The summer before the Knight’s festival, after Arthur’s men had a “disagreement” that turned a little too heated – in public.
“The clotpole was asking for it,” Elyan replied, aggressively defending himself. “I warned him that I’d clobber his face the next time he talked about-“
“You nearly broke my nose, you ignorant simpleton!” Lionel snapped back in retort. “And I’ll have you know that I was merely stating a well-documented fact-”
“You can stick your facts up your hairy, grape-sized-”
“Enough,” Arthur said, silencing Elyan halfway his sentence. He was very quickly running out of patience. The Crown Prince was supposed to be preparing for the tournament – but instead, he had to deal with this glorified bunch of toddlers getting into a fist fight.
Arthur glared at the men in front of him.
“You’ve embarrassed yourselves in public and sullied the knights’ good name. You will be punished accordingly.”
“Arth- milord, this isn’t fair!” Gawain yelled.
“Yeah! They started it!”
“Us?! You were the ones to throw the first punch, you degenerate, barbaric excuses for-”
“Quiet! I don’t care who started it – I am ending it!”
If looks could kill, all four of them would have been smouldering piles of ashes on the floor. Arthur raised his hand, his voice taking on a cold, sharp edge.
“I will not tolerate insubordination,” he growled. “From any of you. And all four of you will pay for it in service.”
“As punishment for your transgression, you will polish the armour and boots in the castle armoury-“
“But there’s dozens of them!”
“Clean out the cannons on the ramparts-“
“This is ridiculous. A true nobleman does not clean-”
“And tend to Podargos.”
The effect was instant. As soon as the stallion’s name was mentioned, three of the four men in front of Arthur froze, their expressions very rapidly changing from angry protest to shock.
“Y-you’re joking,” Elyan stammered. Arthur glared at him.
“I am not.”
“Sire, have mercy! Anything but that!”
But Arthur ignored his protests. His eyes were dangerously cold.
“You will muck out his stable, brush his fur and clean out his hooves. You will do this before Morgana comes down to ride him at noon. And you will do it without protest. If I hear a single complaint from any of you, I will demote all of you to latrine guards. Permanently. Do I make myself clear?”
“Good. Now get on with it.”
As horses of the royal household, Podargos and Llamrei both had their own private stables. The two were treated incredibly well, never being in short supply of food or water. Servants and nobles alike doted on them almost daily. The two enjoyed a never-ending supply of hay, carrots, fresh water and loving attention whenever they desired it.
Llamrei had grown up to be incredibly social and gentle as a result.
Podargos… not so much.
“We could just walk in?”
“Do you have a death wish?” Elyan replied, scoffing at Gawain’s suggestion. “He’ll flatten us against the castle wall.”
“I heard he broke Sir Betrand’s arm. Twice.”
“We could feed him something? Make him fall asleep?”
“I tried that last month,” Percival answered sheepishly. “I gave him a wine barrel to see if I could make him fall asleep. He broke it, and when I scolded him, he ended up chasing me all over the courtyard.”
“I’m telling you,” Elyan huffed. “That is not a horse. That is a demon in animal skin.”
On their left, they could hear Lionel snort in amused disapproval.
“What a pathetic display,” the nobleman chuckled, rolling his eyes. “And you call yourselves equestrians? A proper knight does not cower at the likes of one horse.”
“Oh, bugger off, cox-comb. If you’re such a horse whisperer, then prove it.”
“What a fantastic idea,” Lionel nodded, a confident smirk spreading across his face. “Allow me to demonstrate to you savages how to handle a purebred steed properly. Perhaps it will prove educational.”
“You can stick your damn education where you can stick your damn facts.”
He straightened his back, moving out from behind the hay bales. Lionel Gaunness prided himself on his equestrian skills. In his mind, he could handle any horse, just like he could handle any lady. A confident smirk played on his face and his chin was raised high in the air as he made his way towards the stables.
“No, no, let him try it.”
The nobleman stopped a few feet in front of the stable, looking up at Podargos with an appreciative smile. He nodded to himself.
“Magnificent. Yes – a creature like this needs a true, well-mannered nobleman to handle it. Of course it balks at the hands of lesser people. Surely its owner is the same way.”
“Watch and observe, you two. This is how proper nobility acts.”
Lionel took a step forward, reaching for the door-
and Podargos slammed into-him full-force. The horse shot forward, banging against the door of the stable and ramming his head straight into Lionel’s face.
Gawain’s shocked gasp was instantly drowned out by the sound of Elyan’s laughter.
“Bwahahaha! Oh, I’ll never let him live this down. Someone make a painting of this!”
His companions were not as amused as he was. Percival let out a worried groan as he looked at the blonde nobleman on the ground, then back at Podargos.
“Laugh all you want, Elyan. We still have to deal with this horse.”
“Right. Just let me enjoy this for a few seconds longer.”
After a few moments, the three would-be knights stepped over Lionel’s unconscious body and entered the stable. Podargos immediately moved to the other side of the room in response. They could see him scraping his hooves on the ground. His head lowered and turned towards them, much like a ram’s head did right before charging at an enemy.
That wasn’t good.
“We… we can do this,” Gawain mumbled. “There’s three of us. If we work together, I’m sure we can do this.”
“It chased me for twenty minutes over a wine barrel, Gawain.”
“Then stop giving it wine barrels.”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time!” Percival said, exasperated. “How was I supposed to know that it’s twice as mean when it’s drunk? Elyan is right – this thing is a demon in horse skin.”
Slowly, step by step, Gawain approached the horse in front of him. It was fine. He had ridden with Morgana before. He knew Podargos. It wasn’t that bad. Gawain held his breath, carefully holding out his hand for the horse to sniff and trying to suppress the image of him losing half his fingers.
“There’s a rope on the wall,” Gawain muttered softly, petting the horse to distract it. “We can tie him up outside. Maybe muzzle him.”
“R…right. I’ll go get it.”
Percival slowly inched forward. The nobleman gulped as he scooched past the horse and towards the rope on the wall-
But Percival was not as lucky as Gawain had been.
Podargos reacted instantly. The horse bolted forward, rearing up on its hind legs and kicking Percival with such force that it send him flying backwards into the hay.
“Quick! Get the rope!”
Gawain and Elyan quickly moved to grab it – but the horse was faster. It turned around, aiming its rear at Elyan next. The kick sent him crashing into the wood and through the door to the stables. A loud snap sounded as the door splintered and broke off its hinges.
The nobleman landed in the dirt next to Lionel, who had only just begun to wake up. Lionel groaned, his surroundings slowly coming back into view-
And the first thing he saw was two massive hooves, coming crashing down towards him. Hard.
A high-pitched scream that very strongly resembled a yelping dog escaped from Lionel’s mouth. He covered his face, flinching and closing his eyes in fear. But Podargos sailed right over him. The hooves dug into the ground not three inches from his head, sending clumps of dirt flying everywhere.
And Podargos bolted. The horse darted away from them like an arrow released from a bow. He tore through the garden, dirt, grass and flowers being tossed everywhere as his hooves dug up the earth underneath. Within seconds, Podargos had disappeared around the corner of the castle.
The four men dragged their way back to the hay bale, Percival and Elyan groaning and with fresh hoof prints on their chests.
“Did you see that?! That brute almost trampled me alive!” Lionel said.
“Who cares about that?!” Elyan yelled. “Why didn’t you try to catch him?!”
“It is a rampaging horse! I’ll get injured! The idea of my face getting damaged, I couldn’t bear the thought-”
“You useless twatwaffle!”
The nobleman let out a sheepish laugh, trying to get some of his previous confidence back and failing spectacularily. Eventually, Lionel shrugged.
“You just have to catch it, right? It’s still a horse. How much damage could it possibly do? It’ll run around the fields for a while, tire itself out, and then we can catch it. We will pretend that all of this never happened-”
At that moment, the four of them could hear the violent slamming of a door, followed by two screams – and the sound of things breaking.
A lot of things breaking.
“Oh, bollocks. Not again.”
Uncaught, how much damage could one horse do within the span of ten minutes?
The average resident of castle Camelot had never had to think about that before.
As it turned out…
it was a lot of damage.
A lot of damage.
Catching Podargos and dragging him back to his stable took exactly ten minutes and thirty-two seconds.
Those ten minutes would not soon be forgotten.
The would-be knights had a lot of boots to clean that week.