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The Black Stallion Returns: Black's POV

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It was a quiet night for me. I had woken up, hungry, but I had plenty of hay left over and started munching away at it. Napoleon was asleep in his stall and I looked at him as he snored a little. Shaking my mane, I returned to my hay.

Suddenly I jerked my head up, senses alert. There was someone there! Wasn’t there? I peered through the darkness at the barn door. Since I am a horse, my night vision is very good. But still, I could see nothing. But I heard the footsteps of someone nearby. Was it Alec? If so, what was he doing here? Maybe we were going to go for a gallop at the track, like we used to. I snorted softly, hoping that was it.

I snorted louder when the someone softly opened the barn. That woke up Napoleon, and he snorted sleepily but warily. I grew nervous instantly at this person. He did not move like Alec or Henry. And there were no other people that would come to visit me or Napoleon at this time of night. That likely meant he was up to no good. The thing that made me even more nervous was the fact that he said nothing at all. If he had said something along the lines of “Good boy” or “Take it easy”, it might have been better. As it was, both Napoleon and I were on high alert.

I finally spun in my stall, my hooves ringing against the floor, and I struck my door for good measure. I just wanted this human out of here. He looked around briefly, then started coming slowly towards me. Suddenly...I knew him. I knew this man. This was the man who had stolen me! The dark skinned man of the boat! Kidnapper! Beast! Human! I screamed loudly at him in fury.

Still he came closer, faster this time. He had the audacity to open my door! I instantly struck at him, but he dodged. This time. Again he tried to get closer to me, but I managed to make contact this time as I rose on my hind legs, legs flashing out in front of me. I could just hear Napoleon pacing around his stall in nerves, but he did not say anything. Again I reared, meaning to pound my hooves into the man’s body, but he rolled out from under my feet. I dare say I gave him a few bruises though, but he moved faster than I thought possible for a heavy man. He scrambled up and dashed out the barn door.

I stood in the barn aisle, sweated up from my fear and exertion. Good, he was gone. Now I heard voices. But voices I knew this time. Henry came in first and looked around, then turned the lights on as Alec came in too. I was very glad to see them and wished I could tell them exactly I had see. Or who I had seen. As it was I decided to move back to the comfort of my stall. Alec came over to pet my sweaty neck then was called away by Henry. They looked at some small object I couldn't see. Finally, Alec came back to look me over. I could feel his nervousness and I tossed my mane.

This time he patted me more firmly, and Henry leaned on my stall door and looked at me with approval. Presently, after Alec had gotten both me and the now calm Napoleon more hay, he and Henry found something. They talked in low voices so as not to excite us horses again, but it was clear that they were very concerned about something.

Since the sun was rising, Alec took care of us, even though it was earlier than usual. Henry promised to watch us both until Alec came back. I looked out the window. It was going to be a nice day! It had been too rainy of late, and I knew the grass would be extra sweet by now. I really wanted to get out there, but knew I would likely have to wait until Tony got here.

The old huckster came at last, and as had been happening lately, fed both of us.... full feed for Napoleon and a handful for me so I didn't feel left out. I liked the old man… liked his gentle mannerisms, his rich singing voice, and his deep chuckles. He let me nose him and gave a friendly pat to my nose. Now he took Napoleon out and expertly harnessed him. Even after all this time, it never ceased to amaze me how all of those straps worked. But Napoleon liked his job, and that was enough for me. Soon they both bid me a fond farewell and I happily answered.

Little did I know it would the last time I saw them here.

Not long after they had left, Henry came to see me, and I hoped he would let me out into my paddock. I was disappointed when all he did was pat me quickly and left the barn door open. He looked like he was expecting someone. I snorted softly when a car pulled up. Ah, this was a… what did they call them? A police officer? I remembered the kindly one I met during my arrival here. This was a different man, no nonsense, but he asked many questions. I assumed it had to do with what happened last night.

After a long while of much back and forth with the man and Henry, they came to look at me carefully. I pinned my ears back, not knowing what was wanted. However, I trusted Henry. Finally the officer had enough, and left me alone.

I whinnied at Henry as a request to go out and graze. I pawed hopefully and stared him down. Again, to my disappointment, he shook his head and said, “Better not today, boy. Just in case.” I pinned my ears back again to show my annoyance, but he only chuckled… with a note of worry, I noticed… and stuffed my hay net full.

At least I has something to do. I fell to my hay, munching in thoughtfulness while I waited for either Alec or Napoleon to come back.





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I had eaten quite a bit of hay when I pricked my ears. There was a car coming. No… two cars. Then voices. One of which was Henry, one of which seemed to be the same policeman from earlier today. The third voice I did not know. But the fourth…

I stilled at this voice. It couldn't be… could it? Flashes of memories from the desert played in my mind. The days of sand and sun. Yet this voice did not make me afraid, but instead safe. That might sound strange, for of course I was safe with Alec and Henry. But this voice echoed from my past.

Finally I heard Alec's voice and perked up a bit more. Here was Alec. He would sort everything out. It was he that had been with me during that terrible trip on the boat. He who I had saved from a watery grave. And he who had saved my own life on the island. It was him I would look to for guidance.

At last, after much talk, the strangers went away. Alec groomed me carefully, and seemed very agitated. Henry and he talked in low voices. Could this have something to do with the other dark skinned man? Alec took me for a quick graze, but did not let me off the line. For now, I was contented to stretch my legs out, and did not complain when I was brought back to the barn.

Alec, to my surprise, started crying. What was going on? Why was he sad? I'm here, I tried to tell him, nuzzling him as he wrapped his hands in my mane. I hated seeing him upset, and not know why. Or how I could help at all. For now, I stood quietly while he contained his emotions.

The people came back eventually, and I heard the sound of a trailer. Was I going to go run? I snorted excitedly at that idea. Finally, they came into the barn. Now I saw each person clearly. Henry, with a worried look on his face. The policeman and a companion. And a tall man whom I knew as well as I knew my mother's milk. Abu Já Kub ben Ishak. The sheik, as I had learned to call him. My old master. My entire focus was on him.

Alec was still next to me, one hand in my silky neck. The sheik spoke kindly to him, and I remembered him more clearly. I remembered his firm but kind touch. I remembered him being the first person I saw when I had first struggled up on wobbly legs, my dam at my side. The careful training. Yes, I remembered him all too well.

At last he approached me. I couldn't help the nervous tremble, but did not move. As yet, no man had ever been near me very closely other than Alec, Henry, and Tony. The sheik came in and I looked in wonder. Now his hand was on my neck in the same way he always did, and I relaxed slightly. He leaned into my ear and whispered, Shêtân. My old name. In my old language.

Instantly I pricked my ears in interest and recognition. As soon as I had done this, he in one smooth movement clipped a lead role onto my halter. I don't know why that was necessary… I had already accepted him. But I suppose he wanted to be sure of me.

Now his hands… his warm oh so familiar hands… ran over my body in a knowledgeable manner. He looked at my back, my legs, my hindquarters, and finally he just stood back and looked at me as a while. Satisfied at last, he gave a smile, showing his white teeth and another firm pat.

I heard him speak to Alec and Shêtân was in his words. Again I pricked my ears at my name. Then he tugged on my lead rope. Surprised, I gave a small rear of protest. Why did he want me to follow him? There was no desert near here!

But the sheik was used to my antics, and didn't move. He didn't shout or scramble about. His quietness was what got me form so fast. I snorted softly at him before looking to Alec. I felt confused, and whistled at him. But the boy's voice choked up in his throat, and the sheik led me out of the stall and to Alec.

The boy brushed my forelock off my forehead just as he always did and stroked my head softly. I could feel his emotions stirring as he wrapped his arms around me and pressed his head against mine. This felt like goodbye. Why was it goodbye? Was I going back with my master? Back to the desert?

I wasn't sure how to feel about that. For one, I loved them both. One raised me, the other saved me. How could I choose? As it was, I was not given the choice. The sheik wanted me. I was glad to go with him and minded him as I stepped outside.

I stopped at the trailer, looking for Napoleon. I whinnied for him, but my halter was taken very firmly but not in the least bit roughly. "Shêtân, you must get on," he told me. I gave him one more look just to see if he really was there. Then a thrill of excitement ran through me. I was going somewhere on an adventure! And I trusted my master with all my heart, even if I was sad I was leaving another very important person behind.

I stepped on the trailer, waited until the I was secured, the doors shut, and the trailer to start moving before I tore into my hay. I took one more look out the window, hoping to see Alec. I did not see him.

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I rode in the trailer for a long time, to my puzzlement. It was too long a ride for the track, and besides, I saw none of the things was normally brought with me to the track. So, where was I going? Being a horse, I did not puzzle over it very long, since my trailer ride was smooth, I had hay, and any turns taken were slow and careful.

At long last, the trailer stopped. The sheik came to me and carefully backed me out of the trailer, keeping a firm hold on my halter. "Shêtân, you will be still," he admonished me but with a smile and a pat. I cranked my head around to look about. The places was noisy! But I was quickly led to a stall that reminded me of the ones on the racetrack. Perhaps I was going to run after all!

I had some time to myself to drink and walk about. I called a few times, and got answering whinnies of both mares and geldings. To my satisfaction, I did not hear another stallion cry. The sheik was back and forth to make sure I was alright, but it seemed there was paperwork to do. A vet came and I bared my ears and teeth at him. But my master held me still as best he could and whatever the vet had to do, which also involved a lot of looking at me and scribbling on something in his hand, was done quickly.

I stayed in this place overnight, and was fed well, but not allowed to go out and graze. Early the next morning, the sheik and some other men...grooms I suppose...came to prepare me for whatever they were going to do. He seemed happy about something, but concerned for my safety. I soon found my legs wrapped carefully, a fluffy white fuzzy halter put on my head and a head bumper that was between my ears. I shook my head to see if I could dislodge it, but could not. It felt strange, but not uncomfortable, and I soon grew used to it.

I could hear the other horses being prepared in the same manner and interestedly tried to watch them. However, the sheik being ever mindful of me and my ways, did not allow much looking around. I snorted and laid back my ears at anyone strange, but he was firm though kind.

At long last, it was time! Time for what, I was still clueless, but it was time for something. That much I knew, and from the sounds the others made, they knew it too. I was lead out first by the sheik himself to yet another trailer, a massive one this time, then five others joined me. I took a good look at the horses, who seemed nervous of me. I saw three mares and two geldings, one of which rode next to me. The bay poked his nose towards me, and jerked it back in fright when I snapped at him. But he kept trying and during the short ride, I at last accepted the bay.

We rolled into an incredibly noisy place. There was more noise than I'd ever heard before, and stomped my foot in growing distress. As soon as we stopped, the first face I saw was the sheik. He patted me, murmuring my name and I took strength from him. I needed to trust someone in this scary place, and I trusted him. Besides, the bay was calm, and that helped a lot.

Someone in a bright shiny yellow vest came onto the trailer and checked every horse. He then gave the all clear and another man in the same sort of vest started to unlatch my door. I reacted instantly and tried to attack him. He shot backwards so fast he nearly fell over his own feet. But the sheik corrected me with a sharp word. I finally understood that I was to go with this man, but he'd be right there. I wasn't happy about the situation, but another firm snap of the leadrope made me mind.

The man came back with trepidation, but swallowed down his fear and smiled at me. I pinned my ears again, just to have my say, but allowed him to lead me. True to his word, the sheik walked alongside me out of the trailer, across the hard ground to a box. A box? I was supposed to go in that? But then I saw there was already shavings down and it was open on the other side. The man led me into the box, which I now saw had two stalls. He quickly secured me and shut the front of the box. The back was left open and I had a mind to get out while I could. But I was not given the chance, for I heard the clip clop of hooves behind, and the bay gelding was led in the stall next to me.

We nosed each other in a friendly manner, glad to see someone slightly familiar. Now the box was shut behind, but the man had room in front to be with both of us. The bay got plenty of pats, which he liked. The man foolishly tried to pat me, but I wouldn't let him. However, he did talk in a friendly manner, which settled me. He might have talked a lot, but somehow I liked hearing his voice. As he talked a tarp was secured over us to block out anything we could see.

The next thing was astonishing. We felt the box move! Both of us squealed at the same time, for it felt like nothing I had ever felt before. This was not like a trailer or a train or a boat. I could hear a strange humming sound as it was moved forward, then straight up. I smacked into the side and tried to kick. The bay was equally nervous, but didn't kick. The man made soothing noises to us both. I didn't catch much of what he said but he did say something about a "plane". I didn't know what a "plane" was, nor did I care much. I just wanted out of my stall!

At last, the box shuddered to a stop, then we felt ourselves being pulled forward before going to a stop again. The man patted the bay vigourously, and beamed at me, and I caught many "good boys!" Soon we heard other boxes being moved behind us and I craned my neck to see. Yes, the other horses were being moved in the same manner. There was much whinnying and calling as we tried to sort out what was happening to us. Finally the busy men were done.

We were left in peace except for one groom assigned to each box, who made sure we had hay and water. I didn't like how close my stall was, but it was padded, so that was helpful to lean on. The bay tried to lie down and found he couldn't, besides the groom shouted at him, startling us both. But he apologized by petting the bay.

Suddenly, I heard a great loud roar starting. I kicked at my stall, but the man tried to reassure me. The entire thing, box and all started moving. It was a bit rough, but no rougher than a trailer. The roaring became louder, and I screamed shrilly. I rose to my hind legs, bumping my head on the top. That made me come down in a hurry. I was about to rear again when I felt very funny. The rough movement under me stopped all of a sudden and I felt almost weightless for a moment. The box tilted a little backwards, but soon levelled out. I snorted in confusion, but at the kind man's voice and the sudden smoothness calmed me down.

I won't say much about the rest of that trip. By now I was a seasoned traveller. All I know is I was well cared for, though my groom did not touch me. And we seemed to travel forever. At long last, I felt us go downwards, and I hoped for good. There was a slight bump under my hooves, but us horses were fine. I was alert and aware, watching both the bay and our groom for a signal we were getting out of this box.

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There were some scurrying about but at last we could hear shouts from outside. Then I could hear the other boxes with the other horses moving. Soon, mine was moved too, and this time it seemed quicker. Finally the box stopped moving and I whinnied gladly. The bay turned and whickered at me in a friendly manner.

I fidgeted, nervous, but then the sheik appeared. He had a stern voice and I understood that he would take me. I was glad, for although I had liked my groom and the bay, they were still strangers. And I wanted out of here! He came in and clipped a lead rope on my halter and asked me to back out of the now open box. I shot out faster than he expected but he went with me. As soon as I was clear, I reared high. He let me go up, then grabbed my halter as I came down. "Shêtân, behave yourself." His voice was sharp and authorative, but also calming at the same time. I calmed down and took in my surroundings. My nostrils flared as I caught the hot scent of sand. Yes, this was a place full of noisy machines, but that did not mean I didn't know where I was. I was back home… someplace different, yes, but the same hot sun played on my now sweaty skin as I pranced about.

Someone quickly took my wraps off and removed the head bumper so I wouldn't get too hot. The sheik gave me a pat then led me to yet another trailer. I was getting tired of these things, but went on without too much complaint. Fortunately for me it was not too long a ride. And when I got off again, I darted my head about. Now this...was very familiar. I could smell camels, asses, the sweat of the men as they ran back and forth. This was a small town. And beyond that...the sand! I whinnied in excitement as I strained towards it.

He laughed warmly and petted me again, "Soon, Shêtân, soon." He waved a man over with a flowing robe and barked out instructions. I snorted as soon as I heard the horses coming. There were quite a few men riding the fine horses I was used to seeing. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but look for the old grey I had been friends with for all this time. But Napoleon wasn't here.

The sheik swung up on a chestnut, who snorted and pranced along side me. Another man, riding an iron grey, leaned over and snapped a lead rope to me as well, and I was led in between them. This I did not like. I didn't mind my master, but this was a bit much! I screamed and tried to attack his iron grey, but my master shouted at me and pulled me away. Well then, I'll just go for that chestnut if it's all the same to him. But the other man pulled me in the nick of time. I lost my temper and bucked and tried to bolt. I soon grew too hot to do it for very long, and the two men had gone along with me in my fighting. They stayed out of my way, but did not allow me to attack them or their horses. Eventually, I decided it might be better to just do what they wanted, which seemed to be to trot in between their horses.

We trotted for a very long time. Sometimes for fun, we'd step into a canter. I liked that a lot, and sensed my master watching me closely as I moved. But when I threw a bucking fit, they slowed me firmly back to a trot again. Mile after mile I trotted with them. I didn't mind, really. It was good to be back in the desert. The sounds, the smells, the way the dirt was under my hooves...all was familiar.

Finally we reached an oasis. I was allowed to slake my thirst and we rested for the night. I pricked my ears and turned my head in the right direction. The sheik came to me and stroked my neck, looking in the same direction I did. "You know, Shêtân, do you not? You know which way home is."

Yes, I did. I knew where I was born and was drawn back to the place where I was foaled. I inhaled deeply but I was still too far away from the stronghold. There was still much traveling to do, I knew. As much as I was looking forward to getting back, I must be patient.

The next morning, the sun was just rising when everyone got up. I had been tied to a tree, but allowed to graze. Now the sheik looked me over and murmured approval to me. He stroked my neck again in that same familiar way that I liked. I missed Alec, but I had also missed the sheik in a different way.

Finally, we were underway again. The sheik led me in the same way as before: between him and the iron grey. I was most annoyed and pinned my ears back again, but this time, I settled down faster. I sensed my master didn't even mind my hijinks. He only laughed, but was serious when needed.

We traveled a long way that day, and the next. Then we hit the mountains! I knew what that meant: we were nearly home! I whinnied loudly, and turned my head about. I knew these rocks. I knew these slopes. I started prancing, making the sheik chuckle and slap my neck in a friendly way. He picked up the pace to an easy canter.

Along the way, I snorted and looked carefully. No one but I saw the fine chestnut stallion, mounted by a man I could not see. I could see in a glance that this chestnut would be a fine rival to me. He seemed to think so too, but did not call out but only pranced on the spot. However, his rider did not come to meet us, but rather tried to keep out of sight. He watched us go by, then wheeled the stallion around hard and galloped off quite the other way.

I had no time to ponder this because my attention snapped forward. I soon saw walls and smelled the scent of many horses. Especially mares! I whinnied loudly now, and was answered by the voices of various horses. My master slowed to a walk and let me take in everything.

I saw a herd of horses grazing the sparse desert grass and snorted at them. Then I looked more closely. Was the grey filly there? The one I had grown up with and wanted most of all? I couldn't see her, and whinnied again. Surely she must be there.

Then the sheik called out, and I tore my gaze away from the herd to forward. And there she was. Johar. She was mounted by the sheik's daughter, whom I well remembered too. It was she who had believed great things about me. But just now my eyes were on Johar. She was lovelier than I had even remembered. Her fine dished face...the curve of her neck, the small dainty hooves that pranced, showing off her small but finely built body...yes, she was all my desire.

I screamed loudly and reared up at the sight of her. She pricked her pale ears forward and would have come to me except that her rider prevented her. She was turned suddenly off to the side, and I was led hurriedly past to my own corral. I did not like this much and tried to kick the iron grey, but they were used to such treatment by now and stayed out of my way. At last I was turned out into the large corralled off pasture. I took off running, looking for Johar. When I realized I was alone, I screamed high and shrill. But it was pointless. I was a stallion, therefore they separated me from the mares. I never understood this reasoning, but there it was.

At least this pasture was huge. I could roam for a great long way and I remembered they often put geldings here too. Perhaps they were here, and I couldn't see them. Nevermind that for now. The first thing I did as soon as I calmed down was have a good roll. I did miss the green grass I had been eating when I was with Alec, and how green everything had been. This was very dry and dusty in comparison. However, I did have far more room to run. I took a good gallop around, not minding once all the people who were watching my every move carefully.

At last I rested. I stood close to the wooden gate and the girl came and fed me. The food didn't taste as good as what I had gotten in my stall before, but it was still good. I was given as much water as I wished. She brushed me and I sniffed her scent again. The excited lilt of her voice said that tomorrow should be interesting. For now, I didn't pay much attention. I was tired, and wished to rest. The moon rose high over my weary body, bathing me in its pale glow as I finally lay down to sleep.

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Morning dawned bright, as it usually did every morning her in the desert. I had my usual good roll and shook myself hard. It was a little strange to be back. I had gotten used to my stall at night, and the companion of old Napoleon. But the stars had shone brightly and I was content under the glow of the moon.

The other horses, geldings as far as I could figure, had stayed away from me. That suited me fine. I didn't want to find a friend, really. I missed Alec's cheerful voice and his soft touches. I missed Tony's whistling and singing. Here, this morning, I only heard the call of a desert bird and and the soft faraway voices of the humans.

Finally Tabari, the sheik's daughter called me cheerfully and shook a bucket of grain. The sheik also accompanied her, watching me with eyes that followed every movement. I flung my head and reared high. As if I could be called for mere food! I pranced with my knees high, but she rattled the food temptingly. And I was hungry after all. After eyeing her and the sheik for a good few moments, I finally decided that I could eat something other than this grass. I am afraid my tastes had been quite spoiled by the rich green grass I had gotten with Alec. So I galloped over to them, sliding to a stop and burying my nose into the bucket.

The sheik's face broke into a warm smile and I allowed him to pet me as I ate. "Shêtân, you are a devil." But he turned to Tabari and said gratefully, "The boy has taken good care of this horse. He is in fine shape to run." He said more, but I wasn't paying too close attention.

Finally, when I was nearly done, he reached for my halter and snapped a lead onto me. He led me away to a cleared off place, which I did remember. Another man came and fitted me with a saddle. It felt strange and I did not like it. The sheik kept good hold of me while the man struggled to get it on me. When I started to buck in earnest, he raised a hand and said, "Take it from him."

I settled as soon as that hateful thing was off me, and my master ran a hand down my back. Then he gestured at something on the ground. The other man sighed and picked that one up. It was a different saddle, and suprisingly lighter and more comfortable. I stood long enough for him to secure it on me before I reared up again. The man shouted, but my master only snapped at him for shouting. Then they got a bridle on, making me shake my head in annoyance but I still accepted it.

Now the question was: who would ride me? I might have let the sheik do it himself, but he declined it, saying he was too heavy for the race. Race? What race? Was I going to get to run? I pricked my ears at this word and looked around for Alec. But I didn't see him, and only saw a strange young man waiting to mount me. They gave him a boost up. I stood for a few seconds then exploded on him. I was angry and wanted Alec. I screamed and ducked a shoulder. That got him off in a hurry.

He seemed shame faced but determined. My master seemed dubious on letting him try again since I reacted like that, but nevertheless he boosted me up again. That time, he lasted even shorter.

Another man, a heavier one said he could ride me. Well, I bucked but he stuck to me. So I galloped a short way before sliding to a stop and that finished him.

Now it seemed like a challenge for the stupid people. Everyone wanted a shot at riding me. But the sheik put his foot down and selected only the best riders. I managed to dump them all, not without some pride. I reared, I struck, I bolted, I bucked, and pulled a lot of other tricks. One by one, they fell.

At last, the sheik put a stop to it when I was white with lather. "Perhaps we have been trying too hard. He needs rest." With that, he led me away and Tabari followed. Together they walked me cool and talked over many things. I grew calm and content hearing their voices again.

That night, I spent in peace. None of the others bothered me. But the morning brought new riders. Then I met him.

He had a hard eye and a hard voice. I disliked him when I laid eyes on him. But he said he could ride. My master decided to give me one more day before he tried me. After all, I had just finished dumping a few people.

So the first thing the next morning, the new man oversaw the grooms getting me ready. He asked for a different bridle and got it. I champed the new bit nervously. It felt heavier on my tongue and I stamped with my ears back. When he came near, I tried to kick at him, but unluckily for me, he was good at dodging. Then someone boosted him on me while another held my bridle tightly.

At last I was turned loose. I could feel his hard hands on the reins and he booted me good with his legs. I screamed and plunged forward, then reared up high. He stuck to me, so, I spun around as hard as I could. Still there! Again I spun, reared, then came down hard and dropped a shoulder. I couldn't believe it when I found him still on me.

That made my already angry state flash into pure fury. I screamed as loud as I could, and started bucking as hard as I could, but he yanked my head up. I flung up my head from the pain and again felt him kick me hard. Oh, so he wanted me to run? Fine, I'll run. I instantly tore off as fast as I could, nearly falling in the process. The idiot had a hand wrapped in my long mane and did not fall off. As soon as I stopped, my hooves plowing the sand, he again kicked me hard, causing another bucking fit then dashing off. I furiously did everything I could to throw him off. If he had fallen, I would have killed him then and there. But no matter what I did, I couldn't dislodge him. He rode too well.

Finally, I had to stop, panting and wheezing. He jerked on the harsh bit, and managed to turn me. I stumbled over my tired feet, and again he yanked on me to keep me from falling. Then he squeezed again, forcing me to walk. I was too tired to do anything else. I hated him… I hated him with all my heart, but he'd won for now. There was nothing else for it. Still panting my lungs out, I was dismayed to feel him squeeze again. What did he want now, a trot? It took a few more squeezes to convince me to trot and I breathed ragged breaths.

There was the sheik at last! I ignored the painful jerks on the bridle and trotted towards him. He took my bridle gently and looked me over. "You rode him well. I think he has had enough for today." He patted my hot wet neck and the man slid off. He never said a word to me but spoke to my master and strode off. I tried again to kick him, but the sheik said sternly, "Shêtân, that is quite enough from you. Come, I will have Tabari walk you. You'll like that, won't you?"

I was too tired to whicker, but was glad to see the daughter of the sheik. She would treat me kindly. She wasn't Alec...Alec who would never have permitted me to be ridden that way… but she was close enough for now. She walked me for a very long time, murmuring to me. I understood from her tone that she didn't like how I was handled either, but at the same, she wanted me to behave so I could race. I wanted to tell her if Alec rode me, I'd be just fine! No one else so far had the right touch! But I liked the feel of her own soft touch as she brushed me over and then gave me water to drink, ensuring that I was cool enough to have it.

Then I was turned out into my field again. I once again stayed away from the other horses, but one roan gelding came over anyways. He was handsome and I wondered briefly why they did not keep him a stallion. But such things do not stay in my mind and I was too tired to chase him away. The roan whickered at me, and stayed close but did not disturb me. I think he sensed I could use some company of the equine sort, and I secretly was happy that he stayed.

I slept deeply that night, but a current of worry still ran through my dreams. The sheik hadn't gotten too angry at the stranger, and I was afraid he would ride me again. I hoped not. But tomorrow was many hours away, and with the roan watching over me, I lay down and stretched out completely.

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I woke once again, quite sore from yesterday. The roan snorted in a friendly way, but I pinned my ears back so he wouldn't get too close. As much as I appreciated his company last night, I was not ready to form any friendships, no matter how friendly he was.

I walked slowly to the gate, where I would surely find water to drink. I had not stirred most of the night, and now I was quite thirsty. Only one thing made me leery of going to the gate: the stranger. I hated him with all my heart. I did not want to be ridden today.

The sheik and Tabari came to look at me. He frowned when he saw me moving and understood I must be sore. He caught me easily and though I laid my ears back at him, I did not bite for once. Tabari rubbed my face in just the way Alec did, and that calmed me while my master ran his hands over my body, looking at every possible part. Finally nodding, he gently said, "My black devil… you really overdid yourself. You will rest for today."

I was glad to hear that I would not be ridden and would just spend a lazy day in my field. Perhaps the roan wasn't so bad. Tabari patted me and then told her father she would go for a ride. He nodded tersely and told her to be careful.

After my breakfast, I grazed nearby, pinning my ears and threatening the roan when he came too close. But presently a lovely scent came to my sensitive nostrils. I flung my head up and looked around. The roan didn't seem to be disturbed, but I pranced over to the fence and peered over it. Was that…? Yes, it was the white filly. Jôhar! I whinnied shrilly and she turned her graceful head to look at me.

Tabari only laughed as she sat her mare easily and patted her. I became more excited and flared my tail out and pranced as best I could with my stiff limbs. Johar whickered softly, and my excitement grew. She remembered! She remembered me. We had run together as young foals, and she had grown quite lovely as I myself grew handsome. I started to gallop as Johar trotted away into the distance, and screamed after her.

I was some distance away from the gate when I noticed someone coming. I, for once, hoped it would be me. Then I saw the man was coming for the roan. The gate opened… and I charged. The roan, quite startled at this action, skittered away in the right direction, and I found myself on the other side of the fence. A few shouts echoed behind me, but I followed my nose to find my pale mare.

Jôhar spooked when she heard my hoofbeats behind, and Tabari had to grab her long silky mane. Then she turned around and saw me. Her eyes widened with surprise, then worry. I saw instantly she thought I might attack the mare. She needn't have worried… I would do no such thing. I went to Jôhar's head and sniffed her nose. The white mare sniffed back then squealed loudly, spooking me. Nevertheless, I was soon back and pranced a big trot circle around her, my neck arched and my tail up as high as it would go.

Tabari smiled then and then turned her mount to go back. But Jôhar refused. She watched me carefully, and snorted when I whinnied. But I could tell that she was not in heat. In fact, when I tried to approach, she aimed a well formed hoof at me. I scooted back, then lost interest in trying to mate her. Being near her was enough, so I dropped my head to graze.

The girl watched my thoughtfully, then said with a smile, "So… you wish to come with us? You can… for a short while. I suppose it won't do any harm."

I whickered gladly and bucked when she jumped Jôhar to a canter. I followed along stiffly at first, but as my limbs warmed up, I started moving better. It felt good moving along without any restraints and following Jôhar. She went back down to a trot as Tabari guided her down a rocky drop, then turned to watch me slide down too. My hooves remembered the terrain well, and I did not slip. Then we trotted down a curving way around some large boulders. I sprang up on a flat one and whinnied loud and long, spooking Jôhar once again, but Tabari grinned to see me enjoying myself.

Then both of us horses pricked our ears. We had heard an answering whinny. I called again, and again the faint ringing answer… another stallion. I trotted ahead a bit to see who it could be. Tabari let Jôhar follow a bit reluctantly, a bit wary of coming across anyone not of her father's tribe. I scanned the scenery below carefully, and saw a faint movement behind some rocks and bushes a good way way. My keen eyes looked at it… a chestnut horse was down there. I saw briefly a rider look our way before kicking the chestnut to a gallop. There was a flash of white as the stallion looked up too, and I saw he had a bright blaze, and recognized him as the chestnut from before. I snorted but did not try to pursue. He was already leaving anyway. Losing interest, I turned back and nosed Jôhar.

She whickered back calmly and tossed her head slightly, pinning her ears in warning that I not do anything she didn't like. I snorted and backed away a safe distance, respecting her wishes. Tabari looked around a good while before allowing the grey mare to turn and go back home another way.

Once we hit a good section of flat ground, Jôhar asked and got allowed to run. I was surprised at how fast she was, but soon passed her happily. My muscles had thoroughly warmed up and now I was blazing. I ignored any more slight twinges and galloped as fast as I could back to the stronghold.

I slid to a stop, digging my hooves into the sand, and finished with a rear as Jôhar galloped up too. We both had heaving rib cages, but our tails were high as we pranced the rest of the way inside.

The sheik had come out and had crossed his arms sternly. He watched me, then Jôhar, and finally speaking to his daughter, "Tabari, was that wise, to take him?"

"Oh, but Father, he wanted to come. And he was as good as gold. He didn't harm us. And see, he no longer looks stiff," was her soft and pleading answer.

My master looked at me again still bubbling over with energy and finally a small smile came to his lips. "I suppose it was good for him. But next time, you ask. I do not want him getting lost or injured. Not this close." He threw a rope halter on me and patted my neck approving of my lack of sweating. He gave a firm pat and only laughed when I pinned my ears at him. I didn't like much fuss and muss. Not even from Alec, though I did like his strokes under my forelock. I wondered what he was doing without me, then shrugged that thought off. At this time, he would be at school. I was sure he'd miss me, but we'd both be fine.

I snorted lightly when I was led away from Jôhar, but willingly followed my master. He took me to a round pen and made a groom chase me with a long whip. I pinned my ears but careened around until the sheik told him to stop. "He is good. Tomorrow, he works."

I didn't know how to feel about that, but at least for the moment didn't worry about it as the groom turned me out into the paddock. The roan and the other geldings were close to the fence this time and I screamed at them. Most of the rest scattered except for the roan, who was used to me, and one elderly brown gelding. He didn't like me, but he was too old to "scatter", really. I looked at him but didn't give chase. Instead I ignored him, but allowed the roan to stand close by and graze together.

Chapter Text

The next little while passed interestingly for me. The stranger… I did eventually learn his name, but he was always "the stranger" to me… rode me, and I hated him with all my heart. But he was a good rider, and I had to give him some credit for that. But his hands were hard, his voice was hard, he cursed me up and down when the sheik wasn't there, but was was honey sweet when he was.

I galloped for him only because I found comfort in doing it. I was unhappy with him, but I loved my blazing speed. There was nothing quite like stretching out as long as I could, my hooves pounding into the turf as fast as I could go. I had tried bucking as I galloped, but I soon found that the stranger would stop me as soon as I tried, and besides, he had a very good seat. I soon learned that if I galloped, he was more likely to leave me alone.

Sometimes though, he would kick me for all he was worth, but keep a hard hold on my mouth. I didn't understand what he wanted! Did he want me to run, or stop? Sometimes I just went, my head curled to my chest as he pulled back while kicking me. Sometimes I braked and he would yell at me. Often times I swerved all over the place trying to decide what exactly the idiot wanted. He liked to yank my head out to the side, but seemed to do it subtly, so others wouldn't notice what was going on, and then I looked like the fool for weaving around.

He would complain to me to my master, how unpredictable and dangerous I was, and was he absolutely sure that he wanted me to race? But the sheik was firm. I was to race, and the stranger could handle anything I threw at him. The important thing was to make sure I was fit and ready, that I did not fight another horse, and that he stayed on.

My master did frown sometimes when I came back very wet. Then I had to be walked carefully for a long time, for in the desert, water was always a premium. Of course we horses always got as much as we needed, but bathing us was generally kept to a minimum. I remembered when Alec gave me my first bath. I had been horrified at the amount of water gushing out of the skinny thing, which I learned was a hose. Henry certainly had had a time of it holding me as I spooked and danced about. Finally, Alec had gotten a cloth and soaked it in the water and wiped my body with it.

It's funny he's scared of it, Henry. He swam in an ocean, and yet doesn't like this.

No, Alec, horses are strange sometimes. But don't forget Alec, he had to swim or die. I am not sure he's ever been washed from a hose before. His instincts tell him nothing about it. For all he knows, it's a snake, and you told me he killed those.

The voices floated out of the past and I pricked my ears. I had eventually learned to accept water sloshing over me and then the feeling of Alec's fingers scrubbing some white stuff on me. My coat had turned even shinier and I felt good afterwards. Now I wished that I could get another bath, but the walking cooled me anyway. Then Tabari would carefully groom me for a very long time, and turn my dried sweaty coat silky and smooth. With lots of grooming, far more somehow than even Alec had, she would turn it glossy.

I did not work out every day. The days I did not, I often trailed behind Jôhar. I liked the pale mare and she liked me, very much. We had become friends once again, although the sheik did not permit us to be turned out together. However, sometimes I would be let out with the rest of the geldings and mares with foals into a small band where the grass was fresher and greener. It still was nowhere near the greenness of my old place, but it was very nice.

To my disappointment, none of the mares were in heat, but I liked one brown mare who had a very pretty filly foal at foot. I nosed the filly and snorted softly. Although I had never met her, she seemed familiar somehow. Finally I decided that she was a half sister of mine, and my sire must have sired her. I snorted again as the mare pinned her ears back at me for getting too close and friendly with her foal and I moved off again.

The roan had joined me at this point and was grazing alongside me. I didn't mind him now at all, and was glad for his familiar company. I sniffed noses before squealing then prancing off. I suddenly bumped into a flaxen chestnut gelding. He screamed and lashed out with his heels. I screamed right back at him and gave him a stallion version of a glare. The idiot didn't seem to realize he was a gelding and pranced right up to the brown mare and tried to flirt with her.

The mare quickly pinned her ears back and wheeled with her hindquarters to the chestnut, threatening to kick while keeping her foal safe. The chestnut still leaned forward and tried to nibble at her, only to get heels in his face. Again the stupid horse tried to get the mare's interest, and that's where I stepped in. I whinnied sharply and slammed into the chestnut's side to get him away from my brown mare. He was rather startled, but started to kick at me.

We started to fight in earnest when I felt something along side me also give a good kick. Turning my head slightly, to my surprise, I found the roan had joined the fight, putting himself in between the mare and foal and the chestnut. Faced with two angry horses, one a stallion no less...the flaxen chestnut saw in a moment that he was beaten. Now he turned tail and dashed to the other side of the band.

We had a good bit of fun keeping him out of the herd as punishment. He ran back and forth, trying to get back in, as his instincts said. But since I had stated myself as leader, he was not allowed back in. Finally, he gave in. I saw him lick and chew with his mouth, the ear flick in towards me. I waited a little longer and now the chestnut's head would drop to the ground as his trot became slower. That satisfied me and I turned away from the chestnut and stood beside the brown mare. I didn't even react when the filly poked me curiously.

The chestnut stopped dead, puffing slightly. He looked my way then at the other horses in the band. He hesitated, unsure of me. I did not look at him but rubbed my head on the brown mare's back quite unconcernedly. Eventually the chestnut stepped towards the band, and then sighed in relief when I allowed him back in.

My master had watched me very carefully with this entire thing, then laughed when the chestnut meekly began grazing. He rode up to me on his bay and spoke kindly to me. I flung my head up at his voice and trotted over eagerly. He had a little treat in his hand and I lipped it up after playfully nipping the bay.

"Shêtân, you devil!" he instantly scolded me but then smiled. The sheik was satisfied that I would not cause problems out here and that I seemed to settle quickly. Therefore I was allowed to stay out here with the band now that I had proven myself to the sheik that I would not be stupid and go after the other horses. I was glad to be a part of a band again, and have mares of my own. I did suspect that when these mares showed heat, I or they would be taken away until the proper time as deemed by my master. I remembered well myself as a leggy foal and seeing such things. I had never understood it, but I trusted my master to know what was best.

I grazed all night next to the brown mare and her frisky filly. It was very nice, having her on one side, and the roan on the other. The flaxen chestnut stayed well out of my way. The only thing missing was my white mare. Although there plenty of other greys here, I missed Jôhar. She was mine. The one I wanted most. But I had her friendship, and as soon as Tabari would come out to ride, I would gallop over and tag along gladly.

This continued for the next few days: grazing, watching over the band, getting my gallops with the stranger, riding out with Jôhar, getting fed and groomed by either Tabari or the sheik. Life was very peaceful. Once in a while, I would scent the chestnut stallion, or hear him scream, but he was always very far away, so I did not worry. All was at peace and right with the world.

Until one day a familiar scent came on the breeze from up the clefts of the rocks.

Chapter Text

I had seen Jôhar and Tabari come for a ride and instantly was on the alert. I broke away from my band, but circled them once just to be sure all was well. But I wanted my white mare. Her scent wafted to me and I started to gallop towards here happily, tail high in the air.

I slid to a stop, then did a little half rear as Tabari laughed and shooed me away from getting too close to Jôhar. Jôhar herself pranced with eyes bright. She wanted to run. I danced on my own hooves but waited for her to start the game. Finally Tabari let the reins loose, and Jôhar ran. I whickered in delight and galloped after her. With a good burst, I blazed by her, ignoring her little frustrated grunt, but I knew it was good natured. Tabari halted her but gave her a pat.

Seeing Jôhar stopped, I braked myself, and started to turn back to her when a familiar scent caught my nostrils. I paused, unsure, and snapped my head towards it. I pranced nervously, testing the breeze. It couldn't be… was it? It smelled like Alec… but Alec wasn't here! Then another scent… Henry? I pranced to a different spot to see what my nose was telling me. Then I caught movement up high.

Yes, those were people! Which people, though? I sniffed carefully, then to my delight, found that my nose hadn't been wrong. It was Alec! I whinnied shrilly in gladness, and galloped towards them. Suddenly I stopped, and reared high. They had come more into view and onto the plain. I trotted up a bit more, then stopped uncertainly and looked back at Jôhar. Again, I reared up. Were they just going to stand there and watch me? Perhaps I was unwelcome. After all, my master took me away from Alec and brought me here.

However, it seemed my fears were unfounded, and saw Alec break away from the small group and run towards me. Now I shook my head and trotted up to him. He gladly slipped his arms around my neck and hugged me tight… tighter than I normally liked, but for this once, I didn't mind. I was happy to see him! He was here! Alec murmured happy words to me that I didn't catch, for I was watching the others come towards me.

Suddenly distrustful, I pinned my ears back at them, but stilled at the calm but kind voice of Henry. He greeted me and grabbed at my mane playfully. I snorted at him then watched the other two men with them. One I had seen before… when I had raced the two stallions. This one was the master of one of them… the bright chestnut, I now remembered. But the other I did not know. He was close to Alec's age, and very Arabian in look. He met my eyes and we stared at each other for a long moment before I was distracted by Jôhar's hoofbeats.

Swinging around to greet her, I whickered at them, but stayed by Alec's side. He stroked my soft nose as Tabari greeted them in Alec's language. I hadn't really noticed much about that and snorted softly. I had grown up with one language, then had time to learn Alec's on the island. She smiled at everyone, then turned the white mare back to lead the group down to the valley. I l followed along with Alec, happy to have his presence next to me.

He looked at me with longing in his eyes. I would have gladly let him ride me, but he did not offer to mount. Tabari noticed and shook her head, saying that it would be best not to at the moment without the sheik's permission. Only one man was allowed to ride me. I swept my ears back briefly at this… I hated the one man that was allowed to ride me.

No matter, we soon got down to where the band had gathered, waiting for my return. I saw my brown mare and gladly shot off to her. Then I circled the band tight to ensure that each horse was still there. Satisfied, I settled down and watched a few foals play. The others, including Alec, had moved on to the other end of the valley, where the houses lay. I was torn in two. I wished to stay with my herd. But I also wished to go with Alec. Undecided, I raised my head and whickered, even though I knew the humans could not hear me. I watched them as they went to the sheik's house. They had just stopped in front when I decided to join them. My mares would stay in the valley. I could always come back to them.

I galloped over to Alec, then slid to a stop and reared dramatically. Snorting in good spirits, I trotted over to Alec and put my nose into his hand. My master came out onto the steps in his white flowing garments and I looked at him with interest, but paid little attention to the conversation flowing. He would take them in, that much I knew. Now Alec turned to me and rubbed my head right where he always did and said a cheerful, "See you later, fella." I shoved him lightly with my head in friendliness as I snorted in agreement. Then I wheeled around and galloped back to my herd. I wanted to make sure that stupid chestnut was nowhere near my brown mare!

I arrived and screamed at him, just because I could. But he was quick to scatter away in terror. I pranced about the herd to check them all out but dropped my nose for a tiny grey foal to sniff. I watched late into the night but my instincts were firing. There was no danger that I could see or hear or smell. I paced back and forth. Finally I decided that what I sensed was not outward danger, but something happening to one of the mares. I looked carefully at the grey mare, who was very heavy with foal. She was restless. Unsure of what to do. I went over and nosed her in concern. She snapped at me, but then settled down as her belly rippled. Her own instincts were warring in her: leave the herd, or stay with it.

At last she decided on a compromise. She went to the side of the valley where the rocks were shielding her, but was within sight and sound of the herd. I went with her a little ways so I could still keep an eye on both. Very soon, the mare was down and groaning. I snorted softly to encourage her. I wasn't quite certain of what was happening, but my own instincts told me that it was alright. This was the way of the wild. Mares must at times do this.

My ears pricked carefully as she grunted some more, but I did not go too close. Mares must also be alone for this thing. I grazed a little and watched the rest of the band. Finally I heard a funny squeaky sound and looked again at the grey mare splayed panting on the grass. Was she okay? Then I noticed something moving behind her. I froze, staring at it. It squeaked again and wiggled some more, but the mare curled her neck and sniffed it and whickered lovingly.

Soon I figured it out. It was a brand new foal. I snorted kindly at it to greet it into the world. It squeaked again, then after the mare got up, tried to do the same. It was not terribly successful, but after much encouragement from the grey, it was up and wobbling on spindly legs. I saw then it was a filly, and likely grey as well. The mare allowed me to come and sniff it over carefully then I nibbled her mane in congratulations.

Now that I knew both mare and foal were safe, I went back to the band. I knew they would follow when ready. The foal was good and strong, and finely built. I was pleased, for instincts told me she could follow her mother at a moment's notice and keep up with the herd in danger. The humans would be pleased as well.

I turned my head back to my master's house and wondered. I was glad that Alec had come. I had missed him. But now he was here in my desert home. Would he stay? Would I go back to him? Could I take my mares with me? I huffed slightly, and tossed my mane. I loved him. But I also loved my mares. And Jôhar most of all… she was the one I longed for. If it came down to a choice… I did not know what I would choose. Thankfully, I knew perfectly well I would not have to choose. My master would say what he wished. For now, all was right with my world. I had my desert home, the stars shining bright over me, the brown mare next to me, her filly stretched out on the soft grass that was sweet enough for my tongue. And the roan was not far from me. The whickers and snorts and one little colt squeal that broke the silence was music to my ears. And to the south, the desert sands blowing and singing.

Chapter Text

Early in the morning, the sky started to lighten into a pale gold. I shivered lightly, for the nights were rather cool. I watched carefully each horse in my band and was alert when the grey mare finally came to join us with her new filly at foot. I whickered softly and the mare looked at me. She was nervous, as all mares are when new ones are introduced. I flicked an ear forward as the other horses gathered around the new filly, who was glued to her dam's side. But eventually, horses moved off and the little one was allowed to suckle in peace.

I grazed as the sky burned a brilliant orange and flame colour over me. It was peaceful. I suddenly lifted my head to look at the white buildings. Somewhere, Alec was in one. I felt slightly confused. I was used to my routine with the herd, but also remembered the old one with him. However, with the old routine, I'd be in a stall. I much preferred it out here. Shaking my head, I dropped to graze again.

Soon the men came out to check us horses out and take the ones they wished for riding. The roan was taken quickly, as well as a bay mare. Someone discovered the new filly and exclaimed excitedly over it and ran to tell the others. They made funny noises over the filly and I snorted in amusement. I seem to remember such noises when I was born and had first joined the herd. Humans were strange things at times.

A large grey mare was also taken, her yearling foal left behind. I also saw other horses from the paddocks being taken as well and pricked my ears in interest. Would Alec come to ride me? There seemed to be more horses than usual getting saddled up for riding. But perhaps it would not be Alec after all, but the stranger. That I didn't want. I decided to turn and make my way into the middle of the herd, in between the brown mare and the grey. The two small foals were at first nervous of each other, then finally one sniffed the other. Pretty soon they were running around on long gangly legs. Had I looked like that as a young one? I hoped not. Though they did look cute.

The sun was clear over the horizon when I jerked my head up. The horses were coming back, but each one was mounted. There were two different groups. I easily saw Jôhar in one group and watched her eagerly. Perhaps we'd go for a ride! But then the other group reached us first. I recognized them… they would come and catch me and tack me up to ride. That meant the stranger would ride me today. I reared up high, scattering a few horses in the herd. This turned out to be a bad move, since now the men had a clear way to catch me. One noosed a rope over my neck quickly from the back of his horse. I snapped with my ears flat, but several men, used to handling me, moved in quickly and had my halter on in a trice.

They swung back on their horses and led me to the saddling area and where the stranger would mount me. I put up a very short struggle before finally accepting that I would at least get to gallop. That was exciting! I wanted to run as fast as possible and pranced along as the men led me to the right spot. Working quickly, they had me saddled and bridled as the other group...Jôhar's group… came up. Now I saw Alec riding the bay mare, and Jôhar prancing prettily under Tabari. The sheik was there on his own horse to. Henry was on the big grey, and the boy Alec's age was on the roan.

The roan nickered at me and I snorted back. I soon was distracted by a ridden mare in front of me. Torn, I stood still, for the mare was ridden by the stranger. Smoothly, he slipped off her onto my own back. He had pulled this trick before, and it greatly displeased me. I hated him! And that was a sneaky way of mounting! I reared even as the men on their horses held me briefly, but soon let go as I came down.

They bolted away from me, not wanting to be too close and to get out of my way. The stranger tried to turn me and the heavy bit pinched my tongue terribly. That made shoot straight up in the air for all I was worth. I felt the stranger grab my neck to keep his balance. I went higher, higher, then felt myself on that edge of balance where I could have fallen over. Still on my hind legs, I took one step back, then managed to drop my front end down. The stranger took this opportunity to dig his heels into my sides. I reacted instantly and shot off as fast as I could to get away from him, forgetting for the moment that he had his hands wrapped in my mane. I could feel his anger mixed with his fear of me. And… determination? And something else I could not place.

For the moment, all I wanted was to gallop. For once, the stranger's wishes and mine meshed. He wanted the same thing I did, so I ran. My strides grew longer, my head lowered and my body became one streamlined creature as I tore along the well worn track. Suddenly, I felt movement on top. What was he doing? He cursed at me in Arabic, sudden anger and hatred exploding towards… my master? Really? I was confused, then I felt hot slashes of pain along my sides. Startled, I made a giant spring forward to get away from it. I felt more painful hits on both sides of my body, and could hear the slaps of a stick on my hide, along with his muttered curses.

I grew angrier with ever stroke. What had I done to warrant this? I exploded forward with even more speed, remembering that once when Alec had fainted on me. I had hoped something similar would happen, that I would tear his breath away from his body! I grew in fury as he whipped me some more, then finally decided I had enough galloping. I tossed my foam flecked head up in protest at the harsh bit, shaking it wildly. I pistoned my legs under me, well used to the turf. Stopping at this speed was difficult and I had to make jumps to keep balance. My hooves would slide, I'd jump forward, and slow down again. Finally I was walking, my sides heaving, nostrils flared as wide as they could go. I looked for my master, or Alec. The stranger rode me over to where the grooms were waiting, and smoothly hopped off me.

For once, the grooms put a cooler on me, because I was sweating so much. One man patted me bravely, for I normally did not allow such things. But he was sympathetic to me and glared at the stranger. I pricked my ears, for my master and the others were riding up to me. Alec and Henry looked absolutely furious, and in truth, I was still angry. I started to snake my head out to bite, but was prevented by one of the grooms who started to walk me.

My master rode up to the stranger and spoke angrily to him. His voice rose and fell as the stranger got quite the tonguelashing. It seemed that I was not to be handled so roughly like that. I heard him say, "Shêtân will not be used in that manner! You do not handle my horses with a whip! I'll whip you if I ever see that again!" He shouted some more then finally the stranger nodded and turned away. I understood that he would never ride me again, and I was glad. There had always been something very wrong with him. Good riddance! The sheik came over to me and stroked my wet neck and murmured, "I am sorry, Shêtân. Forgive me for choosing such a wrong man for you. Never will you feel the sting of a stick again. I swear on Allah that it will never happen again." He murmured some more things, but I was only glad that he was alright. And Alec was near. I trusted them both with all my heart.

Tabari suggested a ride for the others and after another look at me, led the group off. I wished I could have gone with them, but I was too tired, and still hot and sweaty. The sheik spared some of his precious water and had some of the grooms wash down my sides to make sure the welts were not too swollen. I didn't like them being touched and kicked at them. But my master took hold of my halter and made me stand still, holding one ear firmly, but murmuring nice words into that same ear. Finally it was all done and I was again walked for a long time, grooms taking turns on me. He wanted to make sure my legs were good and uninjured. I felt fine, but appreciated his care of me.

I felt much better after some time in the round pen. The sheik wished the men to keep an eye on me and be undisturbed for much needed rest. I lay down and rolled in the dirt, then shook my coat in satisfaction. At last the sheik deemed me quite fine, and turned me out to graze with my band. I was quick to find my favourite brown mare and nuzzle her, the filly turning up an inquisitive face at me. I circled the herd a few times to ensure that all was well. Seeing everything quiet, the horses content, I settled down to graze. The moon was high in the sky and cast a silver light on everything. All was at peace.

At least, it was until the moon stood directly above and I heard the snort of a horse that did not belong here.

Chapter Text

I turned my head with a snort at the strange horse. I knew a lot of horses here… and there were quite a few. The reason my instincts put me on high alert was because this sound didn't come from the herd. Nor did it come from the houses and large paddock. It came from the rocky pass that led down into the valley. I snorted again warily, trying to decide whether to be alarmed or not.

I circled my band once or twice to be certain, and every horse was awake and watching. Even the foals stuck tightly by their mothers in fear. I heard the sound of trotting feet, then several riders come down the path. They quickly left the pathway and headed straight for us. That cued me to gather the herd and move them away slowly, mindful of the new foals, but wanting to move closer to the sheik and safety.

Now the riders moved more quickly, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the fear that ran through me. Danger! Danger! I reared and screamed shrilly, and my band instantly reacted by wheeling off in one direction. They trotted confusedly at first, but when the ridden horses kept coming on, they began to gallop. I flanked a palomino mare and looked around for the roan gelding. But I now remembered, they kept the roan and some of the riding horses closer to the house for the guests. The palomino snorted in fear and I bumped into her as a rider came alongside me.

A sudden weight on my back! It was the stranger! He had slid off his own galloping horse onto me, and was riding me! I screamed again and broke off suddenly away from the herd. I stopped dead, but then felt his heels dig into my side, and I jumped forward again. I could feel his hands wrapped in my mane and one arm around my neck. Upon this realization, I wheeled in a circle sharply, attempting to throw him off. He had no saddle, or bridle, for that matter, and I hoped to unseat him. I even galloped a short distance before slamming to a stop. But the stranger, as I had already found, could ride very well. And apparently this included without tack. My attempts were in vain.

I had just decided to try a rear, and perhaps I would throw myself over when I felt something encircle my neck. This was familiar! A rope! Again, I whinnied and shook my head wildly, trying to dislodge the rope. I tried to gallop anyway, but was brought up short with it choking me. No! Not again! I couldn't call out and glanced for the herd, which was now closer to the houses. Again I made a bolt, but another rope landed on my neck from another rider, and I felt the stranger kick my sides again.

I certainly did not make it easy for them. The two riders on horses, both dark bays, I had time to notice, rode on either side of me, each with his rope, while the stranger made sure I kept going. Sometimes I'd get a kick. Sometimes, he smacked me with his palm. I still attempted to buck, but he stayed on. I felt myself being led away from the valley and the plain, up the rocky pass and onward into the night.

Our hooves echoed in the chasm, and I looked up at the moon that shone brightly, taking weak comfort from it. I would know my way home, if I ever got loose. I just had to break away first! I was instantly nervous, for I could smell blood in the air. The blood of a man. I whipped my head around and saw a not moving shape lying in the dirt, a black pool of something around it. A dead man! Unreasoning terror seized me, and I tried to turn around. The stranger swore again and kicked me.

Once more, I resisted and pulled back hard, scrabbling at the sand and hard rock. But with the ropes around my neck, I ended up slipping and sitting on my haunches. This did have an unexpectedly good effect, as the stranger slid off the back of me. I rejoiced in this, but not for long. I got a good kick on my rump… that hurt...and I scrambled up in rage and plunged forward. The stranger looked as angry as I felt and he raised a hand to to me, but was stopped instantly by another man.

"No, you shall not hurt him. He is too valuable. And we need to go. As quickly as possible," the other man said as he held the reins of a brown horse… the horse the stranger had leaped off of when he had tackled me. The stranger glared at him hard, but muttered a few curses before swinging up on his horse. The unfortunate creature got a hard undeserved smack from the stranger before he was made to gallop ahead of us. The men holding the ropes didn't wait too much longer either before spurring their horses on to a gallop as well. I was forced go along or get dragged.

Down the track we went at a good clip. I tried a few times to savage one of the horses on either side of me, or even their riders, but they knew their job too well. If I swung one way, the other tugged me over. It was a game I knew too well from the first time they had captured me. Frustrated, I screamed at them, making one horse spook away from me. However, his rider yanked hard on the reins and made him behave.

They rode hard all night. I was fit, so kept up with them, and besides, I was riderless. But I didn't understand! Why are they taking me away from my master again! And from Alec? The terrain was tough and unyielding, and I wondered that they pushed me so hard. The land was not very flat here, and I should have thought they might wish to spare my legs. I had already hit one leg hard with one of my hooves sliding down into a gully. But it seemed they feared those behind them more than my welfare. Besides, they all kept a close watch on me. I sensed they were very experienced, and if I had indeed hurt myself, they would have pulled aside and tended to me. But I was fit and strong, and very wild.

We drove on through the daybreak and finally stopped for a drink of water...my throat was so parched. I did not fight them as they allowed me to drink from a small little pool. It was so very small, that it took a while for all of us horses to drink. Just as well, for we were all hot and thirsty. I remembered once drinking too much after exercise and feeling sick afterwards. So it was just as well we had to drink slowly. The men stopped for a quick bite to eat, but there was no fire. They covered their tracks as much as they could before swinging up into their saddles and moving on once again. After a brief fight, I was forced to follow once again.

I looked back a few times. I could not see, hear, or scent that which I wished most: Alec. I hoped he would find me. Or my master, the sheik. I had a feeling he would not let me go again. And I had no wish to go with these men! I wanted my home. I wanted Johar. I wanted only to gallop and eat in peace. But here I was, at the end of a rope, hungry, among strangers that could bode no good for me, and no friends to be found.

Chapter Text

We moved on for several days. I was growing tired with the fast pace, few rest stops, and the rough treatment. I grew irritated and snapped at anyone who came near me. One man had attempted to groom me, but I put up such a fuss he stopped and shook his head. I think I might have liked him if it were not for the situation. He looked at me often and ran a practiced eye over my frame. But he would shake his head and press his horse on.

At long last, we came across another plain and I raised my head to sniff. The smell of water, houses, horses, and other human things wafted to my nostrils. Were we back home with my master? Suddenly pinning my ears back, I snorted. No, this was not my master's home. This belonged to another. I could smell another stallion far away when the wind blew just right… it reminded me of a certain chestnut I remembered seeing when I was young. Though it had been long ago, so I could have been wrong.

The sound of distant hooves made me stop and look. At first the men pulled me, but when their mounts pricked their ears in that direction, they stopped too. On and on the horse came. I finally discerned that this horse was black, as I was. But the man on him...he was familiar. Suddenly piecing together who he was, I jerked back on my ropes with a scream. He was the man who had invaded my stable that night! He was the dark skinned man of the boat! No! I wanted nothing to do with him! I leaped and plunged, and the men had a hard time holding me, but they somehow did.

He finally halted his black horse, an ugly thing to be honest, and as mean spirited as his rider. The black pinned his ears back at us and stamped a foot in impatience. The dark man looked me over in satisfaction, "So, we have Shetan again! Now we will win the desert! Come, let us put him in the corral."

The stranger said something I could not catch, but gestured at me. I was starting to sweat again from the exertions to get away and from fear of the man that was also blossoming into anger. How dare they! But I was given no choice as the stranger struck me on the rump with something that hurt. I squealed and leaped forward, forced to go where they wished once again.

As we trotted down a gully, I could smell many horses, all of them unfamiliar. After a very long while of trotting, I was suddenly yanked off to the side. Everyone hushed quietly. There was a scent on the breeze… the scent of a stallion. I stamped once in interest, but everyone else was tense, and half the men watched me carefully while the other half watched somewhere else. There was a galloping sound nearby and I almost wanted to go too, but was mindful of the ropes still around my neck and had no wish to get strangled.

At last, the sound and smell faded and the men relaxed, breathing out sighs of relief. The enemy… I will call the dark skinned man that, for that is who he was to me… tipped his head and we started walking this time. Looking more closely, I noticed something odd about him. The enemy rode strangely. Then I realized it was because he only had one arm. When had that happened? Nevertheless, the black horse seemed fine with him, though he didn't like other horses near him, and tried to cow kick a bay that got too near.

We emerged out of the gully up among a rocky canyon of sorts. We travelled through this for a while before it opened up to a plain. I looked around and could see that this hidden valley was very hidden indeed. It would not be found easily, and I had half a mind that this would be a very good place to hide mares. But this place was not being used to hide mares, but men.

There were tents and a corral and an oasis. Men came out of their tents to watch us pass. They were unsavoury men, rough looking, and I certainly did not like the looks of them. These, I sensed, were rebels without a tribe. I knew of casting out young colts out of the herd, or sometimes doing as I had done to the chestnut gelding of my band, and understood that sometimes the humans would do the same. But these men, I also sensed, were dangerous. For once, I was quiet as we passed them. I did not like all the eyes on me. There were many with scars, ragged clothes, and I even saw two with one eye. Terrible looking men, hungry for something other than food.

I shuddered lightly as my instincts fired full blast. There was something very much wrong with this situation. Danger. Much danger. Not only to myself… but many others. But I could not do anything for the moment as the men slapped me from behind, ignoring my squeals of rage and kicks as they pushed me up toward the narrow part of the canyon beyond the tents.

I had time to see rails and rocks before I was shoved into a corral. At last the hated ropes were flipped off my neck, but the men got out before I turned on them hard and fast. I slammed against the now closed gate. I reared high in anger, then tore around my new place. I really knew that it was generally a bad idea to go so fast in a place I didn't know, but at the moment, I was beyond caring. My hooves pounded into the turf as my mane whipped in the wind I made. Eventually I stopped running around… the place was rather small anyway… and stopped in middle. Now I saw the pen I was in was half made out of wood, and the back half backed onto the canyon walls itself. The sides were far too steep and there would be no way I could climb out. I wished I had wings to fly out, but that would be a useless wish.

I raised my head and pinned my ears back at the men perched on the top rail watching me. Some whistled at me, and one called my name, "Shêtân! You devil!" I reared and tried to strike out at the closest man, but he jumped down before I could do anything. Finally I accepted the fact that they would leave me alone, and honestly, I preferred that. I wanted nothing to do with them. They were not my friends. I only wished to see Alec, or my master. My white mare would be very welcome as well, or even the roan. But if I could not have any one of them, I wished to be left alone in peace.

Eventually the man that I had somewhat liked before came to check on me. He watched me move nervously, and softly said, "You look alright, Shêtân. I know you're angry. I'm sorry. But at least you're not hurt." He vanished for one moment and came back with something in his arms. "Here. Some hay. I'll be back with water."

I pricked my ears at his voice, then swept it back. He was one of them! He was not my friend. But my nose quivered as I smelled the dried grass he had dropped over the side for me. I did not touch it though, wary of him. He watched a moment before disappearing. I made a few more laps of my pen, searching for any good opening that perhaps might be weaker. I leaned on the boards on a few places, testing, but none gave. I considered next the height of the poles. No, I could jump, but I could neither jump that high, or if I could, had too little room for a good run up to the fence. It looked like I was staying here for a while. An ear flicked as the man returned and I snuffled the happy smell of water. He grunted as he climbed up the gate, not daring to open it. I saw he had a rope on a bucket and lowered it down, sloshing a little water over as he dropped it down carefully. It settled on the dirt, and he took care to leave the rope on his side.

After he left me in peace, I was quick to go forward and slake my thirst. I was tired after all the going over the last few days, and grateful to get fresh water. I spooked a bit when the man came back a little while later to refresh my bucket, but at last I had all the water my body needed. He looked a long time before shaking his head and muttering something.

I paced a long while in my new place, seeking again for escape. At last, I accepted that there was none, not unless someone opened the gate. Feeling hungry finally, I grazed the mostly bare pen before giving in and going to eat from the pile of hay. I chewed thoughtfully and looked up. The stars were bright again and I thought once again of my home in the desert. I only wondered briefly what would happen next, but, being a horse, I did not wonder very long. I only longed for freedom.

I settled down at last, listening to the sounds of the camp. Sometimes there would be angry yellings, but otherwise it was quiet. The horses would stamp and nicker at each other at times, but they too were mostly quiet. I pondered on the ones I had seen. Most of them were not as finely built as the ones I was used to. I knew my master prided us horses on our pedigree and speed. However, never had I seen such poor examples of horses of my breed. The quick glimpses of the horses I had seen had faults that my master would have been horrified at. The slab shouldered black horse that the enemy man rode, for one. I had seen another with such knees that I wondered that he did not knock himself as he walked. Well, the horses matched the men very well. Ill rogues, all of them.

I rested in the heat of the next day, glad to be able to be left alone. Only the kind man bothered me, and that only to make sure I had food and water. The enemy man looked at me once, but it was only one hateful glance before he turned away. I never did find out what he wanted from me. All I knew was the smell of much preparation. Preparation for war.

Chapter Text

I had spent the day alternating between resting quietly and pacing up and down the perimeter of the corral. Again and again I stomped and tested. Once I even tried to jump up the sheer face, but there was nothing to jump to, so I quickly saw the folly in even trying.

Evening fell more quietly that night. I could hear the humans gathering further down. I pinned my ears back as I heard the ringing voice of the enemy man. The one I hated with all my heart. His voice rose and fell in victorious waves. War was very close. I could feel it. If there was war… then I must be in it! All my instincts told me my ancestors had been war horses. My master must ride me into battle! I wheeled partly in fury at my helplessness and partly in desire to break free and wreak havoc. I pawed the ground in growing rage and whinnied high.

I flicked my ears at the answering neigh, but realized it was one of the horses in the corral down at the camp. I blew out a snort and paced some more. Again the cheers from the men made me stop short and listen. It was not a good sign. I listened for a long time before going for a drink. I did not eat, for I was too wound up and distracted.

I had finished another canter lap in the corral that seemed smaller by the minute when I stopped dead. A scent was blowing in my direction, a scent I knew well. Alec? He was here? I wheeled once more and took a gallop around the corral once before braking to a stop to listen. I peered through the bars of the gate carefully, as it was the only place I could look out. Everything else was too solid. I raised my head high and looked into the darkness. A slight movement! Looking right at where I had seen it, I flared my nostrils. Alec! It was him! Why didn't he come right over and free me?

When the stupid boy didn't move, but looked around, I whinnied loudly again and tossed my head with growing fury. He moved slowly towards me then stopped and looked around once more. Come on! You came for me, so why aren't you letting me go? I snorted and pinned my ears. When he hesitated again, I reared high and crashed my forelegs on the gate, ignoring the shockwave of pain that brought. I only wanted Alec! I wanted to be free! I wanted to get away from this place!

That got Alec's attention as he quickly came to the gate and put a hand through the gap. I nuzzled his hand and took a good sniff just to be sure. Yes, it was him. I calmed down happily and whickered quietly. He reached an arm through even more and rubbed my forehead and my neck. He took another glance back before withdrawing his arm. I watched with dancing hooves as he untied the heavy gate and pulled it open.

I was uncertain then. Should I just gallop off? Or wait for him? I pranced sideways out of the gate in nervousness, but then I turned and shoved him hard. No, I wanted him with me. There was danger! Danger for us both. He must come away quickly. Alec was quick to climb up the sides of the gate, using the gaps as footholds. I felt his familiar weight on my back and instead of prancing off, or trying to throw my rider, I stood quite still for Alec. I couldn't help the slight quiver of my skin as his knees touched me, but I waited to see what he would want to do. I felt quite strongly the happiness and pride he had that he was riding me again, and I was very glad to have a rider once again that understood me. He would not harm me like the stranger did. He would not try to master me, but instead we would work together as friends.

I looked up at the black sky once, then felt his legs nudge me into a walk. I obliged and found that he let me have my head. Since there really was only one way to go in this section of the canyon, I walked that way, feeling his fingers wrapped in my mane. I had no saddle or bridle, but that did not bother me in the slightest. I was well used to Alec's riding, and he to me, so we suited each other just fine. As I cleared the narrow gap, I felt him cue me to stay away from the rebel village. That was fine by me… I had no wish to mingle with them anyway, although I would have, had he asked.

We walked for some time, quietly and carefully. I guessed Alec was trying to find a way out of the canyon without having to go back. I liked this plan of action, and wished the same. I kept my ears pricked and watched through the darkness, knowing I saw better than my human did. The walls of the canyon narrowed considerably, and there was even one place where my flanks brushed the walls before it opened up again. I hoped to find some opening soon, but would there only be unpassable rock ahead?

We had turned to the right slightly, when a sudden noise spooked me. I leaped off to the side and stared for a moment, ears and nose straining

forward. There was something there, up ahead! Danger! Alec patted me and urged me on again. I took a step forward, then shied again more violently. No, there was danger! We can't stay here! I felt Alec's hand play on my crest, attempting to soothe me, and I also felt his cue to stand a moment. I did, the best I could, but my instincts were firing wildly. I stayed on the spot, but my hooves danced on the ground as my nervousness grew.

The boy decided I knew better, and allowed me to turn around and go back the way we came. Perhaps there would be something else we missed. I had been doing a fast walk, but a noise and unfamiliar scent from behind made me rush ahead. Alec tried to signal me to slow down, but my fear was stronger than his command, and I started to trot. My hooves would ring sometimes on a rock, but I could not stop and be quiet. There was danger behind us! I must get us away!

It did not take long to reach the corral again, which I had no intention of entering again. I was about to sweep by it, ignoring the boy's pull on my mane to get me to stop. I thought he wanted me to go back inside, which I refused to do. Suddenly, there was a small sound ahead, and I stopped abruptly and rose to a small rear. Alec stayed on easily, and gripped me tightly as I wheeled on the spot and started to run back up the canyon again to get away from the danger that was ahead of me. I cantered back up that way, but was quick to stop again in confusion. There was danger in both directions. Which way was better? Up the canyon, or down? I knew both ways held great danger for me and my rider, but I could not decide which was best. Alec waited on top of me, trusting me to keep us both safe. Finally I decided on neither and moved off to the closest wall, trusting in my blackness to hide me in the darkness.

My hooves could not help but stir nervously on the spot. I tried to remain still, but my hoof still knocked against a rock that I did not notice. That made me jump on the spot, though I calmed down a bit when Alec patted me softly. We waited for some time, then I snapped my head over to one side. There had been the soft jingle of a bit, and the rustle of a rider's robes. I pawed nervously, then as I heard a hoof ring in the darkness, I spooked off to one side, only to turn abruptly and come back to where I had stood before.

Yes, Alec heard it too. I felt him stiffen on my back as he strained to see in the darkness. There were horses coming, three that were close, very close. I stood my ground for a bit, waiting for the right moment. I quivered, then saw one of the bays clearly in the darkness, his white stripe showing up. I snorted loudly, for the others could not be far behind him, and reared in challenge. They were not going to pin me to some rock behind me! I felt Alec's acceptance of my lead and I charged the bay. Instantly, the other two horses fanned out to block any attempt at escape. I must break through the line! I might run into one, but how would the horse react? Swing away and let me through? Or turn and block me further?

I sensed the one horse move over to the side, afraid of being hit by me, and I was soon in full gallop down the canyon, Alec clinging like a burr to me. One of the riders tried to head me off and spurred his mount forward to catch up to me. I heard the whistle of a rope and tried to duck, but there was no room. Now I felt the rough rope pressure around my neck! I tried to put on a burst of speed at the same time that Alec attempted to throw the rope off me. However, he wasn't quick enough and the rope tightened.

I hit the end of the rope and was flung to my haunches hard. Alec came off me and landed hard. I side stepped him so I would not step on him and came face to face with the slab shouldered black horse. I spooked away from him, knowing exactly who would be riding this horse. The enemy! The man from the boat! He sat his mount, who looked very ill tempered as well, and looked down at Alec. I was dragged away, kicking and screaming away from Alec. In a trice, a bridle was forced on my head and yanked on severely. My mouth gaped open from the pain of the rough treatment, but I tried to fight them. I could see Alec in the cruel grip of the enemy man, and heard his own pained gasps. What was he doing to my friend? The one armed man wasn't going to hurt my boy! Again I thrashed about, trying to get free.

One man had my rope still, and another had my reins. I bucketed against their mounts, but the horses stayed out of my way, and were handled heavily by their riders to behave. My black coat soon lathered with white foam and I stood long enough to pant and see what was happening with Alec. The boy had tried to fight back as well and punched the one armed man… I wondered briefly how that had happened. On the boat, he had two arms. Perhaps an accident had happened. The man twisted Alec's arm, making the boy faint to the ground. Thankfully, he wasn't out very long, and was roughly helped up by the enemy man. Now they shoved Alec in my direction, so I stood still, fearful of hurting the already hurt Alec. They pulled him up on my back and I looked back as best I could to see if he was alright.

Now we were forced to move back up the canyon, the horses driving me ahead of them. I saw at a glance the horses wanted nothing to do with me, and would have been more than happy to leave me alone, but their riders spurred them cruelly to get them forward. Although I was tired, I thrilled in their terror, and new found energy bubbled up from untapped reserves deep inside me. Then we were driven into an open space, out and free from the close canyon walls.

Instinct told me strongly that I was still not safe. It was open, yes, but too open. There was a feeling of massive space ahead of me. Now I knew. The cliffs dropped off ahead, and I could silhouette better than I expected. I raised my head. Yes, the night was lightening up, and the moon was rising higher and clearing the mountains. I had no time to think this over when I was inexorably pulled forward again. They meant to drive us over the cliff!

Alec must have sensed the same thing, for he was tense and afraid. He moved his legs against my side in a way that I had always hated. I gave a great snort at him, then reared high in protest, feeling his arm around my neck for balance. The two horses alongside me now had had enough of my antics and were genuinely scared. They spooked away from me, giving me room at last! Both of the riders had been swept off the horses! I was free!

Or so I thought. The enemy man on the black horse swore furiously and kicked his horse towards me. The stupid ugly creature was only too glad to obey him and smashed into my shoulder. I was furious and reared again, slashing my sharp front hoofs on the black's side, making him scream in pain. I found myself temporarily stuck on top of the horse's withers and neck, the enemy man too startled to do anything. I felt the horse stagger under my weight and thought that I was winning! Unfortunately for me and Alec, the other riders had remounted and now were shouting at me, and I spun off the black. The three of them crowded me and shoved me towards the cliff.

Closer, still closer, they edged me towards that empty space ahead of me. I had no room to lean back and brace against them. I felt one hand on the rope on my neck, ready to flip it off and saw the men raise crops. I shuddered lightly and eyed the cliff.

A hot slash of pain biting into my hindquarters startled any resolve from me. I screamed with the agony of it… it had hurt worse than anything I'd experienced, and I could feel the absolute fury that was behind that swing. I bolted forward, straight for the cliff face in blind need to get away from the terror behind.

Chapter Text

I shot forward from the painful stroke that the enemy man had made and I felt the rope around my neck flipped off. I had quite lost my mind and might have galloped right over the edge of the cliff had it not been for several things.

Those several things happened to be the crops of the other men, raining down hits on me, hoping to spur me forward. As soon as I felt the stinging lashes, however, I had the very opposite reaction that they expected. Instead of being filled with terror and galloping away, I surged with absolute and pure fury. How dare they! And how dare these horses allow such things!

I spun around and screamed my anger against the horse on my left. I struck out at it viciously and then reared up on it. My teeth gripped his neck and clamped down hard while my hooves savaged it. The bay pulled back, trying to get free, its fear scent sharp in my nostrils. It ended up sitting on its haunches like I had done earlier, but this time instead of being able to go forward, a well aimed kick made him go down altogether. I was so full of fury that I attacked him even while he was down. The bay's rider had had no time to get off and was pinned under him and had also started to scream as well. All these sounds and smells made me strike all the harder, even after the blood was spilling. I didn't even pay attention to the small thing on my own back with hands wrapped in my mane. I was only aware of several things: the dying horse under my hooves, the dead man under him, the slab shouldered black going crazy by the smell of blood, and the other horse who was wheeling around, trying to gallop away. I remotely felt Alec trying to pull me away but I ignored him.

What snapped me out of was sudden cracking noises. I flung my head up, nostrils dilated. Danger? No, I smelled a familiar stallion smell, the grey of the sheik's. Instantly I was glad. Alec was here. My master was here. I watched for them to appear and stood still in interest. I could not move for the time being, frozen in alertness.

This prompted Alec to move on my back. He got himself in racing postion, then touched his heels to me. I suddenly found my muscles obeying me and exploded forward into a run. I ran back down the path to the rebel village, and I heard more swearing behind me. The one amed man! Then I heard sharper cracking noises and small projectiles whistling around me. He was shooting at us! Alec jerked me to the side to hide us better among the rocks that we had now entered again. Other than that, he trusted me and my speed to get us away from the dangerous crazy man. He did stroke my mane and talk softly as I galloped along the canyon, but the wind whipped away anything he said.

At last we had almost reached the village again, and I strained my ears forward. There were people there. Angry, shouting people. I slackened my pace, unsure of myself. I needed Alec to make the decision now. I ran until I could see the street of sorts that ran in the middle of the huts and I stopped. I peered around, sensing the many people there that had fallen silent. Alec nudged me gently, and I walked ahead, senses all alert.

I could see the forms of many men in the night, and I pranced nervously. Friend or foe? I whinnied at them to see if I could get a answer to my question. Many horses responded to my call, but among them I knew one in particular. The roan. The roan was here. I relaxed at that. If he was here, then my master was too. I looked and saw a lone horseman break from the group and eagarly saw the grey stallion. I stood still, patient for once to wait for him. Alec was tense, not being able to see who it was at first, but then he relaxed too.

The sheik had his battle face on as he drew up near me, keeping his grey away from me. Then he saw who it was that was on me and acknowledged Alec. It was during that short and brief conversation that I learned the whole nefarious plan. The enemy man who had stolen me wanted to get the chestnut stallion's rider to ride against my master. But the two kingdoms had joined together as one, for blood had been shed on both sides against the enemy one armed man. Who was now missing.

That was concerning, but I put it out of my mind and whickered happily. The roan came up to me, mounted by Raj. I touched noses with the roan and now saw Raj up close. He seemed familiar, though I did not know why at the time. I was only happy to see my friend, as was Alec for Raj.

The chestnust stallion that I had seen before was ridden near to me, the other sheik on him. I snorted and swept my ears back to warn him away. The stallion reared at the sight of me, wanting to offer fight, but his rider brought him down. During that conversation, I sniffed carefully. The stallion smell almost overpowered what I wished to know. Yes, I knew now why Raj was familiar. The other sheik and he were of the same blood! They were siblings.

Turning away when the chestnut was suddenly spurred on ahead with a group of warriors, I watched as they shot their rifles in the air and galloped up the canyon. Raj was displeased that he did not follow with his brother, and the roan pranced with tension. But my master answered that I must go home. I was glad to hear this, and wished to go, and although I would have been fine with just Alec coming with me, I hoped the roan would as well. But there was still yet more excitement to be had first.

The village must be dealt with. My master looked at me then at Alec and Raj. He nodded assent at last and we turned to trot back to the village.

I shall not tell of what was done there. I do remember being fascinated with the whole village, huts, tents and all burning with fire that made the very sky glow. There was much blood… but I do not like to remember that. At last, it was done and all of us, me, the roan, the grey stallion, and the many horses of the men who rode with the shiek, went down out of the canyone into the plain. Now we split up and I was in a small group with Raj and a few others. We would go home. The rest would go with my master to see if they could find the enemy man.

It was a long trip home. Two suns had rose and fell and now we were on our third sun which was sinking towards the horizon when we finally rode up our own familiar chasm. Up past the large rocks. Past the place where the sentry had been killed. Down the side of the valley. Then into the valley itself where the band was.

I saw them galloping and watched carefully. It was not a danger gallop, but one merely of fun. I called to them, high and shrill. That made the band stop abruptly and watch up the valley. Then they ran towards us, the yearlings leading the way, bucking and galloping as they went. My group pulled us horses to a halt as we watched them come. At last the band was up to us, and there was much snorting and prancing. I tossed my mane to say that yes, I had returned. I saw my brown mare and whickered happily at her.

The men with me laughed and suddenly clapped heels to their horses, making them gallop the rest of the way to the houses. I would have been after them in a second, but Alec held me back. I bubbled and pranced at the unfairness of this. Let me go! I want to gallop too! Alec laughed then finally let me have my head. My strides were long as I reached deep into the turf, wanting to catch up.

Several of the yearlings broke from the herd, wanting to run with me. I knew they could not possibly catch me as I ran up behind them. The mares scattered to let me by, but then stood to watch in interest. I whinnied loudly at them, but this was in triumph.

The young ones tried. They really did. I slowed a bit, and they were encouraged, thinking they were running faster than me. I soon blew away that thought by passing them with a burst of speed. I galloped down to the village. What made me stop was Jôhar.

Jôhar, the lovely white mare. I slid to a stop beside her, my neck lathered in white. I puffed great breaths but whickered as I calmly stood by her. Next to her was Tabari, holding on to Jôhar's lead rope. She was concerned, not seeing her father and the others. But Alec smiled as he dismounted off me and tossed my reins over my head. I was free to go and nuzzle Jôhar while Alec explained everything to her.

She seemed very glad with the news. I was reluctant as Alec gently guided me away from the grey mare. However, my disappointment turned to eagarness as I saw he was leading me to the stables. At last, my long hard ride was over. I would be cared for by Alec, who knew exactly how I liked things. Then rest. Peaceful rest.

Chapter Text

I woke early in the morning, having rested the entire night through. Alec had asked, and had been granted permission to leave me in the large paddock with the older horses. Then I had peace, even though I wouldn't have minded the band. However I wouldn't have had the perfect rest I did now. I was alert and awake. I sensed immediately that my master and the others were not back yet. I whinnied loudly into the morning, and was immediately answered by the herd. I even heard the high pitched whinny of a foal trying to sound like me.

Snorting, I turned away, only to have my attention drawn by another sound. A happy shout that I knew well, and running feet. I immediately trotted to the gate to greet Alec. He threw glad arms around me and I nuzzled his red hair. It had been a long trip back, and I was glad that I was able to carry him safely home. What would happen next?

He watched me carefully to see that I was not stiff or injured. Pleased to see that I was in fine form, he turned me out with the band at last. I galloped joyfully to them and nuzzled the mares. And then later on that day, what fun! Alec and Tabari both went for a ride, and Raj too. This meant that Jôhar, the roan, and the bay Alec rode all went along. I was pleased to tag along, paying the most attention to Jôhar of course. The boys laughed to see me prancing, knees high, tail up in the air, trying to get the white filly's attention. The roan was used to my antics and did not bother with me. The bay, however was a bit nervous, but Alec rode him well. We all went for a gallop, and it was wonderful to run with them again. I did wonder why Alec did not ride me, but I supposed he wasn't allowed.

The next two days were spent like that. I grazed with my band, or ran with them, as fancy drove me. I watched the young ones play and snorted as the older colts started to play fight. I knew soon they would be separated from the band, so I just needed to tolerate them for now. Afternoons, the three humans and us four horses would go for a ride. Sometimes we went beyond our territory, for Tabari longed for her father. I think she also wished to see the other sheik, for he was young and handsome. I remembered the chestnut stallion and wondered.

At last, I heard the call of the grey stallion and jerked my head up. Was it? Yes, the sheik rode down into my valley with the other men at his side or behind him. I trumpeted a greeting and pranced over to see him, steering clear of his own stallion. I knew from experience he would brook no rudeness from either of us, but he smiled to see me. "Shêtân, it is good to be home. And it is good to see you," he called calmly to me. I whinnied at him before whirling around and trotting with a long stride back to the band.

I watched a long time as he rode back down to the houses. His face was stern, and I felt the whatever news he had wasn't all good. However, that did not affect me. Human matters were human matters. He was home, and that's what mattered to me. All was right with the world again. I dropped my head to graze the evening away. The moon rose and fell, the stars were bright in their net above, and I rested or grazed as it suited me. The young horses were quiet and content tonight too… even they at that age knew their master had come home and we were safe for tonight. No one would molest us, not as long as I and my master were here.

Alec came for me very early the next morning. I was surprised, for the sun had barely rise, but I went with him without question. He fed me and groomed me carefully. And as he did so, I listened to what he had to say. And I learned. I learned that I was going to a race. I stomped my hoof in excitement to that news. I wanted to run! Then he also told me that he would ride me in the race! Better and better! I remembered the last race we had gone, against the bright sun chestnut and the grey stallions. And we had been one together.

I also learned that the young sheik would be there, with his chestnut stallion. Sagr was his name. I noted it for I knew instinctively that he could be my equal. I had not the chance to look at him close up, but the sights of him from a distance was enough.

Soon enough, the sheik himself came to look me over. I whickered at him and he put a hand on my neck calmly. "Shêtân, you will do your best, I know." He did not say much but I knew all his hopes were on me. Well, whatever came next, I'd certainly do my best. It seemed important somehow.

Soon, Alec slipped a halter on me and someone brought his bay horse to him. I saw great excitement going on. Something very big was happening! I danced a bit then stopped and stared when everyone got on. Was the entire tribe going? I could see the sheik swing on his grey stallion, Tabari already on her Jôhar. Then Alec was given his bay and he held a lead rope attached to my halter. I looked about and saw Raj on the roan, Henry on a chestnut, and the other man who had come with us on a grey. And besides that...many of the tribesmen with their women and children. There were even small horses for the children to ride. Wherever we were going… was big and important. It was a herd… of humans.

We trotted up the gorge out of the valley and headed west. There was much laughing and calling out among the humans and I saw brightly coloured saddles and rein covers with tassels. The entire mood of our party was light and good natured. We rode mostly at a trot, stopping only if needed for a quick rest, but the pace was easy to accommodate the young folks and the women.

I pricked my ears interestedly as the darkness just started falling. A great plain was ahead, and I could hear sounds that did not belong to my tribe. Many horses, many men. We topped a little rise and looked out on the desert. I saw great caravans, like ours, all brightly coloured and moving in the same direction we were. Ahead, the great desert stretched out ahead of me. A current of excitement ran through the tribe, and everyone was smiling. We had slowed to a walk to go up the rise, but at the sight of all the people below, our tribe broke to a trot or a canter. Alec nudged his bay to be even with the sheik's gray, and I ran alongside, knees high in excitement.

Soon enough, our caravan merged with the others, and I saw the women make sure their children were nearby. They did not want to lose them in this crowd. I saw many horses and camels and heard much music making as well as excited shouts. I pinned my ears back as another strange horse got too close but Alec murmured to me calmly and I kept close to him.

There was a group of young men on horses who cantered alongside me, but kept back enough when I threatened to kick. They pointed at me excitedly and chattered among themselves. Then somewhere in the billowing dust, an old man appeared and studied me carefully, for we had stopped briefly to let the traffic ahead pass. His face was very wrinkled, but the eyes were kind, and then he asked Alec in a strange high pitched voice, "Shêtân? Shêtân?"

Alec nodded at him, and the old man suddenly stamped with excitement, kicking up the dust even more until I did not see how the man breathed. He screeched louder than I thought such an old man could and waved wildly at his group. They ran over and chattered again at me and at each other. As we went through the caravans, the refrain was the same: "Shêtân! Shêtân!"

It was all very confusing for me, and I sensed that Alec was equally confused. But my master led us on to the place where the main camp was. Now I saw some semblance of order. I still saw a sea of people of all ages and both men and women. But I also saw them organizing things. Some groups were pitching their tents and stayed in their tribes, it seemed. Other people were making fires so they could cook food later. Some fires were already going and family groups stood around them, talking and gesturing madly. The entire energy of the camp was jubilant and hopeful. Alec and I both took calm from both Abu Já Kub ben Ishak and Tabari. They were our ports in the storm. I calmed even more when I felt soft fingers on my neck. Alec had leaned over from his saddle and was stroking me. We met eyes briefly, communicating trust to each other before forging ahead at the sheik's heels.

Chapter Text

I did not rest much that night. The sheik had posted a guard over me to keep the others away from me, but I could still hear many caravans coming during the night. My sharp eyes watched them under the glow of the moon. But at some point, I did doze a little. But when the morning came, the noise of the camp exploded with chatterings, banging of pots, and horses getting fed. I was given food and time to digest it while a groom polished my slick hide to its glossiest. I looked for Alec, but was too distracted to look very long.

Now I saw the sheik come to look at me, and there was a large group with him. The only one to come close were my master and the grooms who were used to handling me. I wheeled and spun, trying to see everything. My master deemed me fit and ready and moved away, allowing the men to tack me up. I knew Alec must be up and somewhere nearby, but I did not worry much. I gave the men more than my usual bit of trouble with tacking up, for I was too excited and could not stand for very long. I did notice that the saddle was comfortable and light, and bright tassels hung from it and the bridle. I was used to such things, and did not mind them. I knew I must look my best, and pranced as the people around admired my sleek body.

Suddenly, I heard drums beating across the plain, and the Bedouins all hushed at last, bringing much relief to my ears. As soon as that happened, the people around me parted to make way for the sheik and Alec, both of whom I was glad to see. Alec came to my head and took my reins. He pulled my head into his chest and murmured softly to me, while I breathed in his familiar scent.

The buzz of the people rose again, the men stamping and dancing, the women and children chanting something. Whistles of excitement came through the air, and the screams of several horses as well. I quivered a bit. Again the drums boomed louder, and my master put a hand on me and nodded to Alec, "It is time."

Alec breathed a sharp breath and then removed his head shawl and also his flowing shirt. The sheik remained at my head as Henry also came up to see me, and gave me a pat. He offered to Alec to give him a boost, which the boy gladly accepted. As soon as I felt Alec's weight in my saddle, I caught his excitement and nerves, and danced on my fine hooves myself. Alec stroked my neck to settle me and murmured something. He looked at Henry who understood and reached for my saddle. I felt the stirrup leathers being shortened, and my eyes blazed with energy. That meant we were going to run!

The men surrounding us murmured at this unusual procedure, and I am quite sure that they were puzzled by Alec. The other horses were being ridden by Arabs in long flowing garments and long stirrups. Well, Alec and I had our own way of doing things.

We walked a bit with the sheik at my head and I soon saw a withered old man who was very small. I sensed that he was a sheik, from the way he carried himself and the others made deference to him. He walked beyond us, and his red robes made him quite visible against the sand. He raised a hand, and as he did so, the entire mob of people were quiet. There was silence at last on the plain, except for the stomping of hooves and the jingle of bits and stirrups.

The Bedouins parted and made it easy to see the place where the race would begin. We horses were led forward, all of us dancing and cavorting about. I immediately saw Sagr, the chestnut stallion of the young sheik. I reached for my mouth, wanting to go forward as quickly as I could. I tossed my mane and stepped proudly. My master kept a firm hold of me as we marched to the start line. I noticed besides Sagr, there were four other horses, all stallions.

The young sheik astride Sagr raised his crop hand in salute to us, ignoring his stallion that was eagerly snatching at his bit. Then he made Sagr trot away from us. I pinned my ears, wanting to follow, when the sheik turned to both me and Alec. He had a firm hand on me but a soft touch to my muzzle. His voice was soft and hopeful, "There will never be a race to equal this one." Removing his hand from my bridle, he added, "Go now, Alec, for the rest is up to you and Shêtân."

We walked on together after Alec waved to his friends. We had gone halfway there when I heard another familiar voice. It was Raj, cheering us on. He wanted us to win, even against his brother. I was glad to see him, but did not pay much attention. My focus was on the horses ahead.

As soon as we drew level with them, my excitement mounted to its maximum, and I found myself quivering. I screamed out my wild stallion cry in challenge, and in response, all the humans hushed, and all eyes turned to watch me. Alec had a hand on my neck to settle me, but I saw something red moving.

It was the old sheik, who walked to the front of the line and motioned Alec to move me closer to him. As I did so, Sagr reared high and fought for his head. The young sheik brought him down easily and moved him a bit further away from us. My nostrils flared and we took a good measure of each other. We could be equals. His form was much like mine, although I was taller. But was he faster?

Alec continued to talk to me to distract my attention away from the other horses. I flicked my ears back and listened, though I was watching the old sheik as he smiled and looked down the line. Voices hushed. I felt Alec suddenly tense up and hunch over. I took this as a signal to start and plunged forward, but he grabbed my reins quickly. He brought me back to the start line and firmly made me stand.

The old sheik watched as Sagr nearly broke the line too, but his rider backed him easily. At last there was no sound except our hooves shuffling impatiently on the ground. I sensed Alec's set knees and knew that the time to run was any second now. I stilled my body, ready to spring forward at a moment's notice. I pricked my ears towards the desert eagerly.

The old sheik's arm dropped. We horses sprang out into a gallop the very next second. I dug into the turf and just bolted. Sagr was a bit faster in the start and had surged ahead of me! I wanted to pass him, but Alec's hands on the rein told me to be patient. I had found a good stride, and found my nose alongside Sagr's body. I shook my head, wanting more, but Alec kept a hold of my mouth and talked to me to wait.

I had a good hold of my bit, ready for anything, but I did not fight for my head for once. I was too busy straining over the terrain, which was different from the race I had run back at Alec's home. I rather liked it, but one had to be careful not to put a hoof wrong. Sagr's rider looked back at us and drove the chestnut forward. I felt my reins slip a tiny bit and took that freedom to surge forward as well. We were on Sagr's heels, and both of us were running easily.

Soon we had turned up the mountainous trail, where the going was a bit harder. The noises of the other horses faded as they fell back, but Sagr kept up his gallop. I felt hesitation from Alec, then his hand on my reins to slow me down. I wasn't very happy with that, even less so when the chestnut stallion surged ahead of me. The brush slapped at my sides and made me wish to run faster to escape them, but then the trail leveled off. Sagr was quite ahead, but Alec let me have my head and I felt him balance on my withers. Eagerly, I picked up my speed to lessen the distance between the chestnut and me. A slight turn in the trail let me see the others far, far behind.

I turned my attention back forward again, and I felt the lather forming on my skin. It was already warm and the pace fast. Now the trail led ever upwards again, and I took a deep pounding breath and gathered my muscles for the spring up. I was not very far behind Sagr, and heard his equally loud breathing.

He disappeared, and I felt Alec's hand of encouragement on my wet neck as we reached the summit too. I took a quick look for the chestnut before plunging down again. It was much easier going down, but then I had to make sure hooves did not skid or slip. I had just started down when there was a loud cracking sound and Sagr spooked hard. There was a sudden movement in front of the other stallion and I felt Alec strain to pull me up as well, but I was going too fast to stop altogether, though I did slow down.

Another shot rang out from my right, and I spooked off to the side. Then I smelled what I had hoped I would never smell again. The one armed enemy man! Alec turned me towards him, who was facing away from us. I gladly galloped to him, intent on running him over! However, he turned at the thunder of my hooves, and his fear scent was strong in my nostril.

Encouraged by this, I slammed to a stop, rearing high over him as I had once done… somewhere back in a barn. This time I would not miss. I would kill! He must die!

The enemy man's face was contorted with sheer fear and I saw something silver glitter in the sun from his hand. My head was jerked off to the side in desperation as Alec reacted to what the man held, but my hooves fanned the air, wishing for only one thing: death to him.

There was a loud bang again, and I came down powerfully onto my front legs, very close to the man, who had suddenly fallen onto his back. I stared for a moment, confused as to what had happened. The man lay on his back, his one hand still holding the silver thing, and a bright red stain appearing on his chest and flowing to the ground. The sharp smell of blood came to my nostrils and I struck at the now dead man in anger. I wanted to be sure he was dead! If not, then I would kill him!

The snort of a stallion made me raise my head defensively, and I saw Sagr, coated in sweat and lather, standing not far from us. The young sheik, holding a gun in his hand, swung off his horse quickly and ran to the body. I backed away, not wishing to have anything to do with the dead body now, but stood with pounding breath to watch. The young man murmured something, then tossed the silver object away.

We did turn when we heard the ring of hooves over the trail which we had just come down. There was not much time… the others were coming. The young sheik swung back up at Sagr and looked at Alec. He gave a nod, then swung the stallion around back into a gallop. Alec only paused a moment before giving me the same command. The race was back on!

I was held back slightly as we careened down the mountain path, but the few minutes' rest had done me good. I saw now that Sagr was also not running his fastest, and tugged at my bridle to declare my wish to overtake him. My long strides were effortless and I snorted deeply from distended nostrils. At last the winding trail was done and my hooves fell into sand. It was deeper than I expected, and for one heart stopping moment, I stumbled. Luckily, I regained my balance again, and was off once again.

Sagr was not too far, and I felt I could catch him. Alec at last gave me head completely, and I ran forward with ever lengthening strides. My mane whipped in the wind, and my tail streamed out behind me. Onward we galloped, and I could make out the camp from which we began. We swung towards that and I pressed on, intent on catching the chestnut stallion ahead.

I could hear light swatting sounds and saw the young sheik urging Sagr along. Alec did not push me but let me run my own race. The footing was softer than I would have liked, but I was doing my best. Finally the sand dropped away and my hooves dug into the plain. The footing was far better here, and now Sagr was in full run under the urging of the young sheik. Alec too shouted in my ears, "Come on, fella! Come on!"

I dug into myself to call up everything I had. He wanted this badly. So did I. I ignored the groups of mounted Arabs who excitedly galloped alongside and even fired their guns. A few of them even tried to race with Sagr and me, but even they, having fresh horses, could not keep up with our pace. Our speed was blazing. I was moving up to right behind the chestnut, and ahead of even him, I saw a flash of red by itself. The old sheik at the finish. We were nearly there!

Now Alec asked me to give him more. He slapped my neck and urged me onwards. Again I dug deep. I was becoming tired, but I reached for more, and found it! I edged up alongside the chestnut until we were nose and nose. We ignored the other as we ran. We were galloping equally. Stride for stride, noses matching, bodies hunched over our withers.

The young sheik glanced over at us and gave one might smack to Sagr's side. The sound of it made us both jump in unison even faster somehow. I felt one more urge from Alec... his and my last. I was at the end of my reserves. After this, there would be no more. The tired haze was starting to form in front of my eyes, but steadily I forged on. Sagr seemed to slow, but he wasn't. He was losing ground. My nose poked ahead of him, then my head! My neck finally passed the chestnut's head, and instantly he was angry! Angry that he was losing!

I saw him pin his ears back, teeth bared as he sought to attack me! I challenged him back with a breathless whinny and I turned to savage him for this attack. I never landed, as Alec jerked my head away hard and I heard a crack as the young sheik laid his crop on Sagr's muzzle in punishment.

This made the stallion pause and allowed me to surge ahead. His rider looked at me, then raised his crop in salute to Alec and me. The next moment, I crossed the finish line first.

Chapter Text

I shall not say much about the much celebrating and chaos that happened after Alec finally pulled me up. I was instantaneously swarmed by excited Bedouins that crushed me on every side. My master was beaming from ear to ear in a way that I had never seen before. But at last they got me away quietly. The party ran long into the night, but I was assured of a quiet place to rest. We stayed there for a few days to catch up with everyone, and most of the people dispersed over those few days. At last we left too, and I gladly pointed my nose home.

It was now a week since I had won the great race for my master, and my strength and energy was back full force. I had given everything I had for Alec until there was almost nothing left. But now, I was back in fine form, and had spent my days with the band, or playing with Alec. It was very peaceful, but I sensed there was still more change to come

Raising my nose to the breeze, I whinnied loudly. There were horses coming down our pass! Many horses. And at their head, the young sheik. Raj's brother. I was still on high alert, but eyed the horses he brought. They were fine, very fine indeed. Raj came on his roan to meet the young sheik. The roan snorted softly at me, and I knew he was very pleased. For my master had been very kind to Raj, and had given the roan to him. I knew the roan very much liked Raj and his ways, his soft seat and kind hands. They were a good match for each other. And it seems that these horses the young sheik was bringing were the prize my master had won when I had beaten the chestnut stallion. There were some very fine mares in the group and I was highly interested in them.

After both sheiks had talked for some time, he asked leave to speak to Tabari on her own very politely. They walked into my meadow and I instantly came over to Tabari expecting a ride with Jôhar. She paid me no attention, and the young sheik only glanced over at me before walking away. I was not offended, but merely dropped my head to graze, although I watched the two with interest. They spoke in low voices, and I could hear the nervousness for once in his voice. Why would he be nervous? Tabari was nice. Then I snorted softly. This was not merely a conversation. I understood clearly he wished to court her. She flushed a rosy pink colour and looked away from him in shyness. Shyness! Tabari, shy? She was the most outspoken female I had ever met in this desert place. And yet she was shy before him. I did not really understand, but I understood the sense of love between them. It was faint but it was there. And had been there for some time.

Turning away back to my herd, I was pleased. Tabari had found her mate. That was clear to me, and it pleased me. Everyone should have a mate. That seemed right to me. I turned my snout towards the stables. There was a stamping and nervous whinnying. I knew my master had chosen four young horses for Sunraider's owner. I knew as well as any well bred horse here that gifts were not given lightly among our desert tribe. The man should be pleased. They were very good horses.

And Alec? Alec came to see me the next day. I sensed he was leaving. Was I going with him or not? I waited to see what he would choose. He pulled me close to him and I sensed his sadness. He was going back without me. I felt torn about that. I loved him. I really did. I loved him more than I did my master. I would do everything for him. And I had! I had saved him from a watery death. We had survived together on an island and kept each other company. I had settled into a home with him, where he played with me every day. And we had run on the track together. Together we had triumphed twice: one against the two stallions on the track, and once here. And here we had won against all odds. We had faced certain death together, and come out on top. We were one being as we galloped together. I pushed my nose into his. Why couldn't he stay? We could ride across the desert again together!

He choked back tears but brushed my forelock in the way he always did. Then gave me a fierce hug. Though I did not like hugs, I stood still, knowing Alec needed it at the time. He rubbed my forehead and murmured loving words in my ear. "Run free, boy." I looked at him, then back at my band.

I wanted to stay with him. I really did. But at the same time… I loved my home here. I loved the freedom. Now that I wouldn't be training for the races, the sheik had said he would ride me. And I had my band. I had liked my stall at him, and old Napoleon. But there were fences and a small paddock. Here I had the whole valley. And my mares. And now that there was peace between our two tribes, I knew we would be traveling back and forth often. And there was nothing quite like standing sleepily under the black sky with its net of stars above, a mare beside you, her foal at her feet. Yes, I loved the boy. But I also loved my freedom. And I understood that he was making this choice out of love for me. The love between us wrapped around each other for one all too brief moment before I snorted softly and he nodded at me. He was giving permission for me to go.

Wheeling around, I trotted down to the herd. Halfway there, I stopped and looked back. The boy stood there, tears streaming down his face, his friends surrounding him. But he smiled and waved at me proudly. I wondered if I would ever see him again. He was my best friend. But a mare called me, and I turned again and galloped back to the band. I sniffed the mare and watched carefully as the humans mounted their horses and left at last. Alec was gone.

It was a few days later when my master came for me. I thought we should go for our ride at last, but he had other plans. He put a halter on me and led me to the round pen. I pranced happily, sensing something was about to happen. All eyes were on me, expectantly. I was let into the pen, and the sight that met my eyes filled my entire being with gladness.

Jôhar.

My white mare! She was there, waiting for me. She whinnied softly to me, but stood still. I took one whiff of her and knew. She was in heat. She was accepting of me as I smelled her white coat. Jôhar, the beautiful filly that I had grown up with, and had wanted from the very beginning. I called her to me, and pranced, showing off my best features. She watched with warm eyes.

Jôhar. My mate. Mine. All mine.