Published on 2012/12/23

The Applicant

L J Perry

You don’t choose your steed, your steed chooses you. Mavik rolled his eyes and followed the man back into the stables, already certain what he wanted. He was going to be a great hero, after all, and to a great hero the noble steed was just as important as the sword and the title. So it was of the upmost importance that he have the best horse available.

It would have to be fast – the fastest that they had. And strong, too. It would, of course, have to carry him in his full armour, not to mention all of the fair maidens that he would be rescuing. He would have to make sure that his horse was the strongest that they had. But most importantly, though, much more vital that speed or strength, it would have to be brave. After all, this horse would be riding into battle with him and facing down dragons, and he couldn’t have his horse taking fright and fleeing, now could he?

He cast his eyes about the stable when he was inside, giving a quick inspection of each horse there. The first was a tall, sturdy looking horse, heavy set with A LOT of muscle. It would hold up for strength, surely, and probably speed, too, but judging by the way it moved to chew at Mavik’s shirt as he passed it wasn’t very bright. Now that just wouldn’t do.

The next horse was smaller, barely more than a pony. Not particularly chunky, but still solid enough to hold up to some draft work, with a beautiful chestnut colored coat and bright, alert eyes. A Haflinger, the horse salesman told him. Good horses, sturdy and surefooted, good for inexperienced riders, too, so he wouldn’t need to worry if any of the fair maidens hadn’t ridden before. It was too small, though. A pretty horse, yes, but not majestic enough to be a noble steed, worthy of a great hero.

The next was a scrawny, bandy-legged mare of no discernible breed. Dropped off by a farmer a few weeks ago, Mavik was informed, gotten himself a new one – there’s not much left in her. The mare stuck her head over the gate as Mavik passed, trying to get a better look. He walked past her and onto the next stall.

Another Haflinger, this one a palomino. Taller than the other, and it looked majestic enough, but the salesman informed Mavik that the horse had taken a minor injury to its left foreleg in its youth, and though it was still good for riding and farm-work his strength had suffered and he may not be the best for carrying a knight in full armor.

The next was a tall, well-formed white horse, with bright eyes and a handsome, straight profile, its head up and neck held high. Andalusian, Mavik was informed. Ideal warhorse, strong enough to carry a knight, brave enough to face down dragons and smart enough to learn even the most difficult commands. Mavik asked the man to lead the horse out for him to get a proper look at it.

The Andalusian was even more stunning outside, in the light. A truly majestic horse, Mavik watched it prance around proudly. This was the one, Mavik thought to himself, the ideal steed for when he became a great hero. He could only imagine just what this horse must be worth. “I’ll take him.” he told the salesman, thrilled with his find.

It was inside the horse salesman’s office, negotiating the price, when it happened. The Andalusian was tied up outside, ready for Mavik to take away with him, and he was just trying to get the salesman down a few more pieces of gold, so that he wouldn’t have to budget quite so much on his new sword. He didn’t quite register the sound of hoof-beats at first.

The horse salesman cursed as a horse stepped through the doorway and into the office. Its hooves clattered on the floorboards as it trotted haplessly into the room. Mavik turned to find the scrawny, bandy-legged mare standing right behind him, looking over his shoulder at the bag of gold pieces in his hand. There was a moment of awkward silence while Mavik and the salesman wandered just what the horse was doing inside the office, and then she snatched the money bag out of Mavik’s hand and trotted away with it between her teeth.

A few more moments of stunned silence while they both wondered what had just happened, and then it clicked in Mavik’s head that the horse had taken his money. They scrambled outside where the mare was waiting in the entrance of the stables, Mavik’s money bag still clamped between her teeth. He edged forward carefully, and when she didn’t gallop off or kick out he took the money bag from her.

The salesman led the mare back into the stables and Mavik returned to the office to wait to finish negotiating over the Andalusian. The salesman was back shortly, and made a point of apologizing profusely for the behavior of the mare. They continued their negotiations, and had almost reached an agreement when there was a whinny and a nicker from outside.

They ran outside to find the Andalusian had broken free from where it had been tied and had fled to the other end of the road. The salesman had to chase after it, and was only just able to recapture the horse and bring it back to the stables. The moment he tried to lead the horse towards Mavik it panicked, reared and tried to flee again. Something seemed to be spooking it.

Just in the entrance of the stables, the mare stood and watched, having somehow managed to get out once again. The Andalusian wouldn’t go anywhere near Mavik, and the horse salesman had to take it back into the stables. The mare stood aside and allowed them to pass; the Andalusian kept a wide berth. When the horse and salesman were inside the stable, the mare trotted over to Mavik and nudged him with her nose, smearing bits of dirt across his cheek.

You don’t pick your horse, your horse picks you – that’s what Mavik’s father had told him that morning. He looked up at the mare, taking in the bright eyes hidden behind a knotted, scraggy mane, the muscles visible in her legs despite the fact that hers ribs were really much too visible, the proud way she held her neck, whether she was as majestic as the Andalusian of the palomino Haflinger or not. The Andalusian had been scared away by a scrawny, scraggly, but persistent mare. Mavik couldn’t have that – a hero’s steed needs to be brave and noble, and can’t back down from a challenge. Maybe he wasn’t the ideal warhorse after all, and not the ideal hero’s horse. Mavik rested his hand on the mare’s nose, watching her while he waited for the salesman to come back out.

L J Perry is a student in England and has been writing since she was a child, mostly in fantasy and horror. She has published three stories with Luna Station Quarterly.