Published on 2011/06/05

The Centaur Choir

Krysti Meyer

“You know if you want that to heal him, you’re going to have to sing,” said Ascella giving Vega a bony fingered poke in the ribs. “You can’t expect the honey yarrow to do all the work, now can you?”

“You know I can’t sing,” said Vega.

“Of course you can.” Ascella scowled, making the many lines around her eyes fold deeply into her skin. “I’m not interested in whether or not you can sing well.”

Ascella tied her graying mane behind her and bent over the little foal lying on her table. Vega was pressing the blossoms of the honey yarrow plant against a deep gash in his arm. Ascella replaced Vega’s hands with her own, closed her eyes, and softly began to sing.

Ascella’s voice was rich and sweet like honey. Vega let the beauty of the song wash over her, swaying to the melody. She felt warmth spread through her own body as Ascella’s healing powers were kindled by her singing. Ascella’s voice slowly faded, and Vega opened her eyes. Ascella removed the pad of honey yarrow, revealing the foal’s slightly pink, but uninjured arm. Vega sighed enviously.

Ascella reached across the table, pressing her withered hand against Vega’s cheek. “It’s not the quality of your singing that hinders your healing abilities my child. It’s your own insecurities. Come now, the choir will be starting soon.”

Vega tucked her remaining honey yarrow, along with a few other healing herbs, into her bag and followed Ascella and the freshly healed foal out into the forest. She glanced miserably up at the first stars of the evening flickering above the treetops. For as long as Vega could remember, she’d wanted nothing more than to be a member of the centaur choir. As a foal she would sing endlessly, blissfully unaware of the herd’s cringing faces. It wasn’t until she was a yearling that some of her classmates not so kindly informed her that she sounded like a troll during mating season when she sang.

By the time they arrived, the choir had already begun warming up their voices as they watched the skies. One by one the stars began to show themselves, spelling out the lyrics to the night’s songs. The rest of the herd settled themselves into the long grass, ready to hear what the fates had written that night. Ascella headed toward a group of elder centaurs chatting away at the forest’s edge while Vega made a beeline for her favorite willow tree. She loved to listen to the choir there, hidden from view by its long, sweeping branches. The air was perfumed by the violets that grew wild beneath the tree, and fireflies danced on the breeze that filtered in between the branches. As the first notes broke through the quiet of the evening, Vega closed her eyes, visualizing the choir’s lyrics.

The first song was beautiful, a tale of two young lovers about to cross paths for the first time. Sweet images of secret rendezvous and passionate kisses filled Vega’s mind. She could imagine nothing more romantic. Stories like these were the reason she loved coming here, why she had wanted to be a member of the choir to begin with. She felt connected to the stories, almost like she was a part of them.

On and on the choir sang into the night, each song more captivating then the last. Several members of the herd had drifted off to sleep. Vega could hear their gentle snoring from her spot under the willow tree. When the choir began their next song, Vega knew immediately that something was wrong. The notes had taken on a deeper, darker tone. A chill ran through the meadow, and the moon disappeared behind a cloud. Even it seemed to fear what they were all about to hear. Around her the herd sat in utter silence, wide awake now, waiting to discover what grave secrets were about to be uncovered. Gasps echoed through the meadow as the choir revealed the name of the poor soul this dark fate belonged to--the king.

The young human king, beloved by both men and magical creatures alike for his goodness, was to be murdered the next morning by a pair of traitors whom he had always regarded as dear friends. It was a terrible fate, not only for the king, but for the centaurs as well.

Humans had not always treated the centaurs with the respect of this good king. In the past they had not seen them equals, but as beasts. They feared the centaur’s abilities, which they could not understand. There were even those that had found sport in hunting them. Centaurs had been murdered by the dozens, their hooves collected as grotesque tokens. The forest was not safe, and they had nowhere else to go. Things changed when the young king came into power. He knew of the centaur’s powers, and saw the potential benefit they could be to his kingdom. Punishments were dealt out to those committing crimes against magical creatures, and the violence finally came to an end.

“No,” whispered Vega. How could the fates have dealt this good king such a dark card? Horrific images filled her mind, images of the brutal things that could happen if things went back to the way they were before. Something began stirring inside her. The herd’s safety depended on the king. How could she sit by and allow him to die? But to do the unthinkable, to try to interfere with fate, would mean certain banishment from the herd. A thought began to form in the back of her mind--what good was she to them anyway? She couldn’t sing, therefore she couldn’t heal, she couldn’t be a member of the choir, she wouldn’t even be strong in battle. The only way she could ever truly be useful to them was to try and protect them now.

The choir hadn’t yet finished singing their tragic tune, but Vega was running out of time. If she was going to save the king, she had to hurry. Carefully, she stood and untangled herself from the willow branches, being as quiet as a creature that is half horse can be. She couldn’t risk catching the herd’s attention. When she felt she was a safe distance from the clearing she bolted, crashing through streams and low hanging tree branches. She could feel them clawing a spider web of scratches onto her skin as their leaves tangled in her hair. Around every turn she expected to find a member of the herd, waiting to put an end to her journey.

Vega had never been so far into the forest on her own before. The way the shadows overtook the forest floor was a bit spooky. Vega tried to fend off the fear that seemed to be growing in the pit of her stomach, but she couldn’t help jumping at the smallest of sounds, the croak of a bullfrog, even the flit of a fairy’s wings. Her path was lit only by the moonlight filtering through the trees and the tiny glow of the fireflies that raced to keep up with her. Her bag of healing herbs was slung over her shoulder, and it thumped against her back as she ran. Before long, the clipping of her hooves against the forest floor was joined by the sound of heavily padded feet.

“A bit far from home, aren’t we young centaur? What do you mean by intruding on what is clearly my territory.”

Vega spun around to see a chimera of intimidating stature trailing closely after her. His mane was full and silky. She would have been tempted to stroke it, if it weren’t for the way his fangs gleamed under the light of the moon. The goat’s head that grew near the center of his back eyed her lazily as it gnawed on a thick wad of grass.

“Ssssoooo far from home,” hissed the snake’s head that ended his tail.

Vega stared into his lion’s eyes that were gleaming maliciously. Panic coursed through her. Chimeras were wicked deadly, particularly to a young centaur all alone in the dead of night.

“Please,” she begged. “Please, I am only here to help the herd. Please, just let me pass through.”

“Let you pass through, you say?”

“Passss through,” hissed the snake.

“Now why in the world would I let a meal as delectable as yourself simply pass through my territory?” His tongue ran absentmindedly over those large teeth. “It seems to me young centaur that you are up to no good. Oh no, I think it would be for the best if I simply put an end to your little adventure.”

“No! If you don’t let me go terrible things are going to happen! The king is in danger, and if I don’t….”

“The king, you say?” The chimera suddenly came to attention, a look of concern on his face. “What is this about the king?”

“He is in danger. If I don’t get to him, he’ll be dead within hours.”

The chimera eyed her carefully, trying to decide if she was telling the truth. “This one time centaur, this one time I will let you pass. Help the king if you can, but keep in mind, it would be most unwise for you to pass through here again.”

With that he turned and darted off into the trees. His quick motion caused the goat’s head to wobble so violently the wad of grass popped out of his mouth and landed in a sticky green clump on the forest floor.

Through the topmost branches of the trees Vega could see streaks of purple creeping across the sky. Dawn was quickly approaching. She turned and ran as quickly as she could, not even bothering to see if the chimera had decided to turn tail and follow after her. The sun was rising ever higher in the sky, and one by one the fireflies burned out and fell behind.

She could see the castle’s turrets as she approached the forest’s edge. The choir had foretold that the king would meet his demise in the early hours of the morning while hunting with his men. They would certainly be entering the forest at any moment. The question was where. Vega ran frantically around the tree line surrounding the castle searching. Suddenly, she saw the hunting party departing the castle grounds at a gallop. The king and his men were on horseback and approaching--fast. Vega ducked behind a tree and waited for them to enter the forest.

The men seemed in high spirits, laughing and joking as they entered the forest. She knew immediately which rider was the king. He rode the center horse, and even though he was the youngest of the five, he carried himself with considerably more confidence and poise. Mustering as much courage as she could, Vega took a deep breath and stepped into the open. For a split second, all five men stood staring at her in surprise; centaurs didn’t normally leave the depths of the forest. Then, in less time than it would have taken her to blink, four different arrows were pointing directly at her chest.

“Put your weapons down,” the king commanded.

Reluctantly, the men lowered their bows.

“What are you doing this far from your home centaur?”

“Please, your majesty. I am Vega, one of the daughters of Ascella.”

Recognition flickered across the king’s face. The king had heard of Ascella’s legendary healing abilities. Vega noticed the rider on the far left watching her with an expression of deep suspicion. She could sense that this man was dangerous. A fresh wave of fear washed over her as she watched him, making her hesitate.

“And what is it, young Vega, that I can do for you?” she turned back to the king who was watching her, a patient expression on his face.

“Your majesty, I’m so sorry for what I have come to tell you. Two of these men deceive you. You have been lured out on this hunt under false pretenses. They plan to kill you, and I…” She had been so focused on her speech that she failed to notice the man on the left loading his bow. With a quiet thud, his arrow burrowed deep into her stomach.

For a split second everything was still. Then an intense burning sensation began to fill her belly. Her legs buckled and collapsed underneath her, and everything became a bit hazy. Around her a fierce battle commenced. The men leapt off their horses into battle. Swords flashed and came together with a mighty clatter. Arrows flew through the air. Through the fog that filled her brain, she saw one of the men take an arrow in the chest in an attempt to shield the king.

Vega tried to maintain consciousness as the men fought, but found herself drifting. She was lying on her side in the grass that was quickly turning red with blood--her blood. One of the men yelled in agony, and Vega watched him fall to the ground, a sword protruding from his belly. A small smile crossed the face of the man who had shot her as he tugged his sword free. The king turned bravely to face both of his attackers head on. He was alone now.

He didn’t stand a chance. As he swung his sword around to attack her shooter, the other man loaded his bow and let loose an arrow. The king took the arrow in the chest and fell to the forest floor. The two traitors mounted their horses. Vega could hear them laughing in victory as they rode away into the forest.

Angry tears stung her eyes. After all she had risked, she couldn’t believe it could end like this. Despair fluttered at the edges of her mind, threatening to overwhelm her. With all her remaining strength, Vega drug herself over to the king. He was alive, but barely. His breath came in quick gasps. The arrow had narrowly missed its intended target. It was lodged in the right side of his chest, and blood was quickly pooling around it.

With a monumental effort, Vega pushed herself into a kneeling position. She reached into her bag, and pulled out her remaining honey yarrow. Vega ground it between her hands and pressed it quickly against the wound as she tugged the arrow from the king’s body. The flow of blood began to slow against the healing properties of the yarrow, but the king’s breath was becoming increasingly shallow. It wasn’t enough.

Ascella’s words rang in her ears. “If you want that to heal him, you’re going to have to sing.”

Taking a deep breath, Vega opened her mouth and, for the first time in so many years, began to sing. Time had done nothing to improve her singing ability. Her notes were a jumbled mess, each one crashing into the next like a hippogriff running blindfolded through the forest. As she hit a high note that made even her own ears throb in pain, she noticed the bleeding had stopped completely. She could feel the king’s heart beat begin to pick up strength, as his breathing returned to normal. Relief filled her as she collapsed back onto the ground. She laid there watching the king’s steady breath as everything became hazy and then went dark.

“Vega?” someone gently whispered.

Vega felt like she was floating, lost deep in a sea of unconsciousness, struggling to pull her head above the waves. She couldn’t remember where she was or how she had come to be there.

“Vega?”

Her eyes flickered open. Everything was a bit blurry, but she could just make out the shape of Ascella’s face leaning over her. She moved to sit up and gasped at the intense pain throbbing through her abdomen. Suddenly, she remembered what had happened.

“Easy there, child.” Ascella gently pushed her back down and ran the back of her hand across Vega’s cheek. “You’re going to be alright, but you must rest.”

“I’m so sorry,” Vega whispered. “I know I’ve disgraced myself, but I had to warn him. I had too…”

“Quiet darling. I know. I know everything. If you had stayed in the clearing a moment longer last night, you would have heard the choir sing of your own destiny. You were meant to save the king’s life this morning.”

“The king. How is he?”

“He is fine, thanks to you.” Ascella chuckled under her breath. “I only wish I had been there to hear you sing.”

Vega groaned. “Believe me, you don’t.”

Ascella laughed right out loud. Her smile was so big her wrinkles nearly overtook her eyes completely. “My dear, how many times must I tell you the quality of the singing doesn’t matter? Clearly, your healing abilities are worth the small amount of pain your voice may cause the patient’s ears.”

Vega started to laugh herself, but that caused the pain in her stomach to intensify so much it came out as more of a yelp. “And what about the traitors? They escaped into the forest. Have they been caught?”

“Strangest thing,” said Ascella. “Their bodies were discovered not far from where we found you. They were a right mess. It looked like something had just torn them open and eaten their insides. They also had some strange little fang marks on them, and there were clumps of slimy grass everywhere.”

Vega couldn’t help but smile at that as she lay back on the table and let Ascella go to work healing her.


Krysti Meyer lives in the Salt Lake City area with her wonderful husband, insane dachshund, gigantic bullmastiff, and two frisky felines. She is a banker by day and creative writing student by night. Her fiction has previously appeared in Luna Station Quarterly.