Marcus was about fourteen when he broke into the old house at the end of Gasden Road. He found the inside already stripped completely bare --- steel pipe, copper wire, aluminum window frames, everything not bolted down and a lot of what was. Curiously unplundered, though, was an old oil lamp sitting on the mantlepiece over the fireplace.

He examined it, looked over it carefully, wondering if it were worth taking if nobody else had bothered. The lamp had the sharp tang of old brass, and was surprisingly solid and heavy in his hands. But he tapped a thumb on it, and it vibrated with the same hollowness of a cheap tin kettle. That wasn't the only thing strange about it: despite the stifling heat of the day, it was freezing to the touch. Marcus pulled out a rag and polished the brass as best he could.

Smoke rose in ropy strands out from the lamp. Marcus stopped, laid the lamp down on the floor and stared. The smoke grew thicker, almost solid, and began to take form in the shape of a tiny man with an immaculately shaved head, dressed in a linen loincloth, arms and legs and neck encircled with clanking gold chains. Once fully formed, he --- it? --- collected himself and regarded Marcus with a tensely courteous bow. Unsure of what else to do, Marcus nodded in reply. The little man began to speak with a voice that rolled in like a thundercrack:

“Thank you, young man, for grating me this brief reprieve from confinement. To show my gratitude, I shall grant you three wishes, and shall not leave your service until all three wishes are exhausted. You may wish for anything your heart desires --- save for more wishes, of course.”

His chuckle echoed off the walls and lingered in the corners much longer than Marcus thought any chuckle should. He turned and looked away, thought for a second, then turned back. He cleared his throat:

“All right. I'll tell you what I want: a mighty charger, with the strength of ten oxes and the speed of a storm wave. I wish that his footing's sure, his legs sturdy, his back strong and his heart tireless, so he carries his rider fearlessly through life and death.”

“Granted, Master,” the man replied, bowing deeply.

And with that, he dispersed into the damp thick air of the afternoon. Marcus found his horse waiting in front of the house, bridle and halter firm around his head, saddle firm on his back. His muscles twitched restlessly under his skin, and his eyes glowed with the thousand-yard stare of countless miles trod over numberless seasons. Marcus mounted uneasily, rode home, bid his mother and father goodbye, turned, and rode on over the horizon.

Years passed, and the charger was true to Marcus' wishes. He rode day and night, through rain and sun. He rushed on fearlessly into the heart of battle, and seas of men receded at his merest sight. But over time, while the charger's heart remained steadfast and fierce, Marcus' heart grew ever more quiet and still. He rode into battle less and less. His heart wanted nothing more to do with slaughter and valor. The world had settled down, and he bought a house with the plunder of ten years' service to a procession of pretenders and princes. He learned an honest trade. He married and had two children, a daughter and a son, all of whom he loved dearly.

So one morning when he awoke, the horse had left him, its deep and broad hoofprints snaking down the road and over the horizon.

No matter, thought Marcus to himself, I'm done with wandering now.

Part 1: For everything its season | Part 2: On getting what you want | Part 3: If wishes were horses