Nightfall came with a still eerie air, a starless clear sky capping the quiet wood. Anticipation hung thick like a dense fog, a soft rustling the only sound. Hannah dressed in a long white nightgown, appeared out of the darkness. “Desmond, are you here?”
The apprentice came into sight clutching a large, worn book to his chest. “I’m right here,” he answered.
The young couple joined in the center of the meadow, away from the river and their homes. There needed to be assurance that regardless of what happened, no one would disturb them.
Even in her simplest clothing, Desmond was overcome by Hannah’s beauty. He wanted so much to take her into his arms and whisk her away from this place, away from any magic and unicorns.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, more for his own sake.
“More than anything in this world.” There was no doubt in her voice.
The book was lowered onto the ground, each page being flipped through with great care. “I want you to know that I’m not sure if the spell will work or what it will do to you if it does.”
“It is a risk I am willing to take.”
“I’m not sure if I am,” Desmond answered as he struggled with the fear and apprehension each moment brought him. He closed the book, undetermined to find the page he needed. The young woman took his hand into her own. He did not gain any comfort from it.
Her small hands were warm in his palms as he gave them a gentle squeeze. Raising his head, his eyes caught hers. A chill tingled down his spine as her sparkling eyes betrayed an emptiness that was not of this world. Tears formed along his bottom eyelids, a hard swallow his single defense against allowing them to fall.
“I just want to see you happy. Despite what I want to believe I can’t force you to decide anything. It’s your will alone.” Desmond found difficulty in finishing his thoughts. “I would have preferred a different ending to this.”
He raised himself from his kneeling position, a nervous pause broken by his clearing his throat. “I want to tell you that…” Desmond leaned closer, her faint breath warm against his skin. “I love you. I always have and I always will. I never thought I would envy a unicorn for the sole reason of being able to tell you that.”
She smiled. “I know.”
Desmond leaned forward, his gentle lips meeting hers with a soft touch. As they pulled apart, backing away from each other without a word, Hannah averted her eyes. She raised her fingertips to her lips, pressing as if giving a faint wipe. Desmond felt his chest lock at the small gesture, fighting the urge to break down. Even in that small kiss, her thoughts were never of him.
The spell she was under was complete. Hannah had no intention of returning to the world that used to be her home. Desmond knew what had to be done.
The booked creaked open again; the delicate parchment made a sliding sound. “Ah, here it is.” He took a deep breath, clearing his mind of all thoughts. An unusual calm overcame him as he looked over the page, focusing on the girl before him.
“Now close your eyes and hold your hands open. You must concentrate and not fight whatever you may feel. Understand?”
Hannah nodded, following his instructions. “I trust you, Desmond,” she whispered.
Reaching down, he unclipped the pouch belted to his hip. “Good,” he replied. “I need you to trust me. I need you to trust me more than you’ve ever trusted anyone as if your life depended on it.”
“Yes, I do.”
Desmond reached into the leather bag, pulling out a coil of thin rope. Hannah stood as he told her with her eyes closed, hands raised, unaware that he had stepped closer. He tightened his lips, focusing on his task.
Hannah’s smile faded as she realized Desmond’s long pause. “Is everything all right?” she asked without opening her eyes.
Her question forced the sorcerer’s apprentice to make his move. “Everything’s fine,” he said as he took her hands into his own. “Everything is going to be fine.” The noose slipped around her wrists.
The tightening rope snapped Hannah from her trance, her eyes widening in confusion and fear. “What are you doing?”
Desmond wrapped more of the rope around her wrists as fast as he could.
“I’m helping you just like I said,” he answered, his voice heavy with apology yet not pausing in his task.
“No! What are you doing to me? Let go!” Hannah snapped her hands unable to avoid the last knot from being tied.
“Stop it, Hannah.” Desmond concentrated in ignoring her reaction. “I am helping you. You don’t understand.”
Hannah pushed herself away, struggling at the bonds at her wrists. “You’re the one that doesn’t understand,” she cried. “You don’t want me seeing Alaric because he loves me! I thought I could trust you!”
“Alaric doesn’t love you!” Desmond shouted back as he tried to grab her. “He’s a unicorn! He’s going to take you to the elves and I am not going to let him do that to you!”
“Get away from me! You don’t know anything!” Her frantic flailing sent her off balance, sending her to the ground with a painful thud.
Desmond gritted his teeth as he watched the panicked girl cry and squirm, her white gown now covered in damp soil. He pulled another coil of rope from his pouch. Hannah grunted, dragging herself trying to keep away from him. She stopped face down in the grass, sobbing.
“How can you do this to me?” Hannah’s breathing was heavy from her struggle.
Desmond kneeled, placing his arms around her. She refused to look at him.
“Listen to me. You are under some kind of powerful spell. You may not know it but everyone who loves you knows it to be true. You are enchanted.”
Hannah did not answer instead continuing to let out loud, shallow moans.
“I tied your hands so that you would not harm yourself. If you continue to struggle I will have to bind your feet as well.” Desmond cringed at his necessary words. “You need to get well. You can’t do that alone. I can’t help you alone either. If anyone can help me break this spell Gunther can.”
He placed a hand on her cheek, turning her head so that their eyes met. “You have to trust me, Hannah. I won’t hurt you. You know I won’t. Just having to do what I’m doing now is killing me.” He leaned his face closer to hers, watching fresh tears stream down as her eyes recognized his words. “I want you back. No unicorn could love you as much as I do.”
Hannah looked away, closing her eyes until they became painful, tight slits. She squirmed freeing her still bound hands from the pinned position between their bodies. With shaking fingers she caressed Desmond’s face.
“This is not who I am” She gulped hard, trying to control the extremes of emotions rampaging through her. Her eyes flashed with a moment of clarity
Desmond buried his face in her neck, trying to control his own passion. For the first time he was able to break through the magic, making her see what was indeed happening. But the battle was not over yet. He looked back at her. “I’m going to pick you up, okay?” he said. “I still need to get you back then we can break this spell for good.”
Hannah smiled, nodding.
Desmond wiped his damp face on his sleeve. “Let’s get out of here,” he said as he helped her to sit up.
The brush rustled, the violent movement catching Desmond’s attention for a moment. A sharp pain seared through his side, enveloping his mind in a bright light. He felt himself move against a great force, Hannah’s scream echoing like a distant howl. Loud crashing exploded in his ears as his back crashed against the trunk of a tree. Desmond struggled to breathe as he fell to the ground, the impact filling his mouth full of dirt.
“I told you to leave well enough alone,” the voice boomed.
Desmond coughed out the blood-tinted mud, struggling to raise his head. Cloudy, disoriented eyes revealed Hannah staggering to her feet, the black unicorn towering over her in a protective posture.
“Did he hurt you?” Alaric asked with sincere concern. “Why are your hands tied?”
Hannah stared at Desmond still face down in the earth. She looked up at the unicorn, confused and torn between the two suitors. “I’m alright. He was just trying to help.”
The unicorn’s head jerked, his face full of suspicion. “Help?” he snorted. “I question that immensely.” He turned back to the girl. “It is time for me to leave this place. Will you come with me?”
Hannah gasped at the question.
“Leave her alone!” the voice behind them yelled. “Hannah, don’t answer that! If you answer I can’t break the spell no matter how much help I have!”
“You know what answer lies in your heart,” Alaric continued. “If you come with me I promise I will take care of you. The elves will fight my decision but I will not let them take you.”
Hannah started to tremble as she covered her mouth with her still bound hands.
Desmond rose to his feet, finding it hard to stay that way. Everything spun as the pain in his side throbbed through him. Clutching at the wound did little to control it. “I said leave her alone,” he yelled again his voice growing hoarse. “She is not leaving with you not now, not ever.”
Alaric snorted hard, stomping an ivory hoof. “You are much more arrogant than I mistook you for. Not only do you want to make her decision, you purport to know my will as well. Do you believe you can reverse what has already been chosen?”
“With my life,” Desmond answered.
The black unicorn lowered his head, pawing the ground with violent intention as he lashed his raven tail. “Then so be it.”
The stallion rose high on his hind legs, crying out a shrill neigh. His muscles trembled as he crashed to the earth, bolting forward with tremendous energy. Desmond jumped out of the way, just missing the lethal tip of the unicorn’s horn as it tried to find its mark.
Alaric dug his hooves spinning, his long legs thrashing out this time with more success. The boy hurled away from the stallion’s forelegs, one hoof striking his shoulder. In pain and anger Desmond dug his hand into the dirt. Grabbing a stone he swung, hitting hard against Alaric’s muzzle. It dug into the sensitive flesh creating a deep gash, sending blood splashing. The unicorn refused to let the hit go unpunished. Desmond felt another hoof strike his already bruised side, causing him to lose his balance and return to the ground.
The unicorn stood menacingly over the fallen, groaning apprentice. In the commotion, Hannah was able to loosen her bonds, the rope still dangling from her left wrist. She watched in horror to what was unfolding. Desmond rolled onto his back, a movement that was at once greeted by a hoof placed on his sore chest. He looked up at the massive body. Alaric stared down, controlling his weight on the hoof allowing just enough to allow the sharp cloven points to dig into the boy’s skin.
“Choose, Hannah,” Alaric called with impatience, still pinning Desmond to the ground “Come with me or stay with your fallen admirer.”
Desmond gritted his teeth, letting out a loud moan. Wrapping his fingers around the unicorn’s fetlock he tried in vain to push the hoof off of him. “Don’t go with him,” he grunted, the only words he managed to get out.
Hannah started crying shaking her head in disbelief. Her attempts at speaking were greeted with silence. Alaric sighed, releasing the boy beneath him. Desmond let out a choking gasp, unable to control the desperate coughing.
The unicorn’s features transformed into dark calm as he walked over to the sobbing flustered girl. “I am so sorry,” Alaric said as he placed his warm muzzle against Hannah. She reached up tracing the almost healed gash marring his face. “Come with me. You are much too precious for this mortal world. And much too precious for me to leave behind.”
The girl leaned over, kissing the unicorn on the forehead.
“I can’t. I can’t choose,” she whispered. “I just can’t.”
Alaric arched his powerful neck, his eyes revealing a hint of sadness. “I understand.” he answered, stepping away from her. “On the same token you must understand the decision I must make now. And as we all must do, we must live with the consequences of our decisions. Or lack of them.”
She saw the fire light in the unicorn’s eyes, panic bursting through her. “No!” she screamed as Alaric exploded in a frenzy of motion.
Desmond couldn’t move in his haze. The unicorn reared up aiming the ivory horn towards him, the massive body hurtling his way like an arrow. A streak of white crossed his eyes as Desmond felt himself shoved back onto the ground, a weight falling on top of him. Stars swirled in his eyes from the impact, his stunned eyes locking on Hannah before him.
“Desmond,” she gasped as everything went still.
At first he didn’t realize what had happened. Hannah continued staring at him, her enchanted eyes full of shock.
“Hannah?” he whispered as a trickle of blood made a thin trail from the corner of her mouth. Sinking into his arms she let out a little whimper, the back of her white gown seeped in red.
Alaric backed away, the fire that blinded him replaced with disbelief. The ivory horn that once glowed with pale light was tainted with the dark streaks of blood.
“What have you done?” Desmond spoke, the realization of what happened dawning on him. He turned Hannah onto her back, laying her on the ground. She stared upwards but looked at nothing, her breathing a whisper. Desmond placed his shaking hands on her, unsure as to what to do next. Crimson stains smeared the gown, bringing attention to blood staining Desmond’s hands. He stared up at the startled unicorn.
“What have you done?” he repeated, this time louder.
The unicorn twitched, his front legs pacing. “I… I didn’t mean… I didn’t expect her to…”As the words stuttered out, Alaric kneeled beside Desmond who refused to let her go.
“You have to heal her,” Desmond ordered, unable to control his own tears. “You’re a unicorn, you have healing power. So do it!”
Alaric turned away, ashamed. “I cannot.”
Desmond became enraged, rising to his feet ignoring his own pain. “What do you mean you cannot?” he screamed. “You did this! Undo it! I will kill you if you don’t!”
Alaric nuzzled the near lifeless body, cowering at the demand.
“A unicorn’s healing magic is in their horn but if they strike, fouling it, the magic will not heal whom the blood belongs.” His large blue eyes filled with grief. He lowered his head, burying his muzzle in Hannah’s red hair. As her fading scent filled his senses, he began to weep.
Desmond was taken aback by the mourning creature, never thinking he would see one show what he believed was an exclusive human emotion.
“No. She’s not dead yet. There has to be something we can do.” He searched his mind, trying to remain calm. “There’s no time to bring her back to the house. She’ll be too far gone, if not dead already.” He closed his eyes, shaking his head. “The book,” he blurted, his head snapping up. Desmond scurried around looking for Gunther’s worn spell book, the unicorn watching him with curiosity. Finding it, he went over to Hannah, pushing Alaric away.
“When you promised Hannah you would take care of her, was it real?”
Alaric’s ears pointed forward. “What do you mean by that?”
“Your promise. Was it real?” he asked with more determination. “Or was it another one of your lies to get her to go with you?”
“I did not lie to her,” Alaric protested, offended. “I meant every word.”
Desmond opened the book. “Good. Because I’m going to give you what you want.”
The black unicorn stood. “What are you talking about?”
The young sorcerer did not raise his head, finding the page he needed. “You are going to keep your promise to Hannah. In turn you are going to keep your promise to me. If you harm her or betray her in any way I will spend the rest of my days hunting down your kind until I rid this world of every last one of you.”
“You have my word,” the unicorn nodded, knowing that the boy spoke with furious sincerity. ‘But what are you going to do?”
Desmond leaned over Hannah, brushing her hair with his fingers. “Giving her what she wants,” he replied. “I’m not stupid. I know about your idea of a ‘choice’. If Hannah stays with me, the magic will kill her. If she goes with you she becomes just another elf plaything until they grow tired of her. But if I turn her into a unicorn… ”
Alaric snapped up. “What? That’s insane,” he answered. “You do not have the control to cast such a powerful spell. You’ll end up destroying her!”
“And she’ll be no better off than she is now.” Desmond snarled.
Kneeling beside her, Desmond propped the book before him, outstretching his arms and closing his eyes. Placing his hands on her, he started chanting his spell. The unicorn stepped away allowing the sorcerer to work unencumbered. The words poured without effort into his mind and onto his tongue, the book no longer needing to be there.
Desmond felt an overwhelming and indescribable feeling surround him, his ears pounding with the sound of blood rushing through his veins. His eyes were shut so tight they began to make a bright, painful inside light, the magic not letting him go until he was finished with his task.
His hopelessness vanished, his sorrow disappeared and something inside him burst forth with tremendous energy, causing him to cry out. The words escaped him like a violent, rushing wind swirling about him. Then a great thunderclap crashed through his very being and sent him hurtling back to the hard earth.
Desmond awoke realizing he was not at home in his own bed, finding himself lying on the grass. His entire body was damp from sweat. Half opening his eyes he tried to move. Just the thought of doing so made his entire body ache with sharp pain. Shutting his eyes he tried to return to the dream he awoke from.
It was the most peculiar dream. I was a wizard, calling on a tempest to give birth to a unicorn. I was struck by lightning but I didn’t feel a thing.
He listened to the near silence around him. Crickets called to each other as a cool breeze caressed his face. A low steady breathing came from nearby, the sound a prominent echo in his ears. As his senses came to him, Desmond tried to wake himself up. Disoriented, he raised his head, his eyes struggling to focus on something ahead of him.
It was some kind of animal lying in the grass as if in a trance. It was large yet somewhat fragile at the same time. Heavy breaths flared through its nostrils as if caught up in a dream of its own.
A horse. It looks like a horse.
Desmond forced himself up but his body fought any attempt to do so. He looked at the white horse again, its fiery red mane cascading onto the grass.
Suddenly it all starting coming back in flashes as he looked on shocked at the scene before him.
At the white horse with the red mane.
And a delicate spiral horn right above her emerald eyes.