Battle of Wills

The rhythmic bang, bang, bang of his hoof against the stall door reverberated through the old stables. Pegasus bobbed his head with the sound as though the echoing, metal clangs were the sweetest music to his ears. They weren’t, but he wasn’t letting the stable boy know that. Not that it was the stable boy’s fault he was here, chained by Bellerophon’s golden bridle to a ring in the stall wall.

Pegasus paused in his banging to switch hooves, waiting just long enough for the stable boy to relax before starting up the noise again. He supposed he shouldn’t torment the mortal so, but he was bored. Horribly, infuriatingly, insanely bored. How long had he been in here? Pegasus considered the question as he continued to bang his hoof against the stall door, making it rattle and clang with each strike. Four months, maybe? It was a short enough time for an immortal like him, but even immortals could get bored.

“What is it now?!” the stable boy yelled, startling Pegasus out of his thoughts. The boy, face pinched in a scowl, stalked toward the stall imprisoning Pegasus and glared through the bars on the top of the Dutch doors. Pegasus would have expected a mortal to pay him more respect, but then the boy was probably as bored and annoyed as Pegasus was. He’d been standing at the stable doors for three hours, guarding them in the unlikely event Pegasus would manage to break free of the bridle, the stall doors, and the stable itself.

Pegasus snorted, half in rebuke, half in apology. The boy ignored him and turned his face to peer into the food and water buckets Pegasus had been provided with, both of which were full. He scowled at Pegasus again, then sighed. “Look, I don’t like being here either. But I need this job, and just because I don’t agree with Maverick doesn’t mean I can leave. And anyway, it’s not like you’re getting starved, so quit complaining.” With a final glare, the boy turned and stomped back to his post by the stable doors.

Starvation isn’t the only form of torture. Pegasus tossed his head, rattling the chain attached to the bridle he wore. Did the boy think standing day after day in a stall barely large enough for Pegasus to turn around wasn’t torture? His wings ached from the inability to move, to stretch them out and shake the cramps from them. The last time he’d tried, the Hermes girl had clearly thought he was trying to escape and dragged him back inside, clinging to the bridle, her anxiety radiating from her hands through the gold metal. If only Pegasus had demanded the gods destroy that horrid creation once he’d been freed of Bellerophon, he wouldn’t be here now, trapped by the boy Maverick’s will more than by any chain or door.

Pegasus jerked his head back, lashing his tail against his legs. If only he could break the soft metal, rip it to shreds, stomp it into a harmless puddle of gold! He yanked on the chain again, snorting and crow hopping. How he hated it here. Hated more being used as a pawn, a pawn! He, Pegasus, reduced to a small, expendable piece on the chess board of divine power! And for what? For a greedy half-mortal to blackmail the gods into deifying him? Did the boy Maverick really think it would work? Pegasus grabbed the chain in his mouth and rattled it viciously. The stable boy glanced over, but didn’t come to investigate the latest demonstration of Pegasus’s anger.

Pegasus yanked the chain again, then again with even more force. Though he was slimmer than a draft horse, the muscles in his neck and chest were strong as any respectable draft’s due to the sheer force necessary to power his wings and get him off the ground. The chain rattled and squealed in protest as Pegasus hauled on it, determined to vent his fury into the metal links until they broke or he wore himself out. He dug his hooves into the thin straw bedding and wrenched his head back, teeth clamped onto the silvery metal. He caught the movement as the stable boy’s head snapped up, but Pegasus ignored him.

He felt the slightest give in the chain as he gave it a particularly violent wrench. Pegasus flared his nostrils as he sucked in a deep breath, clamped the chain more firmly in his mouth, and threw all his weight into a backward lunge. With a shriek of rending metal one of the links gave way. A giddy rush of delight swept through Pegasus and he snapped the chain, the partially opened link falling free from its siblings. He’d done it. He’d done it! He’d broken the cursed chain binding him to the wall. He hadn’t broken the bridle, sadly, but it was a start.

Pegasus looked out through the bars across the top Dutch door. The stable boy was watching him with a deep frown on his face, but from his angle and through the bars, he couldn’t tell Pegasus had snapped the chain in two. Pegasus shook his head and took a moment to breathe in the scent of his small victory, then dipped his muzzle into the water bucket, eyeing the stall door. The door would be harder to get through than the chain, but he thought he could do it. He was Pegasus after all, no mere mortal stallion! If he wanted something, he would get it, and right now he wanted nothing more than to burst out of this stall, this stable, and into the open air beyond. He tossed his head, rattling the chain against the steel-enforced wooden wall, watching the stable boy intently. After a few minutes of snorting and dejected chain rattling, the boy grew disinterested and turned his face away. Good, Pegasus needed the boy complacent if he was going to have a chance at getting through the door.

He started with the hoof banging again, then began throwing his shoulder into the door. There were six bolts holding the doors closed; he’d managed to bust one of the trio on the top door during his first week in the stall, and nobody had bothered to replace it yet. He thought it had something to do with staying hidden and not buying anything except necessities. Apparently the mortals had thought he wouldn’t be able to escape with five bolts still on the door. Well, he’d see to that.

The boy had clearly decided to drown out Pegasus’s tantrum because the stable suddenly filled with harsh music; music with plenty of drums, Pegasus noticed. The boy couldn’t have afforded him a better opportunity if he’d simply turned and walked out the door. Of course, Pegasus had been throwing tantrums like this ever since he’d been brought here, though he’d always been careful not to push his bonds too far, so it was no wonder the boy was ignoring him now. His plan was working perfectly.

He rammed his shoulder into the metal banded wood of the bottom door, timing most of his strikes with any loud bang or crash in the boy’s music. It was hard to do, since the center of the door was slightly lower than his shoulders, and he had little room to maneuver, let alone charge the door properly. But slowly, excruciatingly, the door began to rattle more forcibly with each strike, the hinges and bolts loosening from their moorings. He took a few breaks, sucking down mouthfuls of water or standing quiet for a few minutes to catch his breath. He had an hour before the apathetic stable boy was relieved by a fresh guard. It wasn’t much time, but it would do.

Pegasus heard the clink and rattle as a screw from one of the latches fell out onto the cement floor. He glanced up but the boy hadn’t heard the slight sound over his music, and was gazing off to one side. Pegasus peered through the bars, just making out the sight of one latch listing drunkenly away from the door, no longer of any practical use. He quivered with excitement. Just two more latches to go and he could swing the door open, no need to worry about the six-screw hinges after all. He rammed his shoulder into the bottom door with renewed vigor, trying to hit the door as close to the latch side as possible.

After a few long minutes there was a creaking, squealing sound of rending metal and wood as the remaining two latches began to tear away from the door in unison. With a final surge Pegasus slammed his shoulder into the door and the latches popped free, the bottom of the Dutch door flying out and crashing back against the wall. The stable boy finally looked over, his expression only mildly interested. In the moment it took him to register the scene and start forward, eyes widening, Pegasus had dropped to his belly and was writhing through the opening. Pain shot up his legs as he scraped them against the cement floor, but he ignored the discomfort. He’d suffered worse, and he had only seconds to get out before the stable boy reached him and grabbed for the golden bridle.

“Hey! Get back!” the boy yelled, waving his arms as he rushed forward. Pegasus ignored the order, propelling himself through the small opening with a push of his back legs and scrambling ungracefully to his feet, smacking his rump on the top door in the process. But he was out, out of that tiny stall and on his feet! The boy lunged for the bridle, eyes wild with panic. Pegasus reared, keeping the bridle well out of reach and scaring the mortal back.

Pegasus snapped his wings open, feeling the rush of air through his feathers and the ache of disused muscles easing. He surged past the yelling mortal, racing down the length of the stable aisle, giddy with the loosening of his muscles and the feel of freedom, however slight. Seconds before he smashed into the double doors at the end of the aisle, he tucked his back legs, fanned his wings, and skidded to a stop. With a snort he wheeled around and kicked the doors. They rattled against the bars on the outside, but didn’t open. Pegasus snorted in annoyance. He could have kicked them down eventually, but not while he was avoiding the stable boy’s clutching hands.

He reared again and dove sideways as the boy, angry as well as terrified now, jumped at him. Pegasus raced down the center aisle, skidded to a stop before the doors on that side, spun and raced back. The boy cursed and leapt out of the way as Pegasus nearly bowled him over. He made another circuit of the stable and was about to start yet another when a human-sized side door banged open. With a scream of defiance Pegasus charged the door, only slamming to a stop as the boy Maverick slashed a gleaming sword through the air between them.

Pegasus shook his head, the length of chain still attached to his bridle swinging out and crashing against the boy’s sword. Maverick twisted the sword away before the chain could wrap around it and dash it out of his hands, leaving him unprotected from Pegasus’s thrashing hooves. Pegasus danced in front of him, lashing out with his front hooves, then snapping his legs back as the boy slashed at him, trying to drive him back.

“Close the door,” Maverick snarled at the slim half-human girl who’d followed him in. The girl, one of Hermes’s offspring Pegasus knew, slammed the door closed and ducked past Maverick’s flashing sword. Pegasus screamed in frustration and wheeled away as the girl leapt at him. He charged down the aisle, hearing the girl’s footsteps as she chased after him. If only he’d awoken before she slipped the bridle onto his head that night when she and Maverick came for him. If only it had been the boy himself that snuck into Pegasus’s stall, Pegasus would have heard his approach! Curse Hermes and all his offspring, and the other gods who had yet to send him assistance in his escape! Did they not care about him?

Pegasus twisted sideways and slammed his shoulder into the double doors. They buckled, then sprung back, the outside bars rattling in their sockets. The girl snatched at the bridle, forcing him to scramble back and rear out of her reach. She was quicker and lither than the two boys, nearly silent on her feet as she chased him down the aisle again. Maverick stood in the center of the aisle now, sword held before him, gray eyes narrowed to calculating slits as Pegasus barreled toward him. Pegasus glanced to the ceiling, judging how high he could jump and how high the boy’s sword would reach if he tried.

Maverick’s shoulders tensed as Pegasus sped toward him, showing no sign of slowing despite the sword the boy held angled in front of him. Seconds before they collided Pegasus raised his head, clearly preparing to leap over the boy. Maverick stabbed his sword upward, just high enough to cut the stallion without causing mortal damage when he jumped. In the next instant Maverick was flung to the ground as Pegasus slammed into him, the raised sword clattering harmlessly to the floor as he fell.

Pegasus cavorted past the prone figure, gleeful that he’d managed to trick Maverick. The half-human boy was an arrogant brat, but he wasn’t stupid. He wouldn’t have been able to capture Pegasus in the first place if he had been. The girl yelped and dropped to her knees beside Maverick while Pegasus bucked and danced. He could have crushed the boy’s chest with one blow, but for all he hated his captor he didn’t want to kill the mortal. In part it was a sense of dignity not to murder the weaker being, and in part it was because Pegasus knew better than to anger the boy’s immortal parent. He needed the gods’ favor if he hoped to be free once more.

Maverick sucked in a rasping breath, somewhat to Pegasus’s dismay, and struggled to rise. The girl and the stable boy, who had also rushed to his master’s aid, helped him to sit up. The boy’s gray eyes glared at Pegasus, who dashed by and charged the double doors again. He didn’t have much conviction that he could break them down before one of the mortals grabbed him, but Pegasus wasn’t giving up without trying. “Get…him,” Maverick hissed, still struggling to regain the air that had been knocked out of him when he fell.

The girl darted to her feet, then leapt aside as Pegasus bolted down the aisle. This was the most exercise he’d gotten in months, and he was going to sustain his game of keep-away for as long as he could manage it. The stable boy also left Maverick’s side, and together he and the girl began chasing Pegasus around the stable while the stallion bucked and dodged and buffeted the mortals with his wings. After a few minutes the boy Maverick finally climbed to his feet and stalked toward Pegasus, leaving his sword lying on the floor. Pegasus wheeled to face him, neck arched, ears flat, and screamed a challenge at his captor.

He didn’t move as Maverick paced toward him, rage burning in his gray eyes, a faint aura surrounding him that only Pegasus could see. The mark of Eris, Pegasus realized, goddess of strife and discord; she who had lit the spark that started the Trojan War so many years ago. He’d known the boy Maverick was half immortal, but it wasn’t until this moment he saw which immortal had borne him. Perhaps it was more than mere greed that had driven the boy to capture Pegasus, but also a craving for strife born into him from his mother. Pegasus snorted and pawed the ground, staring down the boy as he drew closer.

In a flash of motion, the boy’s hand shot out, fingertips brushing over the bridle. Pegasus reared, barely bringing his head out of reach before Maverick’s will flooded through the bridle. He shivered as whispers of it ran down his spine from that feather light brush of fingers on gold. Pegasus lunged away, then swerved sideways, narrowly avoiding trampling the girl who’d crept up next to him.

A hand clamped onto the length of chain still swinging from the bridle, yanking Pegasus’s head around. He’d forgotten about the cursed chain! He reared back, trying to wrench the chain away from Maverick’s iron grip, but the boy clung to it even as he was dragged across the floor. Pegasus thrashed his head and squealed in fury, desperate to keep the boy’s hands away from the noseband of the bridle. He beat his wings hard, stirring the air into a wind that whipped at Maverick’s short hair and forced him to slit his eyes, but the boy continued to cling to the chain, his hands inching slowly up the metal links.

In a surge of rage and fear Pegasus lunged forward, slamming his chest into the boy and biting at his hair. Maverick’s feet skidded out from under him, but as he started to fall one hand flashed up and closed around the golden bridle. Pegasus staggered, the boy’s will crashing down over his, drowning it in a mix of anger, pain, and determination. Pegasus struggled to fight off the alien force, regain control of his drooping wings and quivering legs, but the bridle’s power bound him tight. He couldn’t escape the boy’s will without escaping the bridle, and that was one power even Pegasus could not overcome.

*          *          *

Pegasus gazed through the bars across the top Dutch door of his stall. The hinges and latches had all been replaced and two chains now ran to rings in the stall walls; one from the bridle, one from the shackle around his neck. Two alert stable boys guarded the stall, standing directly across from the Dutch doors. Dipping his head into his empty food bucket Pegasus rattled it against the wall, causing his guards to flinch and stare hard at him, and gave a faintly amused snort at their anxiety.

Thunder rumbled outside, causing the mortals to glance nervously at the ceiling, as though fearing it was a personal warning from Zeus. Pegasus cocked an ear to listen, then twitched it dejectedly back. If the gods were going to send him help, it wouldn’t be in the form of thunder. With a sigh, he rested his muzzle against the bars across the top door of his stall, and waited.

Isabel Nee loves reading, writing, science, birds, and mythology. She sporadically practices archery, and is known to research bizarre genetic disorders which she then inflicts on her characters. Isabel has had prose and poetry published in elementia magazine and Showcase Selections ~ 2016. She is currently writing a YA fantasy novel, and hopes to some day become a professional novelist. Isabel lives in Kansas where she hatches chickens and (she would like to think) great ideas.

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