Mayhap a Horse will bee No Solid Colour, but Roan’d, which is, Mixt and Ingrain’d like the Blended Dawne, who is a Cordiall of Sun and Shadow. Thus a Blue Roan hath a Black Coate, with White Haires Threaded in; He is Grey Duske with a Scruple of Indigo, and Clear Twilight showing through a Cloudy Squall, and so is a Rare Thing, with a Brave Temper most times. . . .
. . . And to the Question, What is an Efficacious Charme for the Roans, to keep away Cholick and Fevers (and Witches if there bee Such in the Parisshe), the True Answer is: a Sprigge of Growing Laylock [lilac] above the Stalle, or a bit of Antler Carved Out, or a Shell, or any thing Living or Hollow, that might hold a Dreame or Memorie . . .
-- From an old Hayselean horse manual1: Escape
Nobody knew much about Syeira except that she had been born in the river stable, among old horses and the ghosts of horses. Her mother had died when she was little, and her father might have been the wind for all that people could remember of him. She was small for her age -- whatever her age was -- and skinny, too; but otherwise she was no different from the dozen other children who worked in the stables of King Hulvere. She slept in a loft and dreamt often of her mother, whom she remembered as a warm blond voice, with skin that smelled slightly of hay.
To spend every day in the king’s stables might seem like paradise to some, and so it was -- for members of the royal family. They didn’t have to do any of the chores. But for a stable orphan like Syeira it meant working all day and much of the night. She mucked out stalls, hauled water, fetched straw, repaired bridles, groomed and fed the horses, stoked fires and swept the stone floors around the torch pits. Some nights she slept no more than the horses, which was about four hours. Still, the stables were the only home she’d ever had, and they were at least warm and safe. The main stable was very old, with great oak beams and a huge fireplace at one end. Here the king kept his stud stallions and brood mares and chargers-in-training. Rich people came from the far corners of the land to buy these horses, for King Hulvere -- ruler of a small country called Haysele, land of horses and horse-sensitives -- was a famous horse breeder. There was also a stable beside the jousting fields, about a mile from the castle. It was called the Stable of the Lists and housed the king’s own cavalry. Finally there was the rundown stable near the river, where Syeira had been born.
People of importance rarely visited this river stable, for it was a fair walk from the castle and held no animals of value. It was actually a home for horses who had come to the end of their careers. Here you could find old draft horses as imperturbable as oak trees, bow-backed mares who had foaled many times and war horses who had grown tired of war. On the walls was a wonderful array of old tack -- huge leather collars for the draft horses, armoured hoods for the chargers (chamfrains, they were called), and blinders and spurs and the heavy, high-backed war saddles. You had the feeling, while walking through this stable, that great horses had lived out their days here and still lingered in spirit.
If you are unlucky enough to be an orphan, it helps to grow up among horses. Horses take life as it comes. Like holy hermits or milk-fed babies, they are without ambition or regret. It is true that they sometimes breathe on people, but this is nearly always pleasant for the people. The breath of horses is as mild as weak mead. If you took a sun-baked melon -- large but slightly underripe -- and cut it open with a single stroke, you might get something like the breath of horses. Of course, Hulvere kept some bad-tempered chargers, horses whose breath carried a hot note of menace; but the river stable had none of these. The horses Syeira had grown up with were unfailingly calm. When she was very small she used to run between their legs and clamber roughly onto their backs. This was the early morning of her life: the smell of hay and the light of her mother’s hair and the quiet sentinel presence of horses.
But her strongest memory was not of horses at all. It was of a tiny yellow bird, a bird quick as a spark from the blacksmith’s anvil. Even now she could hear its vivid song -- a kind of filigree of the air that shone in her mind like a horse brass. No one else in the stables remembered it, but she was sure she hadn’t made it up. She liked to lie in a loft of the river stable and imagine it darting through the hay-scented shadows. Probably the old horses would remember it, if she could only ask them. But horses only spoke in her dreams, or in the tales the blacksmith told; and this hard truth always brought her wearily out of her loft and back to the main stables, where the ordinary horses were waiting for a brush and a feed.
Of all the king’s stock, Syeira’s favourites were the Arva horses. They were wild horses from the hilly lands of Arva, which lay to the east of King Hulvere’s realm. The king’s handlers had got there by water, sailing up the River Hawkey in their special horse transports called taride
. No ordinary horse handlers could have come within a mile of these animals, but Hulvere’s men were not an ordinary lot. They had hunting hawks to worry the horses and large nets to trap them, and they could hiss like snakes and howl like wolves when they really wanted to terrorize their prey. As a result they had managed, with much effort, to capture a mare and her two yearling colts. But before long they had remembered why the horsemen of the old days had left the Arva horses alone. During the loading of the horses the mare had shattered a man’s leg with a single kick and almost staved in the side of the ship. (The taride
, being equipped with oars as well as sails, could be brought close to almost any shore.) On the voyage home, the captives had thrashed and bucked and neighed. Even when brought ashore, sick and dizzy from five days on the river, they had managed to nearly bite the finger off a groom.
Excellent, said the king when he heard about this; he was always looking for aggressive horses for his charger line. And when he saw these ones in a paddock he wasn’t disappointed. The mare was more than a horse: she was a landscape. She flowed like a tall grass field or an avalanche, and her hock joints were like the roots of trees. Her colts were just like her, except smaller, and with longer legs. It is very unusual for a horse to have healthy twins, but these colts were as quick and supple as rapiers. They always stood with their long legs slightly apart, quivering a bit. They walked as if they could breathe through their skin. Black as peat they were, and their mother was blue roan -- that is, the color of a storm cloud. All of them had shaggy manes that came down in two locks between their eyes. They were flawless in every way except that the mare didn’t seem to run as well as her colts. After studying her stride the king put this down to an old injury in her back left leg. Still, she was fast enough to carry a knight into battle. Most big horses lack stamina, but the wild horses of the East had always been both large and strong-winded -- perfect for chargers. Arva devils, thought the king, you’ll make me richer than I deserve to be.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Blue Roan Child by Jamieson Findlay. Copyright © 2002 by Jamieson Findlay. Excerpted by permission of Seal Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.