The thirteenth unicorn, p.31
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.31

           W. D. Newman


  Louise and the children woke to a day dawning bright and clear. With the exception of the thin column of smoke rising above the treetops, it was hard to believe that the Twilight had ever been under attack. Beneath their feet, the dew-beaded grass sparkled brightly, while morning glories of pale blue and white shimmered in the golden sunlight along the river. However, the thing that really amazed them was that there were only three tents left standing in the city. Sometime during the night, the elves had taken down all of the tents except three – the tent Louise, Amos, and the kids were staying in, the center tent, and a tremendous red and orange pavilion tent that had been erected by the river. The pavilion tent reminded Ben of the big-top tent of an old traveling circus show his grandparents had taken him to see last summer. Except the elfin tent was bigger and brighter. Much bigger. There appeared to be a lot of activity around the tent too. Elves and dwarves were bustling about everywhere. As they all stood gawking, Amos strode up with a big grin on his face. Gabriel was beside him and he too was smiling.

  “Good morning,” said Amos. “I hope you all slept well and are well rested.”

  “We did,” said Louise. “Now, can you tell me what’s going on here and why you’re wearing that silly grin?”

  “Let me explain,” said Gabriel. “First of all, the Keeper was able to destroy the pathway from Faerie to Pluton and, once destroyed, the Blight immediately began to dissipate in our home world. The Keeper then used a pathway to travel to Stone Dog and found the Blight had lifted there as well, and the tower was in ruins. The Merlin Tree and the pathway to the Pluton could not be located among the ruins either. So, as you can see, this is a joyous day for all, both here in Camelot and back home in Faerie too.”

  “Where did all of the elves go?” Jenny asked.

  “Why, home of course,” Gabriel answered with a smile.

  “You guys are not leaving Camelot for good, are you?” Jenny asked.

  “Oh no – far from it. We are returning to our homeland to start plans for a more permanent residence here in Camelot. A fortress if you will, with towers, ramparts, and parapets. The dwarves are going to help us with the stonework and Hob, Gob, and Nob have graciously agreed to oversee the project once it gets underway.”

  “Awesome!” said Joey.

  “Awesome?” Gabriel repeated. The elf paused a few seconds, reflecting on the word. “Yes, I believe that it will indeed be awesome,” he said smiling. “We already are deeply indebted to the dwarves so, in return, we are going to open the smithies here when the fortress is complete. Dwarves are excellent craftsmen at the forge but we are masters. We will teach them secrets of the craft that will allow them to take their gold and precious gems and create things of rare and magnificent beauty.”

  “That’s really nice,” said Louise. “But what is the big tent for? And I still want to know what Amos is grinning about.”

  “The tent,” Gabriel continued, “is for a special occasion. Tonight, all of the elves that are here in the Twilight, and the remaining dwarves, will feast together and celebrate the defeat of the snakers and the downfall of the witch. Amos is grinning because he, Gob, Nob, and Hob, along with you, Ben, Casey, Joey, and Jenny, are to be the honored guest of this celebration.”

  “You said the remaining dwarves are coming,” Casey noted. “What do you mean by that?”

  “More than half of them left to return to Dwarvenhall early this morning. Their West Gate is well guarded by only a few stout dwarves and they prefer to have the doors to their kingdom heavily guarded. They were especially worried about the townspeople of Mountain Rest rising up against them.”

  “About this honored guest thing,” Ben interrupted. “I’m not going to have to make a speech or anything like that am I?”

  Gabriel looked at Ben for a few seconds then threw his head back and laughed. It was an infectious laugh and after all the stress of the previous days, Amos joined in and soon they were all laughing. Louise finally begged them to stop before her sides split open. Ben didn’t see what was so funny and began to turn a bright cherry red. Gabriel saw his distress and rescued him.

  “Ben,” he began, “You will not have to make a speech tonight. Forgive me for laughing, but I was not laughing at you. Yesterday, we feared for our lives and yet today you fret over making a speech. I laugh because, after all you have been through, you appear to be well and that gladdens my heart. As guests of honor we will sit at the table with the Keeper. A toast shall be made to our health and we shall most likely have to recount our adventure many times before the night is over. There will also be gifts. though I do not know what they may be.”

  “What time does the celebration begin?” Louise asked.

  “The party begins after sundown. Today is a day of rest. I’ll have food brought to your tent. If you have need of anything, send for me.”

  Somehow they made it through the rest of the day. Although everyone was looking forward to the feast tonight, they were all anxious to get back to their homes as well. The sun had set below the tree tops some time ago and the long gray shadows of evening were soon lost to the purple shades of dusk. The pavilion tent was lit from within and a steady stream of elves and dwarves were now entering. Amos, Louise, and the kids waited patiently for Gabriel, who soon appeared, and motioned for them to hurry.

  Everyone followed Gabriel down to the tent and when they entered, there were a few moments of dizzy disorientation. This tent, like the center tent, opened up into a place much larger than the Twilight. However, when you entered the center tent, you could at least turn around and see the tent wall, fading into the darkness overhead and disappearing into the horizon on the left and right. As disarming as that was, it did manage to keep you somewhat oriented. But here, in the pavilion tent, there were no tent walls to be found anywhere. When you entered the pavilion tent and turned around, you expected to see a tent wall like the one in the center tent. What you saw, though, was the exterior of a very small tent, very similar in fact to the center tent. So, upon entering the pavilion tent, that was standing in the Twilight, you immediately exited from this small tent that was standing in … well, some other place.

  Once the initial shock of what had just happened wore off, everyone began looking around and started taking in their surroundings. If the Twilight was beautiful then, there were simply no words to describe the place they were in now. Here, it was daytime. The sun, bright and yellow, was riding high in a cloudless sky of dazzling blue. Although it was a little warm, a cool gentle breeze stirred the soft green grass beneath their feet and bore sweet smells that made each of them remember something dear to them. Amos smelled the fragrant pines around his cabin and Louise smelled the fresh cut hay in the fields at her farm. Ben and Casey both smelled a fragrance that reminded them of a perfume their mother used to wear, while Joey and Jenny could smell the honeysuckle that grew along the bank of the fish pond behind their house. They were standing on a grassy knoll in the center of a forest of strange trees. The trees had smooth gray bark with no spots or imperfections. The leaves were of a green so dark they looked to be black, but that was all they could tell of them for the tree tops were high above their heads.

  “Where are we?” Casey asked.

  “This is Faerie, isn’t it?” said Ben.

  “Yes and no,” Gabriel answered. “This is only a reflection of our homeland, like an image in a mirror – very close and lifelike, but not the real thing. This was the Keeper’s idea for the celebration.”

  “Then where are we?” Casey asked again.

  Gabriel laughed. “Forgive me; I see I did not answer your question. Actually I cannot tell you where we are physically. This magic is beyond my powers and beyond my comprehension. We are probably within the Twilight and inside the pavilion tent. At any rate, do not worry yourself with such matters. Now is a time of celebration.”

  At that moment, a horn rang forth, high a
nd sweet, and the sound of many bells began to fill the air. Gabriel ran down the grassy knoll and called over his shoulder.

  “Come. Follow me quickly, lest the party begins without the guests of honor!”

  Everyone scrambled after the elf, who led them down a winding path through the strange trees. The path brought them to an arched doorway within a stone wall that surrounded the forest. They passed through the arch into a great field, where row after row of tables stretched out before them. A tremendous roar erupted as hundreds and hundreds of elves and dwarves stood up from the tables and cheered and clapped. Gabriel led them through the center of the celebration, to a platform that had been erected in the midst of the tables. They mounted the stairs to the platform to find one large table heavily laden with food and drink. Marcus was there along with Hob, Gob, and Nob as well. The Keeper rose from his chair and bade them to sit. After they were all seated, he raised his hand for silence and addressed the assembly. Through some bit of elfin magic his voice carried across the field to every table and everyone present heard him clearly.

  “Friends, today is a great day in the history of Camelot and Faerie. Today, thanks to the bravery and valor of our friends from Dwarvenhall, we celebrate the defeat of the largest army of snakers ever assembled and forged a new, lasting alliance with our dwarven allies.”

  At this point, there was another eruption of cheers from the crowd, especially from the dwarves who were beating their mugs upon the tables and shouting “Hear, Hear!”

  Marcus held up his hand again for silence. When the dwarves settled down, he continued.

  “Because of this, we honor today, Amos, Nob, and Gob, for bringing our dwarven friends to our rescue.”

  More cheers and more applause. This time Marcus clapped as well. When the applause finally quieted, Marcus continued.

  “Today we also honor Louise, Casey, Joey, and Jenny. These four ventured forth into the witch’s lair to retrieve the horns of the unicorns. With these horns, we were able to close the pathways to Pluton from both Faerie and Camelot, foiling once and for all Mordred’s plans to escape from his exile.”

  Marcus paused. More cheers, more applause, more toasts and blessings.

  “Eight hundred and thirty seven years ago, the first unicorn was slain in Camelot by the hand of the witch. Since then, eleven more have died by her hand and with each death, the witch grew stronger and moved one step closer to breaking the spell that prevented Mordred from returning to Camelot. Today is a great day in both Camelot and Faerie because the witch’s reign of terror has come to an end.”

  The applause was thunderous. Elves and dwarves came to their feet and cheered. “And so today, we also honor Ben, Hob, and Gabriel for bringing about her downfall.”

  The crowd was once again on their feet and once again, the applause started and began to build into another deafening crescendo, but it quickly died down into an eerie silence. All heads turned toward the arched doorway in the stone wall that surrounded the forest. A disturbance was taking place and the murmurs of the crowd began to rise as whatever was causing the disturbance approached the platform where the honored guests were seated. Ben, upon the platform above everyone’s heads, was able to see everything. A soft white nimbus parted the crowd as it came nearer. Like ripples from a stone tossed into a lake, the elves bowed as the creature passed them by. Ben was speechless. His memory, only a few days old, did nothing to recall the actual beauty and majesty of the unicorn that was slowly making its way toward him. Gabriel, with Hob in tow, walked up beside Ben.

  “Come, Ben. This creature does us great honor with its visit.”

  Ben, unable to speak, just nodded and followed Gabriel and Hob down the steps to meet the unicorn. The three companions lined up side-by-side, with Ben in the middle, and waited nervously.

  The unicorn came to Hob first. It paused in front of the dwarf and gazed into his eyes. Hob nodded, then reached up and touched the tip of the spiraled horn. There was a gasp from everyone around who was able to see. The unicorn then moved to Ben and gazed into his eyes. Ben, like Hob, nodded and then reached up and touched the unicorn’s horn. Finally, the unicorn moved to Gabriel and gazed long into the elf’s eyes. Gabriel however, smiled sadly and shook his head. The unicorn lingered for just a moment then turned and left them, slowly making its way back to the doorway that lead into the forest. Soon, it was gone and everyone had the feeling as if they had just awakened from a dream. Gabriel led them back up the platform. The Keeper acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, but everyone else was full of questions. Everyone, that is except Amos, who just sat at the table and stared thoughtfully at them.

  “What was that all about?” Joey asked, grabbing Ben by his sleeve. “It looked like you were communicating with the unicorn.”

  Ben pushed his glasses up on his nose and scratched his head. “Yes and no,” he replied. “I did not communicate to the unicorn, but the unicorn did communicate with me – inside my head.”

  “Well what did it say?” Louise prompted.

  “It didn’t speak with words,” Ben answered. “I don’t know how to describe it, but the unicorn wanted to show me something and I had to touch its horn to see it.”

  “What did it show you?” Jenny asked.

  “Just a flash of a dream I have often,” said Ben, looking down at his shoes. “It’s not something I really want to talk about.” Then he looked up at Hob. For the first time since Ben met him, the dwarf was strangely silent. “What about you, Hob? What did the unicorn show you?”

  The dwarf looked at Ben and pondered the question for several moments. “I suspect the unicorn was just showing us our hearts desire. It’s probably nothing more than a pretty trick.”

  “Then why did you refuse it, Gabriel?” Ben asked, looking up at the tall elf standing beside him.

  “It was not just a pretty trick,” the elf answered. “The unicorn was showing you something significant in your future.”

  “Something that will come true?” Hob asked with a glimmer in his eye.

  “Nothing in the future is written in stone, but whatever the unicorn showed you will in all likelihood come to pass.”

  “Elves have an annoying habit of avoiding a direct question,” Hob snorted. “Why did you refuse?”

  Gabriel smiled at the dwarf. “I have lived many years and seen many things. If there are any new joys or sorrows in my future, I wish for them to be a surprise.”

  Hob eyed the elf suspiciously. “I feel there is more to it than that, but I will let it go so that we may get on with our celebration.”

  “Truthfully there is more to the story as you say, but thank you for not pressing it,” said Gabriel. “Perhaps another day we may talk more at length, but now is not the time.”

  “Ben?” Louise called. “Ben, what’s wrong dear?”


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