Horses sleep a couple of hours a night, plus some dozing. And our lads?
"This insomnia sucks. I liked sleeping. I liked sleeping late."
"You didn't expect to sleep late in the military, did you?"
"On days off, yeah! Now I can't!"
"Read a book. 'Scholars on hooves'!"
"Go stuff a sofa."
To avoid scandal, the DC requires the lads to have routine vasectomies. But they heal vigorously.
"Hello, Blackholt. What can I– Oh."
"Yes, it's that time, captain."
"Dammit, man, I'm seventy-three! Do you–"
"And still in fine shape. You aren't impotent, are you?"
"And if one of the lads heals too quickly and gets in among the mares, we want to be able to say right away, 'Well, it can't be Fletcher.'"
"I've been giving that line since before you were born."
"Because it's a good line. But rank hath its privileges, so you get a house-call instead of a summons to the clinic. Get up and turn around, please."
"You call that sufficient topical anesthetic? Because I don't."
"Don't be a big baby."
"(snort) Have you done Carlin yet?"
"When you get to this part, tell him Fletcher says hello. That ought to put him off his stride for a while."
"You're an evil old plug, you know that?"
The officers suspect there was some wish-granting involved in Rene Wardley's transformation.
"Sir, could you come to the gym, please? There's something you should see."
(A centaur gym must be interesting.)
"No one's hurt themselves, have they?"
"No, sir. Rather ... the reverse. Wardley can chin himself all the way off the ground."
(The gym features a chinning bar, but the normal way for a centaur to use it is to stretch well out to deprive themselves of leverage from the back legs, then pull their forebody off the ground.)
"I definitely want to see that!"
"Can you Receive when you do, sir?"
"I can pay attention. Why?"
"It's just that, though Wardley's as strong a lad as ever I've seen, I'm not sure even his arms could lift a draft horse off the ground. Not naturally."
"You think it's berserkergang? Hysterical strength? But that's natural."
"I was thinking more, well, superpowers, sir."
"Ha! That would be something!"
"Remember what you said about wishing, sir."
"I hit him with a sagitta, not a wishbone. But I see where you're going."
"If it's anything like the movies and such–"
"I can see it now! Secret identities! Nemeses! Rogues galleries! A secret headquarters. A sidekick. (That'll be Brice.)" (Waves hand across an imaginary screen and intones in a stentorian announcer's voice, which he is naturally quite good at.) "'Captain Horsepower and the Sunshine Colt!' I don't know how we'd manage the secret identity, though. 'He was over eight feet tall, an easy ton, with a glossy black coat, and, oh yes, almost forgot, a cart-horse from the waist down, but I wouldn't know him again because he wore a mask.'"
"Well, I dare say I'm worrying over nothing."
"Let's go and see."
The esoteric economy is happy to use money, but also trades in oath-spells and raw psychic energy (chi, prana, numen, whatever). Given the small numbers in the cavalry, customized contracts might be possible.
"Very well, Mr., ah, 'Pollux,' 80% of your salary to be paid in numen at the current rate of exchange of euros per night, half to you, half to your brother, who is, I'm told, enlisting today at the other campus in Normandy? And has the same contract? Well, it's nice to see some people were paying attention in Classics class."
Horses acquire phobias easily.
"Why did you shy at that plastic bag blowing across the road?"
"Nothing, sir. It's dumb."
"This is your captain speaking. It was not a social question."
"Sorry, sir. I ... thought it was a badger."
"I had a sort of mini flashback. Last month, when we were doing cross-country, I surprised a badger. And he surprised me."
"I recall. You reared."
"Yes, sir, he snarled and ran off. No harm done. But..."
"But you have four thin, bare, bony ankles that you are instinctively protective of, and very properly, too. This is a very normal kind of inconvenience and we know how to deal with it. A little desensitization training."
"I see, sir. Thank you, sir. Rearing involuntarily was kind of a shock, too. Suddenly, you're twelve feet tall."
"Yes. Cracked my head that way, once, doing it indoors. If you want to throw a surprise party for a centaur's birthday, do it outdoors."
Horses are matriarchal. The band stallion defers to the senior mare.
"That Fletcher creature is such a suck-up. All little flowery compliments and doing doors and chairs for you. He's like something from the Fifties."
"You don't understand, Muriel. For one thing, he is from the Fifties. He's seventy if he's a day. For another, he can't help it. Or he can, but it's difficult. And part of the package is that he's anxious to please."
"I should say. He practically wags his tail like a puppy. Are you saying that's just how centaur stallions are?"
"Yes, when they're being good boys. Otherwise, go review Greek mythology. Not many good boys there. When they're not being anxious to please, they're scheming to ... elope with you."
"How delicately you put it. Well, if that's the choice, one takes the puppy-dog."
"I'd call his behavior 'courtly' more than puppy-dog. Really, it greases the wheels very nicely. Why do you think you were assigned to the DC liaison team? We've known about this for generations."
"Fletcher must know, too."
"Of course he does. And he knows it works both ways: if you have a long record of being pleasantly attentive, you can become quite hard to say no to. Especially when you only go around making reasonable, well-argued requests. And—mark me—and you don't get all the pushback and questioning and resentment and ignoring you get from human men."
"Swear by Saint Hugo."
"Hell, then he can open all the doors he wants for me."
"Thought you'd see reason. Of course, you have to be in the chain of command. Otherwise, you have to hope the human side stays up, or we're talking elopement again. But Fletcher has that nicely in hand, and sees to it that his boys do too."
It's very handy, growing a winter coat. Then winter ends.
Fletcher: "All right, lads, it's the first warm spell after winter. So what season is it?"
The Lads (resignedly): "Shedding season, sir."
Fletcher: "Right. Break out the brushes. Fifteen minutes on yourselves, then you can trade off and work on each other. This goes on every morning until we're not fetlocks-deep in loose hair afterward."
Our lads are not like the soldiers of a mundane nation, where there are always more recruits and the brass can pick and choose. They are expensive to create and train, and there are only a few of them.
"I am. THE. Slowest. Guy in the class."
"Someone would have to be, Horsepower, unless there was a tie. You are also far and away the strongest, so I wouldn't feel too bad."
"Charliehorse, you don't think there's some lower limit, do you? That I'll get washed out if I can't make the grade?"
"No, Renny, there's no lower limit. If there were, you'd still be far above it. Anyway, they don't wash people out in the DC."
"Not at all?"
"Hardly at all. Look at the numbers. They built the trainee barracks for maximum expected capacity. That's ten. This year, they got us six and thought that was perfectly normal. I think they've got five in France. They get so few recruits, they won't wash out anyone who is any use at all. Sanders has a collection of yearbooks in his office, with pictures of everyone who enlisted in the Grand Norman military each year, going back to 1900. I looked through it the other day. There's a DC man, enlisted in the 1970s, with a peg leg. Left rear. He came to them missing a leg and they still took him and changed him. Spent an expensive sagitta on him. Do not worry about your running speed."
"Poor guy. He probably hoped he'd get his leg back."
"Yeah, but he ought to have known it was a long shot. He was smiling in the picture. Missing one of four is better than missing one of two, at least. He probably figured that."
"What if you're an utter dolt? Or an utter slacker?"
"... I haven't dared ask directly, but I think you wind up as a beast of burden and nothing more. One with hands and language, so you're expected to do your own loading and unloading, and to understand orders. I saw a couple like that when the Hathor expedition came in. I suppose they were suited to it. Hope so, anyway."
"So failure is not an option."
"In a way. The only ways to wash out are into prison or into hospital."
Standard Cavalry ride Dedicated Cavalry as well as horses. But our lads are not, when you come down to it, horses.
"Are those spurs? You've got spurs on. You can take them off right now."
"Sorry, I just routinely leave them on the boots."
"You shouldn't need them, even with a horse."
"Don't give me that. It's regulations that you get issued a pair. Nothing about always using them. They're just for really difficult cases."
"Difficult cases? Izzat so?"
"Don't even think it. Why, I do believe the girth is loose. You could fall off at any moment. How would you like getting jabbed in the ribs?"
("Geez, I'm glad the horses don't talk.")
"I heard that."
"Someone missed his second cup of coffee this morning. There. Off."
"Better. You up for this long-distance run?"
"If my mount doesn't flag..."
"I've got coffee in my canteen."
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2017