We have been following the adventures of a horse that longed to be white – how he escaped the White Horse Ranch where everyone was falsely trying to appear white, ran for two nights across the plains, descended a deep gorge into a beautiful valley, and how all of this came on the heels of a dark horse who taught that “White is not what you look like; it’s what you do when you follow the will of the White One.”
We rejoin our story where our horse had managed to escape a dangerous fire that burned across the entire valley floor, making it necessary for him to run into and through the fire and seek safety in a pool of water fed by a stream. Tired and sore, he threw himself on a small patch of grass that somehow managed to survive the fire, and after an exhausted sleep, awakens to find he is not alone.
Quickly checking the position of the sun, I shut my eyes and tried to remember what had happened to me. It was midmorning. So I must have been asleep all night. Then it came back to me. The fire. The stream. My escape.
I had made it, then. The White One had led me through the fire on the heels of the dark horse. But what about the other horses? Had they survived too? And then there was this strange mare. Why hadn’t she fled the fire?
I opened my eyes again and this time she jumped back a few steps. She had seen me twitch and knew I was waking.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“I think so … but I won’t know for sure until I stand up.”
She was beautiful. Her coat was an amber that appeared more red than brown in the sunlight. She had a white streak between her eyes and white on her forelegs up to the knees. And she seemed spirited. Not like the shy mares I’d known at the White Horse Ranch. I immediately liked the way she held her head high when she spoke. She presented herself like a stallion, but her features and movements were more graceful than any mare I had ever seen.
“Well,” she said, “why don’t you try getting up?”
“I will if you’ll give me half a chance. Hmm. Thanks, by the way, for leaving me some grass to eat.” I struggled into an upright position, trying hard to retain some dignity.
“I left you the grass where you were lying.”
Gee thanks I thought, wondering if she would have moved me if I had slept any longer. Actually, I was more thirsty than hungry. I turned to look for a drinking spot in the stream. It wasn’t easy to find. The current was still choked with ash and charred debris from the fire.
I returned from my drink to find her finishing up the grass that I matted in my sleep.
“Sorry,” she said, “but we haven’t eaten for two days.”
“There are more of you?”
“Oh yes. There are at least twelve of us who survived the fire.”
“How did you get in here?”
“I should be asking you that,” she said. “I’ve been here all my life, and the herd has been here for generations. Where did you come from and how did you get through the fire?”
“I’ll answer that another time,” I said, putting her off. “First you must take me to the others.”
I marveled at my own confidence. Something had happened to me when I followed the dark horse into the fire. There was a new sense of purpose and direction inside me. Of course I wondered about the dark horse and the other horses I had been traveling with. I had this strange feeling that I might not see them again. But at the same time, I felt like it didn’t matter – that I would know what to do next, just like I knew to head for the stream as I ran through the fire. It was like an inner compass directing me. And as I walked with this mare and heard her tell me how this valley was the only world that existed for her little herd – how there was some Black Magic that kept them from finding their way out – and how this once-lush landscape had been reduced to a smoldering ash bowl that would not support life again for some time, I began to wonder. Could I be here to lead them out of this place just like the dark horse lead us out of the White Horse Ranch? Just the thought gave me a shudder of excitement.
“You believe this Black Magic, don’t you,” I said as we walked.
“Yes, I do.”
“But what does my being here say about that magic?”
“I’ve been thinking about that. You must be either part of the magic or … stronger.”
“What do you think?” It suddenly seemed important to know how she perceived me.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But … there’s something about your eyes that makes me feel safe.”
My heart pranced at her words. And it was just then that we came upon the other horses, gathered at the foot of the canyon wall across the stream at the opposite end of the valley. As we splashed through the stream, the others looked up and realized I was a new horse. I could see them freeze in position – ears pricked straight up. The first one to move was the stallion I took to be the leader. Driven by ancient instincts, he arched his neck and began a ritual of threat-display common to all lead stallions when challenged by an intruder – especially in the presence of mares. I complied with the ceremony, but the crisis situation we were already in made it all seem so foolish. When he was finally convinced I had no intention of challenging his leadership, we were able to talk. The other horses, who had remained aloof during our sparring, came closer. Sniffing my breath, their faces full of curiosity.
“How did you come into the valley?” asked the leader.
“Through the gorge at the bottom end of the canyon,” I said. Some of the horses took a step back.
“How did you survive the fire?”
“Through the water. I found refuge in a deep pool in the stream.”
He nodded thoughtfully, obviously impressed. For a moment I struggled with the desire to keep him impressed, but then I knew I would never be comfortable taking credit where it wasn’t due.
“I was led there by the White One.”
“The White One.”
“Where is the ‘White One’ and why is he not with you?”
“He is with me. He is within me.”
I watched the puzzled look on his face and realized how little sense this all must make to him. A horse breaks the Black Magic and enters their valley, talking about being led by some white horse inside of him.
The answer to their confusion, I realized, was to tell them the story of the White One. As I spoke, I noticed the faces of my listeners. Most of them had the same curious look. The lead stallion was stoic, but the mare was the most enthusiastic. I couldn’t be sure, but for a moment it seemed like I caught a slight glint of light flickering in her eyes.