The next few days were disconcerting at best. Not only did Gunther notice the blue handkerchief gone, Desmond found that no matter how hard he tried, he could not repeat the spell to prove to his teacher what had happened.
“Would it help if I wore a dress?” Gunther replied to the embarrassment of his student. Desmond agonized over his sudden loss as he in vain worked to duplicate the results from the other night.
Gunther tried to distract the boy as much as he could, concerned over the obsessive behavior towards the one spell. Desmond was determined to show his mentor what he showed Hannah, fueled by the fact he had been unable to see her since that night.
Each time he went to visit her, she was either unavailable or just not there at all. Her mother was also worried at the sudden distraction her youngest daughter was experiencing.
At first she thought Hannah was running off with Desmond, something she didn’t mind. In fact she encouraged it. Her happiness would fade though as Desmond appeared at her door, looking for Hannah hours after she had gone. She couldn’t help thinking the worst. The forest hid as many dangers as it did beautiful things.
“Did she mention anything?” Desmond asked, hiding his suspicions. “I’m worried maybe I had done something to offend her.”
Hannah’s mother shook her head, confused and saddened. “She has mentioned nothing about anything. It worries me. Every day it is the same. Hannah rushes to do her chores, dresses up in her finest then disappear into the forest for hours.”
An awkward moment passed between them both mother and apprentice not ready to reveal their fears to each other.
“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” Desmond replied, hating his having to lie. “You know how girls can get. Caught up in flights of fancy.” He tried to offer a smile.
“Maybe you’re right,” she answered, her voice revealing the knowledge Desmond was striving to hide.
As they bid each other farewell, Desmond couldn’t help thinking about when last he saw her. Maybe this is all an exaggeration, he thought. Maybe she didn’t think the spell presentation was as romantic as I thought it would be. Maybe she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to offend me.
“Or maybe it is the black unicorn,” he spoke aloud with growing resentment. He felt a mixture of emotions well up inside. “Why did it take a glorified horse to make me realize I cared so much for her?” His anger made his words slide out like a growl. “I always knew. I was too afraid tell her. Now the minute she starts talking about unicorns all of a sudden I have to go into competition with one.”
It wasn’t the unicorn that bothered him as much as why the unicorn was showing any interest in Hannah at all. He had to talk to Gunther. If anyone would know what to do he would, he hoped.
As he walked through the thicket, humming began to echo nearby. Recognizing the voice, Desmond followed sound’s direction. He entered an intimate clearing brimming with colorful wildflowers in bloom. In the center, sitting on the ground was Hannah. She was oblivious to his presence. Continuing her humming, she picked the flowers, piling them up in a small basket.
“Hey there,” Desmond started, letting out a sigh of relief. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
Hannah turned her head to him, still distracted by her work. “Hi there yourself. I’m surprised to see you here.”
“As am I of you.”
He went over to her, peeking at the basket where she was placing the flowers. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. I was just coming back from your house. Your mother’s pretty worried.”
“Oh, I’ll be heading home later. I just want to finish my garland for Alaric.”
Desmond cringed at the sound of the unicorn’s name.
“He is so beautiful. I wish you could see him. I can’t wait to meet with him again.” She looked ahead, sighing as if caught in a dream.
“Don’t you think it’s odd for you to be visiting a unicorn so much?” His worry for her grew as he watched the disturbing production before him. “I mean, you have no idea what magical creatures are ever up to. It’s common knowledge what unicorns are known for doing.”
Hannah jumped up, her face wrinkled with rage. Flowers in her lap tumbled to the ground in an ungraceful heap.
“How dare you speak that way! Alaric is kind and gentle! He would never hurt me. He has already told me that he wasn’t going to take me to the elves.”
“I was just worried,” Desmond replied, his voice cracking. He was taken aback by her fiery reaction, something he had never seen in her before. “It’s the elves not the unicorns who are the problem, you know, with them unable to breed without humans and such.” He hoped the backpedaling would win him back onto her good side
“That has nothing to do with it,” she snapped. “You’re jealous that I’m spending more time with Alaric than with you.”
“What?” Desmond blushed at her accusation, letting out a nervous laugh. “How can I be jealous of a unicorn?”
“What else could it be?” Without looking at him, Hannah went over to her basket, grabbing it. Flowers clinging to the edge made their escape to the soft ground. “You’ve been trying to discourage me from seeing Alaric ever since I told you about him.”
The apprentice was still dumfounded by the backlash. “Of course I don’t want you to see him. I’m sure if anyone else knew they would not want you to see him either.”
Hannah’s eyes widened in shock. “You wouldn’t dare tell anyone about Alaric would you? Tell me you won’t!”
“He’s a unicorn, Hannah. A creature of magic. If you’re under some kind of spell I have no choice.”
“I am not under a spell!” Her voice rose to a shrill screech. “Alaric told me I couldn’t be enchanted if I didn’t want to be.”
Desmond shook his head, not believing he was arguing with her. “That’s ridiculous. I’ve never heard of anything like that. Magic doesn’t work that way.”
The girl’s green eyes narrowed, her words hissing. “What would you know about magic, Desmond. Just because you can impress me with a child’s trick doesn’t make you a wizard. You can’t control your magic because you choose not to. I choose not to be under any spell!”
All the yelling could not have prepared Desmond for such a pointed attack, from Hannah most of all. He choked, feeling the wind knocked out of him.
“When you decide to abandon your childish jealousies, you know where to find me.” With a huff, she disappeared into the brush.
” I don’t know where to find you. That’s the problem!” he shouted to a now empty space, his voice trailing. “And I am not jealous.”
Hannah never once had raised her voice much less attacked him in such a personal manner until the unicorn came around. The beast was not interested in her out of the kindness of his heart.
“There has to be a way to distract her enough from Alaric to break whatever spell on her. There must be.” As the garden he worked so hard to tend came into view, an idea began brewing in his mind. “A unicorn, eh?”
The old mare trotted down the well-worn path, Gunther slouched in the cart, mentally organizing his new acquisitions. They turned onto a narrow trail cutting into the woods. Leaves crunched underneath as they made their way on the overgrown trail heading home. As they got closer, a pounding echoed from the garden area, Gunther becoming curious. He couldn’t remember anything being broken.
Tying the mare to a post by the door, the old wizard headed towards the back. Desmond was busy chopping away at some wood, measuring each fragment. An organized pile lay beside him, pieces cut different lengths.
“What are you up to, boy?” Gunther asked, trying to figure out the pattern the blocks appeared to be making.
“Nothing yet.” Desmond wiped his brow. “Just experimenting.”
“Well, Tessa’s out front. I’d be appreciative if you go tend to her.”
Desmond put down his axe with the obedience he always showed his teacher. Gunther looked at the wood again, perplexed as Desmond headed to take care of the mare and the cart.
Tessa stood still as Desmond unhooked her harness. He led her to her stall, which was nothing more than a converted shed surrounded by a fence. It created a nice little paddock for her to run in if she ever felt inclined to do so. He brushed her off then filled her bucket with fresh water, giving her alfalfa and oats to eat. Taking his hand, Desmond traced her pale brown back, still thinking about his project. Running his fingers through her coarse, silver mane, he gave her a goodbye pat on her thick neck, leaving the stall.
He returned to see Gunther putting away the supplies. A loaf of fresh bread was on the table, its inviting smell causing a rumbling in his stomach. Knowing that Gunther hadn’t eaten yet, Desmond began to set the table for himself and his teacher. Fruit, mild cheese, fresh bread and wine made a combination the wizard couldn’t resist for long.
“I noticed all of the books out,” Gunther said as they sat and ate. “They’re all turned to pages about unicorns.”
“I just wanted to learn more about them,” Desmond replied.
“And the wood out back,” Gunther continued, “they’re arranged in a most peculiar pattern, like you’re going to carve something big.”
“Like I said, it’s just a project.”
“About unicorns, I take it?”
Desmond sat in silence, unsure whether he should say anything more. Gunther looked down, chewing his food. “It’s about that girl by the river, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Desmond realized he couldn’t keep this hidden. “Remember when I told you about seeing a black unicorn? I found out that I wasn’t the only one who saw him.”
“Hannah has fallen for the unicorn,” Gunther blurted emotionless. “I guess it was inevitable.”
“I was hoping it wasn’t.” Desmond sounded forlorn. “I thought it was just a girl thing. They always wish they could see a unicorn and Hannah did.”
“Of course it ended up different than expected.” Gunther wiped his mouth, coughing a bit. “I never understood why people think there’s something magical about magical creatures. They’re no different than any other animal in these forests. Do you think that because we can cast spells that we’re any better off? It makes our lives harder because people start treating us like gods.”
“Or servants,” Desmond added, reigning in the snide inflection.
“Humph, just like servants,” Gunther continued. “But unicorns? You have virginal girls lining up from here to the ends of the earth waiting to see one. They don’t understanding what unicorns indeed do.”
“Well, the ones that live with elves, that is.”
“True. I have heard of wild unicorns not in association with anyone. However that’s not what we’re talking about here are we?”
Desmond nodded. “Hannah told me this unicorn was from some valley where a kingdom of elves also take residence.”
“Edinrahn.” Gunther answered. “That unicorn has come quite a way for his prize. Those elves are the worst of all of them. Yes, I can see why you’re preoccupied. Let’s hope she doesn’t take too much of the beast’s fancy.”
Desmond paused in an attempt to suppress the pain he felt. “It’s too late. I think she’s enchanted,” he half-whispered.
“Oh my,” Gunther put a hand to his mouth. “Now I see what this is all about.”
“It started a couple of days ago. At first we didn’t think anything of it. It was like our little secret. I didn’t think it would do anything since Hannah didn’t seem affected.”
Desmond agreed, despondent. “She told me she would see him. She seemed okay. I didn’t want to make an issue of it. Let her have her fun. It’s not every day anyone sees a unicorn.”
“There’s a reason for that. Then you noticed her change.”
Desmond found it more and more difficult. “Hannah started becoming obsessed with him. I’d go see her and either she wasn’t around or all she would talk about is the unicorn.”
“Does her mother know?” Gunther began to search his mind for anything he could think of to help.
“She knows that there is bad magic about but doesn’t know what’s causing it. I haven’t had the heart to tell her the whole story.”
“Not that it would have helped any,” Gunther replied. “Once a unicorn sets its spell, it cannot be broken. I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can tell you to make you feel better.”
“There has to be something.” Desmond leaned forward, accenting his protest. “The unicorn told her that she can choose to be enchanted so there must be a way for her to unchoose.”
“Choose to be enchanted? Gunther let out a laugh soaked with cynicism. “Without a doubt it would say that. If she were a sorceress then maybe its words would hold some truth.”
“The more she says she’s not enchanted the more I know she is.”
Gunther leaned forward, locking his eyes with his student. They were filled with stern seriousness. “There is nothing you can do for her, Desmond. Hannah has been chosen. A unicorn’s magic is too strong to break except by her own will. And that we both know is near impossible. Although I do find it strange that she hasn’t been taken yet, it will be a matter of time. You will do best not to interfere. Let her go. If you try to force her to stay, the strength of the magic’s hold will kill her.”
Desmond leaned back in his chair. “I’ve read that in your books. When a maiden is used to lure unicorns to be slaughtered, her heart fills with so much guilt and grief, she wastes away.”
“That’s why the practice isn’t used or encouraged anymore. The realm values its maidens more than its want for unicorn horns.”
“If a maiden’s will alone can end an enchantment, then I’m going to have to convince Hannah to do just that,” Desmond muttered as he finished eating.
Gunther felt disheartened. It pained him to realize that his student would have to learn this hard lesson on his own.
Desmond worked non-stop. He continued to put forth the effort to visit Hannah just to find the unicorn monopolized more of her time. His heart would break when her mother would answer their door. It was clear she knew all too well what was going on, realizing there was nothing anyone could do. Yet as his creation began to take shape, Desmond grew hopeful that maybe he would be able to change that.
Gunther figured it would be best to let the situation run to its sad conclusion. Once in a while he would call his busy student for some small errands. For the most part though he left him alone until his inquisitiveness could not allow him to do so anymore.
Gunther headed to the shed not knowing what to expect from his determined apprentice. Desmond was standing by the open doorway, sweaty and covered in wood shavings. As Gunther entered, shards of sunlight broke in between the wood panels of the flimsy shack. In the very back was the beginning of a wooden unicorn.
It was a life-size carving, still crude, its head beginning to show fine details. The spiral horn was lying on the table, finished. It would be attached when the rest of the head and body reached a certain level of completion. It was an impressive effort. Gunther couldn’t help but marvel at the attention that was being given to it. As he studied the shape further, something began to bother him. On closer examination he began to understand, not liking one bit of it.
“Well, you are without doubt making a wooden unicorn.”
“That’s what it is,” replied Desmond as he shook shavings out of his hair.
Gunther stared at the carved out interior. “Tell me it is going to stay hollow so that it’s light enough to carry.”
“Please, Gunther. Don’t judge me.” He looked away, unable to look at his teacher without feeling uneasy. “If Hannah is allowing herself to be courted by a unicorn, then I have no choice but to compete any way I can.”
“I can’t believe you are indeed thinking of cramming yourself into that thing. I have to admit, it’s the first time you’ve ever left me altogether speechless.” Gunther couldn’t decide if he felt pity for his apprentice or disgusted.
“I’d do anything for her. You don’t have to understand. A unicorn stole my maiden’s love before I could even begin to tell her how I feel. If I have to do the ridiculous to prove to her that I love her, then I will.”
“I cannot condone any part of it,” Gunther said in a low voice. “Go back to your carving but you can be sure you will get no help from me.” He turned and walked out of the shed, stopping only to look right into Desmond’s eyes. “When you decide to be a serious student then we may talk, not otherwise. This situation is getting way out of hand.”
Desmond felt hurt at the words yet knew he had to continue. He worked for several more hours. As he stepped back to look at how the piece was coming out, he realized he wasn’t as convinced that the idea would work as he was before. Maybe his teacher was right. Maybe his idea of rolling around in a wood unicorn was too ridiculous to even bother with. He began to blush at the whole stupidity of it.
“Maybe if I just took a part of it to her,” Desmond began speaking out loud. “Maybe if Hannah saw how much effort I was putting into winning her, she’ll snap out of whatever spellbind the unicorn has her under. ”
With a confirming nod, he sawed off the near completed head from the still raw formed body and attached the horn to it. Carving in a few more details, the wood unicorn head was ready. If he had more time he would have created a display base for it. If things didn’t work out as a wizard at least he had his more modest carpentry skills to work with.
He took a tattered blanket, wrapping the head as best he could. The long spiral horn stuck out of a hole in the fabric making the element of surprise arguable. It would just have to do. He went back inside the main house to clean himself off to make him more presentable. Hugging the wood unicorn to his chest, he took care with his walking as to not by chance trip, breaking his gift or worse, impaling himself on it.
His mind flooded with images of what he thought would happen when he presented the gift to Hannah. He envisioned her accepting and wanting to be his just as much as he wanted to be hers. He was so wrapped up in thought he almost didn’t see the large black figure in front of him. Almost missing bumping into it, he stopped startled in his tracks.
The black unicorn blocked his path, his powerful frame seeming to envelop the surrounding forest. All Desmond could focus on was the deep blue eyes and the ivory horn.
“Alaric,” he whispered, clutching the wood head closer. The unicorn seemed larger, more imposing than the first time Desmond had seen him. Alaric’s stern eyes gazed at him. Desmond felt himself shrink before the magnificent animal, lowering his eyes in embarrassment.
How could he have been so arrogant as to think he could deceive Hannah into loving him by use of a crude effigy? Alaric’s beauty and the magic entangled in it were too much for Desmond to bear. Tears welled up in his eyes and he blinked hard to control them. The unicorn’s magic was indeed powerful.
“You will not succeed in your quest, you know that don’t you,” the unicorn spoke. “The magic has done what it will. The girl is no longer of this place. You have a good heart though. I am sorry that you must have it broken this way.” Alaric’s voice held an apologetic resonance at what his task was causing, although he was not remorseful.
Desmond stood speechless.
Alaric stepped forward closer to the boy, sniffing about him. Desmond felt himself hold his breath. The unicorn looked up into his eyes, a small smile crossing his muzzle. “Now I understand,” Alaric replied, nodding.
“Understand what?” Desmond’s voice cracked with nervousness.
The unicorn pressed his muzzle against Desmond’s arm, giving him a slight, almost playful push. “If it is any consolation, it was you who was my original goal. You were so willing to follow me. Something was keeping the magic from taking you.”
Desmond’s eyes flashed with realization. “Those feelings. That sensation. That was your magic?”
“No,” Alaric answered. “Those feelings were your magic. I should have known you were a sorcerer.”
“I’m not a sorcerer.” Desmond felt both uneasy and excited at the same time.
“You will be. Your magic is very powerful. It is just not ready yet. However it is active enough to protect you. A creature of magic cannot overcome another creature of magic.” Alaric turned his head away, watching Desmond through the corner of his eye. “A shame in fact. You would have been a quite a prize.”
Desmond felt his face heat up. “A prize?” The words fell out of the boy’s mouth.
The unicorn’s intentions were made clear. They were nothing but trinkets to him, both himself, Hannah, and whomever else Alaric would have come across that caught his fancy. Sheep to be gathered for elven masters for whatever they wanted humans for.
“Why did you have to take her?” Desmond asked, his voice a whisper but the growing anger clear. “Why?”
“The decision was just as much hers.”
Alaric’s indifference enraged him “Don’t try to fool yourself with your own lies. The only decision was the one you made! You were here for one purpose and that was to get someone! It didn’t matter who you took but in the end it was Hannah! Your magic keeps her bound to you! You tricked her into spending enough time, opening enough to you so that your magic could take root.” Desmond began to tremble. His fingers dug into the fabric-covered wood. “You think flattering me is going to get me to forget all this? Let her go? Don’t think I know nothing of you or your kind, horse!” He didn’t feel so overwhelmed anymore.
The unicorn flinched at his words. “You know less than you think. It is unwise to bring forth such a challenge.” Alaric stepped forward. “Don’t think that your hidden talent is enough to keep me from taking you as well. The minute I do you will forget about the girl, thinking instead of your new masters,”
“Then do it.” He snarled, calling his bluff. “Show me how powerful you are. Take me right now. Break Hannah’s spell. You said you can so prove me wrong.”
Alaric snorted, pounding a sharp hoof into the grass. The boy was not intimidated by the display. The unicorn closed his eyes. “I am not asking you to understand any of this. In the end, you are human, bound by different rules. The magic has done its will. Even I cannot undo that no matter how much I want to. And because of that, I too may lose her. You are not alone here with a broken heart.”
He lowered his head, pointing the lethal horn at his rival. “You do best by listening to your teacher. Let this run the way it is meant to. I cannot keep her away from her final call much longer for the elves expect their bounty. I am honor bound by it. You cannot change her destiny any more than you can change yours or mine.”
“I can change what I will to,” Desmond answered challenging. “And what I will changes everything.”
Without another word Alaric spun, jumping passed him.
Desmond did not turn to watch the unicorn leave. Instead, when all turned quiet, he raised the blanket-covered gift over his head. With a loud growl he brought it down with all his might. The thin wood shattered against an exposed tree root, the horn shattering into pieces. He pressed his palms hard against his eyes trying to keep the welling anger controlled as he gathered his thoughts.
“I refuse to compete with that thing,” Desmond growled. “I refuse to let him take Hannah because he wants to and everyone says I should let him.” He looked at his hands, balling them into tight fists. “I may not be a sorcerer but I am a man. I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep a horse from taking away the woman I love!”
Desmond continued in the direction of Hannah’s house, his purpose changed. He was not going to try to win her love with pathetic shows of gifts. He was going to break that spell any way he knew how. The consequences he would have to worry about later.
Hannah was found in a small meadow by the river, face down in the grass. She had been weeping for quite a while, not noticing Desmond sitting quiet beside her. She looked up at him, her face dirty from tears, and her eyes red and puffy.
“Desmond? The most horrible thing has happened.” Hannah sat up, falling into his arms. Desmond buried his face in her fiery-red hair. He couldn’t bear to see her hurting so much.
“Alaric didn’t intend on bringing me to the elves,” she started with her tale. “That was his original purpose however something happened. Instead of taking me away, he just kept on returning, staying here. I felt so at peace with him, like nothing else mattered in this world.”
As she sobbed Desmond listened, remembering the unicorn’s words.
Hannah continued. “He told me he wanted to stay with me, protect me from the elves. He could not survive outside the Valley though. He said something about a connection he couldn’t break. I don’t know.” She wiped her face with her hands. “Alaric said he could no longer see me. He had to return to the Valley.” She paused, crying aloud. ” He told me he loved me.”
No matter how much anger he harbored the tears flowed down Desmond’s cheeks. That a unicorn would have more courage to tell her that he loved her was impossible for him to bear.
“I feel as if I am going to die,” Hannah sobbed.
Wiping his own tears away, Desmond took a deep breath and lifted Hannah’s head to look into her emerald green eyes. “Please don’t weep, my unicorn princess,” he whispered. “I’m not surprised by what you have told me. No living creature could resist you – god, man, or unicorn.”
A wild, frantic look overcame her. She clutched his collar with near violence, the fabric pinching his throat. “Don’t flatter me, Desmond! This is tearing me to pieces! I love Alaric and the thought of never seeing him again…” she looked away, “I’m going to kill myself!”
She gasped by how hard Desmond grabbed her, holding her so close, she could hear his heart racing like a jackrabbit chased by foxes.
“No, Hannah, don’t. Please don’t ever say that. I’ll do anything to help you. Anything.”
“You must help me.” She sobbed again. “Please, Desmond. I can trust no one save you.”
The apprentice nodded his head. “I will. I will help you.” He hesitated. “I know what to do.”
“How?” Hannah looked at him with disbelief.
“I’ve thought of a way.”