As Aspyre the Iberian Saddle Horse trotted along the riverbank, Dalowin fell asleep. With his cheeks planted in the animal’s mane, a heavy trickling noise filled his ears. He saw only unmistakable darkness, yet imagined the picture of a slanted brook rolling over the edge of a mountain. In the dream, an immense hand leapt from the current and knocked him off his seat, throwing him over the lip of a mighty waterfall. And then he plummeted, faster and faster, farther and farther, until at last he ripped his eyes open. In his frantic state of alertness, he overcompensated his position and fell off the steed.
“Aspyre, stop.” The beast continued without him. “I said stop.”
When he caught up to his equestrian companion, Dalowin noticed the landscape had changed. Though he could see only by starlight, he discovered he was on the verge of hitting a gargantuan cliff face towering nearly a thousand feet above him.
Pine trees blocked his path, yet a narrow opening etched into the heart of the mountain a short distance down the river. He hopped onto his horse and headed for the break.
As the black sheer rock rose, he saw tree clusters extending over the shoreline, forcing him to waver through the wood the closer he came. It took him nearly an hour to navigate the foliage.
When he reached the cleft, he entered a narrow canyon stretching beyond his sight. With only a few feet separating the wall from the swelling river, Dalowin held his arms close to his sides and took a deep breath. The squeeze brought strain to his triceps, but it was worth him staying dry.
He and his horse traveled along the skinny path for the remainder of the night. With vertical rock faces repeating with each step, the hope for an escape looked slim. The trail seemed endless. His shoulders trembled with despair.
It was too late to reverse direction; the path had gotten too narrow. The rapids spilled down the declining river, yet the rider knew escape meant braving the current—in all of its fury. The path ahead seemed dry, but endless. He considered the path behind.
“You know the way behind you,” said the whispering voice of ambience. It sounded like it was riding on the wind as it scraped the rocky edges around him. “Your freedom lies in the risks ahead.”
Once again, Dalowin stopped his horse and waited. The voice, though close to silence, was clearer than ever. The landscape didn’t present change, but the air rustled in his ears. Its warning brought sweat to his brow.
A few minutes passed before he mustered the courage to move. Only, he resolved he had gone mad, so he attempted to turn the horse around. With a tight grip of the reins, he jerked its neck to the left.
The creature didn’t move. It snorted.
“Aspyre,” he said, rib-kicking the animal, “move it.”
The horse spat, then continued on the normal path. Dalowin kicked it with greater force.
“Aspyre, turn around.”
Five gusts of wind passed before the rider surrendered his effort. The river, meanwhile, splashed in his face as it hit the jagged shore at his feet.
The hopeless journey went on for another hour, moving up a leftward bend into an even narrower section of the canyon. With his toes scraping the mountain wall, the horseman dismounted his steed by climbing over its head. He continued on foot, leading the animal by the bit.
He and the horse walked for another mile before the river leveled out and calmed to a trickle. To his relief, the path also began to widen. With a glimmer of hope, he rested against the cliff. The ensuing comfort nearly pushed him back to sleep.