Season 3, Episode 5: Constellation – Part 1
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
“Hold, girl, we won’t hurt you!”
Isa ran, panting, in the deepening dusk. Horses’ hooves pounded after her, and she dodged between short broad-limbed trees and through undergrowth, further and further from the path, further from Bess.
She gasped, a stitch in her side making it hard to breathe. They’d walked right into an ambush, bandits who had heard the stories about the young couple with a bag full of gold. There were seven or eight of them, young men, underfed and dirty, with knives and cudgels, and a few bedraggled horses.
Maybe, if Bess had just handed over their barrow-gold, the bandits would have let them go. Maybe, but Isa didn’t like the way they looked at her, and apparently neither did Bess, as he produced and opened the sack with what remained of Ja’s treasure in it, then swung it in a wide arc, sending gold coins arcing through the dimming light.
Most of the bandits scrambled for the coin, but the one nearest Bess clubbed him in the face. Isa had felt the dull thud of that impact and watched in terror as her lover tumbled over backwards. Eyes turned toward her and she ran.
The waxing crescent moon was rising as the dusk’s last light faded. Isa spun around a tree and slammed into a horse’s flank.
No, she thought, they circled around me. But this was no overworked farm nag, it was a sleek and powerful creature, calm, with a pretty bay coat. The horse’s rider turned to look at her, and even in the near-dark she could see that he was bare-chested and…in the wrong place, and that he had no legs, and the horse had no head, just the man’s upper body where the horse’s neck and head would have been. Isa’s head spun. The man was part of the horse.
“That was rude,” the horse-man said, but he sounded more amused than offended, “or is that how the twofold kind greet one another now?”
“I…” Isa gaped, straining for words as she gazed at the horse-man.
He was densely muscled, but some of the sleekness of his horse-half extended to his upper body, softening that obvious strength. His skin was a shade of reddish brown that matched his bay coat, and his hair was long, straight, and black, like hers, but his eyes were shaped like Bess’s, and unless the light was playing tricks, they were deep brown throughout, like horses’ eyes, with no white. His lips were black, full, and bent upward in a very faint smile.
“Help me,” she managed, still trying to catch her breath. “Bandits.”
“Oh, they won’t find us. Few of your kind are ready to see me, and you are with me. You…you have already been touched by something from the Age of Spring, haven’t you?”
“Age of spring?”
“The first age of the world, of each world, each cycle.” The horse-man looked over his broad nose at her and huffed. “None of that makes sense to you, does it?”
“N-no, well, maybe. I had a loved one who was a ghost. Is that why I can see you?”
“You kept company with one of the restless dead? You are small, twokind, but brave.”
“Ja’s no-one to be afraid of. Why do you keep calling me twokind?”
“Your people walk on two legs, and you have a bizarre preoccupation with dividing everything into sets of two: day and night, up and down, living and dead.”
“What else is there?”
“What else?” The horse-man huffed again, a noise that reminded her of her family’s cart-mare nickering. “Dawn and dusk, left and right, dying and being born.”
Dying. The word echoed in Isa’s thoughts. Bess!
“My friend,” she paused, “my lover was hurt by the bandits. He may need help.” He may be dead and gone, like my other lover, she thought, then pushed that thought away.
“I am searching for one dear to me,” he said, “and must not tarry, but I can take you to your lover, if you will.”
The horse-man gestured to his back.
“You’d let me ride you?” she asked.
“At least you have some manners,” he said. “Yes, twokind, you may ride me, though it is traditional for us to ask a favor of your kind in exchange for a ride.”
Isa’s shoulders hunched and she stepped back. “What favor?” she asked.
“I do not wish to burden you,” the horse-man replied, “how about you tell me your name?”
“Oh,” Isa felt a sense of relief. “I’m Isa, from Rilke. What’s your name?’
“I am Nigbau,” he replied, then extended a large hand.
Isa took it and felt the strength in it as he pulled her up. She hooked a trousered leg over his equine back and he began to walk.
“What are you?” she asked.
Nigbau stopped. “What a question. I am many things: astronomer, tracker, alul, and poet.”
Isa latched onto the unfamiliar word. “Your people are called the alul?” she asked.
“No, we just call ourselves people,” he replied. “But your people have had many names for us. Have you heard of the chiron, shedu, or centaur peoples?”
“Cen-taur?” Isa tried out the least strange-sounding of the names. “I’m sorry, no.”
“Your ignorance is not your fault. Failing to correct it would be. Now wrap your arms around me or you may fall off.”
Isa scooted forward and wrapped her arms around the centaur’s abdomen. Warm and impassive, Nigbau neither flinched away from her touch nor leaned into it. She adjusted her seat and the centaur broke into a trot.
Nigbau had no trouble following Isa’s trail back to the path, but no-one was there. She leapt from the centaur’s back and found the very spot he’d fallen in. There was a little blood soaking into the dirt, but that was all.
“Bess!” she called. “Bess!” She was crying again.
“Your Bess has been taken away,” Nigbau said.
“What? By who? Where is he?”
“I am not certain, but I think the one I am seeking came through here and took him.”
“Another centaur took him?”
“Gansis was here,” Nigbau said, and his voice grew husky. “Not long ago. If he is with Gansis, he will be well.”
Isa walked back toward Nigbau, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I don’t see hoof prints,” she said.
“Gansis is one with the earth and leaves no prints.”
“Then how can you track her?”
“By the stars.” Nigbau gazed up at the night sky. “Give me a few minutes to read them, Isa of Rilke, and perhaps we shall both be reunited with our lovers before dawn.
Isa dreamed. Bess was holding her close, solid and warm, and Ja was with them. Isa felt the spirit’s touch on her calves, her thighs, and heard Bess gasp at whatever it was their ghostly lover was doing to him. Isa’s hips ground against Bess’s leg and the spirit obliged with tender caresses first about and then over her sex. She wanted them, both of them in her, but there was something she had to do first.
“Bess, I have to tell you…” she said as she woke.
She was still on Nigbau’s back, his bay coat glistening slightly in the moonlight. Her arms were still wrapped around the centaur’s torso. At some point, the centaur had wrapped his own arms over hers, securing her against a fall as she dozed. Sitting this far forward, she felt every motion of his withers as he cantered, but she wasn’t saddle sore. Quite the opposite, every hoofbeat sent a pleasurable tingle up her spine.
Isa rocked forward and backward unconsciously, her hips moving in time with Nigbau’s gait as the pressure built between her legs.
“I can stop if you require it,” the centaur said as she squirmed and gasped.
“N, naah, no,” she breathed against his back. “Sorry, I aahh, I’m just a little aaaah…”
“It will not offend me if you climax,” Nigbau replied.
Nigbau’s words were far from sweet, but there was a teasing warmth in his voice, and Isa relaxed, letting her chest rest against the centaur’s human back.
“Uhh, uhh,” she moaned. “Faster.”
Nigbau huffed, then broke into a gallop.
“Oh!” Isa cried out as she came. “Oh! oh! oh! Aaaaaaaah!”
Bess dreamed. He dreamt that he looked up at a woman who stretched to the sky, a goddess whose skin was pattered in chalk white and warm gray, with long, straight silvery hair. Her neck and shoulders were broad and mostly grey, while her face and bosom were pale. Her eyes were large and solid black. Kohl lined her lips and eyelids.
He tried to speak, but no words came out.
She shushed him and reached with mottled arms, picking him up and laying him on a storm cloud that then rolled thunderously across the sky. A face he’d last seen etched into ice rolled over the earth below like mist.
Bess woke up. He was lying on soft grass, and the night sky was clear overhead. He sat up and had to close his eyes as a wave of dizziness lifted and tossed him. Opening them again, he saw the standing stones, great pillars, arches, and obelisks of dark, porous stone. They formed a half-oval, with the stones at either end a mere three or four feet high, while the middle of the arch was easily thrice his height.
A dappled gray stallion stood near the stones, and there was a woman in front of the horse. No, not a woman and a horse, this was something else. Bess remembered a priest of the Unmoved God who had come through Kukendor with a zodiac scroll. One of the constellations had been named after a myth, a horse-man with a bow.
“Centaur.” Bess spoke without meaning to. As he did, the myth turned toward him.
Bess froze. It was the goddess from his dream, and she was no less impressive in real life. She walked toward him, and he stood quickly, too quickly, as he felt dizzy again.
“You took a hard blow to the head,” an even, sonorous voice said. “Do not push yourself.”
“No,” Bess said, “I’m fine.”
“Let me look,” the centaur said, and Bess gave a slight nod. Her voice was deep but sweet.
She gazed into his eyes unnervingly, then bent his head this way and that. “You should be fine,” she said, “so long as you avoid bashing your head in for a while.”
She touched his nose with a grey fingertip and he winced.
“Broken,” she said.
“I’m used to it,” Bess replied. “Where is Isa?”
“The girl. My lover. She should have been nearby.”
“I saw only you.”
Bess felt suddenly cold and queasy. “You have to take me back,” he said, “I have to find her.”
The centaur looked at him and frowned slightly. “It was dusk when I found you, now half the night has passed. If she is not sitting in the road, can you find her?”
“I,” Bess gulped, “I have to.”
“Another of my kind is coming,” the centaur said. “A great tracker. Nigbau can find anything that walks, on four legs or two.”
“You won’t help me find her?”
She sighed. “I would be no help. I know every place upon the earth, but have often lost track of people, to my cost.”
“Nigbau will help me?”
“If I ask him, yes. I have never refused aid to one who asked it of me,” the centaur said, meeting Bess’ gaze. “You are in my care and I will do all I can to see you reunited with your lover.”
“Thank you,” Bess said, and looked down at his feet, blushing.
“What is your name, twokind?”
“Bess. What does twokind mean?”
“You have two legs, I have four,” she replied. “I am Gansis, physician, simmah, earthwise, and spirit-friend.”
“Gansis, when will Nigbau arrive?”
“I cannot be certain, but I hope to see my mate before dawn.”
“Gansis, are you male or female?”
The centaur snorted. “You are lucky you asked me that. Nigbau would have kicked you in the teeth. That question is offensive.”
“I apologize,” Bess bowed. He straightened slowly, and did not get dizzy. “I meant no offense.”
“I am simmah,” Gansis said. “The word is hard to translate. You probably think of me as half-woman and half-horse, and noticing that my “horse half” is male disconcerts you. I am not half anything. I am a woman. I am a stallion. I am one complete thing, and that thing is simmah.”
“Oh,” said Bess.
“You are not repulsed,” the centaur said. It was not a question.
“No,” he replied anyway.
“You find me attractive,” Gansis said, just as definitively.
“Uh?” Bess choked, “Eh…”
Gansis pointed at Bess’s crotch, where his trousers were stretched tight by an erection. “Cocks can be such a giveaway,” the centaur said. “It’s embarrassing sometimes, isn’t it?”
Bess stared at Gansis’s human torso. The centaur’s mottled hand caught his eye as it moved down over a smooth belly, coming to rest on a very human, very female pubis and vulva. The dappled grey and white of human skin blended smoothly into the matching pattern of the centaur’s coat. Bess blushed, then forced his eyes back up to meet her face.
“You know,” Gansis said, gazing at Bess with an intensity that threatened to bore right through his head, “in another age, my people would ask yours to bestow a favor upon us in exchange for a ride. I will not demand repayment for my aid, but I do have a favor to beg of you, if you are free to give it.”
Gansis smiled and Bess’s heart pounded. He couldn’t continue to meet the centaur’s stare, so he looked down, and found himself staring at her pendulous breasts, chalk-white with black nipples. He lowered his gaze further, past Gansis’s hand where it rested just above her sex…her? his? their?
Bess stared at the grass and tried to think. What was the nature of his relationship with Isa, and with Ja? They’d never talked about it, it had just happened. He didn’t know if there were rules or what those rules might be.
“What favor?” he answered without looking up.
“A kiss,” Gansis replied.
© 2014 Copyright Tof Eklund
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