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.

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