The ocean, that’s where she truly wanted to go, where the horizon went on forever and beyond.
It wasn’t like the forest was a deplorable place, but it was a necessary evil. The jagged roots butchered the thawing ground as they lifted from the earth to feel the early spring sun through the forests naked branches. It made the already uneven ground grudgingly dreadful under hoof as she weaved through the mass expanse of trees, both upright and fallen. She tip-hoofed across the frost and winced at its nipping bite against her rusty metal shoes.
She couldn’t gallop here, not a real gallop, no matter if you were born in this woodland maze and raised to know every twisting turn. One mis-step, and a leg could snap in half, a death sentence for any equine both horse and centaur, who could only gallop on the man-made trails; a forbidden activity. There was a theft of experience taken from the foals birthed here; they’d never know the true feeling of endless freedom galloping over a spread of golden wheat fields or open and rolling green hills. Of course she had never experienced this feat either, being wood and wild-born, but she smiled at the tales her grandmare told of wide open spaces where Centaurs ruled and rode together in large herds.
The caves, caverns, and thickets her family band had retreated into were what most herds were forced to call home now that the humans were claiming more flat land from her kind, to farm and expand their growing numbers. It was a matter she had heard and seen, but never personally experienced herself. Her father wouldn’t let anything interrupt their family herd, so when word spread of humans approaching, they’d back their belongings and travel farther west.
Her family was feral, wild, and without a care to the world and the territories, laws, kings, or occupations established around them. Her family stayed away; went where they pleased and kept to themselves. It was the closest thing to freedom they’d ever have, her mother once said, but it was an awfully lonely life… sometimes they wouldn’t see another centaur for months at a time, and they were social creatures.
This mare, known as Thicket, pulled on her white sleeves, feeling the departing winter chill unpleasantly touch her pale skin. It left the white patch over her chestnut fur on her backside to ruffle in displeasure. She’d flick her tail in annoyance, but her mother had pinned and wrapped it up in a beautifully spotted orange bow. Such accessories were often for times when others were visiting, and so Thicket headed home sooner than usual from her round about patrol. At least her matching orange corset kept her perked breasts warm and concealed during company. She could not wait for winter to let go of its icy grip… Nudity among centaurs was common, but as of late… and as more and more herds were slimmed down to small family bands, the human trait to cover their exposed flesh began to mingle into the centaur ways. But in summer, with the peace and tranquility of only her family, she could run freely with breasts exposed.
Thicket walked into the valley, the eye of the forest with a large pond as its pupil. The three skin tents that were her traveling home since she was young were open, revealing their various possessions inside; such as clothes, trinkets, weapons, dishes, and grooming supplies of the like... spring cleaning, or another move, she wondered?
The smell of smoked meat and vegetable stew graced her face and made her mouth water. She skipped into a trot, smiling towards her bay tobiano sire, (her father of brown fur, black legs, hair, and tail). He had his back to her, as if something in the forest had caught his eye.
Thicket’s chestnut dam, (her mother of a soft brown color), and greying out-grandmare, were both around the fire pit and cooking meat to add into the stew. But as Thicket approached her family band, she all but skidded to a stop at the fresh sight before her...
Four bare chested and strangely groomed stallions entered her families quiet valley and stood abreast with her father, talking in a friendly manor. Were these the visiting ones her mother told her about earlier as they pinned her tail? The sudden realization made Thicket warm with accusations now that she was… of age. She bit her bottom lip, kept her eyes away from direct contact, and settled beside her grand-mare.
“Mother didn’t tell me that only stallions were coming…” she whispered, rubbing her wrists with anxiety.
“Does it matter?” The elder mare seemed to be holding back a smile full of mischief, as she placed extra clay bowls out, no doubt for their new guests.
“Yes grandmare,” Thicket nearly growled. “If she pinned my tail, then yes it matters to me.” Thicket felt her face flush hot, but her grandmare only chuckled whilst stirring the stew.
“You’re a mare now, my little Thicket.” Her grandmare groaned as she shifted her weight and let her folded legs stretch out beside the fire, as if thawing from a lingering frost. “When was the last time you saw another band of centaurs this far west, hmm?” She sounded sad, and Thicket pouted her lips in thought of the ocean not far from their little home. “We have no where left to travel, the humans have infested the entire Continent… or so say Hawkins…”
Thicket sat in thought, whilst stirring the stew so her grandmare could massage her acking wrists. Hawkins… A white stallion from grandmares old family band, before she followed her son and his newly pregnant mare, the pair being Thickets parents. Hawkins, the strange stallion who left the land for the ships that crossed the sea, and who often sent letters by bird to Thickets grandmare… who often reads these letters in the dead of night so she could cry. Did her grandmare miss this stallion, or the life they could have had if Thicket had no been born…?
Thicket heard her name among the chatter of the visitors and looked up to her dam, who pretended not to notice her daughter’s embarrassment as she talked softly to one of the four stallions. Fine, Thicket wouldn’t look at her either. Instead, she glanced at the four studs.
The eldest was speaking with her dam and leaned on a cane with closed eyes; his dark red roan coat was riddled with white stray hairs. He looked exhausted, almost as if he was uninterested in the conversation and was content to nap where he stood. To this elders right stood the others, who were possibly his three sons, as they were all adamantly younger than the grand-stallion and Thicket’s own sire.
The shortest was a palomino colt with a golden and fluffy crown. He reminded Thicket of a fledgling duckling with his tufted mane. He smiled politely at Thicket’s dam as she spoke, but just like his grand-stallion, this young colt didn’t appear to be interested in the conversation Thicket’s mother hosted.
The other two stallions however, were very intrigued in what Thicket’s sire had to say… or offer, because as Thicket lifted from her spot and approached, the trio of stallions quieted. The sack of jingling tokens passed to her father did not go unnoticed by Thicket, but she bit her tongue. The two strange studs, (a bay with four white socks and a silver grullo), seemed to puff up at her approach, which only made her blush and look down to her uneven white and brown forelegs, one bare and the other socked.
“Darling, this bachelor band has come to visit,” her sire wrapped his arm around her slender shoulders.
The word bachelor made her heart thunder wildly and her face flush hot. It was hard for wild centaurs to find… potential mates… out here in the wood while more of their kind became civilized and tamed like the humans they worked under. Thicket tried to ignore why they were obviously sent or invited here, despite whatever her sire was about to tell her. She knew why they only hosted stallions…
“They’ve requested some supplies from us before they head off to the sea.” Her sires enthusiasm was suddenly infectious.
Thickets mind blanked and her heart swiftly rose, “the sea?” Her bright smile seemed to loosen the anxiety in her chest as she glanced up at the duo.
The grullo bowed his head, “I’m Atlas.” His voice was deep, a bit firm and demandingly dominant. His lips seemed hard pressed into a thin line, like he had never seen joy before. Her smile wavered, but not before the bay stallion took her hand and kissed the back of it. She flinched at the sudden contact… she tried to hush her rampant thoughts, but it was contact with another centaur that wasn’t her blood… someone that was near her age… and her opposite gender. She tried to swallow the expected thoughts that briefly flickered threw her mind’s eye.
“Ignore my brother; he can be so stiff at the most inappropriate times.” He held her focus, Thickets brown eyes locked with his own. His smile was lop-sided, “I’m Lestat.” His voice was smooth and strangely melted her heart. She quickly pulled her hand from his so she could push her long brown locks from her face.
Her sire gave her a squeeze of support as Lestat spoke. “While the meal cooks and our family’s converse, why don’t you show me the swiftest path to the sea?” The bay brother extended his hand and Thicket’s heart leapt in her throat. She turned to her family; her Grandmare continued to stir the pot, until she smacked the palomino colt’s reaching hand. Her dam was helping the elderly stallion to a blanketed seat by the fire, and her sire had already pulled from his protective embrace over her to speak with Atlas near their tents.
She felt the seasons last wintry chill push her towards the hand of Lestat, his smile welcoming and bright.
“Oh… okay…” she placed her shaky hand in his, unsure but unafraid.
During their walk, he did not release her hand, and his thumb brushed her skin ever so gently. Thicket couldn’t seem to calm the rapid beating of her heart, and every time she glance up at the stallion, he gave her a smooth smile that left her blushing and looking back down to the path ahead. The silence made her uncomfortable, and she thought of numerous things to say, but couldn’t form into words. Their hooves made gentle thuds on what she once thought was a cold and unforgiving ground, but as she walked with Lestat, she felt extremely warm and bright, even giddy for the first time in a long time.
The sun began to set in the distance, taking its lack luster spring heat with it. The sky began to cool, the world turning dark all around them.
“Which way, Milady?" His voice broke her thoughts and she realized quickly that they were at a cross roads, where the sea was to the left and the human filled kingdoms were to their right.
She pointed, “The left leads to the ocean…” she all but breathed. Her enchanted thoughts of her skin against the warm sand or the water soaking her sore hooves made her all but moan with desire. Maybe she really was her grandmare’s grandfilly after all… maybe they could live a life by the sea, or like the white stallion Hawkins, on top of the rolling waves…
“And the right?” He beckoned Thicket out of her thoughts.
“Human lands…” she pulled her glance from the path she always dreamed of galloping down.
“No,” she stated firmly. “Wild and wood born,” she went to pull her hand from his, but his grip tightened swiftly and her heart caught in her throat for a second. Her eyes darted to his and he gave a sly slow smile.
“Ever thought about giving it a peek, maybe…” he pulled her closer, “cause some trouble?”
“Uh…um, no…” She gave a breathy, nervous laugh and leaned away, but his grip was strong.
“It’ll be fun, no one will notice us in the dark, and we’ll be back before you know it,” he urged, and she looked down to her hand in his, watched as he took his other hand and placed it on her waist, where smooth skin met coarse fur, and where no one had ever touched her before. She felt her face grow hot, her breath go shallow, her throat go dry. “Ride with me,” his request was throaty, waking something deep and mature inside her that hadn’t been awakened yet. Her wide, almost doe like eyes found his, “let’s show them what real wild centaurs look like…” he all but purred in her ear, his face so close to hers, and the words made her mouth oddly water. The coming night wrapped around them, like they were the only two in the world. He pulled her wrist, beckoning her…
And then they were galloping.
Never in her life had she gone this fast; her legs pounding her hooves powerfully down into the earth like it was hers to claim. Her long brown hair whipped out behind her, letting the wind lick at the most sensitive parts of her neck where sweat began to trickle. Her breath caught short, already gasping for the sharp chilly air as if she had never breathed before. She leaned into the stride, loosing herself in the heady ecstasy of galloping over the rugged terrain flatten by humans. She rode hard beside the handsome stallion. His legs, longer and stronger than hers, gracefully leaping and bounding beside her; their charging bodies gently bumping together as they tore through the forest and towards the humans land.
The thrill, the danger of it all, made Thicket feel more alive than ever as she followed Lestat, hand in hand, over the course and unforgiving landscape. She could hear them, the humans, as they got closer; past the rapidly opening forest with its branches reaching for her, trying to keep her in… keep her contained… keep her away and afraid. But no more! She dropped his hand, broke from Lestat’s gait, and plunged headlong into the open area, leaping over the stonewall that lined the forest...
Where far too many humans to count all stood in a semi-circle before her…
She dug her hooves into the earth, sliding to a stop so drastic she had almost fallen. She gulped at the air, her corset closing in on her thundering heart and her aching lungs. She gasped, eyes wild as the humans who circled her all stood with ropes and smirks, their faces flickering wicked grins in their torch lights. She turned her back on them, looking towards the stallion that would surely save her! Lestat jumped over the stone wall, landing beside her and giving a little trot around her as he caught his breath and stride.
“Well now,” he gave a chuckle and patted his chest. “That sure was a run,” he gave her a wicked smile, running his fingers threw his loose black hair.
Thicket’s heart dropped as he stopped and stood beside the stone wall, blocking her exit to the forest. A human tossed something, making the mare flinch before she realized what it was...
She watched Lestat catch the broad tunic from a human to his left. He slid the garment on over his head, the fabric that clearly had the insignia of some human’s king across the front, to cover his bare chest. The action made Thicket shutter with fear. Was he... ?
Lestat received a torch from one of the humans and tossed Thicket a victorious smile. “Another Centaur for the Crown,” he cooed.
Thicket felt the words like a kick to her stomach. The humans stayed wary of their distance, but moved closer, slowly, with ropes drawn in hands. Lestat turned to the human beside him.
“We picked up an elder stallion on the way, probably only useful for meat…but he did have a young palomino colt with him that will sell fairly well since he’s filly-pretty.”
“No…” Thicket wrapped her arms around her chest, feeling the world closing in on her.
“Atlas will probably bring the elder and the colt,” Lestat continued his instructions, as if he was some sort of authority over these humans that surrounded them. “Oh, we have the location of the wild band we found this mare from,” he flicked his hand at Thicket, as if she wasn’t really there to understand his implications, “get back my ‘wedding dowry’,” Lestat’s words were heavy with sarcasm. “That way my tokens are back where they belong.”
A rope thrown beside Thickets head snapped her out of her frightened trance. She flung herself around, eyes wild to the humans encroaching on her: all male, all of middle age with strong bodies, except one, no doubt the youngest. She saw his matching fear in their connected eyes. How his smooth face looked more petrified as she stared him down, until she charged at him. He squealed, embarrassingly, and held his hands up as if the rope would somehow stop her and scare her away. She barreled into him, trampling him, stumbling over his body where she felt things squish and crack under her weight.
“JUSTIN!” One man screamed from behind Thicket as she galloped alongside the stonewall. The flailing and fumbling foot falls of the humans didn’t reach Thickets ears. The horrid, monstrous, thundering stride of Lestat closing in behind her set her into a frenzied whirlwind of thought.
Could she get back to her family? Could they fend off two large brother stallions? Where would they go when they had the humans to their right and the sea to their left? She gasped painfully as her heart pounded up in her throat, nearly choking her. Her sides, both human and equine, strained to continue its panicked stride. She started to loose feeling in her legs, felt gravity stumble her as if she’d fall forward, until Lestat grabbed her bobbed tail.
With a shrill scream, she reared backwards, throwing her hind legs at the bay stallion. Her right leg whipped in the air, but her left hoof buried itself in Lestat’s torso. She heard his grunt, felt her tail untangle from its bow and his grip. She gathered her stride and continued to gallop down the beaten path until the forest opened up to her left. She hopped over the stone wall, the shouts of the lagging humans and the mysterious disappearance of Lestat’s hoof beats left Thicket with a glimmer of hope.
STORY AND ART (C) ME - MARYAH STEVENS M .L . STEVENS
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Hey, I'm Maryah Stevens, a 25 year old, self-published, college graduate, married, 1st time mom! Phew!