The thirteenth unicorn, p.27
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.27
 

           W. D. Newman
CHAPTER 24

  RAINING FIRE

  Louise took a deep breath and stepped into the black hole. The darkness engulfed her, yet up ahead she could see a bright light shining like a candle in the night.

  “That must be the portal inside of the Twilight,” she thought. She started walking toward the light and glanced back over her shoulder. She could see the others in the small glade behind her, gathered around the portal and waiting their turn to enter. Casey was getting ready to step through now. Louise turned back toward the Twilight portal. She was much closer now. She could see Jonah and his horse on the other side, waiting for her to come through. When she stepped out of the pathway, she found herself beside the center tent. The Keeper had joined Jonah, and at his feet was an ornate box with two unicorn horns inside. Louise placed her horn in with the other two. Casey emerged next, then Jenny, then Joey. The remaining three elves came through last, leading their horses. When the last horn was laid into the box, one of the elves that had accompanied them placed the lid on top and carried the box into the center tent. Marcus took the spell-catcher from Jonah and spoke a word of command to the jewel. The black hole snapped shut and he slipped the necklace into his pocket.

  “It is a great thing you have accomplished today. With these horns, we believe we will be able to close the pathway we have created from Faerie to Pluton. We have reasoned that if the pathway we have created is destroyed, then the pathway Mordred created will be destroyed as well.”

  “What if you are wrong?” Louise asked.

  “If we are wrong, then we must rely upon Ben to put an end to the witch, Mordred’s only ally. And with the witch out of the way, we will be able to focus our energies on halting the spread of the Blight. However, should Ben’s task prove unsuccessful, then we have at least delayed the coming of Mordred for many, many years.”

  “Well then, what shall we do next?”

  “There is nothing to do for now, except wait and hope. However, you must be tired and hungry so Jonah will show you to your tent where you may eat and rest.”

  “And if you do not mind,” said Jonah, “I shall eat with you today.”

  “We’d be delighted,” Louise answered. “We have much to ask you.”

  “Actually, I am to keep company with you for the length of your stay here, so there will be plenty of time for questions. Let’s eat first.”

  When they arrived at the tent, the meal, though a simple fare, was both delicious and satisfying and as soon as everyone finished, Louise began plying Jonah with her questions. Her first questions were about the Twilight, about Marcus the Keeper, the center tent, and the Merlin Tree. Jonah patiently answered all of those questions. From there, she moved on to the home world of the elves and Jonah, with much excitement in his voice, told of his homeland.

  “Faerie is much like Camelot. Except in Faerie there is neither death nor decay, nor is there any sickness or disease. At least not until the Blight showed up.”

  “Why would you ever want to leave a place like that?” Jenny asked.

  “There are many of our own people that ask us the same question. They have never left Faerie and cannot understand why anyone would ever want to do so. Sometimes, we elves that are here in Camelot lose sight of the very reasons that brought us here.”

  “Which are?” Jenny prompted, feeling that Jonah did not answer her question.

  Jonah smiled. “The original reason was nothing more than adventure. Some of us find many long years in paradise tedious at best. We felt the need for new challenges and new experiences. Camelot offered that and more.”

  “If that was your original reason, then what are your reasons now?” Joey asked.

  “There are two,” Jonah answered. “The first, is to make Camelot a better place. There is much healing needed here. Not just in the land, but in the inhabitants as well. Here, sickness and disease abound and death is everywhere.”

  “Is there magic in Faerie too?” Louise asked, trying to steer the subject back to the elf's homeland.

  “Oh yes, strong magic and much of it. That brings up the second reason we are here in Camelot. Elves are magical creatures. Magic is in our blood and we are drawn to it. When we discovered Camelot, we immediately felt the magic that existed in this world and we wanted to know more about it. What of your world? Is there magic in your world as well?”

  “Yes,” Louise answered. “But we have a very different magic in our world. It’s called technology.”

  “Technology,” Jonah repeated. “Tell me about your world and this magic called technology.”

  Louise spent the next hour telling Jonah about everything from airplanes to transistor radios. She told him about telephones and televisions. She told him about computers and microwave ovens. She told him about the bad things too, the weapons of war, from the small handgun to the great atom bomb, and Jonah listened to all of it with rapt attention.

  “I would truly love to see your world some day,” he exclaimed when she finished.

  Louise patted him on the arm. “If we ever get out of this mess, you shall.” Then, she began to ask the elf questions about the current situation.

  “Is Ben going to return safely?”

  “Will the witch really be defeated?”

  “How is the forest holding up?”

  “How many snakers have been slain?”

  “How many snakers are left?”

  “Will the large snaker army get here before the dwarves?”

  Jonah answered every question as best as he could then spent the remainder of the day trying to keep everyone’s spirits up.

  Outside of the Twilight, the snakers had lost many lives to the twisting and snapping limbs of the forest. Finally, they pulled back and began systematically attacking the forest in different places, searching for a weak spot. They kept this up all day long. By nightfall, they pulled back once more and began massing on the leeward side of the forest. All attacks had ceased and for several hours an ominous and foreboding silence hung over the forest like an angry black cloud. During this lull, Louise, Casey, Joey, and Jenny did manage to get a few hours of sleep. Then, a couple of hours before dawn, it began to rain fire.

  Scrambling from their beds, their first thought was that the forest defenses had been breached. Elves were fleeing from the tent city into the forest. Jonah came running up to them, concern and worry etched plainly upon his face.

  “We need your help. We need every hand available.”

  “What’s happening Jonah?” Louise asked, pulling Casey and Jenny close to her side and wrapping her arms protectively around them.

  “The snakers have been making bows and arrows during the night. They are shooting flaming arrows into the forest. The trees can extinguish many of the flames, but the arrows are coming fast and furious and some of the trees are catching fire. Grab furs from the bed and come with me. If the forest falls, we are lost.”

  Louise and the three kids grabbed furs as Jonah instructed and followed the elf to the river. Some elves were going up the river in swan boats and some were going down the river. Most of the elves were crossing the bridge and running into the forest with them. When they got closer to the perimeter of the forest, Louise could see bright flames streaking across the still dark skies and small fires were burning everywhere among the trees. They ran to the fires with the elves and began beating the flames out with the furs. Morning came and went and still the arrows rained down, but by noon they finally ceased. Either the snakers had spent all of their arrows or they had abandoned the idea of burning the forest down. There were still small fires burning in several different places, but they were all under control and well on the way to being extinguished. Louise and the kids were exhausted and trudged wearily back to their tent. Jonah met them there soon after, with wash basins, towels, and refreshments, but did not stay to eat with them. After they washed the soot from their hands and faces, they plopped down on the furs still remaining on their beds,
too tired to eat.

  “I feel as if I haven’t slept a wink,” Louise said.

  “I think we should sleep if we can,” said Jenny. “Who knows what we will go through tonight?”

  “Yes, you’re right, dear. Let’s eat too. We must keep our strength up.”

  When they finished eating their lunch, they did not get to sleep after all for Jonah returned and informed them that the Keeper had requested an audience with them. They followed Jonah to the center tent and then to the fire pit inside, where the Keeper was waiting for them. Marcus looked completely exhausted, but he stood and greeted them all before producing an emerald necklace from his pocket and addressing Casey.

  “Casey, you have graciously allowed us use of your spell catcher and we have yet to return it to you. If we may impose upon you once more, I would ask that we could use it for a while longer. I don’t think the forest can stand another attack like last night.”

  “Of course,” Casey replied, “keep it for as long as you need it.”

  As Marcus clasped the necklace around his neck, another elf appeared at his side, whispered into his ear, and then hastily retreated from the tent.

  “It is well that we have a spell catcher,” said Marcus, “and it could not have come at a better time. Last night, while the snakers were attacking with the flaming arrows on one side of the forest, at least half of them were on the other side of the forest, pulling logs and brush from the river and piling it against the trees. It appears that this large band of snakers we are waiting on have been felling trees around Long Lake and floating them down to the snakers that have besieged us. Last nights attack was just a diversion. The real attack will come tonight.”

  “What can we do to help?” Louise asked.

  “The spell catcher is more help than you could ever imagine. Right now, we are waiting on three different armies to arrive here, the largest of which is an army of snakers. I pray the dwarves and our brethren from home get here in time. Either way, I fear the river shall run red tonight. So, to answer your question, what can you do to help? You and your companions may fletch arrows for our archers. We will have need for a great many tonight. Jerome will show you the armory.”

  Fletching arrows, Louise learned, meant putting the feathers on the arrows to make them fly straight. In addition to fletching them they also filled empty quivers - forty arrows to a quiver. It was a very tedious, repetitive, and mind-numbing task, but one that all of them performed gladly, for it helped them to keep their minds off the coming night. On the down side, time flew by quickly and night was upon them before they knew it. With the fall of darkness, the tented city once again came alive with the sounds of elves running and shouting. Louise and the kids ran outside the armory. The southern skyline, where the river entered the Twilight, glowed an ominous orange. Louise and the kids ran back into the armory and searched for short swords and daggers to arm themselves, then made their way to the river. In the commotion, no one noticed them follow the river north, away from the fires the snakers had lit.

  “Grandma, why are we going away from the fire?”

  “If the snakers breach the forest, we will try to escape on the other side.”

  “Don’t they need our help?” Joey asked.

  “We have helped all that we can,” Louise answered. “We are not warriors, or soldiers, or fighters; we are just plain ordinary people. We’re nice people. We don’t know how to use these knives and these swords.” Louise held her dagger up. “Do you children honestly think you could wield one of these against a snaker? Do you think you have it in you to kill one?”

  None of the children could answer her and none would look up at her.

  “That’s what I thought. And that’s not a bad thing. It means your parents have done a good job of raising you, and you should be thankful for that. Now let’s go.”

  It took them a couple of hours to reach the perimeter of the forest. But when they got there, they were surprised to see flaming arrows raining down from the night sky. Fires were burning everywhere and the trees along the perimeter were in a frenzy, slapping at the flames burning up high with their limbs and stomping the flames on the ground with their great sandy roots. It was a full scale assault on all sides.

  “Grandma,” Casey whimpered. “What are we going to do now?”

  “There are too many arrows and too many fires for us to do anything,” Joey replied, shaking his head.

  “Can we get out in a boat? Like Ben did?” Jenny asked.

  “No, dear. Look at the arrows coming down. There must be several hundred snakers out there.”

  Louise sat down upon the ground and began to cry. The children, though frightened, tried to comfort her. Suddenly, they heard the sounds of battle from the fields outside the forest. The arrows had ceased raining down their fires and they thought for a moment the elves had rallied and were attacking the snakers. Then, they heard the unmistakable roar of a very big, and very, very angry bear.

  *****

 
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