The leaves began to turn a blazing red and gold, welcoming the autumn season. The wind sharpened its bite yet it would still be a while before any winter snow would be seen.
Desmond’s studies had been coming along quite well, his proficiency in magic impressing even his stubborn teacher Gunther. It wouldn’t be long before the he would send his young apprentice away to study under an actual court wizard. Though for now there was still plenty of obligations to keep Desmond quite settled where he was.
As he looked for something amid his vast collection, Gunther stood back, watching Desmond reading with close attention a passage from the old book of spells. Instead of struggling with the first half, Desmond was clear near the end, frustration not even an issue any longer. There was a different air about him. He looked more confident about his studies. The young naïve boy was far outgrown with no more impatient struggles. In an ironic end, Desmond didn’t seem impressed now that he was able to call his magic up whenever he needed. Now it was a matter of learning to control it better.
He didn’t run off as much as he used to either, preferring to stay within the confines of the cluttered house doing his chores without complaint unlike in the past. There were some days though Desmond would go off for hours then come back, not saying a word to his teacher. The wizard shook his head noting with sadness that the changed attitude was very much related to the disappearance of the young girl across the river.
Today was one of those days.
After much studying, Desmond decided to take his walk. He took a cloak from the rack by the door, leaving through his usual route. He traced his way through the forest, colorful dry leaves crumbling under his feet. As he neared the river, he came across the now empty cottage that used to be Hannah’s home. Distraught with the loss of her youngest, Hannah’s mother decided to leave the area and move in with one of her older daughters. Which one it was Desmond couldn’t remember but it didn’t matter either way to him.
He stood staring at the cottage. The wear of the elements without the benefit of maintenance began to show. Desmond let out a deep sigh, clutching the collar of his cloak. He began to move on when movement inside attracted his attention.
Following the path he could not remove from his mind no matter how hard he tried, he reached the small house. Entering, he took care as to not startle whatever was inside. The dusty wood floor creaked with his every step. At the far end, he could see the shape of a white horse – a unicorn.
The unicorn was small compared to the black stallion he had grown familiar with. She moved with an unnatural grace except with certain awkwardness as if she wasn’t used to her slender legs supporting her frame. With silent steps, she looked around the abandoned home careful to avoid the scattered pieces of broken furniture that littered the place.
“I didn’t expect to find you here, Hannah,” Desmond said to the unicorn.
She did not look at him right away instead continuing her studying of the house. “Sometimes I find myself forgetting,” she said, her voice soft. “I know it wasn’t that long ago that I lived here but for some reason, details escape me like I’m waking from a dream.” She turned to the young man, bewilderment in her eyes. “Sometimes I even forget what I looked like before.”
“I remember well,” Desmond replied as he touched her velvet forehead by the base of the spiral horn. “A beautiful maiden with fire-red hair blessed by the sun. I would have given everything to be with her.”
“You flatter me.” The unicorn gave out a laugh sounding more like delicate whinny. Desmond smiled. She was still just as he remembered.
He caressed her head noticing the horn did not glow. It was no different than a ram’s horn or a deer’s antlers. Even though she was born of magic, there was no magic in her.
“So how is life with your king?” he asked. “Is it everything you had hoped?”
Hannah smirked, glancing away. “I guess that is my curse,” she said. “You have given me my one wish, yet I find myself not contented.”
“It can’t be that bad. Doesn’t Alaric love you as much as you love him?”
“Alaric.” Her features softened at the mention of the black unicorn’s name, a shy smile appearing. “He is wonderful and he takes care of me. However it is much harder…” She nuzzled Desmond. “I feel so alone sometimes. He is the only one that talks to me. All of the other unicorns treat me as if I had remained human, violating whatever sanctity they had. I seem to do better with the elves because I’m some kind of novelty to them.”
Desmond hugged her neck, trying to comfort the unicorn as best as he could.
They stayed in the house reliving memories that Hannah was having a hard time grasping. She would remember for a while then it would abandon her like autumn leaves on the wind. Desmond hid his apprehension behind a polite smile.
Was her human half fading in favor of her unicorn half? He thought. With no magic of her own, I’m afraid what that means.
He tried not to dwell on the little things , the way she forgot certain words or a sudden twitch of the head that was not deliberate. Something was wrong yet he knew that his magic was not powerful enough to fix it. The magic that appeared on the night of the transformation was a powerful fluke. From what Desmond could see, it was not powerful enough.
When it started to get dark, Hannah accompanied him home making sure to not come close enough to risk Gunther seeing her. She was missing her human self however she loved Alaric too much to leave. Desmond refused to think about it. Just as the initial choice was hers, so must the rest. She had to live with the consequences of those choices. As much as he was worried, he could not help her any longer.
As the season passed, the white unicorn with the fire-red mane came around less and less. Desmond would look for her sometimes. After a while he’d return to his work, his heart a little heavier. If she was turning into a full unicorn she might forget her entire human existence. But a unicorn without magic was just a horse with a horn. She would just be another animal in the forest and he doubted Alaric could do anything for her then.
Hannah would end up alone and what was worse was that she wouldn’t even know it.
Snow blanketed the forest with a cover of virgin white, encasing slumbering trees in ice. The sunlight glittered on the smooth surfaces, everything sparking like crystal. Desmond chopped away at wood for the fireplace, his feet disappearing in the crunching powder. As he collected the blocks of wood, a familiar sight greeted him.
“Hannah,” Desmond spoke, his breath visible on the cold air. Hannah didn’t answer instead greeting him with a timid smile. Her coat was a brilliant white. She would disappear into her wintry backdrop if it hadn’t been for the fiery mane making her stand out. “I’m so glad you came back,” Desmond continued, putting down his axe to walk towards her. “I haven’t seen you in such a while.” He hugged her neck, pleasantly surprised by the visit.
Hannah nuzzled him in return. Desmond raised his head, looking at her, unable to hide the trouble waving through him. “I’m surprised you came so close here. Aren’t you afraid that Gunther will see you?” Desmond prayed for her to speak.
“And what will he do?” the unicorn answered with gentle mocking. “I hardly think he would consider me much of a threat to anyone.”
Desmond smiled in a feeble attempt to ignore her peculiar speech. “Maybe he’ll think you came to steal me away.”
Hannah let out a laugh. “You know I wouldn’t do that to you. I couldn’t if I wanted to anyway. ” She paused. “I’m not like the other unicorns, you know.”
Desmond’s heart sank, reinforced by the way each word came out as if she were forcing them. “I’m sorry about your magic. I wasn’t sure if you realized you didn’t have any,” he answered. “I wish I could give you something.”
The unicorn nuzzled him again. “You’ve done more for me than anyone should ask for. I do not blame you.”
“Have you asked Alaric to heal you?”
“Make me a real unicorn?” Hannah replied. Desmond lowered his head. “He cannot make me real just as you couldn’t. Magic doesn’t work that way.”
They spoke for a little bit talking about whatever minor goings on that was happening to them. Hannah’s memory had deteriorated, speech being a hardship for her. Her twitching had also become more noticeable, her head bobbing up and down slightly without stopping.
Desmond attempted to lighten the mood. “Hey, you know I was accepted to join a court wizard in the Upper Kingdom for my final studies. Seems like word of my talent is spreading.”
“I’m so happy for you, Desmond,” Hannah replied. “I always knew being a wizard was so important to you. You deserve your success. You’ve certainly earned it.”
“Make all that gardening worth the effort, that’s for sure.” Desmond’s smile faded to a weak grin, as he could not avoid Hannah’s sad eyes. He reached out and placed his hand on her muzzle. “Hannah, what’s wrong?” He nuzzled her forehead, feeling her warmth against his face. “You know you can always talk to me, right? I’m always here for you.”
Hannah stood silent in the snow; her long winter coat doing little to hide the fact that she had grown stocky since they last saw each other.
“You’re what?” Desmond stuttered, not believing his ears. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
“Well, it seems I’m close enough to do at least that,” Hannah answered, looking away. “Alaric is of course the father, if that’s your next question.”
Desmond grimaced sheepishly.
Hannah continued, the pain in her whole being hard to overlook. “It’s the last straw for most of the unicorns in the Valley. One of them, Lilith can’t fathom the thought of the herd being ruled by a questionable heir. She’s trying to gain support to drive me out.”
“That can’t be possible,” Desmond replied remembering the solemn vow he made to the black unicorn. “You have Alaric on your side. He won’t let them do that to you.” Or would he? Desmond finished without speaking. He didn’t want to upset Hannah more than she already was by implying that Alaric would turn on her.
“No, Alaric would not allow them to,” she said. ” I just don’t know what can happen any more than he can. He can placate everyone for now.”
“I never realized being a unicorn would be so complicated,” Desmond answered. Hannah wrapped her head and neck around Desmond, doing the closest thing to embracing him as she could.
“I miss you so much,” Hannah spoke under her breath. “What I would give to turn back what happened. I am so sorry.”
It was the first time he ever heard her talk about him instead of Alaric causing Desmond to frown at her words. Whatever spell was holding her to the unicorn was fraying leaving her in an uncertain situation. Hannah could never return to her human form but she couldn’t live her life out as a full unicorn either.
And now her being pregnant was bringing up even more questions. Was the spell he used powerful enough to change her so that she had unicorn offspring or would the herd be passed down to a human ruler? No one had ever heard of anything like this happening before. But no one had ever turned a girl into a unicorn either.
Desmond stood holding her.
I knew all along how much I loved you and I let it all slip away. None of this would have happened if I told you from the beginning how I felt. I should have never been so afraid.
“I’m sorry too,” he sadly whispered as it began to snow.