The Travels of First Horse

An extract from To Assyria
Who were the Ehvelen?
About the Series: The Stories of the Ehvelen.
Synopsis: To Assyria.
Synopsis: The Secret of Wootz.
Synopsis: From Ice to Magic.

An extract from To Assyria, Book I of the Trilogy:

"...The swift river now flowed on their left, with a sizable tributary ahead. The bridge and its border post were several hours behind. Rugged mountains reared all around, clothed with oak, beech, walnut, chestnut, all old friends to Horse. He would have felt fully at home, if only his People were with him.

   "Did you really enjoy the haggling with that Taluru?" he asked Moustaf.

   "Certainly. I've missed bargaining with competent opponents. The Doshi are too easy -- not to mention your people, who are blind children."

   "Blind children?"

   "Oh, a saying: 'Stealing sweets from a blind child' means something very easy."

   Horse was flabbergasted. "You Areg are a strange People. That would mean something despicable for us, not something easy."

   Karim rode back to them. "Want to stop here for a meal, Excellency?" he asked.

   "Why not? And to celebrate our homecoming, Fered and I will have a game of Shah." Ablil brought out the board. Horse and Moustaf sat down and started to play.

   Two hours later, Karim stood at his master's elbow. "Excellency, we should have left long ago."

   "Let me be. The wretched little fellow's winning."

   Completely unaware of the exchange, Horse moved his Vizier. "I've got your Shah in three more moves," he announced with great satisfaction.

   Moustaf studied the position, then swept the pieces to the ground with a backhanded swipe. He grinned at his tiny opponent. "I did say you'd become an excellent player with experience. Well done!"

   The caravan met the rain on the following morning. When Horse emerged from his tent, he found the ground wet, and the air filled with tiny, hovering droplets of water that got into everything and everywhere. After this, the light drizzle became continuous, except for attacks of heavy slanting rain. The horses often had to be led over the slippery ground, and life became a hell of walking or riding with his head hunched under an ineffective hood, of heaving at wagons with slipping wheels, of fires that gave smoke without heat, of nights spent awake in wet bedclothes.

   The caravan followed the tributary west for several days before starting the ascent of a steep pass, on a road barely wide enough for a wagon. It serpentined up the side of a mountain, with a sheer rise of soil and rock on the right and a dizzying drop on the left.

   It took five more days to reach the top. On the fourth day, they climbed into a layer of fog, which became so thick that Horse could hardly see the horse ahead. This slowed them even more.

   Wet to his skin, thoroughly miserable, Horse walked cautiously forward, leading Honey. Little Petal was tied to her mother, and crowded close to her. No-one talked. The only sounds were the clop of hesitant hooves on stone, the rumble of wagon wheels and the heavy breathing of man and horse.

   Suddenly there was a shout of fear behind, and a horrible screeching sound. Horse whirled, yelling "Stay," as he sprinted past his horses. A team of harnessed horses appeared through the fog, then the wagon they were pulling, then more horses. These were straining forward with all their strength, their breaths plumes of smoke, eyes wide and terrified. They were being slowly dragged backwards. Horse smelt their fear.

   Timber broke with a terrible rending sound, and something loomed high over Horse's head. It was the front of the wagon. The last pair of horses were actually being lifted off their hind feet.

   Horse grabbed a horse's bridle and pulled with all his power. Several other men were also adding their strength, but the wagon was still slipping backwards. It lurched as something shifted within it, and there was a crashing noise, followed by a receding cascade of further crashes far below.

   "Hitch it to the wagon in front!" Moustaf shouted urgently.

   Horse's heels made grooves in the hard ground as he was dragged towards the precipice. The horse's great brown eyes stared into his, her breath coming in steaming gasps. At last, the backward movement stopped as the team ahead joined into the effort.

   Another loud crash sounded as more of the wagon's load spilt. "Everybody, pull hard, now!" Moustaf roared. Horse tried his best to increase his effort. Grunts came through the fog, but there was no forward movement.

   Taluru Karim appeared through the fog on his horse, his lasso in his hand. He cast it up towards the rearing wagon. "Quick, a rope," he called.

   Horse released the bridle, grabbed the end of Karim's lasso, and swiftly tied it to a thick rope another man had brought at a rush. Perhaps twenty of them heaved down on the rope.

   The front of the wagon lowerd. "Heave!" Moustaf shouted. There was a grating noise, another tearing sound, and the wagon moved forward. The front wheels hit the road with a crash. "Again!" A wooden snail, the wagon slipped forward until the remains of the rear axle lodged against the edge of the roadway.

   "Rest," Moustaf shouted more calmly. "I think we're here for the night."

   Horse joined the repair work on the wagon. They fixed the back axle assembly while others lugged spare wheels from another wagon to be fitted into place. All of this was awkward and dangerous work on the narrow roadway, in the thick fog, with the terrible drop invisibly waiting next to them. Horse's hands were aching with cold before the completion of the job.

   That evening, animals were given carried fodder. There was no fuel for fires, so dinner had to be cold, soggy travel bread with water to follow. Soldiers and their families slept in the wagons if they were lucky, or under them on the rocky, wet ground. The poor slaves were denied even that cover.

   Horse again defied convention, spending the night with his back against the cliffside, sitting on his oilcloth, sheltering with a small crowd of slaves under the folds of his tent. By now, the Areg were used to this odd thing about him. The only comment was Moustaf's grumpy, "Don't expect strangers to make allowances for your idiocy," as the Duru retired into the relative comfort of a wagon.

   The caravan moved out at first light. The fog gradually thinned as they climbed. It became a thing of beauty as the sun probed it with pearly beams, then a patch of blue appeared overhead, turned gray, and was replaced by a larger area of sky elsewhere. At last, the fog disappeared with a swirl, and they were in bright if cold sunshine.

   At the very top, Moustaf halted the caravan and everyone gazed at the far view. "Home," the Duru exclaimed with deep satisfaction.

   A layer of fluffy clouds blocked about half the view ahead. It thinned and dissolved even as Horse watched. There were enough gaps to see what lay far beneath in the valley.

   Below, the road disappeared into forested slopes, to emerge as a thread-like ribbon, stretching to the gray dot of a distant town. Another, lower mountain range broke the far horizon, enclosing a wide undulating valley that was completely alien to Horse's eyes. A regular array of watercourses laced the valley, stretches throwing the sun's reflection in blinding flashes. In between, the landscape had an oddly regular appearance: rectangular fields of different colors and textures instead of the pleasing disorder of forest or meadow. This was Horse's first view of what Man can do to land, replacing the Mother's arrangement of the world in order to grow food.

   They started down again, soon entering fog once more. Just before nightfall, they at last descended below the cloud level, and had overcast skies but no rain for the three days of the downward journey on this southern side.

   Lush green growth clothed the great valley. Interminable canals transported water everywhere, even to the top of each rise. Giant bucket wheels were turned by slaves day and night, raising the water. So, Horse's most prominent impression was of tall wheels in every direction. The fields were laid out in regular arrays, and tilled by armies of slaves -- serfs Moustaf called them. Stands of palm trees of various kinds were everywhere. They stopped under the shade of a clump of palms for lunch. "Even the trees are different here, Excellency," Horse commented. The thick trunk was marked by a regular pattern of spots. An umbrella of great curved branches started high up, each branch a single arc which reached nearly to the ground. Long leaves emerged from the branches, all along their length.

   "These trees are wonderful, Fered. They have lovely fruit, last for hundreds of years and resist the strongest storms. A storm might strip the leaves from the branches, but it's rare to have a tree uprooted. These are the kinds of trees I have at my palace. My nephew Yussuf loved to swing from the branches when he was younger."

   "If they are strong enough for that, they should hold me," and Horse sprung from his sitting position to grab a branch. He swung up, down until his bottom almost touched the ground, then up again. On this swing he pulled hard, let go and somersaulted upwards. He took hold of a higher branch and repeated his action. On the upswing, this time he formed a ball of his body and came plummeting down. He landed in a roll and stood up.

   "You really are improving, lad," Phalanxuru Assamuam said, grinning...."

Return to top

Who were the Ehvelen?

   At least until a thousand years ago, they were the Mother's warriors, protecting the helpless from slavery, cruelty and exploitation. They were the defenders of the wild places, and if any still live, they hide in what wilderness is left.

   They were short, had pointed ears and possessed wonderful abilities. Their memory is preserved in distorted form as Elves, Fairies, Leprechauns, Pixies, Dwarves, Gnomes, and perhaps surprisingly, Trolls and Djinns.

   Until a year before Horse's birth, the Ehevlen were peaceful, fun-loving hunter-gatherers enjoying the wealth of their forest. Thirty years of warfare, recounted in the five Stories of the Ehvelen, forged them into the Mother's sword, then they were scattered all over the great Eurasian continent and even beyond.

   Men were named after an animal, women for a plant, and the Being of the name was a lifelong Responsibility. The hero of this Trilogy was the first Ehvel, ever, to have been named 'Horse'. He was born in slavery, but his mother Heather managed an incredible escape while he was a baby. She became her People's greatest hero, but her son was also universally loved and admired.

   We remember the Ehvelen as magical creatures, and so they were. As you will find out, First Horse, the hero of this Trilogy, was responsible for much of their awesome reputation. The Story of his travels ends with a magic show, one that won peace for his people.

   This Trilogy is not as much about the Ehvelen, as it is about the ancient world of us Giants, as seen through Horse's eyes. Ehvelen of the time were about three feet tall (Horse, having a Doshi father, was probably 3 ft 6 inches). Their forest was somewhere in western Siberia. During the period of the Stories, much of it was destroyed, so it must be in an area now covered by grassland. Until the year before Horse's birth, Ehvelen had never experienced murder. The Stories were written down one-and-a-half millennia later. By then, they had long become warriors. The other Stories describe this transformation.

Return to top

Book 1: To Assyria

   Horse and his five closest friends qualified for adulthood by killing a mighty brown bear. On their return, they encountered a patrol of twenty-eight Doshi, but the six youngsters proved more than a match for the enemy.

   The others went off to marry, and to join into the fight against the Doshi, but the Mother had another task for Horse. He went traveling with Moustaf, the evil Areg Trader. In Aregia, Horse joined Jebal's troupe of entertainers, and became 'Mukil the Monkey', playing the game of Shah in a chimpanzee suit. He met Gudrun of the Far North, the strongest woman in the world. She was twice his height, but they fell in love and married. Then tragedy struck, and Horse found himself in Scythia. He was befriended by the savage Scyths, who formed an alliance with him against the Doshi. Horse and his friends moved through Haldia, where he learned how to smelt iron, then on to the lands of Sennacherib, King of Assyria.

Book 2: The Secret of Wootz

   The troupe's entry to Assyria was marked by a savage fight. They moved from performance to performance, at last reaching Nineveh, Sennacherib's capital. Horse's quick thinking saved a soldier from mutilation, and earned the friendship of Sennacherib himself. He was given thorough instruction in Assyrian military knowledge, and sent on his way with a Royal gift.

   Egypt was Assyria's major opponent, and had recently been humbled in Sennacherib's Syrian campaign. Therefore, Pharaoh decided to kill these pets of 'the Dog of Assur'. Horse devised a desperate plan that got the troupe out of Egypt and into the desert, and they even gained a 'gift' of a talent of gold.

   Megar, a young Arab Sheikh took them safely to the Judean border. From Jerusalem they went to Damascus, but during a furious sandstorm a guard stole their gold.

   From Damascus, Horse reconnoitered the route towards hidden Meluhha, the mysterious source of steel, universally called 'wootz'. Then he set off on a fifteen month solo journey across the empty desert. In Meluhha, he faced deadly danger, where every person was his enemy. He was sought by thousands of soldiers, and even the street urchins who were everywhere and saw everything.

   One of the greatest feats of his life was to escape Meluhha alive, the first intruder ever to have done so.

Return to top

Book 3: From Ice to Magic

   Traveling north from Meluhha, Horse found himself in the foothills of mighty mountains. He was attacked by a huge tiger during a downpour, and killed her with only his meager hand weapons. He then adopted the tiger's two cubs.

   Months later, he and his tigers saved a hunting group of mountain men from a Meluhhan patrol. The locals, called the Gorrok, treated Horse as a hero, and among them, a maiden sought a hero for the father of her first child...

   Eventually, two Gorrok escorted Horse across the High Pass, down a great glacier, and handed him on to the Hun.

   The Magyar Prince was the Hun Dreaded Lord's advisor on foreign affairs. He made Horse part of his family, and took him north. He handed the young Ehvel over to the Herdsmen of the Frozen Wastes, where the Prince's daughter Anilla accepted him as a 'guest'. After further adventures in the coldest winter in the world, Horse could at last return to his people, though it was hard to leave Anilla and their unborn child.

   Horse was welcomed by his mother Heather, who had aged terribly due to the responsibilities of command. He fought in great battles, told his story to the six Storytellers, and organized a magic show specially for Dosharet, the great Khan of all the Doshi. The show convinced Dosharet to accept a truce, ending a generation of warfare.


Back to the book  Home  Bob's book editing service  LiFE Award: Literature For Environment