High pitched metallic whining heralded the danger. The sound of motor bikes filtered through the trees. The brumby stallion lifted his head, sniffed the air and called a warning to the herd. Memory of the strange machines men rode sent adrenaline through his system. His fear exploded as the engine noise grew louder. Birds took flight, the forest creatures sought cover and the brumby trembled with trepidation.
Already the older mares gathered the yearlings, nipping and threatening them till they milled in an anxious group.
The stallion searched for the scent of man, domestic horse and hated dogs. So far the wind carried nothing of threat, other than the sound he feared.
With an urgent call to hurry he harried his herd to follow the ancient grey mare who already led the way. She would know where the wild horses could run, where they needed to take their time, where the men and dogs would have trouble keeping track of the herd’s passing.
Adrenaline flowed, the stallion’s heart-rate lifted. He snaked his head, teeth bared, ears pasted against his skull, forcing reluctant stragglers to flee.
Through acacia, casuarina, melaleuca and eucalyptus trees the herd ran. Across the valley, toward the coast where the rough terrain would challenge men on machines.
The young brumbies kept pace with the matriarch, the yearlings hugged their dams’ flanks, running with dread purpose.
Three mares heavy with foal, fell behind. The stallion stayed with them, urging them on, trying to listen for the motors and avoid being pushed. He would rather lead them away, leave the young to run in the care of the old mare. He wouldn’t risk these mares to the fear and danger of endless pursuit.
He turned the struggling mares and led them along a shallow stream, urging them for calm and quiet as they slipped and stumbled across the river bed. The sound of motors faded in the distance. Silence fell. Relief allowed a few moments for the mares to recover their breath. The stallion dared not waste a moment worrying about the old mare. She knew enough to guide the herd, give directions and then fade into the shadows, away from danger, when her strength failed.
The stallion feared the noisy machines more than the dogs. He had been hunted before. The bikes carried men without tiring. The two wheeled machines could cross most terrain without faltering. Their speed across clear ground frightened him.
He trusted the main herd to keep within the thick trees, the steepest hills, and rockiest tracks. His pregnant mares needed more care. He drove them on again, leaving the creek to climb along a ridge and around an escarpment.
Although their flanks heaved and their breath came in labored bursts, they managed the climb.The stallion paused, sniffing the air. He could smell salt carried on the breeze, hear the heartbeat of the ocean as waves pounded the shore. He needed to get his mares to safety, if possible, before he ran out of room to run.
His ears flicked, straining to catch the slightest sound of pursuit. Not hearing dogs, motors, or horses, he stepped clear of the trees. The four horses made their way toward the cliffs. The stallion knew of a track leading down the steep rock-face that no domestic horse could navigate.
A dull thudding beat battered the air. The stallion snorted. A motor with huge rotating blades rose from below the cliff and hovered in front of him.
The brumby screamed at the contraption and spun. The mares turned, galloping frantically toward the trees. The stallion reared, challenging the flying machine. He would give the mares time to get clear. Give them a chance to reach the trees. The stallion charged toward the terrifying machine. Anything to keep attention away from his herd.
The sound of frantic motors came from every direction. He ran swerving, avoiding the violent wind from the hovering machine. His hooves churned the dirt, his blood pounded through his veins. Speed should carry him clear of pursuit, but his nostrils burned with the scent of acrid fumes.
Desperate, he scrambled down the cliff path toward the dunes. Behind him three motors raged, each moment brought the angry screams closer.
The dunes offered little protection. The soft sand mocked his efforts, grasping, gripping, giving way when he needed firm ground. He struggled upward, through the pig-face and coarse grass, into the open and toward the expanse of calm blue ocean.
Behind him the motors revved. The dunes slowed the bike's progress. The stallion reached the hard beach sand and again stretched into a desperate gallop.
The far headland offered crevasses, caves and places he might avoid the humans.
His headlong flight threw up salt laden sand. The air smelt sweeter, eddying waves matched the dapples on his body. The firm footing thrilled him. The wild stallion reveled in his strength and freedom. He led the men away from his mares.
Over his racing heartbeat and breathing, the stallion again heard the dull thud, thud, thud of the flying machine’s wings. He drove himself to greater speed, but the machine flew above him, tracking his escape.
He must outrun the threat. He gathered himself for one last effort.
The machine dropped into his path, hovering, facing him, glass eyes watching him, daring him to continue. The blades hurled sand in all directions. The stallion slid to a halt.
He reared. Screamed at the machine, but it took no notice. Behind the stallion the machines carrying men closed in. They blocked the path to the dunes and the beach.
The stallion turned and lunged into the waves. Avoiding capture now his only goal.
Cold water welcomed him. Sand sucked at his hooves, reluctant to release him as he plunged deeper into the sea. The white crests beckoned. Spirit horses, wind blowing their manes rode the cresting waves. The stallion strode on, struggling against the pull of the eddying current. Behind him the sound of motors faded. The flying machine hovered overhead but didn’t touch him.
He could no longer feel the sand beneath his hooves. The waves carried him, tossed him, accepted him. His fear escalated, but as his strength ebbed, calm overcame him. Whispered greetings woke memories of his birth. He envisioned his dam standing beside him on the beach, calling to the white capped waves and sharing her belief of how the crests belonged to the spirits of great horses, galloping free across the vast ocean.
His lungs filled with seawater. He stopped struggling, released his fear. His heart slowed. Sluggish blood spread surrender and banished the need for air, for flight, for fear. The stallion’s eyes closed. His body trembled, grew still and slowly sank beneath the turbulence.
The brumby stallion joined windswept white horses and embraced spiritual freedom.
Rosalie Skinner resides on the east coast of Australia when not totally immersed in the fantasy world of her writing.
Rosalie’s love of the ocean, nature, history and horses has enabled her to give her books an authentic air. Her latest achievement has been to ride through the Australian Snowy mountains and see the wild brumbies run. When not watching the migrating whales pass her doorstep she has more humble pastimes.
Other than being a published author, her greatest thrill is being a grandmother. Born over fourteen weeks early her granddaughter’s perfect development and growth are a miracle and joy.