Mysterious – Writing Competition

Mysterious Woman – Photography by Princess Melanie

What was going on in this photo? Community members were asked to write a story to explain the circumstances surrounding the scene. The entries will be presented in August 2019.

Walk On

AL – Gendarme and Security Officer – Ville de Coeur

The cold mist slowly drifted along the cobbled street, the faint sound of crashing waves against rocks in the background. In the distance, the faint flickering lights of the local town glowed a soft pale hue as the full moon threw her eerie shadows over the buildings.

Astride her Silver grey, she paused briefly to look back at the place she once hoped to call home.

“Walk on” she gently cooed to the horse. Almost serenely, her head half lowered, the mare resumed her slow trot as if trying to tip toe on the noisy cobbles under her feet.

Wearing little more than her underwear, a lace mask and her riding cape, her mind wandered back to the events past that led up to where she now found herself.

An only child of a wealthy family, she was expected to marry one of the local lords in her area.

Phillipe was handsome, and rich, and she thought was madly in love with her. He would give her gifts and treat her to everything he wanted. When he proposed, her world was complete……

He had arranged a masked ball for the wedding as a surprise, but the surprise wasn’t the masked ball. Lady Marguerite got the first dance. Lady Channel got the second. Mademoiselle Cherie got the third, and so it continued. When she asked a servant to go and point out which masked lady she was, Phillipe just pushed him away and continued dancing.

Realising how stupid she had been, she quietly slipped out and headed straight to the stables.

Tearing the beautiful ballgown Phillipe had bought her from her back, she threw it down on the soiled hay under her trusty mare’s hooves. As if reading her mind, the mare gleefully did a quickstep over the dress till it was tattered and torn to shreds.

Once saddled and bridled, she mounted her steed and carefully lifting her riding cape from it’s hook, draped it over her shoulders and pulled the hood as far as it would go over her head.

As the horse slowly trotted out of the stable yard and onto the cobbled streets, she thought nothing of the joyful music and merriment coming from within the building.

So, there she was, with barely anything to wear, heading out of the town she was to call home.

Could she face her parents if she returned to the small village that was home?

Her mind started drifting back to her days there when she was happy.

Andre was older than her, but he made her feel special. He was a simple craftsman, struggling to make ends meet and often had to work in all weathers carrying out repairs to her fathers’ properties as a means of paying his rent. She knew he was socially awkward, having been bullied as a child, but she also knew he would go out of his way to make her happy.

A big smile drew itself across her rosy cheeks as she remembered the fun times she used to have, before it slowly faded back to a sorrowful frown. She had been the one ray of sunshine in his life and her leaving had probably broken his heart.

Pulling the cape around her, she gently dug her heels into the mare’s chest who instinctively raised its head and sped up to a gallop.

The town’s lights slowly faded into the gloomy darkness as she raced back to her village, hoping above hope that even if her parents couldn’t forgive her, Andre might.

Mon Enfant

Margot Lumone – Ville de Coeur Resident

Mon Enfant – Story by Margot Lumone

The door opens
A hand covers my mouth
… it will be our little secret

My mother blinded
Ignore my burning crotch
But no, my child …

The good sisters
The scourges of Jesus Christ
My fingers crushed

In confessional
The priest’s cassock suffocates me
God forgive you, my child

The boarding boys
Gentlemen of respectful families
Swallowing makes me throw up

The internship principal:
Finished with your infamous illusions,
My child, you are expelled

My first love
I have to prostitute myself for him
I wake up at the hospital

My mirror disgusts me
Reflections of a damaged body
I’m very ashamed

My soul flees
Darkness embrace me
Death is waiting for me …

I’m afraid of dying!
My child, you really believe
That hell will be worse?

The Princess who didn’t Grow Up

Sam (sticktittome Resident)

The Princess who didn’t Grow Up

By Sam (stickittome Resident)

The Queen was wondering how long it would be before her daughter, Princess would grow up, she looked like she did at the age of 16 but was actually 23. Only when her daughter had found out and completed the task would she be able to grow that wonderful long horn on her forehead, but it was against the laws of her realm to tell her exactly what it was.

Many of the Black princes had tried to help the white princess but they didn’t know what it was that she had to do either, Princess was getting bored at looking like a youngster and many of the other Princesses that were younger than she was were proudly wearing that wonderful twisted horn on their heads.

Princess knew that her birthday was soon coming and she also knew that if she reached 24 and still didn’t have that horn she would be like she was forever, she often sat by the river under her favourite tree and cried. Her tears flowed into the river and as they hit the water so the waters glistened briefly, then merged into the flow never to sparkle again.

Princess was once again by the “river of tears” as it was known now by all that had seen her there, tears were welling up in her eyes once again making her sight blurred. Suddenly she thought she heard something , she lifted her head but all she could see was a black blur on the other side of the river. The blur was moving towards her, slowly making its way across the river, carefully moving towards her. She tried in vain to see who or what it was but her eyes just couldn’t focus through the tears.

The black shape stood next to her and a gentle voice asked her why she was crying, she had never heard this voice before, it was gentle and he sounded kind. She knew it was a male because it was black and it must of been a prince but she had no idea where from. “Well Sir” she said “I am sad because it will soon be my 24th birthday and I have yet to find out how to get my twisted horn, it will be too late after my 24th birthday and Ill look like this for ever more”. The black prince said “well I too am coming up to that age and I too have not got my horn yet, but it is no good crying about it, we must keep trying to find out just what it is we must do”.

He sat next to the Princess and gently wiped away her tears and she saw him for the first time. He was one of the poor princes from the east side of the island, his coat was matted and unkempt but she felt that he was a better person than any of the princes that she had ever seen from around her fathers realm, they stood proud and most if not all were haughty and not of a good disposition at all.

Just then a voice that she knew boomed out “You there leave our realm , you aren’t wanted here, leave our Princess alone or suffer the consequences”. This made Princess angry, she stood up and yelled back to the Prince “Leave him alone you brute, he is not doing any harm to me or our lands, in fact he has been very kind and gentle unlike most of the princes here”. The voice boomed back “But look at him he is dirty and unkempt he should be thrown out, this realm is for us elite people not scruffs like him”. Princess ran straight at the black horned prince and hit him hard in his flanks, he crashed to the ground, he was not hurt but he was very surprised by her attack on him. “Now” she said “you are looking somewhat unkempt so maybe you should leave, now go and preen yourself”. Well, to her surprise he turned and ran back into the forest.

Princess sat next to the prince from the east, still very angry but he held her until she stopped shaking, then he gently kissed her and held her close to him and thanked her for letting him stay. They stayed together for several days, grazing on the lush grasses by the river, on the fourth day though all of the other princesses from the town came and stood in front of them both and laughed at them both. one called out saying ” Ha Ha Ha, still no horn, this is your last day to get it, you will stay like that for the rest of your life now and that also means that you cannot ever be our queen, we here are so happy because we will get the chance of being Queen now”.

Princess stared and then realised that it was true, this was her last day to find out what she needed to do and it was getting very late in the day, soon it would be night.
The black prince told her ” there is still time for both of us, and I think I might just know what it is that we both need to do, but we cannot do it here, too many eyes on us, come with me to the other side of the river”. Princess was in tears again but she did follow him across the river, the jeers still ringing in her ears as they crossed together. They walked slowly into the wooded area on the other side and then they lay on the ground together and waited for the din on the other side of the river to subside.

During that evening he moved closer to her and kissed her again and she kissed him back, then he started to make love to her. She had never felt this way before and wanted him more than anything, even the twisted horn paled to nothing compared to this. They both fell asleep after all of the excursion, both completely spent.

The next morning both woke up at the same time. Princess told him that it was too late now to get her horn but he still had a chance of getting his. He told her “well Ill not be leaving you alone now, I’m going to escort you back to your lands and if anyone dares to laugh at you Ill fight them to the death, you are better than any of them”. They both crossed the River of Tears together, and walked slowly side by side into the West realm where she came from. As they entered the clearing, the inhabitants stood staring at them both, then they all bowed down as one. Princess and the black Prince stared at them and wondered what was going on. He thought they were ridiculing his Princess so he ran towards the nearest prince ready to fight, he lowered his head and charged. As he got closer he saw his reflection in a puddle of water on the ground, he didn’t believe what he saw, there on his forehead was a wonderful twisted black horn, it sparkled in the light. He was so surprised he stopped the charge and looked again into the puddle, then another horn appeared next to his reflection, then the face of Princess. She too had her twisted horn, it shone in the sunlight and sparked from the tip to her forehead.

They stood side by side and both started to cry with happiness, the queen of the realm stood in front of both of them and declared that today would be a holiday because Princess had come of age. The queen took the Black prince to one side and asked him what he was doing there with her daughter. He explained that he was the heir to the throne of the land to the east and he was sorry that he looked so bad and that his coat needed grooming, but he loved Princess and he really would like to have her for his wife.
The Queen looked at his coat and said it looked wonderful it was shining much better than any of the princes in her realm and then said “if Princess wants you for her husband then so be it, but we will have to consult with the King and Queen of your realm first”.

A long procession crossed the River of Tears and then into the Eastern realm, the King and Queen were at the front, them Princess and the Black prince and then the rest of the peoples of the West realm. Soon they were at the gates of the town where they saw just how poor the people were, most looked half starved and all needed help. The Queen ordered the people in the procession to pass out food to the people of the town, and help to groom them. While the people of the west helped ,the King and Queen, Princess and the Black Prince went to see the King and Queen of the east.

The wedding was soon arranged and the ceremony was to be held at the “River of Tears” this being half way between the two realms. The new lands were to be called
“Uni” for the east land and “corn ” for the west land.

And so the joining was done and this is how the 1st Unicorn was born some 10 months later.

Der Geist der Marie-Anne

By Lucas von Broich

Bei der Reiterin in der Nacht handelt es sich um den Geist der 18 jährigen Marie-Anne Dufosset. Sie wurde am 3. Juli 1679 der Hexerei für schuldig befunden und auf dem Scheiterhaufen verbrannt. Sie gilt damit als letzte Frau die wegen Hexerei in Frankreich hingerichtet wurde.
Es wird gesagt, dass ihr Geist immer in der Nacht zum 3. Juli auf einem weißen Pferd durch die Gassen reitet. Wegen dem großen Unrecht was ihr geschehen ist, kann sie als Tote keine Ruhe finden. Dabei trägt sie immer eine Maske. Sie verdeckt ihr Gesicht, um damit alle Frauen und Mädchen zu symbolisieren die der Hexenverbrennung zum Opfer gefallen sind.
In dieser Nacht ritt sie durch die Bourgogne in Ville de Coeur.
Möge Ihr Geist bald Ruhe finden.

The Spirit of Marie-Anne
The rider at night is the spirit of 18-year-old Marie-Anne Dufosset. She was found guilty of witchcraft on 3 July 1679 and burned at the stake. She is the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in France. It is said that her spirit always rides the streets on a white horse on the night of July 3rd. Because of the great injustice done to her, she can not rest. She always wears a mask. She covers her face to symbolize all the women and girls who have fallen victim to the witch hunt. That night she rode through Bourgogne in Ville de Coeur. May her mind soon find peace.

Das Mädchen mit den Glücksbonbons

By Lena Nowikow

Es war einmal in einem fernen Land, da lebte ein Mädchen bei ihrer Großmutter. Beide Eltern waren schon gestorben und so wuchs sie bei ihrer Großmutter auf. Als die Zeit gekommen war, sagte die Großmutter zu dem Mädchen: „ Ich bin alt und ich werde nicht mehr lange leben“. Da wurde das Mädchen ganz traurig. Die Großmutter gab ihr ein Bonbon und siehe da, das Mädchen begann wieder an lachen und zu strahlen und war nicht mehr traurig.
„Du sollst in die Welt hinaus ziehen und alle Menschen fröhlich und glücklich machen“, sagte die Großmutter. „Wie soll ich das machen?“, sprach das Mädchen. Die Großmutter nahm das Mädchen bei der Hand und führte sie in die Küche. „Du musst nun gut aufpassen, was ich dir sage“. „Ich verrate dir ein uraltes Geheimrezept für meine Bonbons.“ „ Du nimmst von diesen Kräutern, dem Glücksritter, dem Tigerwurz und dem Elfengras ja ein Bündel.“ „Dann kochst du es aus und rührst es vorsichtig unter die Melasse.“ „Zum Schluss noch 3 Tropfen aus diesem Fläschchen“ „Das darfst du nie vergessen“. „Alle Menschen denen du davon ein Bonbon gibst freuen sich der Lebens und sind glücklich.“
„Was mache ich Großmutter, wenn das Fläschchen leer ist?“, fragt das Mädchen. „ Es ist ein Zauberfläschchen, es füllt sich von selber wieder, wenn der letzte Tropfen heraus getropft ist.“
Das Mädchen verabschiedete sich von ihrer Großmutter, nahm sie in den Arm und drückte sie.
„Nimm unser Pferd, das ist das wertvollste was ich dir mitgeben kann und nun mache dich auf“, sprach die Großmutter.
Dann machte sich das Mädchen auf eine lange Reise und kam in ein Dorf. Alle Menschen die dort wohnten mussten schwere Arbeit auf den Feldern verrichten und hatten ein schweres Leben. Der König beanspruchte fast alle Früchte der Felder und Gärten für sich. Er war ein böser und ungerechter König und ließ viele Leute in den Kerker sperren. Die Menschen waren unglücklich über ihr schweres Los. Da dachte sich das Mädchen, hier bin ich richtig, diesen Menschen werd ich helfen glücklicher zu sein.
Sie half den Menschen bei der Arbeit auf den Feld und im Dorf. Schnell war sie bei der Bevölkerung beliebt. Des Nachts schlich sie aus ihrer Herberge und legte den bedrückten und traurigen Menschen ein Glücksbonbon vor die Tür. Als diese das Bonbon am Morgen aßen wurden sie fröhlich und glücklich und die Arbeit ging ihnen besser von der Hand. Trotz der schweren Arbeit waren die Leute fröhlicher und schafften mehr. So blieb auch etwas mehr für sie übrig.
Den Spionen des Königs im Dorf ist dies natürlich nicht entgangen und sie berichteten dem König das die Bewohner im Dorf fröhlich und gut gelaunt sind.
„Wie kann das sein?“ , schrie der König,. „Findet das heraus!“
So viel sich die Spione auch bemühten sie konnten nicht herausfinden warum die Leute so fröhlich waren. Da setzte der böse König eine Belohnung von 3 Talern aus für denjenigen der ihm verriet, warum die Bevölkerung so gut gelaunt sei. Aber niemand erzählte dem König etwas. Er wurde zornig und erhöhte die Belohnung auf 5 Taler. Die Bevölkerung war aber so dankbar, das keiner etwas sagte. Da geriet der König außer sich von Zorn und sagte er würde alle in den Kerker werfen lassen die ihm nicht sagen würden, was das Glück ins Dorf gebracht hat. Dazu erhöhte er die Belohnung abermals auf 10 Taler. 10 Taler waren schon eine ungeheure Menge Geld. Da wurde ein Bewohner schwach und verriet dem König das es die Glücksbonbons des fremden Mädchens sind.
Der böse König rief seine Spione und befahl ihnen das Mädchen zu ergreifen, damit er an das Rezept für die Bonbons kommen würde.
Das Mädchen war aber war sehr klug und dachte bei sich, bei der hohen Belohnung wird einer etwas von den Glücksbonbons sagen. Ich mache mich davon bevor ich dem bösen König das Geheimrezept für die Bonbons verraten muss.
Damit sie nicht erkannt werden konnte zog sie eine Maske an und ritt mit ihrem Pferd zum Dorf hinaus. Noch bevor die Häscher des Königs sie ergreifen konnte war sie verschwunden. Es gibt noch so viele andere Menschen die ich glücklich machen kann, dachte sie sich. Vielleicht schaust du mal vor deiner Tür, ob da nicht ein Bonbon liegt?
Und wenn sie nicht gestorben ist, dann lebt sie noch heute…..

   The girl with the lucky sweets.

The Girl with the Lucky Sweets

Once upon a time in a distant land, a girl lived with her grandmother. Both parents had already died and so she grew up with her grandmother. When the time came, the grandmother said to the girl, “I am old and I will not live much longer.” Since the girl was very sad. The grandmother gave her a candy and lo and behold, the girl began to laugh and shine again and was no longer sad.”You should go out into the world and make everyone happy,” said the grandmother. “How should I do that?”, The girl spoke. The grandmother took the girl by the hand and led her into the kitchen. “You must now take good care of what I tell you.” “I’ll give you an ancient secret recipe for my sweets.” “You’re taking a bunch of these herbs, the Lucky Knight, the tigerwort, and the elven grass.” “Then you cook it out and gently stir it under the molasses.” “Finally 3 more drops from this vial “You must never forget that “. “All the people whom you give a sweet will be enjoying life and happiness.”What do I do grandmother when the vial is empty?”, The girl asks. “It’s a magic bottle, it fills by itself when the last drop has dripped out.”The girl said goodbye to her grandmother, hugged her and squeezed her.”Take our horse, that’s the most valuable thing I can give you and now get up,” said the grandmother. Then the girl went on a long journey and came to a village. All the people who lived there had to do heavy work in the fields and had a hard life. The king claimed almost all the fruits of the fields and gardens for himself. He was a wicked and unjust king and had many people locked up in the dungeon. The people were unhappy about their hard lot. Then the girl thought, here I am right, I will help these people to be happier. She helped people at work in the field and in the village. Quickly she was popular with the population. At night she sneaked out of her hostel and laid a lucky candy in front of the door for the depressed and sad people. When they ate the candy in the morning they became happy and the work was better off their hands. Despite the hard work, the people were happier and made more. So there was something left for her. This hadn’t escaped the kings’ spies in the village and they told the king that the residents in the village are happy and in a good mood.”How can that be?” Cried the king. “Find out!”As much as the spies tried, they could not figure out why people were so happy. Then the evil king made a reward of 3 thalers for the one who told him why the people were in such a good mood. But no one told the king anything. He became angry and increased the reward to 5 thalers. The population was so thankful that nobody said anything. Then the king was furious and said that he would have all thrown in to the dungeon, who would not tell him what brought happiness to the village. He again increased the reward to 10 Taler. 10 thalers were already a tremendous amount of money. Then a dweller gave in and told the king that it was the fortune-sweets of the strange girl. The evil king called his spies and ordered them to grab the girl so he could get the recipe for the sweets. The girl, however, was very smart and thought to herself, at the high reward one will say something of the lucky sweets. I make off before I have to tell the evil king the secret recipe for the candy. So she could not be recognized she put on a mask and rode her horse out of the village. Before the king’s captors could seize her, she was gone. There are so many other people I can make happy, she thought. Maybe you look at your door if there is not a candy? And if she has not died, then she still lives on today…

Horse of a Different Collator

By DanteOsaka Deschanel (RL: Mark Arvid White)

The Rider I am carrying is blind. But she is also different from the others

My route was the usual one. Selected from among my brothers and sisters in the stables, I was brought to the Place of Leaving. The Rider was waiting there in the company of guards, a Defect like those who had passed before. She wore a long keltwas cloak, its hood concealing her hair, but not her face. She had a partial mask with only slits for eyes. Unseeing eyes, I had surmised. She mounted deftly, with no family to wail for her. In moments we were into the darkness of The Throat.

Clip Clop. Clip Clop.

My hooves were the dominant sound as we walked through the darkness towards a single spot of light in the distance. I could hear my breathing, of course, and hers. She bears this well. She does not sob, or curse, or tremble. Some would have been bound, and even gagged. There is no fear smell.

“You are right, RDA 72.”

My ears perked back some to her voice, but I kept walking. She uses the name that the Two Legs gave me. Why does she know that? And what does she mean, I am right?

“I know that name because I chose you for my final request.” She spoke gently, but clear, her hand patting my neck. “You are right that I am blind, but not afraid.”

The clopping sounds ceased. My ears flicked indecisively as I stood still. How can she know what my inner voice has spoken? I shifted from one set of hooves to the other. I could feel the runsense rising.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said, her hand stroking beneath my dark mane. “You had felt that I was different, and you are right in that. I know you are different as well. Speak to me with your inner voice. We have much to discuss before we reach the camp of the Scabs.”

I shifted my stance again, but the stroking on my neck was soothing, and the tone of her voice as well. This is so very strange. Maybe I should be rid of her. But, she hears my inner voice, my words now. I … I am unsure of this, Rider. Part of me wants to buck you and flee, back to Lights in the Ground. I … will speak with you, as we walk. We must not be late, or the Agros will come.

“Agros? Ah, yes. The sorties from the city. Above Ground Recon Patrols. Did you create that word?”

I started walking again, feeling a bit more at ease, the sound of my hooves on the hard ground again erasing the silence. Agro is what the Scabs call them. But Scab is not what they call themselves.

“No, it is what the city names them, or rather those who live in ‘Lights in the Ground’. Did you give it that name?

Yes. So much to me is new. The giving of names. This … talking. I do not know how I understand you, or how you understand me. This … wanting to know more, it is strange as well. But I have yearnings now, beyond food, and water. You said that you chose me. Why?

The spot of light that we had been walking towards had widened, and was now clearly the Mouth of this long tunnel. I could see that it was daylight.

“Until this week,” said the Rider, shifting some upon the saddle, “I had been the chief Collator for the High Council of the city. I had access to the few computers that still run, while others did not. I had access to every record and file, book and notecard in the city, while others did not. I learned many things: about the past, from before the Time of Fires; about the present, the Outworld; about the future, new things that the Council fears. … I learned that the stable keepers reported several horses acting strangely, more attentive to what the keepers were saying and doing. One name kept popping up more than the others. Refuse Delivery Animal number 72. They said of you: ‘seems more curious …as if he understood me when I said things …feels like I am being watched … almost as if he gets the other horses to do things’ … That sort of thing. So when the police took me weeks after the incident–“

I … do not understand all that you speak of … time of fires … but incident? Police? The Two Legs with clubs. Why did they take you?

“I had been sent to Mine Station Number Three to adjust the record-keeping software of their computer. There was a pipe rupture near the desk. Some sort of heavy polish for the tools. They said it was an accident. But I knew that some in the Council, and others, had taken an interest in me, just as the stable keepers noticed you. The chemical blast seemed, well, directed at me. It scarred half of my face, and I was blinded beyond repair. Now a Defect.”

The Mouth. It will be hot. We passed through the tunnel entrance to intense sunlight and a powerful heat. Had I not known the path by heart, I would have paused as my own eyes adjusted to the brightness. But I kept walking, the hard tunnel floor made by the Two Legs long ago now replaced by the natural earth. My hooves made softer sounds, punctuated now and then by the occasional pebble kicked away.

“Dear God!” exclaimed the Rider.

Your cloak. Pull it more over your exposed skin. Otherwise the heat will burn you. The sun was past mid-day. It was relentless. This will last well past the time it takes to reach the camp of the Scabs. There will be water there.

“What is the land like here? Does anything grow?”

For the first time today I caught the scent of fear from her. Very faint. Nothing grows near the Mouth, which rests at the base of a mountain. Much of this valley ahead is barren. The ground is broken, unforgiving. But the path is good, and well used.

“I have read of the process,” said the Rider, her voice now quieter. “A piece of refuse, a Defect, such as myself, is taken to the camp of the Scabs. Once there … the Defect is eliminated. Do I have it right?”

I … I do not know. I only carry Two Legs to the camp. Once there I am given water, and sometimes some grain. They swat me on the rump and I bolt for home.

“This time will be different.”

My ears drifted back. We were at the portion of the path that now curved to the left. Two hills rose up, rough with steep-faced outcrops and half-buried boulders. They passed each to either side of us, one eventually falling away. Against the flank of the other hill rose a collection of wooden huts and a larger, barn-like building.

The camp of the Scabs.

“Stop,” said the Rider. “How many are there?”

“Walk towards them.”

I shifted a bit nervously, then started ahead. In past times, I would walk up and a few of them would approach and pull the Defect down. Then one would lead me to the large building … the water. As we neared the camp, the three visible Scabs drew closer, clothed in the rough-hewn, weather-resistant clothing of their kind. One of them reached up to slip fingers beneath my bridle, speaking in soft tones.

“Easy, big grey, there’s a good horse. Let’s get this rider down from your back.”

It was the usual way things were done. The Scabs would take the Defect and then send me back home. I stayed still, waiting for this to happen.

“Where is your leader?” said the Rider. A second Scab had drawn alongside to pull her down. “I’m in charge, girl. Let me get you from that horse.”

“You are not in charge, Evin Garr,” said the Rider. She moved her knee some into my flank and I moved my body that direction instinctively.

“Easy!” said the Scab at my flank, holding his hands up as he stepped back a pace. “How do you know my name?”

“I know all your names. Mal Des is holding the horse’s bridle. Kavan Des, his brother, is thinking of leaping forward right now and pulling me from the horse. I wouldn’t do that.”

With that the Rider pulled hard on the reins, causing my head to pull up quickly. The Scab holding my bridle let go. We backed away from the three of them. They stood in place with confused looks. Why are you doing this, Rider? It is not the normal way of things.

“We are not the normal way of things, good horse,” whispered the Rider into my ear. “You will see in just a moment.”

“What is all this?” came a new voice. From one of the huts a tall Scab appeared, a shoot-stick taller than himself in his hands.

“Brin Callis,” said the Rider. “I must speak with you.”

“I am here,” said the Scab, his weapon lowered but at the ready. “Speak.”

“If you are not afraid of one blind woman on a horse, I would speak with you apart from your men. We could use some water as well.”

The leader glanced at the others and then slung the shoot-stick over his shoulder by a strap.

“We’ll speak in the stable,” he said. “There’s water for the horse, and yourself.” He stepped forward and took my bridle in his hand, leading us towards the open entrance of the building. It was darker and cooler inside, and the Scab led me to the long trough from which I began to drink my fill.

“Here,” said the leader, handing the Rider a bulging bag that hung from a post. It must have contained water as I heard her drinking. “Now,” said the Scab leader leaning against a wall. “Speak.”

The Rider finished drinking as I did the same. “Your water is good, surprisingly cold. Thank you.” The Scab leader frowned. “This is wast–“

“I know your routine,” said the Rider, cutting him off. “I know that I am to remain and the horse sent back, and that this happens every time a Defect is sent here. I know also that the Sanitation Control Brigade, you Scabs, are supposed to get rid of me, by any means. Or so it is written.

“And so it is done,” said the leader. “So what do–“

“I want this horse, and to be left to my own purpose.” I felt her hand again on my neck and she whispered then to me. “If the horse would like to ride with me.”

Yes. I would like that. But how is that to be? I am to return to Lights in the Ground soon.

“Not just yet, my friend,” said the Rider.

“Horses are not ours to give,” said the leader, stepping away from the wall. “You have to stay with us, and the horse goes. We don’t need the Agros giving us grief. This game has gone on long enough. Dismount now. I know you know how. I could see when you came down the path that you’ve ridden before. Don’t make me use this gun.”

He put a hand on the strap for the shoot-stick, as if he was about to sling it from his shoulder for use. I don’t want shooting, Rider. Maybe we–

“You’ve shot before,” said the Rider. “Just once, and you purposefully missed. I know you don’t want to use this gun, Brin Callis. Oh … in fact, I see now. I know you don’t want to hurt anyone. All the Defects, that come here, you don’t eliminate them, do you. You send them away. You’ve been doing this for years!

The leader’s face seemed to pale and he stepped back against the wall again.

“H …how …”

“Agros!” The Scab that had first held my bridle had run into view. “Agros, Brin. Three of ‘em coming down the path!”

“Gods, no, not now!” The Scab leader was even paler. He looked around the room and then up to the Rider. “I don’t know who …what you are, but they will kill you, kill all of us!”

“I know your thoughts, Brin Callis,” said the Rider. “And I will know theirs. Do not be afraid. The Agros will not harm you.”

The leader shook his head, looking quite perplexed. Without another word he turned and ran through the opening with his fellow Scab.

You know their minds, like you know mine? What will we do? Will they kill us, as the leader said? I shifted nervously, my tail swishing. Once again her calming hand was stroking beneath my mane.

“Be at ease, gentle horse. They will kill no one. Yes, I can see into their minds, but they do not speak to me there. Only you can do that and, in time, maybe some others. When I had my accident that was not an accident, I knew that I would be declared Defect, and sent away to die. It was then I remembered what I read about you, and I was able at least to choose you as my delivering horse. And in that time I especially remembered one thing I read about you, and about what you seemed to be able to do with your fellow horses.”

Her hand on my neck had calmed me once again. What would you have me do?

I could feel her leaning close to my head once more, and her voice softened as she spoke into my ear …

We emerged again into bright sunlight and heat, though both were diminishing as the sun had begun to slip behind the mountains. On the trail ahead, three riders on three horses approached. Like the Scabs, the riders wore gear to protect them from the heat. Long shoot-sticks rose up behind their backs. Red armbands marked them as Agros.

“Do you know the horses?”

They are from my stable, yes. I know them well.

“Good. Wait until they are close enough for the Agros to speak.”

The three mounted Agros came to a stop a couple of galloping strides away from us. The Scab leader had stepped into the open and addressed the Agro. “Lieutenant, welcome back. May I get some water for–“

“You can tell me why a Defect is still on this horse.” The middle Agro glared at the Rider.

“Well, you see sir, the De–“

“I have need of this horse,” interrupted the Rider. “And he wishes to ride with me.”

“The horse wishes …” The lieutenant paused, then burst out laughing. The other two joined in, and then the laughter ceased. All three reached behind their backs to un-sling their long shoot-sticks and point them at the Rider. “Defects have no claims on anything. Get down from that horse. I don’t want you bleeding all over him.”

“Now, gentle horse,” said the Rider.

I could feel her starting to lean forward as she tightened her grip on the reins. In an instant I reared up on my hind legs, fore hooves slashing at the air. I whinnied as loud as ever I had done before, and in that cry was an urging for my stable-mates. As one, the three other horses reared up too, their voices joining mine.

So sudden was the three horses’ motion, that the Agros had no time to react. They were gripping shoot-sticks instead of reins and watching the Rider. One Agro was flung backwards to the ground and could only lie and moan. A second tried to snatch the reins as he was toppling, which caused him to flip over himself in the air and he landed in a heap by his horse’s hooves. The third Agro, the lieutenant, managed somehow to grip his horse’s neck with one arm, but was so off-balance that his fall was only delayed, and he was flung forward when the horse settled again on four legs.

I was back on four legs too, but still I nickered and whinnied at my stable mates. Hearing my cries they struck towards the ground with their front hooves again and again. Two Agros were unaware or unmoving, while the third tried to crawl quickly out of the way. But the horse’s targets were not their riders, but rather the fallen shoot-sticks, each of which was soon broken by flailing hooves.

With that, the three horses started to trot back up the way they had come. The lieutenant, now in a crouch as he was struggling to his feet, glanced from the Rider to the departing horses.

“I suggest,” said the Rider to the Agro, “that you go after those horses.”

The lieutenant swore something beneath his breath and started to help up the one fallen comrade that was now trying to rise.

“Oh I will,” said the Agro, spitting a bit of blood into the dust. “And then we will come and kill you.”

“I won’t be here,” said the Rider. “But you can look for us in the west.”

The Agros stumbled along as quickly as they could after the retreating horses. Two of the Scabs came from the shadows to tend to the one Agro still lying on the ground. The Scab leader approached us.

“That was beyond belief. How did you get those horses to do what they did?”

“I did nothing. This horse commanded the others.”

“But …how can this be?” The Scab leader looked confused, glancing towards his fellow Scabs who were now carrying the remaining Agro to one of the huts.

“One day I’ll tell you,” said the Rider. “But for now we must be going. I can feel the sun’s heat diminishing.”

“Night comes,” said the Scab, shaking his head. “You can stay with us until daybreak. I am not sure how either of you can do these things you do, but … no one has opposed the Agros like that for some time.”

“Thank you for the offer, but we will be moving on. The night, for me, bears no more danger than the day. I would be grateful, though, for a flask of water to take with us.

In a few moments the Scab leader returned with water and had even gathered a bit of food for us. We did not head to the west as the Rider had said, but turned to the East. The sun had already set behind the nearby mountains. The air was still warm, but cooling. You told him west, but we ride to the east. That was to fool him?”

“Yes, though I don’t really think they will come to find us. They are afraid of the Outworld. Afraid of rads. Now they are probably afraid of horses.”

How did you know that my fellow horses would respond to my call?

The Rider laughed and patted my neck. “I didn’t.”

You trusted then in an unsure thing?

“I trusted in you.”

This is all so … new. Words. Diversion from the normal. Trust. The ground that we now crossed had fewer stones, though the earth was still firm. The sky darkened, and the first lights emerged. I have only seen the night sky lights twice..

“Stars,” said the Rider. “They are called stars.”

Stars. They … are beautiful. Our path moved down to a widening plain. In the distance, along a low ridge, more lights could be seen, glimmering faintly. There is something there. Lights along the ground. Stars on the land? Is that where we are going?

“Those are not stars. They are the lights of people. Yes, that is where we are going.

Lights on the ground. There are so many wonders. But, one thing I would know. The plain that we were now crossing was easy and felt good beneath my hooves. I was calmed, and new feelings swirled in my mind. I have only known those who I have carried as … riders. Is … is there another name that you have?

“Yes,” said the Rider, leaning to kiss a spot between my ears. “And you will know it before we sleep tonight. We have to meet some people that used to live in Lights in the Ground. There may very well be others like us. We shall find them. And then we will help those still in the city, horses and Two Legs alike.

Her hand along my neck was most comforting. It was not like the touch of any rider I had known before. I was going to a place I had never been, but I was not afraid. I was different. She was different. And somehow I knew that we were meant to always ride together.

The End

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