Footprints in the Sand
by Val Evenstar
Dedication: To Petraverd - Happy Birthday! Thanks for putting up with my often loud enthusiasm concerning Narnia, Ted Dekker, and fanfiction - and recently for telling me stories about little Tirian. Sorry that all I can give you in return are the thoughts of a Talking Horse who's spent a bit too much time in the sun...
The way the sun is reflecting off the sand, it's so white, so bright it scalds my eyes. But even when I bend my head I can't avoid it, there's heat rising in dry waves from the desert floor. I lift my weary head and strain my eyes toward the horizon, hoping for some sign of deliverance. All I see are strands of hair caked in yellow dust; I'm too tired to even shake my forelock away from my eyes.
Drained of energy, I let my head fall again. But I still need to know...
It takes me two or three tries before my throat is wet enough to speak. "Shasta," I croak, "Do you see it yet?"
A weight shifts on my back, and I can almost hear my weakened body creaking. The boy says something, but I can't hear it. He tries again, and this time I hear a single word forced out between cracked lips: "No."
I can't go on like this much longer. I need water, cool, delicious, refreshing, life-giving... no. Best not to think about it, or about grass or oats or rest for tortured hooves or anything good. Best just to walk on and on until I reach the end of the road, in whatever form that may be. Because I can't stop; I'm the leader here, they're all depending on me. I have to give them a chance, and if we stop we'll never move again, not any of us – Hwin, Shasta, Aravis, or me...
I should've drank more water, instead of pretending to drink as I had. I was such a fool, thinking I was stronger, I could hold out longer, because I'm a famous war horse. Why did I lie to them, spread this false confidence, so that now they're following me to their deaths?
I should've told them the truth. I'm not a war horse. That's just a name they give me. I was a slave, frightened into serving my masters, not even putting up a fight to be free. I enjoyed my chains, the empty distinction they brought me. Noble, they called me. Hwin said that too, I think – she always treated me with so much respect, like I was someone worth deferring to. That was good for me; it meant that I could think about myself first, and everyone assumed that what was best for me was best for us all. Now I know better, because I can't bear the thought that my selfishness and blustering bravado caused their deaths... but who else is there to blame?
I don't even know where I am anymore. The sun seems less hot, but perhaps that is only because I can't feel anything anywhere. Not the pain in my legs, the aching in my back, the sweat in my eyes or the fiery air scalding my nostrils.
I have lost all my strength. I can't go on. So death is coming to me...
I had always wondered what death would look like. I'm content now to drift along and watch it as it approaches. It's dark, I think – full of shadows. Maybe it's sharp, too, and hard. That's too bad. Actually, I really don't care much about death. I want to know what's beyond it, though; that used to concern me a great deal, but now I think I'll just wait a little longer and find out.
I suppose it could be very bad, and I ought to be terrified. But I don't think I'll waste my time being scared, because ... well, I don't have a lot of time left, for one thing. And things could always turn out to be very good, too – blue and clear and cool and wet...
Interesting... how now that I am thinking about it, I see it. It's different from the shiny silver puddles of water I saw before, the ones that were there one minute and gone the next. It shimmers, too, though with a deeper light, as if someone had taken a brilliant blue star and drowned it in the water. Water?
"Bree. Bree!" There's someone calling me! I wonder who it is...
"Bree. Bree!" A different voice now, perhaps. I can't really tell.
Quiet, simple, two words.
My heart jerks in my chest.
"Bree. Bree!" I wish that voice would stop calling, so that I could hear the other words again..
I look, and find that the world has changed.
Tall, dark rock canyon surrounds me. A few gnarly plants cling to the walls, fighting to hold on. There's shadow here, blessed, welcome shade from the sun's afternoon assault. And far in the distance, miles up the canyon... blue?
"Look, Bree. Water!" Shasta's voice barely makes it past his parched throat, but I can still hear the longing and excitement in it. The hope that there is still life beyond death...
I honestly don't know how I got here. I don't remember walking, that's for sure. I'm pretty sure I didn't just appear here either, but I can't be certain.
I turn my head away from the North and look at the golden sands behind me. There are footprints there, all right, sunk deep into the desert.
But wait... why are they the paw prints of a Lion?