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

The Horses of Sol and Maane

A VERY long time ago there lived in the far North a man named Mundilfare, who had two children that were famed all the world over for their beauty and grace. The name of the boy was Maane, and that of the girl was Sol, and their father boasted that neither in heaven nor upon the earth were there any beings so fair to look upon as they, so bright of face, so firm of step, so noble in action. Of course his boasting gained for the children no friends, but rather stirred up envy and hatred; and the Asa-folk, who were the mightiest people in that country,—so mighty that they were sometimes called gods,—planned how to get them out of the world. Had Mundilfare been wise, he would have praised the children of the Asa-folk and let people think as they would about Maane and Sol.

The Asas had two horses, noble steeds as yellow as gold and swifter than the storm-winds. They also had a chariot made of hammered gold, in which they had stored by a kind of magic all the sparks that flew up out of the vast fiery region of the South. Once they harnessed the horses to the chariot and sent them out over the earth, driverless and without a guide, to carry light and heat to the nations of men. But the plan was a failure. The horses, wandering whither they pleased, did not serve all parts of the world alike. Some lands were almost burned up with the intense heat that was given out from the car; others were not visited at all, and the people who lived there perished in the cold and the darkness. And so the Asas were upon the point of giving up the scheme entirely; for, although under ordinary circumstances, as in the din of battle or in the roar of the storm, they were the bravest of the brave, yet none of them dared try to drive the golden steeds and the burning chariot. Then one of the wisest among them proposed a plan by which they might kill two birds with one stone, and at the same time bring great honor to themselves.

"This fair maiden Sol and her pale-faced brother Maane," said he, "are, as everybody knows, skilled in the management of horses. Now, let us put the girl into the burning chariot, with the shield Swalin in one hand, and the long, stout reins in the other, and let it be her duty to guide the fiery steeds through the pathway of the skies, favoring all men alike. And let us do likewise with the boy, giving him charge of the feebler team and the silvery chariot, which have stood idle these many years because none of us knew what to do with them. Thus we shall rid ourselves of the hateful boastings of this fellow Mundilfare, and shall confer blessings not a few upon all mankind."

No sooner was this proposition made than all the Asa-folk gladly agreed to it. They took the two children from their homes, and imposed upon each the wearisome task that had been suggested. To Sol they gave the burning chariot, which was henceforth called the sun-car, and to Maane they assigned the silvery car that carried the moon. When fair Sol ascended to her place and took the long golden reins in her hands, the fiery steeds, of whom even the bold Asas were afraid, leaped up into the sky and, under her firm and gentle guidance, journeyed whithersoever she wished. And she named them Arvak and Alswin because they were ever wakeful and as swift as eagles on the wing. But the sparks which flew from the fast-turning axle of the sun-car were exceedingly hot and dazzling, and the steeds and their fair driver would have been burned up had not the cool shield Swalin reflected back the heat and sheltered them from the blinding light; nor, indeed, would the horses have been safe even then, had not the Asas hung upon their necks two wind-bags that blew cooling breezes about them all day long and kept them ever fresh and vigorous.

Maane's team was a very gentle one, and he had no trouble in guiding it wherever he wished; and his chariot gave out no heat, but only a soft, silvery light which everybody, and especially children, loved to look upon. Now and then some child who had been very good, or some silver-headed man or sweet-voiced lady, would catch a glimpse of Maane's beautiful face; but it was not often. Once upon a time two children named Juke and Bil—or, as you have it in English, Jack and Jill—went up to their father's well to fetch a pail of water; and the pail was hung from a long pole which they carried on their shoulders. Looking up at the round full moon sailing in the sky, they saw the bright charioteer, and were so charmed by his lovely face that they forgot all about their errand and thought only of the fair vision in the sky above them. And so, wherever Maane drove his team, there they went also, careless of their burden and thoughtless of the bumps and falls which they got in running after the moon. Maane, who had been watching them all the time, was touched by their devotion to him, and finally, after they had wandered very far from home, he drove his team close down to the earth and lifted them into the car beside him. And now, any bright night when the moon is full, you may see Jack and Jill in it, with the pole lying on their shoulders and the pail of water still hanging below it; for they never, never tire of admiring the beauty of their master's face.

The life of Sol and Maane was not an unhappy one, for they loved the horses which they guided, the one daily, the other nightly, over the vaulted blue roof of the sky. There was not much that happened anywhere on the earth without one or the other of them seeing it. For when Sol sank to rest in the great sea, or drove her fiery steeds down behind the western hills, Maane would start out with his feebler team and drive silently onward among the clouds and the troops of stars—silently lest he should waken the sleeping earth. But his sleek-coated horses were never able to keep pace with Arvak the ever-wakeful, and Alswin the eagle-chaser, which drew his sister's car; and so, even if they started together, he was sure to fall steadily behind, little by little, every day, until at the end of four weeks Sol would gain upon him one entire trip. Then, when she passed him in her swift car, he would hide his face in his long cloak because of the dazzling sunlight, and the two would begin the race over again. But it always ended the same way: Sol would make twenty-eight trips to Maane's twenty-seven.

But by and by, when the Asas had been almost forgotten, a wise man came into the world, who spent all his time in looking at things through a glass, and in writing long rows of figures in a little book, and in putting everything at right angles on shelves instead of letting them lie around loose. He looked at the sun-car and the moon-car through his glass, and declared that he saw neither horses nor drivers, nor indeed any wagons, but only the sun and moon. But there is no wonder that he did not see them, for his eyes were not of the right kind, nor his heart either, for that matter. Then he set out to prove by figures that the sun always stands in the same place, and that the moon is too big to be put into a wagon of any kind; and, after much talking, he succeeded in making a great many people think that he knew more about such things than did the charioteers themselves, or even the Asa-folk, who had started the whole affair. Of course Sol and Maane did not care to stay in the business after they found that the world was losing faith in them, and so they went into retirement, as people would say nowadays—that is, they turned their steeds about and drove their chariots into the safe and pleasant country of Fairyland, where all such creations of the fancy find refuge.

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