The Dun Horse

‘Its not fair,’ said the boy, and he threw the crust of bread his grandmother had given him for his supper, into the fire. We have nothing of our own, we have to rely on what other people give us, everything is broken, or patched or warn, scorched meat from other peoples fires, moccasins with holes, all the polynese despise us, and will not let us hunt with them.

His grandmother sighed, for she knew the boy was right, what he said was true, but he was too young, and she knew she was too old to do anything about it. If he could only keep his determination alive, perhaps something would come their way. Meanwhile they must live as best they could, and learn to put up with the cold and hunger.

A few days later the tribe moved camp up river to the edge of a wide prairie, as usual the old woman and her grandson trailed behind and picked over what had been left in the ashes and dust. Even though they had so few possessions it was hard work for the two of them to drag everything along the trail to the new camp.

‘Look’, said the boy when they stopped to rest, ‘someone has left a horse behind.’

‘It’ll be useless said his grandmother, true it was thin and exhausted, it had a swollen leg and one of its eyes was blind, but it nuzzled the boy’s hand and he took pity on it.

‘Lets take him,’ he begged his grandmother, she looked at the horse and she sighed,

‘Well,’ she said,’ if it will carry our bags for an hour, its an hour when we don’t have to. So they put their packs on the horse, and it limped along slowly beside them.When they reached the new camp all the best places had been taken, but there was a space for them to set up their ragged wigwam, and once it was pitched the boy fetched a bucket of water for his horse, and went round the camp begging for food, which he took back for his horse. Then he covered him with an old blanket from his own bed, and went into the wigwam to sleep. The next morning the camp was full of excitement, very rare and valuable had been seen out in the prairie in a fine herd of buffalo. When the chief heard this he announced that his daughter, who was very beautiful would be given in marriage to the warrior who could kill the spotted bull. The herd was about four miles away, but the chief ruled that the charge should start from the village. In this way the warrior with the fastest horse would be most likely to kill the bull. When the boy went to give his horse water, the horse lifted its head and stared at him and said:

‘Saddle me with this blanket, and ride me in the charge.’ The boy was astonished, but he did as he was told and joined the line at the edge of the encampment. All the other warriors had chosen their sleekest fastest horses, and when they saw the boy on his dun horse, thin and lame and blind in one eye, they shouted with laughter.

‘Huh Huh, look at this young warrior, Oh Yes, that’s the horse that will catch the spotted bull.’ The boy was ashamed and he rode off to the far end of the line where he could not hear their jokes and their mockery. Then the horse turned to look at the boy and said,

‘Take me down to the creek and plaster me with mud all over,’ so the boy did as he was told and plastered him all over with grey river mud. When he had finished the horse again turned to the boy and said;

‘Up on my back now don’t be afraid, I am strong enough, wait here until the word is given to start the charge.’ Soon all the horses were lined up and pawing the ground, eager to be away, At last the word was given and the young warriors dug their heels into their horse’s flanks, and away they galloped. Over on one side far from the centre of the charge was the dun horse, his legs did not seem to move, but he sailed on like a bird, gradually passing all the fastest horses. He moved effortlessly, skimming along as though he had winged hooves. Soon he was close to the herd of buffalo and there in the centre was the spotted buffalo. The horse cantered along beside it and called to the boy,

‘Now, shoot your arrow.’ The boy shot, he was so close that he could not miss, down went the spotted bull in a cloud of dust, and the dun horse skidded to a halt. The boy slid from his back and shot a second arrow, the spotted bull lay still. He was already skinning the bull when the other warriors started to arrive. They wheeled off disappointed and rode back to the village, the boy looked up at his horse and saw that he was no longer lame and thin and exhausted, but sleek, shining and standing tall. It pranced and bucked, and its dim old eyes were bright and shining.

The boy loaded to meat onto the horses back and laid the spotted bull’s hide over the top, and then he led his horse back towards the camp. On his way back one of the warriors rode up to him and offered him 12 horses for the spotted skin so that he could marry the chief’s daughter, but the boy only laughed and would not sell the skin. One of the warriors rode past the grandmother’s wigwam and told her that her grandson had killed the spotted bull and brought home a whole buffalo to roast. When she heard this she began to cry,

‘Why must you always make fun of us because we are poor, you should be ashamed of yourself?’ But when the boy returned he threw her the spotted skin.

‘Here make yourself a rich robe.’ He said, ‘and here’s meat for us and plenty.’ But when she went to take the buffalo from the horses back he pranced and snorted and waved his hooves, he would not let anyone touch him but the boy.

The boy did not go to the chief’s lodge to claim his beautiful daughter as his wife for he knew for he thought that the chief would scorn him, but he did not forget to take food and water to his horse.

When he did so the horse spoke to him again and said,

‘Listen, tomorrow the Su tribe will attack the village and there will be a savage battle. When the Su are all drawn up and ready for battle, you jump on my back and ride as fast as you can right into the centre, you will be able to stab the chief, their greatest warrior and ride back, do this 4 times and kill 4 of their finest warriors, but whatever happens, do not go a fifth time or you may be killed or, you may loose me. Remember, 4 times only. The boy promised to remember, and the next day everything happened just as the horse had said it would. The Su formed up into a line of battle but before they could charge the boy rode his dun horse into the middle of them, killed the chief and rode back. Again he rode in, and though they fired arrows and lunged at him with spears, he was unharmed, and killed their bravest warrior, and returned without a scratch. Twice more he repeated his daring attack, and twice more he killed one of their finest warriors. Then the boy, remembering what his horse had told him stood at the edge of the battle field and watched. But he could not bare to watch for long.

‘If I stay here and do not fight they will think I am frightened, and look, I have ridden in 4 times and have not been hurt, why shouldn’t I go again?’ With that he leapt onto his horse and urged him back into the battle. But one of the Su warriors had been watching him and when he saw him coming again, he drew an arrow and aimed. It pierced the dun horse in the chest, he staggered and fell to the ground, dead. The boy leapt away from him and dashed back through the fighting braves back to the Pawnee camp.

As night fell the Su gave up the battle and turned to go, but they said to one another, that the bravery of the dun horse was as the bravery of a man, and they took out their knives and tomahawks and hacked the dun horse into pieces which they left piled on the battle field. The boy was heartbroken that he had lost his dun horse, and when all the warriors had disappeared he crept back onto the battlefield to see if he could find him. He went to the spot where his horse had fallen and saw him lying there cut to pieces. He stroked his mane and wept bitterly, then he climbed up a tall tree, nestled himself its branches, and pulled his cloak over his head and wept bitterly.

dun-tekke-horsewwwAs he sat huddled in the branches of the tree a great wind blew up and brought with it a driving rain. In his grief the boy scarcely felt it but when he raised his head to try and look at the remains of his horse it seemed as if a vague shape had taken the place of his dead horse. It was the shape of a horse lying down. But he could not see clearly through his tears, and the driving rain. Then came a rumble of thunder, and looking towards his horse he thought he saw a tail flicker. Two or three times he thought he saw a horse’s head lifted into the wind and rain. Seeing this he felt afraid and wanted to run away. He swung down from the tree, and as he stepped down he saw the horse raise himself up and begin to walk slowly towards him. It stopped in front of him, raised its head and gazed into his eyes and said,

‘You have seen what happened today and because you are not foolish you will have learnt from what you have seen. Because you loved me when I was old and broken and useless, and because you have fought against mockery and unfairness I have been allowed to return to you. The boy put out a hand and the horse nuzzled him gently.

‘You see,’ he said, ‘I am not a ghost but your own dun horse. But now you must do exactly as I tell you, no more and no less.’

‘I will,’ cried the boy, and he clasped his arms round his beloved horses soft neck.

‘Very well’, said the horse, ‘now lead me away from the camp, behind the hill, and leave me there for the night. Go back t your wigwam and in the morning come and find me.’ So the boy led the horse behind the hill and then crept, shivering into his grandmother’s wigwam to sleep.In the morning he went to find the horse and there with him was a magnificent white mare, finer than any horse that the Pawnees had. All day the boy rode the dun horse and the mare and in the evening he led them down to the creak to drink.‘Now’, said the dun horse, ‘take me again behind the hill, and come for me again in the morning.’ The boy did as he was told, and this time there was another new horse, a fine black stallion. For ten nights he left the horse behind the hill and each morning he found with him a different coloured companion horse- a bay, a roan, a chestnut, a skewbald, and all of them were finer than any horse that had ever been seen. Now he was rich, and he approached the chief and was given his lovely daughters hand in marriage. He brought his grandmother to live with them in the lodge, but he gave orders that the ragged old wigwam in which they had lived should not be destroyed. He kept it to remind him of what his life had been like, and also to remind him to give thanks for his great good fortune.