In ‘The Red Pony,’ the titular animal is at one point attacked by a buzzard, and the boy (Jody) has to literally tear the offending scavenger off his horse in a scene that struck me powerfully. I had originally wanted to write in a reversal of that scene with the horse, boy, and buzzard. That sequence didn’t make it in, but I’m pretty happy with the way this one turned out overall.
My own story is about a boy (Jonas) who comes to live on his father’s ranch following the violent death of his estranged mother in a freak accident. His father has remarried, and although Jonas takes to life on a horse ranch, he cannot bring himself to accept his father and stepmother. Then, in an attempt to win his son’s love, Jonas’ father brings him a skittish, wall-eyed blood colored mare and tells the boy he can keep it so long as he can get it to eat….
Aside from The Red Pony, the major inspiration for ‘The Blood Bay’ comes from a few different accounts in Greek mythology, particularly the legend of Xanthos (or Xanthus, meaning ‘blonde’ or sometimes ‘bay’), one of the maneating Mares of Diomedes, whom Hercules captured as his eighth labor.
King Diomedes of Thrace was a wicked giant and ruler of the Bistones. He kept four vicious mares tied up to a brass manger which he regularly filled with the bodies of his enemies.
As a part of Hercules’ quest, the hero engaged the boy Abderus to go and steal the horses while he battled Diomedes. Unaware of the horses’ sinister natures, Abderus was promptly devoured. After Hercules beat Diomedes and learned of the fate of his friend, he fed the king to his own animals.
There’s another story about maneating horses, that of Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus, who kept a team of spirited chariot mares. He would not allow them to copulate, believing this made them swifter and bolder. He participated in the funerary games of King Pelias, where he was beaten by Hercules’ brother, the hero Iolalus. Glaucus’ mares, not too happy with the loss (or perhaps frustrated beyond reason), ate him on the spot.
The name Xanthus turns up again as a horse’s name in course of the Illiad, where he is one of Achilles’ (and briefly Hector’s) chariot horses (and not a mare). This horse was one of a pair (the other was Balius) of immortal horses said to have been fathered by the harpy Podarge and Zephyrus the god of the west wind. After being chastised by Achilles for allowing the death of their groom Patroclus, Xanthus prophesized the death of his master. The gods struck the horse dumb for its impertinence.
Finally, Alexander The Great’s indomitable horse Bucephalus was said to be descended from Xanthus.
Presales for The Midnight Diner #3 are up now. The book includes stories by Kevin Lucia of the Hiram Grange Chronicles fame, and my fellow Star Wars contributor Greg ‘Dusty Duck’ Mitchell, author of The Coming Evil.