus. At that point we were getting close to Illium, so I broke our march down into the units wed use in combat. Id already made Thaumos (the old centaur whod recognized me) the herds supply clerk; he kept track of how many arrows were present, how many each unit had, how many were lost during practice and hunting, that kind of thing. Doryalos I made my second-in-command. The youngest and fastest centaurs were messengers to carry my orders to the various units.
In the Bosporus, I wore my gleaming bronze armour each day. Up until that point Id only worn it for combat practice, otherwise keeping it bundled in bags over the back of either Raparthax or Philyanax. It was wonderfully comfortable; being of Hephæstus make, it could hardly be otherwise; but it was still heavy sheets of bronze. On the nights we camped by a stream, I washed and polished it, and washed what sweat I could out of the padding. The armour was heavy, and I doubt a mortal centaur could have managed it. By the end of a day I was exhausted. The weakest part of the whole panoply were the greaves. They worked about as best as one could hope, but they were painful to wear for hours of walking. Eventually I left them off.
On our third day of travel into the Bosporus, one of our messengers—Amycos, one of the younger centaurs—galloped up to me.
Stephan Ularius sighted smoke. To the south-east.
What did he think it was?
No campfire something bigger
Raparthax had moved up next to me. I pulled a waterskin from her back and offered it to Amycos. When hed finished I told him, Tell Ularius to approach the smoke cautiously. Im bringing the rest of the herd up. Go!
Amycos turned and galloped back the way he came.
Acheans? Doryalos asked. He still didnt like me, but his fear made him obey.
Likely. Send Bianar and Cyllaros out after the other two patrols. Tell them to hold their position but remain on watch. Tell Thaumos and the reserve to proceed after us. Well use them for a fallback position. When thats done, form the rest up by unit. I want Orios and Hodites to advance in front.
Suppose theres too many of them?
I doubt there will be. But if there are, we fall back. Ularius should give us enough warning.
As you wish. I watched him instruct and send messengers to transmit my orders.
The centaurs had, at first, resisted my imposed structure. But when Id taken the few who agreed with me and trounced all the rest of them in a mock combat, they at least agreed to listen.
It didnt take long for the final forming-up to occur, with my assault unit around me and a cloud of bow-armed messengers just behind. Then we moved off. Id set the scouts about an hours walk in front of us, and we made that distance in about three-quarters of an hour at a trot.
Amycos galloped up when he saw us. Ularius says its a small raid on a settlement. The raiders were gone before he arrived, the cowards. He couldnt find any survivors.
Does he have any idea of the composition of the raiding part, and how far ahead they are?
He saw chariot tracks, and evidence that they were laden with booty. We missed them by a couple of hours.
It was late afternoon. We should be able to catch them near dusk. Or we could attack at night, or the next morning I chose dusk. They wouldnt be expecting trouble, and theyd already be exhausted from combat and from carrying their booty. Amycos, tell Ularius to go after them, but to try and remain unnoticed. Im going to try and take them tonight.
Yes! Amycos spun around and was off in a flurry of hooves.
Stephan? Doryalos asked. How do you know theyre Acheans? If were going to help this Illium, we dont want to attack them—
Illium controls this part of the world. Why would they burn their own settlement? Besides, Ill have a better idea when I see their armour.
Or at least I hoped Id have a better idea. Some historical theories had the Trojans as just another Greek city-state. If that was the case, then theyd be equipped the same. Regardless, it just didnt make sense for the Trojans to burn their own settlement!
We proceeded at a trot, no sense getting exhausted before combat. The sun was settling on the horizon before us, making us shade our eyes, when I saw a silhouette approaching at a gallop. Sending messengers to the other units to tell them to prepare for combat, I advanced to meet the enemy. It turned out to be a centaur, and again it was Amycos.
He stopped in front of me, panting for breath. Ularius was seen, they they sent chariots Ularius falling back
Five. One of em six -spoked.
Archeological evidence suggested that Achean Greek chariots had used four-spoke wheels, except for the nobles which had used six-spoked.
I should have given orders to Doryalos to pass on, but I was too eager. Isoples! Go to Nedymnas and Rhoetus. Tell them to move off to the right. When they see the chariots they are ordered to attack them, bows only. Hodites! Go to Cyllaros and Peukadia and tell them to move off to the left, under the same orders.
The two named messengers galloped off.
And what about us? Doryalos asked.
Were the bait. As they approach, well withdraw, staying out of range until the archers engage. Then well approach and charge, on my order.
Doryalos motioned around and lowered his voice. They wont want to fall back.
I raised my voice. They will. The first one who breaks ranks, Ill kill!
Turning away, I looked into the sunset. I could barely make out a haze of dust rising in the distance.
-= Acheans =-
I motioned my elites to a rest and shaded my eyes whilst the Acheans approached. The sun was on the horizon and, unfortunately, I couldnt think of a way to avoid it. Stupid!
If I circled around, theyd turn But at least the sun wouldnt be in our faces.
Turning, I cantered off to the north and the rest of my unit followed me. I could see the chariots turning to intercept.
I turned from northward to north-eastward and my unit turned to follow. Thank Ares nobody turned off on their own. Give it time! Therell be enough blood for everybody soon enough.
The chariots were closing now, I could see their horses galloping towards us. Flecks of foam splattered their muzzles, and I saw sweat soaking through the heavy cloth that covered their backs. Where were the arch—?
And then I saw Hodites squad galloping towards the chariots from the north. They started whooping like Indians, and shadows arced through the air towards the chariots. One of the horses collapsed to the ground, screaming, and the chariot she was pulling slammed into her and her companion. The two Acheans somehow came out of the wreck without serious injuries. One staggered out, the setting sun glinting off the shoulders of his armour.
By Zeus! Id forgotten the horses!
I galloped towards the four chariots still charging towards me. Orios group appeared in the distance, and I knew theyd open fire as soon as they were in range.
Fuck! How could I be so stupid!?
Raparthax and Philyanax galloped easily beside me, but I was falling behind the others. They werent burdened in armour, after all. Panting for breath, I managed to keep up with them.
What the hell am I doing? I fretted to myself. I d ont know how to do this! Playing is one thing, but this is real!
Now I saw that the chariot warriors were armed with javelins. Screaming out their own battle cries, they threw them towards my unit, one at a time. They had a bunch inside the body of the chariot, so they could afford to hope for a lucky shot.
In front of me Rhoetus screamed and went down, a gleaming, blood-soaked bronze head thrusting itself out the back of his human half.
One of the Achean drivers went down to arrows, but the warriors seemed unhurt—likely because of their armour.
Part of me wanted to stand off and fire arrows, but Id have to slow down to string the bow, and by the time I did, the rest of my unit would be amongst the Acheans anyway. Instead I threw one of my javelins at the warrior in the lead chariot. Its hungry bronze whipped through the air, humming its need. Its target tried interposing his shield, but the bronze passed through the layers of hide and into his flesh. Screaming, he went down.
The rest of my unit had reached the chariots. Lycotos was going too fast to dodge, and he and a pair of chariot horses collided in a pile of bodies. The chariots wooden shaft shattered under the stress, and the chariot body bounced over the pile of horses and centaurs. The wheels exploded into fragments, and the light, hide-covered wooden body crumpled into a tangled mess. The driver screamed as his momentum sent him flying forward to impale himself on the snapped piece of shaft still tied to the horses; the warrior took my second javelin through his neck as he staggered out of the wreckage. Gurgling in pain, his crimson-soaked bronze glittering in the setting sun, he collapsed onto the pile of wreckage.
Hodites group was almost upon the tangle of chariots and centaurs. I saw them each throw one of their two javelins. Another horse screamed, and two more drivers went down, from arrows of javelins I couldn't tell. But too many of our missiles went hungry as they quivered in the ground, in wood, or in hide. One of the Achean warriors tossed his shield away. It was useless, as a javelin hung, quivering, from it.
Orios group had stopped firing—thank Ares theyd remembered that—and were still closing. I just hoped that Hodites remembered to stand off and use javelins and bows and not leap amongst the chariots.
The chariot whose driver had been the first killed suddenly turned sideways. Something must have spooked the horses. The body flipped over and dragged the horses down with it. Doryalos shoved his heavy spear through the warriors eye, and dragged him across the ground until the Acheans head yanked itself from his shoulders in a fountain of gore.
I could see now that the leader was still alive, with his driver. He threw a javelin that sped into Epheklas horse side; the centaur went down gurgling blood, the hungry bronze buried in his flesh. His driver handed him another javelin; I threw my own, but not fast enough! He interposed his curved tower shield, deflecting my bronze missile upwards into the sky. I drew my fathers sword, for I knew that I would be upon him before I could throw another. He got one last shot in, its gleaming bronze point glittering in the fading sunlight, and I blocked it with my figure-eight shield, the hunger of its head unabated.
Now the Achean leader drew his sword. Before he had it fully out, Id swung my own blade down and into his shield. It pierced the layers of hide and caught on the wooden rim. Almost I lost my grip as we strained for possession of the entangled items. I won, yanking his shield from his grasp. Its shoulder strap tightened, pulling him off-balance, until the leather cord snapped with an audible twang! I let the ruined shield fall off my sword.
The Achean was hot, sweaty, gasping for breath, but his voice remained steady nonetheless: I am Ctesippus, son of Iphicles, of Athens. I would know who I am about to kill.
I am Stephan, son of Centaurus and Pegasus, father of Chiron.
Old man, I will agree to burn you with honour and coin, if you will do the same for me.
All around us I heard horses and centaurs and men screaming, the thunk of weapons into the ground or into bronze. Yet, somehow, it all seemed distant. Secondary. Deep inside, the core of me didnt want to be here doing this. But my blood was high, and the rage of Ixion filled me! I didnt speak; instead, I screamed and leapt towards him, my sword raised above my head, my shield held in front of me.
He didnt flinch, just parried my blow with his sword. Somehow a dagger appeared in his other hand; he thrust it towards my side. We were in twilight now, and the hungry bronze was dull. My shield blocked his dagger, which pierced into the wood, but not through. Putting my weight behind it, I shoved the heavy oak into him overrunning him. He tried rolling away, but I was faster; I reared up and smashed my forehooves down on his chest. His blood-splattered armour creaked, then bent, under my weight. My hooves pressed down towards the dry earth and blood oozed around the bronze and them.
Somehow he choked down a scream and thrust upward with his bronze blade. It slipped past my shield, below my armour, and pierced me between my two forelegs. I was beyond pain as he pulled it out, blood dripping from its length. With both hands I gripped the hilt of my fathers sword and then shoved it, point first, into his chest. The blade pierced his heart on its way into the earth. Thudding to the ground, his sword fell from his grip.
With one hand he unstrapped his helmet and pushed it off his head. His face was young, his hair blond and soaked with sweat. Other centaurs crowded around me, their hooves pressing the helmets once-noble plume into the blood-soaked earth.
He spoke, each word more a gurgle than speech. Blood sputtered out of his mouth, and rolled down his chin. Youre not not like Chiron. Like like the rest. I He coughed, spraying blood up and onto my chest as Id lain down to hear him as my wounds healed. I Im glad he cant, he coughed again, see you
His eyes glazed over as his soul passed from him.
All around there was a moment of silence, an instant of respect. I closed his eyes. And then it was broken as one of the chariot horses screamed in pain.
Id thought of the rest of the centaurs as barbarians. But was I any better?
-= The Achean Camp =-
Was I any better than a barbarian? By Zeus, I was!
Looking around, I saw that the other centaurs had finished off the last of the Acheans. Most of the chariot horses were down; half of them dead, it looked like. I remembered a quote from before I came to this place: My job is to look after the living. The living came first.
I turned to Doryalos. Have the unit commanders tally up their wounded and dead. Ill heal everyone as best I can. He nodded. They can loot the dead, but they are not to maim them!
Doryalos, we are not barbarians. We will not act like barbarians. For a moment I forgot I sighed. All of the dead, ours and theirs, will be cremated together.
Tell them to do it! Have one centaur tend each wounded. Send Bianar back for Thaumus and the rest. Thaumus is in charge of looting and clean-up. I want an inventory of what we can salvage, and what we can use. Our unit has priority for the armour. The rest are to gather wood and prepare the pyres. I want it all done before moonrise, and tomorrow I want to go after the Achean foot. With their chariots destroyed, they shouldnt be a problem.
Stephan, they wont—
I dont care! If were doomed to pass from this world, then we will be remembered in honour and glory! Do I make myself clear!?
He looked down and kicked at the dirt with his left forehoof.
And Doryalos? The horses are part of the dead. I will see each one, and either heal them, or end their life. And, the dead horses will be burned with the humans as warriors. You got that?
I dont care! Carry out my orders.
Doryalos reared up, and then turned and trotted away.
There was some grumbling, but the clean-up continued at a reasonable rate. We managed to salvage thirty javelins, including two of mine. I took one from Ctesippus as a replacement. About a hundred arrows were re-usable; our stocks were still down, as the Acheans hadnt carried any. Of the ten chariot horses, four were dead; three were wounded so badly that they wished for death, which I gave them; the last three I managed to heal. Of my centaurs, three were dead; another eight had minor wounds of one kind or another that I could heal; and five more, wounded in their human parts, would have to heal naturally.
I helped the others gather the wood, build the pyre, and place the bodies upon it. We put Ctesippus in a place of honor on top, his warriors and the dead centaurs below him, and the horses at the bottom. We placed silver coins (from those carried by the Acheans, as we had none) in each figures eye to pay their fare across the River Styx in Hades. Then, after a moment of silence, I threw a lit torch into the center of the pyre, and the other centaur commanders did likewise. The wood caught and the flames rose higher and higher, curling around the bodies and freeing their souls from flesh and bone.
Once the pyre was burning brightly, I told the others to make a brief camp about a hundred metres away. We set watches, and I made sure everybody knew we were going to hit the rest of the Achean force at dawn. I was able to sleep a little bit, but most of the other centaurs couldnt at all. All through the night, the pyre burned lower and lower; when we prepared to move in the pre-dawn light, the wood was still crackling and smoking.
Ularius led us to the Achean camp. Hed visited it during the night and it hadnt moved. My guess is, the Acheans assumed the pyre was for Trojans and was set by their own chariots. Theyd made their camp on the coast, in a clearing defended by a low rise to their west. This time Ularius swore nobody had seen him, as hed only gone close enough to make sure that the camp hadnt moved from when hed first found it. We could all see the dim glow of their fires.
Given that the entire Achean force was foot, there was no need to assault them. In fact, such an assault would be bloody and give them the advantage.
Stephan! Cyllaros said. With surprise, we can get in amongst them! Itll be a slaughter!
I looked around, and through the shadows recognized the eagerness in their bodies. Ularius, what do you estimate their numbers to be?
As I said: Two hundred fifty close-order spearmen, and another hundred skirmishers. Theyve prisoners, about a hundred men, women and children.
Cyllaros, there are less than a hundred of us. If we can surprise them before they form up, then we could slaughter them. But wed still take significant casualties. And if they do form up, they can anchor their close-order body against the sea and the rise, and any attack we could make on them would result in our slaughter.
Rhoetus burst in. Theyre only humans! Look what we did to their chariots!
Yes—chariots we outnumbered almost twenty to one. There were five warriors. We lost three, and have five wounded. Here wed need over six thousand centaurs to have the same advantage, and even then wed take around 200 casualties. I stopped, and looked around at them all. Who won? You or the Lapiths? I paused, then stated, We do it my way.
After that they listened.
My plan was to send Cyllaros and Rhoetus half of the archer skirmishers circling around the Achean camp, and fire upon them from the top of the rise. The other half, Peukadias and Nedymnos skirmishers, would advance on the Acheans from the east and south respectively, firing arrows as they moved; theyd fall back if the Acheans advanced. Meanwhile, wed hold my unit and the elite skirmishers in reserve. If these Acheans used the same battle plans as their historical counterparts, theyd have their archers in the rear, with javelin-and-bow-armed skirmishers advancing from their front rank to drive us off. Id attempt to charge them, and make sure not to pursue them if they evaded backward and sought shelter behind the close order infantry block. If the Acheans were not formed up, Id lead an assault into the camp, but I made sure everybody knew that I would flee from a body of men, and that they all should too.
There werent enough of us left to take any risks we could avoid.
My signal to begin the attack would be drawing my sword and advancing. Id twist it around to get the rising sun to glint off it so that all would see the signal. I also made sure to have messengers with me to carry the signal manually as a backup plan.
It wasnt until just past dawn that our units moved off.
By the time I got close to the camp, the Acheans had armoured and formed up. Their spearmen were in formation eight deep in front of a four-deep rank of archers. The rise was less steep than Id thought, and a large group of Achean javelin armed skirmishers had been placed on the top of the slope. The rest, primarily bow armed, were positioned in front of the main Achean body. I could see the Trojan prisoners in a corner bounded by the rise and the sea, and guarded by a reserve of spearmen.
Id have to remember to allow more time for deployment.
Perhaps I should have sent a herald, or gone myself but it was too late for that, as my advance would be taken as the signal to attack. Instead I could only wait as the messengers returned to indicate that everybody was in position. When the last one came, I raised my sword and turned it around as we advanced. The skirmishers in front of the main Achean line advanced slightly to meet us, and got off one round of bowfire before I led a charge against them. They fled back through gaps in the Achean line and I, expecting this, halted the pursuit short and rallied back out of range of the massed archers at the rear of the Achean unit. This happened again and again. A few Acheans died to arrow fire, a few centaurs went down to return fire.
Good enough; the situation favoured us, as we had more archers than they. The question was, who was going to run out of arrows first?
I pulled back and sent messengers to Orios and Hodites to continue skirmishing with the Achean lights. I had an idea.
Once I was out of sight behind the archers, I turned to my second-in-command. Doryalos, Im going to take ten with me—well break their lights on the slope and hit them in the rear. I need you to stay with the rest here. Be visible, but dont take risks! When Im in contact with their rear, and not before then, you advance. Dont go for prepared spears; look a flank, or a disordered section. Do you understand?
Im going with—!
Doryalos, Im taking the three who are now armoured, myself, and the seven best. I need the armour for a front rank. If you had some, Id take you. But you dont, so I need you here!
He motioned around at the mares. Youre taking them.
Only because I cant keep them away.
Youre taking all the glor—
No, Im not! Im the best one for the initial assault, and you know it! Therell be more than enough for you, fear not.
Youre in direct charge of Orios, Hodites, Peukadia and Nedymnos. Dont you dare send them into the ordered ranks! If you do, Ill kill you, unless you die first. Do you understand!?
No Ares-damned buts! All weve got now is a battle of attrition, and its possible that there might be more Acheans on the way. We do not have time for this! Do what Ive told you, and nothing else!
With my longer forelegs I stood taller than him. I stepped forward almost into him, glaring down as he looked up. It didnt take long until he backed down from the challenge.
Well do it your way.
Good. Be ready—there wont be a signal other than my charge. Watch for it!
I quickly pulled out the ten I had in mind and led them at a fast canter around to the south. Faster would have been better, but the three armoured ones werent used to the weight of the ill-fitting panoply on their human half. I also took eight messengers with me—half of those available—because I figured Id need them. Two I sent ahead of me to alert Cyllaros and Rhoetus. Now I wish I had somebody else there. Id put them there to try and keep them from assaulting, but now
It didnt take long to circle around behind the ridge. Cyllaros met me, and I could see Rhoetus charging the skirmisher. I just hoped to Ares he remembered to pull back.
Cyllaros, I need both you and Rhoetus to charge the skirmishers together. Force them onto the slope. As soon as they have, fall back and Ill lead my centaurs between your two bodies and into them. When they break, I want you both to the grab the ridge and shower the Acheans with arrows. You got that?
He rubbed his hands together and nodded.
Remember to fall back, damn you! You have to make them think no attack is imminent, or it will fail. And only advance when Ive reached their main infantry block. I paused and looked down at him, like I had to Doryalos. Do you understand?
He nodded. I understand, Stephan.
Good. Im putting you in charge of Rhoetus for now. Go with him and set this up. Send a messenger when youre ready. Well follow behind you, and charge the instant you pull back. Be ready for it—and make sure that none of your or Rhoetus centaurs follow us, or the Acheans will kill them. Now go!
He turned and galloped off, his centaurs forming around him.
For almost a year Id drilled them. Taking the chariots down had been easy and uncomplicated; now Id see if theyd learned anything. If they had, wed win. If not, then theyd all be dead by sunset.
Epheklas the Younger galloped up and stopped in front of me. Cyllaros is ready. He and Rhoetus will advance when you advance.
I nodded. Nedymnas, Isoples, Bianar, youre beside me and the mares. They were the armoured ones. I knew the mares wouldnt leave me, and I didnt even try to ask them. The rest stay behind. Be careful on the slope, well need to spread out. Once were on it, dont stop for anything. If I go down, then keep going! Form!
We formed up. I wished Id had a chance to train them to form a wedge, but there just hadnt been time
Epheklas, tell Cyllaros were ready. Well advance at a walk right after you go.
Yes! He leapt into the air, and then galloped over to where Cyllaros was waiting. I advanced at a walk behind him. Cyllaros and Rhoetus advanced in front of us. I accelerated to a trot to close the distance.
Lycotos! I turned to another messenger, who shared the name of the centaur whod died yesterday. Tell Cyllaros were ready. He can set the pace, well follow. The instance he starts to fall back, well break into a gallop. And tell him to double the gap between him and Rhoetus. Go!
He galloped off. I watched as he reached Cyllaros. There was a hurried conference, and then Cyllaros advanced at an angle as he and Rhoetus accelerated to a canter. We matched their speed. Soon Cyllaros adjusted his path, and was moving parallel to Rhoetus.
That was when the centaurs in front of us starting whooping and screaming. They pulled out their bows and sent a rain of arrows away to the front. Not javelins; javelin-armed skirmishers were far superior to missile-armed troops in melee, but they didnt have the range for a missile engagement. I just about heard shouts from the distant front, and then a single voice, loud and decisive. Ares dammit, the Acheans were counter-charging! Cyllaros and Rhoetus had gotten too close, they had to fall back now! And, there was nothing I could do but wait and—
They galloped towards me in an irregular mass—but not all of them, Ares take them all! Cyllaros and his centaurs, the idiots, had charged into the charging Acheans. That left me with no choice.
With that I drew my sword and leapt into a gallop, my centaurs with me. We passed through the gap and were upon the Acheans before they had a chance to turn and flee. Two strokes of my sword and we were through them. I heard hooves pounding behind I me; I hoped it was Cyllaros and Rhoetus advancing to finish off the (now disordered and confused) skirmishers.
Then we hit the slope; it was scattered outcroppings of shale and rough gravel, all anchored by patches of scab grass and sand. I couldnt stop if Id wanted to, and I heard more than saw Melaneos go down when he tripped and slid on a patch of rounded stones. Fortunately he wasnt one of the three with armour. The rest of us survived, and we hit the archers at the rear of the Acheans main body before they even knew we were there.
With Ixions blood high in me, screaming, I burst into them. With my mass and momentum, the first two ranks I hit got trampled underhoof; I stumbled as my hooves squished into flesh and crunched into bone. Beside me Styphelas screamed when one of the archers managed to hamstring him, and he collapsed onto the archer, still lashing out with his sword. Human bodies were crammed tight all around me, fighting to turn or flee as my weight pressed against them. Screaming, I slashed with my fathers crimson-soaked sword. I reared up to lash out with my forelegs, the stolen hooves digging into the flesh of the unarmoured archers. I could see the Achean line trying to turn, trying to deal with the threat that had appeared inside them. Humans pressed around me, broken spears stabbed into my armour. Splinters of wood and bone dug into my hind legs. I let myself fall down onto my forehooves and crushed an armoured spearman face down into the rocky sand. Swords thudded off my shield; a handful of arrows passed overhead. Raparthax went down, her teeth ripping the face off an Achean as she died. Bianar the Pale and Ularios the Elder, too, went down under the Acheans that surrounded us.
There was no thought in what I did, only a mindless animal rage. I screamed, the sound of an enraged horse, not a human. I kicked and bucked. My sword slashed left, and then right, each stroke piercing the unarmoured neck of an Achean who would never have a chance to figure out what was happening. One leapt onto my shield, almost pulling it out of my grip, but Philyanax clamped her teeth around his arm and pulled him away as she kicked at another Achean. I felt a sword dig into my left flank past where my armour ended; I kicked out with both hind hooves. They crunched into armour, and squished into flesh.
And then Doryalos led the charge into their disordered front and the Acheans broke.
We slaughtered them as they fled.
-= Trojans =-
As the Acheans broke, it was I who led the pursuit against them. Theyd dropped their shields and spears, and they died in droves as javelins and swords and hooves slashed into their backs. I remembered reading accounts of casualties of ancient battles—a hundred on one side, five thousand on the other. You didnt get that sort of lopsided results between two armies in good order; it was only when one side broke that the slaughter began.
As I kicked and slashed and slaughtered the terrified enemy, the accounts of other battles flashed through my head. Marathon, Platea, Magnesia
It was the last that brought me to my senses. In 190BC, Antiokus III of the Seleucid Empire faced off against a Roman army. He led a mass charge of his cavalry; he routed one legion and chased it off into the sunset. The surviving Romans destroyed the rest of his army before he got back. I could be repeating his mistake, if there were Achean reinforcements on their way
Unfortunately, an army in pursuit is hard to stop.
Doryalos! I spotted his bay form near the front of the pursuit. Panting for breath, I forced myself to catch up to him. Doryalos! Stop!
He was too intent on the chase to listen.
I had a chance when he slowed to slash at a fleeing Achean. As the human fell to the ground dying, I galloped into Doryalos and bowled us both over to the ground. All around us centaurs screamed, leaping over our forms, or twisting to avoid us. A lot broke off the pursuit when they recognized my armour, and galloped towards me to see what had happened.
Blinded by the dust, Doryalos struck out at me but I caught his arm and held it. His head turned to see the foe hed struck at and he recognized me. What are you doing!?
Theyre broken—we can kill them! We can kill them all!
Let them go! I pushed Doryalos aside and struggled up to my feet. Let them all go! I recognized Nedymnos approaching. Nedymnos! Form up your centaurs! I grabbed another centaur beside me. Isophelas! Find the rest of the messengers, and send them to find all the unit leaders. Tell them all to get back here!
Do it! If the Acheans have reinforcements nearby, theyll wipe us out if we pursue!
I swatted his behind with the flat of my sword; he yelped, then galloped off.
Every other centaur that wasnt part of my unit got the same orders. When Doryalos got up, I had him form the assault group around me. By the time I had us in some sort of order, the wound in my left flank had more or less healed. I sent Isoples with half the surviving members of my unit to check on the prisoners. All of the others except Doryalos and Nedymnos, I sent to make sure that the dead Acheans really were dead. Doryalos I sent to start sorting out the injured, calling me in an emergency. I kept Nedymnos with me and trotted around on my own, saving who I could. Raparthax was dead; Philyanax was nearly so, but I got to her in time. Melaneos, and too many others I couldnt help. It wasnt until close to noon that things settled down.
I was exhausted, and so was everybody else. Wed had next to no sleep all night, and wed fought two battles in less than a day. I sent Younger Orios off with his scouts to patrol the outskirts of the Achean camp, and had Doryalos pick a handful of the least-tired to guard the prisoners and the camp while the rest of us collapsed into sleep.
Doryalos shook me awake sometime late in the afternoon. He looked asleep on his hooves. Younger Orios found no sign of reinforcements. Hes back now, and Amlaneos and his squad are patrolling the outskirts. I found Cyllaros, hes dead. I promoted Melamnos into his place.
I yawned. Any kind of casualty count?
Of the Acheans? Over a hundred, I think. There are fifteen of ours dead, three unaccounted for. I need to sleep.
I caught him as he started to wobble over. Sleep. You did fine.
Good. Youre right, Stephan we were Barbarians He started snoring and I lowered him to the ground, healing all his small wounds as I did so.
Getting back up to my hooves, I looked around. Snoring centaurs were scattered about the ground haphazardly. The Achean dead had mostly been piled off to one side. When more of us were awake, Id have to detail a group to gather up wood and collect the rest of the dead. Leaning backwards, I stretched my arms outward and yawned again. My armour clanked as I moved; I hadnt even realized I was still wearing it. I found a fairly alert centaur—Amycos, that was his name—and drafted him to help me get it off. The bronze was drenched in blood and gore, and some of the leather thongs were knotted so tight that he wanted to cut them loose, but I wouldnt let him and helped him work the knots loose. Together we managed to get it all off. I didnt like it, but as I had too much to do, I told Amycos to wash and polish the armour for me. I took a couple of steps forward and arched my horses back, then let myself fall to the ground and roll around in the dust. By Zeus, it felt good!
I glared at the snickering Amycos as I clambered back up onto my hooves.
I was dirty, dusty, itchy. My hide was caked with patches of blood that had oozed through the armour, and scabbed with old wounds and tattoos. I needed a rinse, but that would have to wait. Shaking my head to try and bring some order to my hair and mane, I trotted around the piles of snoring bodies towards where the black form of Isoples watched over the Trojan prisoners.
He heard my approach and turned. Stephan? You should be resting.
So should you. I yawned, and then rubbed my eyes.
He snorted and replied, Im fine, and then he yawned too.
Get some rest, Isoples. Ive already slept a little—I want to talk to them anyway. I motioned towards the prisoners.
As you wish he said with yet another yawn. I dont think they like us. Every time Ive tried to talk to them, they just back away.
Its my problem now. Go and sleep.
He looked me up and down. Youre welcome to try
He trotted off a short distance, stopped, and collapsed onto the ground. Instants later he was snoring.
As I watched Isoples, my stomach grumbled and I wished Id grabbed some food and water. Looking around, I spotted the messenger Lycotos dragging an Achean body onto the growing pile. At least some centaurs were doing things on their own. Lycotos! Get me some food and water!
He dropped the body.
After you finish with that one.
Got it, Stephan! Without a complaint he leaned down, grabbed the body under the shoulders, and continued dragging it over to the pile.
I trotted closer to the Trojans. A few of the women screamed; the children sobbed; and the men gave me cold looks. I looked back at them. Why were they so afraid? And then it hit me: Here I was, a massive beast out of their legends—a drunken animal, my body covered in dirt and blood and Scythian tattoos and scars, my hair thick and greasy and sticking out in all directions. I shook my head and laughed to myself; cleanliness could come later.
Stopping about ten metres away, I searched through my mind for pure, human Greek, as opposed to the guttural, equine-accented Greek the centaurs used. We mean you no harm. In fact, weve come to fight for you.
They just glared at me.
That was when I realized that they hadnt even been untied yet! Somebody was going to No, wait; the others probably couldnt even approach them. I was just about to cut them free, whether they liked it or not, but then I heard hoofbeats behind me. It was Lycotos with some smoked meat and a waterskin. The meat had to be from the Achean supplies, as wed never had any time to smoke anything.
He stopped in front of me and handed them over.
Lycotos, go see whos awake. Tell ten or so to go off and see what animals they can kill. We need to get some food cooking. Tell them that if they see any Acheans, theyre to get back here at once. Got that?
Yup. Dont worry about it, Doryalos sent out hunting parties before he woke you up.
At least somebodys on the ball here. Get back to work, then. If anybodys looking for me, tell them I dont want to be disturbed until the fresh meat is ready to eat. Got that?
He turned and went, and I turned back to the Trojans. First I untied the waterskin and took a big drink from it, almost half its contents. I tied it shut and tore off a big hunk of the smoked meat and started chewing it. The Trojans would have to wait Then I had an idea. As I was chewing, I walked towards the prisoners; drew my dagger; and flung it straight down into the soil so hard that only the hilt was showing. I put down the waterskin beside it and then carefully backed away, swallowing the first mouthful of meat. Take that and untie yourselves. Honestly, I dont mean you any harm. Share the water, too. As for food, we should have some fresh meat ready by sunset.
I stopped about twenty metres away and watched a male—he looked older than the others—crawl forward and pull the knife out with his teeth. He crawled back with it, then held it steady whilst a younger male rubbed his wrists along the blade until the rope parted. It didnt take long after that.
As they freed themselves and then shared the water, I examined them. There werent many; I counted eighteen. Three men, ten women, five children. There were no babies, and no old men or women. They were all clothed in shredded rags that had once been finery, except the children who were naked. By the time theyd all untied themselves and shared the water, Id finished the meat.
Do you trust me enough to talk yet?
The oldest male, the one whod gone for the dagger, stood up and tried to brush the dirt from his clothes. What are you going to do with us?
Im going to escort you back to Troy and join your side against the invaders.
Sure you are! one of the other males said sarcastically.
Putting my hands against my sides, I asked, Well, then: What do you want me to do with you?
Let us go! one of the women shouted.
I could do that, I agreed. But what if you encounter another group of Acheans?
Well kill them! the youngest male answered.
You? I took a few steps forward. All fifteen of you!? All youve got is my dagger. The five chariots we killed yesterday would wipe you all out without you killing a single one! There are, what, ten thousand Acheans burning and pillaging through the countryside?
Its a trick! said the other male. You just want to gain our confidence so you can betray the city!
The Horse would only need about twenty Acheans, but I saw no need to mention that. Theyd probably disbelieve me, like theyll disbelieve Cassandra. Thats for Hector and Priam to decide. If you want to go on your own, Ill give you enough supplies to reach the city. Well be behind you, but if you run into trouble, I doubt well be close enough to save you. We will try to avenge you if we can.
A female voice burst out: Oh, lets just go with them! What can they do to us that hasnt already been done? If they try rape, theyll rip us apart in the act!
Phillipa! Dont even think that! Ctesippus wouldnt let his men—
Because he wanted us for his own! Youve heard about their camp, what those monsters Achilles and Agamemnon do!
At least theyre men! These are drunken monsters!
Thats a poor excuse, and you know it! Do as you please; Im staying with the only people whove shown us any decency since the Acheans invaded!
I finally saw the woman speaker as she pushed her way out through the mass of Trojans. She was tall, thickly built, and with fire-red hair. All she wore was the remnants of a fine Cretan bell-bottomed dress that looked to have been a pale blue. It was tied at her waist with a scrap of dirty white linen. Her breasts had been painted, but were now smeared with streaks of copper, blue, and red.
A woman grabbed at her. Phillipa, dont—
She spun around, her long hair whipping through the air. Mother, Im making my own way! Look at us, by the goddess! Just look at us! Weve nothing left! These centaurs are our only hope.
Theyre our death! the eldest male burst out.
Theyve shown us nothing but decency! She ripped herself from her mothers grasp. If you want to die, then go off and die! Spinning around, she stalked over until she stood beside me.
Oh, my! I looked at the leader. What is your name, sir?
Pelius of Iscapus, beast.
Well, Pelius: Ill give each of you a weeks rations from the Acheans supplies. Will one waterskin apiece be enough?
Youll probably poison them!
Fine. I forced down my anger. In that case, you can fill them yourselves.
I turned around ignoring Phillipa, looking for the nearest messenger. Oriolas! I called, and he galloped over. I want you to get two others. Bring each one of these Trojans, I motioned behind me, a waterskin and a weeks worth of rations. Did the Acheans have any beasts to carry their supplies?
I dont think so—none that weve found, anyway. Do you want it from our supplies?
No, give them the Achean stuff. Grab the cleanest packs from the Acheans you can find, one for each. Oh, and give them each an Achean sword. At least itll give them a chance.
But I thought—
They arent prisoners, Oriolas. If they prefer to travel on their own, I wont hinder them. Make sure theyre not bothered. Theyre your responsibility until theyve left the camp.
And what about the girl? He motioned at Phillipa.
Shes decided to stay with us. Ill take responsibility for her. Are the hunters back yet?
Hadurios brought back three deer. Theyre setting up the fire now.
Good. He stood there. Go!
He looked at the girl. But
Ive told you what to do. The girls my problem. Understood?
Yeah, Stephan, I understand.
I leaned down to him and whispered, Forget sex. If you tried to take her, youd rip her in half. So keep that crap out of your head.
He gulped, turned, and galloped off.
*The Illiad, by Homer; English translation by Edward, Earl of Derby