It was afternoon when I at last opened my eyes. The skies had cleared and the sun was hot and high overhead. My thin white dress was still soaked, and before I noticed anything else, I immediately felt self-conscious about the way it clung to me. My hair was damp and stringy and covered with sand and seaweed, and I had lost my sandals. Somehow the delicate golden headband that my mother had skillfully woven into my hair was still there.
I breathed deep, and almost instantaneously began coughing up mouthfuls of seawater. I choked and gagged on the liquid until it had all been vomited out of my lungs and stomach, and finally I laid back on the sand, exhausted and sore. My arm still throbbed painfully. The one benefit of it was that it told me I was still alive.
Doing my best to ignore the pain, I rolled onto my opposite side. When I did, I saw a large bluish-brown mass right beside me. I was startled - I cried out in shock and fear, and closed my eyes tightly. Nothing happened. I opened my eyes. The mass seemed to be moving slightly, and in an instant I found myself face-to-face with a pair of big, liquid brown eyes and a handsome black mane. So the mass was a horse. Perhaps I was dead.
But then, I couldn't be. First of all, all the stories I had ever head about death involved going down a river and having to answer the gatekeeper's question with total honesty before you were allowed into the underworld. This hadn't happened. Nor were there any horses in the stories I had heard. Of course, I had never heard of someone actually going down to the underworld and returning just to describe what it was like, but still...
My head was full of questions. Where was I? Was this horse friendly? Did he....or she find me, or had I, by some trick of magic or fate, found him? Was I really alive? Would I ever be able to get home if I was? Were there any people around?
Certainly the horse wouldn't be able to answer any of my questions. I felt tired. My muscles were sore and battered, and my broken arm ached terribly. With the sun hot on my face, I slowly leaned back to rest my head on the horse's side. I could only hope he meant no harm...or that he would cause me harm. As I closed my eyes, I focused on the feeling of the gentle rise and fall of the horse's chest as he breathed. My head was lifted and lowered with the vital motion, and it was an oddly calming sensation. The horse had done nothing to hurt me yet, so I ventured to place the palm of my hand on his side near my head. He was warm, and his hair was soft. The muscles underneath his skin were strong and prominent, and I knew that if he did decide to harm me, it would be far easier for him to do so than for me to defend myself.
"Don't hurt me," I whispered, knowing it would not matter whether I spoke to the horse or not, "Please. I just want to get home. I won't hurt you. I promise if you promise."
And with that, I fell silent once more, listening to the steady inhalation and exhalation of the blue roan horse...