I don’t know how to tell Nero. I haven’t even decided yet, but I can’t waste any more time; they could have disappeared by now and then my chance is gone. But Nero is my best friend, my brother. I feel like I’m betraying them all and that they’ll hate me. That I’ll never be welcomed to step foot in their herd again. I shake my head, wishing that all the words in my mind would just fall out.
My reflection looks back at me from the stream. It’s quiet here, peaceful. I may never see this part of the land again and now I regret how much I wanted to leave. I should’ve appreciated my present more. I snort, sending ripples that break the mirror effect and walk away.
I get about halfway back to the clearing when I hear something unusual. My hooves stop in place and my ears swivel as I try to pick it up again. Nothing. I canter back to the herd just in case they’re already starting to move. But they’re not, a couple are even still sleeping. Cyrus is over speaking with some mares. Probably about what the safest route will be.
There it is again. I concentrate hard on every sound there is, waiting for it. It’s faint but…deep? It sounds like it’s coming closer. A voice maybe. Then there’s a distinctive high-pitched whistle that rings in my ears. I may have heightened senses but when I look at Cyrus there’s no mistaking the herd picked it up too. Fear instantly courses through my veins. Humans.
The stronger horses, including myself, scatter around the edges of the herd. We gather everyone in close in a matter of moments, the foals protected in the centre. All the horses are wide awake and extremely alert. It may just be a false alarm; just some hikers or such. But we must be prepared for the worst scenario every time. I pray that this isn’t one of them.
Cyrus says from beside me, “Keep at the back and make sure no one falls behind.” His head is constantly moving, mapping out the direction of sounds. “We’re going to retreat into the woods in the direction of the Harp Cliff.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
We take off as fast as we can go. I nip at the weakest of the herd when they begin to slow, urging them on. I’m not losing any of my family. No matter what. There are shouts getting closer; multiple voices are echoing through the trees. Hooves that don’t belong to us thunder against the dirt at unbelievable speed.
No, no, no. Horses this trained headed straight for us only means one thing. The thing we all feared would one day come; captors.
The foals and elderly are falling further and further. Some of the other adults fall back to help me push them forward and create a barrier. Nero is by side, his strength aiding us all. We weave through trees and leap over fallen branches. If one of us falls, it’s all over. I can hear the humans shouting louder and the vicious snorts of their horses. How could they turn against their own like this?
I risk a glance back and are horrified to see how close they’ve gotten. There must be twelve or so riders. All with lassos ready by their sides. I must do something or they’re going to capture half the herd! I glance at Nero with hopeless eyes. “I’m sorry, brother.” He can barely get a glance in before I dig my hooves into the ground, jolting my entire body to a messy stop.
Without thinking of the consequences, I spin around and head straight for the riders. It takes mere moments for us to meet and I rear up in the face of the centre few. Their horses whinny in freight and lose control of direction. At near seventeen hands high, I have a small advantage against most of their horses. The riders are already trying to toss their ropes around my neck and legs.
I take off after the others who kept going for the herd. When I reach the closest horse, I slam all my weight into their side. Pain shoots all through my shoulder but I ignore it. They lose all balance and come crashing into the ground, throwing their rider into the earth with a loud thud. I give both the traitorous horse and filthy human a loud, threatening whinny before going after the next one. I’m not going to stop until all these monsters are gone.
Some men are gaining speed behind me.
“What a beauty!” Says one.
“What’s a stallion like this running in the wild for? Just look at that coat.” Their voices are loud against the sound of the frantic commotion.
I look far through the trees and only see the tail end of the herd. Nero is still there, keeping them close together. No one has been caught.
“He must of escaped from a farm round’ here.”
I slam into many more horses, sending them into the ground, as I make my way to the front. There’s one that’s broken in front of everyone. He’s as large as me with a black mane and tail standing out against a pure white coat. They’re so close that the rider is getting her ropes ready for the toss. Aimed directly for Nero.
My body can’t handle much more but the adrenaline keeps coursing through my veins. I break into a heavy gallop and run straight past them so I can be directly in front. We’ve come out to a smaller clearing; a place too vulnerable for the others. This is my end and I don’t care. I watch as my family escapes down a narrow path beside a rocky wall one at a time. I stop at the entrance, blocking all hope of passing. By the times a rider can get through, they would have escaped. It’s a maze of hidden paths and dead ends that our herd has mapped out perfectly.
My breathing is harsh and my nostrils flare with every breath. But I have never felt so much relief in my life. I kept them safe. My herd is safe.
The white stallion’s rider and I stare each other down. Her face is furious, seething with hatred. The rest of the riders who weren’t badly wounded stop by her side, lassos ready in hand.
“Aim for the legs as much as the head,” she tells them.
Just a few more minutes and I can be sure the herd is far enough through. I can do that.
The first rope is thrown, and I jump to the side just in time. A jolt of pain rushes up my front leg when it connects with the ground. I grunt but stand strong. Multiple ropes are thrown and I can’t think of what to do in time. I try to run, thinking they would just follow me. But as soon as I took the first step, a rope wraps around my front hock and tightens. Another is pulling against my throat.
“How could you do this!” I scream at the horses. They all look away, quiet. Except for the white stallion, who watches me.
“You’re all pieces of shit! Turning on other horses like this!”
The stallion finally speaks. “You don’t even what we do.” His speaks like I have offended him.
“It’s pretty clear what you do,” I spit and lunge for him, teeth first. Another rope is wrapped around my neck and pulls me sideways before I can sink my teeth into him.
In my attempts to wreath the rope from their grips, they wrap multiple other around my feet. Then they pull. Hard. My body comes crashing to the ground, my head smashing into the hard earth. I hear ringing and everything sways for a few seconds. My legs kick frantically as I attempt to stand but it’s no use. The exhaustion is beginning to take over and my movements become less and less.
“You’ll see what we do soon enough,” says the stallion.
And he’s right. They’ve won.