Kate Stradling’s Goldmayne: A Fairy Tale embellishes on a couple of French Canadian folk stories, “Scurvyhead” and “Sir Goldenhair.” A young man escapes his abusive father only for a witch to hire him on at her crumbling estate. In this excerpt, our protagonist Duncan meets the wicked white horse, a creature his crafty employer expects him to beat with a stick.
Except, things don’t go as planned.
The White Horse
Pale light flooded the stall. Before him, the white horse stood next to the back wall, alert and very still. It was smaller than Goliath by far and skinny enough that Duncan could count the rib bones that showed through its skin. Gray spotted its flank and muzzle, and its mane and tail were that same dingy color. It reminded him of the manor house in a way; they both seemed like forgotten relics that needed a thorough cleaning.
A wicked creature. Dame Groach’s warning sounded in his ears. He set the lantern on the floor and tightened both hands around the cane. Then, steeling his nerves, he lifted the weapon and started forward to complete his task.
“Please don’t beat me.”
Duncan yelped and nearly dropped the cane. He felt the stall door press against his back, but it took him a moment to realize that he had retreated there out of sheer instinct. Wide-eyed, he stared at the white horse, who stared back at him.
“D-did you … just talk?” Duncan asked, steadily regaining his breath and his wits. “No, you couldn’t—”
“I’m just as surprised as you are,” said the horse mildly. “I didn’t realize I could talk until just now either.”
Duncan straightened and looked around. Someone was playing a trick on him, he was sure. He had heard of ventriloquism, voice-throwing and such. Someone was hidden within the stable, trying to startle him.
“It’s no use looking around like that,” the horse continued in a very candid manner. “There’s no one else here but Goliath, and I’m fairly certain he isn’t throwing his voice over into my stall. Ha, Goliath. That mealy little coward!”
In the next stall, Goliath snorted in rage.
“You’re talking,” said Duncan.
“Yes, we’ve established that, haven’t we? You’re not very quick about these things.”
“Horses can’t talk,” Duncan insisted.
The white horse rolled its pale eyes. “If you’d told me that ten minutes ago, I would’ve agreed with you.”
It must be possessed by some sort of demon, Duncan realized, and he raised the cane a second time. “She warned me you were wicked.”
The horse bucked its head and tried to back away. “She? You mean the old witch? That’s pretty rich, her calling someone else wicked. Look, please don’t beat me. I’m already skin and bones here, left to rot in the semi-darkness all alone, with nothing but straw and water to live off of. The beating is just gratuitous.”
Duncan hesitated. He had no great desire to abuse the animal, or any animal, for that matter. “B-but, it’s part of my job,” he said uncertainly.
“It’s not as if she’s watching over your shoulder,” said the horse. “She’s probably holed up in her library plotting someone’s demise. How do you think everything around here got so run-down? What did she snare you with anyway? Promises of magic lessons?”
“I’m the new caretaker,” Duncan replied. “She’s paying me to upkeep the grounds and the manor house. And to look after you and Goliath, of course.”
The white horse grunted. “So you’re just a nice, honest kid. You really should turn tail and run as fast as you can from here. Go back home and forget you ever crossed paths with the likes of Dame Groach.”
“I don’t have a home to go back to. I’ve been sleeping in ditches and living off whatever I could forage.”
“That beats getting caught in her clutches, I assure you. I have no idea how long I’ve been cooped up in this forsaken little stall. The days all blur together. It’s like I’m in prison.”
“What did you do that was so wicked?”
Both ears flicked back. “Nothing really bad, I promise you that. Say, maybe you could carry a letter for me when you escape.”
“You can read and write too?” Duncan cried, wide-eyed and thoroughly impressed.
The horse snorted derisively. “No, idiot. How on earth am I supposed to write when all I have are hooves? By holding the pen in my mouth? Do be serious. I’ll dictate the letter, and you’ll write it.”
“I can’t write,” Duncan responded. “Or read, for that matter. I might be able to recite something, if you didn’t mind repeating it enough times for me to learn it by heart. But I already told you, I don’t have anywhere to go from here. I’m not going to escape.”
No response came. Instead, the horse simply eyed him with what seemed to be a very baleful expression, for a horse.
Thus we have the start of a beautiful new friendship. If you want to read on, Goldmayne: A Fairy Tale is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.