Tales of the Horse Witches – Bucephalus
Now that you are of age, my daughter, I tell you the story of your great-great-great grandmother, a tale that you will sing to your daughter, and her to hers, and on to the end of time – this is how we came to be the Horse Witches. Our clan began when she came to care for the greatest war horse that ever lived and will ever be: Bucephalus, the chosen charger of King Alexander the Great, the greatest general and king that ever lived. These are her words and now they are yours:
Bucephalus would allow only me, aside from the King, to touch him. We three learned we were all born on the same hour of the same day and year [that, my daughter, was April 10, 356 B.C., in the sign of Aries, the ram, ruled by Mars , the god of war]. That is how Alexander and Bucephalus knew each other on sight; and how they knew me and I them when they pillaged my village in the mountain fastness of the Kandahar.
I went with them without question, as it was meant to be, and I cared for Bucephalus from then until the day he died in the campaign to conquer India , on the bank of the Jhelum River gloriously impaled on the tusk of the mighty lead war elephant of King Porus.
Now he was not the finest looking animal to behold for he had a wall-eye and a white birthmark on his haunch, shaped like a bull’s head. But oh he had a terrible beauty when he was girding for battle. His spirit grew so fierce that we all quailed in his presence. And you almost dared not look upon him lest you cause him to look back, with hoof to follow eye.
When he spied the satraps bringing his chest armor, he would begin to toss his massive head and prance, pulverizing the ground with his front hooves, a drumbeat of death to come that day. That armor was fashioned from the hides of Persian cavalry horses he had decimated in battle. The skins were laid each on the other and shaped, then alternately wetted and dried in the sun for weeks until it was all light as leather but harder than stone. He would snort and froth and nuzzle his armor, working himself into a higher frenzy by the minute. He knew he had slain them and seemed to delight in wearing their skins and spirits so as to slay yet more.
After every battle, Alexander would dismount to be healed by his coterie of slave girls and dancers. But Bucephalus would permit only me to tend to him. I always rode him bareback to the river. I bathed the salt crusted sweat of his war fury from his hide, kneading into his skin the lavender-infused unguents he loved. I washed from his hooves the blood and bits of bone from hundreds of screaming Persian soldiers. I cleaned and sharpened the tiny bronze blades woven into each front fetlock, that he could cut and flay what he did not crush.
Of course, there were no mares in Alexander’s army. And as the stallion permitted only me to touch him, it fell to me to service all his needs. He would stand stock still. I would kneel where no other dared. With much practice, I learned to sooth Bucephalus, to calm the raging malefire in his blood, as befitted the greatest war horse the world has known. Then I would wash us both again in the river and lay him down on the bank grass to rest. And I? He allowed me to rest against him, and lay my head on his now slow beating heart, witch and horse as one.