Every villager knows to lock up his daughters when the centaurs ride, lest they be taken as brides. But tonight the hunter’s moon hangs low in the sky, and my shutters swing open with ease.
Their hooves are thunder upon the earth, their cries like the songs of birds. They ride together as one, not man nor beast, but something beautiful and whole. I’ve seen them only once before, when I was a girl. They ride through the villages every ten years, a blink in time for them, but an agonizing wait for me.
There is one I have longed to see return. They call him Raelin, son of Rudiobus their king. I remember seeing him then; his body, long and lean, mane as black as the ravens that lead them, and eyes as haunting as the moon. Raelin was young then, too young for a bride. Until now.
The fennel seeds sprinkled in my hair are fragrant, a favorite of all the centaurs. I weave meadowsweet in my braid, adding a touch of femininity. Only strong young women are chosen, and the ravens have kept watch over the villages with the most promising girls. I’ve made sure to be seen in the forest with my bow.
My brother sleeps soundly next to his wife. He does not need me any longer, nor I him. The time has come for me to choose my own path, and I choose the centaurs. I choose Raelin, and I pray to the gods that he will choose me.
I slip out the open window, heading toward the forest. The village is silent and dark. The cobblestone streets, illuminated beneath the low red moon, lead me away from my past and toward an uncertain but beautiful future. When the sun rises and Raelin sheds his horse body to walk as a man, I will be his bride, a goddess among gods. A daughter of Epona.
The earth begins to quake beneath my moccasins and a murder of crows cover the night sky like a thousand arrows.
It is not long before I hear them, their voices as beautiful as I remember. The beat of my heart matches that of their hooves. I’ve already said goodbye to my village. Now I belong to the forest.
They burst through the trees, the eldest of them first, in a mass of browns, blacks, and grays. These centaurs are not looking for brides. They’re following the crows, leading the way for the younger men, for Raelin.
I find him easily, a clear, sharp image among the swarming colors and dust clouds left behind. While the others thunder through the village, Raelin walks calmly behind. He is a true prince. I bow to him, not submissive or subservient, but respectful. His presence commands it.
Raelin’s head tilts as he studies me with no expression on his face. It is only then that my confidence falters. Have I not impressed him? Has he not come for my hand? I pull my shoulders back and draw a breath.
Raelin smiles, an expression so serene and still so full of power. He exudes power, and I find I like this about him. His suntanned skin, reddened by the moon, is criss-crossed with pale scars, but his horse body is flawless, sleek, and shining. He wears nothing but a forest green sash that hangs at his human waistline.
Raelin gestures for me to approach him. I can feel the eyes of the circle of centaurs upon my shoulders, but I pay them no mind. Raelin reaches out a hand to grasp a strand of hair that has fallen loose from my braid. He lifts it to his face and breathes in, closing his eyes and smiling.
I want to smile too, but I’m afraid that I will lose my composure and ruin this moment. So afraid that Raelin will not find me worthy. I know if he does not, if he leaves here tonight without me, I will remain in my village. But my heart is not here. My heart is in the forest with the centaurs.
Raelin removes his sash and my body goes rigid as he reaches for me, draping it across my shoulders. It smells of him; evergreen, mountain air, and that sweet earthy musk that only horses possess. He holds out his hand. “Come. Daughter of Epona.”
I reach for his hand, but he drops it, his eyes fierce and focused beyond me.
“Eva, no!” A voice interrupts this perfect moment. The centaurs flock around their prince, arrows drawn on the imposter. “Eva, please.”
My body seizes. I know this voice. It is a voice that does not sound like the songs of birds. A voice that I do not long to hear. It is a voice I do not love.
Welcome to Tangled Fiction, where three YA writers collaborate to complete one story!
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one TF writer will post a piece of the same story. Each of us will be responsible for one beginning, middle, and end in a single month. The fourth week will be full of surprises, we're sure, and we'll share them with you when we know what they are.