The ebony-wood rocking horse was beautiful. There was no other word for it. Perry’s father had made it and had brought it out as an early Christmas present and reward for a straight-A second-grade report card brought home for the holiday/semester break. It was the first day of his father’s holiday vacation, as the cabinet plant where he worked shut down each year before Christmas and reopened again after New Year.
Perry suspected, too, that Father was simply so eager to see his son’s reaction that he couldn’t keep the rocking horse hidden any longer once it was complete. He could understand why. From across the room, the horse looked real. Perry couldn’t even begin to guess at the hours of carving that were represented here before him. It was possible to miss the dark-painted rockers and see only the bright silver paint of the hooves as though the horse stood there squarely planted on its own legs. The paint and detail on the saddle gave the impression it could be lifted right off the ebony-wood back and reveal yet more ebony underneath.
The clear black marbles Father had used for eyes were perfectly lifelike, and the fine grain of the ebony flowed into the mane and the tail as though they grew naturally from the body. The shape and contours of the carvings added to the lifelike appearance of the whole.
It was only drawing closer that revealed the one flaw Perry saw. The overall width of the body of the horse was no more than one of his father’s sawhorses. Perry suspected that Father had gotten the idea upon seeing Perry playing on one of those sawhorses. What he couldn’t have known, because Perry had never mentioned it, was that playing on one of those got uncomfortable fairly quickly.
So it was with the new rocking horse. After about an hour, he was feeling a bit sore and it only got worse. For just that moment, Perry could have been very happy with one of the full-bodied, cheap-plastic, broken-in-half-a-day rocking horse toys sold by the Five and Dime store in town.
But no. Perry was not, like many of his schoolmates, the kind of child who would reject a gift of love and throw a fit for some expensive store-bought toy instead. He’d heard some of them brag about the things they’d badgered their parents into buying, and it irritated him in ways he couldn’t begin to describe.
No, he did love this horse and he would play with it and show Father how much he appreciated it. Maybe he’d get used to it. So Perry doggedly continued playing with his rocking horse through the rest of the day until suppertime. Afterward, he took a break to watch television with his parents. They watched comedies rather than the crime drama and hospital drama on the other two channels. Perry laughed along with his parents at all the funny parts, but he was so preoccupied with thoughts of his horse and how to hide how much it hurt him that he couldn’t remember afterward whether they’d watched the rich hillbillies and their banker or the stranded castaways, or maybe both.
Perry hugged his father and thanked him again for the beautiful horse; and hugged his mother, too, when Father mentioned that she had done the hand-rubbing of the finish. He did feel very lucky to have parents who cared for him enough to put so much time into a single present. Alongside that, he decided, a little discomfort was nothing at all. Saying good-night to his parents, Perry climbed the stairs to bed, albeit a little gingerly. He did his best not to let it show.
The stairs re-awoke many of the sore spots rubbed nearly raw by his rocking horse, and Perry was walking very carefully indeed once he was safely behind his closed bedroom door. He stopped to admire and caress the mane on the horse one more time before getting undressed and into his pajamas. Bending down, he whispered into one of the exquisitely-carved ears. “Oh, ebony horse, I do so wish you could be like a real horse when I ride you and I could ride you without getting sore.”
A tear escaped his eye and down his cheek, dripping into the recess of the ear. Perry wiped it out as best he could. No one would ever hear that complaint except the ebony rocking horse.
Perry opened his eyes and squinted at the clock next to his night light. The position of the hands told him it was half-past eleven. His parents, too, would be in bed by now. Even when Father was off on vacation he kept to the same sleeping schedule.
But if his parents were in bed, why was there enough light for him to see his clock so clearly? Just then, he heard a soft whinny, like … like a horse!
Perry sat up quickly. There before him was the rocking horse, looking at him. It tossed its head, shook its mane, and gave him a wink of one of its black marble eyes. Perry realized it was the silver hooves, flashing like sunlight as they moved, which were the source of the extra light in the room.
“Um, hello.” Perry felt confused, but a little bit of joy in the back of his mind was waking up and shaking all its friends. “Who are you? What are you?” He knew what he wanted the answer to be.
“I’m your horse. I’m your Ebony.”
Oh yes, yes, it was true! Right at that moment, Perry didn’t care whether he was really awake or dreaming. That little bit of joy was awake in force and pushing its way forward.
Ebony didn’t seem to be a fixed size. First he was the size of the rocking horse, then a full-sized stallion, then a pony, then rocking horse size again. The horse pranced a little and turned its eye on Perry again.
“Well, would you like to take a ride?”
“Sure! But how?”
“Let me take care of that. Climb on.”
Perry did as he was instructed. As he settled in the saddle, he suddenly felt his clothes change. Looking down, and then into the mirror over its his dresser, he saw that he was now dressed in armor, as brightly shining as Ebony’s hooves. Mounted on Ebony’s saddle was a shield, which he saw could be taken up simply by sliding his left arm into the straps and lifting. A sword hung in its scabbard from his waist.
“Are you ready, Perry?”
“Sure! Let’s go!”
The window – the whole wall, actually – opened up to let them exit. Ebony galloped forth onto a roadway of cloud, mounting up and into the sky. Perry could feel the wind, but wasn’t chilled by it.
He had no idea how long Ebony galloped; he was too lost in the wonder of it and feeling only joy; but Perry was abruptly shaken out of his reverie by the boom of a cannon shot. He’d heard the one on the courthouse lawn in town fired on special occasions, and this sounded just like it.
There went another boom, then several in rapid succession. He looked down and, just left of the cloud roadway, were two ships. He hadn’t realized they were over ocean. What’s more, these were sailing ships and one of them flew a flag he instantly recognized: the Jolly Roger! Perry had books about pirates, every one of which he’d read several times.
The second ship looked like a merchantman and its rigging was torn and disarrayed. It had to be the pirate ship which had just fired. He could see the pirate crew on deck, reloading the cannon and getting them run out for another round. The merchantman’s crew was doing much the same, but only had a pair of guns in its broadside.
“Ebony! We have to do something!”
“As you wish, Perry.” The cloud roadway disappeared and Ebony half-dove, half-galloped in a dive at the pirate ship. One of the pirates spotted them and there was a mad scramble.
“Can we get their rigging? The other ship could get away if we could slow them down.”
“Use your sword.” Ebony angled to pass along the sails.
Perry pulled his sword and slipped his left arm into the straps of the shield. Ebony got in among the sails and Perry slashed at both sails and lines, amazed at how easily the glittering blade cut through them. He caught a spar completely by accident and was astonished to see the blade cleave it in two.
“What can’t this blade cut?” Perry wondered aloud.
Ebony looked back at him. “It will cut anything you want it to cut.”
“Really? Then let’s get the mainmast!”
Ebony angled down closer to the deck, and Perry swung hard. The mainmast began to topple and Ebony swept out of its way. A second swing and most of the second mast was also falling.
The pirates below got off a few pistol and musket shots, but Perry’s shield seemed to be protecting both him and Ebony or else Ebony was just too fast. Nothing hit either one of them.
“Let’s see if we can get that merchantman out of here.” Perry urged Ebony toward the other ship. As they neared it, realizing that the wind was against the merchantman, Perry called out to them. “Can you throw me a line? We’ll help get you away.”
Though they could hardly believe what they were seeing, the captain of the merchant ship was not about to turn down any offer of assistance with the pirates still close. His crew quickly got a line rigged to the bow, and Ebony swooped down so Perry could grab it.
“Can we pull them?”
“Certainly. We won’t need to go far to get out of range, and then they can re-rig and get to a port.”
When the pirates realized Perry was no longer overhead and that the merchantman was moving away, they fired again, but all the shot fell short. Ebony had been correct. The battle had commenced at long range, and they were soon well away.
The merchantman’s crew already had enough damaged rigging repaired that their sails were catching the wind again. Ebony swooped down once more, and Perry dropped his end of the line to the deck.
“I do not know who or what you are, but thank you.” The captain waved up at Perry. “As badly as you damaged those pirates’ sails, we can get to port before they’re under way again.”
“You’re welcome, captain. Good winds to you.” Perry urged Ebony up and away and the merchantman quickly faded behind them. The cloud roadway reappeared, and it seemed like only minutes later that they were approaching home.
Once back in the room Perry dismounted, noting as he did that the beach bright armor, shield, and sword were replaced by his pajamas. He also noticed that he didn’t hurt any longer.
“Was this a dream?”
Ebony winked at him. “You know I’m not going to answer that, Perry.”
Perry laughed. “I know. Good night, Ebony.”
Perry fell asleep surprisingly quickly, and soon was waking up to the sounds of his parents going downstairs. He almost rolled back over to sleep until his mother called up to him for breakfast, but just then he heard a scuffle and a soft whinny. He rolled into a sitting position instead, and caught just the end of Ebony tossing his head and shaking his mane. The dark marble eye winked at him and Perry blinked.
By the time he got his eyes open again, Ebony was still; just a rocking horse again. Perry was about to dismiss it all as a dream when he noticed a book open on the small desk where he did his homework and reading. It was one of his pirate books, and it was open to a passage relating a story about a merchantman which limped into harbor at a Caribbean island on Christmas Eve. The ship’s crew told the incredible tale of being attacked two nights before by pirates and of a knight on a flying horse who fought the pirates and beat them, then took a line from their ship and pulled them out of cannon range. A brigantine which happened to be in harbor sailed out to try to intercept the pirates, but could not find them. The one thing they did find was the top of the mainmast, which had been cut off smoother than any saw blade could do.
The strange story had since become part of the lore which had grown up around the Bermuda Triangle.
The odd thing was, Perry had read that book more than a dozen times and had never once seen that story before. He turned and smiled and winked at Ebony, but the rocking horse neither winked nor moved nor gave any other sign of reaction.
The other odd thing? Perry never, ever again got sore when playing on his rocking horse.