“Listen you bag of glue, you are going to show me what to do or I will feed you to our starving loyal soldiers.” The low Russian voice made the threat more vicious to the prisoner of war. “I have you in that shape and you will be my loyal steed and carry me through the rest of this war and you will be released a man. You need to show me on this verdammt map how to get the rest of this unit back to our lines!”
The stallion blew and clawed at the frozen mud, shaking his head, making his bridle rings rattle. The young Russian officer, who looked about as intelligent as one of the Czar’s elegant, long-nosed wolfhounds thrust the map under the horse’s nose. His heavy mitten was off despite the cold, leaving the thin lining gloves so he could point out the route. “Here? Here? Come ON! We have to get moving before the French sorcerers call down a monster wind on us and freeze us in our tracks, yourself included!”
The horse stamped as the officer pointed. Once for yes, twice for no. The rage in the stallion’s eyes over the heavy curb-bit should have scorched the oblivious Captain of the Czarovich’s Tenth. Captain Alsady Valadin Borvisivich was absolutely certain of his control of his mount and as he rolled the map with a satisfied snap and thrust it into the map case; his gloved hand patted the tiny pocket built into his uniform over the innocent looking brass button that was the key to the POW’s spell. He had it safe. Not a problem.
He mounted with a flourish and headed back to the ragged remnants of his command, torn to ribbons by French advance, with a route and a plan.
It was the next day and the frozen ground had thawed to heavy muck. Even the Kaptain had gotten off his horse and was in the mud. Two men had no boots. Even Russians, who knew Obshia Grazi -- General Mud -- hadn’t managed to save their footwear, and their uniforms had lost layers to save their feet.
It was in the mud, when Alsady slipped and, clinging to the girth of his horse, sank into a hole above his knees. “Get me out of here!” Two men grabbed the officer by the arms, the horse tried to shy sideways, floundering in the heavy clay, it whistled and snapped at the men, then at the Kaptain, its heavy teeth tearing the filthy boiled wool.
The Kaptain slammed a fist into the war-horse’s nose and it flung its head back but made no noise at all, its mouth closed. They pulled the Kaptain Borvisivich out of the mud and the moment he was back on relatively solid ground he shook them off. “That’s enough! Get your hands off me. I’m out. I’m out.”
The two men, unshaven, hungry, rolled their eyes at each other over his head, stepped away from the Kaptain and his dangerous horse. They slogged on as the light began to fail. They weren’t going to run into any of the French. The Kaptain, despite his abominable ego had never yet lead them astray and even if they did not trust him, they certainly trusted his ability to save his own hide. The Russian lines would be ahead somewhere. They’d make contact again, if not this night, then the next day.
Kaptain Borvisivich yanked viciously on the reins in his fist, cutting into the tender mouth of his horse. “Stop that! You want to be human again, don’t you,” he snapped quietly. “Bite me and I’ll feed you to the troops.” The horse rolled its eyes at him but didn’t snap.
The Kaptain twitched his nose up in disgust at the animal’s quick acquiescence. “Coward,” he taunted the animal. Still no response but a low grumble. The Kaptain completely missed how much like laughter it sounded.
The horse chewed on the vicious bit, teeth grinding on metal as he drooled pink foam. His eye, on the Kaptain rolled wickedly.
They stopped by a frozen river, the edges melted back and the Kaptain handed his horse off to one of the men and the horse lowered his head to the icy water, but drank strangely, drawing water through clenched teeth, raised his dripping head to stare at the Kaptain who was also drinking from his canteen. Borvisivich thrust the freezing container at the man who had filled it for him. “Tonight we risk a fire. Bank it. The willows and the high banks here will help hide it.”
“Yes, Kaptain.” He slogged over and took back his horse. “I’m going to think. I need to check the maps. I will have my bedroll laid out by the fire by the time I get back.”
Borvisivich led his horse out of sight, yanking his feet out of the mud like a horse mincing his feet high, careful of his footing and the war horse followed along docilely, lips pulling back to reveal the brass piece controlling the shape changing spell on him, scarred, flattened, covered in horse blood from the vicious bit.
He’d torn the brass out of the Kaptain’s breast pocket this afternoon, when he’d bitten, and things would start to unravel soon. Fiat lux. Fiat, fiat, fiat. Non equus est. Homo estes. Homos estos. Fiat lux. The muffled nicker was less and less muffled, more and more like laughter as Borvisivich stumbled again and lost a boot into the freezing mud entirely.
“Shut up!” He set his bare foot down on the muck, swivelling to yell at the animal, rose on his toes and lost the other boot. Then he stopped and stared down at his feet.
“No! Oh, no!” His free hand clawed at his breast where the pocket hung, half torn, empty. He stared in horror at the bit of brass clutched in the horse’s mouth, as he stood with his lips pealed back to let him see it clearly. He looked from the brass to the hooves that had just slid out of his human-shaped boots, leaving them behind. He’d literally stepped out of his boots.
He staggered toward the horse, yanking hard on the reins, making it worse because the faster the animal’s blood seeped into the foam from his mouth the faster the transformation happened. The horse danced backward, out of reach, pulling back against the rein. “Whee ee ee ee.” It was obviously laughter this time.
Borvisivich turned, flung his other hand to catch the rein and stared in shock as the leather draped over an awkwardly bent fetlock instead of clutching higher on the rein to drag his prisoner close. The horse tongued the brass and even as the Kaptain stumbled up close, breast to nose, swallowed it.
“No! You bag of bones! You ass! You are my prisoner! M… yy… mee meee!” His voice expanded as his face did. He clawed at his horse with his fore-limbs, both hands already fully transformed. His horse flung his head up, away from the flailing hooves. For a second they were half-reared up. The horse’s hoof tore more of the Russian officer’s coat, taking a ragged slash of a wound on his horse’s shoulder… but was the horse overlaid on the man as the man was overlaid on the horse?
They broke apart, separated by a few feet, the cord of light instead of reins connecting them head to head.
I… I’m bigger. I’m… my hands… damn that Frenchman! Damn him! He could feel the swell of his cheek, the muscle to support the long grass-chewing face. His arms were fully transformed as his belly blew up and burst the waistband of his uniform trousers. My neck… The heavy muscles rolling under hide, hair sprouting and spreading from his head. His vision was going gray but he could see the Frenchman standing up on two legs once more, his arms had shortened enough for him to do that. The fingers separated with a pop. That’s my ring on that finger! That’s my families crest!
He turned his head in time to look into the other man’s eyes and realized with shock that he was not transforming into his original form but HIS form! He was taking on the sharp Russian cavalry uniform, the tight blue sleeves, the white front plaquettes torn and soiled, the mud ground into it, the brass mucky. The high collar… MY collar! Mine! Mine!
His body was longer and he couldn’t maintain the upright stance, his forelegs trailing straight down. He tried to scream as he settled onto all fours and felt the thrust of tail dissolving what had been his white breeches. His hair grew coarser and he shuddered all the way down over his shoulders as the mane sprouted like stalks of grass following the quivering skin.
His haunches grew bulk and power and his cock poured out of his sheath since he no longer had breeches to contain him, but did have the fleshy sheath. He stamped his hooves… they had hardened and he tried to scream again, but the human… the imposter… the damned Frenchman who had carried him through the Russian mud and fought him every step of the way, even as he forced him to strategize, to get his command – at least the last dozen men – to the lines… aiming, perhaps for the unit commanded by Durova.
“Be silent! Do you wish to kill us all?” The man said in perfect Russian, HIS perfect Russian, aristocratic accent. He straightened and smoothed the small pencil moustache with one fingertip. My body, my face, my uniform. I’m the Kaptain, not him! He’s the enemy. My face. My face!
He could feel the heaviness of the metal shoes, the bite of the curb, the heavy cavalry saddle on his back, clinging tight all the way around his belly. The pressure of the criss-crossed bridle over his face, his forehead, the tightness of the breast straps. The blanket flapped against his loin and he couldn’t help himself, he shied and the man brought him up short against the reins holding onto his mouth.
“You brainless bag of glue! You want to get your own form back? You do? Be still! I will get us back through the line in your horrible country and save your face for you. Behave!” The once Russian Kaptain blew through his pink-rimmed nostrils, as the human officer checked his spurs. He whinnied, but softly, his protest minimal as he could feel the edges of his thinking blurr. How did he do that? He was as smart as a man when he was in horse form. It’s not fair! He pawed the ground, digging a hole as the brand new officer gained control of his body and perused the map.
“I’m going to get the spell back in a day or so… but you may not wish to seize it in your teeth after that, Borvisivich’s!” The horse bared its teeth and pinned his ears back, almost snarling. “Ah, ah, allow me my little jokes, ma bien, just as you had them with me, non?” He jerked on the reins and the curb cut the horse, making him snort. “I have a way through for us, I believe, mon vieux.”
“Kaptain!” His command were on their feet, concerned. Only three of them had their rifles and ammunition left. “We heard your horse and thought…”
“You thought the French had found me and were taking me and my horse apart, hmmm? Not to worry, Sander.” The Kaptain smoothed the mud off his face idly as he spoke. “We’ll be back in safety late tonight.”
“Bravo, Kaptain! Bravo!”
“I expect to connect with Durova’s forces near Vlirischiy, a tiny village, north-east of here. We’re on the right river.” He paused and rolled an ironic eye back at his horse. “You’ll be able to say ‘Dosvydanya Kaptain’ to me and embrace your wives and sweethearts in Mosvka before snow flies.”
With the spell safely in his belly the pseudo Kaptain tossed the reins to his underling. “Settle him down, would you? He’s been so skittish. I need to get something hot in my belly.”