© 2013 Iscah

Horse Feathers

by Iscah


"Tivin?" Phillip repeated.

"The country across the desert," the teacher explained.

It was a well-meant but unnecessary explanation. There was a caravan that drove all the way from Parnum in the Northeast to the Southwest Tip and back again that had passed through a few months ago. Phillip had followed them with no small share of excitement and listened to some of their stories when they stopped in Ellsworth to do business, but he had never suspected his father's chat with the wagon driver had been more than idle conversation.

"Are we really going to Tivin?" he repeated, still trying to adjust to the idea and the shock of his steady-as-a-rock father doing something so unpredictable.

"We'll discuss it later," his father said pointedly. "I have work to do."

"I finished mine," Phillip said lamely and got no further answer as his father turned his back on both of them and returned to his chores. He realized the teacher had been dismissed rather abruptly as well and knew the man was less likely to be accustomed to it. "I can walk back to the edge of the estate with you," he offered to be polite and because this might be his last chance to talk with this man he admired.

They walked together, but the talk between them was thin. The teacher was chewing over his own thoughts with a heavy brow caught up in suspicions and uncertain disapproval, and Phillip was weighing the caravan against the new pegasus. Both promised fresh things to learn and experience. He had dreamed of adventures and traveling far away, but he had always assumed such things would happen when he was grown. He had never pictured an adventure with his father in tow or being towed along with his father like a squire or shield bearer. Who sang ballads about shield bearers?

"They only teach the rich to read in Tivin," the teacher said morbidly.

"We can't afford books here anyway," Phillip pointed out.

"If you can afford a horse, you can afford a book," the teacher countered. "It's a matter of priorities."

"You can't ride a book," Phillip said with a shrug. "A book won't nuzzle you. It doesn't have a soul or a personality."

The teacher's scowl eased into a small smile. "There we must disagree."

At the border of the estate the teacher placed his hand on Phillip's shoulder. "Phillip, if you don't want to go, I'll help you find a way to stay in Gourlin, but I understand your father is your father. I have no wish to break up a family either. If it's your desire to go to Tivin, then I will simply wish you good journey and a happy fortune."

Phillip smiled at the warm words. It was nice to have options even if they did make his head spin.



The discussion with his father that evening was fairly short and one-sided. His father told him that he had made arrangements with the caravan to exchange help with their horses for passage to Tivin. If they did not like Tivin, they might try further south, but he had heard that Tivin had a kind king and no taxes, which might let them get ahead a little. This made their move sound far more boring to Phillip, until his father told him the caravan passed through a town called Pegasus Landing where they would try their luck first.

The caravan always spent a day or two in Ellsworth when they passed through, so there was no point in packing their few possessions until the wagons had been spotted.

Phillip asked why he had not been told sooner about these plans; to which, his father replied, "You ask too many questions. Now go get your flute."

Knowing that was the end of it, Phillip grudgingly opened the trunk and carefully unwrapped the wooden flute they kept there. He both resented and enjoyed these music lessons. They were generally the only time his father smiled, and perhaps, in that way, the flute was magic. It was their habit on most days, if they were not too tired and sometimes even if they were, to bring the flute out after supper. Phillip had no memory of his father playing the flute himself, but as far back as his memory could go, his father had been teaching him to play.

By age eleven, it was no longer a matter of learning the flute, so much as practicing it. Phillip had wanted to play for the horses or see if the inn would let him try to earn some tips playing during supper, but he had not voiced these thoughts yet. His father treated their flute as a most precious possession and would not allow it to leave the safety of their narrow room. Phillip had a feeling he was expected to reach some level of perfection in playing before his father would show him off.

He was given some freedom in his song selection. That night he played notes of his own, trying to find music to fit the pictures in his head, and inside his own mind called the composition Pegasus Landing. The music was slow and halting but not unpleasant to hear. His father's careworn face melted into contentment as he closed his eyes to listen.

The playing helped settle his own mind a little before bed. That night Phillip drifted off to sleep dreaming of Tivin.



The stablemaster met them at the chore board the next morning. Phillip understood through their brief exchange that, while his father had told the stablemaster of his plans months ago when he made them, the stablemaster had forgotten or assumed his father had changed his mind.

"What are you hoping to find in Tivin, Jon, that you can't find here?" the stablemaster demanded with his cross-armed stare.

"They have no taxes in Tivin," said his father.

"Bah," said the stablemaster. "They don't have schools or good roads, either. Not much of army either from what I hear."

"That's something else to recommend it," his father muttered. He glanced at Phillip briefly, before meeting the stablemaster's hard gaze with his own. "They've almost finished the southern road. You know what that means as well as I do."

Phillip looked up curiously. What did that mean?

Without looking at him, Phillip's father said, "Phillip, your chores are the same today. Best get started."

The stablemaster's scowl deepened. "The boy still can't read," he said disapprovingly.

"I'll teach him when we get to Tivin," his father countered. Phillip felt his eyes widen and wondered who this strange man he called father could be.

"Why not send him to his mother in Middlefort?" the stablemaster suggested gruffly. "They're supposed to have the best schools there."

"His mother's dead," his father said with such finality the stablemaster dropped the matter.

Phillip lingered a moment for more, but it seemed the conversation was over. His father said the same thing any time his mother was mentioned, but Phillip found doubt in the lack of details. He knew it pained his father to talk about it, so he had long ago stopped asking. Whether this was because his mother really was dead, or because she had left them and his father thought death a kinder word than abandonment, Phillip was uncertain. He thought he was quite old enough to hear the full truth of the matter but knew his father would tell him when he chose and no sooner.

Maybe in Tivin.

Phillip could not sort out why a road far away from them should make his father want to leave the country, but maybe he thought it would mean higher taxes. Adults worried about such things. He liked how the Moralists talked about taxes as a civic duty, explained how they paid for things like roads and public buildings and protection. He thought it was important to guard against waste, but it made the whole idea of taxes seem necessary rather than arbitrary and thus easier to live with. It comforted him when the world made sense.

He wondered how moving to Tivin and away from taxes would change his father. Would he really teach him to read? Aside from his doubts about his mother, Phillip could not remember his father saying that he would do a thing and not follow through on it. Did books really have souls and personalities like horses?

The horses were the only thing in Gourlin that he truly regretted leaving. If he told his father to leave without him and stayed with the teacher, he would probably have to give up his job at the stables anyway. School was in the morning when he normally fed the horses. The stablemaster might allow him to stay and simply work, but that would mean returning to an empty room in the evenings. And Phillip did not like that idea either. His father was his father after all. He was a little boring and frustrating and unimaginative, but he was steady and had never let Phillip be cold or go hungry, nor drunk too much, nor treated him cruelly.

Besides, this was Phillip's chance to become a traveler himself and be the one telling interesting stories rather than just listening to them.



The next day, he told the horses that he would be traveling soon and how he would miss them, but he watched the road at every opportunity. It rained, and he watched from the shelter of the stables. But by the following afternoon, the sky cleared, and after his chores were done, he climbed the fence and sat in the shade of the same tree as the colorful traveler who told him about the sorceress a few days before.

His vigil was rewarded with the sight of ten wagons rolling down the road from Middlefort. They were painted in bright colors, though faded with wear. Their wooden wheels rumbled over the stone road. The merchants were as colorful and worn as their wagons, but they returned Phillip's wave and bright smile with smiles of their own.

Driving the fourth wagon was a man as dark as the darkest brown stallion in the stables with a short grey beard that was streaked with white. As he was the most remarkable of the party and his smile the friendliest, Phillip hastened to walk along beside him. "I'm going with you!" he shouted up.

"Really?" the man replied, looking at him curiously. "Why don't you climb up then?"

It was no sooner suggested, than done. The man did not have time to even think of slowing his horses, before Phillip had climbed up on the driver's seat beside him. "My father told me we're going to be taking care of the horses for you," he said as introduction.

"Ah, yes," the driver said. "I remember we were picking up a new horseman. You have a name?" The man spoke clearly, but with a rounded accent that Phillip found enchanting.

"Phillip," he replied. "Can I ask where you're from? I've never seen a man like you before."

The man continued to smile kindly. "Very far, little man. South beyond the southern sea. Where I am from everyone is dark like me, and you would be an unusual sight."

Phillip smiled broadly at the idea. "I want to go there. I think it would be fun to be special. Here, I'm just ordinary."

The man shook his head. "I don't think you'll be ordinary long. You got a spark to you, little man. Besides, you'll soon be a traveling merchant like me and see the world a bit. My name is Northward. I was born Bonanooti, but I found it causes too many giggles here, so I renamed myself."

"It's sort of a smiling name," Philip admitted. "Why not just Bonoo? Will I need a new name if I travel far south?"

Bonanooti, or Northward if you please, laughed. "You ask too many questions, little man. Phillip means horse where I was born. So you must decide if that suits you."



End Note: Hope you enjoyed the sample chapter. Full story is available on Kindle.