I ran, no galloped over the thorny bushes and sharp stones , finding my way through the tall trees and boulders. We will come back to that later. Let us shift our attention to Gunthar, Duke of Bayel.
Gunthar was swinging his rusty sword this way and that, making way for him and his men amongst the wilderness. He was chopping away twigs and branches, but occasionally a limb or an arm or an ear or a whole head. He wasn’t counting how many enemies he had downed that day. But I had. Thirteen. How couldnt I? He was sitting on my back.
I was his steed, an Arabian Grey and my name is Cornstrap. I dont know what that name means. Absurd, isnt it? It is as if someone in his sleep or in a hurry, took two random words and combined them into this absurdity. We animals do not have any right, let alone in choosing our name. But in any day my name was better than my master’s. “Gunthaar” I have heard his mother cry that aloud. It always sounded like a blow horn or a donkey’s unhappy bray.
What is happening? The Twelve year war as they say it. May go into year thirteen. I dont really know the backstory, but from what I know, Gunthar was leading one side. The other side was lead by a person I had seen a couple of times before – an old man with a crown and neatly trimmed snow-white beard, whom they call the Emperor. For the record Gunthar also has beard which can better be called as a bush.
Gunthar must have done something terribly wrong. He was once driven off the old guy’s castle and he rode on me to escape. The Emperor’s men were on him. Arrows chased us and my rear still stung from those wounds. It is still a pain when I.., you know. Gunthar was unscathed because he was in full armour and most of the arrows found my back.
And he never cared what happened to his steed. I was not his pet, I was just a vehicle. For two days my piercings were left unattended. Then someone fom the stable took time to pull out the arrows – six of them, taking care to avoid my involuntary action – a move called the Double Hind Leg kick. Kiaaow. My hind kick – the one I deliver with both my hind legs – which is my only defense other than my speed (we horses have no horns), literally has saved my behind many times. It came out only when I was threatened or angry. I was learning to control my anger. My other Arabian Grey brothers had taught me some techniques.
It was necessary to watch my anger and to be out injuries to remain in Gunthar’s stable. Otherwise you could end up on his dining table. Right. Horse’s meat was a delicacy there. I know about one comrade named Toothgod, who toppled over one fine day and broke his legs. He had been a Mustang, and now he was a pickle in Gunthar’s mother’s shelf. This is what I could make out from the conversation of two stable boys. I had been with humans for many years, I cant understand their language completely but can understand some words and guess what they are talking about. I hate the lady, Gunthar’s mother. She looked as bloated as her son minus the bushy beard. She always prowled around the stable to see if a horse was injured or ill – the hag.
SPLAAT! My chain of thoughts were broken by the sharp lash of Gunthar’s whip on my back – right on the arrow wounds. “Nine”. I added one to a count in my mind. He barked something and I knew it was an order to go faster. So I did my best to increase my speed, balancing the load of Gunthar, his armour, weapons and … OUCH!! He had left his spiked mace dangling by the saddle and when I took a sharp turn around the banyan, the spikes dug into my flesh. “Ten”.
An hour or so later, the castle was under siege. The Emperor’s men were captured. We were inside the castle, standing on the stone paved castle ground. Gunthar had alighted and was standing right beside me, with his arm resting on my back. While most of the enemy soldiers were being led down somewhere by Gunthar’s men, people who looked important were left in the middle of the grounds kneeling with their heads down and arms folded behind. Gunthar stood there, watching the proceedings.
I recognised one person among the ‘important people’. He had no crown this time, but the still neat white beard gave him away. The Emperor was bald without his crown and a fresh bloody slash ran across his forehead. He was half crying, half angry. He looked up at Gunthar. Gunthar barked something about ‘heads down’ and slapped hard on my back – right on the spike wound. I flinched and counted. “Eleven.”
The old man still kept staring at Gunthar. In a fit of rage he grasped his broad sword which dangling on to the saddle and tugged it so hard that the other weapons clanged against my back. The spiked mace, the arrows and the knives – added to my wounds. “Twelve” “Thirteen” I counted.
My other Arabian Grey brothers had taught me a lot of methods for anger management. Counting was the best of them. Count as far as it helps. I would have loved to, but what the heck? I dont know how to count past thirteen.
The next thing I know is the Double Hind Leg Kick.
Gunthar was knocked out cold that day and he is still in his bed. And I am now the most precious horse in the Emporer’s personal stable. Last day I was Knighted for the valuable service done to the kindgom – saving the Emporer’s life.
I was just an Arabian Grey with a stupid name. But now to some people I am the Traitor-horse, a shame who betrayed his master and his men at the brink of victory, and to some I am a God-sent – the creature which ended the war or even better the thing that let the Twelve Year War remain the Twelve Year War. I like that term. God-sent. After all, there is no other horse that I know who can count to thirteen.