A Stallion in the Mist

 

Oblivious to the misty rain that was a frequent feature of the forest, Corin stood as still and silent as the ancient eucalypts that provided her cover. Her attention fixed entirely on the great black beast of a stallion that stood sniffing the air in a small clearing a few metres away. He could have been carved from ebony with his rain slicked coat and mane; steaming breath the only giveaway of life.
Could he smell her? Corin mused. It was not the first time she had spied the beast, nor the first time she had fancied taming him, but she had never been as close as she was now. Corin was famed among her clan for her ability with beasts; the few horses who worked in the service of her people had been lured from the wild by her — five mares and one young colt — a stallion would be a real coup. For the moment though, he was her secret, her treasure alone.
Corin knew from the tell that all horses had once been enslaved by men, many centuries ago, before the dark era that had driven her clan to the high plains. Did people still survive in the lowlands? Corin had no idea. According to the tell; the lowlanders were well on the way to annihilation at the time of her ancestors journey to a safe haven. None who had ventured from highlands in the intervening years had returned, what exactly that might mean was unclear, but the common wisdom was that to even venture into the trees was an act of foolishness. Corin's eccentric love for the thick forests on the slopes below her village had long been a subject of contention between her and her family; the status the horses brought had given her a little more freedom, but hardly enough for her liking.
Observing the stallion drove these thoughts from Corin's mind. They breathed the same rhythm; she even supposed her heart beating in time with his. Though the breeze was only slight, she was downwind and his aroma filled her nostrils. Corin knew his senses were sharper than hers, but she had the advantage of having bathed in an icy clear mountain stream that very morning. Cold never bothered Corin — no sense, no feeling, her mother observed — her mother said a lot of things like that. To further disguise her scent she had rubbed herself down with eucalypt leaves. It was true, no measure could drown out all human aroma, but the more she smelled like a tree, the less threatened the beast would be.
Feeling safe, the beast relaxed and began to graze on some sweet spring shoots, Corin silently moved away from her cover, if he looked up, he could see her, but for the moment he was more intent on filling his belly. Corin reached out to him with her mind — just lightly at first — the beast snorted but did not raise his head. Corin delved a little deeper — this was where it became tricky; too quick, he would spook and reject her; too slow and she might miss her chance. She found the place of his scent memory, that's the key, implant her own scent there — attach it to the emotion "friend".
Corin had been able to communicate with animals in this way since before she could speak in her human tongue. She had remained mute till after her second birthday, finally speaking to stop her mother from continually calling her a "backward pinhead". It was during one of her mother's diatribes against Corin at a women's council meeting, that she had approached her mother and asked if she might have something to eat. Corin remembered with some delight how it had then been her mother's turn to be mute. What was the point of baby talk; the point of speaking if no one could understand you? As it was, the shock of a previously mute two-year-old suddenly making an articulate request had stunned all the women into incomprehension. After a long silent minute Corin was forced to repeat her request. Even after this performance Corin had not been a chatty child. Her big dark serious eyes observed everything and unnerved her mother. Her father was more receptive.
Like everyone else on the high plains, he was a subsistence farmer, but he was also one of the few men who had a forge. His own father had trained him in the smithy skills that had been the family legacy from the time of the dark era. Metal itself was hard to come by, there were legends about how the ancients found iron under the earth, but the only metal Corin's people had access to was recycled from what their ancestors had brought with them. Corin's father had used some of that precious iron to fashion simple harness so the strongest mares could draw the plow he had also adapted. The use of horses over the last two seasons had given Corin's father much more time to work at his forge.
Her father was a man of few words. He enjoyed his daughter's company, appreciated her intuitive skill over the livestock and the way he never had to repeat instructions to her. His wife described them as peas in a pod.
Corin was as essential as the dogs at sheep roundups. With sheep, the only one she had to worry about was the head ewe, even the dominant ram follows her lead; having won the trust of that ewe, the sheep went exactly where Corin directed them.
Sheep were simpler than horses and the stallion; his mind was like nothing Corin had felt before. As soon as she reached into his scent memory she began to feel dizzy, he looked up from his grazing, eyes flashing white as they met with hers before rearing up and smashing into the forest and out of view. Corin knew she would never get a second chance and smiled.

 


cyndy kitt vogelsang 2004


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