"Ponies," Said Conory

In theory my attention has been trained on editing Adamantine. And, for the most part, I have been chipping away at that mountain, but I thought I would share a little piece from my novel-in-progress Between Earth and Sky. I've already shared some of Adamantine and, you know, one must be fair. So, without further ado (or even much explanation) here is some inky haberdashery. Happy Christmas, and hold on tight!

“Other than yesterday,” Conory said above him, “have you ever been in a chariot before?”

Rede straightened. “No, sir,” he said, dropping his eyes to watch for the staff.

Conory grunted philosophically. “Then mind this, and mind it well. Chariots are like living things. No one chariot is like any other, and you’ve got to mind your chariot as much as you mind your team. She will tell you what earth is beneath your wheels, tell you when she is free and when the ground is giving her grief. She has moods, no mood the same from one day to the next. Some like sunny days, some like rain. Some like the hunt and some like war, and some like idle ramblings through the countryside. You’ve got to listen for your chariot’s voice and mind her well when she speaks to you, but mind that you don’t let her have her way. Never liked a girl who wore the breeches, and don’t let the chariot wheedle her whims into you. Hold her firm, but hold her like a living thing and she will not do you wrong.”

Rede ran his eyes over the odd thing, tipped on its front, upheld by the pole. It did, for just a moment, seem to have a living potency to it. Then he blinked and his heart beat and it was a chariot again.

“Ponies,” said Conory with gravelly cheer, and Rede jerked round to follow him to the long row of stables. The chariot, it had been just a chariot—yet as he walked he could not wholly push aside the notion that there were eyes on the back of his neck, or some sentient mind bent after him, almost tangibly pulling him back.

The two ponies which Conory picked out, a grey and a dun, had perhaps seen easier days, but Rede was grateful that the two game little brutes were so docile under his hand. Conory stood by and watched him as he moved into the familiar routine of leading the ponies out and looking them over. Conory said nothing, but Rede sensed the man was pleased, and that made him happy. He slipped the halters off and took down the lengths of harness, staggering under their tangled weight, and it was then that Conory moved in to help him.

“She takes the bit well,” Rede remarked of the dun, whose face was a muzzle lost in a heap of forelock.

From the other side of the grey, Conory said, “He. They’re geldings.”

Rede apologized to the dun, and then the task of hitching them to the chariot loomed before him. Both ponies knew Rede had no idea what he was doing, but they behaved well enough, with only the occasional nonchalant removal of a strap or a latch wherever their teeth could reach whenever he was not looking.

At last the chariot stood level, the ponies were champing at the bits, and the sun was breaking up around them beyond a ragged bank of clouds which the morning wind had blown up from the sea. Throwing his blue jay cloak back from his arms, Conory climbed in and took up the reins, gesturing for Rede to follow him. The bed wobbled and gave under their feet, the leather weaving lending it a delightfully springy feeling under their soles. The fitful sunlight flashed off the iron rims of the wheels.

“Ho-o-aih, ho—step up!” said Conory, and snapped the reins smartly on the rumps of the ponies. Up went the grey head, up went the dun, and with wiry manes spraying in the soft wind, the two trotted forward with the chariot rattling with Conory and Rede behind. The young man splayed his legs in the chariot-bed, feeling the familiar buckle of the leather, and wondered if he trusted Conory enough not to bolt once they were out of the gates so he could let go of the edge and not look like a child clinging to his mother’s skirts. He decided he did not trust Conory that much, and he clung on.

The bald head from last night waved to them from the guard-tower at the gate. Conory took them through to the path outside. The wind caught at them and blew in their faces, sending the blue cloak snapping out like a banner, and over the deep green of the fields and bristling new green of the woods the racing light and shadows played.

It dawned on Rede just then that Conory meant to have him drive the chariot.

The badger-striped warrior drove the team to the rolling pasture west of the Flint Mound and finally drew up along the woodshore. The untidy, spraying ranks of trees ran beside them, before and behind, curving with the hill. The wind was strongest here, and the late spring leaves and crimson buds were flying on the shivering branches. Patches of cloud-shadow ran up to them across the green and flew over, chased by bars and squares and misshapen footprints of sunlight.

Conory held the reins up, splayed between his fingers, held firmly but gently. “Hold the reins like so,” he said, “and stand like so or you’ll be thrown over and out on your backside.”

He was only shown once, and then Rede found himself where he would never in his wildest dreams have imagined: on a rolling Arregaithel green with a limed warrior on his left hand, feet firmly placed on the woven bed of a chariot, with the reins of two suddenly very feisty ponies in his fists. I am going to die ran swiftly through his mind several times before he could think of anything that even resembled reason. But after a few moments, though his heart still hammered at the back of his teeth, he felt the thing warm to quick under him. He was holding the reins. The ponies were for him to command. The chariot seemed to be yearning forward, begging to follow the swell of the woodshore, iron rims and horses’ hooves rumbling on the turf.

He did not trust himself to make any meaningful noise to the ponies, so he gently slapped them with the reins. Their heads went up again, and as one they began their stocky-legged trot. Rede discovered at once that he had been relying on the edge of the chariot to steady him, for he was nearly thrown. Conory did not move to help him, so he had to regain his own balance and position his legs as the ponies, feeling his hand slack, wheeled their heads around and snorted at the sky.

“Keep them well in hand,” said his trainer.

Rede kept them ‘well in hand’ as best he could, easing them at a trot down the woodshore while he got the feel of them. His heart continued to hammer mercilessly in his throat, but by the time he was halfway down the edge of the forest he began to be a little confident and, swallowing hard, he tapped the ponies again with the reins.

He had seen the ponies on the uplands move from the easy canter to the flying gallop in the time it takes to blink. He had seen them check in mid flying stride and whirl on a single hoof clear around. His miscoloured team, as if remembering the days when they, too, had run the wild uplands pastures, bounded off their near hooves and rolled into the canter. The chariot bounded beneath him, keeping pace, but somehow he kept his footing; the reins shivered in his hands, quick with the life of the ponies flowing back to him, and up from the leather flooring came the will of the chariot, swelling with life just as Conory had said it would.

Down the greensward they swept, the engine rumbling in his ears, the melodic thunder of the ponies’ hooves drumming over him in exhilarating waves. Once or twice the wheels banged and jarred and it was all he could do to keep his balance, and all the while he had the vague impression that their dance was not so fluid and beautiful as it could be. But his spirit could not be quenched. The wind flew in his face and made silver sparking banners of the ponies’ manes. Conory’s cloak flapped like a bird’s wings behind him. The living beauty of it all caught him up and he forgot that life held pain, that life held heartache, that he was a lone light among this insular people. For a few whirling moments on the back of racing gold thunder, he was free.

6 ripostes:

  1. Wow, Jenny, that was awesome! Thank you so much for sharing it, I love it! You're a really talented writer. :)

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  2. You already know this, but... If you get ONE rejection on this story I will hunt said publisher down and tell them just how long I've been WAITING for this book.


    That said, in the spirit of the Inklings I have one or two critiques:

    "Conory stood by and watched him as he moved into the familiar routine of leading the ponies out and looking them over."

    '“She takes the bit well,” Rede remarked of the dun, whose face was a muzzle lost in a heap of forelock.
    From the other side of the grey, Conory said, “He. They’re geldings.”
    Rede apologized to the dun...”

    Living on a horse farm as I do, I can tell you that if he were looking them over, he'd still be able to tell the difference between a gelding and a mare. (Unless he really is completely ignorant of animals, which I doubt in a man such as Rede...)

    ~~~

    The last is more of a comment than a critique. You refered to the "engine rumbling in his ears". I'm more of a chariot person than a modern car person, but even I had a moment of "Wait, this isn't a Thunderbird..." (though, come to think of it, that would be a great name for a chariot).
    Anyway, you might consider finding a way to revise that sentence to make it less jarring for readers who are only just discovering this world.


    Thanks for sharing!

    ~Sarah

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  3. Thank you, Taylor!

    On to your two comments, Sarah:

    Number One: It is rather brainless sometimes, telling if a horse is a he or a she. But in the context of the beginning of the book (I can't give anything away) it is understandable that Rede should have overlooked the ponies' genders. I understand your quibble, but it makes sense considering Rede's nature and situation.

    Number Two: It wasn't included in this section, but the chariots were referred to just a little before as war-engines.

    So there you go. I hope that was satisfactory. Thank you for the critique!

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  4. Okay, then. Carry on, Mr. Bowditch. ;-)

    ~Sarah

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  5. "... and over the deep green of the fields and bristling new green of the woods the racing light and shadows played."

    Oh, Jenny. Shivers. Shivers, I tell you.

    "The living beauty of it all caught him up and he forgot that life held pain, that life held heartache... For a few whirling moments on the back of racing gold thunder, he was free."

    That has got to be one of the most beautiful things I have read. Word pictures, Jenny. You have such a /way/ with them. It's as if the words bend to your will and command as easily as one may spread warm butter on toast. And in your praise I find I can only speak in silly fragmented sentences, and stutter and splutter and nod, and sit back in my little chair in awe as I try to think of a comment that would do your work justice (and fail)...

    This is just lovely.

    Oh, and this: "/I am going to die/ ran swiftly through his mind several times before he could think of anything that even resembled reason." is exactly how I felt when first driving on a highway. :P

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  6. I'm so glad you liked it, Katie. I think writing chariot-scenes is one of my favourites. There is a certain buoyant splendour about them, I think - almost like flying. As for my word pictures, I make them like a child making a finger-painting: with ridiculously giddy abandon.

    I've driven on the highway once, and I was thinking the same thing. :P

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