The thirteenth unicorn, p.32
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.32

           W. D. Newman
 
CHAPTER 29

  GIFTS

  Ben hastily wiped the tears from his eyes then put his glasses back on.

  “Are you crying, dear?” Louise asked.

  “No, I’m not crying.”

  Louise stared at him for a few moments and Ben was terrified she was going to press the issue. However, she must have sensed how uncomfortable he was because she relented and turned her attention back to Amos. Ben felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Gabriel smiling down at him.

  “Are you sorry for what the unicorn has shown you?”

  Ben thought for a moment then shook his head.

  “Do not worry, Ben, I do not wish to know what you have seen. The unicorn’s gift is a personal one and if you choose not to share your vision, then you need not feel bad about it.”

  “What I saw,” Ben began. “Will it really come true?”

  Gabriel gazed over the tables, at the forest where the unicorn had disappeared, as he pondered Ben’s question. Ben began to think that Gabriel had not heard him and started to ask his question again when the elf began speaking.

  “I used to believe that nothing is ever written in stone and that we choose our own fates and to some extent that is true. But sometimes fate chooses for us a destiny we have no control over. The prophecy concerning the witch, for example - I believe the Keeper saw you in that prophecy because it was your destiny to play a part in her downfall. Does that help?”

  Ben shook his head. Gabriel smiled and folded his arms across his chest and tried to rephrase his answer.

  “What I am trying to say, is that the Keeper saw a point in time where you played a role in the prophecy of the witch’s demise. He saw multiple paths that led to that point in time, but that was only a few of the many hundreds of possible paths. However, in each path that he did see, you were present. That, Ben, is destiny. Do you understand?”

  Again, Ben shook his head. “What’s that got to do with what the unicorn showed me?” he asked.

  This time Gabriel frowned. He cupped his elbow with one hand and began to stroke his chin with the other hand, while he tried to think of a way to explain his thoughts to Ben. Finally, he clapped Ben on the shoulder and leaned down to speak in his ear.

  “I believe the vision the unicorn showed you will come to pass. Let’s go eat.”

  The feast was magnificent and there was much merriment at all of the tables. Soon after everyone had eaten, Marcus stood and held his hands up for silence. When all was quiet, he called the guests of honor forward. After a brief speech, he presented each one of them with a slender silver chain to wear around their necks and dangling from each chain was a gold leaf made in the likeness of the leaves on the trees of the Twilight.

  “There is magic in the golden leaves we have given you. These leaves are keys to the Twilight. As long as you have them in your possession, the trees will let you pass and you may come and go as you please. We hope that you will return often and visit with us.”

  “What about Gabriel?” Ben piped up. “He can already come and go as he pleases. Why did he get one of these too?”

  “Gabriel’s leaf contains a different magic. As Nob and Gob will be overseeing the construction of our fortress here in Camelot, Gabriel will be training the dwarven smiths and teaching them the secrets of our craft. The leaf he has received, bestows upon him the knowledge and skill of all of the masters of our race that have ever wrought things of beauty and magic in an elfin forge.”

  Amos thanked the Keeper and promised to return often and invited them to visit him at his cabin in the pine woods. Gob and Nob said their thanks and Hob even promised to look in on them from time to time to make sure they were doing a proper job. Finally, it was Ben’s turn to thank the Keeper for his gift.

  “I would love to come back and visit sometime,” he said. “But I’m not sure when I’ll be able to. Maybe before the summer is over Grandma will bring us back.” Ben looked over his shoulder at Louise, who smiled and nodded at him. Then he turned back to Marcus. “But when the summer is over,” he continued, “I have to go back home and I live a very long ways from here.”

  “I know that your home is in another world, just as our home is in another world. I also know that you live far from the Merlin Tree in your world. That’s why your leaf and Casey’s leaf are special.”

  Ben looked down at the gold leaf hanging from the silver chain around his neck. It looked no different from the others.

  “Your leaves,” Marcus continued, “will bring you straight to the Twilight from your home world. But it will only do it once and then the magic will be spent, so use it wisely.”

  “Wow,” Ben exclaimed. “How does it work?”

  Marcus smiled. “Just hold the leaf in your hand and say ‘Twilight’.”

  “That’s all?”

  “That is all.”

  “Will the leaf still work as a key to get in?”

  “The leaf will always work as a key, it just cannot bring you here from your world more then once.”

  “Gee thanks,” said Ben. “It’s an awesome gift.”

  “Awesome?” said Marcus. “Hmmmm. Yes, I suppose you could say that. It is an awesome feat of magic to accomplish that.”

  Ben laughed and soon everyone was laughing with him. The party continued on late into the evening and as darkness began to fall, lanterns were lit on every table and the party quieted down considerably. When things slowed down, everyone realized that they had just had two full days of daylight back-to-back and now they were growing extremely tired and sleepy. Gabriel whispered something to Marcus, who nodded in response, and then he came over to speak to Louise.

  “I can see that you and the children are tired. Come with me and we will return to the Twilight where you may rest. I suspect you will be returning home tomorrow and from what Amos has told me, it is no small journey that you must make.”

  Louise and the kids followed Gabriel through the fields to the stone archway and into the woods. Although no moon could be seen, the woods were alight with a silvery glow and they followed the path with ease to the clearing where the small tent sat perched upon the hill. The tent appeared to be lit from within. They followed Gabriel up the hill and into the tent. As soon as they stepped through the door into the small tent, they stepped out of the door of the big pavilion tent and they were back in the Twilight.

  “I’ll never get used to that,” Jenny remarked, holding her stomach. “It makes me queasy.”

  “It helps if you close your eyes,” said Joey. “That keeps you from getting disoriented.”

  “Hey, it’s still dark here,” Ben noted. “I figured it would be daytime back here by now.”

  “No time has passed here since we left,” said Gabriel. “Would you like for me to explain that?”

  “No,” said Louise over her shoulder as she marched toward their tent. “I couldn’t understand it if I was wide awake and right now, I can hardly keep my eyes open.”

  Gabriel laughed. “Rest well then. Tomorrow we shall say our farewells.”

  The next day, everyone slept late into the morning. Hob, Gob, and Nob would have slept all day, but Amos was finally able to rouse them by telling them they were going to miss breakfast if they did not get out of bed. Outside of their tent, a table was laid with breads, meats, cheeses, and an assortment of fruits and juices. The sun was shining brightly and a gentle breeze was blowing up high, stirring the leaves in the tops of the trees back and forth. Other than that, the only other movement in the Twilight was the slow, quiet passage of the river below their tent. It reminded Ben of one of those lazy Sunday afternoons in the summertime when parents would take naps after lunch and children were banished outdoors to play. Everyone was enjoying their meal and dreading their goodbyes yet at the same time, anxious to be returning home. They all ate without speaking – not wanting to break the silence of the day as if it were something sacred not to be disturbed. Gabriel and Marcus appeared soon afte
r they had finished their meal.

  “I hope you are refreshed for your journey,” said Marcus.

  “We are,” Louise replied. “Our breakfast was wonderful.”

  “Then, if you are finished, come with us.”

  Everyone followed the elves to the dock. There were two boats moored there. One was a swan boat, like all of the others they had seen, and the other one was the boat that Gabriel had given to Hob, Gob, and Nob. The elves had provisioned the boats with packs that were full of supplies that they would need for their journey.

  “Hob, Gob, and Nob may ride in their boat back to Long Lake. We have provided one of our boats for Amos, Louise, and the children to travel in as well and we have placed the same enchantment upon that boat as is upon the other boat, that now belongs to the dwarves. The swan boat, however, will return to the Twilight as soon as the last person steps off, so be sure to leave one person on board until the boat is completely unloaded.”

  “I’m not sure how to thank you,” said Louise.

  “It is we who need to give thanks to you,” said Gabriel winking at Hob, “and for once, we elves do not know what to say!”

  “Ahhhh, enough of these mushy goodbyes,” cried Hob. “It’s not like we’ll never see each other again. Let’s shove off now before someone starts blubbering.”

  The three dwarves bowed low to the Keeper and Gabriel and then piled into their boat. Hob hastily untied the boat from the pier and used a paddle to push the boat out into the river. The boat spun around until it’s prow was parting the oncoming waters, then slowly began moving upstream. After several hasty handshakes and hugs and promises to return, everyone else climbed aboard the swan boat and followed after the three dwarves. The swan boat sped up the river until it was even with the dwarves’ boat and then slowed down to the same pace, so that the boats were traveling side-by-side and only a few inches apart.

  “How long will it take us to get to Long Lake?” Amos asked.

  “Once we exit the Twilight, if we maintain the rate we are traveling at now, we should be there in about four hours,” said Nob.

  For the next thirty minutes, they watched the forest slide by as the boats steadily made their way upstream and then suddenly they were out of the trees and back into the bright sunshine. Now that they were really on their way home, their spirits lifted and they laughed and talked and told tales and sang songs to pass the time until they reached the rapids. As the rapids approached, the swan boat dropped back behind the dwarves’ boat and followed it safely through the rushing currents. After successfully navigating the rapids, the two boats sailed into the calm still waters of Long Lake. The boats turned and began to make their way toward the far shore where the dwarves kept their boat on a small sandy beach. When they had run aground, the three dwarves hopped out and pulled their boat up on the beach. Remembering Gabriel’s advice, everyone in the swan boat pitched their packs onto the shore before leaving the boat. Jenny was the last one to step off the boat and as soon as her feet were on solid ground, the swan boat backed away from the shore and slowly turned to begin the return trip back to the Twilight. Everyone stood on the shore and watched the boat until it was out of sight, then picked up their packs and headed up the hill to the dwarves’ cabin.

  The front door to the dwarves' home was busted off the hinges and lay splintered on the porch. The inside of the house was a wreck too. The large band of snakers had found it and although the house itself was still intact, everything inside of it had been destroyed. Amos, Louise, and the kids decided to stay and help them get things in order before they left. The dwarves set about mending the broken furniture, while Louise and the kids started cleaning the kitchen. Amos took his axe into the forest and returned dragging a tree behind him to chop up for firewood. By evening time, the house was back in order. A merry fire crackled and popped on the hearth and food from the packs, along with some fresh fish from the lake, simmered in pots and pans among the coals. After eating supper and cleaning up the dishes, the three dwarves sat down before the hearth in their mended chairs and lit their pipes. They had graciously offered their beds to Louise, Casey, and Jenny and all three of them had thankfully accepted the offer and were deep under the thick woolen covers, nodding off to sleep.

  “I’m so sorry we have delayed you,” Nob called over his shoulder while puffing on his pipe. “I know you are anxious to be home.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” cried Louise. “We wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, we are all tired and one more good night’s rest will make the journey tomorrow more bearable.”

  As a matter of fact, all of the kids were already asleep. Louise could hear Casey and Jenny breathing deeply in the soft straw beds beside her and she had not heard a peep out of Ben and Joey who were curled up tightly in warm blankets before the fire. Louise was beginning to nod off herself. Amos had disappeared outside shortly after eating and the dwarves were now in some deep conversation about black gold or black dragons or black hills. Louise listened for a little while, but the hushed voices of the dwarves and the flickering shadows cast by the firelight had a mesmerizing and tranquil effect upon her. She simply could not stay focused on the conversation and finally gave up and surrendered herself to sleep.

  *****

 

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