Mate For A Centaur: Chapter 1

Palaimon sensed the power of the Oracle as soon as he set hoof in the precinct of Apollo’s temple. Her presence beckoned to him with an eagerness that fueled his confidence. Destiny awaited.
Mount Parnassus lie before him, a giant in wait, challenging him to claim what was rightfully his. He looked up to the summit, just able to see the pinnacle of the temple over the roofs of men’s treasuries and monuments to the deeds of gods and heroes that littered the hillside. They were nothing more than lavish distractions that barred the passage to the true reward and scarred the natural beauty of the land.
Heaving a great breath, Palaimon stomped a fore-hoof on the ground, suppressing the instinct to rear in challenge.
The Sacred Way wound back and forth to the peak where the temple courtyard overlooked the whole of Delphi. He cantered forward along the road between the monuments and treasuries, dodging men on all sides. There would be no houses of tribute or shrines belonging to his kin. The centaurs had not been welcome among men since the great Centauromachy- the battle between his fathers and the sons of Lapithus.
“Palaimon wait for me.”
He groaned at the sound of his younger brother’s voice. There wasn’t time to waste. He felt the Oracle chastise his inclination to leave his brother behind. He paused, his tail lashed between his hind legs. How could she know? Palaimon looked up at the temple again. The Oracle was aware of his presence just as he was of hers and he hadn’t yet reached the courtyard at the top of the hill. Men stood in the courtyard looking down over the low retaining wall. From that vantage point most of the precinct would be visible. Those men saw all that transpired below them, but the Oracle saw his very thoughts. How would it feel to have such power? Surely nothing was beyond her sight if she knew his mind and heart.
He turned around. A young centaur galloped to catch up. Palaimon’s tail snapped subconsciously against his flank. Partly in annoyance and partly with impatience. Petraios clattered to a halt beside him, looking up with a grin.
Satisfaction from the Oracle flooded his mind. His brother’s presence pleased her.
Palaimon returned his brother’s smile with a scowl. He should not have to share this day with Petraios.
“Come on.” Palaimon’s tail snapped a second time in his brother’s direction. Despite the gesture, Petraios remained unaware of the perpetual annoyance that he was.
His brother wasn’t the only aggravation. The street was packed with humans milling among their treasuries, eying the two young centaurs warily. Thankfully, even in a pan-Hellenic sanctuary such as Delphi, humans tended to give centaurs a wide berth. Enmity was mutual. Palaimon did not care to rub shoulders with men either. He smiled to himself. All the gold and wealth of men would never buy them kinship with the Oracle.
“Look father, kentauroi.” A boy pointed down at them from over the courtyard wall.
The man scowled at the pair of centaurs and placed a restraining hand on the boy’s shoulder before returning his attention to his companions. The boy continued to watch them.
Petraios waved up at him.
Palaimon ignored him. The Oracle awaited.
They made their way up the hill to the temple grounds through the crowd with relative ease. The courtyard wasn’t any less crowded. Scores of men waited to appeal to the Oracle for the blessing from the gods.
The boy abandoned his elders, peering at them with eager curiosity.
In childish enthusiasm, Petraios attempted to canter off. Palaimon reached out to stop him and managed to grab the leather sling across his shoulders. The strap proved effective as it caught Petraios across the chest and throat.
“Stay close. I’m not going to miss an audience with the Oracle, just to chase after you.” Palaimon gave the strap an emphatic jerk before turning his back on Petraios.
“Where’s father?” Petraios readjusted the sling across his shoulders and trotted after him.
Palaimon snorted. Undoubtedly their father had caught the scent of a filly. He’d left when he thought his sons were asleep and had not returned before dawn.
“Midnight hunt.”
“Oh.” Petraios nodded.
Palaimon rolled his eyes and his tail. Petraios was too young to comprehend the appeal of a woman.
“Are we going to see the Oracle without father?”
“If we must.” Palaimon strode toward the temple. His visit to the Oracle had already been delayed. He should have had the privilege at four years old according to tradition, but that was the year his mother had died giving birth to Petraios. Not only was it Petraios’ fault his destiny had been delayed, it was also Petraios’ fault his mother wouldn’t hear the Oracle pronounce his destiny now. What did it matter if his father wasn’t present either? Especially if his father thought another woman was more important than his destiny.
Men and guards hovered in the upper courtyard near the entrance, waiting for audience with the goddess. Palaimon pressed ahead of them toward the temple with Petraios trotting at his heels. The words of the god inscribed over the entrance, “know thyself,” beckoned him. The goddess awaited.
A wide human stepped into his path. He carried his wealth around his middle, and his age in the grey hair of his beard. Younger men flanked his sides, each clinging to weapons hidden in the folds of their robes.
Palaimon stood barely a head shorter than the man. His equine stature lending him height men would never enjoy. Even his brother at four years old stood as high as any of the youth among their company.
A smug grin split the man’s face. “Are you lost little colt. Surely you do not think you can gain audience with the Oracle when you’ve only just arrived. We arrived ahead of Eos herself.” He looked over Palaimon from head to hoof with disgust. “Your kind must wait behind the rest of us. That is if the Oracle will admit your kind at all.”
Palaimon reared at the man’s challenge, landing hard on his fore hooves.
The men backed away slightly.
Petraios watched his brother and followed suit, rearing and inflating his chest to stand taller.
“I am Palaimon, son of Arktos Apollonides. The Oracle will see me no matter how many men vie for her blessing, for I am her son.”
The man frowned briefly before his countenance returned to levity. “Her son, ha! The immortals disowned your race when Kheiron himself refused to claim his own kin and fled to Hades’ realm. Kheiron bequeathed his wisdom to men. There is no honor left among the Kentauroi. You will wait like the rest of us.”
Another man stepped toward him, blocking his path to the temple. “We have heard of Arktos of Lakonia.” The man’s hand rested on the hilt of his sword. “The honors of Kheiron do not abide with him. No son of Arktos will ever be welcome among men.”
Palaimon studied his enemy. No man would deny him his destiny, but he was also greatly outnumbered. He turned his back on the man only to encounter more angry faces.
“Leave Kentauros, or must we remind you just why your kind are not welcome among us.”
“You would dare suggest violence in a pan-Hellenic sanctuary.” Arktos trotted forward to stand beside his son. “I’m not sure the goddess would grant favors to those who desecrated the sacred grounds of Apollo’s temple.”
The men backed away at the sight of Arktos’ impressive frame.
Arktos was a beast of a centaur and not without reputation among his kin or his enemies. Prominent scars adorned his chest and hind-quarters, courtesy of the she-bear which earned him his coming-of-age and status as a fully-fledged centaur. Arktos merited the reputation of his race, letting his passions drive him. He did as he pleased, often despite the consequences. His stature and reputation rendered him practically immune to any objection from men; his rank and skill afforded him the same privilege among his kin.
Men drew their weapons, but hesitated to engage the centaur.
Arktos’ lip curled in satisfaction.
“There will be no violence in the precinct.” A priest flanked by hoplite guards frowned at Arktos. The men put their weapons away, but the foot soldiers still clung to their own. Hostilities surrendered to order as all attention turned toward the priests admitting the next supplicant.
“Where is your brother?” Arktos crossed his arms over his chest, staring down at Palaimon.
Palaimon reared on his hind legs peering over the heads of the crowd with an exaggerated groan of annoyance, muttering under his breath. “He must have ran off.”
The human boy was nowhere to be seen either.
Palaimon found the pair on the hillside just north of the temple courtyard where they conversed in the shade of a laurel tree. Palaimon scowled down at his younger brother and his human friend.
“My father says I’m a child of the Oracle. We’re here so she can tell us my fate.” The boy wrinkled his brow. “Whatever that means.” Picking a fresh laurel, he made a wreath and wore it as a crown.
“It means your future.” Palaimon heaved an exasperated sigh. One hoof pawed at the ground as his tail lashed vertically, the display betraying his impatience.
The two children looked up at him. The boy shielded his eyes. A silly grin made its way across Petraios’ face.
Palaimon stared down at his brother and the boy still scowling. It was so like Petraios to make friends with the enemy. Didn’t he know men and centaurs could never be friends?
He felt the goddess flinch at this thought. He shook off the feeling, his hide and tail twitching as if to remove the annoyance of a persistent fly. Men could not be trusted. They had been spreading lies about the centaurs ever since their betrayal at the wedding feast of Pirithoos, the Lapith prince.
“We’re children of the Oracle too.” Petraios crossed his arms importantly and looked up at Palaimon for validation.
“That makes us cousins.” The boy’s countenance lit as he clasped his hands happily.
Palaimon rolled his eyes and snapped his tail whip-like with aggravation. “Father is waiting. Come on Petraios, the goddess will see us now.” He reared, stamping his hooves impatiently then turned and left. Petraios would have to catch up.
His father waited with a priestess at the door of the temple.
She gestured for Palaimon to enter.
Men scowled as they passed. As he approached, Palaimon could hear the shallow, nervous breathing of the priestess. To her credit she kept her composure, standing her ground beneath the weight of Arktos’ hovering. That was more than the men had done in the wake of Arktos’ challenge.
Palaimon entered the temple and strode toward the Oracle boldly.
Stilbe sat on her golden tripod, her attention trained on him, keen as any predator. When she smiled, Palaimon felt her motherly affection. Images of his own mother flashed in his memory. His mother had always been proud of him. She praised his every achievement, fully convinced he would grow to greatness. His chest swelled subconsciously at this reminder. Today, the Oracle would validate his mother’s claims.
The images changed. His mother’s small frame swollen with the burden of his unborn brother. He heard her screams as she delivered him. Palaimon tried to suppress the memory, but the Oracle held it before him. He was no longer feeling her thoughts; she manipulated his. Her trespass would be the price of Destiny.
The Oracle rose to greet him. “Where is your brother, Palaimon?”
He paused. She had addressed him by name, but he had not been her concern. Palaimon composed himself, frowning at the question. Why should it matter where his brother was? This was his destiny. He stomped one hoof against the stone floor subconsciously.
The Oracle raised her brow expectantly.
He wrinkled his nose, and flipped his tail shrug-like. He did not answer; he shouldn’t have to. The instant he’d set foot within the temple precinct she had access to his thoughts. She knew everything about him. She should see that he did not care about his brother. He could feel her sorrow at this and suppressed the unwelcome emotion.
The Oracle fed him mental images of Kentauros and Lapithus, her sons, playing together, working together. They were loyal as brothers. Kentauros was his great grand-sire, several generations ago. They were her memories, not his, though she shared them openly. Camaraderie and brotherly affection accompanied the images.
“Palaimon wait for me.” Petraios’ voice overlapped the vision, his hooves echoing as he clattered to a slippery halt against the polished stone floor.
Palaimon felt the goddess’ affection for her sons and smiled at his brother. Petraios’ face lit with a grin. Palaimon shook off the expression. It belonged to the goddess, not to him.
Their sire, Arktos, trotted in behind them, his large frame filling the doorway. The Oracle opened their minds as easily as she had Palaimon’s. They too were subject to her scrutiny, and little was hid from her sight with all three of her descendants in the small room. Images continued to flash before Palaimon’s mind.
Arktos’ grief at the loss of his mate drove him to the arms and bed of one woman after another seeking solace, yet never satisfied, refusing to believe that any woman could ever measure up to the memory of his beloved. He never again claimed a mate though he took many.
Palaimon blamed his brother and father for the death of his mother. He would never forgive them.
His younger brother, Petraios, was honorable and trusting. He did not understand the friction between his brother and father. He idolized his older brother.
Father and son avoided each other’s gaze as the Oracle exposed their innermost thoughts.
Petraios could barely hold still. His tail snapped from side to side as he shifted the weight in his hindquarters. The goddess smiled benevolently. Palaimon rolled his eyes and tail. Even with all her power granting access to his mind, she was still beguiled by that silly grin.
Despite Palaimon’s efforts to prevent her invasion, the Oracle sifted through his memories with ease. Choosing each episode as precisely as he’d learned to select feathers to fletch his arrows. The Oracle paused over a particularly unpleasant memory, a memory belonging to his father.
Zeus’ Oracle at Dodona had prophesied that his mother would bear a son who would take her life.
Palaimon flinched. Everyone believed he would do it, though he’d vowed he never would. His own father believed it. Even after she conceived a second son, they still persisted in the belief that some day Palaimon would slay his own mother. Only his mother had denied the possibility, lauding Palaimon’s devotion and reassuring him of her love. She taught him he was capable and strong. Her constant praise solidified the idea in his mind. He had inherited a generous portion of his father’s strength and skill. The rank of Alpha was his birthright. He was invincible and the herd would be his.
Palaimon clenched his fists.
Almost in defiance of the prophecy, his mother had conceived, without fear, not one but two sons. After her death, his father told Petraios their mother had died for him; a sacrifice to give him life. Palaimon scowled at the memory. It wasn’t true; Petraios had killed his mother.
Palaimon scowled again at his brother as Petraios trotted up to stand beside him.
The eyes of the goddess rested on his. A solemn, almost pleading expression graced her countenance. “You are eager for the words which you believe will declare the greatness of your destiny, but you are bound to the fate of your fathers. History will repeat itself; battles must be fought and victories won. You will be great, my son, greater than your father, but your greatness will be tempered by your brother. He is the key that both locks and unlocks your potential. Know that your brother is your greatest ally, Palaimon.” The Oracle anointed his forehead with a wet finger. “His strength will add to your strength. The Fates deal out joys among the sorrows. You have lost your mother to the eternal realm of Hades, but you have gained a brother and none will be more loyal than he. Value his loyalty as you do your life.”
Palaimon studied his younger brother skeptically, watching her repeat the gesture. Her words turned to his brother.
“Nike will be your companion in honor and loyalty. Victory will bless you. Your loyalty will be tested, my son, bestow it with care, for it will be the source of your greatest power. Only together, with your brother, will you fulfill the prophecy given to your fathers.”
Petraios beamed at him, his tail swinging with restrained excitement. A drop of water slid down his nose and he wiped it away with his forearm.
The goddess continued to press him with feelings of brotherhood, loyalty, and love. Palaimon braced himself stubbornly. Let father dote on the foolish colt.
“You must understand what is at stake, Palaimon, son of Arktos.” Her voice was stern and her focus intent as the Oracle opened her vision to him.
Images of battle flooded his mind and Palaimon groaned, his legs nearly buckling beneath the weight of it. The power of the goddess held and sustained him to bear the onslaught. Her words echoed the prophecy given to his father: as conflict began generations ago, so it would begin again, with two brothers and one woman.
Palaimon knew the history. Every centaur knew the history. The conflict that had haunted the descendants of Apollo and Stilbe for generations, now hung over the sons of Arktos; a conflict between two brothers and one woman. The same rift threatened him and Petraios as had made enemies of their fathers.
Palaimon shook against the message and thought again of the woman he loved most. He was not responsible for his mother’s death, Petraios was, and he would not bear the burden of it.
“Your mother made her choice to accept Destiny, Palaimon, just as you must make yours.” Still the goddess manipulated him. He would not forgive the loss of his mother. “You both must forgive for the sake of loyalty.”
The vision ended as abruptly as it had begun. Only her emotional pleading remained.
Her voice was soft in comparison. “As many often do when faced with a less than desirable fate you have wished for something different.” The Oracle showed him his mother’s face again, touching the memory of his mother’s last words: “Watch over your brother, Palaimon.” She squeezed his hand and leaned down to kiss Petraios’ tiny head. Then she was gone. Her last thoughts had been for his brother. The vision faded as Petraios’ face took her place.
Palaimon gritted his teeth against the painful memory. He had not cried since his mother’s death. He would not cry now in front of the Oracle.
“The Great Cloud Gatherer sends the rains to all, my son, some see a blessing and others a curse. You must accept the sorrows of life to also claim the joys.” The Oracle turned to address both of them. “Your destiny will be the inheritance passed on to you by your fathers. Like your fathers before you, the pair of you will love one woman. Her love will choose the greater. Her son will see the fulfillment of the prophecy given to your fathers.”
Arktos pranced in the doorway. Noise in the courtyard betrayed the impatience of the waiting crowd.
Palaimon still eyed Petraios with skepticism and suspicion. Petraios’ stupid grin lingered. He hadn’t comprehended the Oracle’s plea.
The Oracle turned to him. “You will inherit the greatness of your fathers’, but Victory belongs to Petraios. He will win the prize in a contest of men. You will find the solution to that which plagues all kentauroi, Palaimon, and she will be yours.” Her gaze leveled with severity, her expression mirroring the caution in her voice. “But without your brother, you will not obtain your goal. Only he will see its fulfillment.”
Palaimon bowed and turned to follow his father out into the courtyard. His brother waved and trotted after him.
The Oracle watched them go. The hands of Fate outstretched toward the two young centaurs. Palaimon shook off the sensation.
In the courtyard outside the temple, the crowd of men parted, scowling their silently-expressed hatred, as the centaurs passed. Only the young boy smiled, waving at his equine friend.

Father and sons abandoned the road outside the temple precinct and hiked down the hill, avoiding the agora altogether as they left the human polis. Palaimon followed his father through the trees. They traveled mostly in silence. Palaimon was glad his father was eager enough to return home that he did not linger in the city. The faint scent of a woman on his father’s hide was enough evidence to know why his father hurried.
Petraios was too young to understand the hatred humans had for centaurs. Petraios cantered to catch up and trotted beside him.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Palaimon.”
He scoffed. As if Petraios could wish away what the Fates had declared.
“The Oracle declared it, so it must be.” Palaimon snapped his tail at his brother.
“We could promise.” Petraios wouldn’t drop it.
Palaimon snorted. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“It does if we swear. Let’s make a pact not to fight, ever, over a woman or anything.”
Palaimon raised his brow at his younger brother. Only Petraios could be so naive. The Oracle had said his brother’s loyalty would be a valuable asset. Palaimon pursed his lips. If Petraios would be loyal to him as alpha, like the herd was loyal to their father, perhaps he could make a small sacrifice for the guarantee of both his brother’s loyalty and his woman. “I would sooner share my filly than fight with you over her, but the Oracle has already declared our fate. You will fight me for my filly.”
“No, I won’t.” Petraios shook his head and crossed a fist over his chest. “I promise not to fight with you over a woman. Now you promise the same.”
Palaimon stared at his brother. Petraios didn’t understand what he was saying. If he knew what it meant to take a woman, he would not speak as he did. Besides, regardless of his oath, according to the Oracle, their woman would choose the greater between them. Palaimon clenched his jaw. If that was so, then the solution was simple, he would be greater. The Oracle had promised him greatness, despite any victory his brother won.
“Promise?” Petraios nudged him.
“Very well, I accept your oath.” Palaimon shook his brother off his elbow.
Grinning with satisfaction, Petraios reared, beating the air with his forelegs, and landed with a triumphant thud against the hard ground.
Palaimon snorted at his brother’s optimism. Petraios’ pledge was an impetuous agreement. Perhaps he had taken advantage of Petraios’ naive enthusiasm, but the Oracle had said he needed his brother’s loyalty. If his brother would make an oath without demanding one in return, he could certainly accept it. Never mind that Petraios didn’t understand the gravity of his pact.
Among centaurs, possession of a woman was paramount. Only a woman could bestow the greatest honor by bearing a centaur’s son. As alpha, Palaimon would have any woman he desired, every woman he desired. Neither men nor centaur had ever stood in his father’s way. He would be greater even than his father.
Could Petraios possibly ever possess a woman he would want? He eyed his brother again, doubting it. Even if there were such a woman, Palaimon would surely have her first.
His tail swung in self satisfaction. There was nothing Petraios could claim which he could not take. That had always been an alpha’s privilege and would remain so. It couldn’t hurt to allow his brother the small consolation of believing otherwise. He could hardly imagine that he could want any single woman enough to quench his thirst for all others. If he shared one woman to keep his brother’s loyalty, so be it.
Arktos turned to see that they followed. He had spoken barely a word to his son since leaving the temple. The large centaur struck the ground with a hoof, motioning for his sons to pick up the pace.
Mollified with Palaimon’s agreement, Petraios galloped ahead to trot beside their father. Reaching up to grasp their father’s hand, Petraios grinned at both of them. His tail wagged outlandishly in comparison to the rhythmic pendulum that had come to represent his father’s firm and unyielding expectations.
Arktos’ gaze didn’t linger on Palaimon any more than his presence in the human polis. Another pang twisted his gut as he watched his brother and father. He hadn’t been so congenial with his father since before his mother died. He was too old for such gestures now. Petraios had filled that role.
Palaimon both loved and hated his father. His mother’s death created an emotional chasm between them that neither would bridge to cross before the other. It should have been the source of a stronger bond between sire and son, but it wasn’t.
All this trouble over a woman. Visions from the Oracle lingered in his consciousness: the battle, the Lapith wedding. Her affections and emotions lingered as well, causing as much turmoil and irritation with her absence as his mother’s did.
Women really were at the core of all the centaurs’ problems. To bear a son was the highest honor of womanhood among men and centaur alike. His mother had died needlessly to duplicate such an honor. Unfortunately, death in the bearing of a son was common among centaurs. Kheiron had taken the greater part of his wisdom as well as his immortality with him to Hades’ realm and their losses had increased significantly. Men claimed the son of Kronos had abandoned his kin to this fate and that centaurs had no rights to claim women. Centaurs of course asserted their right to reproduce, and the intrinsic necessity to claim a woman as a mate, forcefully when necessary. The consequences of their assertion had spiraled and led to their current state of exile and defamation among the race of men.
Without women there would be no sons and the centaurs would cease to exist. Hades would claim their populace for the underworld down to the last. Their numbers were already few, many having followed Kheiron to Hades’ realm in the battles that were the result of Kheiron’s departure. Death wasn’t the only consequence in the wake of Kheiron’s absence. Conflict had become part of the establishment. Centaurs fought with men for their right to claim women as their own, and fought amongst their kin to keep their mates to themselves. Even now his father fled the human polis, undoubtedly with men hard on his tail, his hide tainted with the sweet scent of a woman as proof of his exploits. Most likely to avoid any retaliation the Taraxippoi may be plotting for his father’s activities the previous night. Men anticipated trouble any time they saw a centaur. Arktos’ reputation did nothing to pacify their fears. Palaimon did not have to witness his father’s exploits among men to be certain of their consequences. The herd was already tearing at the seams over his father’s actions. The goddess was right; loyalties were already being tested.
At an early age, Palaimon had become keenly aware of the evidence of his father’s conquests: the levity in his gait, the puffing of his chest, the punctuated snap of his tail, the way he paused over the scents in the air, the tight curl of his mouth in self-satisfaction, and ultimately his hasty flight from the polis. Palaimon’s eyes were trained on his father. Even in flight he exhibited the symptoms of a night with a woman.
The centaur’s plight was no different than man’s own wars over women, but at least among men there was never doubt or objection to their right as a race to claim women to mate with and bear their sons. It was the same matter of honor for men as for centaurs to have their mates bear them an heir. Men had always been possessive of women, and bold enough to assert exclusive claim, even denying centaurs the rights granted them by the gods. Centaurs had been mating with women since the beginning. Centaurs are descended from the gods just as men are.
Palaimon’s gait had quickened purposefully with his thoughts until he’d caught up to his father and brother.
Petraios hopped around him like an excited faun. “Father says I will slay our supper. I can do it, too. You’ll see, Palaimon.” He had already strung his bow in anticipation.
“We’ll have to get deeper into the forest first.” Arktos placed a steady hand on his youngest son’s shoulder.
“I’m ready, father.”
“You must be more than ready with your bow, you must be stealthy in pursuit and deadly in your aim.” Arktos eyed his eldest son.
Petraios glanced back and forth between them and set his brow with determination.
Arktos lifted his bearded chin and father and sons proceeded silently through the trees.
Palaimon trailed behind, absorbed in thought. This would be Petraios’ hunt.
However, the Oracle had declared he would solve the quandary that plagued all centaurs, asserting their right to mate with women, for the purpose of bearing sons. Since their expulsion from their homeland in Thessaly, men had begun a campaign to deny the centaurs this right. The Taraxippoi had failed to exterminate the centaurs in battle, and subsequent political warfare. Now they attempted a cultural tactic. Unfortunately, in this they were succeeding. Herds were dwindling.
Many of his kin believed centaurs should declare war and take back their right to women as well as their homeland. Tradition declared that the sons of Apollo would lead the centaurs in battle. War had been the start of their problems, and history was destined to repeat itself. He remembered the Oracle’s sorrow over this and felt a stab of remorse as strong as if he were still standing before her in the temple. Something she had done festered inside him. He shook off the feeling as his father’s words punctuated his thoughts: pity weakens the warrior’s objective.
This was not an issue which could be determined by conflict, even if the centaurs did recover Thessaly. Men could not be beaten in a war of ideals. There would be no forcing men to believe contrary to that which they themselves taught. The centaurs’ right to claim women must be secured. Men would never see their perspective. And victory would remain elusive, as long as men viewed women as their own, as long as they taught women to hate and fear the centaurs. To be absolute, victory must be indisputable. Could women be made to think of themselves as belonging to the race of centaurs, just as men saw them as belonging to the race of men?
Perhaps the solution was simple enough as for women to decide for themselves a different fate. But Fate is inescapable, even for the gods. The only security was to remain unchallenged. As alpha, he would be.
Several paces ahead, Petraios had spotted his quarry. His gaze focused as he drew back his arrow. Their father hovered, expertly, close enough to guide, but not quite touching his son’s arm as he held his aim steady.
Palaimon stopped in his tracks, his tail whipping in slow steady determination.
Petraios released and Palaimon heard the arrow strike flesh.
Staring at his brother, images from the goddess overlapped in his memory: a beautiful young woman and a slender deer with one golden horn. The solution to the centaurs’ problem was simple. If there were female centaurs, daughters among their race, men would abhor them as much as their male counterparts. His race would no longer need women, except perhaps for pleasure.
Ixion’s curse, his brother might be a fool to think he can circumvent fate, but he certainly had been the key to his discovery. The centaurs needed a woman who would be thought of as their own, who would think of herself as one of them. That which cannot be taken from them.
Men sought to own the singular right to women and to deny this right to centaurs. A centauress would be one of their own, exclusively. Men could not dispute that. He thought again of his mother. Surely with a centauress there would be fewer deaths in childbirth. Palaimon frowned. It was a simple solution in theory, but centaurs could not sire daughters.

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