Since blogging a book this way seems choppy for me, I am going to just update the page with the story and use this section to update Today in Wildlife. Fair thee well.
“Silence!” You are dakken, you do not speak!” He motioned to the others, “We camp here” They went about setting up camp. Turning up the soil to bed down and unpacking dried meat cakes and passing them around. A white bearded centaur moved into the group, his face grim, while a second centaur leaned heavily on his rump.
The one who had addressed her stopped and looked up, an expression of inquiry on his face. The bearded one shook his head curtly and turned to help the other lie down. Silva could see him holding his side in pain.
“Make her secure” he gestured. The centaur who had captured her approached with another length of rope. Spotting her Tulwar blades lying a few feet from her hindquarters he picked them up, grunted appreciatively, and slid them in his vest. He then stood over her, grabbed her arms, and with a few deft knots, had them tied tightly together behind her back. He than passed the other rope around the base of her tail and snugged it until her back was arched and her wrists were nearly to the base of her tail. It was an extremely uncomfortable position. He than threw her flat and left to take his place.
They did not light a fire, but bedded down in a scattered circle surrounding her. She yearned for some of the water. Two other stayed in their feet to keep watch. The eldest centaur with the white beard bedded down nearest to her, and she could tell from the gleam of eyes under his bushy eyebrows that he regarded her. She soon closed her eyes and found herself asleep despite her uncomfortable position.
She awoke with screaming muscles in the gray of early dawn. Her eyes met a set of black striped hoofs and she followed them up to a face. The whited bearded centaur stood looking down at her. Long white hair flowed around his shoulders and blended into a stained white beard. Dark eyes squinted out from bushy eyebrows on a face lined with wrinkles and the texture of aged leather. His tan arms and shoulders spoke of a wiry strength, and his dappled gray coat showed more white than gray.
She cut to her left, heading toward the open plain as she heard her pursuers bear down on her again. She heard screams of rage and pain behind her. She flinched as something round and hard bounced off her haunches. “Rocks? “ Her panicked mind had a moment to question before she felt them again, only lower. Only this time they bounced and tangled around her fetlocks until she crashed to the ground unable to separate her hind legs. “Bolos”. She had heard of these also, rocks tired together with long strings used to entangle and immobilize prey. She grabbed for her blade that had been knocked from her hand as she hit the ground, her lungs trying to regain the air that had been blasted from her lungs at the force of her landing. She only had time to touch the blade to the strings that bound her when they were on her.
A strong shoulder bowled her over on to her back, and strong arms held her legs together and wound them with rope faster than she could imagine. She was hogtied, unable to gain her feet, she lay there on the ground panting. The centaur stepped back to survey his work as the rest of his herd joined him.
He grunted and gestured towards her. A tall lanky centaur approached her. It was difficult to make out his features in the dark.
“Why have you trespassed on our lands heathen?’
She snorted at this, heathen! “There is peace, or have you not got word? I was only passing through to the Lanfkfure’s”
“The Bromelins will not give up their lands. We did not agree to this peace which would let those from Andraippos take what is ours and bring their tainted beliefs into our lands.” He stamped his hoof for emphasis.
“Look, I was just trying to get water, I would have been on my way as soon as I filled my skein.”
“You have attacked two of our own. You will do penance for the herds members until they see fit to release you”
“I was defending myself!” Indignant , she struggled to rise. A hoof flashed out and crashed into her ribs. She grunted in pain.
She reached the end of the brush and stopped. It was another 10 strides or so to the waters’ edge. Here the traffic of myriad feet kept the ground churned to a soft mud and vegetation was non-existent. She moved forward tentatively, testing her footing, not wanting to get bogged down in mud. Her feet did sink into the mud, but not enough to impede her and the footing was solid underneath the mud layer. When she reached the water, she stepped in until the water was just over her fetlocks and pulled out the two water skins. She dropped to a knee and began filing the first waterskin. Just as she glanced down to cork the first skin, she heard the thunderous rush of something moving through water. Cat-like, she leapt, twisting in the air, already galloping when her hooves touched the ground. She lengthened her stride as she moved away, picking up speed over the uneven ground. She glanced over her shoulder and noted that she was being pursued by two large somethings. Than her panicked brain registered the sound of hoofbeats, and a cadence that matched her own. Centaurs, and obviously not friendly if they were trying to run her down.
She tried to put on more speed as she raced away from the waterhole, but soon realized that her two pursuers had been joined by several more centaurs. She realized she was being driven, as the group had formed a V around her and the flanking centaurs were roughly even with her. A sudden memory of how the plains centaurs hunted flashed in her mind. Earthen holes filled with sharpened sticks driven into the ground that impaled anything that attempted to run over the concealed hole. She planted her front hooves, hocks sliding to the ground underneath her, and twisted her body completely around; a strenuous effort that reversed her direction of travel. She heard cursing at the unexpected maneuver. She drew her Tulwar blades and headed back towards her two original pursuers. They were trying to slow as she was already gaining momentum, and as she flashed between them, her blades sliced out, meeting with flesh and cutting deep slices as she went by.
With a sigh, she looked at the white stripe running down her back and her snow white tail. Both her legs were white also from the hocks down. The stripe on her back also extended down over her withers and powerful shoulders. It looked as if someone had laid a pointed cross over her coat. Black was a great color to have in the dark, but the white would stand out like arrow illuminating her location. She pawed the ground with her hooves, releasing large clods of grass. She continued pawing until she reached the moist, dark soil beneath. Taking large scoopfuls in her hands, she began to blot out the white parts of her coat. When she had it as concealed as she could get it, she opened her pack and dug through it to find the large black ribbon she used to tie up her tail to keep it clear of mud when it rained. Turned as sharply as her rib cage would allow, she could just barely reach her tail. She wound it around itself, making a bun out of it, and wrapped it tight in the black cloth. Satisfied that she had done as much as she could, she looked toward the waterhole again.
It was now dark. Still, she was unsure if she should approach now, or wait until it had been dark for a few hours. She really wanted to be away from here though, and did not want to linger. Resigned, she started moving toward the water. She approached slowly, ears and eyes tuned for any threat. She also inhaled deeply through her wide nostrils. Although her sense of smell might not be as well developed as a full blood horse, she was able to discern many of the scents that carried on the breeze. The pungent tang of cat was one she was hoping to avoid. As she approached the water, she soon realized she was walking on a well worn trail. She purposely cut over and angled away from the trail until the vegetation was thicker. No use creating an easy target for something that watched the trail.
She stopped as she heard rustling in the underbush, and heard the soft, padded pounding of something moving away from her. She froze, startled. She heard the sound again in front of her and saw a bobbing flash of white low to the ground. Rabbits. She smiled to herself, relieved. No threat there. She continued on, sliding as quietly as she could between the branches and bushes blocking her way.
She reached around behind her to pull a small waterskin out of her pack. Taking a long gulp, it occurred to her that she hadn’t really thought much about finding something to drink out here. Raising her head, she sniffed the air with purpose. The wind carried the scent of water, but it was at least half a day’s journey from where she was. And a bit out of the way. She would have to bear north in order to reach it. She considered. She did have two collapsed water-skins in her pack. If she could get them filled, they would last her for some time and were easily carried on her harness.
Still she was hesitant. A waterhole would be the one place she would most likely encounter other centaurs.
“Damn this flat land” She stamped her hoof. There was no cover at all in this land. She wished for the rolling hills and forest that she could move through in stealth. She let out an exasperated sigh. She decided to head toward the water with a plan to remain several leagues away, then attempt to sneak in and fill the skins in the dark of night. Resolved, she set out at a ground eating walk. By evening she could tell she was close. In the distance, she could see what looked like an area of raised bushes, and birds were circling in the sky. She had also seen what she thought were a herd of pronghorn, which had quickly bounded away as soon as she sighted them.
It was not quite dark, and she dared not approach any further until the light had gone. She reared up on her back legs to try to get a look at the area from a higher vantage point, but did not see anything to cause concern. Regardless, she was enough of a hunter to realize that the waterhole was the perfect place for an ambush, and warranted caution. Plains lions and other centaurs surely used it frequently for just that thing. She glanced back over her shoulder, and was surprised to see how much distance she had already put between herself and her father’s lands. She could just barely make out the foothills in the distance. She had kept up a brisk pace for most of the day, and had covered more ground than she had thought.
The evening has finally started to cool, the night begins to gather moisture and coat the grasses with dew. In the fields, the Savannah Sparrows sing their last buzzing trills while the Field Sparrows round it out with a song that sounds like a quarter being dropped on a bar. There is a brief flurry of activity as the creatures of the day head for their evening repasts and the denizens of night begin to emerge. It’s a time of day gravid with expectation, like the sense of holding in one’s breath, waiting for the next event to come.
Just as the scale begins to tip into the fuller dark of night, when the light begins to be taken over by murky grayness, one of these night deities begins to materialize. Seemingly out of nowhere, multitudes of minute blinking lights begin to appear. Tentatively at first, as if trying to gather courage for a momentous event, than, noticing others and becoming brave, blinking is renewed with more fervor. Tiny beetles, fireflies, take the night to begin their age old dance of mate selection and procreation.
Each minute flash speaks a language of health and fecundity to potential mates. Males will take to the air, blinking a desperate pattern in the hopes of attracting the attention of apathetic female clinging to the damp coolness of a grassy stem. If he succeeds in catching her eye, the female will then coyly respond by blinking back the same pattern as his. It is up to him to notice she has done this and make is way to her. Once he has found the female that blinks for him only, he lands next to her on her chosen blade of grass and they proceed to mate.
Within a few days of mating, the female will lay her glowing eggs in the soil. Four weeks later, tiny glow worms hatch. Voracious eaters not to be daunted by the size of prey several times larger than they, the larvae will feed on snails and slugs by injecting them with digestive fluids. As the summer begins to wane and the nights become cool, the glow worms will seek out places to hibernate for winter, either creating tiny burrows or wedging themselves under tree bark. When spring arrives again and temperatures warm, these larvae emerge and begin to pupate into the adult form. The cycle complete, the fireflies again take to the evening air, searching for that one blink among the multitudes that signifies the existence of its one and only.