Alexander the Great had a horse, Bucephalus, that he loved above all others. This is the tale of their first ride.
Standing behind the fence with the rest of them, his friend Hephaestion to his left, the prince beheld the black stallion.
No sculptor's idealized work in jet could have surpassed the majesty of the creature he saw before him. The horse masters stood at his great, handsome head, a fitting namesake for it was indeed as broad as a bull's. Beneath the dark waves of his forelock gleamed a perfect white star, a singular brightness like the moon against a starless sky. Written in the lines of his legs, the sweep of his barrel, the elegant curve of his neck, was a grace and power of which Alexander had never seen. He was the glory of all that was equine made in perfect, shining black.
Alexander could not tear his gaze from him. He had known the horse would be magnificent, but not that the mere sight of him would steal his very breath away.
Bucephalus, the terror of the Cassia. The most splendid horse in the world.
Demeron stood at his left side holding the lead in his hand, while Lycoris walked at his right. The equerries led him out into the center of the fenced-in fold, the pen to which they had brought many horses before him for training or work. The king and some of his men, lords and commanders all of them, gathered at the fence to watch this, Alexander and some of his schoolmates present as well. It was for their evaluation that they brought Bucephalus out. With skillful, practiced hands the horse masters undid the rope halter about his head, then, just as quickly, slipped out through the gate and tied it shut behind them.
He did not tear off, as it seemed they expected him to, but rather held quite still for a long moment, as if tensed to react. The stallion's eyes found the men standing along the fence. He swept them with a dark, thoroughly unimpressed gaze, taking them in one by one. Alexander felt a strange chill run through his as that black gaze fell on him, but it rested only a moment before flitting away. Satisfied at last that he was in no immediate danger, he blew softly through his nostrils and turned from them. Taking a few unhurried steps toward the far end of the pen, he lowered his head to take the grass, and, Alexander thought, to pointedly ignore them.
The powerful size of him, the arrogant defiance, the flawless black hide. The prince had only seen this beast a few occasions in his life, and he remembered the first time. It had been years ago, but Alexander knew. It was this horse that was the wild, untamed creature for whose life the prince had pleaded to his father when he was only a boy. When men would have called for his destruction, Alexander spoke and saved him. This stallion was he, for there could be no other like him. Philip perhaps did not remember that day, but Alexander would never forget.
The king gave no sign one way or the other; he simply looked the horse over in evident satisfaction, pleased with the showing he made. The day had dawned clear and fine, and remained that way into late afternoon. The sun was just now beginning on its downward path. It was an ideal day for working a horse.
"Magnificent," Philip murmured, as he once had a long time ago. "What a creature is this we have before us, is he not? I am told he has never been ridden."
Alexander looked to horse masters, and saw the dark glance exchange between the two.
"Once, lord," Demeron answered at last. "A long time ago."
Philip's lords talked amongst themselves over the impressive sight of the horse.
"He is the very image of Anchises," marveled Antipater, who was old enough to remember him.
"Bigger than he, even," said Nearchos. "He cannot stand less than eighteen hands."
Antigonus slowly shook his head. "I've never seen a horse so tall."
"Or so fine!" Pausanias added. "Such strength and handsomeness in this one!"
Among Alexander's friends, Cleitus, Philotus, and Ptolemy sounded just as the lords did.
"He's lived in the fields for years, they say."
"Never let a soul come near him."
"They say there's never been a better warhorse in history of the cavalry."
"I'd say so, lad," Antipater said in response to Cleitus. "Look at his chest, his legs. Fit as any warhorse, and no one's ever worked him."
"Imagine then the titan he would make with proper training!" That thought, that he could be even stronger and sleeker and more magnificent was enough to leave any of them in awe.
Of all those gathered there, only Hephaestion noticed what had come over Alexander. He had heard of this creature before, heard the way the prince spoke of him.
"Alexander," Hephaestion murmured. "Is that he?"
"Yes," the prince answered, voice low. "It has to be."
Antigonus then asked the question on each one of their minds. "To whom shall he belong? Such a beast would make the finest courser in all the Macedon's cavalry." Alexander's heart leaped to hear this, that the great horse would bear men into great battles.
"Who, indeed," the king mused, and looked to his old friend Antipater. "What think you, my lord? Would you have the black stallion for your own?"
"Not I, sir," the general demurred. "I would not give my own mount for Pegasus himself."
"It is a good man that speaks well of his horse," the king chuckled. "Well, so fine a creature cannot simply be given away. We must see what this black beast is made of."
Philip turned to the grooms and addressed Demeron. "Bridle him, horse master."
Alexander did not miss the looks that crossed the equerries' faces. They fought to keep their expressions neutral, but they glanced sharply at one another, and for a moment, the prince was sure they looked afraid.
The horse master, though, gave no sign. He exhaled once, bracingly, then inclined his head. "Yes, my lord."
He nodded to his men, and they moved to prepare their gear, gathering their ropes and readying the leathers. They were afraid, but they were horsemen.
As a group they filed through the gate; not one or two of them, but their entire party. Antigonus watched incredulously. "Six men to a single horse?"
"It must be so, sir," answered Coriolan, one of the equerries. They saw the grimness in his face and tone, but the lords did not understand their trepidation. Philip and his men, however, did not know the stallion as well as they.
Antipater paused them a moment before they went out. "Tell me, what is this creature's name?"
Alexander mouthed the name as the horse master spoke it.
Glad to be quit of that accursed rope, Bucephalus shook out his ebony mane and bent his head to graze, looking the picture of unconcern. In truth, however, he could not shake a strange feeling that came from his surroundings. It was not the fact that he was enclosed, that did not especially bother him, but rather though it seemed all new there was an odd familiarity about it. Somehow, he had the feeling that he'd been here before.
Though it was not in his nature, when Demeron and Lycoris had come for him earlier that day he went along mildly enough. His mother told him often that things would be best for him if he did. Cytheria had pleaded with him not to fight them if he did not have to, that simple submissions would save him greater pains. She told him there had been enough bloodshed in his encounters with mankind, both theirs and his own.
"There has been so much violence for you," his mother said with that strange sadness he did not understand. "You do not need to seek it out."
He had to admit she was right, that minor concessions often saved him great ones. He discovered that if he permitted them some small dealing with him they were content with it, and asked him nothing more. As a horse who had been more than once set on with lashes and clubs, he found it frequently less painful to allow them a small measure of freedom of handling. And in this instance it was only the horse masters Demeron and Lycoris, men that had been around him all his life. The two of them, as humans went at least, he did not entirely distrust, and at any rate he had it in him to please his mother.
He had turned away from the row of humans against the fence, though positioned himself so that he could watch them on one side of his head. He knew all the equerries to vague and varying degrees, but among the other men little enough stood out to him. Of them, they were loosely separated into two groups; the taller, bearded men in one and the shorter, younger men in the other. There was something distantly familiar about the oldest man at the forefront of the group, but he did not recognize him as the one to whom his mother was palfrey.
They spoke amongst themselves, mostly grown man with grown and youth with youth, in words that meant nothing to him. Only one remained silent, his attention wholly fixed on the horse. One of the young, shorter than the rest, with a steady, unblinking gaze. He had strange eyes, like a horse with a white blaze that extended on only one side of his face, one that was brown, and the other blue.
With a glance, Bucephalus sized him up and dismissed him. He was more concerned with the men- it was men, not undersized boys, that came at him with scourges and sticks.
Their long inactivity bemused him, and he snorted in disgust. Idle little beasts, he thought scornfully. Had they nothing else to do but stand there and stare? Bucephalus told himself to pay it little mind. Men came often to stare at him; it mattered no more now than it had at any other time.
Still, he could not deny a slight suspicion with it all. In the past the watching humans had come to him in the Cassia, not brought him out to them. They had gone to a great deal of trouble only to stare.
He could hear them at the fence behind him, chattering endlessly away as human were wont. As for their tongue, Bucephalus neither knew it nor cared to. He so avoided contact with humanity as to remain entirely ignorant of their speech.
Let them talk. It mattered not to him.
In a moment, though, he almost wished he knew what they'd said.
He heard their approach before he saw it, one ear flicking sharply to the left. He did not turn yet, only lifted his head slowly to look behind him. It was a group of the humans; six of them in all, burdened with gear, led by Demeron and Lycoris.
He shot them a warding glare. A great many men had received it and thought better of his approach.
These, however, did not heed it.
His ears slid sharply back. More than once he'd been approached by a gang of men like this. It was an old game he played with them; those who did not run would have to fight.
He straightened and spun to face them, readying his hooves, preparing to leap and strike. He waited from them to draw closer, within range of his forelegs, but they hung yet a distance away. Too late, he realized what they carried with them.
Ropes. Oh, how he loathed ropes.
Before he knew it they had two lines looped around his thick neck. He jerked backward, bracing himself on heavy hooves, as the men threw their weight back against him, dragging him down off his balance. Outraged, he whipped his head to the side and with a mighty tug of his neck one man was thrown off his feet and the rope torn from his hands. He danced backwards, head tucked, trying to break free from the other, the other grooms darted in to push on his flanks and shoulders as he stepped, knocking him off-balance. Another rope and another were lashed around him as he struggled to steady himself, shoving with his shoulders to throw the men down. He fought to rear up and lash out with his hooves, but he found to his fury that he could not rock his weight back far enough; the men dragging on the ropes would haul him forward and hold his front end on the ground. He stomped and bellowed, striking out in front of him, shaking his mane fiercely as they drew still near. He swung his head again, blindly and heedlessly, the great breadth of his forehead striking Maecenes like a battering ram and throwing the man aside.
Bucephalus hardly noticed. He was too far gone in fury. Always before humans would flee rather than face the black stallion in all the violence of his anger. Now, though, they persisted in a manner he neither recognized nor comprehended. Even Demeron and Lycoris, traitorous humans that they were, had set on him. Their purpose exceeded any he had seen before; every time he would cast one off, another would be on him in a flash.
He wanted to kick them, to strike out his powerful haunches with bone-crushing force, but all six of them kept in front of him where his forelegs were useless. Two stood in his blind spot, the point directly in front of him where his eyes could not see. He snapped out and managed to catch Kiro with his broad, flat teeth, but the rest saw his intent and cracked him when he tried. Human voices swirled around him in a meaningless din as he stamped and struggled.
"I'll kill you," he raged, crying out in a piercing equine scream. "I'll kill you all."
This, though, gave them the opening they needed. Taking advantage of his distraction, Coriolan sprang forward to seize him about the neck. He locked one arm over Bucephalus's crest and threw all his weight down on him, forcing him to bow his head. The stallion struggled to throw him off but the man was too heavy, too determined to hold him down.
Again Bucephalus opened his mouth to bay but Demeron moved like lightning, and his cry was cut off by a metal bar suddenly thrust down against his tongue. He choked and sputtered but they clamped his mouth shut, locking the bar inside. Straps of braided leather drew tight against the sides of his head as the horse master knotted them fast behind his ears.
With this indignity Bucephalus could bear no more. In a colossal burst of strength he broke free from the ropes and reared up, casting men in all directions as if they were drops of water. Those that remained standing leapt back to dodge his flailing hooves, and the rest scrambled to get to their feet.
He fought no more but bolted, away as far as the pen would allow. He champed fiercely at the bit, trying in vain to force it out. The cords of leather were bound to the bar, drawing it up tight into the corners of his mouth. It triggered something from the distance, something he could not give name. A faint unsettled feeling, a touch of confusion with more of that strange familiarity, brushed against the edges of his mind. He felt in some way that he knew this sensation, but how he could not say.
The equerries wasted no time in leaving the pen after they had bridled the horse. The violence of his outburst made it clear that it was madness to remain a moment longer than was necessary.
The king turned widened eyes on the horse masters as they made their salutes. "Give him a moment, sire," Lycoris said, gasping a little for breath.
Somewhat shaken, the lords gaped at the creature, shocked by the ferocity of what they had seen. The king only shook his head in wonder.
"The terror of the Cassia," he marveled, deeply impressed.
Antipater, however, was more disturbed. "Such anger," the general murmured. "Such anger as I have never seen."
There was silence for a long moment as the lords digested what they had seen. Then Philip turned to regard his men, a hint of a challenge in the sharpness of his glance. "And to whom goes the honor of the first ride?"
The king turned back again to the horse before they could answer. "He shall belong to the man that can ride him," he declared. "To the one that tames him, he is yours."
Back and forth Bucephalus paced, tail lashing in fury. He stood alone now against a pack of beastly humans. Even Demeron and Lycoris had turned on him. To think that he had thought them different from the rest! No, they were all alike, every mother's son of them. He should have known better than to trust one of them; they were monsters to the last. How could his mother believe there was good in them, when even the least hateful tormented him like this?
He bit down angrily on the unfamiliar, uncomfortable presence in his mouth. Try as he might, however, he could not get his teeth into it; they had placed it in the gap between the front rows and the back. His mouth filled with the taste of the metal, as acrid and bitter as blood.
The thought of blood built the fire in him up again. He would show these humans he was not to be their belonging. Let them come, and they would see he was not afraid.
As if he heard Bucephalus's challenge, Antigonus had crossed around the fold and climbed the fence to straddle it near him. Bucephalus held his ground, eyeing his whip and unsure of what he meant to do. The young man did not give him the chance to react. He meant to win him, and to win he had to ride. Swiftly and with the air of a practiced horseman, he stepped from the fence and swung his right leg over the horse's broad shoulders.
For one beat of his heart, Bucephalus thought only that a man had climbed up on his back. He knew it and felt it. But by the next beat, he saw only that which fell down before him- the shadow of the man.
And all at once, it came back.
He had never allowed himself to remember what had happened on that terrible night so long ago, the experience that remained to him as only the nameless, ceaseless anger. He had shut the memories out, walled them up, exiled them to the darkest corner of his mind where they could not haunt him. But now, now that barrier was shattered, and all that he had banished, all that he had buried, burst forth in a storm of icy horror- the matter of his nightmares, the forebear of his anger, the most terrible moment of his life.
He bounds on long, slight legs, hardly more than those of a foal, legs that tangle beneath him in his ungainly efforts to get away. He trips over his own steps and collapses in a heap, his strength given out, his hooves leaden and useless. He fights to stand again but his body betrays him as he hears the human behind him, coming...
Bucephalus erupted. Rage gave way to pure, visceral, animal terror. Overcome by the memory, he struck out his hind legs with all his strength and terror. It ran through him with the force of a small earthquake, and Antigonus struck the ground before he realized he had fallen.
He tore around at a gallop as violent as his confinement would allow. The scene of a half-forgotten nightmare sprang up from the very air, plunging him back into the midst of suffering too great for the endurance of his waking mind, images not of imagination, but memory. There the here and the now were swallowed up in the past's deep black darkness, the memories so dreadful his very mind had tried to drive them out.
They came one after the other. There was no respite, no escape; just when he thought the phantasms had ceased there was another man atop him, casting a shadow that began it all again. It was if he were back there once more, all those years ago, tearing away all that he had become since then. In the grip of horrors beyond expression, conjured from his own mind, he was no longer the great black stallion of near-mythic standing; he was a terrified colt again, helpless and unutterably afraid.
Bucephalus always fought that which frightened him, beat it back until there was nothing more to fear. It was on this brutality he had relied all the years of his life. He fed it on the ceaseless coursing of his anger, anger that burned through all that threatened him. But against this, these horrors of his own memory, he had no weapons. With hooves or teeth or even fury, he could not fight this.
In his mania he thought suddenly of his mother, warning him in sorrow against the violence in his nature. He saw her as she had looked so many times, with the great sadness in her eyes whenever he came off painfully from some bloody encounter with humanity, or the times when he had not a waking moment but he was lost in the depths of his anger. He had never before understood that sadness, never knew from whence it sprang, never suspected that she carried with her something he'd blocked out. She had known, blast it, she had known that some unspeakable suffering had been visited on her colt, known that it had happened if not precisely what, and it was this knowledge that made his raging break her heart.
He was hardly aware of Cleitus sinking his hands into his mane and pulling himself up until the boy was already astride, and in a moment the world was swallowed by darkness. It cut through all his armor to slice into the very heart of him. The image was horror given shape- the equine silhouette overtopped by the looming shadow of man.
He had fallen to his knees, his legs a strengthless confusion pinned beneath him. He gasps desperately, the air burning in his lungs. He cannot breath, cannot stand, cannot run. The corded line of the whip crashes down like Zeus's thunderbolt in a fireburst of bleeding agony. There is nothing but the pain and the fear and the shadow, at the mercy of the monster, the man...
His heart pounded against his ribs. The rising panic blotted out coherent thought, allowing for only for one thought in his mind. Never again. Never again.
His eyes blazed in murderous hate. He thought of the vow he had made so very long ago- As long as I live, I shall be master of my own being. He was left with only the singular clarity that he would not be at their mercy again.
He barreled for the fences and hurled himself against them, slamming the human's legs into the planks with all the power of his great shoulders behind it. It took what felt like an eternity, but the rider collapsed and came off.
"We find the fury of Charybdis in this beast!" Philip cried as Cleitus crashed to the ground.
"It was to leap astride the rolling thunder!" Antigonus cried, still gasping. "Who can ride the thunder?"
They mounted the stallion now grimly, more in refusal to submit than willingness to try. This was no more a matter of winning a fine warhorse, this was a duty before country and king.
The horrors came to Bucephalus again and again, without fading, without surcease. With each new rider he felt a calm, still instant, like the silence before the crash of thunder, and then at the sight of the shadow came the storm. The dam had burst, the walls had been breached, and all hell now broke loose. The long-healed scars seemed to run with fire beneath his hide, burning as if the whip had just cut them there. Agony seized every inch of him; Nearchos was not cast off until he had broken a goat-hide lash across Bucephalus's great flanks. This time, though, the horse kept coming. He thundered after the man with murder in his eyes, and if Lycoris had not sprung in front of his brandishing the knotted lash Bucephalus may well have run him down.
Pain wracked his whole great frame. Every breath was agony, grating in his throat, heaving in his sore, abused sides. His mouth ached from their violent efforts to rein him in. His heart pounded as if it would burst. There was nowhere to run, no end in sight. He was trapped.
Trapped... trapped beneath the pounding lash. Could not get away... could not run... could not...
The pain blanks the world into nothing but the shadow, searing into his mind, his very soul. The night fills with the sound of braided leather on soft, yielding flesh, and the helpless crying. He can only scream, scream until his throat bleeds and his breath gives out. The skies ring with his suffering, but no answer comes; there is no one but the monster. Then the screaming stops, not because it has ended, but because merciful darkness takes him.
So helpless then, so alone.
As long as I live, he repeated again and again, I shall be master of my own being.
Alexander stood outside the fence with the others, unable to tear his eyes from the scene of violence before him. His excitement to see the great horse at last ridden was shattered; he looked on now not with wonder but with horror.
Alexander had seen great horses before, but none of the greatness of this indescribable like. This horse, this Bucephalus, was as wild as a summer storm, as deep and as dark as the fathomless sea. Monstrous, matchless, beyond compare to any other of his kind. To see him like this, in the grip of this hopeless fury, seemed an affront to the gods that made him. He was blowing, exhausted, more so than even for which his exertions could account. Something far worse than a mere anger ravaged that soul.
"Please, lord, let him be!" Lycoris begged the king, but Philip hardly heard, much less heeded. Antigonus and Nearchos had mounted and mounted again, trying near to the point of collapse. Cleitus held on like a hero for as long as he could, but even he was no match for the black stallion's violence. Even slim, light Philotus tried, and miserably failed. They were fine riders, all of them, and yet not enough for this abjectly frightened horse.
And frightened he was, beyond any question. When the equerries had bridled him he had fought like a demon, fearless and unstoppable. That was defiance, that was anger. But this now, this was no mere rebellion or refusal to submit; he flew into this violence by a fear that ran to his very core. Did his father not see it? The horse was plainly terrified, and clearly, he was at his most dangerous when he was most afraid.
The prince watched him closely, observing, after his rider had mounted, the way he would leap into that terrified rage after a bare instant of paralyzed shock. Not in the first moment, remarkably, but in the second. The prince did not understand this subtlety of reaction, wondered what then could be causing the terror, if not the instant contact of a rider mounting? What was it about that second moment that made him so spring back, rear up, and fly into a tempest as great as the fury of Hell?
And then he saw it.
"The shadow," Alexander breathed. In the second moment, he saw the shadow. It fell from the rider down across him to the ground on which he stood, darkening his path and filling him with fear. It was this that so frightened him, this that sent him into the frenzy which no man could overcome. Alexander knew it, knew it as surely as he knew his own name.
Philip was abusing the men and even the boys that did not ride, that had failed to break the horse. "Is there not a true man among you?" he railed. He regarded them each in disgust. "None of you are enough for him? Not Antigonus, or the brave young Cleitus or Philotus? You, Nearchos, beat him and scourged him and still came off worst! And what of you, Pausanias? You have not even tried him! Are you a coward as well?"
He tossed a glance to where the horse masters gathered. "Take him away."
Alexander's heart leapt. "Then what an excellent horse do you lose for your surrender!"
All eyes turned to him, but he bore their scrutiny unbowed.
Philip glared at him in disdain. "Your boldness is great for one who speaks so brazenly and yet has made no attempt to ride!"
"Then I will make the attempt."
"You?" he snorted. "Boys do not conquer that at which their elders and betters have failed."
"All the same, sir," he persisted, his tone carefully level. "I would make the attempt."
His father waved an imperious hand. "Then attempt, bold one. Take the beast, and ride."
"Alexander," came Hephaestion's urgent whisper. "Are you sure?"
"I am." And he climbed over the fence to stand within the pen.
"Take care, young Prince," Demeron warned from behind him, as if it were not plain. "He's not a tame stallion."
Alexander walked into the center of the paddock in the direction of the horse. He stood in strong contrast to the heavily armed riders before him. He wore no spurs, carried no whip. He bore only himself, and the surety of his understanding.
The stallion's head jerked in his direction. Again the prince was overcome with a feeling of awe. The creature towered over Alexander, taller than any horse alive, fiercer than Hades's fire, black as the curtain of midnight. His heart ached to see the abject state the horse had reached. He was a trembling wreck of fury and terror; his black hide rippled over muscles quaking with anger and fear and exhaustion. His eyes were obscured by the wavy strands of his forelock, but Alexander knew they were fixed on him. Still in them he saw the horse's feeling in all its burning depth- the pain, the fear, the hate, the anger inexpressible. But even now, even like this, the beast was a wonder to behold.
Not a tame stallion.
Bucephalus was in sore condition indeed. His black coat was flecked with foam and sweat coursed down his legs. He gasped harshly through teeth clenched tight; he could not seem to recover his breath over his frantically beating heart. Weariness dragged his head nearly to the ground.
As long as he lived, he would be master of his own being.
He would allow no more of mankind to abuse and debase him. No other man would bring his terrors back to him and he swore then he would permit no attempt. No more tossing them in a fit and then running. The next one, he would kill.
From his bowed position, Bucephalus kept his eyes on the humans, and he did not miss the next approach. It was the boy. The quiet, short boy with the bicolored eyes. But he did not stride boldly up to him, or stealthily draw close as the others had. He stood there a moment, silent and still, the only sound coming from Bucephalus's own absonant blowing. Then he lowered himself slowly to one knee, and waited.
Neither horse nor human moved for a long moment, only regarded one another with piercing, unwavering gazes. Bucephalus did not understand his intent; he held in perfect stillness for what seemed an eternity, neither impatient nor afraid. As if he had all of time to stay there, and wait.
As long as I live, he thought. As long as I live.
The heaving expanse of black flank slowly quieted and his ragged breathing evened out. Even his racing heartbeat eased its pounding.
At long last, the boy stood. His approach was direct but not hurried, as slow and unassuming as the breeze. Careful not to catch him in the mouth, Alexander replaced the reins over his neck. Gently he took hold of the horse's bridle, firm but not tight. Moving with the utmost delicacy and care, he stepped to the side, drew the horse along, and turned the great beast around to look in the face of the sun.
Apollo's fiery chariot had nearly finished his journey across the day and now began to descend, calm and easy in the western sky. The intensity of it dazzled him, and he blinked his dark eyes at the light. He bent his head down against the glare, so that his nose all but rested on the ground.
The prince did not move immediately, instead waiting to be sure. He murmured soft encouragements to steady him, praying the quiet would hold.
Alexander breathed deep. He braced his hands up on the stallion's broad back, and in one smooth movement vaulted up astride him.
Beneath the prince's legs his coat was damp with sweat and foam. He could feel every cord of muscle beneath him drawn tighter than bowstrings. The horse went still, stock-still, as if suddenly turned to stone.
Bucephalus regarded the ground before him like his very life depended on it.
The shadow did not fall.
The phantasms did not come.
He stayed frozen for a long moment, waiting, waiting, but long moments passed and his mind remained his own. He lifted his head and looked around him, as if hardly able to believe the world had not plunged into the dark. But no, rather his eyes were filled with the warm golden light of the sun.
He exhaled sharply, the breath driven out of him. This was a feeling he had never known before. He felt somehow lighter now, even with the weight of the boy on his back. He had escaped the nightmare, and now it was as if he'd stumbled into a dream.
With the utmost care, Alexander took up the reins.
Bucephalus felt them lift. Then, contact in his mouth. He could still feel the presence of the bar, but now it was light, soft, and rather than dragging on him it... linked them. The forming of a connection.
Pressing with his heels, soft at first then steadily more firm, Alexander urged him forward. Tentatively the stallion moved, unsure of the balance of the strange new mass. But with ever step came the smooth following of Alexander's weight, the boy closely adapting himself to keep steady with the horse.
"The gate," came Philip's voice distantly to the equerries, but the prince hardly heard. He turned the stallion's great head. The gate swung wide, laying all the Cassia open before them. In the sight of Apollo there was no darkness anymore, only brilliant light.
He sprang into a gallop so strong he would not have thought himself capable of it. He had felt overcome, utterly spent only moments ago, but to his surprise he his strength seemed to be returning. His long legs flexed and extended, the grassy earth flying past, and to his great shock and awe, Alexander moved with him. Every step and stride, every motion of his body the prince followed, as softly, as lightly as it he were not there at all.
The prince directed him in a wide arc, dust billowing in his wake along a broad, curving path. Bucephalus tucked his head against the whipping of the wind, wind that rippled through his long mane and Alexander's curly hair. The prince felt his gait flow beneath him with the smooth power of the coursing stream, as steady as ironwood and with a stride length that seemed to make the distance burn. This horse did not merely run, he thought; he very nearly seemed to fly.
With the unreality of a dream, Bucephalus found himself attending to the subtleties of Alexander's movement. When the prince tightened his legs against his flanks, Bucephalus extended the length of his strides. When he drew in on the right rein, the stallion altered his course to the right. Through the unevenness of the terrain, the firm ground and the soft, he blazed onward without the slightest falter. He did not think, only ran, lost in the new sensation, and to what cues the prince gave him, he responded. Through it all, Alexander moved with him, moved as if they were no longer merely man and horse but something other now, something they made together. Their pace, their rhythm, their awareness of each other, all working in a harmony of power and speed, accompanied by the percussive song of the stallion's pounding hooves. Exhilarated, the prince urged him again, then braced his body upright as Bucephalus leapt into yet a greater height of speed. He was perfection, the prince thought, perfection in deepest black; this lord of all horses, this most glorious bull-headed beast.
Reality came back to him as the paddock fence rose in his line of sight; they had returned to the place from which they came. Alexander sat back and sat deep, drawing the reins tight against the horse's mouth. His movement felt more restricted now and stride closed, slowed, shortened as they passed back again through the gate. The fence drew near and he stumbled to a halt, blowing slightly through his nose. Dimly he felt Alexander slide off, dismounting to land lightly on the grass beside him, his head back beneath the horse's withers.
The men did not utter a word as Alexander turned to them. He regarded them one by one, his friends and his father's generals, and saw the awe, too great to be expressed in words, written on every one of their faces.
Philip stepped forward to place his hands on Alexander's shoulders. The prince looked up at him, and saw to his amazement that there were the beginnings of tears in his father's eyes. The king was moved by this to tears.
"My son, you must find a kingdom of your own. Macedonia shall not be enough for you."