The old man says, “Drink this.”
I never questioned him before, when both of us were younger; me in my final sprout of youth and first bud of manhood, he in his pride and his prime. I don’t question him now, but see nothing here to drink, just bare uneven shelves chopped into a wall of unworked stone, even those hardly visible in this dim sourceless light.
His front hoof – he always used the left one first – raps and slides on the rough rock floor.
I curve my hands and fit them together. There is nothing in them, and then they are full. The drink feels neither cool nor warm. I see nothing, just bear its weight. I smell nothing, not water, not tea, not mead, not wine.
He doesn’t have to repeat the order. I raise my hands, fit my lower lip and the tip of my tongue into the vee of the joined heels, and tilt it up. A shallow eddy flows in. I tip my hands away, close my lips and swallow. It tingles like vinegar would, all the way down.
I am not breathing, so taste nothing. Lift the hands again, admit a trickle, swallow. Swallow. Swallow again. Swallow again.
I hold a final trickle in the cup of my tongue until enough collects that it can be swallowed. Licking the creases of your palms for the last of a drink is vulgar. I just lower my hands and open them. Don’t even shake them clean, as one would with any other drink. Run my tongue around the inside of my lips, top and bottom. Swallow.
He says, “Good.” The strongest praise he ever gave.