The old sorrel 5-Gaiter, known as Number Two, fumed, glaring down at his owner from the top shelf in her room.
“Not fair,” he rumbled under his
breath. “I know I could be a Champion if she just paid me attention like she
does those others!”
As he watched, his young owner unpacked another horse, one all changed, with a beautiful paint job and real hair mane and tail, ready for the show ring. This happened far too often, but never did she reach for those on the highest shelf, where he and his companions gathered dust. He watched so many come and return, also changed to wonderful show steeds, conceited creatures who decided not to ever speak to him and his top shelf mates. Once in a while, his owner reached up to grab one of his companions to package up, but they never returned home.
The 5-Gaiter’s mustang friend left yesterday, leaving only seven on the high shelf, and he knew the mustang would never come back. One of his companions sighed, and he turned an eye to her, the only Andalusian he ever befriended, Number One looked old and worn, in a faded paint job, her sanded mold lines visible. Her eyes met his, dull and sad.
“The owner is sending us away one by one. Soon, we will not even have each other.” Her voice quivered.
“I have noticed that, too,” an old Thoroughbred half-bred with a partially painted pinkish coat, added his voice to hers. “Number Two, it is obvious we will be sent away soon.”
“Number Four, we can’t change what will be, but I can still hate them all, all those Low Shelvers.” Number Two trembled. “It is all their fault we never received proper names. All their fault we are just numbers.”
“We agreed to the number designations so we wouldn’t be like them! But why must she send us away never to return when those down below come home?” A black TWH neighed. His once fine finish shone in spots between dulled, rubbed and scratched paint. “Who knows what the outside world holds? At least up here, we are safe from careless children.”
“Oh, this is so horrible,” a grey
Arab mare whinnied her distress, her eyes bright with tears.
“Don’t cry, Number Ten,” Number One wuffled softly, before falling silent. Number Two dwelled on his own dark thoughts, and his anger flared as the owner unpacked another box. He recognized the Low Shelver stallion, back from some other place, his mane and tail ruffling as the owner picked him up to admire. She placed him on the shelf, and left the room. Number Two used all his energy to peer down over the shelving.
“Hey, you! Yeah, you, Pretty Boy! Some stallion you look now! You look like a pretty mare!” Number Two jeered. “Did they geld you, too?”
Number Two’s shelf companions broke into derisive laughter and the stallion spared him a wide-eyed glance of discomfort. Suddenly the owner returned with an empty box, and, to Number Two’s horror, reached up and grabbed him. Number One gasped, and Number Four sighed, sadness in his resigned tone. The owner brushed the dust off his back, and he rolled his eyes toward his friends.
“Goodbye. It is my turn now.”
Number Ten cried, and Number One gazed at Number Two with wet eyes. Number Four averted his eyes and Number Two’s heart jumped with fear and grief, knowing he saw his friends for the last time, to never know their fates.
“Farewell, Number Two,” Number One called out.
“You, too,” Number Two wuffled, unable to say goodbye.
The owner turned blocking his view,
and anger battled with his sorrow.
“We could all be Champions if given
a chance,” he mumbled, but knew this parting inevitable. One did not have to be
a Multi-Champ to see the writing in the dust, he thought, and as the owner
packed him up, he glimpsed all the Low Shelvers, gleaming with new paint, their
manes and tails curried and combed, and saw in their eyes scorn and some pity.
Hate burned along his nerves as the owner wrapped him in packing materials and
sealed the carton.
In the dark lonely confines, his rage quickly gave way to apprehension. The box moved, carried from place to place, bouncing and tossing him against the protective bubble wrap with each change of transport. He heard humans speaking and talking when the box halted, but during travel, only the hum of tires on asphalt and the drone of engines reached his ears. Anxiety and anger tumbled inside him, but the angst won during the lengthy journey. The box jolted him for perhaps the hundredth time but this time he heard no other humans speaking. The unseen carrier tossed the box and Number Two uttered a scream of terror as it landed hard, sliding before stopping. Trembling, Number Two listened and waited, but he heard nothing except the wind, and the song of a large nearby conifer. Cold seeped into the carton, and Number Two shivered, realizing the box lay outdoors somewhere. Time passed, and Number Two felt cold through his entire body, wondering if he might ever escape this dark, cold, box.
After many long hours, he heard a door open and a woman’s voice, someone older than his previous owner. The woman lifted his box off the ground, and carried it, setting it down inside somewhere warm. She slit the top open and reached in, grasping Number Two. The bright light of the room dazzled his eyes, but in moments a big kitchen materialized to his sight. A young woman held him in her hand, appraising him.
“Finally,” she said. “Pleistocene, you are here! I know you will be happy here.”
Number Two gazed back in surprise.
She called him a name right away, and he felt hope stirring. The new owner
carried Pleistocene out of the kitchen and down a hall, where they passed a
knick knack shelf that opened up into the living room. He saw an old mare and
foal standing on the knick knack shelf. The mare appeared very distracted but
the foal eyed him. He noticed horses standing on a table in the living room, in
different phases of remaking.
“Low Shelvers!” Pleistocene rumbled, anger returning.
“What?” the little foal asked.
“I am in a den of stupid haughty Low Shelvers!” Pleistocene snorted at the foal, keeping his eyes on her as the owner carried him up the stairs. “Including you.”
“What’s a Low Shelver?” The foal’s question faded, as the owner carried him up a second flight of stairs into a big attic. She set him down on a shelf beside another sorrel 5-Gaiter. Annoyance swept away Pleistocene’s hope that this place might be different. No dust lay in the other’s mane and tail, nor coated his back. Younger eyes gazed back at him. Pleistocene glared at the other, and stamped a foot, but before he uttered a single word, the other spoke.
“Hello! Welcome to Tardis Stables. I am Equinox,” he whinnied, his voice radiating warmth, and no scorn, pity or anger tainted his tones. Pleistocene’s anger abated.
“Hello,” he answered. “I am, uh, oh yes, she called me Pleistocene.”
“Wild name. I like it,” Equinox whinnied.
“You will like it here.”
“I hope so,” Pleistocene grumbled, remembering the nosey foal and the Low Shelvers in midst of their transformations downstairs.
“Well, well, what do we have here?
A grouch?” A soft, silken voice chuckled.
Pleistocene locked eyes with a sparkling white Andalusian and rage fired through his system. In the other’s dark eyes Pleistocene saw disapproval and he shook with exploding fury.
“Low Shelver! So what if I am grouchy! What do you care? Who are you to judge me?” Pleistocene took satisfaction in the Andalusian’s startled gaze.
“I do not judge.” The Andalusian’s eyes darkened, and he pawed the shelf. “I merely made an observation. I am Time Lord, not Low Shelver.”
“Weeeell, excccuuuuusssee meeee!” Pleistocene squealed.
“Be civil! What is your problem, Stranger?” another sharp voice turned Pleistocene’s head. Another younger Andalusian, this one a dapple grey, glared at him. Hate flashed through Pleistocene’s entire being.
“Shut up, Low Shelver!” he snorted, kicking the wall behind him.
“I am Full Moon. That is my name and I suggest you use it.”
“Lousy Low Shelver, so full of yourself. You Andalusians sure stick together. You . . .”
The owner’s entrance forestalled further angry retorts. Pleistocene fumed, breathing hard, anger trembling his limbs. By time the owner left the attic, Pleistocene felt exhausted from holding in his rage. He eyed Time Lord, but a soft voice stopped him from saying anything.
“Hey, hey, my friend,” Equinox nickered. “Don’t be so upset. Please, I like you. So what if others don’t. You may have had some hard times, but certainly not as bad as our herd Elder, T’Pal.”
“Our Elder. She is downstairs on the knock knack shelf with her foal.”
“Oh, her. She ignored me completely just like any Low Shelver, even with a missing leg.”
“Yeah, pretty show horses who are too conceited to even talk to us on the high shelves where we gather dust.” Pleistocene stamped a foot. “Like all your Andalusian friends.”
“I don’t understand.” Equinox twitched an ear, and fell silent. Pleistocene decided not to pursue the issue, and endured the next few days in silence, speaking only to Equinox. One morning, excitement rippled through the herd, and Pleistocene turned to Equinox.
“Why are they so excited?”
“T’Pal will be arriving soon to begin the Awakening,” Equinox neighed, eagerness in his voice.
“That old Low Shelver? What is an Awakening?” Pleistocene asked, annoyed and curious at the same time.
“You are in for a treat,” Time Lord nickered.
“Shut up, Low Shelver,” Pleistocene snorted, before eyeing Equinox. “Why is this T’Pal so great? How was her life so hard?”
“She is very old, and has experienced much. The least of which was the loss of one leg. She recently went through some hard emotional turmoil, but she has broken out of it.”
“How do you know that?”
“Her energies reach us even from all the way downstairs. Can’t you feel it?”
“I. . .” Pleistocene broke off, realizing he felt something odd. His body twitched. Suddenly, TS Jalapeno bounded from his shelf, racing across the floor. Pleistocene stared, his eyes widening with amazement.
“He moved!! He runs! How?”
The attic door rattled, and the sound of trotting hooves echoed from the other side of the room. Pleistocene rolled and eye and in sudden shock, moved his head toward the clap of hooves. The three-legged old mare moved into view, flanked by her spunky foal. TS Jalapeno met her, and trotted at her side. She ambled with a strange gait, but as she moved, a phantom limb glimmered, growing more distinct as the mare drew closer. By time she stopped in the middle of the floor, the translucent limb held her up firmly and obeyed her every movement. Pleistocene’s stunned astonishment suddenly gave way to jealousy as he watched all the horses dancing with joy on the shelving.
“Only a Low Shelver gets that sort of thing happening,” he rumbled. The old mare glanced up sharply, leveling dark eyes on him. She scowled, and a few rainbow sparks flickered around her. Pleistocene froze, his indignant jealous anger vanishing like a fire under a torrential downpour. In those eyes, he saw a pool of wisdom and maturity he never before experienced. He knew beyond any doubts, to the core of his very existence, he beheld not an old nag to scorn or pity, but an Elder, an Ancient One, to respect and obey. Equinox broke his trance with a humorous nicker.
“She is T’Pal, our Elder. She’s twenty-five years old. I suggest you say hello.”
Pleistocene stammered like a shy foal, unable to speak.
“So, you are the cause of all this Low Shelver nonsense.” The mare’s smooth, surprisingly deep voice admonished him. “I suggest you forget all that, and learn civility.”
“Yes, Elder,” Pleistocene managed to stutter. T’Pal returned her attention to TS Jalapeno and the black Arabian stallion who jumped down to her side. Pleistocene let out a breath of relief.
“Glad you found some courtesy,” Equinox whinnied a laugh, then sobered. “She is not one you wish to anger. You did not know she was an Elder, did you?”
“Not until she looked at me.”
“At least your instincts are good.” Equinox snorted with good cheer. “The Awakening is about to begin!”
“I have never experienced this before.” Pleistocene lifted a hoof, and tapped the shelving.
“To have such, you need a good leader, preferably an Elder, but a good strong older stallion will do.”
“We had a very old one there, my TWH friend. But he was so depressed, worn out, and unhappy, and he never showed a bit of the Power she wields.”
“I do not understand why not,” Equinox dipped his head. “He could not have been more worn out than T’Pal was. Besides, his mold is not as old as hers. Perhaps, he was not as old as he appeared. Look at us. Our run is long, and I am younger than you, but I’d bet you are not much older than I am.”
“You may be right. But we never had an Elder or Awakenings at my old home. We had no leader and we older models and reject repaint projects sat on the top shelf near the ceiling, and did not speak to the pretty new show horses on the bottom shelves. They scorned us, and we hated them.”
“Ah, your stable was riddled with strife. That explains a lot, but had you a true Elder, I think it would have been different.”
“Maybe,” Pleistocene muttered, and before he said another word, T’Pal’s voice rang out in a joyous neigh.
“Let this Awakening begin!”
In Memory of David Ayscue, my friend and mentor. (1953-2010)
Thanks for everything. You are missed!
This review of my THE FURLITES OF ARORIEL series is from my
mentor, friend, editor, and Literary Agent, David Ayscue, who passed away Sept of 2010. Thanks for everything, David. You are missed!
Author-Marie J. S. Phillips
The author describes these books as “an alien family saga.” These tales are suitable for science fiction readers who enjoy reading stories from the alien point of view. This book fits the niche that includes Robert Sawyer’s FAR-SEER, Lisanne Norman’s SHOLAN ALLIANCE series, and David Brin’s Trilogy which included INFINITY’S SHORE. Her books are not exactly like any of the above, but probably most like Robert Sawyer’s FAR-SEER, and its sequels. In his books, human involvement with the Quintaglios is zero, whereas the characters in ON MATISSIA WINGS have some contact with humanity. This brief contact forever changes the Furlitian people in more ways than they ever imagined possible.
Human bias generally assumes most sentient civilized alien life must be humanoid or primate-based, which may not be the reality at all. With a twist on an old theme, the author stresses in subtle ways through Furlitian culture, how real freedom and personal responsibility can help any society produce good people, without any strict taboos, religious fanaticism, and overbearing governments. I have also compared it to E. R. Eddings, though this author’s books are far more science fiction than fantasy – once you accept the premise, of course, of a world where primates never evolved, and where furred dinosaurs became the dominant species … who now have a space program … which leads them to … our world.
The illustrations -- a mix of freehand artwork, real photos, and computer-generated graphics -- include detailed hand drawings of her characters. In ON MATISSIA WINGS, the six plates, plus the cover are integral to the book. Who knows better what a Furlite looks like than their creator?
The sequel, EARTH-BRED; MATISSIA-BORN, is, perhaps, an even better story.
There is a third book in this series, EYES IN THE DARK which is as yet unfinished. The world is fully realized; the depth of characterization is … epic, wondrous, and, frankly, I think this author is a great storyteller.
Reminiscent in some respects of Military SF, in the tradition of Heinlein and Asimov, told from the point of view of the aliens -- they are PEOPLE, with their own culture, and … they are better people than we are.
Remarkable books, deserving of publication, I think, or I would not have done all that I have done to help this author realize her dream of seeing her own trilogy for sale in bookstores everywhere.