He didn’t want to argue with the voice anymore. For whatever reason it was putting him through this trial, he didn’t care. Twice now he had survived the impossible, and it only made sense that he’d survive the next. The commands were strange, even brutal, but he had gotten through them. If the voice wanted him to climb the thousand-foot stair, then that was what he would do.
His legs felt like pudding and his shoulders like fire, but he took up his boat and climbed the final stair. The journey lasted nearly an hour. He collapsed at the top from exhaustion. His heart was leaping out of his chest. But he made it, and the relief of lying still was enchanting.
While he lay supine, resting and staring at the sky, he drifted into a deep sleep. The silence transformed into a burning hill where soldiers lit arrows and sent them off into the valley below. He stood there, shouting at the men as they set the city by the mountain on fire. A smile crossed his face as the castle guard fell off the parapets.
When he awoke sometime later, he sat up to view the landscape. This time, there were no cliffs, but a field stretching toward the skyline, with rolling hills cascading both up the side of a mountain and down the slope of a valley, and the stream branching in two directions in the middle. At the top of the waterway, a spring percolated in all of its glory, giving the stream its source of life. At the bottom, two other streams met the first at the mouth of a great river and continued well into the horizon. Thanks to the overwhelming image before him, he couldn’t find his breath.
“Set the boat in the river,” said the voice of ambience, knocking him out of his stupor. The accompanying wind kissed his forehead.
He didn’t argue the voice’s logic. A thousand-foot cataract plummeted down the side of a cliff—certain doom would befit any man attempting to ride it—but he didn’t argue. The voice kept him alive during the first two descents; certainly it would keep him alive during the third. He didn’t know how many limbs would stand with him afterward, assuming he could stand, but that was no longer a concern. What mattered now was that he finished his journey.
He entered the boat, allowing the stream to carry him toward the precipice overlooking the impossible drop, and waited. Only, when he drew near, the voice whispered through the breath of a swift breeze.
“Your faith has saved you, Dalowin. You need not continue this course.” A pause followed. Dalowin searched the sky for validation. “Now turn the boat around and sail for the valley. The waterfall ahead will surely destroy you.”
The sudden realization that death awaited him at the bottom of the fall didn’t faze him. The strength coursing through his blood from having survived two previous drops toughened his will to leap from the boat and force it into the opposite direction. Though his legs fought the weights of his shin guards, he pushed hard from the depths of his gut, keeping the vessel far from the precipice. For several minutes, he struggled to stay afloat as he resisted the currents, but his endurance paid off. As soon as the stream changed course at the top of the declination, he let the boat carry him all the way down into the valley. Once the water leveled out, he inhaled another desperate breath and pulled himself into the boat.
Without a paddle, the journey voided direction. Dalowin clutched his knees together, believing God would lead him to the next trial. Whatever that was, he figured, somehow, his Protector would take care of him. Shivering from the cold, he looked ahead toward the river, attempting to understand what life test that might be.
“Do you trust Me?” the voice asked from across the grassy fields.
The drenched rider nodded against his elbows.
“Then, climb out of the boat where the three streams meet the Paradise River.”
The mouth of the river was close—maybe a half-hour’s worth of sailing away. Although the stream’s current decelerated at the foot of the hill, it increased speed as he drew closer to the wider body of water. With the two adjoining streams adding pressure to the mix, the boat took off as it crossed the first junction.
The approach took about twenty minutes. Once the nose of the vessel reached the mouth of the river, Dalowin sheathed his sword; then he collapsed over the side into the refreshing water, taking a drink as his head went under. Despite all the streams and rivers he had dealt with since late the previous evening, this was his first real effort at hydrating himself. In all of his agonizing punishments, this was his first attempt at healing. A broken twig slipped past his cheeks to commemorate the moment. He caught it before he resurfaced.
When he pulled himself onto the riverbank, he lifted his eyes to discover a welcome surprise. A set of hooves scuffed the grass before him.
“Aspyre,” he whispered, digging his face back into the ground, “you found your way.”
A moment passed before the soft breeze of late afternoon brushed across his back.
“Dalowin,” said the voice of ambience, “you are now fit to fulfill your destiny. Take your horse and return to the Hill of Resilience. May your courage offer you a new name: Dalowin the Falcon, for your stance will be mighty and your attack swift. With My strength, you and your armies will prevail against the city of corruption. Ride now, for your army awaits you.”
And so Dalowin rose from his grassy bed and mounted his valiant Saddle Horse, thanking God for his newfound courage. Once he felt situated on the saddle, he raised his nose to the sky and kicked the animal into action. Like an arrow, the equestrian chariot sprinted off down the riverbanks until it met the moon at the place of prophecy. It was there that he met his eager army and told them his story.