Suddenly, as Syiera felt the mare’s breath on her cheek, she knew how much the mare loved her colts, and knew also that she herself had no choice but to help her get them back.

Syiera was an orphan who worked in the King’s stables, like her mother before her, who’d died in a fall when Syiera was only five or six. She worked day and night caring for the horses, and seemed to understand them in a way no one else did. And her favorite horses were the Arva horses, from lands far to the east. The blue roan mare was poetry in motion, and her two black colts, who were quick and sleek, walked around the paddocks as if they owned them. All three were wild and aggressive, disliking humans and making their feelings about them all too clear. Even Syiera didn’t dare get too close to them, but tossed apples and carrots into their stalls, rather than offering them on an outstretched palm, as she did with the other horses, and moved slowly around them, so they didn’t jump or startle. Syiera didn’t have much, but nevertheless, she was happy.

All that changed one summer’s day when Lord Ran of Stormsythe, a huge empire to the north, came to buy horses from the King. He was a hard man, cruel, and it was said that he’d trained his horses to tear prisoners apart while they were still alive. Although King Hulvere hated dealing with the warlord, he knew that as long as he provided Ran with superb horses, his small country would remain free.

Everyone in the stables worked harder than ever to prepare for Ran’s visit and to make sure all his demands were met. Syiera, like many others, simply slept standing up, whenever she could. Finally, Ran was satisfied, and sailed away with a hundred of the king’s best horses. After his departure, Syiera went to visit the Arva horses, and discovered that the two colts had been among those Ran bought. The mare was left behind because of an old injury to one of her hind legs.

“I’m glad they left you,” Syiera said to her softly, as she gave the mare a bucket of water. And then it happened, as the mare’s breath moved over her face. She smelled the colts, and in her mind, saw them as they’d been in Arva before they were captured, and she knew just how much the mare loved her children and how she would die a thousand times to get them back.

Syiera unlocked the door to the stall and swung it wide. The mare drifted out, moving like a shadow in the darkness. Syiera slipped out of the stable door, and the mare followed, turning toward the river, Syiera running alongside. The mare hesitated on the riverbank, gathering her courage, as Syiera promised her, “I’ll come with you. I’ll help you get your colts back. You can’t undo bolts and steal keys and sneak into stables, but I can. You need me.” And as the mare stepped into the water, Syiera followed, holding onto the long mane that floated on the surface of the water, leaving her childhood behind.

That night was the start of a quest that would lead the slender girl and the big blue mare into adventures and dangers they’d never imagined, introducing them to those who helped them on their journey and those who wished to cut it short, but always keeping their goal in mind — finding the two fierce black colts Ran had taken from their mother.