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.

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