Of Caves and Centaurs

The portrait of Mernias had been there for a long time, now. A thick layer of dust was building up in the upper corner, there, where no one could reach it to clean, without standing on the tip of their hooves. But Mernias stood there, proudly, in the portrait made for him at the castle of Mirith. K’eeron, the pedagogue, had insisted that the frame should be placed high above the entrance of the main hall, as a reminder for all of the end of an era.
The fall of Mernias signalled the end of a period or hope for Centaurs and Humans. The period started on the day Prince N’eroth was born and given to the horse folk for the most refined upbringing. During those days, the cave was less guarded. Mernias lived in Mirith, taught the Centaur language to some, chatted to visitors of all kinds. The wound open by Elefin seemed to be healing, and delicate bonds of trust were starting to get firmer.
K’eeron, the sceptical, had let go of his scepticism, even him! He dedicated all his energy to the education of his special student, up to the day when, taking him aside, the Prince informed him of his thirst for the sea. He parted in good terms. K’eeron, the gentle, understood the need for freedom. A cave was not the place to hold a youngster of his kind. From protégé, N’eroth was becoming their hostage.
Despite the Prince’s departure to the sea, the relationship between Centaurs and Humans was unaffected. At the time, K’eeron, the prudent, had thought it best not to warn King Galandir of the voyage of his son. The old King was losing his mind, and the Centaur feared he would not understand the meaning of that freedom young N’eroth craved for. Maybe that omission meant that it had been K’eeron the first traitor? He could accept it, though he blamed himself for the fall of Mernias in many other ways, much deeper than that small betrayal.
K’eeron, the sorrowful, had refused to talk to a Human again, since the murdering of Mernias by the treacherous duchess. He had the portrait of his brother taken from the city, placed high above the entrance of the main hall, as a reminder for all of the end of an era. As a reminder for all of the end of an era.
The other elders did not protest. The safety of the cave was something they could not give up easily, and, throughout history, old and new, all that Humans did had been compromising that safety. Even N’eroth, in some drunken nights, in the early days of his career as a pirate, would come back to his old home with new friends, made only a couple of hours before, and whose intents the young Prince had not had the time nor the sobriety to inquire before presenting them the location of the secret cave.
One day, among the group of revellers N’eroth invited for a “lil’nightcap at his tutors’ burrow”, K’eeron, the night owl, remembered seeing a strange creature, half woman, half frog, croaking happily around her pirate friend. K’eeron, the gentlehorse, did not forgot his manners at the time and, after kicking the vagrants one by one back to the Northern Trail, kindly asked the lady-frog to vacate the premisses, shutting the heavy wooden door after her.
It had been a life time since that episode. It had been the end of an era. Mernias had died, and so had Galandir, Tirana, the Twins. N’eroth was nowhere to be seen. Little remained from that world of old, except the renewed lack of trust between Centaurs and Humans.
It was with great surprise that K’eeron, the ancient, hear the knock at the door. On the other side, he recognised the figure in black by her croak. And for once, K’eeron, the prudent, decided to open the door to a stranger.
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