The thirteenth unicorn, p.2
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.2

           W. D. Newman


  Karnopia was the last remaining continent on Zorn, a dying world whose polar ice caps were melting. The governing body was comprised of twelve council members; one wizard from each district. Miles below the Ironstones, in the gleaming capitol city, eleven of these council members sat round a crystal table. They were arrayed in brightly colored robes of the finest silks on Zorn. Their hair and beards were neatly trimmed and their feet were shod in slippers of supple calf skin. Doran, head of the council, rose from his chair and lightly tapped his staff on the glassy table top for silence.

  “I’m very sorry for the delay,” he said, nodding toward the empty chair. “We’ll give him a just few more minutes. I’m sure he’ll be here shortly.”

  Mordred rose from his chair and pounded his fist upon the table. “That man,” he shouted, pointing at the empty chair, “is a disgrace to this council. He is always late! And even when he is present his mind is always elsewhere.”

  “He’s probably at his cottage with his nose in some dirty scroll,” someone muttered.

  “Here! Here!” came cries from around the table.

  Nespar, Doran’s closest friend and advisor, turned to the head wizard. “Mordred is right. He never contributes anything to our meetings anyway and we have many pressing matters to discuss.”

  Doran sighed and nodded. He cleared his throat to call the meeting to order and at that very moment the air shimmered and a pathway opened up before them. To everyone’s horror the old man popped out of the black hole right onto the crystal table, his wild hair and beard shooting out in all directions, his dark eyes glittering madly.

  The room erupted into chaos with everyone protesting at once. Recovering quickly from his shock, Doran banged his staff on the table in an attempt to restore order. When everyone had quieted, Doran glared at the old man who was still standing on top of the crystal table, with muddy boots no less.

  “Merlin!” he exclaimed. “What is the meaning of this?”

  “We’re saved. Saved!” the old man cackled. “Follow me, quickly now.”

  Before anyone could speak, the old man leapt into the black hole and vanished. The council sat round the table, stunned at this breach in etiquette and appalled by the audacity of the mad wizard. They waited for the pathway to close, but it remained open.

  “What now?” asked Jabal, “We cannot begin our meeting with a pathway open on top of our table!”

  “I guess we go and see what mischief he has been up to,” Doran answered, with another sigh.

  “You do not expect us all to go traipsing off after that old fool, do you?” cried Mordred.

  “No, I certainly do not. I will go. Nespar, you will come with me. I wager he has dug up another one of those scrolls.”

  “What?” Mordred asked, with disbelief. “Doran, you are becoming as big of a fool as he.”

  An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. All of the other wizards looked away, embarrassed by the awkward scene that was playing out before them. Mordred and Doran locked eyes and a contest of wills ensued. Seconds slowly ticked by until Mordred, finally realizing that he was the weaker, for now, snatched his cloak and stormed from the room.

  Shaken, Doran leaned heavily upon his staff. Mordred’s strength was increasing and the struggle had taken a toll upon him. Realizing that all eyes were now upon him, he straightened up and dismissed everyone. After the other wizards had left, Nespar helped him onto the crystal table and they entered the pathway together.

  Doran and Nespar were expecting the pathway to take them to Merlin’s cottage. They were quite surprised when they stepped out onto the desolate plain high up in the Ironstones. The wind cut through their thin silks and chilled them instantly. Merlin was standing by an old dead tree, wearing that stupid grin that often adorns the faces of mindless doddering old men. But Merlin was anything but mindless. Eccentric yes, even to an extreme, but never mindless nor doddering. Beneath those tattered rags, that covered what appeared to be a frail bony body, and behind those deep set black eyes, was a strength and cunning that had surprised many adversaries over the years. Doran knew this. All of the council members knew this. Merlin’s power, coupled with his lack of respect for protocol and authority, was the root of all the resentment from his fellow council members. Yet they were powerless to reign him in, powerless to get him to conform, and powerless to get rid of him. And so it had been since he became a council member, and so it would continue until he stepped down or died. Most believed neither would ever occur.

  “Merlin, why have you brought us here?” Doran shouted over the wind. “This is madness!”

  Merlin cackled madly and strode through the gaping hole in the center of the old tree, and vanished. Doran and Nespar stood there with there mouths agape.

  “Where did he go?” Nespar cried. “Merlin!” he called, “Merlin!”

  “Come,” said Doran, taking Nespar by the arm. “He intended for us to follow. Let’s get this over with before we both freeze to death.”
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