Kingdom of Ashmeera, 330 BC
Princess Marjan loved the feeling of her black hair gently caressed by the wind, especially when generated by the forward motion of a ride in the woods. A firm flick of the riding crop on her mount’s sweating muscles triggered a further increase in speed on the straight path. Comfortable on the small saddle, with her feet safely set in the stirrups, she used the small but nasty whip again and again to ride even faster, while feeling perfectly confident despite her Mom’s frequent remarks that she was a reckless rider.
A fork was approaching, so she expertly pulled the right bridle and slightly shifted her own weight, to allow an effective right turn without too much slowdown. It was very subtle, but she could sense the hesitation of her human horse to follow her order. “You bastard!” she thought slightly bothered, and once the curve was finished she repeatedly dug her sharp spurs into his abdomen, both as a punishment and to make him reach the maximum speed. That right turn was not a usual choice – hence the horse’s hesitation – and it led the Princess into open grassland out of the woods.
The human horse was now launched at full gallop, his skin hit by the sunshine and by his rider’s relentless spurs. He was almost naked, completely shaved, and he ran with a form and posture that clearly revealed a lifetime of experience in such a role. A leather harness was tightly fastened around his chest and sustained both the stirrups, dangling in front of his abdomen, and the small leather saddle behind his neck where the Princess had been sitting for the past hour. She liked riding her mother’s slave, although she couldn’t wait to receive her own human horse one day, provided that suitable males could be found again. “You should thank me for keeping the old guy in shape for you!” she used to tell her Mom with a teasing smile. About 45 years old, the slave could easily have been her father, but Princess Marjan treated him like a disposable animal and was always his most demanding rider. A flourishing young woman, she looked beautiful in her light dress and ankle boots. The spotless skin of her long legs seemed so delicate, compared to the tough and darker one of the human horse she was sitting astride. Her Mom used jodhpurs and long riding boots for protection when going for a ride, but she wanted to be different and special, like in most other things.
At that speed, the fall was as sudden as ruinous. The horse expertly managed to make the Princess land almost entirely on his own head and arms, protecting her knees and feet, yet she felt some pain on her left leg and an incredulous disappointment: “You worthless slave!” To her further surprise, the horse pushed her off his back and onto the grass, just to immediately jump back on his feet and run away for a couple of steps. “What the…”
Then she saw their attacker. The struggle between the two men was the nastiest thing she had ever witnessed. She was used to seeing blood on her horse’s abdomen after a ride, due to her generous use of razor-sharp spurs, but this was different. She couldn’t even remember how she got up on her feet, but there she found herself: in the middle of that seemingly infinite grassland, watching with repugnance as her slave eventually managed to suffocate the other man, using the leathers of his own stirrups.
Once sure that the attacker was dead, the human horse struggled to get up on his hands and knees and he looked at the Princess, the bit still tight in his hardly breathing mouth. Furious and scared, she hit his face with her riding crop with all her strength. It was enough to open a cut on the slave’s cheek, and to make him instinctively move back into a sitting position.
“How dare you make me fall off? I’m going to kill you!!”
Then she saw it: a long arrow still jabbed into the slave’s left thigh, with the feathers damaged by the following struggle. He hadn’t fallen by accident!
A million questions started to hit her. Why did that man attack them? She looked around. Nobody else in sight. Then she realized something disturbingly obvious: it must have been her that the attacker wanted! She vaguely remembered her Mom mentioning a group of rebels trying to overthrow their long established matriarchal society, and probably having caused the birth defects that made all new slaves bred by the Kingdom unsuitable for riding and other advanced tasks. But she had never paid too much attention.
“Let’s go… now!!”
She unceremoniously climbed on the saddle and tried to find the bridles. The human horse humbly handed them up to her, only to feel the bit immediately pulled deep into his mouth from both sides.
“Up, slave! Now!!” The Princess kicked and whipped with no regard, almost in panic.
The human horse had to summon all his energies and devotion to the royal family to get up on his feet, with a scream of acute pain. The arrow was not letting too much blood out, but the pain was so acute that he could only walk with a very visible limp. No matter how hard the Princess hit him with her crop and spurs, it was nothing compared to the pain in his leg. He couldn’t manage more than a fast walk through his agony.
Princess Marjan was very aware of the gravity of her situation, but the idea of walking didn’t even cross her for a second: she would have ridden her slave to death, if necessary. He was born to serve her family. Although very clever and sensitive, she was spoiled beyond belief and – at just 19 – simply too young to accept even the most reasonable and temporary limit to her power.
It took them hours to get back to the castle through the woods. Once they reached the first courtyard inside the walls, two guards finally saw them and rushed to help. The exhausted and bleeding slave fell on his knees and let the guards take the Princess off the saddle, before seemingly passing out on the ground.
“Call the doctor, now!!” one of the guards yelled.
Was the last human horse going to make it?