2014 – Year of the Wood Horse

2014 marks the Year of the Wood Horse. Horses, people born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002 and 2014,  are known for being “bright, cheerful, popular, and fun loving.” A wood year is associated with the season spring, direction east, planet Jupiter, colors blue and green, and wind. Fire, on the other hand, corrrelates with summer, south, Mars, red, hot weather, and daylight.  Occupying the 7th position on the Chinese Zodiac, the Horse symbolizes such character traits as strength, energy, and an outgoing nature. The description matches the magical equines I’ve come to know over the past few years, among them the seisag in Imprisoned in Stone, the falaire in the Windmaster series, and the seidheirn of the Dragshi Chronicles.

Illustrative of the magical spirit of the horse is the snipit from the upcoming novel, Dragon Destiny. Read on to see how Marsainn, head stallion of Cloud Eyrie and his chosen rider, Lord Branin LLewlyn, save seidheirn from a winter storm.

Excerpt from Dragon Destiny — Winging in Spring 2014

Branin staggered toward the small postern door. This time, no movement greeted his questing touch. Sliding the wet iron bar sideways, he felt, rather than heard, the latch release. His strong jerk opened the heavy door and he leaped inside.

Lanterns hanging from stall posts illuminated a nightmarish scene. Mares and their foals cowered at the back of their stalls. Horses and seidheirn stampeded up and down the aisles in panicked confusion. The flying manes and tails of both blurred in indistinguishable color. Branin found it difficult to tell which were the true horses and which were the seidheirn. One spot of order appeared in the chaos. Marsainn and his offspring lined the aisle, white-striped manes rippling over their gleaming midnight coats while the seidheirn formed a living bulwark between the mares and the bedlam.

The shouts of frightened men and the high-pitched squeals of terrified animals competed with the thunder. A discordant twang pulled Branin’s gaze upward to the hayloft where a white-faced servant wrung the jarring notes from a bagpipe. The young man tried to play the slow lullaby that usually calmed the horses during the winter storms. However, his hands shook so badly neither chord nor tune emerged true.

A pair of brown horses at the double doors caught Branin’s attention. Neighing wildly, the two young colts reared in unison. Their front hooves smashed down, chipping away the bar that held the doors closed. If they reached the outside, the storm would blind and disorient them until the frightened creatures ran off the cliff.

“Enough of this,” Branin snarled. “Forget the lullaby,” he called to the musician. “Play the Seidheirn Battle Hymn.” Suiting actions to words, he drew his sword, snatched up a metal bucket, and pounded out the beat. His voice, pitched to be heard above the din, rang out with the ancient call to war.

“Shoulder to shoulder, we charge onto the foe.
Fighting we battle on, to the next world we go.
Seidheirn, seidheirn, sound the battle roar,
Honor the fallen, and mourn no more.
Answer the battle cry with honor,
Until victory is born.
Our spirit can never be broken,
Even when the final requiem is spoken.”

One by one, other voices joined in. Then a second and a third makeshift drum added to the cadence. No longer needed to keep the tune moving, Branin sheathed his sword and tossed the bucket aside. He walked among the grooms, squeezing a shoulder here, a clap on the back there. “Keep singing,” he encouraged. “Louder… louder.” With each verse, the effect of the hymn grew stronger while the infectious rhythm kept even the worst of the singers in a semblance of harmony. Seidheirn began to stomp their hooves, sending up clouds of dust.

Branin’s pulse raced and leapt with the words of the stirring battle cry. Letting his voice die away, he listened with his dragon senses. The singing drowned out the thunder. This isn’t possible. A double handful of men can’t make this much noise. It quickly became obvious the song resounded not just from the grooms in that section of the barn, but also from the other three wings of the x-shaped stable. Liam must have heard what I was doing and had the others try the tactic too. A reinforcing energy flickered at the edge of his mind. He realized Eirwen utilized the song to forward strength from everyone in the main building to support those trying to subdue the crazed animals.

For the first time since he entered the stable, Branin felt the emotional state shift. Several of the horses stopped rearing and allowed the grooms to slip ropes over their lowered heads. Now that the humans had regained control of their fear, Branin put the next part of his plan into action. He watched Marsainn block a dappled mare’s wild dash from a stall. The stallion snapped at the horse, forcing her back. “Mar, get over here,” Branin yelled.

In response, the black seidheirn trumpeted an obvious command. A younger version took a protective stance in front of the mare, who now quivered in the corner. Freed of guard duty, the larger animal wove his way through the press of horses in the aisle.

“You know what to do, Mar,” Branin directed. “The horses are primed. We just need to key them into their training.”

The stallion tossed his head in agreement. He nipped one of the browns attacking the door, then the other. They stopped their frantic rearing at Marsainn’s neigh. One snorted and started to rear again, but dropped back to all fours when Marsainn clamped his teeth around the rebel’s neck. When the smaller horse whinnied in submission, Marsainn released his prisoner and galloped over to Branin.

Branin leaped onto Marsainn’s back. “Column of twos,” he ordered in a voice that cut through the bedlam. With an exuberant bugle, Marsainn spun on his haunches. He pranced in place before heading down the aisle in a high-stepping march. His hooves struck the ground in time with the human chorus.

Instead of resuming their breaching of the doors, the two browns reacted to the repeated command of “form up” and moved into position at Marsainn’s heels. A pair of young black horses joined the ranks. When Marsainn strutted past each stall, except for mares and their foals, the true horses and seidheirn trotted out and added to the line. Any of the horses in the main aisle backed into a stall at the line’s advance or joined the impromptu parade. If they did not move fast enough, they were helped along by a quick nip or a nudge from Marsainn or one of his sons. All the stallions and geldings reacted to Branin’s repeated calls of “column of twos” and “parade march.” Their combat training took over, and the animals, although they bore neither rider nor saddle, turned into the line.

The men’s singing became ragged, yet they forced stressed vocal chords to continue the chant. On the next verse, all the seidheirn trumpeted. Before the line completed another circuit of the barn, every horse and seidheirn either marched in the procession or pranced in place. One by one, the men’s voices fell away when a servant or groom stopped singing to talk quietly to the trembling animals near them. Soon, only the drone of bagpipes from the hayloft could be heard above the thunder and the rain beating on the roof. Branin started to order a change in the music just as the piper turned the final note of the seidheirn challenge into a ballad with a strong beat. The musician slowed the melody with each verse until it became almost like a lullaby.

Marsainn shifted to a walk that kept the earth-pounding rhythm, but covered less ground. Now when they passed a stall, Branin called out “rear guard, break.” Marsainn snorted, reinforcing the command. Branin half-turned to see the result of his order. Two horses at the back of the column separated. One trotted left, the other walked to the right. Waiting men stroked the horses’ necks, and slipped ropes over the animals’ heads as they filed into their stalls. Again and again, the scene repeated until only Marsainn, the two brown horses who had tried to destroy the stable door, and two large black seidheirn stallions high-stepped the length of the stable. Foam covered all five animals.

“Column, halt. Dismissed,” Branin called in a final command. He waited while grooms led the now-compliant animals to stalls. “Just a few minutes more,” he told the trembling Marsainn. Sliding down to the floor, he snatched a scrap of rag to rub down the sweat-drenched mount. The familiar action helped Branin release some of the stress of controlling the emotions of so many men and animals. “You did well, Marsainn,” Branin murmured. “You served your kin well this day, old friend.”

The black stallion nickered and tossed his mane as if to say, I know.

I hope you enjoyed this tale of the seidheirn.

~tIll next time, Helen

 

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