The gentle call came again, and she recognized the soldier Horace standing in the guard line. His helmet’s shadow obscured his scarred face. Glancing to make sure the supervisor was not looking, she gave him a quick wave.

The first worker was called. The supervisor pulled a pin from one of the doors and swung it around on enormous hinges. A narrow closet of a stall appeared, presenting a black stallion’s muscular hind end. The chosen worker looked dumbfounded as he was handed a woven basket and scoop. Stall cleaning, Meagan thought resignedly. Some things never change.

The stallion shifted in the narrow confines of his stall as the shaking worker knelt beside the open door and began to delicately scrape the closest clods. Exasperated, the supervisor raised his voice and gave the horse’s rump an ill-considered slap.

The enraged stallion bunched his hindquarters and launched a kicking barrage. Chain broke from the masonry and the horse rushed backwards like a dam giving way. Meagan flattened against the wall as men came from both directions. The stallion lunged at a nearby groom—alien behavior for a horse—and wheeled to attack another. Men scrambled to escape the deadly hooves.

Grooms ran and tossed ropes until the raging horse was trussed like a fly in a web. The scene had almost quieted when a piercing whine filled the stable aisle. Workers and guards came to attention as a pale, puny man in an oversized toga entered, flanked by armed men. The Master of Horse had arrived.

The man pointed and shouted and called out instructions until the scene was more confused than before. The stallion renewed his fight and pandemonium filled the aisle. Restraining chains were linked. In the end the black stallion was safely conducted outside, leaving the dazed grooms staggering as if on a battlefield.

The horse was clearly a product of harsh treatment, Meagan thought. An emblem of Rome’s brutality. She watched the Master of Horse angrily confront the supervisor, who pointed first to the abject servant who crouched, cowering, and then to Meagan who remained standing. The Master of Horse took measured steps to stand in front of her, coming only to her chin but managing to look down on her. She did recognize the Latin words for “pain” and “punishment,” since they were repeated several times.

Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning 1st volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 125)

Book II: The Golden Spark will be published soon.

Read the 1st Chapter online!

Copyright © 2008 John Royce

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