A Stallion In the Sage By: A Seventh Grader Sand-covered sloping scenes and dusty landscapes were all that nature had to offer, golden brown with dots of blue and green and turquoise. Clumps of sagebrush and clusters of wheatgrass and ricegrass were the only plants to be seen in this forlorn region. A spring trickled, a lonely fountain, on the edge of the horizon. In the distance, majestic limestone cairns ruled over the meadow, 8,000 foot kings, who, regardless of your social position, whether it be stallion, stud, mare, yearling, or foal, you had to look up to. Prowling for prey, perhaps a young filly, a mountain lion crept along the very edge of a rugged blue-gray ravine, stomach to the ground, silently stalking. Clattering and chattering noisily, a flock of pheasants waddled frantically out of the way of a stray mule deer. Zooming out of the sky, faster than an eagle, a peregrine falcon broke the peace and loneliness, sweeping down towards a gently flowing creek in the west. Disappearing over the edge, there was a splash and a snap. Emerging from beyond the rocks, the falcon carried a glittering silvery trout in its cruel, sharp talons. A rather desolate and unforgiving place, one might imagine, for tens of thousands of horses to live, in thousands of bands, with hundreds of stallions to compete for thousands of harems, each with their own territory. But, alas, this was Cougar’s home, who as a young stud, wandering alone, had no protection against predators and all of the dangers a mountain might make. **** Only just three sunrises ago, Cougar had a harem, and was the prince of the herdas the second oldest male, at two years. His light palomino coat was sleek and smooth, looking like he had just gone for a swim in Crooked Creek, from his fellow mustang’s gentle grooming. Content as royalty, Cougar was happy in his homeland. With his mother, Petal, he could graze undisturbed, frisk gleefully as a newborn foal with the other colts, and bask in the sunshine and glory of the magnificent and picturesque Pryor Mountain Range, a refuge for wild horses. But, being the second oldest male, the lead stallion would need to expel him from the harem, to go find a herd of his own. The time had come. Cougar awoke at dawn, the pale ghost of sunrise creeping up over the sky. He softly whickered to his mother to arouse her, for she was still asleep, her white coat gently rising and falling as she breathed. As Petal blinked her dark brown eyes, and raised her elegant Arabian head, she gave him a long, desperate look. Something is about to happen, that will change your life forever, it seemed to say. Cougar snorted, disbelievingly. What would that be? he wondered. This is a normal morning; the harem is at peace. The weather is brisk but not bad, fodder is bountiful, and I have the support of a strong herd. What could possibly go wrong? Petal delicately nudged his shoulder, and looked pointedly past him, to another horse. Cougar whipped his head around, and saw the lead stallion, Eagle, advancing toward him. In horror, Cougar realized that his mahogany neck was outstretched in a dangerously commanding posture, his ears were laid back flat against his head, and his teeth were bared menacingly. His black mane swished up and down as he stomped up authoritatively towards Cougar. Cougar whinnied questioningly, what have I done? Eagle nickered threateningly, and butted Cougar angrily in the shoulder. You are too old to remain in this herd, Cougar; you know it in your heart. I am the lead stallion, and the only stallion that shall remain here in this territory. You must leave now. When Cougar backed away hesitantly, Eagle took advantage. Half-rearing on his hind legs, Eagle screamed a bloodcurdling scream as horses may scream in fury. He galloped unexpectedly straight at Cougar, and gave a chase. Cougar flew down the dusty yellow trail, lined with cheatgrass, as fast as the wind, with Eagle hard on his heels. The pale green fronds of the cheatgrass, tipped with beige, whirled as the two stallions ripped up the ground when they sped by. As the border of the harem’s territory approached, Cougar realized that these would the last precious seconds he remained in his cherished birthplace. His mother was right. His life was to be changed forever. As Cougar crossed the border’s scent line, Eagle slowed down, and let out a whinny of triumph. Cougar continued on loping for a few more paces, and then paused, and looked back. He could see Heather, a sorrel mare, Petal’s sister; Leaf, a mare with a dark gray dappled coat, returned the look that Cougar gave her; Marigold, another mare, palomino in color, just like Cougar, glanced at him sympathetically; Rose, a strawberry roan, and her foal, Bramble, a little black filly, both whinnied to him comfortingly, for they did not want him to go; Flower, a beautiful white-gray mare, current mate to Eagle and mother to Lion, a handsome buckskin colt, looked pleadingly at Eagle, but he glared back at her, obviously refusing. Cougar loved all of these horses as he would a sister or brother, and he would miss them, but the horse he would miss most of all, that her absence would carve a gaping hole in his heart, was Petal. She looked despairingly at him, her eyes full of pain and longing, but she knew he would not come back. Cougar cried out a desperate farewell, and she whinnied farewell back. He gazed sadly at his achingly familiar home; he saw the stream, which he had went to so many times to drink; he saw the lone juniper tree, standing tall as ever, which always would give shade to the horses on hot, sunny days; and he saw Stallion Rock, the place where Eagle would go to stand watch at night over his harem. Then, he shifted his gaze to Eagle, now his enemy, and begged for mercy with eyes. In reply, with a stamp of his hooves and a swish of his tail, stirring up dirt and dust on the trail, he let Cougar know it was of no avail. Cougar, you are on your own now. If you dare enter my territory again, may death find you in the quickest way possible. **** Scarlet, magenta, and tangerine streaks crossed the sky, as if they had been painted there. It was nearing the sunset of the third day that Cougar had been traveling alone. Food was scarce- any plants to be found had wilted- and all of the streams had run dry. The ground was parched and cracked, with heat rising off of it in waves. The sun burnt down like flames and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. A lone sage-grouse called for its chicks. There wasn’t another mustang for miles and miles. Solitude was Cougar’s only friend. Cougar, so weak with fatigue that he could barely move, tottered unsteadily over to a scant clump of saltbush and slumped to the ground. He folded his forelegs underneath of his chest and curved his neck to rest his head on his shoulder. White flaxen hair fell over his exhausted eyes, and the rhythmic chirping of crickets lulled him to sleep. REAWR! Cougar was awoken by a sudden noise. A golden feline face with gleaming white thorn-sharp teeth and malicious amber eyes appeared. Cougar jumped in fright to his hooves, and stared back in shock. Swiveling his head around, he looked at his unfamiliar surroundings. Where am I? He was standing on the edge of a vast and sloping rocky expanse that was shades of burnt sienna and gray. Sagebrush was growing out of cracks in the rock, with its flowery yellow branches waving in the stiff breeze. Patches of sand lay on the ground every few feet. Those malicious amber eyes were focused hungrily on Cougar again. With a start he recognized that it was a mountain lion! The mountain lion came forth, and growled appreciatively. Cougar cautiously backed up, his legs shaking in fear. Panic flooded his mind, in a great tide, red and black like the underworld. Death seemed impatient. Clippety clip. Clippety clip. Clippety clip. The sound of heavy hooves pounded in his ears. Five stallions cantered up to him with necks outstretched and teeth bared cruelly. Anger. Hostility. But, instead of charging at Cougar, they whisked straight past him, as if he weren’t there, and right towards the mountain lion. Cougar let out a whicker of relief. Help had come. Bravely, his saviors tore viscously with teeth and stabbed unmercifully with hooves at the enemy. Blood poured. Unable to withstand the pain, it retreated, meowling pitifully in utter defeat. Cougar whinnied gratefully to them, for he would have been killed without them… Everything faded into white and then was slammed into crushing darkness. The real world met Cougar’s eyes as he awoke. Sweating and trembling, Cougar rose to his feet. That nightmare was so real… He shook his head briskly and snorted, for, of course, that would not happen in life. Never would a group of stallions save him, not knowing who he was, whether he was friend or foe. There were no horses in this desolation, anyway, nor were there mountain lions. Only Cougar, alone, so alone, no one, no one else, no one else to help bear the weight of solidarity. You cannot go on thinking in this manner. All you need is courage… Blinking determinedly, he walked away from the saltbush at which he had been sleeping and began to travel in the direction of the rising sun. Dehydration was detrimental to Cougar’s health, thirst thwarting him. All of the terrain ahead seemed to be entirely rocks, but he might be able to find a tiny stream or brook from which to drink. His hooves clip-clopped on the hard stone, and the sound echoed mystically, as if he were in a large cavern. Hope burst in his heart, erupting like volcano. Just up ahead, there was a stream, scarcely a foot wide, filled with muddy but still drinkable water, and along it grew knapweed and salt cedar, their pink flowers flourishing. Rushing up to it, he began enthusiastically gulping down the sweet water, quenching his thirst at last. After drinking his fill, he moved on and started tearing ravenously at the weeds, as if they were the most precious, perfect grasses in all of the Pryor Mountain Range. Indeed they were. Looking up from his feast, he saw five stallions galloping across the meadow right to him. Just like the stallions in my dream… But, unlike the stallions in his dream, these mustangs looked friendly, with their ears pricked forward in a polite and nonaggressive manner. This must be a stud band, Cougar thought. Perhaps I could offer them my allegiance. He nickered hello to them, and they returned his greeting. Cougar dipped his head respectfully, and flicked his ears forward to show that he meant no harm. A blue roan stud tipped his head questioningly to the side, as if to ask who Cougar was, and why he was here. Cougar pawed the ground, and swished his tail. I am an outcast, and in need of protection. The stallions understood. Another older mustang, a dapple gray, beckoned invitingly to Cougar, allowing him to join the band. Cougar whinnied in joyous agreement. A new home. **** The dapple gray horse, obviously their leader, loped along a well-trodden path, which seemed to be the entrance to their territory. Cougar and the rest of the studs followed. New scents swirled in Cougar’s nostrils. He could smell the fresh, spicy scent of fir and pine trees, mixed with the fragrance of mustard plant. This new territory seemed to be teeming with healthy vegetation. With alarm, Cougar realized that he could scent black bear, but the scent was stale, so the black bear probably- hopefully- had just been passing through. The threat of having a black bear living on his territory would haunt the back of Cougar’s mind, like an evil spirit. The dapple gray, who was known as Raincloud, led the way to a patch of scrumptious sagebrush. I’m in paradise, Cougar thought. He was drawn towards it, like a human is attracted to power, like a peasant who strives to become ruler. The soft lemon-colored blossoms crunched easily between Cougar’s teeth. As he began eating, the other horses joined in. There was plenty for everyone. Out of the corner of his eye, Cougar spied a brook, much wider than the stream he had recently visited. The water was clearer than glass, and looked as if it flowed straight from heaven. Seemingly rich, in everything, this region had a bounty of food and drink. Cougar’s herd-mates at his old home would have been jealous. This must be their regular feeding place. Cougar felt that this was the place that he belonged, at last finding satisfaction. In a couple of minutes, all of the studs had eaten plenty of food, and were ready to continue traveling. At each step Cougar took, he drew farther and farther away from his homeland. Now it would be at least a four day’s journey to return there. As the sun sunk low in the sky, so that you could barely see the maroon tip of its head, Raincloud brought the group of stallions to a thicket of fir trees, where there would be adequate shelter for the night. The grass was thick here, and the horses could make comfortable nests on the ground with which to lie in if they wished. Cougar and four other of the studs lay down in the grass as the suns last rays scorched the rocks, giving the illusion of a river of blood. Raincloud stood apart from the others, searching the scene for any signs of danger, acting as the other horses’ watch-guard. Darkness claimed the sky as its own, and the moon rose above the tops of the trees in the distance, joined by its loyal minions of stars. A dark chestnut bay stallion with rich midnight points, mane, and tail, called Fire, stirred in his nest and arose to relieve Raincloud of his watch, allowing him to get some rest. Raincloud nickered gratefully, with a flick of his ears, and his legs buckled underneath of him as he fell to the ground, exhausted, greatly in need of sleep. After two more hours, another stallion, Courage, a brown horse, with kindly eyes, and a disposition that would attract many a mare, took Fire’s place on watch. As Cougar witnessed this, thoughts stirred up a storm in his mind, gray and darker, blacker than the dead of night. What if I don’t belong here? What if Raincloud turns against me? What if I don’t make a friend? What if… what if I am never strong enough to defeat a lead stallion and get a harem of my own? His confidence melted like dew. All you need is courage... **** That ball of fire that awakens the world from its deep, restless sleep each morning spread its orange flames up over the horizon to proclaim the coming of dawn. A beam of light pierced through the thick, foggy air and into the forest of dark green firs in which the stallions were sleeping. All was silent. Not a creature stirred. A slight breeze sprung up, and drifting dust swirled about. Needles fell softly from the trees. Quietly, the brook trickled along, with little silver shapes of fish darting beneath the surface. Raincloud was the first to open his eyes, and whinnied loudly to arouse the others. Cougar stirred, followed by Courage and Fire. The three other studs, Hail, Snow, and Lightning- a blue roan, a pure white stallion, and a pale buckskin- nudged and prodded each other until they were all standing on their hooves. Raincloud beckoned for the others to follow. Trotting slowly, they made their way back to the brook from which they had drunk the day before. Cougar was thirsty, and gulped the water eagerly. A sudden noise made Raincloud turn. The thunder of clumsy hooves announced the coming of a herd of bighorn sheep, who felt that they, too, must have their share of this precious water. Their shaggy gray-brown coats reflected the feeble sunlight, and their curved, sharp horns gleamed. One bellowed loudly to the others, commanding them to come forward. Raincloud screamed menacingly at them, though his eyes were staring. Spooked, the sheep retreated back up the slope, in search of another source of water. Raincloud dipped his head in relief, and nickered softly, as though comforting himself. Everyone had finished drinking, so it was time to depart anyway. Raincloud led the other stallions away from the brook. Fire, who had the best eyesight, spotted a rare clump of black sage. These plants were so cherished by horses, that they treated them virtually like gods. Like kings they were crowned, not with gold but with black, and their heads bowed, unlike kings, whose subjects bowed to them. Making a small trail of smoke from the impact of his hooves, Fire galloped towards the black sage, as though if he did not run fast enough, the black sage would disappear like a mirage. The others quickly followed suit. Fire arrived first, but was not the first to eat. Lightning pushed his way past Fire and tore at the plants of gold. Whinnying indignantly, Fire angrily butted Lightning in the rump, causing him to fall. Lightning squealed in surprise and then recovered speedily, rising to his hooves, and ready for a fight. Fire was the first to rear. Now, towering over Lightning, Fire intimidated his opponent. He struck Lightning with his hooves, but he hardly made contact. Reacting immediately, Lightning bit Fire in his foreleg, but barely closed his jaws around it. Then Fire wheeled around, and kicked Lightning with his back legs, but hoof scarcely touched fur. Soft slash. Gentle crash. Barely bitten. Hooves of ash. This confusing fight was puzzling Cougar as he watched. Courage, who was standing close by, observed the skirmish indifferently, as if he had seen something like this before. Cougar looked at him inquisitively, and Courage laughed with his eyes. Then, Cougar understood. This is a mock battle! Lightning, agile as a Siamese cat, ducked from a gentle blow Fire had attempted to deliver, and made Fire duck with a blow of his own. Tired, both horses panted like dogs out of breath. The light of the fight died from their eyes, and they relaxed. Lightning went over to Fire and began to groom his ruffled coat, and Fire returned the peaceful gesture. The battle was over. They were still friends. What violent ruffians! Cougar thought. They fight over a few leaves of green stuff! I do not understand these horses’ ways. I feel like sage among the cheatgrass, a grain of sand in the limestone. Perhaps I am not fit to live with these, these beasts! **** The band journeyed on throughout the day, ceasing to stop for water, but grazing often. As they made their way back to the thicket of fir trees, Cougar noticed that Lightning and Fire had still not shown any hatred or even dislike toward each other. In fact they loped side by side, matching pace for pace, as if nothing had happened earlier in the day. I truly don’t understand the ways of these horses, but maybe they aren’t as bad as I thought… Raincloud and the rest of the stallions trekked down the sloping dirt path that took them to their sleeping place. Still comfortable, still soft, their nests lay there waiting for them- like clouds in an evening sky, looking fluffier than they ever did in the day. Cougar jogged ahead and promptly fell over onto the grass, his legs splayed out comically. In a matter of seconds, he was asleep. Unfamiliar territory glazed his eyes as he awoke in a nightmare. This time, a sparse forest spread across the landscape, comprised of towering lodgepole pines and dark subalpine fir trees, green giants in an expanse of brown. Surrounding him was a harem of entirely pure white horses, all of them perfect and beautiful. Cougar had always wanted to own a herd like this. They seemed to be looking at him, asking him to tell them where to go next. He realized that he must be the lead stallion of this dream harem. Seeing no obvious choice for the way to go, he chose north. He galloped lightly behind the other mares to tell them to move on, and they obeyed. They flew through the trees like birds, their hooves barely touching the ground. After a while, they came to an opening in the forest and burst through. A meadow stretched ahead of them and they eagerly cantered across. Then, an ominous thudding noise blasted from up above them. An enormous silver helicopter descended out of the sky and began to chase the horses forward. The lead mare shied up in fear, and tumbled down the slope awkwardly. Her legs would not support her. She would not get up again. The mare behind her scrabbled down to where the unmoving mare was and then past, the rest following. Cougar tied to calm them, but the panic was too great. The horses were forced to run into a fenced pathway that had not been made by nature, their breath coming in terrified gasps, in fear that their number of breaths was few… Kilometers of fencing were on their either side, there was no escape. As they reached the end of the fence, it rounded out in to a corral, trapped. Dreaded by all horses, the idea of being in captivity was like having your tail bitten off, your ear being shredded, your eyes going blind. Cougar already felt as though his tail was being bitten off by the sharp, shiny fencing surrounding him so closely, made not of straight, crisscrossing bars but the canines of a mountain lion, and his ears felt as though they were already being shredded from the deafening roar of the helicopter, and his eyes were blinded by the sight of the approaching silver monster with strange wings. Drawing closer, the helicopter descended. The blades slowed it stopped making that awful whirring sound as it landed. A strange creature alighted from the vehicle. This other-worldly being walked on two legs- two legs! Surprisingly it didn’t fall over! It had ugly pinkish skin and a mop of un-groomed grayish hair on its tiny, disfigured head. A stubby horn stuck out in the middle of its face, and two saucer-shaped things were attached to the sides of its head. Its fur was oddly colored, part of it dull blue, another part bright red. Legs sprung out of its neck, with strange little twigs coming out of the ends. The lower hooves were abnormally large, and had bits of different colors spattered randomly on them. I don’t know what breed of horse this is, Cougar thought. Maybe it’s a hybrid. It bared its teeth and yelled, and stumbled over to the horses and batted its twiggy hooves at them, herding them towards the helicopter. Gaping like the mouth of a tiger, a black hole opened in the side. The horses were sucked into the portal… **** Sunlight streamed into Cougar’s eyes, and he cautiously opened them, making sure that one of the two-legged creatures wasn’t there, waiting to seize him and force him into one of those noisy silver monsters. He sighed in relief as an azure sky greeted him. He rose shakily to his hooves and found the other stallions already wide awake. Raincloud snorted in acknowledgement of Cougar’s wakefulness, and trotted along the path, leading the way out of the thicket. They loped on the rocks, following the brook. As they went on, Cougar thought about his dream. That was terrible! Terribly realistic, too, though. Those helicopters frightened me out of my wits. But, it seems that, if the herd hadn’t been so big, then that you-know-what might not have been able to track us down so easily. If there had been fewer horses, we would have been in less danger. If there had not been helpless foals, or panicked mares, we would have gone faster. That is a dangerous risk to take in getting a harem… I am not so sure if I should try to get a herd after all…How I will ever decide…WHAT IS THAT SMELL??! Cougar was rescued from his sea of thoughts as the life-threatening reek of a predator curled in his nostrils. He was just about to let out a warning whinny when Hail screamed in terror as the mountain lion leaped upon him. Hail had no time to react. Its vicious claws tore mercilessly at his flank, ripping off clumps of fur and flesh. Blood spurted in red rivers out of the claw marks, and Hail shuddered in agony as wave after wave of blood poured out. He collapsed. The lion closed in and bit Hail’s throat, cutting the jugular vein. It had finished its job, and was going to move on to the next victim. Raincloud was the one this time that made that a fantasy. With newfound strength, inflated with grief, Raincloud reared up and crashed down on the creature’s body, digging in so deep that his knees were splashed with scarlet. The lion’s spine had been cracked, and ripples passed through its body as its life flowed out. Satisfied, Raincloud jumped away from the disgusting bloody lump of fur. He converted his attention to Hail. The blood on his flank was already drying, and his throat was damaged beyond repair. His eyes were closed, and he lay so still… Yes, it was true. Hail would never run freely over the plain, on the rocks, to the stream, through the grass, in the forest, or with his companions ever again. Hail was dead. All of this had happened so suddenly that Cougar was almost convinced that Hail was sleeping somewhere out in the middle of a plain because of his own accord, and just got really…really…injured in the process. He wished it were true. Courage nickered comfortingly to Cougar, gently reminding him that life would go on. Raincloud gained back his authority and whickered to the other horses to follow him. He led the way back to the protection of the thicket, deciding that they would stay there for the rest of the day. Hail’s body lay peacefully there on the rugged stone, next to his defeated enemy. Cougar stayed back as the other horses went on to the thicket, and dragged the lion by the scruff of his neck over to a nearby cliff, twenty feet in height. He tossed him over the edge, and whisked around before he could hear the sickening thud as it dropped to the bottom of the ravine. Out of sight, the memory of the mountain lion was erased forevermore from Cougar’s mind, like a pebble being washed downstream, or a fossil being buried in the sand. His hooves were heavy with the weight of sorrow as they clanged on the rocks. As he walked slowly back to the thicket, his ears were flat against his head and his neck curved in a mournful arch. When he made it back to the thicket, he saw those same fluffy nests of tall, flattened wheatgrass, tauntingly innocent. Cougar slumped to the ground. Unlike his dream, this was real life, and it did feel like the end of the world. Now I am more undecided than ever, Cougar thought. I am now aware of the risk of being alone- you take the risk of vulnerability to predators. In a harem, you would not have that same vulnerability; you would be protected. Yet, in a harem, you would still have vulnerability, but to that of a different danger. Living in a large group of horses makes you a target for those pink creatures, and those pink creatures seem to have a color underneath much more cruel than pink, perhaps a rusty color of red and brown, the blood of the setting sun, or an unfaltering darkness of midnight. I cannot decide… But, the danger of those two-legged beings was only shown to me in a dream, and the danger of predators was shown to me in both a dream and real life… Maybe winning a harem would be better… Courage interrupted his thoughts with a low nicker and a flick of his ears. I know what you are thinking of, and we share the same opinion. I believe that we should go in search of a harem and a better place to live. Will you come with me? **** Cougar and the others rested and grazed lazily throughout the day. Courage and he were to leave tomorrow. They needed to save up their strength for the oncoming journey. Cougar knew that he may never see his stallion comrades again, and the next time he may see one of them, may be in battle. The sun set over the horizon and all of the stallions grew sleepy. One by one, they fell asleep. Courage awoke first, and roused Cougar. It was before dawn. Only a faint rim of light could be seen, the rest of the sky still covered in the blanket of night. Still weary, still exhausted, still grieving for Hail, the two stallions quietly trotted out of the thicket, not disturbing the others. As they made their way to the plain, they picked up the pace and galloped across the open land, into unknown territories. Courage led, Cougar followed. They raced on unceasingly for hours, over the never-ending barren rock. No mountain lions slowed their progress. Not a sight or sound of horse was found, but that did not discourage the two excited studs. In the distance, a river wound its way around a forest of trees, and the forest was teeming with vegetation. That would be a good place to check out. Courage and Cougar raced alongside each other, eager to find out if this was the home of a harem. At first, they could not pick up the scent of any horses, but after they entered the wood, Courage smelled the faint scent of a herd. They found the trail, and followed it through the forest. Unfortunately, they lost it at the bank of the river. Cougar growled in frustration. They continued searching throughout the day, with no more success. A thin clump of saltbush was all that they could find for nests that night. The prickly thorns jabbed at them, annoying as mosquitoes in summer. This is hopeless. When, they woke up the next morning, a cold rain had begun to fall. Even Courage was becoming disappointed. It is impossible to track scents in the rain, so no wonder! Cougar thought. By what would be sun-high, the two stallions were drenched, and their joints ached from over-exertion. Cougar had enough. He took the lead and loped over to a rocky overhang, and went inside to find that it would be able to give them scant shelter from the rain. The cave was ten feet in height, and four feet in depth, just large enough for two horses to squeeze into. Cougar beckoned to Courage to come in, and he entered. The warmth of their bodies offered little heat, like a dying flame. Rain slashed down, stinging like a thousand swords, only adding to the despairing mood. Cougar and Courage were on the verge of giving up completely when the sky suddenly cleared, and the clouds melted into a purple sky; it was sundown already. In horror, Cougar realized that the sun was scarlet. The red sun sets. Blood has been spilled this day. **** Now it had been a quarter moon since Cougar had been banished. Petal still was ill with shock in the loss of her only son. Sorrow, an unfavorable emotion, filled all of the horses’ minds. Rain became not water, but falling tears. Clouds became not white, but blue. The sun was not a blessing, but a curse. Grass, hard to swallow. Happiness was outlawed. Those who showed any sign of joy, became outlaws themselves among the herd, and rapidly changed their needless frivolity. Eagle himself had become depressed. He regretted his actions, and wanted his grandson back. It seemed like there was a piece missing from the puzzle, a shard of glass missing from the window pane, a stroke of the brush missing from the painting, a presence lost in the dark. Cougar was gone. Eagle had become weak in his depression. He would not eat or sleep, let alone defend his keep. They were vulnerable to attack, a band of horses without an able leader. Unluckily for Eagle and his harem, Cougar’s former stud band did not know that these horses were once Cougar’s close kin. They had gone in search of Cougar and Courage, but their scent had faded by the time they found their trail. So, they had gone, groping through the wilderness, hoping that by chance the pair of stallions would cross their path. But, an even better opportunity was made known to them. Rainstorm, being the oldest and strongest of the stallions, would take ownership of Eagle’s herd if they won the fight. Four stallions to one, they had greater odds. Yes, Rainstorm and the rest of the studs had not crossed Cougar and Courage’s paths, but they did cross paths with Eagle and his harem. They would fight to win the herd. It would be easy, for Eagle had no strength left in him. The stud band lay hidden in the sage, about twenty feet away from the start of Eagle’s territory, preparing for the attack. They would come swiftly. As the wind blew south, they knew that their scent would travel downwind, away from the harem, and they would not be noticed. An alert would come only when they had appeared. Having the advantage of surprise would make this battle even easier. Eagle, in his sadness, would think of nothing else but Cougar, and would not expect a confrontation with a cunning band of stallions. Inconspicuous, quiet as the very shadows of stone, the stallions waited for the coming of Eagle. If he did not approach the sage bush, then they would go and fight. A quarter hour past, and the sun climbed higher in the sky. The studs grew restless, impatient. After almost a third of an hour, a horse came into view, followed by another and another. They were heading for the sage, Raincloud realized, for feeding, and Eagle was among them… When the harem horses were no more than ten feet away, Raincloud nickered, to order them to attack at his command. Eagle came up to the sage, and tipped his head to the side, confused, for part of the sage looked as though it were gray fur, not lime fronds. Suddenly, Raincloud sprung out of the bushes and charged at Eagle. He reared up on his hind legs struck out with his front hooves. Eagle rose to his back legs, also, to confront him. Eagle dealt a kick to Raincloud’s chest, and Raincloud retaliated with a bite to his shoulder. Tear. Whinny. Rip. Rear. Scream. Slash. Growl. Bite. Nicker. Kick. Fury. Futility. Equal. Balance... Eagle was about to deliver the death blow to Raincloud’s throat when Lightning, Fire, and Snow emerged from the sage, the threatening three. Backing away, step by step, Eagle was forced to fall to this group of studs. Raincloud seemed satisfied that victory was his. He lunged forward and bit out Eagle’s throat. Eagle crashed to the ground, and convulsed, as one last painful breath escaped his body. He did not move any more. Death. Raincloud looked up from the body and into the eyes of the horrified mares and foals. They had realized that this ferocious new stallion would be their leader. Then he looked to the other studs, and whinnied, ordering them to leave. Hesitant to do so they were. Furious, Raincloud shied, and drove them away, like he would shoo a fly rather stupidly buzzing around his head. Realizing that Raincloud would be the one to own this herd, they fled from his wrath. This harem belonged to him. **** Little did Cougar know that the blood that had been spilled was that of his own former leader, but it scared him nonetheless. He had not to fear, for he and Courage were safe, for now. The rain had vanished. Dark was the sky as the night drew to a close, and the moon rose. Cougar lapsed into a fitful doze, never sleeping for more than an hour at a time. His dreams were murky. When an animal approached him, he hoped to see the face, but all he could see was a fuzzy blur. The animals he saw appeared to be horses, but he couldn’t be sure, because they were so distorted, with a powerful anger… Fury flowed off of their coats. Revenge. Revenge. Revenge… Courage did not get much rest, either. As the sun rose, the two studs awoke. Cougar led on out of the forest. Throughout the day, the two horses journeyed on. They went higher and higher up the mountain, higher than they had ever been before. Five thousand feet high, they could almost touch the sky. Several days passed and there was no sight, sound, or scent of a harem. They remained undeterred. On the sunrise of the fifth day, luck found them, or rather, they found luck. When Courage awoke, the scent of other horses reached him. He alerted Cougar, and he instantly was wide-eyed and responsive. The scent was made known to him, also. They went to investigate. At the top of the slope, a band of nine horses stood there, grazing. There were six mares, two foals, and of course, one lead stallion. He was a formidable presence. Much larger than any other stallion Cougar or Courage had ever seen, the leader of this harem was well muscled, tall, and had a crafty look in his eye, that portrayed one of great cleverness. This would be a challenging stallion to defeat, but Cougar and Courage would face this challenge. This may be their only opportunity for weeks, so they would take it. Courage. Cunning. These two traits would help them to win the battle ahead. Together, they devised a plan so complex. It depended completely on how well they would be able to execute it, what other variables might come into play, and the reaction of this stallion leader. Both studs disguised their scent, by rolling in a patch of rank Indian ricegrass. This would keep the horses from realizing that they were there, for a while, at least, until they showed themselves. They would wait for three days, keeping a watch on this harem, traveling with them, but staying at a distance. The three days elapsed quickly, and it came to the eve of the fight. Cougar observed the landscape. In the east, he noticed that there was a rock formation, with a tunnel cut into it. This would serve well, for their plan required that they had a small space in which the stallion could be trapped. The harem was grazing again. They were not concentrating on their surroundings, or checking to see if there were two stallions concealed in a clump of halogeton, planning to murder their leader. Cougar sized up this stallion leader. He had a deep chestnut coat and black points- a bay. His hooves were like giant stones, sharp, and rough, his teeth as dangerous as a lion’s. They shone white as he nipped one of his mares. His eyes were full of fury, and there was an odd red gleam in the iris, like that of the devil. This seemed no earthly horse. Its nostrils flared as it picked up a strange scent in the halogeton. It smelled of ricegrass. Yet, another scent was buried among the reek. Barely discernible, but it was still there. How could that be possible… Turning briskly, he galloped up to it, and nosed through the branches. Seeing the reflection of the fading light in the brown eyes of a horse among the fronds, he was certain that there was a pair of studs in the bush. He could hear their breathing, and the nervous beating of their hearts. But the eyes suddenly disappeared, the scent as well. Where are they? A low whinny echoed not thirty feet away from the leader. It was an unfamiliar sound. It was one of the studs. And he answered with a whinny of his own. I am called Fury, the anger of all. Now I shall live up to my name. Those who know my fury know death. You have been warned. **** The leader approached. It was time to put the plan into action. Cougar and Courage cantered around the other side of the bush and across the territory. Cougar whinnied tauntingly over his shoulder, hoping to attract the attention of the stallion. He did. The horse screamed like a ghost, stating that his name was Fury- how fittingand that they would die... The sun was blotted out as he whinnied, a sure sign of calamity. They continued on over the dry earth, and Fury followed. Fury would be changed to sadness before the end of the night. Looming out of the darkness, the cave appeared, and the studs galloped in, with Fury hot on their trail. Cougar took off, galloping far ahead, out of the end of the tunnel, and looping back through the entrance again, while Courage loped more slowly, and Fury still followed. Now Cougar followed Fury, and Fury followed Courage. Courage came to an abrupt halt and whipped around to face Fury, and Cougar slowed down as Fury and Courage were stopped. Fury was surrounded by fury. Quick as lightning, Fury slashed down on Courage, and Courage did not react. Fury then bit him, and Courage was still unresponsive. When Fury was to rear up for the third time, Courage suddenly awoke out of his stupor. He locked Fury’s front leg in his jaws, and did not let go, his grip as strong as a black bear’s. The bone snapped. Fury wailed like a banshee. Shivers coursed through Cougar’s body, the unearthly sound so cruel, so creepy. His hock dangled uselessly. Now he only had three good legs with which to stand on. Courage broke off and began galloping out of the cave, but slow enough for Fury to limp behind him. This fight wasn’t over yet. Courage ran and ran. He led Fury in circles around his own territory, causing Fury to become very tired. Into the cave they went again, and there Cougar took over the dirty work. But, before they could scarcely look at each other, three studs came into the tunnel. Snow, Lightning, and Fire. Enemies. Allies to anger, though. Fury greeted them with a nicker, relieved to have help. This bedraggled group of stallions was obviously acquainted with Fury. The tide had turned, now four to two. There were not only two studs interested in owning this harem. Lightning struck, a flash of golden white. Courage suffered a torn neck. Snow then bit Courage in the flank. Fire scraped him in the face. Courage could not hold up to them much longer. He was overwhelmed. Blood seeped into his eyes, making it impossible for him to see. Recovering from his injury, Fury unleashed a sleeping power within him. Violence. He devoured Courage’s throat, almost disconnecting head from neck. Courage had lost this battle. His eyelids closed, and he gasped one last time. His mutilated body lay on the cold gray rock, an empty soul, the life banished from him. Cougar stared in shock at the body. His head spun. This could not have happened. He felt like he had fallen into a black abyss with no end… falling, falling, falling... until he, too finally reached death. He blinked in sorrow, his ears drooping, his tail dragging the ground. His legs buckled beneath him and he fell to his fallen friend’s side. Gently smoothed out his companion’s mane, he groomed Courage one more time. Courage had never been able to fulfill his dream of owning a harem, his life lost because of it. There was no hope. Suddenly, Courage’s body glowed an eerie white and a transparent vapor slithered out from his body, out of where his heart was. His spirit. A voice sounded in Cougar’s head. I am now in a better place, where the sun always shines, grass always grows, water flows. I am healed. I live on. I had the courage to face death, and it is not as bad as you may think. Everything is pure- there is no sin. It is beautiful. I now give you courage, for there is always hope, and I have foreseen your victory in this battle. Win. Have courage, Cougar. I shall guide you through this, and fight at your side. The vapor vanished, but Cougar could tell that Courage was still there. His presence wreathed around him. Strength came back to Cougar. He turned to oppose Snow, Lightning, Fire, and Fury. Snow would evaporate. Lightning would be averted. Fire would be extinguished. Fury would fade to sadness. In four blows, the battle was over. In four blows, four throats were ripped out. In four blows, four horses were dead. In four blows, Cougar earned a harem. The four horses were left to rot in the cave. Their skeletons would be monuments of a terrible fight. Snow. Lightning. Fire. Fury. Defeated. **** Cougar managed to tug Courage’s body out the cave. He solemnly laid him to rest in a patch of wheatgrass, where forever he would remain, in peace. As the sun rose, Cougar realized that the sacrifice of one can help others to find courage, as it was with his own friend. Courage would live eternally in Equus Morta, or horse heaven. He deserved his halo. And one day, Cougar would go and join him, where they would graze together. Eight horses were now in Cougar’s control. He was the leader of a harem. They stood fifty feet away, awaiting their stallion. Prancing up to them jubilantly, Cougar whinnied welcomingly. The horses understood that he had replaced Fury. This palomino seemed a lot more forgiving than him. Each mare and foal dipped their heads respectfully to him, accepting him as their lead stallion. Courage snorted in acknowledgment. Introducing themselves, every horse whickered their name. Moonrise, a mare, a gray specked horse, and Star, her filly, a light dappled chestnut. Midnight, the lead mare, pure black, and Sunset, a sorrel, her colt. Dawn, a yearling, a blue roan, and Sage, her mother, a piebald. Autumn, a dun. Solstice, a strawberry roan. Beckoning them to follow, he began the expedition back to his homeland, where he would set up a new territory for this herd. It took them a half moon to get back to Cougar’s former home, but everyone survived. There were no injuries or deaths, and no one had been over exhausted. All of the horses had had adequate feed and drink. They were a strong, healthy herd. When they made it to their destination, Cougar wandered around for a while to find the perfect spot for their new territory. So he did. Sage grew every few feet, and grass covered most of the ground. A small creek coursed through the land, fresh and clean. There was shelter, too, for the horses to utilize in stormy weather. The branches of a juniper tree thicket were tightly interwoven, offering a haven for the horses. A mountain, one hundred feet, not large, but still magnificent, had a series of caverns and hollows that the horses could hide in from rain or snow. This would be the territory for Cougar’s young harem. Cougar was able to find all this from his refined senses and tracking skills, which were improved on the journey. He had gained knowledge of survival, too, on his adventure. The mares held him in the highest honor for his wisdom and fairness. He was treated like a god, always given the sweetest sage, the coldest water, the softest nest. His very name was even changed from Cougar, to Adieu. Prospering from warm weather and rain, the earth became moist, and the plants thrived. The mountain range had been freed of drought at last. Tinged with red, the leaves on the trees revealed that fall was close, but for now, there was no chill in the air. Moonrise took a liking to Adieu, and they became mates. After about a year, Moonrise gave birth to a foal. It was a colt, and had a brown coat and a brown mane, with a white star on its forehead. With the same kindly eyes, it looked quite similar to a horse Adieu had known. They christened him Courage. Works Cited Allatson, Wendy. The Horse Poster Book. London: Smith-Davies Publishing, 2006. A Citizen’s Vision for the Pryor Mountains of Montana. The Pryor Coalition. 14 January 2010. <http://www.pryormountains.org/vision2.html>. Clutton-Brock, Juliet. Horse. New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc., 1992. Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range 2009 Gather Plan and Environmental Assessment. U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. 10 January 2010. <http://www.pryormustangs.org/uploads/2009gatherfinal/gatherEA.pdf>. Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Survey and Assessment. NCRS. 14 January 2010. http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/mt/field_offices/billings/wild_hors es/assessment.Par.74931.File.dat/cover.pdf>. Ryan, Pam Munoz. Paint the Wind. Broadway: Scholastic Inc., 2007. Ryden, Hope. Wild Horses I Have Known. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1999. Horse Vocabulary Dictionary Blue Roan: a coat color that appears to be blue but is actually white and gray hairs mixed together which makes a blue-ish color. Buckskin: a coloration for horses that is a darker golden-ish reddish brownish coat color with dark (black) points and hair. Colt: a baby male horse. Foal: a baby horse. Filly: a baby female horse. Harem: a band of wild horses. Horse: a graceful four-legged mammal that has hooves, fur, a mane, a tail, a long curved neck, and intelligent eyes, and happens to be the basis for everything in my story. Mare: a female adult horse. Palomino: a coloration for horses that is a light golden brown coat and white flaxen hair. Piebald: a coat color that is large patches of white and black. Points: the lower legs of a horse. Stallion: a male adult horse. Strawberry Roan (or red roan): a coat color that appears to be red but is brown and white hairs mixed together to make a reddish color. Stud: a mature male horse, interchanged with stallion. Yearling: a horse that is one year old.