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On a small farm in one of the many verdant valleys in the land that now belongs to the Tuatha dé Danann there once lived a farmer named Phadrig. He was a kindly old soul who had been a generous neighbor, a good father, and a gentle husband. Now, as his days upon this earth were dwindling, he alone was left to run the farm. His children had long ago fled the rural life to seek their fortunes elsewhere. His wife was waiting for him in heaven. Having reached this stage in life, he cared little for human companionship and was content to work the farm as he had for decades.
Aiding him was an old black stallion who had wandered into his fields many years ago. This horse had become an important part of Phadrig’s life, helping to plow the fields and providing companionship to the simple farmer. The horse was all the family he had left. Sadly, the work of two aged souls is not equal to the work of many young ones, and the farm was on the verge of failing. There was indeed little that the old man and the black horse had been able to do to change their shared fortunes.
As the horse suffered greatly from the ailments of the aged, the farmer nursed him. He even took up the curious habit of reading to the horse, for the sound of the farmer’s voice calmed the horse when he was upset or in pain. Phadrig’s favorite stories involved the Tuatha de Danann and their great black steeds. The horse seemed to enjoy these tales. He would neigh and whinny and even try to raise his arthritic legs at some particularly exciting passages. The farmer smiled at this and he felt that he was in possession of a special horse, though the poor beast showed no other sign of intelligence or special gifts. He did, however, seem to possess a greater degree of both stubbornness and mischief than the average horse. His favorite prank was to repeatedly throw off his blanket, causing the old farmer to bend over and replace it again and again, much as a toddler will do to his overburdened parents.
Phadrig’s life had become a mixture of ritual and routine, and while the rhythm of it wasn’t particularly exciting, it served him well at this stage in his life. Until the Piercing of the Veil, when everything changed.
Though the Veilstorms didn’t immediately affect him, some of Phadrig’s friends and neighbors suffered greatly. He offered what help he could, but against the flood of need he could do very little. At least he tried, even if it meant he went to bed hungry several nights a week. As bad as Phadrig’s situation was, he was still far better off than many.
One summer’s evening Phadrig heard strange sounds coming from his barn. In the past, he would have ignored them, attributing them to some harmless animal, but the world was different now. He grabbed a scythe as a weapon, lit a torch, and directed his steps toward the barn with trepidation. Reaching it, he found the door hanging open. In the faint moonlight he saw an abomination walking slowly and purposefully toward his horse. The horse was staring at the creature, mesmerized: the abomination had cast a spell. It was widely known that some of these creatures had strange abilities.
Hoping to scare it away, Phadrig screamed at the creature. The creature turned and faced him, not the least bit alarmed. Howling in answer, it rushed at Phadrig and while the creature wasn’t as physically powerful as others of his kind, it was more than a match for the old man, despite his courage. Phadrig’s scythe struck the tough hide of the abomination, drawing blood.
As the creature’s attention was focused entirely on the farmer, the horse began to awaken from enchantment. Seeing the abomination clearly for the first time, the horse’s eyes widened. Fear rose within his throat and he reared up painfully on his hind legs, even this effort causing him distress. He tried to charge the abomination but his body did not match his spirit and he quickly stumbled to the ground, helpless, as the tide of battle took an ill turn for Phadrig. The abomination, sensing victory, went in for the kill.
Perhaps it was prolonged exposure to the Veilstorms, or perhaps the horse was always more than he had seemed, but something very strange happened that evening. No storm was present outside, yet the horse began to transform. The aching that had filled his joints for many years evaporated as quickly as the morning fog in the brilliant light of noon. His black coat became as bright and sleek as when he was a young stallion, his rheumy eyes cleared, and his hooves glowed as if ablaze. He became the horse from the farmer’s stories, a true steed of the Tuatha de Danann. He was also surprised to feel a great insight and understanding. He knew that this farmer, his friend, was dying.
He rushed to Phadrig’s side, placing himself between the abomination and the farmer, daring the foul creature to attack. It did. Leaping toward the horse, the abomination raised its claws, intent on rending flesh from bone. The horse surprised it, spinning nimbly to face away from the creature. As the abomination neared, the horse used his powerful hind legs to kick it through the flimsy barn wall.
Picking itself up in the moonlight outside, the abomination screamed for others of its kind. Some of them traveled in packs, like wolves. Hearing the scream, two other abominations rushed from the nearby woods, eager to join the hunt. The horse galloped forth to challenge the creatures. He hadn’t been able to gallop in years, but he scarcely noticed his strength, so desperate was he to protect the farmer.
Now facing three foes, the horse knew he was in trouble, yet he fought bravely. His hooves and legs were powerful weapons and he managed to quickly dispatch the two newcomers. One of the abominations burst into flame as the horse’s hooves flared brightly during one devastating kick. However, the leader was still alive and the horse was greatly weakened by his efforts. His flanks were running red.
With victory finally at hand, the abomination once again rushed the horse. The creature leapt onto the gallant steed’s back and raised its claws to slash the horse’s throat. Suddenly, the abomination froze with its claws still poised to strike. It fell from the horse, dead.
As the creature fell, the horse saw that the farmer, who was bleeding profusely, had crawled outside to hurl the barn’s pitchfork at the abomination. The sharp prongs had pierced the creature’s foul chest and killed it instantly.
The horse limped over to the farmer and together they made for the barn, where the farmer dressed their wounds with torn cloth. This done, the farmer looked anew at the horse and saw that he was greatly changed. Gazing at him, Phadrig saw new light of an intelligent being there and declared, “I know not how this happened, but I thank you for saving my life. I’m sorry that I never gave you a name. Would it be alright if I called you Puck?” The horse, while wiser than it had been, did not know that name, though he liked the sound of it.
Phadrig and Puck worked the farm together for several more years. Puck put his newfound powers and intelligence to good use and the farm prospered as never before. Puck and Phadrig also spent many hours in relaxation, reading together and enjoying the richness of rest after a day’s toil. It wasn’t long before Puck learned to read on his own and Phadrig and Puck even engaged in conversations of a sort.
For his part, Phadrig was delighted by the change and even though Puck would disappear, sometimes for days at a time, Phadrig knew his friend would always return. In answer to Phadrig’s whys and wheres, Puck just smiled in the toothy way of a horse and went about his business.
When the time came for Phadrig’s light to be extinguished, it was said that his horse let out an almost human cry of mourning that was heard throughout the countryside. The following dawn, when his neighbors came to investigate the sound, there was no trace of the horse. All they found was a shallow grave in which Phadrig was buried. Carved on Phadrig’s gravestone were the words “He was a good master but a better friend – Puck.” The neighbors were confounded. However, they had bigger problems than sorting out who this Puck was, so they said their prayers and went back to their lives.
As for Puck, his time away from the farm was well spent: He and others of his kind have been spotted running through the hills, their fiery hooves lighting up the green grass in the dark night. They have also been credited with all manner of mischief, as well as acts of kindness. None of them have ever been captured or ridden, no matter how hard some have tried. It is said that they are awaiting the rise of a true warrior-king, and only then will they come down from their hidden homes in the hills to aid in his quest.
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