White against Black by Nath

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I can hear my master coming up the path outside the stables. I stick my head out the door and notice he is carrying my headstall and saddle; we’re going somewhere, then. I would rather stay here, it is a cold day, even if it's sunny, and that chestnut mare in the other row of stables is very attractive.

I whicker and stamp my foot to greet my master. I nibble at a pocket to look for the carrot or apple he nearly always has for me. He laughs and offers me a carrot. He then gives me a quick brush and pats down my legs to check if they are sound. He throws a blanket over my back and puts my saddle on it, together with some saddle bags. That probably means we’ll be away longer than a day. As he pulls the headstall over my ears - it’s my favourite, the one with the little silver bells - I notice he also has his sword with him.

I follow him out of the stable and down the path to the square in front of the stable blocks. Going past the mares’ stables, I’m prancing and tossing my head, so that the bells on my headstall tinkle softly, showing off to the chestnut mare, but stop immediately when my master tells me to; I can feel he is amused rather than annoyed, so I give him a soft headbutt and snort indignantly while obeying him; that seems to amuse him even more. Several others are waiting in the square, their riders already mounted. They call to my master and he answers them; I can feel they are all tense, but don’t worry about it, since I feel no danger near us.

My master jumps lightly on my back and we all set off at a walk along the road out of the valley. The others travel with us as far as the ford. I want to splash about in the water for a while, but my master drives me on, and we move off down the road at a trot. The afternoon is no longer sunny, and a soft drizzle is falling. Despite this, I enjoy being out on the road. My master is still tense, more so now that the others have left, and he appears to be looking for something or someone, but for now we are alone on the road, just trotting along, until we stop for the night. I really would like my nice dry stable now; the rain is dripping down on me from the branches, and the grass between the trees is old and tasteless.

In the morning we move on again at a leisurely pace. It’s still raining, and I tell my master that I am not enjoying this. He says he doesn’t like the rain any more than I do, and promises me a good long rub when we get back home. I snort and he laughs, and we keep trotting on, stopping for a rest occasionally, until it is night again and we stop to rest.

Morning comes, and we set off as soon as the sun has risen. At least it has stopped raining now. I want to run faster, but my master won’t let me. I can feel he is still preoccupied, and I try to get his attention, but except for a distracted pat on the neck he doesn’t react to me. After pausing to eat, we go on again. I’m getting restless, I can feel something ahead of us. I think my master feels it too, for he tells me to stop and we stand for a while, listening, feeling, waiting.

When we go forward again, my master has his hand on his sword. There is a bend in the road now, just before we come to the river. We halt briefly while my master draws his sword. I can feel a dark threat ahead of us now. Had I been alone, I would have run back down the road, but my master urges me onward. I feel no fear in him, only determination, so I step forward as he wishes. As we come around the bend, I suddenly realise there are other horses there - or are they horses? I can’t feel their minds at all, and they smell of fear and death. Or does that come from their riders? They are waiting for us. We halt. Suddenly I feel my master’s wrath aimed at them, and I know that if I turn my head I will see his light coming from him. One of the strange horses backs off on to the bridge, and my master signals me to move forward again. The darkness coming from the strange riders is now mixed with uncertainty and even a little fear; they now stand together again, and draw their swords. My master tells me to keep moving, and I do. Suddenly one of the strangers kicks his horse forward at us. We meet his charge; I collide with the other horse, trying to bite - I suddenly notice that I can’t feel anything from the horse, not even if it’s a stallion, a mare or a thing - and our riders hack at each other with their swords, but my master is stronger, and I think his light scares the other rider, who suddenly pulls his horse around and flees back down to the bridge. We follow them, and all the strangers turn and run. I want to pursue them; I know I can outrun these horses, but my master doesn’t let me. Instead, we stop in the middle of the bridge and he drops something on the road. Only then do we pursue the strangers. It doesn’t take me long to catch up, but my master won’t let me overtake them, and we drive them before us until my master tells me to slow down. I obey reluctantly, and we continue westwards at a trot for a while.

Suddenly my master stops and I can feel some more of these strangers, ahead of us. We move on again, and there are two of them on the road. They run away into the hills on the side of the road as soon as they see us. I am disappointed when my master won’t let me follow them, but he tells me the ground is too rough for running. It is getting dark now, and we stop again.

We go on as soon as it is light. First we walk along the road, but soon we go off into the hills; again, my master seems to be looking for something. I can’t feel anything near us, not even birds. Maybe they were scared off by the strangers? At least the grass here is better than near the road.

We are going very slowly now and I’m bored. At least it isn’t raining. It’s getting dark again and we stop. The next days are much the same, until my master picks up a trail. I can smell that another horse has been here, and what smells like Men, but not quite. From now on we follow the trail, and it leads us back to the road near the bridge. We cross the bridge and stop again for the night. The trail goes off the road again, but we don’t follow it when day returns. Instead we follow the road, walking along it slowly. I am impatient and I want to run, but my master tells me I must not and that I may need all my speed later on. I snort and stamp my feet, but he doesn’t give in. That night we stop in the forest near the road again.

The next day, I can feel that darkness again, far behind us. The forest has gone very quiet. I think my master feels it too; I can sense that he is worried. Despite that, we don’t go any faster than a walk for much of the day. Suddenly, we stop and my master jumps down to examine the road. We have found that trail again. It’s a lot fresher now, and I can smell that it’s not a horse, but a pony. I’m still not sure about the other scent, though. There’s definitely Man, but something else as well. My master jumps on my back again and we set off trotting rapidly. It’s getting dark again, but we go on. The only sound I can hear is my feet on the road and the tinkling of the bells in my headstall.

Suddenly my master pulls on my reins, and we stop, as a Man comes running down the side of the road. My master jumps down and runs towards the Man, calling out to him. I know him too. His horse is stabled near me. The man calls something and the pony and some strange small Men come down to the road as well. So that is that unfamiliar scent. They all stand listening to what my master tells them; I can feel that my master is still worried, even though he has now found what he was looking for. It’s getting dark now. One of the small strangers falls to the ground and my master examines him. The Man shows him something, and as my master touches it I can feel his revulsion for it.

My master says that the small stranger who fell down will ride on my back. I don’t mind; the stranger is only small. I expected we would stop for the night, but I can sense my master’s worry and anxiety; he wants to hurry home. The stranger doesn’t want to ride me, but my master tells him he must, and that I will not let him fall. I snort at this comment, but realise that I might scare the little strangers, so I stand quietly while my master adjusts the stirrups and puts the small one on my back. I wait while the strangers put their burdens on the pony. The one who sits on my back seems to be sleeping. We walk on far into the night, until the strangers can no longer keep up with my master. This is the first night my master doesn’t remove my saddle, and he stands guard while the others sleep.

We rest long into the day and set off walking again. The small stranger is no burden to me, and we walk quickly, stopping only a few times. My master is worried and sometimes stops to listen. I know he can feel that darkness far behind us. The tall Man is also anxious, and I think they would like to keep moving at night, but the small ones are too tired, so we stop to rest again.

In the morning we start walking early, but we are going even slower than yesterday. Late in the afternoon we are near the river, and we hurry on towards it, when suddenly I can feel that darkness close behind us. My master feels it too, and he cries out for us to run. I leap forward quickly, ever careful of the small burden I am carrying. We rush down the long slope towards the ford, but before we reach it my small rider has seized the reins and commands me to halt. My master cries out for him to go on, but he waits. I know the strange riders are behind us. I am faster than these black horses, and I warn my rider that we should run, but he doesn’t hear me. He draws a small sword and tries to turn me around to face the riders. At that same moment my master commands me to run as fast as I can, and I leap away down the road towards the river. The black horses run behind me, their riders crying out. I stay ahead of them easily and I run on, when suddenly four more appear from the trees and split up to try to catch me and to block my escape. Two of them are near now, but they are no match for me, and they fall back as I run on. The other two are racing me towards the ford, and I go even faster as they come near me. My small rider hangs on and clings to my mane; the two black horses are very close now, but I go as fast as I can as I pass right in front of them, feeling the frozen darkness from their riders as I fly past.

I quickly run across the ford, the water splashing around my feet, and up the bank on the other side. At the top of the bank I halt and turn around, crying out my challenge to the black horses; there are nine of them now. I can feel my rider’s fear, and I try to tell him that these enemies cannot cross the river, and that my master and the master of the valley will protect him.

Then one of the enemies moves towards the ford, but his horse stops at the edge; does it sense the protection that is laid on the river? My small rider raises his sword and challenges the other. The stranger laughs at him, and speaks in a fell voice. He immediately kicks his horse forwards into the water, and two others follow him. I am ready to run again if my master tells me to; for now I will obey my rider. My rider defies the enemies once more, and the first of them halts in the middle of the river. He raises his hand, and I can feel the frozen cold come from him. My rider’s courage falters and he drops his sword, which has broken in his hand. I rear high in defiance of the enemy.

The first one has nearly crossed the ford, and I am ready to fly once more, when suddenly the river rises high and sweeps the black horses and their riders away. Tall waves swoop down and take on the shape of shining white horses and their riders. I neigh in greeting, but the river horses do not reply. Beyond the river, I see some of the black horses trying to run back upon the road, but my master is there, his light shining brighter than I have ever seen it, and the Man and the small ones are there too, waving flaming branches. The black horses panic and run forward, into the rushing river, which carries them away. At this moment, my rider falls to the ground.

I wait while the river calms down, standing there guarding my fallen rider. I softly push at him with my head, but he doesn’t react. I can only wait for my master, and guard this little one. Will he be upset that I let my rider fall? I can only sense he is anxious, as he and the others come running. They all surround the small one, and I worriedly push my head against my master’s shoulder. He reassures me and tells me I am very brave. I can’t wait to tell the chestnut mare, and I prance about in anticipation. Despite his concern for the small one, my master is amused by me, and I am pleased that I lightened his mood.

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