by Charles Matthias

Tonight would be the night, Thomas thought ruefully as he sipped from his wine. The wine did not taste bad, though he had often had better. A few apples lay upon his plate still, delectable treats that he would gobble down shortly. Across from him the bat morph Andwyn continued with his report, small red eyes open in the dim light. Fortunately, Andwyn’s eyesight was just fine in the warm illumination of Thomas’s meeting rooms, though bright lights did hurt them.

Thomas forced himself to listen to his new head of Intelligence update him on what sort of matters he had put into place since taking Prince Phil’s place. Phil had been gone from Metamor for nearly two weeks now, and surely would be soon returned to his homeland of Whales to care for his ailing father. Thomas had serious doubts if they would ever see the rabbit again, but he would remain hopeful. While Andwyn was certainly professional, his meticulousness surprising even the horse lord, he was not the friend that Phil had been.

The Duke of Metamor sipped at the wine again, nodding as Andwyn described the reports that were filtering down from North of the Giant’s Dike. Misha Brightleaf was already busy on another raid up that way, and it would be sometime before the head of the Long Scouts returned to Metamor. Thomas could not help but reflect on the number of close friends he had lost in the last year. First Posti had died, forcing him to elevate his daughter to the position of Prime Minister. And then Wessex was killed during the Assault, and now Phil had left for Whales. Who was left but Thalberg that he could call friend?

Thomas shivered slightly as he thought of what would come that night. But it had to remain a secret, and so he focussed his attention back on the bat morph’s words. Andwyn continued describing the conditions he faced in his attempt to place spies in the northern towns that had until Nasoj’s fateful march been on friendly terms with Metamor. “I think something we ought to consider trying is using teams of spies. Not too many, or they will bring notice upon themselves of course. But here is my idea.

“Let us find Keepers like so, an adult man and woman, as well as say two or three Keepers who have become children. Let us pretend that they are a family. If the children can at least look like the ‘parents’ then we shall be the better for it. And perhaps have one of the horse or donkey morphs go along as one of their few possessions, in full horse form of course.”

Thomas started slightly at that, his ears perked up. “Will we be able to find one who would consent to that?”

Andwyn chuckled lightly, a clicking sound that made Thomas nervous. “Not easily, but with your permission I shall make the reward afterwards quite worth their while. But they would have to live as horse for however long we need them up there. They’d need to be shoed and such.” Andwyn leaned forward then, his eyes studying the Duke closely. “Does this bother you?”

Thomas realised then that his hoof-like hands were gripping the wine glass very tightly. Any tighter and it would have shattered. “I just remember what happened to me,” he said, the words tripping out of his muzzle quickly. Indeed, he very clearly remembered what had been done to him during the Assault, when one of the knights of Yesulam, Sir Albert Bryonoth, had forced him to wear a halter that made him into nothing but a horse that would obey his commands completely. Thomas’s tail twitched in agitation. He well remembered that.

The bat nodded then, his large ears twitching at sounds that even the horse lord could not hear. “I do apologize. It was simply an idea. Perhaps they should have a dog instead of a horse. I shall see what I can come up with. Do I have your approval to proceed then, your grace?”

It did seem like a decent idea, and it was worth trying. Who would suspect an entire family to be spies for Metamor? And so Thomas nodded, finishing the rest of his wine in one motion. “Yes. See if you can find a suitable ‘family’. Only make one for now. I want to see how they perform before I authorize more.”

Andwyn bowed his head low. “Of course. I will attend to it immediately. Was there anything else you wished of me at this time?”

Thomas shook his head then, picking up one of the plump apples. Magically preserved into the winter, they would taste as fresh as if they had just been picked. “No, Andwyn, I do believe that is all for now. Get yourself some rest.”

Andwyn’s ears turned slightly, and he favoured the duke with a whimsical grin that showed off the long teeth he bore in his short muzzle. “I sleep during the day, your grace.”

Thomas nodded, blushing slightly in his ears. “Yes, of course, I forgot. I’m sure I will remember that one of these days.”

The bat let out that high-pitched laugh again, and then hopped from the stool he stood upon. His arms were connected to leathery wings that were covered in soft fur, and crisscrossed by thick veins. His hands were more adroit then any of the bird morphs were. It had been a long time since Metamor had possessed an Intelligence officer with fully functional hands, and she did not seem the worse for it.

“I wish you some good rest, Duke Thomas. I will leave you to your meal.” And with that, he hop-walked to the door and gave it a gentle rapping. The guard outside opened it wide, and he left, leaving Thomas to himself. When the door slid shut, the horse lord breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Popping the apple into his mouth, he chewed it down, seeds and all. It was juicy and delicious, a treat he thoroughly enjoyed.

He left the other two apples for later as he stretched and walked to the window at the back of the meeting room. It was dark already outside, and so as he peered into the night, only the street torches showed him anything of Metamor. The rebuilding of the city continued apace, but it would be a long time before they were whole once more. They had suffered many casualties, and so their resources were stretched thin. The Timber crews were working night and day to bring enough lumber, while the civil engineers had to devote all of their time to helping build back the homes that had been destroyed.

Many of their best warriors were up North doing their part to insure that Nasoj would not be able to mount an attack again anytime soon, if ever. Thomas wished them all the success they could have, and knew that Misha would give it his all. Reports were not totally positive of course. Baron Calephas had managed to bring a large force of soldiers through the Dragon mountains, solidifying his hold on Arabarb for at least a decade unless a miracle occurred. But the other developments to the north, involving the power struggles amongst Nasoj’s remaining allies, gave them hope that they would be able to maintain peace in the Valley for years to come.

But the weight of so many concerns should not have to rest upon the shoulders of just one, or so Thomas decided. But he knew he could rely on Misha, Malisa, Thalberg, Andwyn and the rest. Even so, the weight of the pressure felt unbearable sometimes. There were many days that he wished he could be a normal person, and not have to worry about the affairs of an entire kingdom. There were times when he wished that the lives of so many did not rest on his decisions.

Thomas picked up one of the other two apples from the table and gently placed it between his teeth. He chewed and swallowed in moments, a small smile creeping up along his equine muzzle. Tonight he would not have the weight of thousands upon his shoulders. It was tonight that he would find that surcease and give in to the thoughts that had been filling his head for the last few weeks.

It had started shortly before the trial of course. Thomas had begun to have very peaceful dreams, dreams that contrasted sharply with the normal anxieties of his waking life. Dreams that would seem impossible to attain of course. In them, he would be running through an open field, feeling the grass stalks striking against his legs – all four of them. He was running as a simple horse, feeling the wind through his mane and tail. It was a pleasing image, one that filled him with contented bliss.

It was not as if he had not before simply run in his horse form. It was very relaxing to just do so he had found fairly shortly after the first attack seven years prior when he had first become a horse morph. But there was something more in those dreams of his, dreams that had him waking up, feeling as if he had for a moment truly attained everything he had ever wanted for life, or could ever want. There was a passivity not just to thundering his hooves across the plains, but to have nothing but that to do.

Thomas had given it little thought at the time of course, as they were just dreams. He suspected that they had simply been brought on by the stress of the attack and the planning going into the counter attack. After the trial and after he had been placed under even more stress, the dreams began to take another turn altogether. At first, he had felt it was just a reflection on how ragged he felt the events involving Charles and Phil had left him. But as the days passed, and Phil left for Whales while Charles left for the Glen, Thomas realized that it was just another and fuller expression of what he had found in his running.

For in his newest of dreams, he was not just running through the fields a wild stallion. Now, there was a rider upon his back guiding him through the fields. The weight of a man upon his back was something that Thomas was familiar with. Sir Bryonoth had ridden him like that through the snow back during the Assault. It had been a frightening time for Thomas, because he’d not had any control over his own destiny. He was completely at the mercy of that deranged knight of Yesulam.

Thomas continued staring out the window, watching as a few torchbearers continued on through the city lighting the lamps that lined some of the wider streets. He could follow them even from the towers of the Keep. He wondered who they were, but knew that he was likely never to know. As the streets became illuminated by the torches, he began to recognize them, and named them off, noting the many familiar places in the town. He did not have much of a chance most of the time to walk amongst the townsfolk, but he tried to do so whenever he could.

But it turned out that most of Metamor did not recognize his face, only when he was dressed as the Duke did many folks realise who he was. Of course, not those in the castle, they knew him by sight. But the people in the town did not. He’d found that out the previous night when he’d donned a fairly ordinary looking brown tunic and pantaloons that made him appear no more than a common farmer. None of the people he had chanced upon saw him as anything but that either. One person of course knew him for who he was, but she had been the one to supply him with the clothes.

Thomas felt his ears blush as he thought about it. It had only been a few days since his hastily scribed note had been sent to her. Her reply had lifted a worry from his heart and gave him the freedom to do what he had begun to yearn for. But of course, there were many precautions that had to be taken, and Thomas was taking them.

Turning back, he grabbed the last apple from the plate and ate it in a few bites. Turning a small knob on each of the lanterns in the room, he extinguished all but one light. This last he carried with him to one of the tapestries at the side oft he room. Lifting it over his head, he pressed against the stone, and it gave way, revealing a darkened stairwell leading up. As he slipped into the passageway, the secret door closed behind him. The stairwell wound upwards, and he through many years of use found it easy to ascend.

It opened out into his personal chambers of course, one of the many secret passages that Kyia had provided for him. There were others of course, and he would use them that night. Setting the lantern on his night-stand he turned over the quilts, feeling them gently. The guards would not enter the room unless they thought he was in danger. There would be no danger to him tonight, he knew that firmly.

He reached back into a special cache behind the night stand and pulled out the brown jerkin and pantaloons. Stripping free of his finer cloths, he set them neatly upon the bed. He then pulled on the rougher material, feeling awkward against his hide. But it was necessary he knew, for how else would he be able to freely go to meet her?

After Charles had finally left Metamor, Thomas had begun to try and think of a way in which he could fulfill those dreams and give himself some respite from all the anxieties that plagued him. To let another take control, it was a powerful thought. There had been that one time in his life when another had done that, though at the time he had not been willing. And he knew of a device which would prevent him from rebelling against that control, but the first time he’d used it, he’d not been willing either.

Even so, those fanciful images preyed at the back of his mind. He found it difficult to put away from his thoughts, as it was always there lurking at the bask of his consciousness, wondering just what it would be like to be subject once more to it. How would it feel against his face, and in his mouth? He vaguely recalled the taste of the metal, but it was only a recollection. He wanted to know again what it would be like.

Thomas took the lamp in his hoof-like hands and walked towards one of the paintings that hung in his room. The Lutins in the assault had not managed to find his quarters, and so everything remained undamaged. Pushing it to the side, he slipped down another secret passage within the innards of the Keep. He was presented with a hallway that wound around behind his rooms, and a stairwell leading down into the darkness. Strange shadows flickered along the walls, as the only light came from his lamp.

The horse lord descended the stairs slowly, as they twisted about. The painting slid shut behind him, leaving him alone in the tight passage. His hooves made a soft clicking noise as he stepped, but it was one he was intimately familiar with. He tried to imagine what it would be like if his hooves were shoed, how that would feel as he moved about. Thomas could not quite conjure up the image, and after his flesh shuddered, he decided that he did not want to dwell on such things just then. What Andwyn had said had certainly set his mind into motion. But to just be a normal horse for several years? The thought of it made him flinch.

Yet he could not help but remember his dreams. As he had begun to dwell on them more and more, he had begun to see other images in them. Not only was he being ridden about open fields, but he was also being groomed with a curry, brushing burrs from his tail, and having his hooves cleaned with a pick while he lazily munched upon hay or oats. It would be far easier to do that than to try and decide how many troops had to be moved where and when, or how much from the treasury to spend to bring in workers from the other lands to rebuild Metamor.

Thomas finally reached a lower landing and stepped off the stairwell. It continued on down another few flights, where it would finally empty out into a small alcove that led into the city proper. It had been set a short ways behind the Deaf Mule, but as that structure had been burned down, there was nothing near there now. Someday the Deaf Mule would be rebuilt of course, but it would be some time before then.

There was another doorway before him. With a gentle press against the stone, it pulled inwards, revealing a small darkened room. The wick inside his lamp flickered wildly as he stepped within the room. The air inside crackled with a residual power. Ancient spells were in effect here, even one such as he could feel them. The main door to the chamber was firmly locked, the keys to which were not common. Inside were several glass and metal cases. Within each one resided an object of great power, one that Metamor had captured but did not want to ever use.

Some of course were supposed to be studied to see just what the spells upon them had been. But with the death of Wessex, that task remained undone, and would remain so until they brought another wizard they could trust to Metamor. Perhaps they could convince Misha’s sister Elizabeth to abandon Marigund for the Jewel of the North. He would have to delicately press the subject to the fox once he returned from his latest mission.

But of course, tonight was not supposed to be about plans for Metamor. Tonight, those concerns would rest with another. Tonight, Duke Thomas Hassan of Metamor would finally be allowed to just be a horse. Counting off the cages before him, he came to the one that he had visited several times in the past days. Within the glass he could see it resting upon its base, its shape marred by laying in a bundle. But he could see the leather clearly even in that dim light.

Over the course of the past week, he had found himself drawn down to this room. His mind knew what it would take for him to achieve what he had only begun to contemplate. He studied the straps, the metal bit, and the leads that would fasten behind his ears. Long had he wondered how it would feel to have it slipped once more over his face, those straps firm against his muzzle. But of course, he had no courage to place it on himself. If he were to do that, how would he take it off again? The moment it was worn it would force him to take his full horse form.

With a dawning realisation he had known he would need another to assist him, someone to keep this secret, and to treat him as a horse. It had not taken him long to settle upon an individual, but he feared what she might think, knowing full well what she had done before. But, after a restless evening spent beside that case, stroking his hoof-like fingers across its smooth surface, he’d finally penned a note and had a page deliver it to her.

The response had been quick. She understood and would help, but they would need to plan carefully so that he could relax when the time came and just enjoy what happened. They met for the first time the previous evening, and she gave him the plain clothes he now wore. She would be waiting for him at the alcove now, waiting for him to bring the harness that she had once used upon him before.

Thomas had been surprised at how easy that Bryonoth had agreed to do this for him, considering how vehemently he had begged to be punished after he had done this to him against the Duke’s will. Of course, then he had also planned to take him down to the Steppe and breed him like any common stud. This would be different, and would bring no one to any harm. It was just a chance for Thomas to allow himself to let all of the pressures of life be elsewhere for a time. It was a chance for him to experience a simpler existence, even if only for a few hours.

With a delicate grip, Thomas lifted the glass cover slowly, setting it aside only after great deliberation. It was not fragile, but he had no wish to break it regardless. His fingers then traced through the loops of the harness, and he felt a strange power creep along is flesh. There was great power within that harness he knew, one that he would let himself be subject to once more. He knew that when he had first had it taken off, he never again wanted to feel it against his face. But that had been before he’d felt the strain of trying to keep Metamor together after that terrible assault. What harm could a few hours possibly bring after all?

Taking the harness, he slipped it within a small pouch at his side, and then sealed it off with a small hook. With an almost impatient gait, he gripped the lamp once more and headed back down the stairs. The door behind him closed shut with a soft click, but he was already far down the stairs. It did not take him long to reach the lower landing, where a single wooden door stood before him. Pressing it open, he wedged himself outside. The façade was that of the same stone that made up the foundation of the castle, but it was not nearly as thick. A clever person could have found it if they searched long enough, but otherwise it was well hidden.

Thomas looked about, and smiled as he saw a shadow detach itself from the wall of the alcove and step into the lamplight. Alberta Bryonoth was a broad woman, with long, straight hair, and firm arms and legs. Her femininity had been thrust upon her by the Keep, but she appeared to stay as close to being a man as she could in this form. She smiled slightly as she saw him.

“Dost thou have it?” Bryonoth asked, her eyes scanning his form.

Thomas patted the satchel at his side and nodded. She smiled once more then and gestured for him to turn over the lamp. “Follow me, I shall lead thee to an empty stable.”

Thomas gave her the lamp then, glad to be able to just follow behind. He scanned the street they walked out onto, but it was empty. A few torches were lit along the sides of the homes just a short ways off from the castle. But they were heading towards the city walls. The grounds gave way to uncleared snow, but it was marred by so many footprints that there would not be noticed. Bryonoth turned towards the town a short ways down then, and led them back behind several wooden buildings that had only been partially burned in the assault. It looked like they had mostly been repaired already.

At one point, they heard the approaching sound of voices, and so both straightened up, so as not to seem extraordinary. A few moments later, a man and female leopard morph turned about a corner. Bryonoth and Thomas waved to acknowledge them, and they did the same, but paid them no more heed, and resumed their private conversation. Soon, they were past them, and continued on down the narrow avenue on the far side of the town.

Abruptly, Bryonoth turned inwards, and opened a small door in the side of a large low building. From the smell of horses, Thomas could tell that it was one of the Keep’s stables. He wondered if they would be alone there, but hoped that it would be the case. Bryonoth slipped inside first, and motioned for Thomas to join her. The horse lord did, looking about fearfully, but saw that the stables were fairly dark.

“Do not fear, I know that we art the only two here. Apart from the horses.” Thomas could hear several of them grunting and whickering as they stood in their stalls, smelling the approach of one of their ostlers. Perhaps they were hoping for some treat from her, but she passed them by with only a few words of greeting.

Thomas followed after, his hooves stepping upon the hay-strewn floorboard cautiously. He did not often find himself within a stable, and so was not sure just what to expect from all of this. Bryonoth stopped about midway into the large hall, and hung the lamp from a hook against one stall. She pulled out a candle and lit that with the lamp, and then used that to light several other lamps, bringing a soft warm glow into the stables.

She then opened the stall door wide, and gestured to him. Thomas felt his whole body tremble nervously as he mutely obeyed. He stood before the stall door a moment as he looked within, noting the fresh hay spread between the walls that came up to his chest. His hands gripped the door for a moment as he blinked into the soft light, his heart pounding quickly, both in fear and excitement. Was this really what he wanted he wondered. He heard a noise from behind him, and he saw that Bryonoth had taken out several curries and was preparing a feed and water trough.

With a great sigh, he stepped inside the stall, and turned about, running his hands along the firm wooden walls. The stall looked to be unused. Thomas did not wish to spend the night in a horse’s stall, he did have a lovely bed with warm quilts after all. But a few hours, in which he would be brushed and fed, that would hardly be too much to ask. It would be easy and simple he assured himself. After all, he knew Bryonoth to be very good to horses. He certainly had been even when he’d taken Thomas captive six weeks ago.

Alberta looked at him as he stood there waiting. She smiled slightly as she studied him and then held out her hand. “May I have it?” Thomas blinked and then nodded, taking the satchel from his side and handing it over to her. She undid the hook and pulled free the halter, cradling it in her hands softly. Her fingers traced over the leather straps, as if remembering them from so long ago.

She then began to stretch it out into the normal shape it would hold. Thomas breathed heavily, his body tingling in his nervous excitement. After she had straightened out the halter, she looked at him expectantly, but Thomas was not sure what she was waiting for. Finally, she laughed slightly, a sound that was full throated. “Well, art thou going to take thy clothes off or dost thou wish to ruin them when thou changes?”

Thomas felt himself blush then, and began to undo his jerkin. Alberta did not appear to notice any of his body though, as she gave him that much privacy. He found it strange that he would worry about her seeing him naked in this form, but she would certainly see him such once he became a full horse. It would not bother him then of course, because that was how a horse was supposed to go about life.

He set his jerkin on the stall, and then placed his pantaloons there as well. A moment later he deposited his linens as well, and he was completely disrobed. His hoof-like hands fell across his middle modestly, though Bryonoth did not once look at any part of him other than his face. Thomas felt better about that, but even so, his flesh still twitched anxiously. In a moment that halter would be upon him once more.

His mind and heart began to race in tandem, each feeling their concerns throw themselves up before his mind. Was this really what he wanted to do? After all, he was the Duke of Metamor, not some farm animal. He had been born to a noble family, and he was the one that most Metamorians looked to for leadership. The weight of so many lives was on his shoulders. How could he just give that up for a few hours to be nothing more than an animal?

And then Thomas felt his dreams returning to him, of running through the wind, free to do aught but run. There was a freedom in that, a freedom in just being an animal, as he would no longer have that weight upon his shoulders. And so, he leaned forward towards Bryonoth. She with one leg shut the stall door before him, the latch fitting into place. And then she leaned forward too, placing the leather halter over his head. He felt it slide up over his face, brushing against his fur. And then, the bit fit in between his teeth, and rested against his tongue.

When the last cinch had been tied, he felt the magic course through his body like a fire. He let the transformation take him, his arms pushed forward, and his chest barrelling outwards. His face continued to distend and enlarge, as his neck thickened. Fingers fused tight together until they were but a solid hoof. And then, he fell forward, standing on four hooves, so much larger than he had been a moment before. He could feel the bit still in his mouth, and his tongue rubbed up against it. The halter was secure upon his head now, and he could have no hope of removing it.

He looked up at her, his eyes having to refocus as they were set further apart on his head now. But he saw Bryonoth reach out with one hand and gently pat the side of his face. “Good boy,” she cooed softly, her voice soothing him. He reached out and lipped at her hand, and she chuckled. “Thou art searching for a treat, eh?” He felt his tail swish back and forth in delight at the question.

She tapped his nose with one finger and then pointed to the trough she’d placed on the outside of the door. “Remember, until I give thee permission, thou must not change thy shape. Thou mayst eat the oats, but once thou art finished, I wilt replace the halter. I wilt remove it again in a few hours so that thou canst return to the castle as promised.”

Thomas nodded in understanding then and let her remove the halter. He rubbed his tongue against the back of his teeth as he felt the metallic taste leave. He could have changed back to his normal form, but that would have defeated the purpose of this. Instead, he remained a horse, feeling strangely comfortable in that form, and with this woman.

Bryonoth then opened the stall door once more, stepping in beside him. She carried with her the curry, and began to stroke the firm bristles through his hide. He leaned his head forward then, finding the sweet scent of oats irresistible. As she began to run the curry through his fur, he ate from the feed trough. His heart slowed, and all the concerns on his mind simply melted away. She continued to talk to him though, telling him how beautiful his hide was, and how strong his muscles were. The tone in her voice was one that she would have used on any other horse, and that too gave him some comfort.

For the next few hours, Thomas would be just any other horse. The Duke of Metamor relaxed and continued eating, his mind at ease. How he wished he had done this long ago.

After he had finished the oats, Bryonoth placed the halter back over his head once more as promised. He then spent the next two hours just watching her as she groomed him. She brushed his tail until the fur there felt silky in their smoothness, no longer the rough waspish wisps they had once been. She was completely gentle in all that she did, for which Thomas was grateful. But the time ended all too quickly, as he knew it must.

She stepped out of the stall and closed the door behind her. She walked away then, returning the tools to their place on the other side of the stable. She carried the lamp with her as she went, and for a moment, Thomas stood alone in that stall in the dark, the halter still over his face, leaving him helpless and at her mercy. For a moment a sudden fear filled his mind, that she would leave him like this for another to discover. But it lasted only a moment, as she returned and began to untie the laces, and finally pulled the halter free from his face.

“Thou mayst return to thy normal form now,” her voice was soft, but unlike before, this was a voice used from one intelligent being to another. Thomas nodded then and felt the shift flow through his body. Soon, he rose back up upon only two hooves, and stood as close to being a man as he could. Alberta had turned her back, and allowed him his privacy to dress himself once more.

Thomas felt a bit of regret as he pulled his jerkin back on and stepped out of the stall. There would be much that he would have to deal with in the morning now, so many affairs that he as the Duke would have to face. But strangely enough, he felt renewed confidence. They no longer appeared so daunting as they had earlier that evening. Perhaps this was what he had needed after all?

He pursed his lips to thank her for this kindness when she turned about and studied him once more. Thomas felt his lips close then before she smiled. She reached up and patted the side of his cheek. “Didst thou enjoy that?”

Thomas nodded. “Yes. Thank you, Dame Bryonoth.”

She smiled at the title, but did not say anything immediately. Her eyes traced back to the empty stall, and then over to him. “Wouldst thou wish to do this again another evening?”

His flesh trembled at the thought of this happening again. To be made once more into a horse, to be combed and fed as a horse, to be talked to as a horse. He nodded dumbly then, his eyes trying to hold back the delight that yearned to fill them.

“Good.” She looked about the stable and handed him the lantern, as well as the satchel with the halter inside. “I wilt be waiting for thee here three night’s hence. Return then and I shalt make thee a horse once more.”

Thomas nodded once more, plans in his mind already to assure that he would be able to make it to these stables again in three nights. “I will be here, Dame Bryonoth. I will be here.”

Bryonoth smiled to him then, her broad face warm then. “I know that thou wilt.” She then began to extinguish the lamps she’d lit about the stables. “Now hurry back before thou art missed.”

Thomas nodded and made his way back to the end of the stables. The scent of hay filled him with pleasant memories, but they would happen again he knew. He walked out into the cold night air again, and with quick step retraced the way they had come. It only too him a few minutes to find the alcove, and then to open the secret passage. Up the stairs he climbed, returning the harness to its place in the glass case very carefully. Once he was certain it was safe, he continued on his way back up the tight curving stairwell. And then he passed once more into his room, finding everything where he had left it several hours before.

He set the lamp on his night-stand, and then removed the brown jerkin and pantaloons. Folding them up once more, he set them back in their cache. He took the finer clothes he had worn to his meeting with Andwyn, and set them carefully upon one of the chairs. A servant would attend to them tomorrow morning.

He slipped under the covers of his bed then, his hooves pressing against the sheets oddly. Only a few minutes ago they had been standing upon hay, and not they were covered in soft linens. Thomas let his head lay down against the pillows, and he could not help but wonder what it would be like to lay down against hay instead. He shook those thoughts from his mind, and instead let the peace that had filled him while being brushed return once more.

He’d been a horse that night, and Bryonoth had treated him as such. He wondered if he would ever have the courage to let her ride him through the town. Nobody would know after all, unless of course they noticed that he was unshod. There was nothing to be done about that, and so he decided he would content himself with just the brushing instead. Maybe one day he could run through the wind though. With those dreams in mind, the Duke of all of Metamor fell fast asleep, a smile etched upon his muzzle.