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Survival of the Fittest

Chapter 1: Survival of the Fittest

by eiranae

I loathe the smell of death. Dead Orcs are especially putrescent.

The combination of death and battle would send my senses reeling were I not such a disciplined war-horse. The salty combination of sweat and blood mingled with the overwhelming tang of fear and anger—the riders must appreciate their limited sense of smell on such occasions. My rider bumps my side with his heels. I am favored to have such a rider—a leader among his kind, a ferocious warrior, and a conscientious friend. He cares for me faithfully.

We make our way amongst our herd to the site of an awful scene! Snowmane, a stallion of renown, lies dead, his rider pinned beneath him. How long did this same stallion bemoan the fate of his rider? How many nights did I hear his stamping and snorting in effort to warn his poor rider of the malice concealed within his own stables? Well do I remember our mutual distress at the language barrier that keeps us from communicating with our riders. This is the result of that barrier.

My rider does not show distress at the sight of this death. He is a young stallion of his kind, but already he has wisdom enough to understand that a death in battle is an honorable one. Snowmane’s rider fought valiantly and will be remembered almost as fondly as the stallion that bore him.

My rider becomes rigid, as though a statue had replaced him. I feel his legs tense around my ribs.

I turn my head to the side, trying to see what might have startled him. The smell reaches my nose before I can locate the sight—my rider’s sister. She does not smell of death, but my rider has not the keen sense of smell that I was born with. I hear the tremor in his voice as he calls her name, and it reminds me of the night the evil riders took my dam. Black as night, she was, and just as dark the purpose of those evil creatures. Her cries still echo in my ears as I recall that event.

I toss my head and step to the side, trying to communicate hope to my distraught rider, but my messages go unheeded. Curse the rider tongue! Would that he could understand the more subtle language of my kind!

A tremor courses through him. He jerks the reins so hard that I am sure my mouth will bruise. Blinded by his grief, he leads the others into the danger of heated battle. I rush from left to right, taking little notice of the clang of my rider’s weapon as he slices anything within range. Is he attempting to cut the image of the poor fallen filly from his mind? Would that I could tell him how impossible that is! Instead, I weave in and out of death’s fell grasp. If I can keep my rider alive long enough, and the young filly can endure for a time, he will discover she still lives.

My task proves to be more difficult than I could have imagined. My rider seems to have lost the will to live. He radiates anger. Little does he heed the danger he has put himself and his stallions in. What of the herd? Can he not see that his death will only weaken the chances of survival?

The enemy closes around us, shutting off the chance of escape. I stamp the ground, my own anger urging me to reckless abandon. How I long to strike them down with my hooves! The vermin do not deserve to touch my poor miserable rider. Such a kind and faithful stallion should not fall!

A new herd rushes forth. The image of a bird adorns their banners. The combined effort of both our herds drives the Orcs back. Already my rider seems to have regained some of his loosely girded calm.

If I could only speak to my rider, I would tell him that hope is not lost. Though defeat may fill his nostrils with its foul stench, though darkness may surround him, though many of his herd may fall, the future still awaits. Both of us must fight for that future. We must fight to preserve our herds. We must live another day in order to provide green pastures for our colts. We will survive.

A/N: Thanks so much to Nancy for putting this challenge together and to Viv for the prompt beta.