“What’s going on here?” I demanded as I raced in to prevent the lead stallion from bullying the mare. He was obviously trying to force her to stay back with the herd and she was putting up quite a fight. “You said these horses were free to go.”
“The foolish stallions may run where they will. I did not mean that my favorite mare was free to kill herself following a mad horse.”
His flaring nostrils and flattened ears warned me he was ready to lunge. Without taking my eyes from him, I called back to the mare to lead the stallions to the pool behind the falls and follow it into the mountain. I would catch up with them. As they broke for the stream behind us, the stallion shouted at them, “There’s Black Magic behind that falls!”
“I am beginning to wonder,” I said, clearly and loudly for all to hear, “if it’s Black Magic or your magic that is keeping these horses in captivity here.”
At that, he went for me.
Now I am not a fighter. I had lived a sheltered ranch horse life, and my only fighting experience was in play — the usual high-spirited stallion stuff. I felt totally unprepared for an encounter with an enraged, battle-scarred range horse.
There would have been no chance for me in the daylight. But at night, the light for the White One gave me a distinct advantage. I was fighting a wild stallion, but he was fighting a stallion and the night.
It was during this fight that I realized those who don’t believe in the White One cannot see the light in the eyes of those who do. Had he seen the twin flames of my eyes, he would have had a target. As it was, most of his slicing kicks and vicious bites just missed my twisting, turning body.
I had no desire to hurt or cripple the proud stallion. I didn’t want to win or lose. My whole desire was to give the others time to flee — and then look for my own chance to escape. That chance came when I caught him rearing. He wanted to slash down on me with his sharp front hooves — but he never got the chance. Instead, I lunged and forced my whole weight against the side of his belly.
The timing was perfect. He was caught completely by surprise, and his legs flew out from beneath him. For a moment, he seemed suspended in midair. Then came a sickening thud and the loud grunt of air that smashed from his lungs as he hit the rock-hard ground.
The stallion’s fall gave me the chance I had been waiting for. With blood pounding in my head and a warm flow of it trickling into my eyes, I ran for the falls. I knew that once I hit the pool I would be safe. The stallion would not violate his own warning about the Black Magic.
Looking behind me, I could see him pursuing, but too far back to be of any concern. I found myself feeling glad he wasn’t hurt and feeling genuinely sorry for him. The real “magic” at work here was pride. Pride that kept him prisoner in a valley of ashes. Pride that fed his dominance over the weaker ones who ran in his trail.
With a flying leap, I plunged once more onto the dark waters. The pool’s warmth enveloped me, bathing my wounds and calming my racing heart for the tedious crawl through the tunnel.
Once again, the strange, sourceless light led me. As I picked my way along, I noticed the eerie beauty of this watery shaft. There were pointed spines of rock hanging from the ceiling, and others, like seedlings of stone, that seemed to sprout up from the cave floor. Still others, I could tell, had made complete columns from top to bottom. No more. Like so many weathered corral planks, they had been kicked aside by the fleeing horses in front of me. And in my mind’s eye I could imagine the mare smashing her way through this cavern, leading her friends to freedom. What a queen among horses! She had jumped into following the White One with everything she had, and I loved her.
Just when I was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t caught up with them yet, I noticed that the dim light had seemed to focus in countless glowing points. Then, with a start, I realized I was looking into the star-washed night through a cave opening.
Stumbling out into the cool night air, I was immediately beset by five excited horses. The mare was licking the blood away from a tear in my ear. Then she walked around me, looking me over with a quick appraising gaze. “You have a gash on your hip,” she said, “but it will heal. A few cuts and scratches. You’ll be fine. You are a brave one, aren’t you? Tell us what happened.”
“The White One gave me light,” I said. “I was able to catch the stallion off balance and knock him over long enough to make my break.”
“Is he all right?” she asked.
“Yes. He ran after me, but mostly for show, I think. He had no intention of following.”
“He is such a prideful horse,” she said with pity. “And to think that all along we were just a short trip away from freedom.”
“Who are these other horses?” I asked.
“They are two mares who slipped away during the fight.”
One of them spoke up. “When you said it was the stallion and not the magic that was keeping us there, it all made sense.”
I was overjoyed. My conflict had played a part in freeing two more horses. The other two I recognized as two of the three who had originally left with us, but now there was a strong, steady light burning in their eyes.
The mare suddenly spoke with a firm urgency that made us all straighten up.
“I have checked out our position,” she said. “As you can see, we have emerged from the underground stream fed by the lake in front of us here. On the other side of the lake is a relatively short, rocky descent to the foothills. From there we can once again pick up the river that comes from out of those mountains in the distance. I saw its reflection in the moonlight. I think we should run the river until dawn and take shelter where we can.”
I stood staring at her, in spite of myself. Adventure danced in her eyes, and her graceful hooves pawed the ground with impatience. I could only shake my head in wonder.
“Lead on, brave mare!”
I stood for a moment and watched them leap across the rocks and dash to the far side of the lake. I watched them drop out of sight, and then reappear, one by one, on the smooth ground below, their eyes now points of light. One, two, three, four, five racing silhouettes, galloping hard and free in the joy of the White One.
Then, with a loud whinny to no one in particular, I lifted my forelegs to the starry sky and set off to join them.