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/RGRE/ /Ongoing/ Anon's adventures in Saddle Arabia. (NSFW)

By Appreciationproject
Created: 22nd October 2020 09:31:33 PM
21st August 2021 06:23:43 PM

  1. >Be Anon
  2. >Sit on a heavily decorated soft pillow.
  3. >Wear only some thin white bedsheet.
  4. >But air is dry and hot, so it's OK.
  5. >There is huge ornamental carpet covering the floor. It looks like it's brought straight from the 'Aladdin'.
  6. >Before you stands a huge vase loaded with fruits. Grapes, oranges, dates, you name it! Also there is a bowl of pistachio nuts nearby.
  7. >Your room has marble walls. They, however, end up at about half the height, not reaching the celling.
  8. >Things are looking like if you are some sort of a sultan. Right?
  9. >Huge sliding door made of some expensive looking wood opens up.
  10. "Ape, come! Sayida wants to see you."
  11. >Yeah, so much of being a sultan.
  12. >Elderly mare stands at the doorstep. She wears a colorful blanket on her back and is hellishly muscular despite her apparent age. Her withers are only a bit lower than your shoulder. Her heavy wide face is full of frown.
  13. >It's better to obey her.
  14. >You exit your stall.
  15. >Two of you go through the corridor, between several more stalls like yours. Then through some luxurious rooms.
  16. >They are ripe with exquisite draping, expensive furniture and pottery. >Bunch of naked lean unicorn stallions with their tails tied up are tidying and dusting all this splendors.
  17. >Room where you arrive at last is even more luxurious than others.
  18. "Sayida, Anon is here as by your order."
  19. >Heh, so now it's Anon.
  20. >You bow. You better do.
  21. >There is another mare in the room. This one isn't so buffed, but rather statuesque. Her horse face is long and thin, with a wide forehead and big, expressive eyes adorned with long eyelashes. Her coat is of lightest shade of purple.
  22. "Thank you, Aami. You may go."
  23. >Jacked mare bows, and leaves you in the room.
  24. "Anon, I wish to visit my good friend. You will accompany me."
  25. >Says the supermodel-looking mare and walks out, indicating that you should follow her.
  26. >This is Amira. She is your master. Your owner, basically. She is kind, never calls you an ape. Never threatens to kick or bite you.
  27. >But still, you are cautious around her. It's not the physical aggression that makes her extremely dangerous.
  28. >Her snake-like wit and high social status does.
  29. >She is the member of the State Council of Saddle Arabia. One of the personal advisors of the Al'umu Alhakima, The Ruling Mother. Saddle Arabian matriarch.
  30. >At the front door unicorn male servant dresses her in some garish and sure as hell astronomically expensive halter.
  31. >You dress yourself in some more white bedsheets and wrap your entire head and face with it. Also you wear the velvet shoes with a thick wooden sole.
  32. >Your kind mistress commissioned them for you. She took a pity of your lack of hooves and ability to withstand the scalding hot ground outdoors. Must've been a challenge for a tailor.
  33. >Yes, a tailor. Because for the locals cobbler is a blacksmith.
  34. >You both step out of the mansion.
  35. >Outdoors it's even more dry and hot. So your wrappings are actually a good thing.
  36. >The streets of the noble quarter are paved and constantly swept. But pervasive sand still plagues everything around. You cautiously breath through the piece of a white cloth around your nose.
  37. >Dozens of mares, decorated opulently, are going for their business. Stallions accompanying them are mostly dressed like you. Their faces and, especially, hindquarters are well hidden.
  38. >You walk among the splendid manors, huge administrative buildings and places of leisure. Their architecture reminds you about the Middle East of your own, most likely lost, homeworld.
  39. >On some spacious square you see a bizarre sight. Two corpses in the stocks. Due to the low humidity and high temperature they are not decomposing, but rather looking like unwrapped mummies.
  40. >There is a copious amount of heavy stones lying around them.
  41. "My noble mistress-"
  42. >You would never dare to call her 'Amira' when you two aren't alone in her private chamber.
  43. "-what's with these pair of unfortunate souls?"
  44. >Yes, you got to learn all this fancy oriental speak.
  45. >She casts a glance at the wooden plaque covered in incomprehensible scribbles.
  46. "Two harem stallions. Poor fools."
  47. >You gulp.
  48. "What have they done?"
  49. >She looks at you with a frown.
  50. "It is against nature and thus against the Divine Law if a male would mount a male, don't you know?"
  51. >You bow.
  52. "The Sky Mother above! Sometimes I wonder how so backwards and barbaric lands as yours could even exist. Your people aren't being taught even simplest of things!"
  53. >You bow again.
  54. >She sighs.
  55. "Yes, it's harsh, but necessary. If we would not fight the degeneracy, Shaitan would overwhelm the world with ruin and discord. You know the ancient legends."
  56. "Almost, my mistress. It is still hard for me to read the Saddle Script."
  57. >She pins her ears slightly.
  58. "You know, people usually would say that male doesn't need so much education. But you are the special case. Also I think that a stallion must at least understand the banner at the shop or menu in the mateam."
  59. >She spares the corpses another glance while you head away.
  60. "Most of the prudes would blame this atrocity on them alone. Or Shaitan. But in my personal opinion, huge part of the blame lays on their mistress as well."
  61. >Why yes! Your owner is somewhat famous for her rather equinistic worldview.
  62. >This of course doesn't mean that she would hesitate even a bit at political scheming.
  63. >Meanwhile you approach your destination. It's a manor, of course. But a rather ascetic one, in comparison to others. It looks like if an antique temple and a medieval fortress had a child.
  64. >Two guardmares greet you at the doorstep. They are typically ripe with muscles. Both shift their posture frequently.
  65. >Their light bargustuwān still must be quite uncomfortable in the heat of a late morning. They bow to Amira and open the door to let you in.
  66. >It looks like Amira knows the mistress of this house very well indeed.
  67. >Because she just freely goes straight to the study, after the steward mare tells that 'The mistress isn't occupied at the moment.'
  68. "Should I come as well?"
  69. >Ask you.
  70. "Yes. I would like to brag a bit."
  71. >Amira smiles, her ears forward.
  72.  
  73.  
  74.  
  75. >Amira opens the door with her nose and trots in, with you in a tow.
  76. >This study is vastly different from the one your owner has in her home.
  77. >Here the luxury manifests itself in rather harsh form.
  78. >There are multitude of bladed weapons mounted to a walls. Some of them made for mouthhold, some clearly made to be fixed to an armour. And some spears. Heavy rectangular spearheads on a thick shafts.
  79. >There are also pieces of said armour. Here's one that looks like it's made for the head, and this one for the torso. Also there is something for the legs.
  80. >Its lamellar scales are throughly polished and shine in the light of a magic lamp on the ceiling.
  81. >You do not know all the names for this pieces. But then again, you even don't know your own world's horse armor. All you know that this isn't a bargustuwān, the usual armor of guardmares.
  82. >It's something much more heavy and made to withstand an incomparably higher amount of punishment.
  83. >On the wall opposite from the door there is huge painting. It reminds you that time when you went to the museum, as a middle schooler.
  84. >The painting depicts some battle. There are tons of armoured horses fighting each other. And of course there isn't any single rider in the whole scene. It gives you uneasy feeling of weirdness.
  85. >Instead of some fancy pillows there is simple mat on the floor.
  86. >And a mare lying on the mat, besides the wide and low to the ground table.
  87. >She has braided mane and tail.
  88. >She is a bit larger than Amira and not just athletic, but a fucking amazonian.
  89. >Well, one needs to be, to wield this amount of steel from the wall collection.
  90. >She was holding a pen of some sort in her mouth and was writing something on a papyrus roll.
  91. >But when Amira opened the door, she spat the pen away and raised her head with a start.
  92.  
  93.  
  94. >"Oh, it's you, my dear Amira!" her voice is harsh and rather low.
  95. >She gets up and trots to both of you.
  96. >You bow deeply and freeze in this submissive pose. You wouldn't want to take your chances with this equine version of Rule 63ed king Leonidas from the 300.
  97. >Amira nuzzles her muzzle and both mares stand here for a bit, exchanging their breath.
  98. >You know that this is important and intimate gesture. Simple acquaintances would just nibble on each other's withers.
  99. >You remember that Amira did say she is a good friend of hers.
  100. >"Huh, so this is the exotic male you wrote me about?" asked the warrior mare when they finally disengaged.
  101. >"Yes, Alquswa. His name is Anon and he hails from the Sky-Mother knows-where."
  102. >Alquswa sniffs you, her ears indicating keen interest.
  103. >"Make him unbend"
  104. >You obey and stand straight again.
  105. >"Oh, he understands the people's language!"
  106. >"He's rather talented one, yes." says Amira. "Anon, I allow you to show your face to my friend."
  107. >You unwrap your head.
  108. >Alquswa looks at you intently. Then snorts in a thoughtful manner.
  109. >"He looks like an ape from Zebrica. Only they are savage, primitive and have a coat of fur like all honest folks."
  110. >"Well, this one is cultured enough. Says that he is from a 'very' far away lands. Has no idea how he ended up here. Eventually we will find out. Right, Anon?" Amira smiles at you.
  111. >Despite the heat of the room, you feel chill crawling up your spine.
  112. >It seems your origin story will need an expanding and soon. Amira values you, but she wouldn't allow mysteries other than her own in her home.
  113. >You bow to them.
  114. >"Well, OK then." Mistress of the house takes a large silver bell in her mouth and rings it.
  115. >Male servant comes to her call and bows, trying not to stare at you.
  116. >"Bring us a jug of date wine. And some glazed barley."
  117.  
  118.  
  119. ***
  120. >Both mares lay on the floor. Jug of a wine, chalices and two large bowls of some golden cereal between them.
  121. >Jug, of exquisite metalwork, looks like it has at least several gallons in it. How can a non-unicorn servant carry it is beyond your comprehension.
  122. >Bowls are the size of a small wash basin with a chalices to match.
  123. >You stand besides them with two large fans in each hand and wave them in a slow steady rhythm.
  124. >You stand naked, your wrappings lay in the corner. Amira 'allowed' this.
  125. >Well, she said she wanted to brag, after all.
  126. >Thankfully, you look like a healthy, somewhat athletic human.
  127. >All due to gym activities, mandatory for every harem stallion.
  128. >It's sure feels demeaning to stand disrobed and used like a sophisticated fan.
  129. >But in the same time, when you feel their appreciative glances, it's also strangely flattering.
  130. >Flattering to be aestetically pleasing and useful for this splendid females.
  131. 'Fucking place have messed with my head already!'
  132. >Think you.
  133. >"Well, I guess this front paws of his-"
  134. >"Hads I think it's called." remarked Amira.
  135. >"Yeah. They seem quite useful after all."
  136. >"You have no idea." smiles your misterss.
  137. >You feel that your ears and face reddens. Her smile is borderline sleazy.
  138. >Aluqswa looks at you yet again. Something in her gaze unsettles you.
  139. >"So, how was your journey to Canterlot, Alquswa. It was your first time there, wasn't it?" Amira changed the subject , sipping her wine.
  140. >Alquswa moves her ears a bit, musing on the question.
  141. >"You know, I' m slightly ashamed. Of course I read about it a lot. Still I thought nothing can compare to the splendor of our Dameascus. But this... I wasn't ready for this."
  142. >She takes a huge sip out of her chalice.
  143. >"That huge mountain, looks like it's about to pierce the sky! And the city itself: so much colours other than white and yellow, air is so fresh an cold! And the Royal Palace, it's like the Citadel of Heaven!"
  144. >Warrior mare paused with dreamy expression on her face.
  145. >"Have you seen Her?" asked Amira in a strange tone, half serious half teasing.
  146. >Alquswa drops her ears.
  147. >"Amira, I know where this is heading. Your family belongs to the denomination that believes Celestia is not just a prophet...".
  148. >"...But a physical manifestation of the Sky Mother Herself. True." Amira nods. "So, have you seen Her?"
  149. >"Yes."
  150. >"Aaaaaand?"
  151. >"Amira, I'm not sure anymore. I just don't know."
  152. >It's clear that warrior mare isn't used to be in doubt.
  153. >"You were right. Alicorn is a goddessly being. She radiates power. No matter what she does, even if she's just standing still it looks like an epic tale unfolds before your very eyes!"
  154. >Amira smiles.
  155. >"Equestria is the wealthiest and the most powerful equine nation in the world. We may be the cradle of the equine civilization, but they are currently the pillar of it. We must just accept this as a geopolitical axiom. Now you know why."
  156. >"Seems like it." Alquswa took the jug by the handle and poured some more of the dark and viscous liquid in her chalice.
  157. >"The Goddess wants equines to thrive, you know. It's a sign. They, Equestrians, are the sign." said Amira. "There is no harm for our pride in obeying Her will."
  158. >Alquswa nibbled on her own back, scratching an itch. You know that this is uncouth thing to do. So, the setting is a truly informal, despite all the serious talk.
  159. >"I guess you right." she agrees at last.
  160. >"I'm glad. There is new rotation of Foreign Affairs personnel soon. Military attaché included. I will offer you as a candidate. It will pass. Would you agree?" says Amira.
  161. >Alquswa looked her in a eye for a while.
  162. >"So, this is how things are, hmm? Yes, I won't let you down, my dear Amira."
  163. >"Thank you, my friend."
  164. >You have a feeling that there something's going on here. Like some fucking politics. The stuff, one better wouldn't know about.
  165.  
  166. >You sit on a pillow in your stall. Again.
  167. >It's supper time, so besides to the usual exotic fruits you got something more filling.
  168. >After the hotness of the day, during the evening hours digestion would work much better. So the aborigines seem to eat the most at the sunset.
  169. >You have a big (actually small by the local standards) bowl of oatmeal porridge. With a raisins, dried dates and profusely glazed with some jam.
  170. >Also fried eggs in tomato sause and, stangely enough, a Greek salad.
  171. >Locals usually just stick their muzzle into the bow. Only the most stuck up unicorns seem to use utensils. They also are the majority among the chefs, for obvious reasons.
  172. >But you managed to get yourself a spoon. It's silver, engraved with scribbles that you barely know how to read.
  173. >Something about 'blessing' and 'opulence'.
  174. >Thanks to the wealth of your patron you are not about to starve anytime soon. All this is a rather hearty course, even considering the lack of actual meat.
  175. >But you don't want to bring this topic up. Although horse people aren't too kind or skittish by any extent, they are clearly a herbivores. And a religious ones to boot.
  176. >Maybe for them eating meat is a 'sin' or something. You wouldn't want to end like the two unfortunate faggots in the stocks on the square.
  177. >But eggs, cheese and milk are apparently OK, so you are content with it.
  178. >For a drink you have a bowl of pomegranate juice. It's a bit tart, but tasty and refreshing.
  179. >Daily physical exertions give you a good appetite. So you finish everything quickly, and even lick the bowls and the spoon.
  180.  
  181.  
  182. >Door opens and a unicorn colt comes in.
  183. >He is a house servant, not a harem member. Also, not a slave, as far as you understand.
  184. >Technically, neither is you or the other two guys you go to the gym with. But the employment here usually seems to be much like an indenture. You wonder if a 'harem stud' can be considered an employment at all.
  185. >The colt takes everything on the floor with this weird telekinesis of his.
  186. "Hey, thanks for the help!"
  187. >You trying to be friendly and polite.
  188. >He looks at you with a peculiar expression.
  189. >"My pleasure." he answers in a quiet voice and then goes away with a cloud of tableware around his head.
  190. >You wonder whether your mistress is even properly married. And how the fuck local marriages work at all.
  191. >There is so much you don't know yet. And it's dangerous.
  192. >You decide to keep studying even harder.
  193. >The door opens once again. This time it's steward mare, Aami.
  194. >"Sayida expects you at her chambers."
  195. >Huh, this time without an 'Ape'? Must be in a very good mood!
  196. >You scramble at your feet and walk out of the stall.
  197. >"Do your best!" comes the voice from an adjacent stall. "Make sure to entertain the mistress well!"
  198. "Yeah, of course! Take care!"
  199. >You walk out into the corridor.
  200. >"Head to the chambers. You know where to go." says Aami.
  201. >How strange! She's not going to escort you? But you don't want to ask her anything. Better not.
  202.  
  203.  
  204. >You nod and begin to walk. She stands still, looking at your stall thoughtfully.
  205. >You take a turn, going out of her view and then stop. It's a late evening already, so there is nobody in the halls to see you.
  206. >You wait a bit.
  207. >And then carefully go back. Your feet give you one huge advantage - they don't clop over the marble floor.
  208. >You peek over the corner.
  209. >And observe Aami going in the other stallion's stall.
  210. >The door closes. Minute goes by minute, but she still doesn't go out.
  211. >Then you hear a muffled snort, some shuffling and heavy breathing.
  212. >Oh...
  213. >You let go of the wall and walk away.
  214. "So, poaching in the royal forest, huh?" you mutter quietly.
  215. >What if you just go and tell everything to Amira?
  216. >Would be a nice payback for the 'Ape' and the other bullshit.
  217. >You continue your walk, entertaining this thought.
  218. >Would serve the bitch right! Lady of the house is rather possessive of what she considers as hers.
  219. >And then, suddenly, you remember the square. The stocks. The corpses. Dried blood. Heavy rancid smell floating through the hot unmoving air.
  220. >You stop on your tracks.
  221. "No." you whisper.
  222. >You are too kind for your own good, Anon.
  223.  
  224. >You hurry to Amira's chambers. After a couple of minutes of walking you find yourself standing before it's the ornate door.
  225. >You knock, trying to be not to loud.
  226. "May I come in, my Lady?"
  227. >"Yes, you may. Why would I call you only to make you stay in the hall?" she snorts in a 'those silly stallions' way.
  228. >The door slides to the side, obeying your hand.
  229. >Dim light illuminates the room. The large crystals on the walls glow in a soft, mysterious way.
  230. >Amira lays on the huge and expensive carpet of extreme softness. Ever present fruits and wine before her.
  231. >In a slow motion you remove your bedsheet. You know the drill.
  232. >She raises to her hooves and approaches you. And then plants her soft velvet nose right into your side, taking a long whiff.
  233. >Amira gives you a long slow lick. From the abdomen all the way to the cheek. You shudder. Air is warm but her tongue is much warmer.
  234. >She nuzzles your face while you begin to carefully caress her shoulders.
  235. >"Mmm, I like your smell. It's so similar and yet so different. So exotic!"
  236. >"And your bare skin. It's tender like a silk. I like how salty it is. Like the finest salt from the the Dead Lakes." she almost purrs.
  237. >You remain silent. It's she who should talk. Compliment you. Tell you how amazing you are. Conquer you with her gentleness. Make you flustered. Make you feel desirable and exceptional.
  238. >Because she is a mare, and you are male. She is a mistress of the world by the Divine Law and a mating is her way to generously share with you at least a little bit of this power. By briefly making you to be one with her...
  239. 'All this is extremely perverse stuff. But, there is sure something fascinating in it.'
  240. >You think, while slowly caressing her coat and receiving fancy oriental compliments.
  241.  
  242. >Yeah, this place is creeping in you.
  243. >For a moment you feel a chilling fear, but the hot breath of your mistress drives it away.
  244. >By the way, your erection is showing.
  245. >She takes the jug of wine with her teeth and pours some right on your dick. It's low on alcohol, so you only feel a funny, a tad tingly feeling.
  246. >Amira gives it a through licking.
  247. >As you heard, there is no consensus among the mares if it's becoming or unbecoming of them to go down on a male. So everyone are acting according to their own consideration.
  248. >And some are more considerate than others it seems.
  249. >When you almost cannot take it anymore, she stops.
  250. >And pivots on the spot, raising her tail.
  251. >She winks at you, without turning her head.
  252. >You see how a wet trail running from her slit down her left hind leg shimmers slightly in a dim light that fills the room.
  253. >"Come hither. Let me devour you." she says in a hoarse tone.
  254. >You throw a couple of pillows one on another and climb on the pile.
  255. >She backs up at you.
  256. >You put your arms around her, embracing her generous rump.
  257. >And stick it in.
  258. >Comparing to the heat of her nethers surrounding air feels chilly.
  259. >Despite her size, she fits you like a glove.
  260. >Back at home, some people claimed that a horse pussy is the best pussy. And this world's proving their point to be undeniable.
  261.  
  262. >You pump your hips, fucking her in a varying pace.
  263. >You keenly observe her ears to know when and how you should change your movements.
  264. >Being a man of a formidable self control, you manage to hold it for almost ten minutes.
  265. >Amira grunts and contracts her vaginal muscles so hard that you feel crushed.
  266. >You grasp onto her hips, pulling her (or to be more precise, yourself) closer.
  267. >And fill her with your seed. Good thing you two have different number of chromosome pairs!
  268. >She holds you in a place for a while, savoring the afterglow. At last, her greedy and demanding vagina lets you go.
  269. >You slip away with a slight 'plop'.
  270. >Amira nuzzles you. Then she pushes on your shoulder with her head, forcing you down.
  271. >And lays down herself, resting her head onto your crossed legs. You slowly caress her face, scratching her between the ears. She snorts, completely content.
  272. >Yes, apparently you a rather valuable member of her harem.
  273. >Back on Earth, eighteen centimeters is long. But in the magical world of Equus eighteen seconds is long.
  274. >And ten minutes is thirty times that.
  275. ***
  276. >It's gym time again.
  277. >You and two other stallions are in a spacious palestra, surrounded by a various fitness equipment.
  278. >There is also a narrow but fairly deep pool here.
  279. >The stallions take turns swimming back and forth in the pool, while you run on a treadmill.
  280. >"Say, Anon, do the mares of your species are like you?" asks one of them.
  281. "No, they do not have a dick."
  282. >Answer you, not looking away from a hourglass indicating how long you should run.
  283. >Stallions laugh. Readily and merrely.
  284. >"I mean they also don't have any fur and stuff?"
  285. "Of course."
  286. >"That's surreal, dude. Imagine a mare not having any fur! All bold just like her faraj. Eh, Ahmed?"
  287. >"I sure can't, Ajmal." says the other stallion.
  288. >They are rather young. Barely out of being colts.
  289. >Ahmed is a regular horse, while Ajmal is a unicorn. Less stocky and more graceful.
  290. >"I mean, even the goddessdamned griffins, may the Sky Mother render them infertile, have a fur."
  291. >"Do not swear, it's unbecoming of a proper boy." Ahmed frowns.
  292. >You smile.
  293. "They also have teats right here-"
  294. >You point at your chest. Their expressions become a mix of wonder and disgust.
  295. "-and some are this big"
  296. >Your hands show an approximation of a J-cup.
  297. >Ahmed just shakes his head in disbelief.
  298. >"Aww, I wouldn't mind teats that big." Ajmal's expression changes to a dreamy one.
  299.  
  300.  
  301. >"Mommy's boy." mutters Ahmed. "If a mare would ever let you, you would just suckle and suckle, never getting to the business."
  302. >"You wouldn't believe how-" Ajmal begins with impetuosity.
  303. >Ahmed looks at him and pins his ears.
  304. >Other young stallion falls silent.
  305. >Of course Ahmed knows about the fact that Ajmal gets it on with a strongmare. But says nothing about it, ever.
  306. >You stay quiet about the matter as well.
  307. >Aami is a bitch, but you'll manage. You wouldn't want other horse dude to end up executed as well. Male solidarity, dammit!
  308. >"It's ok, Ajmal. I too miss my family." says Ahmed. He's trying to disarm the situation.
  309. >"She was strict, that's true. Like a proper mother should be. But the time when she nursed me and my brothers was the best time of a day." tells Ajmal, with a shy smile.
  310. >"You would just stay quiet and suckle. And she would gently brush you with her tail to chase the insects away."
  311. >"Her milk was divine..." he concludes with a longing in his voice.
  312. >Hourglass runs out and you step down from a treadmill.
  313. >"Hey, Anon. Do you miss your mother too?"
  314. >You make an indefinite sad face. You really do not want to talk about it.
  315. "How did you guys end up in the harem?".
  316. >You divert the conversation.
  317. >"I won a pageant once." says Ahmed. "Lady Amira was a jury chairmare. My mother was so proud of her offer, she accepted on the spot.
  318. >"We are just a mediocre merchant family. It have raised our prestige immensely. Dad have cried a bit, but was proud of me as well."
  319.  
  320.  
  321. "And you, Ajmal?"
  322. >"I'm a country pony. Mother has a few daughters and a bunch of sons. None of her other siblings are herding with us, as she is the youngest daughter of the grandmother."
  323. >"Our family is leasing a plot of land, like others do. Sisters are studying. Mom's trying to get enough money to arrange them to a proper Madrasa. Only dumb brutemares go to the army, she says."
  324. >You can't help yourself but think about Aami.
  325. >"Daddy and bros are working on a land alongside her. " continues Ajmal.
  326. >"Mom likes to cite an ancient proverb about stallions being only good for plowing fields and 'plowing fields.' Still, didn't stop her from falling for a unicorn. Dad tells she did pay a hefty price for him to his family."
  327. >You descend into a pool and begin to swim while listening to him.
  328. >"Other bros are of the Earth kind. But the Sky Mother decided I should take it after my father. So I'm a unicorn too."
  329. >You somewhat know about the three main 'races', although you've never seen a pegasus yet.
  330. >"There were a huge drought two years ago. "
  331. "In a desert?" you ask, being genuinely puzzled.
  332. >"They are from the part of the country that has fertile lands, obviously." snorts Ahmed.
  333. >"Kinsponies couldn't help us, as they were screwed in a similar fashion. So Mother was forced to take a loan or whatever it's called."
  334. >"Still, there wasn't a good enough harvest to return the money."
  335.  
  336.  
  337. >"So mother took me and we went all the way to the Dameascus. There is this thing here, called 'a stud fair' colo-, colo-, erm, colo-qui-ally."
  338. >He beamed, proud that he managed to add some fancy word to a conversation.
  339. >"Families take their excessive sons there, primp them up and try to peddle them to some wealthy mare.
  340. >"I was the cutest of all my brothers, being unicorn and all."
  341. >"Mother tried to hide tears all the way to the capital. She was always saying that I'm the copy of my father when he was young. Her favorite. And here was how it all ended."
  342. >You exit the pool and stand along with a unicorn. You battle the urge to hug or pet him, out of compassion.
  343. >Ahmed doesn't have any of your preconceptions and begins to gently nibble on Ajmal's withers.
  344. >"Lady Amira was strolling there that day. She asked mother why she was so sad. They've talked for a bit. Lady Amira made her admit the huge debt."
  345. >"She took me. Long after this I've learned that a mahr she gave for me was exact amount of gold needed to repay the debt."
  346. >"She said something like 'No mother should be forced to sell her sons' back then."
  347. >He sniffed.
  348. >"I am so ashamed."
  349. ***
  350. >You sit in your stall and look at the ceiling.
  351. >It's the first time since you've got here that you get this feeling.
  352. >All too familiar feeling from your previous life.
  353. >This several months you were in the 'learn, adapt and survive' mode, full on.
  354. >You've been just collecting and analyzing data, sorting facts for further use.
  355. >But now, when your life became comparatively stable, the reflexion finally got you.
  356. >It's like post-colledge years all over again. When you have realized that world is shit, and you can do absolutely nothing about it.
  357. >Who would have thought, that a different world would be so similar to your own!
  358. >At least it seems that nobody here is trying to hide behind sweet lies about some 'progress' and whatnot. They just live as is.
  359. >The story of a young country colt being sold as colttoy, because otherwise his other siblings and parents would be ALL sold as a redemption for a debt. It was the last horseapple that caused a manureslide.
  360. >You thought that you and others aren't slaves, but now...
  361. >You feel a surge of ruth and fear.
  362. >The door opens. It's your turn again.
  363. >"Sayida expects you, Ape."
  364. >You smile.
  365. "Of course, m'lady. I'll go right away!"
  366. >Aami's ears dancing a dance, indicating surprise. It seems that you control your facial expression pretty well after all.
  367. >"Good. Now go."
  368. >You go, and then stop behind the corner. Door to Ajmal's stall have this distinctive sound to it...
  369. >Oh, here it is! Clopping of hooves and Ajmal's stall opening.
  370. >Maybe she reminds him of his mother.
  371. >Old man Freud would have voluntarily sold himself here and brought a five ton truck of notebooks along with him.
  372. >You continue your walk and then knock at the familiar door of Amira's bedchamber.
  373.  
  374.  
  375. "Anon have come as you wished, my noble mistress"
  376. >"You may enter." Amira answers in an amused tone.
  377. >You go in, and her ears jump forward in attention.
  378. >She looks at you for some time.
  379. >"Come here, sit with me"
  380. >You walk up to her and lower yourself at the carpet.
  381. >"You seem upset, Anon. Most upset. What is the matter?"
  382. >Crap. You could fool a former military brute, but Amira is an experienced high ranked courtier. This challenge have impossible bluff checks, even if you have an unmovable ears.
  383. >Play the game or show the belly?
  384. >"Anon, Aami is a honest mare. Calling you by the name would be a wound for her pride, as her social status is higher than yours. You are an adult being, you should've understood. She just calls you what you seem to her."
  385. >So she knows about the Ape.
  386. >You look at her trying to concentrate on her forehead, to not look in the eyes.
  387. >She sighs.
  388. >Then softly nuzzles your face.
  389. >"Yes, I know it is also something else on your mind."
  390. "Well, we've talked recently. Me and boys-, erm colts. Ajmal told me his story..."
  391. >"I see. You are a compassionate one, Anon. It's inherently good trait. But you also should've learned by now, that it takes guts to have a kind heart in a rough world."
  392. >"His life here is comfortable and devoid of dangers, besides those which would be results of his own foolishness."
  393. >She speaks right in your ear. Her breath smells like a lavender. Probably her mouthwash. You gulp and work up the courage.
  394. "Lady Amira, do you think slavery is a right thing?"
  395. >Her ears shift back, she stands up and stomps.
  396. >"By the Goddess, no! And you better not speak this word out loud!"
  397. >Screwed? Screwed!
  398. >But Amira gets ahold of herself rather quick. She lays back by your side.
  399. >"Slavery is strictly prohibited. It's a sin. A deadly sin. "
  400. "I'm sorry, my lady. I still don't know much about this lands and when I listened to them and heard the word 'sold'..."
  401.  
  402.  
  403. >"Anon, for the love of the Goddess! Even if some say this coloqially..."
  404. >She pauses.
  405. >"We all may be of different social status, but our ethereal status is the same. One cannot own those who bear the spark of Her Eternal Flame! It's would be akin to claiming ownership over Her herself!"
  406. >You bow. All this isn't awfully convincing. But surprising nevertheless. You decide to continue the wordfight when you'll have more information.
  407. >"Oh, come here, Anon."
  408. >She pushes you with her head and make you fall onto her back.
  409. >"Let's embrace, and make warmth of Her light inside us chase away the cold of everyday problems!"
  410. > You hug her barrel, reveling in the warmth and spicy smell of her coat. You fight the feeling for some time, but then give up and let comfiness pacify you.
  411. >"I love how you can hug with all your body, like this. It's most pleasant."
  412. >"Aside from you, only a griffin would be able to do it like this, but an embrace with a griffin would mean that one is about to die." She snorts.
  413. >You both are being silent for a while.
  414. >"Hey, Anon."
  415. "Yes, lady Amira?"
  416. >"Tell me some tale".
  417. "A tale, my lady?"
  418. >"Yes. Any that you happen to know."
  419. >What would she mean by this? What tale could you tell her?
  420. >Perhaps you need something thematic. You curse yourself for not knowing much of 'Arabian Nights', it would be appropriate. Still, there is one tale...
  421.  
  422.  
  423.  
  424. "Very well, my lady. This one I've heard long ago, during my childhood. If I remember right..."
  425. >Would a magical fairy tale be any good in the land of magic?
  426. "Once upon a time in a distant land, that looked like yours here, only a males was in charge instead of females, there was an improvished young ma- mmmm, male who lived at the marketplace..."
  427. >Yes, you tell her the story about Aladdin and the lamp. Original, not the Disney's adaptation.
  428. >She listens carefully, never saying anything. Well, aside from a laugh or a giggle, especially when you talk about how men are being in power one way or another. She is being all about the ear play and mimic.
  429. >At last, evil sorcerer is slain and Aladdin resides in his palace.
  430. >"That was rather entertaining. Thank you, Anon. Tales of the distant lands always make one think and reflect on many things, that otherwise have became mundane."
  431. "I'm glad you liked it, lady Amira."
  432. >She nods and then yawns.
  433. >"It is late, though."
  434. >You make a motion to get up from her back.
  435. "Should I be going, my lady?"
  436. >"No, stay here with me."
  437. >Well, that's new!
  438. "As you wish."
  439. >"Make yourself comfortable."
  440. >You slide from her back and curl up between her front and hind legs, resting your head on her side.
  441. >Sliding into the dream you note how much you apparently enjoy sleeping while not being alone.
  442.  
  443. ***
  444. >You sit in your stall. Again.
  445. >Aside from the gym or walks in a large patio it's your main location.
  446. >As per custom, you and your harem buddies are forbidden from coming to each other's stalls. Probably to prevent faggotry, as you suspect.
  447. >At least you can converse with them during other activities, and over a wall. They are okay guys, but a bit dim at times. Blame the simplistic upbringing, like with medieval girls of your own world.
  448. >You smile at that thought, while reading a scrollbook - several scrolls attached to a common stem.
  449. >This one is a foal's fairy tale. About a brave filly who have outwitted the greedy minions of Shaitan and tricked them into killing each other over the guarded treasure.
  450. >And then got back to her family, taking only amount of gold enough to buy a new blanket for her cute little brother for his birthday. Unknowingly, her pure intentions saved her from triggering an anti-greed curse.
  451. >Something has changed. After your outburst about slavery Amira became more attentive to you. She began to further teach you how to read, and even write.
  452. >You've got to read more complex texts, like a fairy tale here.
  453. >And she makes you write a dictations. Like in a middle school.
  454. >To be honest, you begin to feel better since.
  455. >This gives your brain something constructive to do, instead of just being in alarm mode for the most of the time.
  456. >Tales give some valuable insight about the local culture, customs and general way of thinking.
  457. >You somewhat warmed up to the horse folk in general. They are just living beings that exist in a rough world, live a life how they understand it and try not to die.
  458. >Although you wonder, if reading even more complex works, philosophical texts or legal documents in the future will shift your opinion.
  459. >Your internal chronometer suggests that most likely there is sunset already. And you decide to take a walk before the supper. You are allowed to do this.
  460. >Taking the scroll you head through the marble halls to the back exit, which leads to the patio.
  461. >It's doors are open by the day, but closed and guarded in the night.
  462. >The patio itself is rectangular in plan and rather spacious. Many citrus and date trees produce the comfortable shade.
  463. >There are a few marble statues around, of a statuesque stallions, although their 'weapons' are sheathed.
  464. >Also, there is a fountain in the center. It's a statue of a rearing mare with a water gushing out of her bronze vagina in a large basin, an allegory of life-giving femininity most likely.
  465. >Pigeons and sparrows sit on the edge of a basin, drinking water and bickering with each other.
  466. >Convenient unicorn shit-cleaning magic ensures pristine conditions of the surroundings despite the feathery population.
  467. >You can't help but smile, looking at the birds. They are identical to the ones from the home. Their presence bring you a warm feeling.
  468. >You remember how they largely contributed to your mental health back when you just recently got here. Their looks and familiar sounds they made provided a much needed sense of normalcy.
  469. >Back when you was an average city dweller, you mostly ignored other living things other than humans. Now, you've began to appreciate wonders of the living nature much more strongly.
  470. >Suddenly you hear voices!
  471. >It's Amira and some other mare. They are hidden from you, much like you are from them, by the bulk of the fountain.
  472. >You wonder if you should make your presence known. As always, a quiet motion with a lack of clopping makes you rather discreet.
  473. >"That was a heated debate, for sure." says the unknown mare.
  474. >"What's needed to be done have been done." Amira answers. "One cannot eat the gold. Somepony needn't to be of an Earth kind to understand this. "
  475. >You decide to quietly crouch near the fountain and unfold the scrollbook as if you just wanted to read surrounded by a fresh air.
  476. >"I agree, that's why I was on your side. But admit, the draft law brought by the Ruling Mother resembled heavily what you've been saying for a while." says the other.
  477. >"The wisdom of the Ruling Mother is to assemble the whole picture from many opinions of her advisers and then apply her own discretion. She chose what she deemed right and effective."
  478. >"No doubt about this, may the Goddess bless her."
  479. >There is a pause, filled with a clanking of a half-full pitcher. Mares love their date wine.
  480. >"I'm glad that we've made it." Amira speaks again. "A farmer cannot be productive when she's fighting the weather from the front while being wary of her own compatriots. Who are trying to make her go bankrupt with an interest rate."
  481. >"It makes a country vulnerable to an embargo or a disruption of a trade due to a war. We can, and should support and rely on our domestic growers. As a military mare I will always stand by this." agrees the other one.
  482. >A pitcher clanks some more.
  483. >"It is late though. I should be going." says the military mare. "My girls probably already lost all their money, playing dice with your guards."
  484. >"Till the next council session, noble Alshijae. And not forget about my proposal regarding the military attache to Equestria."
  485. >"Rest easy, noble Amira. Although I would rather prefer captain Alquswa to stay and lead the Immortals, I'll honor your wish and shall vote for her."
  486. >Hearing heavy steps you shift slightly, so basin still conceals you from the observation.
  487. >And get a glimpse of a usual amazonian military type, heading through the doorway out of the patio.
  488. >Meanwhile Amira circles fountain from the other side, immediately running into you.
  489.  
  490. >You sit near the fountain, frozen in place.
  491. >Amira looks at you. Her ears forward yet.
  492. >"Anon? Didn't know you were here."
  493. >Her tone is neutral. But that means nothing.
  494. "I am sorry, my lady. There was too hot in the stall, and the heat forced me to seek a more comfortable place to read."
  495. >"Is that so? And what you happen to read, Anon?"
  496. "One of the books you gave me, my lady."
  497. >"Do you understand everything? Need any explanation?"
  498. "I understand more or less everything, lady Amira. Thanks to your great talent as a teacher!"
  499. >She steps closer, lowering her head to look in the scroll.
  500. >You sense a faint trace of wine aroma.
  501. >"Oh, that story."
  502. >You nod.
  503. >"It has a great moral, Anon."
  504. "Without a doubt, my lady."
  505. >"Sure. But what exactly?"
  506. >What she means by that?
  507. >She looks you straight in the eyes. You try to collect yourself.
  508. "That greed leads to a disaster, my lady?"
  509. >"That greed kills. That every time you get something, you should stop for moment and think 'Is it absolutely necessary?'. Because if you would just follow along the gain, like a goat follows a grass path, it could lead you to the lion who would tear you."
  510. >She is onto something, she always is. Could she possibly be referring to a gain of information that is too much for your ears?
  511. >Playing spy games with the mistress of secrets might have been a wrong idea.
  512. >You purse your lips sternly. You have been in fear for so long you became desensitized. You just got used to it.
  513. >But her ears remain forward while she's talking.
  514. >She looks at your face again, and then smiles.
  515. >"Yes, just like that, Anon. I admit, though I am sorry, but I enjoy this grim expression of yours. It's like if clay mask cracks, providing a glimpse at the true face of the one who wears it."
  516. >She turns to the fountain and nuzzles the water, then strikes with her muzzle. Splashes fly in the air, showering her face and your back.
  517.  
  518.  
  519. >"We had a debate today. During the council session. On a topic somewhat related to this tale's moral."
  520. >"Goddess be praised, the Ruling Mother did heed to our arguments. Changes in the policy aren't any revolting, for now. But entire sectors of economy would fetch a sigh in a long run."
  521. >You allow yourself to relax. So, you didn't hear anything forbidden after all.
  522. >"You remember, aren't you? The Ajmal's story?"
  523. >You bow in agreement.
  524. >"Thanks to the new law the 'Stud Fair' could become obsolete one day."
  525. >Meanwhile the sun sets. Evening dusk takes ahold of scenery. Nighttime insects begin to play their tune. Magic lamps suspended from the branches illuminate area with a warm gentle yellowish glow.
  526. >Your stomach growls.
  527. >"It's long past the supper time." says Amira. "Let's go."
  528. >You begin to raise from the floor.
  529. >Gust of the fresh night wind shuffles the leaves and makes Amira's mane flutter.
  530. >"Although, my precious," she begins thoughtfully "maybe you would like to eat here, in the cool? I'll call the servants."
  531. >Her idea sounds good. Too good, actually.
  532. "My lady, would it be to your liking if you call Ahmed and Ajmal as well? Wouldn't it be too selfish for me to enjoy the meal in the the patio, while they would eat theirs in the stalls, that aren't yet cooled after the day?"
  533. >Amira laughs.
  534. >"You wouldn't want them to think you have become the 'favourite husband'?" she asks in a teasing tone.
  535. >Well, that too.
  536. >You show an eager smile, as if you got the joke.
  537. >She walks to the doors and takes the bell laying on the table.
  538. >Unicorn servant appears at the doorstep after a few moments.
  539. >"Set the table for the four, Zarif. I wish to eat here, with my stallions."
  540. >He bows and retreats back into the manor.
  541.  
  542.  
  543. ***
  544. >You sit by the table, legs crossed in the oriental manner. Earth oriental, of course.
  545. >Amira lays opposite from you, on the 'north pole' of the oval dinner table. Ajmal and Ahmed are to the left and right.
  546. >Supper is as opulent as always.
  547. >There is some omelet with a cheese and vegetables, mainly the eggplant by the looks of it.
  548. >Then some dish made of cooked rice, carrots, dates and apples with a hint of a lemon.
  549. >And the most unreal one -- a bowl of walnuts, raisins, sliced cucumbers (!) and some spicy green grass, all drowning in a cold sour milk.
  550. >It's a wonder how much of a feast locals can prepare without even a trace of a meat. Or a fish. Every single time.
  551. >But food is inevitably tasty and healthy.
  552. >Only things you couldn't eat out of the entire local ration are the unprocessed grains, like barley or oats.
  553. >You still shudder, remembering the pale yellow spikes of the whole oats bristled menacingly at you out of the sack.
  554. >And the raw fodder grass, obviously. Lucerne and sinfoin are out of question.
  555. >But, according to your 'brothers in harem', this things are the poor horse's lot anyway.
  556. 'Goddess bless the wealth of my mistress!'
  557. >You freeze at this thought, the spoon halfway to your mouth.
  558. 'I begin to think like one of the locals. Dammit!'
  559. >Perplexed and angry at yourself, you focus on your food.
  560. >Meanwhile others are engaged in a lively conversation.
  561. >Colts are exchanging gossip they heard from the servants.
  562. >Amira laughs, full of mirth, at their stories and comments. And in the turn tells them something out of her experience.
  563. >You have a gut feeling that she uses rather simplified and tame versions of the actual events.
  564.  
  565.  
  566. >"I'm so glad we gathered together!" says Ahmed in meantime.
  567. >"Verily!" agrees Ajmal. "It's so boring and depressing to always eat alone."
  568. >"Why didn't you tell me, o splendor of my eye?" asks Amira with a friendly smile "I would've been happy to share a meal with my dear colt!"
  569. >Ajmal visibly flinched. His ears dropped in embarrassment.
  570. >"I'm sorry, my lady." he answers in a whisper. "I was afraid that you'd be angry at me. For complaining."
  571. >Amira looks confused.
  572. >"The Divine White Mare as my witness!" she exclaims, out of habit raising her eyes to the sunless night sky "I wouldn't be angry, my dear. What gave you this idea?"
  573. >"Well... It's just..." Ajmal fidgets in a place
  574. >Amira encourages him with the ear play.
  575. >"I mean, you are so grand! So marely!"
  576. >You look at Amira's gracious and slender figure.
  577. >Her handsome but imperious face.
  578. >Yeah, she knows how to look intimidating without being a heap of horsepower.
  579. >"You always seem so preoccupied with some important business and such..." Ajmal mumbles.
  580. >"My problems must be just so insignificant..."
  581. >Amira sighs.
  582. >"My dear Ajmal. I chose you to be by my side. You are a part of my household. And everything that happens with you concerns me."
  583. >Her voice is gentle but still somewhat stern.
  584. >"However, you aren't a little colt anymore. You are a stallion now and should know the way to externalize your emotions in a meaningful way. It's a key for any herd to stay healthy and thriving." finishes Amira and dives into her bowl of sour cream soup-salad hybrid to take a huge sip.
  585. >"Silly Ajmal." Ahmed begins quetily. " I told you, Lady Amira is the head of one of the most well-born and influential families in the country. This comes with a burden."
  586. >"If she doesn't smile at you it doesn't mean she doesn't love you, for her life isn't easy. A good stallion should know how to support a mare like her and make her feel at home. Make her forget her concerns at least for some time..."
  587. >"It's alright, Ahmed." says Amira. "I understand him."
  588.  
  589.  
  590. >"I promise you Ajmal, we will talk about this in detail shortly."
  591. >She smiles at him in a charming marely manner.
  592. >"Now, tell us what made dinners back home so wonderful, if you want."
  593. >"Back home, it was always together. Mom would gather us all. Sisters, father, brothers... We would eat out of the same bowl, chat, laugh together!" Ajmal opens the floodgate of words.
  594. >"Each one would tell if something ails him or her. And mother always would advice something. And father would gently comfort you-" he staggered for a moment. "-one." He inhales.
  595. >"Sisters wouldn't dare to try and fight each other over some marely matter in mom's presence. After a dinner they would just lay in a pile along with us, colts, and listen to the father. He tells wonderful fairy tales..." he trailed off, dreamy look on his face.
  596. >Amira looked at Ahmed. He bows.
  597. >"Our home in the merchant district is decently sized one. We have rooms for everyone. But we also always gathered for a dinner, every weekend." he talks in his calm, deep voice.
  598. >"Mother would lay on the carpet and both fathers would rest their heads atop her back. And we, the foals, would lay flank to flank, sticking our muzzles into the bowl."
  599. >"And then mom would begin to talk about finances and trade so our daredevil sister would think about the business at least a bit..."
  600. >You realize that gazes of the three others somehow focused on you.
  601. >It seems that the storytime is imminent and unavoidable.
  602. >Oh, well.
  603. "I haven't known my father. And mom isn't one to talk much. So I mostly did stick to my room and pla- weeeell... Read the books! I used to eat- ehm- something from the vendor. "
  604. >"You've been a sole foal?" asks Ahmed with astonishment.
  605. "Yeah. Sorry, my childhood may sound a bit boring..."
  606. >Colts look at you with genuine compassion.
  607. >"You know..." begins Amira suddenly and you all look at her. "This all made me think. About how much a noble lifestyle deviated from what the Goddess would want for Her foals."
  608.  
  609.  
  610. >"Not being constantly among and with one's kin is a travesty, more so for somebody of an Earth kind."
  611. Noting the confused expressions of two colts, she immediately retreats.
  612. >"Nevermind, my darlings."
  613. >"Thank you very much Anon, for your idea to bring us all together."
  614. >"Yes, it was him who offered the communal supper." she answers the unspoken question, and the colts yet again look at you with a warm expression.
  615. >You are trying to discern what's on her mind.
  616. >Amira looks at the three of you, one after another and you can see some strange longing in her gaze.
  617. >Ajmal acts first. He lunges towards her, nuzzles her neck and clings to her.
  618. >Ahmed follows second, resting his head on top of her, clearly imitating his father(s).
  619. >You also stand up, walk to the pile and hug Amira.
  620. >You look at her face and the one question bugs you.
  621. 'Is it possible to fake tears so big?'
  622.  
  623. ***
  624. >It's your turn again.
  625. >You cuddle with your mistress.
  626. >After a session of lovemaking and the formidable feats of stamina displayed by you.
  627. >You hug her neck and nuzzle her mane. Her perfectly groomed coat smells nice and comforting.
  628. >She let's out series of satisfied snorts and slightly nips on your shoulder.
  629. >You aren't surprised anymore about how much in fact you long for a hug or a cuddle.
  630. >Back home you seemingly didn't care for the physical contact. You weren't obsessed with the personal space like some humans, but neither was you the one to rush for a hug.
  631. >Last time you hugged someone was probably in the middle school.
  632. >But in the horseland you discovered that hugs are actually addictive.
  633. >The warmth, the closeness of another living being, the secure and cozy feeling...
  634. >Well, at least since you've learned to be a little bit more relaxed around Amira.
  635. >Nowadays she almost ceased her questioning about your origins. She only asks for a fairy tale from time to time. And you feed her with some you know.
  636. >She seems to genuinely value her small stud farm.
  637. >After all you've understood so far about this part of the world you've got into, you also have understood that she is somewhat a 'good guy'. Like a 'good guy' from some ancient old fashioned book from the pre-PC world.
  638.  
  639.  
  640. >"I was thinking, Anon..." she suddenly speaks right into your ear, which seems to be a habit of hers.
  641. "About what, lady Amira?"
  642. >"About some dish for our dinners to emphasize that we are together. That we are the herd."
  643. >Your idea to eat together gained popularity. She, you and the other two colts begin to gather in a patio on a regular basis. Everyone seem to be enthusiastic about it, and you aren't complaining either.
  644. >Although you begin to feel slight worry, if your mistress would want to establish communal breeding sessions as well. Some would say that a horse orgy is a rad stuff, but in your opinion it would be rather excessive.
  645. "Do you have something particular on your mind, my lady?"
  646. >"There is this traditional rural dish, that is to be eaten by all from an one bowl. Mixed grains, salted and steamed..."
  647. >You shudder, imagining pike-like whole oats and stone-like barley.
  648. >"...but it would make you sick, so no."
  649. >You let out a sigh of relief.
  650. >"So I wanted to ask you, is there any dish from your home, that used for the communal dinners? Something that makes everyone to bring their muzzles together?"
  651. >You make a face full of thoughts.
  652. >Back in your homeworld, an age when a huge family would sit on a wooden bench and eat out of one huge pot was at least a century apart from you.
  653. >And almost all the variations of a pot would include meat.
  654. >Although...
  655. "I think I know one dish that would do the trick, lady Amira."
  656.  
  657.  
  658. ***
  659. >You stand before the main door, wrapped into your protective clothing. This time along with your horse 'brothers in arms'.
  660. >Aami, who changed out of her blanket into the light armor, opens the door and steps out. You three follow her in a column formation, like ducklings.
  661. >Another guard mare joins you outside, this time an unicorn.
  662. >She takes the rearguard and your group begin to walk towards the gates of the noble quarter.
  663. >At this time there are few nobles at the gate. It's mainly servants who hurry in and out, going for their errands.
  664. >They prudently make way for your party, seeing the colors of Amira's house on the armor of your armed escort.
  665. >You are going to the bazaar! Honest to goodness oriental bazaar!
  666. >Wide paved road leads you to the merchant district.
  667. >You cast glances at Ahmed, who trots in front of you. You remember that he hails from there.
  668. >Thick veil hides his face, but judging by the ears he is just attentive and not excited that much.
  669. >Buildings here aren't that opulent and grandiose like in the noble quarter. Many among them are just borderline shabby.
  670. >There are many four or even five store blocky houses, intertwined with multitude of clotheslines.
  671. >Drying halters, blankets and bedware are hanging from it causing artificial rain to fall down.
  672. >Your group, however, walks in the exact middle of the street, avoiding it entirely.
  673. >Many other ponies would like to do the same, it seems. But the street is not enough for all the passerby. So they are forced to soak their coats, not daring to dispute your right of pass, reinforced by the two armed soldiers.
  674. >"Keep going, colts! Do not stall. It's not the most pleasant part of the district." says Aami.
  675.  
  676.  
  677. >She bends her neck and sligtly nips distracted Ajmal. He startles and hurries after the amazon headmare.
  678. "Have you lived in a place like this?" you ask Ahmed.
  679. >"No. In a much more wealthy household, on the other side of the marketplace." he replies in his deep baritone.
  680. >"Here is the place for shop clerks, loaders and the like."
  681. >You look around once again and notice a group of unicorns levitating some bulky crate. Strangely enough, the group consists of a mare and the three stallions.
  682. "I thought city stallions stay home."
  683. >"Some do, some don't." says unicorn guardmare, walking behind your back. She ogles the male loaders. Most likely trying to discern shape of their rump through the veil of gray cloth.
  684. >Workmare visibly flinches, but the sight of polished lamellar scales and a long curved blade makes her to drop the gaze.
  685. >"Not everyone is so wealthy to allow half of the family to sit on their hindquarters doing nothing." adds Ahmed.
  686. >After some more walking you arrive at the marketplace.
  687. >You stand and gawk.
  688. >It's the fucking kaleidoscope of colors and shapes around!
  689. >Shops, stands, street vendors and deafening horse noises!
  690. >Some merchants are haggling with the customers, standing in front of the display.
  691. >Some lay among their wares and quietly sip wine, keenly observing their surroundings.
  692. >City guardmares are walking among the crowds. Their armor is much less spectacular than that of your mistresses retinue.
  693. >They wear heavy and thick horseshoes, used as knuckles of sorts against the troublemakers.
  694.  
  695.  
  696. >"Alright, colts. Where would you want to go first? Sayida gave me a copious amount of dinars to spend on you, but try not to use everything on just loads of fabric. " Aami stomps the ground to emphasize her words.
  697. >"Fabric is nice from time to time, but I would prefer a good lotion or a new mouthwash." says Ahmed.
  698. >"I would like a new halter!" exclaims Ajmal.
  699. >Aami looks at him, ears up and down. Then sighs.
  700. >"OK, let's go look for the halters first."
  701. "Mistress said that I need to buy food." you remind modestly.
  702. >Aami stops and stares at you. Than at Ajmal again.
  703. >She clearly wants to attend to his interests. But also doesn't want to let the most valuable member of the mistresses harem to wander around without her personal supervision.
  704. >"Sarie" she calls the unicorn mare "go with the colts." She takes a pouch of coins from her saddlebags and tosses to her. Sarie catches it in her aura.
  705. >"I'll go with the ape colt. Rally point will be near the solar clock."
  706. >"Roger that, Sarge." answers the unicorn mare. "C'mon boys."
  707. >She turns around and leaves for the distant clothing vendors with two stallions in a tow.
  708. >"Let's go get the food. If the crowd would become too thick, hold on my girth."
  709. >Wow, what a load of care! Although, if she really is a sergeant...
  710. >You nod and prepare to trot after Aami, while thinking what do you need to buy and what could you substitute for the ingredients that don't exist here.
  711.  
  712. >You and Aami arrive at the part of the marketplace housing various food stands.
  713. >And again, you can only stand and gawk, being dazzled by the multitude of goods.
  714. >Watermelons, melons, pomegranates. Piles of grapes. ranges, lemons. Dates, both fresh and dried.
  715. >Whole fortresses build out of sacks with various grains.
  716. >Some merchants sell their goods simply off the ground.
  717. >Some, more prosperous it seems, have wooden stands decorated with banners painted with advertisements.
  718. >"Are you going to buy something or not?" Aami stomps.
  719. "Where are the dairy stands?"
  720. >"Let's go." she makes a motion with her head.
  721. >As you walk further, past the booths with spices, you involuntary stop and draw in a deep breath, enjoying the wonderful aroma.
  722. >Ah, the riches and opulence of the capital city!
  723. >Aami pulls your bedsheet and you hurry after her.
  724. >Finally, you approach an one-store tall crude stone building, curved like a crescent moon.
  725. >It has several entrances and a huge banner that says "Milk and related goods. This time scribbles are much more readable than usual, to the point you can actually discern them.
  726. >Probably have been written by a professional scribe or something.
  727. >"Bear in mind, our coatless wonder, there is rather cold inside." says Aami.
  728. >You shrug and open the door.
  729. >Holy shit! Sky Mother above! Strongmare didn't joke.
  730. >You muffle yourself into your wrapping, shivering.
  731. >It all makes sense, to cool diary products, especially given the local climate.
  732. >But still. How the fuck they do this?
  733.  
  734.  
  735. >It's chilly inside the mall. There are long and low stone counters near the walls. And tons of milk related goods, indeed.
  736. >Clay pots of varying size, you assume filled with milk. Small blocks of butter. Small mounds of cottage cheese. And, at last, wheels of actual cheese.
  737. >And then you freeze on the spot.
  738. >But not because of cold. You notice the vendors.
  739. >It's the first time you see a person who is not a horse.
  740. >Some vendors are goats. Wrapped in linen-looking sheets, with some jewelry dangling from the horns.
  741. >One prominent milk stand is 'manned' by an actual cow. Her curved horns not just decorated with jewelry-- it's fucking incrusted with some metal!
  742. >A large bulky bull stands by her side looking grumpy, wearing a heavy gold bell and a gold nose ring.
  743. >But it's not the first time this world shatters your worldview. So you unfreeze rather quickly and proceed to the cheese stands, pretending everything is fine.
  744. >Cheese seller is a donkey.
  745. >Yep.
  746. >A jenny, judging by the looks.
  747. >Sexual dimorphism in Earth donks isn't prominent. Here, however, females of equine origin usually much more distinct. With shorter, rounder snouts and lush eyelashes.
  748. >You approach the stand. Jenny, who was writing something on a scroll, spits the pen and looks at you.
  749. >You can see her confusion. She fidgets her long ears, looking at you then at Aami.
  750. >And bows.
  751. >She must've thought you are somebody important, being escorted by the member of the noblemare's retinue and all.
  752. >"What would you like to buy,-" she staggers and takes a few sniffs "- o esteemed one?"
  753. >Heh, you are really an unknown creature for her.
  754. >You taste a few samples of cheese, finding the one that would be similar to the one you remember from home the most. Then you approximate just how much the cheese you would need for the four of you and frown.
  755. >But Aami produces bag of coins and simply pays what's needed, unfazed.
  756.  
  757.  
  758. >You inspect the small mountain of cheese before you with a touch of fear.
  759. >But the vendor comes to the rescue.
  760. >"Where do you want the goods to be delivered?"
  761. >"Deliver this to the manor of Lady Amira, the state councilmare." says Aami.
  762. >Jenny steps back, her eyes widen. Nearby merchants begin to steal glances of you and whisper among each other.
  763. "By the evening!" you add in an important sounding tone.
  764. >"By the evening." Aami doubles your words.
  765. >"It shall be done! It's my pleasure to serve Her Excellency and the esteemed members of her household!"
  766. "And I would like a slice of this to go." You begin to feel a bit snacky.
  767. >Jenny takes a long thin knife with her teeth, dips it in the water, slices a wheel of cheese and puts the slice into the canvas bag.
  768. "Well, thank you very much!" you take the bag, smile at the vendor jenny and walk away, making Aami follow you.
  769. >She's outpacing you and takes back the lead rather quickly.
  770. >But you are continue to smile regardless.
  771. >The donkey mare was bowing to you, an esteemed member of the noble household. Not to Aami.
  772. >You can't help but keep feeling an unfamiliar pleasant emotion.
  773. >On the way back you notice a medium sized pyramids of some dark mineral hanging from the ceiling.
  774. >Puzzled you try to reach and touch one of them.
  775. >And immediately pull your hand back with a yelp.
  776. >The dark pyramid radiates savage, intence cold. Like a liquid nitrogen.
  777. >You work your fingers, trying to restore the blood circulation .
  778. >Now you know how the fuck they do it.
  779. >Concerned Aami approaches you closely and sniffs your hand, then licks it.
  780. >"Like a foal." she sighs. "Didn't your ape mother teach you not to grab everything without thinking? It's a Cold Stone and a powerful one to boot. Good thing you didn't manage to touch it. Your limb is fine."
  781. >She shakes her head and goes on. You follow.
  782.  
  783.  
  784. >Nothing out of ordinary after all! You simply encountered a magical refrigerator.
  785. >What's next? A magical gaming console? You wouldn't mind that, although given how wealthy your mistress is she most likely would have one already if they existed.
  786. >Exiting the dairy emporium you actually welcome the usual heat outside.
  787. "Esteemed Aami" you call her.
  788. >"What's it?"
  789. "Why don't we have something like the Cold Stone at home?"
  790. >Aami looks at you like a grown up looks at the child who says something stupid.
  791. >"Enchanted artifacts like this are the property of the state." she says matter-of-factly.
  792. >You bow. So, no gaming consoles for you.
  793. >"Do you need to buy anything else?"
  794. "I need some starch."
  795. >"That way." She changes direction and goes between the fruit stands.
  796. >Despite your earlier concerns, the crowd isn't a huge problem. >Imposing armoured mare bearing the colors of the influential house makes plenty of space around for you to feel safe.
  797. >You see a kiosk obviously selling fresh juice.
  798. >You point at it.
  799. "Can I have some?"
  800. >"Of course. " she shrugs, but expresses it with an ear gesture.
  801. >At the kiosk adolescent unicorn filly greets you with a cheerful smile that transforms into the expression of a puzzled wonder.
  802. >You chuckle.
  803. "Orange juice, please"
  804. >"Right away, esteemed one!"
  805. >You see an older mare, mother or a big sister perhaps, working some kind of juice press in the back.
  806. >Filly fills a bowl with a thick orange liquid and levitates it to you. Aami pulls the purse out once again.
  807. >You rest your bag of cheese on the nearby rock bench and take the bowl with both hands.
  808. >As it with all the food here, the juice is delicious!
  809. >You take your time, sipping the juice, savoring every drop.
  810.  
  811.  
  812. >Then your bag suddenly falls from the bench. Completely unassisted.
  813. 'The fuck?'
  814. >You hastily hand off the bowl and run to check it.
  815. >The bag greets you with a sizable hole in its side. And your cheese...
  816. >...And your perfect, large slice of cheese literally runs from you, rapidly moving on the ground.
  817. "The damned cheese runs away!" you exclaim and shoot off after it.
  818. 'Another fucking magic?'
  819. >Aami swears, but runs along.
  820. >"To the cunt with the stupid cheese! Let it go! It's probably rats!"
  821. "I wanna know what's going on!" you shout back.
  822. >Aami, with the face that clearly says 'Oh, fuck it' takes the lead.
  823. >The cheese rapidly maneuvers between the legs of market goers, trying to get away.
  824. >But Aami seems like she cannot be thrown of the trail no matter what.
  825. >A couple of times she literraly scatters the crowd, ramming somebody with all her mass.
  826. >One time you got unlucky and tangled in a group of loaders.
  827. >Meanwhile the cheese gets around the corner of some building.
  828. >Loaders swear profusely at you both, failing to contain their annoyance even in the face of a large armored mare.
  829. >Aami pins her ears, making a face full of flaming hatred and sharply pivots around her front axis, making them to fall back from an incoming kick.
  830. >You leave her behind and run after the cheese, trying to compensate for the time wasted. Without much success though, as you are forced to run through a labirynth-like narrow lane.
  831. >You run into the dead end.
  832. >And stop, captivated by what you see.
  833. >In the corner, near the wall you see the cheese.
  834. >And rats.
  835.  
  836.  
  837. >The largest of them holds a piece of broken glass, using it to cut a large slice.
  838. >Several rather little ones, probably babies, are holding smaller pieces of cheese, trying to carry it through the hole.
  839. >The scene freezes.
  840. >You and them are staring at each other.
  841. >It's not like you spent a long time gazing into the rats eyes back at home. But you are somehow sure that you've never encountered so much emotion in the small critter's gaze.
  842. >You see the fear. The need. The sadness. The ire. The despair.
  843. >You see a person, not a creature.
  844. >And then you notice that the large rat is clad in a small band of discoloured fabric, which it-
  845. >-no, 'they', wear as a sash.
  846. >You back away.
  847. >They squeal and run into the hole with the pieces of cheese.
  848. >You stand here for a while and then turn around and go back to the street, ignoring the remaining cheese.
  849. >You meet Aami at the entrance to the lane.
  850. >"So?"
  851. "It got away. Rats." you say, feeling ashamed of yourself for some reason.
  852. >"Told ya!" Aami is clearly pissed off with your foolishness.
  853. "I am sorry. I am very sorry" you bow to her.
  854. >Your regret is genuine.
  855. >She looks you in the eyes, nostrils flaring, ears back. Then stomps and relaxes.
  856. >"Let's go. Fuck ups happen."
  857. >And so you heed back to the market.
  858. "Riffraff, street rat"
  859. "I don't buy that"
  860. "If only they'd look closer"
  861. "Would they see a poor boy? No, siree"
  862. "They'd find out"
  863. "There's so much more to me"
  864. >You hum quietly.
  865.  
  866. ***
  867.  
  868. >You stare at the sparrows.
  869. >The sparrows congregate upon the fountain basin and stare back.
  870. "You are, therefore you think? Aren't you, little buddies?"
  871. >The sparrows look at each other and chirp. It seems to you, that you hear the questioning notes in the chirps.
  872. >You hold out your hand with a handful of barley seeds on an open palm.
  873. >The sparrows look at you with a great suspicion.
  874. >You sigh and crouch.
  875. "It's ok guys. I don't want to harm any of you."
  876. >After a while some male sparrow finally goes 'fuck it!'. He flutters his small wings and hops onto your palm.
  877. >You feel a grip on your finger. His talons are surprisingly cold.
  878. >He begin to peck the grains glancing at you sideways.
  879. >After a few secs, seeing that everything is alright, a female hops onto your hand as well. She pecks the male forcing him away and begins to eat.
  880. >Male makes a half-round and returns, landing on your pinky.
  881. >You scatter some grain on the floor for others and watch them pecking and chirping happily.
  882. >Meditating to the birds, you are reflexing on what's happened during the day.
  883. >Well, technically you should've been ready for this. In a world where horses are sapient you could've expected other hoofed animals to be sapient as well.
  884. >But an actual experience have shaken you still.
  885. >And then rats...
  886. >What about bunnies? Squirrels? What about everything else? Or is it rather 'everyone' else?
  887. >It's like you got into Disney's cartoon, but it's rated TV-MA.
  888. >Humans can't live in peace with each other to save their lives, even though they are of the same species!
  889. >How the fuck this world manages not to drown in blood with so many literally different minds, so many opinions, so many conflicting interests?
  890.  
  891.  
  892. >"Where should I put the brazier?" Zarif, the unicorn butler startles you.
  893. "Right here, Zarif."
  894. >Birds fly away from your palm and you shake remaining grain.
  895. >Another unicorn, a young colt, brings the firewood and, notably, some coal.
  896. >"Should we start the fire?"
  897. "No, it's ok."
  898. >They head back to the manor, to bring more cooking ware.
  899. >The table for the dinner is almost ready, loaded with the bowls of sliced fresh vegetables, a large wheel of cheese and an even larger pitcher of white grape wine.
  900. >You hear a familiar clopping pattern and your mistress graces the patio with her presence.
  901. >Amira sniffs cheese, pitcher and brazier.
  902. >"I'm rather intrigued, my dear Anon."
  903. "It's a nice way to hold a get-together, my lady."
  904. >She smiles. Then takes a slice of a bell pepper with her dexterous lips and begins to chew with a distinctive horse sound.
  905. >Just like those bastards who like to snitch a cherry off the cake! But you aren't in a place to prevent the mistress of the house from doing anything.
  906. >The boys arrive a moment later, chatting casually about something.
  907. >They approach the table with a keen interest.
  908. >"Is it gonna be the raw fodder evening?" Ahmed asks with a tad worry.
  909. >"I wouldn't mind it at all! Only thing is I would prefer melons." says Ajmal.
  910. >"Not at all, colts. It's just Anon wants to acquaint us with a communal dinner dish from his distant lands." Amira laughs.
  911. "Indeed, my lady. Let's start." You take the kitchen knife.
  912.  
  913.  
  914. >"I'll help you, Anon!" exclaims Ajmal and relocates himself by your side. "I'm used to assist Dad all the time!"
  915. >"Taking care and serving food for his family." Amira nods with approval. "Like a good male should!"
  916. "We need to start a fire, Ajmal." You look around trying to locate some matches, or a flint, or some magical firestone. How the fuck Zarif wanted to do it anyway?
  917. >"Leave this to me. I'm pretty good at it." Ajmal says, while arranging the coal and firewood in the brazier.
  918. >Judging by Amira's face she wants to say something but decides to stay silent after all.
  919. >Ajmal stares at the brazier intently. His horn lightens up and begins to shine.
  920. >You look at him, confused.
  921. >And then...
  922. >Even though it's still rather hot outside, you notice the air above the firewood begin to flicker. Like in a desert or above something extremely hot.
  923. >Ajmal's horn begins to shine even more brightly. He completely focuses on the firewood, almost devouring it with the gaze.
  924. >For a moment you think his handsome and cute (by the local standards) face becomes almost ominous.
  925. >Fire blazes up among the logs, suddenly. Spurts of it begin their hypnotic dance.
  926. >Surge of cold, sticky fear hits you like a hammer.
  927. >It's a fucking pyrokinesis! Right here!
  928. >Levitation and cold generating stones be damned! You just witnessed an actual destructive psychic power!
  929. >Ahmed looks at his herdmate with a surprised expression.
  930. >"That's quite remarkable demonstration." Amira comments. "You rather good at it, indeed. Did you receive a special training?"
  931. >"Oh no, of course not! Magic training is for the fillies, after all. My Dad just taught me this one trick grandma taught him when he was a colt."
  932. >"Colts also can learn this, but only if they are trained to be kitchen servants or butlers, my dear. Nevertheless, let's continue. I'm becoming rather hungry."
  933.  
  934.  
  935. >You bow and put the large pot onto the fire. Then pour the wine into it. Add some starch and begin to stir with a large spoon.
  936. >"What's next?" asks Ajmal the Pyromancer.
  937. "Let's cut the cheese into the slices."
  938. >You take the knife again and begin to slice the wheel. Ajmal takes another knife with his magic and helps you.
  939. >Cheese goes into the pot, where the wine mixture begins to simmer. After a while it melts and you stir everything into the homogeneous mixture.
  940. >"We should eat this? But it's hot!" says Ahmed.
  941. "Not like this. We will dip the vegetable slices here into the cheese mix."
  942. >You take some eggplant and bell pepper and put it on the grill installed on the side of the brazier.
  943. "Either fresh or grilled."
  944. >You wait till the eggplant slice becomes toasty and then dip it in, to illustrate your words. Then hold it up for Amira, with a bow.
  945. >She takes the food from your hand. Her velvet lips brush your fingers slightly.
  946. >"Hmm, it's rather tasty! Very interesting, exotic flavour."
  947. >Everyone follow her example.
  948. >Fondue evening goes on. Among the happy chatter and Amira's multi layered jokes you begin to gradually recover from yet another shock.
  949. ***
  950. "So, how exactly do you do it?"
  951. >You sit on the edge of the pool. Ajmal stands on the bottom, resting his head near you.
  952. >"What do you mean?"
  953. "Well, you know, the things with your horn. Like a telekinesis..."
  954. >"Te-le-whatnow?"
  955. "Um, making objects float"
  956. >"Well, I'm a unicorn, you know."
  957. >You sigh.
  958. "Sure thing you are, lad. But I'm not. And I'm curious."
  959. >Ajmal's ears making a half-circle.
  960. >"I need to imagine in detail what exactly I want to do with something. I need to imagine the thing, it's image, like it floats through the air to me and whatnot."
  961. "Just like that? Why can't I do the same?"
  962. >"Because you aren't a unicorn, Anon. Your talent must be to do something different with the Divine Light."
  963. "The divine light?"
  964. >"Yes. Every unicorn can sense the Light. It's- I dunno- It's pouring from above, going through the everything but it's not like a normal light. I, well, every unicorn, can collect it with the horn. And then, when you do it, you imagine what should be done and it's done."
  965. >Wow... Not much of course, as Ajmal is rather uneducated one, but still. Wow...
  966. >It appears this isn't just a 'Hocus pocus'. Not like a mythical scam 'magic' from home. There is actually something out there. Some fundamental force of the local nature.
  967.  
  968.  
  969. >You wonder, if it's ok to ask the mistr-
  970. 'Fuck! At least in my thoughts can I call her simply Amira? Why thank you!'
  971. >Alright, you wonder, if it's ok to just outright ask Amira about this. She's a different kind of equine, but she is very well educated and quite an erudite...
  972. >You dive into the pool, to think a bit without anyone noticing your thoughtful face.
  973. >Ajmal continues to chill out by the edge. But Ahmed decides that he absolutely needs to swim alongside you.
  974. >You flip on the back to not bother him with your flailing arms.
  975. >You swim side by side for a while. As he is much more massive than you, he creates a tangible bow wave around his neck.
  976. >"Anon, thank you for the dinner! The cheese dish was delicious. Truly a treat worthy of a noble!"
  977. >What did he mean by this?
  978. "Y-yeah, you are welcome. It's sure a nice little dish isn't it?"
  979. >"The trader must've been ecstatic..."
  980. >You remember Ahmed is a merchant's son.
  981. "Was it a particularly expensive sort of cheese?"
  982. >"Every cheese is expensive."
  983. "Yeah. I guess."
  984. >This needs further investigation.
  985. >"Were you a some sort of a noble back home? To acquire such an expensive tastes?"
  986. "Erm. Not exactly."
  987. >"So, from a wealthy business family then?"
  988. "One can say so."
  989. >You both exit the pool.
  990. >"C'mon Ajmal! Breakfast time!" calls Ahmed.
  991. >The young unicorn exits the pool as well and wobbles.
  992. >You look at him with a bit of envy, while using a towel. You wouldn't mind the skill yourself.
  993.  
  994. >When you three return to your stalls, Aami is already there.
  995. >"Colts! And the ape! Sayida wants to visit the countryside and takes you along. Think, what will you need. I'll tell servants to pack."
  996. >A countryside, eh? Maybe there is some fertile land with a lush greenery there, as Ahmed once told? That would be a nice change of scenery.
  997. >The colts seem excited. They begin to bombard Aami with their lists. Ajmal is rather modest in his demands. Ahmed's list, however, gets a through revision from Aami.
  998. >"And you?" Aami points her muzzle at you.
  999. "Well, besides the books mistress told me to read, a tablespoon and my clothes... My lady and my herdmates is really all I ever need."
  1000. >By this point it isn't a lie. You really became rather fond of your old fashioned Middle Eastern-like 'family'.
  1001. >Aami's ears flutter and you think you see an approval in her eyes.
  1002. ***
  1003. >The carriage looks like some fancy luxurious horse trailer.
  1004. >It's boxy, painted white and somehow a three-axle. It even has springs.
  1005. >There are small windows on either side, with two sets of curtains each. And a large door on the back.
  1006. Sharp, spearhead- like spikes adorn the carriage from above.
  1007. >And in the front there is draft team. Four hefty and muscular earth mares.
  1008. You've been here long enough to consider all their harnesses and other gear sexy and provocative.
  1009. >Amira steps into the trailer first, followed by you and other two colts. She lays on the fluffy rug and others gather around her.
  1010.  
  1011.  
  1012. >Ajmal just lays by her side. Ahmed rests his head on her back. You sit near her front legs and ask her permission with a glance.
  1013. >She smiles, and you hug the base of her neck.
  1014. >Chief mare of the draft team barks a command and the trailer rolls out.
  1015. >The escort, twenty-something strong detachment of soldier mares, trots alongside.
  1016. >Some of them are unicorns. Their armor and armnament are more light.
  1017. >Given your earlier acquaintance with the unicorn's power potential, you shudder slightly, wondering what a throughly trained unicorn can do on the battlefield.
  1018. >The whole cortege goes through the streets of Dameascus, towards the main gates.
  1019. >You look in the window with a keen interest.
  1020. >After a while you get a glimpse of a huge stone walls and a heavy wooden gates, reinforced with metal.
  1021. >You are outside the city! For the second time since you've got here
  1022. >You make a move to abandon your cozy place by your mistress side and approach the window, but Amira lets out a displeased snort.
  1023. >You once again stick your face in her mane.
  1024. >"Don't worry Anon. The path is long. There will be several stops along the way."
  1025. >"So, where do we go, lady Amira?" asks Ajmal.
  1026. >"You're going to like it, my dear. As for you, Anon, it will be rather educational as well, I hope."
  1027. "Of course, my Lady."
  1028. >Doubts and fears begin their wordless whispering again.
  1029. >You cast a glance through the window.
  1030. >And see the sunset among the sea of yellow and red. There is no sense in jumping out of the carriage. There is nowhere to run.
  1031. >Amira's ears sprang to attention, rotated in your direction.
  1032. >She presses you to her side with her head. And makes some hoarse nasal noises, like a mare comforting a foal.
  1033.  
  1034. >You travel for several days.
  1035. >First night outside the city your small caravan spends camping.
  1036. >Supplies, baggage and water travel on a large cart, that rolls behind your carriage, being hauled by another pair of mares.
  1037. >Unicorns make a campfire.
  1038. >Soldier mares eat what they have stashed in their saddlebags.
  1039. >Draft mares eat simple but hearty meals.
  1040. >Amira, you and stallions eat a bit more sophisticated meal but it's still rather acetic in comparison to what you got used to at home.
  1041. >You don't even curse when you realize that you've thought about the manor in Dameascus as your home.
  1042. >It's quite cold in a desert at night.
  1043. >You four spent it in the carriage, snuggled to each other.
  1044. >Draft team and soldiers, except the guards on duty, lay in a huge pile around the campfire.
  1045. >Next day you on the road again. Soldiers sing, trotting around the carriage and supply cart. Their repertoire is what you can expect from an army types.
  1046. >Some songs are about valor, bravery and their fidelity to the homeland, some are borderline sleazy.
  1047. >Or at least you think so, after the song about two warriors (mares of course) who are arguing about whose scabbard can accommodate the precious masterfully crafted sword better.
  1048.  
  1049.  
  1050. >You have a feeling that they would go even farther in their creativity, if not for their mistress and her harem in a hearing range.
  1051. >Amira listens with an amusement on her face. Ahmed has a look of a genuine embarrassment, the proper city colt. Ajmal is slightly flustered, but listens very carefully.
  1052. >Besides the musical numbers from the guard, Amira tells some humorous stories. You also read some fairy tales to boost your language skills.
  1053. >In the evening you begin to wonder when there will be another camp time.
  1054. >Ahmed gently nuzzles Amira's cheek and whispers something into her ear, blushing.
  1055. >She whispers back, smiling.
  1056. >"There will be a caravanserai soon. Have some patience, my dear."
  1057. >You remember it's his turn this time.
  1058. >Looks like two days snuggled to his splendid and proper mistress, who he admires a lot, did a number on him.
  1059. >Amira is, of course, too refined to make jokes about 'what's poking my back, darling?'.
  1060. >You hide your face behind her neck to conceal smile.
  1061. >The cortege arrives somewhere at last. You four step out.
  1062. >The carriage and the cart are parked in the spacious rectangular courtyard size of the Noble Quarter's main square. It surrounded by the one- and two-store buildings, build into the high sandstone walls.
  1063. >So, this must be the caravanserai. You spot something like storehouses and two distinct buildings looking like taverns.
  1064. >The draft team and most of the soldiers got to one of them, chatting loudly.
  1065. >Amira, you three and two guardmares go to the other one, probably meant for the most honourable of guests.
  1066. >There are dozen of ponies and some donkeys in the inn already. All wealthy merchants, from the look of them, but it seems there are no other aristocrats.
  1067.  
  1068.  
  1069. >Donkeys have their usual sour and depressed look, despite the fine blankets and jewelry. You notice that there are more jacks than jennies in their group.
  1070. 'So, donkeys have a different view on gender roles?' you wonder wordlessly.
  1071. >Merchants greet Amira with an utmost respect, bending their front legs and lowering their heads to the floor.
  1072. >"As-salāmu ʿalayki, noble mistress." they say in unison.
  1073. >"Wa ʿalaykunna s-salāmu, esteemed ones." Amira acknowledges them with a nod.
  1074. >Then everypony return to their business. Although merchants steal a few puzzled glances at you.
  1075. >Amira lowers herself on the cushion besides the one of the large dining tables and you all do the same.
  1076. >"What would noble mistress be interested in?" a servant approaches your herd.
  1077. >Amira orders a dinner, mindful of your dietary needs.
  1078. >After a while servants bring a huge omelette with eggplants and tomato sauce and a bowls of cooked rice with greens and some beans.
  1079. >"Anon, dear, would you divide the main dish for us?" your mistress asks you.
  1080. >You nod, take a large, awkward spatula and begin to cut the omelette.
  1081. >Donkeys look at you from the other end of the hall with a great suspicion.
  1082. >Meanwhile Amira asks a servant something. Then nips Ahmed's mane and stands up making him do the same.
  1083. >"We need to take care of some business, darlings. Please, do eat in a meantime." They both go somewhere.
  1084. >You chuckle, having a rather clear idea what business they need to take care of.
  1085. >Ajmal laughs as well, and you begin to eat.
  1086. >Amira and Ahmed return in a whole several minutes.
  1087.  
  1088.  
  1089. >Supper goes rather lively, as colts exchanging their road impressions and observations.
  1090. >You are just being silent mostly. You don't like to talk about the desert.
  1091. >After a supper Amira leads the herd to the dedicated room.
  1092. >"Are we going to sleep together here as well?" asks Ahmed.
  1093. >A city boy again! Although he seems happy about this. Ajmal as well.
  1094. >You aren't disappointed as well, although you thought there would be separate rooms for all.
  1095. >"Yes, o pearl of my eye. Caravanserai simply can't have individual rooms for every traveller. And the Divine Law says that a lead mare should provide for her stallions equally."
  1096. >Amira lays on the carpet and takes an apple, green and sturdy looking, from a vase on the floor.
  1097. >One press of her jaws -- and the apple shatters like it wasn't even in the way.
  1098. >You lay beside her and colts and take one yourself.
  1099. >Yep, you barely can scratch it with your teeth.
  1100. >The herd lays in a pile once again, snuggled to Amira.
  1101. >Moon, a sister to the Sun as legends say, lits a room through a narrow ogive window with a dim silvery light.
  1102. >Amira begins to sing quietly.
  1103. >You relax, and while recollecting the recent events you begin to think about her with a warmth that surprises you.
  1104.  
  1105. ***
  1106. >The route took 5 days to traverse.
  1107. >There were many camp stops and one more caravanserai.
  1108. >The sand dunes eventually got replaced by the grayish soil.
  1109. >Bush became thicker and wider.
  1110. >You begin to notice lone trees, and even clusters of them sometimes.
  1111. >During the stops colts would run in circles chasing each other to make up for motionless carriage travel.
  1112. >Some soldiers would glare at them while resting their overworked legs. You could understand that.
  1113. >You in turn were just trying to find a suitable tree, oftentimes an olive, to do some gymnastics.
  1114. >During your previous life you wouldn't even flinch from a long periods of motionlessness.
  1115. >But here your body remembered that it was created for activities and motion by nature.
  1116. >So having spent long time without physically extorting yourself have began to make you anxious.
  1117. >Road gradually becomes more pronounced and then even paved.
  1118. >One time it went through the huge green meadow, that was standing out like a sore thumb among the savannah-like scenery.
  1119. >Wooden fences divided it into four sections.
  1120. >Grazing goats occupied one of them.
  1121. >Buildings appeared along the road and become more and more numerous. Pise, wooden, even sometimes stone ones.
  1122. >The path began to ascend on a hill, and from a vantage point you saw many settlements around.
  1123. >Road became busy with carts and carriages. All, without an exception, immediately were giving a way to your cortege.
  1124. >You reached the forward facing window and opened a flap that obscured it.
  1125. >Above the heads of the draft team you saw something resembling a mountain ridge in a distance.
  1126.  
  1127. >When the carriage gets closer, you realize that it's indeed a mountain ridge.
  1128. >Only it's thin, too short and arranged like a fortress wall. With an opened wooden gates to boot.
  1129. >Soldiers guarding the gates spring to attention.
  1130. >Carriage goes in and you see that the ridge encompasses the whole small town.
  1131. >Or maybe not so small, as you have only the capital as a basis of comparison.
  1132. >'How's that even possible.' begins to be a rather routine question.
  1133. "Lady Amira, those are mountains instead of walls?"
  1134. >"Yes, Anon. Magnificent, isn't it?"
  1135. >You can only nod in agreement.
  1136. >Telekinesis, pyromancy, making mountains...
  1137. >What's next? Magical ICBMs? Why their soldiers even need bladed weapons?
  1138. >The only thing remotely comforting is the Ajmal looking in the window with almost the same look of wonder as you.
  1139. >"I've only heard about rock farms that- that mo-nu-men-tal!" he says.
  1140. >"Me as well. I've hardly been anywhere out of the capital city." agrees Ahmed.
  1141. >Oh, well. So it's you the only clueless one, as always.
  1142. >"It took several hundred years to grow those. The most talented masters attended to this task, some even for a couple of generations."
  1143. >Says Amira, looking in a window as well.
  1144. >You hear genuine pride in her words.
  1145. >"This fortress is the home of our clan, Anon. The regional capital."
  1146. >It's all makes sense now. Of course, Amira is the powerful feudal lady.
  1147. >And this must be her domain.
  1148. >Manor in Dameascus is just her business residence.
  1149. >You wonder what's her title and rank are relative to your homeworld's ones.
  1150. >A countess? A duchess? A non-sovereign princess?
  1151.  
  1152. ***
  1153. >The actual citadel is an ancient thing made out of the grown rock, just like the town walls.
  1154. >But your herd staying in a newish mansion. A stern looking bulky building built of sandstone.
  1155. >You are getting familiar with your new quarters. Which means that you plop your ass on a cushion in a stall-like room and take a few dates from an omnipresent bowl of fruits.
  1156. >The wall opposite of the door is a whole huge painting.
  1157. >It shows large olive tree and a basket full of olives on the ground.
  1158. >The room actually have a comfy feeling to it. Probably a combination of the gentle yellowish walls with a light green of a painting.
  1159. >You noticed that in general all the decorations are agriculture-based, one way or another.
  1160. >First thing after the arrival, you and the colts hit the gym.
  1161. >To your surprise, there were bunch of stallions there already.
  1162. >Apparently, most of the Amira's clansponies live together in the citadel or the mansion.
  1163. >They just stopped doing whatever they were and stared at you.
  1164. >Despite the knowledge that local stallions are raised to be compliant and usually aren't aggressive you still felt uneasy.
  1165. >Ahmed and Ajmal politely greeted them, so you followed with greeting as well.
  1166. >After realizing that you three are the stallions of the clan's matriarch, others became considerably more respectful.
  1167. >But still, through the course of exercises you were getting stares. Only a more subtitle now.
  1168. >Questions about the latest Dameascus gossip rained on Ahmed and Ajmal, which they answered eagerly.
  1169. >No inquires about you though.
  1170.  
  1171.  
  1172. >But you have a suspicion that they will make up for this eventually, behind your back.
  1173. >You couldn't blame them, really.
  1174. >The capital city dwellers must be rather used to many exotic things, while the country folk probably much less familiar with the wonders of the world.
  1175. >Then there was a dinner. Servant who brought you food turned out to be a donkey.
  1176. >You thanked him as warmly as you could, falling for the characteristic solemn look.
  1177. >You think he was glad.
  1178. >While you was absorbed in thoughts, sliding door opened.
  1179. >"Anon? Come with me, matriarch wants to see you."
  1180. >A stocky, powerfully build mare stands at the doorstep.
  1181. >But she hasn't any military vibe about her.
  1182. >You caught yourself being almost disappointed it's not Aami.
  1183. >Habit is a strange thing.
  1184. ***
  1185. >The sun shines brightly from the clear skies, but somehow it isn't scalding hot outside.
  1186. >You stand in a field.
  1187. >There are aqueducts and irrigational canals and stuff.
  1188. >A huge field is partitioned in smaller plots with rows of stones.
  1189. >Ponies are working around you. Some pull a plough (or at least you think its plough), plowing the ground.
  1190. >Others pull something looking like a wooden grid with a short and sharp stakes underneath.
  1191. >Two particularly huge mares pull a comparably huge barrel with a wooden pipes sticking out of it.
  1192. >It also has two tall wheels. When they move you hear a faint cracking sound.
  1193. >"Anon!" Amira calls you.
  1194. >She stands near the large crate full of small bulbs, in which by some intuition you recognize the garlic.
  1195. "Yes, my lady?"
  1196. >"Come here."
  1197. >You approach, trying no to stain your trusty velvet shoes too much.
  1198. >"Take one of these."
  1199. >You tentatively take one of the bulbs in your hand and look at Amira.
  1200. >"Plant it right here, near me. About a hoof deep."
  1201. >You crouch, dig the soil a bit with your hand and then plunge the garlic bulb into.
  1202. >"Now watch closely, my dear."
  1203. >Amira puts her front hoof near the spot you planted the garlic in. She looks intently at it. Then closes her eyes and sighs.
  1204. >She stands unmoving, her breath is even and deep.
  1205. >You look at the ground, but nothing happens.
  1206. >What did she mean by all this?
  1207. >About half a minute passes but you stay silent, not daring to interrupt her.
  1208. >Another half a minute and you begin to wonder what the fuck-
  1209. 'Wait, what is this?'
  1210. >A small green sprout. It wasn't there a minute ago!
  1211. >You witness with a mouth agape how it evidently becomes bigger, more robust and reaches higher and higher.
  1212.  
  1213.  
  1214. >"Alright, that's enough." Amira whispers, opens her eyes and steps away.
  1215. >The sprout freezes.
  1216. >Amira takes a few deep breaths. You see her neck blistering with sweat.
  1217. >You are not an agricultural expert, but you are pretty sure that plants normally shouldn't sprout in a minutes after planting.
  1218. >As far as you can tell, living things here follow almost the same general logic as the ones from your home.
  1219. >You want to feel fear, but can't. You already witnessed too much through the course of your being here.
  1220. >And yet, telekinesis and stuff like enchanted stones aren't quite in the same league. Vidya back home made you somewhat OK with the general idea of such 'magic'.
  1221. >But to make something that is living defy the usual order of things. To make seedling into the grown plant in the matter of minutes!
  1222. >How could any being posses such power?
  1223. >'Your talent must be to do something different with the Divine Light.' Ajmal, the notorious pyromancer, said once.
  1224. >So is Amira's as well it seems.
  1225. >"Let's go Anon. We should visit a couple of farms more."
  1226. >You nod and go after Amira. You both step into some open chariot, pulled by a young and sturdy mare.
  1227. >You grab the railing and the chariot goes on.
  1228. >The whole second half of the day Amira's dedicated to business.
  1229. >She attended farms run by some of the wealthier tenants and junior clansponies.
  1230. >She resolved some disputes, talked about the sowing campaign, met ponies and other ungulates. Spoke with merchants.
  1231. >One would expect her do all this while sitting on a throne made of stone, surrounded by her solders and kinsponies.
  1232. >Giving an audience to a kneeling ponies full of reverence for their liege lady.
  1233. >And stuff like that.
  1234. "Lady Amira, can I ask something?"
  1235.  
  1236.  
  1237. >She turns her head and ears to you. You think you spot an expectation in her eyes.
  1238. >"Ask away."
  1239. "My lady, why are you doing all of this personally?"
  1240. >You point on a bunch of scrolls in a wooden case sitting on the bottom of a chariot.
  1241. >Her ears twitch as if she wants to pin them. But she doesn't. Maybe you have mistaken.
  1242. >"Anon, the property qualification of those I have met today gives them a right for their disputes and other important business to be brought directly before me. And it's my obligation as their suzerain to listen to them."
  1243. "Of course, my lady."
  1244. >"Don't you like the tour?"
  1245. "Not at all! I'm just surprised you didn't just receive them at the citadel."
  1246. >She looks at you and sighs.
  1247. >"Anon, really. They are working hard, doing whatever they have to. Doing their duty. They are needed on their fields, their barns, their storehouses.
  1248. >"And my duty is to organize them. To make sure our land produces enough to be self-reliant and useful to our common country. So I also do, what I must."
  1249. >"They should manage their property and not drive around to the citadel and back. And I should manage my domain, and not sit on the chair and puff my cheeks like some unicorn."
  1250. >You bow.
  1251. >"However, in a way you're right. We are attending only those, who we can visit in a course of a day. Those who live farther, as our clan's lands are relatively vast, I'll meet in the Citadel. But there weren't any such applicants this time."
  1252. >She turned away from you and looked into the distance. Her nostrils flared, sniffing oncoming air.
  1253. >"Ah, it's good to be home once again!"
  1254. >You lean on the railing once again, looking at surrounding fields and settlements and sniff air as well.
  1255. >With your human nose, however, you can mainly smell the draught mare hitched to the chariot.
  1256. >Her smell is sharp and too spicy. Unlike Amira's gentle fragrance.
  1257. >The nobleborn vs the peasant, eh?
  1258.  
  1259.  
  1260. ***
  1261. >After completing the tour of duty you returned to the sandstone palace.
  1262. >And to your "Olive room" as you decided to call it.
  1263. >Donkey servant brought you a supper. Nowadays you would be upset if you four didn't get to eat together, but now you are thankful for this.
  1264. >Because you feel that you should ponder on something.
  1265. >Today you have become a witness to an overwhelmingly large amount of things.
  1266. >Now you know where the cheese comes from. And how.
  1267. >Eggs as well.
  1268. >Nobody's locked in a barn and forcefully milked. Nobody's tied to a roost by the leg.
  1269. >There are self governed communities of caprines and bovines out there. (Well, goats technically are a part of the bovidae family but whatever.)
  1270. >They sell their own milk. Fucking sell it! The cheese is expensive because it's basically a hoofmade!
  1271. >Thanks to the Divine Law, that prohibits and condemns slavery.
  1272. >Donkeys are as much the citizens as any other hoofed creature.
  1273. >They even allowed to practice their own traditions, notably they are much more egalitarian about the gender roles. But they must pay an extra tax for this.
  1274. >Chicken have a spacious ranges, where they wander and graze, as well as coops where they hide from the weather.
  1275. >They aren't "animals" but "savages." You aren't sure if somepony can actually talk to them on whatever "language" they have.
  1276. >But at least nobody stuffs them with shit to make them bloat and nobody kills them. Soldiers and town guards obligated to protect them as much as everybody else.
  1277. >Eggs are being collected only from those hens, who hasn't been with a rooster recently.
  1278. >A minor official sees to that, and if a fertilized egg has been found in a batch, she gets flogged.
  1279.  
  1280.  
  1281. >And everyone regard the nature, and agriculture in particular, with an extreme piety.
  1282. >You heard terms like "balance of Divine Light", "the divine principle of nutrient recovery", "the sacred rule of the least, the best and the most".
  1283. >At first, when you got there, you felt only fear and anger. Then you felt wonder. And now it seems you've began to feel respect.
  1284. >Ah, and of course, Amira's display of power. Power over the life force itself...
  1285. >The steward mare opens the door.
  1286. >"Anon, the matriarch expects you."
  1287. >You stand up, leaving the tableware to the servants.
  1288. >Steward herds you with a several other stallions, who are going to their respective ladies. She escorts all of you to the female quarters.
  1289. >Amira's door decorated with a masterful carvings. You knock softly.
  1290. >"Come in, Anon. I can tell it's you from the knock alone."
  1291. >Her room is full of autumn leaves. They are covering the walls in a gold and red waves. It's a wonderful paintwork, truly.
  1292. >Amira nips you and then turns around, lifting her gorgeous tail.
  1293. >"Come in."
  1294. ***
  1295. >You lay on her back, embracing her barrel. Looks like it's Amira's favorite snuggling position when you are with her.
  1296. "My lady, can I ask about something?"
  1297. >She bends her neck and nuzzles you. She is relaxed and content after a good fuck.
  1298. >"Of course, Anon."
  1299. "Mistress, plese, tell me about the Goddess. About the Divine Law."
  1300. >She looks you in the eye. And smiles.
  1301.  
  1302. ***
  1303. >Amira gives you a powerful nudge with her nose, causing you to roll off her back onto the pillows around. And switches her pose, so she can look at you directly.
  1304. >You think for a moment and then assume a formal sitting posture from some black and white jap action movie you've seen as a kid.
  1305. >It would probably much more suit an occasion than laying on your side naked.
  1306. >"The Goddess."
  1307. >"The Sky Mother."
  1308. >"The Divine White Mare."
  1309. >Amira's tone becomes solemn and dead-serious.
  1310. >"She giveth light. She giveth life. She giveth order."
  1311. >"Her coat is fiercely white, whiter than the distilled salt. Her mane and tail are woven out of the ferocious ever burning flame, that is hotter than any forge-fire."
  1312. >"She gallops relentlessly through the sky, looking at the earth and everything that inhabits it."
  1313. >"She is merciful, for she wants the world to exist."
  1314. >"Because her wrath can melt even the old mountain ridges like a heap of butter and make steel burn like a papyrus roll, vaporising like a drop on the sand."
  1315. >"Everything in the world lives by Her divine light and dies by it, never being able to satisfy the eternal hunger."
  1316. >The remaining scales of your cynical post-modern conditioning began to dangerously falter under this onslaught.
  1317. >One thing is to listen to some old lady or a scrawny guy babbling something in a sweet tone at your doorstep.
  1318. >You could just accept a booklet and close the door in their face. Throw a booklet into a trash.
  1319. >There is-
  1320. >There was Youtube, vidya and other stuff around. Electricity and cars.
  1321. >Enough things that basically screamed: "THIS is real, and that is just stupid fairy tales!"
  1322. >But it's completely other thing, when being in a land of magic you listen to your literal mistress, who can make plants grow by the sheer force of her will.
  1323.  
  1324.  
  1325. 'So, they're basically worship the sun.' You thought for yourself to regain some composure. 'Doesn't explain the magic and instant plants though.'
  1326. >"I see your confusion, Anon. Let us rest for now, and then I'll give you the Book. Read it, at least try. It is important that you feel it yourself."
  1327. >"After that, ask me again, what exactly do you want to know."
  1328. ***
  1329. Or rather 'How much exactly do I want to know.'
  1330. >You sit in your room, holding a scrollbook. The case is incrusted with some silvery metal. Each scroll is trimmed with a golden thread. Text is green. Must be some fancy inks. It's a very expensive piece of work.
  1331. >The Book is written in what you assume is an archaic form of Saddle Script.
  1332. >The lines are rhymed in local tongue.
  1333. >You have a hard time understanding it all, but for some reason it adds to the effect of the book.
  1334. >«The Sky and the Earth -- one.»(?)
  1335. >«Cleave, shatter, split.»(?)
  1336. >«Broken shards, amidst the dark void.» This one you are pretty sure about.
  1337. >«Birth, confusion.»(?)
  1338. >«Light.»
  1339. >«Solitude.»
  1340. >«Stomp, roar, rage, ire.»(?)
  1341. >«Universe, fear, shudder.» (?)
  1342. >Is She afraid?
  1343. >You reread the line carefully.
  1344. >No.
  1345. >Universe is frightened. It shudders.
  1346. >«Shards obey. Together»(?)
  1347. >«This now my sky! This now my earth!»
  1348. >Why is it so much easier when somebody's talking!
  1349. >When you just listen to words, it seems not much different from what a human would have said.
  1350. >But this...
  1351. >"It's like if clay mask cracks, providing a glimpse at the true face of the one who wears it." Amira said once.
  1352. >The words, the way they are written and arranged.
  1353. >There's something alien, frightening about them.
  1354.  
  1355.  
  1356.  
  1357. >On the other hand you now wonder what their poetry, and other "grown up" genres are like.
  1358. >So far you've read only foal stories. They were simple enough to learn the language.
  1359. >You fold the scroll and put the Book onto a pillow, not daring to simple leave it on the floor. You don't want a servant or a steward coming in and see you committing a sacrilege.
  1360. >The door opens, letting you out of the room.
  1361. >You feel the urge to go for a walk and to ponder on things.
  1362. >As far as you know, you can freely go out as long as you keep on the male's side of the palace.
  1363. >There is no marble in these sandstone halls and the floor is decorated with some ornate ceramic plates.
  1364. >Rugs and tapestries adorn the walls, mostly agricultural designs. Leaves, trees, fruits and vegetables.
  1365. >There are also occasional pony or donkey servants, doing their thing.
  1366. >Where you should go though? Gym would probably be a bad idea, as at this time of day it's occupied by the local stud galore.
  1367. >You miss having the whole palestra for just you three. Ahmed and Ajmal seem to prefer your company more as well, so you tend to go train together.
  1368. >By the way, you should sometime ask them how do they mind the ancestral grounds of their mistress.
  1369. >Ajmal is a country colt, but he probably haven't ever been to the mansions of a rural aristocracy. Ahmed is a city-born, does he find the local customs a bit uncouth?
  1370. >You decide to go to the patio. You've been there briefly, walking through. It's nice, full of green and the size of a small hippodrome.
  1371. >Once there, you seclude yourself into the green hedge and try to put some logical basis under your emotional reaction to the local lore.
  1372.  
  1373.  
  1374. >So, the magic is a fundamental force of nature and the Goddess is it's source?
  1375. >If magic is real, can it be that Gods are also real?
  1376. >And the most frightening question you tried to shun since you've got there: are you SIMPLY on another planet? Or not?
  1377. >Some part of you doesn’t want an answer to this question.
  1378. >You force yourself to not ponder further.
  1379. >You somehow regret your impulse to ask Amira about the religion.
  1380. >Or is it just your worldview of a modern human is now trying to fight back the wondrous fascination?
  1381. ‘I should accept the mythology as is for now’ you think ‘And if my Lady-’
  1382. ‘Amira.’
  1383. >Your inner voice mocks you.
  1384. ‘-and if Amira is willing to teach there is much more useful and practical knowledge to be learned. Like laws. And politics.’
  1385. >You can keep your comfortable life under your mistress’s belt, but what if something happens to her?
  1386. >What if there be war and she should lead her troops, for example?
  1387. ‘Maybe eventually I’ll learn something about the nature of magic as well, since it’s so big part of their life.’
  1388. >You hear hoofsteps behind.
  1389. >”Oh, Anon! Hello. Wanted to take a stroll as well?”
  1390. >It’s Ahmed.
  1391. >He approaches you and reaches with his nose.
  1392. >Fearing that a hesitation will offend him, you nuzzle his muzzle.
  1393. ‘Unfamiliar setting brings one closer to something more familiar, eh?’
  1394. >Previously it was only ‘Hi, Anon!’.
  1395. >Ahmed stands near you and lowers his head onto the hedge, inhaling the scent of some purplish flowers.
  1396. >You look at him expectatingly.
  1397. >"Eh." sighs Ahmed "I've never ever been far from the capital."
  1398. >"Before I got into the harem I never wondered, how the life would be elsewhere. I just loved pretty things and my family."
  1399. >"I had everything I ever wanted and even caught an eye of the one of the most high ranking mares in the whole country."
  1400. >"I considered myself a completely content stallion."
  1401. >Ahmed paused and snatched a few petals from a nearby bush, that looked like China rose.
  1402. >"But then, two years ago, I met Ajmal. He told stories about his childhood in a country. And eventually I got curious myself."
  1403. "Oh, really?" you say conversationnaly.
  1404. >"Yes. I even began to read some scrolls from Lady Amira's library- as a merchants son, I was taught how to read- and it was actually fascinating."
  1405. "Lady Amira is rich. Why have you never asked her to, I dunno, organize some trip or something?"
  1406. >Ahmed face soured.
  1407. >"I'm a well-mannered colt. A stallion should accept his mare's love and care with a gratitude, without testing it's boundaries." He answered with a hint of pride.
  1408. >"So I got very excited when she decided to take us along..."
  1409. "You sound sad."
  1410. >"Because I am. I turned out to be too much of an experience."
  1411. >"There is too much going around that I don't understand."
  1412. >"Of course, I believe in my mistress. My well being is secure by her side. But still, it's unnerving."
  1413. >You suppress a dry smile. Ahmed is OK guy, no need to be waspish around him.
  1414. >"Those local harem stallions are completely uncouth lugs. Some of them don't use any mouthwash, don't even know how to dance. I mean, Ajmal didn't know as well, but he is a colt and I taught him in, like, a month!"
  1415. >"Here we have some stallions as old so they could've been my fathers! And they don't care!"
  1416. "Well, it's a country life for you, I guess." You shrug. Trying not to admit to yourself that in your past life you would laugh your ass off at some hillbillies who don't know the latest memes.
  1417.  
  1418.  
  1419. >Ahmed sighs and you pet his withers.
  1420. "Is everything OK? I seldom interact with others. Have they been trying to rough you guys up, or something?"
  1421. >Ahmed huffs. His nostrils flare, a tangible air wave scares a bee away from the China Rose bush.
  1422. >"They are welcome to try. Stallion on stallion violence is highly frowned upon. Besides that, if someone would even try to say something vile to one of the matriarch's stallions, he would get a few hearty kicks in a ribs from his very mare."
  1423. >You imagine Alquswa for a moment and wince painfully.
  1424. >"Or at least, I'm sure that locals are """"civilized"""" enough to do just that." Ahmed makes a hurried elaboration.
  1425. >"By the way, they asked me what are you."
  1426. >If you had moving ears they would stand at attention.
  1427. >"I said you are a foreign male, stranded here by unknown means and that you are at Lady Amira's care. Of course, they began to theorize, what kind of creature you may be."
  1428. >You cough.
  1429. >He smiles reassuringly.
  1430. >"Nobody called you a spawn of Shaitan or what not. No way one of the Ruling Mother's, peace be upon her, advisors could be fooled by a Vile One, right? Nothing alarming, simple banter."
  1431. >Thanks to realizing where the wind blows to half-way through the Ahmed's phrase, you managed to feign a largely neutral expression.
  1432.  
  1433. "Hillbillies, the bunch of them."
  1434. >Local language haven't got any use for "redneck" for obvious reasons.
  1435. >Ahmed nuzzles your shoulder.
  1436. >"You know, Anon, I somewhat understand you now. It must be awful to find yourself in an alien land, far from home. Far from your kin."
  1437. >You open your mouth to answer something, but he continues.
  1438. >"And I understand why are you so tight on a lips about your homeland. You are probably afraid for it. Afraid of our mares.
  1439. >"But consider the following."
  1440.  
  1441.  
  1442. >"If you would make it seem as unoffensive as possible, they would try to conquer it; if you would make it seem too threatening, they would want to muster all the force to purge it; but if you at least would say something and make your fatherland seem at least decent, maybe they would want to just have relations and trade with your people?"
  1443. >You look at him intently.
  1444. >That's the fucking Ahmed the Merchant's son for you! Real Ahmed, it seems, not the trophy husband everyone know.
  1445. >"Maybe then you at least would be able to meet your kind again?"
  1446. >You think about the completely alien physical forces you have witnessed. Remember the alien night sky without any recognizable star patterns at all.
  1447. 'Yeah, fat chance.'
  1448. >You hug him by the neck to hide your face. A guard mare, stealthily drinking from the fountain doesn't bat an eye. It's a completely no homo gesture. You've seen stallions do that.
  1449. "Thank you, Ahmed!" you say out loud "Now I feel better."
  1450. >"Me as well." he smiles "When one helps a herdmate, one helps themselves."
  1451. "True dat."
  1452. >"Want to go fetch Ajmal and eat the dinner together?"
  1453. "Are we allowed to?"
  1454. >"Of course. There is the mess hall. And there is this here garden. It's not like we want to sequester ourselves in a room-"
  1455. >He paused.
  1456. >"Surely you wouldn't be into something disgusting, are you?"
  1457. >You push him into the side.
  1458. "No, thank you very much! I love mares."
  1459. >He pushes you with his nose, laughing. You laugh as well.
  1460. >Two of you begin to walk back into the main building.
  1461. "By the way, why didn't we have a mess hall in the city manor?"
  1462. >"Probably the particularities of a noble lifestyle Lady Amira spoke of once during a dinner."
  1463. >You and Ahmed got Ajmal and head to the mess hall.
  1464. >There weren't currently any guests in the palace, so harem members were allowed to freely use it whenever they wanted to.
  1465. >Still, about half way to the hall you got intercepted by a steward mare.
  1466. >"Where are you heading, stallions? I noticed you weren't in your rooms earlier and wanted to ask if you need something."
  1467. >You stay silent. Ajmal as well. Ahmed chimes in for you three.
  1468. >"Everything is alright, esteemed one-"
  1469. >"Noble one, dear stallion. I'm a part of the herd." The steward pins her ears for a second, but retorts in a polite, even tone.
  1470. >Ahmed bows deeply. You admit that despite his stocky frame he is very graceful.
  1471. >"I apologize, noble one. Of course, amidst the ancestral home of our mistress I should've expected a member of the herd to hold such an important position.
  1472. >"We arrived just recently and in the city it wasn't so."
  1473. >"Oh, I see." Steward mare seems to accept his apology."So you were going to say...?"
  1474. >"We just wanted to dine together as we usually did in Lady Amira's city manor."
  1475. >Judging by the ears the steward didn't expect this notion and somewhat liked it.
  1476. >"By all means proceed then. I'll notify servants not to deliver the food to your rooms."
  1477. >And with that she walked away.
  1478. >You stayed in a place for a moment and then go your own way as well.
  1479. "Major screwup?"
  1480. >You ask Ahmed.
  1481. >"Would've been if we weren't a part of the herd ourselves. Still, I should've known, should've asked others who is who around there instead of just wandering around and being homesick."
  1482. >You pat his withers.
  1483. >He huffs thoughtfully.
  1484. >"I tried to explain, but she could've hold a spite. It may have seemed like I dared to look down on her for being a junior mare in a herd while myself being a harem stallion, albeit a Matriarch's one."
  1485. >"Oh, come on!" Ajmal exclaimed. "She seems like a reasonable mare. Country folks are quick to anger but also quick to calm down."
  1486. >"Of course, you would know." Ahmed snorts.
  1487. "Wait, does it mean that we are also the «noble ones»?"
  1488. >Ajmal giggles at your words.
  1489. >"Pretty much." Answers Ahmed.
  1490. "Why then the merchant at the market, when I bought cheese, called me just an esteemed one?"
  1491. >Ahmed looks at you with a peculiar expression.
  1492. >"Did you correct her? Did you say that you are actually a part of the herd? No? Then she assumed with a complete justice, since you aren't an equine, that you are just a wealthy guest at the manor."
  1493. >You nod.
  1494. >Ironic smile adorns your face for a moment.
  1495. >Not an equine... Of course it's to be expected in a world with more than one sapient species. But still it rather new to be disregarded not just for being a foreigner, but for being the wrong species altogether.
  1496. >One of the many little things that scream "Not in Kansas anymore!".
  1497. >Meanwhile you arrive at the mess hall.
  1498. >It's a spacious place, even with a colonnade.
  1499. >Walls are painted with pictures of the bails of hay, some green grass in a bowl, fruits and vegetables -- the usual stuff.
  1500. >There are stone tables and pillows around. Near the far wall there is a stone counter.
  1501. >Behind it you see a large arced door frame leading to the kitchen from the looks of it.
  1502. >There is a large roaster, also behind the counter. A unicorn stallion, powdered with a flour, bakes a flat cakes on it.
  1503. >A metal spatula floats in his telekinetic aura and turns the cakes from time to time.
  1504. "Cant he just hold the cakes? What will happen if he grabs the hot cake with his magic?"
  1505. >You whisper to Ajmal.
  1506. >"Dunno. Never ever tried it." He makes an ear gesture, local analogue of a shrug.
  1507. >A donkey servant comes to you and asks what would noble stallions want.
  1508. >You three order the food and then go to one of the tables.
  1509. >Ajmal and Ahmed lie on the pillows. You take two pillows, one atop of other, and sit on them.
  1510. >Soon, your food is delivered and you begin to stuff yourselves.
  1511. "S0," you ask after the first hunger was quelled "I meant to ask several times already... But all this talk about the nobility and parts of the herd got me to wonder -- how this all works actually?"
  1512. >"Can't help you much there, Anon." Answers Ajmal, lifting his head up from the bowl.
  1513. >"Our dear ignoramus." Ahmed says affectionately. "I guess the things mares say -- I just overheard my sisters one time, mind you -- about the pretty palominos are true after all."
  1514. >"Well, I'm just a farmer's son. Never cared much which my sister will become a lead mare eventually."
  1515. "Erm, not the eldest one?"
  1516. >"Anon, order of birth doesn't mean anything. The next lead mare becomes that mare who was chosen by the current lead mare." Says Ahmed.
  1517. >"If the mother is a lead mare herself she can choose whichever one of her daughters, or even other mares in a herd, she deems necessary."
  1518. "What about the inheritance? The titles?"
  1519. >Ahmed shifts his ears.
  1520. >"Anon, I'm just a stallion. You'd better ask a faqih about things like this."
  1521. "Eh?"
  1522. >"A mare that's been given the right to interpret the law."
  1523. "Doesn't mares get in a conflict over who is the best suited to be a lead mare?"
  1524. >Both stallions snort.
  1525. >"Oh, Goddess, do they not?" chuckles Ahmed. "Of course it depends on a herd. If they live in a harmony, value and respect each other, then things are mostly smooth. But on the other hoof there can be much undercover intrigues and struggle."
  1526. "So, if a mare disagrees...?"
  1527. >"She can leave the maternal herd and form her own. If she would have enough money, that is. But if she hasn't, and the strife is too strong..."
  1528. >He pauses.
  1529. >"Well, Anon, there are things that are unbecoming to even talk about between the decent equines."
  1530. >"The Vile One be damned!" quickly says Ajmal and Ahmed echoes him.
  1531. >It sounds like a some kind of a ritualistic phrase.
  1532. "Yeah, I think I understand. But what about the stallions?"
  1533. >"What about the stallions? We belong to our herd."
  1534. "Yes, but if a mare wants to make another herd..."
  1535. >"She can take only the sons she gave birth to or the husband she payed mahr for."
  1536. "Makes sense."
  1537. 'At least sounds like it.' You think.
  1538. >"It must. The Divine Law's written by Her Light, state's law is written by our blood, as my mother says." remarks Ahmed.
  1539. ***
  1540. >"I recognize that look on your face." Amira chides in a sing-song voice.
  1541. >She bends her neck, lifting her heavy head from your chest and looks you in the eyes with her left one.
  1542. >"I would've said that it's bad for a stallion to think so much, but-"
  1543. "-but I'm not a stallion, m'lady?"
  1544. >She laughs.
  1545. >"In some regards you are better. Anyway, what's on your mind?"
  1546. "I just talked with colts today, about things-"
  1547. >"About The Book?"
  1548. "No, my lady. I would rather talk with you about it."
  1549. >Her expression becomes serious for a moment, but then lightens again.
  1550. >"See, that's why by "some regards" I didn't mean only your proficiency in the pleasures of flesh, Anon."
  1551. >"So, what was it?"
  1552. "I just wondered, how the herd is organized from a perspective of law, that is." You look at her expectingly.
  1553. >"Really? Do continue."
  1554. "We talked about how the lead mare is chosen, who get's what, where do stallions go and so on. But sadly, colts don't know much."
  1555. >"Ask away, that's a legit questions."
  1556. “Well… For one, does it matter who is the father of any given foal?”
  1557. >She pushes you with her nose, pinning you to the floor. Her eyes shine with merriment.
  1558. >"Are you jealous by any chance?"
  1559. “Oh, It’s not that, m’lady-”
  1560. >”Jealousy is an echo of greed, Anon. Keep it in mind.”
  1561. “Of course, my lady. Perhaps I shouldn’t have phrased it like that.”
  1562. >”Perhaps. But by all means you are welcome to try again.”
  1563. "Thank you, lady Amira.”
  1564. “For example, all the foals get the status of the mother's herd? Regardless of who is father?"
  1565. >"Yes. Like the Divine White Mare from the sky separates the living by the relation to her Light, here, on earth, everything and everyone are separated by relation to their respective lead mare."
  1566. >You nod, trying to seem pious enough.
  1567. "But wouldn't a wealthy or noble family want their stallion to conceive a foals that also would be wealthy or noble?"
  1568. >"The property qualification would prevent the noble born stallion from going with a common mare. She just wouldn't be able to afford the mahr for that much of a husband."
  1569. "What if it's two noble families, but one is higher ranked? Would they want to give their son to the lesser family? What about the titles?"
  1570. >"Titles?"
  1571. "Yes, lady Amira."
  1572. >Her ears stand straight.
  1573. >"Oh, now I understand what do you mean."
  1574. >She rolls over and lies on her belly. You get up and sit as well.
  1575. >"We do not use this kind of social ranking, like some other nations do. I gather that you are familiar with a concept of property qualification, am I right?"
  1576. “I am, but still I beg my lady to clarify.”
  1577. “What exactly separates a noble from a c-, from a merchant? Only the amount of wealth?”
  1578. >”Ah, the question turned out almost right but you mixed up the priorities.” She remarks in amused tone.
  1579. “I apologize.”
  1580. >”You should’ve asked: what separates a commoner from a merchant. And the answer would be -- the property qualification. But-” She pauses.
  1581. “It’s not what exalts a noble above them both?”
  1582. >Amira smiles.
  1583. >”Of course. Or we would be just like the goddessdamned griffins. What sets us apart is Merit.”
  1584. “Merit?”
  1585. >"It may be a great virtue, feat expressed or a deed made by someone. A grand invention, legendary combat prowess, an exquisite talent in some craft, a notorious and pious life..."
  1586. >"The Ruling Mother herself or the Council distinguishes those mares. They form their own herd, regardless of their wealth. Although initially, if needed, they are given the money from treasure to be able to qualify into the fourth highest property rank.”
  1587.  
  1588. >”Even if the distinguished herd gets impoverished it still will considered noble and would enjoy some exclusive benefits, in honor of their significant contribution to the society."
  1589. >"The honor is passed from a lead mare to a lead mare. And the herdmares are expected to at least excel in the field their ancestress got famous for."
  1590. >You bow.
  1591. “Considering the- um-”
  1592. >You try to find an appropriate fancy word, but realize that your vocabulary isn’t that large.
  1593. “ -What’s been said, can I ask something, well, touchy?”
  1594. Amira smirks.
  1595. >”Of course, where promotion exists, the demotion exists as well. And it affects every member of the herd, if they wouldn’t separate immediately from the offender. It’s a mortal disgrace, but it can be done, for the most serious crimes. Those kind which are punishable by death or exile.”
  1596. >”The law is harsh, but-
  1597. ‘It’s the law’ you wordlessly complete the sentence in your mind, out of habit.
  1598. >”-but to fall for Shaitan’s temptation is a fate even more cruel.”
  1599. >Oh, of course!
  1600. >You bow once again.
  1601. "What if a stallion expressed one of the feats worthy of nobility?"
  1602. >Amira demonstrates some fascinating ear play.
  1603. >"His mother becomes the progenitress of a new distinguished herd, for giving birth to and nurturing such an outstanding son."
  1604. "But what if-?"
  1605. >She pins you with her gaze.
  1606. >"How do you think, Anon?"
  1607. >You bow even deeper.
  1608. "I understand, my lady."
  1609. >Better not to try your luck with the individualistic philosophy here.
  1610. >You both sit in silence for a while.
  1611. >Then she reaches with her head, catches you with her neck and pulls onto herself.
  1612. >You hug your powerful (in more than one sense) horse mistress.
  1613. "What's the Merit of your family, lady Amira?"
  1614. >She smiles at your question.
  1615. >"Statecraft. We were one of the original founding herds."
  1616. >Amira answers, but then looks at you and quickly adds: "But that is a tale for another time."
  1617. ***
  1618. >You look at the luxurious splendor of The Book lying on a pillow.
  1619. >The Book scares you unlike anything before.
  1620. >Partially fascinated, partially wanting to know more you have asked Amira a question.
  1621. >Now you have to suffer for your curiosity.
  1622. >You sigh, and cowardly choose a compilation of fairy tales instead.
  1623. >It’s boring to read only in your stall all the time, so you walk out of the sliding door and make your way through the sandstone castle, heading for the garden.
  1624. >Once there, you begin to search for the most secluded and far-from-action place one could ever imagine.
  1625. >You have a luck with that, eventually, as you find a cozy nook walled by a green hedge.
  1626. >It contains a pavilion covered in vines, like a huge green tent.
  1627. >You enter into the chilly green shade and sit onto the usual pillows, these ones considerably dusty.
  1628. >Another sign that anypony hardly goes here and you have made a right choice.
  1629. >For some time you read undisturbed.
  1630. >But suddenly you hear hooves. Green vines part and a young colt, yet unknown to you, enters the pavilion.
  1631. >He is a regular horse, but a rather elegant one. Not as stocky as Ahmed and many others of the Earth kind you’ve met.
  1632. >He wears an expensive halter, sparkling with jewels and a thin purple blanket edged with laces. A satchel hangs from his left side, strapped to the bellyband.
  1633. >He freezes and stares at you.
  1634. >Likewise do you.
  1635. >You can guess the unspoken question pretty good.
  1636. “Something the matter,-”
  1637. >Pause.
  1638. “-noble one?”
  1639. >You add, remembering Ahmed’s fiasco.
  1640. >The colt snaps out of it and slightly drops his ears.
  1641. >”Oh. I’m sorry. Of course, you are the newest male everyone been talking about.”
  1642. >You nod.
  1643. >”Well, no need to call me a noble one. We are both males and both a part of the herd.”
  1644. >Part of the herd? He looks barely past adolescence.
  1645. >Some mares prefer young colts?
  1646. >But you haven’t seen him at the gym or at the pool with other harem stallions.
  1647. >So, perhaps a somebody’s son? You feel slightly ashamed that thought hasn’t been the first to occur.
  1648. >Meanwhile he notices the scroll and his eyes become wide.
  1649. >”A-are you reading?”
  1650. >You wonder, what will he do? Scream and run to the guardmare? To the Steward?
  1651. >But he doesn’t do anything of sorts.
  1652. >”She must have taught you how to read, right?”
  1653. >You raise your eyebrow at this. Just ‘she’, not the Matriarch, not the Lady?
  1654. “Yes”
  1655. >You answer calmly looking straight at him.
  1656. >He smiles at you sheepishly.
  1657. >”Forgive my insolence. I’m Haakim. I should’ve introduced myself right away. Was just surprised to find you here.”
  1658. >You half-smile. The same could be said about you.
  1659. “It’s nice to meet you, Haakim. I’m Anon.”
  1660. >”That’s interesting name. Surely feels inequine.”
  1661. “I imagine it to be so.”
  1662. He looks around and paws the floor with his front hoof.
  1663. >”I’m not supposed to get my education widely known, I imagine the same is true for you, but since we both share the same secret… Can I stay and read here?”
  1664. >You shrug.
  1665. “Why not? Suit yourself.”
  1666. >He nods and lies on the pillows alongside you, takes his book from the satchel and unfolds it.
  1667. >”I got tired of reading in my room, so I decided to go to one of the usual secluded spots in the garden. Didn’t expect to meet someone.”
  1668. >”Anyway, what are you reading?”
  1669. “Um, just a fairy tales. I’m still getting better at the language.”
  1670. >”That’s nice!”
  1671. >”She taught me to read using fairy tales as well. I kinda miss those. Nowadays she gives me serious books that I must read and then discuss with her when she returns from the capital.”
  1672. “Well, what are YOU reading right now?”
  1673. >”Hadiqat Alwurud, by Aaliyah the Senior.
  1674. >Rose Garden? Some agricultural book, probably?
  1675. “What’s it about?”
  1676. >He shifts his ears.
  1677. >”It’s a tractate about the theory of a state.”
  1678. >Wow!
  1679. >You can’t help yourself and lean forward to look into his book.
  1680. “…The realm of the faithful ones is like a beautiful rose garden where the thorns are the size of a blackthorn…”
  1681. >You read aloud like a child struggling with an unfamiliar ‘grown up’ text.
  1682. >”Yes, quite a cynical one.”
  1683. >Remarks your new acquaintance.
  1684. >“A work usually frowned upon, as I heard. I wonder why would she have me read something that would cast a shadow upon the statemares. But I hope she’ll clarify it. Since her return she was busy and didn’t has time to talk with me about business.”
  1685. ‘I wonder if my l-, I mean Amira, will let me read something of sorts if I ask.’ You muse wordlessly.
  1686. >Without investigating further, you return to your own book (or at least pretending to), looking at the colt stealthily, thinking.
  1687. >All this familiarity regarding Amira, completely unusual amount of education…
  1688. ‘Can it be… Can it be that he is her foal?’
  1689. >Your mistress never mentioned anything about her having foals. But again, you didn’t really ask.
  1690. >But although he is just a colt, he’s a rather grown up one. Maybe 2/3 of Ajmal’s age.
  1691. >And as far as you know, your mates both are a comparatively recent addition to the harem.
  1692. >Has Amira had somebody else in the past? Somebody she valued so highly to let him impregnate herself?
  1693. >You stop at this thought and listen to your feelings.
  1694. >Have you really become jealous?
  1695. >A strange emotion, really.
  1696. >Was it because of possessiveness (an odd thing considering you being almost in somebody’s possession yourself)?
  1697. >Or was it because you suddenly felt less valuable than you got accustomed to think about yourself?
  1698. >Silly thought, considering the genetics would most likely prevent any attempts of interbreeding…
  1699. >And yet, it bothers you.
  1700. >You wonder, whether should you ask. Not him obviously, but somebody? Amira herself?
  1701. >Trying to distract yourself from the problem you focus on the book.
  1702. >For a good while both of you are silent, only shifting around from time to time.
  1703. >After an hour or so you begin to feel peckish though.
  1704. >And as you already have read fairy tales twice, you stand up, stretching.
  1705. >Haakim’s ears rotate in your general direction and he raises his head from his book.
  1706. “Well, I finished the tales. I probably be going.” You bow slightly, out of acquired habit.
  1707. >”Oh, sure. It was very nice to get an acquaintance!” He smiles. Then his face become serious and pleading:
  1708. >”Please, Anon, do not tell anyone you saw me. I won’t tell anyone about you as well!”
  1709. “Okay. Of course I won’t tell”
  1710. >You bow again, just in case, and exit the pavilion.
  1711. ***
  1712. >You three peruse the gym facilities. Along with a dozen other stallions.
  1713. >Ahmed and Ajmal do some physical jerks, and you are running on treadmill near them, trying to ignore half-flaccid horsecocks around the gym.
  1714. >Maybe that’s what ancient Greek or Roman gymnasiums were like as well and everybody was OK with that?
  1715. >But you really miss the exclusiveness of the capital manor’s palestra.
  1716. >Mares would probably call those sentiments a Shaitan’s devices.
  1717. “Hey, guys,” you adress your bros, quietly enough to not be heard by others, “how often mares usually get pregnant?”
  1718. >You decide to start from far away.
  1719. >Ajmal’s face becomes puzzled and he looks at Ahmed, most likely not knowing what to make out of your question.
  1720. >”The answer is “As they please.” The more erudite of the two colts plugs in.
  1721. >”Like She in the Sky giveth and taketh away, the mares, Her image and likeness, decide will or will not the new life flourish. My mother taught me so.”
  1722. >”Yeah, mine told me the same, only not in that fancy language.” Ajmal smiles.
  1723. “What if a mare has several stallions, how she decides who will- erm…- conceive a foal?”
  1724. >”I wonder sometimes as well, I have only one father after all,” Ajmal muses, “But that’s like a super rude thing to ask.”
  1725. >”Ajmal’s right. You are a foreigner, I understand, but try to be more subtle with things like that.” Ahmed frowns.
  1726. >You make an apologetic face.
  1727. “Sorry, boys.”
  1728. >”Although it’s a legitimate question for a non-equine, I guess.”
  1729. >”I tell you what: I’m a son of my mother, born into the herd. The herd is one. My both fathers are those she accepted by her side because she loves them. It doesn’t matter whose seed she took to bore me or any of my sisters. What matters that it was within the herd, within the circle of love and mutual care. Like the Goddess commanded.”
  1730. >The conversation gets interrupted as you three finish your routine.
  1731. >Rubbing yourselves with towels you go out.
  1732. >Ajmal and Ahmed also get their coats and manes brushed by a young male servant.
  1733. >It’s already an evening.
  1734. >”Let’s go to the mess hall?” asks Ajmal.
  1735. “Sure”
  1736. >”Yes. Of course” agrees Ahmed.
  1737. >After some walking you arrive at the mess, taking your usual spot there and telling your preferences to the usual donkey servant.
  1738. >You also order a good serving of flat cakes, that you use as a table napkin. You prefer your fingers and face not covered in oil.
  1739. >Ahmed can just lick his muzzle over, Ajmal levitates his food to the mouth, and you make do.
  1740. >For some time silence reigns over the table, as you three eat.
  1741. >At some point you are startled by the collective murmur in the hall.
  1742. >You look over your shoulder and to the much of surprise see Amira standing in the doorway.
  1743. >Servants and herdmembers alike bow to her. She goes through the mess, graciously accepting salutation, straight to your table.
  1744. >”Here you are, my dears!” She exclaims in a joyful manner. “Wanted to share your company, I missed our dinners, to be honest.”
  1745. >She nuzzles each one of you, as others in the hall steal glances.
  1746. >”What would my lady desire to have?” asks a donkey butler, approaching with a deep bow.
  1747. >Amira briskly instructs him on her menu and takes a place at the table.
  1748. >A unicorn servant quickly brings another set of tableware for her.
  1749. >You pick up a pitcher of pomegranate juice and look at Amira expectingly, getting a somewhat surprised look from the servant.
  1750. >”Yes, please.” Amira pushes her bowl. You fill it and she takes a big sip, her lips becoming scarlet.
  1751. >After some brief moments the Matriarch’s serving got delivered and she digs in. You three eat much slower to not outpace her.
  1752. >”I finally finished the most of accumulated work. So we can be together much more.” Judging by her face she is genuinely happy.
  1753. >”Our Lady is gracious!” says Ahmed. Ajmal just gives a wide smile.
  1754. >You bow, and remember your encounter with Haakim. Maybe he will get his evaluation as well.
  1755. >”So, how was your day?” she asks.
  1756. >”I took a nice stroll with Ajmal, aside from usual routine.” Says Ahmed.
  1757. >”Well, this and the gym, nothing much besides.” Agrees Ajmal.
  1758. “I read most of the time” you say, trying to be not very loud.
  1759. >“I would love to do so as well, my Lady. I somewhat miss the manor’s library.” Remarks Ahmed.
  1760. >Amira makes a peculiar face.
  1761. >”One reaps what one sow.” She murmurs with a sly smile. “Fine, I will instruct the steward. What would you prefer?”
  1762. >”Something about distant lands and exploration!” Ahmed beams.
  1763. >Chatting so, you eventually finish your meal.
  1764. >Amira stands up, indicating you three can do the same.
  1765. >She takes the lead and you follow.
  1766. >At the cross section, where the corridor leading to the harem quarters begins your group stops.
  1767. >Ahmed and Ajmal nuzzle her and go towards the bathroom stalls.
  1768. >You want to go after them but…
  1769. >”I would like you to stay, Anon. Go with me right away.”
  1770. >Just like that? Without the usual bath and perfuming beforeho-, erm beforehand?
  1771. “Lady Amira, but I attended the gym before supper…”
  1772. >”Right away, o splendor of my eye.”
  1773. >It’s not a request, it’s a command. You bow and follow her to the chambers.
  1774. >She opens the door with her teeth. Her teeth tear your white bedsheet away as well.
  1775. >Amira backs up to you, pinning you to the wall with her backside, tail lifted like a banner.
  1776. >”I want you. Now!”
  1777. ***
  1778. >Amira lies on her belly, you are snuggled to her side. A thin wool blanket over both of you.
  1779. >As always, after the good fuck she’s very cuddly.
  1780. >”That color of the sky, I love it the most.” She says. Her head raised, ears forward.
  1781. >You look to the west, at the scarlet line where the sun set a moments ago.
  1782. >A lone strip of clouds stretches across the sky. Caught in the light, it turns into a long fiery strand, vanishing beyond the horizon.
  1783. >”Like a vestige of Goddess’ mane, isn’t it?”
  1784. “Indeed, my lady.”
  1785. >You both are at the long narrow terasse on the side of the Sandstone Palace. Your movements during sex brought you there.
  1786. >Marveled at the sunset long enough, Amira makes a motion to stand.
  1787. >”Let’s go inside. Night’s are chilly here and you don’t have any fur.”
  1788. >You get up, wrapping yourself in the blanket. You feel the truth of her words as the night breeze gets to you.
  1789. >Amira raises up as well and walks back to the room
  1790. >”Take the wine, Anon.”
  1791. >She says over her back.
  1792. >You grab the heavy jug and the bowl from the table that stands nearby and follow her through the short curved corridor.
  1793. >Here, in the Sandstone Palace, Amira’s chamber is somehow more imposing than the one back in the capital albeit being decorated with less opulence.
  1794. >It’s a large, spacious room with thin and high ogive windows and a tessellated floor.
  1795. >Walls are adorned with art.
  1796. >It features paintings of plants, ponies harvesting or planting them, armored soldiers marching somewhere, and the largest one — a group of unicorns and the earth kind ones standing in a circle around the rock with a single rearing unicorn, the sun shining above them.
  1797. >Funnily enough, the sun with it’s rays looks like an Imperial Japanese banner back on Earth.
  1798. >You put the jug and the bowl onto yet another squatty table, surrounded by pillows. Amira lies besides it and indicates you to sit.
  1799.  
  1800.  
  1801. >”That’s rather early still.” She comments, then takes the jug by the handle with her mouth and pouring some date wine into the bowl.
  1802. >”Here, would you like a drink?”
  1803. >You look at the bowl cautiously. As far as you know, stallions aren’t not supposed to drink wine.
  1804. >Amira laughs.
  1805. >”Come on, dear, I offer it myself.”
  1806. >You bow and take the large bowl with both hands.
  1807. >The viscous dark liquid is sweet and spicey.
  1808. >You return the bowl back to the table and lick your lips.
  1809. >”Is it good?”
  1810. “Yes, very good, lady Amira.”
  1811. >”Have you ever drunk something like this?”
  1812. >Oh, here we go again!
  1813. >But you also remember what Ahmed has said about data mining and you. Better make some small concessions.
  1814. ”Not quite, my lady.”
  1815. >”Have you drunk alcohol at all?”
  1816. “Yes, I’m familiar with alcohol.”
  1817. >”What kind of drink it was?”
  1818. “Mainly beer”
  1819. >”Bheeer?” She neighs out, having a difficulty to say it exactly like you.
  1820. >As you don’t know their name for it you used human-
  1821. >Erm… -English word.
  1822. “It’s a drink from fermented barley. And hops.”
  1823. >Her ears stand at attention for a second, then return to the side. She snorts.
  1824. >”Well, I guess when one’s kind cannot digest grain one forced to do something weird with it.”
  1825. >You bow.
  1826. >”Did you have any wines?”
  1827. >You have a feeling she means your kind as a collective.
  1828. “Yes, grape ones. And from some other fruits as well.”
  1829. >”Such as?”
  1830. “Well…” you stroke your chin, “Plums, blueberries, raspberries…”
  1831. >She nods and shifts her ears into a thoughtful position.
  1832. >”Did they grow at your home or did it imported?”
  1833. “It’s a bit of both.”
  1834. >”I see… Want another sip?”
  1835.  
  1836.  
  1837. >Does she want to make you drunk?
  1838. “I thought males shouldn’t drink, my lady?”
  1839. >”True. They’re impulsive, emotion driven, lack natural self-control. And alcohol can dazzle, can make one susceptible to Shaitan’s tricks… But I’m right here, with you. That’s what mare is for, to nurture, protect, guide and preserve. I’m sure my hooves and my faith are enough to keep evil’s talons away.”
  1840. >You have no other choice but to bow and take another chug. The shit’s tasty, to be honest!
  1841. >Still, you want to shift the dialogue somewhere else.
  1842. >So, you look at the largest painting in the room and point on it.
  1843. “My lady, I would like to ask… What’s going on here, on the fresco? It looks like important scene.”
  1844. >She rotates her right eye a bit, to look at the wall.
  1845. >”That’s an important scene, indeed. It’s the Founding.”
  1846. “The Founding?”
  1847. >“Yes, of our current country.”
  1848. >You remember something.
  1849. “You said your clan was one of the founding herds, didn’t you, my lady?”
  1850. >She smiles.
  1851. >”There, you see? The one in the hooded caparison? That’s our ancestress, Almaerifa the Wise.”
  1852. >You look at the scene and nod.
  1853. “Please, lady Amira, tell me more! For example, who’s that unicorn and why… eh… she’s on the rock?”
  1854. >You really curious about this all, although you are a little bit embarrassed with your own hypocrisy
  1855. >Amira’s ears make a full circle. She stands and walks towards the wall. You raise to your feet and follow.
  1856. >”That’s Amira Jalala, peace be upon her. The Great Unifier. The Prophet. ”
  1857. “Amira?” You ask, puzzled “Like you, my lady?”
  1858. >Amira, the one here, besides the painting, lets out an amused whinny.
  1859. >”It became a female name after a while, but back then it was what unicorns called a lead mare in their tribes. So her name is Jalala. Amira is her title.”
  1860. “I thought you said you don’t use titles, my lady?”
  1861. >”Back then it was… very different. All different. The hierarchy, the conventions, the names…”
  1862. >She paused, most likely collecting her thoughts.
  1863.  
  1864.  
  1865. >“But, let’s talk about everything in order.
  1866. >”So, equines of the region were estranged. Often conflicting with each other.
  1867. >”The Earth kind roamed the less sandy lands, where they could have easier access to the continental plate to grow walls and raise shallow deposits of ores. And of course fertile soil to grow enough food. Donkeys, caprinekind and bovines preferred to live there as well. Being less civilized and gifted with the Light in general quickly made them subservient to the Earth kinders.
  1868. >”The unicorn tribes migrated from oasis to oasis. They lived in the desert, because their powers let them survive the heat and conserve the water. Also, that way they encountered fewer griffins and Roc birds.”
  1869. ‘What’s a Rock Bird?’ you wonder. Something about bikers and heavy metal comes to mind.
  1870. >”The Earth clans were oftentimes fighting each other, competing for fields and rock. Sometimes the weaker clan got absorbed into the stronger one, sometimes displaced, closer to the desert. There they have to deal with the unicorn nomads. Back then they thought themselves to be the better kind among equines.”
  1871. >Amira shifts to stand straight, raising her head high and lifting her muzzle up.
  1872. >”While mudponies hoard land — we are galloping free, after the Goddess’ hoofsteps in the sky!” She proclaims in an extremely pompous manner, clearly impersonating.
  1873. >You smirk knowingly, being unable to contain it. Amira’s ears turn to you, but she doesn’t say anything on the matter.
  1874. >”But of course,” she continues “oasis greenery can sustain one only so much. So they raided Earth clans for food. And after a while, when they acquired the taste of it — for goods as well.
  1875. “For weapons and armor?” you take half-educated guess.
  1876. >”Among other things. They didn’t need weapons much, as, truth be told, unicorns are very dangerous in combat as they are.
  1877. ‘Yeah, that I can imagine…’ you think, remembering Ajmal’s pyromancy.
  1878.  
  1879.  
  1880. >”But their nobility appreciated armor, cloth and some nice everyday things like pottery or glassware.”
  1881. >You nod. It’s all makes sense.
  1882. >”The strong Earth clans,” Amira continues, “having secured the ownership of heartland, in turn, dreaded to approach the mountains. Because there be griffins.”
  1883. >So far, her tone was mostly lighthearted. Now, it changes drastically.
  1884. >”Their damned kind nested in mountains since forever. It’s a Goddess’ blessing Roc birds were just a dumb savages. But griffins weren’t. And one time they consolidated themselves enough to pose an existential threat to us.”
  1885. >You see her teeth clench and facial muscles tense. She pins her ears.
  1886. >”Their growing kingdoms exterminated almost all savages they could prey upon in the mountains and around. Even the carnivorous ones! Can you imagine the level of barbarity!”
  1887. >You think you understand what she’s talking about, imagining the perspective of the herbivorous species on the matter.
  1888. >”So, they turned on us and the others to sustain their scourge. Those Shaitan’s spawn used us as food! There were raids at first, then full scale wars. We were losing, step by step. Even the unicorns weren’t safe in their desert anymore.
  1889. >”The griffins conquered a good portion of fertile grounds and made locals their tributaries. And that tribute they took in blood. Conquered tribes must had sent regular groups of poor unfortunate souls to the kingdoms to perish under the butcher’s knife!” She says with extreme anger.
  1890. >You think never before you have seen lively and elegant Amira being so loathsome.
  1891. >”And that’s not all! Some kingdoms made a slave settlements where they had their captives live in misery and illiteracy, bred them and devoured their offspring!”
  1892. >Hearing this makes you very uncomfortable. Because you suddenly remember a supermarket and the fridges full of packed meat. And liver. And guts, and other organs on display.
  1893. >And a delicious, juicy hamburger in your hand.
  1894.  
  1895.  
  1896. >Being a city dweller you’ve never really gave a thought where that all comes from before appearing on the shelves. But having heard what you’ve heard puts it all in a completely different light.
  1897. >For some reason you vividly imagine those you got to know here: a small unicorn filly, full of smile, who sold you orange juice at the market; modest and intelligent Haakim; a complaisant and sweet jenny, jewelered goats, your harem buddies… Their severed heads on a hook and some indifferent looking man in a neat bluish apron with a wide knife in his hand standing near.
  1898. >You shudder form a strong wave of sudden revulsion.
  1899. >Amira, absorbed in her own emotions, doesn’t notice that.
  1900. >You take a hold of yourself and make a mental note to never ever mention that humans can and like to eat meat.
  1901. >Amira takes a few sharp breaths through her nose, making her nostrils flare. Unpins her ears.
  1902. >”Alright,” she sighs, “onto the Founding.”
  1903. >”The war with griffins thinned our ranks significantly. Some tribes began to try to appease the griffins not waiting for their conquest attempts. Other tribes even began to trade with them, voluntarily exchanging their own for “””protection””” and for goods.
  1904. >”And as much as I hate to admit it, some, the most despicable ones, begin to work for griffins, hunting their fellow equines, other people and savages to sell for profit and benefits.”
  1905. >You look at Amira and see extreme regret and shame in her facial expression. She looks so crestfallen that you cannot help yourself but step near her and hug her by the neck. At the sudden thought you stick your face into her withers and begin to nip her coat with your teeth.
  1906. >She snorts and nuzzles your back.
  1907. >”It’s alright, Anon. We should remember our fall, should remember where Shaitan’s ways took us.”
  1908. >She disengages from you.
  1909. >”I hope you now fully understand, why greed is deadly.”
  1910. >You bow, this time with complete sincerity.
  1911.  
  1912.  
  1913. >”So, at that time there was one unicorn tribe and their ruler was the wisest and the most blessed by the Light of all mares before her. Jalala. Her rule was strict and just, her judgement always true.
  1914. >“Seeing what’s going on, and how griffin scourge clouds the heartland she made everything she could to not only preserve her herd, but to save the other equines around as well.
  1915. >“She begin to pick the lonely bands wandering through the desert, that got separated from defeated tribes. She was the first of all unicorns to incorporate Earth kinders into her herd.”
  1916. >”One time she had a revelation from the Goddess…
  1917. >Amira paused and looked from the painting straight at you.
  1918. >”Now, so you understand, the Goddess doesn’t talk. She is so immense that she can show us her will only using the whole world around as her message. That was outstanding! Because of that, Jalala didn’t want to tell anypony.
  1919. >”Stealthily, by the night she went to the place the Goddess showed her. It was a mighty, rock, somehow standing amidst the desert. Jalala twirled her horn and the rock parted, opening wide. She entered it and the rock closed itself again.
  1920. >”Her tribe camping in distance suddenly saw a huge pillar of light shining down from heavens above. Then there was thunderous roar and savage blast of wind rolled over the desert.
  1921. >”Seeing that Jalala isn’t with them filled the tribe with great fear. Her favorite, and only, husband, raving with grief, pleaded with their daughters to investigate what’s going on.
  1922. >”The daughters, valliant and courageous warriors, rushed to where the light struck. When they approached the rock, it stood in the middle of the field of glass. It’s surface was molten. And covered with burned out lines in ancient unicorn script.”
  1923. >Amira looks at you with a solemn and sacramental look on her face:
  1924. >”It was the words of the Divine Law as we know it. And Jalala stood by the rock, unharmed.”
  1925. >”She commanded her daughters to gather others around. And she preached to them, talking about what the Goddess has revealed her. Talked about what they need to do to stop the griffin scourge.
  1926. >”Then she led her whole tribe back to the heartland, to preach among other equines.”
  1927. >”When they arrived, they stumbled upon an Earth clan besieged by slaving bandits
  1928. >”With the help of Jalala’s tribe they broke the siege and routed the slavers.”
  1929. >”Jalala was leading her warriors herself, as was the lead mare of the Earth clan. But the latter was killed during the battle, along with all five of her foals.
  1930. >”The Earth clan was at disarray as back then current rule about succession didn’t existed. Seeing that, Jalala adressed them with a speech.
  1931. >”The lone drop of water will vaporise under the heat, but add another drop — and there will be a puddle. Unite the two puddles — and there will be a pond. Unite two ponds — and there will be an oasis! Join us, and our tribe will become your tribe, and we will build our oasis under Her sun together!”
  1932. >”And the Earth kinders joined her. Then Jalala ordered to catch all fleeing slavers and stomp down all wounded enemies on the battlefield.
  1933. >Amira’s expression becomes savage.
  1934. >”She ordered to severe wings off all the griffins and stuffed them to death with pebbles and sand to ‘help them digest equine lands they had bitten off’.
  1935. >”She ordered to trample down free of grass a large area near the small river. All equine collaborators got their legs broken and disjointed and were tossed there to die at a neck’s reach from water and greenery.
  1936. >”You had all the gifts of the Sky Mother to live and prosper, and yet you choose to turn on your own kind to gain more. You have sinned against Her and not worthy of Her boons anymore.” Jalala had said.”
  1937. >Amira huffs with satisfaction, her nostrils flare. But after a moment she deeply frowns, like if being disgusted.
  1938. “Why didn’t griffins flew away?” you ask.
  1939. >You have never seen one, of course, but following the general logic they should be able to do just that.
  1940. >”You think unicorns would had let them?” Amira smirks.
  1941. >You think of telekinesis and nod.
  1942. >”And so Jalala led her new tribe along the ridge of the heartland, rescuing bands of survivors and defeating griffin war parties. But the tribe became rather big with all the rescuees, and Jalala knew that they need to do something unthinkable for a unicorn back then — to settle somewhere to be able sustain themselves.”
  1943. >”At that time there also was a powerful Earth clan around. One of the most ancient ones. They valiantly deflected griffin attacks, fortified in their ancestral stronghold — a castle of rock they had raised through generations.”
  1944. >She pauses, turns away from the mural and walks out to the terasse. You follow her.
  1945. >It’s chilly outside but you’re trying to hold up.
  1946. >Amira gestures with her head towards the bulk of the Stone Castle nearby.
  1947. >”This very castle, in fact.”
  1948. >You look at the ancient citadel, looming imposingly in the darkness of night, shudder involuntarily, and wonder how is it — to live at the exact place where your ancestors, you family even, fought countless hordes and had won.
  1949. >Your modern human education surely didn’t make an emphasis on things like that.
  1950. >Amira smiles, enjoying the effect her words had on you.
  1951. >”One day Jalala’s wandering army approached our castle. Almaerifa, our leader, was alarmed at first. She dispatched a messengers to learn who the newcomers were. When she learned that this is the same tribe that have been rumored to defeat all griffin troops around the Ridge, she invited Jalala into the castle.
  1952. >She casts a quick glance at your clattering teeth and leads you back into the room. There she continues:
  1953. >”The two wise mares talked all day and all night and exited the chambers as the best friends.”
  1954. >”On the large field in front of the castle they concluded the alliance and agreed to rule together, consulting each other about all the matters.”
  1955. >”Jalala told her everything she came to know from the Goddess’ relevation and two friends and co-rulers began to preach together.”
  1956. >”Preach, that all equines are the Goddess’ herd and should be together. That all ungulates are blessed, for they withstood Shaitans corruption. That sapient carnivores are eternal sinners, because despite their sapience they had dropped control and chose to indulge the Eternal Hunger…”
  1957. >Looking you in the face once again, she remarks:
  1958. >”And if certain someone would read the Book he himself asked me to give him, he wouldn’t look so dumbfounded right now.”
  1959. >Her tone is simply scoffing, but you still choose to bow deeply.
  1960. “You right as always, my lady. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
  1961. >”It’s partially my fault as well. From now on I’ll make sure to pay more attention to your education.
  1962. “And I would be thankful for this.” You answer, your back still bend down. “Although, as a male—
  1963. >”For Her sake, Anon! I’m not one of those simple meager mares who doesn’t even suspect a male could think a bit. Drop this.”
  1964. “At once, my lady.”
  1965. >She walks to and fro a bit, and then continues.
  1966. >”Anyway. The power of a new realm grew. They established contacts with some other Earth clans. Jalala brought some more unicorn tribes from the desert. They waged unrelenting war against griffins and in ten years conquered back the good portion of equine lands. They liberated slave villages, saved countless savages and ungulates.”
  1967. >”Griffins, like the typical Shaitan’s spawn, spent the amount of time arguing and fighting among themselves equal to that fighting us. But now, we were united, and they were not.”
  1968. >”At last, deciding against the push into the mountains, our ancestors outlined the border of our land and swore that no bloodthirsty bantling will ever cross it again.
  1969. >”They gathered at the approximate center of our lands and founded Dameascus, meaning it to be the common capital. At that gathering they agreed to elect one from their ranks to be the lead mare of the whole country with others being her councilmares. Jalala got elected as the first Ruling Mother.”
  1970. >”And that, my dear Anon, is how Saddle Arabia was made.”
  1971. >She smiles at you.
  1972. “That was an amazing tale, lady Amira. You certainly have many reasons to be proud of your family!”
  1973. >”Glad you liked it.”
  1974. “Although I’m sorry I made you remember some unsavory things, tarnishing a peaceful evening you were having.”
  1975. >”Never mind that. Mare that isn’t strong enough to maintain constant grasp on the reality and truth is not a mare at all.
  1976. >”Besides, it’s by itself an interesting experience. Telling someone tales of something mundane and commonly known one is kind of rediscovers the world.”
  1977. >You nod. And realize that something was amiss from the whole story.
  1978. “My lady, but, if I remember correctly, there is three kinds of ponies. Where were the pegasi?”
  1979. >”Pegasi don’t live on or above the Horseshoe peninsula. It’s too arid to properly make clouds around here.”
  1980. ‘Make clouds… Well, OK. How simple, silly me!’ you think for yourself.
  1981. >Amira extends her neck and yawns.
  1982. >”Let’s rest for now, Anon. It was a long evening.”
  1983. “Of course, my lady.”
  1984. >She lies onto the carpet.
  1985. >”Would you like to go back to your stall or…”
  1986. >Without a word you approach her and snuggle to her side, embracing her barrel, enjoying the feeling of her coat against your bare skin.
  1987. >She snorts and gently nips your shoulder.
  1988. ***
  1989. >You meditate in the garden.
  1990. >By the way of feeding birds.
  1991. >You sit near the fountain, your back against it’s pleasantly cold basin.
  1992. >You hands work absentmindedly, pieces of dried flatcake crumble between your fingers.
  1993. >Pigeons and sparrows peck on their treat, emitting happy bird noises.
  1994. >Aside from finger movement you’re so static, that one or two of the sparrows hop onto your shoulders to chill out, cleaning their small beaks with your bedsheet.
  1995. >So, the history of the region turned out to be as much as bloody and cruel as you have imagined.
  1996. >Of course, with some striking local features. Like a carnivore-herbivore conflict instead of ethnic or pure religious one. Which is much, much worse.
  1997. >Given enough time ethnoses can mix and merge, be it for the good or for the bad. Religions can erode. But a conflict between the one who eats and the one who is eaten is so fundamental that it basically is eternal.
  1998. >You now understand why different hoofed anim--
  1999. ‘Shit!’
  2000. >You now understand why different hoofed people stick together so fine. And understand better their piety towards the ‘savages’.
  2001. >Amira’s decision to coach you personally in the matters of religion, on the one hoof, brought you a great deal of relief.
  2002. >For some reason you couldn’t muster courage to delve into the Book yourself.
  2003. >On the other hoof, though, you are anxious about this as you should be careful with showing your reaction.
  2004. >The part of Amira’s story about the Rock interested you the most. The existence of the Rock means material evidence of what possible can be divine intervention.
  2005. >And some part of you desperately wants to witness--
  2006. >You hear hoofsteps nearby and snap out of your thoughts. Sparrows, alarmed by your motion take off your shoulder.
  2007. “I’m sorry…” you mutter barely audible, in your human tongue.
  2008. >On the paved path you see Haakim, the mystery colt.
  2009.  
  2010.  
  2011.  
  2012. >He sees you as well, smiles and bows his head slightly.
  2013. >You clasp your right hand to the left side of your chest and give a bow in human manner.
  2014. >He doesn’t try to strike a conversation so you don’t say anything as well.
  2015. >Haakim walks by the path towards the usual secluded spot. But when he walks the closest to the hedge, you hear intense rustling and someone sticks their head through it.
  2016. >Haakim jerks away alarmed, but quickly calms down.
  2017. >The intruder is a young unicorn mare, or, more precisely, a grown up filly. Her halter is rather simple, with a modest clasps made of some silvery metal.
  2018. >You faintly hear her words.
  2019. >”Hey, beautiful flower! Whatcha doing?”
  2020. >”Hi, Anisa,” answers Haakim “I was going to... to… to do some chores!”
  2021. >The filly laughs, but in a good natured way.
  2022. >”Figured you’d be. I kinda hate it that now, as we are older, we cant just casually hang out anymore.” She drops her ears.
  2023. >”Me too,” agrees Haakim.
  2024. >”Anyway, wanted to say… we’re playing pushball today, against merchant quarter’s team. Kinda important game… Will you go cheer for us?”
  2025. >Somehow, you feel this ‘us’ rather implies ‘me’.
  2026. >Haakim looks at her, distressed, his ears low.
  2027. >”I would really love to! But… I don’t know. I doubt they’ll allow me…”
  2028. >The filly looks crestfallen.
  2029. >”Eh… Alright, I understand. But if you’ll manage — please, come! The usual place.”
  2030. >Having said this she disappears back in the hedge.
  2031. >Haakim stands still for a few moments, his face solemn.
  2032. >Then he prepares to steer back on the course and suddenly halts, pivoting in your general direction.
  2033. >A moment of energetic trot - and he stands before you.
  2034. >Birds fly away. You wince.
  2035. “Greetings again, noble Haakim.” You hail him semi-officially, faint hints of irritation in your voice.
  2036. >Not very wise of you, of course, if he really is Amira’s foal. But you hope he’s still young enough to not pick some nuances.
  2037.  
  2038.  
  2039. >”Greetings, Anon,” he bobs his head up and down, “sorry for the disturbance… I want to ask you something.”
  2040. “Yes, what is it?”
  2041. >”You’re an older stallion— I mean male, and a part of the herd… Can I ask you to accompany me on an errand… erm… outside the residence?”
  2042. >You look at him and think fast.
  2043. >That all sounds sketchy as fuck, but what if you outright refuse? He looks like he would take it to the heart. And you don’t want her possible offspring to hold a grudge against you - a foreign nobody.
  2044. >Thank Goddess he isn’t a filly, who might’ve someday become the new mistress of the herd…
  2045. “I don’t know. I’m not well versed in more complicated matters of etiquette.”
  2046. >You answer honestly.
  2047. >”Well, an adult, married stallion can escort his relative foals - and I still technically am one - to keep an eye on them, within a certain distance… and we aren’t going to overstep it!”
  2048. “It’s not very far, I hope?”
  2049. >”It isn’t! Oh, thank you very much, Anon! Wait a moment, please, I’ll go get something to wear as alhijab and burqa. Will you help me with dressing up? I wouldn’t want to ask a servant…”
  2050. ***
  2051. >You two sneak to the street beyond the Sandstone Palace, past the bored guardmares.
  2052. >Here, at the heart of their liege’s ancestral fief, they’re somewhat more relaxed than what you’ve become used to in the Capital.
  2053. >Haakim and you walk side by side, draped in fabric.
  2054. >The street,curiously enough, is wider than most of what you’ve seen in Dameascus, excluding the noble quarter.
  2055. >Buildings are either sandstone or from some kind of bedrock. They’re neat and aesthetically pleasant in their geometry, albeit being somewhat spartan.
  2056. >Passersby politely bow to Haakim, and by extent, to you.
  2057. ‘Well, it’s nice to be in your family’s own capital, I guess’
  2058. >You muse to yourself, then pause and smirk.
  2059. >You just casually, on the first thought, referred to the Amira’s herd as your family.
  2060. “The game, it must be an important one.”
  2061. >You say conversationally.
  2062. >”I wouldn’t ever understand, honestly. It’s some marely matter…” Haakim answers thoughtfully.
  2063. >”But I feel it’s important to her. Always was. And she is a very good friend.”
  2064. “By the way, that filly, who is she?”
  2065. >”Anisa? She’s a daughter of our old time retainess, one of the troop commanders, Alharara.
  2066. >”We used to play together a lot.”
  2067. “Do you like her?”
  2068. >You ask with a knowing smile
  2069. >Haakim drops his ears.
  2070. >”Um… um… Well. She’s handsome, she’s brave, she’s so much fun to be with…”
  2071. >He mutters.
  2072. >”But… I probably shouldn’t say that.”
  2073. >You decide against further questions.
  2074. >Some time you two trot in silence.
  2075.  
  2076.  
  2077. >Meanwhile the scenery changes and you arrive at some kind of park.
  2078. >Meadows, olive and date trees, pebble paths — the stuff.
  2079. >And among all this — a large trotten out rectangular area.
  2080. >It has two sets of posts at the each narrow end, most likely goal posts.
  2081. >A good half a hundred equines gathered around the area, all of them inevitably pause their activities and talks to stare at you.
  2082. >Well, screw them! You are a noble one now!
  2083. >You adjust your bedsheet and strike a pose like some ancient Roman in toga you saw somewhere in a book.
  2084. >Everypony bow. To Haakim, of course, you aren’t going to kid yourself.
  2085. >Anisa trots near.
  2086. >She looks at you, baffled and confused, yet still acknowledges you with a slight bow.
  2087. >”Haakim, you came! I’m so glad!” she makes a motion to nuzzle him, but stops herself.
  2088. >”But who is it, accompanying you?”
  2089. >”It’s Anon. He’s a foreigner…”
  2090. >You hear Anisa mutter: ‘Sure, I wouldn’t have known.’
  2091. >”…He is Matriarch’s male. I asked him to accompany me and he kindly agreed.”
  2092. >At these words Anisa gawks at you, a precious mix of wonder, shock, curiosity and suspicion in her eyes.
  2093. >Others around fall speechless for a moment and then begin to whisper among each other.
  2094. >Anisa bows again, much more deeply this time.
  2095. >”I am sorry, noble one. Forgive my discourtesy. It’s just surprising to see one like… you… well… like this—” She begins her speech almost like a grown up mare, but quickly begins to stutter.
  2096.  
  2097.  
  2098. “It’s alright—” you pause, “esteemed one. I understand. I simply came to Haakim’s rescue, for the sake of decency, because he wanted to cheer for you very much.”
  2099. >She looks flattered, being addressed like a full grown adult.
  2100. >You smile.
  2101. “Well, let us go. I heard you having some kind of game here? Most interesting!”
  2102. >Anisa comes to her senses and trots back, with Haakim and you in a tow.
  2103. >”Yes, noble one. You may not know, as you aren’t… well…”
  2104. “Not an equine, sure. So I would be delighted to know more about culture of my noble mistress.”
  2105. >Your trio stops among the large group of Earth-kinders and unicorns, ranging from foals to almost adult. All mares.
  2106. >Haakim acknowledges some of them personally, others just bow from a distance.
  2107. >”Well, noble one. It’s called pushball and we are—” Anisa begins to say.
  2108. >Meanwhile one of the mares, the one that looks the eldest, beckons others to the field.
  2109. >”OK, warm up time!” she shouts.
  2110. >”I should go!” exclaims Anisa and bumps Haakim with her nose. “Wish us luck!”
  2111. >She trots to others and they begin to run in circles.
  2112. >”May the Goddess be with you.” Haakim says after her.
  2113. >You shrug.
  2114. “Well, lets take our place at the stands.”
  2115. >”What stands?” he asks, puzzled.
  2116. “Let’s watch, I mean.”
  2117. >”Oh.”
  2118. >You need not to feign interest. As you and Haakim stand still at the edge of the field you look around carefully.
  2119. >‘Your’ team warms up at this end of the field. It consists both of unicorns and the Earth ones. All relatively young, You deduce that they’re probably soldier’s or castle staff’s foals.
  2120. >On the other end, opposed to them gathered those, who you guess are ‘their’ team. The one of merchant quarter.
  2121. >This other team piques your interest to a much greater degree.
  2122.  
  2123.  
  2124. >Half of them are the usual young Earth-kinders, but the others…
  2125. >Besides a number of large donkey youth you see a couple of somebodies looking like regular horses but bulkier, with longer, pointier ears and rounder faces.
  2126. >In your former city life on Earth you, naturally, never had seen any of this creatures. But somehow a word ‘mule’ surfaces from the depth of your mind.
  2127. >You nudge Haakim.
  2128. “Say, ponies and donkeys — can they have foals together?”
  2129. >Haakim’s ears drop. If not for his coat of fur, you think you would’ve seen him deeply blush.
  2130. >”Well, yes. All equines can have offspring.”
  2131. “How they’re called?”
  2132. >”Baghl. But there’s a thing about them… If they want to contribute to their herd, or donkey-like family, they only can do it in any other way besides the foals.”
  2133. >So, ‘baghl’ is a ‘mule’ or ‘mules’. But still, one thing is a very curious…
  2134. “Are others OK with them? I mean ‘pure’ donkeys or ponies.”
  2135. >”Well, long time ago, as I’ve learned, they were seen as abominations and killed. But after the Founding that was prohibited. Still, they’re not very numerous. Typically donkeys marry their own, as much as we are.”
  2136. >Saying this, Haakim fidgets his ears, indicating uncertainness.
  2137. >You see his eyes rotate — he quickly looks around. Making sure others maintain a respectful distance, he brings his head near your ear and whispers.
  2138. >”Don’t quote me on that, just a some saucy gossip I’ve heard… Well… Soldiermares like such stallions very much. Because… You know…”
  2139. >You smirk.
  2140. “I think I know, yes. But what about females then?”
  2141. >”They have a hard time making a herd of their own. Basically only if some other mare invites them, or a baghl is wealthy or liked enough to invite a pure mare and form a herd together. A herd without foals is a travesty, a treason before Her eyes.”
  2142.  
  2143.  
  2144. “They would bed the same stallion together?”
  2145. >Well, that’s new!
  2146. >”I’m not sure if I even should answer this… Well, it’s VERY complicated. You probably should ask a mare about it… But from what a colt like me knows, mares can share a stallion if they’re relatives, part of one herd, and one of them is barren.”
  2147. >Well, sounds about right.
  2148. “Thanks for the info!”
  2149. >”Oh, never mind. Although it’s rather embarrassing for a colt to talk about things like that, Anon.”
  2150. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
  2151. >Maybe you indeed shouldn’t have been asking poor boy about such topics.
  2152. >Meanwhile, the match begins.
  2153. >Both teams are pushing a huge ball made of assorted rags sewn together. Probably filled with cotton or something.
  2154. >The playstyle itself is very harsh, with lots of biting, kicking, pushing and ramming.
  2155. >The term ‘horseplay’ comes to mind.
  2156. >Given that the average weight of a junior league player seems to be something around 200 kg of pure musculature, it all looks formidable and quite scary, to be honest.
  2157. >American football players, even wearing body armor, would have had a very bad and painful time competing against the locals.
  2158. >It’s self-evident, that the goal is to push the ball through the goal posts.
  2159. >After some time you catch yourself becoming actually invested in the action, cheering for ‘your’ team along with others.
  2160. >The spectators express their support with stomping and loud neighing. You do the same, sans neighing. It’s hard enough to pronounce regular equine words with your human throat as is.
  2161. >More animalistic verbal expressions aren’t for you.
  2162. >After a hour or so of the heated battle of sportsmanship, ‘your’ team wins. But with a minimal edge, 10-8.
  2163.  
  2164.  
  2165. >Players leave the field and return to their admirers.
  2166. >’Your’ camp greets it’s team with cheers.
  2167. >Anisa gallops back to you and Haakim, beaming with joy.
  2168. >”Hey, did you see that! We sure showed em!”
  2169. >Her coat dark with sweat. Even to your human nose she emits unmistakable scent of youth, of excitement, of power… Of a mare.
  2170. >But the funniest part is that, to your shame, you feel a certain tension in your nether regions.
  2171. >Quite a long time of horse sexual conditioning have done things to you.
  2172. >You keep your expression calm and just politely joyful enough, so nobody suspects anything.
  2173. >Amira would probably rip your face off if she would know.
  2174. >You glance at Haakim. His nostrils flare involuntarily. It’s a good thing his barrel is wrapped in fabric or he would, most likely, have dropped as well.
  2175. >Still, he braces himself and sincerely congratulates Anisa. Avoiding any nuzzling, though.
  2176. >”Whew, I’m starving!” she exclaims. “Would you like to go grab something to eat, to commemorate the win?”
  2177. >She asks you both it seems.
  2178. “I haven’t any money on me.” You shrug.
  2179. >And any access to it anyway, if you think about that.
  2180. >”Me neither.” Haakim echoes you.
  2181. >”Oh, it’s OK.”
  2182. >”Anisa, no.” He says quietly. “You shouldn’t use your allowance to pay for me.”
  2183. >She lunges with her head and grabs him by the withers.
  2184. >You aren’t sure if it’s a proper way of interaction between a noble one and an esteemed one.
  2185. >”Come on!” she chides through the gritted teeth, “It’s all OK. You’ll see!”
  2186. >She drags Haakim away, you quickly follow.
  2187. ***
  2188. >”Oh… Oh! Greetings, noble one and-”
  2189. >A stately unicorn mare greets you. Her coat is powdered with white flour and her mane is braided.
  2190. >She stands beyond some very long stone counter that spans along the facade of a wide and spacious hangar-like building.
  2191. >From where you are you can see stoves, tables loaded with cookware and food items and a dozen of ponies doing cooking.
  2192. >”Greetings, esteemed one.” Haakim smiles. “Anon here is a new matriarch’s male.”
  2193. >Mare looks puzzled for a moment but then simply bows.
  2194. >”Ah, understood. Greetings, noble one and noble one.”
  2195. >”Aunty Farah, we’ve won!” Anisa tosses her head proudly.
  2196. >”I’ve never had any doubts, young one.” The mare answers, then brings her head closer to Anisa and groans:
  2197. >”Anisa, what in the Goddess’ name are you thinking?!”
  2198. >”Aunty, but you’ve promised to treat me if we would win!” quietly protests Anisa.
  2199. >”You know what I’m talking about! Who in the world made you think that it’s a good idea to drag one of the young masters here, to the troops mess hall?!”
  2200. >You and Haakim, standing a bit aside, pretend to be looking elsewhere.
  2201. >In your case it’s not even pretending though.
  2202. >Anisa lead both of you inside the actual citadel. You‘ve got a good glimpse at what the monumental massive of rocks looks like up close and now feel even more astonished by it.
  2203. >It’s walls, towers and facilities consist of actual monolithic bedrock, just like the wider outer fortifications of the city. But here it’s much more robust.
  2204. >Back home you’ve heard something about artificial crystals and stuff. But you have no idea how anybody can grow bedrock.
  2205. >The main castle somewhat looks like a newborn little brother to NORAD command complex in Cheyenne mountain. Like it can sustain a smaller caliber nuclear warhead.
  2206.  
  2207.  
  2208. >Griffins probably didn’t stand a chance, assaulting it with… well, almost anything.
  2209. >On the side note, after recently you’ve learned that pegasi can create clouds, maybe the next revelation will be the fact that unicorns can do a magical nuke.
  2210. >There was a spell like that in Heroes of Might and Magic 2, a game you used to play as a kid.
  2211. >Meanwhlist, two mares came to some consensus.
  2212. >Anisa looked back at Haakim and gave him assuring smile.
  2213. >Aunty Farah put a huge and thin round flatcake onto the counter.
  2214. >”Please, noble ones, come here.” She said with a bow.
  2215. >While you two been approaching, she levitates a whole cloud of different vegetables from somewhere in the back.
  2216. >There are carrots, onions, broccoli. Also tomatoes and cucumbers, both fresh and pickled.
  2217. >The older mare begins to chop fresh ones with a levitating knife, transporting to a a frying pan on the stove nearby and grilling, then arranging atop the flatcake along with chopped pickled ones.
  2218. >All this simultaneously.
  2219. >The amount of multitasking is slightly scary.
  2220. “Very impressive!” you can’t help but compliment her.
  2221. >”Thank you, noble one.” She answers while rolling the flatcake into a roll and chopping it into three pieces.
  2222. >Three smaller rolls then go onto the pan. Farah grill them for a few seconds and transports over the counter, suspending the food before you, Haakim and Anisa.
  2223.  
  2224.  
  2225. >Haakim takes the offered treat with his teeth and chews it right on the counter.
  2226. >Anisa intercepts the food with her own aura.
  2227. >You take it carefully with your hand, wondering if it would burn your fingers, but thankfully the heat is manageable.
  2228. >The quesadilla-like dish turns out to be delicious. It’s also pony-sized, which means for you that it’s enormous.
  2229. >You hear heavy, pronounced hoof steps behind and turn around.
  2230. >An older unicorn mare approaches your group. And this one is quite formidable.
  2231. >She’s clad in a thick linen armor you noticed unicorn soldiers usually wear, but hers is more opulent and decorated.
  2232. >Like most unicorns she’s lean and statuesque, with a VERY well defined musculature.
  2233. >Her face though startles you the most — she has half of it covered in a metal plate, bend in a way that repeats all the curves of her face and skull.
  2234. >She seems to be missing an eye on a masked half. The eye socket sports a faceted jewel in it.
  2235. >On a further inspection it appears that the whole thing isn’t a mask. The metal is somehow fused with flesh seamlessly.
  2236. >You fix your gaze on her chest, to not gawk.
  2237. >Her approach causes a wide spectrum of reactions among others around.
  2238. >Farah straightens her posture. ”Hail, alqyaida!” she exclaims, in a respectful tone.
  2239. >Anisa chokes on her half eaten roll. Haakim frowns, but otherwise remains nonplussed.
  2240. >Important-looking unicorn casts a quick gaze upon you and Haakim. Then bows.
  2241. >”Greetings, noble ones.”
  2242. >She says it with absolute confidence in her voice, apparently having no trouble identifying you. Although you can swear you have never met her before.
  2243.  
  2244.  
  2245. >You yourself make a bow, trying for it to be not too deep and appropriate for your status.
  2246. >”Greetings, esteemed commander!” Haakim answers and glares at you.
  2247. “What’s wrong?” you whisper to Haakim.
  2248. >”You should have spoken first. You’re older!” he whispers back.
  2249. “Uh… I mean who’s she and all?”
  2250. >”That’s Alharara, Anisa’s mother.”
  2251. “Uh oh…”
  2252. >You again focus your attention on the commander unicorn.
  2253. >”Anisa, what’s going on?” the armored mare asks adolescent filly, and although her tone is perfectly even, her ears become moderately pinned.
  2254. >Anisa shifts her legs uneasily.
  2255. >”We’ve won a game against merchants, mother. Noble Haakim was cheering for us, among many others, so I asked him to share a celebratory meal.”
  2256. >”I see.” says Alharara, “In this case, where are other members of the team?”
  2257. >”I—” Anisa staggers, “I think they went to the showers…”
  2258. >”Why didn’t you join them then? Why do you eat first?”
  2259. >”Well…”
  2260. >“That’s not exactly ‘sharing’ a meal, you know.” Alharara commented with a faint tinge of metal in her tone. She turns her head to Haakim.
  2261. >”Noble gentlecolts, would you like me to escort you both back to the Matriarch’s current residence?”
  2262. >Despite the “noble masters” part it sounds awfully like she won’t take a no for an answer.
  2263. “We would like to, yes.”
  2264. >You answer in a dignified manner, to create an illusion that it is your decision.
  2265. >Alharara bows and starts walking away. You follow her.
  2266. >To your surprise, she beckons Anisa to follow as well.
  2267.  
  2268.  
  2269. >Your small group traverses a couple of streets that separate the Citadel from the Sandstone palace. In silence.
  2270. >Alharara leads you, strangely enough, to the one of the secondary entrances.
  2271. >Instead of going in she stops and speaks up to you:
  2272. >”I am glad that everything went fine. Of course, noble Anon, as a responsible older male, you accompanied noble Haakim and took a good care of him, which fills a heart of this humble retainess with peace.
  2273. >”I would like to apologize for my brash daughter, and her reckless decision. Please, understand: during a long time of their foalhood, noble Haakim deigned to honor my daughter with his friendship and they are on a rather friendly terms with each other.
  2274. >”Still, they aren’t foals anymore, but rather adolescent ponies now. It was very bold of her to ask a mareless young stallion, and a noble one to boot, to such an intense and uncouth spectacle like a game of pushball.”
  2275. >She looks at Anisa, making her squint.
  2276. >You stand dumbfounded. You have never heard someone to manage an apology and a scolding at the same time before.
  2277. >”So, as her mother I apologize on her behalf.” Alharara continues, “I should also express my regret before the lady Amira herself…” she pauses and the living half of her face becomes tense.
  2278. >She looks at you. Is this a plea you see in her intact eye?
  2279. >Somehow you add two and two together in a record time.
  2280. “Lady Amira is rather busy currently, so I think it would be better to postpone the audience as my lady’s time is precious. However, thank you for your sincere words, n— erm… esteemed Alharara!”
  2281. >Shit, you have almost fucked it up.
  2282. >Her face relaxes. Both she and Anisa bow to you.
  2283. >You bow as well and unconsciously put you hand on Haakim’s withers, to nudge him towards the gate.
  2284. >You two pass it, behind the back of a lone guardmare, who is busy nibbling on the hedge.
  2285.  
  2286.  
  2287. >Although you think one of her eyes and an ear were turned in your direction.
  2288. >”Thank you, Anon.” says Haakim.
  2289. >You want to answer something, but hear a conversation from beyond the wall.
  2290. “Quiet.”
  2291. >You whisper to him and focus on the words being spoken by Alharara’s voice.
  2292. >”…never be enough, you brat. Don’t even think!” She’s now sounds properly harsh.
  2293. >”I will train. I will fight. I will achieve fame. I’ll be worthy!” you hear Anisa say.
  2294. >Her tone is properly respectful, but unrelenting.
  2295. >You hear Alharara snorts loudly.
  2296. “Phew, that was a fun affair!” you say, with just a modicum of sarcasm.
  2297. >”I agree, but we probably shouldn’t have done it…”
  2298. “Well, next time you’ll want to commit some major breaking of norms we will need to do a better planning first.”
  2299. >You answer him in a casual, amicable way. He giggles.
  2300. >Nothing brings together better than a mutual crime.
  2301. “Anyway, who’s Alharara exactly?”
  2302. >Haakim shifts his ears.
  2303. >”As I already have said, she is our retainess, like were her mother and her grandmother before her. She’s a commander of the unicorn special detachment.”
  2304. “What’s the deal with her face, I wonder.”
  2305. >”Well, she’s a battle caster; a very powerful one, I need to add. Must’ve been injured in combat, most likely. Although, it’s just my theory. Stories like that aren’t for young colt’s ears.”
  2306. >As much as you have expected.
  2307. ”We probably should return to our respective quarters. Will be bad, if the lady sent for me or you while we were out.”
  2308. >”Sure thing. Till next time, Anon! Thank you very much again!”
  2309. >With this Haakim trots away.
  2310. >You turn around and go through the park, towards the fountain.
  2311. >Much to your regret, the first person you meet there, aside from guards, is the steward mare.
  2312. >”Oh, greetings, Anon. Have you, by any chance, seen Haakim?
  2313. >Just fucking great.
  2314. “He’s probably somewhere around his chambers, noble one.”
  2315. >It was tempting to say “fellow noble one”, but you have decided against it.
  2316. >”Is that so? I tried to find him, because Matriarch wanted to talk with him, and servants have said he hadn’t returned from the garden since the morning.”
  2317. >Shit.
  2318. “I saw him heading back to the palace. He’s probably there by now.”
  2319. >The steward mare gives you a slight bow.
  2320. >”Thank you, I will look there.”
  2321. >With that she trots away.
  2322. >You wait till she vanishes into the palace, then scoop some water from the fountain and rinse your face.
  2323. >Despite it being covered with a fabric outside of the palace you still managed to get dusty.
  2324. >You start to walk back to your own quarters, thinking.
  2325. >Can it be that today you have witnessed a classic case of a “noble in love with a lowly but ambitious soldier”?
  2326. >Well, maybe not “lowly” per se, as it seems Anisa is the daughter of a well established military mare, but Haakim is still out of her league.
  2327. >You suddenly want to read some local romantic fiction, if it exists at all.
  2328. >Probably should ask Ahmed about this, as he has an access to the library.
  2329. >It would be stupid to ask your lady herself, as she probably would just think you’re hinting she isn’t being romantic enough with you and would take offense.
  2330. ***
  2331. “Say, Ahmed, have you ever read a romantic story?”
  2332. >Ahmed’s ears stand forward in surprise, then shift to the sides thoughtfully.
  2333. >”How do you mean, romantic?”
  2334. “Well, you know, about two peop— erm, ponies who want to be with each other but face constant obstacles? Or, on the contrary, about happy lovers who are together and enjoy every moment of it?”
  2335. >The bulky stallion’s face indicates mild embarrassment.
  2336. >”Well, there are ancient poems, of course… In wealthy families foals learn them. They mean to show us the best examples of pure love, of true and faithful herd life.”
  2337. >”Not only in the wealthy families,” interjects Ajmal, “many times I heard poor workers singing in the fields. Dunno if that were ancient poems or not, but some were about the love. And some were definitely not for colts.
  2338. >”Sometimes sisters sang something like that too. Then mom would come and kick their flanks for that, because my earth brothers were around, listening.”
  2339. >You three are sitting around the table, eating your dinner.
  2340. >The mess hall is relatively vacant in the middle of the day, because most of the mares are busy and many stallions are currently in the gym.
  2341. >Your small band of brothers prefers to exercise in the evening, when the crowd is thinner.
  2342. “And you along with them, Ajmal, aren’t you?”
  2343. >He shrugs.
  2344. >”Barely. Only when I would bring them their field dinner. Me and Pa are unicorns, there is not much good we can do in the field, so we stayed in the kitchen mostly.”
  2345. >You barely contain a sarcastic smirk.
  2346. >But again, you’re yourself nothing more than a bedwarmer and a teacher’s pet for a time being.
  2347. “So, only poems and songs? What about stories?”
  2348. >”But a song IS a story, Anon.”
  2349. “I mean, like, non-rhymed story.”
  2350. >Ahmed shrugs.
  2351. >”I’m no expert on literature, but usually prose is for very simple stories, like fairy tales, when you just need to get the point through, you know?”
  2352. >He pauses, then his ears stand up, when he remembers something.
  2353. >”Oh, and when you need to tell a bunch of info, of course, like in official and different scholarly texts.
  2354. >”I don’t know how to say that properly… Love, beauty, feelings, wonders of Her world — it all needs poetry to express. It’s an art, from the deepest part of one’s soul, a spark of Her flame that shines in us.”
  2355. >You wonder, is this why the Book is rhymed.
  2356. >Still…
  2357. “What about those saucy songs soldiers sing while on the move?”
  2358. >Ajmal snorts with mirth.
  2359. >Ahmed’s ears drop.
  2360. >”Anon, I…”
  2361. >He pauses, collecting his thoughts, then continues:
  2362. >”Well, I guess they count. While crude and straightforward, they still about the feelings, love and admiration mares feel towards us. Although, I prefer something more sophisticated… Not that I dare to criticize mares, mind you!”
  2363. >You laugh.
  2364. “Any poetesses you can recommend?”
  2365. >Ahmed looks around cautiously, then extends his neck towards you to speak right into your ear.
  2366. >”Muzdahira,” he whispers, “ you, with your mare-like demeanor, would probably love her poetry. But do not tell anypony I told you this.”
  2367. >You raise your eyebrow.
  2368. “Why?” you whisper back.
  2369. >”Well… She is rather controversial. Her poetry is unusually hedonistic for the epoch she was writing at, but at the same time it features rather strong fixation on a bizarre theme that one stallion can be meant, destined for only one mare. So it’s simultaneously both indulgent and selfish. Not to the point to be called Shaitan’s perversion, of course, or her works wouldn’t had survived.”
  2370. “And you said you aren’t an expert on literature.”
  2371. >”I’m not. I’m just a stallion.”
  2372. ***
  2373. >It’s another evening in Saddle Arabia, and you once again are lying snuggled up to your mare.
  2374. >No, it doesn’t sound right. Let’s try again.
  2375. >It’s another evening in Saddle Arabia, and you once again are lying snuggled up to the mare you belong to.
  2376. >The beautiful, wise, strict but kind, whose mane and coat smell so wonderful…
  2377. >Shit, you are having a boner again.
  2378. >Amira snorts and nuzzles you. Carefully nips on your shoulder.
  2379. >”I wouldn’t say no to the second round.”
  2380. >Without standing up, she casts her luxurious tail to the side.
  2381. >You detach yourself from her back and relocate backwards, beyond her rump.
  2382. >You enter her from this sorta spooning position, tightly embracing her flanks.
  2383. >”That position feels nice,” Amira comments. “Normally only a very petite stallion can do it like this. Your species are sure gifted with versatility.”
  2384. “Thank you, my lady.”
  2385. >After this brief exchange you both fall almost silent, with just a few grunts here and there.
  2386. >The second go feels like a sophisticated high-class dish opposed to a hearty but simple stew of the first copulation, needy and voracious.
  2387. >A fifteen or so minutes of pleasure later, you discharge inside of her again.
  2388. >You stay like that a few minutes more, panting, unwilling to leave the warm embrace of her marehood.
  2389. >She makes an indescribable motion with her inner muscles, like a wave of clamping, pointed outwards from her womb, gently pushing you out.
  2390. >”Now, get out of there and come closer. I swear, it’s like males want to return where they originated from!”
  2391. >You again crawl onto her back. She turns her head and licks your face.
  2392. >”I meant to say,” she begins, her expression becomes serious, “while it’s indeed acceptable for a young colt to go out escorted by an older stallion, you, my dear, is like a foal yourself in some way. Better take a guard or someone from the staff with you next time. Or, better yet, tell the steward you want to go for a walk.
  2393. >”The same goes for the young Haakim as well.”
  2394. >You don’t hear an explicit beration in her tone, but still you feel uneasy. The former sentence is clearly implies that she thinks you and the aforementioned colt could, and probably will, get in trouble together again.
  2395. >”Haakim is smart, but he is impulsive and acts brashly, customary for stallions. I harbor nothing but respect for Alharara and her offspring, I value and understand the concept of friendship, natural for any equine, but past the certain age a colt and a filly need to be more careful about their interactions.
  2396. >”You, Anon, are unlike our males -- you are more logical and reasonable. I hope you will influence Haakim in good way.”
  2397. >You nod, as you can’t really bow lying on her back.
  2398. “I’m honored by your praise and trust in me, lady Amira. I admire the amount of care you show towards your son—”
  2399. >She jerks up, ears pinned. You roll into sitting position, feeling a cold touch of dread.
  2400. >But Amira stops mid-motion and returns to the carpet. Her ears stand straight again.
  2401. >She begins to speak in even tone:
  2402. >”You’ve mistaken, Anon. Haakim is my younger sister’s foal. I just granted her a privilege to tutor him myself. I do not have foals of my own.”
  2403. >She looks you in the eye intently, forestalling an unexpressed question.
  2404. >”I do not want to talk about this.”
  2405.  
  2406. ***
  2407. >You are lazying in your room, laying on the carpet and admiring frescoes on the wall.
  2408. >Maybe it’s a good idea to get up and go to the garden?
  2409. >Or rally up your bros and go to the mess hall?
  2410. >No, Ahmed went to the library, so it’s better to wait for him--
  2411. >You hear hoofsteps outside.
  2412. >One of the adjacent stalls is being opened.
  2413. >It appears to be Ahmed’s one.
  2414. >Wtf? A servant would have knocked first.
  2415. >Even the steward mare would have!
  2416. >You get up, looking at the outer wall with suspicion.
  2417. >Hoofsteps again.
  2418. >An oddly familiar pattern, to think about it…
  2419. >The door to your room slides aside.
  2420. >”Anon! It’s good you are here.”
  2421. >Your mouth goes slightly agape.
  2422. >It’s Amira herself, standing at your doorstep.
  2423. “Greetings, my lady!”
  2424. >You bow.
  2425. >What’s going on, though?
  2426. >She is the mistress of the palace, so she can go wherever she wants, of course.
  2427. >But even in the much smaller Dameascus residence she never went for any of you herself.
  2428. >Not to mention it’s not an evening at all.
  2429. >”Come, I want to show you three something interesting. Where is Ahmed, by the way?”
  2430. “He went to the library, lady Amira.”
  2431. >Her nostrils flare in a momentarily irritation.
  2432. >”A shame. Well, we’ll go nevertheless.”
  2433. >She beckons with her head.
  2434. >You step outside your room, puzzled.
  2435. >Looks like she came alone.
  2436. >Amira goes to the Ajmal’s door.
  2437. >”Ajmal, my dear, come here!”
  2438. >She opens the door and lets the equally puzzled young unicorn out.
  2439. >”What’s going on, my lady?” he asks.
  2440. >”I want to show you something. Come with me.”
  2441. >With that she trots away, to the corridor leading out of male quarters.
  2442. >You two follow.
  2443. >Amira leads you by the unfamiliar path, to the upper floors of the sandstone palace.
  2444. >While walking, you exchange a few glances with Ajmal and think.
  2445. >What possibly could go wrong, if Amira decided to escort you somewhere herself?
  2446. >She does’t look alarmed or upset, but again, her self control is ideal when she wants to express nothing.
  2447. >Ajmal looks giddy and curious, like a child excited for some surprise promised by his well trusted authority figure.
  2448. >You, being more knowledgeable about the treacheries of life, feel uneasy.
  2449. >As far as you have learned, equines cherish routine. If something prompts to break it, it couldn’t be much awesome news…
  2450. >At last, you arrive somewhere.
  2451. >It’s a lone, unassuming room in the end of large gallery.
  2452. >Amira knocks to the door with her front hoof.
  2453. >The door opens, enveloped in light blue aura of somebody’s telekinesis.
  2454. >”Come on, colts.” Amira calls, as she enters the room.
  2455. >You two obediently enter after her.
  2456. >The room is a little strange.
  2457. >It devoid of any decorations and is windowless.
  2458. >It doesn’t contain much furnishing, aside from some crude table and a few dusty cushions.
  2459. >A unicorn mare stands by the table.
  2460. >She immediately catches your attention.
  2461. >This mare is somehow different from the usual. Almost uncanny.
  2462. >Her face is shorter and her head is much more round than that of any equine you have seen so far.
  2463. >Instead of being of some conventional coloration, her mane and tail are much more vibrant, unnatural, pastel colored.
  2464. >Maybe it’s dyed, you don’t know.
  2465. >Very strange nevertheless.
  2466. >She looks at you with curiosity, but without much surprise.
  2467. >”Is everything ready, Stardust?” Amira asks her.
  2468. ‘Wow, even the name is much different!’
  2469. >But the most surprising thing still is her rump. Not that you wanted to stare, but…
  2470. >The pigmentation on her thigh forms a picture. A picture of a stylized paper sheet with some strange symbols.
  2471. >A masterful dyework, for sure!
  2472. >You wonder, what’s this all about.
  2473. >”Yes, noble Amira. All that is left to do is some little tuning.” Answers Stardust and pushes an object on the table with her nose.
  2474. >It’s an assembly of crystals, each one colored differently, on what appears to be brass frame.
  2475. ‘Why would she need to move it without her telekinetic power?’
  2476. >She walks to the corner of the room.
  2477. >Following her with your curious gaze you notice a crystal on a metal tripod, standing there.
  2478. >Other three corners consist the same contraption.
  2479. >She spends some time readjusting them, as before, with her nose.
  2480. >”What is it?” Ajmal inquiries.
  2481. >”Nothing dangerous, my dear. It’s a device, used to measure the power level of a unicorn in a more precise way than a usual initiation trial.”
  2482. >”Initiation trial…” Ajmal trails off, then his ears stand straight and eyes widen,
  2483. >”But I’m not a filly! My lady, that’s-- I don’t know…”
  2484. >Amira laughs and nuzzles him reassuringly.
  2485. >”I do not suspect you of being one, my precious. I just want to know, how talented you are.”
  2486. >Ajmal blinks.
  2487. >”You want to know if I can do housework? I can, my lady! I would love to serve you personally! It’s a little boring doing nothing most of the day anyway—”
  2488. >Amira stops him with an ear gesture.
  2489. >”No, o splendor of my eye. I don’t intend you to do a mere menial work. For Goddess’ sake! You are my stallion, a stallion of a tribal Matriarch— ”
  2490. >Ajmal’s face becomes confused and worried.
  2491. >”I’m sorry, I—”
  2492. >Amira understood her mistake immediately.
  2493. >”Although, my dear, if you would want so, I will very much appreciate your care.”
  2494. >Ajmal brightens up again.
  2495. ‘So, it’s about Ajmal. Most likely because of the pyromancy he demonstrated a while ago.’
  2496. >You think.
  2497. >Stardust listens to that exchange with a peculiar expression on her face.
  2498. >It’s definitely one of wonder, but you cannot exactly determine the connotation.
  2499. >”OK, everything is ready!” she says aloud.
  2500. >Amira nods.
  2501. >”Ajmal, please, step closer to the table and stand still,” she commands him in a calm, soft tone.
  2502. >”Should I do something with my horn?” he asks.
  2503. >”No, dear. Just stand there.”
  2504. >Having said that, Amira steps in front of you, indicating with her shoulder and head motion that you should move.
  2505. >You move obediently and she herds you towards the wall, taking her own place at your side.
  2506. “Um, my Lady… Should we also be here?”
  2507. >You whisper to her.
  2508. “Wouldn’t we, I don’t know, create some sort of… of…” you realize that you do not know the exact word for interference, “…of distraction for the apparatus?”
  2509. >”It is alright.”Amira firmly reassures you and you bow, knowing that you really shouldn’t protest any more.
  2510. >Meanwhile, Stardust lits up her horn. She winces, like a person trying to make some complicated calculations in the mind alone.
  2511. ‘So, now it’s OK to use magic?’
  2512. >The apparatus goes online. Crystals on a large module on the table begin to shine one after another.
  2513. >Then, the ones in the corner glow as well.
  2514. >A layer of transparent azure light forms under the ceiling and slowly moves down, reminding you some sort of scanner from a futuristic video game.
  2515. >The light goes through everything and everyone in the room and then disappears.
  2516. >You sense a faint smell of burning wood and frantically look around.
  2517. >Ajmal smells it as well, but one glance at an absolutely calm Amira reassures him enough.
  2518. >”Aaaaaand, it’s done!”
  2519. >Proclaims Stradust, and pushes the “main module” aside.
  2520. >Under it, you see elaborate and complex abstract ornament, burned out on the surface of the table. Apparently by the apparatus.
  2521. >Stardust looks at it carefully, cocking her head to the side. Her ears indicate confusion.
  2522. >”Hmmm…” she hums thoughtfully, “I would need some time to interpret the results, noble Amira. Would it be alright with you?”
  2523. >”By all means, take your time!” Amira nods.
  2524. >Stardust answers with a bow, made in a very strange style you have never witnessed before.
  2525. >Just who is she and where from?
  2526. >”Let us go, colts! We should leave an esteemed scholar alone,” Amira calls you two, opens the door and trots out.
  2527. >Ajmal follows her. You go after him and close the door behind.
  2528. >”Stallions, I would like to ask you to not tell anyone about this.” Your lady says calmly.
  2529. >”Even Ahmed?” asks Ajmal.
  2530. >”I wanted that we all witnessed the test, as a herd, but since he was occupied elsewhere, I shall tell him myself, my precious.”
  2531. >That was enough for Ajmal. He nods and continues to happily trot forward.
  2532. >Knowing that his lady would take care of everything, he immediately discarded the problem.
  2533. >You, however…
  2534. “My lady, who was that… erm… esteemed mare? She looks different. Very different!”
  2535. >”She isn’t a Saddle Arabian. She’s Equestrian. Subjects of the Princess differ from us slightly in their looks.”
  2536. >You, of course, heard about the one of (assuming Saddle Arabia is the one as well) this world’s superpowers, Equestria.
  2537. >A peculiar emotion fills you. A good natured curiosity, a thirst to know more…
  2538. >”What was that painted on her side, lady Amira?” asks Ajmal innocently.
  2539. >You silently thank him for the question you don’t want to ask yourself.
  2540. >Amira looks at him with a smirk. She doesn’t appear to be offended.
  2541. >”That’s her cutie mark. A sign of her affinity, of the most developed talent.”
  2542. “Why don’t anyone here have it?”
  2543. >You decide to barge in, while the conversation is going on the right track.
  2544. >”Equestrians are blessed by Her Light in a very distinctive way. One of the reasons my foremothers believed, and I currently do, that the Princess is much more than meets the eye.”
  2545. >The Princess? The same one your lady and Alquswa were talking about a long time ago? But… Foremothers did? Something doesn’t add up here.
  2546. >”By the way, colts,” Amira changes the subject, “are you hungry? ”
  2547. >”I would be happy to eat together!” Ajmal beams.
  2548. “Me too, my lady.”
  2549. >”Splendid! Do you want to go to the mess hall or somewhere else?”
  2550. >You and Ajmal look at each other.
  2551. “Either way is fine, lady Amira.”
  2552. >Her ears make a half-circle as she ponders on that.
  2553. >”Let’s go to the garden then! It was much fun at Dameascus — it’ll be even more fun here.”
  2554. >While you were talking, you noticed that Amira led you by the different route and now it looks like you are either heading to or out of her chambers.
  2555. >At the stairs leading to the lower levels your trio meets the steward mare.
  2556. >”Oh, greetings, Gulzar!” says Amira aloud, then brings her head near the other mare’s ear and whisper:
  2557. >”Fetch me Ahmed from the library, please. Bring him to the garden.”
  2558. >”It will be done, big sister!” the steward mare bows and goes away.
  2559. >You glance at her moving away, curiously.
  2560. >Indeed, Ahmed fucked up a big time when he mistitled her.
  2561. >Your group goes down by the stairs, traverses the ground floor.
  2562. >Amira calls one of the servants and gives brief orders.
  2563. >The servant bows and trots towards the mess hall.
  2564. >Amira leads the way out the palace, into the garden.
  2565. >Climate here is less arid than in Dameascus, so the noon outside is a very pleasant.
  2566. >Birds chirping happily in thick hedges and trees around.
  2567. >You go to the one of the many pavillions.
  2568. >”Here would be a good place.” Amira decides, enters it and lowers herself onto the pillows.
  2569. >You and Ajmal do the same by her side.
  2570. >You lean your back against the cool sandstone pillar that holds the pavillion’s roof and stretch your legs.
  2571. >Amira bumps your knee with her muzzle and looks at you expectingly.
  2572. >You bow, extend your hand and begin to scratch her withers.
  2573. >Ajmal, after giving some thought to it, begins to tentatively groom her as well.
  2574. >Amira grunts and nuzzles you both.
  2575. >You scratch her, kneading the thick crest of her neck (a telltale sign of being wealthy and well fed as a result), enjoying the feeling of her warm coat.
  2576. >Neither of you utter a word, but the feeling of communality and belonging still strongly persists through the interaction.
  2577. >One of the Horseland’s biggest perks you’d say.
  2578. >All the cuddling, mutual grooming, bundling together is quite different from the things you was raised among and got used to in your original world.
  2579. >You think you actually prefer it the local way.
  2580. >Meanwhile a servant brings the food.
  2581. >A huge bowl of vegetable salad, dressed with olive oil and vinegar, generously sprinkled with salt. A plate with some roasted pancake-like things.
  2582. >You pick up one and take a bite.
  2583. >It’s a cottage cheese pancake apparently. And with raisins to boot.
  2584. >Very tasty, a pity they didn’t make them back in Dameascus for some reason.
  2585. >The servant poured your goblet full of sour milk.
  2586. >You begin to sip from it, when the steward mare brought Ahmed over.
  2587. >Amira raised her head from her own goblet and licked her muzzle clean from milk.
  2588. >”Here you are. Come on, let’s eat!”
  2589. >”At once, my lady!” Ahmed flopped onto the ground nearby.
  2590. >”Anything else you would like to be done, Big Sister?” the steward asked Amira.
  2591. >Ahmed whinced slightly and hid his face.
  2592. >”No, nothing, thank you, Gulzar. Proceed with the usual.”
  2593. >The steward nodded and went away, herding the servant towards the palace.
  2594. >”Let us do it like they doing it in the country,” proclaimed Amira and stuck her muzzle into the bowl of salad, prompting you all to do the same.
  2595. >Ajmal complied with delight, Ahmed followed after a little hesitation.
  2596. >You shift from the pillar and get on your knees in front of the bowl, then bow and stick your face into the salad, just like others.
  2597. >It takes some time to get used to this way of eating.
  2598. >Your lips aren’t even half as dexterous and the lack of snout means you get smeared in the dressing all over your face.
  2599. >Still, it’s bizarrely fun.
  2600. >Among the distinctive chewing sounds Amira chomps her way through the salad with a confidence, having a wide area of operation, at all times respected by the two stallions and you.
  2601. >Meanwhile Ahmed and Ajmal bump into each other frequently.
  2602. >Some times you find yourself involuntarily competing for a bite with one of the stallions.
  2603. >One time you and Ajmal both grab the same slice, bumping noses as a result.
  2604. >”By the way Ahmed, how do you find our library?” asks Amira, when the amount of salad drops enough to allow a conversation.
  2605. >”It’s rather good, my lady. From what I’m allowed to read, the selection of poetry is exquisite!”
  2606. >”I’m glad to hear that,” Amira smiles and makes a pause to catch a particularly tasty slice from the bottom of the bowl, “By the way, you missed an interesting affair, sadly.”
  2607. >Ahmed's ears jump up.
  2608. >”What was it?”
  2609. >”I wanted to know how talented a unicorn our dear Ajmal is and run a little test. Gladly awaiting for results.”
  2610. >Ajmal, who was busy licking his sector of the bowl clean, smiled sheepishly.
  2611. >”If you want me to do something for you, I’m always glad to!” he said.
  2612. >Amira gave his oiled up muzzle a lick.
  2613. >”I know, my dear. Thank you.”
  2614. >Having said that she turned her head towards Ahmed.
  2615. >”I also wanted you to know it from me personally, if not firsthoof, since it’s our mutual business as a herd. But I don’t advice you, colts, gossiping about it.”
  2616. >Ahmed nods.
  2617. >”Rest assured, lady Amira.”
  2618. >At this point the significance and cultural context isn’t lost to you.
  2619. >That’s a good feeling. You smile.
  2620. >After a short while all the salad and pancakes were finished.
  2621. >You contemplate what should you wipe your face with, but Amira laughs and licks you clean.
  2622. >”Alright, stallions, let’s go back!” She stands up and stretches herself.
  2623. >Leaving the tableware for the servants to collect you all walk after her, towards the palace.
  2624. >To your mild surprise, she escorts you all the way back to your quarters.
  2625. >Ajmal and Ahmed enter their stalls.
  2626. >You open your door, but Amira stops you.
  2627. >”No, Anon. I want you in my study. Take the Book with you. I promised you something and I intend to keep my promise.”
  2628. >You hesitate for a second, then bow.
  2629. “Of course, my lady.”
  2630. ***
  2631. >You stand in front of the door leading into Amira’s study, with the Book under your arm.
  2632. >Amira goes in first, beckoning you with a toss of her head.
  2633. >You enter and look around curiously.
  2634. >Back in your Dameascus home, the study and private chambers were the same thing.
  2635. >Here, it’s a wholly different, specialized room.
  2636. >It much less spacious than Amira’s chambers on the top floor.
  2637. >The wall opposite from the door is one large arched stained-glass window.
  2638. >It consists of multitude of multicolored glass blocks, which transforms the light coming from the window into a strange color palette with light blue, gray and various shades of yellow being dominant.
  2639. >There is also huge shelf full of scrolls, scrollbooks and some ‘normal’-looking rectangular bound books.
  2640. >Closer to the window there is a magical lamp on a pedestal.
  2641. >Near it there are several book stands.
  2642. >Upon the huge ornamental carpet stands the desk, wide and low to the floor, loaded with papyrus scrolls, pot of wooden pens and an ink pot.
  2643. >A silver pitcher, most likely filled with the usual, and a chalice are present as well.
  2644. >All the furniture gives a distinct antique vibe.
  2645. >Near the shelf stands the thing that draws the most of your attention, though — a large globe.
  2646. >There wasn’t anything like that in the capital residence!
  2647. >You steal greedy glances at it, trying to discern the landmass depicted.
  2648. >The globe means you wouldn’t be stoned for mentioning the world being a sphere.
  2649. >Also shows that it’s indeed a world and not some flat landmass floating in the stream of magical ether or something.
  2650. >Amira lays behind the desk.
  2651. >You lower yourself onto the carpet and place the Book on it.
  2652. >Amira takes the Book by the handle and unfolds it in one swift swing.
  2653. >”Let’s go through the verses together and I will explain you things you wouldn’t understand.
  2654. >”After all, it’s my duty as a Matriarch and a mare, to provide spiritual guidance for my males.”
  2655. >She extends her neck and brushes your shoulder with her lips.
  2656. >”I’m sorry I just threw you in on your own, but with you I always have a feeling that you enjoy to learn by yourself the most.”
  2657. >That’s debatable though. Most of the time you would prefer some intelligence before venturing into the unknown.
  2658. >But that time you’ve really got reckless. So you bow in agreement with her words.
  2659. “It’s alright, my lady. It’s my fault as well, to ask for something that I did not comprehend fully.”
  2660. >She snorts thoughtfully.
  2661. >”Anyway, let’s start.”
  2662. >”So, my dear Anon, what were the difficulties you have encountered while studying it by yourself?”
  2663. >You think about how it’s better to address the issues for a little bit.
  2664. “My lady… Well, it’s written in some different, highly stylized form of Saddle script. Also, it’s full of, what I presume to be, very archaic words and phrases. Rhyme, rhythm and proper meaning are difficult to catch sometimes.”
  2665. >She huffs.
  2666. >”Fair enough. It’s a truly ancient relic. I actually admire your talent with languages that allowed you to master the written word fast enough to attempt to read such a complex spiritual text at all.”
  2667. >You bow. She looks at you attentively.
  2668. >You don’t gonna tell her about the strange fear and anxiety you feel when reading the words.
  2669. “Lady Amira, may I ask a bit about the history of the Book?”
  2670. >Her ears shift.
  2671. >”Yes, most certainly.”
  2672. “When was the Book written?”
  2673. >She sips from her chalice, collecting her thoughts.
  2674. >”That’s tricky question, actually. The Book as we know it, was written almost two thousand years ago. The basis for it…
  2675. >Amira takes a long pause. Then she looks at the Book and masterfully unfolds it further, much further.
  2676. >”When I think about it, Anon, I suppose it’s the instance when we should read something from the end to understand the beginning.”
  2677. >She takes stylus in her mouth and carefully touches a page.
  2678. >”Here. Try to read it.”
  2679. >You lean towards the table.
  2680. “Whisper, Faint, Gentle, um… um…
  2681. >You are trying to discern the familiar words, reading aloud what you have understood.
  2682. “…Go… There? Listen, Think… Horn? Enter? Why the need? Afraid?”
  2683. “Foal… Not… Not survive… ehmm… Not survive?”
  2684. >You feel a wave of irrational dread again.
  2685. >”Otherwise you won’t survive Me speaking aloud,” Amira rushes to your help, “That’s how it would sound nowadays.”
  2686. >”It’s truly challenging, I see,” she sighs.
  2687. >But she isn’t angry.
  2688. >”Here, let me…” She looks at the page intently.
  2689. >”A faint gentle whisper in the night brought visions of a mighty rock,”
  2690. >”I knew I must go there.”
  2691. >”All I needed was to think about the traces of that dream,
  2692. >”And it would part for me.
  2693. >Amira reads.
  2694. >”I twirled my horn and it did part.”
  2695. >”I entered and it concealed me”
  2696. >”I was frightened and thought, why and what the need.”
  2697. >”My little foal, She spoke, afraid you needn’t to be.”
  2698. >”It is to protect you, or you won’t survive Me speaking aloud.”
  2699. >”And then everything shuddered around.”
  2700. >As you have expected it’s much easier to bear, when somebody else speaks about it.
  2701. >Amira bumps you with her nose, reassuring, and shifts her weight more comfortably.
  2702. >”So, the basis of it was written by Jalala, peace be upon her, herself. But many of the things it mentions actually are parts of the even more ancient legends.”
  2703. >She pauses, her eyes and ears invite you to speak.
  2704. >You wonder.
  2705. “Why is it in the end, and not in the beginning?”
  2706. >Amira pins her ears for a moment and you recoil slightly. But she answers calmly:
  2707. >”She couldn’t possibly begin the Book about Her with herself, could she?”
  2708. “Of course, you’re right, my lady.”
  2709. >She still expects you to speak it seems, judging by her body language.
  2710. “So… The basis…”
  2711. >You need to formulate the questions in an suitable way.
  2712. “Is it what she heard from the Goddess?”
  2713. >“That is correct. When she entered the Rock, the Sky Mother spoke directly, the first time she did so in eternity.”
  2714. >”Jalala described it like a soundless thunderous roar that felt like drinking a cold clear stream of the oasis spring. It’s written here, further.”
  2715. >But Amira doesn’t try to make you read yourself again.
  2716. >She sips from her chalice some more.
  2717. >”All of her life she was anxious she didn’t understand properly all she was been told that night.
  2718. >”Only the Law was explicit, every word of it, burnt onto the molten rock, resonating with her and anyone who had read it. But everything else…
  2719. >Amira pauses and looks around thoughtfully.
  2720. >”The Goddess is immense. She literally IS the reality, the life, everything. How can mind of one mortal even hope to understand everything she would want to tell?
  2721. >”We are but mere sparks of Her Flame, true. But!” She exclaimed to make an emphasis.
  2722. >”But herein lies the most important lesson of the existence. We, the living ones, when we live, think and work together we put our minds in conjunction. Like many embers gather together into one fire, likewise our minds combined become a semblance of that eternal Flame.
  2723. >”Together, and only together we can hope to understand, how to walk the true path.
  2724. >”Jalala knew she was told things of a great importance, not only to her, not only to her kind, but to everybody who has hooves. So, after the Holy War had ended, she employed a multitude of wise mares, scholars, tribal bards from all the kinds of ungulates to help her.
  2725. >”They collected legends, fables, pieces of lore, pieces of knowledge. Put them together to see what did make sense in correlation with what she had heard from the Mother herself and what didn’t.
  2726. >”And they wrote it all down, as precise and on point as possible, so the minds even less prominent would be able to grasp upon the truth.
  2727. >”Blessed Jalala dedicated the rest of her life to put together the picture of our reality, a mere glimpse of which she had received, and governed by her virtue, commanded that her own experience would be put in the last place.”
  2728. >”So, the Book isn’t a dogma per se, that would be the Law itself. The Book instead is an extremely important supplement, that helps to understand why things are the way they are.”
  2729. >You cock your head. Haven’t expected that one honestly.
  2730. >Your bewilderment doesn’t escape her attention.
  2731. >”That surprises you, my dear Anon?”
  2732. “That actually makes me feel even more respect, my lady.”
  2733. >You answer carefully.
  2734. >Interestingly enough, she answers with a soft laugh.
  2735. >”For further reference, Anon, that’s what differentiates equines—, and other truly sapient beings, I guess, — from the griffin filth, who mix their delusions into a dogma, the entirety of which is serving only one purpose: to justify the voracious rampage their entire existence is.
  2736. >”Inventing the false gods to project their perversion outward, to legitimize it, because they are too afraid to admit they are warped and hideous, and don’t want to repent…”
  2737. >Amira looks truly regal right now, saying all this.
  2738. >Her face is menacing, her ears are pinned, but you know it isn’t at your expense. So you can just admire her to your heart’s content.
  2739. >She catches your gaze and collects herself, slightly embarrassed. Looks at you, opens her mouth…
  2740. >Her next words are quite unexpected, though.
  2741. >”So, do you want us to continue right away? Or do you need some time to think and piece things together, in order to being able ask what really matters?”
  2742. >You ponder on her question.
  2743. >So, the Book isn’t just a religious text to be followed with fervor. It’s their attempt at creating the Theory of Everything in proto-scientific way. An attempt for a dogma to actually make sense.
  2744. >That’s a formidable thing, to say at least. And definitely it better be approached in a careful measured way.
  2745. >Also, it would be a great change o pace, to be able to actually quench your thirst for knowledge, not completely extinguished by the higher education back at your homeworld.
  2746. >Or would it be the Home Universe, even? A great chance to find out.
  2747. “If it’s alright, my lady, I would love to have the lessons being regular, but well portioned.
  2748. >She laughs at something in your words, understood only to her.
  2749. >You, meanwhile, remember something you was thinking about a couple of days ago near a fountain…
  2750. “May I request something, mistress?”
  2751. >”Depends on what it is?” She depends with a hint of jocularity.
  2752. >Ahmed once said that a male should accept females affection and good attitude with modesty, not daring to exploit it or test it’s boundaries.
  2753. >But what you want to ask isn’t exactly a request for a trip to a fancy resort.
  2754. “Can I visit the Rock for myself somewhen?”
  2755. >Her face immediately becomes dead serious.
  2756. >”Is it truly what you want?” She asks after a pause.
  2757. “Yes, I really would like to.”
  2758. >Amira raises to her legs and walks to and from a bit.
  2759. >”Anon, you probably don’t realize, but I simply cannot refuse a request like that. But I will ask, in turn, that we embark on the Pilgrimage only when I could readily spent a significant amount of time far from both my clan and the capital.”
  2760. “Of course, I understand.”
  2761. >”So be it.” She nods. ”Very well then. It’s already an evening, I still need to do a few things before the third watch… Will you find the way to your quarters yourself?”
  2762. >Is it a sign that now you’ll be treated not like your average stallion?
  2763. “I’ll do, lady Amira.”
  2764. >She dismisses you with a smile and a toss of her head.
  2765. >When you reach to open the door, she calls you suddenly.
  2766. >”By the way, Anon, please tell Ajmal I want him to be ready a hour earlier than usual.”
  2767. “It will be done.”
  2768. >You bow and exit the study.
  2769. >Walking through the corridors, you are smiling to yourself, wondering.
  2770. >Does Amira want to simply jade a bit a young unicorn, giddy about the happenings?
  2771. >Or does she want to instruct him about something uncharacteristic for a stallion he will need to do from now on, depending on the results of whatever professional test he undertook today?
  2772. ***
  2773. >You wonder, how long it will take that Equestrian scientist to interpret the results of Ajmal’s magic affinity test.
  2774. >It has been a couple of days already, and the young stallion gets a bit anxious.
  2775. >He doesn’t say anything aloud, of course. The matriarch’s word is a powerful seal, but you just can tell by the way he behaves during the dinners or in the gym—
  2776. >The door to your room opens after some knocking you have ignored being distracted by your thoughts.
  2777. >It’s the steward mare, Amira’s little sister.
  2778. >”Anon, Matriarch wants to talk to you. Come.”
  2779. >Well, that’s unusual. It’s only a midday.
  2780. >You get up and follow her.
  2781. >She leads you to Amira’s study.
  2782. >You open the door, step in and the door closes behind.
  2783. >Amira stands over the globe, looking at it thoughtfully.
  2784. >The Equestrian scientist, Stardust, stands near her facing you, her face puzzled.
  2785. >But the most alarming thing yet is two armored unicorn guards standing in the two corners nearest to you.
  2786. >One is Alharara herself, other is probably one of her subordinates.
  2787. >Their faces are impassive as stone.
  2788. >Alharara’s eye gem shines darkly from the vizard of her helm, making her resemble an equine-like terminator.
  2789. >Which, you absolutely sure, she is, her being flesh and blood notwithstanding.
  2790. >You gulp. Despite things evidently going south, you feel almost arctic cold. Or maybe you have reached the South Pole of things.
  2791. >Amira turns away from the globe and walks up to you.
  2792. >”Anon,” she says quietly, “you have to tell me.”
  2793. >You have a momentarily feeling you know what that all about.
  2794. “My lady?”
  2795. >”Anon, quit pretending. Tell me, are you or you aren’t?”
  2796. >Wha—?
  2797. >And here you thought you understand what’s going on…
  2798. >”Don’t give me that look.” Her tone is even, but the ears going back.
  2799. >She looks you in the eye, intently.
  2800. >You don’t know what to say.
  2801. >”Silence? Alright, then I will talk.”
  2802. >She goes around you.
  2803. >”You are familiar with living things and savages that have a wide areal in the both continents. As evident from your eating habits and what you have told about some aspects of your homeland’s agriculture…”
  2804. >You have told? About agriculture?
  2805. >Oh… Oh shit.
  2806. >Well, she’s a statesmare in the true sense of that word, after all.
  2807. >”…your home should be located somewhere in the middle latitudes. Yet you resemble savage people known to exist only in temperate climate, in tropical forests. And they are foragers who don’t practice organized agriculture at all.
  2808. >”Besides, there are no uncharted lands in the middle. Everything there belongs either to equines and other people, or to the filth.
  2809.  
  2810. >”You tried to gloss that out, obviously, but it shines through the tales of your people, that savages aren’t held in a very high regard, with only couple of examples of true compassion.
  2811. >”Also, while they betray the awareness about a variety of terrains and biomes, yet they also betray utter lack of understanding of the ways the nature works.
  2812. >”Powers and spellcraft are nonsensical, there is no logic, no consistency, no basis in observable reality — nothing a folk tale must feature no matter how far fetched it is!”
  2813. >She relocates to another side of you, at all times keeping one of her yes at you, and continue to speak.
  2814. >”The ‘Genie’ cannot exist. Entity so powerful, yet separate from the Goddess! Unless. Unless…”
  2815. >She pauses and looks at you much more intently than before. Judges your reaction.
  2816. >With a corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of the fact that Alharara’s horn begins to glow slightly. The same probably goes for her soldier.
  2817. >You very much dislike what that ‘unless’ implies. That anything of this implies.
  2818. >Ahmed was right. Not in the way he thought he is, but right nevertheless.
  2819. >You have brought this upon yourself. You have to speak. Or perish.
  2820. “M-my lady, I will tell.”
  2821. >Amira’s ears stand up, dart back, then up again and freeze in the middle.
  2822. >”Anon, haven’t I shared everything I have with you?” She says, her tone is solemn.
  2823. >”I shared my house, my forage and my bed with you. What was it that earned me the deception?”
  2824. >It seems like the regret you hear in her words is genuine.
  2825. >Through the veil of your fear you feel a distinct guilt.
  2826. >She walks away, back to the scholar.
  2827. >”You may speak, Anon.”
  2828. “My lady, as you know, when I found myself in the desert—”
  2829. >”I know. But the esteemed ones here don’t. Would you mind to repeat it once more, for their sake?”
  2830. >You bow, stealing glance at Alharara.
  2831. “Of course, my lady.”
  2832. ***
  2833. >Desert.
  2834. >Without the beginning, without the end.
  2835. >Painfully white dunes with spots of naked black rock here and there.
  2836. >Scorching heat hits you like a hammer.
  2837. >Sun is merciless, positively malicious.
  2838. >It’s rays not just burn.
  2839. >You almost feel every photon impacting your body, with whatever tremendous force it has traveling at the speed of light, trying to crush you.
  2840. >That’s when you realize you have no clothes on. Not a thread.
  2841. >You throw you arm up, shielding your eyes with your forearm.
  2842. >There is no wind. Hot air shimmers above the sand.
  2843. >You hear quiet yet persistent rustling sound, coming seemingly from everywhere at once.
  2844. >A moment ago you were at the fast food joint, you can swear.
  2845. >Now you are standing naked among the terrifying desert.
  2846. >You frantically look around and notice the one of the rocks that is the closest to you.
  2847. >You dart towards it, in wide leaps, because each and every your step feels like a torture.
  2848. >Diving into the salvatory shadow, you plop onto your back and stick your burned feet to the rock.
  2849. >After the sand it feels icy cold.
  2850. >Looking outside through the squinted eyes, full of desperation, you try to rationalize what’s going on.
  2851. >Did damn Mexicans hid drugs in their quesadillas and you got one by mistake?
  2852. >What was it, cocaine? Heroin?
  2853. >Should there be hallucinations as a result of ingesting large amounts of heroin?
  2854. >You have no fucking idea.
  2855. >But… But it must be a hallucination!
  2856. >There aren’t anything even remotely resembling a desert like that anywhere around where you were.
  2857. >There should be cacti and shit!
  2858. >Cacti…
  2859. >Water…
  2860. >Fuck! Fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck!!!!
  2861. >You grate your teeth, afraid to scream.
  2862. >You jam your forearm against your eyes once more, this time to not let yourself cry, afraid to lose even an ounce of moisture from within your body.
  2863. >No water. Nowhere. Never.
  2864. >You simple lie there, unmoving.
  2865. >Despite your voluntary effort, you still getting sweaty.
  2866. >Partly from heat, partly from fear.
  2867. >A human can, theoretically, survive completely without food for a week or so.
  2868. >Lack of water shortens that significantly.
  2869. >What should you do?
  2870. >You lift your arm and look at the rock that gave you a shelter.
  2871. >Maybe, while you still have strength in your body, you should bang your head against it, with all the force, splitting your skull and putting the end to this farce?
  2872. >But… But… What if that all is a hallucination?
  2873. >You sit with a start.
  2874. >Yes. Yes! It has to be!
  2875. >You bring your knees close to your chest and rest your head onto them, embracing your own legs.
  2876. >You don’t know how much time passed, while you were like this.
  2877. >Maybe an hour, maybe an eternity.
  2878. >You could’ve count your heartbeat, but what if your heart rate is too high and you will get the time wrong?
  2879. >Why would any of that matter?
  2880. >A couple of times you have a strong urge to get up and run.
  2881. >A couple of times you feel like you should kill yourself.
  2882. >In both cases you manage to restrain yourself and argue your way out of it.
  2883. >The hallucination doesn’t end.
  2884. >You look outside once again, and you think the shadow from the rock became different.
  2885. >After some more unknown stretches of timelessness, the sun goes dimmer.
  2886. >Then almost dives beyond the horizon.
  2887. >So fast that you think for a moment that you have blacked out.
  2888. >The residue heat lingers in the air for a while, then it becomes colder.
  2889.  
  2890. >Colder…
  2891. >And colder.
  2892. >Fuck, that’s a desert, right.
  2893. >Hot days, cold nights.
  2894. >It’s getting chilly already.
  2895. >Maybe a warm up will help? It should be OK, since the sun has set.
  2896. >You put your hand against the rock…
  2897. >…and freeze.
  2898. >The rock is damp. It glistens with moisture.
  2899. >You throw yourself at it, bring your wavering, chapped lips against it, open your mouth.
  2900. >And kiss it.
  2901. >Kiss like it’s dear mother! No, like it’s the hottest girl in the campus!
  2902. >You kiss and kiss, lick, slurping the droplets of condensed moisture.
  2903. >You lick the rock all over several times, your face full of stupid smile.
  2904. >There is water! Every night!
  2905. >All you need to do is survive the day, and you will be rewarded!
  2906. >You feel euphoric about this relevation.
  2907. >But cold imperiously reminds you about itself.
  2908. >So you get up and step from under the rock.
  2909. >And freeze once again.
  2910. >Straight above you, there lies ocean of black, dotted with myriad of lights.
  2911. >Never before have you witnessed the sky so rich and so glorious.
  2912. >For a moment you even feel all your fears become dull and unimportant.
  2913. >You gawk at the firmament.
  2914. >Then you begin to hop in place, clapping your hands against yourself.
  2915. >While still staring up high.
  2916. >At last it causes you to fall.
  2917. >Your head spins.
  2918. >You stand back and do some more warm ups.
  2919. >The desert around looks menacing and mysterious, under the faint, uncertain shine of the stars.
  2920. >There are more rocks around, they stand out being darker than reflective surface of the sand.
  2921. >That means you have more water.
  2922. >You decide to drink more.
  2923. >Going around, licking all the rocks you can find.
  2924. >Well, that will surely help your cause—
  2925. >Suddenly.
  2926. >You look at the desert and think you have seen something moving. Or is it somebody?
  2927. >You stand up, alerted.
  2928. >What can it be?
  2929. >A predator? Nah, it wouldn’t find even a meager ration here to sustain itself and wouldn’t have any reason to hang around. Probably.
  2930. >A camel? Should camel wander around at night? You have no idea.
  2931. >You stare at the distance and you think that now there is also a faint light, moving along with the figure.
  2932. >People? Can it be people?!
  2933. >You open you moth wide, inhale and let all your desperation out in one long, loud roar.
  2934.  
  2935. >The light changes it’s direction and approaches.
  2936. >The figure becomes more clear.
  2937. >That’s something relatively big and tall.
  2938. >A faint light hangs up high, at the fringe of its silhouette. A lantern, a flashlight held in a raised hand?
  2939. >It approaches and you find yourself staring at something four legged, drapped from head to toe in a thick fabric.
  2940. >”Neigh. Snort, neigh, whinny.”
  2941. >Is it… is it a horse?!
  2942. >You don’t care, the joy of encountering another living being in this hellish landscape is so intense it surprises you.
  2943. >You fall on your hands and knees, feeling weak.
  2944. >You bring your forehead against it’s legs and rub affectionately.
  2945. >”Neigh.”
  2946. >”Whinny.”
  2947. >Wait, that comes from several directions.
  2948. >You turn your head to see yourself surrounded.
  2949. >Apparently there are much more than one horse. They probably walked in line, step in step, to conceal their numbers…
  2950. >Wait a minute!
  2951. >These are just horses!
  2952. >You look up and see the light you thought was a flashlight actually is a faint glow on the tip of a long horn.
  2953. >That’s a unicorn. A desert unicorn.
  2954. >Maybe that was not a heroin after all?
  2955. >You faint.
  2956. ***
  2957. >Next time you come to your senses you feel you’re being moved.
  2958. >You lie face down, on a layer of fabric and another layer covers you above.
  2959. >Your hands and legs are bound, but not too tightly.
  2960. >You inhale sharply and your nostrils fill with smell of dry dust and spicy, unfamiliar organic aroma.
  2961. >You assess the situation more carefully.
  2962. >Apparently you lie atop the back of the horse. Your hands and legs are bound to it’s girth.
  2963. >The smell you are feeling is ti’s sweat.
  2964. >Judging by the warmth you feel from above the sun has already risen.
  2965. >The horse walks in steady pace, you hear it’s even, calm breath.
  2966. >You try to raise your head to look around, to find out what kind of desert people have taken you into their custody.
  2967. >It is when you remember.
  2968. >The desert unicorn…
  2969. >You peek from under the fabric, left and right as much as you can from your position and do not see any people around.
  2970. >Well, at least those unicorns have saved you. Or so you hope.
  2971. >You lower your head back onto unicorn’s withers and relax.
  2972. >Who would have thought that unicorn sweat actually smells good?
  2973. ***
  2974. >You pause and wince.
  2975. >The whole desert experience was far, far from pleasant and you would rather not recall it.
  2976. >You cough, your throat feeling parched, probably from all the fear and troubles, both present and past.
  2977. >Amira stands near the table, looking at you with the same solemn expression.
  2978. >Stardust’s face betrays worry. She looks at the table, where the pitcher and bowls stand, begins to lit her horn, then bethinks and casts a quick glance at Amira.
  2979. >Amira fills the goblet, takes it by the handle with her teeth and presents to you.
  2980. >”Drink.”
  2981. >You gladly comply. Viscous sweet liquid coats your throat, momentarily making you hoarse.
  2982. >”And so, you were found by the nomad herdmembers,” Amira breaks the silence.
  2983. >She looks briefly at Alharara, for some reason. Maybe to check if she is ready?
  2984. >You hurry to continue.
  2985. “Yes, my lady. And then…”
  2986. >She shakes her head.
  2987. >”That’s quite enough about that. I think the esteemed ones here got a decent idea of your whereabouts since you have arrived. What’s matter the most isn’t what’s happened after, but what has happened before.
  2988. >”At that street food booth… what were you doing there?”
  2989. “I was eating my lunch.”
  2990. >You answer without batting an eye.
  2991. >You think it is better to answer as precisely and unambiguously as possible.
  2992. >Amira looks at Alharara once again.
  2993. >”What did you have for lunch?”
  2994. >Huh?
  2995. “A quesadilla”
  2996. >Amira shifts her ears.
  2997. >”That’s a nightmare to pronounce. Is that a word from your kind’s language, I presume?”
  2998. >You wonder whether or not should you expand on ‘your kind’s language’ and related topics.
  2999. >You decide to keep it simple for now.
  3000. “Yes, my lady.”
  3001. >”Is that so? Your kind has one unified language?”
  3002. “No, my lady. Various… mmm… tribes have their own languages, sometimes wildly different from each other.”
  3003. >”What is a quuueee--” Amira pauses abruptly, her facial muscles tense for a moment, “well, that thing, you were eating?”
  3004. >She physically can’t pronounce ‘S’ apparently.
  3005. “It’s cheese and vegetables, wrapped in thin flatcake made of corn dough.”
  3006. >It was the exact variety you had back then.
  3007. >”What kind of cheese?”
  3008. >Oh, shit, here we go.
  3009. “I don’t know for sure. Probably from cow’s milk.”
  3010. >”Does corn grow well in your homeland?”
  3011. >You blink, confused.
  3012. “I think it does pretty decently, my lady.”
  3013. >”Was vendor a cow?”
  3014. >You were sweating profusely for some time now, so hearing the question didn’t make a big difference.
  3015. “No, my lady.”
  3016. >”Why?”
  3017. >Alharara made a slight motion you registered with your peripheral vision.
  3018. >Amira glanced at the unicorn warrior then returned all her attention back to you.
  3019. “Um… Um… They’re busy producing milk… And grazing… So peop— our people have to sell it.”
  3020. >Technically it’s true.
  3021. >Behind you Alharara shifts her weight from hoof to hoof.
  3022. >Amira nods.
  3023. >She nods again.
  3024. >”What happened at the booth?”
  3025. >Fuck, her questions are all over the place. Literally, what’s going on?
  3026. >Then, a cold realization hits you. Not even a realization, something like a gut feeling.
  3027. > This barrage of questions without rhyme or reason and among them one or two precise, serious ones — it’s a professional interrogation technique.
  3028. >She’s confusing you, making it harder to fabricate a consistently sounding cool story.
  3029. >She and the unicorn commander are measuring your reaction and answers separately, to insure precision.
  3030. >Fuck… What do you do now?
  3031. “I don’t know. At first I thought I was drugged and everything around was a…”
  3032. >You struggle for a few moments, realizing you don’t know exact word for ‘hallucination’.
  3033. “…was an illusion one sees when drugged. The desert and everything.”
  3034. >”Your kind is familiar with mind altering substances?”
  3035. >The question sounds perfectly neutral, but again, she is a statesmare.
  3036. “Yes. They are being manufactured for medicinal purposes.”
  3037. >Amira glances at Alharara yet again. You now can guess why.
  3038. >”Medicinal, you say… What about the abuse?”
  3039. “Those who abuse it, or get others addicted, are generally shunned and persecuted by law. It’s a very dangerous thing.”
  3040. >”Everything is a venom and everything is a cure, the difference is the dose, as Samia the Wise once said, eh?” Amira nodded
  3041. >You shudder slightly, as the phrase is uncannily familiar.
  3042. >Oh, shit, ears forward again.
  3043. >”What’s the matter, Anon?”
  3044. “Um… It’s just one of our scholars had said something akin to that, in the ancient times.”
  3045. >”Oh, I see. Was she from your tribe?”
  3046. “No, my lady. From a different one. And that was a male scholar.”
  3047. >You hear a nicker from the the back. The other unicorn guard couldn’t contain her laughter.
  3048. >Stardust’s face becomes disappointed for a moment, but she decides against any commentaries, it seems.
  3049. >For one fleeting moment you think you noticed Amira’s own confusion.
  3050. >”Are males really in power?”
  3051. “I’m sorry to say… Yes, my lady. For the most part.”
  3052. >”For the most part?”
  3053. “There is always a power struggle.”
  3054. >”Is that so?”
  3055. >Amira circles you.
  3056. >”Do you have cities?”
  3057. “Yes. Cities and towns, and villages.”
  3058. >”Where do savages live?”
  3059. >”Oh shit… Oh fuck…
  3060. “All over the place. In forests, in mountains, in fields… But there are often conflicts between settlers and savages, over the land, over the resources.”
  3061. >You decide to show some good will, expanding your answers.
  3062. >”Is there a blood between them?”
  3063. “I’m afraid so, my lady.”
  3064. >”What do your people believe in?”
  3065. >Oh, the ice even thinner than the cheese origins topic!
  3066. “There are several schools of thought, my lady. Some believe that everything in the world: every event, every quality of something, every creature, every phenomenon has it’s own… well…”
  3067. >There is no word for ‘patron’ in Saddle Arabian.
  3068. “Well… The entity that governs it. But the most numerous and prominent groups think that there is but one Creator, who made everything and everyone. The main difference is the name and whether everything was created as is in one go, or just the basic conditions were set and everything evolved to the present state of affairs from then.”
  3069. >For obvious reasons you rather not tell them about a prominent culture of fedora-tipping.
  3070. >”And they also believe the Creator is male, don’t they?” Amira half-asks half-states, her ears shifting back and forth.
  3071. >You’d rather not elaborate on this, but you have no choice.
  3072. >You slowly kneel.
  3073. “I beg your forgiveness, my lady. Yes, they believe so.”
  3074. >She didn’t answer. In fact, nobody have said anything.
  3075. >After a while the silence becomes impregnable.
  3076. >You begin to wonder, if you will be stoned or trampled.
  3077. >”Alright,” Amira says finally and nods to Alharara.
  3078. >You tense. In your mind, with sudden fondness, you recall your dysfunctional human family, your insufferable peers, your hometown…
  3079. >The birds, pecking bread from your hands…
  3080. >Your two harem bros…
  3081. >…But to your surprise her overall posture changes to more relaxed.
  3082. >Amira goes back to the table. She sips from her chalice, sends the globe spinning with her nose and sighs in irritation.
  3083. >”You can speak your mind, esteemed ones.”
  3084. >Right now she isn’t Amira, or even lady Amira. Right now she is clearly the Matriarch.
  3085. >Not being sure if she should be the first to speak on this case, Stardust looks at Alharara
  3086. >The commander shakes her head slightly.
  3087. >”Esteemed Stardust, please.”
  3088. >”Oh, thank you.”
  3089. >She walks up to you and looks at your face intently. She even sniffs you.
  3090. >”Before I begin, can I look at his teeth?”
  3091. >Hoooo, boy!
  3092. >Amira’s face and ears reflect a rich whirlwind of emotions.
  3093. >”Anon, open your mouth.” She says finally.
  3094. >You have to obey.
  3095. >Opening your mouth wide you barely restrain yourself from saying “aaaaaah”.
  3096. >Stardust lights her horn again, illuminating your oral cavity.
  3097. >”Hmmm… Atavistic fangs, molars… Nothing out of ordinary, for an ape.” she whispers.
  3098. >Then walks back to Amira.
  3099. >”That’s rather bizzare situation I must say, noble Amira. Yes, he indeed looks like a somewhat evolved kind of ape. But, I can’t tell you, how the creature like him could ever come to be. Not sure, if it’s alright for me to elaborate right now…”
  3100. >She points at you faintly.
  3101. >Amira looks between her and you, contemplating.
  3102. >”By all means, do, esteemed Stardust. I’m sure commander Alharara would agree.”
  3103. >Alharara stands at attention and nods to the other unicorn warrior.
  3104. >You’re desperately trying to discern the situation.
  3105. >Looks like expect something from you. Not only to tell something, but probably do something, in response to what Stardust have to say.
  3106. >Maybe they think you’re some kind of demon, a Shaitan’s henchman?
  3107. >But why now, all of sudden?
  3108. >Stardust bows and speaks up.
  3109. >”As I said earlier, if I had only magical readings at hoof, I would’ve said that he’s dead.”
  3110. >”Or, perhaps, a more precise way to put it would be to say that he’s unliving.”
  3111. >”The… um… the Light interacts with him like it would’ve interacted with a rock, or a stone. It flows through, but it not resonates with him. Without the resonance, the power potential is, of course, non-existent. The Light can still influence him, but only when focused by somebody else. Himself he can’t wield it. He’s magically inert.”
  3112. >She speaks Saddle Arabian with a weird accent, that is strangely endearing.
  3113. >Amira nods. Looks like she was told that before and now they’re just playing for your benefit.
  3114. >A doubtful benefit, for sure.
  3115. >Maybe the whole ‘testing Ajmal’ thing was just an excuse to do a magical x-ray on you.
  3116. >Yet,” Stradust continued, ”although looks he a bit like a rock for the spell, there is that faint glow. Like a gem shining through—”
  3117. >Amira was listening intently, but at the mention of gems her ears spring up and she immediately retreats further into the room, closer to a large bookshelf.
  3118. >Alharara let’s out a short snort and the other unicorn soldier immediately blocks the door.
  3119. >”Shaitan be damned!” you hear soldier mare’s whisper.
  3120. >The unicorn commander swiftly leaps towards Stardust and positions herself by her side, between you and Amira.
  3121. >Oops. Something went to shit even more?
  3122. >You freeze in place to not provoke them in any way.
  3123. >”Gems, you say?” Alharara whispers quietly, her own gem-eye shine ominously.
  3124. >Her horn lits, but in a somewhat different way than before.
  3125. >Its tip projects a flat shimmering stream, for a lack of a better word, which washes over you like a barcode scanner.
  3126. >Stardust’s gasps and does the same thing with her horn.
  3127. >They both look at you dumbfounded.
  3128. >Alharara’s helmet prevents you from judging her emotions, but you can tell Stardust is very glad and equally embarrassed.
  3129. >”I’m terribly sorry. I just couldn’t have thought that… I didn’t put two and two together.”
  3130. >Stardust’s ears fall flat to the sides of her head.
  3131. >”I mean, it’s a thing from the long past, from an ancient past. I’ve only read about it in the Royal Library—”
  3132. >”My liege,” Alharara interrupts, “In short, we enormously relieved he isn’t a Flesh Golem.”
  3133. >”You don’t say.” Amira murmurs.
  3134. >Everyone return to their previous stations,with Alharara behind you and Amira near the globe.
  3135. >The change in ambiance is noticeable. Apparently you wasn’t some kind of an ancient demon thing they have expected you are.
  3136. >”I cannot really think of any place where such a creature, let alone plenty of them, could came to be.”
  3137. >Amira says, changing the topic and looks at you with regret.
  3138. >You are sitting on the floor, not sure anymore what’s ever going on.
  3139. >”Tell us, Anon. Where does your homeland situated?”
  3140. >Thank Goddess we’re back to talking, like civilized people!
  3141. “I beg your forgiveness, my lady, but I have no slightest idea.”
  3142. >You answer with a complete honesty.
  3143. >”How come?”
  3144. “I’ve never heard about any of the lands that exist around here. Neither heard, nor read. Not about Saddle Arabia, not about Equestria. I cannot tell where is my land in relation to yours.”
  3145. >”Do your people have maps? Cartography?”
  3146. >You probably would’ve needed a stellar cartography for that, not the regular one.
  3147. “Yes, my lady, but I’ve never encountered—”
  3148. >”Look here.” Amira spins the globe once again.
  3149. >You obediently look at the unfamiliar landmass.
  3150. >It’s a huge rectangularish continent, and another, smaller one, beyond the sea. Several archipelagos of large islands are present as well.
  3151. >Which reminds you once more that you aren’t home anymore in every sense possible.
  3152. “I do not recognize this land, at all, my lady.”
  3153. >”What your land looks like, then?”
  3154. >Amira gives you a papyrus scroll and a pencil.
  3155. >You honestly try to draw your home continent.
  3156. >Amira and Stardust bend their heads over your “art”.
  3157. >”Can it be the Antipodal Land?” Amira asks the unicorn scholar.
  3158. >”Hmm… It would make the most sense, actually. Behind that huge untamed ocean can be anything.” Stardust answers and rotates the globe with her telekinesis.
  3159. >It shows an enormous vastness of azure in the opposite hemisphere.
  3160. >Looks like the most of the land is concentrated in one side of the planet.
  3161. >”Alright,” Amira stomps to emphasize, “I’m glad that we have established some truth. Not all of it, but that is already something. Thank you, esteemed ones, you may be free.”
  3162. >Immediately answering your unvoiced question, she adds.
  3163. >”I want Anon to remain.”
  3164. >Alharara salutes and walks out, her subordinate in a tow.
  3165. >Stardust hesitates, however.
  3166. >”Noble Amira, may I speak?”
  3167. >”Is there something more? Of course, please, do tell.”
  3168. >”We have encountered a problem of a significant scale and importance, it seems. I must report to the Academy as soon as possible. I hope you understand that my duty, the interests of my homeland, require me to—”.
  3169. >Amira’s expression didn’t betray anything more than a polite understanding.
  3170. >”My dear Stardust,” she addresses her simply by the name, now that military mares have left the room, “I implore you not to make a haste.”
  3171. >”But—”.
  3172. >”Think of it, please. Caravans are slow this time of year. You will spend an inadmissible amount of time underway. And traveling alone is very dangerous, as I cannot dispatch my soldiers to accompany you beyond the borders of Saddle Arabia.”
  3173. >”But I must—”
  3174. >”In several months there will be regular rotation of the diplomatic staff to Equestria. You can return home with them. It will be much faster and infinitely more safe for you.”
  3175. >Stardust swayed her ears, thinking.