It was a raw, cloudy March morning, but you got warm enough if you went for a brisk ride, and it was bright enough to remind you spring was coming. Satisfied, Janet dismounted and led Cavalier into the stable. She put him in the cross-ties and took off bridle, saddle, and saddle blanket.
Just as she started the rubdown, she heard a step at the doorway. "Hello?" She turned to see a young man, tall, dark-haired, heavily built, almost plump. "Hello. Charles Darneley," he explained.
"Right." She looked at him curiously. He was correct in not assuming she would know him. His family lived a short way down the road, but hardly anyone in the village ever saw them. They were always commuting off to London or something. However she did know him, and had dim memories of playing with the Darneley children back when she was little herself. "What can I do for you?" she asked.
"Um. I, ah, I saw you ride in and– and I wondered if I could help. With, uh, tack or cleaning or anything."
How odd. Was this a pick-up? Well, at least it was a mannerly one. "Sure," she said. "Thanks."
He fetched and carried, though he had to be directed at every step, leaving her free to do the rub-down. It was gradually born in on Janet that he was a big guy that she did not know very well, appearing abruptly on a thin pretext, looking tense. He showed not the slightest flicker of aggression, but she thought it might be smart if her parents knew he was here.
"Is that all the feed there is?" she said. "I'd better get some more. Back in a bit."
"Sure. Uh, you want me to go on brushing him?"
"If you like." And, since he clearly knew nothing about horses, and the odds were he was not a sexual predator, she added, "Just don't surprise him. Don't get your hands near his mouth, and make sure he knows when you're in back, or he might kick." She handed him the brush and left.
Hi, boy. Chevalier, is it? No, I see it's Cavalier. I wonder, will my stall have a name plate? Or do we have a single common stable? I've researched the transformation a lot, but I ought to look into the details of cavalry life more.
Does this feel good? I'd think so, but I can't tell. I see your ears twitch now and again, but I don't know what that means. I'm sure I'll learn to read horse expressions eventually. All in the ears, is it? Mine won't twitch, though. I once read that humans look forever angry to you, because our ears are pinned back. Sorry.
Well, you're not resisting, so I guess it can't feel bad. You keep looking at me. Wrong person, aren't I? Don't worry, she'll be back soon. I may have frightened her off with my threatening masculine presence. (Sigh.) Well, she needn't have worried. That's too assertive a sin for me. More likely she's gone to say, "Da, that blubbery twit, Charlie Darneley has shown up for no reason. See him off, will you?"
You could call this an informational interview. I really, really should learn about horses, and you're the nearest one. In fact, you gave me the idea. I was out walking last fall and saw you in your pasture. Made me start thinking about the cavalry. I was always thinking about what to do with myself. Now I've decided.
I am experiencing perfect vacuum. As long as I can remember, my purpose, my job was to be a good student. And now I've... Done it. End of file. Graduated college last year. Finished my tutoring with Stewart and Jameson. Aaaaaand... now what?
No point in further school. No job. Family not trying to push me out; it's not like I get in the way. I'm very, very good at not getting in the way. I'm a big guy (Yes, horse, really, for a human.) but it's surprising how easy I am to ignore. I work at it. Because the alternative is to be bullied. For being fat. For being a nerd. For, I dunno, being an introvert. For being a stranger and not liking the things they like and looking like an easy target.
You know those two big houses down the road? Janet rides you by there fairly often. That's where my family lives. My father's family in one, my mother's in the other. My father and mother live on the top floor of his family's house. The rest of the house is occupied by my uncle Nathan and his family, including my three brothers. They're all several years older than me. One's engaged. One's going to move to London soon, I think.
I live in the other house, my mother's family's house. It's occupied by her brother and his wife and kids, and my two sisters. And me. And Aunt Lu until last year, when she died.
I was her kid. She raised me. Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Marc are raising my sisters, Aunt Constance and Uncle Nathan raised my brothers, and Aunt Lu raised me. She's– she was– she is my great-aunt really, Mother's aunt. Mother and Father don't really do child-rearing; they farmed us out to the rest of the family. Not that they hate us. Just ... distant. Not a close family. They're very pleased with my academic performance. Everyone treats me like I'm home on holiday. But holidays are a break from something. From what?
I think they expect me to go into their line of work. Father researches the provenance and enchantment of magic books. Mother does the same for painting and statuary. Not interested. Natural and preternatural science for me. So I studied it. And now I'm done. So what do I do now? What am I for?
Your purpose is clear. You are for riding. And to be a pet. I'm sure that, when you get too old to ride, they'll put you out to pasture and let you loaf around until it's time to send you off to wherever good horses go. Hm, maybe I'll find out someday where good horses go. I'm joining your team, after all. Half way. Hip deep. There were some big arguments in the Church about it, back in the late Forties, early Fifties. I'm sure some people are still unhappy about it. Mangling your humanity, self-mutilation, rejecting God's gifts, yada yada. Don't care. I'm not very good at being human. Try something else.
What gifts do I have that I won't take with me into the change? Being a husband and father? Yeah, like that's going to happen! Anyway, no one criticizes a priest or monk about that. Though I can't say I have a calling to the cavalry.
Okay, boy, let's do the other side now. I'm supposed to let you know when I'm in back, but how do I do that? Just keep talking, I guess. Here we are, unkicked. More brushing. Are you falling asleep? That's good, I guess. I'll be able to sleep standing up too, I read that.
Holy St. Albert, you're big! Half a ton, more or less? Probably more. How big will I be? Will I still be fat? They'll run it off me, I'm sure. Let's see... Sitting up there, my head would be almost eight feet off the ground. But it won't be quite that; my waist will be about on a level with the base of your neck. Well, not your neck. The top of ... my lower shoulders, I guess it'll be. Equine shoulders.
I'll never fit in ordinary human architecture again. Well. I don't fit in the human world now.
And you eat grain. Can you spare a pinch? Hm. Not much flavor. Maybe it will taste different afterward. Very hard. Hope the cavalry has a good dental plan. Boil it, I guess. Oatmeal, lots and lots of oatmeal. We don't graze, I think. I don't know. Oh well, if I'm to graze, I'll graze.
So, horse, what to do? No friends, no family. Well, that's not true. I made some friends at St. George's. But they're not accessible any more. I have family. But I can't just hang about home. I feel like I'm suffocating, like I have my face pressed against a blank wall.
I'm done with school. Oh, I could go into an academic career, but I've proved my point and I don't really like academic politics. It's not like I wanted to go into the family business, or like I had a romance to engage my interest, heaven knows. So: a career in science, natural and preternatural history. But those aren't easy to find outside of academia.
How fortunate, then, that Grand Normandy is enjoying an Age of Exploration. Join an expedition! Certainly. And I will.
But why, I hear you ask, do it this way? Why not be a civilian consultant, or join the Navy, or the Infantry, or the Standard Cavalry? Why the Dedicated Cavalry? Why throw away the bottom half of your body?
Well. Well. There are a few reasons. For one, if you're doomed to be an outsider, why not clearly step outside, make it obvious? Don't got through the repeated ordeal of watching people decide there's something odd about you; let them see it in a moment.
For another, they are all, all, really buff, ripped. That's very appealing when you've never been that yourself. It's called Adonis complex, horse. Cavalier. May I call you Cav? It's called Adonis complex, and knowing you have it doesn't mean you can fix it. To be able to take off your shirt without cringing inside...
But I could achieve those things in less drastic ways. Those are just icing on the cake. The real draw is the transformation itself. See, it isn't just bodily. And, you see, I don't like my personality. I don't like myself. In a way, I want to die.
Don't repeat that.
And don't take it the wrong way. I don't want to die die. I want to stop being me, become someone else. And transformation does that, or it can. So really, after the idea came to me, I looked over the available transformations:
Merman? Thought about it. But that transformation doesn't really change your psychology much. I guess fish don't have much psychology, so adding it to human doesn't make much difference. And odd as it may sound coming from me, I don't want to shut myself away from civilization like that. The sea is dull, away from shores and reefs. And volcanic vents; yeah, there's a real draw.
Satyr? I know how I could. There's a flock in France, in wine country of course. But being able to get by from browsing in all weathers isn't much of a superpower, and I certainly don't want to sign up for ADHD and being addiction-prone. And my sexuality may be ... rudimentary, but I'm not going to swap it for theirs.
Fay? Well, yes, that would re-write my personality, all right. Not being a hero of legendary proportions or the lover of a fairy queen, the only billet I could get would be as an anonymous member of someone's tame goblin chorus. Personality reduced to a kind of cartoon. No, too much like actual death. And maybe centuries or millennia of that, and God knows what it really does to the state of your soul. I mean, I very much hope St. Alice was right, but...
Sphinx? Scorpion man? I don't even know who casts those spells. Nor do I know what the personality changes are.
But this– Well, it's variable. The transformation follows the nature of the man, the literature says. But it does change the personality. I hope I have it in me to...
Not be a wimp anymore.
To not be so timid and depressed and... and just at such a loss that I can't make friends, or even acquaintances. Those friends at St. George's? I made them in the first year. Three. Ever. And two of them don't like the third much. And really, they picked me, I didn't pick them. The initiative was theirs. And when will I see them again?
And Dr. Stewart is a friend, but he's off in London and when will I see him again?
So. So. Need a new personality. Hope the school gang and Stewart like it. Him. Me. Hope I like me. (That would be a change.)
Sorry. I usually cry about this time in the morning. Pay it no mind. That's why I go out for a walk around now, and how I came to see Janet ride by. If anyone comes by, I'll dry right up—the uses of hypocrisy.
Anyway, I've got it in my pocket, the application form, with a letter and everything. It's a gamble, but taking a gamble is kind of a brave thing, right? And my odds are good. If you read around the edges, they aren't worried about their recruits being timid or bolters or cowards; they're worried about them running amok. I could use a little amok. Moxie. That's a word you don't hear any more, but I like it. Moxie. Don't laugh.
At the very least, I'll have a fourteen-year plan, and interesting places to go, and a use for my training, and stuff. Lots of stuff to learn. Learning's what I'm good at.
Like, learning what it's like. What's it like to have four legs and two arms? To have a tail? What will it be like? Even if you could talk, you couldn't tell me. Of course, you don't have the arms. But the ones who do and who can talk can't tell me. It can't be told, only lived. That's another part of it: I'm so curious.
"Curious about what?"
Over the horizon of Cavalier's back, Charles saw Janet standing in the doorway with a burlap bag over her shoulder. Resourcefully, he dropped the brush and wiped his eyes when he stooped to pick it up.
"Oh. Uh. What goes on in their minds. Horses' minds."
"Oh. Yes, I wonder that all the time. Specially your mind, Cavvy." She scratched along his mane. Charles noted the technique.
He also noted Janet's father puttering around near the kitchen door in his bathrobe. Don't worry, sir.
"I think I've about finished. Have I finished?"
"Yes, that looks fine. Thanks. Why are you interested in horses' minds?"
"Well. Well, I'm. Signing up to. I'm joining the cavalry."
"Oh! Well, best of luck! Sounds great."
In a bit, she would wonder why someone who knew nothing of horses was moved to join a cavalry, if she hadn't wondered already. "I'd better go now."
"Okay. Thanks again."
Back in the lane, his sister caught up with him. "There you are! We've been a bit worried. Your morning walks don't usually last this long."
"Huh. You're welcome, I suppose." She noted the letter in his hand. "Going to the post office?"
"Yes. I want to get it in the mail right away."
"Yes. Yes it is. I'm joining the cavalry."
"You? Why? You've never even gone riding, that I know of."
"Nor will I. I'll be ridden."
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2017