Wishing for Horses

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The Halter of Clydno Eiddyn, which was fixed to a staple at the foot of his bed: whatever horse he might wish for, he would find in the halter.’
The Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain

In the apartment, five storeys up, I unpack my bag: tops, trousers, underwear, socks, a coat to hang up, a spare pair of shoes best left in the hall. I place my folded nightdress on the pillow.

The last thing I unwrap, carefully from tissue paper, is the halter. Its leather is wizened from centuries in the peat bog, its gold burnished. Still, I can feel noses pushing into it, curved cheeks, flexing polls. I can almost smell the sweet grassy-mouthed horses.

I think of Clydno sitting awake at night in the hill fort of Din Eiddyn, thumbing the soft supple leather and the shining gold buckles, layers of dirt beneath the nails of his big hands.

Clydno knows he’s got all the horses from The Triads at his beck and call: Three Bestowed Horses, Three Lovers’ Horses, Three Chief Steeds, Three Horses of Plunder, The Three Horses who carried the Three Horse-Burdens.

They have names like Slender-Grey, Silver-Grey, Silver-White Proud and Fair, Long-Legged Chestnut, Long-Necked Chestnut, Roan Cloven-Hoof, Fearless Roan with Wolf’s Tread, Eager Long Forelegs, Pale Yellow, Huge Yellow, The Horned, Host-Splitter, Round-Hoofed, Tall Fierce Black, The Black of the Seas. They give rides to gods and heroes surrounded by battle-fog to treacherous deeps.

Clydno knows his horses. He does not know his wife, who looks disparagingly at the halter, tears it from his hands, tosses it into the corner of the room. “No more wishing for horses.”

That’s what they told me, yet still I stapled the halter to the foot of my bed, awoke to a nuzzling at my ankles. A fine grey mare had pressed her nose into the noseband, slipped the headpiece over her ears like a wish. Stood pawing at the carpet, pulling away from the staple.

I sat up in bed and shook sleep from my eyes like a foal. When I blinked she was still there. I shrugged off my duvet and opened the balcony window so wind shivered her mane and coat. Tentatively I undid the staple, climbed barefoot onto her back from the bed-foot, felt her warmth against the night.

I returned itchy with horse hair, the halter white-lathered with sweat, face damp with mist from the spirit-haunted mountains to appreciate the duvet, the pillow, the long lie-in.

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