Author's Notes:
Inspired by @whohats and @thebrainofspock

The armoured rider pulled on the reins, and Alan took the hint and stopped. Making the most of the opportunity, he lowered his head and snatched a mouthful of grass but spat it out. Ugh, mud. Mud everywhere. Alan looked around, gloomily. The land stretched away from them in all directions, featureless, save for the occasional shattered tree and abandoned cannon. Humans could spoil anything, thought Alan. Give them a landscape and they could turn it into nothing but mud and misery. Mind you, this wasn’t just humans this time. His rider, who had the seat of a sack of potatoes, and slightly resembled one, was many things, but he certainly wasn’t human. Alan had encountered many strange things in his journeyings, but this rider and his army was probably the strangest, although there was something oddly familiar about him. The rider shifted in the saddle and tugged on the left rein.

“Alright, mate, I got the message,” thought Alan, and he turned and walked back towards the Sontaran ships.

When they reached the Sontaran headquarters, the rider dismounted in ungainly fashion, and handed the reins to an underling, who led Alan to the stables. The stable lad, a human who knew his work, rubbed Alan down, then set him a bucket of oats to tuck into, which he did. As he munched, Alan’s mind went back a few days, to his arrival in this strange and cursed environment. He should have known better, really, he thought. This wasn’t the first time he had ended up in a dangerous place, but he hadn’t really had much choice. When the shimmering circle had appeared in front of him, he had leapt for it.

The next thing he knew, a halter had been thrown around his neck, and a loud voice had declared: “Excellent! I wanted to ride a horse, and now I have one!”

And that was that. He had been relieved to find that the stable lad was experienced, because his rider, his owner, he supposed, certainly wasn’t. The Sontaran, (Alan had picked up the name quickly, the soldiers shouted it at each other frequently) had needed three tries to get into the saddle, once with a leg-up that had propelled him over his reluctant mount’s back and into the mud on the other side. Finally, a makeshift mounting block had been found, and Commander Skaak, as his underlings called him, had reached the saddle safely. Alan wasn’t sure how long ago this had been. Sometimes it seemed like a few days, sometimes months. War made time seem to contract and stretch out in strange ways. He hated it. The noise, the slaughter, the endless mud. Alan drank some water and sneezed. The water wasn’t fresh, either. This wasn’t his first experience of warfare. He had hoped not to have another since the first, but here he was. He supposed he had been lucky not to get caught up in another conflict sooner. Humans seemed to spend a lot of time at war, as far as he could tell. Come to think of it, this was how his strange experiences had started, with war. Alan left the water for the time being and went back to the oats. The stable lad returned to put Alan’s rug on. He was a good lad, Alan thought, even if he was working with these Sontaran types. Now, where was he? Oh yes, the war…

Alan had been raised on a farm in Kent, one of a stable of four. His early life had been a happy enough one, barring occasional visits from the farrier, spent in the field and the stables. His breaking in hadn’t been as traumatic as some he heard of later. he had adapted quickly to being ridden and had enjoyed the company of the man who rode him around the farm. He had expected to stay on the farm, making himself useful to the family who owned it, but this had not been the case. He learned that horses were sold and bought, and he was taken away and sent to new lodgings, with a regiment stationed on the outskirts of London. Regimental life was very different from the farm. Small stalls with several other horses, regular parades, exercises, and a host of new sights, sounds and smells, some of them frightening. Nothing, however, was as alarming as the actual battlefield. Alan and his equine and human comrades arrived in France in early 1915 and were thrown into the thick of fighting within a few days.

Alan and his comrades had been in action for about a month, when he noticed something strange. Overnight, something had changed. Their quarters were the same, the mud and battles were the same, but the air smelled different. The water and food didn’t taste quite the same. Alan and his fellow horses were puzzled by the change, which the humans didn’t seem to have noticed. It was as if they had moved somewhere else while staying in the same place. Soldiers seemed to be vanishing too. Not killed in action, or reported missing, just vanishing. A new commander arrived and established his headquarters at a big building nearby (Alan heard it called a chateau, the word was new to him, but it was a big, important looking building). One day, a soldier had run into the stables in a uniform that Alan didn’t recognise. He looked scared and tired, there was nothing strange about that, but his red coat and breeches looked more suitable for the parade ground than the battlefield, and he held a three-cornered hat in his hand. He looked around, desperately, then climbed over the gate into Alan’s stall. Alan moved aside, surprised, but not scared. He could sense that the man was afraid, and not likely to threaten him, so he moved over and the man tried to bury himself in the straw on the floor of the stall, without much success. Alan shifted his feet, trying not to scare the man, then became still as the door opened and two more men came in. One of them was familiar to Alan, he was the commander, the man who shouted at the riders before they went to the front. The other, he was surprised to see, was wearing the uniform of the humans that his humans described as “the enemy”. He had seen soldiers with the uniform standing miserably in lines, having been captured, or lying dead on the battlefield, or, and at this memory he shifted his feet again, nervously, charging towards him with bayonets drawn. Why were these two together? Alan turned his head and pricked his ears.

“He must have come this way,” said the taller of the two humans, the commander.

“I know, but where is he?” asked the other, “he must be found! Incursion must be prevented. Even if his memory has been wiped, his presence might alert others. Already some are asking questions. I have had to reprogramme a female driver and a captain twice when they began to rebel and ask questions. He must be found.”

The conversation meant little to Alan, but it deepened his impression that something suspicious was happening, and now, that these two men were somehow responsible for whatever it was. He knew that asking questions in the army wasn’t encouraged, but the way this human said it, it sounded as if he was almost afraid, as well as angry. And what was reprogramming? Was it like breaking in, but for humans? And why would it need to happen more than once? Alan would need time to think, but that was in short supply at the front. One thing was clear though. The humans were the enemy of the man in his stall, both of them. Alan decided that he would protect this man. He didn’t really know why, but he knew that he would. He shifted again, so that he was directly in front of the man and kicked some more straw towards him. The commander and his companion walked past the stalls, glancing inside each one. Alan stood still, determined not to betray his new friend. He flicked his ears as the men passed him, but they appeared not to notice. Having surveyed the stable, they left, deep in conversation. Alan caught the words “incursion,” “zones” and “memory mist”, but could make little of them. Once he was sure the men had gone, he moved to the side, to signal to the man in his stall that the coast was clear. The man emerged slowly from the straw and crawled towards the front of the stall before getting to his feet.

He put his hand on Alan’s neck and whispered “Thank you, my fine fellow. I am sorry to invade your stall, but needs must when the devil drives, and he drives here with a vengence.”

Alan turned his head towards the man and blew gently against his neck. He didn’t really understand what was being said to him, apart from the thanks, but he recognised a person who was familiar with horses. The man smiled, wearily, and reached into the pocket of his coat. He pulled out an apple and held it out to Alan on the flat of his hand.

“Here, it is somewhat aged, but still good,” he said.

Alan sniffed the apple. The skin was wrinkled, but it smelt good and he wasn’t about to turn down a snack, so he munched it down, then gently butted the man with his head.

“You are most welcome, friend,” the man replied. He stroked Alan’s nose, then clambered out of the stall. “I would take you with me, dear friend,” he said, “but I fear that my pursuers would notice your absence. Fare you well, friend.”

With a final pat on Alan’s nose, the man turned and left the stables, leaving Alan behind pondering on what had just happened. The man had been friendly, and he had also been scared. He hadn’t looked, or spoken like any humans Alan had met, and yet... A sudden memory occurred to him. A pageant, in the village near where he had been raised. He had been in the field, looking over the wall, when a jingle of harness had made him look up the road. A band of riders had passed, holding banners on long lances, and dressed in a similar style to the man he had just seen. Alan’s human, who he knew as Clive, but who others called Mr. Froggatt, had been in the field and had approached Alan and put his hand on his side.

“Load of old nonsense, if you ask me,” he had said. “Bunch of idiots dressing up like soldiers from a hundred years ago, pretending to go to war, like as if war was something to be proud of. War is a foul thing, Alan, don’t you forget it, boy.”

Horses didn’t measure time like humans, but Alan knew how long a year was. So, the people he had seen on the road were behaving like people from a hundred human years ago, and having a pretend war? Alan hadn’t known what war was then, but now, as Clive’s words came back to him, he agreed that it was a foul thing. Was the man he had seen pretending to be from a hundred years ago? The riders he had seen on the road had been cheerful, and their clothes had been clean and brightly coloured. The man he had just seen had been dusty and desperate and his uniform, if that was what it was, had looked tattered and lived-in. Alan shifted in the stall again as a strange thought came into his mind. If the man wasn’t pretending to come from a hundred years ago, could he actually have come from the past? Or, and this thought disturbed Alan even more, was the reason why everything smelled and tasted different here that they were in the past? He tossed his head, trying to shake the thought away. No. That couldn’t be it. If they had been in the past, there would have been many more soldiers like the one he had helped to hide. Which left two choices. Either the soldier was dressed up, or he actually was from the past. Alan tossed his head again. If the soldier was from the past, how had he got here? And, come to that, where was here? Despite his human comrades’ lack of suspicion, Alan knew that the battlefields they currently fought on were not the same as the ones they had reached by boat and truck weeks before. Something was up, and Alan didn’t know what it was, but he knew he didn’t like it. The stable door opened again, and the horses turned their heads, then relaxed as a familiar figure came in. It was Captain Rix, or, as he called himself to Alan, Bob. Bob stroked Alan’s nose, then reached round his head to fasten his bridle. He opened the gate and led Alan out of the stall, whispering to him reassuringly as he did so.

“Come on, old lad,” he said, “and let’s keep quiet about it.”

Alan followed obediently, chewing the bit and wondering what was about to happen. Usually, the horses were harnessed and mounted at the same time, efficiently, but with urgency, but Bob was taking his time, and seemed intent on silence. He led Alan to the side of the stable, and put on the saddle, then climbed aboard and took up the reins.

“There’s something fishy going on around here, old chap,” he whispered in Alan’s ear, “and we’re going to find out what it is.”

Bob clicked his tongue and squeezed with his legs and Alan moved forward, slowly. They walked on until they reached the outer wall of the chateau grounds, then, suddenly, Bob kicked at Alan’s ribs, and, taking the hint, Alan set off at a canter. Not towards the lines, but along a road that ought to have led to the coast. The road was deserted, and, after a while, Alan realised that this was strange. It should have been crowded with soldiers and transportation, coming from and going to the front. The silence, broken only by the distant sound of guns, was eerie, and affected both horse and rider. The air became colder and a clammy mist descended. Unnerved, Alan reared and whinnied, and Bob dismounted and patted his neck.

“OK, old chap, I know,” he said, softly, “It’s not nice. But we need to find out what’s happening, so we’re going to go on. I’m with you. Don’t worry, there, there’s a good lad.”

Alan was still scared, but Bob’s voice and touch reassured him a little, and horse and man walked into the mist.

When they emerged from the clouds, both Alan and Bob looked around them. They were on a hillside, different to the road that they had left. In fact, there was no road to be seen. What looked like a goat track stretched ahead of them. Bob got back into the saddle, and took up the reins.

“I don’t know what this place is, old chap,” he said, “but it isn’t Wipers. Let’s have a scout round.”

Alan ducked his head, as if in agreement, and Bob clicked his tongue and off they went. After a few minutes they reached a road. It was paved with blocks, set closely together, Alan’s shoes clicked and sparked on the stones as he walked. Bob looked around Alan could feel him shifting in the saddle.

“Beats me, lad,” he said, eventually. “I’m beggared if I know where we are.”

He was about to go on, when a sound came from further up the road. Bob turned Alan and moved him off the road and down behind an embankment. He dismounted and crouched behind the slope, looking up the road. He hadn’t long to wait. The sound, which sounded like trumpets, got louder, and Bob put his hand on Alan’s nose to reassure him. Finally, a group of men appeared. They were marching in formation and wearing clothes that Alan had never seen before. They had tunics and leggings, and their feet were in sturdy sandals. Armour covered their chests, and they had helmets on their heads that were nothing like those worn by Bob and his comrades. The men had long sticks with metal points in their hands and another man was riding alongside them. He must be important, Alan thought, his hat has feathers on it. The man on the horse shouted in a language Alan didn’t understand, and the men stopped. Horse and rider walked round the column then the men set off again. Once they were out of sight, Bob let out a long breath, and whistled through his teeth.

“Either those johnnies were very good actors,” he said, “or those were Roman soldiers. What the devil is going on here?”

Bob looked at Alan, then laughed. “It’s no good me asking you, is it old chap? Even if you knew, you couldn’t tell me. Seems like old Shakey had it right, ‘the time is out of joint.’” Bob got back into the saddle and urged Alan to a trot. “We’d better get out of here,” he said, “we don’t want to end up on the wrong end of one of those fellows’ hastae. That means spear, old chap, I do remember some Latin from school! Whether the Romans are in our time, or we are in theirs, we shouldn’t both be here at the same time, so I vote we get back to HQ.”

He squeezed again and Alan quickened his pace to a canter, and then a gallop. They charged back the way they had come, through the mist layer and out the other side, finally coming to a halt a short distance from the chateau. Bob dismounted and led Alan back towards the stables, then stopped and pressed himself against a wall. The commander and his friend were standing in the courtyard, talking. Bob put his hand on Alan’s nose again, signalling for silence.

“What do you mean?” asked the commander.

“I mean we have been summoned,” the other man said, “this Doctor is causing trouble among the zones, we cannot rely on the mist to keep the test subjects apart. The War Chief has summoned us.”

The commander exclaimed in disgust, “I tried to execute him, but he escaped, he and the other two men and women. And we did not find the redcoat, he, too has fled. We must regroup, and we cannot do that if we are at control.”

“Nevertheless, we are summoned,” said the other. Alan got the impression that he was senior to the commander, and this impression was confirmed when the commander looked down and said, “Oh, very well,” then turned and walked back towards the chateau, shaking his head.

Bob watched until the men had gone, then whistled again.

“What was that all about?” he muttered, “The War Chief? What on earth was he doing here, and why... he didn’t sound like one of them. Is he a spy?”

Bob shook his head, and then led Alan back to the stables. The other horses turned their heads as Bob and Alan entered, then turned their attention back to their food. Bob was about to put Alan in his stall when a voice from the doorway made him stop.

“Captain Rix,” it was the commander.

“Sir?” Bob turned and saluted.

“Where have you been, Captain? I did not expect to see you here at this time?”

“Reconnoitering, sir,” said Bob.

“I see and who ordered you to do so?”

“Nobody, er... nobody did, sir,” said Bob, his hand on Alan’s side.

“Follow me, Captain Rix,” said the Commander, staring into Bob’s eyes. Alan’s ears twitched at the sound of the Commander’s voice. It seemed to have a strange echo.

“Sir?” said Bob, uncertainly.

“Follow. Me.”

“Very good, sir.”

Bob removed his hand from Alan’s side and turned. Alan’s ear’s twitched again. Something had happened to Bob. He didn’t know what, but he didn’t like it. His voice had sounded different, and his hand had gone limp. Then there was the commander’s voice. It made Alan shiver. Suddenly, Alan decided that Bob shouldn’t go with the commander. The commander was evil. Alan didn’t know how he knew, just that he did. He moved quickly and trod on Bob’s right foot. Bob shouted, but his eyes cleared and his voice when he spoke, was back to normal.

“You wretch!” he said, pushing Alan away, “you... ow! I’m sorry, sir, what was it you wanted?”

“Oh, nothing, Captain Rix,” the commander replied, glaring at Alan, “But I will expect your report, within the hour.”

“Certainly, sir,” said Bob, saluting again.

The commander turned on his heel and left the stables. Bob rubbed his foot, ruefully.

“You certainly know how to throw your weight about, old chap,” he said, patting Alan’s side, “then again, so does he. I... did you know? Did you know what I was feeling? Like I couldn’t disobey him?” he paused, and looked into Alan’s eyes, then patted him again. “I have an idea you’ve saved me from something unpleasant,” he said, “thanks, old chap. Perhaps we’d better not hang around here, after all. Let’s go and find Carstairs. He tried to tell me that something was up the other day, but I didn’t have time to listen. Oh,” as he swung himself up into the saddle again, “one more thing, old chap. If they get me, any of them, and I tell you to run, run. Fast as you can. Make for our lines, or anywhere safe, but get away from here. There’s a lot wrong here, and you didn’t choose to come, so get yourself away. Understood?” He patted Alan’s head, then smiled, “and I’m normal, me, talking to a horse. Come on now, quietly goes it, that’s right.”

At Bob’s command, Alan walked quietly out of the stables and across the yard.

The sky had darkened, and rain began to rattle on the roof of the stables. Alan left the oats and tried another drink of water, which didn’t taste any better than the first. Had he been human, he might have shrugged. Bob had been kind to him, he thought, and he had been good company. Alan hoped that his friend had escaped, along with Lieutenant Carstairs, who had often been good for a morsel of sugar. But he was getting ahead of himself. The rain got louder, and Alan shivered under his rug. He might as well go through it all in order, he thought, it would take his mind off being here.

Alan had walked quietly to the perimeter, just as he had earlier in the day. As he was about to walk out onto the road, a voice spoke behind him.

“Captain Rix,” it was the commander again.

Bob turned in the saddle but didn’t dismount.

“Yes, sir?” he said, “I’m on my way to the front.”

“Good, captain,” said the commander, “I, myself have been summoned to headquarters. I must pass on some important orders to you before I leave. Come with me.”

To his alarm, Alan felt Bob dismount. Then, all at once, he felt Bob’s hand on his rump and heard his voice whisper, “Go on, lad, get away,” and his body responded to the blow, and he cantered away leaving Bob behind.

“Why did you do that?” the commander asked, fixing Bob with a stare that seemed to bore into his soul.

“I’m not sure, sir,” said Bob, resisting the commander’s gaze as hard as he could with his mind, but unable to move his body, “a sudden impulse. You have orders for me?”

“Yes, captain, you will follow me.”

Bob couldn’t disobey. Although his mind was still his own, he felt his body begin to move and wondered what would happen to him. Some of the men had been acting strangely, now he came to think of it, they seemed to be struck with sudden amnesia. He had assumed it was shell shock, but now? Who knew what was going on? At least Alan was well out of it. Had he been able to, Rix would have smiled. Alan was a mad name for a horse, but he was a good chap and had been a loyal companion. With luck he would be safe.

Alan galloped along the road. The stirrups swung on the end of their straps and the reins flopped against his neck. His breath steamed in the cold air as he approached another band of mist. Remembering what had happened the last time, he slowed to a walk and then stopped. Where would he go if he went through? Back to the past again? Bob had mentioned Romans. Alan knew that Romans had been in the distant past, he had seen the remains of their forts in the countryside around the farm. Clive’s son had been keen on his studies and had explained the ruins to Alan when he had been allowed to take him out for a hack. The farm. Would he ever get back there? Bob had told him to go somewhere safe, but where would that be? Not the front, that wasn’t safe at all. A gun fired, somewhere close by, and Alan reared and started forwards into the mist. He hadn’t gone far when he noticed that this mist wasn’t like the other had been. It seemed to shimmer, as if tiny lights were whirling around him. Alan shook his head, trying to get away from the distraction. The lights seemed to be closing in, and Alan turned and cantered to the side, but he couldn’t escape the lights. They seemed to cling to him, he turned his head and saw his flank was glowing and he leapt, not really knowing why.

The clouds vanished and Alan’s hooves landed firmly on a path. His back legs scrabbled on the ground for a moment, then he righted himself and stopped to look around. The sound of guns had vanished, as had the mud and gloom of the battlefield. He appeared to be on the edge of a wood. A path of hard-packed earth led away from the trees, and Alan followed it, pausing now and again for a mouthful of grass. He considered as he chewed. The grass tasted better, he thought. Not quite like home, but definitely better than before. Was there any water close by? He pricked his ears and sniffed the air, and the welcome sound and scent of running water reached him. Alan turned his steps towards the sound and walked on. As Alan left the tree line, a man emerged from the wood. He was wearing a woollen tunic and hose, and a hood covered his head and nearly concealed his face. A basket full of mushrooms hung from his arm. His eyes were wide, and he muttered to himself as he went.

“Where’d it come from? What’s it doin’ ‘ere? ‘Tis a miracle! I must catch it and take it to my Lord Irongron!”

The man looked down at the path and traced the pattern of one of Alan’s hoofprints with a stick, then turned and hurried off in the direction the horse had taken.

Alan reached the water, which, to his delight, turned out to be a small stream, running with cool, fresh water. Alan bent his head and began to drink, pausing now and again to sniff the air. The air was fresh, with a hint of wood smoke. None of the smells of petrol and explosives he had grown accustomed to in the barracks and at the front. So, where was he and how... his train of thought was interrupted as a hand seized the reins and someone tried to pull him away from the stream. Alan bucked and reared, whinnying with shock, and a voice spoke,

“Whooa there, I’ll not hurt ye, lad. Ye needs must come with me to the castle. The lord Irongron will want to see ye, wonder that ye are. Come on, be calm, come on, thaaat’s the way.”

Despite himself, Alan was calmed by the voice and put his front hooves back on the ground. The owner of the voice came closer and patted Alan’s neck, still speaking to him in a low voice. Alan could see him better now and noticed his clothing. The tunic and hose were foreign to him, although they slightly resembled the smock and gaiters that Clive wore for harvesting. The man seemed to be a friend though, so Alan allowed himself to be led away from the stream and onto a path, that turned into a road, that led to a large, stone building. The building was at the top of a hill and loomed forbiddingly over the landscape. Alan shivered a little as he was led in through the main gate. He and his guide stopped, just inside the gate and Alan looked around at the central courtyard. He could see armed men, swinging swords at each other in what appeared to be a drill of some sort, and a cloth figure hanging near the wall, similar to the ones that had been used in bayonet practice with the regiment. The voices and dress of the men told him that he was no longer with the regiment, if he had been in any doubt. The man who had caught him stepped forward and hailed one of the other men, a thickset, dark-haired fellow, who Alan didn’t much like the look of. This ill impression was confirmed when the dark-haired man shoved another man to the ground and laughed. Alan tried to step backwards. In his experience, humans who were cruel to each other tended to have little sympathy for animals. The dark-haired man approached, and the man holding Alan’s reins bowed.

“My lord Irongron,” he said, “I have brought a wonderous beast to you.”

“Indeed?” Irongron replied, dryly, “It looks to me like a horse. A fine beast, but with little of wonder about it.”

Irongron seized the reins and pulled Alan’s head down. He put his hand on Alan’s lower jaw and looked at the horse’s teeth. Alan tried to pull away, but Irongron held the reins in a strong grip and laughed.

“Yes, a fine beast,” he said, “but how is it a wonder?”

“My lord, it did appear as if by sorcery,” the man said, with slight hesitation. “I was in the wood, gathering mushrooms, then I heard a noise, and behold, the horse appeared in a shower of lights. I can show you where his hooves have trod. One moment there was nothing, then he was there, and harnessed as you see him.”

“Had he no rider?” Irongron asked, leading Alan around the courtyard and watching his gait as he went.

“No, my lord, rider had he none, nor none came after him.”

“Well, then,” Irongron said, handing the reins to another man who stood nearby, “we shall keep him as a gift from the Gods. Do not think that we believe your tale, you may have supped too many mushrooms,” he paused, and his followers laughed, “but such a fine beast as this should not be wasted. Take him to the stables and instruct the lad to strip him of his harness and preserve it, ‘tis finely made.”

The man nodded and turned Alan to lead him away. The man who had brought Alan shuffled his feet and cleared his throat.

“What,” demanded Irongron, “art still here? What will you?”

“I...” the man hesitated, then said, “nothing my lord.”

“No, by the Mass,” said Irongron, “and thou’ll speak not a word of this to any other.”

The man bowed, “No, my lord,” he said, and left the courtyard, leaving Irongron laughing.

“I’ll warrant the cur expected a reward!” he said, grinning at his men, who echoed his laughter, “Well, he’ll get no reward from Irongron. You there,” to the man who was holding Alan, “guard him well. ‘Tis a fine beast and I’ll not have him stolen from me.”

“My lord,” said the man, bowing.


A voice came from a doorway at the side of the courtyard, and Alan turned to look. He reared in fright, and his hooves scrabbled on the cobbled surface of the courtyard. Irongron laughed again.

“That horse is a beast of sense,” he said, “he likes not our visitor.”

The “visitor” approached, and Alan continued to struggle. The man holding his reins pulled on them, then put his hand on Alan’s nose and began to speak soothingly to him. He then turned Alan and led him out of the courtyard. Alan strained his head over his flanks to look at the sight that had alarmed him. Irongron’s visitor was a tall figure, clad in armour from neck to foot. Well, from where his neck would have been. Instead of a human neck and head, a domed, neckless head rose from the armour, the eyes were small and mean, and the mouth was wet. Short, wiry hairs sprang out of the face and head, and the ears. Alan was shaking as he was led away. What was that being? Not a human. He heard Irongron speak to it, and it answered in a harsh voice, then Alan and his guide turned a corner, and the voices faded. Alan had never seen such a being before, and he hoped he would never...

Alan’s hooves scrabbled on the floor of the stall and the stable lad, who had been dozing on his stool, woke and came to soothe him. The memory had sparked a connection in Alan’s mind. Of course, the creature at Irongron’s castle had been a Sontaran. That’s why Skaak had seemed familiar. Feeling calmer for the stable lad’s gentle pats, Alan’s memory carried him back to Irongron’s castle. He had been taken to the stables, and his saddle and bridle had been removed, by a groom who had exclaimed at the quality and construction of them. He had then been let into a stall and supplied with food and drink, which he consumed gratefully. He was glad to be away from the courtyard and its horrible inhabitants. Alan didn’t think he was going to be well treated by Irongron, but perhaps he would have a chance to escape. If not, the groom at least was friendly and competent, which was a relief. Gradually, Alan’s shivers subsided, and he felt himself become calmer. He wondered where he was. The men spoke a language he understood, mostly, so he might be in the country in which he had been raised. Bob had called it “Blighty” or “Old England.” But their dress was very different to any that he had seen before. Then he remembered what Bob had said about the Romans, and he thought of the weapons used by Irongron and his men. They had swords, but no guns, or cannons. Nothing like the weaponry he had seen at the front. Was he... had he gone back in time? Like he and Bob had when they saw the Romans? Alan buried his nose in the feedbag in order to distract himself. He didn’t understand any of this, but here he was. His mind went back to the man who had found him. He had called him a wonder. Was he a wonder? A wonder horse? Alan the wonder horse. He rather liked that. Night fell and worn out by his adventures, Alan the wonder horse slept in the stall.

The following morning dawned with a great bustle at the castle. From the fragments of conversation he could pick up, Alan gathered that an attack was being planned and that the visitor, whoever he was, had given Irongron’s men new weapons to try against their enemies. Alan wondered if he would be involved. Would Irongron want to ride his new steed into battle?

This question was answered by the groom, who led out a bay horse with a white blaze, and saddled it, then said, on seeing Alan, “thou’ll’t bide there for now, my lad, my lord will have his usual mount today.”

Alan lowered his head, and the groom laughed and led the other horse away. So, he wasn’t going to be in on the attack. Alan wasn’t really disappointed. He had seen enough warfare to last him a very long time, and he didn’t envy the other horses. He could hear the sound of Irongron and his troops mounting up and arming themselves, with shouts and raucous laughter, and was grateful that none of them would be riding him. No sooner had he thought that, than a man rushed in and shouted to the groom.

“My horse is lame! Do you saddle this one, and I’ll bring him in.”

The groom said nothing, but hurried about his duties, and led Alan out to the yard. The tack was unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and the rider both heavy in the saddle and heavy handed on the reins, but Alan knew he must resist the temptation to throw this unpleasant human into a ditch. If this man was as cruel as Irongron, he could expect harsh treatment, and he saw no sense in inviting it. Instead, he obeyed his rider’s commands instantly, earning himself a heavy, but affectionate blow on the neck.

“Thou’rt a good beast, I’ll admit that,” the man, whose name was Ragnald, said, “If Irongron tires of thee, I’ll take thee in.”

Alan flicked his ears and hoped that the man would not be as good as his word. By now, they had reached the target, the castle of the Edward of Wessex. Irongron called a halt a short distance from the castle and oversaw the distribution of the new weapons. To his horror, Alan recognised them as rifles. He had seen them used in drill and in battle. If this was the past, what were the rifles doing here? Had that creature brought them? Alan began to shiver, and his rider patted his side.

“Ready for battle, I’ll warrant,” he said, “but thou’ll’t go no further. We move on foot.”

He secured the reins to a tree stump and walked off, carrying the rifle. Alan walked backwards, pulling at the reins, but he was securely fastened and stood no chance of escape. A sound of shouting, followed by explosions came from the castle. Alan shivered again as the memory of the front came back to him, and the other horses reared and pawed the ground in panic. The explosions died away, and Irongron and his knights ran back to the clearing where they had left their horses and mounted hastily. Alan’s rider kicked him to a gallop, and he followed the others back to Irongron’s castle. None of the men spoke, but Alan could sense the air of menace, and made no movement when his rider dismounted hurriedly and thrust the reins into the hands of the groom. The other horses seemed to have sensed atmosphere too, despite their obvious perturbation they were docile and waited patiently until their riders had dismounted and departed. The groom and his lad hurried around, taking off the saddles and bridles and steering the horses into their stalls. Despite the thick walls of the castle, sounds of shouting reached the stables. The attack had evidently failed, Alan could recognise the anger of defeat. The voices of Irongron and his guest rose above the clamour. Alan wondered what would happen to him, he hoped that Irongron wouldn’t be tempted to take his rage out on the horses, he seemed the kind who would. Alan tried his forehooves against the door of the stall, but it was thick and strong. He stood no chance of escape. And if he could escape, where would he go? He had no idea how he had got here, and he didn’t want to go back to the front, if that was where he had been. Alan flicked his ears and decided to concentrate on one thing at a time. The groom filled his food trough, and Alan lowered his head and began to eat. Whatever happened next, at least he had been fed.

An uneasy quiet had fallen over the castle, broken by an occasional roar from Irongron for more food or mead. Alan shuffled his feet and raised his head. He looked towards the door as two figures appeared, both wearing dark robes.

“Oh, it’s the stables,” said one of the figures, and Alan’s ears flicked. This didn’t sound like one of the castle residents. It sounded more like someone from Bob’s time. A female human, he thought. Then came an answer.

“Yes, it is, but we, or rather, you, need the kitchens.” A male voice, this time.

“Yes,” the female voice seemed to pause, and the man asked, “What is it, Sarah?”

“I thought, supposing something happens? What if Linx’ ship blows up, or the castle catches fire? We can’t leave the horses here.”

The man sighed, almost impatiently, then said, “No, you’re right. You and Hal let them loose, and then get to your stations as soon as you can. Right?”

“Right.” the owner of the female voice, and another figure who had remained silent until then, spoke in confirmation, and then began to undo the stalls and lead the horses out of the stables, talking softly to them to calm their nerves. Alan made no protest as he was led outside. He hadn’t understood the first part of the woman’s remarks, but he knew all about the horror of fire, and he didn’t want to be anywhere near the castle if that happened. Once the horses were outside, the unknown man and the woman who had been named as Sarah went back inside. Alan whinnied softly and led his stablemates a little way away from the castle. Close enough for them to be found, but far enough away from danger. When they had reached what he hoped was a safe distance, Alan turned and looked at the castle. Even at a distance the sound of raucous laughter could be heard from the upper windows. But there was something else, a low humming sound, that grew gradually louder. Alan’s ears flicked and he shifted uneasily. Then he saw a strange change come over the lower levels of the castle. The stones seemed to glow. The noise got louder, and Alan’s instincts took over. He turned and galloped away, not pausing to look back. Around him, the other horses stampeded. The humming noise ceased, then came the loudest explosion Alan had ever heard, louder than any of the sounds of the front. He sprang and didn’t have time to notice the lights that were swirling around him. The other horses ran on, towards the woods, but Alan had vanished.

The rain showed no sign of stopping. There would probably be another battle tomorrow, Alan thought, gloomily, more killing, more mud, more triumphant posturing from Skaak and his fellow Sontarans. Now Alan had remembered the Sontaran at Irongron’s castle, he began to wonder how long they had been there. He still wasn’t sure exactly when he was at that moment, as he thought of it, he had established that he was in Crimea, and that whenever it was, it was before the conflict he had first fled from, because he remembered Clive talking about an elderly relative who had fought here. So, he wasn’t in the right time yet. Would he ever be? The roof began to leak, and the stable lad put a bucket under the holes. As the water dripped in, sounding musically in the tin bucket, Alan’s mind went back to the aftermath of the explosion at Irongron’s castle.

Alan’s front hooves touched the ground and he stumbled to a halt, propelled by the momentum of his leap. He steadied himself and looked around. More woodland. Similar to that of Irongron’s realm, but not quite the same. Alan’s nostrils twitched as he became aware of the smells of his new environment. Smoke, from somewhere close by. Not ordinary wood smoke, or the coal fire of the farmhouse, something else. Alan sneezed. Whatever this was, he didn’t like it, and he sniffed the air to try and determine the direction of the smell, so he could get away from it. His ears detected a crackling sound, and voices, coming from a little way away. That must be it. Humans, making a fire and burning some foul-smelling substance. Why? Never mind that, time to get away, the smoke was making his eyes water. Alan turned and walked away through the trees, treading carefully, so as not to catch his hooves on any stray roots. After a while he reached a path and decided to follow it. He heard voices coming towards him and stopped, concealing himself behind a bush. After his previous experiences, Alan wasn’t keen to get caught. He watched as a group of humans approached. They were arguing, he thought. Two men and two women. One of them was wearing what looked like a long coat, and had striped trousers, and another was wearing what looked a bit like Clive’s night clothes, loose trousers and a baggy shirt (Alan had seen Clive’s pyjamas when he came out to the stables one night during a storm). One of the women was smaller than the other. The smaller of the two had dark wavy hair, she reminded Alan a little of Clive’s daughter, Greta. The taller had short hair, waved on top of her head. She was wearing clothes that were completely unfamiliar to Alan and seemed to be angry about something. Alan watched them, thoughtfully. Their voices sounded similar to Bob, and his comrades, more similar than Irongron had at any rate. Had he moved forward in time? And where was he? The clothing of the humans was foreign to him, and they all looked so different to each other. Alan was still pondering this conundrum when he felt a hand on his neck. He turned his head and saw a figure standing next to him. This figure was differently dressed again. He had a tunic, and breeches. Alan was reminded once again of Clive’s harvesting costume.

The man, for such he was, put a noose of rope over Alan’s neck, whispering to him all the while.

“Whooooa, there’s a pretty horse. You’ll come along of me, won’t you, my pretty, yes you will.”

Alan didn’t feel reassured by the voice, there was a sinister note in it that made him shiver, he tried to pull himself away, but the man wound the rope around his arm and tightened the noose and Alan knew that he was caught.
The man pulled on the rope and Alan followed him back towards the path. A small group of men was waiting a little way off, similarly dressed to Alan’s captor. So, the other humans must be visitors, he thought, like the people from the city who came to the country for the day, in their noisy cars. They looked very different to Clive and his family and friends, in their hats and tight coats, and Alan supposed these humans must be the same. He had little time to consider this though, as his captor was greeted with shouts, and he was pulled forwards towards the group.

“Look’ee what I found!” the man said, gleefully, “No harness, nor no rider near him. Just wandering about he was. And now he’s mine.”

“Don’t ‘ee be so sure on that,” said another, approaching Alan and looking at him in a way that made the horse want to rear away from him. “He’s a fine beast, to be sure, and someone might come looking for him.”

“Not they,” retorted the first man, “When all travel’s ceased? When folks daren’t stir abroad lest the plague catch ‘em? No, he’ll not be sought. I tell ‘ee what, yon Miller has been looking for a new horse. I’ll sell ‘im and make a tidy sum.”

He patted Alan’s neck and, to a chorus of derisive words from his acquaintances, walked off down the path, leading Alan with him. Alan didn’t like the idea of being sold to the miller. He knew they worked their animals hard, he had seen that, when Clive had ridden him over to the mill near their farm. On the other hand, he didn’t feel safe with this man, so perhaps... but they had arrived at a large wooden building that Alan recognised as a mill, or, at any rate, a farm building. It looked like one of the old barns on the farm, but newer, if that made any sense. This together with the dress of the men he had encountered, convinced Alan that he was, once again, in the past. Not as far back as Irongron, but still not in the right time to go home. A tall man came out of the building and was hailed by Alan’s captor.

“Look ‘ee miller! I’ve found the answer to your prayers, if’n you give me the right price!”

“Have you indeed?” the miller asked, drily, “And where did you find it?”

“Never you mind,” came the reply, “just you look and see what fine quality he is.”

The would-be horse salesman tethered Alan to a staple in the outer wall, and the miller approached and walked round him. He lifted Alan’s feet one by one, tutting under his breath, then held on to Alan’s lower jaw and looked at his teeth. Alan strained away from him, but the miller’s grasp was firm.

The miller laughed, and said, “He has spirit, that’ll I’ll allow you, now, what price had you in mind?”

The two men went into the house, deep in conversation. Alan looked around, as far as he was able. He couldn’t see any other houses or barns nearby and, though he strained his ears, he couldn’t hear any other humans in the vicinity. He gave an experimental tug at the tether, but the staple was firmly wedged in the wall. If Alan had been human, he would have sighed. As it was, he lowered his head and waited. There was no sense in doing anything else. A few minutes later, the miller and his companion emerged and bade each other goodbye. The man waved to the miller, and jingled his hand in his pocket, indicating that a financial transaction had taken place. I’ve been sold again, Alan thought. The miller unhitched the tether and led his purchase around the building to a shed like structure that doubled as a stable. A cart was drawn up outside, and Alan eyed it gloomily. He had experience of drawing a vehicle, but he hadn’t enjoyed it. Not that he would be given the choice. His mood lifted slightly when he saw the plentiful supply of straw in the stable, and the space that would be allotted to him. The miller led him into a stall, then tied the tether to the wall, and went out and closed the gate behind him.

“Just you rest there, my lad,” he said, “you’ll have work enough to do soon.”

He paused, then fetched a bucket from the side of the stable and emptied some oats into the feeding trough. Alan bent his neck and began to eat, gratefully. He had been hungry after his mad flight from Irongron’s castle, and thirsty too. As if he had read Alan’s mind, the miller fetched a second bucket, this time with water in it. He watched for a moment as Alan ate and drank, nodded in satisfaction, then left the stable. Alan raised his head as a noise from the next stall caught his attention. He looked over the barrier and saw a donkey, who was looking at him with a typically long-suffering expression. Alan turned back again. He found that the best way to deal with donkeys was to take no notice of them until they demanded it. Any attempt at greetings was likely to be rebuffed. Instead, he returned to his meal, hoping he would have a chance to finish it before any more activity was required of him.

Two hours had passed, and Alan, comfortably warm and full of oats, was dozing in the stall, when the door opened, and the miller came in with a bridle in his hand. Alan shuffled his hooves as the miller approached, then tried to shy away. Something was wrong. The miller’s eyes were cold and glassy, like those of a dead creature. Alan struggled as the bridle was put on, but the miller was strong, and Alan had no space to flee. Once the bridle was on, the miller called for assistance in a cold, flat voice that made Alan shiver. What had happened to this man? Why did Alan feel that he must get away from him? Another man came in, and a glance at him told Alan that he was in the same condition to the miller. Alan tried to rear on his hind legs, but the men were unusually strong, and, between them, they got Alan out of the stall and harnessed him between the shafts of the cart. The miller climbed up with the reins in his hand and touched Alan’s back with the whip. Alan set off, trying not to shiver and trying not to wonder what had caused this change in his new owner. The miller kept Alan to a brisk pace, and they soon arrived at a large, red brick house. Alan was expecting the cart to turn towards the side or the back of the house, as would have been normal with a delivery, but, instead, the miller stopped him outside the front door, and got down from his seat. He pulled a key from the purse on his belt and opened the door, then went inside. The door closed behind him, and Alan heard the bolts being drawn across, a sound he recognised from stable life. Alone, for the time being at least, Alan considered his options. He could run, he supposed, but how far would he get? The cart was heavy and would surely be recognised. If he tried to get away, he would be found and returned to the mill.

At this point, the door opened again, and Alan heard footsteps and sounds that told him that the cart was being loaded. So, the Miller was collecting something, rather than delivering. What it was didn’t really matter, and it didn’t help Alan at all. He waited while the cargo was loaded, then at the touch of the whip, moved off back down the driveway. The miller whipped him again, harder this time, and Alan quickened his pace. As he proceeded, somewhere between a trot and a canter, he saw humans ahead of him. As he got closer, he realised they were the ones he had seen in the wood, the two men and women in the strange clothes. He expected the miller to slow the cart, but he didn’t, and Alan began to panic. He didn’t think he could avoid the humans, and, if he tried to stop, the cart would carry on and crush him. At the last moment, and to his great relief, the humans jumped to the side of the drive. Alan thought again about the miller. What had made this human want to injure those others? Alan made up his mind that he would try and escape if he had the chance. The change that had come over the miller had frightened him badly and all his instincts were telling him to go as far away as he could from this strange human and his associates. Back at the mill, however, Alan realised that escape would not be easy. He tried, once again, to rear up and scare the men away, but they pulled him down and pushed him into the stall, fastening the upper and lower doors, so that he could barely see out. He kicked against the door, but it was thick and strong, and he knew that he would only injure himself if he tried to break it down. Besides, the bridle had been left on and he was tethered. He would have to wait for his chance and take it if he could.

While he waited, Alan listened. He heard noises, footsteps, shouting, words and sounds that he didn’t understand. There was some food left in the trough, so Alan ate it, and finished the water in the bucket, not sure when he would have another chance to eat or drink. Dusk had fallen when the stable door was opened. Alan backed himself away from the doors of the stall, but he had little room to manoeuvre. Hands seized the reins, and a sack was pulled over his head. Subdued by the darkness, Alan was led out and harnessed to the cart once again. The sack was removed, and the reins were lifted, and he was urged forward by the whip. He recognised the route, despite the gathering shadows. They were driving to the house again. Again, he waited while the cart was loaded, this time with a man at his head, holding the bridle. Then, a driver took his seat. It wasn’t the miller. Alan’s ears went back, nearly flat against his head. What was it? It didn’t smell like a human, and it didn’t sound like one either. He could hear low, rasping breaths coming from whatever was sitting behind him. The man let go of the bridle and Alan moved forward, driven partly by the fear of what was behind him.

The journey seemed to last forever for the tired and frightened horse. He had no idea where they were going, he responded to the steering of his driver. At last, the cart reached its destination, a side street in a city. Alan didn’t recognise it, but he didn’t expect to. He had paraded once in London with his regiment, but this city was different. The main streets of the city were lively with people, some carrying lanterns to light their way, but the side streets were dark, and Alan shivered as he was halted outside a building on one such street. The driver got down from the cart and entered the building. Alan heard his harsh breathing as he passed and a peculiar dragging sound as he turned. Alan was close to exhaustion. He had been driven at such a rate and for such a distance that he felt he might fall on his knees at any moment. He was almost grateful for the shafts and harness that kept him upright. Suddenly he heard a sound, close at hand, that made him raise his head and listen. He hadn’t heard a sound like that before. It wasn’t an animal, and it didn’t sound like any machinery he had heard, either on the farm or at the front. What was it? If it was a threat, he was too tired to run. He turned his head, trying to find the source of the sound, but it had stopped. Then there were footsteps and, in a ray of light cast through a shuttered window, Alan saw humans approaching. He couldn’t make out their appearances, but there were at least five of them, moving quietly towards the door that his driver had gone through. Alan waited. He stumbled forward, then pulled himself upright again, then turned his head in alarm as shouting and the sound of fighting came from inside the building. Alan turned his head from side to side, seeking an escape, but he was too tired to move the cart and he couldn’t get loose. A crackling noise and reddish glow told him that a fire had started, the smoke drifted to his nostrils and his panic increased. Humans ran out of the building, but then, to Alan’s astonishment, turned back. One of them shouted to the others, and they began to throw things into the flames from the back of the cart. Alan whinnied and turned his head again, then felt a gentle hand on his nose.

“There,” said a soft voice, “Steady now. I’ll release you. Keep still, my lad, and we’ll have you out. Steady now.”

Despite his desperation, Alan was soothed by the voice, and felt the harness being unfastened and the bridle removed.

The voice said, “There, my lad, you be off. I would that I could keep you, but I’ve other work to do.”

Alan felt a hand strike his rump and he sprang forward, driven by the noise and heat of the flames. The noise around him increased as the fire spread, and humans crowded out of their houses and into the street. Alan could see a wall ahead, and wondered if he could jump it, but, at the last minute, he realised that he would be jumping into a river. He reared, wheeled, and tried to steady himself, then he saw a ring of sparkling light to his right and he went through it and the city vanished.

And that, Alan reflected, was how he had ended up in Crimea, being ridden by a sack of potatoes on legs that called itself a commander. The rain had stopped, and the wind had strengthened. Alan was glad of his rug as he listened to the whistling draughts. The door opened and the stable lad came in. Alan had been so deep in his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed him leave, so he looked up in surprise. The lad, who, Alan realised, was really little more than a child, opened the gate and led Alan outside and up the slope of a hill near the Sontaran base. Once they had reached the top of the hill, he turned and Alan saw a line of fire, leading from the edge of the valley to the Sontaran ships. Alan had assumed they were houses, giant, monstrous houses, made of metal and beyond his understanding. But he understood fire, and he understood why the stable lad had brought him here. He nuzzled the top of the boy’s head, and the boy stroked his nose, and was about to say something when a massive explosion tore the ships apart and knocked horse and boy off their feet. Alan turned and struggled and managed to regain his footing. He couldn’t see his young friend, his instinct, once again, drove him to escape and he galloped away, towards something that might have been lanterns, or might have been... Alan thought he saw a hole in the ground ahead of him, and he leaped to avoid it, and vanished into the air.

The stable lad sat up and rubbed his eyes. He looked around, but he couldn’t see the horse. He supposed it had fled. A wise thing to do, in his opinion. He got to his feet, unsteadily, then tottered forward a few steps and fell down again. His second attempt was more successful, and he managed to walk to a path that led away from the Sontaran valley. He didn’t know if the creatures had been destroyed. He hoped so. Whatever their fate, he would need to find new employment. The boy felt in his pocket and was surprised to find that the apple he had been saving for later was still there. Well then, that wasn’t so bad. He would find work somewhere. People would need their horses taken care of, and they wouldn’t mind if he didn’t speak the same language as them as long as he did the job, surely? He bit into the apple and set off again.

Greta Froggatt, or, rather, Mrs. Margaret Downes, came out of the farmhouse door and stopped to enjoy the morning air. The sun was not long risen, and there was still a glow over the fields that lifted her spirits, despite the early hour. She picked up the bucket of millet for the chickens and walked across the yard. Her route took her past the paddock, and she glanced over the fence without really meaning to. The next moment she had dropped the bucket and was leaning over the fence and calling, “Alan? Alan!” to the horse that stood alone on the far side of the paddock. The horse turned its head and walked, then cantered towards her. Just as she had when she was a child, Greta climbed onto the bottom rung of the fence and held out her arms. Alan had been confused to hear his name, but, as he approached, he could see that the woman at the fence was Greta. She was older, but her voice was the same, and he knew her smile instantly. He slowed and stopped and let her put her arms around his neck, lowering his head so she could lean her cheek against him. Greta’s shouts had brought her husband and her father to her side.

“What is it, lass?” asked Clive Froggatt.

“It’s Alan,” said Greta, turning on her perch to look at her father, “I came out and there he was, here he is!”

“I’ll be...” said her father, “you’re sure of it?”

“Of course, I’m sure,” Greta said, firmly, “wouldn’t I know our horses from any horse in the world? It’s him. I don’t know how, but it’s him.”

Mr. Froggatt and Mr. Downes approached the fence and looked at Alan. After a moment, Clive Froggatt put his hand on Alan’s neck and said, “it is. I don’t know how either, but it’s him.”

“Where has he been?” asked Jonah Downes, looking at the places where the mud of 19th century war still clung to Alan’s legs and body.

“I don’t know,” said Greta, “the important thing is that he is here and he’s never going anywhere again.” She looked at the men, as if challenging them to contradict her.

Her father laughed. “Don’t you worry, lass,” he said. “If he wants to be here so badly, he can stay. Wherever he’s been, he could do with a rub down and good meal, by the looks of him.” He raised an eyebrow at his son-in-law, who nodded and left, returning a few minutes later with a halter. He slipped it over Alan’s head, and Greta opened the gate so that he could lead Alan to the stables. As they walked Greta kept her hand on Alan’s neck.

“Where have you been?” she said, more to herself than to the horse, “We heard your officer was lost at the front, but then he came home without you. All this time. Wherever have you been?”

“Even if I could tell you”, thought Alan the wonder horse, “you wouldn’t believe me.”

The End