We’re very excited about the release of Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy, the third anthology in The Insignia Series. As a preview, we’ll be sharing excerpts from all the stories over the next few days, beginning with ‘Horse Feet’, a paranormal mystery by Filipino author, Celestine Trinidad.
‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad
Maria stood before the large black horse bound to one of the trees, feeling a sudden and completely uncharacteristic pang of pity for the creature. A circle of salt had been drawn on the ground, keeping the tikbalang enclosed within its borders. Someone had thrown salt at the creature itself as well –crystals glimmered in its mane, and the portions of its skin where the salt had touched it looked raw and red, like fresh burn marks.
“He’s been like that since we caught him, Lady Sinukuan,” the man standing behind her said. Kapitan Alfredo, the captain of the village of Wakas, Tayabas, was a short and stocky man, his bald head only reaching up to Maria’s shoulders. “He hasn’t said anything, except when he asked for you.”
“That is unusual, indeed,” Maria said. “Most of the time I have trouble just getting him to shut up.”
“He said that he was under your protection, My Lady. Was he speaking the truth?”
“Well, in a manner of speaking, I suppose he is,” Maria replied.
“How do you know him?”
“He is—” Maria was about to say, ‘a suitor’, but stopped herself in time. That was what she thought he was in the beginning, indeed, just one out of the many suitors who sought the hand of the guardian diwata of Arayat in marriage. But—as much as she loathed to admit it—he turned out to be more than that, unsolicited though his help had been. Under the circumstances, she felt that she should acknowledge him this time. “He has been of great assistance to me in some of my other cases.” She hoped he really was unconscious, for if he had heard speak like this, she would never hear the end of it. “What has he done, Kapitan, for him to deserve a death sentence?”
“Murder,” Kapitan Alfredo said bluntly.
“One of my servants, Ernesto, had been missing since dinner last night,” Kapitan Alfredo explained. “My son Felipe went to look for him, and he found Ernesto’s body in the forest. And then he saw this creature running away from the scene.”
Maria’s eyebrows furrowed as she considered the matter. “And how was Ernesto killed?”
“Trampled to death, it looked like. I saw the body myself. There were all these bruises in the shape of a horse’s hooves all over his body. Exactly how a tikbalang would kill a human.”
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