Magical Marvels 11: The Steedmaker Barding

Armor for a Horse's Head (Chanfron) Turkey, 16th century
Image from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

In an age long past, when magic was young and humans did not yet understand the powers and limitations of the craft, there was a great queen named Austranar. She was a warrior, and a conqueror, who expanded her territory through ruthless campaigns. And, she never rode into battle without her beloved steed Kuruk. Though she was a queen, she forbade any to care for Kuruk but her. So much did Austranar love her horse, that her soldiers sometimes joked that despite her many consorts, the only true heir would be Kuruk’s. Austranar won countless battles astride Kuruk, and art depicting the pair is some of the more common pieces from that period of human history. But very little is known of Kuruk’s death.

During the a minor conquest of no great importance, a peasant with a dull sword made a lucky swing, and nearly severed Kuruk’s right foreleg at the knee. A crime for which he was promptly beheaded by the grief-stricken queen. Soaked in the peasant’s blood, Austranar clung to the horse’s neck and wailed in rage and agony. She called for her court magician, he was–a bit reluctantly–brought to her. The queen demanded that the magician preserve Kuruk’s life with his magic, and would hear none of his protestations.

Knowing that failure would mean his death, the magician worked furiously with his limited understanding of the magical arts. Many of those captured during the battle were put to death during his ritual. A few of their souls were used to strengthen the bond between Kuruk’s spirit and his body…though many more were killed simply to buy him time to think.

When Kuruk’s body shrived up and disappeared beneath his barding, the magician’s time was up. A furious Austranar, red faced with rage, demanded to know where her steed had gone. The magician fumbled, over his words before finally picking up the headpiece of the barding and presenting it to the queen. He explained that Kuruk’s essence was preserved within this piece of armor, and that any steed it was placed upon would be filled with Kuruk’s spirit.

This is not what Austranar had wanted.

In a rage, the queen took the armor in both hands and slammed it down atop the magician’s head, aiming to kill him. Instead, the magician disappeared entirely, leaving a horse which looked almost exactly like Kuruk in its place–save for its strangely human eyes. It didn’t take long to discover what a wondrous item the magician had created. And though she felt Kuruk’s loss deeply, the queen deigned to reward her magician for creating such an ingenious device–by allowing him to serve as her steed for the rest of his days.

Whenever The Steedmaker Barding is placed upon the head of a living creature, that creature is transformed into a warhorse, complete with a full set of barding to match the head piece, as well as a saddle, and other riding accoutrements. The magical steed is also well trained, and will serve as well as any warhorse can.

While, in many respects, the horse will resemble the long-dead Kuruk, it will also take on aspects of whatever creature it has been bonded with. For example, when placed upon a human, it will gain a human’s eyes, as well as that human’s mind and intelligence. It will not be able to override its training as a war horse because of this, but it will be able to follow commands more intelligently, or indicate its opinions when asked.

Other combinations might include:

Frog: The horse will have a green, wet appearance. It will be able to leap unusually high and far, and will have a frog’s long tongue.

Bird: The horse will gain wings, like a pegasus.

Shark: The resulting creature will look quite different from a horse, as it will not have legs, but rather, four large fins. It will also have a preternaturally large jaw of razor sharp teeth.

Bear: Its hooves are replaced with large claws, and its legs have a larger range of movement.

Spider: While in most respects it will appear to be a normal horse, it will have eight spider’s legs and be able to move silently along both walls and ceilings.

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