I just can’t.
Get that colt out of my head. Ever since I met him, this feels wrong.
I don’t mind.
I don’t care. It’s wrong.
I could kill you in a heartbeat. I choose not to. How is that wrong?
I sighed aloud. The stallion I was training was one of the easiest I’d ever dealt with. His name was Amur, which translates into your language as Lover, and that was what he was. He was kind, and intelligent, and incredibly willing. But he also felt downtrodden and overpowered. There was something about this training – though I used no force – that enslaved him to my will.
It was wrong. A Flash the likes of Amur should never be enslaved. I could see the use of it with some of the more dangerous – Reds were incredibly volatile, and Feyken forbid I ever have to train a Gray – but with a Violet like Amur, there was no need for domination. He could be a partner for someone, if other Fey only knew how to treat him like one.
He couldn’t be mine. Amur was performance bred, which made him worth more than the house my father owned.
Just get on my back already. I’ll try to get you off, but you’ll stay on, and then I’ll be trained. None of this fussing over right and wrong. You already explained what you want when you change how you sit.
Not all Fey can use the mind speech. That I can is a gift. I used it extensively when I was training Flash, because it was the easiest way to communicate with them, though I had to use it as a training tool and not as a way of asking for things. If all Fey had the ability to use the mind-speech, there would have been no market for training. Most Fey ride using their body to influence their mount. Someone has to teach the Flash what each movement of the rider’s body means.
I undid the buckle at Amur’s poll and slipped his bridle off. I couldn’t do it.
“What are you doing, boy?” my father roared from across the yard.
“Amur doesn’t need it.” Let’s try something different, hey, buddy? Let’s show them that it doesn’t have to be about Fey being better than Flash. We can be equals. I kept one careful eye on Amur, not sure how the Violet would react to that.
You mean… we could be… free? Amur regarded me with blank violet eyes, and as I watched him, I saw the dead look disappear, to be replaced by hope.
I don’t think the other Fey would go for that, I said, controlling an urge to laugh. But you and I could be equal. If I have your cooperation.
Amur tossed his head. Equal… I like that. Yes. I think I will cooperate.
“Put that bridle back on, boy. Are you insane?”
I ignored Father and vaulted easily onto Amur’s back. The tall Violet stood stock still, though he did seem a little unsure. I stroked his neck and waited for him to relax, hanging onto a chunk of his mane just in case he decided to try to throw me after all. I’m going to close off our mind link. Just remember what I taught you… except now, it’s not an order. It’s a request. I’m saying please.
I squeezed Amur’s sides with my legs and shifted my weight, and he responded as I had taught him, breaking smoothly into a canter. A few strides in, the canter sort of fell apart and Amur bucked once, almost unseating me, before dropping to a trot on my subtle command. I kept him in the trot, using my legs and seat to direct him through a series of lines, circles and serpentines. He wasn’t very balanced, but that was to be expected. This was the first time he’d ever had weight on his back.
Dropping my weight, I asked the Violet to come to a halt. I felt him drop his hindquarters and lift his back and shoulders in response, transferring his weight to his hind legs. That was something that usually took a long time to teach them.
Amur came to a lovely square halt. I let him stand there for a moment, then pushed him back into a trot, keeping my legs in contact with his sides and lifting him with my seat.
He danced. The school became a stage and he danced. I stopped really riding and became a passenger. This was Amur’s stage, not mine, and the performance was his. The cadence and suspension in his movement was incredible and with each stride he made me even more aware of the power of those big, well-muscled hindquarters and the massive muscles in his back.
“That brute’s more Flash than I thought,” Father commented. He was at the fence now, mouth hanging open. “With that coming out of my stables, Crimson, we’ll be riding first class within the month.”
I shook my head. All Father ever thought about was money. Besides, Amur wouldn’t move like this for someone who tried to dominate him. He offered me his best because I treated him like an equal. This Flash was going places as a performance mount, but only if his owner listened to me.
Amur broke into a joyful canter and I was again floored by the power and grace with which he could move.
Hold on tight, he told me, breaking through the barriers I had put up so he wouldn’t hear my thoughts. I smiled. I didn’t have to; I’d ridden through plenty of antics just like what he was planning.
The big Violet turned across the school, curled his hindquarters under him, darn near sat down, and stopped his hooves. He and I slid nearly twenty yards, spraying dirt ahead of us and leaving a big cloud of dust in the air behind. Father held up one arm, shielding himself from the flying sand.
I dismounted easily and slapped Amur’s shoulder twice with a cupped hand, laughing. “I told you I didn’t need the bridle on Amur. He’s a Violet. Cooperative, clever, and even-tempered.”
“All Flash are dangerous, Crimson,” Father told me. “You should never handle one without a bridle on it.”
I shrugged. “I don’t believe that. I’m done for the day – Amur’s the last I had to ride – so I’m taking him back to his stall, then I’m off.”
“You won’t be riding at my stables without a bridle again.”
“Fine,” I grumbled, turning away and stalking off to where I’d dropped Amur’s bridle. He followed me, muzzle on my shoulder, long silky beard tickling my skin.
Not at you, I assured him. You did well. Father refuses to see what is in front of his eyes.
I picked up the bridle. Amur took the bit in his mouth and waited for me to buckle it up behind his ears, his head low in submission. I didn’t want submission, but he caught my eye, and the look in his told me he was following my lead because I was worthy, not because I demanded it.
What is there to do other than spend time with us? Amur asked, nudging me with his muzzle. Stay and talk a while.
I shook my head, and spoke aloud instead of using the mind-speech. “I can’t, Amur, I need to be in that clearing I told you about…”
Why would you prefer to spend time with a colt you do not know? Where do I fall short?
I sighed. I couldn’t explain it without hurting Amur’s feelings, and I couldn’t avoid the question. It was a no-win situation. I don’t know. It has nothing to do with you. I wish you could be mine but your owner will not sell.
Amur dropped his head again, this time in a gesture of hurt. I know these things, Crimson, but still I feel unworthy.
Not for the first time I cursed the irresistible pull that drew me to that clearing in the hopes of seeing the colt again. I couldn’t not go. It wasn’t a choice. It was a thing that was so terrifyingly necessary that I had been spending hours in that clearing every day for months, without so much as a glimpse of that colt, yet each morning when I woke I knew I had to get through my morning duties as quickly as possible so that I could go and wait.
I put Amur back in his stall, trying not to see his baleful purple eyes, and went to where my half-wild Green filly was standing. She had broken out, again. Father was going to be furious.
“Natura, why?” I asked her cheerfully. “You know my father will just repair the box, make it even stronger, and put you back in.”
She tossed her head. I had to step back away from her to avoid being sliced by the sharp tip of her horn. That prison is beneath me, she told me, speaking as if to an idiot child.
“I have nowhere else for you to live, sweetheart.”
Come, she said imperiously, and started walking. I followed, helpless to do much else. She was a big filly, a good seventeen hands and almost fully mature, and I am quite small, for a Fey – only six feet tall and even more slender than most.
Why do you treat me like I am your servant? I asked her.
You are, she replied. Your Fey desire to dominate places you beneath me in the order of things.
I sighed. Natura was not your ordinary Green. She was, as all of them were, a jealous type, and fiercely loyal, and was occasionally volatile, but she was altogether more stubborn and she had the White tendency to believe any tiny thing made her better than anyone else. Or perhaps it wasn’t a White tendency so much as an Eternal tendency – Natura was sired by an Eternal stallion, and there were almost no Tones in the Captive population. I had worked with one White, and a Pastel, and a Dark, out of countless hundreds, or even thousands, of Captives. The captive Tone, Pastel, and Dark I had worked with were all very much like Natura.
Work with me on this, please, Natura… Look. I showed her my memory of the colt in the clearing. I wasn’t sure why it was significant, but something – Destiny? Feyken? – compelled me to do it.
This is not the work of Feyken, Natura told me. You haven’t that smell about you. Go on, get on my back, I will carry you to that clearing… Truth-Seer.
I paused. Truth-Seer? What was that? It wasn’t something that was familiar to me. I was well-versed in all the legends of the Fey and thought I had a good understanding of most of them.
Get up. I will explain on the way. This is your path, child. You have been chosen by the gods. Have faith, and Destiny and Chron will guide your path. If you are lucky you may even be granted an audience with Lumin. Beware the evils of Fate and Feyken, and use your magic as little as possible, lest you be discovered by the foul Shadr.
I did as I was told, not even bothering to slip a bridle onto Natura’s face, and we were away, galloping at a speed no normal Captive could match. As Natura ran, I thought. Feyken was the patron of the Fey, and the Goddess I had been taught to worship, but something had always felt off. Fate was known to be evil, and Shadr was the guardian of the Nether, which made him perhaps the foulest beast known to the Fey. Destiny, Chron and Lumin were supposed to be lesser gods, but Natura spoke of them with a kind of awe and respect that was more befitting the greater kind.
Suddenly I found myself questioning my beliefs.
A CLEAN SLATE FOR THE FUTURE