The Seeds of the Plan
'Liturgy of Blood' by Charles Matthias
In October of 706 CR, Sir Albert Bryonoth arrived at Metamor. He was a knight of the Ecclesia in service to Patriarch Akabaieth. Bryonoth hailed from the Flatlands, and in his youth, was a member of a horse clan. Upon learning that Duke Thomas was cursed to resemble a horse, he began to wonder what sort of horses such a noble stallion could produce. It was a comment in jest, but for a Flatlander, the breeding of horses is a serious business too.
When Patriarch Akabaieth left Metamor, Krenek Zagrosek came to assassinate him. In addition, Zagrosek, who had come to learn of Bryonoth's breeding impulse, kidnapped him after the attack. No sign of where they went remained.
Kidnapping the Duke
During the Winter Assault in December 706, Bryonoth returned to Metamor. While Duke Thomas was being escorted to the Eccelsia cathedral, Bryonoth arrived, defeated Thomas's guards and critically injured his Steward Thalberg. Bryonoth then placed a magical halter over Thomas's head, which forced Thomas to assume his full horse form, and to obey every command Bryonoth gave him.
Meanwhile, Thalberg managed to crawl to the Ecclesia Cathedral and tell thme what happened. Sir Yacoub Egland, Sir Erick Saulius, Copernicus, and a bear named Cassius followed the trail and confronted Bryonoth before he could escape with his prize. But they did not know the magic of the halter forced Thomas to obey Bryonoth's commands, and they were defeated in combat. Bryonoth rode Thomas out of the castle, and headed south. They stopped at an old shack that Bryonoth had prepared for this, where the knight proceeded to clean and curry the Duke as if he were a common animal.
Sir Egland and Sir Saulius continued after them (the weather was too cold for Copernicus, and Cassius was injured in the fight). They followed the trail to the shack, and confronted Bryonoth. Egland sung a song of the Flatlands that Bryonoth had taught him, and that distracted the knight long enough for Saulius to strike him from behind. Saulius did not kill him, merely knocked him unconscious. They freed Thomas fromt he halter, and the four of them returned to the castle.
Once at the Eccelsia cathedral, Vinsah performed an exorcism on Bryonoth, and that appeared to return him to normal. Thomas pronounced a light sentence on him, service in the Keep's stables, and all thought the matter had come to an end.
'Tethered' by Charles Matthias
Although he never admitted it, Duke Thomas began to grow intrigued by the idea of being treated like a normal horse. He thought it weariness from the pressures of his office, and slowly the idea grew in his mind until he had to experience it. He surreptitiously contacted Bryonoth — who had already become a woman and changed her name to Alberta — and a meeting was arranged. Thomas brought the halter out of the vault in which it was kept, and he met Bryonoth by one of the secret entrances to the Keep. There Bryonoth made him wear the halter, which again forced Thomas into his horse form.
From there, Bryonoth took Thomas to the stables and proceed to brush him and clean him as if he were any other animal. She then returned him to the castle and to his mostly-human self. If Thomas expected a single meeting would remove the compulsion from his mind, he was wrong. He yearned to be under her care and to do as she bid, and as days turned to weeks, he would meet with her more and more often.
The Compulsion Grows
'Rein's Reign' by Charles Matthias
Bryonoth and Thomas agreed that she would be in charge of when they met for Thomas's horse time. She would leave him notes in prearranged places, notes only he would understand. In them, she called him Toumoth, which she said was his horse name, the name he would have had were he a horse of the Steppe. Thomas loved being called that, and he yearned to find her notes. Affairs of state began to matter less and less to him; they were quickly becoming an unwelcome chore that he wished he could escape.
After a month's time, in early March 707 CR, Alberta started doing more than just clean and curry the Duke, she now had work for him. She had arranged to cart vegetables from a few merchants to various Inns around the city. And she would use Thomas to pull the wagon, hitching him to a yoke and striking his back with the reins. Thomas, as Toumoth, loved the work, and loved the fact that the people of Metamor looked at him and saw only an animal. She even promised she would shoe him ere long.
Thomas's eagerness to be Toumoth was so great at this point that even when Bryonoth had removed the halter, he remained a horse, and could not even conceive of disobeying one of Bryonoth's commands.
'Questioning' by Charles Matthias
Thalberg had noticed that Thomas was not himself, and he seemed easily stressed by matters that should have been simple. He proscribed a sleeping draught to help Thomas relax, but it did no good.
When the Questioners came to Metamor, Thomas's behavior alarmed Thalberg. Where the Thomas he knew would have been strong and certain, Thomas had now become callow, easily succumbing to the demands of the Questioners. It fell to his subordinates to obtain assurances that the Questioners would not abuse their authority.
Thomas spent the duration of the Questioners stay worrying about Bryonoth. Bryonoth had left him a note saying it was too dangerous to risk meeting while the Questioners were present. Thomas wanted so badly to be Toumoth, but a part of him still worried about how he could be Duke if he were shod as a horse.
Thalberg could no longer stand not knowing what was happening to his friend. He approached Andwyn, asking the Master of Intelligence to spy on Thomas. Though Andwyn would not ask any of his men to do it, Andwyn was willing to personally keep an eye on Thomas to see where he went.
'Parading' by Charles Matthias
During the Vernal Equinox Festival (March 21, 707 CR), a Knight's Ball was held. All of the knights of Metamor were gathered together to enjoy the hospitality of their liege. Duke Thomas felt bored by his duty, but there was one person there that he could not keep himself from: Alberta Bryonoth. During the dances, he approached her and asked her to dance.
This was their first encounter in a human setting where the two of them were, in a sense, on equal footing. Alberta chided him that he should not have drawn attention to them, but Thomas's devotion was too great to stop it. Yet, Alberta was right; the dance had caught Steward Thalberg's attention. The alligator was stunned by Thomas's decision to dance with her. This would set his already spinning mind spinning faster.
'Never Again a Man' by Charles Matthias
In late April, 707 CR, Bryonoth began to shoe Toumoth. Though she removed the shoes each time before he returned to his chambers, Thomas now had to hide the marks on his hands and hooves. By this point, the compulsion to be a real horse outweighed any sense of responsibility he had for Metamor. Bryonoth assured him the time for his liberation from humanity was coming soon.
After setting spies on Bryonoth, Andwyn and Thalberg learned where Duke Thomas was going each night. Outraged and horrified, they conspired to catch them in the act, capture Bryonoth, and free Thomas from the halter's influence. They enlisted the aid of Misha, George, Rickkter, Jessica and Thomas's adoptive daughter Malisa. Madog accompanied Misha on the raid. Sir Egland, having independently grown worried over Alberta's behavior, arrived the same night at the stables, intent on checking on Alberta.
This was the same night that Bryonoth would attempt to make Thomas into Toumoth permanently. To aid her, Zagrosek put in a personal appearance. It was he that was controlling the Flatlander knight; eliminating Thomas would create a power vacuum in Metamor, and the chaos would make completing their plans much easier. Misha, Rickkter, and George tried to attack Zagrosek, but Bryonoth channeled the power of the halter and turned them into their animal forms. It was only Madog attacking Zagrosek that saved their lives.
The battle came to a swift conclusion when Egland, also stuck in his Elk form, decided to try attacking Povunoth, Bryonoth's horse from her days in Yesulam. Bryonoth lost control of her spell, Madog bit Zagrosek's left arm off before being struck in the underbelly by Underworld fire, and the Keeper's returned to their half-human forms. Zagrosek was able to escape (as did his severed arm), but the Keepers were able to capture both Bryonoth and Thomas. Thomas refused to change back into his half-human form, staying a horse and angrily attacking them Rickkter punched him in the side of the head.
Breaking the Spell
'Never Again a Man' by Charles Matthias
Breaking the enchantment on Thomas was more difficult than capturing him had been! They enlisted the aid of Misha's sister Elizabeth, the bear mage Christopher, and the fox mage Varnal both of whom were more familiar than most with transformation magic. Together with Malisa, Rickkter and Jessica, they studied the halter for a long time, trying to determine how it worked. The spell on the halter was still active, and any Keeper who approached would find their cursed form taking dominance. Only Elizabeth, who wasn't cursed, was able to even touch the halter.
Bryonoth was put in the dungeons, and a light spell was cast to make sure she was never in shadow. So she took her clothes and created a bag to place over her eyes to create shadow. Once down, Zagrosek was able to pass through the shadow and cut the window he'd created in Bryonoth's spirit that allowed him to act through her. The wound to Bryonoth's spirit removed all traces of her remaining masculinity, and it removed the curse's touch on her. She was, for all intents and purposes, a natural born woman.
Thomas was still a horse, and only through the use of calm spells were the Keepers able to approach him. But the spells that existed on him also tried to enhance the curse on any who examined them. There seemed to be very little left of the human inside the beast. The spells were too powerful, and the Keepers and their allies were stymied.
Then, Zhypar Habakkuk summoned Rickkter to the gardens to tell him something critically important. Habakkuk revealed a poem about a hyacinth and its magical properties, a poem that he forgot shortly after reading it. The trouble was that Habakkuk had penned that book himself, but every time he read the poem, it surprised him. Rickkter, thinking he'd been made a fool of, declared there were no hyacinths in Metamor, and got up to leave.
Only to turn and see a hyacinth sitting in the garden. Habakkuk explained that the hyacinth had been placed there by a common enemy, and it was slowly making them forget. It also acted as a source of power for their enemy. Rickkter agreed to destroy the hyacinth, and that night, pretended to be drunk with a few other barcrawlers. He took them through the garden, and then accidentally set the hyacinth on fire. They were all arrested of course, but Rickkter was able to explain himself to Malisa.
The hyacinth destroyed, the Keepers were finally able to see what needed to be done. Only the person who cast the spell could undo it, so they made Bryonoth do as they instructed. They brought Thomas, who was still a horse in body and mind, and the halter together, and finally, they were able to break the enchantment. Immediately, Thomas returned to his old self, the horse personality the halter had been creating was gone.
Afterwards, Bryonoth was forgiven for her role in these affairs, as she had been a pawn of other forces, and had not acted of her own will. And though Thomas was his old self again, one thing at least, had changed; for the first time, his heart was filled with affection for another, an affection that would one day blossom into love. It would be perhaps the strangest courtship in all history, but it is one that can only be said was distinctly Metamorian.
But that is another story.