Centauriad 1 - Daughter of the Centaurs

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2012 by Kate Klimo
Jacket art copyright © 2012. Front cover: picturegarden. Back cover and
this page
: Nick Sokoloff.

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Klimo, Kate.

Daughter of the centaurs / Kate Klimo. — 1st ed.
p. cm. — (Centauriad; bk. 1)

Summary: Alone after her village is destroyed by Leatherwings, young Malora and her father’s horse, Sky, survive on their own with a herd of wild horses until she finds a new home with a civilization of centaurs.

eISBN: 978-0-375-98542-3
[1. Survival—Fiction. 2. Horses—Fiction. 3. Centaurs—Fiction. 4. Fantasy.] I. Title.
PZ7.R719693 Dau 2012 [Fic]—dc22 2010052503

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

For Bob Jeffreys, master horseman
.
And for Mallory, who wanted a story about centaurs
.

Contents

Haven’t you sometimes seen a cloud
that looked like a centaur?

The Clouds
, by Aristophanes

There appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire,
and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up
by a whirlwind to heaven.
—Second book of Kings, 2:11

C
HAPTER 1
Jayke’s Rope

For as long as she can remember, Malora has dreamed of dancing with horses.

“Daughter of the Mountains,” Malora’s mother calls her, for her skin and hair are the dusky red-brown of the rocks, and her upturned eyes—so like her father’s—are the vivid blue-green of the nuggets of malachite that dot the streams running down from the peaks. But when Malora hears herself so called, she frowns. “No!” she insists. “Not the mountains! I am the Daughter of the
Plains
.”

For the horses come from the plains.

These are the days when the People occupy the Settlement, a mere one hundred men, women, and children living together in a canyon in the shadow of the mountains that rear up over the plains running to the north. From this canyon, the men ride out on horseback every dawn to hunt, leaving the women to keep the houses and raise the children. Like all the women, Malora’s mother has a secondary job, and hers is
healer. She expects her daughter to follow in her footsteps, as she has in those of her own mother, and so on, as far back as any of them can remember, to the time of the Grandparents. Malora is an only child, as well as the sole survivor of a juvenile epidemic that wiped out all the children born within three years of her. Many in the Settlement believe that it was her mother’s skill at healing that saved Malora and, while no one can prove it, her mother’s witchery that killed all the others. Malora knows this to be ridiculous, but it has discouraged her from pursuing the healing arts.

Malora’s father, Jayke, is a master horseman, and what she wants, more than anything, is to ride and hunt as he does, wheeling about and charging off, bow and arrows strapped to her back. As fond and indulgent as he is of Malora, Jayke does his best, without being unkind, to discourage this ambition in her. No one knows better than he how dangerous horses and hunting can be. His broad-shouldered, rangy body, with its white scrawl of scars writ large, its litany of broken bones, and its nearly constant complaint of aching joints that only his wife’s herbal liniment can satisfy, is testimony to this fact. Malora likes to point to each scar and get him to tell her the story behind it; the stories, after many tellings, are pared down to a kind of point-and-response game:

“Horse kick.”

“Boar gore.”

“Bull elephant tusk.”

“Rhino charge.”

Malora, a sturdy and independent eleven years old, tags along behind Jayke like a barn cat as he inspects the horses
for ticks. “Run along and grind herbs with your mother. Do you want to end up like the Simple One?” he asks her.

The Simple One is Aron, whose horse, spooked by an asp, bucked him when he was a child, cracking his skull like an ostrich egg against a sharp rock. Ever since, Aron has been as simple as a five-year-old, though he has retained enough sense to be an adequate stable boy and an oddly fitting companion to Malora. While their actual age difference is fifteen years, she has outsmarted him since she was three. Yet there are things about horses he can still teach her. Things like: “Never feed a horse at the same time every day, Malora. If the horse knows the food is coming, her stomach will start a-boiling and bubbling, and before long she’s burned a big hole in it. If she doesn’t know when the food is coming, her stomach simmers down and she waits.”

Or: “Never come up on a horse you don’t know when he is at his feed. He’ll think you’re trying to take it away from him, and he might attack you.”

Or: “Never try to catch a horse who is all stirred up. Ignore her for a while and pretty soon she’ll walk right up to you.”

“I wouldn’t mind being like Aron,” Malora says to her father. “He gets to sleep with the horses.”

“What about Stumpy Eld?” Jayke asks. Stumpy Eld lost the tips of the fingers on one hand to the gnashing teeth of an angry stallion.

“He came at the stallion with an open palm,” Malora says. “How many times have you told him never to do that?”

And then there is Gar, Jayke’s best friend, whose limp is the result of the lightning-quick kick of a feisty mare.

“Horses kick,” Malora says with a world-weary sigh worthy of Jayke.

“My point exactly! You can never be too careful around horses,” Jayke says, “and no one can be careful
all
the time.”

“I can be at least as careful as you,” Malora says, indicating with her little finger the head of a tick he has missed.

All else having failed, Jayke says, “Look at these brutes,” pointing to the two long rows of bobbing horse heads facing into the stable aisle. As if to illustrate his point, one of them lands a thunderous kick on the side of the stall. “And look at you. How do you expect them to pay you any mind when you’re no bigger than a rabbit?”

Malora has seen rabbits streak across the paddock and send the horses into a tail-whipping tizzy until Jayke goes among them and gentles them with his low, steady voice and his large, rough hands with their blunt-tipped fingers. Only Jayke can enter the paddock when they are riled, because he has made himself one of them. He is, in a manner of speaking, the lead horse. One day, the horses will follow her lead the way they do her father’s. Meanwhile, Malora, side by side with Aron, peers through the slats in the training-pen fence and watches Jayke work.

Jayke works each horse every day in a ring made from upright trunks of ironwood saplings pounded into the earth. He has but one training tool: a long, tightly braided black-and-white rope with one frayed end. Attaching the opposite end to the rope halter, he then runs the horse in a circle around him, three turns in one direction, followed by three in the other. Spinning the horse, he calls it. When spinning, he moves very little, remaining at the center of the circle and
turning slowly in place. To change the direction of the horse’s movement, he has only to reverse the position of his hands on the rope and step to the other side of the horse’s nose. To set the horse to spinning again takes only the pointing finger, then the pressure of his glance, first on the horse’s neck and then on its rump. He has a way of inviting the horse to move that can be as subtle as a single brow raised in expectation or as dramatic as a flapping of both arms. To make the horse stop, Jayke stops and the horse turns to face him. Other times, a head cocked at the hindquarters can cause the horse to shift its back legs and halt.

When horses are reluctant to be Jayke’s partner, Jayke’s eyes turn as hard as a stallion’s chasing yearlings off his hay. He will bray at them and crack the frayed end of the rope like a whip. But with most of them, all Jayke has to do is lift a hand. With a few, he can dispense with the rope altogether and merely point to get the horse spinning. To make the horse back up, he frowns and waggles an imaginary rope; to bring the horse forward, he hauls the “rope” in with a warm and welcoming smile.

On his own horse, Sky, a majestic stallion with a coat of sleek black and eyes of an unsettling shade of blue, Jayke rides without a bridle and reins, keeping his hands free to work his bow. He looks with his whole body in the direction he wishes to go, then squeezes the horse’s sides with his calves and pushes with his seat to urge him forward. The great beast picks up his hindquarters and goes wherever Jayke’s eyes are focused.

Every night, before sleep, Malora lies in her bed and imagines herself as the steadily turning hub of some horse’s
rolling wheel. When the wheel is spinning smoothly, first in one direction and then the other, she urges the horse to break out and follow her in an elaborate dance of zigzags and spirals and loops and wide, graceful arcs. When she steps, the horse steps. Wherever she goes, the horse comes along. And all the time, the horse’s ears swivel to follow her, eyes looking to her for the next move, the invisible link between them powerful and forged from love and trust and day after day of working together.

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