For now the dark covers our world like a comforting blanket, but it will not be long before the tendrils of light reached out across the sky. I glance down at my shield and sword for what seems like the hundredth time and I feel the helmet slide forward on my head. It doesn’t really fit properly, but then it wasn’t made for me. I don’t want to think about who it was made for or why I could now be the new owner because that had lots of possibilities and none of them could be good. It did not do to dwell on these things. What I need is a distraction for I now know for sure that I am not going to get any rest this night. Nothing calms me like the company of horses. Most animals hold an attraction for me, but horses were the most calming and I knew, the most understanding. For they, unlike me, had seen many battles. I know it isn’t a distraction exactly, but surely it was better to be forearmed and forewarned in this battle, because hiding or fleeing was not an option. There were eyes everywhere and the castle was locked down like the fortress we now needed it to be.
I made my way carefully to the stables. I passed many sleeping comrades and I envied them their rest. But I was by no means the only one awake at this ungodly hour. Many were sat staring into space, the fear etched plainly on their faces. From what I could see in this section of the castle, we were a very rag-tag bunch indeed, hardly a match for the Arberians.
I could hear the snorts and gentle neighs of the horses before I could see them and I knew that they felt my need and were welcoming my presence. I held my breath as I entered the stables, ready to leave at a moment’s notice if it turned out that I was not the only person here. I did not want anyone witnessing what I was about to do. I had long ago learned the language of the horses. It was a fascinating and complex method, but once you broke down the basics, you could indeed converse with them. What seems like random neck, head, ears or even mouth movements to the average person, is in fact a form of communication that could yield more than just a friendship with one of God’s most beautiful creatures. We understand each other completely and some of them I count as my closest friends. You don’t come into contact with many people in my job, well, people that would want to talk to someone like me anyway, but in my experience horses can be a lot nicer than the majority of people, so I didn’t really feel like I was missing out. In many ways I was far luckier than most. I had a job, which meant I had enough money to eat well most days and I had a roof over my head, but this meant that I wasn’t as invisible as most, so I was instantly seen as a potential fighter when news of the battle necessitated new recruits. That, and the fact that I had no parents to stand up for me, had sealed my fate, as it had many others.
Peros was the first to greet me. He was the tallest and strongest of the horses and as such, you won’t be surprised to learn that he is the King’s steed. He is as black as the darkest night and his mane is as long and luxurious as any fine maiden’s hair. His proud neck touches mine and I close my hands at my sides as I acknowledge his greeting. At this, my nerves begin to abate and I feel calmer than I have since I learned the terrible news.
Silently we converse and I learn more of the mormoths, the scaranx, the pterodyls and even the Arberians, well, Peros’ opinion of them anyway. Unsurprisingly, it was not good. When he exhales with his ears pressed right back into his head and I look deep into his eyes, I swear I can almost see the battle where he lost his brother even though I know he was never there. Arros had been a brave stallion. He had stood a couple of hands smaller than Peros, but had matched his brother in many ways. He had told Peros of the scaranx, for he too had never met one in battle. Arros had learned through trial and error the techniques needed to escape with your life when faced with such a foe. Unfortunately, there had been nothing Arros could do against the power of the wyvern and he had not stood a chance. I knew the fear of Peros matched my own. Although the truth-seekers had not spoken of the wyverns, this weapon could not be ruled out. There were those among many tribes that harnessed this gift.
Over what seemed like an age, Peros and his friends taught me all they knew. I had received lessons from them before, but never had it been so vital. I thanked them for their kindness and Peros advised me to seek out a human who might be kind enough to show me the basics in the way of battle. They could not help with swords and shields and although I thought I knew what to do with the shield (you hold it in front of you and use it to stop someone from killing you right?) I had absolutely no idea how to wield a sword. I had seen the Knights jousting, which I knew looked terrifying and that was not even a real fight, but I had never actually held one until now. I knew I did not have much time. The truth-seekers had spoken of dawn and it may take time to find someone suitable.
I had already spent much of the night conversing with my friends and their council would be invaluable, but I knew this was just as important. In my haste to leave the stables without being seen, I tripped over my own sword and ended up sat in a pile of something foul-smelling.
“Well, that’s one way to try and get the enemy to not want to come anywhere near you,” I heard from the shadows.