Heart and Hooves: An Urban Fantasy
by AJ

Chapter 5

Well, shit. I knew going into this thing that I might owe them for the rest of my quite long life, but I hadn't even considered this kind of thing. Did I want to share everything about me with them? What if they were disgusted and horrified, and refused the binding after seeing what I was, what I had done? What if they didn't like me after seeing exactly who I was?

Then I had another thought: 'I'm not the only one involved here, am I? This involves the horse, too. Maybe I should be asking him what he wants.' And with that thought, a deep sense of approval welled up from somewhere within me.

"I'm going to need a moment, guys. I got somebody else I need to talk to about this. I won't be gone long."

Ralph looked a little startled by this announcement, but Sandy nodded approvingly and smiled a little, like I had passed a little test. I nodded back and then closed my eyes and leaned back in the chair. Relaxing my mind, I seemed to hover inside my skull for a moment and then dove deep down inside, to where the horse lived when we weren't living in his skin.

It's a dark place, full of pools of stagnant water and reeds, mist and fog blowing all over the place, and totally silent. I always arrive on a narrow, twisting little path right next to a big tree - a weeping willow that bends down over a wide pool, with the lowest boughs sweeping their tips in the water. I walked over to a big, gnarled root that stuck up above the muck and waited for him. I could feel him, a ways off but moving closer, coming fast. I'd be able to hear his hoofbeats any moment - there! Faintly, but getting stronger, I could hear the triple beat of his galloping hooves. He was almost close enough to feel his thoughts, not just his sense of presence...and now I could feel him completely. I felt my heart speed up with the sheer sense of power and freedom that he wore all the time, and just like I always did when I came down here, I wondered why I didn't just live in that unrestrained wonder all the time, why I kept trying to live as a two-legger in the the world of humans when I could be this, this unbound force of nature. It was an old line of thinking, and I had given up trying to make up a coherent answer.

I stood as he thundered up to me and reared high at the last moment, all flashing hooves and flying mane. He could have crushed me in that moment, but he never would and I knew it. We were brothers, and always would be.

As he returned to all fours and stood in front of me, I saw the wicked humor in his eyes just before he set his nose against my chest and pushed hard, sending me stumbling back to almost fall in the pond, but his head snapped forward at the last moment and his teeth latched onto my shirt, holding me from falling but not drawing me back to my balance, either. I laughed, grabbed his fetlock with both hands and held on as he hauled me back to my feet. I stepped up to his side as he waited patiently and vaulted up on his back, laying my head down on his neck and wrapping both arms around him, his mane rough against my cheek. He whickered at me, and then started off through the dark marsh, carrying me to the center of himself.

We were there almost before we started, it seemed. It wasn't a remarkable place, just a big, open spot beside a pool with a lot of lillies growing in it. I slid down off his back, and he turned his head to look at me with those glowing yellow eyes. He knew me, knew me in ways that no one else ever did, and still he loved me. I could feel it flowing off of him and into me: not just love, but honor at sharing a body with me, and pleasure in who I was becoming. It was an ineffable thing, his sense of love and approval. He knew me, he loved me, and woe to those who sought to harm me.

I thought to him all that Sandy had told me about clan bindings, and what it would mean to us, and found that he already knew of clan kin, and approved of such as a way to live. We were not meant to live alone, it seemed, and this was the way our kind should live. He knew that I would be the one to carry much of the burden of such a life, and he would leave the final decision to me, but he was not afraid of such a thing. From deep inside me, he had done his own checks on who these three were that proposed the idea, and it seemed to him they were three whom we could live with in harmony if we tried. But again, the final decision was mine, and he would live by it. I was humbled by his faith in me, even as I was proud that he believed in me to such a degree. He did, however, want to talk to the three for a moment, using my voice. We had done this before on occasion; I was not included in the conversation except as a bystander, so it always made me a little nervous, but I agreed.

At the next moment, I was gently moved to one side in my own head, and I watched as my body suddenly straightened and then rose to its feet, facing the three of them. My eyes had gone from their usual hazel green to shining pure yellow and pupil-less. When he spoke, the horse's voice was deep and gravelly - nothing like my own tenor.

"I am Dubhain," I/he said. "I am that which shares a body with Bryon, and I know you. I have watched and heard all that has happened. You seem honorable and fair, yet such seeming may hide great wickedness."

Sandy rose to his feet a moment later, and bowed deeply to me/him. "Hail, Dubhain. It is an honor to meet you, at last. There is no seeming here - we are what we are. I would extend the offer of clan kin to you as well as Bryon, and I hope that you will be a part of the opening that I propose we perform. I would have you know me, and all of us, that you may decide on a course of action that will support your honor."

I/he stared at Sandy for a moment, and then replied "Honor is for the Lios Alfar, knight of Seelie. I know no such thing. I know love, and I hold it for one only, for Bryon. He knows my thoughts on what you propose, and shall reveal them in time. Know this, all of you: the bonds of clan kin will not save you, should you betray Bryon. If you prove untrue, you will face me."

The next moment, I was back in control and sinking onto the hassock. I was weary to the bone, as I always was after letting Dubhain (now why hadn't he told me his name was Dubhain before? From deep down I could hear some definitely equine snickering, and then silence) speak in my place.

"Welcome back, Bryon. I was wondering when we would meet your partner. I must say, he's a horse of few words, but those he speaks are potent." Sandy was looking very serious, but suddenly smiled a little. "I think he's struck both Peter and Ralph dumb, something I didn't think anything could accomplish."

"He's impressive, isn't he?" I said proudly. 'And he's my brother, and he loves me!' I wanted to add, but I held that thought in, and felt the warmth of affirmation from within me.

"Well, that was interesting," Ralph remarked, shaking his head a bit. "I don't believe I've ever encountered anything quite like that before. So, Dubhain said that you know his thoughts concerning our proposal - might we know what he thinks, as he will obviously be party to any agreements we make?"

"He thinks it's not a bad idea, and that this kind of bonding is how we're supposed to live, if it can be made with the right people. He's kind of old school that way. He never liked the whole Court system, it seems. He says it leaves too much room for shenanigans."

"Which the clan system does not," Ralph replied, nodding his head. "Well then, I think it is time to call the question. Shall we do the opening ceremony, and if we do it, shall we do it now - tonight? I say aye. What say the rest of you?"

"Aye." Peter's deep voice held confidence in the choices his brothers would make.

"Aye, " said Sandy. "I think we have taken stock of our proposed kinsman, and seen that he is good. I am ready to see if we are right."

Staring around at them, I knew it was something I would have to do. There was no other hope for me - for us, Dubhain and I - so we would have to risk all on a single gambit. I nodded, and tried to make my voice as firm as possible. "Aye. We do it."

"Then we are in agreement, and the ceremony shall go forward," Ralph said quietly. "Wisdom and good fortune to all of us in the coming hours."

It didn't feel like wisdom or good fortune over the next few hours. Suddenly I felt sort of irrelevant, as Sandy sprang into action and recruited the other two to help. I was told to get some rest, as it would take at least two hours for the preparations for the ceremony to be complete; further, I was told to hold all my questions until the actual event, because they would all be answered then; besides, couldn't I see that they were busy? This last was said by Ralph with a little grin on his face, so I sighed and took myself off to bed for a couple hours rest until they came to get me. As I slept, my head was full of the sound of galloping hoofbeats.