Pegasus - By Robin McKinley


Because she was a princess she had a pegasus.

This had been a part of the treaty between the pegasi and the human invaders nearly a thousand years ago, shortly after humans had first struggled through the mountain passes beyond the wild lands and discovered a beautiful green country they knew immediately they wanted to live in.

The beautiful green country was at that time badly overrun by ladons and wyverns, taralians and norindours, which ate almost everything (including each other) but liked pegasi best. The pegasi were a peaceful people and no match, despite their greater intelligence, for the single-minded ferocity of their enemies, and over the years their numbers had declined. But they were tied to these mountains and valleys by particular qualities in the soil and the grasses that grew in the soil, which allowed their wings to grow strong enough to bear them in the air. They had ignored the situation as without remedy for some generations, but the current pegasus king knew he was looking at a very bleak future for his people when the first human soldiers straggled, gasping, through the Dravalu Pass and collapsed on the greensward under the Singing Yew, which was old even then.

They sat up quickly when seven pegasi circled the meadow above the pass and flew down to investigate. The journal of that company’s second commander still exists in the palace library: a small, worn, round-cornered, hand-bound book, slightly bowed to the shape of the pocket it was carried in. He reported the historic meeting:

We had but just come through thee final rocky gate, and had sett ourselves down in thee shade of a strange great tree, which had short soft spikes or needles all along its branches, and no leaves; when swift-moving shadows fled briefly between us and thee sunne, but against thee wind. We looked up in haste, for rocs are not unheard of, and I had raised my hand to give thee signal for thee archers to string their bows. We saw at once that these were no rocs, but still I held up my hand, for they were nothing else we knew either; and they clearly had seen us, and did approach.

But these creatures are nothing like rocs except they do also possess wings; they are like nothing I have ever seen, except perhaps by some great artist’s creative power. They are a little like horses, but yet far more fine than any horse, even a queen’s palfrey; they are a little like deer, except that deer are rough and clumsy beside them; and their wings are huge, huger than eagles’, and when thee lowering sunne struck through their primaries, for as they cantered toward us they left their wings unfurled, thee light was broken as if by prisms, and they were haloed in all thee colours of thee rainbow. Several of my folk came to their knees, as if we were in thee presence of gods; and while I told them to stand and be steadfast, I did tell them gently, for I understood their awe.

The pegasi were happy to make a treaty with the humans, who were the first possibility of rescue the pegasi had had, and the humans, dazzled by the pegasi’s beauty and serenity, were happy to make a treaty with them, for the right to share their mountainous land; the wide plateaus, which ran like lakes around the mountaintop islands, were lush and fertile, and many of the island crests were full of gems and ores.

The discussions as to the terms of the treaty had had to be held almost exclusively through the human magicians and the pegasi shamans, however, who were the only ones able to learn enough of the other’s language to understand and make themselves understood, and that was a check to enthusiasm on both sides. “Is it not, then, a language, as we understand language?” wrote the second commander, whose name was Viktur. “Does it encompass some invisible touch unavailable to humans, as a meeting of our hands in greeting, or a kiss between dear friends? What can we not grasp of it, and why cannot our magicians explain this lack to us?”

Sylvi’s tutor, Ahathin, had brought Sylvi to the library while they were studying this portion of the annals. Ordinary people needed a sheaf of special permissions to look at anything half so old, frail and precious as the second commander’s journal; Ahathin, as the princess’ tutor, had merely made the request, and when the two of