|OF LOVE AND HATE
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
I awoke in a small girl's room. It contained a large four poster bed (curtained so I couldn't see who slept there), a dresser with a large mirror of polished silver, a wooden box, painted blue with daisies and sunflowers upon it, and various wooden toys scattered around the floor. The walls were rough cut stone, painted white (with various hand-marks near the bottom), and the roof was also of stone supported by large wooden beams. The only light came from an oil lantern hanging by the door. I saw the room in two halves (with a black line in the middle) and had to turn my head to see what was behind the black line. The black line moved as I turned my head, always remaining in the centre of my field of vision.
Then I looked down at myself. I was seated in an overstuffed chair covered with worn red cloth. Looking down I saw long thin legs, covered in fine white hair, that ended in small black hooves. The hooves were cloven.
This seemed wrong, but it felt all right.
I was seated with my hind legs bent and my forelegs resting upon them. At least I thought they were legs as they had no hands.
Hands? Now why would I have hands? Why would I think it strange to have hands?
I heard a sigh from the bed and turned and saw the curtains being moved aside. I cocked my head so that I could see the whole bed. A young girl, only 5 years (and 5 months) old looked out at me.
How did I know her age?
Her hair was a dirty blond, rough and uncombed and she wore a simple white night-gown. For some reason the night-gown had not been washed for a long time. I moved my head and peered closer. The little girl had not been washed for a long time either. In fact the dirt on her face was streaked with the trails of tears and her eyes were all puffed up. Curious.
The girl opened her mouth wide into an O and then whispered, "A unicorn."
A unicorn? That wasn't right.
"Are you from daddy?", she asked.
I opened my mouth to respond and was completely surprised when a wooden pipe fell from it. The pipe fell one foot and then vanished into thin air. All that was left was the smoke that had been curling up from it.
"You were smoking his pipe."
I had to say something. I had always believed that the truth was the best. When had I believed that? "I don't know."
"He's dead. He died last night." The girl turned away.
"You're sitting in his favourite chair too. He use to . . .", her voice began to break up, ". . . use to . . .", then she threw herself back onto her bed and I could hear her crying.
Somehow I lightly stood up off the chair and onto all fours without making a sound. I slowly walked over to her on silent hoofs. Why didn't my hooves make a sound on the wooden floor? I reached the bed and tried to thrust the curtains open with my head but banged my horn against the top of the bed.
Well, she had said I was a unicorn.
I could feel its weight growing from my skull and peered up at it. It was almost 3' long and spiralled up to a tip. Its colour was a pale, almost transparent, ivory. I used the horn to slowly push open the curtains to look at the girl. She was still sobbing.
"He wouldn't want you to cry. He would want you to continue on." As I said it, I knew that it was true.
The girl sniffed and rolled over to look at me.
"He wouldn't want you to cry."
"I'm a . . ." sniffle, ". . . princess. I shouldn't cry."
"Even princesses cry. What's your name?"
"Isilya." She looked straight up at me. "I'm five years old and ruler of the kingdom of Namara." Then she smiled, "My father made it."
"What was your father's name?"
I saw tears beginning to form on Isilya's face. That name sounded familiar. "Why did you think he sent me?"
"He promised he would never leave me alone. He promised that he would send someone to protect me." She sat up and looked at me. "What's your name?"
"I'm called . . .", and suddenly I didn't know. What was my name? Isilya looked at me so I started again, "I don't know."
"Then I'll call you Ashima."
"But that's . . .", I stopped myself before I said woman's name. Was I a man? "Ashima it is."
"Who are you talking to!", I heard from outside the door. Panic filled Isilya's face.
I heard the door slam into the wall as it was shoved open. Stepping backwards I turned to face it and saw that two men had entered the room. They were both large hulking men, one with brown hair and the other with black. Neither of them had combed their hair. Both were dressed in uniforms of some type and held swords.
"No . . . no one.", I heard Isilya say from the bed.
"There's no one here.", one of the two muttered.
"But we heard her talking. There had to be someone."
"We'd better check. Matturgur will kill us if we slip up."
The two men walked around the room prodding ahead of them with their swords. I made a break for the door and then suddenly stopped as realisation hit me. They couldn't see me. But why not? Isilya had seen me.
"Oh there's nobody here. Lets go and let the poor girl alone. She's had enough done to her."
The two men turned and left. They pulled the door shut behind them and I heard the click of a lock.
"Are they gone?", Isilya asked.
"Good." Isilya moved until she sat on the edge of her bed, her head on her arms and her elbows on her legs. She looked up at me. "Ashima?", she asked. Why didn't they see you?"
Didn't I want to know. "I don't know."
"It must be magic!" Then Isilya put a hand over her mouth and looked around. "I better whisper."
I moved closer to her to listen to her speak.
"Can you hear me?", she whispered.
"Clearly.", I whispered back. I didn't think I needed to whisper, but it seemed appropriate.
"You sound like my father, you know. You even talk like him."
"Yes." She looked around the room and leaned closer to me. "I think they killed my father.", she whispered.
"Why do you think that?"
"My father was always careful. He wouldn't fall down the stairs like he did."
The sight of a swirling, spinning stone staircase suddenly appeared in my mind. From the point of view of someone doing the falling.
"Isilya!", I heard from outside the room.
"Hide!", Isilya whispered. She slid back into bed and pulled the covers around her.
I moved away and into a corner.
I turned and saw that the door was open. A thin woman came in carrying a wooden tray and a plain wooden bowl. There was no spoon. She walked over to Isilya's bed.
"Wake up sleepyhead. Breakfast."
"Here. Now eat it all up. And don't go back to sleep, you have to be ready for the funeral today. Someone will bring you your clothes later."
She patted Isilya on the head and I watched Isilya grimace.
"Its good for you."
The woman turned away and I watched Isilya stick her tongue out. I started to walk after the woman. I wanted to see the castle, figure out what was going on.
"Ashima?", Isilya called.
"Ashima?", the maid turned and asked.
"I'm just going for a look around. Don't worry, they can't see or hear me. I'll be back soon."
Isilya nodded. The maid looked confused, looked around the room, shrugged her shoulders, and left. I followed her closely. It was a good thing I did for the two guards who had come into the room earlier pulled the door shut immediately after her and banged me in my rump.
"What in the fey?", one asked.
"The stupid door must have jammed. Pull harder."
During the conversation I scooted out into the hallway and the two guards slammed the door behind me.
"Why do we have to guard her anyway?", one guard asked. "What's a little tyke like her going to do."
"I don't know. Do you want to ask Matturgur that?"
The two guards looked at each other, and then stood very straight and very attentively at either side of the door. Who was this Matturgur they kept talking about? The name sounded familiar. For a second I saw an elderly mage in my mind, I knew him. But then the memory was gone.
I turned and saw the maid walk down the corridor and I turned to follow. Although people could neither see nor hear me, they could feel me, so I stayed close to the wall. After a short walk the maid turned and went down a large staircase. I stopped. It was the same as the one I had seen in my mind.
At the bottom of the staircase there were two men. They were dressed in rough, homespun wool shirts and braies of dirty brown and were kneeling on the floor scrubbing with rags at a stain. I smelled blood and wrinkled my nostrils. Slowly I stepped down the staircase and halted near them.
"Horrible thing it was.", one said.
"I heard he slipped and cracked his head open, sprayed brains all over the steps."
"I hear he was pushed."
"Shh! You don't want to say that." Then he spoke loudly, "A horrible accident. So unfortunate. Leaving his only daughter behind."
The other peasant whispered back, "He didn't slip and you know it."
"I know nothing. Now be quiet and scrub."
I leapt off the stairs and over top of them, landing on the far side. Unfortunately I slid and lost my balance on the wet floor and tumbled into the wall. But I felt no pain - for some reason the fall hadn't hurt me at all. I got up and carefully walked away from the stairs. Then I heard the peasants suddenly begin scrubbing with renewed vigour, and footsteps entering the Great Hall. I turned to see who was coming.
Two people entered, engaged in a quiet conversation. One was an ancient and bent woman. Her ears were slightly pointed, a sign of fey blood. She was almost bald except for a few strands of silver hair which hung down to her waist overtop of a loose blue robe that rustled along the floor behind her. In her left hand she carried a knurled wooden cane which banged on the floor as she walked.
And with her was Matturgur.
How could I have forgotten him? I recognised his long face, his neatly trimmed and combed shoulder length hair, his short goatee, his piercing blue gaze. He, too, was an older man, but not as old as the woman. He looked about forty, but somehow I knew he was much older than that. He was dressed in a short velvet robe that left his leather boots bare.
As I remembered Matturgur, I lowered my head, ready to charge. Shocked, I snorted and calmed myself. Why did I hate this man so much? I needed more information before I did anything. Walking closer I tried to hear what they were saying.
"...is ready?", asked Matturgur.
"In a few days my mistress will be ready for her sacrifice. Than you can marry my mistress's servant and finally..."
The two stopped, and looked around.
"There is something here...", began Matturgur. He began an incantation. It took only a second and then I saw the magic ripple from him.
I started to turn to flee, but the ripple reached my horn first. I could feel the tip of my horn grow warm, which made no sense. I could feel waves of colours flowing up and down it. Then a tingling filled my body, built to a driving itch, then suddenly vanished. And the ripple shattered.
I didn't know what had happened, and apparently Matturgur didn't either because he did not look pleased. "Something cancelled my spell.", he whispered to the woman. He began to stride to the staircase, the woman struggling to keep up with him. "Something is here. We have to check on the girl."
He reached the staircase and with a wave of his hand the two peasants were thrown out of the way. One hit his head on the stone railing and collapsed, blood seeping out of the wound to puddle at the base of the staircase. Matturgur and the woman ignored it and just strode on, their boots leaving faint bloody footprints up the staircase. I leapt over the puddle just in case I left tracks and followed.
I followed them up the stairs in silence. They went back down the hallway to the guards, who stood even straighter than they had before.
"Has anybody been here?", asked Matturgur.
"Just the maid with breakfast."
The two guards looked at each other. The guard who had spoken swallowed and finally said, "Before the maid we heard Isilya talking. It sounded like she was talking to someone."
Matturgur glared at the guard.
"We went in right away and checked. There was nobody there."
Matturgur glared at the man, and finally said, "Open the door." The guards hurried to do so and Matturgur, the woman, and myself, walked in.
Isilya was sitting on the edge of her bed, crying. She looked up and saw us, and stopped. I watched her face wilt. Matturgur had much to answer for.
"Who were you talking to?"
Isilya looked down at her lap and whispered, "No one."
Matturgur strode forward and grabbed her chin in his hand. "Don't you ever lie to me. Now, who were you talking to?"
I forced myself to wait. He wasn't hurting her. But if he started...
"And who is Ashima?"
Matturgur let her go and began stroking his goatee. Then he began incanting again. I backed towards the door, ready to run, or attack. Finally the magic rippled from his fingers and drifted around the room. It came near me, but nothing happened. Finally it drifted over to the chair and settled down. For a second I could see a faint outline of a unicorn sitting there, then the spell suddenly ended.
Matturgur glared at the chair. "There was something, but something seems to be blocking it." He turned to the woman. "Can we make the sacrifice tonight, right after the funeral? We can't afford to wait."
The woman nodded. Then she hobbled after Matturgur as he went to the door and pulled it open. I followed, but too late as the guards slammed the door in my face. Again, I heard the clicking of the lock. I turned around and walked back to Isilya.
"Matturgur is a suspicious type, isn't he?", I asked.
Isilya looked up and saw me, and smiled. I leaned my neck down as she reached up to hug it. "I'm so glad you're back Ashima. You'll protect me from him."
Her hands felt cold on my neck, but somehow they still felt warm. "I'll do what I can." I lifted my neck up, slowly pulling it out of her grasp, and then turned my head to look at her. "Do you know what Matturgur is planning tonight?"
She looked up into my eyes and shook her head.
"I have to get out and find out his plans. He can't see me or hurt me, but I have to know what he is planning." At the edge of my mind I remembered a secret way out - how did I know that? - but I couldn't remember where it was. "Is there another way out."
Isilya stretched up on her tiptoes and gently pulled my head down so that she could whisper into my ears. "There is a secret passage. Only my father and I know about it."
Then how did I know about it? Was I her father? It was starting to seem that way. But why couldn't I remember? I gently removed my head from her grasp and moved my head to whisper in her ear. "Can you open it for me?"
She leaped up and ran over to the right corner of the far wall. Then she started pacing and whispering numbers as she counted. Finally she stopped and motioned me forward. When I was next to her she whispered, "Its here."
She leaned against the wall, and started pushing. There was a loud scrape, and then a section of the wall started to pivot around a central point. I flicked my ears as I heard a key in the door. The guards must have heard. "Hurry!"
Finally the entrance was large enough for me to get through - I leapt into the darkness, and then pressed my neck against the inside of the wall and started pushing. I heard her pushing the opposite end and together we shut the door. In the darkness I listened and heard the other door open. We had gotten the door closed just in time. I could faintly hear the guards questioning Isilya, but there was no time for me to wait - I had to find a way out. I turned around and started walking into the darkness. At least it wasn't completely dark - my horn was giving off a faint glow, just enough for me to see. How was it doing that?
I made my silent way down the passage and came to another branching off. I ignored it. I made my way down some steps and then came into a larger room with other passages branching off. Somehow I knew to go to the left. But I stopped. In the middle was an ancient statue to the goddess Luani. I stopped a moment to pay my respects.
Suddenly, I was somewhere else.
I was human. I also knew that I was dead. I was standing before a glowing figure, glowing so brightly that I could not make it out. But, somehow, I knew that the glowing figure was Luani, the Moon, the bringer of Magic.
"It is time for you to remember. Hoffindil, you have been killed by the mage Matturgur. You have left your daughter undefended."
I just bowed my head. I remembered my death. I had let my guard down. I had let Matturgur come and visit, thinking that the evil in sight was better than the evil hidden away. Finally, somehow, he had poisoned my food. Not to kill me, for my magics would have detected that, but only to break my concentration. I left dinner with an unsettled stomach, unable to summon the will to force my vision of reality upon The World. Then, as I reached the top of the staircase, I felt a shove. It was unseen, but I knew that it was sent by Matturgur. It pushed me off balance, and a fell down the stairs. The force made sure to crack my head open at the bottom.
"However, I am willing to offer you a second chance."
I looked up into the glowing form of Luani.
"Matturgur has allied himself with a servant of the fey Forylmagalon. He is planning to give him the soul of your daughter in exchange for more years of life."
"How can I save my daughter?"
"I offer you a gift. I will send you back. You will not have your magics, but you will have innate magics. None but the innocent will be able to see you. But...", her glow dimmed so that I could see her sorrowful face, "...if you do evil, than my protections will be stripped away, as will the form I grant you. And you will remain upon The World until it's end, in a black and cursed shape."
"I will do whatever it takes to save my Isilya."
"Then return to your daughter. And remember my warning."
I awoke in the passage before the shrine of Luani. The statue glowed a pale silver, which faded and went out. Now I remembered everything. The old woman must be the servant of Forylmagalon I was warned about. The sacrifice that they had mentioned was for tonight. I had to get back to Isilya. But how long had I been out regaining my memories? Suddenly, somehow, I knew that it was late in the afternoon. My funeral was still going on. And Isilya would be there.
I gave a quick bow to the statue of Luani and galloped down the left passageway. I stopped and carefully stepped down another staircase and then galloped down another passageway. The tunnel was long and dark, lit only by the light of my horn. It led under the outer wall to a hidden exit. I reached it and carefully pushed my way through the brush concealing it.
It was indeed late in the afternoon. I galloped down from the keep and into the village. Behind the village, behind the temple to all the Gods, a crowd was gathered around my pyre. My body was there, dressed in my best robes of black velvet. Isilya was there too, thank the Gods. She was holding the torch to light the pyre. I stopped at the edge of the crowd and watched as she lit the pyre and my body begin to burn. But the crackling of the fire held little attraction for me - all that mattered was Isilya. I kept her always in sight.
Eventually, the fire began to burn down. The crowd went back to their homes, and the maid that had fed Isilya earlier today led her back to the keep. I made my way next to her and followed. Isilya's face was red from tears. She had been cleaned and washed, but again her face was streaked with tears. She turned and saw me and stopped. The maid started pulling at her.
"Go with her. I will be behind you. We can talk later."
I followed them into the castle. We went through the gates, and into the Great Hall. The blood stain on the staircase was gone, although I could still faintly smell it. I followed Isilya and the maid up to my daughter's room and snuck in the open door before the maid left. The door was locked behind her. I lowered my head as she ran up to me and grabbed it, and began sobbing again.
I didn't know what to say so I just stood there as she kept crying. I could feel her tears through my mane but I just quietly waited until she was through. I felt so helpless. I wanted to hold her, but I had no hands. I could only wait.
Finally she released my neck and turned to look at me. "Ashima, what is going to happen to me?"
"I don't know."
She started sniffling again. "Why did daddy have to die?"
"It was his time. But you were right. He did send me. I will always be with you, to keep you from harm."
"You'll never leave me?" She looked up at me with her large eyes, swollen from her crying.
"I'll always be here. I'll always be with you. And I'll never let anything happen to you."
Behind me I heard the door unlock and open. The maid stepped in again, carrying another bowel, this time with a spoon. She also had a skin of water.
"Isilya. Its time for dinner."
Isilya slowly moved away from me and just stood there. The maid walked over and put down the bowel and skin. She pulled a rag out of her pocket. "There, there, it's going to be all right."
"I know. I have a guardian sent by my father. She said that she would protect me."
I moved around and looked at the food. I remembered one of the powers of the unicorn, to purify poisons with its horn. I leaned over and touched my horn to the soup in the bowel. I felt a tingling and watched a glow encompass the soup. There had been something in it. I touched the water skin but nothing happened.
"Did he now? Well, I hope your guardian is strong and magical. Is she here?"
"Yes, but only I can see her."
I turned back to watch Isilya. The maid was wiping some of the dirt from her face with the cloth.
The maid sighed. "I pray that is not just wishful thinking. Now here, I have some food and drink for you."
She picked up the soup and water and walked over to the bed and waited as Isilya followed. She handed the soup and spoon to Isilya who ate and drank. I stayed nearby and watched, making sure nothing could harm my daughter. Eventually the soup and water were finished.
The maid used her cloth to wipe my daughters mouth. "There, now go to sleep and we'll see you in the morning. Good night."
Isilya watched the maid go in silence. She rapped on the door and it opened a little, then all the way and the maid walked through. The guards closed the door behind her and locked it.
"Ashima?", Isilya whispered. Then she yawned.
I walked over to the bed.
"You'll stay with me all night?"
"Do you want to sleep on the bed with me?"
I laughed. "No, I'll just stand here and rest. When you wake up I'll be here."
My daughter crawled under the covers and I rested my head beside her. She wrapped her arm around my neck and soon fell asleep. My neck grew sore from the awkward position, but I refused to move it. Eventually I nodded off.
Sometime later I awoke, thinking something was missing. There was. Isilya's arm was no longer around my neck. I yanked my head upward and looked at the bed.
Isilya was gone.
I looked closely and could see a faint ripple of magic fading out.
By the Gods, Matturgur didn't even send someone for her, he had just magically stolen her. Then I remembered and felt my face pale.
The sacrifice. It was tonight.
I whipped around and looked at the door. Somehow I knew it was still locked. The guards might cause too much of a problem - it would have to be the passage. I galloped towards the entrance and lowered my horn. There was a shock in my neck and shoulders as my horn hit the stone, but it didn't even slow me down. I shattered the wall with my horn's power. It didn't even slow down my gallop.
I had to find Isilya. Where was she? Then I knew. She was at the edge of the Paranay forest. I leapt down the first staircase and galloped past Luani's statue. As I passed I lowered my head. I went down the passage and leapt down the second staircase. This one was longer and I felt the shock in my fore legs, but I refused to stop. I had to reach Isilya. I galloped down the passage and burst through the hidden exit. I didn't waste time and the brush hiding it was scattered by my passage.
Then I was in the fields. I galloped through the grain heading towards the edge of the woods. Before me I could feel evil gathering. I could feel the gate to Faerie beginning to form according to the will for Forylmagalon. I galloped harder.
Now I was panting for breath. I could feel sweat rolling down my sides. My legs grew heavy but I would not let myself stop. I couldn't afford to. Then my horn begin to tingle and glow, and suddenly my fatigue vanished. I had no time for thanks, I only galloped faster. I had to arrive before it was too late!
I reached the edge of the woods, and burst through the brush into the pine trees. Heedless of my own safety I dodged trunks and fallen logs. I startled a deer and it fled. I guess it was innocent too.
Finally I burst out into a clearing. It was dark and the air felt thick and greasy. Before me I saw Isilya tied to an ancient and twisted black log. Matturgur and the old woman stood beside it. I could see Isilya screaming, but could hear nothing. As I raced towards her I saw the bubble of magic which kept her screams from being heard. The old woman kept chanting, raising her voice into an eerie wail. A dark whirlpool was beginning to form above my daughter. And from it a dark and laughing face was starting to push out.
I leapt through the bubble of magic and, with a sudden warmth in my horn, burst it. Suddenly my daughter's screams could be heard. Matturgur started chanting a spell to find me, but the old woman never stopped her calling. I stopped and looked up and saw the dark faerie almost half way through the portal. The portal was too high for my horn to reach. I felt a shock and turned to face Matturgur. He was chanting again and another ripple of magic hit me, and shattered upon my horn.
But he wasn't the threat, the old woman, the priestess of Forylmagalon, was.
I turned to face her, ignoring spell after spell that Matturgur threw at me. My horn grew hot from his magic, but I just ignored it. I had to stop the priestess.
I looked at her. There was no ripple, no magic bubble for me to break.
Above me I heard the faerie begin to laugh.
I looked down at Isilya and saw her soul begin to be ripped from her body.
What could I do? I remembered Luani and her bargain. I couldn't do evil. But I had to stop the priestess. The only way I could think of would be to kill her. But that would be evil. But I had no choice.
I lowered my head and leapt over the log and onto the priestess, my horn piercing her heart.
With a scream, her chanting stopped. I felt a dark coldness begin to flow from her and into my horn. Above me the laughter of the faerie was suddenly cut off. I lowered my horn and shook my neck to get the priestess's body to slide off.
Her blood was sticky and black, and I felt its blackness flowing up my horn. I could feel my horn starting to melt into sparkles of magic. I had little time.
I turned to face Matturgur. He just stared in horror. He could definitely see me now.
I had time only for one thing. I would have to kill him too. I whipped my body around and galloped toward him, my horn lowered.
I could feel my grace departing, my speed slowing. My mind and memories were fading, but I concentrated only on Matturgur. I had to have time.
My head thudded into him and what remained of my decaying horn pierced his chest. He fell backward from the force of the impact and I collapsed on top of him, his body on the ground below me. I heard him mumbling magic.
My horn was now gone. I tried to get up but couldn't. I felt me legs begin melt. My tail fell off and vanished; my neck thinned and lengthened. I struggled and somehow managed to turn myself around to look at Isilya. Below me, Matturgur vanished.
Why was I here? I had a purpose, but I couldn't remember it. My daughter, that was it.
My legs and tail were gone and I could feel my head changing. My body stretched and hundreds of legs started popping out of my sides.
I looked up at Isilya and tried to call her, but I could no longer make any sound. I heard rustling and saw some elves creep into the clearing. I tried to call to them but couldn't speak. I knew that they would care for Isilya.
For some reason I was out in the open. I was in danger. I twisted my long snakish body around and used my hundreds of legs to scurry into the trees. There were vibrations behind me, but I didn't know what they meant.
I reached the shelter of a tree. Safety.
Hunger. I crawled my long body up the trunk and began eating needles.
Hunger. I had to eat.
There was something else...
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