Renn Ireigh

In the beginning, there was the blood and the sea-foam, the one flowing out from a stump of flesh and bone and cartilage to meet the other, until the two merged under the sunset. The blood diluted and diluted, spreading into the water as if the sand itself was bleeding, and finally there was no trace left of the redness save in Helios's reflection into the waters. The pattern of the sun on the waves changed as the sun sank under the horizon and the moon rose and the stars looked down into the mirror of the waters, and then changed again at dawn, when Apollo's chariot was even with his sister Artemis's in the sky.
Neither Apollo nor Artemis nor the dawn goddess Eos looked down at the waters in their travels over the sky. If they had, they would have seen something white rising, rising, rising from the deep.
It burst through the surface and threw its equine head to the sky, nostrils flaring as it drank in the air. It had been holding in the winds for so long now, suffocating on wisps of Zephyr polluted by salt and seaweed. Its four slender legs beat rhythmically at the waters, treading them, keeping the creature afloat, since its wings were soaked and could not offer any buoyancy.
Once its thirst for air was sated, it turned itself to shore and began to swim, spraying sea foam over its white back and into its delicate ears. Its pace never changed, despite the seaweed that tangled in its legs and clung to its tail, despite the miles to shore.
Finally, after Apollo and his chariot were high overhead, the creature sensed that the water now was shallow enough to set hooves to. It placed one hoof down into the sand, and was gratified for the efforts when the ocean floor proved thick enough to maintain the hoof's weight. It stopped swimming then, and, neck proudly arched, walked out of the ocean.
The Pegasus stood, finally, with its weight on all four hooves, and emphatically shook the last vestiges of his time in Poseidon's kingdom away. That done, it raised its muzzle into the air and gave a loud, shrill call, intended to see if there were any more of his kind about. There were not, and would never be. The Pegasus would always be alone.
His name was Aristeion, and there was much he did not know. He did not know that he had been sea-foam for hundreds of years, galloping on the heads of waves as one of the 'white horses' that the sea god Poseidon was known for. He did not know that Medusa's blood, as it spilled into the sea, had acted as a catalyst to bring him into being. He did not know that he was a Pegasus. All he knew was that he had four legs with which he could race the wind, two ears with which to hear every sound for miles, and two wings to fly on. He turned his head around on his long neck to investigate himself: he was white like sea foam, with hooves the true reflective black of mollusk shells, and he had a long mane and a thick tail, so long that he would have to take care not to step on it. Aristeion snorted proudly, and considered himself good.
Aristeion assured himself that there was no danger coming from his surroundings, at least not immediately. That settled, he lowered his head to sniff the sand, and cautiously lipped a bit. It was thin, and grainy; not good to eat. Looking about him, he discovered that the whole island he had swum to was covered in sand. Something would have to be done about that. Aristeion unfurled his wings, took a cantering start, and leapt into the air.
His next days would be spent roving from place to place, trotting and cantering mostly but flying when it became necessary to move to a different island. Sometimes there would be upright creatures in white fabrics who would approach him, but Aristeion knew all about them. He reared up into the air, striking at invisible foes with his forehooves, and then fell to the ground with a thud and stared the creatures down. He always won these staring contests, and that, too, was good.
But there was one creature who would come back for staring contest after staring contest. He would not just stare, either, but would walk towards Aristeion slowly, one hand held out before him, murmuring softly under his breath. Aristeion looked at the creature, at the black mane that was so different from the Pegasus's own. He carried nothing in his hands save a collection of golden straps. Surely the straps were not dangerous. And, after all, the two-legged creature seemed to have nothing in his eyes but rapture. It would not do Aristeion harm to just sniff the creature.
He smelled good, like the sea and like good dried seaweed. Aristeion lipped his hand: he tasted good too, his olive skin heavy with sea salts. This creature was of the sea. He could not be bad.
Aristeion lipped the creature's hand again. This creature was friendly, no doubt about it. And he seemed to have nothing but the utmost respect for Aristeion. And the Pegasus was so lonely, with no one of his own kind.
Busy with his ministrations to the hand, Aristeion didn't notice the golden straps coming over his head until they were secured with the longest strap around his neck, a thin strap circling his nose, and a longer one holding the nose-band in place. He shook his head and snorted, and the creature laughed.
"It's a bridle," he explained, though that explanation didn't make any sense to Aristeion. "I am Bellerophon, son of Glaucos."
The Pegasus raised his head proudly and, in his rich musical language, proclaimed that he was Aristeion. But the creature did not seem to understand him.
"I think you like me," the creature mused. "That would be all to the good."
Aristeion could not help but like this strange creature, who talked with a voice like sea water and tasted like sea salt. The language barrier between himself and this Bellerophon would be a problem, but one that could be overcome. He, after all, understood Bellerophon perfectly, except for that bit about a bridle. But he could wait to find out.
Bellerophon walked to the Pegasus's left flank, took three quick hops, and sprung nimbly over Aristeion's wide back. Surprised, Aristeion dropped his back under the weight, but found that he could bear it. He twisted his head around to look at the creature on his back. This wasn't the way that things were. Two-legged creatures did not ride four-legged ones!
The pressure at the right side of his nose surprised Aristeion, and he turned his head the other way to look at himself. Now there was pressure on the left side of his nose. The straps, he remembered. This must be what this bridle thing does.
Soon Aristeion discovered that there was a language that Bellerophon and he could share. Aristeion taught Bellerophon that when the two-legger applied even pressure to both sides of the Pegasus's flanks, it would mean that Aristeion should go forward; when Bellerophon put pressure on one side of his nose with the bridle, it meant to turn in that direction; when his nose had even pressure on both sides, it meant to stop. There were varying degrees of squeezing that the creature on his back would use, and soon Bellerophon learned the difference between the signal to walk and the signal to canter. Then Aristeion taught Bellerophon the difference between the signal to canter and the signal to fly.
Bellerophon was a fast learner, Aristeion came to realize. And he was a good creature. He would hand Aristeion clumps of foreign things that Aristeion soon discovered were good to eat. He would bring bristled things with which he could scratch Aristeion's flanks and remove caked sweat and loose hair, grooming the Pegasus until his coat shone. As the years passed and Bellerophon and Aristeion both grew taller, Aristeion learned the meaning of the word 'friend.'

- - -

There were mares near, Aristeion realized, and raised his nose to taste the air. Tall mares. Frightened mares.
On his back, Bellerophon was unusually stiff, his knuckles white around his bow. He shifted his weight to signal Aristeion to fly lower, feeling like a sack of sand instead of making his normally fluid movements. The Pegasus wondered if whatever was scaring the mares on the ground was also scaring Bellerophon.
Whatever was scaring the mares would not scare the Pegasus, Aristeion decided. He was a stallion, tall and brave, and he could fly. He had many reasons to be proud, and he knew that the least of them was his extraordinary height - he was over twenty-one hands in height, topping seven feet at the withers. He was taller than everything except the mountain on the distant northern horizon, and that had made him strong.
Aristeion looked down at the ground and saw the mares galloping away. On the ground lay the stallion of that band, and Aristeion did not need to smell the blood staining his bay coat to know that he was dead. The Pegasus looked near the mares for the culprit.
That must be it, that creature with a thick mane and two heads, two horns rising from the second head like ears. Its tail had a serpentine look about it, which Aristeion did not trust at all. But Aristeion was strong. The stallion had already died trying to fight this creature, but the Pegasus would not. He was stronger than that stallion, and braver. He could rightfully claim those mares for his own.
Bellerophon licked his lips. "This is it, my friend," he croaked, signaling Aristeion to fly towards the snake-tailed thing. "If you can get me close enough to kill it-"
Let him kill it! Never, Aristeion decided, but before he got a chance to tell Bellerophon so, an arrow whizzed over his ears and sank into the chest of the maned head. The creature gave a roar and turned towards Aristeion, who pinned his ears and neighed a challenge. This creature was not stronger than the Pegasus!
Bellerophon shot two more arrows into the creature's horned and snake- like heads in quick succession, but the creature did not fall. Aristeion landed on the ground in a rearing position and kicked out at the creature's snake head. Now he would show this creature who was stronger!
"No!" Bellerophon cried, frantically signaling Aristeion to move sideways, but Aristeion would not listen. He could show this creature strength! He could show the mares that he, Aristeion, was alone worthy of leading their band!
Bellerophon shot still more arrows into the creature, but it didn't fall until Aristeion struck it on the back of its maned head, kicking an arrow deep into its skull and piercing its brain. It, like the stallion it had killed earlier, fell dead immediately.
Aristeion neighed his victory and pawed the ground, then trotted over to the mares, who had been watching the fight. He lowered his head and snorted. The lead mare, a small, hardy bay, snorted back, pawing and swishing her tail. Aristeion touched her muzzle with his, and she let him. She recognized his strength and respected it. She knew that he would make a good stallion for her band.
The Pegasus whickered, and raised his head to the north. He looked at the mountain, always standing with its head in the clouds, and raised his lip to sniff the wind. From his position just below the mountain, t smelled like fire, like a forge. The mountain, Aristeion decided, was not good.

- - -

Aristeion bucked irritably in a vain effort to knock a gadfly off of his hindquarters. It stayed, as he knew it would, but it was not worth troubling about. He could smell fear from his valley, the same sweat- soaked acrid metallic tang that he had smelled on his mares when he had flown from the skies to kill the monster that was part mane, part horn, part serpent. But this was not a mare fear scent. This was. Aristeion sniffed again. This was a young colt's fear.
There were four-legged creatures in this valley, four-legged creatures whose teeth were sharp and whose bodies were not unlike the primary body of the tripartite monster whom Aristeion had killed with help from Bellerophon's arrows. These creatures were known to attack colts whenever they got the chance; it was easier to kill a weak, half-grown foal than it was to take down a fully-grown, viciously kicking mare. Aristeion knew enough of the sharp-toothed creature to know that it saw colts as grass, but that didn't mean that he liked them any better. If there was a sharp- tooth bursting out of its feline pounce to tear out a colt's throat, then Aristeion was going to be there to cast justice on the creature.
As he swooped down in a dive like that of a preying hawk, Aristeion was puzzled by the odors that met his nose. There was no scent of a sharp- tooth in the wind, just the metallic fear scent and the hot, wet muskiness of fighting. As the Pegasus flew closer and closer to the ground, he saw the source of the scents: a stallion and a colt, fighting.
The stallion was winning, of course; he had several hands and many years on the colt, who looked to be no more than a yearling. But it looked to be a determined yearling - this one was doing more attacking than defending, and, to judge from the blood on the stallion's chest and neck, he was not altogether failing in his self-appointed task. The yearling fought on.
Aristeion landed and stayed well back, intrigued. He had seen many fights for dominance between stallions and their colts before, but all of those colts were much older than this one. They had already been full- grown before they challenged their sires for command of the herd. This one must be foolhardy, to challenge his sire before he was full-grown, and, by the fear-scent in the air, he knew it.
Then, with a palpable air of having put up with foolishness for long enough, the stallion reared back onto his hind legs, extending his body to its full height and striking with his front hooves. The first hoof struck the colt's head, knocking him sideways, and the second gashed open his throat. The colt fell entirely, his gray coat rapidly absorbing a scarlet stain.
Aristeion stepped back, black sparks dancing before his eyes. The air tasted of blood and death. Even when he took to the skies in a panic, beating at the air as the stallion had beat at his colt, sending the clouds churning around his hooves, he was unable to mask the sharp, sweaty copper acridity that rose up from the dead colt sprawled dead on the ground, underneath his sire's hooves.

- - -

It was twenty years after that that Bellerophon came back to the valley where he knew Aristeion and his herd to live. Aristeion spotted him from several miles off: creatures of his kind rarely came around this part of the land anymore. Bellerophon had seen to that, when he became what Aristeion had come to understand as the lead stallion of a very large herd.

The Pegasus lifted his head to the sky and whinnied, the sound carrying high and clear over the hills. Once he was sure that he had heard an answering shout, he lowered his head again and kept on cropping the rich grass that grew in this valley under the shadow of the mountains.
It took Bellerophon a long time to make his way on his two ill- balanced legs down the steep hill to the valley - such a long time that Aristeion had time to move his herd from one grazing spot to another. It was dangerous to stay in one place for a long time, especially under the mountain that smelled like fire.
But finally the two-legged creature came, walking slowly up to his friend with his hand outstretched. Aristeion took the offered hand and licked it, savoring the sea-salt that always flavored it.
"You remember me," Bellerophon murmured, and Aristeion snorted. What a stupid question! Aristeion could never forget Bellerophon. It was, indirectly, partly because of Bellerophon that he had his mares.
The mares. Aristeion looked quickly around him and saw his lead mare bunching up the rest of the herd. He whickered softly to assure them. His herd rarely saw two-leggers anymore. The yearlings and two-year-olds had never seen them before.
Aristeion studied his foals with pride in his arched neck and tail. Beautiful, all of them, glossy-coated from good feeding and strong from running with the herd. Foals to be proud of. But none of them had wings. Aristeion twitched his own wings a bit sadly. He had hoped that that trait, at least, could breed true.
"How are you?" Bellerophon asked Aristeion, shaking him out of his contemplation of his herd. The human ran one hand down the Pegasus's legs. "Hardly a blemish. You keep yourself well."
Aristeion snorted. Of course he did. Did Bellerophon think that he, the Pegasus, was completely unable to look after himself?
"Are you ready for another quest?"
The Pegasus drew himself erect, holding his body aristocratically, curving his wings into the air so that they formed two semi-circles, like Selene melting down over the edge of the horizon when Eos came up to greet her. His ears pricked forward excitedly. It had been a quest that had gotten him his herd, after all. He spared another glance for them, to make certain that they were safe, but of course they were. His lead mare was competent. She would never have remained the lead mare in the Pegasus's herd unless she were able to hold her own.
She could take care of the herd while Aristeion himself was off on this quest.
Almost timidly, Bellerophon held up the golden bridle. Aristeion nosed his way into it, nickered his explanations to the lead mare, and allowed Bellerophon to mount. Bellerophon signaled for a canter, then for a take-off, and Aristeion obliged He hadn't been able to fly with his herd; it would have meant leaving them almost defenseless on the ground. It felt good to stretch his wings again.
Busy with the stretching of the wings, Aristeion didn't notice the direction in which they were flying until he caught Bellerophon muttering something. The Pegasus turned his head to look at his rider, who understood the meaning of the glance. "We fly to Mount Olympus," he said, and pointed ahead at the great mountain that smelled of fire.
Aristeion twisted his wings painfully so that they formed a vertical wall, halting his flight. He hovered in midair. The mountain.
The mountain that was red like blood.
A loud clang of metal on metal exploded out from the mountain, and Aristeion shied violently sideways. The weight on Aristeion's back just managed to balance itself as the scent of sweat and copper drifted out in the same direction as the sound had come from.
The clang raged out of the mountain again, and again, regular as arrows from an archer's bow. Every time, it was accompanied by the sweat and the copper, and then Aristeion saw it: the redness rushing out of a pocket in the side of the mountain, a fire that smelled like copper, a fire red like blood and smelling like blood and somewhere below that mountain there was a dead colt's bones buried under wreckage from rockslides, buried in the blood and the copper smell and the sweat from his sire's body as the stallion slit his son's throat open with a front hoof.
Aristeion rolled his eyes and reared up himself, lashing at the air, kicking out and landing and bucking, and when the weight on his back flew off screaming through the air on its own, Aristeion, flying as fast as his wings could carry him over the clouds, never noticed.

Even though he's been living with us for years now, Hephaestus mused, leaning against his anvil to watch the Pegasus cavort among the muses, he still looks at me as if I'm about to kill him.