Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Friendly Beasts Around Him Stood

She watched the dim light from the lamp glowing in his tawny hair and thought, as she often did, that he was quietly handsome, sturdy and reliable. When he’d shown up that day, she had been glad for the comfort of his company. She sighed, sad that after all that had gone on, Saint and Bender simply could not just hang up their grievances and be friends. Because sooner or later, the two of them would part ways and Bender would take Swagman and there was no telling when she’d see him again. She wondered if she ever would.

And the thought of never seeing Swagman again was nearly too much for Jersey to bear.

The barn was dark, dimly lit by the lamp Bender had left. He’d be back. He never left the lantern burning all night. He’d be back later to check the gash in Mercury’s flank, and to reapply some soothing salve.

The winter air was icy and smelled of snow. She was glad to have been tucked warmly into her blanket. She had already decided she would stay awake tonight. She knew tonight was the night of the Gift. And she didn’t want to fall asleep and miss it. Especially since Swagman happened to be visiting here in the barn on Christmas Eve, as Bender was staying here for a few days.

She raised her head, looking over the wall into Swagman’s stall and huffed softly, her breath ruffling his forelock. He raised his head, and she saw his vision clear, the sleep in his brown eyes withdraw. Shaking her head, she whickered quietly. Wake up, wake up. Sleep later. Remember the Gift.

War Bonnet’s pale, ghostly eyes peered over the top of the opposite wall, his black ears flicking expectantly over his long, white face. It’s tonight? Tonight? It’s coming. I feel it. He stamped his feet impatiently.

Jersey could feel it, too. Something in the air, crackling like ice breaking deep below the surface of a frozen pond. Something shifting. She shivered.

Waddell the big coach horse moved heavily in his stall on the other side of the barn, his big feet scraping on the packed earth. What’s the fuss, tribe? He snuffled, sleepy in his blanket. Too noisy. Sleep.

The Gift. The Gift is tonight. War Bonnet whinnied, giving his stall a light knock with his foot. Soon, soon. Can’t you feel it? Wake now. Sleep later.

Jersey opened her mouth, trying her tongue. It felt thick, clumsy against her teeth. She uttered a soft, broken sigh, and suddenly the mystery came over her. She tried again, her mouth full of air and fluttering sound.

“Swagman.” She said, thrilling with the sound of her voice, the sudden dexterity of her tongue. “The Gift is here.”  So much to say, so little time. Of course, Jersey could communicate with the other horses, as horses do.  They talked among themselves all the time. But on this night, once a year when it was silent and icy and the hour was balanced precisely between yesterday and tomorrow, they could express things their quiet, earthy language was too simple to say.

Swagman lifted his head, his voice deep and steady and deliberate. “Jersey.”

She heard Yellow Sky startle awake, banging a hip against his stall. He uttered something strange and musical in his half-sleep, the native tongue of the Absaroka rolling like falling water from his mouth. His eyes flew open, and he switched haltingly to the language of the white men. “I almost forgot!” He uttered, shaking off his sleep. “It’s tonight!”

Jersey nodded, tossing her head and banging on the boards of her stall. “Wake up, tribe! The Gift is here!” She looked over at Swagman, and met his face with her lips over the wall separating them. “I’m so glad you’re here tonight, my friend. How long will you be here this time?”

He leaned his face against hers, closing his eyes and sighing. “Probably until the weather improves.”

“Will you be back?”

“Probably. In a couple months, most likely. Unless the company decides to put us somewhere permanently.”

Jersey felt a surge of worry. If that happened, her fears would be realized. At the moment, Bender and Swagman traveled the string of stations within a hundred miles or so of the Green. So she and Swagman could visit every few months. If the farrier ended up being permanently assigned, their chances of being together would be slim to none.

“Jersey, that was a crazy stunt you pulled last time.”

Jersey felt a flush of embarrassment...and a little jolt of pleasure at Swagman shaking his big brown head in a kind of disapproving admiration. She hadn’t meant to knock Saint out cold with her head. In fact, seeing him lying in the dust at her feet had made her wish she could take back her actions. But Saint and Bender had, once again, ruined her goodbyes with Swagman by bickering. In a fit of temper, she’d thrown back her head hard in an effort to shut him up.

When her skull had connected with Saint’s jaw and he’d fallen from the saddle like a half-empty sack of potatoes, she’d actually felt deep worry and remorse. However, that remorse was short-lived when Mrs. Lynch had ordered Bender... and Swagman... to stay on another day to make sure Saint was alright.  

She justified it by speculating that perhaps there was lesson about bad tempers in there. And she particularly hoped that lesson was not lost on Saint.

“I didn’t mean to hurt him, you know.” She said, somewhat defensively. “I love him very much.”

“I know.” Swagman’s eyes twinkled in amusement.

“I didn’t want to hear their harsh chatter. And...I didn’t want you to go.”

Swagman’s face grew serious. “I didn’t want to go, either. I wanted to stay here. With you.” He nuzzled her ears and her forehead.

Jersey could feel the magic withdrawing as the moment of midnight slipped away and the door to Eden began to creak shut again. Her tongue became clumsy, and she felt the sounds coming from her lips become familiar, simpler, once again equine. Complex thoughts became more difficult, more faraway and dreamlike. She’d had one more thing to say. But it was the simplest thought, the easiest word. And the language of the horses could express it more than adequately.

She rested her cheek warmly against Swagman’s, her lips uttering the primitive sound that anyone else would hear as an equine sigh. I love you.

There is a Christmas legend that say that the animals, who were the first to see the Christ Child when he came into the world, are given the Gift of Speech on Christmas Eve. I’ve always loved this legend, and when I had pets, always took special care to leave them alone at midnight on Christmas Eve so they could talk among themselves, and tell each other their secrets. 

Merry Christmas, tribe. Or Solstice or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Yule or whatever.  I wish for all you peace and comfort, no matter how you spend your holidays. 



Katrie said...

::sighs happily::

That was wonderful. :) Such a happy little tale before going off to the scary world of retail this afternoon.

Thank you, and may you have the best of Holidays!!

Katrie said...

::sighs happily::

Ahhh... such a wonderful happy little tale before diving into the world of retail for the afternoon/night!!

Thank you, and may you have the best of Holidays!!! :D

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard that legend, how sweet! I'll make sure to pass it along.

(Tell Jersey I also approve of her method of shutting up arguing boys ;) )

who happens to have a pet dog, 2 pet cats, and a farm full of dairy cows, goats, barn cats, and assorted wildlife. Why yes, I've provided the livestock for living nativity scenes before ;)

Hazel West said...

Ah! I feel so bad I haven't stopped by for like...I don't even know how long. I have sooo much to catch up on with your story, it's not even funny. I'm definitely going to make a serious attempt of it. By the way, I love Ask Wash, that's awesome ;)

Hope you had a great Christmas!


Regina said...

Katrie: Thanks! Hope you did as well, and I'm also hoping you survived the horrors of Holiday Retail. ;-)

Capriox: Well, while Jersey didn't mean to hit him quite that hard, she found out that it was a method that certainly ended the argument right then and there. And Saint found out it was best not to let his temper make him careless.

Not that he always remembers that lesson, mind.

Hazel: Glad you're back! Look at it this way, now you don't have to hit the cliffhangers and wait for the next installment.

I always say I'm going to do that with weekly serials, and I never do. I don't have the willpower.

Glad you like Ask Wash! I'm rather fond of that myself. It is sort of on hiatus, but if you ask him something, he'll answer it. Hint, hint.

For the record, if you talk to Saint and Fiona on Facebook, they'll answer you, too. I'm just saying.

Hazel West said...

Awesome! I might drop him an email sometime :) One of my characters is on Facebook too, he addes Saint to his favorites last night, they are both coffee fiends ;)

Regina said...

Hazel, let me know who your character is. I'm sure Saint and Fiona will be interested as well.

Hazel West said...

His name is Anthony Maxwell, a private investigator from the Victorian steampunk mysteries I'm working on. you can find the link to his facebook site on my blog

Regina said...

Hazel: I'm not seeing the link on your page. Might just not be showing up on my phone. Not at my computer right now. About a stadium full of Anthony Maxwells on fb when I do a search. I'll take a look tomorrow when I get online.

Feel free to post a link here if you want to, I don't mind.