His favourite tapestry was kept right outside the doors to the audience room. The image was simple, yet eye-catching: a night time forest with a woman in white leaning over a pond. Behind her stood a man in red armour wielding a red sword, raised to strike.
The Meratis Trilogy covers the history of the royal House of Gendron extensively over Eventide and Evenlight. Hard not to include it in the story when the narrative is so fascinating. Mad kings and attempted murders, love at first sight and heroes standing against evil. So instead of going into that history again here, I’ll dig a little deeper into the past.
The Gendron crest is a winged horse of silver on a blue background. According to legend, Ansel’s grandmother had a touch of magic about her, allowing her to speak with animals. She was a solitary creature, preferring to go for long walks in the forest instead of completing her daily chores (although the family was well off, Bridget’s parents liked to keep their children grounded by making them do the basics around the house). As the story goes, one day when she was fifteen she came across a horse in the woods — a beautiful palomino that spooked when he saw her. She managed to calm him down with her words, and he told her that farther ahead, one of his brothers lay injured and afraid. Something dark was after him, and if he didn’t move soon, he wouldn’t survive the night.
Bridget allowed the horse to guide her, not for a moment thinking she might be in danger. As they passed through the clearing, her sights fell upon a large silver-grey horse lying on his side, his back leg bleeding into the snow beneath him. A heavy trap had closed around his leg, preventing him from getting up. She felt his terror and immediately started to talk to him, assuring him she would help.
He begged her to go back, his voice moving through her thoughts like water, so smooth and rich that she felt complete for hearing it. The sound travelled with the same vibrations as the energy of the forest itself, and she knew she stood in the presence of a spirit, not of any mortal creature.
So what had caught him?
The question had no sooner occurred to her when she heard something approach from beyond the clearing. Something large and loud. She backed away, towards the palomino, but when she bumped into it, she found not a horse, but a man leering down at her. He was tall and thin — almost emaciated. The heavy bags under his eyes accentuated his sunken cheeks. Stale, sour breath wafted out between broken, rotted teeth, and bony fingers reached for her as she tried to back away.
“Thank you for offering to help. Your presence here is just what we needed.”
The trees snapped and the horse on the ground screamed in terror as the giant burst through. Standing well over twelve-feet tall, the monster had only to reach down and pick Bridget up by the back of her dress to lift her into the air. She kicked her feet to try and free herself, but the man below only laughed and drew his dagger.
“Don’t bother wasting your energy. Frug, here, is too smart to drop you. He knows what I’d do to him. So just stay calm and let’s get this over with.”
“Why?” Bridget demanded, wishing her panic wasn’t so obvious. “What do you plan to do?”
The man stretched out his arms. “Leave this forest, of course. That creature–” he pointed to the horse “– has kept me bound here for centuries. But with a few words and your life’s blood, I can exterminate it and free myself.”
Bridget felt the silver horse’s fear increase and wished she could do something to help, but held aloft as she was, felt powerless.
At this point, the various versions of the story differ. Some people say she called to the birds and they flew from all directions to peck out the ogre’s eyes so Bridget could drop free. Others say she called to the bears, who came and mauled the tall man to death. A third story is that she slipped out of her dress and dropped naked to the ground, thereby distracting the man long enough to release the trap around the horse’s leg.
What all the stories agree on is that she escaped and freed the horse. Once free, his magic returned, having been blocked by the trap. His wings stretched out and he told Bridget to climb on, lifting off with such force that the ogre was pushed back, and the man knocked down. The last sight Bridget had of the clearing was the man shouting after them with a raised fist.
The winged horse returned Bridget to her farm — clothed or not remains uncertain — and as far as the story goes, was never seen again. Bridget kept the story to herself until her children were born, so how much of the legend is true and how much is just a bed-time story cannot be confirmed, but as the generations passed, the winged horse remained the symbol of the house, representing courage, fairness, aid… and maybe a bit of creative thinking.