Gateway to the Classics: The Wonder-Book of Horses by James Baldwin
The Wonder-Book of Horses by  James Baldwin

The Horse of Brass

C AMBUSCAN was the noblest ruler in all the East. On the day upon which he completed the twentieth year of his reign, he held a great feast in his palace, to which all the princes of his realm were invited. The royal dining-hall was a marvel of beauty and magnificence, and the table was the finest that the world has ever seen. At the head of the board sat the king, with his wife Elfeta, his two sons, Algarsif and Camballo, and his daughter Canace. On either side were ranged, in the order of their rank, the noblest lords and the most beautiful ladies of the land. The minstrels played sweet music, and the hearts of the king and his guests were filled with joy.

In the midst of the festivity there came into the hall, without invitation or announcement, a strange knight mounted upon a steed of brass, and holding in his hand a broad, bright mirror. By his side hung a jewel-hilted sword, and on his thumb was a ring of dazzling beauty. Everybody was so astonished that the hall became suddenly silent; the laughter ceased, the minstrels forgot their music, and the guests turned about in their places to gaze at the unexpected sight. The horse walked straight toward the dais where the king sat, and when he was within speaking distance paused. Then the knight saluted the king and queen and lords with a grace and courtesy which none of them had ever seen excelled, and with a manly voice delivered his message.

"The king of Araby and of Ind, whose servant I am," said he, "sends salutations to you. He has also sent to you, O king, in honor of your anniversary, this horse of brass, which can in the space of four and twenty hours bear you without danger into whatsoever part of the world you may wish to go. Or if you choose to soar aloft as an eagle, and look down from the mountain-tops, he will carry you thither. The whole thing is as simple as turning a pin. This sword is also a present to you from my king. It has an edge so keen and sharp that it will cut through the heaviest armor, and no metal can withstand its stroke. And yet it has another property that makes it even more valuable; for, should any man be wounded with it, you can immediately heal him by passing the flat part of it over the wound. This mirror and the ring are for your daughter, fair Canace. In the mirror she can see everything that is going on in your kingdom, and can even read the thoughts of her lover. And while wearing the ring she will understand the language of all the birds, and be able to answer them in their own manner of speaking."

Then the knight, having delivered his message, turned his steed around and rode out into the courtyard. Having dismounted, he was conducted, by the king's command, back into the banquet-hall, where a place was made for him at the feast. But the horse of brass stood in its place immovable, the center of a gaping, wondering crowd. It was as tall and well-proportioned as the famous steeds of Lombardy, and as handsome and light of limb as the finest horses of Polish breed. Some said that it was such a steed as the fairies ride; others that it was Pegasus, the winged steed of Grecian story; still others declared that it looked like the great horse which Epeus contrived for the destruction of the Trojan people; and they feared that armed men might somehow be hidden within it. But the greater number were agreed that it was the skilful work of the Arabic magicians, and hence would better not be tampered with by ignorant hands.

Cambuscan, when he had done feasting, went out into the courtyard, with all his lords and ladies, to look at the wonderful gift which the king of Araby had sent him.

"I pray you," said he to the knight who had brought it, "tell us how to manage this strange creature."

"There is but little to tell," said the knight, laying his hand upon the horse, which began to skip and prance in the strangest manner possible. "When you wish to ride anywhere you have simply to remove this peg which you see between his ears, mount him, and name the place. He will carry you thither by the shortest route, and without ever missing his way. When you wish him to stop, or to descend to the ground, turn this wooden pin half way round, and he will do your bidding. Or, if you wish him to leave you for a time, turn this iron pin, and he will vanish out of sight, and come to you again when he is called by name. Ride when and where you please, he will always be ready to obey."

The king was wonderfully pleased, and resolved that on the morrow he would ride out to see the world. Then he ordered the groom of the bedchamber to take off the horse's jeweled bridle and carry it into the strong room of the palace, where it should be locked up among his costliest treasures. This being done, he gave a sudden turn to the iron pin, as he had been directed, and the horse vanished from sight. The knight, too, had disappeared from the palace, and King Cambuscan remembered when it was too late that he had not told him how or by what name to call the magic steed.

If any one will go to Sarra in Tartary—wherever that may be—and shout the right name of the horse of brass, I doubt not but that he is still waiting to appear. And what more wonderful piece of mechanism could any one wish to own?

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