The Straith family had been making a living at farming and ranching for three generations, out on the great open Shaefa plains. The Straiths could not compete with the great Toomar tribes across the sea, but they raised and sold decent horses. Perhaps once a year, they would go to the coastal towns and sell their horses and beef to the traders and merchants. Their oldest daughter, Rain Straith, had even gone to far lands across the sea in search of better horse stock.
Old Man Straith, her grandfather, began to think that it would have been better for her to stay. Not long after Rain's departure, two of the boys found a massive shire on the north side of Lake Vircor. The shire was a dark black, a sort of ultimate gray and bluish-tinted in the sunlight. He had a white blaze on his forehead, and a white sock on his right front leg. His long black hair was enough to raise his selling price by a good fifty gold.
The boys tried to bring the dark horse back with them, but it pulled them both out of the saddles. The shire weighed in at well over a tonne, and simply could not be budged by both boys. The first time they threw their lariats around him, he just looked at them oddly, and continued munching grass. When they tried to move him, the shire pulled them from the saddle before they could tie the ropes to their saddle-horns. When they were back in the saddle, and had the lariats tied firmly around the saddle-horns… Not even both horses together could move him, once he planted his feet.
The boys returned to their large ranch complex, and told the twenty-member family their tale over dinner. Both agreed that the shire was a demon of a horse.
In the morning, Old Man Straith nearly had a heart-attack. His youngest grand-daughter, a lass of only three years, was feeding the giant shire an apple. The shire had apparently followed the boys to the ranch, and Old Man Straith feared the worst for his littlest girl.
But Samantha merely led the giant shire into the pens, and fed the demon horse the apple. Her older brothers and cousins quickly latched the corral gate closed behind the shire, and urged rescued Samantha from the attentions of the shire. The shire snorted, and made no move to attack any of the boys.
Old Man Straith scratched his head, and wondered. The boys were afraid to try and break the massive shire. They figured that it was someone's warhorse, perhaps escaped from the merchant towns near the coast. Wherever it had come from, there were no markings on it – no brands and no tattoos. Old Man Straith told some of the boys to round up the shire, and give it the Straith family tattoo under its lip. One look from the shire convinced them not even to try.
Young Samantha could lead the horse around with an apple, but the boys were scared to even approach the demon horse.
The Straiths had never dealt with warhorses – they bred riding mounts and cattle, chickens and orchards, grain and babies… The shire scared them. Old Man Straith even put a few mares in heat, one after another, in his corral. The shire mounted them, but only one of the mares ever took. The grandfather of the Straiths finally decided that they would have to sell the beast at the market, and perhaps some warlord there would want such a dangerous stallion.
In the fall of 1328, the Straiths had to use Samantha to lead the shire out of the ranch, and towards the coast. Little Samantha would sit on the back of the cart, with her brothers watching out for her, as she held out apples towards the huge mount. At eighteen hands in height – six feet at the shoulders – the shire was a monster of a horse.
The merchants on the coast noted that the shire could not have worn shoes in several years, and that he was in remarkably good condition. They tried to tattoo him, and even brand him, after purchasing him from the Straiths. Even as young Samantha was led away from the giant shire, crying her heart out, the merchants could not place their labels upon the horse. He was too big and too dangerous for them, yet he was never a danger so long as they left him alone – or held out an apple to him. He seemed gentle, intelligent, and willfull – and only dangerous when man-handled or threatened.
After several weeks of dealing with the demonically intelligent horse, the merchants sold him to a captain from the distant peninsula of Rakore. The big shire was half again as large as the lean warhorses from the Toomar tribes, and perhaps half again as deadly, when provoked. The merchants were more than happy to be rid of the shire.
The Rakoran captain paid one of the dock children to lead the horse into his hold with an apple. From there, the shire was sailed all the way to Hallis Island, to be the mount for a duke named Henrik Kamus.
Duke Henrik had sought out a large warhorse, and he liked the tales the captain told him about the shire. The duke's stablemaster could not break the horse, no matter how she tried. The massive shire was too smart, and too dangerous. Despite a lack of real injuries, it got to the point where no one would even try to mount the demon horse – save the children.
The stablemaster nearly had a apoplectic fit when she came out one morning, to find three small children riding on the shire's back. The children had taken to calling him Apple – though the stablemaster thought Apple Demon more fitting.
Duke Henrik himself tried to break the horse, in the late spring of 1329. The horse simply rolled over on him, nearly breaking his back – but not quite. Duke Henrik – having already paid handsomely for the horse – knew not what to do. Respectful of the giant warhorse, and the intelligence in his dark gray eyes, the duke simply held the warhorse in reserve, letting the children play on it, and feed it apples.
The early-morning hours of the 16th of Davor found the shire at the gate of the corral, snorting. He had heard a calling, through the night. Apple Demon had heard a woman's voice, full of innocence and loss, determination and steel, calling out to him. The large shire felt a calling in that voice – a gentle soothing of his frustrations. The voice called to him with a promise of finishing something he had not even known he had started.
Apple Demon reared back, and shattered the gate of the corral. Trailing his tether behind him, he trotted straight into the duke's halls, shattering any door that got in his way. One look from the massive shire had servants and guards scuttling out of the way. His unshod hooves echoed through the halls with each reverberating step, as Apple Demon moved with a purpose straight for the chapel. A few brave souls tried to stop him, either by standing in his way, or grabbing his tether. None tried it twice.
The doors to the chapel were thrown open from within, and that person hastily stepped aside. Apple Demon merely snorted at them – they were not who called him – and continued on into the chapel. A cleric within the chapel, having spent the night in prayer beside a young mother, looked up in disbelief.
The young mother – warrior-trained and divinely inspired – looked up in disbelief, as well. It was she who had called Apple Demon through the night. The shire was answering her prayers. The great horse stopped, planting all four hooves, and tossed his great black mane. There, in the duke's chapel, the paladin known as Jena called to her bonded mount – and was answered by a great shire known as Apple Demon.
This story continues in V-4-16, Campaign V, Chapter Four.