Where do I begin to put into words what has happened to me? It has been days since I wrote in my journal, and still … it is a struggle to gather my thoughts. I suppose I should just start and scribble down anything that comes into my head.
There was Lark, who embraced me and said she had created me. Not given birth to me – created me. Designed me. At that point, while they were pretty much picking me up off the floor, Kestrel suggested that maybe they should take this revelation a step at a time, and he gestured me down an immense hallway. It was snow white, obviously Equi Alabaster – but it glowed from within to provide a light that was bright and all encompassing, and the walls were warm from the water coursing through them – I could hear it rushing like a far-off river.
“See,” Lark said with a smile, “Just like the Great House of Equus. Just like the multi-generational homes built on thousands of keeps. You are not in an alien environment here.” She gestured to the right through an arched opening and into a big, old-fashioned kitchen, with pots and pans hanging from racks and herbs in a sunny windowsill. It smelled good in there … something familiar … and then I realized it was the breakfast my mother had always fixed for us … and I burst into tears.
There was another man there – slightly softer, though not really heavy, and a little older than Kestrel. He had a sweet smile and quick arms, and he embraced me, and when Kestrel snorted with annoyance the man said, “Have a little pity on the child, will you? She’s shocked.”
That was an understatement. He pulled out a chair for me at the kitchen table, set a cup of hot tea down in front of me, and sat beside me – saying nothing, just rubbing my arm and humming and old folk song quietly under his breath. When I picked up the teacup he took it as a kind of signal and said, “My name is Harrier. Welcome to our home.”
He didn’t say, welcome home, which I appreciated. It wasn’t my home, regardless of what Lark had said. I’d never seen the place before in my life. I held the cup to my chest and felt its warmth penetrate my tunic and become uncomfortable. I looked at him. “I’m real,” I said.
He nodded emphatically and patted my arm. “Of course you are,” he soothed.
“Lark says she created me. She designed me.” The words poured out in a rush. “Kestrel says my family wasn’t real, and where I lived wasn’t real, and who I was, wasn’t real.”
“Kestrel’s an ass,” Harrier said, and at that point I looked around. We were alone. “You’ll get used to him. He’s a little jaded, I think, and it makes him short. He’s very knowledgeable, and his expertise will serve you well.”
“Well in what?” I stammered. “Why am I here instead of in school? I’m missing my classes. Am I real, am I not real? Please, please tell me what’s going on, Harrier.”
“Would you like some breakfast?” he asked, and I shook my head. “Maybe later,” he smiled. He poured himself a cup of tea, sat again and took both my hands in his. “Are my hands warm?” he asked. I nodded. “Is my smile genuine?” I nodded again. “Do I seem real to you?” I nodded a third time and took a deep breath. “Then you are real, Ah’ren, because you and I are the same, and I consider myself to be very real. I want you to realize you are in a safe place, and try to relax while I tell you a story. It can be long, or short, and given your state of mind, I’m opting for the shorter version.” He leaned back and smiled.
“Go on,” I managed, though something deep in my guts told me this was not going to be any ordinary tale, short though it might be. I managed a smile, because he did seem nice and I didn’t want him to know how scared I was. “Tell me.”
“A few thousand years ago, when the old dragons of Achernar saw the population of Equus moving rapidly forward, and wanting them to avoid many of the more lethal traps a burgeoning population can fall into, they converted this place from fortress to palace to house the artifacts and writings of our earliest civilization, and the hallmarks of our progress, and made it a place to study, and learn, and experiment, and move forward on myriad fronts. They trained the Eloi, the priestesses, and because women are generally wiser than men, they were designated to rule most of the time. But the old sea dragons also believed that faith can be free of religion, and because they knew Equus would be expanding into the galaxy, they began working to create what they called, the Dragonhorse – mixing genetic materials from themselves and the equines the Equi loved, to create an insuperable male who would rule Equus for one hundred and fifty years or so every seven hundred years. Because males tend to be more ruthless than females, they felt he might be able to make decisions women would choose not to make. With me so far?”
I nodded. “Why is this not in the historia?” I asked.
“Because there is more to it,” he responded. “This place was to be immutable and undiminished through the millennia – its mission never changing – and because both religion and politics tend to change with generations, the old sea dragons decided to create a staff to go along with the palace. And that is where we came in.”
I remember gasping without meaning to, and Harrier chuckled. “Because we have been here since the first day, we can steer the course without wavering. Because we are able to assess growth, we can aid in decision making. Because we have seen the mistakes that the Dragonhorses and their predecessors have made, we can nudge each new ruler in a direction away from those mistakes and toward real progress.”
“And if he doesn’t nudge?” I asked.
“Our hope is that one day a Dragonhorse will rise who has the wisdom and tenderness of womankind, the iron will of mankind, and the brilliance of both,” Harrier replied. Which, while it sounded wonderful, was not at all an answer.
“There are many ways to nudge a man, even a Dragonhorse,” said Kestrel’s voice from the doorway. “That’s what you’re for.”