You may have heard of me. Ocyrrhoe, flame-haired daughter of Chiron? Yes, the Chiron, the same one who taught Jason and Hercules and all the rest.
I never questioned the fact that I was born human, when below the waist my father was seventeen hands of heavy-horse stallion. My mother, Chariclo, was a nymph and human enough in appearence, and nymphs have the ability to pair with just about anything (although just for the record, when my father sired me upon my mother, he had assumed human form).
There were times when I regretted my two feeble human legs. Oh, they were shapely enough, I'll grant you, but hardly what I'd call practical. We lived in a cave in the side of Mount Pelion, and the floor of the cave was about the only flat ground for a league around. Everywhere was steep hill. Great for quadrupeds. Less appealing to us poor bipeds. You want to know why Hercules is always depicted with thighs the size of a bull's? Welcome to the University of Pelion!
When I was twelve I showed some slight signs of prescience, and my father took me to the Temple of the Delphic Oracle, Apolloís temple, a few leagues away. They took me on as a novice, but my powers in that direction were pretty sparse. I certainly didn't foresee my own future. In deference to my father, held in almost religious awe himself, I was not constrained to dwell at the temple, but was allowed to return home when my duties -which were only light- permitted it. Oracles tend to be pretty relaxed like that: probably the heavy incense in the air, if thatís what it was. A heavy scent of poppies, which I know from fatherís herblore is said to be benificient in opening the mind to the Godsí wisdom. I think it does this by blotting out oneís own.
What I remember most about that day is the journey back. Part of our trek lay through a pleasant valley where mossy turf made a carpet that was a much needed balm to my tired feet. No, my father did not offer me a ride. Centaurs don't unless there is a very pressing reason. And why should they? They're hardly beasts of burden, whatever their appearance. Not that I appreciated that right then of course. Idly grazing just a few hundred yards away was a small band of wild horses. There were a handful of mares, all different colours, and a scattering of half grown infants. The stallion grazed the upper slopes where he had a good view both of his mares and the surrounding terrain.
Pelion is home to many wild horses and deer. My father doesn't hunt, and permits none in his demesnes (you should hear the fuss some of his students make when they learn they're going to be vegetarian for the next ten years!). The animals know this and every slope and valley has its own resident herds. Life isn't a complete bed of clover - lions and wolves weren't slow to accumulate, but at least the herbivores could rest easy from one threat.
The stallion was a gorgeous creature. A dramtically coloured piebald, he was tall and slender, and his every move was a song in motion. His long white mane and tail streamed in the mountain breeze. My breath caught when his intelligent gaze turned on me.
"Look at him, Father," I cried.
Chiron turned at the waist. "Indeed," he said. "A fine animal."
"What's his name?"
My father smiled indulgently. Throwing back his shaggy maned head, he gave a high whinnying cry. Twelve heads lifted alertly and twelve pairs of ears pricked in interest. The stallion neighed a reply like a silver fanfare that we heard echoing across the mountain side.
"There you are," Chiron said to me.
"Can I call him to me?" I asked.
Chiron's eyes twinkled in challenge. "I don't know. Can you?"
I firmed my lips. My human vocal chords couldn't reproduce the complex harmonics of equine speech, but I could do a creditable imitation. Throwing the sound from deep in the back of my throat and expelling it as much from my nostrils as my mouth, I called out in a high pitched whinny. Father calls it my "foal in distress" voice and it always makes him laugh. But it works.
Several of the mares looked at me in surprise. The stallion rumbled an answer deep in his chest, then to my delight, came bounding down the slope in a series of neat, graceful leaps and controlled slides. This was clearly an animal born on these slopes.
He trotted right up to us, pausing just feet away to extend his head and sniff cautiously. My father made a soft throaty noise and gently thrust his nose forward, flaring his nostrils almost as widely as the stallion. Satisfied, the big horse stepped nearer and turned his attention to me. Like my father, I greeted him in his own fashion, keeping my arms at my sides as his muzzle filled my vision. The scent of him filled my nostrils and I drank it in as he inhaled me before dopping his head to nuzzle hopefully at my hands. I bent and plucked a handful of grass and was foolishly gratified when he took it from me. Now I gently raised my hands and stroked his neck, marveling at how fine and soft his coat was considering it had (presumably) never known brush or comb. His flesh was solid with muscle. A tiny ridge of proud-flesh on his breast spoke of a few past battles. I stepped around his side, running my hand back over his withers to his broad back. The stallion showed no sign of anxiety: he turned his head to follow me, eyes curious. I reached both hands up to back, and gently pressed down until it was clear he had no concerns about weight on his back. I glanced at my father. His eyes were half shut which meant he was touching minds with the stallion. Emboldened by this, I vaulted to the horse's back, indelicately sitting astride with my skirts hiked up around my waist. The horse made a surprised sound as if to say, "Is that what you wanted?" He didn't seem at all bothered.
Which was the start of a beautiful friendship. I think initially my father's mental touch had a lot to do with me staying on the stallion's back and on him carrying me where I asked. But soon I was making unaccompanied journies between the cave and the temple, and the stallion would always be there, affectionately begging attention. I named him Storm Cloud, me being at that sort of age. His flying mane and tail and patchy colouration reminded me of the sudden mountain squalls we often got in the spring.
His herd soon came to know me as well as I did them so that I could wander freely among the mares and foals, and frequently had a train of inquisitive infants frisking after me on stick-legs.
On many a hot spring afternoon I watched him servicing his mares, marveling at how such strength could be so gentle. Some stallions are brutally rough with their mates: Storm Cloud was not one of those. The tender way he would lie his head against a mare's neck as he covered her made me almost envious. I confess I had some less-than-innocent fantasies concerning Storm Cloud and myself. The sheer size of his organ was almost beyond belief. I found myself thinking of my parents. Little wonder my father had taken human form! But at the same time, despite the complete impossibility of it, how tempting to contemplate!
Then it happened, very shortly after my sixteenth birthday. It didn't help that it was also immediately after my first authentic prophesy. Everyone accused me of being punished by Zeus for giving away divine secrets. Rubbish! Prophesies are given by the gods: Apollo in my case. If I had revealed any secrets, He wanted them revealed.
Chiron was entrusted with a baby boy child. We knew he was destined to become something special, so when the room started spinning and I began chanting nonsense, my father was not especially concerned. Like the good scholar he was, he carefully noted everything down. I only gradually became aware of what I was saying - the infant was in fact destined to become (after a number of unpleasant adventures) the god Escapulus.
Something was wrong, and it took me a while to notice. Something had broken the prophetic trance! I was aware of what I was saying, and of my surroundings - that just doesn't happen in a vision.
Then I noticed how hard it was getting to pronounce the words: a definite effort was required to shape my lips around each sound. My throat felt constricted.
"Father!" I gulped.
He caught the undertone of fear in my voice and stopped writing instantly. "Ocyrrhoe? What is it?"
I couldn't speak: couldn't breath. I began to hyperventilate, and sudden cramp in my belly doubled me over until I was crouching on all fours. I tried to say something - my father looked genuinely frightened: something I don't recall seeing before - but the words wouldn't form. Instead I uttered something shrill and unintelligible. I swallowed air desperately and tried again, and the sound that emerged this time was unmistakable: a mareish squeal that made both of us jump back in shock.
My eyes met my father's, desperate to know what was happening. I tried to speak again and this time neighed outright. The baby began to cry.
An indescribable sensation in my hands and feet caused me to look down to find not the familiar sight of fingers and toes but neat round hooves of grey horn. My fair skin began to darken to an almost black colour, and a fine coat of red-brown hair began to grow through it.
My clothing fell away as my body swiftly gained mass, fast losing its maidenly proportions and gaining those of a young chestnut mare. I don't think I want to describe the grotesque sight and sensation of my breasts migrating down my swelling belly and merging to form a neat udder on my abdomen. Nor do I wish to recall the embarrasingly personal feeling of my tail emerging from the base of my spine.
My neck extended, and my face projcted forward: chin mouth and nose merging to form a finely featured muzzle. I could feel my cheek bones shifting and realigning. My ears twitched, startling me with their newly acquired mobility. Then the sensations of change faded, and I looked around at myself in mute shock.
My father jumped to the obvious and incorrect solution. Tearfully embracing my equine head against his chest, he loudly protested to Zeus at this unjust punishment for my having inadvertently revealed divine secrets. I gently pulled free, and with the utmost difficulty, managed to frame human words with an equine tongue. "Fafur, 'shh all rike!" I tried harder, getting it by experiment. "Itsh all right!"
"Oh, thank the Gods," said he who had been blaming them to that moment, "Daughter, what has become of you?"
A red mare, I thought. Isn't it obvious? But why don't I mind?
For I didn't. It was a shock: utterly unexpected, and yet... it felt oddly right, as if something incomplete was now made whole. And what difference did it really make? Knowing the Temple, they would probably hail it as a miracle, especially if I continued to have visions. Ocyrhoe, blessed mare of the Oracle!
I told father all this, and he looked slightly happier though obviously perplexed by my lack of concern.
I spent a few days getting the hang of my new form: its strengths and weaknesses, its balance and speed. It didn't really take that long: I was sure-footed as a goat almost from the first hour. On the fourth day I informed my father I was going to visit the Temple. He offered to accompany me and I assurred him I didn't need any. I think he guessed right then what I had in mind but he didn't say anything. Chiron is as wise as they say he is.
Storm Cloud met me at the entrance to his valley. It was as if he knew what had become of me, and maybe somehow he did. He called out a brazen invitation and I answered it eagerly. Hurling himself up the hillside as if it were level ground, he thundered toward me, tail plumed and head high in excitement. When we met it was in a wheeling, rearing, squealing dance of joy, full of soft nickers and grunts, flared nostrils and satin nuzzlings. His flank against mine was a velvet carress more intimate than anything I had ever known before.
You see? He asked me wordlessly. I only had to wait.
I laughingly rewarded his presumption with a playful nip which he returned. His breath was hot enough to overule the chill mountain breeze and the musky stallion scent of him I drank in like wine.
Then he nudged me in the direction of the valley and urged me forwards with nips and snaking head: Come - we return to the herd. I cannot leave them for so long. Willingly enough, I set off in that direction. A sharp nip to my rump and I bucked with an outraged squeal and galloped. Thunder at my side -I named him well!- and his flank was again against mine as we ran in unison down the grassy slopes. The small part of me that had questioned my transformation was trampled and left there.
That was four years ago. Of course, now it's all obvious. I've been prodded and poked by the best -and worst- sages in the land. The answer to my unexpected transformation is simple. I'm a centaur, after my father, but thanks to my mother's nature, a rather unusual kind. I'm half woman, half mare, but in time, not space. Father says if we go by proportional bodyweight, I can expect to be a mare for about a hundred and fifty years (which the Temple would also love: immortal Ocyrrhoe, blessed mare of the Oracle!) Well. Father says things like that. Weíll see.
And am I happy now? Well, it took Father some time to get used to the idea, but I never looked back. Just count my foals! One of Storm Cloud's sons ousted him as herd stallion a couple of years after my change, but I went with him - now I don't have to share him with five other mares! All I can say is, my mother just doesn't know what she missed.