Cavalryman Charles "Charliehorse" Darneley stood taking down the final notes. Fletcher was lecturing on cosmography, Darneley's favorite topic. Concentrating, he had been standing stock still at his tall desk for some time, except for his eyes and hand.
"...So the thing to take away is that even though a zone like Yesod or Netzach has all these little zones hanging off it, they're very different in nature. The little ones appear to be off in hyperspace, but the open infinite ones are not. They may be disjoint, but the new theory is they are somehow ingredients of the home zone. We'll go into that next time. Dismissed."
Darneley folded the notebook and tucked it in the pack on his flank. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his human back, then see-sawed back and forth, stretching front and back legs.
Fletcher looked up and saw Darneley gazing down at himself. He repeated the laugh more softly, then wheeled and pranced out the door—pranced like a jaunty colt, tail up, bouncing as if his legs were pogo sticks. Darneley was not built for prancing, being a dark, heavy-set bay, but he did it anyway. As he passed through the door, he chuckled, almost giggled.
Fletcher did not prance, but he exited at a trot, curious. He was in luck. Outside, Darneley stood as still as he had in the lecture hall, grinning at nothing. "Good news, Mr. Darneley?" Fletcher inquired.
Darneley had been facing athwart Fletcher. He now reared a little, to turn in place, came down facing the captain and seized his commander's upper arms, his eyes shining. "I'm one!" he announced. Immediately, the manic grin vanished, replaced by confusion, and he dropped his grasp. "Sorry, sir!"
Fletcher ignored the indecorum. "One what?"
"One thing! One body! One animal!" The grin was back.
Ah, that. Fletcher smiled in return. "Well, yes. I'm glad you feel–"
"I mean," Darneley interrupted, "I just noticed! All I did was stretch my legs, but it was perfectly natural! Sir, all those first weeks, when you were starting us on Agility training, teaching us our gaits, it was like—all that time, I had to be thinking, 'What's the horse end doing?' It was a relief to just stand and hear you lecture, and not have to think–"
"You weren't supposed to think about it," said Fletcher, interrupting in his turn. "As I said. But not too often."
"Yessir, on the principle that it's no good telling someone to not think of a rhinoceros. And I tried, but–"
"But it's hard, so I kept you all doing things, running around the track, doing agility courses, learning gaits, going swimming, doing horse-care, harnessing..."
"Yessir, and it did get better. I noticed it getting better, and then thought I shouldn't, but– Anyway, just now, I stretched and realized I felt perfectly normal! They're just my legs!" He spread his arms and looked down at them.
Fletcher looked over the lad's shoulder and saw the rest of the class, hovering uncertainly in the middle distance, wondering what was doing. The painfully self-conscious Darneley would have to steel himself to a lot of self-revelation. Or maybe not. It seemed to be pouring out of him at the moment.
"Sir, when we were first learning gaits, I'd catch myself thinking—well not so much in words, but it amounted to 'How do you steer this thing?'"
"And then you'd stumble."
"And then I'd stumble, yessir! I was really scared, the first time you had us gallop." He glanced at his mates, probably particularly at Carlin, who had gone galloping on his own, stumbles and all, on his third day. Or maybe Danny, who had tried it on the second day, crashed and rolled, then limped for some hours. Both were still staring back at him. What's up, Charliehorse?
"But you galloped," said Fletcher.
"Yessir, but I was afraid– I was afraid it would run away with me. But there was no 'it.' There is no 'it.' There's just me. This is me." He began to wind down, sound calmer.
Fletcher nodded. "You're one," he echoed. "How about the other bits? Your barrel? Your tail? The size?"
"They... they had their moments, sir. Size wasn't too bad. It was very odd, the way my body was now a limb on a bigger body, a completely new bigger body. The tail... The tail's fun, sir!" He twirled his and grinned. "Did it ever hit you like this, sir?"
"In a way. It came on me in stages. One of the joys of teaching is getting to see you experience it."
"It's wonderful, sir!" He reared again and pirouetted, arms and forelegs outflung. It looked clumsy, silly. Unself-conscious. Well.
Thump. He was back on Earth. "And the wonderful part is, it's ordinary. It's been ordinary for days, maybe more than a week. It crept up on me."
"It does," Fletcher agreed. "A lot of ordinary things are wonderful, as I think you know." Charliehorse nodded. "I am, indeed, very happy for you. Now, yet another agility run through the practice house in eight minutes. In that time—" He nodded toward the waiting classmates. "—you may have some explaining to do."
Charliehorse laughed, threw Fletcher a very sloppy salute, and headed for his mates. He broke into a run. Without, Fletcher noted, thinking about it at all.
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2019