Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Visit from Centaurs

Free time lately has been about as common as a visit from centaurs. Since I worked with someone who had a death in the family, I had to pick up some extra hours to help out this month, as anyone would, so that cut into any writing time for weeks. On the positive side, I will be taking a week off next month just to read, write and sleep.

My flight got into north of nowhere early, so I had the dilemma - do I work on getting my second book in the series ready for publication or do I try to get on Facebook, join the Independent Authors Network get on twitter and do other things to promote the book I have out already.

You can see which won

Chapter 2: The Centaurs Visit
            In the morning, Lucia was exuding an even greater air of self-righteous injury. After all, wasn’t she the one who saved Peggy from becoming food for the muledragoons? Wasn’t it she who had helped birth the baby? For that matter, weren’t mother and daughter at this very instant relaxing in the garden that she had created in this desolate, frozen wasteland. Her thoughts could have continued along that line for very much longer had the door to her room not slammed open.
            “Go wash those two,” growled Cysotte. “The Centaur Klath will be here soon, and one of the many unreasoning prejudices centaurs have is against anything that is not spotlessly clean.” He stepped close to Lucia and sniffed. Wash yourself, too, while you’re at it. How did you spend years with Lott and not pick up her habits? I always thought that witch, must be part centaur way back in her line somewhere. Cleanest apprentice I ever had. Annoying. But at least she never had half the Centaur Isle coming here pestering me.”
            Lucia considered some retort about the centaurs could stand her if they could put up with Cysotte, but thought better of it. While normally his bark was really much worse than his bite, today he was clearly not far from a biting mood. With a wizard of his stature, this could easily translate into taking the form of some large animal, real or imagined, and biting off a piece of whatever had caused that mood.  Since she was fairly certain that, justly or not, at least part of that mood had been caused by her actions the previous day, Lucia held her tongue and went out into the garden.
            Upon seeing the apprentice, Peggy merely nodded her head and went back to nuzzling and licking the newborn. Apparently she, too, still felt some grudge against Lucia. Deciding that this was a game that two could play, and going for the least effort, the young woman wordlessly stood next to mother and daughter and caused a warm rainshower to fall out of the air. Clouds would have made a better effect, but she just didn’t care at the moment.
            “Do you mind?” objected the pegasus, huffily.
            “Centaur Klath is coming,” explained Lucia shortly. “Cysotte said to do it. They like clean.”
            At this, Peggy began nervously pacing and pawing the ground. A warm breeze dried the three of them, the anxious mother, the placid baby and the angry, young apprentice. Cysotte came to join them, looking almost as agitated as the pegasus. Lucia noticed that he hadn’t followed his own injunction regarding cleanliness, wearing the same robes as the day before, and having groomed his sparse white hair only by repeatedly running his fingers through it.
The professor, too, walked back and forth for a while, and then, stopped suddenly, struck by a thought.
He pulled the pegasus’ head close to his and the unlikely pair had a hurried conversation. Not a moment too soon, either, as just then a loud knock sounded at the door. Of course, they could have materialized inside the room, but the greater their ire the more centaurs felt it necessary to observe the niceties of social convention. This was one of a few things about them that Lucia never did quite understand.
            Magically the door opened, and the five members of the Centaur Klath high-stepped in, single-file, followed by Jerome. The young father looked dazed. For a moment, he stood uncertainly behind the Klath, aware of the trouble he had caused, but then, catching sight of his daughter, he trotted over to her and lifted her in his arms. She snuggled close, fluttering her little wings and smiling a happy baby smile. The youngest of the Klath, a pinto female with auburn hair, watched the exchange carefully. Her stern visage melted as she saw father and daughter together. Lucia thought to herself, there is one for our side.
            The Klath fanned out and faced the little family. Not sure of their intentions, Cysotte and Lucia moved between the two groups. The eldest member stepped forward. He was silver-haired, with lines of age, deepened today by an expression of grave disapproval, “We have come today, Friend Cysotte, to discuss this unfortunate incident.”
            The professor spat on the ground between them, “Then you are all idiots with nothing better to do than waste my time. Isn’t there some maniac out there trying to take over the world? And you come prancing up to my cottage on the magic path just because some filly gave birth?”
            The old one was slightly taken aback by this description of events.
“It is more than that, professor. To the centaurs, uh, socialization, with dumb animals is seen as a grave error.”
            At this, the pegasus trotted forward, shaking her head and snorting. If the Klath were put off by such horse-like behavior, they were even more disturbed by what she said.
“Dumb animal? If your honorable selves mean by dumb that I can’t talk, then I would remind you this is the second time I have shown the error of your centaur thinking in that regard. If you mean to dis- “ she paused to find the right word, “disrespect my intellect, then I think the famed centaur manners are just a story made up, probably by the centaurs. If you intend to refer to me, in a situation that I think is really none of your business, I would thank you to have the courtesy of using my given name. It is Genatha.”
            Jerome’s master gasped, “That is an Old Earth name. It means – “
            “Mother of Destiny. I know full well what it means,” murmured the pegasus. “It is my name, after all.”
            “This is ridiculous!” interrupted the white one. “We are here to determine the facts of the situation regarding the improper behavior of the young one with a – uh, pegasus.”
            This time, Peggy/Genatha, reared several feet off the ground, she was so angry.
 “Situation? Are you calling my baby – our baby – a situation? If I wasn’t such a mare and a new mother, I would kick you in the head!”
At this, the other centaurs tried, with varying degrees of success, to hide the smiles that appeared unbidden on their faces. Coming back down to earth, both literally and emotionally, the pegasus fluttered her wings a bit and settled back to her normal, calm self.
“Jerome had your prejudices, too, when I first met him. I reasoned with him, though, until he saw my logic.”
            All of the Klath members were silent. The young father began to look less like he expected to be shot full of arrows at any moment. In fact, he cast a surreptitious glance of admiration at the pegasus. It was a very neat tactic. Centaurs pride themselves on their logic and look down on humans for their unreasoning prejudice against not only other species but even members of different races of humans. To be accused of the same sins, and rightfully so, was enough to give any centaur pause, and the Klath were certainly not just any centaurs. She had set them back on their heels, quite literally. All of them were studying the ground, the roof over their heads, any spot but looking Peggy straight in the eye.
            The youngest Klath member was the first to speak, perhaps because she had the least reason to be self-conscious.
 “Beg pardon, Friend Genatha, I mean no offense, but I had not thought the pegasi to be such as yourself, but rather beasts subservient to man. Have I been wrong in my thinking?”
            The pegasus responded gently, “No offense. The centaurs are famous for their interest in learning about everything. You have been both right and wrong. I am not a very usual pegasus. Neither are the pegasi beasts of burden. Mostly, a pegasus is an athlete, living to fly faster than anyone has flown before. Over the generations, it has become the whole reason to be alive.  Living with men freed a pegasus from any other need. They take care of our food and shelter. If they want to cast a bet or two on a race, that is a small price to pay. If they take the foals and sell them, what difference is that to the racers? The young ones will be cared for and fed, without the parents having to go to any trouble.”
            “Is that how you feel about it?” asked one of the members, who had been quiet until now.
            The mother’s eyes narrowed. One wingtip rested on the baby.
She looked straight at him and replied sweetly, “I told you I was not a very usual pegasus. If you take one step toward her, I will fly above you and tap dance on your head with all four hooves. Does that answer your question?”
            He swallowed nervously, Adam’s apple jiggling, “Yes, I think it does.”
            The old one, however, was not about to give up so easily.
”Just a minute, there. Perhaps we were a bit, uh, hasty, in our judgment of the pegasi in some respects. However, the child is a centaur, uh, at least in part, and that being the case, attention must be paid to the child’s naming. After that, of course, there is the issue of the child’s education. Surely, no one believes this is a fit venue for learning!”
            “Why not?” Peggy asked mildly, “After all, he is a professor.”
            The old centaur laughed derisively.
 “You can’t be serious!”
            The professor, who ten minutes earlier was infuriated by the fact that one more being seemed to have taken up residence in his home, without his permission no less, and a child, on top of all of that, immediately reversed his position. He advanced on the centaur, and, being a magician, he did not simply appear to be getting larger with every step he really was growing. By the time he reached the elder, Cysotte was towering over him.
“I am 111 years old. I have been studying magic for 92 years, and along the way have picked up a fair amount of history, science and mathematics to go along with it. Do you really mean to stand there, in my own house, and tell me that you think I am unfit to teach one mere infant?”
            Actually, Lucia thought to herself, Cysotte was probably a horrible person to teach an infant. He was cranky, sloppy, usually rude and frequently away for extended periods. When he was around, he hated to be bothered during his work, study or sleeping periods, which took up nearly all of the day. The child would pretty much be left to learn what her mother could teach her, what she could pick up on her own, and anything Lucia managed to explain to her. On the other hand, old white-tail didn’t seem to be any more of a prizewinner than Cysotte, and he had the huge drawback of being prejudiced against the little tyke. Every time he looked her way, he was unable to keep himself from staring at the tiny wings. Several times, Lucia noticed an involuntary shudder.
            Despite his prejudices, the elder was intent on having his way. He may not have wanted the young half-breed (as he thought of her), but he could not see leaving one of centaur blood to be raised anywhere but Centaur Isle. It just was not done. He folded his arms across his chest and, purposely avoiding Cysotte’s glare, looked straight ahead and declared, “There are centaur conventions that must be followed. We are wasting time. The child must be named and the naming must be done on the isle.”
            “Who says so?” asked the pegasus quietly, and then shook her head. “It doesn’t really matter who says so, anyway. She already has a name. Every pegasus child is named by her mother who can see what name will most fit the adult the child will become. The pegasi do not learn magic. We are magic. Her name is Elayatha.”
            “Child of Light and Fate? What kind of name is that?” the old centaur demanded. “It doesn’t make any kind of sense to me.”
            “Well, it does to me,” the pegasus replied. “And it will to her when she is old enough to understand. Since it’s not your name and you’re not her mother, it doesn’t really matter whether it makes sense to you or not, now does it?”
            The white centaur actually sputtered at this, leaving a few drops of spittle on Lucia, Cysotte and Peggy. The two humans brushed themselves off with exaggerated displays of distaste. Peggy (they still could not really think of her as Genatha) politely chose to ignore this faux pas.
“What about the young one?” the chief centaur asked. “Shouldn’t he suffer some consequences?”
            “He’s got a child,” Cysotte muttered. “How much more consequence do you want?”
            At this point, Hirsutz deemed it advisable to step in. The normally placid pegasus appeared on the verge of kicking someone in the head. The professor seemed inclined to stand by, watch and enjoy it. The young father was being pulled in so many directions at once by competing loyalties that it would surprise no one if he split in half and went galloping off in different directions.
“Ahem, “ the black centaur suggested politely but firmly, “I believe friend Cysotte has noted the right solution. Mine apprentice Jerome will stay here for a month- “ noticing the professor’s glare, he amended, “Ahem, two weeks. He will assist in tending the young one, which, as all who have cared for an infant know, is no small task. In this, he will pay some recompense to the fair Genatha who no doubt could benefit from the rest this assistance will afford. As his studies allow, and” nodding toward the glowering Cysotte, “the convenience of the household, he will return here to aid in the child’s education.”
            The old centaur was not satisfied, and it appeared that, except for Hirsutz, the others were accustomed to letting him speak for them. If it came to a vote, the reasonable view might well lose.
“You don’t understand!” the white one shouted.
He would have said more if he had not been rudely interrupted.
Cysotte scowled and shouted right over him, “What you don’t understand is that you have nothing we want. That means we don’t have to listen to you and we are tired of putting up with you. Go away!” 
He gave Lucia a meaningful look, while he indicated the four centaurs with one hand and made a disappearing motion with the other. No one was looking at the apprentice, and so they were quite surprised when, a moment later, they all found themselves back on Centaur Isle. The old one was so furious that he actually reared backward and kicked so hard into a tree that his hooves became stuck. The young pinto had to help him free himself. When she did so, he trotted away to his hut without so much as a thank you or a backward glance.
Back in the cottage, Hirsutz was a little stunned.
“Well,” asked Cysotte, “do you want us to send you back the same way, or are you taking the magic path?”
The centaur wizard smiled diffidently, “I think, friend Cysotte, I prefer the path. I’ll start out walking from here, and, with luck, it will take three or four days before the path is available to me. Orson may have lost some of his anger by then. First, perhaps, I will stay and give the young ones the benefit of my advice, for whatever it may be worth. I have raised a colt and a filly of my own in my time, and I believe I am the only one here with that experience.”
“Fine!” growled the professor, as he headed back toward his room. “Make yourself at home.”
This time Hirsutz grinned broadly, as he called toward the departing back, “I think not. I have more sense of self-preservation than that.”
Forgiven and forgotten, Lucia grumpily tramped off in the opposite direction, to her quarters. What Hirsutz told the new parents, therefore, remained unknown to all not directly involved. It is certain, though, that they appeared much relieved after that. Or, at least, Jerome was relieved, the pegasus having been pretty clear what she was about from the very beginning.

Here is the first book, if you were dying to read where this all came from

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