Spirit Horse

by Heather Dunn

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Blood and Shadows - Previous chapter: The Fevered Winter

"Well, if you really want to go to Hlaya, son, I won't stop you," Tevriel said. "Theirs isn't the only sort of magic in this world, but it's a well enough place to start."

"Will you and Kior be alright while I'm gone?" Telkarnith asked.

Tevriel chuckled. "We'll be fine, don't worry about us. Go off and have your little adventure, but be careful out there."

"I'm only going to the next village. I don't know how much of an adventure that'll be."

"Perhaps more than you might be prepared for."

After making preparations, gathering supplies, and strapping his sword to his back, Telkarnith saddled up one of the family's horses, a bay gelding by the name of Sarhinor. He set off at an easy pace, expecting that he could arrive in the village of Roulden Trisa by that evening. The sun of late summer shone brightly overhead, and there was not a cloud in the sky.

He rode down the canyon of Roulden. It had been a long time since he had been this way, and he scarcely remembered it now. As he rode further south, the walls of the canyon grew tall and sheer in places, and the hoofbeats of his horse echoed off the walls so that it sounded like an entire herd was tramping through the gorge.

After a moment, Telkarnith drew Sarhinor to a halt, frowning faintly as he cocked his head. The echoing hoofbeats continued. There were other horses down here. It was impossible to tell where they were or how many of them there were, though. Perhaps it was a merchant caravan, he thought to himself as he continued on.

Further on, the winding canyon opened up into a wide, rugged valley. Sarhinor was growing increasingly unruly, and he was having difficulty keeping the horse on track. "What's wrong, boy?" Telkarnith murmured. "Easy now. Steady." The young gelding wasn't interested in paying attention, however, especially as the sounds of hoofbeats grew louder. Telkarnith feared that whoever it might be would spook the horse and cause him to bolt. He continued to try to calm the animal, but it was no use. With a whinny, Sarhinor bucked and hurled Telkarnith from his back, and galloped off in the direction of the hoofbeats.

Telkarnith grunted and coughed softly in the dust of his formerly faithful steed. He inspected himself, and determined that although he was scratched up a bit, nothing seemed to be broken, though he was sure that there would be bruises later. Slowly, he climbed to his feet and brushed himself off, and started off in the direction Sarhinor had fled. Strange that the horse had bolted toward the sounds of hoofbeats rather than away from them, if that was what had spooked him.

He approached cautiously in that direction to see what might be seen, climbing up onto a rocky outcropping to get a better view. This was no merchant caravan as he had thought at first, but a large group of horses unaccompanied by any humanoid being. There must be at least two dozen of them, and Sarhinor had gone to join them. He could see the reddish-brown horse whickering closely with a silver stallion, as if talking, having some conversation in whatever language the horses might speak. There was something strange, almost ghostly, about the stallion, that Telkarnith could not immediately put his finger on.

Telkarnith didn't dare approach them. That many horses, all clearly feral, could be quite dangerous to him. To make matters worse, most of his supplies had been in Sarhinor's saddlebags. He couldn't afford to stand around and wait until the horse might knock them loose, though. He'd have to continue on to Roulden Trisa on foot. He wasn't particularly keen on the prospect.

Reluctantly, he went to continue on the road and away from the horses. As he walked, he reached a hand up to touch his fingertips against the hilt of his sword reassuringly, and mentally asked the spirit in the blade, "Zarnith, why did my horse run off with those feral horses like that?"

"There are herds of wild horses that roam all over Kalor," a voice from the sword replied in his mind. "There is some sort of magic about them, and sometimes their pull is strong, especially for horses of certain bloodlines. Perhaps they call to their children, in a way."

"What was that gray stallion?" Telkarnith wondered. "There was something odd about him."

"I cannot be certain," Zarnith replied mentally. "I sensed some sort of power about him, but it prevented me from investigating further."

Telkarnith trudged steadily down the road. The sky grew dark as the day grew late, and the town still was not in sight. He was growing tired, and had not stopped to eat anything since breakfast. He didn't really want to have to set up camp out here by the road, particularly not still without anything to eat nor any means of making a campfire. At least the weather was nice and it didn't look like it was going to start raining. There was nothing to be done but to keep walking and hope he reached town before he passed out.

With the silver and green moons lighting the way, Telkarnith was dead on his feet as he saw lights in the distance. The road was silent, thankfully, and there weren't any highwaymen or wild animals seeking to bother him. He could still hear hoofbeats somewhere in the distance now and again, as if taunting him.

The town of Roulden Trisa rose above the valley floor on a steep mesa, and the road wound up around to its top. Much of its farmland was clustered around the valley floor. He didn't think he could manage to climb the road to the top just at the moment, so he headed toward the nearest farmstead. Not certain what time it was and not really wanting to wake them, nor thinking particularly clearly, he wound up just passing out in the barn.


"Well now. Did I have a weregoat in my barn? Where'd you come from?"

Telkarnith groaned softly and stirred slowly, blinking as he realized he was laying in hay that smelled very strongly of goat. There was a large, beefy man in overalls standing above him, a broad grin contorting his neatly trimmed beard over his brown face.

"Sorry," Telkarnith mumbled as he climbed to his feet. "I came in late at night and was really tired. I'm Telkarnith Chelseer. What's a weregoat?"

The farmer chortled in amusement and said, "A man that can turn into a goat, don't you know. Or perhaps a goat that can turn into a man."

Telkarnith blinked slowly. "There is such a thing?"

The man laughed uproarously, then said with a twinkle in his eye, "There just might be. You never know."

Smirking, Telkarnith replied, "You're pulling my leg, aren't you."

"Now why would I ever do a thing like that?" He reached out a hand to Telkarnith. "Marvel Farmer's the name." Telkarnith offered his hand, and Marvel took it with a vice-like grip and shook it in a vigorous handshake. "Why don't you come into the house and get some breakfast, son? The wife's got some tasty eats a-cooking in the kitchen."

Marvel led him off toward the cozy farmhouse and politely held the door open for him. Telkarnith's stomach rumbled at one whiff of the delicious food cooking. There was bacon and hot rolls, and omelettes with chopped vegetables and what was probably goat cheese. It smelled positively heavenly to his hungry nose. In the kitchen, there was a woman in an apron preparing food, assisted by a young girl who looked to be about ten or eleven. When they entered, both looked up toward them, the woman smiling warmly toward Telkarnith, but the girl looking more curious than anything.

"My fine ladies," Marvel said, "meet Mr. Telkarnith Chelseer. Found him asleep in the barn and figured he could use a bite to eat. Hope there's enough. Telkarnith, this here's my gorgeous wife, Naira, and my lovely daughter, Donna."

"Well, hello there, young man," Naira said with a motherly smile. "Be sure to wash your hands first before you take a seat at the table. Breakfast will be ready in a few."

Telkarnith brushed off what he could of the hay and made sure his hands were as clean as he could get them before sitting down. "Thanks for having me. I was afraid you might get upset when you found me and chase me off with pitchforks or something."

Marvel laughed aloud. "Now why would we do something like that? I don't think a goatnapper would have fallen asleep on the job like that. So what brings you to Roulden, son?"

Telkarnith was about to reply, but Naira set out heaping plates of food for them and said, "Eat up, dears." Hungrily, he dug into his food, quite grateful for their kindness.

"Well," Telkarnith said after a few bites. "I wanted to find a shaman. I was interested in learning some about Hlayan magic. You wouldn't happen to know where I might find one by chance, would you?"

"Look no further, then," Marvel said with a chuckle. "You've found one."

Telkarnith cocked his head and looked him over. "You don't look much like a shaman."

Marvel laughed again in amusement. "Looks can be deceiving, my boy. Don't judge someone based on what they look like. Robes and fetishes don't make a shaman, after all. True power comes from within."

Telkarnith gave a crooked grin and said, "I suppose you're right about that. But would you be willing to teach me? I can pay--"

"No need for that," Marvel interrupted him, waving a hand. "Though I could definitely use a hand around the farm, what with Winder down in Hrackston for the summer. But shamanism is all about connections to the earth, and you can't be afraid to get your hands dirty. It's been a while since I've had an apprentice, and you seem a right fine sort. I'd not mind at all."

"I wouldn't mind working, though I'm afraid I don't have any experience with goats, just horses," Telkarnith said, then winced a bit and rubbed his bruises. "Or at least I thought I did."

"They've got a mind of their own, goats do," Marvel said. "But then, so do some horses. That wouldn't have anything to do with why you ended up taking a snooze in my barn in the middle of the night, now, would it?"

"Something like that," Telkarnith replied. "When I was riding down from Wishingsdale, I came across a herd of horses in the valley to the north of Roulden Trisa. My horse got more and more on edge around them, before finally bucking me off and bolting. I went closer to take a look at them and I saw my horse, well, talking I suppose you'd say, with a strange silver-colored stallion. Do you know who or what this stallion might have been?"

Marvel popped a big bite of food in his mouth and chewed intently. "Redger," he replied after several long moments. "Could only have been Redger."

"Redger, sir?" Telkarnith wondered.

"No, no, none of this 'sir' business," Marvel said, gesturing flamboyantly at nothing in particular. "The name's Marvel. You can come up with any number of names or titles to call a person, but in the end, they don't make them who they really are. So just call me Marvel. Everyone else does." He chuckled lightly and went to finish up his food. "Anyway, yes. Redger is, in a way, the king of the horses, insofar as horses might have a king. The elves call him the god of horses, but that's really just another way of saying that he's a mighty horse spirit. He roams all over Kalor, wild and free, and sometimes calls to horses to break their bonds and join his herds."

Naira began to clear away their empty plates. "There's much to be done yet today, boys, and I'm sure you can chat while doing it. Donna, be a dear and clean up the kitchen and wash these dishes, will you?"

"Come along, son," Marvel said. "There's work to be done."

Marvel led Telkarnith out of the house again and showed him around the farm, introduced him to the goats and chickens, and put him to work. There was a lot to be done around a farm, Telkarnith quickly realized, most of which he had missed out on what with hired hands doing much of the work with the horses back at home. He wasn't used to the amount of exertion, especially after having slept poorly, but he wasn't about to complain or show weakness if he could help it.

"Son, are you listening to me?" Marvel asked some hours later, snapping him out of a slightly dazed trance.

"Er, what?" Telkarnith said, blinking. "Sorry, Marvel, I must have dozed off there for a moment."

"Don't worry about it. Go get cleaned up and get some sleep. You can use Winder's room till he gets back. Third room down the hall."

"Alright." Telkarnith took the dismissal begrudgingly and headed off. He didn't really think that he had learned much about shamanism on the first day here, but he was willing to give it time, to give him a chance to see what he had to teach. He found that he rather liked the man already, and trusted him implicitly. Marvel wouldn't steer him wrong, he was sure.


"And who is this sleeping in my bed?" said a voice mock-threateningly, jolting Telkarnith awake. He had slept in; the early autumn sun was already starting to peek through the window.

Telkarnith sat up, blinking and rubbing his eyes, and looked over at the young man. He was a few years older than Telkarnith, perhaps seventeen or eighteen. "Marvel said I could use this room. I'm Telkarnith Chelseer," he said a bit uneasily.

The other boy chuckled lightly and went over to pat him on the shoulder and said, "Relax, I'm not going to toss you out in the barn. Marvel already told me. I've been in Hrackston for the last three months, didn't think I was going to miss out on Marvel getting a new apprentice."

"Right, you must be Winder Farmer, then," Telkarnith said, putting two and two together.

"Winder Sarn," the boy corrected him. "I'm Naira's little bro." Winder cocked his head at him and looked at him curiously as he climbed out of bed, stretching. "They didn't tell me you were an elf, though. I must say, I've never heard of an elvish shaman before. I always thought they went in for more flashy sorts of power, magic rings, and whatnot."

"I wasn't really planning on becoming a shaman, exactly," Telkarnith replied. "I just wanted to learn."

"So you don't want to be a witch-doctor, but you still want to play with the voodoo," Winder said jokingly. "Yeah, that really makes sense."

"Are you sure you aren't actually related to Marvel?" Telkarnith asked with a smirk. "But yeah. I want to learn about how things work, how to talk to the spirits, but I don't think being a shaman is what I'm destined for."

"Pfah, destiny," Winder scoffed. "There's no such thing. Your future is what you make of it, and nobody else can decide that for you, not men, nor elves, nor spirits. Anyway, Marvel's given us all the day off since I just got in and there's nothing too pressing that needs doing he can't handle himself at the moment, so let's go and grab Donna and get some air, and you can tell me all about what you've been learning, to confuse the snot out of me, over a game of stool."

Telkarnith wasn't familiar with the game, and followed in bewilderment as Winder went and grabbed some milking stools to set up on a hardpacked section of ground, and Donna came out as bidden with a bucket of brightly colored balls. She pulled out a blue ball and tossed it to him, and a red ball to Winder, and a green one for herself, and set the bucket aside.

Turning the ball over in his hands in puzzlement, Telkarnith asked, "So how is this game played, anyway?"

"You'll need this, too," Winder said, pulling out some hoes and handing one to him. "It's simple. Put the ball on the ground. Hit the ball at the stool."

Donna rolled her eyes a bit. "If you listened to him, you'd think nothing had any rules at all," she put in.

"You're no fun," Winder said. "Why can't I change the rules whenever I want to or ignore some of them to simplify things? No sense confusing him right out the door, after all."

Donna pointedly ignored him and proceeded to explain in great detail a number of complex rules involving the proper order and method of tagging each stool, what happened if another player's ball knocked into your ball, when your ball was considered out of bounds, and so forth. After a few minutes of this, Winder interrupted her with a hand.

"Enough, enough already," Winder said. "Smartypants. Let's just get to playing before you start going into an analysis of the history of the game or something. Sheesh." He said quietly aside to Telkarnith, "She's not even that good a player."

"I heard that," Donna said, but she conceded for the moment and sat her ball on the ground in front of her, carefully took aim, and whacked it with her hoe.

Winder settled in to play, content to ignore most of the rules, which was just as well as Telkarnith didn't understand half of what Donna had tried to explain anyway, much as he tried. "So, my little niece hasn't given you too much of a headache while I've been gone, has she?"

"Nah," Telkarnith said, grinning over at Donna. "She's been great. She's helped a lot of the time to explain something I didn't quite get. I think she'll make a great shaman someday herself."

Donna blushed a bit and tried to hide it by looking away. Winder smirked and said, "Yeah, I'm sure she will, if she doesn't stop to explain in precise detail what she's doing before she does it. I imagine that'd turn any patients off, and really discourage future visits if they die before she's done talking."

"I have ears as well as a tongue, you know," Donna interjected.

"Nah, she'll be great at it," Telkarnith said. "Like the shaman who saved my life earlier this year when we had this terrible fever during the long winter. I never asked her what her name was..."

"Yeah, and what are you going to do then, Tel?" Winder asked.

"Well, my studies are coming along fine, but I don't think I'm really cut out to be a healer," Telkarnith said, shrugging a bit before batting at his ball and watching it fly way off course. "Or to play this game, for that matter."

"You get used to it," Winder said. "And don't feel too bad about it. The hoe wasn't exactly designed to be used for this sort of thing. I'm sure you'll be great with that sword of yours, once you grow into it. Don't have quite the muscle on you for it yet. I don't see how you can even lift it."

"It's lighter than it looks. I haven't really practiced as much with it as I should, though."

"You don't have to be a dedicated healer to be a shaman, you know," Donna commented. "There have been those in history who have used their powers for other purposes. Like redirecting a river, lighting a campfire, making plants grow, even raining lightning upon their enemies. Mastery of the elements and a rapport with the spirits can be very useful regardless of your intended line of work."

Winder snorted softly and said aside to Telkarnith, "Did you hear her? She said 'rapport'! What kind of ten year old talks like that?"

"I'm eleven, Winder," Donna corrected.

"Whatever," Winder said offhandedly. "Now-- Hey!" Their game was interrupted rather rudely by one of the goats getting loose and tromping through their playing area, knocking over the stools and making off again with Winder's red ball in its mouth. "Get back here! Drop that this instant!" He ran off chasing the frisky goat.

Telkarnith stood smirking off at Winder as he ran off, and set aside his hoe, stretching a bit. "I've had enough of the game, anyway."

"We weren't even playing it right anyway," Donna said with a shrug, propping her hoe up against the wall and putting the remaining two balls back in the bucket. She gestured at him to follow and went to walk off away from the buildings. "And it should really be played with special sticks and not hoes."

A light breeze played her dark hair against her nut-brown face. Across the fields of crops, Telkarnith could see in the distance the rugged hills covered in the hardy, stunted trees that were common in northern Hlaya. "So you mean I could become a warrior but still be a shaman of some sort?" Telkarnith wondered quietly after a few moments.

"If that's what you're inclined to," Donna said a bit uneasily.

"I would not want to for the sake of killing and conquering," Telkarnith assured her quickly. "But someday I feel that I might be called to defend the innocent with blade and spell, and ensure freedom from tyranny for all people."

Donna chuckled softly in amusement. "Some might say that you've just been listening to too many stories." Her face sobered quickly, though. "But you've a touch of precognizance in you, I've seen. If you feel that that will be true, you may very well be right about that after all."

"I don't think it's too reassuring to be told that my paranoia might not be unwarranted," Telkarnith replied with a smirk. "My father never got much use out of this sword, nor his father before him, but I have a feeling that's going to change. I'd best be learning to use it while I still have a chance to."

"There's always a chance. Just sometimes it might be too late for that sort of solution. But with the strength of the spirits at your side, you'll be far better off than you would be otherwise."


"You've been learning diligently these past months," Marvel said. "But now is the time for you to put your newfound skills to the test. The snows have passed, and wild horses have been sighted again on our borders."

"Redger's herd is back?" Telkarnith asked, raising an eyebrow.

"So it would seem," Marvel said with a grin. "They didn't mention him specifically, but I have a feeling Redger himself is with them."

"But what do you want me to do about them?"

"There's your test, Telkarnith. Find them, track them down, approach them. Communicate with them. If your former mount is with them, you should make amends with him if you can and earn Redger's blessing."

Telkarnith was not certain just how he would accomplish this task, but nevertheless he said, "Yes, Marvel. I will try."

"Oh, yes," Marvel said lightly. "By all means, go ahead and try. If you can't manage it, I might just have to keep you here a few years longer for further training. Wouldn't want you to inadvertently hurt yourself with half-formed knowledge, after all."

After strapping his ever-present sword to his back and gathering some supplies, Telkarnith headed out on foot past the open farmland. The winter snow had melted, and new plants were just starting to tentatively poke their heads through the soil, some of which he had planted himself not long before. The air was mild and the sky was dotted with white clouds.

With enhanced senses and alertness, Telkarnith travelled across the hills and valleys, tracking down any trace he might find of the horses' presence. It took him the better part of the day to finally catch up with them, however, and the sun was growing low in the sky when he looked down from a bluff upon them drinking from a meandering stream and grazing on the scraggly grass that grew along its banks. Sure enough, even as he had suspected, there was the mysterious silver stallion, standing a little ways off as if watching over them. Sarhinor was there as well, having long cast off the saddle at some point along the way, and looking none the worse for wear.

He no longer needed Zarnith to tell him that Redger was powerful. It was no wonder that the elves thought of him as a god. He had an aura of quiet, ancient power about him, as much spirit as he was horse. A mighty being, and not one to be trifled with. Telkarnith had to wonder if his training had really prepared him for this.

Well, there was no help for it. Trying to keep himself calm and not spook the horses with any abrupt noises, he slowly approached the stream. When he got close, however, the horses bolted. All except Redger.

Extremely nervous, Telkarnith held his ground as the ghostly stallion approached him. His hooves made not the faintest sound against the ground, almost as if they weren't actually touching it. When he addressed the boy, it was not a horse's neigh, but like a rustling in the wind, and only the training Marvel had given him helped him understand it.

"Why have you disturbed my herd, human?" the spirit horse seemed to be saying.

"I apologize," Telkarnith said aloud in a more normal tongue. "I did not mean to." He did not care to banty semantics about being called a human. He could not even be certain that was what Redger had meant.

"You imprisoned and enslaved one of my children, took from him his manhood, and you come here alone expecting to apologize?"

"I-- I'm sorry." The words sounded weak even to his own ears.

"You have a long way to come if you expect to atone for your crimes. I do not trust one who runs alone. Return here with your herd, if you have one, if you truly intend to seek redemption. Begone now."

With that, Redger turned and went in the direction the other horses had gone, leaving Telkarnith standing alone by the twilit stream and feeling very foolish. Redger clearly had no fear of people, either singly or many of them at once, regardless of what weapons or powers they might be armed with. He turned and headed back toward the farm, getting there more quickly than he had left as he wasn't trying to track the horses this time. He headed inside, and, seeing as everyone was already asleep, crept inside to get some rest himself. He felt physically and spiritually exhausted.

"Morning, Tel. I see you're back," Marvel said at breakfast the next morning. "How did it go?"

"Marvel, may I borrow Donna and Winder for the day if you can spare them?" Telkarnith asked. "Redger didn't trust me. He told me to return with my 'herd'."

Marvel paused and set his fork down, looking over at Telkarnith. "He spoke to you despite not trusting you, and you understood him. And he invited you back. I'll take that as a good sign. Very well, I can spare them. Take them if they will go."

"Of course we'll go," Winder said excitedly. "I'd love to see the great spirit horse up close myself. It'll be great."

"Everything isn't supposed to be fun, you know," Donna pointed out to him, then said to Telkarnith, "Certainly we'll go along."

After breakfast, the three of them set out to return to the spot where Telkarnith had spoken with Redger the previous day. The place was almost silent, but there were clear signs that the horses had been here, and were not far off yet. He could sense them nearby, almost smell them on the breeze, and hear the faint sounds of their whickering amongst themselves in the distance.

Telkarnith found them in the next valley upstream, once again grazing peacefully, but he did not approach too closely this time. "Redger," he said, though not too loudly. "We have come as you bid us to."

The silvery stallion broke away from the rest of the herd and approached them, looking over the three of them gaugingly. "So you have," whispered Redger in his strange ethereal voice. "Are you prepared to make amends for your sins, human?"

"I am," Telkarnith replied.

"Wow, isn't he a beauty," Winder said in admiration. "What did he say, Tel?"

"Redger, sir, if it would not be too much trouble, could you communicate in a tongue which my 'herd' can understand?" Telkarnith asked as politely as he could.

"Very well," Redger said-- in Hlayan. Telkarnith spoke perfectly passable conversational Hlayan, but many of the more unusual terms were still unfamiliar to him. He wasn't certain if Redger had misunderstood his request, or if he was being deliberately obtuse. "Why don't you make me your new-thing, your win-gold, a talking horse for you to unman and take to your ring-tent to entertain the many-people with?"

"Sorry, I meant no offense," Winder said a bit sheepishly. "I'm not a great shaman or anything. I'm just a lowly peon. It is quite the honor to see so mighty a spirit as you up close like this."

Redger seemed a bit mollified, though it was hard to tell. "As you say."

"Look, Redger," Telkarnith said gently. "I'm really sorry about what was done to your son. But I was really not involved or had any say in what my father did, nor did I even realize that he's your son."

"Be that as it may," Redger said. "You were not so unaged as to be unseeing. You will atone for this if you would seek my blessing."

"What can I do to atone for it?"

"You tell me."

Telkarnith blinked. "What?"

"I will not demand anything of you but that you decide how you will atone for your crimes yourself," Redger explained. "If I deem that your actions are suitable atonement, I will give you my blessing."

Telkarnith almost questioned that he was hearing the horse's words properly now as well. "How am I supposed to do that?"

"That is for you to decide yourself. If you do not have a suitable suggestion at this time, seek me again later. My patience is infinite, if you can find me."

Donna glanced aside toward Telkarnith, who was feeling very uncertain at the moment. "Tel, doesn't your family run a horse ranch?"

"Yeah..." Telkarnith said thoughtfully, mulling over the suggestion. "I could certainly make sure that things are run better there for the horses, I'm sure. Give them more room and better accommodations, ensure that none of them are, um, 'unmanned' in the future. Would that be acceptable?"

"I could not ask that more be done for my enslaved subjects," Redger said. "Much as I hate to see them imprisoned, I know that most of those of those weaker lines are not ready for freedom. But you will not hold any horse against its will who wishes to be free. That alone is not suitable atonement, however. I would have you offer more in addition to this, and of a more personal nature."

Telkarnith stared off, thinking deeply. What personal atonement could he make for sins that were not his own? "I could swear never to ride any beast that is not willing."

Redger swished a ghostly tail thoughtfully, and shook his head. "While I appreciate the sentiment, that will not be good enough, I'm afraid. Most of those horses who have been enslaved for their entire lives do not understand what it means to be unwilling to submit any longer."

After a few moments, Telkarnith added, rather reluctantly, "I could swear never to ride a horse again at all." He tried to tell himself that that wasn't such a heavy price. After all, that didn't include donkeys or such. What an impressive mighty warrior to be riding to the battlefield on a donkey, he thought.

"That is acceptable," Redger said. "But there is yet a third thing that I would ask of you, of a more immediate nature."

Telkarnith had the feeling that this time he had something specific in mind, and could guess very well what it was. "I will make amends with Sarhinor," he said, looking to the ground.

Redger nodded his head, seeming satisfied. "Very well. I will take you to him now, if you would. I am certain that he will appreciate the reassurance."

The three of them followed the silvery spirit horse as he led them off around the group of peacefully grazing horses. The equines seemed much more content with their presence than one might expect. Only Sarhinor, on the far edge of the vale, was uneasy. Doubtless Redger had told them to relax. Sarhinor, however, snorted and backed away from them, eying Telkarnith uneasily.

"It's alright, Sarhinor, I'm not going to hurt you," Telkarnith said soothingly.

Sarhinor wasn't particularly reassured, shaking his head back and forth and snorting uncomfortably. Telkarnith wasn't even certain if the horse could understand him at all, but it was worth a shot. He certainly didn't understand what the horse was trying to say.

"I'm really sorry about what you must have gone through," Telkarnith told him quietly. "But you're free again now, and no one will ever enslave you again. I'm afraid I can't give you back all you've lost because of it, but I would if I could." The thought gave him pause. Couldn't he? He couldn't return the two years the horse had spent at the Chelseers' ranch, but perhaps there were a way to use his newfound powers to heal him. Somehow.

Sarhinor clearly was not convinced of Telkarnith's sincerity, only growing all the more uneasy about being around him. Perhaps it was only loyalty to his sire that kept him from bolting, but if the two were talking, it was in such a way that Telkarnith could not hear or understand. Well, he wasn't sure if he could do this, especially with so old a wound, but it was worth a shot. He closed his eyes and reached out his senses into the spirit world as Marvel had taught him to do. Redger's brilliant silvery aura was almost blinding near him, and Sarhinor was a bright light himself, if one dimmer and unsteadier than that of the other horses around here. His years in captivity had bled of him much of his confidence and strength.

Shamans could communicate with spirits and call upon them to give aid when in need, but as Marvel impressed upon Telkarnith many times, true power came from within. Many things could be done with the power of one's own spirit, and as he had learned, his was not a weak one. He called upon his own strength, drawing it up like a wellspring within himself, and directed a tranquil stream of shimmering light, pure healing energy, into Sarhinor. Power to give life, to heal old wounds and mend ancient wrongs. It was a small thing, but sometimes, it was the small things that really mattered in the end.

Telkarnith was not certain if his spell had worked right away, but when he opened his eyes again, Sarhinor bucked and neighed, but he sensed the horse's emotional state was of surprise and gladness, not of horror or unease. The bay stallion, whole again, galloped in a tight circle around Telkarnith and his friends before stopping in front of him and lowering his head as if in thanks. Then he rode off to join the other horses.

Redger approached again, very much pleased. "You have done well, young Telkarnith Chelseer, Heir of the Children of the Dragon's Blood. I believe you are truly sincere in your intentions. Hold to your promises, and for the rest of your days you will bear the blessing of the Lord of Horses. Farewell."

With that, the spirit horse glowed with a blinding light for half a moment, before vanishing as if he had never been. Telkarnith could not be certain, but he felt a little different. As they walked back to the farm, he felt that his movements were just the slightest bit stronger and quicker, as though he could trot all day and never tire.

"So," Marvel said when they got back to the house that evening. "I think you've got quite the adventure to tell me. Come inside, you can tell it all over dinner." From the grin on his face and the twinkle in his eye, Telkarnith could tell that he already knew.

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