The girl did not succeed in escaping the notice of her older sisters as she scurried out of the house. Hannah had awoken, despite her lack of sleep, with the intention of finishing her chores early. She was still embarrassed to have been discovered sleeping on the windowsill by her mother who escorted the unconscious girl back to bed. At least she was glad to have gotten some rest. Now she faced a new pair of spies as her sisters giggled at their sibling’s antics. Hannah was dressed in her best clothes as she braided wildflowers in her hair.
“And where is our princess heading off today?” Jenny’s voice rang with gentle mocking.
“Why, to meet her prince of course,” Marion answered with an equal sting.
Hannah tried to ignore their teasing as she kissed her mother goodbye. “I’ll try not to be long,” she said as she ran out the door. All three women smiled as they watched her race towards the river.
“Do you think she’s finally caught the attention of Gunther’s apprentice?” Mother asked her remaining daughters as her youngest disappeared from view.
“She had his heart since they first met,” Jenny replied, fanning herself for effect. They giggled at the display, wishing the maiden well.
Hannah knew she had arrived too soon but having to wait for the unicorn was not bothering her at all. She took care in seating herself in the same spot Alaric had met her before, spreading out her dress around her for dramatic effect. She dusted herself off for good measure, redoing questionable braids. Hannah wanted to look her best for the black unicorn, if he came.
As she postured a moment of dread set in. What if the unicorn didn’t come? She had worked so hard to see him. What if someone found her before the unicorn came, or worse, while he was with her? As long as there were unicorns, people were always after their magical horns. The last thing Hannah wanted to do was to put the magnificent creature in any danger.
Calming herself as best as she could, Hannah closed her eyes, folding her hands in her lap. She posed herself as she thought any maiden in legend would do to capture a unicorn, though capture was not what she intended. She concentrated on the gentle rushing of the river, feeling the breeze rustle the flowers in her hair. The sun was warm on her face as an overwhelming serenity filled her heart.
“You look beautiful,” a voice spoke.
Hannah opened her eyes, snapping herself from her reverie. Alaric walked to her with graceful ivory steps, looking at her with his deep blue eyes. She couldn’t find any words to greet him with, instead flashing a bright smile.
Alaric kneeled next to her, placing his head in her hands. Hannah leaned against him, her delicate fingers brushing through the silk mane. Wrapping her arms around his powerful neck, a tense breath made her catch herself.
“I’m… I’m sorry…”
Feeling awkward, Hannah pulled away, gathering up her gown. The unicorn looked at her with unblinking eyes.
“Have I offended you?” Alaric asked as the girl shifted her weight with nervous energy.
Hannah shook her head, unsure what to do next. “You far from offend me,” she replied. “In fact, I know many a girl who would give so much to be where I am now.”
“If you did not wish to be with me, you did not have to make your promise.”
Hannah felt herself blush with intense embarrassment. “I didn’t break my promise. I am here just as I said. It’s just that…” Her voice trailed as she struggled to find the words that wouldn’t upset the unicorn. “Forgive me for saying, but as much as I want to, being here goes against everything my family taught me.”
Alaric continued watching her. No anger or confusion crossed his face. In fact the lack of emotional response made Hannah uncomfortable.
“Tell me, ” the unicorn answered. “What is it that you have been told?”
She felt herself blush more. “I don’t want to offend you. I should be going.”
The unicorn turned away, watching the river. Despite her protest, Hannah could not get herself to leave.
“Do you fear me?”
Hannah thought about the question. “I know I should,” she answered with honesty. “Unicorns steal away people for the pleasures of the elves that care for you, enchanting them so that they may never return to the mortal world.”
The unicorn turned back to her. “But do you fear me?”
“No, I don’t. I have also heard that unicorns are kind, peaceful creatures who are done more harm by man than the other way around. I have no reason to believe you are not one of those unicorns.”
She saw Alaric smile and couldn’t help but smile back.
“So if you do not fear me then why do you stand ready to run? Do you believe in your heart that I intend you no harm?”
The girl nodded.
Alaric continued. “I enjoy the company of humans but I of course must choose my company with great care. Would it give you comfort to know that I cannot enchant you without your permission?”
“What do you mean by that?” Hannah asked. “I thought that magic can take anyone.”
“No, if it was that easy, you would have been mine without question,” the unicorn answered. “But there you are ready to leave me. If you wish, you may go back to where you came. Be sure though that I will not be here when you return.” He turned away from her.
Hannah stood frozen questioning as to what course she should take. In her mind her mother’s voice echoed with warnings. On the other here was a unicorn, the most magical of animals just wanting to spend time with her. The thought of walking out on him seemed beyond any measure of rudeness. Not being able to ever see the unicorn again created a dull pain in her heart.
“No, I must leave,” Hannah answered rather unconvincingly. “I cannot stay here.” Picking up her dropped hem, she gave the black unicorn a hesitant second glance. “I must go home.”
Each step she took was heavy and unsure. The further she walked the more she wondered whether it was the right idea to refuse a lonesome unicorn a little cordial company. She stopped, passing a nervous hand on her throat.
“Alaric? Please, don’t leave.” She puffed as she ran back where the unicorn had stayed.
“You say I cannot be enchanted without my permission, right?”
Alaric nodded. “Nothing will happen unless you decide you want it to happen.”
There was a pause as the girl processed his words with caution, trying to balance wisdom with want. Hannah walked over, lowering herself next to him. “Well, I don’t mind staying with you then,” she replied.
The unicorn smiled again. “I am very happy you’ve given me that. Put your arm around me. It gives me great comfort.”
Hannah did as the unicorn told. She snuggled closer, feeling the warm effervesce of magic radiating from him. The sensation was calming. She buried her face in his long mane, breathing in deep his fragrant scent. They sat in silence, watching the river water pass over smooth stones sparkling like diamonds in the sun.
Desmond followed the neat path to the cottage as he had many times before, except this time with excited nervousness in his steps. Hannah’s mother was a midwife, growing many odd exotic plants not found in town. There was no trading to be done today, as Gunther had done many times however his mission was no less important.
As he neared the house he could see Hanna’s mother enjoying the day sitting out front with her two daughters. Jenny and Marion were both married to well-to-do merchants and were spending the week visiting their reserved mother and youngest sister. They drank lemonade while they fanned themselves, laughing away to the latest gossip. As the young apprentice came into close enough view the talking stopped. The three of them gave wide smiles as all eyes turned on him.
“Uhm, hello,” he said as he offered a polite bow.
“Why, hello there Desmond,” Hannah’s mother answered. “Quite a surprise to find you here.”
“Indeed,” Jenny added, fanning herself. Marion settled for another sip of her lemonade.
Desmond rubbed the back of his neck with a nervous hand. “I was hoping to find Hannah here, but I guess she’s not. I didn’t see her do chores.”
“She did them early,” Marion said. “And left as soon as she finished.”
“Indeed again,” Jenny replied. “In fact, she dressed up in her best clothing, even brushing out that tangled nest of hair of hers.”
Hannah’s mother began to realize the situation wasn’t as they had assumed. “We thought she was with you.”
Jenny and Marion glanced at each other.
“No, she’s not,” Desmond replied, fidgeting with embarrassment. “Uh, this was kind of a surprise. She wasn’t expecting me.” He began to walk away.
“Wait… I can say with confidence that I saw her head down the river. If you go, I am sure you can catch up with her.” Hannah’s mother pointed in the general area behind the house.
“True,” Marion added. “It’s not like there’s anyone else around here she’s going to meet up with. And Town is much too far to go by foot. She may be waiting for you and you don’t know it.”
“Surprises for everyone!” Jenny exclaimed, waving her fan in the air in an attempt to literally wave away the rising awkward feelings.
Desmond smiled, thanking the ladies for their words of encouragement. Taking quick steps, he went towards to the other side of the river he until recently would shout to. The three women followed his moves, knowing he was trying to avoid their gazes. As he disappeared around the corner of the cottage, they burst into giggles again, though this time Hannah’s mother sported a little more concern on her face.
This is not going to turn out like we’re hoping, she thought, hiding her growing apprehension.. Turning back to her chattering daughters she joined in their informal conversation, content for now to see how events unfold before making her uneasiness known.
“What did they mean that she couldn’t be with someone else?” Desmond contemplated as he walked alongside the river. “Is there someone else to worry about? I don’t remember anyone else living around here.” Paranoia began to settle in his already racing mind. “Marion is right. Town is too far to go by foot. They don’t even have the means for Hannah to go all the time even if there was someone.” He tried not to think too hard about what they were implying. He felt his heart grow heavy, his stomach queasy with every assumption.
A figure siting alone on the grass came into view releasing a small sigh of relief from him. Desmond was used to seeing her in drab work clothes, which consisted of a coarse wool shirt and brown skirt. Along with the flowers in her braided short hair, she wore an intricate embroidered dress made of red velvet and gold thread. Not the sort of dress a girl should be wearing to lounge in damp pasture. He had never seen her as beautiful as she was at that moment and couldn’t help but stare.
Hannah sat entranced by something in her fingers, not noticing Desmond until he at last called her attention.
“Hello,” he shyly started. “I was told you’d be here.”
Hannah looked up, startled by the sudden talking. “Oh, hello,” she answered, distracted by what looked to be a lock of black hair.
He took a seat next to her, leaning over to see what she had. “What do you have there?” he asked.
Her small hand closed on the lock, almost hesitant to show him. “It’s a gift.”
He looked away for a moment, unsure what to make of it. “It looks like a lock of hair to me. What kind of gift is that?”
“Remember when you asked me if I noticed the unicorn by the river?”
“And you said you didn’t see it.”
“Well I didn’t see it then.” Hannah continued with uncertainty in her voice. “I’m not sure why. I can’t believe I missed Alaric that first time.”
“Alaric?” He found himself having trouble with the name. “Who’s that?”
“The black unicorn you saw,” Hannah answered with slight disbelief in her voice. “After I had finished my chores that day I went and took a stroll. It was in this spot that he revealed himself to me.”
Gunther’s ominous words echoed in the young man’s mind.
“He told me his name was Alaric and that he wanted me to meet him again. Can you believe it?” Hannah’s face beamed with dreamy excitement, causing anxiety in her companion.
“What else did he tell you?” Desmond asked, watching how her fingers caressed the silky lock of black hair.
At first she hesitated to share her experience with Desmond. But he wasn’t the type to harm anything much less a unicorn plus she had such an urge to tell someone.
“Alaric is the leader of a herd of unicorns living in a far away valley with a kingdom of elves. The unicorns help the elves cross over, whatever that means in exchange for their protection.”
“Crossing over is what an elf does when they decide they have spent enough time in this world.” Desmond searched his memory for other facts. “They can do it themselves but it requires a lot of magic, leaving them very weak on the other side. Unicorns can cross over without much thought, or at least that’s what I heard. It’s natural that elves would make such a pact with them.”
“I didn’t know you knew so much about elves.” She nudged him playfully.
“I do have to study once in a while,” he answered back. “What do you think I do all day? Gather vegetables?”
“And firewood, and herbs, and frogs, and whatever else that crazy teacher of yours needs.”
Desmond laughed. “It seems that way most of the time.” He looked again at the lock of hair, reaching for it. “So what is that you’re holding anyway?”
“Alaric gave it to me.” Hannah allowed him to take the lock from her. “I was braiding his mane when he said for me to take something to remember him by, and it just slipped into my hand.”
Desmond studied the unicorn’s mane. Braided halfway, it shone with its own brilliance, swaying in the smallest breeze like water, feeling soft like fine silk. He gave it back to Hannah.
“It must be exciting to see a unicorn up close like you did.”
Her eyes lit up. “It was amazing. You can feel their magic flowing through them. If I didn’t know any better, I think have gotten some magic for myself.”
“Then maybe I should hug you and borrow some. I seem to need all the help I can get.”
They both giggled at the thought, ending with an awkward pause.
“Alaric wants me to meet him again.”
Desmond felt a chill at her words.
She noticed the change in his demeanor. “You don’t think that’s a good idea, don’t you?”
Desmond rubbed the back of his neck, a habit that was cropping up more often than he’d like. “I don’t want to ruin your moment but I’m afraid what it means a unicorn requests audience with a maiden.”
The worse part was that it was with his maiden.
Hannah eyed the lock of hair again. “I’m not sure what to make of all this. I know all the stories too. I shouldn’t have met him this second time but I really don’t feel he’s out to hurt me.”
“I’m not saying he’s going to hurt you,” Desmond answered. “I’m sure that’s not his intention at all. You have to remember that it’s not for himself that he wants you.”
“He said he wouldn’t.” Her voice trailed.
The young couple sat in silence, watching the blue sky melt into an orange-red blaze. Just by looking at her, Desmond knew Hannah’s thoughts were of the unicorn.
“Here, I want to show you something before we have to head home.” Desmond reached into his shirt and pulled out a piece of blue cloth. “I’ve been practicing this for the last couple of days and I think I got it.”
Hannah turned to him, intrigued by his words. “What are you going to do with a blue handkerchief?”
“Hope that Gunther doesn’t notice it’s missing,” Desmond replied. “His collection may look haphazard, but he knows where everything is when he needs it. By the way, this is his good handkerchief.”
“As opposed to a bad one?”
“No, silly. This one he keeps on him when he has to make important house calls. It’s part of his official wardrobe. It’s silk.”
Desmond thought for a moment. The handkerchief although made of silk did not compare to the lock’s softness. He couldn’t even compare the hair to silk any longer.
“So, are you going to show me something or just show off stolen property?”
“It’s not stolen.” Desmond smirked at her comment. “I’m just borrowing it for this occasion.”
“Okay, okay. Now get on with it.” She waved an eager hand. “The suspense is killing me.”
Desmond adjusted himself so that he was facing Hannah, clearing his throat for effect. “Observe an ordinary handkerchief,” he announced.
“Not used in ordinary fashion I hope.” Hannah giggled, not missing the chance to taunt him.
“Hey! I am a grand wizard! I wouldn’t use a dirty handkerchief!”
“One out of two isn’t bad considering this is the first time you’ve ever attempted to show me any of your spells.”
Desmond waved the handkerchief in an exaggerated motion, thrilled in the fact that he had her complete attention. “Okay, I’m not a grand wizard, but I’m working on it, so if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
Snapping the handkerchief in the air again, Desmond crumpled the fabric into his fist. Closing his eyes he began to envision the words on the page he had been trying so hard to commit to memory. At the same time, he was offering a little prayer of getting the spell right now that Hannah was watching. He took a deep breath, waved his hand over his fist and began his work.
Hannah leaned closer, trying to understand the words he was mumbling. Looking at his fist, she contemplated what was it she was supposed to be looking for, or what was even supposed to happen. As she was about speak, the kerchief squirmed, wriggling its way out of Desmond’s hand. As it inched out, it snaked up waving and weaving to the imaginary music of a charmer’s pipes.
“The handkerchief isn’t crawling, it’s growing like a plant!” She gasped, enthralled.
Desmond continued with his spell trying not to get caught up in the girl’s reaction.
Hannah laughed again. “I can’t believe you can concentrate at all while this is happening!” The plant continued to inch upwards, its leaves sprouting, until a bud began to form and unfold. Hannah’s green eyes widened in wonder as the bud revealed a blue rose.
Desmond stopped chanting and opened his tired eyes. Casting spells took a lot out of him and this time was no exception. Opening his hand, he presented the rose to a still shocked Hannah.
“For the unicorn princess.”
“I can’t believe it! You turned the kerchief into a rose!”
For someone who had spent an afternoon with a unicorn, she was still impressed by such a modest display of magic. She took the rose, studying it with care, almost forgetting the lock of hair she had been holding the whole time
. “I’ve never seen anyone do magic this close before,” she said, pride filling Desmond’s face.
“I’ve never had a spell work that well before,” he replied, just as amazed with his own accomplishment as she was. “It’s a transforming spell Gunther has been trying to teach me for a while. I can transform things into anything I want.”
Hannah closed her eyes, placing the blue bud to her nose inhaling its scent. She pulled the rose away, a bewildered look across her face.
Hannah held the rose for him to look at. “The rose isn’t real.”
“What? Of course it is. That’s how the spell is supposed to work.” Desmond sputtered in disbelief.
“Supposed to maybe,” Hannah replied. “But look. The stem and the thorns are real but the bud is made out of the handkerchief.”
He took the rose out of her hand and examined it himself.
“Feel it. It’s silk. It doesn’t even have a flower scent,” she explained.
“Oh…” Desmond became even more amazed by the unintentional results. As he continued studying the flower they both began to stand, knowing that it was time to go home soon. “At least it’ll never die,” he said handing the rose back to Hannah as she brushed off her dress.
“I’ll cherish it always then.”
The sky darkened, the orange hue melting away. “It’s getting late and you should be getting home before your mother begins to worry. Would you mind if I accompanied you home?”
The maiden curtsied before him. “I would be honored to be accompanied by the grand wizard Desmond.”
“And I would be honored to join the unicorn princess.”
Hannah reached out and hooked her arm into Desmond’s. They walked savoring the moment.
“You know, maybe it is good luck to be visited by a unicorn,” Desmond said, trying to dismiss his apprehension.. “Perhaps you did receive some of it’s magic.”
“I doubt it but it is a nice thought.”
“Don’t they also say that unicorns appear to virgins?”
“Do you think this one was making an exception?”
The remark earned him a swift smack on the shoulder.
“Hey! Just kidding!”
“You’d better be, silly boy!”
The stars began to peek as they reached the cottage on the outskirts of the forest. The couple faced each other for the last time that night. Desmond stood waiting for Hannah to go into her house. He suppressed a nervous shiver.
“I enjoyed your spell, even if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted.”
“Thank you, Hannah. I am glad you liked it.”
They looked at each other for a second.
“Well, I’d better be getting inside. It is dark now.”
“Oh yes, of course…”
Hannah turned, reaching for the metal handle of her door.
“Yes, Desmond?” She glanced over her shoulder.
“Uhm, I…” Desmond fidgeted as he tried to gather up the courage to speak his last words to her. Hannah turned, facing him, waiting. All he could do was stare into her green eyes.
“I wish you a good night Hannah,” he replied, unable to control the apologetic smile crossing his face.
Hannah’s lips pulled into a small grin. “Good night, Desmond, and thank you again.”
Desmond stood there in the dark, Hannah opening the door as quiet as she could, disappearing into the candlelit house. After he was sure she was safe inside, he slapped his forehead, cursing his hesitation. “I’m such an idiot,” he scolded himself as he started to make his way back home.
He walked his familiar trail, smiling at the realization that even though he missed an opportunity to tell Hannah feelings, he at least was able to be the center of her attention for a little while, unicorn or no unicorn.