|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
Meeting and Ambush
The two groups of riders had been warily trailing one another along the road for some distance, ever since the smaller party had turned off a side road before the other was a hundred meters past the junction. They were fairly evenly matched, so that with surprise, the smaller of the two parties would have a chance to defeat the other. Surprise had long since been lost,
obviously, except, perhaps, if the smaller party should join the larger, and turn on their hosts. Of course, the smaller party would be at the mercy of the other, if they should join, and the larger group prove treacherous. Natural caution, then, kept them apart. Suddenly, two riders, a man in armor and a woman in some sort of ceremonial robes, broke off from the leading party and turned back towards the other, as their companions pulled to a
"Hail!" the man called out, as the two of them neared the second party, turning their horses again to pace them, "Her Grace Dreifari, High Priestess to Hipparion, asks parley with whoever speaks for you."
The other party conferred briefly, then pulled up, a short distance behind the first. The two outriders waited, patiently, as a man, in light armor, and a woman, of some years and some wealth, though a merchant's wife more likely than a noblewoman, walked their horses between their guards to face them, without leaving the ring.
"Hail, her Grace. What does her Grace wish of us?" the man asked. "Hello, Forellar," the woman from the first party replied, and he bowed in his saddle. "We seem to be going the same way. You are taking them to the Golden Bear, are you not?"
"So had I planned, your Grace," he replied. "If the Mistress will agree," the priestess replied, "Let us join our companies together. Since our route this day is the same, and we are both of peaceable intent, if our guards join, it will better dissuade those not so peaceable. Not that any are likely so close to a town."
"Let me ask her," Forellar replied. After a quiet exchange with the woman beside him, ending with her nodding assent, he continued, loudly, "We thank your Grace for the offer, and we will join you."
The orders were given, and the parties merged together. Forellar, the woman, and the two girls at the center of the second group joined Dreifari in the midst of the combined ring of guards. Though the guards formed a single ring, the two groups remained separate, each covering one side, with not a little seeming suspicion of the others' commitment to cover their flank and to protect their leaders.
"May I present to your Grace, Mistress Oranalda Clothier, of Veranton," Forellar began, "Her daughter Cherana Katranson, and their friend and companion, Merlana Lornzarson."
"I am honored, your Grace," each of them responded to her introduction, bowing as deeply as they could in their saddles.
"The pleasure is mine, mistresses," Dreifari replied, with a nod. The group had formed up, and they moved on again, as they had been headed. As they rode on, the priestess continued, "What brings you so far from your home, Mistress Oranalda, with two such beautiful girls?"
"We were spending the winter down to the south," Oranalda replied. "The rest of our families returned last month, but these two wished to await the arrival of the baronial court. Their fathers indulged them, and I agreed to chaperon them. Your Grace knows our guide?"
"Not closely," the priestess replied, "He's from our town, though he does not regularly worship at our temple. I understand he's a kinsman to the host at the Golden Bear, and that he might get a cut from all the custom he guides there. The inn is not expensive, though, and there have been few complaints about his guidance, so take the rumors as you will."
"Your Grace rides a handsome stallion," Merlana put in. "What else, for the High Priestess to Hipparion?" the leader of Dreifari's guards asked, indignantly.
"Please accept our apologies, your Grace," Oranalda replied. "We know little of your god, and did not know what insult we may have done him."
"Mistress Merlana is a good judge of horseflesh," the priestess said, waving off the apology and gesturing her underling to silence. She looked Merlana over, appraisingly, as she continued, patting her coal black mount's neck, "He is that, the very image of his Sire. His most faithful of servants are the only riders that His sons will accept. And, conversely, it is only fit that His High Priest should ride one of His sons, if he will accept him."
The capitals in her tone were clear, and Cherana asked the question, "Is your god a stallion, then?"
"The most magnificent of ones, and what better, for He watches over our herds," Dreifari replied. "And, sometimes, He gives of His immortal bloodline to them. That filly is bound to be bred to Him and, if He wishes, she will join His herd."
She gestured back to where one or her guards was leading a filly, or rather, young mare, though she was just barely adult, probably too young to have been bred yet. The filly seemed nervous, though not too skittish, and extremely sad.
"Pardon, your Grace," Merlana put in, "But it seems rather disrespectful to use the get of your god as a draft animal. Surely there are other, more respectful uses to which they could be put."
"And there are," the priestess replied, patting her mount's neck again, "You're anxious to get home to your fillies, aren't you, boy? His sons stand at stud, mostly, and His daughters are our brood mares. We don't ride them often, and with a minimum of harness. It is good for our image for the people to see His High Priest riding a stallion in His image, though we dare not suggest that means we're the master over Him. Now, enough about my
calling. What was the baron's court like?"
The four women talked, as their horses walked along, through the afternoon. Suddenly, their guardsmen's increasing nervousness bore fruit as, as they passed through a wild stretch of woods, with close, overhanging trees, a tree fell across the road in front of them.
"Stand, and deliver," a man called out, from the foliage above them, as an arrow buried itself before the hooves of the priestess's mount.
"Unless your Grace can do anything, we're caught," her guard leader said, surveying the situation. "We can't fight them. They're too well concealed, and they'll cut us down with arrows if we try to fight or turn and run."
The priestess began intoning a prayer, in another language, with her guardsmen joining in at intervals. The only word in their prayer that the other women could understand was "Hipparion". Suddenly, the priestess started, as the horse under her began to change. She swung off his back, to fall to her knees, her face to the ground, bowing to him, as he became
larger, even more magnificent, still black as jet, with a white star on his forehead flashing in the dim light filtering through the trees. Dreifari's guards also averted their eyes, though Merlana watched, fascinated by the stallion, as he looked around intelligently, no, more than intelligently. He looked up, stomped his forehoof, and a man came tumbling out of the trees onto the road. The horse looked off, into the woods, snorted, and there was a flash and a crack as of lightning and thunder, and a scream, that started human, but turned into a horse's whinny, came from the depths of the woods. The stallion strode past the guards to the man who'd fallen from the trees. The bandit reached for his sword, but the hoof his hand had become could not grasp it, as the horse strode up to him. Another arrow, aimed at the horse,
came from the woods, but it disappeared in a flash of light. The horse looked that way, snorted, and the flash, crackle, and scream recurred, from that direction. Looking down on the man, the horse snorted, and lightning caught the man on the hip. He screamed, the same half-human, half-equine sound heard twice before, and clutched with his remaining hand where the lightning had branded him. The horse looked around, and no further threats
came. He turned his gaze to the tree across the road, and it raised back up, into the place it had fallen from, seeming to shift form as it did. Then, the horse turned and returned to the priestess.
"Thank you, my Lord," she said, and the horse nodded acknowledgment. The horse stepped past her, looked over the filly, with some distaste, it seemed, and looked back at Dreifari, maybe disapprovingly. As he wheeled to return to the High Priestess, his gaze swept over the other women, each of whom bowed to him. His eyes made and kept a moment's contact with
Merlana's, and she could not read the emotions behind the horse's eyes, as she had enough trouble wrestling with her own, puzzling over her reaction to him.
"Thank you, my Lord," she said, as she bowed. He dipped his head to her in salute, then returned to Dreifari. The priestess had noticed the interchange, and gave Merlana a puzzled, calculating look. Suddenly, the horse changed back to as he had been earlier, a handsome black, but no longer any more than a mortal stallion.
"Come, let's ride, before they realize He's gone," the priestess said, swinging back onto her mount's back, "And get up the courage to risk another bout with Him."
"Should we kill this one?" the head of Oranalda's guards asked, pointing at the man still crouching in the road.
"He does not take life," his opposite number in the priestess's guard replied. "Those geldings will keep until we can get back to retrieve them for our herd. He won't let them get too far away, and it'll be easier to move them tomorrow, when He's done changing them. He branded them, so no one else will steal them. As her Grace said, let's ride."
As they rode on, passing by the man the horse had marked, they noticed he now had hooves on all four limbs, the stub of a tail, and other new equine features. His flank was branded with a stylized "H".
"Pardon, your Grace," Cherana began, giving the replanted tree a good looking-over. "When your Lord removed the tree from the road and replanted it, did He change it? I don't quite recognize the type, though I thought it was a common pine before."
"It is now a horse-chestnut," the priestess answered, looking the tree over herself, "His favorite kind, for obvious reasons, and He does get playful, at times. If you wish to lodge in my temple while you're in the town, rather than in the inn, you would be welcome. He has favored you, and you would be honored guests."
"We thank your Grace, and yes, we will," Oranalda replied. "Perhaps we can obtain some suitable offering for your god to thank Him for His protection and you for your hospitality."
"I'm sure you can," the priestess answered, giving Merlana another strange look. At the town, Forellar peeled off, for his own home, promising to rejoin them at the temple of Hipparion in the morning. Oranalda and her charges continued in Dreifari's company to her temple, a sprawling complex of buildings backed up against the mountain range they'd been circling, on the outskirts of the town. At the High Priestess's command, each of them was
assigned a private room, not too fancily furnished, in the priests' quarters, adjacent one to the others. The cells were none too large, overruling the chaperon's request that the girls must sleep in her chamber, and Dreifari said that none of the cells connected, Oranalda's alternative. Their guards were barracked with the temple guards. They shared the priests'
evening meal, nothing fancy, and sat through a short service, mainly in the same language the priestess had prayed in. After a brief social hour, with many of the younger priests and novices awe-struck that their guests had actually seen the god, Oranalda bundled the two girls off to bed, and followed them.
Merlana awoke, stretching, and tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes. She couldn't, easily, for her tunic seemed to bind, and beyond that, her arms didn't want to move that way. The whole process was strange, so she opened her eyes, and found her vision had changed. She could no longer easily look straight ahead, and the colors had washed out of her sight. Looking herself over, in the morning dimness filtering through the small window of her borrowed priest's cell, and despite the limitations of her changed vision, she saw a pair of horse's forelegs sticking out of the sleeves of her tunic, her forelegs, that she still thought of as arms. A pair of hoofs stuck out from under her blanket, about where her feet should be, lying on her side as she'd awakened, her legs and arms stretched out in front of her.
She rolled out of the bed, and out from under the blanket, to stand on the floor, on all fours. Her legs were now hind legs to match her forelegs, as a mare's hindquarters stuck out of the bottom of her tunic, tail and all, the last a curious, and indescribable new sensation. She was covered, all she could see, by a thick pelt, some light brown, probably golden, like her blond hair. Her changed vision, and other sensations, suggested what a polished chamber pot showed her, she had become a mare, in all outward respects. Fighting back the urge to panic, she quietly tried her voice, and found she only nickered quietly. Realizing she needed help, and urgently, she tried a loud call, and let out a piercing whinny.
That brought a whole commotion outside her door, of people wondering where the noise had come from, and eventually a knock.
"Did you hear that, Lana?" Cherana asked, through the door. "Come on out, and let's find out what's going on."
Merlana responded with a nicker, just loud enough for Cherana to hear. "Have you got a stallion in there?" Cherana asked, in conspiratorial tones. "I never knew you liked to horse around that much. If Mother found out, she'd throw a fit, and so would your parents. I'll come in, and help you get him out of there, before she does. You should have kept him quieter, though."
She opened the door, Merlana had no way or reason to lock it, just enough of a crack so she could squeeze in.
"Lana?" she asked, looking around, "Where are you?" Merlana nickered again, and the girl said, "Quiet, girl. Lana? Now where'd she get to, leaving you here, girl, and what was she thinking of?"
Merlana stomped her forehoof, twice, and Cherana looked at her, curiously. Then, she stomped once, a pause, then twice more. Cherana recognized the private knock they'd used, years before, in amazement and horror.
"Lana, is that you?" she forced out, and Merlana nodded. The mare walked up to the girl, and Cherana put her arms around her neck, comfortingly.
"What, by all the gods, has happened to you?" she said. "We'll get it undone, don't you worry. Mother!"
"Yes, my dear, what is it?" Oranalda said, entering the room. "Where's Merlana, and how'd you two get that horse in here? I doubt her Grace is going to be pleased by your pranks."
"This is Merlana," her daughter replied, patting the neck of the mare, who nodded confirmation. "We've got to get one of the priests, something terrible has happened to her."
"That is her?" the woman asked, "What, by all the gods? Oh, my, my, maieeeee---"
Her scream tailed off, as her legs gave way under her. As she fell in a swoon, a young priest, passing by in the confusion, stepped in to catch her, and break her fall.
"Good morning, mistress," he said, politely, "Where's the other young mistress, and how did you get that mare in here? No wonder your mother, isn't she, fainted."
"She is my mother, and this is our companion, Merlana," Cherana replied, patting Merlana's neck, again, as the mare nodded. "Something terrible has happened to her, and can your reverence help us?"
"Go get the O. D.," the priest ordered one of his fellows, who'd stopped to watch. "What happened, mistress?"
"I was awakened, as wasn't everyone in this wing, by the whinny of a horse, and, like everyone, came out to investigate," Cherana replied. "Merlana hadn't come out, and, when I knocked, a horse replied. Thinking, like you, she was playing a prank, I came in, to assist in it, to tell the truth. Only this mare was in here, and she soon persuaded me that she is Merlana. From the tunic she's wearing, she must have been changed while she slept. Can you help her?"
"Let me see. Here, take your mother, she's coming around again," the priest replied. Cherana, with a final pat for Merlana, left the mare to hold her still groggy mother, as the priest stood up to look the mare over, quietly intoning a prayer to Hipparion, or so it sounded. Oranalda, waking up again, asked what had happened. Her daughter broke the news again to her, gently, this time, and she did not faint again, reassured that the priest would set things right. He had just finished, when a number of higher- ranking priests, led by Dreifari, came to the room, and the High Priestess entered.
"Good morning, your Grace," the priest said, bowing. "Mistress Merlana has been turned into a horse, it seems, while she slept. She woke us all up, then when her companions discovered her, Mistress Oranalda fainted."
"It is His will," Dreifari broke into his report. "Pardon, your Grace, but --" the young priest tried to reply, but she cut him off again.
"He chose her, yesterday, when He rescued us," the High Priestess said. "And now, He has taken you, little filly. Be not sad, for you shall soon have the best of stallions, and will live in His favor and favors, forever."
"What does your Grace mean?" Cherana asked. "I am afraid that our Lord has chosen Mistress Merlana to be the offering He wants, in return for His rescuing you," Dreifari replied. "He has made her His, a mare fit for His herd, and, when she next wants a stallion, He will come and take her to her new home. I am sorry, but there is nothing we can do to change the fate He has set for her. He wants her, and He must have her. Please, accept my condolences, and take them to her family. Though she lives yet, and you may be comforted in the thought that she will be well cared for by her Stallion, she may as well be dead, for all that she can return to you. Until He takes her, she will lodge in our best stables, with the best of fodder and drink. Make what farewells you wish, now, although you will have the chance before you leave us. Her breakfast awaits her."
"We'll see you when we leave," Cherana said, walking back to caress the mare's neck again. "Don't lose hope. We'll get you back, if we have to shake Olympus from its base to do it."
"Yes, Lana," Oranalda said, patting her neck, "Whatever it takes, we will try, for you."
Merlana nuzzled the two of them, nickering her farewells. "But, begging your Grace's pardon," the priest tried again, as Merlana's tunic was gently removed from her mare's body, but his superior silenced him with a look. Merlana was then, as gently, led to the stables, where she was fed. Fodder seemed the right thing for her, as tasty as any food had been before. She knew the filly in the next stall, the sad-looking one that Dreifari had been bringing to the temple the day before. Now she knew how the filly felt, for she was promised to the same fate.
Oranalda and Cherana stayed another day, to get over the shock and grief, and they gave Merlana more tearful farewells in the stable, when they did leave. Merlana thought of trying to run away, but quickly gave up the idea. She'd be stuck as a horse, the rest of what life she might have, and knew she hadn't the instincts to live wild, even until she was recaptured. So, she decided it was the least evil course, and settled into the boring life of a horse, to await Hipparion's call.
Merlana had a visitor at her stall each day, whose scent identified as the young priest who had first come to her room. He'd bring her a treat, an apple, carrot, or lump of sugar, and stand stroking her head sadly as she ate it.
"Forgive me, Mistress," he would say, half to himself. "Her Grace should know His will, but I cannot doubt that He insists that I challenge what she says. My dreams are so full of Him, and I should bear His hoofprints on my chest from them. You have days yet before you are ready for Him, and I hope He makes His will clear to me before then."
Merlana and the other filly were sometimes let out to run and graze in the pastures, and Merlana felt the stallions in the neighboring paddocks looked inviting, as they nickered flirtingly to her, but it wasn't time for them to be that attractive to her. The filly in the next stall did come into heat, a few days later, and there was some debate among the priests, some wanting to give her to their god now that she was ready for him. Dreifari, it seems, decided that his choice should be honored, and that Merlana would be the next offering, as soon as she was ready. The other would be next after.
The other filly's heat was waning, when Merlana realized the stallions were looking more and more attractive. One of the hostlers noticed how restless she was at the sight or scent of a stallion, and one was brought to her. She felt her tail would pull itself out by its roots, and the stallion was removed, before he broke loose and did what they both wanted. Dreifari, herself, came to see her.
"You're ready for your Stallion, my little filly," the High Priestess said, patting her neck. "One last check to be sure. Good. He doesn't want His mares tainted by another stallion, and you've been a good girl, haven't you? He doubtless knew you were fit for Him when He chose you, but it's always best to check, lest He be angered that we let another at a mare we've pledged to Him. Come on, now, your stallion awaits."
Merlana was led, without halter, and she went along meekly, there were worse fates if she tried to run, to a chamber off the main temple hall, where she was thoroughly brushed and combed, though her tail and mane were allowed to flow freely. The High Priestess soon returned in her ceremonial robes. They were hooded, made of horsehide with black hair still attached, with a horse's tail hanging from the back of her waist and a mane down the back of the head and neck. She, alone of the priesthood, wore a headdress that made her head seem a horse's. She had a couple of similarly robed attendants with her.
"You look more beautiful than ever, fitting for your bridal day," Dreifari said, looking her over, "Now, come, your Stallion awaits you."
When they had Merlana ready, they led her into the main hall, to the altar before the statue of Hipparion. It seemed to be but a small ceremony, the only other people there were one of the priests, Tranval by name, who Merlana recalled had kept close company with Dreifari, also in his ceremonial robes, and one other, whose scent Merlana knew as the young priest. Tranval assisted the High Priestess in a brief service, still incomprehensible to Merlana, except that the intent was clear. She was being consecrated to Hipparion.
"If this be your will, Lord Hipparion, so be it," she prayed, silently. "Please, make it gentle for me. If these your worshipers have misread your will, please protect me from them, and let them know their error. In thy mercy, my Lord, I beg you."
Suddenly, another voice interrupted the High Priestess. He used the same language, so Merlana did not know what he said, but clearly challenged the prayer. Dreifari answered, and the young priest strode forward to continue the argument. Merlana's hopes started to rise as the young priest persisted, but his voice turned into neighing, and he turned into a horse. Merlana's ears perked up and her nostrils flared at the new horse's scent, but, though the scent was male, there was something missing. As the newly- made horse got his bearings, another man in priest's robes walked up to Dreifari.
"You know what I've said about your magic use," the priestess began. The newcomer shrugged, and said, "You aren't all that reluctant to call on Vandoch or Lelarn when His will requires. Now, what do we do with him?"
"A few days in the geldings' herd should teach him obedience," Tranval put in. "Restore him in the night and he'll consider it His mercy."
Dreifari nodded assent, and the newcomer led the newly-made horse off. The High Priestess resumed the service, and she finished, Tranval retired, and Dreifari gently led Merlana, her attendants following, past the altar and up to the idol. She opened a door in the base of the idol and, with one of the attendants pulling a lighted torch from a bracket on the wall, led them down a flight of broad, shallow stairs, to a tunnel that sloped further downwards, into the mountain. The stairs, though awkward, were manageable for Merlana's four hoofed legs. Not too far along, the tunnel opened out into a small chamber. The chamber smelled strongly of stallion, and Merlana waited nervously, by Dreifari, as the attendant lit the torches to light the entire chamber. There was an image of Hipparion on one wall, above a rough stone altar, covered with a sheepskin.
"Wait here, little filly," the High Priestess said, "We will call your Stallion."
She stepped away from her, rejoining her attendants and, flanked by them, began a prayer to Hipparion, somewhat resembling that she'd used in the ambush the day she and Merlana had met. Merlana waited, anxiously, part of her wanting the stallion she could scent, and part of her dreading his arrival.
"My Lord Hipparion," she prayed again, "If it is thy will that I am to be yours, please make it easy for me, and make me forget I have ever been any but thy mare. If you are merciful, do not let my memories grieve me for what you would deny me. Please, my Lord, if it is thy will, be kind."
Suddenly, as Merlana waited, anxiously, and Dreifari and her attendants prayed, the fresh scent of a stallion filled the chamber. Merlana's tail felt again like it would wrench itself out by the roots, and only main force of will kept her from running to meet the approaching stallion. As Hipparion walked in, the priestess and her attendants fell to their knees, bowing their faces to the floor. The stallion nickered, in surprise, it seemed, then snorted in all but clear disgust. Merlana knew he was a magnificent animal, but the mare she'd become felt there was no better stallion, and it took all her control to wait for him. He was not in the mood, himself, though she thought she saw something like interest in His eyes when he looked at her, and she, almost by reflex, nickered flirtingly.
The black stallion shook his great head, kindly, then, carefully not showing any interest in mounting her, walked up to her. He nuzzled her, gently, as her reflexes wanted to turn her tail to him, then met her gaze. Her field of view shifted, the color returning, and she knew she was human again. Hipparion looked her over, shaking his great head in disgust and disappointment, then turned his gaze back to his worshipers. He snorted, and the lightning caught both attendants on their hips, branding them. They did not scream, or break off their responses to the High Priestess's prayers, but their responses took on a gradually more and more horselike tone. Hipparion nuzzled Merlana, gently, as she stood up again from all fours, then she backed up against the wall, near the altar, between it and the tunnel upwards, to await further events.
The horse then turned and walked over to the three prostrate worshipers. He looked them over, disgustedly, then wheeled and back-stepped until his hind legs straddled the body of one of the two guards. He moved carelessly, stepping on the man's hand in the process before he was placed. A stream of fluid came from the stallion's belly, and the ammonia stench of urine filled the air as the guard's back was soaked. Then, the great black horse took a pace forward, kicking the man in the shoulder, carelessly, and his tail flicked upward and a clump of manure dropped on the man's head, where it seemed to cling. The guard was too scared to move, or even to break off his responses to the High Priestess's continuing prayer. The horse side- stepped to the other guard, and repeated the process. When each of the guards had been soaked in urine and wore a clot of manure on his head, the horse wheeled around and bent down to pick up the priestess by the scruff of her neck, forcing her to her feet. He put his head down, and used it to force her towards the altar.
"Your will is mine," she protested. "Tell me, and I shall do as you wish."
The horse snorted, derisively, continuing to push her to the altar. Merlana scented a new, masculine musk on the air, over the urine and feces from the guards, and it filled her with a strange desire. She recognized its source, for the black stallion was now five-legged, his penis coming erect as he roughly herded his High Priestess towards the altar. He looked at Merlana, in surprise, and shook his head, a gentleness towards her behind the action that contrasted sharply with his cold and rough handling of his worshipers and, surprisingly, maybe some regret in the look.
He turned his attention back to Dreifari, and herded her towards the altar. He stepped around her, and swept the sheepskin covering off the rough stone block, in Merlana's direction, with a sweep of his head. The girl grabbed it, and with a nod from the stallion, wrapped it around her, grateful for the covering for her nakedness. He stepped back behind Dreifari and herded her up to the altar. Then, he pushed her upper torso so she lay on her face, half on the altar. He swung around behind her, and she tried to rise and look back at him, as he took a pace back. Then, he leaped on her, forcing her body back to the altar as his body landed on her. She gasped, as his weight forced the breath from her lungs. His penis swung upwards, and it pushed the tail from her robes aside as it lined up with her body. His hind legs flexed, and her breathless scream of pain all but drowned out the tearing of her robes and tunic as he thrust his penis into her body. Merlana could not watch, and she buried her face in her hands, slumping to the floor. Soon, there was a deep gasp, and Dreifari's screams turned to moans. Merlana realized the stallion was standing over her, and looked up into his face, seeing kindness, concern, and a question.
"My Lord, can you protect me from your followers?" she asked, and he nodded, giving the three a look of disgust. The attendants hadn't moved, nor had Dreifari from lying half on the altar, a pool of semen, tinged pink with blood, between her legs.
"These were not the only ones of your worshipers involved," she continued, and he nodded. "I don't know what I will find among their fellows here. They turned one of their fellows, who'd defended me in your name, into a horse. Can my Lord take me to where I will find surer safety, until I can return to my family?"
The horse looked a question at her, then off into space. He suddenly spun, and ran up the stairs towards the temple. A short time later, he trotted back down the temple, then stopped before Merlana. He nudged her shoulder, then gestured with his head the way he had come.
"Whenever my Lord wishes," she replied, and he repeated the gesture. Wrapping the sheepskin around her again, she rose to her feet, and headed for the continuation of the tunnel. The horse walked easily alongside of her. She heard footsteps, before they had gone too far, and she looked back to see the priestess following them, walking with some difficulty. Hipparion followed her look, seemed to shrug again, then gestured her on again.
"Does my Lord wish to wait for her?" she asked, and he shrugged. "She can do me little harm, with my Lord beside me, but as my Lord wishes. Let her catch up as she can."
Once they were out of the torchlight, a sourceless illumination surrounded the god, and the priestess had to follow in the dark. The great horse matched Merlana's pace, keeping her at his shoulder without effort. Just before she felt she had to ask him to stop, so she could rest, he led her into a chamber off the main passage. His light filled the chamber, and he tapped his hoof against the wall. Water began to flow, and he gestured for Merlana to drink of it, cold and fresh. When her thirst was slaked, she sat down beside the new spring to rest as he drank deeply. As he was drinking, Dreifari came cautiously into the chamber. The god ignored her, until he'd drunk, then wheeled suddenly to look commandingly at her, his penis coming erect again.
"No," she whispered, in dismay, which drew a stern look from the stallion. She had not been standing quite upright, and she resignedly turned her back to him, bracing her hands on her knees. She barely held him as he leaped on her again, and had to drop her hands to the floor to brace against his thrusting. Her screams of pain, now that she could breathe, were louder than the first time, though somehow less. Merlana covered her eyes and ears to try to block them out, until Hipparion, finished with the priestess, came over to her to nuzzle her comfortingly. She patted his cheek, tentatively, and he drank again.
Meanwhile, Dreifari, still moaning from her latest rape by him, tried to stand up, and found she couldn't. Her hips couldn't flex far enough any more, so she must stand with knees bent to be even somewhat erect. Her arms now reached her ankles, in the bent-over posture forced on her, and she could support her upper body easily with them. She reached up to the headdress she still wore, and tried to move it, but it wouldn't budge.
"Can you help me with this, Mistress Merlana?" she called. Merlana looked to Hipparion, questioningly, and the horse shrugged. She walked over to the priestess, and knelt by her head.
"He wants me on all fours," Dreifari said, "And my headdress will block my sight. Can you help me remove it?"
"I'll try," Merlana replied, but whatever they tried only wrenched the priestess's neck. "Maybe if we had a knife."
"No!" Dreifari replied, in panic. "I just realized, I felt it every time you touched my headdress. Look at my chest, where His weight on me broke my skin against the stone. Can you see my robes and tunic through the breaks? He's using my robes to turn me into a mare."
"It seems He wants you, not me, for His herd," Merlana said, and the stallion's ears perked up. He swung his head around to look a question at them.
"She told me my Lord wished me for His herd, and had made me a mare," the girl explained. He gave Dreifari a look of disgust and disbelief, and shook his head, violently.
"You don't want women for your herd, do you?" she asked, and he shook his head again, violently.
"Except to punish them, like her?" she finished, and he shook his head again.
"But why, if not for your herd?" Dreifari asked. "Will you make her a mare but send her to another herd?" Merlana asked, realization dawning, and she gave Dreifari a triumphant look, as the stallion-god nodded.
"You did not make me a mare, then?" she asked, and he snorted disgust, shaking his head, violently. "Then, how did I become a horse?"
She turned her gaze to Dreifari, as the horse gestured with his head towards his one-time High Priestess, now becoming a mare.
"But, my Lord," Dreifari protested, "You chose her yourself. She was to leave before you could claim her, and we sought to keep her near until you could."
He looked at her, then shrugged, and shook his head. "I would think that, if He had wanted me, He would have taken me when He saw me, that day," Merlana put in.
"And you disdained our other sacrifices," Dreifari continued. "And accepted others, like her."
Hipparion gave her another sharp look, and shrugged again. "Did you take the others away to find their freedom and safety from her and her cohorts, my Lord, as you are for me?" Merlana asked, and the horse nodded. Then he looked a question to Merlana, gesturing onwards. Rested now, she took the hint, and they moved on. Dreifari seemed torn by her thirst and a need to follow him, and that need won, as she would have been left in the dark, otherwise.
The next time Merlana needed to rest, the nook he led her to contained food and fodder, as well as water. Every time they paused, as soon as she caught up with them, he'd cover Dreifari again, and she'd be a little more a horse afterwards. Merlana shared her food with the priestess, at first, but, as she was transformed, the priestess came to spurn human food, and sought to share the god's fodder, as he would allow.
When Merlana needed to sleep, the black stallion would dim his light, and stand guard over her as she slept, wrapped in the sheepskin. Her dreams were filled with running with his herd, as a mare again, and, when in heat, being serviced by the big, black stallion. After a particularly hot dream, she awoke to see the horse looking down at her, gently, with concern in his eyes, and shaking his head. Was there regret in his refusal, or was she just imagining it?
After three days' travel like this, Hipparion suddenly seemed to call a halt. He herded Merlana urgently into a side chamber, with food, water, and fodder, covered Dreifari again, then left, continuing on their way. It was clear he didn't want her to follow, so Merlana sat down to await his return. The priestess, her brown pelt beginning to show through the black of her robes, looked after the stallion, her tail, which had been mobile since the first night with him, twitching in her indecision between her desire to follow him and her realization of the danger he was headed into. Caution won, so she walked into the nook with Merlana, ate a bit and drank, then lay down on her side, her four limbs, now fairly well hoofed legs, though the side digits still showed, straight out.
"This changing is agonizing," she said, her voice still recognizable though the effort she needed not to neigh was clear.
"But what can we do about it?" Merlana replied, "He's your god, and He'll do with you as He thinks you deserve. I doubt we have anything here to offer Him to persuade Him to relent."
"Perhaps, were He no more, all He'd done would come to an end," the half-horse priestess mused.
"That sounds apostate, coming from one of His priesthood," Merlana commented. "But, contrariwise, perhaps you would live out your life as He's made you so far, if He were not around to finish the job."
"I'll take the chance, but I cannot think to act against Him, once I smell Him," Dreifari continued, "No matter how He wrongs me. Can you help me, and try to free me from His bondage?"
"He has not shown Himself to be evil," the girl replied. "Though your actions towards me say much about yourself. He has not threatened me, nor shown me anything but the utmost concern. I have no reason to act against Him, and do not blame Him for what He is doing to you. You said it would be an honor for me to become His mare, and now you know what that honor means. Besides, if I anger Him, He might treat me as He is you, and we'd both be in the same fix. Hush, I think He's coming."
The stallion returned, his mane and pelt somewhat disheveled, though he was unharmed. He drank deeply, then commanded Dreifari's services.
"Excuse me, my Lord," Merlana began, as he covered the priestess. He cocked an ear to her, without breaking his rhythm, so she took this as consent, and continued, "If you stopped servicing her, would she live out her life as she is now?"
The stallion thought a moment, then shook his head. "Will I return to human?" the woman-mare under him asked, looking back past her shoulder at him. He shook his head, emphatically.
"She'll be a mare?" Merlana asked, and he nodded. "How long will it take without Your services?" Dreifari asked, "A week, a month, more?"
He nodded at the more, then counted out eleven. "Even if, may it never happen, you should not be?" Merlana asked, and he shrugged, and nodded. He touched Dreifari's flank, significantly.
"The foal you've given her will see she's a proper dam for himself, if you cannot?" the girl asked, and he nodded, approvingly. She gave Dreifari a questioning look, and the priestess nodded, resignedly.
"Is it safe to move on, my Lord?" Merlana asked, and the horse nodded. "Would we be able to get out of here without my Lord's guidance, any way?"
The god shook his head, and Dreifari nodded again, resignedly. The signs of recent battle were clear around them, as they moved on. His apparent antagonist, a large dragon, was frozen in a mountain of glassy rock. It was still alive, though, the fires of its breath melting the rock around its snout. It would be some time before it would melt its way free, though.
"If my Lord would permit me," Merlana said, reaching a hand cautiously towards the stallion's neck. He shrugged, then nodded. She touched his neck, then carefully ran her fingers through his mane, trying to restore some order to the mess his battle had left it in.
"That's about all I can do without proper equipment," she said, giving up the struggle. He gave his head and neck a shake, and every hair fell into perfect place. She stopped a moment, startled, and he looked back at her, his expression unreadable. The next time they halted, he reached his head into a crevice, and presented what he found there to her. A curry comb and brush, linked by a cord, of the finest workmanship and materials, of tortoise shell, trimmed with silver. Each back bore his face, in some black gemstone, and the star was a diamond. "Merlana" was written below, in silver.
"Thank you, my Lord," she said, "Would you allow me to groom you?" He nodded, then gave his head and neck another shake. His mane flew every which way, and she laughed, and set to work, when they rested. While they marched, she carried the tools slung by their cord over her shoulder. Dreifari, though she protested it was sacrilege to use the same comb and brush on her as on the god, eventually permitted Merlana to groom her, now that she was resigned to becoming a mare. The grooming helped it along, as, under the brush, her pelt would turn from the black of her robes to her own brown. When she groomed Hipparion, Merlana found the feel of the play of his muscles, even at rest, enjoyable, somehow.
About a week had passed, since the attempted sacrifice, when they came out into the open air again. Hipparion shook himself, in some relief, as Merlana looked around. They were on a mountainside, the other side of the ridge that backed up Dreifari's temple, unless Merlana had gotten totally turned around. Below them, they could see a complex of buildings, not too far off, though far enough that the entrance to the tunnel could not be seen easily from the buildings. Merlana felt, though there were lots of differences, that the complex looked like the temple they'd left a week before.
As Merlana looked the scene over, Hipparion turned his attention to Dreifari. He covered his former High Priestess, now a mare for all purposes, though on the small side yet and her brown pelt still spotted with black. After he dismounted, he touched her flank with his nose, and she jumped, with a yelp of pain. She was now branded, a stylized "M". The stallion-god swept his gaze over her, and she wore a saddle and bridle. While the mare was still getting used to the feel of the bit in her mouth, he took the reins in his own mouth and offered them to Merlana.
"You wish me to take her, my Lord?" she asked, and he nodded. "But do you not want her for your own herd?"
He shook his head violently, in some disgust, and she asked, "Even if she is carrying my Lord's foal?"
The stallion shrugged, and nodded.
"Is this where you were taking me, my Lord?" Merlana asked, and the stallion nodded again.
"I'll find help in your temple down there?" Another nod.
"Farewell, my Lord, and thank you," she finished, giving his neck an affectionate pat. "Come along, your Grace."
Dreifari gave her a pained look, not using what little human voice remained to her. Merlana curtsied to the god, wrapped the sheepskin tighter around her, and headed down the slope toward the buildings. She led the mare, since the terrain was far too rough to ride.
"Wait a bit, little one!" she heard a call, from behind her. She stopped cold, because the voice sounded like a horse's whinny, rather than a man's voice. In fact, though she understood the words in the call, they were in no language she had ever heard before. She realized she knew the voice, and turned around to see the black stallion still waiting where she'd left him.
"Did my Lord call me?" she called back.
"Yes, little one," the stallion whinnied in reply. "Come back a moment, if you will."
"You don't seem happy to leave me, little one," he nickered, when she led the mare back to him again. "You do know that my priests in the temple below us, more faithful to me than her and her co-conspirators, will help you rejoin your family and your betrothed?"
"I never doubted that was my Lord's intention," she replied. "Perhaps, my little one would want another stallion, besides her betrothed?" he asked. The stallion he had in mind was clear, perhaps even more so because of his diffidence in asking the question. Still, he wasn't pushing her, his fifth leg was carefully tucked into its sheath against his belly, as he waited for her response.
"Does my Lord desire me for His herd, then?" she asked. "No, little one, never," he answered, shaking his great head emphatically, "If ever you so turn against me as to merit her fate, I would not want you in my herd. You will never do that, I hope and trust. Rather, if you wish, and serve me well, I shall come to you and service you as well as I can, and regularly."
"Will my Lord take me home?" she asked, "And come to me there?" "I fear I cannot," he answered. "That of my brothers that protects the herds of your home folk would complain and might make trouble if I intruded into his realm. If you must go to your home, we must say farewell, and I will give you what blessing I can. If you do want me for your stallion, you must stay within my realm of influence, and I would not object if you brought your betrothed to live with you for your pleasure when I am not with you."
"I would be honored, my Lord," she replied, "If only my Lord would first make of me a mare, that we might pleasure one another better, more easily than he has her. As for my betrothed, I do not love him, though we are friends. If I am to join your priesthood, I can tell him that I must marry within it, and that should settle the matter. I do not see him taking holy orders, even for his own gods, much less one he does not know, like my Lord."
Dreifari started, and looked at them both in astonishment. She obviously wasn't able to follow the stallion's horse speech, and hadn't realized what he had offered Merlana until she accepted. She caught the girl's eye, questioningly, and shook her head.
"Aye, little one, I shall do that," the stallion replied. "What service my Lord will do me shall not be repaid by what I can do Him," she answered. "What service does my Lord ask of me? Would He have me as His groom, as well as His bride?"
He whinnied laughter, then said, "Not for ever, little one, though you may continue as you have done, until I return you to human society. I will not deprive you of that, demanding that you share my isolation, though it means we can only be together at times. Though I will not make you all a mare, I would ask that you and your foals bear a token of my favor and favors always. It will allow you to accept my services, but it will set you apart from humans so much that those who know not what it means might seek your death if I did not protect you."
"My Lord, when I agreed that you would be my stallion, I knew I must live with you or in one of your temples. Which temple shall it be? The one down there?"
"No, little one, I would put you in her place. I will teach you the true ways I wish to be worshipped in, and you will bring them back from their heresy. It would be a fit vengeance for you, would it not? Between our times together, you may seek whatever stallions you might desire, and I will help if you need it."
"As my Lord wills it, I will serve Him." She curtsied deeply to the stallion, who said, "Then come, little one, I've much to teach you. We need to keep my pace, so climb onto my back, and ride me, little one."
He wheeled, and waited for her to come up to his side. She reached up to pull herself up onto his back, to ride side-saddle. Once she was steady, he carried her back into the cave, the mare following, forlornly. Dreifari seemed torn between the freedom of the outside and the lure of the god- stallion.
A God's Pasture
Hipparion, with Merlana riding his back, walked out of the tunnel. Without dislodging his rider, the big black stallion shook himself in some relief at being in the open air again, after some three days since they were last above ground. That had been only a brief respite, though, in some ten days of traveling underground since they'd met.
"Is this my Lord's pasture and herd?" Merlana asked, surveying the scene below the tunnel entrance. They had come out up the side of a short, broad valley, and there seemed to be no exit through the mountains encircling it. The flat, rolling, grassy floor, between the woods high on the side walls, was populated largely by a herd of horses, the only visible animal life.
"Herd, yes, but we haven't yet reached my own pasture, which you will share with me, little one," the horse replied, in his nickering speech. "This shall be hers, for that time, though, and we'll move on in a moment. Please, get down, little one."
Merlana dismounted, then the stallion wheeled, and looked a command back into the tunnel. Dreifari walked, timidly despite her heat, up to him,
bowed her head, and wheeled to present her rear to the stallion, her tail over. He reared up and climbed onto her back to couple with her, impassively. When he dismounted, she shook herself, and started. She was no longer in heat, for the first time since he'd first covered her, ten days before. There was no trace left of the woman she'd been then, as he'd finished turning her into a mare, save that her tail and mane were black against her brown pelt, remnants of the robes she'd worn as his High Priestess. The pain of her transformation, forced along by repeated rapes by the stallion, was still visible behind her large brown eyes. The god had removed the tack he had created for her when he'd given her to Merlana the first time he'd serviced the mare afterwards.
"Come along, little one," Hipparion called, turning away from the mare and heading along the valley wall. Merlana walked up to him, as he waited for her to take her accustomed position at his shoulder. Then, they walked together to a small side pass. Dreifari followed them, but, at the mouth of the pass, stopped suddenly, unable to proceed. Hipparion stopped at her pleading, flirting, whinny, and looked coldly back at her, with a sharp shake of his head.
"Farewell, your Grace," Merlana called back, "And good grazing." The mare gave her a bleak, pained look, then wheeled to head cautiously into the valley. The girl's conscience twinged at her, for so rubbing salt into the wounds of the former High Priestess's humiliation at her god's hands. Still, if Dreifari had not misread his will, Merlana would be still be a mare, as the priestess had arranged, and be in his herd, by now. He had been so incensed by the heresy of human sacrifice to him that he had taken the priestess that had offered such in the place of the sacrifice. Now, he intended to put the sacrifice in the priestess's place, and Merlana'd agreed, after he had led her to safety, among his more faithful worshipers. He'd also offered to stallion her, and she'd come to love him, so she accepted his offered servicing in return for her serving him. He had said he would change her so she might accept him, though he'd not yet said how he would. Still, he'd never shown her anything but the gentlest of consideration, though his treatment of his heretical worshipers showed another side to him, and she trusted him not to bring her to harm. She turned back to follow her kind, strong, gentle, loving god through the pass. The pass opened up again into a smaller, similar valley, this one deserted of visible animal life.
"This is my home, little one," Hipparion whinnied, as they looked the valley over. "You will share it with me, a few days, while I teach you my ways of worship. Though, before we begin, come, run with me. I haven't had a chance to stretch my legs since I left here at her summons. I'll not leave you behind, little one, and you'll not need this here, not with me."
He plucked with his teeth at the sheepskin she still wore, wrapped around her. She shed it, he'd already seen her naked, and she felt no threat from him, and the weather was more than mild enough. She folded it to lay on the ground, as she thought to use it when she slept, and lay the curry comb and brush he'd given her on top of it. Then he beckoned to her with his head, and began to stride forward. She broke into a jog to keep up with him, and he worked through his paces. She matched him, with some effort, though far less than she'd have expected, to keep pace with a galloping horse, as large as he, but, in the exhilaration of the exercise, she did not question how it came to be.
Once he'd built up a healthy lather, and she knew she was dripping sweat, too, having crossed and circled the valley at a full gallop, they worked back through their paces to a walk to cool down. They drank from a valley spring, though he warned her not to drink too deeply of the cold water. As they continued their cooling-down walk, she reached over to rub his shoulders, combing his pelt with her fingers. He nodded, blissfully, and she stopped walking, to turn and work the rubdown back along his body as he continued past, at a slow walk.
"Would you like a stallion now, little one?" he asked, as she was rubbing his flanks. Her back was to his head, and he was stroking it along her--her back? It was somewhere below her waist, but above her hips? It felt too good to interrupt, so she looked back over her shoulder to see what he was doing. He was stroking his muzzle along the back of a golden horse, close behind her. No, it was her horse's back, from the sensation. There had also been a curious feeling that she only now recognized as her tail, swinging aside to admit him, though she now remembered it from when Dreifari had made her a mare and offered her to the stallion. She reached cautiously back, and touched the horse's body, feeling it solid and definitely hers. It joined to her hips, or where they had been, for her hips and legs were now the horse's chest and forelegs. The pelt stopped at her waist, and she seemed unchanged above, but that her navel was probably now on her lower, equine belly. She looked up, and saw a creature, a golden mare with a blond- haired girl's upper body rising above her forelegs, replacing the horse's head and neck, with a five-legged, large black stallion stroking the equine portion of her back with his muzzle. She knew the stallion, and recognized the girl, and, when she moved, knew the image to be her own, as in a mirror. Since her vagina seemed to be gone, she had to check under her tail to be sure she still had one for her stallion.
"Do you like it, little one?" the stallion asked, a little anxiously, as she finished her inspection.
"Yes, my Lord, and thank you," she replied, pivoting around to bow to him. "I had not quite thought of how you would fulfill your promise to let me accept you. Now, come, stallion, if you can catch me, you can show me what this body is good for."
She put as much allure into her voice as she felt for the virile stallion, and pranced away from him, teasingly. He leaped to pursue, and she led him a merry chase, though not a long one, before she let him catch and cover her. Their passion satisfied, for the moment, they wandered back to retrieve the curry comb and brush, and she began to groom him again.
"You will need to use those yourself, now, little one," he nickered. "Aye, I might, though I see Dreifari's point that it may not be proper to use things meant for my Lord for others' benefit," she answered.
He shrugged, then said, "Fillies and fodder are the only things I worry about in that regard. After you leave me, you'll not have the chance to use them on me, and I'll not have anyone who can. Keep them, little one, and use them. I hope they'll remind you of me when you do."
"That I'll need them will be reminder enough of my Lord and Stallion's love, if ever I needed any," she answered, "Although, I can't use them properly and fully. I can't quite reach all of the body you've given me, myself. It's not that flexible, though I can manage."
"As High Priestess, you can have all the servants you will need, little one," he said. "Now, your holiness, you know who I am, and what I do for
those who worship me."
"You are Hipparion, my Lord and Stallion, god of your kind, and protector of your mortal kindred. If you are pleased with our worship, you will protect and increase the herds of your kindred that serve us."
"You know something of the worship I require, but not all that your holiness must know."
So Merlana's lessons began, interspersed with refreshing runs, the god's grazing and her eating, simple, though pleasant human food that he provided her, and his mounting her whenever the mood struck them, which was often enough.
"My Lord and Stallion," she said, as she ate, lying in the grass, as he grazed nearby, the next day, "I'm still hungry, but this food, delicious though it is, no longer appeals to me. Your pasture's grass now smells tasty to me, though, and should I follow that impulse, and would my Lord allow me to graze with Him?"
"Of course you may, little one," he replied, wandering back to nuzzle her, affectionately, "If you wish. My pasture is yours, and you may eat or graze as pleases you. I have given you a mare's belly to go with your human one, and you can fill either or both, for I would not have you starve. You aren't so little any more, little one, and your old appetites may not keep all I've given you fed."
"I'm still little compared to my Stallion's magnificence," she said, reaching up to pat his neck affectionately. She pulled up a handful of the lush grass, and found it as delicious as it smelled, going down easily, so she grazed to fill out her appetite, when human food could not. She was still nearly six hands shorter than the stallion, at the lower shoulder, for he was the largest and best of destriers, and her mare's body was more pony- sized. A full-sized mare's body, a fit mate for him, would likely overbalance her human upper torso, she realized. Were he a bit shallower through the ribs, she mused, though there was nothing wrong with his proportions, he could cover her with all eight hooves on the ground. As she grazed, he nuzzled her, playfully nibbling at the tips of her ears, which twitched out of the way. They were now delicately pointed, and had been enlarged in her transformation, though her hair would cover them if she kept them still.
"My Lord," she asked him, later that day, as she groomed him after he'd covered her again, "Will the foal you've given me be of your kind, or of the kind you've made me?"
"All your foals will be of your centaur kind, little one," he answered, "And theirs, as long as your line lasts, whether their sires be of your kind, by my will or by birth, my mortal kindred, your old kind that I had not made a stallion for you, or me and my sons, when we do give you and your daughters foals. The foals your sons sire shall be likewise, regardless of their dams' kind."
"When you give me a foal, my Lord?" she repeated, "Are not my Lord's embraces always fertile? Even were He not divine, a stallion as potent as my Stallion should have hit paydirt in covering me as often and as well as He has these past two days."
"If I had, I would not wish to know," he replied, "And if I were to give you as many foals as your love for me would wish, and my own pride demand, you would be in foal all but always, and it might kill you. Your body is wiser in this than either of us, little one, and we should let it decide when your pleasure gives you a foal. Just now, the time is not right for my seed to take root in you. I would not force your body to bear my, or any stallion's, get out of its proper cycle. Nor, if it were time, would I force your body to accept my seed if it would not accept it. I would not be more to you than any other stallion, in that regard."
"My Lord, you will always be more to me than any other," she said, bending down to kiss his forehead. "If I am not in heat now, and want you as I do, it must be irresistible when my time does come."
"It is your heart that wants me, not your body, little one," he replied, "Though your body will not resist what your heart wants, it will not compel you. All your kind shall, in the manner of your old kind, seek stallions when they will, regardless of the time or season. You shall also be free to refuse, when you wish. My mortal kindred will think you are near enough to your heat as to be worth a little encouragement, when they scent you, so you might take care if you don't feel like having a stallion when you are around them."
"Thank you, my Lord and Stallion, for your advice," she said. "Might I ask you about your life here? I've seen no sign that you have had any company here, though there is a herd of horses in the next valley. Is it not a lonely life?"
"Maybe, little one, but I need solitude for my business," he answered. "There are few fit company for such as me, and especially not of my mortal kind. You are pleasant enough, little one, but you must return to human society, or much that I love in you will be lost."
"What about other humans you have taken as punishment?" "I do not do that, little one," he answered. "I do not want those who have forfeited all their humanity by offending me in my herd. Now, she's the only mare with a human mind among my herd, and I do not wish her company, nor will she stay long. She's fit for no more than breeding, if that, and her blood will only taint my herd. I only hope it doesn't irreparably taint what herd she does spend the rest of her life in."
"The herd is yours, and the mares in it your mates?" she asked, and he nodded. "You bring them here when you wish to breed them?"
"I go to them," he answered. "They cannot cross the pass, unless I let them, and I don't. Nor can they leave, unless I run a stallion off. I'll guide him out, since few mortals can make it through, even with my permission to leave. Let us resume your lessons, little one, we don't have much time before we must leave."
Two mornings later, as soon as they'd broken their fast, it was time to leave. He covered her, once more, then touched her left flank with his muzzle. She giggled, reflexively, for it tickled, and twisted around to look. Where he'd touched her, there was now a stylized "H", in black hair against her golden pelt. Her flank was as smooth as it had ever been, the only difference being the change in hair color.
"It's my brand, little one," the horse answered her questioning look, "So all will know I am your stallion."
"Will it not be clear, from the sort of mare you've made me? I will bear my Stallion's brand proudly, though," she returned.
"You will not always be the only mare of your sort, little one," he answered, rubbing his head on her upper back, reassuringly, "And I will not service all the others. I hope it does you no discomfort, and it will be useful, in time. Come, let's go. They'll be waiting for us."
At the entrance to his valley, Merlana picked up the sheepskin from where she'd left it the day they arrived. She needed it even less, now, the pelt he'd given her seemed enough covering, as his own did for him, but she should cover her breasts when she faced the priests he'd suggested they would meet. She laid it across her withers, where she'd come to carry the comb and brush, and followed him through the pass, into the other valley.
"I've one last thing to do before we leave," he said, as they entered the larger valley. "You can wait here for me, if you wish."
"I'll stay with you, my Stallion," she answered, rubbing his neck, affectionately. "I know I can't keep a stallion as randy as you away from your other mares for long."
He nuzzled her, then she followed him in among the herd. He made directly for one of the mares, a black that was virtually a female version of himself, though without the aura of godhood. She winded him, then came trotting eagerly to meet him. She was clearly in heat, and, after courting briefly, he covered her. While they were busy, Merlana wandered off, grazing and looking the herd over. Suddenly, she heard another stallion nicker
flirtingly, and looked around to see a black stallion amble towards her. He was a handsome animal, much like his god-sire, though clearly a mortal. His intent was clear, though he didn't seem to think she was quite ready, as he sidled up to her, rubbing his shoulder against her lower body and his head along her back. He was young, barely a stallion, and seemed uncertain what his instincts were telling him to do.
"Hello, boy," she said, patting his neck. "If you'd like him, little one," Hipparion called, from atop the black mare, "Go ahead."
She paused a moment, then decided "Why not?", and bent down to kiss the mortal stallion on the forehead. Then, she removed the sheepskin and curry combs from her withers, stepped away from him, and turned her rump to him, flicking her tail over. He eagerly leapt onto her back, to couple with her. Spent, he dismounted, then, turned around to face the god, who'd also finished with his mare. The younger stallion's snort of defiance was cut short as their eyes met, and he turned and trotted quietly through the herd towards the tunnel.
"Did you enjoy my son, little one?" Hipparion asked, walking up to stroke Merlana's lower back with his muzzle.
"Not nearly as much as I do his Sire," she said, bending back to kiss him. "Where's he headed?"
"Where we are," the god answered. "I don't want competition for my mares, even from my sons, so he had to leave, anyway. I'll leave him with you, for between our times. Grab your stuff, and let's get going. I'll stallion you again when we stop so you can sleep."
"My Stallion," she said, as they weaved their own way back through the herd, "I couldn't help but notice that there are a few other mares in your herd who are in heat now. Do you not wish to service them, too?"
"Not right now, little one," he answered. "If I'm not back before their heat passes, I'll get them their next season, or whenever I wish to breed them. In truth, I hadn't planned to breed that one I did quite yet. I didn't push the cycle that far, and I wanted a foal of better blood to balance hers. It was a little fortunate that you came with me, today, and you were the first filly that colt saw, little one. Else, I might not have noticed him, myself, until he had half the available mares in foal. He and I might have had a serious showdown over my herd. At least, it would have been a lot of work to bring the mares he serviced back into line. This way, he proved he was a stallion on a mare I know is true in her heart though her back is open to whomever she wants."
"There is none I want there more than my Stallion," she said, stroking his neck. "How long do you wait between breedings, if you don't service your mares at every heat?"
"Three, four years, usually," he answered. "That's quite enough to keep the herd going and enough of my blood in it to keep it strong, with the offerings I accept from my worshipers to provide new stock. As you suggested the other day, I can breed a mare whenever she's in heat, so I only need service them when I intend to breed them. I did not allow the others to notice me today, nor that colt to notice other mares, after he finished with you."
As they traversed the valley towards the tunnel, a mare, brown with black mane and tail, broke away from the periphery of the herd to gallop towards them, neighing eagerly. The stallion stopped, and turned to face her sternly. She braked to a stop, and bowed her head submissively, with a quiet, almost furtive, flirting nicker, her tail over. He shook his great head, with a stomp of his hoof, and turned away from her, giving a look of command on the way he and Merlana had been headed. The brown mare turned, dejectedly, and noticed the centaur beside the god-stallion. The mare started, looking her over, and again, with a triple, questioning whinny.
"Yes, your Grace," Merlana replied, "He offered to be my stallion, and this is how He's made me so He can. Good-bye, your Grace, I'm leaving to do His service, so I can keep His services. May you merit His services as well."
A stallion whinnied, invitingly, from the distance, and both mare's tails went over. Dreifari's stayed over, as the god's glance put her into heat again. Hipparion was totally indifferent to her, as the mortal stallion came trotting back, and courted and covered her. When his son had finished, the god continued on his way, with a nickered invitation to Merlana to follow, as the mortal stallion herded the brown mare after them.
"She's coming with us, little one," Hipparion said, in a quiet nicker, at Merlana's sidelong, questioning look. "I gave her to you, and now she's his to stallion."
"Will my Lord accept a mare for His herd?" the centaur replied, "In thanks for what He has done for me."
"You've given me one, already," the stallion answered, stroking her back, "And you know I don't want her."
"Still, my Lord and Stallion, I would remember your love, rather than your wrath," she said.
"I want her with us, where we're going now," the god answered, "Though I don't want to bring her back. We'll see how you feel then."
The two mortal horses followed, as Merlana followed Hipparion to the tunnel entrance. Merlana waited with Hipparion as the others passed, into the tunnel. As the mortal black stallion passed them, he rubbed against the centaur's lower body, with a flirting nicker, and she tousled his mane. His sire touched his flank, and he bore the "M" brand in white against his black pelt. Dreifari gave Hipparion a flirting nicker as she passed, and he looked scornfully at her, and the mortal stallion began to court the newly-in-heat brown mare. Merlana tousled Hipparion's mane, as the god rubbed against her, apologetically, and she followed him into the tunnel.
Merlana, at Hipparion's shoulder, walked nervously back into the chamber where she'd nearly been sacrificed to him, some two and a half weeks before. Only her twitching tail betrayed her nervousness, and the presence of her stallion did much to calm her. The chamber was empty, though.
"Come on, little one," Hipparion nickered, angrily. "They have not finished their ceremony."
He strode for the other tunnel, Merlana with him, and worked quickly through their paces to a brisk canter. The steps proved no obstacle to them, their hooves seemed barely to touch them, as they raced upwards. As he reached the door at the top of the stairs, it burst open before them, and they ran into the main hall of the temple. He leaped, landing on top of the altar, to stop, standing on it, as Merlana scrambled to a halt. After her hooves slipped once on the polished stone floor, he gave her a glance, and she had all the traction she needed to stop with dignity. The other black, mortal, stallion that had followed them from Hipparion's pastures also scrambled to a halt, to stand quietly, off to one side. Dreifari likewise pulled up, at an unspoken command from the god, to flank the altar with Merlana.
A large number of the priests of the temple were there, in their horsehide and tailed robes, in front of a sizeable congregation of the townspeople. When their god had interrupted them, a pair of priests were at the altar, one in the act of placing a horsehead headdress, like that Dreifari had worn, on the other's head. Merlana winced at the sight, recalling how the previous wearer of that headdress came to wear it always, having been turned into a mare by the god for the heresy of human sacrifice. Upon their god's arrival, all the priests and many of the congregation had prostrated themselves before him, so she could not recognize any of them. There was also a filly, or young mare, in a rope halter by the altar, nervous in her heat with the stallions so near. Merlana recognized her as the filly that Dreifari had been bringing to the temple when the then High Priestess had met Merlana. Hipparion recognized her, too, from when he'd come to rescue them from bandits, and looked her over with the same distaste he had then, and disgust for his priests. His son eyed her with some interest, though he made no move towards her.
"Rise," the brown mare suddenly commanded, in her former human voice in the priesthood's ceremonial language, and Merlana understood, as the god had taught her the language as he had the rest of his ways, "Hipparion commands it."
No one moved, so Dreifari repeated, "He commands you be on your feet, unless you'd rather your feet were hooves."
"Like mine, my Lord?" Merlana asked the god-stallion, quietly, as the priests began to obey.
"Not so many as I've given you, or the others will replace their hands, like hers," he replied, in his whinnying speech. "I'll not deny you any pleasure, my little one, but I would ask you to seek your other stallions in the stables for a time, until my ire with them abates a bit. When she is through, it shall be your turn to speak, little one."
The priests were standing up, cautiously, still averting their eyes from their god. They looked Merlana over, in mixed curiosity and awe, particularly from Tranval and others she knew by sight from her night in the temple. She could not name either the priest who was to wear the headdress, or the one who was putting it on him.
"I am Dreifari," the brown continued. "Our Lord Hipparion has stripped me of my place as High Priestess here, with my humanity, for violating His Law. He now commands that her holiness, the Lady Merlana, who has accompanied us back here, will fill my place, and she will speak for Him, now and in all matters concerning His Law henceforth."
Some of the priests dared to look a question at the black stallion-god, and he nodded sharply. Dreifari whinnied, as though she were trying to speak again, and gave the god a bleak look, which he ignored.
"Tell them about sacrifices," Hipparion nickered, angrily. "Our Lord may desire, at times," Merlana began, in the ceremonial language, deliberately lecturing the priests, as the god had instructed, on the most elementary points of doctrine, "A fine, unblemished, unbred filly, in her first season, for His herd. If He is pleased with such an offering that is made freely, but needs her not, all He might take is her maidenhead, and will leave His foal in her, to enrich His worshipers' herds. Never, in whatever guise, did He ask you to sacrifice your fellow humans to His needs, nor will He accept them."
Hipparion fixed his gaze on the filly, and she became human, no more than a girl, as naked as she'd been as a horse. The girl cringed in terror, cowering into a corner of the hall, still wearing the halter around her head. Most of the priests started at the sight, though Tranval's reaction seemed forced, and an instant later than the others'.
"All humans that you might have awaiting such sacrifice are to be freed at once, and returned whence they came," Merlana continued.
"Those they had in the stables are in their right bodies again," Hipparion said, disgustedly.
"Anyone of His priesthood who knowingly offers a human to Him as a sacrifice will be taken in the sacrifice's stead," she continued. "He has so taken Dreifari, once High Priestess here, for having me made into a horse, and offering me to Him, and she will live her life out as a mare. As she said, He commands that I will fill her place, to reteach you His true way."
"But, as our Lord surely knows, as we have prayed for His guidance, we have alreadeeeee--"
Hipparion snorted while Tranval was speaking, the lightning branded the priest on the hip, and his voice turned into a horse's whinny. The stallion locked eyes with him, commandingly, and stiffly, almost against his will, the man walked up to the horse-god, as Hipparion leaped lightly off the altar. The stallion's musk filled the room, as his penis came erect, and Merlana knew what he intended. The man, terror in his eyes, turned his back to the stallion. He'd begun to bend over, his transformation beginning, as he began to move, and now he braced his hands on his knees, to bend over further. The tail from his robes seemed to swing aside, of its own accord, as Hipparion leaped on Tranval's back. The man screamed in pain, dropping his forehooves to the floor, as the stallion thrust into his body, impassively. As he thrust, repeatedly, the man under him turned gradually into a mare.
Merlana couldn't bear to watch the god, so she watched the other priests. The priest holding the headdress looked at the other, younger one by the altar, who gave him a "Do you think I'm crazy?" look in return. The first priest then walked up to Merlana, presenting the headdress to her with a bow. She accepted it, with a nod, and held it in one hand, while she waited for the god to finish. She noticed Dreifari eying the copulating stallion with some longing, but carefully not responding. The brown had learned the hard way that the god had no intention of servicing her again, and that, at any invitation from her, he'd put her into heat and his mortal son would take care of her desire.
When the god-stallion dismounted, Tranval was a mare, as completely as Dreifari was, a dapple-grey with black mane and tail. His screams had turned to moans as he was transformed, and it seemed she'd never been able to accept the stallion in comfort. The brand on her flank was the "M" that Dreifari and the mortal stallion wore, not the "H" of the temple's herd that Merlana now also wore. The grey stepped aside, meekly, cowering against a wall, whimpering in the pain of her rape and transformation, as Hipparion turned his attention to the remaining priests. The mortal stallion, scenting Tranval, was very interested, as she was still in heat, despite having just been covered by the god. Hipparion glanced his way, and the other stallion ambled over to Tranval, and covered her.
"Any other objections?" Merlana asked.
"Begging my Lord's and my lady's pardon," one of the priestesses spoke up.
"She is to be called holiness," the god-horse interrupted, in an angry nicker that was almost a growl.
"It is His wish that I am to be called holiness," Merlana translated. "As He will, your holiness," the priestess continued. "But your holiness said He was most displeased with Dreifari for offering your holiness to Him. Yet, He covered her and took her for His herd. Again, begging my Lord's pardon, but it seems He has rewarded her, rather than punishing her."
"Ask either of them, if you can reach her mind, whether life as a mare is a boon," Merlana answered, indicating the two recently remade mares. "I, and she who was offered to Him today can vouch that life in a horse's herd is no pleasure for a human mind. It was even less a boon for Dreifari, than it was for Tranval or me, since He took ten days to make Dreifari a mare, covering her, as painfully as He did that one, three times or more each day. He would rather not take Dreifari into His herd, either, though I have asked it of Him. He gave her to me, when He gave me my freedom, to ride her to my home before He asked me to return here and fill her place."
The god nickered, and Merlana translated, "Perhaps you will understand better if you share Dreifari's fate for a time."
The black stallion-god fixed his gaze on the priestess, and her tail twitched, as she began to bend over, towards all fours. He then walked over to the thoroughly cowed remaining priests, and picked out one of the younger ones. Merlana recognized him, from somewhere, though she couldn't put a name to him. She didn't really know his face, yet, somehow, she knew him. As they neared him, she caught his scent. He was the priest that had first found her as a horse. There was more than a bit of fear in his scent as the great black stallion walked up to face him.
"Translate for him, little one," the god nickered, continuing, "You did well, lad, to speak for me when your superiors claimed wrongly that they were. You faced their calling my wrath on you, and indeed suffered what I might have done to you were they in the right. For your faithfulness, bear this mark of my favor, forever."
When Merlana translated the god's decree, the priest's body shimmered and turned into a horse's from the waist down. A centaur now, with agressively pointed ears, he started, took a few cautious steps, and bowed to the god.
"Thank you, my Lord," he said. Merlana's tail had twitched at the new stallion's scent, and when his gaze fell on her, he seemed as interested. A woman standing beside the young priest reached up to rub his withers and the lower part of his human back. He looked around and down at her, then back to Merlana, in bafflement. The god fixed his gaze on the woman, and she was a centauress. Once they got over their start, she bowed to the god.
Hipparion and Merlana then walked back to the altar, and he rubbed his head along her lower back.
"You'll have things well in hand, here, little one," he said. "Would you like a stallion, again, before I leave, or have I upset you too much?"
She twisted around to reach back and kiss his head, whispering, "Come, my Lord and Stallion, when you're on another, I want you all the more."
They both paced around, wheeling, to give him room to leap onto her equine lower back, and couple with her.
"You are disturbed, though, little one," his "voice" came into her mind, without sound, as he covered her. "Do not worry. If you need me, call on me. I'll be with you always."
"Yet, my Lord, I fear I will not be able to control them as you would have me, except by fear of your vengeance," she returned, as silently, and she knew he heard, "And I do not feel I can, in my own good conscience, call on your help except in the worst of circumstances. I cannot so, perhaps, condemn a person to a life as a horse, for as little as provoked you to transform those two."
"You pronounced Tranval's doom yourself," he replied. "He assisted when you were sacrificed, knowing fully that it was not my doing, and he knew what that filly they offered today was. She's lucky I didn't make her a horsefly. I'll not let her bear any of my line, she'll taint it. As for the woman, she should have known better. She won't be a mare for life, just long enough so she learns and can tell others that any horse herd is not meant for humans.
"As for your reluctance to use my power for discipline, I'll let you decide how much needs to be done. If I agree it'll suffice, I will follow your conscience, and I will listen and explain when I must act against it. You need not wait for such a crisis for me to demonstrate my support for you, you know. There are other things I can help you with."
"Like what, my Lord?"
"Not all your other stallions need come from the stables." "Even less would I ask you to turn a man to a horse for life for my pleasure, my Lord."
"Nor would I, little one. No more than I would make a woman all mare for my own. I'll not make him a stallion for longer than you need him to be. Or more stallion than you need him to be, to fit with how much mare I've made you, if that pleases you, or if he is willing to be your stallion beyond and between times on your back."
"Thank you, my Lord, you've made things easier. If I do ask you to let one of the temple company stallion me, he won't be able to keep it to himself, even if you do restore him afterwards, and the gossip will spread like wildfire."
"You'll have time to establish yourself in control before things settle down here, little one. Those who supported her and her cohorts won't be able to make much trouble for you until then, anyway. I'll leave as soon as we're done here. Farewell, and good grazing and good luck, until I see you again, the next sacrifice. Remember, I'll be with you when you need me."
"Farewell, my Lord and Stallion, and the best of grazing to you. But, when you leave, might you take those three you have made or are making mares for your herd? I think we need no more reminder of my Lord's power than what you have done for me in love, and I would rather recall your love than your wrath. What they have lost by angering you needs not be worsened by a continued reminder and humiliation before those that were their peers."
"I want neither of those two in my herd. Nor will I ever service either of them again. But, if it makes you happier, little one, I will find them another herd to serve their penance, if they wish. If so, they may follow me to my herd when I leave, if they do not tarry too long. Make sure they understand what the terms are, though. As for the woman, she will share whatever She chooses, until she has learned her lesson."
"Yes, my Lord."
They climaxed together, and he dismounted. His son, finished with Tranval, had wandered over to the priestess who'd spoken up, sniffing her with some interest. A sharp glance from the god, and the mortal stallion wandered away from her, to rub suggestively against Merlana's lower body, as she stood a moment, pulling herself together after being mounted.
"Not right now, boy," she said, patting his neck, "You be good." The mortal stallion returned to his place. Merlana, her composure regained, walked over to Tranval and Dreifari. The brown was nuzzling the grey, who was still in shock, with quiet nickers of intended comfort.
"Your Graces," the centaur began, quietly, and both mares looked up, "Our Lord does not wish either of you for His herd, yet I have asked Him to take you from here. Your penance will be severe enough without the continued reminders of your past life you will meet if you stay here. He has said that you may follow Him to His pasture when He leaves, and that He might find another herd for you. However, He will not service either of you again, though mortal stallions may not be so choosy. You must choose now, for He will not leave the path to His pastures open for long behind Him."
The mortal stallion wandered over, and began to court the mares. Although Tranval was still in heat, the courting was a stallion's formal, tentative opening moves for a mare who wasn't quite ready. The brown looked a question at the grey, with a gesture of her head towards the god. The grey looked at the god, who ignored her, despite her continued heat, then shook her own head, nickering a farewell. The brown echoed the nicker, then nuzzled the grey again.
"Farewell and good grazing, little one," Hipparion nickered, then he wheeled and walked back into the tunnel under his statue. Dreifari trotted to follow, and the priestess, now almost on all fours, followed them both. Merlana looked after them, with a little regret, then turned to the remaining priests.
"End the ceremony, and send the people home, with His blessing," she said, still in the ceremonial tongue. "I want to speak with the leaders among you, you two in particular. We have much more to discuss."
As the priests began the benediction and dismissal of the congregation, she walked around Tranval to the girl still cowering in the corner. She bent down over her, gently untangled the halter from her head, and unwrapped the sheepskin she'd worn over her own upper body.
"Put this on, lass," she said, kindly, in the common tongue, as the girl looked up at the centauress in awe and fear. "And don't be afraid. No one here is going to harm you, any more."
"They said their god wanted me to be his bride," the girl said, wrapping the proffered sheepskin around her shoulders to partially cover her.
"As they told me," Merlana replied, "But they misread His will, and are paying for it. He asked me Himself, and I accepted freely, so He made me only enough of a mare so He could stallion me. Come with me, and I'll see you're returned to your family."
"My father sent me here," the girl replied. "Her Grace who brought me here had asked Him to help our family. In return, my father had a local wizard turn me to a mare, and offered me to her for her god."
"My Lord?" Merlana thought.
"Take her home yourself, little one," Hipparion responded. "I'll see you there, and they will pay."
"You're going home, lass," the centauress said. "He will avenge this insult to you. Now, come along."
"Pardon me, your holiness," the girl said, "But were you one of the girls Her Grace met on the road as she brought me here, and the mare who joined me in the stables the next morning?"
"Yes, I was, both," Merlana answered. "After He came to rescue us from the bandits, she read His look at me to mean He wanted me for His herd. So, since He didn't take me at once, she had some wizard make a mare of me in the night, as we lodged as their guests. When they offered me to Him, He restored me, and took her in my stead, as savagely as He did Tranval, that mare. She'll now live out the life they meant for us, with His herd."
"Your holiness," one of the priests spoke up, as Merlana straightened up, giving the girl a hand. "What should be done with Tranval?"
"She is a mare for our herd, treat her appropriately," the centauress replied, and the mare gave her a bleak look, as she understood what she'd said. Though she was still clearly in heat, the stallion showed no interest in her. "Have her serviced again, if any stallion will have her. Then, when she's no longer in heat, put her to work. Take His son He brought back with me to the stables, and put him to stud, like his brothers already in our herd."
"But, those of our offerings He leaves with us after He services them are treated with honor, for the sake of the honor He so does them, and the foals He gives them," another priest put in.
"He would not breed her, nor allow His sons to bring her taint into His line," Merlana replied, "And He meant him no honor in raping him as He did."
"Does your holiness not consider it an honor when He covers you?" a priestess added.
"There is a vast difference between a rape and the marriage bed, or should be," the centauress said, "And between His taking a human, by force or compulsion, and forcing Himself on him, even though he be male until His stallionhood forces a hole into his loins, and so reshaping him to a mare, and His first remaking me to enough of a mare that His offer to stallion me is a pleasant idea, then so offering, in terms that I might refuse. That is the honor He does me, to respect my wishes, if I must refuse Him, and not to force me to accept Him, or to bear His foals."
"Perhaps now, but what about when you come into heat?" "When do you come into your season?" the centauress retorted. "My cycles will be the same as if I'd not been changed, and I will be free to accept or refuse a stallion when I will. He honored me by leaving that choice unchanged, but He has deprived those two of that freedom, for their bodies' seasons will decide their desires, and their passions will be but a bitter memory. As I said before, come, let us leave this hall, and show me to a room where we can talk."
"Wear these, your holiness," the priestess said, slipping her robes off, and offering them to the centauress, "Until you have fitting ones of your own made."
"You wear them, lass," Merlana said, looking down at the girl, "And let me have this back, unless they'll make you uncomfortable, from too many unpleasant associations."
"Thank you, your holiness," the girl answered, slipping off the sheepskin, for Merlana to wrap around her shoulders, as the girl shrugged into the robes, far too big for her.
"But surely your holiness should wear the robes of His priesthood," one of the priests protested.
"Do I need two tails?" the centauress asked. "He's given me nearly as much pelt of my own as you wear, and do I need to cover even that part He left uncovered with another's? I don't think I need to wear the robes your tradition requires, as He's made me more of a horse in truth than your robes make you appear. In truth, the pelt He's given me seems covering enough, as His own suffices for Him, so I'll not wear much else, at any time. I think I'm horse enough to dispense with this, as well."
She held up the headdress, and the priests bowed their assent. Merlana, with the girl clinging to her, followed one of the priests through a side entrance to the hall, then down a corridor paralleling the hall. Suddenly, an acrid, penetrating, familiar scent reached her nostrils.
"Take care of her," she addressed the priestess whose robes the girl now wore. "See she gets some clothes and food, and is well taken care of. Clear out the girls you'll find in the stables, as well, and see they're taken care of, too, and that they're returned to their families. I'll see you in the morning, lass, and take you home. Go with them, they know what happens if Hipparion is displeased. He, and I, will protect you."
"Thank you, your holiness, and offer Him my little thanks," the girl replied, with a curtsey. The priestess led her away, with an exaggerated care, as Merlana, the rest of the priests tagging along, followed her nose to one of the side chambers off the corridor, across from the main hall. There, lying each on a bed, were two large bodies, that reeked of the urine that had soaked the back of their robes and the manure that stuck to the back of their heads.
"Whew!" the centauress said, "Why haven't they been cleaned up?" "It is His water and manure they wear," one of the priests accompanying her answered. "It does them honor to wear it."
"It is an honor they'd rather do without, I imagine," Merlana said, "And not one He intended to be. No more than His rape of their leader and her confederate was meant to honor them but to show His disgust with them."
"We have attempted to clean them, despite some interference," a priestess attending on the two guards said, with a pointed look at the priest who'd spoken, "But we cannot. No amount of water can cut the stench of His urine on their backs, nor have we ever been able to remove His manure from their heads, nor the robes they still wear. At first, they stuck where the urine struck them, but as time passes, they're more and more part of their bodies. They are changing within the robes, as He turns them to stallions."
"Not stallions, no," Merlana replied, as the god snorted derisively over their mind-link. She checked with him, noticing certain details of the ears even now sticking through the manure clots on their heads and their tails, then ordered the nearer of the two guards, "You! What's your name?"
"Hee-Haw!" the guard brayed, loudly, and the centauress covered her ears, neighing laughter.
"They're to be jackasses, then?" the priestess asked. "Yes, and no," Merlana replied, "He's making them the asses they've always been, but not truly jacks. He would not leave them that pleasure."
"Not jennies, surely?" the priestess responded. "There are too many changes yet needed to make them female. Some changes that have been completed would need to be changed further, too."
"Not jennies, nor truly jacks," the centauress said, "But geldings. There will be no trace of their stones, except in their own bitter memories."
"And what would He we do with them?"
"It'll be clear when they're done changing," Merlana said, sniffing the air, theatrically, "Then, like Tranval, they're to be put to work, as fits their new bodies and lives. Now, let's get out of this stench, where we can talk."
Merlana copyright 1996 by Dr. John Filpus.
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