The ocean wrapped its salty arms around Treasure and cradled her, rocking her gently to the lullabies of the terns and gulls. The music of a night at sea tickled her ears, the moonís magic pulling the waves back and forth over the sand.
For as long as she could remember, Treasure had been a pirateís horse. She lived her life on the ocean, her body moving to the sway of the ship as it rocked back and forth against the waves. Sea mist and salt clung to her mane and forelocks, making them heavy and thick with moisture. Years at sea made her limbs fluid and graceful, as if she herself were made of water.
Treasure had seen many horses come and go throughout her years on the ship. Life at sea was difficult on a delicate creature such as a horse, particularly under the cruel hands of a pirate. Some had been dumped overboard and the last Treasure ever saw of them was their eyes wild with terror, straining to stay afloat in the vast, empty stillness of the ocean.
Treasure was the lone exception. The captain never treated her with anything but kindness. He visited her sometimes late at night, running a shaky hand along her neck or tangling his fingers in her salty mane. His breath, thick with the smell of rum, burned her eyes when he leaned in and told her how special she was.
The difference between Treasure and all the others was in the glossy sheen of her coat. A Palomino, her deep copper eyes shone from a head of pure gold. Her body resembled the shiny coins the pirates chased up and down the coast. To her captain, she represented the bounty of a thousand merchant ships.
Treasure knew the captain loved her, which was why she didnít panic when she first glimpsed the flames. Their orange tips licked the black sky from the bow of the boat and the shipís crew ran in frightened circles. But Treasure remained calm. She knew the captain would come for her. So she waited, while the curled fingers of smoke crawled into her stall.
And just as she knew he would, the captain came. He stood in the door to her stall, his eyes black with death. It appeared as though his beard itself was on fire and his head was a cloud of smoke floating atop his body.
ďTreasure, the finest horse a pirate could want. Goodbye, my love.Ē
And then he left her there. Alone.
Stunned, Treasure stood on the swaying deck and watched her captain disappear. She turned and saw a wall of fire with arms reaching for her, grasping and hot. And finally, she was afraid.
Her eyes grew wide and she knew she must look like all the others. The horses who had met their deaths, one by one, at the hands of a pirate. Panic seized her heart and she reared up, pawing at the flames. Her nostrils burned and her throat began to close.
Then she looked over the edge of the ship out onto the water, at the sea that had cradled her to sleep night after night, year after year. Its arms reached out to her once again with a welcoming embrace. And she jumped.
When Treasure first hit the water, her legs didnít fight to stay afloat. She let the bubbles swirl around her, wrapping her in a cocoon that would carry her to a watery grave. Davy Jonesí Locker, the pirates had called it. For a horse who had lived and breathed the oceanís spirit all her life it seemed fitting to end it there as well. Her mane flowed around her neck like seaweed. Her tail danced like a jellyfish in the dark water.
Then she began to see the faces of the men around her, burned and lifeless. And she began to fight, pushing toward the surface.
Treasure gasped and grunted for air, her legs never stopping until she felt the foreign sensation of sand beneath her hooves. She heaved herself up onto the beach and collapsed. She crawled far up onto the beach until, at long last, even the tip of her tail was free. The ocean, which had always sustained her, released its grasp and gave her up to the land.
She closed her eyes and lay on the shore, the firm palm of the earth holding her golden body. The sea horse had washed ashore and was finally home.
This story was inspired by the wild horses of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. One of the last remaining wild herds in the country, these horses are thought to be descendents of horses from pirate ships dating back to the 1700ís. Blackbeardís ship, the Queen Anneís Revenge sunk off the Carolina coast in 1719.
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