by Michæl W. Bard
©2009 Michæl W. Bard

Prologue -=- Chapter 1 -=- Chapter 2 -=- Chapter 3 -=- Chapter 4 -=- Chapter 5 -=- Chapter 6 -=- Chapter 7 -=- Chapter 8 -=- Epilogue

Home -=- #22 -=- ANTHRO #22 Stories
-= ANTHRO =-

Chapter 28
-= 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, they’d 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 I’d 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; I’d 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 I’d saved while I crossed the grasslands for a pair of mares. They’d allow me to travel faster, and they’d provide some company.
   The exchange took far longer than it really should have. The first candidate mares bucked and held back; I didn’t 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 they’d 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 wouldn’t say anything else, and I didn’t want to speak to them with the proto-Scythians around. It was only the next day, after I’d 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 don’t know who you’re talking about.” It wasn’t denial; I really didn’t know…
   And then Raparthax’s 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 don’t know what you’re 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 can’t be… Right in front of me were two forms, ghostly, transparent. Horse spirits. All that was left of Sauliux and Modyexa. I remembered what I’d done to them: I remembered snapping Sauliux’s leg, and then cracking her skull. I remembered snapping Modyexa’s leg.
   I sobbed into my hands.
   All the wrongs I’d 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 who’d stood by me through so much, had paid the price.
   And I’d 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 I’d betrayed.
   Why? They both wanted to know. Why? Anarcharax had stayed behind to nurse the child Chiron, and they’d never seen her again. They wanted to know why. But most of all, they wanted to know why I’d wronged them.
   They didn’t understand.
   They’d trusted me and I’d 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 god’s son. The soft velvety feel of the child’s flesh as they licked it clean. The warmth and love and respect they’d 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.
   They’d 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 tribe’s 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 I’d 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.
   “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “So, so sorry…”
   I don’t know why, but their spirits forgave me. In my head they said that now they understood; they knew I wasn’t 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 they’d been. But they were there, a source of toneless warmth and love that would never leave me.
   They’re still here…
   Anyway, that’s 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.

Chapter 29
-= 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 can’t be…” he said dubiously.
   “What can’t be?”
   “We have tales of a great warrior like you, but he couldn’t talk. And he left us when we needed him most!”
   Did I want to admit to being the madman who’d 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. I’m 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 shouldn’t I just kill you now? You’ve been following us!”
   I looked at him; he calmly ignored the mares as they bared their teeth. “Kill me? You haven’t the skill. And I’ve 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. He’ll 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 don’t 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 harm’s 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 wasn’t 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 we’d 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. I’d 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 couldn’t 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 one’s 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! It’s 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 I’d seen, trotted forward and helped the old one away.
   “Why’d 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 horse’s body. It was not the only scar—just the biggest.
   “So--the great warrior has returned.”
   The bay who’d met me spoke up: “He’s the one who’s been following us, Gryneos. I led him here because I thought you’d want to see him.”
   “Doesn’t look like much, does he?” Gryneos asked. “Deformed. Can’t gallop. Useless. He deserves death.”
   The muttering grew uglier.
   It seemed that all they respected was strength and age. I didn’t 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 can’t be the legend. Just look at him! He’s 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 you’re 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 can’t interfere.”
   “Oh, my! How noble! The big, brave monster won’t let his food interfere.” The sarcasm and hatred rolled off each syllable.
   Why was he forcing a confrontation? Still, if he wanted one, Ixion’s 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? You’re 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 didn’t have a spear, and I couldn’t bring Apollo’s bow to bear at this range. And as I’d 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 he’d 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 father’s sword, lost in the Black Sea so long ago. The sudden recognition didn’t 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, it’s far less useful than a sword. Dimly I could hear the crowd jeering at me, but though I was angry, I wasn’t 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 javelin’s 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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. Ixion’s blood overpowered sanity. I’d have one chance—
   Without any warning, he suddenly leapt into a gallop and shoved his body on top of mine. His sword hadn’t 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 father’s sword from where it quivered in the ground, point buried.
   All around was silence.
   “I claim the herd!” I don’t know where that came from, possibly the mares that shared my mind.
   There was muttering, and then the bay who’d 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 I’d have them, no matter the cost. “If my legs are the problem, then watch!”
   With that I walked over to Gryneos’ body. He wasn’t 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, you’ll get a true blood!” I screamed out.
   And with that I reared up, holding my father’s 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 didn’t 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 father’s 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.

Chapter 30
-= 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t keep trying to put my ankles down on the ground. Raparthax and Philyanax followed behind me, staying close.
   The bay who’d 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 didn’t 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 don’t have water.”
   I closed my eyes. They didn’t 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. “What’s your name?”
   “Doryalos, where are the women and the children?”
   “They’re dead.”
   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 didn’t.
   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, I’ll kill them.”
   A single flinch went through those listening.
   Turning, they fled. All except Doryalos.
   I looked at him. “You don’t have any?”
   “I did,” he swallowed, “until you…” He pointed downwards.
   “Well then, you’re the first to enter the new order.”
   “I’ll tell everybody when they’re 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.”
   “It’s past now.” Chiron’s 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 who’d recognized me, had wine. They were all scarred, tired, dejected. Most had white in their mane and tail, but all except the one who’d 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? I’ll tell you what you’ve 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! It’s wine that’s done this! Wine defeated you, where the Lapiths ouldn’t!”
   The muttering was getting ugly. I didn’t care. Maybe I’d read too much of the classics in school, but I refused to let the race I’d 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 sot’s 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 Apollo’s 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 didn’t 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.

Chapter 31
-= 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. I’d 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 I’d shot in his human half, I couldn’t do anything for.
   I’d turned back to watch the dying fire, when a flame slowly fell from the heavens and landed. It was the two flaming horses pulling Apollo’s chariot, and Apollo. Appearing beside me, Raparthax and Philyanax snorted at the two flaming horses who didn’t react.
   “I see you’ve 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 I’d caused… The centaur I’d thrown had died before I could get to him. I’d 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 don’t 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! I’ll 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. I’d have preferred to deliver it in a flash and a celebration, but that isn’t 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 return’d;
The bellows then directing to the fire,
He bade them work; through twenty pipes at once
Forthwith they pour’d their diverse-temper’d blasts;
Now briskly seconding his eager haste,
Now at his will, and as the work requir’d.
The stubborn brass, and tin, and precious gold,
And silver, first he melted in the fire,
Then on its stand his weighty anvil plac’d;
And with one hand the hammer’s pond’rous weight
He wielded, while the other grasp’d the tongs*

   The first thing I picked up was the shield. It wasn’t as complex as the one described in the Illiad—not even close. It wasn’t 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 wasn’t. 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 forg’d
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 Homer’s 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 horse’s 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 horse’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 scabbard’s 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 don’t know what to say.”
   “It’s 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 you’re 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 father’s sword.”
   I shook my head. Of course the gods would have known of my preference, my obligation, to use my father’s sword. “Thank you.”

Chapter 32
-= 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 that’s 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 didn’t 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 I’d healed. “I can break your legs, hunt you down, shove a javelin through your heart. And you know what? You won’t die. You’ll feel pain—by the Gods, you’ll feel pain! And when I think you’ve 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, who’d been quiet, who hadn’t 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. You’ll hate me, by Zeus you’ll 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 who’d fled.
   I would save them. Whatever it took, I would save all of them.

Chapter 33
-= 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 don’t think I was completely sane after all I’d done to win them. I don’t 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.
   I’d discovered that the centaurs carried heavy thrusting spears, and a few had daggers or knives in addition. As soon as we’d 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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t hope to stop any of the major Greek heroes, but at least generic troops wouldn’t 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: I’d lead our single close-combat unit, whilst the rest of the centaurs were the missile skirmishers.
   Don’t think I’m a tactical genius or anything; I’m just well-informed. I picked up some from the Scythians, but most if it came from my youth as a human. I’d 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 I’d studied so often, except for those involving the Illiad and the Odyssey—in this place, those hadn’t 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 we’d use in combat. I’d already made Thaumos (the old centaur who’d recognized me) the herd’s ‘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 I’d 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 he’d finished I told him, “Tell Ularius to approach the smoke cautiously. I’m bringing the rest of the herd up. Go!”
   Amycos turned and galloped back the way he came.
   “Acheans?” Doryalos asked. He still didn’t 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. We’ll use them for a fallback position. When that’s done, form the rest up by unit. I want Orios and Hodites to advance in front.”
   “Suppose there’s 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 I’d 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 didn’t 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. I’d set the scouts about an hour’s 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 it’s a small raid on a settlement. The raiders were gone before he arrived, the cowards. He couldn’t 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 wouldn’t be expecting trouble, and they’d already be exhausted from combat and from carrying their booty. “Amycos, tell Ularius to go after them, but to try and remain unnoticed. I’m 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 they’re Acheans? If we’re going to help this Illium, we don’t want to attack them—”
   “Illium controls this part of the world. Why would they burn their own settlement? Besides, I’ll have a better idea when I see their armour.”
   Or at least I hoped I’d have a better idea. Some historical theories had the Trojans as just another Greek city-state. If that was the case, then they’d be equipped the same. Regardless, it just didn’t 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…”
   “How many?”
   “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.
   “We’re the bait. As they approach, we’ll withdraw, staying out of range until the archers engage. Then we’ll approach and charge, on my order.”
   Doryalos motioned around and lowered his voice. “They won’t want to fall back.”
   I raised my voice. “They will. The first one who breaks ranks, I’ll kill!”
   Turning away, I looked into the sunset. I could barely make out a haze of dust rising in the distance.

Chapter 34
-= 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 couldn’t think of a way to avoid it. Stupid!
   If I circled around, they’d turn… But at least the sun wouldn’t 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! There’ll 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! I’d forgotten the horses!
   I galloped towards the four chariots still charging towards me. Orios’ group appeared in the distance, and I knew they’d 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 weren’t 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 on’t 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 I’d 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 chariot’s 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 they’d 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 warrior’s eye, and dragged him across the ground until the Achean’s 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 father’s 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, I’d 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 didn’t want to be here doing this. But my blood was high, and the rage of Ixion filled me! I didn’t speak; instead, I screamed and leapt towards him, my sword raised above my head, my shield held in front of me.
   He didn’t 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 father’s 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 helmet’s 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. “You’re not… not like… Chiron. Like… like the… rest. I…” He coughed, spraying blood up and onto my chest as I’d lain down to hear him as my wounds healed. “I… I’m glad he can’t,” 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.
   I’d thought of the rest of the centaurs as barbarians. But… was I any better?

Chapter 35
-= 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. I’ll 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 shouldn’t be a problem.”
   “Stephan, they won’t—”
   “I don’t care! If we’re 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?”
   “Yes, but—”
   “I don’t 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 hadn’t 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 figure’s 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 couldn’t 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. He’d visited it during the night and it hadn’t moved. My guess is, the Acheans assumed the pyre was for Trojans and was set by their own chariots. They’d 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 he’d only gone close enough to make sure that the camp hadn’t moved from when he’d 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! It’ll 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. They’ve 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 we’d 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. “They’re 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 we’d need over six thousand centaurs to have the same advantage, and even then we’d 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, Peukadia’s and Nedymnos’ skirmishers, would advance on the Acheans from the east and south respectively, firing arrows as they moved; they’d fall back if the Acheans advanced. Meanwhile, we’d hold my unit and the elite skirmishers in reserve. If these Acheans used the same battle plans as their historical counterparts, they’d have their archers in the rear, with javelin-and-bow-armed skirmishers advancing from their front rank to drive us off. I’d 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, I’d 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 weren’t enough of us left to take any risks we could avoid.
   My signal to begin the attack would be drawing my sword and advancing. I’d 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 wasn’t 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 I’d 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.
   I’d 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, I’m going to take ten with me—we’ll break their lights on the slope and hit them in the rear. I need you to stay with the rest here. Be visible, but don’t take risks! When I’m in contact with their rear, and not before then, you advance. Don’t go for prepared spears; look a flank, or a disordered section. Do you understand?”
   “I’m going with—!”
   “Doryalos, I’m taking the three who are now armoured, myself, and the seven best. I need the armour for a front rank. If you had some, I’d take you. But you don’t, so I need you here!”
   He motioned around at the mares. “You’re taking them.”
   “Only because I can’t keep them away.”
   “You’re taking all the glor—”
   “No, I’m not! I’m the best one for the initial assault, and you know it! There’ll be more than enough for you, fear not.”
   “You’re in direct charge of Orios, Hodites, Peukadia and Nedymnos. Don’t you dare send them into the ordered ranks! If you do, I’ll kill you, unless you die first. Do you understand!?”
   “Yes, but—”
   “No Ares-damned ‘but’s! All we’ve got now is a battle of attrition, and it’s possible that there might be more Acheans on the way. We do not have time for this! Do what I’ve 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 didn’t take long until he backed down from the challenge.
   “We’ll do it your way.”
   “Good. Be ready—there won’t be a signal other than my charge. Watch for it!”
   “Yes, Stephan.”
   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 weren’t 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 I’d need them. Two I sent ahead of me to alert Cyllaros and Rhoetus. Now I wish I had somebody else there. I’d put them there to try and keep them from assaulting, but now…
   It didn’t 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 I’ll 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 I’ve 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. I’m putting you in charge of Rhoetus for now. Go with him and set this up. Send a messenger when you’re ready. We’ll 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 I’d drilled them. Taking the chariots down had been easy and uncomplicated; now I’d see if they’d learned anything. If they had, we’d win. If not, then they’d 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, you’re beside me and the mares.” They were the armoured ones. I knew the mares wouldn’t leave me, and I didn’t even try to ask them. “The rest stay behind. Be careful on the slope, we’ll need to spread out. Once we’re on it, don’t stop for anything. If I go down, then keep going! Form!”
   We formed up. I wished I’d had a chance to train them to form a wedge, but there just hadn’t been time…
   “Epheklas, tell Cyllaros we’re ready. We’ll 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 who’d died yesterday. “Tell Cyllaros we’re ready. He can set the pace, we’ll follow. The instance he starts to fall back, we’ll 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t stop if I’d wanted to, and I heard more than saw Melaneos go down when he tripped and slid on a patch of rounded stones. Fortunately he wasn’t 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 Ixion’s 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 father’s 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.

Chapter 36
-= Trojans =-

   As the Acheans broke, it was I who led the pursuit against them. They’d 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 didn’t 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 he’d struck at and he recognized me. “What are you doing!?”
   “Saving us!”
   “They’re 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, they’ll 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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t help. It wasn’t until close to noon that things settled down.
   I was exhausted, and so was everybody else. We’d had next to no sleep all night, and we’d 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. He’s back now, and Amlaneos and his squad are patrolling the outskirts. I found Cyllaros, he’s 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. You’re 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, I’d 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 hadn’t 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 wouldn’t let him and helped him work the knots loose. Together we managed to get it all off. I didn’t 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 horse’s 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, “I’m fine,” and then he yawned too.
   “Get some rest, Isoples. I’ve 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 don’t think they like us. Every time I’ve tried to talk to them, they just back away.”
   “It’s my problem now. Go and sleep.”
   He looked me up and down. “You’re 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 I’d 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, we’ve come to fight for you.”
   They just glared at me.
   That was when I realized that they hadn’t even been untied yet! Somebody was going to… No, wait; the others probably couldn’t 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 we’d never had any time to smoke anything.
   He stopped in front of me and handed them over.
   “Lycotos, go see who’s 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, they’re to get back here at once. Got that?”
   “Yup. Don’t worry about it, Doryalos sent out hunting parties before he woke you up.”
   “At least somebody’s on the ball here. Get back to work, then. If anybody’s looking for me, tell them I don’t want to be disturbed until the fresh meat is ready to eat. Got that?”
   “Got it.”
   “Go, then.”
   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 don’t 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 didn’t take long after that.
   As they freed themselves and then shared the water, I examined them. There weren’t 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 they’d all untied themselves and shared the water, I’d finished the meat.
   “Do you trust me enough to talk yet?”
   The oldest male, the one who’d gone for the dagger, stood up and tried to brush the dirt from his clothes. “What are you going to do with us?”
   “I’m 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?”
   “We’ll kill them!” the youngest male answered.
   “You?” I took a few steps forward. “All fifteen of you!? All you’ve 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?”
   “It’s 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. They’d probably disbelieve me, like they’ll disbelieve Cassandra. “That’s for Hector and Priam to decide. If you want to go on your own, I’ll give you enough supplies to reach the city. We’ll be behind you, but if you run into trouble, I doubt we’ll be close enough to save you. We will try to avenge you if we can.”
   A female voice burst out: “Oh, let’s just go with them! What can they do to us that hasn’t already been done? If they try rape, they’ll rip us apart in the act!”
   “Phillipa! Don’t even think that! Ctesippus wouldn’t let his men—”
   “Because he wanted us for his own! You’ve heard about their camp, what those monsters Achilles and Agamemnon do!”
   “At least they’re men! These are drunken monsters!”
   “That’s a poor excuse, and you know it! Do as you please; I’m staying with the only people who’ve 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, don’t—”
   She spun around, her long hair whipping through the air. “Mother, I’m making my own way! Look at us, by the goddess! Just look at us! We’ve nothing left! These centaurs are our only hope.”
   “They’re our death!” the eldest male burst out.
   “They’ve shown us nothing but decency!” She ripped herself from her mother’s 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: I’ll give each of you a week’s rations from the Acheans’ supplies. Will one waterskin apiece be enough?”
   “You’ll 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 week’s worth of rations. Did the Acheans have any beasts to carry their supplies?”
   “I don’t think so—none that we’ve 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 it’ll give them a chance.”
   “But I thought—”
   “They aren’t prisoners, Oriolas. If they prefer to travel on their own, I won’t hinder them. Make sure they’re not bothered. They’re your responsibility until they’ve left the camp.”
   “And what about the girl?” He motioned at Phillipa.
   “She’s decided to stay with us. I’ll take responsibility for her. Are the hunters back yet?”
   “Hadurios brought back three deer. They’re setting up the fire now.”
   “Good.” He stood there. “Go!”
   He looked at the girl. “But…”
   “I’ve told you what to do. The girl’s my problem. Understood?”
   “Yeah, Stephan, I understand.”
   I leaned down to him and whispered, “Forget sex. If you tried to take her, you’d 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

Prologue -=- Chapter 1 -=- Chapter 2 -=- Chapter 3 -=- Chapter 4 -=- Chapter 5 -=- Chapter 6 -=- Chapter 7 -=- Chapter 8 -=- Epilogue

Home -=- #22 -=- ANTHRO #22 Stories
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