He’d come into the world kicking. Most other foals were born and spent the next hour lying quietly on the straw before trying to stand for the very first time. Maximus came out fighting, swinging weak legs as he was jerked from his dark quiet place and dumped into something with smells and the sights and sounds that threatened to overwhelm his senses. He’d laid there for just a short spell, watched by his mother and two creatures he’d never seen before that cooed to his mother telling her how good of a job she’d done. It wasn’t that he was tired; he was simply feigning sleep and collecting intel about this new place. “Maximus. He looks like a Maximus, doesn’t he? Look at the way he holds himself, like a little king this one,” one of the creatures chuckled to himself as he chewed on a piece of straw thoughtfully and stroked his mother’s neck. Maximus had craned his neck, cocking his head just a bit and snuffing at a piece of straw tickled his nose.
The laying around routine had gotten boring rather quickly and he’d been up and exploring as soon as he could convince his limbs that they should stop acting like noodles and start behaving more like legs. The rest was history. He had four good legs and he put them to use going places and seeing things. He met the two other foals born that spring and the other draft horse that paired with his mother when it was time to pull the plow. He met the cow whose function he really didn’t understand beyond standing around eating grass and complaining loudly at anyone she could corner about how her last farm had had larger pastures and more grass. He explored the places he was allowed: the paddocks and stalls and the meadow out back. Somehow it hadn’t seemed enough.
The other foals seemed friendly enough. His mother insisted that he had to play nice with them. They were his half siblings after all. A soldier had brought his imperial mount through town a year past; the farmer had used the opportunity to infuse his stock with a bit more poise and stature. Maximus was practically royalty, really. He spent days imagining his father in the royal stables, protecting the kingdom by day and being waited upon by loyal grooms by night. His half siblings, the twins, were a bit dainty for his taste. All lanky and legs. Their mother was a chaser that the farmer raced in the local matches once a month. He had tried to roughhouse with them, but they had complained about the bruises afterwards. They called him stocky. His mother assured him that they would eat their words.
Any way you figured it, they were rivals. Their mission in life seemed to be getting Maximus in trouble. They had bet him a month’s worth of grain rations that he couldn’t get to a luxuriously deep brown coat like they had. They called him pale, albino, ghost. Every speck of dirt showed against his coat. He’d resisted the urge to nip at them, even if they deserved it, and had taken the bet. A week of tanning in the back field had gotten him no closer to the extra grain, earning for him instead a bright pink hue and a short fuse as he’d waited for the sunburn to heal. They’d rolled around in fits of laughter at that. The joke was on them, though, when he’d come back later on covered in a layer of mud that he’d found down on the bank of the stream out back. He’d made them eat their words, and then watch as he ate their grain, smirking out of the corner of his mouth all the while.
The farm was interesting enough, but there had to be more. The humans hadn’t seemed as excited to see him as he them when he nosed open their back door and surprised him in the kitchen. The rebuke from that one had convinced him his time was better spent nosing aside a loose crossbar along the sagging back fence and exploring beyond the borders of the farm. A single fence supposed to stand between him and exploring the world, were they?
He met a bloodhound out hunting for foxes one day and they had shared a lovely chat. He was a bit put off by the dog’s appearance at first, his eyes practically hidden by view by the layers of wrinkles that sunk down from his brow. He had a deep voice and a toothy grin, but he seemed friendly enough. Seems it could get as monotonous for him too, sometimes, being a dog. They each had a routine with little options for variations along the way. Sleep and hunt and guard the farm for one. Eat grass and wander the farm for the other. They’d made a trade, then. Maximus taught the dog who was tired of being a dog how to be a horse. In exchange, the old hound taught him how to track. By the time they were done the hound was strutting around with his knees up as high as any royal stallion. Maximus had consistently winning every game of hide and seek with the twins and getting their betted grain rations to go with it to boot.
When they passed one another on the main road through town, the hound with a young child up on his back clinging to his collar for dear life, they knew that their pact had been honored and it was time to move on. With a nod of their heads and a flick of their tails they took the two separate forks at the road and headed off toward their respective homes.
There came a time, though, when the years of youthful wandering came to a close. The farmer put a bit in his mouth and a saddle on his back and expected him to submit. It had been a close-matched battle of wills, the farmer cursing up and down as Maximus took off across the ring trying to buck the silly contraption off his back, laughing all the while. He was his own horse, not a pack animal.
That all changed the day the King’s Calvary came marching through town, each horse with a rider and tack rubbed and oiled to a sleek shine beneath the harsh sunlight. He’d raised his head from the grass, marveling as they approached. He’d followed them along the fence line, mimicking the fine crest of their necks and marching in step with them. At least he tried. The soldiers chuckled; the horses swished their tails in amusement. He was a farm horse, nothing more.
The next time the farmer came to saddle him he stood stock still. He accepted the bit willingly and didn’t move an inch when the man put a foot in the stirrup. The farmer seemed wary, as if this were like the time Maximus had bloated his stomach with air while the farmer tightened the girth. On that particular day he’d released the breath has the farmer had gone to mount, the loose girth, the saddle, and the farmer rolling sideways as he’d landed in the mud. There were no tricks, simply desire and determination. He was Maximus, christened a king at birth, and he’d live up to the title.
The farmer had mounted him, patting him and crooning at him like he needed the coddling and reassurance. With a roll of the eyes and snort, Maximus was off at a trot, the farmer grabbing hold of his hat to keep it from falling off his head. He learned the new language, how the farmer would communicate his desire for pace or direction by a squeeze of his heel against Maximus’ side or a cluck of a tongue.
The time came, then, when he knew it was time to leave home. He had explored the farm and the town and the hills and fields for miles in every direction. His body had grown into what had been a too large head and set of hooves. His muscles had filled out from time pulling the plow and carrying the farmer between villages about his business. He had learned to be a bloodhound and a sturdy mount. At a ripe age of four, he had taken all he could from this place. He wished his mother a fond farewell as she slept. With a gallop to get started he took a leap, easily clearing the fence with distance to spare. He found the road, following it through the village and toward the mountains. A baying of a dog far in the distance gave him pause. He didn’t have that old bloodhound’s set of pipes, but he gave it the best he could. A howled greeting in return served as his farewell. With nothing but the steel shoes on his feet, he galloped off into the night.
He had considered himself a big fish back in his little dusty village. He hadn’t found a horse that he couldn’t out jump, out run, or out pull. Just maybe he was willing to admit that it had built his ego up a bit larger than was healthy. He had wandered through the city gates and the crowded streets for a few hours, simply gawking at the sheer size of it all. So many people and animals, the buildings packed far more tightly along the streets and towering much higher into the sky. The sun was sinking low over the horizon and with hastened steps he had sought out the city guard. Or tried to at least, he didn’t even make it past the gates into royal courtyard and stable. The guard haughtily sneered that one did not simply walk up and join the city guard; they’d be taking in every ruffian off the street if that were the case.
Maximus wasn’t one to accept defeat. His father was a royal charger, bearing a fully-armored knight into battle. One with such a bloodline does not simply step down and admit defeat. For the night, at least, he needed a place to stay. His wandering path eventually led him through the shipping district. He’d met a tavern owner cursing on the docks and stubbing his toe against a large wooden barrel that was more likely to break the man’s toe than give an inch. His hired help had come to work drunk. The man wasn’t shy in proclaiming that to laugh at the irony would earn him a fist to the snout, so Maximus wiped the grin off his face. It was easy enough work, easier than pulling a plow through rocky fields under a scorching sun. He’d had partnerships start under odder circumstances. They haggled. The tavern owner offered a flake of hay and a scoop of grain once a night. Maximus snorted at the offer. He was a horse, not a pony, and he expected to be fed like one. He negotiated twice that much food each day, plus an extra serving on nights when they were unloading. He raised his hoof to shake the man’s hand and his new life in the big city began.
He worked hard, that much was clear. Word got around on the dock of how efficiently he could move heavy-laden carts and in no time he had taken on a few side commissions, just enough to cover board at a small out of the way stable. He stayed loyal to the tavern owner, though, the first man to give him a chance. He had found that loyalty in life was paid in kind. The barkeep even threw a few bouncer shifts his way. He didn’t fit inside very well and stood the door instead. The hired human hands would throw the ruffians out. Maximus stood there still as a statue, head held high and proud. All it took was a pinning of his ears, the narrowing of his eyes, and the stamp of a heavy hoof to suggest that trying to sneak back in wasn’t the best idea.
He liked the work. Some members of the King’s honor guard frequented the joint and Maximus liked to listen to their tales of putting down a rebellion on the eastern border and travels through the land. It was the life he had dreamed of. If he couldn’t get there just yet, then experiencing it vicariously was the next best thing.
It was late one night when the bouncers had thrown out a drunk who had graduated from cat calling the waitresses to grabbing at them as they passed. The man had a sneer on his face, that dangerous look in his eye that let Maximus know that the man wasn’t going to go quietly. He paced around in a circle a few times to warm up his muscles as the man growled and climbed up from where the bouncer had deposited him in a puddle down the alley.
He saw the glint of steel and knew he had to be careful. The man approached unsteadily, waving his knife back and forth in front of him and muttering something low under his breath. Maximus didn’t have to work too hard to step around the man’s attack and knocked him back down with a hoof to the butt as the drunk passed.
Satisfied that the man was out for the count, Maximus trotted back to his post by the door with a snort. He noticed a group of men who had paused at the end of the alley, examining him curiously. In the low light, he could read the insignia on their tunics, King’s Men. He stood up a bit straighter as they came down the alley, lining up all his feet in perfect formation.
They were walking in a loose cluster, one grinning over the tankard of ale that he had raised to his lips. “Seems this fight’s a little one sided.”
Another of the men waved him off. “This fellow has a good thousand pounds on the poor drunk fellow. Although the knife does change things a bit…” he said, scratching his chin.
Two of the men were hauling the drunk to his feet. He’d probably spend the night in jail. “I swear, you can’t even get a break when you’re off duty.”
Maximus snorted in agreement. Wasn’t that the truth. “Still, I think this fellow could use a bit more of an edge. This is a dangerous job.”
The man pulled at the handle of the blade, loosing it from its scabbard. “You ever try a sword?” he asked Maximus.
Maximus flicked his ear back and forth. Well, he couldn’t say that he had, but he was more than willing to give it a shot.
Thus had begun his lessons in sword work. It became a bit of a spectacle, the soldiers coming down from the castle to enjoy the amusement or take bets on who would win the sparring matches. The tavern owner managed the bets and Maximus always got a cut, rationed out in grain and carrots. So sue him, the soldiers had their ale, Maximus could enjoy a bit of the finer things in life too.
Finally came the day that that man, Sir Arthur Stuart who had taught him the blade work, invited Maximus into the royal stables as his steed. It was unconventional; he wasn’t of pure royal stock. What he lacked in bloodline, though, he made up for in effort. Well, effort and brains. The other horses might look pretty with their hair braided tight against their necks and intimidating with their shiny harnesses, but too many of them followed orders and little else. There was something to be said about thinking on your feet.
Life settled into a rhythm then. Maybe not the one he had expected, he trained daily in the city and rode with the royal family as they travelled through the lands to visit their subjects each year. He couriered important messages, the types that start wars or keep the peace, to distant lands.
For a farm horse, it was much more than most would ever dream of. Yet something was still missing. At least it had been until the day Flynn Rider had broken into the castle and made off with a priceless crown. Maximus still considered himself an adequate bloodhound and led, first the chase, and then the tracking through the woods until he had found this Flynn Rider, terrorist to the throne, and stuck to him like a burr wherever the man went on his misbegotten wanderings.
That had been his first taste of adventure. There had been swordfights and villains, a dam collapse and almost subsequent drowning. Ultimately he had escorted the missing princess back to the royal family. They don’t tell you about the stresses that accompany such an adventure, though.. They omit the pounding of your heart when you narrowly miss a blade and the fear that sinks into the bones of even the greatest heroes. Why, even Maximus had suffered a brief moment of fright here and there. The moments, where in the aftermath he accounted for each limb, ear, and tail, almost collapsing in amazement when he realized he hadn’t lost something in the fray.
He’d had adventure, a grand one at that. They’d practically given him command of the royal guard, human and horse alike, after that. He’d implemented a few changes along the way. Apples, oh, they were his Achilles Heel. He’d ordered a chef brought in from town who made the most delectable apple pies to cater to the Calvary horses after particularly hard missions. He was training the humans in the fine art of the frying pan. You wouldn’t expect a kitchen implement to work so well, but all the soldiers were now carrying them on their belts.
Rapunzel and Flynn, or Eugene as he was now know (the name still put Maximus on the ground rolling in laughter) were settling into life in the castle well enough, although Flynn still came to him time to time at night just to sneak beyond the city walls for a midnight gallop through the woods. Maximus went along with it as long as Flynn agreed to shuffle up a tree in the orchard for him and bring him down some apples. They grew so annoyingly high, just beyond his reach. If asked, he’d never stoop so low as to admit that he had already eaten the ones that he could get to without human assistance.
Maximus had had his share of adventure. It sounded like a fable, the awkward farm horse achieving his royal aspirations and retrieving a long lost princess in the process. He was ready for a break. There was the guard to run and the castle to defend. He was never one to sit idle and had been hard at work formulating a new list of goals. Maybe finding himself a find mare to settle down with and see a few little Maximuses running around the paddock a couple years down the road.
He still hadn’t ruled out running the kingdom himself sometime in the far future. Until then, he supposed the humans were managing it well enough. He was Maximus, of royal blood and country smarts, part bloodhound and master of sword and frying pan alike and wherever his hooves carried him, he’d take the world by storm.