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Friend
Abby, Age 14, Poynette, WI

The thick-bodied draft horse moved gracefully across the blood-stained landscape, his expression alert and curious. His ears swiveled atop his head, searching for the voice he knew so well. His heavy hooves stepped gingerly around the bodies strewn over the prickly grass, the strong aromas of blood, sweat, and dirt drifting into his flared nostrils.

A battle had taken place here, and this he knew, for he had participated in it. He had charged at the enemy with his master aboard, hooves flashing and swords clinking. The enemy had not possessed many horses, so the soldiers on foot cowered beneath the bulk of the four-legged beasts. However, they fought valiantly nonetheless, making the battle particularly difficult to win. The draft horse’s rider had been stabbed and ripped from his mount’s back, and now the poor animal could not seem to find the injured man.

Speeding up his pace, the horse jogged slowly among the dead, his armor clanking and his bit jangling in his mouth. Nervous, he chewed the metal bar, still unable to locate his wounded master.

The quiet of the battlefield was suddenly broken by a series of moans, all of which made the horse’s ears turn round. Dipping his magnificent head, he surveyed an armor-clad body at his feet, watching as it tried to roll over. He blinked as it let out a pitiful wail, and although he did not know the human, he felt he should try to revive it. Stretching his well-muscled neck, he gently nudged the solider with his nose, giving a quiet snort and waiting to see what his gesture would bring. The man whimpered suddenly, giving a violent shudder and going completely silent. He froze facedown in the short grass, and with a heavy sigh, the horse continued on his way.

He knew that the man had died, but he could not understand why. Why did humans do this to one another? Had they no friends? Had they no allies? They couldn’t share with each other, could they?

Blinking his sullen eyes, he let out another long, tired sigh. No, they couldn’t. It was apparent that they knew not the concept of compromise.

The wind whistled through his thick mane, making him halt and turn his large head skyward. The heavens were colorless, but a gathering of dark clouds on the horizon signaled the approach of a storm. This was completely appropriate, of course, because not only had the battle metaphorically been as fierce as a storm itself, but the rain was needed to wash away the remnants of the ugly fight.

By now, the horse had given up hope. His master was nowhere to be found, and now that the air had grown damp, he could not pick up any familiar scents. Pinning back his ears, he lowered his head and trudged toward the clump of trees located at the far end of the field. They would be no replacement for his master’s reassuring touch, but they would suffice.

“Teague…”

That voice.

He knew that voice.

Pricking his ears forward, he turned in response to his name.

“Teague, come to me…” the voice croaked, and Teague obediently followed it. His head bobbed in sync with his swift pace, his armor clanking on his rippling bulk. He knew his master had called to him, and now he would surely find out where he was.

“My good horse, you have not deserted me.”

Teague nickered excitedly and stooped, locking his large brown eyes with his master’s own pained ones. Fidgeting on the spot, he snorted and lovingly lipped the man’s face. However, his master did not chuckle and push him away like he usually did. Instead, he smiled grimly, soon exploding into a fit of raspy, choking coughs. Startled, Teague withdrew his head, watching his master with curious eyes.

The man’s breath came out in ragged gasps, and his skin was completely ashen. There was something about the way he moved that made Teague uncomfortable, but before he could place just what it was, his master spoke to him again.

“Come, Teague, let me relieve you of that armor,” he whispered, patting the scarred earth beside him. Blowing out through his nostrils, Teague obliged, dropping first to one knee and then rolling clumsily onto his side. His armor chimed in protest to his movements, but he pretended not to hear it and quietly waited while his master fumbled with the heavy plates. After much clanging and struggling, his master removed the last piece of armor from his horse’s frame, heaving an exhausted sigh and resting in the wake of his magnificent horse. Teague’s dark-bay pelt stood out among the bodies strewn across the battlefield, the marks worn into his sides from the saddle more of an eyesore than anything else. Of course, he did not pay the imprints any mind, for all of his attention was fixed upon his master. His deep brown eyes carefully scrutinized the man lying beside him, and without thinking, he thrust his nose beneath his master’s warm, bloody hand. The fact that the handsome white blaze on his face was now stained with blood did not seem to bother the good horse; he nickered quietly and continued to nudge the weak hand, knowing all too well what state his master was in.

“Teague, my good horse, I am glad…that you came for me,” the injured man panted, feebly lifting his other hand and running it along his horse’s back.

At that moment, Teague’s skin rippled in excitement. His heart took an extravagant leap, and the only thought in his mind was, “Ride.” His master’s touch on his back triggered something within him - an instinct, shall we say. But, when the man’s hand gave a slight tremor and slid gracefully from the horse’s spine, it was apparent that Teague’s thoughts had been terribly wrong.

A steady rain began to fall, and soon enough, the stench of rotting bodies became overwhelming. However, Teague still remained at his master’s side, his ears listening intently to the rain as it pounded on the armor of the fallen soldiers. He knew full well that the life had ebbed out of his master, but he did not quite know how to react. As much as his animal instincts urged him to seek shelter from the approaching storm, the bond that he had formed with his master told him otherwise.

Heaving a long, drawn-out sigh, he sprawled out on his side, soaking in the feeling of his master’s body against his.

Just a bit longer…

Then he would wait to meet his master - his friend - in heaven.

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