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The Black Mare
by Bo Rosen

"Tell me!" Yurli paces like an impatient young stallion, unable to be still.

Dengizikh's ger has settled down by the large fire in the centre, the youngest have curled up with their parents and the old ones talk in hushed voices with each other. It's the time in-between, Kargzant is going to the underworld, but the sky-herds have not found the great river yet. It is the Kurku-hour, a time when anything can happen. A dangerous time, so the People light fires to lead the herds into the sky and keep the monsters away.

"Tell me!" The angry demand is repeated and some of the warriors grumble in irritation at the boys rudeness.

"I have told you before" replies an old man, bald and deeply tanned with strange marks all over his face.

"Not everything, you know more."

"Child, you must learn to listen.", he calmly reaches into the fire with a stick and rakes out a few roasted Narok nuts some of the children brought him earlier in the day. Unheeding of the heat, he chews slowly on one then grimaces as a bad tooth stabs him with sudden pain. He glances at the angry child, perhaps a man tomorrow, and sighs.

In a quiet voice he begins and the Laguros listen, even the things at the edge of camp, listen.

"No one knows who the Black Mare is. No one knows if there is one or many, that is why we do not know what to call her, or them. And knowing the names of things is important, some of you will find names soon and no longer be children. If you don't know the name of something, you cannot know what it is. And sometimes, sometimes, something has the wrong name. That is bad."

He stops and looks at several of the children and frowns. So many strange ones this time, the spirits have warned him about them, but he doesn't understand the warning. Only that it is there. He spits out a husk and continues.

"They come at night, never when it's light, and they bring gifts."

The boy looks proud at this, puffing up his chest. "One came to me" he declares unnecessarily as everyone knows.

The story teller nods. "Yes, she did. But remember - the gifts are not always to the good. You have all heard how Huarg Star-Seeker was lost and the story of little Saka, they had both been gifted by the Black Mare."

The clan members nod and mumble, yes they have heard this, but the boy stands defiantly. Before he can say anything though, the old man goes on.

"We do not know who she is, yes I think it is only one, some say there are many but they are wrong. We do know a few things though; she comes at night, she brings strange gifts and she comes to children."

A woman slowly shakes her head and the story teller looks at her gently. "I know, Uesna. You say you saw a strange war band far to the south, all riding Black Mares. But how can that be, how could anyone ride a Black Mare? And a whole war band?" Uesna looks unhappy but says nothing.

The old Sun-Speaker looks troubled and he hesitates, seemingly unsure how to continue. "But who is she? Some say she is the spirits of horses killed the wrong way, some say she is a messenger from Kargzant in the underworld. Perhaps. I think she is something else. I think she is from ma-Tamara, I think her name is Vengeance."

The boy looks shaken by this, some of the fight gone out of him, but he puts up a brave front "Hai, then I will bring vengeance on our enemies, I will crush the Grey Lances under my hooves, snap their bones and shower their children in the blood of their fathers. I will ride over them like the North Wind and curse their spirits untill the sky stops!"

The other children join the war cries, even some of the warriors and riders, but the old sun speaker looks thoughtful. He decides not to mention the Red Mare that rides the boy at night.

 

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November 11, 2001

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