Sometimes a good gallop was what was needed to clear one’s head. So Charon thought as he galloped around the open field, stretching his muscles, putting on some serious speed. He came to an abrupt stop. There was something strange in the air tonight. He lifted his head and sniffed carefully, cursing his muted human nose. There were somethings horses just did better. Still, he could sense that something wasn't right. Something - he spotted it, a little shadow at the edge of the forest. Curious, he trotted over. And backed away.
The child stared up at him with wide eyes. Charon looked over his shoulder, wondering if he could gallop away and let the child think that she was dreaming. But no - she was reaching out to him, holding her hand out as if to touch him.
“May I touch you?” she asked shyly at the last minute.
“I suppose you could,” Charon said uncertainly. He knew he was going to get into trouble with Alexei and the Council. But what was the child doing out alone in the middle of the night? Her touch was gentle and hesitant; she stood on tip toes and stroked his flank with awe in her eyes.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“Mother is sick and Jane didn't come home,” she said. “I thought I would help look for her, but I got lost.”
Two children lost in the woods? Charon thought to himself. How like a fairy tale. I suppose one of them will turn out to be a princess or end up marrying a prince. Or maybe eaten by a witch. Isn't that how all the stories go?
“What are you called?” the child asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“I am Charon,” he answered. “What is your name?”
“Mary. But I mean, what are you?”
“Why, do you not know? I am a Centaur,” he drew himself up proudly.
“A Centaur!” Her breath came out with a whoosh. “Father always said that those were children’s stories.”
“Aren't you a child?”
“Well, yes. I always supposed he meant that it wasn't real.”
Charon almost whinnied in annoyance. “Not real? I’m as real as you are.”
“Yes, but I suppose he couldn't know, not having met you.”
“At any rate, isn't it time you went back home? The moon is high in the sky - now is not a time for children to be out.”
“Yes, but I got lost.”
“Ah, there is that.”
“Do you know how to get back to my home?”
Charon shook his head. “We stay clear of all human habitation. I could bring you to a village, or point you in the right direction, but I wouldn't know if that were yours, so to speak.”
Mary sighed unhappily. “I don’t suppose you've seen Jane wandering about somewhere either, have you?”
Charon shook his head. He ran his fingers through his thick hair teasing them out of their sweaty clumps as he considered what to do. Then he looked up at the sky, tracing the arch of the stars with his eyes. “I suppose I will take you to the nearest village. It’s somewhere in that direction. Come along.”
Mary took his hand as they walked through the forest. Charon stared at her for a while, but didn't shake off her grip. He frequently looked up at the stars to check if they were going in the right direction.
“Can you tell the future?” Mary asked suddenly.
He narrowed his eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Only Mother said that Centaurs could read the stars and I really wanted to know if she would get well again.”
“Hmph. We don’t foretell the future in that way. We read the signs of the times, but we’re not concerned with the individual workings of humans or horses.”
“Anyway, we’re here, I think.” He pointed at a well-worn path through the forest. “This should lead you back to your village - or a human village, at any rate.”
“Won’t you come with me?”
Charon shivered. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I’ll be in enough trouble from letting you see me, as it is. We don’t like showing ourselves to humans. You - you won’t say you've seen me, will you? To any human?”
“I wont,” Mary promised. “Thank you,” she said as she let go of his hand and stepped hesitantly onto the path.
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A centaur (/ˈsɛntɔːr/; Greek: Κένταυρος, Kéntauros, Latin: centaurus) or hippocentaur is a mythological creature with the head, arms, and torso of a human and the body and legs of a horse.---
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