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The Ride
by Cordir

I look at you, trembling and hesitant before me, watch as your eyes scan my height, my limbs, the proud curve of my neck. I am the king of horses, beyond any specimen you have ever seen. How did I come to be in this strange and lonely island, populated by the dead and the castaways? And what causes that cold crimson fire to burn in my eyes?

I see your hands, trembling at your side, as you have sheathed your weaponry. They ache to reach out and touch my mane, feel the silky strands against your fingertips. Your eyes soften, resembling the way they did the first time you gazed upon your lover. Unconsciously, your hand extends, and just as you are about to touch, I snort with laughter.

You step back, startled at the sound, and the sight of the fangs within my mouth. I take a single step forward, the muck of the bog around us releasing air like the rattling last breath of one dying, the stench like that of a charnel house. Dead grasses entwine your limbs, holding you silently in place.

Desire and amazement turn to fear in your face. What am I, you wonder. I can read it in the way the muscles of your shoulders have tightened, the flexing of your fingers, and the smell of the sweat that has broken out over your whole body. Your eyes flash white as you gaze quickly around, trying to find a safe place to hide or run to, should I attack.

The wolves that den nearby snarl, and the ravens that are my best company caw mockingly. They know that there is no escape from my little corner of the world, even though the voices of the castaways float clear and joyful on the wind as they amuse themselves on the sandy shores nearby.

I take one step forward, the bog sucking at my hooves. You shiver as my cold breath flows over you, brushing your face. Even though you realize, at some level, that I am death, you cannot help yourself. Arms wrap around my neck, and your cheek lays upon my mane. I allow you a moment to come to understand, then stand firm as you grasp a handful of hair and fling yourself upon my broad back. You cannot resist. It is destined. It is my magic. It is the cycle of things.

The call of the hunting hounds rings through the air as they bay, and my first leaping stride takes us halfway across the clearing. Your laughter is exultant. The winds pull at your garments, and caress my flanks like a lover as we race around the glade, drawing glares from the wild creatures that dwell here. They, as well as I, know how this ride ends, inevitable, and the disturbance before the renewed silence is an irritation to them.

A log up ahead bars the path, a huge oak lightning struck and fallen lo these many centuries ago. I leap its massive girth with ease, thunder down the path, making you duck and curse as the dry branches grasp at your cloak, scratch your face, and pluck at your eyes. My stride does not falter as I make the last turn, but your hands grasp more tightly as you see our destination.

With a gallop the pride of any racehorse and the grace of a hunter, I take the last plunge into the marsh. You cry out as the muck closes around you, rising quickly above knees.. waist... chest... But I do not falter, continuing into the embrace of the muddy, oily swamp. It fills your mouth, silencing your screams, and at last, I stop, standing upon the bedrock, enclosed upon all sides by the earth. With the slowness of a feather drifting on the tiniest of breezes, you slide off my back, pulled by the weight and strange currents within the bog. There, you join the others, their bones the color of dark iron, preserved forever.

Shaking my head, I return to the surface. The dirt and liquid streams from my coat, until it is glossy and beautiful once more. Her hounds appear, red tongues dangling, their eyes laughing at the beauty of the cycle we are a part of, and they frisk about my legs playfully.

I am the stallion of the Hunt. I am the incarnation of death by the wilderness, the balance of the battle between man and nature. I am the Each Usiage of Tier Sh'halen... and I await your visit.

Shall we ride?

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