Tepic stepped round the headland and into the cool mountain woodlands overlooking a large bay in the far distance. The path wound round mature oaks and chestnuts, and he could hear the soft sound of a stream ahead. After the aridness of the island, it was pleasant to walk the leafy ground, only problem was, how could he find the guide?
As he walked, he began to get the distinct impression he was not alone in the forest, someone or something was tracking him, very skilfully. He heard the faint sound of a bow string and dropped to the floor, a long, heavy black arrow cutting through the space he had just left to plough deep into a tree. From all around came war cries and the deep pounding of many hooves. There were no more arrows but through the trees appeared a host of large, grim faced men on horseback, then, as they approached, he could see they were not on the horses, but were part of them – centaurs!
Looking up he could see he was surrounded by large, grim faced centaurs, but what really took his attention were the drawn bows, arrows pointing directly at him. Those who didn’t have bows carried long, heavy lances, wicked slender points reaching towards him, not wavering in the slightest in their strong arms.
“You duck, not fair, trespass our mountain, we eat!” roared the largest horseman.
“Eeeppp!” yelped the boy, “i’m a fox, no one eats foxes, an i’m here ter see Chiron!”
The snorting and neighing, along with stamping hooves and rearing bodies caused Tepic to cower back, covering his head with his arms, for as much good as that would do against the lethal weapons arrayed against him. Then he realised his hide was still in one piece, and the centaurs were backing up and lowering their bows.
The one who had spoken stepped forward into the ring of his fellows and addressed the boy.
“Swift Lance I am, Leader of the Band and Guardian of the Forest! Death it is for trespass, taken you will be to Chiron, then leave, come back never, or dinner you are!”
Tepic sat up, slightly happier that becoming a Greek kebab was fading, and wondering which of the stern centaurs would be his guide. The leader called off several of his subordinates to take their groups to scout the forest for other intruders.
“Death Hoof, go East, Lightning Arrow, to the West, Spear Thruster scout North, I will sweep to the South! Tail Wetter, come forth, you will take this outsider to Chiron, and woe betide you if you lose him!”
With that, all the groups galloped off in the different directions, leaving Tepic alone with the still quivering arrow and a small centaur with an apologetic smile on his face.
“Hello”, he said, trotting towards Tepic, “Sorry about that, they get really intense about strangers in the forest…”
“Intense….” he murmured, staring at the arrow that has nearly skewered him.
“Oh, you best take that, it’s yours now anyhow, since it missed!”
“Errrr….. thank you.. i think…” he replied, reaching out to pull it free. It was deeply embedded, and even putting both feet on the tree and using all his weight, he couldn’t budge it. Tail Wetter grasped the shaft and with negligible effort twisted it free and handed it to him. The arrow was surprisingly heavy, and to Tepic’s astonishment seemed to be made of bronze!
“Well, we’d better get on, before Swift Lance gets the idea you are not visiting Chiron and decides you would make good souvaliki!” With that the young centaur trotted off into the forest, and Tepic hurried to follow.
As they made their way, the two youngsters fell to chatting, Tepic telling the tale of his quest, and Tail Wetter pointing out all the different trees and plants they were passing.
“Errrr….. Tail Wetter, how come you talk like yer does, and ain’t wanting ter eat me, an yer mates there spoke short an were ready ter poke holes in me without a by yer leave first?”
“Oh, it’s something that happens as you get older, all centaurs are like that, except Chiron, of course.” the centaur boy told him, “I can’t wait to grow up and join the war band!”
“You want to be eating poor blokes as get lost on the mountains?” Tepic asked incredulously.
“Well, not really, though the forest is well posted with warnings, and it’s mostly only the greedy ones looking for treasure that come in,” his friend explained, “but when I join the band and kill my first intruder, I get my War Name!”
“Your War Name?”
“Yes, finally I will get rid of my boy name, come on, how would you like to be called ‘Tail Wetter’?”, the disgust in his voice showed the level of unfairness there was in a world that had saddled him with the name.
“Ah….. yes….. had wondered bout that…”
The boys wandered on for some time, snaking on various nuts and berries as they passed, until they came to a clearing at the base of a rising rock face, the entrance of a cave before them. To one side a young boy was chopping wood, but as soon as he spied them he threw aside his axe, yelled “Tails!” and raced towards them.
“Who is this you have brought, Tails?” the boy asked excitedly, bouncing round the two of them.
“This is Tepic, he’s a fox that’s lost his tail, Jason, here to see Chiron, is he in?” Tepic’s guide explained, throwing a warning glance at the fox boy not to spill the beans about his full name!
“Yes, I’ll get him!” the lad cried, and raced into the cave, yelling at the top of his voice.
A few minutes later he returned, followed by the most unusual looking centaur Tepic had ever seen. Where the forest ones had the full body of a horse and the top of a man where the head should be, Chiron’s front half was all like that of man, and only the back and hindquarters of a horse marked him as a centaur. His demeanour was calm and collected, quickly ascertaining what the situation was, and organising his student Jason into preparing a meal for them all. The boy performed his duties efficiently, though kept an ear open to Tepic’s story as he worked. He was just washing the dishes in the spring by the side of the cave when Tepic came to the end of his tale, and Chiron leaned back to consider the problem.
After careful consideration, Chiron agreed to take the boy to see Hephaestus, and sent Jason to prepare the centaur’s travelling pack. As the boy hurried off, Tepic leaned close to Chiron and asked “That’s Jason, the one as sailed all over?”
The wise centaur nodded, and the boy continued “Should i tell him…?”
“No, little one, some things are best left to be discovered at their proper time, now, up on my back, and we will be away!”
Jason dashed back with a full pack, half throwing it to the centaur who had already started to gallop off.
“Tidy the place and attend to your lessons while I am gone, Jason, and Tail W.. Tails, best you go back to your tribe!” he called over his shoulder as they thundered into the forest.
((Sorry this it taking a long time to tell, it’s just sort of.. grown! Should be finished soon, errr… i hope..))