|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
"They have never seen a horse before," Enjata told me in her thickly accented but fluent English, as the villagers surrounded us in fascinated awe, or to be more accurate, surrounded Fina. The chestnut mare bore this invasive scrutiny with her usual patience, turning her head this way and that. Her soft brown eyes were wide with intelligent curiosity and her ears alertly pricked. She seemed as interested in the Dawisa as they were in her.
"Surely they've seen zebra," I said to Enjata.
"Oh sure," she nodded. "But she's no zebra. Nothing like."
"They won't hurt her, will they?" I asked anxiously. There were now about fifty of the villagers gathered around Fina. The Dawisa were a small people - almost pygmy, with few of them taller than four and half feet. Their skin was a true black like a Nigerian's: in the sun it threw back blue highlights. They were running curious hands over the mare's almost red skin. She snorted tolerantly and a round of laughter rose from the inquisitive Dawisa.
"I do not think so," Enjata said confidently. "She is not one of their kentaru: not one of their food animals. Wildebeest, yes; alecwe, yes; bontebok, yes. Many types of bird and fish. The Dawisa do not eat zebra though and they will not eat your horse."
"Oh, good," I said, relieved. I could picture trying to explain that to her owners when I returned to England, quite apart from the fact that I was extremely fond of Fina myself.
It had been, like many of my plans, very over-ambitious. Less than ten months since my first horse ride and now I was touring the world with Fina. Me, whose only previous excursion outside the British Isles was to the hypermarket in Bologne. But I'm just not the type to gradually work up to things: jump in at the deep end: that's me. So I spent several weeks genning up at the Royal Geographical Society at Kensington, and even managed to get a modest grant towards the venture. A lot of persuasive talking on my part managed to persuade Fina's owners to lend me the fourteen-year-old anglo-arab mare for a trip intended to last the best part of a year. I crammed up on veterinary first aid (truth to tell I was much better qualified to treat Fina than I was myself) and spent a week with the local farrier while he trained me to fit the special plastic shoes I would be carrying.
That had been four months ago, since when we had trekked through France, Spain, then to Africa - landing in Algeria and then round the east coast, through Nigeria and Rwanda along the Congo. Then up through Tanzania. Now we were passing up the eastern borders of the Serengeti, almost in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, the unicorn mountain.
Where ever possible I acquired the services of a local guide, both to tell me about the area's customs and to act as a translator. Enjata was a senior warden for a reserve about twice the size of my home county, Essex, and she had agreed to escort me across it. She walked the whole way, carrying nothing more than sleeping roll, a rifle, and a radio. A victim to male pride, I had led Fina for a couple of days until my feet were too swollen to carry me. This had amused Enjata no end. I had ridden after that. Fina, used to a lifetime of endurance competitions, patiently paced along with easy stride that laughed at the passing miles.
The wild African interior fascinated me - wild Africa, untamed by civilisation. European cultures, varied as they were, all carried a common root: aside from a few regional customs, there was little difference between me and a native of France or Spain. The African cities - Lagos for example - were much the same. Here it was different. Technology had gained no hold here: life was ruled by animal powers and spirits. Not that the people were any less intelligent, or ignorant of modern world materialism - it's a queer feeling to meet a tribesman clad only in an antelope-skin loin cloth and wearing a CD Walkman. You get to wondering where on earth they get the batteries...
I found it amazing the Dawisa had never seen a horse before, but it seemed to be true. Enjata, smiling, told me that while the Dawisa could probably quote me a dozen different "breeds" of Landrover, no one had ever thought to visit on horseback before. This wasn't horse country: too many lions.
The villagers were full of questions, and eager to help - or try to help - as I picketed Fina for the night. Horses definitely help when befriending the locals: this seems to be an international rule. The Dawisa kept cattle, so fodder was easy to arrange. Fina was extremely patient, as she was constantly surrounded. Dozens of curious hands patted her flanks or felt her mane, her tail. I had to issue a few warnings about standing directly behind her, but Fina had a superb temper and didn't even flatten an ear at anyone.
We had arrived in the late afternoon, and Enjata arranged for us to stay the night. This was apparently cause enough for much celebration - I was embarrassed to find myself guest of honour. Seated between the village leader and a wizened old man who was apparently some kind of shaman, bedecked in beautifully coloured feathers. The guest of honour, I discovered, had to eat from each distinct dish before anyone else in the village could. Fortunately I had already resolved before I left England that I would relax my normally vegetarian diet if need be. And to my surprise the food was, mostly, very good. There were one or two exceptions: I'm not unduly squeamish, but one of the delicacies was something like a giant stag-beetle. It tasted almost like prawn, but it definitely took some will-power to take that first mouthful.
The feast was followed by dancing, which seemed to involve fully half the village at any one time. There was lively pipe music set to an infectious beat, counterpointed by joyous whoops and yells. I tried not to blush when, at regular intervals, the entire assemblage all turned and bowed to me. Enjata assured me I only had to nod and smile, but each time it happened I kept thinking something more was required of me.
Late in the night as the air began to cool, leather flasks of drink were passed along, from which everyone, male and female, child and adult took a deep draught. Enjata took a deep swallow with obvious enjoyment, and passed the flask on to me. "Take one mouthful and pass it on."
It was like no drink I had ever tried before. Spicy and fruity, and deliciously cool, yet as soon it passed my throat a delicious fiery tingling began to spread through me. It was also decidedly alcoholic: no wonder everyone took only the one mouthful. I hoped I wouldn't have to stand up anytime soon. It certainly dispelled the cool of the night.
The drink also seemed to mark some important turning point in the celebrations, for then the shaman stood. Shaking a gourd full of dried beans with a sinister rattle, he made a series of announcements accompanied by ritualistic gestures.
Enjata's eyes widened. "This will be interesting," she said. "They dance the beast dance. You and I will be the first people to see it in years."
"Beast dance?" I asked.
"Shh! Watch! And don't doubt what you see!"
Five young men and five young women, all entirely naked, moved into the dance area. They formed a loose circle, all facing me. The shaman moved among them, whispering something to each: a single word in a language which didn't sound like the one I heard all around me. Other young people brought shallow bowls to the shaman, and he dipped his hands in each and anointed the ten figures with whatever substance lay within. Each was given a drink from another gourd.
The drum began to beat again, and the pipe to play, but this time it was a different style entirely. Not exactly music, though it was easy to listen to. Very easy in fact: it seemed to enthuse my blood with some vital energy: I couldn't stop my feet moving to the rhythm.
The five men and five women began to dance. It was a wild dance, and I saw instantly that the dancers were all supposed to be animals of some kind. My admiration grew as I began to recognise the animals portrayed, despite my scant experience. The men and women paired off and I quickly identified lion and wildebeest, impala, buffalo, springbok. They leapt and rolled, spun and whirled, each pair orbiting each other like twinned satellites; now apart, now together; rearing up; coming tenderly together; playing; fighting; feeding; mating - belatedly I realised the dance was powerfully erotic. The powerful beat mimicked a heartbeat and the tempo had been subtly accelerating, urging the pulse of all present to keep up. It reached a climactic fury...
...and I blinked. I rubbed my eyes, half standing, but Enjata grabbed my arm and pulled me down again. Her eyes never left the dance. "Shhh! Watch!"
Where the ten dancers had been, ten animals now danced: a pair of lions and a pair of wildebeest: a pair of impala, buffalo, springbok. The dance never paused, and in the flicker of firelight, the movement was wholly continuous. I could not say how it had been done, or precisely at what moment.
The tempo of the drums slowed and the dance with it. The five pairs of animals moved out of the circle and beyond the firelight. Despite the fact that the lion and the buffalo were both generally regarded with a healthy respect, no one seemed concerned at their close proximity.
"What... what?" I floundered for words. "What happened? Where are they going?"
Enjata spoke with a villager beside her. "They are newly wedded couples," she reported. "They go to mate. With morning, they will return to their own forms."
I stared at her, but could not refute what I thought I had seen. Had it happened under any other circumstances, in any other place, I would have thought it a clever trick, but here, by drums and pipe and fire and the potent drink, I hesitated to scorn the idea.
Then the shaman approached me and said something.
"I'm sorry?" I asked, looking to Enjata. Her eyes were wide. The shaman repeated his statement then made an unmistakable pawing motion with his arms. It clearly said horse, but I wondered how he knew about rearing if he'd never seen one before. I'd never seen Fina rear up. Then he pointed at me and said something that was clearly some sort of request.
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He wants to ask your permission to add a new animal to the dance," Enjata said, awed. "It's a great honour."
"What new animal?" I asked stupidly.
"A horse," Enjata answered patiently. "They have a dance for every animal they know of. They want to add your horse."
"Yes," I said. "Of course he can. Tell him yes." I nodded and smiled to the Shaman.
He beckoned to me.
"Uh, what does he want..?"
"I think since you brought the horse, you must start the dance."
"ME? But I can't dance! And what about the... the rest of it?" I gestured helplessly.
Enjata said something to the Shaman who beckoned again emphatically and spoke for several seconds. I looked to her for a translation.
"He says you need only go as far as you wish, and they will not force you if you truly do not wish to participate, but they would be greatly saddened."
I would have given much to have been somewhere else at that particular moment: I felt the eyes of every villager present resting on me with an almost palpable expectation. Stage fright turned my knees to jelly but I couldn't bear to say no outright. With some difficulty, I stood and walked to the shaman.
He nodded approvingly and beckoned to one side. Two young women approached: one with a gourd and one with a bowl containing a dark, viscous liquid. They placed these on the ground then gently raised my arms and unbuttoned my shirt. Unwillingly, I let them remove it, feeling the touch of a cool night breeze against my chest. One woman lifted the bowl and the shaman dipped his hands in it and smeared some across my chest and stomach. I caught a whiff of it and winced. There was the. unmistakably familiar odour of fresh horse dung. I had shovelled enough of the stuff not to be particularly repulsed (it's just recycled grass, right?), but I would just as soon have not had it slathered across my torso. The nearest shower was probably two hundred miles away. There was an earthy, herbal smell too. Then the gourd was raised to my lips and tilted, and I swallowed before I really thought about it.
Water. That's all it seemed to be: ordinary water, with a slightly gritty, earthy aftertaste.
The shaman hissed something in my ear: a harsh-sounding word without enough vowels. I heard it clearly yet could not have repeated it a second later. And yet it reminded me of something: Movement: the swift pace of slender legs; a tumble of silken hair; flair of nostril and twitch of ear; sun on sleek flanks; hooves beating upon the ground...
Beating upon the ground...
There were hands on me, but my sight was confused and blurred: a kaleidoscope of reds and yellows, browns and blacks. I felt so hot! Perspiration ran freely down my face and chest, but helpful hands were removing the remainder of my clothing, allowing the blessed cool of the night to tame the fire in my body. The drum was beating a fast-paced three-time, but this was no waltz: the first two beats were emphasised; the third tucked almost inaudibly behind them: TUM-TUM-tum TUM-TUM-tum TUM-TUM-tum, over and over, heartbeat-fast. Other more complex rhythms backed it and wove around it, but always there was that over-riding, overpowering primal beat: an urgent command my body could not disobey.
I began to dance.
I haven't danced since I was nine years old, back in school: grab your partner by the hand, do-si-do, circle left: you know the sort of thing. It was as far removed from this as an electric heater is from the heart of the sun. There was no thought involved: my body recognised this music I had never heard, and knew how to react, how to move. I circled and stamped, leaped and whirled, all with a strength and grace that would have amazed me if I were in any state of mind to appreciate it. But my mind was full of images: horses. Horses grazing; horses rolling; horses galloping in herds; milling around each other; lazing, tail-swishing under shady trees; flinging heads up in alarm; heels up in play! My eyes saw strength and speed and grace. They saw the sun gleaming on glossy coats of black and bay and grey; wind lifting wild manes and flowing tails. They saw proudly arched necks, muscular chests and powerful quarters. They saw large eyes, dark and gentle, or white-ringed and wild. Nostrils flared redly, engorged with tides of hot blood, propelled by a powerful, thundering heart. I saw all this things, and my body drank in the images with the music and the hastening beat, and wove the three into moving magic, primal dance. The images grew stronger, clearer, easier to emulate. As the beat grew quicker and quicker, I reared and bucked. I kicked my feet in the air. I tossed my head; I pawed the ground. I ran, cantered, galloped: a tight circle ending with a muscle-stretching leap. My blood was liquid fire that filled my mind with a wild exuberance. I was Stallion! Elemental spirit! My soul was a blazing flame; my body was a rushing wind! My mane and tail surged and tumbled like a river in flood, while my strength was the irresistible strength of rock...
My nostrils, flaring, caught a tantalisingly familiar scent. Opposite me in the dance, She came: moon to my sun; opposite and identical. We circled, joyful in our discovery of each other; long necks stretched out to allow questing nostrils and lips to sniff at each other, nuzzle tenderly, nip playfully. She squealed. I answered. Her fine-featured head nuzzled at my flanks. I lowered my head, neck stretched long and forward, snaking, driving. I nipped at her heels, easily avoiding the token kick this elicited. As my head lifted, my lips brushed her quarters. I filled my nostrils with the scent of her, lifting my head still higher and wrinkling my upper lip to trap the captivating smell.
The mare halted. The music still filled us and encouraged us, but the dance had taken a different turn now. The beat, though never slowing, was suddenly a soft thing: persuasive, seductive. I nuzzled the mare's neck and She nickered. Her body tensed and a hind leg twitched. Wary for the tiny signs that my advances might not be welcome, I brushed her flank with my lips and came so to her hind quarters. Her sleek hide exuded a pheramonal invitation that filled my entire being, tautening every muscle. My heartbeat and breathing were one with the beat now: they were the beat, ever accelerating, approaching an inevitable climax. I nuzzled the mare's rump, drunk on her sweet scent; nibbled the base of her tail. She sighed, shifted, lifting her tail high and to one side, setting her hind legs slightly apart. Her vulva winked in eager invitation. The beat rumbled loud once again as I reached full arousal, deafening in my ears as I rose above her, over her, covering her fever- hot body with my own. I could no longer differentiate between the pulsing in my body and the pulsing of the drums.
The dance reached its shuddering climax and the beat fell silent.
It was almost noon when we bid farewell to the Dawisa tribe the next day. Enjata, to my embarrassed irritation, wore a broad grin that had been in place since she had awoken me, human and naked at Fina's slumbering side. She marched jauntily ahead now, leading the way back onwards, and occasionally turning back to prove the grin was still in place.
I walked beside Fina. Riding her at the moment awoke too many uncomfortable memories - memories that were slightly blurred and indistinct, but nonetheless leaving me in no doubt about what had happened last night. Fina did not help my discomfiture with her affectionate buts and nuzzles, so different from her usual stoic indifference.
Maybe, I decided, this is far enough for the first adventure. I said as much to Enjata. The safely non-magical environs of London suddenly seemed very appealing. Safe. Stable... I tried not to think about stables. Inside Fina's pack was a water-bottle and a small packet of what looked like dried mud. The shaman had presented me with both as we left, and thanked me for enriching the animal pantheon of his village. Enjata had cheerfully translated his final words: that there was now a bond between Fina and I: that I had only to moisten the mud and apply some of it as an ointment, and drink a mouthful of the water, and I would be with her again.
I couldn't decide whether to wait until I was safely clear of Kenya and discretely dispose of it, or... or... or not. It was a gift after all, I told myself. And who knew whether the shaman might have a way of telling what became of his gift? He might be offended, and what form might his ire take?
Fina snorted loudly as if reading my thoughts. She turned her head and gently nuzzled at the front of my shorts. I pushed her away, embarrassed. Enjata's shoulders were shaking.
"You say the horse is on loan to you?" she asked.
"Mmmm," I mmmed.
"Looks like you'll be able to pay interest!" she grinned.
"Oh, thank you so much," I grumped, reddening.
Fina's high whinny sounded suspiciously like laughter.
Beast Dance copyright 1998 by Destrier.
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