The Bull from the Sea

Free The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault

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Authors: Mary Renault
yet he acts as if I would live forever.” I had seen that he moved slowly always; his flesh was sunk, and his skin too sallow for a man not yet turned sixty. Afterwards I said to Pirithoos, “Your father is sick; and he knows it too.”
    He drew his brows together. “Aye, so do I. After being away, I saw the change. I spoke with the doctor again this morning. Talk, talk; it’s the empty jar that clinks so loud. There’s nothing for it, I must take him up the mountain.”
    I asked if Paian Apollo had a healing shrine there. He looked a little sheepish, then said, “No, there’s an old horse-doctor we go to when the rest give up. Come too if you like; you were wanting to see a Kentaur.”
    I must have stared, after his talk. He whittled away at a bullrush (we were sunning by the river, after a swim) and said, “Well, they have earth magic, if you can find a good one.”
    “Where I come from,” I said, “that is women’s business.”
    “Not among horse-folk. You southerners took that up from the Shore People you conquered. We keep the ways of our wandering forebears. Oh, yes, my father knows why I go roving; it’s in all our blood; it’s only his sickness makes him fret. Well, with horse-folk, women count as baggage, like the cattle. What else can they be while the people move—unless you want to have them take up arms, like the wild-cat Amazons?”
    I opened my mouth; but I had talked enough of the Bull Court, and feared I might grow tedious.
    “And Kentaurs,” he said, “are horse-folk too, after their kind. I’ve hunted these hills all my life, and barely seen the rump of a Kentaur woman. At the first smell of you, they’re off into the caves. Even when I was at school up there—”
    He broke off short and I said, “What?”
    He hemmed awhile, then said, “Oh, it comes before our rite of manhood hereabouts, among the royal kin. Other kings’ houses do it too; at Phthia they do, and at Iolkos. It’s our dedication to Poseidon of the Horses. He made the Kentaurs; they claim he made them before Zeus made proper men. Or some say they were got on horse-stock by earth-born Titans. We are horse-masters, we Lapiths; but they are horse-kin, they live with them wild. Aye, and shameless with the mares as noonday. Full of horse-magic, the Kentaurs are; and that’s worth more than any woman’s corn-spell, here in Thessaly.”
    “But how did you live up there?”
    “On the naked hills, and in the rock-holes. A lad should be hard, before he calls himself a man. When you take arrow poison, you lie up in the sacred cave. No one forgets that night, by Zeus! The dreams …” He covered his mouth, to show that telling was forbidden.
    “Arrow poison?” I asked.
    “Old Handy makes you sick with it; it can’t kill you after, or not for seven years. Then you must have another dose; but it’s nothing to the first. Well, you will see him for yourself.”
    Next morning we started out at cocklight; we two on horseback, the King on an ambling mule. We threaded groves of bay and arbutus where the dew of the mountain mists brushed our bare knees in the gray daybreak; then up the ilex slopes where it sparked in sunrise; then through thick pine woods that brought back night again, with our mounts’ feet soundless on the needle-pad, and hamadryads pressing so thick and silent we almost hushed our breath. Always the track was clear, not thickly trodden but never quite grown over; there were horse-droppings, and the prints of little hoofs.
    Even Pirithoos was quietened. When I asked him if Old Handy lived much higher, he half looked over his shoulder, saying, “Don’t call him that up here. That’s only what we boys called him.”
    The sick King followed us, picking his way by the easy turns. He had the face of a man returning. His head had been sunk forward when we set out; but now he looked and listened, and once I saw him smile.
    The high air grew keen and sweet; we were among small fir scrub, gray rocks and heather,

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