The Two Horses

An Estonian fairy tale, this version is from Tales of The Amber Sea, compiled and translated by Irina Zheleznova in 1974.

Once upon a time there lived a lord’s horse and a peasant’s horse, and the two of them were great friends. Whenever they met they would talk and never have their fill of talking. But one day the lord’s horse came out with something that badly hurt his friend’s feelings.

“Unlike me, you are a horse of common breed,” said he. “I am always harnessed to a coach mounted on springs, and you, to a wagon or else a harrow. I am fed on nothing but barley, and you, mostly on straw. Just you look at me! See how slender and beautiful are my legs and how spotless my hoofs! Yours are all caked with mud. My neck is as arched and graceful as a swan’s and yours is stiff and thick. My skin shines like silk and yours drips with sweat. I have a white star on my forehead and you have none. Which of us is more handsome – you or me?”

“You, of course!” said the peasant’s horse.

“There you are!” said the lord’s horse, lifting his head proudly. “And when I run it’s a pleasure to watch me. I move lightly and swiftly, drawing the coach after me as fast as the wind, and the earth itself seems to run from under my feet. You could never do it.”

“No, of course not!” said the peasant’s horse. “I’m not up to it.”

“You certainly are not!” said the lord’s horse. “It’s no use talking about it even. You couldn’t outrun a snail now, could you?”

“No, not a snail,” said the peasant’s horse. “Now you are a different matter. I could outrun you easily.”

This made the lord’s horse very angry indeed. he began stamping his feet and snorting and shaking his mane.

“Very well,” said he. “We’ll see who outruns who!”

And then and there it was agreed that they would run a race, circling the meadow and not stopping till one of them admitted that he could run no more.

The lord’s horse threw back his head and started off at a gallop. He outdistanced the peasant’s horse by a whole lap, and, catching up with him on the second lap, left him behind again. He gave a whinny of delight and called:

“Isn’t it time for you to rest, my friend? You ight get tired.”

“I won’t, never fear,” the peasant’s horse replied.

On the third lap the lord’s horse again caught up with the peasant’s horse and again left him behind. He neighed in delight and called:

“Isn’t it time for you to rest? You’ll get tired.”

“I won’t, never you fear,” the peasant’s horse replied.

On the fourth lap, too, the lord’s horse got ahead of the peasant’s horse but he neighed less loudly now, calling out with nothing like his former confidence:

“Isn’t it … time … for you … to rest … a little? .. You’ll get … tired.”

“I won’t, never fear, ” the peasant’s horse replied. “But you seem all out of breath.”

“It’s because I hurt my foot,” the lord’s horse lied, galloping on.

On the fifth lap he again got ahead of the peasant’s horse, but this time he neither neighed nor called out.

“Why are you groaning, friend?” the peasant’s horse asked him.

“I stumbled on a root,” replied the lord’s horse.

On the sixth and seventh laps the lord’s horse could not get far ahead of the peasant’s horse, and on the eighth the peasant’s horse caught up with the lord’s horse and then passed him.

“Why have you fallen behind, friend – tired?” asked he.

“No, I paused in order to think,” the lord’s horse replied. “I’m simply beset by thoughts.”

On the ninth lap the lord’s horse stopped running altogether. He dropped down on the ground and kicked out with his legs.

“What’s the matte, don’t you feel well?” the peasant’s horse asked him.

“No, it’s just that a horse-fly is plaguing me. It’s bitten me all over. I’ll drive it off and then run on again, we have plenty of time.”

“Yes, that we have,” the peasant’s horse replied and ran on without stopping.

On the tenth lap the lord’s horse got to his feet and hobbled off behind some bushes to nibble at the grass. He avoided looking at the peasant’s horse.

“Is it dinner-time, then, Your Lordship?” the peasant’s horse called to him.

“It’s suppertime,” the lord’s horse replied crossly. “Don’t you see that the for is rising? You’d better take a rest, too. We’ve plenty of time.”

“I don’t need a rest,” said the peasant’s horse. “I’m only just starting to warm up. I’ll run another ten laps and then another and after that we’ll see.”

And from that day on the lord’s horse, so shamed had he been by the peasant’s horse, never turned up his nose at anyone any more.

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