Aidan Ventimiglia, Journalist

Semni fled, the smoke and screams to her back. Then, she heard a yell in Geothoi, from one plunderer to another. The two words spoken that she understood meant girl and away. She broke into a sprint. The two men, on horseback, moved swiftly in her pursuit. She was soon to be overtaken. Through gasping breaths, words escaped her lips.

Dat hesti ekwos

As soon as that last syllable was set into the world, her form changed into that of a horse; a mare with a coat and mane the same dark red of the girls hair. Her new body, now solid, took off as her forelegs hit the ground.

The men, who had been four stallion strides from the girl, shouted curses in their harsh tongue, as the red horse fled.

Meanpe was a magic woman. She had been the mage of the Curtanan court. She enjoyed high status and dined in fine company. But, when Prince Pacha had set upon her, she laid a curse on him. Banishment from Curtana was her punishment. She retreated northward and settled in the wilds of grass and streams.

In the afternoon she departed from her hut, down to the river where she caught crayfish. She observed the land as she crested the hill overseeing the river. She saw a wild horse amble across the field. It was on the other side of the river, but she heard the echoes of a spell on it, the voice had been full of fear when it was cast. Its sound wasn’t very faint at all and so she knew that the spell had been cast no later than that same morning.

Meanpe called a summoning spell; But, without name attached, it was weak. The horse turned in the direction of the utterance. Meanpe approached, crossing the river. The mare stood, watching.

Meanpe, after crossing the river, stood ten paces from the horse. She walked slowly towards it, she put out her hand and spoke an ancient word of soothing. The horse pressed her nose against her hand.

She cradled the horse’s head in her arms and tenderly stroked her forehead. The witch softly muttered under her breath. Finally she whispered into the Horse’s ear: “Yenkei, hest emon.”

Once again human, Semni fell, naked, caught in the arms of the witch.

In the witch’s bode, Semni huddled in the corner, hugging her knees and hiding her nakedness with the cloak Meanpe had given her. She felt beastly. Her heart beat slowly, but with each one, pain surged through her.

The woman who had saved her was standing before the fireplace, boiling crayfish in a black pot. Then she pulled it off the fire and as the sound of boiling water died down, she spoke to Semni.

“Supper should be ready soon, Yenkei.”

“Why do you call me that?” The name sounded strange to her, yet familiar, as if she’d ought to know it.

“What name would you prefer I use?”

“I’m called Semni.” she answered, too intimidated by the witch to object to her obfuscation. Semni wouldn’t ask the witch her name, it wasn’t proper to ask such things of mages.

“And you can call me Meanpe, Semni.” She started pulling the crayfish from the hot water, by skewering them with a two pronged fork of bronze. Steam poured up from the carapaces, turned red from heat. “There is enough for us both.” She invited for Semni to sit at the table with a motion of her head. “Come eat with me.”

Semni stood up. Holding the cloak around her breast, she came to the table and sat down.

As Semni ate, the witch looked at her intently.

“That was your first time using a changing spell, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.” her voice was hoarse.

“Such things are dangerous.”

“I had to.”

“I know.” Meanpe spoke softly. “What did you flee?”

“Men from Geothoi, they were pillaging my village.” Meanpe nodded. Such things were not uncommon living as far north as they did.

“Who taught you the changing spell?”

“My grandfather, he taught me every spell I know.”

“Northern mages hold a foolish reputation.” Meanpe said this in a mutter, more to herself, but Semni heard. Meanpe spoke again, this time addressing Semni. “You mustn’t use that spell again. Look at your finger.” Meanpe gestured to Semni’s left hand.

Semni drew the hand to her face to inspect it. Her skin was the same reddish brown, made redder by the fire light. All of her fingers seemed intact, except for the nail of her pinky finger. No longer was it the natural, pinkish-white, but dark and the constitution of horses’ hooves.

“Those are scars,” the witch said “It’s the lasting consequence of the spell. They are usually minor, but the changing spell is perilous.” She looked Semni in the eyes “Those that spend their time as beasts, lose themselves as beasts.”

“Perhaps, I would have been better off as a horse.”

“Why do you think that?” Meanpe poised to listened, looking upon the girl with sympathy.

“Because a horse is free. It mustn’t fear to lose its home because all the fields of the world are its home,” she paused to ward off tears “It is never alone and always in stride with its people, never leaving them.” Meanpe heard the remorse behind her words.

“What freedom is for a horse and what it is for a woman are not the same. Just as the body of a horse and the body of a woman must eat different food, so must their souls pursue different freedoms.” Meanpe stood from the table and put her hand on Semni’s shoulder. Semni looked up to meet eyes with her and Meanpe said: “For you to pursue freedom as a horse, would be to make yourself a slave as a woman.” the witch smiled now, “I will make you a bed and when the morn’ comes, we can walk to fields of the world together.”

Semni covered herself in the blankets she’d been given. The motions of her heart were at ease, beats coming without pain. Meanpe put out the fire with the cooking water left from their dinner. She came to her bed, beside the place she had set aside for Semni. She spoke the last words that Semni heard before passing into sleep:

“Sleep well, Yenkei.”