Just as Cevenor had feared, Xylon was now more stubborn than ever. He didn't even acknowledge me anymore. It was irritating, but it wasn't detrimental to my mind. Vincentia, on the other hand, was suffering from being ignored. She hadn't eaten or slept very much, pacing around her rooms uneasily. She settled down only to feed Nora. The little filly was being ignored, too, but she—judging by her reactions—hadn't like the big, mean, black Centaur the one time she had met him so she didn't mind one bit. She was a pretty golden color just like her mother and brother. Gabrithon was often there, trying to comfort his mother, but she simply was too distraught.
"Filynora," Vincentia said, striding up to me.
I turned, Nora tugging on my shirt to try to feed. "Yes, your majesty?"
"Oh, here," she said, kneeling down and taking her shirt off. Nora squealed and shot over. I wasn't even uncomfortable with it anymore, that's how often she'd done it in the past week.
"What did you want?" I asked.
She rested her hand on Nora's head and sighed. "I want out."
"Yes, out. I want to go to Greensage and be free of my oppressive husband."
"He'll never agree to it."
We stared at each other while Nora suckled obliviously. I finally sighed and rubbed my temples.
"What do you have in mind?"
"I'm spreading the word through the mares that we're going to get up and leave right after the royal feast begins. That's in three days. The feast lasts a week. We can make much progress."
"I agree," Cevenor said from behind his mother. He came around to see her face, and his own turned red when he saw she was breastfeeding. He tried to ignore it by looking at me. "I have seen your strength, Filynora. I will not oppose you. Gabrithon asked me the other day if I was afraid of you." He hesitated for a brief moment. "Yes, I am. After seeing what you did to those monsters, I am most assuredly afraid of you."
"All right," I said with a nod. "Now what?"
"Mother gathers the females, and we run on the eve of the first day of the banquet. I'll take credit for the idea."
"How dangerous is this going to be?" I asked. "You know, if I brought my friends?"
"Probably very. Father might have you all beaten with clubs."
"Then we're not telling my friends where we're going," I said resolutely.
"That doesn't sound smart, Filynora," Cevenor said cautiously.
I knew what he said was true, but I was adamant; I couldn't let them get hurt, and they were less likely to be hurt if they knew nothing of the plan. "No. They're not coming. Not even Gabrithon."
Cevenor still looked doubtful but finally nodded at me. "If that's the way you want it, Filynora, then I must reluctantly agree."
I nodded at him in return. "Then it's settled."
Three days later, in the middle of the day, the feast began. After all the males had been served, the females, led by the queen, began to get their food. Once our plates were heaping, I walked over to the females, and we ate. Elthinor walked over after a few minutes.
"Hello, Fily. I haven't seen you much lately."
"I've been feeling bad," I lied. "This is the first real food I've had in a couple days."
He immediately looked worried, placing the back of his free hand on my forehead. "You don't really have a fever. How have you been feeling bad?"
"I haven't been able to keep anything but water down."
He frowned then hurried over to get a cup. He handed it to me, and I saw that it was half full of red wine. I sniffed it.
"What's this for?"
"My grandfather says it should settle your stomach. Not getting drunk, mind you, but just a little bit to ease your distress."
I sat down on the ground and sipped the wine, eating my food with it. Elthinor sat beside me and talked away about the specifics of the fights raging between the Centaur king and our little ragtag group. They were making no progress in the court, which of course I wasn’t allowed in. I only half listened as I finished off my meal. I felt guilty about lying to Elthinor. I didn't like it one little bit. I finally excused myself around evening by pretending to suddenly get ill and rushing into the female quarters. I did feel ill after I said that; it was like slapping Elthinor in the face. I fell asleep for an hour or two and had nightmares the whole time. When Nora whinnied and kicked me with her front hoof to wake me up, I was not angry. I was relieved.
"Ready?" Vincentia asked.
I stood and got my bag as the queen instructed the servants to tell the king that we were going for a walk. She wasn't lying, but she didn’t tell them the whole truth. We walked out, hurrying by everybody and dove into the forest. We met the females who were coming with us about a mile into the woods. There were several hundred of them, and we hurried as fast as we could with all the young children who went with us. We went as far as we dared then settled down to sleep.
Day after day we moved, having to stop for Vincentia and the other new mothers to feed their children, so we took the opportunity to eat as well. I had to admit that the females were quite resilient and so were their children. There were a lot of children, both colts and fillies, and they just loved it when we ran. So run we did. When the week ended, we became wary and started moving closer in a group. We knew they were coming.
They approached five days past the one week mark. The thundering of hooves announced them. In a rush, we all began to run as fast as we could. I shot in front of them without thinking, and it was only Vincentia's cry and Cevenor's shout for his father to stop that had me stop and turn around. I hurried back to see a huge group of stallions surrounding the females. I watched as Xylon twisted his wife's arm until she was crying in pain. Cevenor shoved his father.
"Stop it!" he ordered.
"Are you challenging me?" Xylon barked.
Cevenor's face drained of color and he bowed. "No, Father. But it was all my idea."
"All your idea? No, no it wasn't." Xylon's head slowly rotated until he met my eyes. "It was yours. You're such a troublemaker, never listening to your superiors."
"Males are not superior to females. Just because we have different roles does not make us unequal," I said firmly.
He dropped his wife's arm and walked over, circling me. "Bow to me. I deserve your respect."
"No," I said coldly. "You don't deserve anything from me."
His face didn't betray him. He reared, and I heard the sound of a running horse right before I saw one of his hooves come straight at my face. The next thing I knew, water was being poured on me. I heard the most frightful noises that ever had graced my ears, which didn't help my pounding head. I opened my eyes and saw Vincentia trying to get me off the ground. When I shakily stood, she picked me up in her arms and quickly backed up. I looked over and saw blood on Gabrithon's flank. He and Xylon were kicking and their Human-looking halves were wrestling. Sometimes one would shove the other away only to rear and lash out with his front legs.
"What's going on?" I asked sluggishly.
"Gabrithon attacked him because he kicked you. Your forehead is quite bloody."
There was a sudden, pain-filled squeal, and Xylon tumbled down, the side of his face split open. He hit the ground, and I could see his side heaving as he lay there. Gabrithon suddenly came upon him, stomping and slicing open the black body and dark torso. I watched with growing horror. When my golden friend reared, his front hooves aimed at Xylon's head and neck, I screamed. Not even that selfish stallion deserved death like that. My noise brought Gabrithon's attention to me, and he dropped his front half down inches from his target. He hurried over to me, gingerly touching my forehead. I cringed at the pain. His face was so soft, etched with sorrow.
"Fily, you foolish girl, why didn't you take us with you?"
"I didn’t want you to get hurt," I said with a soft smile. "But you did. You came after me and got hurt."
"They are minor wounds," he said dismissively. "But I don't like the look of your forehead. We need to get stitches in that."
"I brought a needle," Vincentia said, handing me to Gabrithon. I leaned my head against his chest. The headache was getting worse.
"Here it is! Now, let me find some thread."
"Just use your tail," I said.
"Tail?" Gabrithon asked, looking back at his own. "Why?"
"It works for this kind of thing."
He shrugged and turned his body allowing his mother to pluck a few hairs. She washed the wound with water then patted a cloth doused with wine on it. That stung. She then sewed up the wound, being as gentle and careful as she could. When it was done, she went over the wound with the cloth again.
"There you are," Vincentia said with a kind smile. "That should hold you."
"Thanks," I replied.
"My king, what do you want us to do?" asked a voice, though it sounded a bit reluctant.
Gabrithon turned, tightening his grip on me. To my immense surprise, he answered the chestnut stallion.
"I want you to appoint five others to go and get my friends." He handed me to Vincentia so he could use his hands. "I want you to lead up a team to go to every Centaur city and town and collect an army. We are fighting these monsters, not Dwarves, so get used to it. The rest of you are to follow me to Greensage, females included. Now go!" Once they had hurried away, he turned away.
He paused and looked at me. He chewed his bottom lip then slowly knelt down. His mother gasped, staring in shock. He met her gaze with an unwavering one.
"Set her down and let her get on my back."
There was an explosion of noise from male and female alike. They were all shouting at him, the males calling him names I wouldn't dare repeat. Get on his back? I couldn't believe those words crossed his mind, let alone came out of his mouth. None of our friends, or me, had ever even suggested getting onto his back. He was not just a common horse. He was a Centaur, an intelligent being, and that was a part of his body. He cared for me more than I realized. He surged to his feet after a minute of shouting; my head was throbbing at that point.
"Enough!" he roared. "It is my decision. Or do I have a challenger?"
"But Gabrithon, you are not some common mule," Cevenor said into the sudden silence.
"No, I'm not. But she is injured. She cannot even stand right, so how is she to walk the rest of the way to Greensage? I trust her not to abuse the privilege. Now shut up, all of you!"
When he knelt, the Centaurs shifted, but none dared to speak. Vincentia set me on my feet and supported me over to Gabrithon. I tossed my leg over his back and settled down. He stood and I grabbed his waist as my vision blurred. He ordered the others into action, so we started heading towards the city. I leaned my head against his back and just breathed until the headache disappeared. I thought for a while then chuckled.
"Something funny?" Gabrithon asked.
"Remember when we first met?" I queried.
"What about it?"
"'Please don't touch me.'"
"You're riding me, Fily. It's rather hard to not touch you."
"No, those are some of the first words you said when we met."
"Oh. What's funny about that?"
I smiled. "You said it yourself. I'm riding you."
He looked over his shoulder, a smile on his face, too. "That is amusing, isn't it? We've certainly come a long way."
"You know something? As harrowing as it was for you, I'm glad the Vampires attacked you. I never would have met you otherwise."
"Aye. You've certainly made my life interesting. I'm happy we met."
We walked for a while more before a thought came to my hazy mind.
“What will happen to Xylon?”
Gabrithon went silent for a few steps then sighed. “He shall wander the world as an exile. No Centaur will accept him, save maybe some sympathetic mares. Not unless he beats me again, and I don’t think he’ll try that.”
“Can’t you invite him back home?”
“He would never accept it, Fily. He would rather be an exile than under my command. The old traditions run deep in his veins. Please,” he begged suddenly, “let’s not talk of him anymore.”
The rest of the trip was quick as it could be, but when we got there, the queen screamed and shot backwards. There were screams from the females and shouts from the males, and I heard weapons being drawn.
"What's going on?" I asked Gabrithon then I heard a familiar voice.
"Greetings mule! It has been boring without you here to torment!" Valtrak said jovially.
Gabrithon turned and glared at the stallions. "Put your weapons down!"
"But sire," one began.
"No! The Dwarves are our friends." He paused then changed what he said. "Well, they are our allies at least. And if I hear of a Centaur, male or female, harming a Dwarf, you will be severely punished. Now go find a spot to make camp."
They hurried away, sheathing their swords and swinging their bows back over their shoulders.
Valtrak cleared his throat. "All right then. I have two questions. Question one: why do they listen to you? You told me yourself that you are the youngest prince and that nobody but the servants listen to you."
"I challenged my father and won. I'm now the king of the Centaurs."
"Oh. Well, that's nice. Question two: why is Filynora on your back?"
"She is injured," he said, kneeling down. "Help her down."
"Now, now," Valtrak said with a smile in his voice. "I'm not a Centaur, so don't think you can order me around."
He came and physically picked me up, setting me on my feet. I swallowed and pressed my hand against my rock-like friend's shoulder to steady myself. We walked through the town, which was now a bustling city, full of all races. More buildings had popped up on what used to be the outskirts. It was glorious. I couldn't properly look at it though because my world kept tilting. I sent a prayer up to God, thanking his amazing providence. We got to Jaiden's house, so Gabrithon went around back to settle by the window. I knocked and Leah opened the door. She took one look at me, dragged me in, then got me into bed. Valtrak went to find Aloron. Once the old Elf had gotten there, he carefully examined my forehead.
"It's already healing quickly, but your mind needs some proper rest. I suggest you stay in bed until Elthinor gets here."
"That's almost two weeks!" I protested.
"Then we'll see how you're feeling in a week," the old Elf said firmly.
My father walked in as Aloron left. "What happened? I heard you needed stitches."
"My father kicked her in the head," Gabrithon said at the window.
"Yes. But you almost killed him for it," I said, arching an eyebrow at him; it hurt so bad that I stopped.
"You almost killed your father because he kicked my daughter?" Elyosius looked stunned.
"Trust me, it couldn't hurt our relationship," Gabrithon said dryly.
"How could it not?"
"It just couldn't get any worse," my friend said honestly. "He never liked me. This just cemented the gap between us."
"Ah. My deepest condolences," my father said, looking sad. "I know what it is like to have a gap between a father and a son."
"Was your father viciously mean and intolerant of females, too?"
"No. My son hates me."
Gabrithon looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," he said after an awkward silence.
"Well, it still hurts," Elyosius said. "But I cannot change how he feels. Now, let's get you two some food. I just made rabbit stew."
"Good. She needs food. Good hearty food," my Centaurian friend said. "And plenty of bed rest."
"Yes, Elthinor," I said with a roll of my eyes.
He laughed and settled his chin on his hands. "I'm not that bad."
"Oh Filynora!" I heard Laetitia's frantic voice.
I groaned. I was trapped. I couldn't get up out of the bed. When Laetitia rushed in, she was followed by Miyana and Melanari. I closed my eyes. I was absolutely doomed. This was going to be a long week.