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The Cursed Blessing

 

~ Chapter 1 ~

 

            The pasture of the Chosen was a quiet, shaded, safe grove. It was full of trees, fruit and bushes for everyone to eat. Oh, how I remember it. I was born there, in that very field. Yes, I was born in a field. As hard as it is for the Hashim, humans, to understand, I was born in a pasture. I am one of the Chosen by Thor’s Touch. My race is what you would call horses, I believe. Before I start, you must know of how and what things are or were in the herd. The Chosen are a small, friendly herd who love basking in the simplicity of it all. The Outlanders and Landwatchers kept watch on everything that might have been a threat to us. My mother, Ryhenna, was part of the Landwatchers, a reserve group of the Outriders. The only way one could be an Outlander was to be very good in fighting. You see, everyone in the herd is taught to fight, but some are really good at it. This has to do with their Calling. A Calling is a mark on the chest, right beneath the base of the neck. It’s a birthmark of sorts that tells your destiny within the herd. My father, Daniel, had a runic ‘o,’ which looks like this: o. This symbol is also the reason why he had such a strange name. He changed it such from Helaku because, he figured, he was a linguist and should have an odd name. My father found out that he, like almost everyone else, was not from this pasture, originally. He, in fact, was from a place called Midgaard where the name he chose, Daniel, was a common name. It said as much in the runes that he translated. My mother is a good fighter, but her main job was keeper of the fire. Her Calling and name match up. Her name means fire and her Calling symbolizes kindling: n. Each bersh, year, a group full of five year olds and the most important in the herd go on a journey through the Aran Forest to arrive at the Grove of Thor’s Acorns. This is where a filly or colt becomes an adult, when he or she receives their gold acorn necklace. It is a special time when a child becomes an adult. They get to stand in the famed Axl – the Source of Life. The only way we can truly die is if our Calling is completely erased from our chests.

 

My mother’s full title and name is Eytan Ryhenna of Aderyn. She is as red as the rising sun, a many an eye are cast upon her during the mating season, desperately wishing she was a free mare. That’s where my father, Daniel of Midgaard, comes in. My father is an archeologist/linguist and sometime fighter, but not often. He stands around during mating season and lets my mother have fun with the young stallions. He knows that she will always love him. My father can speak 19 and read over 20 different languages. He is the one who taught us, my sister and me, to speak, read, and write as many languages as he can. My sister… no, you’ll have to find that out in my story.  

 

You can’t see my Calling, you say? That’s because I don’t have one. I was born without one, destined to nothing one might suppose, but that wasn’t the case at all…

 

            “Breathe, my dear. Just breathe. If you die, it won’t do any good for the baby.” The heaving red mare stopped her birthing process for a second and cocked an eye up at her husband.

            “Dead how, my love?” The contractions started up again. Even in such a serious condition, Ryhenna made things humorous. Despite himself, Daniel snorted in laughter.

            “How goes the babe?” A voice came up behind him. Horses are naturally spooked easily, but in such a time, Chruse, the golden storyteller, made Daniel jump out of his skin.

            “Chruse! I’m glad to see you. Ryhenna’s contractions have been well, contracting for about an hour and a half. She’s been in labor for about three hours.” Daniel stated looking over to his timepiece, which happened to be sitting next to him. Chruse sighed and sidled down next to Daniel. The linguist got up.

            “I feel utterly helpless. I can translate the messages of the gods, but I can’t stay calm when my wife is giving birth!” Chruse looked back up at Daniel who was almost drowning in misery.

            “It’s hard, especially when it’s a firstborn. But I can tell you, I think he’s or she’s going to be alright.” After a through examination of Ryhenna, the way she was laying and all other factors, Chruse stood back up with slightly creaking bones. “Come, Daniel of Midgaard, we most leave, for there is nothing we can do for her.” With that, the storyteller began to leave the shelter. Daniel started to follow and turned around to look at his glorious wife once more before her baby was born. Daniel whickered softly to her.

            “Go Daniel, my husband. I’ll be okay, I promise.” Ryhenna fell back on to her side again, desperately trying to have her unborn child. With one last glance, Daniel left. He hated leaving her alone, he wanted to be there for her and the baby when he, or she, was born. Instead, Daniel was banished to the outside of the shelter until such a time came when the baby was born or he was required. So Daniel of Midgaard waited outside with the storyteller. The night fell upon them swiftly and with it came a storm. What an omen! The gods are blessing my unborn child! Daniel thought proudly. The gods accepted his child no problem. So instead of retreating back into the shelter to escape the rain, Daniel stood out there taking the full blast of the ‘blessing.’ As abruptly as it started, the storm was over. A weak voice came from within the cave.

            “Daniel, Daniel! Our child has been born. It’s going to be a proud stallion one day.” Daniel whinnied loudly at the prospect. A colt was much more likely to take after his father. He reared up spun around and galloped back into the birthing cave. When he entered the cave, there it was, his new son.

“What are we going to call the bairn?” Daniel whispered fearfully. Ryhenna beckoned him closer and whispered a name into his ear then continued aloud. “But more commonly, he’ll be known as Starglyph.” And that’s how I was born.

           

            Beyla! Daniel, he’s pure black!” Ryhenna exclaimed. Daniel merely picked his head up from grazing at the baby. ‘Hmmm?’ was all that he muttered. Ryhenna, as tired as she was, had realized something and with increasing urgency she asked, “What’s his Calling?” My father nudged Starglyph around to get a look at his chest. Frowning, he licked the colt with his tongue to see if any extra chest hair was covering his Calling mark. With urgency, he turned Starglyph over and over trying to find the mark. Ryhenna was smiling ironically. “He is Hakan, the prophet of the gods!” Chruse started to tell the lay of Thor’s Prophecy.

            One day, amongst the Chosen will there a second Hakan.

My prophet will be back to gather that he can.

The new will not also have a mark of Calling.

Part of the Chosen Touched he is and is willing.

Remember that My Touch is but a blessing and a curse.

            “The storm…” my father mused, “the storm…that’s it!” He whinnied aloud. Daniel started to dance around in circles nervously trying to figure something out. The new mother got to it first.

            “Daniel, storms are the other messages of the gods…, you’re the linguist, not me. You’re the translator, it’s your Calling.” She had looked nervously at him at the time and yelled at him to stop danced around because he was going to step on the little colt as he, apparently was struggling to get up. “Daniel look.” My father stopped his musing and turned around to find Starglyph standing before him.

            “Wow. Uh hello, my baby colt. Starglyph.” At the sound of his name, he turned to find a big, blurry nose in his face. Starglyph squeaked in protest at the sight of the nose.

            “Maaa!” he stuttered. “Aaaaa?” Ah-choo! At the sneeze, Star was blown back onto his butt. “Oooaa?” At the sight of him on his tailbone like that, the three adults started laughing outright. After things settled down, Chruse said that they needed to keep the black color dappled until they were sure about him.

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            A year later, my mother was once again in labor with another child. This time we hoped that it was a girl, to create a balanced family. At the same time, we were still trying to figure out my destiny among the Chosen.

 

Starglyph, now one year old, was dappled daily with white pus from a special healing plant to make his coat a grayish color. <I believe the healers called it aloe vera, besides, it felt good.> Instead of waiting hours, he went outside to play with his best friend, Hidalgo. Hidalgo was a proud yearling stallion as well. He was known as a mustang, in your culture. Hidalgo was a brilliant deep golden brown; in short, he was a cullen, handsome, stallion.

            “Hey Star!” He called out to his desma – friend. “Whatcha doin’?” Hidalgo inquired as he pranced up to Starglyph happily.

            “Hai! Are you jera?”

            “Aye. Now could you answer my question?”

            “My mother’s having a baby…”

            “Finally!” Hidalgo exclaimed happily as they both walked away from Star’s shelter.

            “Yeah, I know,” Starglyph muttered. “Took ‘er long enough, don’t you say?” He asked sillily. Hidalgo laughed, the reaction that Star was trying to evoke.

            “Aye, me desma, aye inda’ed.” Hidalgo said in a mock accent of one of the Untouched tribes. Starglyph stuck his chin up and pranced along like a stuck-up snob who though himself better than everyone else. When he stopped, he turned around to find Hidalgo looking very oddly at him, in a kind of surprised/ ‘you’re weird’ look. That look very suddenly turned into a very awed/scared look that was aimed past him, over his left shoulder and Hidalgo straightened up as Star looked back over his shoulder very cautiously. Behind him was a brilliant white mare – Gaerwn! Gaerwn was the pure white Lipizzan floke of the Outriders. A floke’s job was very honorable even if it was one of the lower ranks in the Outriders. The position of floke was very oftenly known as Thor’s Job and the floke his or herself demanded the utmost respect. Realizing this fact, Star bowed his head, like Hidalgo had done, instead of staring at the glowing female. Starglyph glanced upwards at her Calling: u. This Calling mean that she was destined to protect the homeland, the tribe of the Touched, but in her case, she received the position of the ultimate tribe protector. She was a very spirited mare and she wasn’t that old either. Her Axl journey had only been two years ago, but the Chosen lived for a long time. <Beyla, she was gorgeous! *snort*>

            She moved up close to Star and actually rubbed against him. ‘I have the blessings of the floke! Why though?’ “Starglyph of the Chosen, born of Eytan Ryhenna of Aderyn and Daniel of Midgaard, both of the Chosen.” She used his formal names and titles that were usually only used during ceremonies. Gaerwn looked over at Hidalgo and walked to him. “And Hidalgo also of the Chosen, born of Bo Chhaya of Jeroen and Coen Ganit of Aderyn, both also of the Chosen.” She paused. “Ah! and desma – friend of Starglyph. Blessings to you both.” They both knew that the floke’s job included that he or she know of all the members in the group, but her demonstration was incredible. Starglyph sidled back to Hidalgo’s side wordlessly, gaping slightly. Gaerwn was standing off-balanced as if a human was putting her hands on her hips impatiently. Quite an interesting effect, actually. Hidalgo was a kind of a brave sort, so he gaped like a fish before asking something.

            “If you don’t mind my asking, ma’am, but why?”

            “Why what, my young participle?” came her slightly husky and very mysterious voice. Hidalgo words flew out of his mouth as if stolen from him, so he gaped a couple more times. Star cleared his throat with a well placed snort.

            “Why diiid you bless us with your presence, Floke Gaerwn?” he stuttered and Hidalgo nodded in agreement. She began to walk back the way she came and looked back over her right shoulder.

            “Because I was just trying to get to know my two favorite yearlings.” With that she trotted off down the hill to the rest of the Outriders. At the crest of the hill, Star and Hidalgo could see the Ashwin, Blaz, his 2IC and Hidalgo’s mother Bo Chhaya, Dima Brant with his stunning red chestnut color – one that rivaled Ryhenna’s, Calhoun Hachi, with her beautiful river blue coat and gray hooves, Caden Gamba with her deep maroon like color, and the flawless white Gaerwn thundering down the slope of the hill. These were the Outriders, the group that protected the herd at all costs, the, as some call it, military. Then there was a secondary group of Outriders known as the Landwatchers. They didn’t do as much action work and scouting, but were the first line of defense, after the Outriders, if anyone or anything should try and threaten the herd. The ranks of the Landwatchers consisted of Starglyph’s mother, Eytan Ryhenna, Destry Amdis, Diata Apara, Edria Chase, Diallo Frey, and Coen Ganit – Hidalgo’s father. Star and Hidalgo sighed and looked at each other.

            “You should have seen your face!” Starglyph exclaimed excitedly as they walked on to the common ground. Star made an impression of Hidalgo and got a laugh in return. Hidalgo made a love-struck gaze off at an invisible mare. Star champed his hindquarters gently. “Was not!” the grayish, but really black, yearling. But Hidalgo nodded vehemently.

            “Was too!”

            “Na uh!”

            “Was… hey look at that river.” Star broke out of the argument and looked longingly at the river. His mother had forbidden him to go in any river within the sight of his friends for fear of washing of the white juices of the aloe. “Come on!”

            Starglyph backed up hesitantly. “No, I’m sorry. I can’t,” he said shaking his head. Hidalgo shrugged. It was very hard to upset him; he just went with the flow.

            “Whatever…” He stopped. There were voices coming from the woods beyond the river, not the famed Aran forest, of course. They recognized one loud voice of a bully amongst the Chosen. He was only two years older then they and hadn’t even gotten his necklace. Kanaye was his name. He was mean to all that were younger than he. His ‘bodyguards’ were cowards, only brave within Kanaye’s range.

            Beyla,” Star growled, “Here we go again.” The two colts set themselves up for a fight, physical or verbal as Kanaye and his goons rounded the bend.

            “Ah, look what we have here, two little colts whom seem to have wondered far from their mamas,” Kanaye scorned loudly.

            “Hai! Bug off, bully. We aren’t scared of you.” The friends held their ground. Even though Kanaye was huge for his age, he most likely wouldn’t put up a fight.

            “Chut up, cheche!” Star was royally insulted; to be called a cheche was one of the worst insults you could think of. Hidalgo was taken back.

            “Well look who’s talking, you kilenya.” Hidalgo threw back at Kanaye. He felt proud of himself. It was a word stored in the back of his mind, an adult word. ‘Lumbering goon, that should do.’ But Hidalgo knew it wasn’t over.

            “That’s it!” The giant roared, then he became scarily calm. “See that lovely river over yonder. I’d love to see a dunking, would you boys?” Kanaye asked his ‘guards.’ They nodded with glee. Starglyph and Hidalgo steadied themselves into a fighting position as Star’s mother and Hidalgo’s parents had taught them. In the safety of the woods, Star dared to utter a minor battle cry. The bulling group came forward to fight and the yearling colts put up a good fight, but in the end the bullies managed to drive both of them to the banks of the river. With one last good swift kick into Kanaye and one of his goons’ faces, both Hidalgo and Starglyph jumped into the river and went for a swim.

            “See these cheche can’t even put up a good fight,” he said even though the friends really did fight hard. They were pretty badly beat up for picking a fight with yearlings. Kanaye stated his boast only to boost his own pride, to make it feel like the yearlings hadn’t actually beat them. “Let them swim, come on.” With that, Kanaye and his two goons walked away from the drenched colts. After there was no one in the area and was safe to get out of the river, they did. It was dusk now and the aloe in Star’s coat had washed out. Hidalgo turned to his friend head down at first then looked up to meet Star’s eyes.

            “That wasn’t a fair…beyla, you’re pure black!” Hidalgo exclaimed in awe.

            Star looked down at himself.” Yeah, so?”

            “So?! Ask your parents to tell you the lay of Thor when you get home.” All of a sudden there a sharp whinny split the air. The colts looked at each other and bolted full speed back to Star’s shelter. Of course, Starglyph, who was full of adrenaline, was galloping in front of Hidalgo. Star felt he was going so fast he could have beaten the herd’s fastest runner. Full of pride, fear, and joy, he pushed the last ounce of energy out of him and flew around the bends. In a matter of seconds, Hidalgo and Star arrived at the shelter and rushed inside to find Ryhenna, Daniel, and Chruse all looking very puzzled. Ryhenna looked up from her newborn and smiled at the pair of exhausted yearlings. Daniel looked at them in consternation. Star could clearly see a newborn next to his mother, a very small and apparently hairless, nevertheless, but there was a newborn. Just what was so wrong?

            “Ryhenna?” Hidalgo ventured. “What’s wrong?”

Ryhenna looked nervously at Hidalgo then to Chruse, who gave a small nod in return. She nudged the baby forward and Hidalgo gasped. Star couldn’t figure out what was so wrong, though. Yes, the child looked funny, but… “It’s a filly, Star and her name is Freya. This is your new sibling.” Ryhenna said quietly. Hidalgo was still in utter shock, but Star just looked at him funny. ‘Ah, Hidalgo knows the lays of Thor better than I do. It must be one of those mythical thingies…’ As Star went forward to greet her new baby sister, his mother murmured, “She’s human, my son.” Star stopped and thought for a second.

            “She’s hashim?” he whispered fearfully. So that’s why Hidalgo was gaping so. Star and Hidalgo and most of the others in the herd had never seen a human before, so naturally, Star wanted to greet the little human. “Hello, baby Freya.” She was so small! Ryhenna had Freya resting in the crook of her front legs.

            “My son,” Daniel said, “Chruse says that human children tend to grow up slower. Like you were able to stand up minutes after you were born. Freya will not be able to talk properly or walk around for several years. Chruse says about two to three for walking and three to five for talking?” Chruse nodded slowly. “However, you will need to watch out for her and care for her when we are gone. Chruse will help you, right?”

            “Yes, I will offer my help when I can,” the golden storyteller answered solemnly. Ryhenna relaxed and let her gaze wander up to her beautiful black stallion… black?! She took a double take at Starglyph.

            “Starglyph! What happened? You’re… you’re…”

            Daniel finished the sentence for her in awe, “Black.” Hidalgo snapped out of it.

            “Oh, Chruse, Ryhenna, Daniel, will one of you tell the First Lay of Thor?” he implored. Chruse cleared his throat and started the first lay. 

One day, amongst the Chosen will rise a second Hakan.

My prophet will be back to gather that he can.

The new will not also have a mark of Calling.

Part of the Chosen Touched he is and is willing.

Remember that My Touch is but a blessing and a curse.

“Hakan…” Star said in awe. Everyone knew the legendary prophet of Thor, a pure black stallion with no Calling. Because he had no Calling, it was rumored that he could never die unless a vital part of his body was ‘dismantled,’ namely his head. The Chosen are not able to take another’s life like that, so only a hashim or something with the dexterity or technology could do so. It was also rumored that he was still amongst the tribes of the Aran Forest, which included the Chosen.

“I’m just curious, who controls when the prophets are born?” Hidalgo questioned, “Is it Thor?”

The adults looked at Daniel. “Why does everyone look at me? I may not know the answer to everything!” he said with some protest. There was a brief silence and then Daniel gave in to the pressure. “Ok ok, Mimir, the god of prophecy does, not Thor. Although, he is supposed to have a say in when and where.” One by one, they all slowly glanced at Star quickly and looked away and Hidalgo realized something. He may be all black, but what about his Calling?

“My desma – friend, do you have a Calling?” Hidalgo asked nervously. Star looked at his parents.

“No he does not.” Daniel answered. Star looked at his hooves self-consciously and kicked the ground. Something started to wail and all attention was turned back to the child which Ryhenna started to bounce slightly. She started crooning the child.

“Freya, dear Freya, sweet Freya…” she said quietly to the child in her lap. Daniel ushered everyone outside the shelter so Ryhenna and Freya could get some sleep.

“Good night, my love. ‘Night Freya.” Daniel nuzzled his wife and followed the others outside. “We are to sleep outside tonight. Chruse, did Amon say anything about the weather today?” Amon was the Sage of the Chosen, which in itself should explain the Sage. She was a beautiful deep blue mare with a smoky silver mare, tail, and hooves. She awed and commanded much more respect than Floke Gaerwn. When seen, very rarely, the herd bowed to her. The demonstration to Gaerwn from the colts was a reaction that they were almost madly love with her, but had never seen Amon before. <She was a mix between mustang and a lipizzaner. Gods, she was glorious!>

“Amon said there wasn’t going to be rain from the gods tonight,” the storyteller said. “She said she didn’t want your wife to have another stormy birth,” Chruse added sheepishly. The four of them lay down in the shelter’s ‘pasture.’ Daniel and Ryhenna knew Hidalgo’s parents, Chhaya and Ganit, very well and Hidalgo was allowed to stay with Starglyph and his family as long as Hidalgo came back the next morning. “You kids hungry?” Chruse asked as they bedded down in the grass. As an answer, the colts started champing on the grass hungrily. Chruse chuckled quietly and shook his head and turned to talk with Daniel.

~ Chapter 2 ~

 

Four years later, my sister was four and learning to talk properly. As for me, I was getting ready for my trip through the Aran Forest to the Axl. A terrifying yet very exciting time for youngsters. The adults who made the journey every year were Amon, our prince, Destry Amdis of Mitexi, and the Outriders, to protect us from the kiril. My desma – friend, Hidalgo, was also going to receive his Golden Necklace in the Grove of Thor’s Acorns.

 

“Dad?” Daniel looked up from his work to his son. They had stopped dappling Star with aloe, but Chruse got Amon to ‘make’ a Calling for him when he was sleeping. His new ‘Calling’ was an illusion that looked like this: G, which actually stood for nothing at all. Only Ryhenna, Daniel, Amon, Chruse, and Hidalgo knew that the Calling stood for something else, great potential.

“Yes, Star?”

“What was your Journey to the Grove like?”

Daniel snorted in laughter. “My journey?! Ha! That was back when I was called Helaku…” He lapsed into remembrance.

“I was a horrible child, a horrible five year old brat,” I explained.

“You? A brat?!” my son asked.

“Yes, my desma – friend Misu and I were horrible trouble makers.”…

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            “Come Helaku! Come on!” a voice said pleadingly. The blue/gold five-year-old looked up from his work at the voice and smiled.

            “Heyyyy Misu!” Helaku nickered softly and got up. “When’s our Axl Journey anyway?”

            “That’s why I came actually. Uh, we’re getting set right now at the Common Ground. Soooo, come on!” The deep maroon colt took off and Helaku only glimpsed his friend’s silver hooves. Helaku looked up with urgency and his eyes widened.

            “Hey! Wait for me,” he cried as he took off around the hedge that separated his shelter from the rest. As he galloped full speed around the next couple hedges, he expected to see Misu in front of him. ‘No matter, I’ll catch up.’ he though to himself. He kept gaining speed when, from the bush just a stride away from him, out stepped the maroon five year old.

            “Boo!” Misu said loudly. Helaku jumped and reared up in sheer terror. The whites of his eyes showed as Helaku thought he was facing a kiril. He settled back onto his four feet into a fighting stance – squared quarters, slightly leaned back – dependent on the hindquarters, like a cat bowing down, keep the head bowed in front of the neck, but so you could also see the enemy. Helaku settled into this stance ready to fight and finally looked at his ‘enemy’ and saw a familiar Calling, a B. He blinked and stood up again normally. Misu stared at his desma -friend surprised, Misu gathered his wits and simply laughed. Helaku flattened his ears against his skull.

            “MISU!!! Don’t you dare do that again!” Helaku roared. He harshly chomped on Misu’s neck and Misu danced away laughing. Misu’s laugh was infectious and Helaku started to chuckle softly at the joke his desma – friend had pulled on him.

            “Come on, Helaku. We’ve got to catch up with Akara, Sycl, and Bydel.” Misu said almost pleadingly. Helaku rolled his eyes. “Now?” Misu implored once again.

            “Fine, let’s canter. We have time, right?”

            “Sorta, how ‘bout a fast canter?”

            “Agreed.” They set off towards the Common Ground once again at a slower pace. Helaku thought of his other friends, Akara, Sycl, and Bydel. Akara was an interesting mare; she was darkish orange, like the sunset, with a royal blue tail, mane, and hooves. Her Calling was just like Helaku’s, but upside-down: O. Sycl and Bydel were brothers, twin brothers actually. Sycl was a beautiful moss green color with dirt brown hooves, tail, and mane. He camouflaged well into the forest and was the best at hide and find. Sycl’s Calling also represented a half leaf: A. While his brother, Bydel, was completely opposite. Bydel had a dirt brown coat with moss green hooves, tail, and mane. He was the second best at hide and find. Bydel’s nickname was By. His Calling was also the opposite of his brother’s: F. The two together could be quite an eye fooler. Together the brothers were known as the BySycl, the forest ‘gods.’ Finally, the friends arrived at the Common Ground just in time to hear the tail end of the prince’s speech on the Journey. They blended themselves with the other 17 anxious five-year-olds easily. Misu spied an orange globe coming towards him and Helaku.

            “Hai, Akara,” Misu whispered softly. “How was the grand ol’ speech?” Akara nodded back and forth, judging the time it had taken the prince to talk.

            “Hai,” she greeted her friend. “The prince wasn’t all that long this time. Were where you?” Akara asked worriedly. Helaku picked up his head to look at his mare friend.

            “Hai Akara, Misu here came to get me,” he stated tiredly. Akara raised an eyebrow and looked suspiciously at Helaku and Misu.

            “And about how long does that take?” Helaku glanced evilly at his desma – friend and in return, Misu stuck his tongue out at him. Helaku looked around suddenly, everywhere for something and frowned.

            “What is it?” Misu asked pointedly.

            “Ah, where’s the BySycl? Any ideas, anyone?” The crowd of five year olds was starting to disperse into the Aran Forest to start the Journey. Two voices came up behind him, Misu, and Akara.

            “At your service,” one voice to Helaku’s right said.

            “Always at your service, whenever the time arises,” finished the second voice over Helaku’s left shoulder. Misu turned around to face a green and brown mass.

            “Hello, good friends,” said the brown mass happily.

            “How is life? Are you all jera?” finished the green mass. Akara snorted with laughter, the BySycl’s act never got old for her. Misu and Helaku greeted the twins as equally happy as they had greeted the desma friends.

            “Hai! The BySycl is back in town. And we are fine, thank you for asking.” Helaku answered for everyone. “But come on, I think the group’s going to canter off now. We’ll talk later?” The rest of the friend’s group nodded in agreement as the Journeying group picked up the pace to a nice and easy canter.

            “And that’s just the beginning,” I told my overly eager son.

            “It sounded like you, your friend Misu, Akara, and the BySycl had a lot of fun together,” my Star noted. I can’t believe how painful it was; still, to talk about what had happened to my childhood friends.

            “We did, but right after our Journey, they all disappeared. I was distraught for many, many days.” I said mournfully. Starglyph looked down at his feet. My son was a thoughtful stallion.

            Just as mournfully as I, he asked, “Where’d they go, dad?” He knew what it was to lose a childhood friend. In our herd, it is almost unbearable and actually almost shameful to break up with childhood friends.

            “To be honest, son, I don’t know, but I do know that it had to do something with the Axl.”

 

            “The Axl, the Source of Life?” Star asked nervously. Maybe his Journey was going to be more memorable than he’d already thought.

            “Yes, I’m pretty sure the Axl had something to do with it,” Daniel stated with determination. All was silent for a moment, Ryhenna had left the two males in charge of Freya for an afternoon and now even she was asleep. The birds went silent, as if waiting for an answer.

            “Dad? Will you promise me one thing?” Star inquired somberly.

            “I’ll try, son, it depends on what it is.” Daniel responded back, interested in what his son might ask of him so urgently.

            “Will you at least tell me the rest of that story someday. The Chosen have a lot of days for you to choose from.” Daniel smiled at his bright son. He was amazed at how much his half told childhood story could affect his son, Starglyph, on such a level. So he smiled gently and answered the question.

            “Yes, we do have many days and on one of them, I promise I will tell you the rest of that story.”

            Star only had one thing to say. “Thanks, dad.”

 

It was the night before Thrimilci, or Beltain as it was more commonly known as. That night was a very important night for all the herd members. It was the night before we went to the Grove of Thor’s Acorns and received our necklaces.

 

As it was, it was mandatory to go to the Grove at the age of five. If a five year old was to be kept back by his/her parents, it was considered a great dishonor to themselves and their family name. Not a soul in the Chosen would ever dare try to corrupt the ways of Thor and the other Chosen gods. Even so, Starglyph would have rather stayed behind than go on his Journey.

“Hidalgo?” the young black colt asked for his sleeping friend.

“Ummm?” Tonight all the five-year-olds slept on the Common Ground. It was a new rule adapted to kept younglings from running off and avoiding their Journey. It had happened two years before Star was born, a group of potential adults had run off into the night and mysteriously disappeared. So Star, Hidalgo and some friends slept next to each other.

“Do you really want to go on the Journey?” Starglyph said quietly. Hidalgo rolled over, surprised. He cocked an eye at his best friend; he was a little worried because all herd members knew the seriousness of deserting their Journey.

“Yes, why?” Hidalgo asked flawlessly. Star gave him a look that said ‘No, do you really want to?’ Hidalgo thought for a moment before answering an unasked question.

“If you want to know if I’m incredibly anxious and nervous, yes I am. We have no idea what’s to happen to us on the way to the Axl and the Grove. It’s gonna be nerve-racking, but undoubtedly fun,” Hidalgo said solemnly. Star was silent at his friend’s commitment to the Journey, for a while. It was disturbingly quiet in the Common Ground. The birds had temporary lockjaw and the last cricket took his last note and took a break for the night. Only the grass swayed around the two awoken colts, as if scolding them for not sleeping. Hidalgo turned his head slightly to the breeze. Star looked at him strangely; it looked as if he was listening to the gods.

Star, who was spooked, whispered, “Let’s get some sleep and we’ll talk tomorrow.” He looked to see if his friend would respond to his request. For a few seconds, Hidalgo didn’t move a muscle then relaxed.

“Wha… yeah, okay.” With that, Hidalgo put his back onto the ground and dozed off. Star was a little shell-shocked and shook it off like an annoying fly. ‘Maybe he was destined for being a Sage of a sort.’ Star thought as he also fell asleep. After the long of preparing for the Journey, all the colts and fillies were exhausted. They had to go though purifying rituals and recited the Nine Noble Virtues of Asatru, which went as such:

1. Courage is having the bravery to do what is right at all times.

2. Truth is the willingness to be honest and say what one knows to be true and right.

3. Honor is the feeling of inner value and worth from which one knows that one is noble of being, and the desire to show respect for this quality when it is found in the world.

4. Fidelity is the will to be loyal to one's Gods and Goddesses, to one's Folk, and to one's self without restriction.

5. Discipline is the willingness to be hard with one's self first, and then if need be with others, in order that greater purposes can be achieved.

6. Hospitality is the willingness to share what one has with one's fellows, especially when they are far from home.

7. Industriousness is the willingness to work hard - always striving for efficiency - as a joyous activity in and of itself.

8. Self-reliance is the spirit of independence which is achieved not only for the individual, but also for the family, clan, tribe, and nation.

9. Perseverance is the spirit of stick-to-it-evenness that can always bring one back from defeat or failure. Each time we fail, we recognize failure for what it is and, if the purpose is true and good, we persevere until success is won.

Before they had to go on the Journey through Aran Forest to get to the Grove, they had to dance at the crack of dawn. The Chosen believed that they were the only herd that danced. The others didn’t have what it took to dance, they scoffed. But for now, the Common Ground was serene. Not a thing stirred that night, the five year olds dreamed of being adults and what they were able to do once they got their necklace. They dreamed of what their role in the herd would be. Freya slept peacefully in her mother’s and father’s embrace. She hadn’t figured out that she was different yet, but she was proving to be a smart girl. She had figured out early that week that riding a horse was sooo much easier than walking on her own. She had her own ‘Tar too. Freya could ride around all day on her pretty black horse and Star didn’t mind either – she was as light as a feather. Star took her around with him doing the things he’d normally do in the herd. Of course, Ryhenna had worried at first; she had a right to as a mother. Freya hadn’t had very good balance the first couple times she had tried to get on her brother, but, with unrelentless determination, she’d figured out how to keep her balance. Star was almost full grown and he was a big to-be stallion! Ryhenna had predicted, with a chuckle or two, that her son was probably going to be taller than his father. Hidalgo was a little smaller in size than his desma, but he would be as filled out as Starglyph. Star had no doubt in his mind that his desma – friend, Hidalgo, would be with him wherever he was to go.

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Dawn came swiftly for the nervous children. The prince, Destry Amdis of Mitexi, screamed out a cry that awoke the whole of the herd. As if an evil spirit was to descend on them, the fivers awoke with a start. Spooked into submission, the fivers sidled to their friends to listen to their prince. Soon, parents and farewellers trickled into the valley to hear the prince and see the famous dance that they had once danced many years ago.

“You all know why we’re here, the Journey through the Aran Forest to the Axl into the Grove of Thor’s Gold Acorns!” There was a roar of whinnies and neighs from the happy crowd. “So, let’s start the dance.” All who wanted to join did, but it was mandatory for the fivers. The dance started as a stately trudge and developed into a high-spirited, high-stepped and complex weave. The weave formed a highly complex Norse knot of multicolored horses. From above, it looked like a swirl of colors moving in and out of a group, one second you would lose a color and it would come out on the other side the next second. Hidalgo and Star tried to stay somewhat together, but that was almost impossible to do and follow the dance correctly at the same time. Star noticed that his father, Daniel, had joined the dance and he was wondering if his mother was watching from outside the ring of dancers. Finally, about an hour later, the dance came to an end. All the dancers were sweating to some extent because of the fast pace. The prince gave the youngsters a half hour break to regroup with friends and family and say goodbye for the duration of Beltain. Star and Hidalgo found each other while they were going to their parents. Many of the fivers had never been away without their parents for more than two days.

“Hai Starglyph!” Hidalgo paused to catch his breath. “How you doing?” he used the less formal version of the word jera. Star snorted and nodded at him.

“Not so bad, you?” Hidalgo laughed at Star’s question. Star shook his head at his friend who never ceased to amaze him. The herd’s parents had started moving back into the crowd as the five year olds started after their prince at a slow trot then into a moderate canter. Daniel watched his son’s hooves disappear into the forest. He looked at his son and his son’s desma friend and couldn’t help but wonder if they were going to ever come back. Daniel shook his head and turned around and high-tailed it back to the shelter. Back at the shelter, Ryhenna was laying with Freya, who was taking a nap.

“How was the dance?” Ryhenna inquired softly to her husband.

“Very nice, they left about a half hour ago.” Freya stirred and woke up. Her parents still got the sense that she didn’t know that she wasn’t a Chosen horse, but they were willing to do whatever it took to get her to the Axl someday. Freya stretched nearly missing her mother’s head and got up. Teaching Freya to talk had been a long process, but in the end they prevailed. It had also taken some time to get Freya to walk upright and not on her fours like the horses did.

“Hai, mummy, daddy,” she greeted them cheerfully. “Whatcha doing?” She peered into her daddy’s big brown eyes as he knelt next to her and his wife.

“Taking a break, you sweetplum?” the linguist asked back.

“Takin’ a break, daddy,” Freya answered proudly as her parents snorted in laughter. She had learned quickly and was very intelligent for a four year old human. She looked around the shelter and took in information. Freya saw a blue horse – her father, a fire red horse – her mother, but, “Where’s ‘Tar?” she asked peering around to find her brother. Ryhenna looked at her husband worried at what they should tell their daughter. Freya asked again insistently, “Where’s ‘Tar?”

“Star had to go on a trip to the Axl,” Daniel was explaining to Freya. Ryhenna suddenly thought about her son, what was he doing now…

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            “Star!” Hidalgo yelled out. After the long run into the Aran Forest, the group of five year olds had taken a break for the day and now he, Star, and their other friend, Hoyo, were playing Catch. The rules of Catch were quite simple. One person is chosen to be the Chooser and the others stand in a circle around him/her. He/she counts to fifteen, with their eyes closed, as the others scatter behind trees and such. After 15 seconds, the Chooser opens his/her eyes and yells out a name of one of the other players. If that person is called, they call out the Chooser’s name and poke their head out from behind their hiding place. If the Chooser doesn’t see them then the process repeats itself three times over. After that the Chooser has to pick a different name. But if the Chooser does see the chosen one, then he/she must nip the chosen one on the hindquarters. If the Chooser runs by another player, then he/she may chomp them on the hindquarters instead of the one that they are chasing.

            Hoyo was a sweet natured kind of fellow. He was a dark gold color with French blue hooves – completely opposite of Daniel. His calling designated him to be part of the Outriders after the Journey: f. He was a little afraid to be admitted immediately to the Outriders without going through the Landwatchers. Star and Hidalgo had convinced him that he was one of the best, if not the best, fighter of the fivers. Seeing Hoyo and Star spar together was a sight to see. <God, he put up a fight!> They were equally as good at fighting. Why Star hadn’t also been picked to be in the Outriders was well beyond him. Maybe someday, he thought to himself. The friends finished their game and wanted to spar. Hidalgo immediately went to the side to lay and wait for the winner to emerge. Star went into his stance as Hoyo went into his very unique fighting stance. Star always thought about that when he saw it. Hey, whatever works, he concluded. Star had his weight shifted onto his hind legs like a dog does when it wants to play. Hoyo was almost equally balanced, but his weight was slightly shifted to the back as he raised his right foreleg and placed it out in front of the other leg.

            “Bring it on,” Hoyo said menacingly. Hidalgo chuckled quietly as they began sparring. Star settled himself; it wasn’t often that he won against Hoyo, about every 1 in 6. That was much better than all the other fivers. Not that there were many fivers to begin with, the herd of the Chosen was quite small, but hardy and long-lived. The fivers were Cassini; female, Heim; male, Skye; male, Caldonia; female, Star, Hoyo, and Hidalgo.  All of the fivers were friends, if not friendly acquaintances. Caldonia was no doubt Star’s, and everybody else’s, favorite female. Unbeknownst to him, she liked him also. <Yes!> The sparring went on. By this time, most of the other five year olds had gathered around the pair. Not only the fivers were watching though, the escorts observed the game from afar muttering to each other how each move could be improved or how well each stallion was doing. Everybody knew how well both stallions could fight… in a real situation both could easily defend themselves. With several grunts and snorts, Star scored the ‘first blood’ – the first hard hit. Hoyo backed off shaking his head, snorting, and blowing out through his nose nosily. Star backed off, still pumped, and apologized.

            “Sorry about that, Hoyo…” Hoyo looked at him in confusion at exactly what Star was apologizing for. “Your nose,” Star pointed out ashamed. He stretched his nose out experimentally and blew hard.

            “S’okay, no prob,” he said a bit nasally. Even though he said it was okay, Star still felt horrible. “Next round?” It was a rhetorical question because there were always three rounds in sparring. Star nodded his head as the guides sighed in relief at Hoyo’s recovery. The two set themselves up again in their stances – ready to fight. Star got himself mentally prepared; it was hard sparring against Hoyo. Up and ready – feint, recover, left, right, forward, and strike! A near miss, he readied himself again as Hoyo came forward to strike. Star dodged out of the way giddily. Feeling like he was high on lighthoof because of the adrenaline rush, Star shouted out, “Smote me down, O Mighty Smoter!!!” It was a joke amongst the fivers. After hearing a story from Chruse about two mighty fighters, Aro and Tir, in Chosen mythology, (they didn’t have many myths because they all lived so long…) they all picked up the famous phrase mentioned by the braver fighter, Aro, whom happened to die ironically, ‘Shall I die, young, vain one, my ancestors will smote you down into damnation. You shall never rest amongst the ones of old as long as I am able. So smote me down, O Mighty Smoter!’ From that day on, the young ones used the phrase in jest during good, intense spars.

            The peanut gallery neighed and snorted in approval. Hoyo, as calmly and as coolly as if he were Tir, answered his friend in the ancient language. “B’ni aethan.” An evil look fell upon his eyes. All the fivers let out a roar of approval this time. A multitude of “Ha!”, “Yeah!”, “Woohoo!” reached Star’s ears as he focused on his attacker. Both Star and Hoyo reared up to box with their front hooves. Star went half way, dropped down, spun around and hit Hoyo in the stomach with his back hooves. It was a trick Star learned from his father. It often worked if one: you didn’t over-commit yourself to rearing and two: if the other didn’t know about it and can’t react fast enough to block. When executed properly, it severely hurt the other. Star moved out from underneath a falling Hoyo’s hooves. He had only hit hard enough to end the round and the match. There were only three rounds if each person had won one round – best two out of three in other words.   

. The audience was silent, holding their breath to see if Hoyo was okay or not. When Hoyo reached the ground with his front two legs, he stood straight, wavered, and his legs gave out on him. The older guides went to help and decided to see how the fivers handled it, seeing as they were to be adults in a matter of days. They retreated. Star, looking worried, came down from his rush, walked to Hoyo lying on the ground breathing heavily and nickered softly to his friend. Hidalgo came over too as the rest of the crowd dispersed. “Are you jera, my friend?” Hoyo waited a moment or two before answering – catching his breath.

“I’m fine. You just knocked the wind out of me… I’m jera.” He sounded wheezy. “Ayudu nei nėl?” he asked in the old language. All members of the herd were required to learn the old language at some point in their life. If they didn’t, then they were looked down upon. The words used by the herd such as beyla and cullen were either modified versions or actual words from the language. Star and Hidalgo helped him up in every way they could. When Hoyo was situated again on his feet he turned to Star and admitted his defeat. “You win, you win. I give in.” Star felt proud of himself, for not many could beat Hoyo.

“Thank you… I think…” Star stuttered roughly. Hoyo laughed and turned to walk back to his ‘spot’ to fall asleep. Now it was dusk/dawn and they all needed a goodnight’s rest for the coming run to the Axl and the Grove.

“Come, rest next to us,” Hoyo invited Star and Hidalgo. It was a great honor to get invited to bed down next to another. It showed trust, honor, and respect towards another. Star and Hidalgo were in awe. Hoyo was considered the leader among the fivers; everybody in the group was his friend. Star and Hidalgo usually bedded down outside the usual throng of the group.

“Uh, thank you, Hoyo,” Hidalgo said respectfully.

Hoyo nodded and chuckled softly. “This is the last night that we foals are going to be together like this ever again.” Star was about why he said this and realized why. This was the last full day and night that they were going to be children in the herd. When they returned to the herd, they would all be adults with a specific purpose.

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            The next morning, Amon and the prince woke the fivers quietly, for fear of bringing down the kiril. Unfortunately, when Heim woke up, he uttered yells and screams of different multitudes. For this reason, he was the last to be woken up. All the Chosen on the ‘mission’ stood in a circle around the sleeping colt, to muffle the sound of the yelp. Ashwin Blaz, the accompanying Outrider, drew in a deep breath and sighed as he went to wake the colt. Heim rolled over and stared at the circle that he was enclosed in and screamed bloody murder before his vision focused properly. He focused in on the Ashwin and a big black colt in the circle and realized that he was in a group of friends. He got up and nodded silently.

            Lo siento?” he managed to utter in the Arabe language. His parents had originally lived amongst them until they realized that they’d outlived all of their friends. Depressed, they moved on to the Valae Gathering. Upon arrival, they told the Valae their problem. Knowing of the long lived stallions and mares over the border that they hated, the Valae kicked them out, nicely, over the border. Here, in the Chosen Plain, was he born with a Calling: h. His parents knowing not much of the Chosen language, but all of the ancient language Eyob, spoke in mostly Eyob, Arabe, and little Chosen as they learned it. Star understanding what he said, answered promptly.

            Es bueno, Heim. Es bueno.” Heim gaped at Star. The group, feeling they no longer had any use, wandered off to eat breakfast. Only Star and Blaz stayed behind.

            “You okay, son?” he asked worriedly. Heim nodded nervously. “Good,” with that he walked off to join the others. Heim turned to Star again.

            ¿Hablas Arabe?” he asked promptly.

            Sí, mi padre enseña me.” Star pulled a silly smile. “¡Yo es inteligente-mente!” Heim stopped, smiled a little, and then finally laughed hysterically. Exactly the reaction Star wanted from his new friend. Hidalgo turned around at the sound of the laughter and neighed at the two to get their attention. 

            “Hai!” he called. “Wanna join me Star? And Heim,” he added at the last second.

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            Later on, the group was off again at a steady gallop towards the Grove. Heim, usually being the last colt in the run, wasn’t anymore. Heim wasn’t fat or weak; actually he was quite the contrary. He just couldn’t keep the pace, for what reasons it wasn’t any of Star’s or Hidalgo’s business to know. Nobody talked much, if any. The group kept their eyes ahead and their ears open. Now that the sun was at its peak, the horses down far below suffered. Hidalgo and Star ran with Heim to keep him company. At the few and infrequent breaks, the members of the group eat hungrily and drank as if they would never taste water again. The lush grass was a nice feeling under their hooves and settled well in their stomachs. The path the group traveled should have been well worn considering it was used almost every year. Somehow, as if by magic, the grass grew back lusher than the previous year, but it was never overgrown and remained a tree, root, stick free path into the Grove. The magic of the Aran Forest never ceased to amaze even the oldest of their numbers. The sight was spectacular. Some trees bent over as if to greet the pilgrimage, drooping with their long branches. While others stood as straight and sturdy as a stallion’s leg. The silver tree bark gave a beautiful and slightly ominous overcast to the forest. The bark reflected off ponds they passed by and also reflect off the thick canopy. The effect was that there looked like there were more trees than there actually were. The dark forest shadowed the travel and had beaten the horses into complete silence. Those who dared to utter a sneeze were looked down upon. The concentration of the travelers was incredible. They all thought about or reflected on what they would glimpse at the Axl. What would happen to them once they reached the heart of the Grove at the Axl? What had happened to their parents when they came? they wondered nervously. Of course they didn’t know what their parent saw, it was forbidden to tell anyone who hadn’t been to the pool yet. The hooves of the pilgrims thudded softly against the grass, making the illusion of a light, far away, rolling thunder. Finally, it was dusk and the group took a break for the night. It was cold because the ever-looming, overhead canopy blocked out much of the sunlight. Heim, Hidalgo, and Star huddled together. Because Heim was so tired, the friends had gone with him and soon fell asleep before anyone else had bedded down. As the night grew, the others soon enclosed the three friends in a circle of warmth. Even the elders joined them, but one was missing. 

 

~Chapter Three~

            Amon raced to the Axl as fast as she could. The Sage ran like there was no tomorrow. Ironically, in a way there wasn’t. If the Axl didn’t ‘turn on’ as they all called it, then the ceremony could not take place. She had to get to the circular pad of curious symbols. No one knew what they were, not even Daniel could tell them. It was their sacred object from Thor, none of the other races knew about it. So they thought. No, Amon thought. They knew. She smiled as best she could being a horse and all, a habit most of them had picked up from watching young Freya. Good times… she thought gleefully. She, Amdis, and Cian had gotten into a heated discussion about the Axl’s origin and who it was from. That was many, many years past, before Daniel was born and about ten atce-moons after Amon’s Axl Journey. That was, Amon had to think. That was over 300 atce-moons. Cian by that time was already 50 atce-moons past her Journey.  Amdis had gone the year before Amon, so he was only 11 atce-moons into stallion-hood at the time of the discussion. In other terms, Amon, herself, was 310 years old, Amdis was 311 years, and Cian, the oldest of them all, was 350 years old. There were others before Cian, but they had lived in The Place Before. The rumor had it that the Chosen were put on this place by Thor and the other gods. How they came was supposedly by the Axl. The gods had told Hakan that every year, when a child reached adulthood; they must go to the Axl and have a ritual that celebrated the Coming. Now, roughly 400 atce-moons later, Amon raced through the Aran to do this duty. The moon was still high in the sky as the trees flew by her. Now she thought about the other races of horses there were in the surrounding areas.

The Arabe, now they were a problem. Since the time of the Coming, the long-lived race of the desert breed had been harassing the Chosen. Fluent in both their own language and the Ancient’s language, they felt they claimed more of a right to be in the lands than the Chosen of Thor did. The land that the Chosen now occupied had belonged to no one before the Coming. The ones that came from The Place Before already knew the Ancient language. The language was not Thor’s or any of the other gods; it was old even in The Place Before. In that way it had earned the name of Ancient. The borders of the Arabe and Chosen land were the Dead Zone. The Dead Zone was a place where neither breed could trespass upon and fight. It was no-man’s-land. It came to pass in a treaty many atce-moons ago, the Treaty of Breeds, where a war had been raging for 20 years on who had rightful ownership of the Chosen borders. During the Twenty Bersh War, many of those who Came from The Place Before had died, resulting in the low number of Chosen today. The Arabe were the first that figured out how to fully kill the Chosen warriors. Finally, when the numbers on both sides where extremely low, the rulers of the two races stopped the war and held Counsel. Counsel consists of all the Chosen’s Outriders and the other party’s warriors. The border of the lands where settled, but the two races could never fight on them again because of the Dead Zone. Because of all the blood, nothing except sparse grass grew there. Chosen and all the other long-lived races had slightly acidic and filled with electricity. The electrical component in their blood was the key ingredient to their long live. Because the Chosen were Immortal, they had more electricity in their blood than the Arabe, who had very little. The electricity healed their wounds and kept their hearts, lungs, and other major organs running.

Suddenly, Amon stumbled a little. After recovering, she moved on, laughing in her mind. I’m too old for this! she thought joyfully. She wasn’t old at all compared to the myth Hakan. Hakan was guessed to be over 2000 years old. He was old in The Place Before. Rumor had it that Hakan was around during the time that the Ancient language was developed. The one way to differentiate Hakan from all others would be his ability to speak many languages, the Ancient language being the one he was the most fluent in or his black coloration, but this happened every so often. But most of all, by his Calling. He had none.

Amon ran through the black forest as fast as her legs could take her. Tree branches whipped by, twigs got stuck in her mane and tail. A couple trees came up in front of her that were of different shape and color than most of the others in the forest. She knew this part well. Almost there, she thought. Almost there…

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The next morn came swiftly upon the slumbering band of eternal equines. When the first shreds of light poked its head above the trees, the first of the group awoke.