This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Sintha came down from the crag, her little hooves tapping out a pattern on the stony soil. Her small head swivelled on her long slim neck, and the little anklets she had adorned herself with, made of shells strung on fibres from the Chacula tree, clattered. Sintha looked good and usually she knew it, but today she was worried.

She had lost Gensa a while before. At first she had thought nothing of it – her daughter often wandered off alone, and in these hills would normally be safe enough. She knew the hills as well as she knew her mother’s face.

But today was not normal. Today was not normal because a party of the humans from the town down the valley had come to the hills, and were moving up the river with their beasts and their equipment and their noise. They had the right to come to the hills, just as she could go down to the town, but the right was just a formality. The centaurs and the humans kept each other at arm’s length. Sintha had looked for Gensa as soon as she had seen the humans, but had found no trace of her. She ha whistled for her too, the special calling whistle, pitched so high that human ears could never hear it. But there was no response.

She studied the group. There were about twenty of them, and that many again of the brown rough beasts of burden with the long ears. Some of the humans had put up their temporary shelters of cloth and leather, and some were building fires in little stone fireplaces. Sintha stood behind a rock and watched for some time, but there was no sign of Gensa anywhere.

In the end she went down to the encampment, staying out in the open so they could see her coming. A couple of the beasts of burden raised their long-nosed, long-eared faces from their bags of food, and a small animal shouted in high-pitched yelps and began running back and forth. The humans stopped what they were doing and stood up to watch her. One finally came forward and met her at the foot of the slope.

It was a large human, she saw, with a shaved head and face, clad in black. It had a long stick in one hand and leaned on the stick and watched her come.

She tried to switch her thinking to the human language. “Greetings,” she said.

“Greetings.” Was the human surprised? No change of expression showed on its flat bare face.

They stood there and studied each other. This was the first time Sintha had been so close to a human since she had been a colt. It was a very ugly creature, she decided, big and clumsy and with a rough voice.

“I am come here seeking my daughter,” she said at last.

“Your daughter.” The human’s brown eyes bored into hers. “What makes you think she is here?”

“She knows these hills, and since I cannot find here there is no other place she might have gone.”

“She is not here,” said the human with finality. It struck its stick on the ground. “So you can go away.”

For an instant she thought of trying to get past it, but some more of the humans were coming up. All of them had sticks. Some of the sticks had shiny metallic things at the tips. They looked at her and showed their teeth.

The small animal that had been yelping came up to her and sniffed at her delicately. Its nose was so wet and cold that she shivered, involuntarily, at the touch. The animal went bounding away between the humans and down to the river.

One of the humans said something in a low muttering voice. She turned her head to see that they had formed a line, and the ends of the line were going past her, and in a  moment more she might be surrounded.

She jumped then, a great leap that sent her soaring over the astonished heads of the humans and down on the stony ground. The humans were behind her now, and the camp directly ahead, and her line of retreat cut off because the humans were between her and the hill. Well, no matter.

She went down to the camp in great springing leaps, the humans running and shouting in her wake, some of the sticks with their metal heads clattering on the stones around her as the humans threw them. The small animal raced ahead, yelping, its rear end wagging frantically. She drew level with it and passed the line of shelters and gathered herself for a final spring that would carry her across the little river. She never took that spring.

From inside one of the shelters a little voice called something – a voice she knew well, a voice she had been straining to hear all this while, ever since she had seen the first human picking its way down the valley.

“Gensa! Where are you?”

“Is that you, mother?” The blunt head of her daughter emerged from one of the shelters. She looked faintly surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“Come out quick!” Sintha shouted, as a stick almost brushed her shoulder and stuck metal point first in the ground. “Let’s go!”

“But I can’t go,” said Gensa. She reached into the shelter and took out a tiny bundle. Sintha realised it was a newborn human, moving weakly. “This larva will die if I leave it.”

“Die? Why should it?” Sintha threw a hurried look over her shoulder. The line of humans was so close there was no way she could get by them and back up the hill, and Gensa was far too small to leap the river. “Leave it and let’s go!”

“No, I can’t.” Gensa shook herself all over. “Its mother’s dead, you see, and I must feed it.” She lifted her arms and Sintha saw the patches of fur soaked with oozing oil from her skin glands. “it can drink the oil,” she said.

The humans had now decided there was no danger of her escaping, and the bald one came up to her. It had lost its stick. “This is your daughter?”

“Yes. Why did you tell me you hadn’t seen her?”

“Difficult to explain. You’re...different. We need your daughter for the baby.”

“The larva?” The little creature was sucking greedily at the fur below Gensa’s arm. “How long do you want her?”

“Not long...we asked for a wet nurse. We shall find one. But till then. We’ll give your daughter good food, let her go after.”

“All right,” said Sintha. “But I stay here too, with her. Who is the larva?”

“Is only kin of our ruler.” The bald human turned away. “You stay, eat, don’t go.”

The fires the humans had set had burned low, and Sintha shifted uneasily in her semi-sleep. She felt extremely uneasy in the presence of the humans. In addition, the small animal with the wet nose had returned to her and slept now, rolled up, against her thigh. She raised her blunt face and wished the morning would come.

It was then that the attack came, shrieking and screaming from beyond the firelight, the humans jumping frantically for their weapons, but too late. Sintha had a brief glimpse of one of the attackers, human too, with a great horned headdress and shining metal on his shoulders, his arm rising and falling with something shining in it. She had already jumped up, and none too soon; a moment later one of the humans blundered into her in the darkness. Not knowing whether it was friend or foe, she kicked it away savagely, and ran into the shelter. Gensa was groggily coming awake, the human larva in the crook of her arm. Sintha didn’t waste time on explanations – she pulled the young centaur right out of the shelter, larva and all, and they ran off together into the night.

It was morning before they found safety, high up between two peaks so steep even Sintha had never climbed them both. She looked at Gensa and at the larva. “Well,” she said, “We got free, but I don’t know what to do with it.” She looked at the small animal with the wet nose, which stood by her side gazing up at her with an expression of devotion. “Or with that.”

“Oh,” said Gensa, giving the larva her tuft of hair to suck, “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

And that is the story of how the Princess Maseera was saved during the rebellion, and how she found shelter with the Centaur people, among whom she grew up, and of how the Centaur and human races came from mutual distrust to the friendship and amity we see between them today. If you look out of the window, you can see the statues of the Centaur Sintha and her daughter in the square, with the infant Maseera in the daughter’s arms. And there is the dog, too, but if he has a name, I never heard of it.   

Copyright B Purkayastha 2009


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