by Bannwynn Oakshadow
©2007 Bannwynn Oakshadow
Nearly five hands of sheep drifted across the close-cropped hills like tiny clouds in a green sky. Above them, the copper dish of the sun baked the earth and infused it with the lethargy of summer. Pirros found no relief from the tedium of watching his flock in the music of his pipes. The shepherd boy set them down with a bored sigh as his eyes took in a vista grown all-too-familiar. Around him sharp-edged hills rolled and humped across the horizon with only the occasional steep bluff to break up the monotony of the view; a harsh landscape suitable only for sheep and goats and the shepherds who guarded them. Even the rare olive trees, dotting the hillsides, seemed too tired to produce more than a few small fruits. Still, they provided shade and a place for a shepherd to sit and play his pipes, as his charges decided what stupid thing they would try next in their endless attempts to kill themselves.
Today the sheep seemed restless, wandering a few steps for a brief nibble before wandering again. It mightve been the heat of the day or even the onset of estrus. With another sigh, Pirros rose and wandered closer to the animals. Even as he watched, Tarmus (his prize ram) stood behind one of the ewes, sniffing her hindquarters as she released a stream of urine. The heavy-horned ram curled his lip and raised his muzzle, testing her flow for a sense of her readiness for his attentions. He must have liked the message he tasted there, for he raised up behind her. In less than a single breath it was over and Tarmuss seed was deposited deep within the ewe who seemed scarcely to notice her mating.
Always it was like this. Days and weeks of smelling, testing and failed attempts for the ram and then a few days filled with dozens of matings, each over in but a heartbeat or two. Even the matings of sheep were boring.
Pirros heart clenched with envy for his elder brother, Iphitus. He being the oldest son, their parents spent what little wealth came from a lifetime of weaving cloth in an isolated village to buy him a better life. They managed to secure a position where living meant more than mere survival to the next season. He now tended the horses in the stable of a rich senator in the city of Gyurka, far away from empty fields and boring, stupid sheep. The middle son, Andros, guarded a flock of goats miles from where Pirros guarded his sheep. With little hope for a better tomorrow, the boy wandered a lonely hillside among the flock.
He thought of those magnificent horses Iphitus tended; so large and powerful, yet soft and gentle. Their coats so warm and sleek, shining in the sun, flowing like water over muscles bunching and rolling with each graceful movement, so unlike the tangled, dirty coats of sheep. The eyes of a horse so alive so expressive seeing, understanding, and wise. Pirros spat at the hoof of a nearby ewe, who stared at him blankly with her stupid, empty, sheepish eyes.
Iphitus took him to see the Senators horses race one year. As Pirros watched them, he yearned to be the one who flew across the green with the wind in his mane. He remembered his brother lifting him high in the air to straddle one of the mighty beasts in the yard behind the stables. He remembered the feel of the broad back, so warm between his thighs, and the rocking as his mount walked slowly around the yard. He could sense the animals amused tolerance of his death-grip on the silken mane.
The short ride, twice around the paddock, changed him. Reaching out a hand to stroke an expressive ear, he whispered kalos (beautiful) without being aware he was going to say it. To him, it seemed a horse embodied the best of what was in men, distilled to its most primal essence.
The horses aroused new feelings in him as well. He remembered his brothers grin as he led Pirros to a small building where a beautiful, white horse stood beside a strange fence blocking nothing, merely straddling five paces in the center of a dirt floor. He did not understand the purpose of the fence until a handler led in a large brown horse with a white nose. Pirros immediately recognized the horse from his ride. The brown danced and shook his head and tail, whinnying as he was led to the fence. The white nickered and kicked coyly. The stallion raised his head high, inhaling the scent of the mare; he bugled his challenge and love song. Their mating was not the rapid coupling of sheep. He watched the two lovers teasing and luring each other on. Watched as the mare was taken and filled by the stallion, and recognized the pleasures exchanged between the two as they danced the first dance of all living things.
When the visit was over, he returned to the life of a shepherd boy. He left grand estates and grander temples for a tiny village of farmers and weavers. The marvelous creatures his brother tended were traded for detested sheep, and even more detestable goats. His dreams were exchanged for winters spent carding wool and summers spent watching the flock, trapped by the very nature of his life. Poverty would keep him in his place.
He paused to pick up a handful of pellets freshly dropped by one of the ewes. He was examining them closely for strange seeds, to see if the sheep were been eating something they shouldnt, when he heard a sound alien to the remote expanses of the sheep meadows. Lost in his duties and his memories, it took him a moment to identify it. The sound, muffled and distant at first, grew steadily louder: The sound of hooves thudding on sun-baked ground where no horse should be. Draft horses sometimes pulled carts to his village, but even they were never seen where the flocks spent their summers. Only sheep and goats traveled freely there, and only the desperate or mad would gallop such a twisted terrain: The cracked ground could too easily break a horses leg. In spite of that, he couldnt help imagining what it must be like to fly like the wind with such a noble beast surging beneath him, and the whole world before them ready to be discovered.
Even as he wondered at their source, the hoofbeats grew fainter. Burning memories of the wondrous creaturesand a poorly understood longing for far horizonsoverrode caution and duty; Pirros leapt to his feet and ran towards the diminishing thunder, sending startled sheep scuttling out of his way as he tore through the flock in pursuit. Arms, legs, lungs and heart labored as he tried to determine which way the horses direction and followed as best he could.
Pirros ran for half an hour without sighting the creature, only the small chunks of dry, cracked earth thrown up by its hooves. He stopped running and sat down to catch his breath and bemoan this latest evidence of his bad luck. Something interesting finally happened, and he missed it! Such an event passing him by was even worse than nothing happening at all. Feeling even more miserable than before, he sat and dreamed of horses and of visiting faraway vistas.
He rose to his feet to return to his flock, certain the sheep wouldve wandered off in his absence. As he plodded back to the duty and drudgery defining his life, he wished he were a horse, strong and beautiful and free to run. Even the horses serving men as beasts of burden saw more of the world than he could ever hope to. His downcast eyes stared at the dark, wet splatters in the dusty soil at his feet without understanding, until he heard the distant scream. Though it was something he definitely never heard at the stables, he recognized the peal as the desperate cry of a horse: Its cause was some noble animals blood upon the ground.
For the second time, he turned his back on his flock and ran. The horse screamed again and, if hed the breath, Pirros would have screamed as well. Only an animal near death could make a sound so terrified, so empty. Not caring how fiercely his chest burned or his legs ached, he ranand, clearing a rise, he finally saw his goal.
The horse stood, head hanging almost to the ground and its sides heaving. Even from a distance, Pirros could see the poor creatures legs trembling and, as he watched, it stumbled and almost fell. A single glance at the twisted neck of the man lying on the ground and Pirros knew the fallen rider was beyond help. The foamy curds of sweat covering the front of the horse told the story of a fast race and a long one. The beast was a stallion; he remembered his brothers words concerning their uncertain temperament when surprised. He didnt want to approach from a direction the panicking horse would probably associate only with danger. Aching to reach the creature, but fearful of frightening it, he began speaking nonsense in a low and steady voice as he slowly circled the scene to approach from the front. As he moved, he saw arrows buried in the beasts flank and back. He wondered at the heart of a beast who could be so badly injured and yet continue to run. It was a struggle not to rush forward right then, but he forced himself to move slowly and keep speaking in low monotones.
Eventually, he was in front of the horse; now he approached the creature with outspread hands. The stallion lifted its head, staring for a moment with pain-dulled eyes, and then, clumsily, backed up with a frightened whinny. Pirros whimpered in frustration. Blood ran down the mounts left shoulder, and that foreleg nearly gave way as the frightened animal tried to retreat from this new threat. He couldnt get close enough without the horse hurting itself as it tried to keep away from him. Seeing the utter panic in its eyes, he couldnt bring himself to cause any more fear even if it was to help. Needing to help, he stared into those anguished pools as he spoke words of comfort. Whoever the attackers were, they were unlikely to give up their quarry and might arrive at any moment, but Pirros could neither bring himself to leave this creature in need nor could he torture the animal more by increasing its fear.
Pirros did the only thing he could think to do: He sat down. One arrow was sunk deep into the horses side; he doubted it would survive long without his aid. Since the animal wouldnt allow him to approach, he decided to try and earn its trust and see if it would come to him. What he said didnt matter; he hoped the sound of his voice would calm his charge. He spoke of his happiest memories. Staring into deep, brown eyes, he told of his visit to the stables.
It seemed to take forever, but eventually the horse took a tentative step towards him, its velvety nostrils flaring as it took in his scent. Pirros didnt react; he continued speaking of the feelings towards the horse changed him during his brief ride. While his voice told of a time long past, his eyes tried to convey the desperate yearning clenching its fist around his heart. When his story was finished, he couldnt think of anything more to say, and found himself whispering Sayapo. Se lian kalos. (I love you. You are so beautiful.)
His head dropped as sobs, long held in check, broke free.
A hoof scraped on the stony soil.
Warm breath whurfled his hair.
The horses nose brushed his cheek; he looked up into the face of what he could only describe as love. He couldnt have begun to explain it to another person, but he knew it to the very depths of his soul. He slowly stroked the nose and cheek and even smiled when the horse lipped his hair, as if testing its edibility. Rising slowly to his feet, he stroked and murmured to the horse. He examined the animal. The bronze, leaf-bladed head of the shaft in the stallions back was embedded in the saddle but failed to penetrate through the heavy leather. The wound in its shoulder looked serious, but not life-threatening; the arrow in the animals side worried him badly, though. It was deep, and at least one major organ was probably damaged by the weapon. He would need time to discover how serious the wound was. But he knew he couldnt afford to stay where he was for long, or the bowmen could arrive and finish both the job and Pirros as well.
He searched the saddlebags and the fallen rider, seeking tools to help him treat the horse. The riders broken neck was probably a blessing. He would have died soon anyways, but slower: One of the bronze-tipped missiles was buried deep in his lower back. He carried a gold hilted dagger, beautifully engraved, in his belt. Beside the dagger was a leather cylinder closed with a lead seal. Maybe hed been a messenger? Pirros took only the dagger. If his plan went well, no one would go seeking a horse wandering off after its rider fell.
Using the dagger and bandages he cut from a fine toga he found in the saddlebags, he began to treat the horse. In low tones he explained what he was about to do before each step and apologized for the pain he must inflict. His patient screamed when the arrow came free, and trembled and stamped as he packed the wounds. Several times he was forced to wait as the animal backed away or bit at him, but finally there was nothing left for him to do. He smiled when the horse seemed to forgive him for the pain with its eyes. Pirros left the saddle where it was, intending to remove it only when they were well away from the scene. He did undo the bridle, cringing when he saw how cruelly torn the sensitive mouth was. He tied the bridle and arrows to the saddle, and finally led the horse away.
He moved slowly, looking back to see if the stallion was following. He paused often to let his friend rest, and finally reached his camp with his weary, wounded patient in tow as the sun hovered on the horizon. He knew his sheep well: They were scattered somewhere beyond the meadow. As he scanned the area for them, something caught his eye. Only then did he recall tracking the horse in the first place, and looked back at the ground.
They were not obvious, but they were there for anyone who looked for them to see: Hoofprints and footprints in the dust. Panic gripped him for an instant until the horse snorted and he realized it was sensing his unease. Calming himself, he checked the horse to make sure it would be all right for the hour or so it would take him to do what was needed.
Pirros cut the saddle free with the dagger, leaving it where it lay, and turned to the stallion. He considered tying the horse to the tree, but instead led it by the stream to drink if it needed to. The shepherd promised to return as quickly as he could. He chuckled when the horse nodded as if in answer.
He cut a leafy branch with the dagger and left the blade by his crook and pipes. Dragging the branch behind him, he began running back over the horses trail. It took longer to travel this way and it was almost dark before he reached his destination.
The rider was still crumpled on the ground, after scanning the area for movement or suspicious looking shadows, Pirros dropped the branch and crept towards the body to see if it had been disturbed. As he neared the corpse, a burning fist slammed into his stomach and threw him to the ground. He tried to scream, but no sound would come. He tried to crawl but his arms and legs wouldnt move. Only pain let him know if he breathed at all. It took his utmost effort just to move his eyes and see the shadowy shapes drift into view, resolving themselves into hard-looking bearded men with swords and bows. As his vision dimmed, he found some relief from knowing the horse was safe.
What game have you bagged, Cirilo? Ah! Whats this? A beggar? No, it stinks of sheep.
One of the men laughed loudly, Good shooting, Cirilo! Youve brought down a shepherd for our dinner. You going to dress it or should I?
I told you those footprints were too small to be a mans. Weve wasted time hunting a mere boy! Get the arrow. It must be lucky since its the only one of yours to hit it
s mark today.
Hades take you! Not much time was lost. Youd barely started back on his trail when he up and came to us instead.
If youd shot true in the first place, the horse never wouldve run at all! We couldve been on the way back hours ago!
He felt rough hands roll him over, and a searing agony as the arrow was ripped from his flesh. The man standing over him merely grunted at the boys scream. Pirros felt the hot wash of blood pooling beneath him and tried to crawl away but couldnt move. The voices grew distant as darkness closed in around him.
Dead or good as. Nothing on him. What should I do with him?
Leave him. We have what we came for, the leader said, hefting the sealed cylinder. Lets get this back while itll still do some good.
One shook the riders purse as he finished stripping the corpse of its jewelry, saying, There could be more on the horse. We should look for it.
No. Theres no time. It couldve wandered for miles before dying. If were late, that pouch is all the pay well see. Lets go. Now!
Tracks went the same way as the boys. He couldve took him.
Then you shouldve thought before skewering him. Now, lets move!
The other two grumbled in protest, but the shepherd heard the sound of running footsteps heading off into the night. Shadows swept over his mind and took the world away.
Waking was a gradual process, full of pain and dreams. It seemed an eternity before Pirros was able to force his lungs to take in a full breath; an icy burn clenched his chest. He clung to the darkness, to the relief from the pain and fear, and sought to disappear into its numbing embrace again. The agony of trying to draw another breath faded as he slipped back beneath the surface of an endless sea. As he drifted, he felt something pull his hair and felt warm breath and velvety skin brush his cheek. He fought against the pull, wanting the escape from agony only the darkness could provide. Lips, soft as butterfly wings, tugged his hair and a frightened whicker called to him.
Finally, he opened his eyes and tried to smile at the horse and found himself alone, but for the stars and a corpse. He didnt remember getting to his feet, but found himself standing. He didnt remember taking a single step, but found himself walking. The pain was there, a blanket surrounding him, trapping him in each instant. He didnt remember the step just taken. Each new step before him was an impossibility until it, too, was behind him and forgotten. Several times he opened his eyes to find himself face down in the dirt or grass. Each time he knew he could not rise again. Each time a whicker in his mind drew him on.
It was dark when he found himself once again looking at the horse. Was it the same night, or one several days hence? He could not have said It didnt matter: He was dying. The horse was dying. He had failed.
The stallion was on the ground, lying on its side. It lifted its head at his approach and nickered softly as if in apology. The ground around the horse was soaked with blood, an injury Pirros didnt know how to treata great blood vessel cut open, deep inside the animal, was something the small skills of a shepherd boy could not staunch with mere bandages. Hed not been able to cry in his own pain and shock, but his tears now fell for the noble animal who would never again run free to feel the wind in its mane and the earth under its thundering hooves. He cried for men who could mar such beauty and not mourn its passing. He cried for the part of himself lying on the ground before him, and nickering its forgiveness.
He fell to his knees and barely felt his own mortal wound as he leaned forward and pressed his lips against the stallions in a kiss of absolution and benediction.
Because of him, his family was ruined. The sheep were scattered and wouldnt be gathered without him. His parents would lose what little they accrued during a lifetimes labors, and be forced into the care of his brother. They would never know what fate claimed their youngest son.
He had failed himself.
He smiled as he remembered that trip to the horses with his brother. At least hed been able to see something of the world besides village pastures, once, before he died.
He lay against the horse as they both shuddered in pain and wondered which of them would be first. He prayed for the stallion to go first; it should not have to die alone. As the warmth of the animal touched him and he felt the rise and fall of its chest against his back, a feeling of peace stole over him. He felt as if he were drifting, almost flying almost free.
A frightened whicker drew him back and he realized how close he drifted to the seductive embrace of the darkness. Not yet. He must hold on. His time would come, but not until his vigil was over.
His friend was dying and in pain. He knew only two ways to take such pain away. He could never bring himself to use the knife to speed the end of suffering, as hed been forced to do for many sheep over the years. There was only one thing he could do so he did it.
The pain ate into him as he dragged himself to his spot under the tree, and then back to the horse with his reed pipes in hand. Unable to remain seated on his own, he propped himself against the stallion, his back nestled against the powerful chest and shoulder. Though he pressed upon the shoulder wounded by the arrow, he knew it was important for he and the horse to feel one another as he played.
The first notes were nearly silent and ragged. A whisper of a wail. Then, as he looked into the pain-clouded eyes of the stallion, his lungs filled and the mellow sound of his reeds rose again towards the moon for one last dance. Fingers trembled almost too much to even hold the pipes, and then steadied, and the notes began to grow one upon another.
He did not play a parting, for it was not farewell; the journey they were about to impart on would be made together. Instead, he played the stallion. He used his song to build a picture of how he saw a creature that was the living embodiment of everything he ever wished to find in himself.
He played of coat turned copper in an evening sun. Of a mane flowing like a mountain stream dancing down a hill. He played of hooves thundering over the meadows, throwing clods of verdant earth to shower down in their wake. Of a deep chest sucking in the wind and blowing it out in a snorting breath of disdain for all who did not run and dance with the wind. He played of clashing battles between masters of earth. Of fiercely screamed challenge and flying hooves and teeth. He played the slow drop of ultimate virility from between powerful thighs and its sheathing in life. The wet splendor of a newborn foal as it rose on wobbly legs. The quiet comfort of a herd at rest. His song was the slow swish of a tail brushing away lazy flies. He played the fresh, earthy smell of dung returning in homage to the earth. On and on he played of rolling in green grass under a gentle sun.
In his playing, he ceased to merely play and became the song. In becoming the song that was the stallion, he touched the stallion and became what he touched. And in so becoming, he knew what it was to be free.
In the night his song was echoed.
As he heard anothers song merging with the music of reeds, he returned to who he was and where and why. He looked at the horse, and in the stallions eyes saw life and love staring back at him. Where once there was fear, now there was peace. Eyes, once full of pain, now sagged with weariness instead. And so he played on, letting the echo draw near to join his song in easing the passing of his friend. His own wound was no longer agony; it was a dull ache, its sharp edges blunted by the approach of his own demise. Panic made way to calm acceptance. Satisfaction at having eased the path for his friend replaced fear of death. Another song joining his was only noticed because it helped him to help the stallion. And so he played on.
The unseen player moved slowly to join them, his footfalls like the staccato clip-clop of gentle hoofbeats. He stepped into the moonlight to squat before the shepherd boy, pipes upon his lips his inhuman lips.
Perhaps Pirros shouldve been startled to find himself playing his pipes with a satyr under a summer moon as he lay bleeding to death, beside a dying horse? Perhaps he would have been, but part of him was still in the song. The song was the stallion, and the stallion was strength. Strength lifted Pirros above fear. When one is waiting for death, what matter when legends come to life?
The satyrs song danced about his own and became the wind in his mane, and the earth under his hooves. It became his challenger and then the heat into which he sank his seed. The dancing notes were a mothers urging nose and the warm rush of milk down a hungry throat. The satyrs song was sun and rain.
No signal was given, no sign. But both lowered their pipes as one, for they knew that while the music was over, the song would resound eternally.
Who are you, child of man, who can call to me so with your song?
Pirros stared silently at the satyr for a while; not from fear or lack of an answer, but because part of him was still the stallion and it was a struggle to recall that he was also a man. It took a moment to recover the power of speech.
The figure before him could have stepped from the mosaics in the temple of Bacchus. Small horns grew from his head over bright, merry eyes. A mouth, wide and surrounded by the wrinkles of laughter, grinned at him, while pointed ears twitched as if still listening to the song they no longer played. The satyr possessed the torso and arms of a young man, lithe and strong; haunches and legs of a goat, fur curly and looking soft as down. A short, stubby tail flipped and wagged as if with a mind of its own. Cloven hooves jerked as if on the verge of dancing to a tune Pirros couldnt hear.
Finally he recalled his voice, saying, I am no one. A shepherd boy. Pirros, son of Vasyl the weaver. This is my friend. I dont know his name. Were dying. In returning to himself, he also returned to his pain, and to a coldness reaching deep inside of him. He mustered the last of his strength to lift his head and look into the eyes of his guest.
You are many things for no one, good Pirros! You are shepherd; son; horse friend; musician; alive; dying. There are a great many things you are, and more you might be. So why, then, do you die?
Pirros shivered. His legs were numb; somehow, it didnt matter. Under his back, the stallions chest rose and fell unevenly; the horses shallow, labored breaths rattled wetly in its throat. This didnt disturb the shepherd either. He merely acknowledged his impending journey to the river Styx and beyond. I die, because I was foolish. He dies, because I cannot save him.
The satyr smiled wryly at him. As if he saw nothing odd in chatting with a dying mortal. He snorted, So you think mere knowledge will give you the skill to do what only the gods can do? Your friends wounds were beyond the reach of mortal healing before you ever set eye upon him. He says his name is Agenor, and he names you friend, as well. He tells me of being healed by you: Youve taken away his fear and his pain.
Pirros felt his throat close tight and his eyes fill with tears at the sound of his friends name, Sayapo, Agenor, he whispered.
The satyr nodded. He knows.
Pirross mouth was dry and he struggled to wet his lips and tongue. He knew there was little time left to him; he desperately needed to make a request, and didnt think he would be able to speak again. Turning back to his strange guest, he managed a hoarse whisper, The legends tell of satyrs doing many wondrous things of your folk having a bond with beasts of wood and field. Can you do what I could not and save his life?
The satyr didnt answer but asked instead for wine, seeming to assume that there must be some around.
The shepherd managed to lift his hand and gesture towards the saddle and bags under the tree.
I thank you, noble host. Do not trouble yourself to rise; I will retrieve it. Wine eases the way for such weighty matters as what you request.
Pirros waited, resting his cheek on the neck of the stallion and whispering his name over and over again. In a moment the satyr was again seated before him, with the skin upended and wine running down his chin and chest as he drank lustily.
Ah, a fine vintage indeed! I thank you. And then the satyrs smile faded, as he waxed serious once more. Yes, I could save him. Or you. But the cost would be very high, and only one of you could I save. I would not even tell you this, but your hospitality deserves an answer. And an honest one, which your heart, your song and your friend all show you deserve.
Pirross heart leapt with joy: Oh then, I beg you! Please save Agenor. But what came out was less than a whisper, failing to reach even his own ears. His heart fell. Even the strength to ask for his friends life fled as the darkness grew closer.
The satyr seemed to see his hosts distress for the first time, and offered him the skin. When the boy was unable to even lift his hand to receive it, the satyr moved to hold the bota to his lips and dribble a drop at a time into the shepherds mouth. The wine revived the youth a bit; at length, he was able to hold the skin on his own and continued letting the sweet vintage trickle down his throat. He felt the wine like tiny bubbles or the humming of bees moving through his veins, and began to feel warm again. Even his legs tingled, though he couldnt feel his own hand resting on his thigh.
His stomach would accept but a few swallows; he tried again to speak. Nodding towards the satyr, he asked, Who?
The godling inclined his head indulgently. You may call me Syrinx, if it please you.
Pirros smiled, as the satyr named himself for the pipes they both played. He nodded at Agenor and laid a trembling hand on the raw wound in the stallions side. Tears in his eyes, he pleaded, Please.
And why Agenor, when such a request means your own death?
The wine seemed to have lent him some strength, and he managed to answer his guest even as Syrinx retrieved the bota and nursed at it as eagerly as a lamb at the teat. To Pirros, there was but one choice: Look at him. Look and see him as he was this morning. Shining, strong, full of life. See him dancing in a meadow as his heart lifts him, until it seems his weight isnt enough to hold him to the ground. See what his tomorrow
s will be if he lives. Watch him running over these hills and the ones after these. To him, each hill isnt an obstacle, but an opportunity to see what comes after it. See the mares he will cover, and the beautiful children he will sire if tonight doesnt see his passing.
And then look at me. I am a shepherd son of peasant weavers. If I survive, someday I will be a peasant weaver, with peasant sons to tend the grandchildren of this flock; trying to avoid starvation for another year. I find no joy in the life I lead. My parents will suffer at my passing, but they were able to purchase my brother a better life than theirs; he will be able to support them. I have duties, but cannot find in those duties enough reason to trade my life for his. The world will not be lessened by my absence. Life to me isnt living, its surviving and doing what I must. Im not great or beautiful. Anything wondrous I might hope to find in myself is already here before you in Agenor.
His impassioned response drained what little strength the wine imparted. Again, he collapsed against Agenor. Silently he wept for the mother and father who would never hear his goodbyes. He knew they would never understand why his choice was the only one he couldve made, and prayed to his brother to keep them well.
Syrinx appeared to be considering his words, then upended the wine skin once again, his throat bobbing as he swallowed lustily. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he handed the skin to Pirros, saying: Drink with me, while I tell you what friend Agenor said of you.
Pirros took the skin and was surprised to find it nearly full. After Syrinxs many great draughts on it, the bota should have been drained nearly to the dregs. Not understanding, but too far gone to question, he drank and found himself swallowing as fast as he could, rivulets running from his mouth and down his chin. The wine was sweet and light, and it filled him with warmth and sang in his veins. Lowering the bag, he poured a measure into his cupped palm and held it before Agenors lips. The muzzle moved to suck the offering from his hand. Pirros repeated this offering, again and again, until the horse seemed content. Turning back to his unusual guest, he found the satyr sitting with a patient smile on his face as he watched the two. Blushing, Pirros handed the strangely full bota back to Syrinx and gave him his attention.
The satyr took another drink before continuing, Your friend tells me of one who drew him out of pain and fear. One whose quiet words and gentle strength became a shield against agony and terror. One whose gentle hands imparted trust and understanding. One who put a stranger before duty, and a friend before his own life. One mortally struck in service to another, but offering comfort instead of regret or accusation. He sees in you the warmth of the sun, and in your song the joy of life. He believes your passing would wound the world.
So you see my difficulty: Each of you would save the other. Still, you are the one whose sacrifice is greatest, and so yours will be the decision. Does your friend rise again to live as you would? Do you, to meet your duty to your family? Or do you travel together this night, leaving the world wounded doubly over your passing?
His hand lay on Agenors neck and he felt the pulse of his friends heart beneath his fingers. Looking into the horses eyes he begged forgiveness as he answered, I ask what I desired before: Heal my friend. I couldnt live should I choose to let him die in my stead, and I wont rob the world of him from fear of dying alone.
So be it. And what do you offer to pay the price the gods demand?
Were I not dying, I would give myself. Was the flock not scattered and lost, I would offer Tarmus, a fine ram in his prime. I have a jeweled dagger, but it belongs to Agenors dead master, so I may not offer it as a sacrifice. Though in any case, its yours if you like it. So I offer the only sacrifice properly mine to give: My pipes.
The satyr touched his fingers to his groin and the bota. By The Grape and The Vine: So shall it be! Though I accept your second offer, and will not take your pipes. Tarmus the ram shall well repay the gods for the work of this night. So saying, he put his pipes to his lips and played a tune that pulled at Pirros; within moments, they heard the bleats and bells as his flock ambled from the hills to gather around them.
The wine made his mind cloudy and the world began to spin around him. While his mouth could still form words, he asked Syrinx to protect his flock until his father came to gather the sheep and his son and return them home. The satyr somberly agreed.
When his lips could no longer speak, they smiled, and with his eyes, he said goodbye to Agenor.
Sunlight filtered through the leaves overhead to dapple his skin and join with the warm breeze to draw him from his slumber. Rough bark pressed against his face and his side where he leaned against a tree in sleep. As he lifted his head and opened his eyes on the world, he slowly came to himself in wonder. As memory pushed aside the veils of sleep, he recalled the events of the previous night and thought maybe Syrinx had lied and healed him instead. He looked but saw no dead horse, no blood nor any sign of the nights events. He didnt even consider that the previous night mightve been a dream.
He struggled to stand but couldnt get his legs to obey. Panic threatened until a familiar voice in his head said, «Gently, friend. Let me show you how.» Though the voice was one never heard before, he recognized it as Agenors.
Feeling as if he were on the heaving deck of a ship, he felt himself sway and rise. Looking down he watched as his four brown-furred legs unfolded to lift him to his feet. Stretching around he looked upon himself and raised his voice in joyous laughter. He was whole and well and, from the waist up, himself. At his hips, his tanned skin gave way to a powerful brown chest and further to thin legs ending in shiny black hooves. Behind him stretched the magnificent body of the horse. He heard a chuckle inside himself and watched as his tail flicked this way and that, and felt his haunches rise up and his hind legs flail at the air for the sheer joy of it.
He touched himself in wonderment and whispered, Sayapo, Agenor.
A voice deep inside echoed: «Sayapo, Pirros.»
At first slow and stumbling, and then with growing surety and grace, he and his friend learned to walk together and then to run. And he, once the shepherd boy, Pirros, finally knew what it was to thunder across a meadow with the wind in his hair and the sun on his back.
He stayed with his flock through the summer, tending them was little different from before, and if the sheep even noticed their caretakers transformation, they offered no objection. Through the summer, satyrs came to drink and dance and play their pipes with him. He never saw Syrinx again and suspected it was Pan himself who visited him that night. When he asked the other satyrs about it, they would laugh and wink and answer him not.
The sheep grew fat and content. There was no longer a ram to cover them in their season but the lustful satyrs happily coupled with his flock when the moon was bright, the wine flowed and the pipes played. As the ewes grew heavy with their lambs, Pirros knew this, too, was a gift from Pan. The lambs would have wool as soft as silk and fine as fog, and his parents would be well without their shepherd son.
When his father arrived to take him and his flock home, he hid behind a hill and watched. The weaver found his sheep well and happy and each one heavy in pregnancy, though there was no sign of his ram. Under a large olive tree he found his sons folded tunic, and upon it his crook. He looked around the meadow and saw the boy. With a smile of relief he walked towards him, and then fell to his knees as Pirros stepped fully into view. Moments later he found himself wrapped in the sobbing embrace of what was still his son.
The two spoke long into the night as Pirros/Agenor told their story, and the old man came to see the gift before him. The centaur gave his father the dagger of gold, bidding him use it to replace his ram; to hire boys to watch his flock; and to purchase dogs to guard them. He told of the lambs to come and of the wool his parents would soon spin. Before the sun rose, his father joined him in giving thanks to Pan.
Together they herded to sheep home to his village, though home no more. The centaur remained hidden in the hills just beyond. In time his father brought his mother out to him, her eyes full of tears, but a loving smile upon her lips. With her she brought out her finest wool blanket. She draped it across his back before giving him a kiss that bade him good journey rather than goodbye.
With a bittersweet smile, he turned his back on his past and looked at a far-off hill. He raised his pipes to his lips and wondered what was beyond the horizon. He began to gallop.
And as he ran, he played