The Search for the Unicorns Chapter Six

This is the sixth chapter in the story, if you have not read the previous chapter please do so before continuing: Chapter 5 – The Elves

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Chapter 6

SEEKING THE DWARVES

By the middle of the next day, they had reached the edge of a small stream. Which was determined as part of the border of Vorholm. The unicorns bade the four farewell, and watched them as they marched on. Carla began to practice more intensely with her sling.

Shortly after they passed over the stream, Lungand said, “We should go to the castle of Lord Wyrgenhelm. He is nearest to our path, and we can get horses there. Not to mention letting it be known that the King is alive.”

“Do you think that will be safe?” asked Wissagebreht.

“Wyrgenhelm is a man who, though he fancies himself as important. Has not the courage to do anything drastic. Such as attacking his own king. We will be as safe there as anywhere.”

By midafternoon they had hit the road which led, among other places, to the castle of Wyrgenhelm. With a proper trail to follow, they were able to move somewhat faster and had covered a good deal of distance before evening.

Carla continued to practice with her sling. She was now picking marks and casting at them, developing her accuracy.

In the morning they moved on, and in a short time were coming in sight of a castle. It was not much of a castle, though at the time Carla had little to compare it to. There was an inner keep, and five towers around the walls. From the keep flew a pennon, the She-wolf’s head on a yellow background, signifying that the Lord of the Castle was in residence. The walls at a distance had seemed forbidding. But, at closer sight, had revealed stones which had fallen out of place. Whole sections of wall were bulging at the base as the weight of stone and the effects of winter frost began to cause the wall to fall.

All around the outside of the castle was a town, mostly consisting of huts of the sort that Carla had lived in. There were one or two slightly better-seeming houses, and a great many shops and vendors. If she had seen it before she had seen Drefcwed, the Elves’ city,  Carla felt sure that she would have been greatly impressed.

Carla had already put her sling away. But Wissagebreht said to her, quietly, “Best not practice with the sling in the sight of the guards of the castle or their Lord. Such people feel a little uneasy about weapons in the hands of such as we.”

She nodded.

Bruderic surveyed the castle as they came closer. “It would not be proper now, when we are going to ask Wyrgenhelm for help. But when the quest is over remind me to send him a message regarding the upkeep of his castle, Lungand.”

The Chamberlain nodded.

They walked the road toward the castle, passing through the town. From all Carla could see, it was less of a town than many she knew, and she wondered at the temporary nature of the buildings. Wissagebreht answered her unspoken question. “It is unlawful to have buildings outside the castle walls; they might be used against the castle in a siege. Every so often the Lord of the castle must send his soldiers out to tear down and burn the buildings and drive the people out. Most of the people come back in a week or two and build again, but in such a case, who would bother to build a proper house?”

At the gate of the castle two guards lounged about, leaning on spears. They were slowly surveying the people around with expressions of bored dismissal. As the four made their way to the gate, the guards’ eyes fixed on them. They could see the guards taking in their dress, and the fact that two of them bore swords. Suddenly there was little of the boredom left on the guard’s faces.

Lungand stopped in front of them. “We must talk to Lord Wyrgenhelm. I am the Lord Chamberlain Lungand, and this is King Bruderic.”

The first guard, looking at them in disbelief, sneered, “Yes, and I’m Queen Guendatha come back to demand vengeance. Be off, then or—“

The other guard was hissing urgently in his ear. Something to the effect that he had seen the Chamberlain at court, and this was he. The first guard paled, swallowed, and tried to speak. Lungand addressed the second guard.

“Escort us to your Lord.”

“Yes, Milord.”

Himself very pale, the guard marched along before them toward the keep.

Carla heard Bruderic mutter. “That guard is an ignorant boor, Lungand, but I do not want you to demand any punishment for him. It will be punishment enough for him to wait a few days in anxiety about his fate.”

The Chamberlain merely nodded.

Wyrgenhelm was a slender dark-haired man with, it seemed, a perpetually worried expression. He had dark hair, watery eyes and a huge moustache which, on his small face, looked somewhat ridiculous. “Your Highness, Milord, this is a surprise. I had no idea you were coming.”

A bolder man might have made a plain statement at the discourtesy of giving him no prior warning.

Bruderic spoke. “I presume that you have heard that we have been on a quest to seek out the reason why the unicorns do not return?”

“Why, yes, Highness, we had heard that.”

“The quest is not yet ended; there is yet a thing to be done, and it is I who must do it. I regret being able to give you no warning of our coming. But we did not know ourselves until just lately that we would be coming this way, and it was not possible to send anyone ahead.

“But I must ask a few favours of you.”

“Whatever I can do, I will, Highness.”

“We need your hospitality for the night. We need horses to carry us further on the way. And we need a swift messenger to be sent to the capital to bring word of the situation to the Lords reigning for me.”

The Lord was nodding as the King spoke, and when he had finished, Wyrgenhelm said, “Of course, of course. Please, let me have some refreshments sent for. You have been travelling a long while on foot, I can see.”

“The message first, Lord, then the refreshments.”

A moment later King Wyrgenhelm had sent a servant for paper, pen and ink, and another for refreshments. The servant with the refreshments arrived. Meanwhile the King was in the process of writing out his message. Since Wyrgenhelm had no notion of the status of Wissagebreht and Carla. Save that they had arrived with the King and Chamberlain. he assumed that they were due the same courtesy, despite their looks.

Wine was served, a surprisingly good wine, along with small cakes which were also quite good. When Bruderic had finished his message, folded it, and given it to the messenger with instructions for delivery. He also took a cup of wine and a cake. Wyrgenhelm sat almost literally on the edge of his seat. He was fearful lest the least thing done or left undone should attract the notice of the King. Bruderic, on the other hand, strove to put him at ease by discussing all manner of harmless subjects. At last, Wyrgenhelm suggested that quarters be found for the four. Bruderic agreed, and they were soon in a set of rooms in the north part of the keep.

It was not possible to leave that same afternoon. Not if courtesy was to be maintained. But Bruderic made it clear that they would have to leave the next morning. They dined with the Lord and his chief officers that evening. Once again in borrowed clothing, and once again Carla noticed Bruderic looking at her.

Being King, Bruderic had to be seated at the head table and Lungand was with him. Wissagebreht and Carla were seated at lower tables among the knights and ladies. Wissagebreht was seated across the table from her. On her left was a young knight, named Aelinth, who paid lavish attention to her.

As the evening went on, he became bolder and bolder, and more free with his hands. Finally Wissagebreht leaned across the table toward him. “Aelinth, you have not been properly introduced to my ward, Carla. She has been under my protection since she was born. A fortunate thing for a child, to have a Wizard’s protection, don’t you think?”

Aelinth looked at Wissagebreht and turned pale. Suddenly devoted his whole attention to his food.

After the meal, Bruderic sought Carla out. “I noticed that fool Aelinth pestering you. I have a mind to talk with him myself, perhaps introduce him to better manners.”

“You needn’t bother. Wissagebreht warned him off.”

“But still—“

“Still nothing! Wissagebreht is my guardian, it is for him to protect me, not you!”

Bruderic shrank back, then smiled. “Ah, but I am your King, and have a responsibility to protect you, as well as all my subjects. But if you insist, I will do nothing more. For this time.”

He bowed and turned away, leaving Carla still wanting to shout something at him. But she was not quite sure whether she thought he was a mere pest or a caring friend.

In the early morning they were riding out of the gate of the castle. The road stretched long and white ahead of them, and the day promised to be fair. Indeed, they had good travelling, and made very good progress towards the capital that day. In the morning, it suddenly occurred to Bruderic that the men-at-arms who were waiting at Wissagebreht’s hut should be informed that they need not wait there any longer. He had therefore had a special messenger sent off to tell them.

They reached the capital the next evening, without incident. As they went in the main gate, Carla saw a man leap on a horse and ride up the main street as though his life depended on it. She remarked on that, and Bruderic said, “Yes. That will be a messenger taking word of our arrival to the Regents. They would not wish to be caught off-guard at the return of the King. Watch; they will have a huge party out to greet us.”

He proved correct. As the rode into the palace courtyard there were two rows of men-at-arms in polished armour. They stood like statues with spears held upright in right hands, shields on left arms. Down the way between the two rows the travellers rode, up to the knot of people who waited at the last step of the palace.

As they approached, all of people went down on one knee. Bruderic spoke. “Rise, faithful servants.”

The people came to their feet. A certain few of them, clearly assigned the task beforehand, came to hold the horses while the travellers dismounted. Bruderic came over to Carla quickly and extended a hand to help her down.

She snorted, and jumped down, ignoring him. She stumbled, almost falling. When he caught her arm to steady her, she was all the more angry. But she decided it would be better not to make too much of a fool of herself in front of so many people. She smiled at him, and he turned to speak to the Regents.

“Good day, Milords. May I present you to the rest of my company? Lord Volkenor, Lord Nechtgang, these are the Wizard Wissagebreht and his ward, Carla.”, Announced Bruderic.

Volkenor was old, not, extremely old, but older than Lungand, and somewhat stout. There was a young page with him whose duties included standing by and letting the Lord lean on his shoulder whenever he must bow. His face was round and brown, with black beard and eyebrows. Only a ruff of pepper-and-salt hair was left round the bald crown of his head. There was something about his eyes that Carla didn’t trust, though she could not quite put words to it.

Nechtgang looked even older; he was thin and spare, with a full head of white hair and a white beard as well. When he moved, it could be seen that all his joints were stiff. His eyes were bright and clear, though, and when he spoke it was clear that age had not dimmed his thoughts. In him, Carla could feel something of old bitterness. He appeared to be a man who felt that for ages he had been denied his rightful due in the world.

Volkenor spoke first. “Wissagebreht I have met before. I welcome you back to the court, Wissagebreht. As for the young lady,” he took her hand and bowed over it, only a slight bend of the back, “she is indeed a charming addition.”

Nechtgang gave a quick sideward glance of disgust at his co-regent and himself bowed over Carla’s hand. “I too know Wissagebreht, and I am pleased to make the acquaintance of his ward. Shall we go inside where we can be more comfortable?”

They went inside to the throne room. Volkenor said, as they were about to enter, “Milord King, you have had a long journey; would you not wish to wash up before you take your throne again?”

“No, Milord Volkenor, I have no time. I shall be here only the night, then I must go fulfill the last part of the quest.”

The two of them looked at Bruderic together, hesitated, then went on into the throne room. The throne was set up on a raised dais, and two smaller seats had been set up at the foot of the dais. Since the Regents could not possibly aspire to the throne. The Regents did not take these seats this time, however, but rather stood facing the throne to wait until the King should seat himself.

When he had done this, he looked down at the two. “Have there been any difficulties raised in my absence. Difficulties which were beyond your capabilities?”

They answered, almost simultaneously, “No, Milord.”

“Good. Since we will be going out again in the morning, I would prefer to spend the night resting.”

“You will eat with us, Milord King?” asked Volkenor.

“Certainly.”

In all this time, Carla kept noticing the Wizard Gaistferu moving around the crowd of courtiers. His eyes always slipping from one to another of the powerful people. She remembered Wissagebreht’s assessment of him. She then wondered what might happen if his ambition someday overpowered his fear.

In the morning, as Bruderic promised, after they gathered provisions and new mounts, they set out again. The trip went well, with no particular incident. Carla continued to practice with her sling, now from horseback. She was now able to hit a stone about the size of a man’s head six times out of ten at a distance of twenty yards, from a moving horse. Wissagebreht watched, and when she looked at him after a good shot, he smiled at her.

Lungand remained grimly silent. Carla asked Wissagebreht, “Has he not yet accepted that this quest must be fulfilled?”

Wissagebreht smiled, a little sadly. “He has, or he would voice his objections. It is only that he wishes it were not necessary, wishes that they could stay in the Kingdom.”

“He still feels that someone will rise up against the King while he is away?”

“Yes. There is less danger of that now, since we have come back through to show that the King still lives. That he has not disappeared off the face of the earth. But there is still some chance that some leader will find it possible to gather enough force to make the attempt.”

“And if an attempt is made, it seems doubtful that the Regents could do much about it?”

He shook his head. “Don’t mistake the Regents. They are both proven men on the battlefield, and fully experienced in the ways of convincing others into a wise course of action. Or at least against an unwise course.”

Carla shook her head in mystification. “Then why should Lungand be so concerned?”

The Wizard grinned. “Firstly, because Lungand trusts very few arrangements in the Kingdom unless he is himself present to oversee them. And secondly, because he fears that either or both of the Regents may suddenly realize that if the other Regent were to die. He would be well on the way to supplanting the King.”

“Then we should perhaps not go—“

Wissagebreht waved a hand. “You may remember how Bruderic chose the two. Neither of them trusts the other, and each will be greatly concerned about any plot by the other. I do not plan to dawdle on this trip, for I recognize the dangers. But then again, what we do is something that must be done, and if there are risks, they must be taken.”

On the second evening out of the capital Bruderic looked across the fire at Wissagebreht. “We are in much the same situation as when we went to the Elves, are we not? For the Dwarves live under the mountains, and it is said that a Man rarely sees a Dwarf who does not wish to be seen. How do we talk to the Dwarves, then?”

Wissagebreht smiled. “I have had dealings with the Dwarves from time to time. There is a door I know of, and hopefully there will be someone around to answer when we come knocking.”

The foothills were considered beyond the territory of Vorholm. So, as they entered the foothills, the unicorns rejoined them. They had apparently been concealed in a small copse, for as the travellers went along, suddenly the unicorns were there.

Yssagarit trotted up to Carla and rubbed his muzzle on her leg. “I see you have new mounts; my companions and I wish you to know that you were not that heavy.” There was laughter in his voice.

“Ah, it is good to see you again, Quickfoot! But be truthful now; did you not find us at least a little heavy?”

“Well, perhaps a little.”

Up into the mountains they went. Carla had seen the mountains from afar, of course, and wondered at their blue aloofness. The white caps on the highest of them, and how some of them even reached up into the clouds. She had asked Wissagebreht about them, and he seemed to know at least a little about everything. So she now knew something about the mountains and what went on in them.

The trip became more arduous, for they had to climb. To climb, ever going upward. It would have been possible to ride all the time. But in order not to wear the horses out completely, they walked from time to time, leading the animals.

It grew cooler also, as they went upward. On their second day in the mountains Wissagebreht smilingly produced heavy fur garments which he had quietly procured in the capital during their brief stay. From the look on the face of Lungand it was clear that packing warm garments had completely slipped his mind, even though he had known where they must go.

“Fortunately,” said the Wizard, “we are travelling in summer, and hence need not fear the winter storms. What we must beware of, however, is the possibility of avalanche.”

“What is an avalanche?” inquired Carla.

“When huge masses of snow, ice, dirt, and rocks break loose from the mountain and slide down, carrying everything before them. There is something about the weather in spring which makes them more likely to happen at that time, and in summer only a little less so. The path I intend to take is one where such snowslides are not likely to happen. But ‘not likely’ does not mean ‘impossible.”‘

They saw one avalanche, far away. As they were plodding slowly up the mountain slope, with a fair green valley to their left, Wissagebreht suddenly spoke. “Look!”

They looked to where he was pointing, across the valley and upward. There had been a heavy overhang of snow there, and just before he pointed it had broken off and fallen to the slope. It began to slide, picking up speed, and as it went it pushed up more snow before it, which increased the force of it. The sound of it eventually reached them across the distance, a continuous roaring.

Then it hit the first of the trees, burying some under the snow, snapping off others and carrying them along, until the slope began to level off. By then the force of the slide was so terrific that much of the debris continued to move, almost all the way down to the valley floor.

“When the conditions are right, even a loud noise can suffice to start the snow sliding,” said Wissagebreht.

The other three looked in silence at the devastation that had been wrought.

It was not much longer until they were up beyond the level where trees still grew. For a while, then, there were thin and scrawny bushes. They were tough little things anchoring themselves in tiny pockets of earth on the mountain’s rocky face. There were also little patches of tough grasses which the horses did not like. But which they ate, for want of anything better.

“Forbidding country for anything to live, man, beast, or dwarf,” commented Lungand.

“Ah, the Dwarves do not commonly live this high; they prefer the lower areas, just as men do. But the entrance through which they welcomed me was high up, and perhaps for that same reason. No one would come this high without good and overriding cause.”

“So they feared you might spread the word of this door to everyone?”

“Let us say rather that they were very cautious. The treasures of the Dwarves are legendary, and what might happen if the wrong sort of people knew of doors that gave easy access to those treasures?”

For some reason, the less hospitable the country, the more the unicorns liked to gambol and play. Even Lungand had difficulty avoiding smiling when they went into their three-cornered dance in the evening.

It was afternoon of the next day when they came upon a small rock overhang, not unlike any number of similar formations they had seen previously.

“Ah, here we are!”, declared Wissagebreht.

The others looked around for any sign of Dwarves, indeed, for any sign that anyone had ever been there. Beneath the overhang was the face of a great boulder, somewhat convex in shape, but no sign of a door anywhere.

“You are sure?” asked Lungand.

“Of course I am sure!” said Wissagebreht. “And of course you cannot see anything; I did tell you it was a secret door. How could it remain secret very long if it could be seen so easily?”

“So what do we do now? Knock?”

The Wizard raised his eyebrows. “As good a notion as any.”

He took up his staff and rapped on the rock. There was no reaction.

Wissagebreht waited.

“Well?” demanded Lungand. “What now?”

“I expect we are being surveyed. Dwarvish doors very frequently include cunningly fashioned spyholes. This is so that they can look at those who demand admittance before they admit them.”

“And for how long do we expect them to survey us before they admit us? And if they decide not to admit us, what then?”

“You worry too much, Lungand.” But nevertheless, Wissagebreht took up his staff again and rapped once more on the door. There was still no answer.

Lungand merely looked at the Wizard. Meanwhile, Bruderic, who had thought only of coming to the Dwarves to fulfil the quest but had not thought that it might be difficult to arrange a meeting with the Dwarves, looked on in consternation.

Wissagebreht shrugged. “I would truly prefer to do nothing drastic, though I am prepared, if it should come to that. Let us camp here. If we have no sign of Dwarves by morning, I shall try something else.”

Lungand’s look showed how little he liked this, but he said nothing. He maintained his grimly disapproving look throughout the evening. He even seemed to maintain that expression after he went to sleep. Carla, who had great trust in Wissagebreht, wondered how long the Wizard would put up with this. She then began to wonder if Lungand’s face had possibly set for good in a disapproving expression. This caused her to giggle, and she had to avoid telling either Wissagebreht or Bruderic the cause of her mirth.

In the morning the Chamberlain’s disapproving expression was, if anything, stronger. After they had breakfasted, cleaned up the dishes, and packed their things, Wissagebreht once again rapped with his staff on the rock.

There was an almost inaudible scraping sound, and a large part of the boulder swung inward. In the doorway stood a Dwarf, shorter than Carla, broadly built, with strong arms and fingers. His face was broad, brown, weathered, and covered from the nose downward with a curling brown beard. There was a short sword slung at his left side. A dagger at his right, and he wore a plain brown smock over a pair of grey hose, and a pointed brown leather cap on his head.

He bowed. “Good morning to you, Wissagebreht,” he said.

“Good morning. You have been watching us all night?”

“No. There is no regular watch at this door, but a patrol goes by regularly. Last night’s patrol reported a party camping here, and I was sent with a small party to watch and see if it was merely chance travellers, or someone come to pay a call. So here I am, and here you are. What do you wish with the Dwarves?”

Wissagebreht frowned. “Do we discuss such matters on the doorstep?”

The Dwarf answered the frown with one of his own. “We let none in here without good reason. You may tell me here at the doorstep why you wish to be admitted, and I decide if that is sufficient reason.”

Carla could feel Lungand’s face becoming a thundercloud, but Wissagebreht was calm. “I am here with the King of Vorholm, his Chamberlain, and my ward, Carla. The King wishes to have a memorial made to the late Queen Guendatha.”


That was Chapter Six. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]

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The Search for the Unicorns Chapter Four

This is the fourth chapter in the story, if you have not read the previous chapter please do so before continuing: Chapter 3 – Lothbosc

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Here is the Fourth chapter:

Chapter 4

QUICKFOOT

Early the next morning, Carla went down to the spring for a drink. As she was approaching the spring she stepped into a small hole in the ground, stumbled, and fell. When she tried to stand up again, she found that her right ankle could barely hold her weight.

She looked up at the camp. She knew that if Bruderic saw her limping up the slope he would immediately come dashing down to help her. For some reason the mere thought of that brought her temper to a boil. She had practically reached the campfire before anyone noticed her. By that time it was too late for anyone to do much besides expressing distress.

Wissagebreht sat her down and checked the ankle, probing it with careful fingers. At last he looked up and said, “Well, there is no bone broken, but I doubt if you’ll be able to walk for a few days.”

Carla shrugged. “I suppose I’ll Just have to stay round the camp and make sure there are meals for you when you get back.” She felt less cheery than she sounded, however, for she had hoped to be able to see a unicorn.

The Wizard looked at her sympathetically. “We’ll leave Bruderic here to keep you company.”

She sat up straight. “I don’t need company! You know I’ve spent days, even weeks, alone! All of you go off and look for your unicorns! I’ll be quite all right here!”

Wissagebreht looked at her sharply. “You’re certain you’ll be all right?”

“You need to ask that? You taught me how to get along all by myself from an early age. Don’t I have everything I need here? And you’ll always be coming back in the evening, won’t you?”

He nodded, saying nothing. He then got a piece of cloth and wrapped her ankle tightly. “Don’t try to move too much or too far. The more rest you give it, the sooner it will heal.”

The three went off then, leaving her sitting at the camp. After feeling sorry for herself for a while, Carla decided that she might as well do something useful. She warmed up some water and washed a lot of clothes. Hanging them up on various sticks which she planted in the earth around the campsite.

Carla spent a lot of time resting and dozing, but there was only so much time that could be spent that way. Towards evening she decided to get something for supper. Something beside the kinds of hurried meals they had had for the last while. She gathered together bits of food from the travel rations, found some wild herbs and dandelions growing nearby which she combined with some spring water in a pot over the fire. She was practically done with that when the men all came back. They were somewhat tired, hungry, and grumpy. She was glad that she had taken the time and trouble over the meal.

There was little conversation during supper. But afterwards Bruderic said, “Thank you for cooking the meal, Carla. You clearly took some time over it.”

“Simply being lamed does not make me incapable of helping out. It was the least I could do.”

“And it was certainly appreciated,” said Wissagebreht.

Lungand simply grunted, but it could be seen that he, too, had appreciated it.

After having eaten, Bruderic went off into the willows. He returned a little later with two poles of medium length, each topped with a fork. Sitting down beside the fire, he carved these two poles down. Thereby producing a pair of reasonable crutches. He even put fastened pegs for her to hold onto, then surveyed his work with no little pride.

Carla realized very early on in the process of Bruderic’s crutch-building what he was about and she was torn. On the one hand, she felt irritated about being reminded of her lameness. But nevertheless, forced herself to act and sound grateful. Carla realized that the next day, when she was trying to hobble around the campsite, she would be grateful indeed. She pushed her irritation into the back of her mind as she said, “Thank you very much, Bruderic. These will be very useful to me.”

And she gave him as big a smile as she could manage, without making it clear that she was pretending.

He smiled back. “I hope that they will make some amends for having to stay around the camp all day. At least you will be able to move a little easier.”

And his understanding tone made it even harder to bear.

The next morning, the men set about to ensure that the campsite had plenty of water. After the men had gone out, Carla sat around for a while. Time went by and soon she got too restless. She looked over to the crutches. It took a little getting used to, but she managed to move around well enough on the crutches to be able to tidy up the camp.

First Carla heated up some water on the fire and used it to clean up the dishes from breakfast. Then she shook out the bedrolls and folded them neatly away. Once the campsite was tidied, there was little more to do for now so she napped. After she woke up from her nap, she sat for a while singing songs. She then swung around on her crutches exploring, and finally became extremely bored. It was a little after she had eaten lunch. She was sitting on the hillside watching the spring bubble out and roll down the hill to the pond. When over the hill trotted a unicorn.

She saw him come from the time his head first appeared over the brow of the hill. At first she thought he was merely a deer, come to drink at the spring. But the colour was wrong for any deer she had ever known, and there were no antlers, Just that one horn on the forehead. Suddenly she sat up straight as she soon realized what she saw.

She grabbed for her crutches. Just as she was about to work her way to her feet, the thought came to her. All her thrashing around on crutches would be more likely than not to frighten the beast. She sat still.

The unicorn turned his head toward her, and she felt his surprise, almost as though he had said out loud, “Hello! What are you doing here?” Then he turned back toward the pond and went down to drink.

Carla felt that she had somehow been studied and considered as no threat. She wondered what to do next. She might offer it food, but what did unicorns eat? And if she stood and tried to make her way to the pond, it might well frighten the beast. On the other hand, if she reported that evening that she had seen a unicorn and had done nothing, what would Wissagebreht say?

The unicorn was drinking. Its head down toward the pond. Perhaps now would be the time to get to her feet. When it wouldn’t notice the movement so much. She pulled herself to her feet, getting her crutches under her. At that moment the unicorn threw up its head and looked around at her. Carla froze.

It looked at her for a time, then turned back to the water. She began to make her way slowly down toward it.

She had gone practically no distance at all when it stopped drinking again and turned toward her. Turning its whole body this time.

The liquid blue eyes stared at her, and she had a feeling that they were staring right into her mind. It spoke. “What are you doing here all alone, child?”

She stood still and stared. What little she knew about unicorns did not include the fact that they spoke, or that they spoke readily. While she was staring, it spoke again.

“Come child, answer me. in the wild?” Why are you all alone out here in the wild?”

“Why, I am not alone. There are three others with me.”

There was laughter in the unicorn’s voice. “Are there indeed? Then they must be invisible, for I cannot see them.”

“Oh, they have left me here in the camp while they go out searching for unicorns.”

Even as she realized what she had said, the unicorn was answering in a voice full of laughter.

“They have gone off looking for unicorns, have they? And you, left alone in the camp, are the one who has actually found the unicorn. How amusing.”

It moved closer to her, its horn gleaming in the summer sunshine. She felt its fierce wildness. The strength of muscles which could, and would, take it bounding away and free from any danger that threatened.

“So why are they searching for unicorns? For one of those magical potions which require the powdered horn of a unicorn, I suppose?”

“Oh no, not that! we merely want to know why the unicorns have not returned to our land. The prosperity and health of the land are bound up with the return of the unicorns, and for five years they have not come. We have come to find out why.”

There was a long pause. “Who has come with you, then?”

“The Wizard Wissagebreht, the Chamberlain Lungand, and the King Bruderic.”

“Ah.”

“Why have you stopped coming to our land?”

The blue eyes stared at and into her. “Perhaps better that question should be answered once for the whole group of you. When will your companions be back?”

“This evening, toward sundown.”

“And I will be back as well, after sundown.”

“Do you have a name?”

“I am called Yssagarit, Quickfoot.”

Laughter came into his voice again, “And speaking of quick feet, you seem slow on yours. You were injured?”

“Yes, I fell the other day and hurt my ankle.”

“I can heal you, if you would like.”

“You can?”

“Oh yes.” Yssagarit was solemn now.

It will not be comfortable, but it will cure you.”

She was immediately excited. “Please do so.”

Again the eyes looked into her. “Very well, then.”

The unicorn bent his head and laid his horn upon her injured ankle. There was a sudden stab of pain, a pain which brought tears to her eyes and caused her to scream aloud. She almost fell, but instead clutched the crutches tightly to keep her balance. The pain passed, gradually, and was replaced by a throbbing.

The throbbing began to subside as well, and Carla put a little more weight on the ankle. The pain was gone. All this time Quickfoot was standing, looking at her.

She dropped the crutches, standing erect. Quickfoot looked at her and laughed. “I told you that it would not be comfortable, did I not?”

Carla had to cast her mind back, and she did recall that he had indeed told her it would not be comfortable. She, however, had paid little attention to that. Being more concerned about having her ankle healed. She nodded. “Yes, you did. Thank you for the healing.”

“For nothing, little maiden. Your ankle is well?”

“Yes,” she answered, still a little surprised at it all, “quite well.”

“Good! Sing, then!”

Somewhere in the back of her mind Carla knew that this was a strange request. But the rest of her being felt it completely natural. She began to sing. Slowly at first. Then making up words as she went along, she sang a song that quickened and seemed to grow of its own accord. As it went, it began to draw her feet into a dance, and her feet began to catch up to the song, and faster. Then the song began to go faster.

Before she knew it, Quickfoot was dancing and gamboling along with her. His four feet flying as quickly and in more intricate steps than her two. From his mouth there came a whistling which matched the song she was singing. They danced and pranced there in the sun for a long time. The song did not slow, it merely stopped suddenly. Carla tumbled in a heap on the ground. She was gasping for breath and laughing at the unicorn, who returned the laughter.

After she had gotten her breath back, she said, “Did you do that as well? Make me dance, I mean?”

He chuckled. “Somewhat. It was a part of the healing, you see, not merely to cause it to be well, but to cause it to be used.”

She laughed a little herself at that. “You must go, then? You could not stay here until they come back?”

Quickfoot shook himself all over. “No. The question you ask is important, and not merely to yourselves. I must pass along word of your coming. But I shall return this evening, for certain.”

He sprang off up the slope, and was away before she could say more.

The first thing the three men noticed when they came back to the camp that evening, was that Carla was walking without the crutches.  There wasn’t even a trace of a limp.

“What has happened here, Carla?” asked Wissagebreht.

“A unicorn came to drink here and stopped to talk to me. While he was here, he touched my ankle with his horn and healed it.”

Wissagebreht nodded, as though he had been expecting this answer. “And what did you speak of to the unicorn?”

She laughed. “Yes, I did talk about our quest, and what we had come to find out. Yssagarit said he would come back this evening and talk to all of us.”

And the Wizard smiled as well. “So we have been wandering all over trying to find unicorns, and the unicorn actually came here and found you?”

She laughed again. “So it seems.”

Neither Carla nor Bruderic had much appetite for supper that evening. Lungand was an old soldier who knew enough to and rest whenever there was the least opportunity. Therefore he ate and urged Bruderic to do the same. Wissagebreht nagged Carla in order to force her to eat as well. So, despite the excitement, she came close enough to eating sufficiently.

The party sat quietly waiting. Meanwhile, the two younger people fidgeted around. They continually got up, walked around, looked up at the hillside, then flopped to the ground again. Carla would occasionally put a stone in her sling and throw it at a boulder far across the stream. Sometimes she even hit it.

Just as Carla was beginning to despair that Quickfoot was not coming back, they heard the sounds of hoofbeats on the path. Then Quickfoot came trotting over the hill with two other unicorns accompanying him.

Instead of coming to talk to Wissagebreht or to Lungand, Carla was surprised that the unicorns trotted directly to where she sat and bowed their heads to her. “A good evening to you, little maiden.”

“And a good evening to you as well, Yssagarit. you have returned, as you promised.”, Carla replied.

The unicorn laughed. “Did you doubt it? of course we have returned. And my two companions here are Kissadwar Silverhorn, and Pharassit Shywalker. And you had a question to ask us, did you not?”

Carla shifted her attention from the unicorns slightly to note what her companions were doing. Wissagebreht sat back, relaxed, as though all this were something he had planned. Bruderic leaned forward eagerly. He appeared excited at seeing the elusive unicorns. Perhaps a little fearing the answer to the question that Carla would ask. Lungand sat like a thundercloud, silent, black, and threatening. She could practically hear him thinking, ‘Why do they talk to the girl? And why all this politeness and talking of nothing? Let us get the question answered!’

But he said nothing.

She gathered herself up. “It is said that the health of our land is tied to the return of the unicorns. For five years the unicorns have not returned to our land, and for five years the land has been progressively wasting away. We have come to ask why you do not return?”

Quickfoot nodded his head a trifle. “We have expected you for some time. Not necessarily this specific group of people. But we knew that at some time people would come to find out why we do not return. The answer, unfortunately lies not with us but with the Elves.

“Many years back, a young woman of the Elves met with a Prince of Men who was wandering in the woods. They talked, they fell in love, and eventually they married. The marriage came about despite misgivings from both families. For, seeing that the two were determined. Both families let them have their way and give them their blessing.

“The Elves, being largehanded in these matters, promised health and prosperity for their land. And, as a sign of this, said that all would be well with the land so long as the unicorns continued to return. And so it was, for many years.

“Then the King died in an accident, and the land was troubled by its own people. Many battles were fought, and the queen was taken under the protection of one particular man. Kept alone, it is said. Except for one maid whom she had brought from among her own people, and two loyal men-at-arms.

“The man protecting the queen said that he was ruling on her behalf until the birth of her child. The war was fierce, for there were many who felt they had a better right than he to claim such rule. One by one he beat and defeated them, until he at last was left as the strongest in the realm. And during this time it began to be rumoured that he had murdered the Queen, the maid, and the two men-at~arms.

“He denied this for some time, but neither would he permit them to show themselves publicly. It was not safe, he said.

“Then suddenly he announced that they had died. That the queen had died because while she was ill with the plague, her babe was born. The babe was born dead, and the Queen, worn with illness and grief, died as well. The others, the maid and the men-at-arms, had caught the plague as well from staying with her so loyally. All the bodies were burned and buried immediately to prevent the spread of the plague.

“As a result of all this, he claimed for himself the crown. Those who might have objected were already largely defeated in the wars. So the land knew peace for some time.”

“The Elves do not often rush to hasty decisions. They tried for many years to discover the truth of the matter. We have no idea what answers they found, but eventually, a few years ago, they asked us to cease going to your country. That is all we know.”

“So what do we do now?” burst out Lungand angrily. “We have come all this way to talk to unicorns. Now we find that it is the Elves we have to deal with, that the Elves have cursed our land.”

Wissagebreht spoke more mildly. “I think it would be best not to take too negative a view of the situation, Lungand. We ought not to give up and go home simply because problem is with the Elves instead of with the unicorns.”

“You think not? What else can we do? March to the Kingdom of the Elves, show ourselves there in the form of beggars, and attempt to change their minds?”

“That is not exactly what I had in mind, but near enough.”

But now Lungand had gone off on another track. “You knew about the unicorns! You knew that the difficulty was with the Elves, and yet you led us off on this fruitless quest!”

As the Chamberlain paused for breath, Wissagebreht interrupted. “Supposing I had told you at the beginning that unicorns were not returning because the Elves had asked them not to. What would have your reaction been? You would have wanted to set forth immediately, gather your army, and declare war on the Elves.

Whether or not you could have successfully fought against them is one thing. But it is almost certain that nothing you could do would force them to remove the curse.”

“So as it is we go there now, humiliate ourselves, and beg them to have mercy on us?”, spat Lungand as he flung his arms out in frustration.

“It is probably not necessary to humiliate ourselves. What we will have to do is explain what has happened, tell them our side of the story. Tell all the truth, and I think they will be generous.”

“‘All the truth?'” Lungand exploded again. “Who knows all the truth any longer? I certainly do not. I know only the story as it came to me. That my brother took the Queen and her retinue under his protection. That later on it was told that she had died, and he took the crown for want of a better-qualified claimant.”

“And you never sought to discover anything more than that?”, queried Wissagebreht.

“No. Perhaps I feared what I might find. Knowing that if it was as I feared, we would face another civil war. A war which the land could hardly bear”, Lungand spoke lowly, yet with uncharacteristic emotion underlying his tone.

Wissagebreht merely looked at him.

After a moment Lungand spoke again, as though defending himself against accusation, ”You know what manner of man my brother was, Wissagebreht. Proud and unyielding, disdainful of accusations not backed up with deeds. While he lived, all the investigation I could do was limited to those things which would not tell one of his foes that I was plotting against him. If any of them had thought that the brothers had fallen out, the war would begin again.

“And to be sure, with what I found out I could do little. I cannot prove that he had them killed or, that he did not. Had I told him I doubted his public story, he would merely have stared at me and suggested that if I doubted his word. He would have to challenge me, his brother.

“I did talk to the midwife. She agreed that the Queen was ill when the babe arrived. That the babe was female, a weak little thing with scarce strength to cry aloud. She concurs that the others present, the men-at-arms and the maid all showed signs of the plague. The seneschal had hustled her out before she could do more than bathe the babe, and she doubts that it lived out the night.”

Lungand looked down at the ground for a long moment, then looked up again. “I fear that my brother had it already in his mind to claim the crown. The only witnesses at the birth were the midwife and the Queen’s own people. For such a birth as this, it is normal that there be several witnesses, in order to prove that the heir is rightfully born. All we know is that the queen died giving birth to a child, an unhealthy girl child, who has never been heard of again. As to the deaths of the others. Well, during the plague~time bodies were commonly burnt, and there might well be no graves left to inspect. What more truth can we tell?”

Bruderic stood up. There were tears in his eyes, and his face was twisted with anger. “And so my father was a usurper and very likely a murderer? My claim to the throne lies only in the strength of my father’s sword-arm? I will renounce all that and go to live in the wilds; perhaps that will mollify the Elves!”

Lungand would have spoken, but Wissagebreht was quicker. “Bruderic, your father may not have acted wisely in all things. Indeed, he may well have done things which were evil. You are not your father. You are yourself. There will be those who will compare you to him. Say that you show all his faults, but you must learn to ignore those and do what is right for you.

“As for renouncing the throne, that might perhaps help the situation if there were another claimant to the throne who would be acceptable to all. As it is, all you would accomplish by this is what your uncle fears. A civil war as all those who feel themselves fit to be king gather their forces against all the others.”

“So I hold to what my father took illegally?”, Bruderic thrust his hands out emphatically.

“For want of a better alternative, yes.”, Wissagebreht nodded.

He walked a few paces away, and stopped, staring at the sky which was still purple with the setting sun. Finally he turned back. “All right. I suppose my choices are to hold onto something I feel I have no right to, or to let it go and see destruction wrought. Bitter choices, but choices I must make. Tell me, Lungand, is this what it means to grow up?”

Lungand was silent for a little while, then he said, “I fear so. I would have shielded you from most of this for a little longer, had I been able. Time and chance brought it forth before I wished.”

Bruderic smiled, a bitter little smile. I had heard most of it, in bits and pieces. Embroidered and embellished or trimmed and minimized. Depending on the speaker, for many years. Yet at the time you told me very little, avoiding any direct questions, so that I could pretend the worst of it was not so. But I think I always knew that there was more to it than mere jealousy.”

He was quiet for a while, then he brought his shoulders back and looked at Wissagebreht and Lungand. “So, then. When do we go to visit the Elves?”

Lungand looked at Wissagebreht. “You obviously wish to go from here, without returning to the kingdom.”

Wissagebreht nodded. “Should we return, only for a moment, I fear it might lead to entanglements we do not wish. Such as some Lords desiring to send out an army with us. And I think our purpose can be achieved by this small company. As to when we leave, tomorrow will be soon enough for that.”

“Tomorrow, then.” said Bruderic.

“But one other thing,” said Wissagebreht, turning his attention to the unicorns. “Will you accompany us?”

Quickfoot tossed his head. “Certainly. We can even carry you, if you will agree to certain limitations.”

“What would those be?”

“We will not be bridled or tied. We will go as quickly as we go, without urging from you. And we will stop when and as we feel it necessary. But I can assure you that we will travel farther and faster in a day than you could afoot.”

Wissagebreht nodded. “So be it. For my part, I will agree, and I think the others will also agree.”

Carla, thinking of the long trek from Wissagebreht’s hut, agreed readily, and Bruderic was no less willing. Lungand, deep in thought, had to be questioned again, but when they got his attention he said absently, “What? Oh,yes, of course.”

“Good, then,” said the wizard. “Best that we rest for the night, then, and be ready to start early in the morning.”

In the morning the unicorns were there before the four were finished breakfast. But the unicorns waited politely until they were packed and ready to leave. Carla got on Quickfoot, with Bruderic behind her. Wissagebreht and the Chamberlain mounted the other two.

“Ready?” asked Quickfoot.

“Yes,” they answered.

“Then let us be away.” And the three unicorns set off at a quick trot.

For the first little while, Carla tried to find a comfortable way to sit on the unicorn’s back. The spine was very hard, and jouncing along as the beast ran was a bruising experience. Eventually, she hit upon a method which involved moving as the unicorn moved. A method which was a little less painful. She was then able to pay attention to the trip. She noticed, with some satisfaction, that they were moving farther and faster than they could hope to move by foot.

She could also think about where they were going. To the Kingdom of the Elves! She knew stories about the Elves. She knew that the Dark Elves were enemies of men, cruel and vindictive. Where the Light Elves had little at all to do with men, though trust between men and Elves had never been high.

From what Carla knew through the stories, it was possible that the Elves would simply ignore the party and allow them to wander through the Elven Kingdom. However, they would never come into contact with anyone who would help them on their quest. In that matter Carla was quite certain that Wissagebreht likely had some scheme in mind which would bring them to the notice of the Elves.

The unicorns, seemingly tireless, trotted on and on. it was Wissagebreht who finally called them to a halt. “We all need a rest, and perhaps some of us could do with a drink of water. Let us stop for a moment, Quickfoot.”

They stopped. All the people got down, stretched, and walked around a little. They then drank a little water. By the time that Carla was beginning to notice how sore and stiff her legs were, Wissagebreht had them mounted up and riding again.

They stopped again several times during the day. While at night, Carla was almost certain that her legs would never be the same again. Lungand spent much of that evening in a dark mood. Bruderic whispered to Carla, “Be careful around him now. He is worrying about what might be happening in the kingdom with both of us away.”

She nodded. As she walked around the campfire, though, she noticed from time to time that Lungand was looking at her with a strange expression on his face. She went to Wissagebreht and told him. He smiled and nodded.

“Don’t worry. Something has suddenly occurred to him, and that has many ramifications. I see it too, and I will do my best to see that no harm comes to you from it.”

“Harm? Harm from what? noticed, then?” What is it that he has noticed, then?”

“If I tell you that, then the two of you would be stepping so carefully around each other, that trouble would eventually be certain to come of it. Do you remember that I promised after this was done to tell you about who you are? This is a part of it, and I shall surely explain it to you then, if it is not already clear to you by that time. Now go and talk to the unicorns, and stop worrying.”

She went to talk to the unicorns, but she was unable to stop worrying. Who could she be that Lungand would be so concerned about? She was only a girl. About sixteen years old, and about the time of the queen’s disappearance she would barely have been born.

It struck her then, almost like a blow. Lungand thought that she might be the child of the Queen! The midwife had said that the babe had been a girl, and very feeble. What if the babe had not died, but had been kept alive. Had been secretly taken out of the place where they had all been kept. Perhaps by one of the loyal men-at-arms, and delivered to the hut of Wissagebreht as one person who might keep her safe?

She shook her head. No, if that were true, Wissagebreht would have said or done something before now. She had dreamed of her real parents coming and taking back to their great castle, but those were only dreams. She could not believe that she was a Queen. Of course, that need not mean a thing to Lungand. All he saw was a girl who was about the right age to be the rightful heir to the throne. Possibly, to be the cause of that same civil war he feared so much.

But who was she? Well, all she could do would be to wait until all this business was over, and the Wizard would tell her.

Another day passed similarly to the first, the only thing that changed was the landscape, as there were soft rolling hills, and every so often an outcropping of trees. On the morning of the third day Carla found that the stiffness due to the unaccustomed riding was passing. However it appeared to be giving way to soreness and chafing due to the constant rubbing in the saddle. It grew so bad that she thought that she’d never be free of it.

Wissagebreht pawed through his bag until he found something, a small pot, and he gave it to her. “Here, rub this where your legs are sorest. It will help for a while, and I hope that a while is all that will be needed.”

By the middle of the day they were in a country of gently rolling hills. As the unicorns reached the tops of some of the higher hills, they could make out a faint dark green line far away on the horizon. They made their camp on one of those hills. After they had dismounted, Wissagebreht looked off in that direction and said, “There they are. the woods where the Elves dwell.”

The next day took them even closer to the wood, and the day after that they were at its edge. The trees of the Lothbosc had been large and old, but within this forest there were larger and older trees. There was a feeling about it. Not the kind of dread and hate in the Lothbosc. But something more subtle. A hint that strangers might come in if they behaved themselves. But they were not really wanted, and the wood would ignore them.

Lungand looked around, and his thoughts were plain. Whatever he had expected, it was not this! “What now, Wizard? Do we walk about shouting, and hope to be brought to their notice?”

The Wizard merely smiled a mild smile and said, “Not quite. Let us go a little further in before we worry too much over that.”

They went further in among the great trunks of the trees. Along a path which seemed sometimes to be hardly there at all. Quickfoot snorted suddenly. “The Elves are here. They are watching us and listening. They will wait with great patience to see if they can find out what it is we want in their lands. But they may never come forth.”

Lungand looked at the unicorn. “How can you tell?”

Quickfoot laughed. “Perhaps what is hidden from the eyes of men is not hidden from the eyes of unicorns. Or perhaps indeed you do not wish to see or hear what is around you.”

“They are there,” said Wissagebreht. “I cannot see or hear them, but I know that they are here.” So we must bring them out to talk to us.”

“And how are we to do that? Shout at them? Call insults down on their families?”, Lungand sneered.

“Lungand, for a man who has kept a kingdom full of potentially rebellious subjects at peace for the past ten years, you show remarkably little patience. Let us camp here the night, and if they have not come out to talk to us by morning, then I will do something.”

They set up their camp, all the while with a growing feeling that they were being watched. They sang no songs around that night’s campfire, but rather told quiet tales of bygone days.

As the evening wore on, Carla noticed that Bruderic was becoming more and more morose. She had taken to sitting as away from him as possible, but now she began to feel a little sorry for him. Neither of the two men seemed to be taking any notice of his mood, so she decided that something should be done. She moved around closer to him. “We are almost at the end of our quest, Bruderic. Should you not be happy?”

“Happy?”, He gave her a painful grimace. “I am a King because my father stole the kingdom, probably murdering the Queen and her child in the process. And because of that, throughout my days there will be men who feel that they have as good a claim to the throne as I. So from time to time I must fight, not the enemies of my people, but my own people. Perhaps the Elves will demand of me that I renounce the throne. That would please me greatly.”

“No,” said Carla, “I doubt that they would ask something of you that would be so easily accomplished. But I think you are partly right. It is you of whom they will ask something, for it is you that represent the Kingdom.”

He sighed. “Yes, it is, is it not? Just as my uncle has always pointed out to me, there will be consequences to anything I do with the Kingdom. And my choice must always be to do that which will cause the least harm in the long run.

Carla shuddered. “And I thought I had a hard life. Living in a tumbledown hut with an old wizard, trying to patch up the cracks when the wind blew through.”

He smiled a little. “Yes, there is that. I live warmly most of the time. Though when I visit the castles of some of my barons, as I must do out of courtesy from time to time. I discover that they were built for defence, not for comfort. Why I remember a time…”

And he went on to tell a humourous story about one such visit. A long story, tedious at times, but with a funny little twist at the end. Carla was pleased to see the gloom lift from his face a little as he went on.

When morning came, the Elves still had not come out to speak to them. Lungand was clearly angry at the whole thing. So much so that it was not likely that he could contribute anything useful to any discussion of the subject. Bruderic, however, was concerned. At least he was concerned about getting this over and done with. “Well, wizard, what do we do now?”

Wissagebreht smiled. “Why we draw them out. Come, Carla, there is a song I want you to sing. Here, follow this:

‘The stars shone bright in the summer night

As the Princess danced in the wood.

And a man who came from death and flame

Beneath the great trees stood.

0 the flowers were fair which decked her hair

And light were her feet on the ground.

So fair she seemed that he felt he dreamed

And he dared not make a sound.'”

There was much more to the song, which told the long story of Dagobreht, the King and Guendatha, Princess of the Elves. The song told how they met. How he loved her. How he wooed her and won her despite the objections of her people. How he finally won his throne, and took her to share it with him.

By the time she as well into the song Carla felt that someone was paying close attention to the party. As it ended, there was a movement in the brush and suddenly ten Elves were standing all around them. The Elves had bows with arrows held loosely on the strings. Save for one, the apparent leader, who carried bow in his right hand at his side and looked at them with an expression of disdain on his face.

They were all slender of build, but even so, they carried themselves as warriors who knew their own abilities well. They all seemed young, with fair hair and blue or blue-green eyes. Each wore a hooded shirt of mottled green and brown over a chain-mail hauberk. Then trousers and shoes, again of mottled green and brown.

The leader continued to survey the four. At last, after Carla had begun to feel quite uncomfortable, he spoke. “Who are you, and how is it that you have the audacity to sing that song in this place?”

Bruderic and Lungand had put hands to their sword-hilts. But Wissagebreht made a motion with his hand to tell them not to worry. He himself smiled at the Elves and spoke quietly. “I am Wissagebreht, a Wizard, and I may be known to many of your people if not to yourself. The girl is my ward, Carla. These others are Bruderic, King of Vorholm and his Uncle and Chamberlain, Lungand.”

“And if you are a wise wizard, known to the Elves, what brought you to sing the song of Guendatha in the very home of the Elves?” The face was set and grim, the eyes burned with anger.

Wissagebreht shrugged. “It pleased the Elves to hide about our camp and spy on us, waiting to hear who we were and what we wanted. There is, however, a little urgency about our quest. Therefore, knowing that it would get your attention, I had my ward sing the song.”

Carla, listening to the conversation and watching the Elves, felt more than a little fear that Wissagebreht was going too far. that the leader of the Elves was near to ordering his archers to make pincushions out of the four. She felt glad that about that moment Quickfoot moved over beside her. She leaned an arm on his withers. A moment later the Elf, surveying the group, relaxed a little. It seemed that it was the presence of the unicorns as much as anything which brought about this relaxation.

“So, then. What is this quest, and what is its urgency?”

Wissagebreht shook his head. “Shall we be required to speak of our quest to every Elf who wanders by? We wish to speak to the King.”

Carla, amazed at his boldness in the circumstances, leaned a little harder on the unicorn. Quickfoot turned his head back and looked at her with those blue eyes. She calmed herself.

“In this case, you shall have to speak of your quest to me at least. I am Mabbren, son of the Elf King, and I do know you, at least by reputation, Wissagebreht. But the days have gone by when there was close friendship between Men and Elves. In recent years, there have been more reasons for Elves to fear and dislike Men. Including the end of Guendatha, which is not spoken of in the song so prettily sung by your ward.”

He bowed slightly towards Carla, and there was a feeling of lessening tension. He made some kind of quick sign with his hand, and his warriors relaxed. Letting their bows drop to their sides, though none of them changed their expressions. If Mabbren was allowing himself to be convinced of the friendliness of the group, it did not seem to be passed on to his followers.

He continued. “In addition to being the son of the Elf King, I am also the guardian of this part of the wood. It is my responsibility to watch and question wanderers and vagabonds in these woods. So, I must insist that you tell me of your quest. If it is sufficiently important, I can assure you that you will be sent on immediately to the King.”

Wissagebreht looked at the Elf for a moment, then nodded. “So be it, then. This is our quest.”

And he went on to describe briefly the reasons why they had come, first to find the unicorns, then to visit the Elves. Mabbren listened with patience. Frowning a little as the Wizard described Yssagarit’s story of the disappearance of the Queen.

When the tale was done, Mabbren stood silent for a moment, and spoke at last. “So. There were those among us who had expected that at some time or another Men would come to ask us to remove the curse. My father himself has occasionally wondered when you would come.”

“And here we are. Will you then take us to the King your father?”

Mabbren nodded. “Oh, yes, I shall take you, though you may have little joy of the meeting. My father has from time to time expressed his distrust of Men and his displeasure at all their works. And remember that Guendatha was his sister’s daughter.”

Wissagebreht shrugged. “Yes, I know all this. Yet it is necessary to try to convince him.”

“Then I will take you to him,” said Mabbren.

He chose two of his followers to accompany them. he then assigned one other to take charge in his absence, and they prepared to march.


That was Chapter Four. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]

Or if you want to wait, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta in a month or so once the chapters have been released.

The Search for the Unicorns Chapter Three

This is the third chapter in the story, if you have not read the first chapter please do so before continuing: Chapter 2 – The Wendleases

As I am looking to you to give me feedback, please use this link as a guide:

Beta Reading Guide

Here is the Third chapter:

Chapter 3

LOTHBOSC

Several days later they came to a forest. They had seen it for several days. First from hilltops as a dark line on the horizon. then as a long irregular dark patch which lay across their path, and finally as a forest. Dark, green, and faintly ominous.

At last they stood on a long slope which led down to the first low bushes and beyond them, to the trees. “Now,” said Wissagebreht, “we have a choice to make. Our destination is beyond the wood, and we must either go through it or around it.”

The King spoke. “From the way you say that, it is obvious that to go through the wood is not so simple as it sounds.”

“Not at all. This is Lothbosc, the Wood of Ill Omen. There are rumoured to be various creatures in it which bear little love for men. It is also known that Dark Elves live here, Elves who hate men. It is even said that the wood itself has become imbued with evil, that it knows and detests the tread of men.”

“So we ought to go around?”

“That is to be decided. To go around will certainly mean a delay in our journey, and we will have to decide just how much of a delay we can afford.”

“From all you say, it is not a place for people to enter lightly.”

“No, it is not.”

“And yet, to go around is to lose precious time. I think we should go on through.”

The Chamberlain broke in at this point. “Wizard, it is clear that you know more of this wood than any of us. Why do you not decide, and then tell us what you have decided?”

Wissagebreht smiled. “Perhaps it is because I fear the accusations which would be levelled if I led you into difficulties. There are dangers in the wood, to be sure, but we must not waste time. I hope that if we travel carefully enough, we can pass through unseen and unnoticed by the worst of the dangers.”

“How long to go through?” asked Lungand.

“A day and a night and part of the next day.”

Lungand rubbed his chin. “And all this time, evil things will be seeking us out?”

Wissagebreht shrugged. “Perhaps, perhaps not.”

“Have you gone through this wood yourself?”

“I have been in it a time or two.”

“And did you have any difficulties yourself?”

“None that I could not overcome, clearly, since I am here with you now.”

Lungand did not smile at the humour. “Let us go, then, as quickly as possible. If it must be done, it would be best to do it with all speed.”

Wissagebreht bowed slightly. “if we are all in agreement, then?”

At first the wood seemed a wood like any other. There were tall trees. And where the trees let the light through, an underbrush of varying degrees of thickness grew. There were paths as well on which there were animal tracks which were made by natural animals. Birds twittering and chirping in the branches which lined the paths.

Carla clutched her sling. With constant practice over the last days, she had achieved a reasonable standard of accuracy. Though she was not as consistent as she would have liked.

As they went deeper the forest grew darker. Less light was able to penetrate to the forest floor, and this in turn meant that less and less underbrush grew. Gradually, there seemed to be fewer and fewer birds in the trees. While on the paths, mixed with tracks of ordinary animals such as squirrels and bears, there were tracks which were unrecognizable.

A feeling grew on them, seeming to grow out of the forest all around. A feeling that they did not belong there. That there was something watching their movements. Something which did not approve of them. Unconsciously, they moved closer together as they walked. It was as though to draw strength from each other to fight off the antipathy of the forest.

The threatening quiet of the forest began to bother Carla. She walked quietly behind Wissagebreht until she could no longer stand it. Finally she burst out, “The forest hates us! It would kill us if it could!”

Wissagebreht turned and spoke soothingly to her. “Yes, I feel it too, and so do the others. The forest cannot harm us by itself. That is for the creatures that inhabit it. Because of that, we must go quietly when we go.”

Carla quieted herself. When they started again, she concentrated on watching the Wizard’s back. There was a little flaw in the cloth of his garment just above the right hip. By staring at that, she could avoid allowing the feeling of the forest to bother her so badly.

Night came early. while it was high in the sky the sun could penetrate occasionally to the forest floor. The sun had declined toward the horizon. However, its rays no longer reached the travellers, and shortly the trail became harder and harder to follow.

Wissagebreht finally turned to the others. “I wish we could go on, but the light fails too fast. We must camp for the night.”

As they made their preparations, Wissagebreht cautioned them against going far from the group. He also insisted on gathering as much firewood as could be found. “Tonight,” he said, “we will want to keep a fire burning at all times. It will not protect us against everything, but it will protect us against some things.”

Carla shuddered. she had never known Wissagebreht to express his fear so openly before. What kinds of things could be in this wood that would make him so careful?

Bruderic saw her concern and came over to where she was gathering firewood. As he picked up some sticks, he said, “You worry too much.”

“I worry? what concerns me is the way he worries.” She pointed her chin toward the Wizard, who was busy with the preparations for supper. “I have never seen him so worried, and when he is afraid, I become terrified.”

Bruderic nodded. “You have lived with him a long while, then?”

“Since I was a babe.”

“How did that come about?” Bruderic let his curiosity overwhelm his good manners.

Carla shrugged. “All I know is that I was left on his doorstep in a basket, and he has raised me since. I have asked him occasionally if he knew who my parents were, but he always manages to change the subject.”

“That would be hard, to not know who your parents were, nor why they would choose to leave you alone at the door of a wizard’s hut.”

“Oh, sometimes it isn’t so bad. I use my imagination to pretend that my mother was a great lady who had to leave me for some reason. And that eventually, she will find me and bring me back to her castle.”

A thought struck her. “You have no parents either, do you?” 

Oh, but I know who they were. my father became King when the old King died. Some people claim that he killed the King, but that is a lie, for the King died after a fall from his horse. My father merely made himself Regent for the Queen, and fought the Barons who would have overthrown her.”

“I see.” Carla was quiet. She knew enough about the stories and suspicions which had surrounded Bruderic’s father. She was sure that speaking of those things at all would upset the young man.

Bruderic picked up a dry stick and struck it suddenly against a tree root so that it snapped in two. “They tell so many stories about the evil things that my father did! My uncle says that many of the stories are told out of envy and many out of ignorance. But even he cannot always tell me that they are false. He tells me that I must be the King, that I must rule the land and not allow anyone to say that I have no right.

“But I hear people talk when they don’t know I’m listening. So many of them hate me for my father’s sake, and for my uncle’s sake. I often wish that the Queen’s child would come back and prove his identity and take this burden from me!”

Carla didn’t know what to say, so she looked away and picked up another stick.

“Maybe,” she said tentatively, “maybe when you grow up you could give up being King, go do something else?”

Bruderic laughed, a bitter little laugh. “I said as much to him one day after I had had to watch justice being done on a group of people who had been saying that I was not the rightful King. When we were alone, I told him that when I grew up I would give up the throne and be King no longer, if this was what it meant.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Bruderic, if it distressed you to see those men die today, think what it would mean if you give up the throne. I can name you five men now. Indeed, you could name them yourself if you thought of it. Those who would immediately try to set themselves up in your place. It would mean war and battle with hundreds or thousands being killed, rather than three or four. And it is only by being King, by showing that you will allow no one to challenge your rule, that you prevent that.'”

He was quiet again for a while, then he spoke. “So here I am, a King that few of my subjects like, and I dare not think of giving it up for fear of what that would mean my people. It is not a position I enjoy.”

Carla didn’t know what to say to that. Fortunately, she was spared the necessity of saying anything by Wissagebreht’s calling them to come in with the wood.

A little later Carla had a chance to talk to Wissagebreht alone. “Did you know that the King doesn’t like being King? Everybody hates him, and they tell all kinds of wicked stories about his father.”

The Wizard nodded. “His father was a strong-minded man who saw his chance to become King and took it. As for the Queen, she was in his care, she and her maid. And the ‘care’ was little more than comfortable imprisonment. One day it was announced that the Queen, while ill with plague, had died after giving birth to a child. The child died soon after. Shortly after that, the Regent began to call himself King.

“It was irony indeed when he himself died in a fall from a horse when Bruderic was only a babe. His brother Lungand, fearing what would happen to the Kingdom, declared himself Regent in his nephew’s name. I suppose he thought it better to have a King of doubtful legitimacy than have all the powerful men of the Kingdom fighting for the crown.”

“But what of the Queen, Wissagebreht? What really happened to her and her child? Could they not come forward sometime and demand the throne?”

“Here, go cut up these carrots into the pan there; we will have a stew for our supper.”

As she moved off to do his bidding, Carla realized that this was the same sort of thing he had always done when she had asked about her parents. This was clearly something else he did not wish her to know, but why?

But Wissagebreht began to tell them all a long tale out of the Elven Kingdoms, and soon she had forgotten her questions. The thought came back to her, however, just before she went to bed. So she went to the Wizard and spoke to him quietly, “Wissagebreht, who am I? You have never told me; you have always changed the subject. But I know that you know. If you did not, you would have told me at least that. Now I want to know who my parents were.”

Wissagebreht looked at her, frowning a little. The frown suddenly disappeared to be replaced by a smile. “At this time and this place you would insist on knowing who you are? Carla, there were many reasons why I never told you before, and there are reasons why I would not tell you now. However, if you will agree to wait, I will promise to tell you when this quest is over and we are safe home.

“I promise you, there is a good reason why I would prefer not to tell you now. With that in mind, can you agree to wait?”

Carla looked at him. For a moment she wanted to be stubborn, to insist that he tell her now. But she knew that he always had good reasons for what he did. A little reluctantly, she nodded her head.

Each of them took a turn that night sitting up beside the fire and keeping it burning. Wissagebreht gave them a stern injunction before bedtime. “The fire must be kept burning. But be careful about using up all the wood. If the wood is used up before the night is over, we may find ourselves in trouble. It will not be wise for anyone to go searching for wood in the darkness.”

Wissagebreht took the first watch, and woke Bruderic for the next watch. Bruderic woke Carla, and Carla in her turn woke Lungand. Nothing bothered them in the night. Even so, Carla had the feeling that there were things out there beyond the light of the fire. Things that feared the fire only a little more than they hated the presence of the four travellers. Once or twice she thought she caught the gleam of eyes in the darkness. But the gleam disappeared so quickly that she could not be sure that she had really seen it.

After she had woken the Chamberlain, Carla snuggled back down into her bed to sleep. It seemed only a moment later that she was woken up by something. She came up out of sleep with the feeling that she had had a terrible nightmare. A nightmare she could not remember.

She sat up and looked around. The others were awake too, and looking around as well. Had they had nightmares too? A moment later the Chamberlain pointed off at something approaching through the woods. At first Carla could make out nothing but a sort of moving glow, then the shape was clearer.

It was coming along the trail that they had followed, and it seemed to be shaped like a man. It had two arms and two legs, and in its right hand it clutched a double-headed axe. Its face had two large eyes, a large grinning mouth, and a short stubby nose. it wore no clothing, and its flesh was red and glowing as an ember from the fire. From its back, shoulders, and trunk protruded long, sharp quills. It suddenly saw them and began to hurry forward. A feeling of dread and despair seemed to leap out from it to touch all the travellers.

Wissagebreht came to his feet and raised his staff. “A Spiny Demon!” he muttered, “A Bhalgon!”

“Can we fight it?” asked Bruderic.

Wissagebreht turned a tight little smile on him. “Will we have any choice but to fight it? No, Bruderic, I think this is for me. The rest of you stand well back, for all you could accomplish is to harm yourselves and hinder me.”

Bruderic moved back, but he took his sword from the sheath and watched.

The Wizard took a stance between the Bhalgon and the rest of the party and waited. The demon rushed toward him, slowing as he saw that Wissagebreht was not going to move. “Turn back, Child of the Flames! There is no prey for you here!”

The feeling of dread abated for a moment.

The demon stopped a moment, stared at Wissagebreht then leaped against him. Swinging the axe up as he leapt and and bringing it down as he landed. The axe clashed against the wizard’s staff. As the demon readied its next blow the wizard took advantage of the opening to strike at the demon’s chest. Again and again the demon slashed at the wizard with its axe. But Wissagebreht parried the blows each time, and returned the strokes with his staff. He seemed too light to strike effectively, but with each blow of his staff the demon shuddered.

Suddenly the staff and the axe were dropped and the two were struggling hand to hand. Bruderic stepped forward and began to raise his sword. But the Chamberlain laid a hand on his shoulder, restraining him. The feeling of dread came over them all now. A despair which weakened the knees and threatened to cast them to the ground. Then Wissagebreht moved. One moment he was holding the demon back and the next he was standing erect, holding the demon above his head. With hardly a pause he threw the demon down.

The ground shook, flames leaped up, and Wissagebreht staggered back. There was a hole in the ground, and fire still came from it along with horrible shrieking noises. The Wizard, his face pale and strained, said to the others, “Quickly, gather up what we can and let us leave this place! This battle will have awakened most of the forest, and I think we can no longer hope for our passage to go unmarked.”

They frantically tossed their belongings into their bags. Then hurriedly packed the pony. Finally, they were on their way. Carla had expected them to start out at a run judging by what Wissagebreht had said. But instead they started out at a walk. They had been going for only a few minutes before their pace began to pick up although it never came near to a run.

Carla watched the Wizard go along in front of her. was a little worried for he did not seem to be walking She properly. From time to time he seemed to stagger a little, and she knew that he was dreadfully tired. That battle with the demon, short though it was, must have required more strength than it seemed.

On they hurried. Between the large tree trunks. Through the still-dark forest. Eyes and ears alert for any sign that they had been noticed by anything hostile. The belated rays of dawn came through the trees as they hurried on, and at moment Wissagebreht held up a hand. “We have to move quickly, but we will move the quicker for a bit of food in bellies, even if it be only a crust of bread.”

As they got out the bread and the water-bottles, Carla surreptitiously eyed the wizard. He showed little sign of weariness, though there was a tightness around his mouth and eyes. “We may not dare to stop again for some time, so carry your bottles ready. Don’t drink heavily. Just a sip here and there. Are we ready to move?”

No one answered. Though Carla did consider for a moment suggesting that they should have a longer rest. But before she even opened her mouth to speak, she recalled the demon rushing through the forest toward them. She also thought of other such things out and hunting them. She said nothing.

They were striding through the trees again. Carla was almost gasping for breath as she strove to keep up. Something black flickered overhead. Wissagebreht cast a quick eye up to see what it could be, and seeing a black bird swooping down toward them he said, “Ah! it will not be long now before they are on the track!”

Puffing himself, Lungand asked, “The bird was some sort of scout or messenger? Perhaps we ought to kill it?”

The Wizard shrugged, then called back over his shoulder. “That would serve little purpose. If it did not come back, they would know that there was something to hunt and would be coming for us in any case.”

More light was coming through the trees now. Carla tried to convince herself that they were coming into the less hostile parts of the forest. There was little sign of that, however. Except perhaps, for a little snore underbrush, and she knew it was little more than an impression born out of a wish.

On the travellers went. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the sound of a drum pounding. It seemed to be coming faintly, from somewhere far behind them. Carla caught the faint gasp from Wissagebreht “Well, they are aware of us now, and they will be pursuing. And I fear that they can move faster than we.”

“Do we make ready to fight, then?” enquired Bruderic.

“Not yet. We need to get as near to the edge of the forest before we turn at bay. It is even possible that we can get out of the forest before they overtake us. And if we do, then most of the pursuers will not dare to follow.”

A little later they stopped for a short rest. They sat against tree-trunks, took a few sips of water and rinsing out their mouths, then they got up and went again. Occasionally, far off behind them they could hear the drums sounding again. The hush of the forest was broken. There seemed to be voices all around them. Voices which spoke just a little too faintly to be distinguished. But voices which were telling the pursuers where their prey was.

“Fortunately,” gasped the Wizard, “none of them seem to be in front of us.”

“But you fought the demon and won,” said Bruderic. “Why should you fear anything else in the wood?”

“Because I have used up much of my strength fighting the demon, and I have no idea how useful I would be in any fight now. And because other things in this forest may attack in other ways. And because you should take my word it that we would be better to flee the forest as quickly as possible.”

They had little breath for talking, then, but must save all their energy for walking. At last they came to the point where Carla could be certain that the forest was thinning out. There was more underbrush now. The sun shone more and more frequently through the overspreading leaves and branches. Casting patches of gold on the ground.

But even as she was taking heart from this, the drums sounded behind them. They were closer now, and there was an ominous note to them. She was tired now. So tired that she was sure that she would fall by the trail soon to be taken by whoever or whatever pursued them.

She could see the Wizard in front of her nearly staggering with weariness. She wondered if he would drop before she did. Bruderic came up beside her. “Give me your arm, Carla. Lean on me a little.”

She looked at him, then snorted as she saw the weariness in his own white and strained face. “Lean on you?” she gasped. “Then we’d both fall down! I’ll manage by myself.”

They took another short rest a little later. Again, it was only a short pause for a sip of water, then they were marching again.

Now the forest was less dark and forbidding, but Carla had no idea how much further they had to go. She briefly thought of asking Wissagebreht. But she took one look at him. He was practically staggering with weariness. So she decided not to bother him with questions right now. The drums sounded behind them again. They were closer now. She wondered whether they would get out of the forest before the pursuers caught them.

Even as they went, Carla remembered the Wizard’s warning about how some things in the forest might dare to come outside. Would the pursuers dare to come out, and if they did, how far would the little band have to go in order to be safe?

“Come on!” shouted Wisssagebreht, calling somehow on the little strength he had left, as he broke into a run. The rest followed him, running at first with a stagger. Then as they found their balance and their final strength, with more assurance. They were not running swiftly, but they were running.

Light streamed down into the forest now. The tallest of the trees were not very tall, and the brush was thicker beside the trail. Carla was not sure, but she thought she heard behind them the tread of many feet. Suddenly, they were out of the trees and into the brush surrounding the forest proper. But still the Wizard ran. The drums sounded behind them. Sounded nearly at their very heels, and Carla almost jumped forward.

The Wizard pulled off the trail, motioning the others to go on by. Carla went by, heard him snarl at Bruderic, “Go on, you young fool! You could only get in my way!”

The brush was thin and sparse now, and even Carla could see over and beyond most of it. She kept on down the trail until it passed over a small hill. Going up the hill required all the strength she still possessed. When she reached the top she stumbled and fell. She pushed herself to hands and knees. But the pack on her back seemed to weigh a ton. Even the fear of what came behind them could not give her the necessary strength to gain her feet.

Bruderic leaned down to take her arm and help her up, but her weight was too much for him and he also fell. He rolled over and sat up then stayed there, staring. “Look!” he cried. “The Wizard!”

Carla, still on her hands and knees, managed to turn a little and look back the way they had come. Lungand was pounding along the trail now. But beyond him Wissagebreht stood, his hands raised. His right still held the staff, and he was speaking words in some strange language. They could still not see who or what was pursuing. Save for an occasional dark patch flitting among the trees on the trail beyond the Wizard.

A wind suddenly began to blow from the Wizard into the forest. First in small fitful gusts, then a stronger and steadier breeze, then a rushing wind. The trees and bushes whirled and whipped in the wind. Dust, leaves, and twigs rose from the path and from the forest floor and blew towards the pursuers. Then it was a gale blowing full force, and one or two small trees were uprooted and flung back into the wood. It was no longer possible to see any sign of the pursuers.

The wind ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The forest grew still again, and Wissagebreht stood for a moment, then crumpled to the ground.

Lungand stood over Bruderic and Carla. His own chest heaving. Then he said, “We ought to move a little further from here before we stop.”

Carla struggled slowly to get to her feet. “We have to get Wissagebreht.”

The Chamberlain looked down at her In anger. “We have no time to waste! He has driven them away for a time, but who knows for how long?”

She shook her head stubbornly. “I will not leave him behind.”

Bruderic spoke. “She is right, Lungand. We cannot leave without him.”

Lungand said nothing further, but it was plain he disapproved. They went down to where the Wizard lay, and Carla went down on one knee beside him. He still breathed, but his eyes were closed and he was dreadfully pale.

She looked up at the others. “We should get a little further from here before we stop.”

With Carla and Bruderic on one side and Lungand on the other, they moved Wissagebreht along the trail. They went over the hillock and a little ways further on, then they had to stop. They may have forced their own weary bodies a little further. But they could not have done so supporting the Wizard.

For a little while they lay there panting. Thinking of nothing but the possibility of falling asleep. Sleeping the rest of the day and the night as well. Carla slowly forced herself to sit up, looking at Wissagebreht. He was still breathing, still dreadfully pale, and he did not look well. she tried to remember any of the things he had taught her, but all she could think of was that he needed food.

How to feed him, though, in his present state? Probably the best thing would be a bit of broth. Come to think of it, the whole lot of them could do with something a little more than the crusts of bread they had gnawed on while they fled the forest.

She looked around. Bruderic was lying on his back, his eyes closed. The Chamberlain, though he was trying hard to stay awake and watchful, was slumping wearily forward. “Bruderic!” she called.

His eyes opened and he looked at her without comprehension.

“Bruderic, make a fire! Just a small one, for some cooking. We have to get some food for Wissagebreht, and the rest of us could stand to eat a little as well.”

He stared at her, his eyelids beginning to droop. She reached over and gave him a push. “Come on, wake up! Just make a little fire, then you can sleep all you want!”

He grimaced, gave her a nasty look, but got up and began to get out his fire making apparatus. She turned to her pack and began to get out the things she would need.

Mainly by force she prevented herself from falling asleep. Sorting out her cooking equipment, she soon had a good little broth bubbling in the pan. Lungand by now had slumped sidewise and was snoring gently on the ground. While Bruderic sat watching her carefully. Wissagebreht continued to lie pale and still.

She filled a cup of broth, then looked at the King. “Get yourself a cup, and have a bit,she said, “You might want some bread with it.”

He tore off a piece of bread and took his cup, but Carla was already approaching the Wizard. She lifted his head and held the cup to his lips. and coaxing, he swallowed weakly. After a little urging She set his head back down on her lap and took a sip of broth herself

She eventually managed to get most of a cup of broth into Wissagebreht, though he never fully woke up. There was one final sip left in the cup, but try as she might she could not get him to take it. He had gone so deeply asleep that no amount of talking, shaking, prodding or poking could bring him out of it. She finally shrugged and laid his head down, covering him with a blanket, and got some broth for herself.

She sat beside him, drinking the broth and watching him. She didn’t know when she fell asleep. Though there was a point when she began feeling cold and started to wake herself up to do something about it. But, before she could, the cold went away and she dreamt that someone had put a blanket over her.

When she woke it was morning. Wissagebreht was lying there beside her. He was sound asleep but looking much healthier. Lungand was sitting up in his blankets a little ways away. Bruderic was still asleep, but was beginning to stir a bit.

She sat up, and at that movement Bruderic opened his eyes. “Morning again?”

Lungand chuckled a little. “Yes, morning again. And I think it would be best if we see about a little food. The Wizard looks as though he will have recovered somewhat. And if that is so, he will probably want to continue on our journey.”

As they set about restarting the fire and getting out the food, Wissagebreht woke. “Ah, then we did indeed survive? Good, good.”

He rolled out of his blankets and got to his feet, a little stiffly. “We have been here the whole night, then?”

“Yes,” answered the chamberlain. “Everyone was a little too tired to go further.”

The Wizard frowned. “I would have preferred to have seen you go on a little further from the Wood before camping. but since no harm came of it, so much the better. Now what of food?”

After they had eaten, Lungand asked Wissagebreht, “Well, how much further do we have to go?”

The wizard shrugged. “Not much further, hopefully. Tomorrow, the day after, we should be coming upon them. At that time we will have to be careful so as not to frighten them away.”

“Are they really so easily frightened, then?” asked Bruderic.

“Very much so. They might see a man, and even allow him to approach them. But the least little movement which seems too sudden or too threatening will send them fleeing.”

They talked a little over their breakfast, then they were on their way again. The pack-pony, fortunately, had not strayed far from where they had all collapsed for the night. Carla noticed that Wissagebreht seemed a little stiff for the first little while. But rapidly, he seemed to recover.

Wissabreht did not, however, keep up the sort of pace he had set previously. In the middle of the morning they took a lengthy rest, then at noon they had an even longer one. Once again in the middle of the afternoon he insisted on stopping for a while. He finally called a halt to the travelling early in the evening.

He went to bed early that night and was up late in the morning, but by midday he seemed to have fully recovered. At their lunch break Lungand asked him, “Do we expect the unicorns to be in a single place, or do we only know that they are somewhere out here?”

Wissagebreht grinned. “I fear it is the latter. We have not done all the walking we will have to do just yet.”

Lungand’s face began to look a little more serious.

“So we wander around out here,” he grumbled, “looking for unicorns who may or may not be within ten miles of us. And meanwhile, back in the kingdom, are at least half a dozen men ready and willing to attempt to unseat the King if it seems at all possible.”

Wissagebreht smiled slightly. “I did not promise that it would be easy, Lungand. I only promised that there would be a possible solution to the problem in which the land finds itself.”

“So we trade the possibility of famine and starvation for the possibility of civil war?”

Wissagebreht shrugged. “The possibility of famine is real. It is waiting for us if we cannot deal with the problem of the unicorns. The problem of the civil war is quite another. And it depends entirely on whether any particular baron or barons feel they have the strength to reach out and seize the crown. Let us deal with what is real right now, and leave the possible problems for the future.”

Lungand subsided, muttering.

All that day, remembering the Wizard’s suggestion of when and where they might find the unicorns, they walked and watched carefully. They saw grasshoppers hopping in the grass causing it to ripple like a pebble in an ocean of green. They saw butterflies flittering around and landing on nearby bushes or grass. Occasionally an eagle would soar high above them in the vast blue sky. But there were no signs of unicorns that day. They camped that evening beside a spring. The spring fed a small pond which was surrounded by a large stand of willows. The pond then spilled out in a brook which went meandering off across the plain.

Wissagebreht looked around at the spring and its environs and said, “Well, I think that this would be as good a place as any to set up a camp. This will be our base, and from here we will go out and about to see if we can find any unicorns. If we make our camp a little ways from the water, say on that hillside there, why we may find that a unicorn or two will come to us unsought.”


That was Chapter three. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]

Or if you want to wait, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta in a month or so once the chapters have been released.

The Search for the Unicorns Chapter Two

This is the second chapter in the story, if you have not read the first chapter please do so before continuing: Chapter 1 – A Meeting at the Wizard’s Hut

As I am looking to you to give me feedback, please use this link as a guide:

Beta Reading Guide

Here is the second chapter:

Chapter 2

THE WENDLEASES

For quite a while it was merely a casual walk, for this was all country that Carla knew well as she had roamed practically everywhere. As a chattering child, she walked along side Wissagebreht as he taught her about plants, bushes, flowers and roots. Later on she had wandered about on her errands to pick particular plants for the old wizard’s healing potions.

As they were walking along, Wissagebreht called Carla to him and handed her something. It consisted of a leather patch about the size of her palm, with a long cord, about the length of her arm, tied to each side of it. “A weapon,” he said. “It is called a sling, and if you are indeed going to come with us, perhaps you ought to have a weapon. Watch.”

He picked up a small round pebble from the ground, and set it in the leather patch. One of the cords had a loop tied at the end of it, and he put that round the forefinger of his right hand. Then, swinging the thing round his head by the ends of the two cords, he let go of the unlooped cord suddenly, and the stone flew rapidly off toward a hillside.

He handed her a small leather pouch. “Pick up suitable stones and put them in this. Practice with it as you go along; it will be hard at first, but it will get easier as time goes on.

Eventually they went up over a small hill. When they went down the other side the land was less familiar and by the time they had gone over the next hill Carla was sure that she had never seen this country before. Carla began to feel uneasy. Without realizing what she was doing, she moved a little nearer to the old Wizard.

He turned, smiling at her. “Afraid?”

“Yes. This isn’t home anymore.”

“No, it isn’t. But this time I don’t think it would be entirely safe for you to remain at home. Don’t worry my dear. There is some danger in this, but I will try not to let anything happen to us.”

They continued to march for some time, then stopped for a rest and a bit of lunch. During the march, Carla began to practice with her sling. They stopped to rest twice in the afternoon before the evening. When the sun began to go down, Wissagebreht announced, “We had best look for a place to camp.”

They camped in the lee of a hill, making a small fire to do their cooking. The pack-pony was unloaded, and his legs were hobbled so that he could move around and graze on the grass, but could not go too far. Having eaten, they sat around the fire telling stories and singing songs.

Carla sang her Unicorn song, and was astounded at the reactions. Wissagebreht, who seldom expressed an opinion on anything unless pressed, simply smiled slightly. The young King laughed with delight, but the Chamberlain looked as though he would burst with rage. For the life of her, Carla could not see what had caused him to be so angry.

Bruderic smiled, then began a piece of his own:

“They came to the Duke at the dawning of day,

‘The Swartings are on us, they rob and they slay,

Our homes are all burning; our families are dead,

On the beasts of our pastures the Swartings have fed!’

He has called for his sword to be sheathed at his side,

His warhorse is saddled; his bold men will ride.

For the goblins are coming, their armies draw near,

There is no longer time for foreboding or fear.

‘0 Master, dear Master, our hosts are too few!

The men from the Northdale are brave men and true,

And swift though they come they will not come today,

Go not forth till tomorrow; I beg you, Lord, stay!”

But the Duke felt honour-bound to ride at once to the rescue of his people. He went with his small force and attacked the goblins. He was victorious at first. But the King of the goblins rallied his own forces and returned to the attack, eventually overwhelming the Duke and his men. The last of them died in a ring around their mortally wounded Duke. The rest of the Duke’s army arrived only in time to take revenge by destroying the whole goblin-host.

It was a long poem and a bit tedious. But Carla as watching Bruderic, she saw that enjoying himself so much that she enjoyed it, too.

Wissagebreht favoured them with a short tale about the Elves. But the Chamberlain seemed to be in a foul mood, and did not try to add anything to the night’s entertainment.

Shortly they went to sleep and it seemed to Carla that even more shortly the Wizard was waking everyone up.

The next day was much like the first; save for the fact that this time nothing was familiar. The hills looked similar but once the party rounded them Carla always found something different such as new trees and flowers, many that she’d never seen before. By lunchtime Carla became used to the sensation and she no longer had the desire to run back home to the hut and hide.

The Chamberlain continued in his bad mood, accepting the food offered him with bad grace, and earning from the King an irritated glance. After lunch, Wissagebreht spoke to him.

“Milord Chamberlain, would you walk with me? We have things to speak of.” Lungand looked at him and grunted. Then he handed the pack-pony’s lead-rope to the King and strode up to walk beside the Wizard. Carla allowed herself to drop back; knowing that the two would wish to talk privately. But she heard the first words, which made her extremely curious.

“Lungand, you do not favour this expedition, do you?”

“No, and I know too well why you arranged so that I should come along. You fear that if I were left behind, I would begin making plans to usurp the throne from that young man back there.”

“You think that?” Wissagebreht was surprised. “No, Milord, that was not my reason. But I have a strong suspicion that you doubt the tale of the unicorns, and that you are even more chary of what tale we might return with. I felt it best that you should come along with us the whole way. To see with your own eyes and to hear with your own ears what we see and hear. So that when we return, you will not fear any plot among us.”

Suddenly Wissagebreht looked back, frowning. Carla felt herself turning red, and slowed her steps so that she fell further behind. She could no longer hear anything from the two in front save a murmur of voices.

She began to practice with her sling once more. During the first day she had managed to become skilled enough that she could send the stone off in the direction she intended. Though not far or accurately. She now began picking out marks to throw at, a willow stump, a boulder, or some such thing. The skill seemed to be beyond her, but she was determined to keep trying.

Later on, as the day was passing on into evening, the party mounted towards the crest of a hill. Wissagebreht had rode ahead to scout their path ahead. Suddenly, the Wizard stopped. He then motioned for the rest of the party, who were behind him, to stop as well. Slowly he lay down, then motioned for them to come up, whispering as he did so, “Come up, but carefully, and don’t let your head be seen above the hill!”

Carefully, they crept their way up slowly, until they were beside the wizard. Carla was burning with curiosity. Following Wissagebreht’s instructions, she cautiously peeked over the hill but kept low to the grass.

Far away on the horizon was a long string of wagons moving across their path. Each wagon had what appeared to be a cover of some sort of cloth stretched over a wooden frame which gave it something of the appearance of a small house on wheels. Carla heard the Chamberlain mutter something that sounded like a curse, then “Wendleases! Unpredictable murdering savages!”

Carla continued to watch the wagons, each hauled by teams of two to six oxen with long horns. Wissagebreht answered the Chamberlain. “Say you so, Lungand? Actually, they are people with a particular way of life. And, finding themselves distrusted by other peoples, hold themselves apart from other peoples. And yes indeed, there are some, even some whole tribes, who set upon and kill any they find in their path, but this ought not to condemn the whole race, just as some murderers among our own folk are not taken to condemn our whole race.

Carla could make out young boys and men afoot and riding horses beside the wagons. While at the rear of the whole train was a huge mob of cattle and horses, stirring up a tremendous cloud of dust. They walked in a large semicircle around them and pushed them on, preventing any of them from straying.

The King asked, “What sort of people are they?”

Wissagebreht answered, “They are of many sorts. In fact, the various tribes of Wendleases among them, speak about ten different languages. There is even one tribe which speaks a language much like ours. As for this particular band, the tribal symbols painted on their wagons are unfamiliar to me. And I would not wish us to come to their attention, since it is not certain how they might receive us. Let us rest here until they have gone by.”

They sat quietly in the lee of the hill. Occasionally, someone in the party would slowly peek over to see whether the Wendleases had completely passed by. At one point Lungand asked, “Are we safe even here? When they move, do they not have scouts and outriders around to seek out enemies?”

“Yes, they will have scouts and outriders, but I think we are beyond the range of such. Best we wait here till they pass.”

Finally, after the wagons had gone by and disappeared into the distance, the little band went on. The day passed uneventfully, as did the night.

Again the next day they marched, with nothing to disturb them save the occasional sighting of prairie deer, the skittering of gophers, and the very skvaders which would take flight from the nearby brush as they walked. Evening came, and once more they stopped for the night, making a small fire for cooking and then wrapping up to sleep for the night.

Again they talked, telling stories and singing songs, as the fire died. As the last coals were still shining, Wissagebreht suddenly held up his hand and said “Hush!”

“What?” The Chamberlain looked up sharply.

“I heard something out there.”

“Only the horse wandering.”

“I think not.” The Wizard was looking around into the dark. He stood up. Looking around again, he gave a shout, then pointed at the remains of the fire. There was a bang and a burst of flame that blinded them all, and when they could see again, he was gone.

Shouting broke out in the darkness around them. The King and the Chamberlain looked around, groping for their swords. Then men came out into the light of the last coals of the fire. Most of them carried short bows that curved back at the tips. All of the bows had arrows on the strings, and the arrows were pointed at the three. The men were all similarly dressed, in leather trousers and tunic, though some also had a cap of leather which came to a point above the forehead, with long flaps on the sides in front of the ears.

They had all been temporarily blinded by the flash which Wissagebreht had made, but their vision was obviously coming back.

They were all grinning, but there was no good humour in grins, only pleasure at having taken the prey. Carla noticed that they all had scars on their left cheeks. Some of them had scars in a tic-tac-toe pattern, others had a strange sort of spiral.

The leader was a wizened little man, dressed the same as others, but carrying a rod of twisted black wood in his right hand. He was extremely cheerful at having taken them.

“Oho, Oho, we’ve taken three of them!”

His accent was a little strange, but there was no mistaking the glee in it.

”All but the wizard, and of course wizards are chancy companions, aren’t they? No, no, don’t try to draw swords, my men will turn you into pincushions before they are half out of the scabbards.”

Lungand looked around, muttered something, and let go of his sword. However, Bruderic held his sword hilt until men with ropes came and roughly grasped his hands and bound them behind him, while yet another man took the sword. Carla winced at the tightness of her bonds. She would have cried except that she knew that that would only make her captors laugh. She decided not to give them so much satisfaction.

The wizened little leader of their captors capered around, dancing from one person to another as he looked at them carefully. He picked up the packs and sorted through the contents. All the time he chuckled to himself and occasionally spoke to the captives.

“Oho, oho, not rich travellers, are they? But they do have a few things we can use. And as for themselves, well… The girl will make a slave, if only to help the women around the wagons. The boy may make a slave too, if he can be taught to accept his new station. The old one, well he can be our amusement for the night.

“Come, come, quickly, pack up the horse as well. Let us get back to our wagons and think about all this over our beer. Are we ready yet? Hurry, hurry!”

He was such a pest that Carla could hardly believe that the men who were actually doing the work would not eventually tell him to go away. But they seemed afraid of him. When he came too close they stiffened a bit. It was as though they were not quite sure what he might do, but knew that it would be something cruel.

“Come, come, let us go! We are all ready? Good! Prisoners in the middle, lest they should decide to risk running off with bound hands. Now, prisoners, watch the people ahead of you! If any of you stray more than two paces from their path, the people following you will shoot arrows into you. First into your legs and, if you keep going, into your back. You understand? Good, let us be on our way.”

They set out then, at a rather fast pace. Carla was surprised to discover just how hard it was to walk with arms bound. Her balance was out, and she stumbled on things that she never thought to stumble on. The two men in front of her were shorter than the rest, with yellowish skin and strangely-shaped eyes. They also spoke to each other in some strange language which she did not understand at all.

Occasionally they would laugh a little, a laugh which made her shudder.

They marched thus for about an hour, and Carla wondered every once in a while where Wissagebreht had gone. Despite what the leader of the Wendleases had said, it was not like him to desert his companions when trouble threatened.

Most of her time was spent in trying to keep her balance and in heeding the old Wendleas’ warning about straying from the path of those in front of her. Eventually, far in front of them, she could see a small glimmer of a far-off fire, and guessed that that was where they were headed.

Sure enough, it was not much longer before they could see the looming shapes of several wagons, and could hear the barking of dogs and the lowing of cattle. Then, worn and weary and discouraged, they stumbled into the firelight within the circle of wagons. The wagons were old and hard-used. The wagons seemed to have been repaired. But these repairs seemed to be hastily made without any sign of craftsmanship, by the hands of people who cared only that they serve for a little more time.

There were a half-dozen or more women standing around the fire too. When Carla looked at them, she remembered the old Wendlease suggesting that she should be a slave for them, she could not help but shudder. The old leader himself came into the circle and looked around. “Oh, for shame, let us remember our manners and offer a seat to our guests. Quickly, quickly. And we will want our beer too, so see to it, women.”

He did not even look at the women as he addressed them, and Carla shuddered again. He treated them as animals. Maybe on the level of the oxen that drew the wagons. Although from the look of them, they had learned not to protest against that treatment. But that only meant that they would be likely to use her, their slave, to take out all their resentment.

Once again she held back from crying, knowing that that would only make her treatment that much the worse.

They were roughly pulled and pushed over to one of the wagons where they were pushed down roughly. Then ropes were put round their necks and fastened to the wagon wheel. The Wendleases all went then to toss another log on the fire and began drinking.

As this was going on a woman approached the captives. She was a young woman with long dark hair, a smooth round face and pointed chin. She carried a water-flask in her hand and bent down quickly, offering it to Carla. “Here, drink. The waiting will be bad enough without the thirst. It is little enough I can do for you.”

Carla drank gratefully then, as the young woman passed on to the King, she asked, “Could you not cut our ropes and let us go?”

The woman frowned. “If I am seen doing this much for you, I will surely be punished; if I should do more, what then?”

By this time she was looking back over her shoulder to see if anyone had noticed what she was up to.

She finished giving drink to the captives, then straightened up and hurried away. Carla wondered about her. There was someone in this group, hard and cruel as they were, who was still capable of showing kindness. However little it may be.

She had little doubt as to how the night would go. Once the men had drunk sufficiently, they would turn to the prisoners and begin to torment them. It was true that they would think to save Carla and Bruderic for slaves. But the thought could easily get lost as the night went on.

Then one of the men got up and began walking in their direction. As he came, he lifted a sort of tarred leather bowl to his lips and drained it. As he took the cup down from his mouth, his eyes changed. His mouth opened as though he were trying to say something, then he fell face-down into the grass.

Another man came over, looked down at his prostrate comrade, and then began laughing. He prodded him with a toe, then bent over and took his shoulder. Suddenly, he too crumpled to the ground.

Carla was beginning to wonder, since the men had hardly had the time to drink enough beer to make them so drunk. She looked around. Other men were falling, or if they were seated, slumping sidewise. The women, most of whom had not been drinking, stood looking at this spectacle, wondering.

Carla looked around for the wizened little man. She saw him looking around at his men who were dropping to the ground like puppets with cut strings. He dropped his own cup, then looked over at Carla, still tied to the wagon wheel. “A witch! II He shouted. “A witch! She has bewitched them all!”

He continued shouting. But his shouting was now in some strange language He groped around for his wand. then hurled himself to his feet and began staggering toward her.

The campfire flared up in a flash, and the old Wenleas stopped, staring stupidly at it. Out of the flash stepped Wissagebreht. He looked extremely calm, as though this were a thing he did every day. The old leader of the Wendleases stopped gaping and began to raise his wand. But Wissagebreht raised his staff and seemed only to tap him on the temple He fell sprawling to the ground.

The women stood staring, fearful, not daring to interfere. After a sweeping glance at them, Wissagebreht went to Carla. Taking a sharp knife from his belt, he cut her free. He handed her the knife, but she found that her hands were all pins and needles and would not work properly. He smiled, setting the knife down.

“When you can make your hands work again, set the others free. There are things we must do.”

Carla wiggled her fingers to get some feeling back into them. Meanwhile, Wissagebreht walked back to the leader of the Wendleases and rolled him over twice. Leaving the black wand lying by itself on the grass. He was careful not to touch it.

Chamberlain spoke. “What magic did you use on them?”

The wizard looked around at the group of women. “No magic, only a little something added to the beer. Indeed, even Carla could show you one or two plants which, when added to drink or food, would give this effect.”

Lungand went on to something else that was on his mind. “Why did you flee when they first came?”

Wissagebreht shrugged. “Had I stayed and attempted to fight, we would all have been killed at once. I thought it best to escape at once and come back to rescue you later.”

“And if they had simply decided to murder us all on the spot? Or if they had gotten tired of leading us across the plain and decided to kill us somewhere along the way?”

“And if your mother had had four legs, she would have been a table. Lungand, there are risks in anything.”

The Chamberlain lapsed into silence, and now Carla was able to cut the ropes on him and the King. Wissagebreht called her, and pointed to the black wand on the ground. “Get some sticks of firewood and pile them on that, being careful not to touch it yourself.”

She did as the Wizard said. Wissagebreht kept his eye on the women, lest any of them begin to fear too much what might happen to them and try to attack the small band. A few of the women, those had had a bit more of the beer than the others, were falling to the ground unconscious. While others merely stood dumbly.

After she had piled the wood over the wand, Wissagebreht glanced down and said, “Good enough. Now take a brand from fire and light that. Do not try to light the wand itself, only the wood over it.”

She continued to follow his instructions. She also watched Lungand and Bruderic. Who had now regained some feeling in their own hands, and were looking on in wonder. The fire held readily to the wood and she watched as it began to blaze.

“Stand back!” Wissagebreht said sharply.

Surprised, she leaped backward as he pointed a hand down at the fire. Again there was a bang and a flash and the fire blazed up fiercely.

Carla looked into the heart of the fire and saw that the black wand was burning now. Burning slowly, as though it fought the flames at every step.

Wissagebreht moved, and Carla looked up again. Lungand found his sword and was moving purposefully toward the prostrate leader of the Wendleases. “No, Lungand.”

“NO?” There was outrage in the voice.

“In battle, yes, In the heat of anger, yes, but to kill an enemy who lies helpless before you?”

“Helpless for the moment. But what of tomorrow when they come hunting us?”

Most of them will be too sick tomorrow, possibly the next day, to bother with pursuing us. And as this wand is being destroyed, so is the power that the warlock had over them. They will be a time sorting that out, I think.”

“And I say that they are evil, and we would be best to exterminate the lot of them.”

“They have been deep in evil, indeed. You see the marks on their cheeks? They are all outcasts, cast out of the various tribes of the Wendleases, come together in this band for company and for the need to survive. It has been the warlock who led them into evil, for the most part, though doubtless there are many who needed little leading.

“But with the power of the warlock gone, they will perforce seek a new leader, and if the new leader is a better then it will be the better for them. And I seriously doubt that they will take the time to follow us. They have their cattle to consider, the grazing and all. And they travel in a direction different from the one we take. Even revenge will not be sufficient to force them to put their herds into danger.”

In all this discussion, Bruderic had stood quietly by, saying nothing. Now, however, he spoke. “Lungand, I think he is right. Better we be gone from here with all speed rather than indulge in our own revenge. Let us go.”

They took their packs, hunted out whatever of their belongings they could, took the packhorse, and were on their way.

As they marched Lungand spoke to Wissagebreht, heedless of who might hear. “Well, this is proof, if proof were needed, that this is too dangerous. The King must go back.”

“Lungand, anything is dangerous. If he sits back in the palace forever, there is still the danger that sickness will take him away. In fact, there may even be a certainty of that, for if this quest fails, the land will steadily become less and less productive, until even the richest will have no food, for there will be none to buy. And when that happens what safety will there be in being King in the palace?”

“I did not raise the boy and fight his enemies for this!”

“No, that I doubt not. Yet what other choice is there? The quest cannot be achieved without the King being present, and if the quest fails, so will the land. Did you raise him to turn aside from his responsibilities?”

“NO, but — “

“Then tell me if you can see another choice in all this. If you cannot, then we must continue as we have been, perhaps with more care. But we must continue.”

After they had gone some distance from the Wendleases camp, Wissagebreht called them to a halt. “We have to have some rest, whatever else might happen. We will stop here for a time.”

Lungand looked up sharply. “And if they come after us?”

“And if we keep going until we are too weary to stand properly? Let us rest, with one keeping watch, for what remains of the night. In the morning we will go on, and get ourselves as far as may be from here.”

The Chamberlain did not like this, but he saw the wisdom of it. Wissagebreht took the first watch and Bruderic the second, then they marched again. Despite the Wizard’s assurances, Lungand kept looking back over his shoulder for the whole day as though he expected to see all the Wendleases coming in hot pursuit.

They never saw that band of Wendleases again. As they wandered through the plains however, they would occasionally, from great distances, see other bands of Wendleases and when they did so, they took precautions.


That was Chapter two. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]

Or if you want to wait, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta in a month or so once the chapters have been released.

Trying to Find My Way

Most people would take that title to mean that I am a lost soul. Perhaps I am.

But more immediately, I am trying to get an idea of the world that The Search for the Unicorns is set in. I wanted to be able to describe a bit more of the world in the book to help the readers.

The first thing I have to do is to see if he created a map of this world or if I need to create my own. I know that he kept everything in the story fairly vague which is nice because it allows the reader to imagine themselves in the story more. However, I want to add a little description. Just a little. I also want to know where the characters are going. Are they in a forest? Are they in the mountains? Where are they?!

A quick search tells me that he didn’t create a map for this world. What does that mean for me? It means that I am going to take tonight to create a vague map of the world. I am not a cartographer and my sense of direct is terrible. Here goes nothing

An Introduction to Beta Reading and The Search for the Unicorns Chapter One

I feel like I should give an explanation about the story before you start to read it. But on the other hand, if I have to give a back story to the story, how can the story stand on it’s own?

I do want to say that this story was originally written in on January 17th 1987 (or at least that’s what the final draft that I have says). I like to think that it was written for me but that’s my own feelings on the matter.

As I am looking to you to give me feedback, please use this link as a guide:

Beta Reading Guide

I think that’s all I’m going to say about it right now. Here is the first chapter:

THE SEARCH FOR THE UNICORNS

Chapter 1

A MEETING AT THE WIZARD’S HUT

 

Unicorn sang in the summer sun,

With a Right-fol~diddle-ay-day.

Unicorn sang in the summer sun,

Wet his muzzle and away he run,

And grass grew green where once was none,

With a Right-fol-diddle-ay-day.

Unicorn ran where the bank was green

With a Right-fol-diddle-ay-day.

Unicorn ran where the bank was green,

All silvery grey and fair to be seen

And his favour went to the new young queen;

With a Right-fol-diddle-ay-day.

 

Carla sang the old song in her clear voice as she sought among the hillside rocks for the plants old Wissagebreht had bade her fetch. It was a bad year for much of the land. The herbs which seemed so commonplace could only be found in out-of-the-way spots.

She brushed a copper curl back out of her eyes, looking the telltale little blue flower. Five years of bad harvests in the land had only made the demand for herbs and healing increase. Though Wissagebreht had more and more people coming to him, he didn’t appear to be any better off than those around him.

She had asked him about that one evening, after he had gone through a particularly difficult reading-lesson with her. He looked at her. In the way that he always did, when he was about to explain something to her which should be obvious.

“With more people being ill these days, what would happen if I asked the prices I did five years back?”

“Why, you would have more money.”

“Indeed. And what would I do with more money?”

“Get a larger house?”

“A larger house? For the two of us?”

She looked around the crowded hovel. “For the two of us and all these books and medicines.”

“And can you imagine what the people would say when they see us move into a larger house? Keep in mind that all the money we get is earned from their misfortunes.”

“Why, they would become envious, of course.”

“And worse. Remember young Carticorda, the other night?”

“Yes,” said Carla, a little confused about the direction which the conversation was taking, “She wanted a spell to put on Fagranda because Carticorda wanted Cordibreht, but he wouldn’t look at her so long as Fagranda was around.”

“And they believe I might do some such thing if I thought it worth my while. As a result, if they see us becoming rich because they have been sick, they may well come to believe that it is not merely that they have been eating poorly for last years, but that I have also had something to do with the failure of crops and so on.”

“And could you do something like that?”

He put on the look that he always wore when she made inquiries into his powers.

“Whether I could or would do such a thing has little bearing on the case. If they began to think that I were the cause of their misfortune, I would not be safe if I lived in the greatest castle or the smallest hillside hovel. And if I have taught you any wisdom at all over the years, you will not say anything to anyone which might cause them to think about such things.”

Carla had learned very early that a conversation which ended like this should not be continued. Even so, Carla felt sure that it would not arouse too much envy for them to have a house in which the winter winds would not whistle throughout it in the dead of night. She and Wissagebreht spent a good deal of time finding and patching cracks, but it seemed that for each one they patched, another appeared.

Occasionally, when she complained too much, he would tell her such things built character, and so often that she had a secret desire to grow up and go somewhere where she could abandon all pretensions to character.

She sighed. She was coming round to wondering, as she always did when she began to fret over her lot in life, just who and what she was.

She knew that she had been left at the door of Wissagebreht’s hut one night many years ago, a mere baby in a wicker basket, warmly but plainly covered.

Who, she wondered, could have left her as a baby for an elderly herb-wizard to take care of? All she could think was that someone had made a mistake. Perhaps they thought that the hovel might contain an old couple willing to take in a child. True enough, Wissagebreht had never indicated that he had been less than willing to take her in, but he was certainly a strange choice for a parent.

The sound of horses’ hooves broke into her awareness, and she ceased her song abruptly. As Wissagebreht had taught her, without her fully understanding why, she sat utterly still beside the boulder and waited for the horses to go away. Wissagebreht had taught her for many years that horses meant people of rank, and people of rank were often heedless of the lives or well-being of those of less rank.

As it turned out, however, this group stopped immediately in front of her, and a voice summoned her. As Wissagebreht had also taught her, people of rank tended to be impatient with those who they deemed to be insolent, so she looked up.

The group consisted of two men, brightly dressed, one older and one much younger, both wore swords; three women, all of medium age, looked rather uncomfortable; and five more men in chain armour, who carried long lances, wore swords at their waists and slung shields on their saddlebows. This meant that the group was very important, since only very important people would bring men-at-arms with them. The bright clothes were very costly. Carla could tell this though she had never seen such clothing before, and the youngest man wore something on his head. It looked like a small crown.

She took all this in at a glance as she stood and curtsied nicely and asked, “How may I help you, Milords and Ladies?”

She stood with her head down, waiting for a reply. Wissagebreht had told her that while people of rank felt it rude to stare, they felt it downright insulting for someone of lesser rank to stare at them. Therefore the best way to avoid trouble was to look down.

“We seek the Wizard Wissagebreht. Can you direct us to him?”

This put her into an immediate quandary. While Wissagebreht had always made clear his desire to avoid persons of rank, he had always taught her that persons of rank were not to be trifled with. She saw a frown beginning to gather on the younger man’s face, and answered, “Yes, Milord. I am going there myself, if you will follow me.”

In a small fit of resentment, she thought to herself, “Let him deal with them, then!”

Off she went, then, running at a fast pace, but one which she knew would not leave her winded and puffing at top of the next hill. She struck the path quickly, then followed it for the rest of the way. She knew very well that the horses would not be able to come quite so quickly around its bends and twists. Particularly through the willows just before the hut.

She heard shouting behind her as the riders called her to slow down. She went a little faster until finally she crashed through the door. Wissagebreht turned, as he was startled, from something he had been mixing over the stove.

“Lords and Ladies coming this way, right behind me, here to see you!”

“Did they see you?”

“Yes. They asked directions of me.”

She felt it strange that that would be his first concern, not that persons of rank were here to see him.

“Ah.”

He wiped slender knobbly-knuckled fingers on the front of his apron, then untied the apron, folded it neatly and set it on the table. He looked regretfully at the pot on the stove, then took it off and set it on the floor. “It’ll probably be ruined by being taken off the heat too soon, but no help for that.”

He walked to the door and opened it, just at the time when the horses had reared to a stamping stop in front of it.

“Good Day, Your Highness, Milord and Ladies.”

“Your Highness!” thought Carla, startled. “Whatever is going on?”

She risked a peek around the Wizard’s thin frame. The young man with the golden crownlet on his head was frowning and the older man, although he appeared not much less angry, looked a little mystified. There was also another man there, whom she was sure had not been there before. This old man was wore grey robes and looked much like Wissagebreht, though he had a little more meat on his bones. Where had he come from? She was sure he had not been with the group when she had first seen them.

“You know us?” the older and well-dressed man demanded.

“How could I not? His Highness King Bruderic is most recognizable, and Milord Chamberlain Lungand is not much less so. And the Wizard Gaistferu I know at least by reputation. The ladies are Morigrew, Degohi, and Peliso. Do you wish me to name your soldiers as well?”

The young King was instantly curious. “Could you do so? Yes, I see you could. No, we have come not for you to tell us who we are, but for more important reasons. May we get down?”

Wissagebreht’s shaggy eyebrows rose. “And if I were so impolite as to say ‘No,’ what then? Get down, get down, all of you, and come inside. You will have to forgive the state of my lodgings, but we seldom entertain visitors, and practically never noble visitors.”

Wissagebreht turned and went back into the hut, leaving the door to swing closed. There were sounds of outrage outside, and a shout, probably from the Chamberlain, for the Wizard to come back. But Wissagebreht ignored them, facing Carla with a look on his face that Carla had never seen before.

“Get back into that corner,” he said, pointing at the dark corner where their sleeping-mats were rolled up. “Don’t speak and don’t move while they’re here. And don’t ask questions!”

The tone of his voice made her shut her mouth. Swallowing back the question she was about to ask, she scrambled back into the corner, sitting very still and quiet as the Wizard went back to the door.

He swung it open again, almost striking the angry face of the Chamberlain, and demanded “Well, are you coming in?”

Carla could never remember him being so irascible. The lights from the hut flickered in contrast to the gloom of twilight as the ladies and the gentlemen and the Wizard proceeded into the low hut. The men-at-arms tried to follow, but the house was too small for that, so they stayed outside The King seated himself on one of the chairs at the table,

And Wissagebreht sat across from him. The others looked around for places to sit, until finally the Wizard got up, pulled out a couple of logs of wood from the pile near the fireplace, and spread a blanket over them. The ladies looked a little distressed about what it would do to their fine clothes, but sat down reluctantly. The Chamberlain looked for a place closer to the King. Failing that he resigned himself to sitting down beside the ladies.

“Well,” said the King, “Since you know all our names, can you say why we have come to see you?”

“Oh, certainly — “

“Milord King,” broke in the Chamberlain. “It is well-known that Wissagebreht was a member of the court before your father’s time, and left when your father came to the throne. It is not surprising that he should know people from that court, and he may even profess to knowledge of more general matters, but-~-“

The King frowned. “I know, Chamberlain, that you reject the necessity for this trip, and you have made your objections well-known. With that in mind, will you now allow me to talk to the Wizard?”

Lungand subsided, but his expression said clearly that he was not pleased.

The King turned back to Wissagebreht. “You are a healer, and you gather herbs and plants for medicines, so you will know what is the state of the land. For the past five years the weather has been bad, and the crops have been progressively worse.”

“Yes, I know this.”

The King nodded. “Gaistferu,” he indicated the other Wizard, “has been advising us at court, and he tells us that luck of the land is bound up with the unicorns. That the unicorns who always return in the spring have not come back the past five years.”

The Chamberlain snorted. The King, without turning his head, said “Lungand, if it distresses you to hear us discuss this matter, you may wait outside with the men-at-arms.”

Lungand turned pale, but was silent. The King continued. “Gaistferu says that he does not know enough about this to give advice, but he suggests that you know more, and may be able to help.

“Ah. And no doubt the Lord Chamberlain has made known to you the circumstances in which I left the court? That I served the Old King, before his death and that I waited on birth of the Queen’s child? That one night the Queen disappeared, along with one of her maids, and was never seen again. Though your father said that they were in his care, and he was acting as Regent for the Queen?

“And do you know that I stood against him, denied his right to the rule? And because of that I left the court, coming out here to the wilderness to live by myself?”

The King nodded. “It was never told to me just so, but I know the story. And my father died a year later, when I was a mere babe. Leaving me as the King, with my uncle Lungand ruling for me until I should come of age. Are you then so bitter against us still that you will refuse to help us?”

“I was not bitter against you. I left the Court because I could not condone what was being done, and some will remember that I warned that no good would come of it.”

“So it has been said. But will you help us? Tell us what should be done?”

Wissagebreht looked at the young King closely. “Advice I can always give, though the advice is not always welcome. What if my advice were to cost you the crown?”

There was a hoarse sound from Lungand, and even the ladies spoke excitedly to each other. The King turned and looked at them, then turned back to the Wizard. “My people are starving, Wizard. If it were a war against invading armies, I would be expected to risk not merely my crown but my life on their behalf. If it should require that — “

Wissagebreht waved a knobbly hand. “Not yet, not yet. I merely wished to test where your own feelings lie. And were I to suggest that you give up your crown at this moment, your Chamberlain would have Brehtand and the others in to cut me down in an instant.

“So? What do we do then?”

“Why, we go in search of the unicorns, to see why they have not come back.”

Carla saw the Wizard Gaistferu smile at this, a mere twitch of the corners of his lips, then his face straightened.

“I thought you knew that already.”

Wissagebreht smiled. “I have a fair idea, but even so it will be necessary to find the unicorns and ask them to come back.”

“Then let us go!”

“Not so quickly. You must know that the unicorns are shy beasts. Great numbers of people galumphing about on horses are not likely to see much, except a faraway glimmer as the unicorn disappears into the trees. It must be a very small party.”

“You have a plan for this, then?”

“Tentatively, yes. We take a very small group. About two or three persons, with sufficient provisions, and go off to the usual haunts of the unicorns. Two things must be decided; who shall come along, and what provisions shall we take?”

The King looked at the Wizard keenly. “And I would hazard a guess as to who you will want to come along. Myself is that correct? Leaving the Kingdom in the capable hands of my uncle.”

“In fact, my preference would be to take you and your uncle along, leaving the Kingdom in the hands of someone you nominate yourself.”

“Milord King, I protest this outrageous behaviour! He presumes to order you about like a small boy! You will not go on any such errand.”

“And why not, Milord Lungand? As to his ordering me about, I seem to recall another person who tends to do the same. And I know that despite the information given us by the Wizard at the court, you would never have ridden this way had I not used hunting as a ruse. You have surrounded me since I was a child with people and advisors constantly ready to dissuade me from any course which you thought not proper.

“I am a child no longer, and I will be led by your desires no more. You and I shall go with the Wizard to seek the unicorns and to heal the hurt of our land!”

Lungand stood up and began to protest. The King however, remained seated and he spoke much more mildly, but still firm. “Yes, you have served me well for many years, and you shall no doubt continue to serve me will in this matter.”

He turned toward the door. “Brehtand!” he called, “Come here!”

The door opened and one of the men-at-arms burst in. With his sword in hand he looked frantically around for whatever was endangering his King and Lord.

“There is no danger, worthy Brehtand, I only wish to ask a favour of you.”

“A favour, your Highness? You need only to command.”

“I know that,” said the King, smiling, “But this is a thing, which I would not order, but rather have you do as a favour. The Chamberlain and myself are to go on a trip with this worthy Wizard, Wissagebreht. Whom I would be happy to call friend, if he should ever forgive me for the crime committed by my father. The Chamberlain is going to wait here with the Wizard while the others and I return to the city, procure supplies, and come back.

“What I wish is for you to remain here to guard them, keeping them safe from all dangers, until I return.

“Certainly, your Highness!”, replied Brehtand.

“Good.”, The King responded. He then turned to the Chamberlain, Lungand, you will certainly be in no danger here. You may trust me to provide appropriate and sufficient supplies. I hope to return by tomorrow.”

He finally turned to Wissagebreht,“I hope this will be sufficient.”

Wissagebreht, his face grave, said merely, “You appear to have everything in hand, your Highness.”

“Does it truly appear so? I wish—“, Bruderic broke off suddenly.

“Enough talk for now. Ladies,” he bowed to them and then turned to the Wizard Gaistferu, “And you, Gaistferu, let us go.”

With that they all walked out. The men-at-arms helped ladies mount, while the King sprang into his own saddle. The men looked at Lungand and Brehtand, questioningly, until the King spoke,And we’re off!”

The King spurred his horse into a trot along the twisted path through the willows, leaving the three men looking after him. Carla, disobeyed the Wizard’s orders, and came forward enough to peek around the door to watch the king and his party leave.

As they turned back toward the door, the Chamberlain spoke. “Well, Wizard, do you condemn me? What was I to do? I was not taken fully into my brother’s confidence; I have no idea what became of the Queen. I only know that when he died, there were several strong barons who saw an opportunity to do as he had done. To take the crown for their own, and I knew that once one did so, the land would be rent with war.

“So I stood up, I spoke to all those who had supported my brother, I put forward his son as the new King, and I declared that I would rule for him until he matured. I convinced most of those who had sworn oaths to his father to confirm those oaths to him. I played one of the barons against another. I built up strength, and I prevented civil war.

“And now many people see all this as merely my way of seizing power, and they sneer behind my back. Wondering how long it will be until my nephew suffers a hunting accident, and I step forward as King in his place.”

The Wizard spoke calmly, almost gently. “No, Lungand, I do not condemn you. I only ask you that you search your heart well, and see if you will truly be able to give up power when the time comes. Once that young man reaches the age when you can no longer deny him the rule.”

They walked back into the hut, and Carla, seeing them coming, dodged back into the sleeping corner.

The Chamberlain avoided speaking to Wissagebreht, and Brehtand was cautious and wary of them both. So Carla enjoyed watching the three men move around each other for the rest of the day while she remained hidden in various dark corners and other places. She did manage to get near to Wissagebreht once to speak of something which had been on her mind.

“Wissagebreht, that Wizard, Gaistferu, there is something strange about him. I don’t trust him.”

Wissagebreht nodded gravely. “He is a man pulled in many directions by three things, his ability, his ambition, his fear. His ambition makes him anxious to gain what he feels is his rightful place in the world, his ability makes feel he deserves it, but his fear holds him back.

“He fears to take that one step, that risk, which would very likely win him all he wants. But if it failed, it would lead to disaster.

“Thus he waits, always hoping for that chance to come when time and circumstances will permit him to make his one move, with no risk to himself. And because that time will never come, he will never reach his ambition.”

At an early hour of the morning, Carla once more heard sound of horses outside the hut. She peeked outside to the King once more, this time with only ten soldiers and no ladies in his following. There was also a packhorse carrying a large canvas-wrapped pack.

The Chamberlain came to the door and looked out. “Ah, good day to you, your Highness.”

“And a good day to you, Lungand. There was some argument as to who should be in charge while we are away, and just how much authority he should have, but we settled that quite amicably. Volkener and Nechtgang share the rule between them, and may only cause to be done those things that they both agree to do.”

“They both agree–! Your Highness, those two could not agree between them to take a drink of water if they were dying of thirst!”

“Exactly so. This way, they can neither of them do anything which will be irreparable.”

The Chamberlain subsided, but it was clear that he was not particularly happy about this. “We are ready to leave, then?”

I think that perhaps we might wish to change into clothing more suitable for walking. I have brought clothing for you.”

“Thank you,” said the Chamberlain sardonically.

Wissagebreht looked up at the King. “Your Highness, I hope that you were not intending that this whole crowd should go hunting for unicorns?”

The King laughed. “No, Wissagebreht, that was not my intention. It was only with great difficulty that I was able to avoid bringing more than this along with me, but they are all to wait here until we come back. Only three of us will go hunting unicorns.”

“Four.”

“Four?”

“Four. I have a young ward around here whom I feel it best to take along with us. Carla!”

Carla came out from where she had been lurking at the corner of the house. Wissagebreht addressed her as though he did not know that she had been listening to almost every word that had been said over the past two days.

“Carla, we are going to seek the unicorns, You, I, the King, and the Chamberlain. Get yourself ready quickly.”

“Yes sir!”

She was turning to go when Brehtand came forward. “Your Highness, where do you go?”

“Why, off into the Great Wild to seek the unicorns.”

“And you go alone?”

“No, the Wizard, his ward, and the Chamberlain go with me.”

“Milord, you must take a guard!”

“The Wizard has explained that only a small group may go to seek the unicorn, lest they take fright and not allow us near.”

“Milord, the dangers of the Great Wild are too well known. Even adding a few more to the party will be a little safer, and probably not that much more frightening to the unicorns.”

“Brehtand, I know you speak out of love for me, nevertheless I must say that this is my final word. No, you shall not go.”

“Very well, your Highness.” But it was clear that Brehtand was far from pleased.

There was a little more delay while they made preparations. Wissagebreht insisted that while it might be easy on their backs to allow the packhorse to carry everything, it was also the height of folly. “If we lose the horse, we lose everything. No, let us rather each carry a bit of food, a bit of clothing and so on, leaving most of it for the horse, but with us carrying enough that we will not be naked and starving without the horse.”

The King scowled, but saw the wisdom of this. Carla, who had been used to doing as Wissagebreht bid without question, simply shrugged and set about making her pack as light as was feasible. She was wondering why the wizard was determined to take her along. It wasn’t as though he had not gone away several times and left her to fend for herself for days, even weeks.

She thought to ask him, but with all the people around knew she would get no useful answer out of him. She shrugged. Well, once they were out in the Great Wild she would try to find a chance for the question.

After they had gotten packed up they left. Leaving the men-at-arms sitting and standing uncomfortably around Wissagebreht’s hut.


And that is Chapter one. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]

Or if you want to wait, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta in a month or so once the chapters have been released.

The Beginning of the Beta

At first you may be saying to yourself, “Doesn’t Alpha come before Beta?”

I don’t know! It’s all Greek to me!

Now that I’ve gotten that bad joke out of the way, I am happy to announce that on Friday I will be putting up the first chapter of The Search for the Unicorns for people to read and give feedback on. I will be relying on this feedback in order to improve the book so your honest opinion is important to me.

Normally an author would send their manuscript to their beta readers before they begin the publication process. But I am not the author and I don’t have any beta readers….yet. My hope is that after reading the chapters as I release them you can decide for yourself if you want to join my beta reading team for this and for future books.

As I release each chapter (hopefully at the rate of two chapters a week, not counting this week or the final week) I will include questions to keep in mind. If you are the type who would rather read the entire thing all at once, just let me know and I can send you a beta copy once I’ve released all of the chapters.

For those of you who want to contact me you can sign up for my newsletter or feel free to email me at [email protected]

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Thanks for reading! I’ll talk to you all tomorrow!

Getting Closer!

So I’m one and a half chapters away from finishing my second round of editing markups!

What does this mean for you, the reader?

It means that by the end of this week, possibly even sooner, I will begin the final revision process. Once I finish revising each chapter I will be releasing to this very website in hopes of getting some (ideally all) of you to do some beta reading for me!

I’ll be talking more about this as I get ready to finally release the chapters and how the beta reading process will go. So stay tuned!

Way Past Overdue!

Eep! Has it really been three months since my last post here? For shame! I would like to apologize for that. I’ve had some personal issues going on and then a convention to attend. But now that I’m back from the convention and I’ve wrapped up my other projects, I will be turning my attention to editing. Once I’ve finished the rewrites from this latest round of edits, exciting things will be happening so keep watching this website.