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by Bucephalus

Alex’s life was rather mundane. Ordinary. Unexciting. Any word opposite of thrilling, or even mildly interesting, would hit the mark. His fantasies meanwhile, were much more ambitious. After school, he would go online and study fantasy. While he despised those who overtly “lived out” their fantasy world, such as furries, hardcore thespians… he lived a more secretive existence.

While in the midst of this internal exploration, Alex discovered he loved the heroic knight and his faithful steed: both so powerful, courageous and chivalrous. Even many of the horses were creatures of gallantry, even in the presence of mares.

Those traits were further from Alex than even his peers knew. No feats of bravery, no feats of strength, nothing. All were beyond his worth. Even when attempting to do good deeds or just do the most menial right thing, a slip or stumble doomed his acts. Lately, he had given up doing much of anything, as to protect others, including Alex. Most depressing when one wishes to do good in big ways.

During this bout of hopelessness, Alex turned more to the internet, books and other sources concerning knights and their loyal companions. The further he delved, the harsher reality that dawned. Alex could not be a heroic figure. Not even an assistant to a hero. Lack of skills and a penchant for clumsiness were not prerequisites.

What was there to be done? Not only was Alex unqualified, but the era of knights had faded from this world at least five centuries ago. The days of the warhorse had basically ended by the twentieth century, with the mechanized armaments of both World Wars dispelling any doubt.

Regular military service had 4-F’d his possible aspirations. Bad knees and asthma were also not good for men of renown to suffer from. If nothing else, bad for PR.

Law enforcement was not good. Corruption and lack of vision had mutilated the police. No Commissioner Gordons were allowed, no sir. In fact, any half-way decent officer was threatened into submission and one who strayed further could be taken out and shot. By gangsters and lawless fiends of course.

Even volunteer work was hard to find. Two horse shelters had turned down Alex and other charitable endeavors had been either nonchalant or suspicious about his apparent will to serve the community. No good deed, or attempted went unpunished Alex mused.

Alex had to do something to occupy himself, at least in the interim. What to do? Few options presented themselves. He was not an artist by any stretch of the keenest imagination. That left him with appreciating art, which was not exactly constructive. He could throw his hat into writing: writing great tales of knights and steeds, damsels in distress and evil rulers committing acts of villainy. Ah, not much of a writer. While not bad, he had never heard of any one saying his writing was outstanding. A terrible dilemma again; unable to record the story or better yet be a part of the story.

“Why not be part of the story? I can make it happen.”

Who was that? Alex froze, wondering if some hidden person was under his bed, or in his closet. God, he was thinking liking an eight-year old.

“I was sent here by somebody who is… sympathetic to your plight. Do you wish to make something of yourself and save the world, in a sense?”

Was Alex going insane? Hearing voices in one’s head was one way of confirming that. Been spending too much time in alternate reality, his own mind.

“The offer stands. I shall return tomorrow to hear your reply.”

For several minutes, utter silence ensued. Alex finally sighed and staccatoed his lips together as a horse would. It had been a long day. Time to sleep and hope opportunity would finally come… someday.

It was so fitting that good sleep escaped him that night. Nightmares of man and horse, all entangled in brutal, close-quarter combat. Limbs, heads flying to and fro. Blood, gore covering the ground, man and beast. Terrible shouts, screams and neighs of terror. The neighs were the worst. Alex could actually feel the terror emanating from the horses, feeling a sort of empathy with them.

Tired, the following day was uneventful, slow as usual. With little to do, TV was this afternoon’s salvation. It was mostly news or reality shows, but also an unusual number of horse races, shows and movies. Alex had never seen so many in one sitting.

Evening approached and a paltry dinner. Not being very hungry, Alex had his mind focused on things other than his stomach. Eerie… eerie about the preceding night. Would that voice return? If it did, was it real? Or was Alex merely certifiable?

Night came. Slight apprehension and nervous energy set in. To release the tension, Alex played some music. Soft jazz permeated the room, bringing some relief. Though not a fan, Alex appreciated the soft beat and rhythm produced from the old record player.

Suddenly, a chill ran up Alex’s spine. The music slowed, and ceased. The tension of the previous night returned. Not only returned, but in greater force.

“I have come to get my answer.”

“What answer do you want?”

“Why, to be a hero. Or at least play a heroic role.”

Alex thought, this was nuts. First, the insanity factor had not been determined. Second, who was this mysterious voice? What were his motives? Finally… was this his big shot? Or the final blunder in a long line of them? Swallowing hard, the reply came.

“How do I become a hero?”

“That was what I wanted to hear. Nothing, I shall do everything.”

In the next instant, Alex swooned back and forth as dizziness overwhelmed him. Or was the room actually spinning? Darkness enveloped all around, but the spinning continued. At this point, everything faded from Alex as he passed out.

Woken by a splitting headache, Alex groaned and rolled over. What happened? Great, this would be the last mistake. Might as well see how it would all end.

Finally opening his eyes, Alex was in a green field with blue skies all around. Standing up, the green grass also extended over a great distance in all directions. While warm, the weather was most pleasant. Well, at least the end would be in a beautiful locale.

“Ah, glad to find you alright. You have a better constitution than I first deemed. Now, let us begin.”

Begin what?

No sooner had that query registered, Alex felt bigger. Taller too, as muscles and tendons stretched, but the calves and forearms narrowed. A coat of fur burst out, along with a long flowing tail.

Hands and feet blackened and curled up. Digits disappeared and most feeling left what remained in those areas. More changes came, with the neck elongating and gaining size. Alex’s rear exploded and rounded, while the chest barreled and flanks widened. The weight became too much, causing Alex to fall on four newly formed hooves.

As these transformations took hold, Alex was so stunned, he was unable to respond. All he could do was widen his eyes in surprise. Even those spread out and his ears moved up his head. To finish off the make-over, a muzzle replaced a human face. Nostrils flared and eyes ringed white due to the frightening process.

Alex, still unaware of the extent to which he was transformed, stumbled forth. His head was swimming, still unable to adjust to his new vision and balance. After only a few steps, a small pond lay just in front of him. Cautiously meandering towards it, Alex finally got to see “his” reflection.

Seeing it, Alex jumped back in utter disbelief. This was not possible. Daring to sneak another glance, he looked into the pond. What came back was the image of a large, black horse.

This was too overwhelming. Alex began to shout but none issued. Only frantic neighing filled his ears. Jumping and stomping did no good either, but what else was there to do? Eventually out of breath and out of hope of any miraculous intervention, his legs buckled and consciousness left him. Alex found this round of darkness somewhat appealing.

“What do we have here?”

“My lord Demitrius, as I was riding to meet you, I came upon this black stallion. He was asleep when I arrived and I thought you might wish to add him as your reserve.”

“Yes, after losing Apollo, I have been waiting to find that horse with his strength, loyalty and courage. Caesar here is a fine horse, but he is almost ready to retire. Hmm… though I like the looks of this one, I must see how he would bear a rider. Waking him would be a good start.”

While this was going on, Alex could hear the impending “auction” of his hide. Apparently, he was a fine specimen, a great piece of horseflesh. Better than what most thought of Alex’s physical appearance in his prior form. Actually, a better compliment about him concerning anything in general.

“Wakeup, stallion.”

Risking a look, Alex opened his eyes. Above him was an average sized man, with a medium complexion and dark hair. He was bent over, rubbing Alex’s poll. Thankful to be a horse, admitting the enjoyment of this to anyone would have been most embarrassing.

“He seems to enjoy that, Siphidus. At least he doesn’t seem to be vicious.”

Having been embarrassed somewhat (did horses ever feel embarrassed?), Alex got on all fours. All fours… he had better get used to it.

“Put a bridle on him. I wish to bring him to camp.”

“We’re in luck; I actually have one. What made you think I had one?”

“No idea. What a silly question. Glad you had one, nonetheless.”

Siphidus carefully bridled Alex, which strangely felt normal. Alex neither felt the urge or even the desire to resist. It probably wouldn’t behoove him anyways. Better to see how this current situation played out.

The ensuing trip was a leisurely walk and occasional trot for a couple of hours. Sunset began to come over the land when the camp became visible. It was situated just beyond the edge of the green field, engulfing the barren landscape, even more expansive than the field. Hundreds of small tents, dozens of canopy-like tents and even a large pavilion were all that dotted the surround.

Coming into camp, a great stir began to infect the camp. Hundreds, thousands of men began to stare and whisper. Some spoke of Demitrius, others of the “great stallion.”

“Lord Demitrius has returned.”

“How did he survive the tribunal?”

“Where did that stallion come from?”

“No horse we have is so proud or so magnificent.”

Were they talking of Alex? If so, which was likely, that was a self-esteem booster. Looking himself over as he followed Siphidus, Alex deemed himself as seventeen, eighteen hands, large enough to be a draft horse, but sleek enough to at least play the part of show horse.

What of Demitrius though? A tribunal? He survived… From what Alex could tell, this man seemed to be a good soul. One thing other than physical appearance that had been altered was Alex’s sense of others’ dispositions. Demitrius carried himself proudly, had good intent, but carried terrible burdens. What burdens was more befuddling. Had he murdered? Accused of treason? Whatever it or they were, the lord knight buried then within his bosom.

While mulling this over, the group halted before the pavilion. Out came a large, fair man in full regalia. Upon his head lay a crown of silver and red rubies. Despite all this pageantry, nothing could conceal his seething anger and hatred from his green eyes.

“My favorite knight returns.”

“I am here to serve the king, Prince Julius.”

With that, Demitrius unhorsed and came before the Prince. They coldly embraced and entered the pavilion. Before entering, the knight turned to look at the crowd forming around the entrance. Now, Alex could see Demitrius in full profile for the first time (one positive of near 360 degree vision).

Taller than even the Prince, Demitrius looked much like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings: well-built, rugged, dark-haired, he looked as though he had been a man in exile for many years. What gave away his concealed nobility most were his eyes. Sea-grey, but stunning and deep. Within them, pride, sorrow and resolve shone.

Soon, Siphidus brought Alex to one of the large tents. This caused a confrontation. “Siphidus, take these horses to the picket-lines. No horses in the camp.”

“Leave it alone Titus. I am not so foolish as to leave our horses, especially the black stallion under the Prince’s Praetorian Guard. Be gone!”

“This shall not go unheard.”

Siphidus merely snorted and got about to quartering the horses. They were tied to a post and all given feed bags. Alex was so hungry, he didn’t even bother to investigate, but instead ate with reckless abandon. It was good, at least by horse standards. Oats and barley were bland to Alex while human, but as a horse, they were most tasty.

After gorging himself, and fortunately not colic-ing, Alex took in the scene. The camp was bustling, with many men looking him over. To be an object of men’s eyes… it was funny and depressing.

Placed between Caesar and Siphidus’ horse, Philos, Alex looked at his new brethren. Caesar had the marks and scars of a campaigner. He was almost as large as Alex, but he was a light brown. He had a white splotch on his forehead, which almost resembled the Prince’s crown. While old, Caesar comported himself proudly and was most friendly. In a sense, he had taken Alex under his wing, watching out for him, offering whickers of encouragement or to raise awareness. A good horse.

Philos meanwhile was as vain as a horse could get. During their jaunt into camp, he had almost pranced. Pure white, Philos was more of an Arab sized equine, and annoyingly hyper to boot. Constantly, he had looked at Alex arrogantly, almost with contempt. To show how cute and pretty he was, Philos swished his tail all over, bounced his head and made constant verbal cues to draw any attention possible.

This was wearing thin on Alex. Now, Philos was bumping him out of the way from the water trough. Ownership of everything was another trait Philos exhibited. Time to make a stand, Alex moved off to the side and tipped over the trough, dousing Philos’ front. This put him in a foul mood, after the initial shock and subsequent squeal.

Needing to get even, Philos thought he would threaten Alex into obedience. Snorting and lifting his left front hoof were his methods. Alex would have none of that, snorting even louder and closing the distance along the rope-line quickly. Stomping both front hooves strongly, Alex feigned a bite at Philos, his teeth clicking harshly.

Philos cowered and squealed softly. He had been dominated and humbled. Never had another horse challenged him so strongly. Casear neighed lightly, amused and entertained. He then offered a whicker of congratulations to Alex. Alex returned one in thanks.

As the darkness dominated the skyline, Demitrius returned. His head was slightly bowed and his eyes were cloaked. Hopelessness issued from his feelings, worrying not only Alex, but Caesar and even Philos somewhat.

“My lord, do you desire anything?”

“No, I will retire for the night. Thank you Siphidus.”

Through the night, little could be seen, except a sentry fire or two. Alex slept in small increments, sensing his neighbors were uneasy also. Something was brewing. Could a battle be in the offing? A power struggle?

Dawn finally came, but the sunlight brought little good cheer. The camp was lethargic, everyone in a daze. Siphidus and Demitrius went through the ranks, raising spirits. Still, the men remained down.

“Lord, they are scared. How do we inspire them?”

“Lead from the front. The Prince won’t, so we must.”

Men began to leave the camp, going to the picket-lines, finding their horses. The time for something, something big was drawing near. Siphidus outfitted Philos with saddle and tack. Demitrius did the same for Caesar, but before he finished, the knight noticed his steed’s hind hoof. A crack was forming, disturbing both men.

“Siphidus, do you think this black one has the will to fight?”

“Yes my lord, he is a fighter. He put my horse back into his place. Black won’t roll over.”

“Hmm… I need Caesar’s experience. I’m sorry old boy, I can’t risk you. You have come too far to fall.”

Caesar was devastated. He wanted to serve his rider, but his body could not keep up. The will was there, but not the hooves. All Caesar could do was bow his head. The old man was finished.

“Don’t fret Caesar, you served me well. It is likely my fault you are lame. I should have watched you better.”

Demitrius petted Caesar on his lowered head. That perked the horse up somewhat, but the sadness remained.

“Siphidus, get the black stallion ready.”

While Siphidus prepared Alex, the latter felt excited, but felt for his comrade. Caesar looked at Alex, longingly and yet with some paternalism. The elder horse was watching his young new friend go to battle.

Then, a great horn blew, rallying the horsemen. Demitrius mounted Alex and rode with Siphidus and Philos to the call. Glancing back at Caesar, the veteran gave one last neigh, telling Alex to protect his rider.

The knight and his batman joined the companies of knights and cavalry. There must have been several thousand. The sights and smells all slammed into Alex. Maintaining his composure, the black horse drew himself up a little more, without prancing like his white counterpart used to, his rider noted with approval.

“Men, my fellow warriors. Let us hold the line. Our enemy has crossed our borders and wishes to destroy us all. Now is the hour to make our stand. We must hold them, until the Prince can return with the Army. Are you with me?”

A resounding shout of approval issued. Taking the lead, Demitrius put Alex into a fast canter, following the endless dirt landscape.

While most of the other horses tired, Alex was chomping at the bit to keep going. His prior conditions while human affected him no longer, making his transformation easier to bear. However, the horses halted and the men dismounted, leading their mounts.

“So my lord,” Siphidus spoke, “The Prince would rather you die and lose most of his knights than save his people.”

“I don’t know. He was ‘pleased’ with the tribunal exonerating me. This is my punishment I suppose.”

“Well, when this part of the Army is destroyed, I hope the Prince is happy when our towns burn and he has no horses to chase away theirs.”

“Then let us disappoint our enemy and the Prince.”

Again, the men mounted and rode on under a blistering sun. No one complained though, since everyone except Alex knew what was at stake. He would soon find out.

Drums beat in the distance, where some small hills rose. Shortly, an army in black marched towards the men of Demitrius. Their cries and shouts were soon heard, which were most disturbing. They sounded more like banshees and demons than men. More and more came: thousands; tens of thousands.

Demitrius called a halt once more. This time, battle lines were formed. Besides Alex on his right, was an interesting horse. A hand or so shorter than him, this horse eyed him extensively. Not menacingly or rudely, but genuine interest. Alex returned the glance, realizing more features: dark brown, a splotch of white on the forehead and a great, well-defined physique. White fetlocks and… the scent revealed her to be a mare!

That was why she had looked Alex over. She formed a slight, equine ‘smile’ and gave a welcoming nicker. Alex returned it, bashful and would have blushed if possible. His instincts took over, telling him to protect this mare. She was now his responsibility.

“Men of the center with me. Flanks, fan out.”

Urging Alex to a trot, the center column followed. They would drive themselves into the heart of the enemy. Hopefully, the flanks would out maneuver the men in black, cutting them to ribbons. Hopefully.

Alex was anxious and worried. How would he fight? This was not for him. In about a minute it would be. He would join the men in silver, against the black horde.

The horses were now in full gallop, men shouting. Arrows filled the sky, cutting down several men and horses. Demitrius rallied his men into a faster gallop. Ever closer they came to the enemy lines. Soon, they were running through them, avoiding the pikes and spears angled to kill the horses.

His first contact was artful, as Alex busted a man’s head in with his front hooves, landing perfectly on the other side. As his rider hacked left and right, Alex stomped, bit, bucked and slammed himself into the countless enemy soldiers. While they killed and wounded many, more and more came. It was looking hopeless. But fought on they did.

Out of the corner of his eye, Alex saw his muse under siege. Her rider was wounded, valiantly holding his own, but not for much longer. Alex’s rage consumed him, as he took the bit in his mouth, charging into the mare’s foes. Surprised, they fled, if they could. Alex landed on top of several of them after jumping many feet to slam them. He could hear the breaking of bones and ooze of blood.

To the left Alex bit. To the right he kicked. Soon, the attackers became the defenders, too afraid to attack the great knight and his vicious steed. When they seemed to have won the area, Demitrius was struck by an arrow in the back, causing him to fall. Alex covered his fallen rider, who while not injured badly, was still stunned.

While defending his man, Alex strayed too far from Demitrius. While realizing this mistake, Alex lunged to cut off a spear aimed at Demitrius. It hit home, buried into the horse’s right flank. Alex fell, with no strength to fight. All seemed lost, until… that familiar neigh.

It was Caesar… he had led the rest of the Army to the battle! Their yells joined Caesar’s neighing, as they came to their fellow soldiers’ aid. They turned the tide, causing a retreat from the field. The silver had defeated the black.

Alex finally stood, though shakily. Caesar approached him, regarding him carefully. When Demitrius appeared, Caesar came before Alex and blew a breath of friendship into the his nose. Alex returned the same, honored that his mentor was so proud of him. Still, he was in some pain.

That disappeared when the mare came. She was most happy to be near her potential mate, nuzzling her muzzle on his. Alex again was honored, and returned the nuzzle. They were all alive, though many of their fellow equines and human riders lay dead and wounded. Victory had been costly.

To ruin the moment, the strange voice returned.

“Very good, very good. You have proven a most worthy horse. By saving Demitrius, you saved this kingdom. Had he died before the battle ended, his men would have fled and been slaughtered. Most courageous. Now, I offer another choice. Remain in this form and serve Demitrius and quite possibly that beautiful mare over there. Or become human and leave.”

Alex needed no time to think. He offered a neigh of conviction.

“Very well, great steed. Farewell, and good fortune shall follow you wherever you go.”

Alex had proven himself. Though no one had witnessed the human Alex do it, he had proven to himself he had done it. Satisfaction was finally his.

“Well, great horse. You saved me. I am most grateful. I shall name you Alexander, a good name for so great a warrior,” Demitrius spoke. “And Caesar, you saved the Army. You had one last ride, hey? Good horse. Both of you. Most men struggle for one great horse in their lifetime. I have two, in one sitting.”

Alex had found his calling. Being called a great horse confirmed it. Though he had not thought this path was his or even possible, it was good to feel wanted, regardless.

The End