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Well this ended up being longer than I'd intended. I even abridged it so it didn't get any longer - really, there ought to be a lot more happenings and whatnot. I only actually wanted to write about the incident in the corral, but I thought I should start with my MC waking so I could set the scene a little. AND THERE WERE LOADS OF WORDS AND I WAS LIKE HOW MUCH CAN I NOT WRITE WITHOUT IT SOUNDING RUSHED.

Yeh.

Just a flash of whimsy for the latest challenge on worldofscribble an excellent writing community which I recommend checking out. I did write something for them last month but chickened out of sharing it at the last minute, haha. I felt I ought to share this time as they really are very good, and I'm not sure many people have been answering challenges lately; I would hate for them to feel like no one's interested. 

This is original fiction (fantasy genre); I didn't want to use any of my established characters so I picked some that are so old I'd forgotten what their names were, and had to rename them on the go. :P It's a bit fluffy, I think, and I seem to have inexplicably abandoned my usual YA target for children but ... meh. *shrug* At least I wrote and shared something, eh? It is 2,823 words long TROLOLOL. 

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‘Dain woke with a cold lump of something tingling in the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant feeling: it made him want to laugh and shout and run almost as much as it made him want to throw up. Today was the day. Dawn sent questing fingers of cold sunlight through the wicker walls of the boys’ hut and he lay still, savouring these last moments of his childhood. Closing his eyes, he listened to the trill of birdsong in the branches outside and imagined the world to come: a world of endless blue skies, of powerful wings, of his warrior’s tattoo. He grinned in the half-light and wriggled his toes against the blanket.
          “‘Dain? Are you awake?”
         The voice was soft, and ‘Dain rolled over to look at the speaker on one of the lower bunks. His best friend, Afon: yellow hair stuck up at crazy angles, silver-blue eyes the colour of waterfalls. ‘Dain grinned at him.
         “Of course,” he replied, keeping his voice low so as not to wake the other ten boys who slept in the hut.
         “I’m scared. What if I don’t get chosen?”
          ‘Dain blinked at him. A world in which he wasn’t chosen had never occurred to him; he had been certain of the fact ever since he’d seen his elder brother, Gwynt, take the test eight years ago. Not being like Gwynt was a shame he’d never allowed himself to consider, not even in his most private moments.
          “Of course you’ll get chosen,” he said, as much to reassure himself as well as Afon. “Everybody does.”
          “Sibrwd didn’t last year,” Afon whispered. “She cried for three days straight.”
          “She did,” said Garreg, a tawny-haired boy in the bunk above. He rubbed sleep from his eyes with a fist, face wrinkled in a soundless yawn. “Her eyes were red for weeks.”
          “And Adar, two years before that,” said Rhedyn from the other side of the hut, sitting up and stretching his long limbs. Around them, sleepers were stirring.
          ‘Dain frowned. “We’ll get chosen,” he said, the tingle in his stomach shifting closer to nausea than excitement.
          Afon opened his mouth, but before he could spread any further pessimism the bells began to ring.
          “Time to get up!” said Rhedyn, already on his feet. “Race you!”
          No one made any special effort to follow him as he loped through the door and dropped out of sight. Rhedyn was the tallest boy in his year, and was rarely outpaced; particularly not at this time of the morning.
          ‘Dain and the others climbed out of their bunks at a more sedate pace, those who were sitting their test today taking extra time to gather their things. Not all the members of the boys’ hut would take part; some were not yet old enough, like Garreg, and not everyone wanted to take the warrior’s path - although all those eligible this year had done so. ‘Dain shrugged off the tunic he’d slept in, knowing that the day would quickly turn hot; and besides, tradition required them to be bare-chested.
          With Afon at his side, he crossed to the doorway and jumped lightly down to the platform beneath. The river valley spread away beneath him, its slopes thick with vibrant forest. The cliff top on which the Great Trees grew, supporting the villagers’ homes high above the ground, lorded over the valley like a king. A shadow winked across the rising sun and ‘Dain glanced up, a hand shading his eyes. Gwynt and Blaidd: he would know their silhouette anywhere. He grinned, his earlier cheer returning, and waved an arm. Whether his brother saw him was uncertain, but Blaidd wheeled with a wingtip held high as if in salute.
          They made their way down to ground level, eschewing the ladders and bridges for the prefered method of jumping and clambering between branches. Other members of the village, those who had not risen before the bells, were already making their way to the waterfall; ‘Dain landed silently on the soft loam and fell in with them, Afon close on his heels.
          “‘Dain! ‘Dain!”
          He looked down just in time to see his little sister, Brith, burst out from a group of people and fling herself at his arm. She hung from it, giggling.
          “Choose a filly!” she squealed, black hair rippling about her shoulders.
          “It’s not me who makes the choice, Brith,” he said, carefully putting her down.
          “But ‘Dain,” she said, with that familiar crafty grin of hers, “you will.”
          He just smiled in response and looked around for his father, who he felt couldn’t be far behind; his mother, he thought, would probably be making preparations with the other warriors. Sure enough, the healer was approaching from across the stream of people, a hand raised in greeting.
          “She’s been dreaming again,” he said, his voice gently apologetic. He folded Brith up in one swoop of his arms, rolling her back against his chest and showering her forehead with kisses until she squealed and tried to fight him off. “You two had better hurry. Tan and Eithin are waiting to cut hair. Good luck.”
          “She’s called Seren!” Brith yelled after them, her high, clear laughter ringing out as ‘Dain and Afon found the narrow staircase and hurried down to the waterfall.
          Preparation did not take long. Those who were taking part in the test bathed separately from the rest of the villagers, dressing themselves afterwards in their simple attire: calf-leather bandeaus for the girls, fox pelt and raven feather loin-kilts for both sexes. Shorn heads caught the light as Tan and Eithin worked tirelessly.
          ‘Dain reached up tentatively to touch the black stubble where his once shoulder-length hair had been. He was not entirely sure it was an improvement. But it was a practical requirement of being a mounted warrior, and he would wear his new look with pride if it meant being more like Gwynt.
          Afon traipsed along the bank towards him, his once flyaway hair reduced to grains of sand. ‘Dain couldn’t help but laugh, and a moment later Afon joined in.
          “We had better pass now,” he said ruefully, as they made they way back to the village. “This will take ages to grow out otherwise.”
          They did not return to the Great Trees; instead, they turned left and followed the well worn path towards the corral on the rocky outcrop that leaned perilously out over the valley. ‘Dain could see the warriors gathered, dressed as they were; the only difference was that on their backs they proudly displayed the great, winged tattoos. He saw his mother and grinned at her; she smiled and inclined her head in response.
          The path had been left clear and the two boys followed it right up to the gate of the corral, seeing some of their friends - Rhedyn included - already there. The warriors lined the route and ‘Dain looked for Gwynt; for one horrible moment he thought his brother wasn’t there. Then he saw him, face still flushed from his early flight, wearing the grin that was a mirror to ‘Dain’s own. ‘Dain felt suddenly nervous and flashed a shy smile in return.
          He went to stand beside Rhedyn, Afon and their friend Eira in the gateway. Eira was small for her age, a head shorter than ‘Dain, and she looked like a particularly fierce sort of fairy with her shaven head. None of them spoke; even Rhedyn was quiet. They simply waited, all eyes trained on the creatures milling around at the far end of the corral.
          Fifteen winged horses jostled for space, pawing anxiously at the dusty soil with delicate, flint-hard hooves. A mixture of colts and fillies, their wings were bound tightly to their sides; even at this young age, the wingspan of each horse would have been broad enough to cross the diameter of the corral. Men had died after being struck by a carelessly extended wing.
          Afon nudged ‘Dain. “Look at the chestnut,” he whispered, indicating a stocky colt with a proudly arched neck. It was definitely a fine beast; broad chest, strong hocks, a glint in its eye that showed a fine line between friend and foe. ‘Dain knew with a certainty that every warrior-to-be was hoping the same thing: that this would be their colt. He wondered if it would even be good enough to match Blaidd; his brother’s mare was widely regarded as one of the best in the flock.
          There was movement at their end of the corral. Saeth ferch Llwynog, the greatest of their warriors, stepped forward. She halted in the centre, her back to the alert horses, her spear held with a deceiving complacency at her side. It had been decorated for the occasion with enormous flight feathers, taken from the village’s most celebrated warhorses at the moment of their death. ‘Dain found himself mesmerised by them as they spun gently in the breeze. He could name every horse and list the deeds of each whose feather hung from that spearpoint, even though some of them had died nearly fifty years ago.
          “Fledglings!” Saeth cried, holding her spear aloft. The feathers fluttered briefly, as though remembering the freedom of the sky, and the warriors-to-be raised their fists in recognition. “Today you take your first step on a journey that will define you forever. You have been prepared for this moment, and for the training that will follow if you are successful. You may think that this morning’s test requires no skill, that it is a mere game of chance; but these horses are wise, and will not choose someone who can not keep them safe. If they do not see a warrior in you, then that is because there is no warrior to see. But there is no shame in this; it only means that fate has a different path for you to walk.”
          Afon grunted, and ‘Dain privately agreed with him. Saeth may claim there was no shame in not being chosen, but they all knew differently. If you chose to be a healer, or a maker, or a merchant, or a teller - then that was different. He thought no less of his father because of his profession. But if you chose to be a warrior, and were turned down … his stomach cramped at the thought.
          “I will ask you to approach the herd individually,” continued Saeth. “Good winds to you, my fledglings. Rhedyn ap Crwydryn: you are first.”
          Rhedyn paled visibly, but to his credit he showed no other signs of nerves. ‘Dain sent him good thoughts as he passed, unlatching the gate and closing it behind with a studied care. Saeth had retreated to the fence, and Rhedyn walked slowly down the centre of the corral, arms at his sides.
          The young horses moved at his approach; some pressing themselves against the fence, others throwing their heads high and staring at him, nostrils flared. The chestnut colt trotted forwards a few paces and came to an abrupt halt, neck arched and a forefoot stamping the ground. Rhedyn kept walking. Some of the horses began inching their way along the fenceline, preferring the proximity of the motionless crowd to the moving boy; at the last minute, the chestnut jerked away and half-reared, trotting a circuit of the corral with a high-legged stride that made those watching murmur in appreciation. ‘Dain felt the air displaced by the colt’s movement as it ran by.
          Rhedyn had stopped now, a few feet from the horses at the edge of the herd. At the forefront was a little white filly, with the comical appearance of having had her legs dipped up to the knee in ink; a black, long-tailed star sat between her eyes. She stretched her neck out, blowing soft air through pink nostrils; ‘Dain held his breath.
          But she was not Rhedyn’s warhorse. She pulled back without touching him, and walked calmly to the other side of the herd. Rhedyn remained where he was and the horses, feeling braver now, eyed him curiously.
          The chestnut colt had completed his lap of the corral. He dropped to a walk and took a step towards Rhedyn before pausing, ears flickering back and forth; for a moment, it seemed he would run again. And then, quite suddenly, he dropped his head and walked forward to press his muzzle into the crook of Rhedyn’s arm. The choice had been made.
          ‘Dain felt a brief flicker of disappointment; he had badly wanted the chestnut colt himself. But the grin on Rhedyn’s face as he made his way back to them was not one that could be met with jealousy; ‘Dain found himself grinning in return, and any envy he may have had melted away. The colt wouldn’t have chosen Rhedyn if he was not worthy of him.
          The test progressed; fledgling warriors went in one by one, and each was chosen. Eira went in soon after Rhedyn and was chosen by the white filly with the black legs. A jet black colt lipped gently at Afon’s shorn hair, and chose him amidst smiles from the adult warriors. Horses made their selection; new warriors beamed, and tried hard to stay quiet and solemn as they watched their friends take the same walk.
          “Adain ap Lleuad.”
          ‘Dain jumped; he hadn’t been keeping count. He was second to last. With an encouraging smile from Afon, he made his way into the corral. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gwynt nod slightly as he passed, but he was careful not to turn and look. He kept his gaze on the herd ahead.
          There were five horses who as yet hadn’t chosen. There was always more horses than potential warriors; it was fairer, that way, to both man and beast. ‘Dain eyed each of them as he approached the herd. They were calmer now, and used to the intrusion; he was able to pick out each possible warhorse and study it carefully. Two bays, a black, a chestnut and a grey. He looked for broadness of chest, for the strength in hindquarters, for the expression in eyes. Of them all, he thought the smaller of the bays was probably the best; but it depended on whether the horse thought the same of him. He remembered Brith’s dream, and checked: the little bay was a colt.
          ‘Dain stopped and waited, trying to appear calmer than he felt. He wondered if the horses could hear the thunderous beat of his heart, and if his fear of not being chosen was tangible to them. The horses did not approach; the bay colt, after looking at ‘Dain for a moment, turned away to groom its neighbour.
          The cold sensation that he’d woken with returned tenfold, gnawing at his stomach like a hunger ache. They weren’t going to come. He wasn’t going to be chosen. Fear paralysed him; how could he turn around and see Gwynt now? How could he ever look his brother in the eye again?
          And then something awful happened. A horse was walking towards him, threading her way carefully through the apathetic herd; the white filly with the black legs. Eira’s white filly. What if she touched him? He had never heard of a horse choosing twice; but the law was clear on the fact that if she touched him, he was hers and she was his … and Eira’s, it would seem.
          He couldn’t move. He couldn’t have moved even if he’d been able to; to deliberately move out the way of an approaching horse during the test was against all the laws and would disqualify him. Horror heightened his senses, and he noted with sudden clarity how the flight feathers on her bound, snowy wings were as black as her legs; how the star-shaped marking between her eyes was as clear as if it had been painted by human hand; how her delicate ears, curved slightly at the tip, were fixed unwaveringly on him.
          Her muzzle, velvet soft, touched him lightly on the arm and for a moment ‘Dain forgot to breath. She raised her head, looked him thoughtfully in the eye, and blew contentedly through her nostrils.
          Silence covered the cliff top. Letting out a shuddering breath, ‘Dain half turned and looked at the crowd behind him. Saeth, who he had believed unshakable, was open-mouthed. She had no idea what to do; this was not something she had expected, either. Gwynt was staring at him, his expression unreadable at this distance; ‘Dain saw him turn and share a glance with their mother. At the gate, Eira was clutching the top rung. Afon and Rhedyn stood either side, looking blank.
          The filly touched her muzzle to his ear, making him jump, and the spell was broken.
          Saeth coughed. “You have been chosen, Adain ap Lleuad,” she said. She glanced towards Eira. “You have both been chosen. The filly requires you both.”


Edit: my boyfriend has just explained to me about Anne Mccaffrey's books about dragons, which I have never read, but apparently hold a striking resemblance to this in that they feature people paired with dragons, rather than pegasi ... haha. XD I failed!

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
bella_kitten
Jan. 9th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
I want more of this!
cosmicpixel
Jan. 9th, 2013 11:54 pm (UTC)
I like this! I'm intrigued by the story, and I like your style of writing. :)
rainechan
Jan. 10th, 2013 05:01 am (UTC)
Oh? Should we add them as affiliates over at thewyrmx?

Also: Let me read this tomorrow, with a fresh brain. XD
blitzen_
Jan. 10th, 2013 09:04 am (UTC)
ooo that's good!

since moving house i have dug up quite a lot of my old writings. i guess this year im going to try to write more! as i say every year.
herecirm
Jan. 10th, 2013 05:52 pm (UTC)
YES. OMG YES. Do it.
muchtooarrogant
Jan. 19th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this, and I'm glad you put in all the introductory detail. It definitely would've been much less fun to read without that background.

I keep wondering, what happens next. Do Dain and Eira have to dual to the death? LOL Or, if not, how do they share the horse?

A great beginning.

Dan
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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