As I related the story of the White One to the valley horses, I noticed — in amazement — my own growing excitement in an old truth. I had known the story of the White One, of course, since I was a colt and had recited it countless times at the White Horse Ranch. But now I was living it. And just that suddenly, I realized why the dark horse had led me into this valley and what I was supposed to do.
“For centuries now the White One has been freeing horses from all kinds of captivity. This valley has been your captive place for generations. Until now, you haven’t minded. It was beautiful, and it provided for your needs. But now you see it for what it is — a charred, boxed-in canyon with hardly enough life to support even one of you. You will all die of starvation before any new vegetation can grow back here.
“Even if there had been no fire, I still would have encouraged you to leave this place. There is so much more to life than you have experienced here. Why, there are are plains to roam … mountains to scale … valleys to discover, and countless other horses to set free. Beyond all that is the adventure of moving with the White One. Once you have his spirit within and his purpose driving you on, you realize you have never lived before.”
I paused, seeking to gather words for a final statement. One part of me was listening to myself in utter wonder. I had never spoken such words before. And the feeling in my heart flowed like a bottomless spring.
“I plead with you … come with me. There is only death left in this place. I know the White one will lead us out, because I know now that’s why he brought me here … to you. I stand before you now as living proof that he is stronger than any Black Magic.”
We stood still for a moment, the smell of smoldering death in our nostrils. It seemed so obvious to me. Even without the White One, I would prefer to die trying to escape this place rather than die a slow death in a burned-out valley.
The mare spoke, breaking the stillness. “I remember a legend my father used to tell about a dark horse that freed us from a great calamity. Perhaps … perhaps it wasn’t a legend at all, but a prophecy of this very moment.”
“Dark horse … white horse … legend … prophecy…” said the lead stallion, restlessly stamping his hooves. “These mean nothing to me. We must take counsel among ourselves on this matter. We will meet you here tomorrow at midday.”
“No,” I said. “I leave at moonrise. Whoever would come with me has until sunset to decide.”
“You travel at night?” said the stallion. “Now I know you are mad.”
“I know it is hard for you to understand,” I said, trying to brush aside his insult, “but the light the White One gives us is truer than the light of day. I will leave you to your discussions and return at sunset for any who wish to come with me.” At that I turned, dashing across the stream and galloping toward the end of the canyon that I had not yet seen.
I was exhilarated. Never before had I been so sure of what to do and so confident that I would have the power to do it. There were a few patches of grass I passed along the way, and though I should have been hungry, I wasn’t interested. Doing the will of the White One was my food, and I felt satisfied.
The only question that remained was the route of escape. For in instant my horse sense said, “Back from where you came.” That voice, however, was quickly drowned out by the remembered voice of the dark horse.
“The White One never leads us back — only forward. He will provide a way.”
As I investigated the upper end of the valley, two things became apparent. One was a place along the canyon wall where there appears to be a path set in the rock that leads to the top. One short trot and you are out of here. This must be what the mare had referred to as the Death Walk, and a pile of bones at the foot of the canyon wall proved it.
The other thing I found at the far upper end of the canyon where the streams begin with a waterfall, was a calm pool of water under the waterfall, unaffected by it. That suggested it might be fed by an underground spring. Perhaps that spring has formed a cavern that might be a tunnel out. Though I didn’t have time to take it all the way, the part I did try was large enough for a horse. I felt right about this; we would investigate later.
I returned to find the other horses where I had left them. The stallion stood straight and proud, watching my approach.
“Are you coming with me?” I asked him.
“No,” he said, “I am not. But I will not prevent any who wish to do so. This is my home, this is what I have always known, and this is where I will stay.”
I stood there looking at him, feeling helpless. There was nothing more I could do, nothing more I could say. I turned to the others. With a confidence that surprised me, I cried out, “If you would follow the White One, follow me!” Spinning around, I took off at full gallop towards the upper canyon.
Even though it was twilight, I could see the landscape with greater clarity than ever before. I hadn’t looked back yet, but it sounded like the group behind me was small. A horse right on my tail, maybe two or three more further back. It wasn’t until we were well out of range of the others that glanced back. The mare was running hard off my right side, steadily gaining ground. Her splendid head stretched forward, and a strong, steady light burned in her eyes. And when our eyes meet, they seemed to burn brighter still.