he sound of slow, heavy footfalls approaching drowned the songs of forest birds. The hairs on Albishadewes neck and back lifted, making his skin twitch. He jerked up his head from the grass and dead leaves on which he was munching. He was alone. But he didnt normally mind his parents moving out of sight. They were never far away for long. So why did he suddenly feel unsafe?
Instinctively readying himself for flight, Albishadewe flicked his ears to catch the sound better and flared his nostrils for any whiff of danger.
A large animal, his hearing told himat least the size of one of his parents. Maybe larger, for his parents were almost as light-footed as the forest deer. And why would either Moonglow or Quicksilver make so much noise?
Then his flaring nostrils told him it was indeed one of his parentshis father, Quicksilver. His tensed muscles relaxed. Yet his hide still prickled, for the smell wasnt right. Why did it contain overwhelming fear? Was Quicksilver injured? Only injury would make him careless of how much noise he made.
Moments later Albishadewe sensed other emotions: anger and grief. They swamped him with the force of a tsunami, leaving him shaken. Hed never felt his parents emotions in this way before. Hed never known he could. Unicorns mostly communicated in mental images. Whatever was going on?
Even as he wondered this, a filtered sunbeam struck silver fire from the approaching unicorns horn. Quicksilver stepped into view. His massive shoulders sagged; his head drooped, as did his tail and long, silky mane. Even the sixty-centimetre silver horn on his forehead seemed to slump. And yet he appeared to be unhurt.
Theyve killed your mother, Albishadewe, and hacked off her horn. I couldnt do anything to stop them. She knew leaving the Silver Forest is dangerous. I cant think what possessed her.
All this came to Albishadewe in stumbling, shocking mind-pictures. Clearly Quicksilver was too overcome to remember his offsprings extreme youth, or he would have softened the graphic detail of his sendings. Barely weaned, Albishadewe was just beginning to understand there was danger for his kind. It came, he understood, solely from humans, who for centuries had slaughtered unicorns for the beauty and value of their silver-ivory horns. Only until he grew a horn would he be as safe as the wild ponies roaming Lazaronias grasslands. Then stepping outside the boundaries of the Silver Forest, even for a moment, could be fatal.
Quicksilver stumbled to his colts side.
I havent seen any other unicorns for ages, little one. You and I could be the last of our kind, he continued in bitter images.
Albishadewe pondered this, his mind still too numb to take in his motherless state. He once asked Moonglow why he never saw other unicorns. His mother replied that even a small unity of unicornsif a foal and its parents could be called a unityneeded huge tracts of forest to provide enough to eat. The nearest neighbouring unity, she said, could therefore be miles away.
But if his father was right his species was doomedhad been doomed for ages.
With every passing day Albishadewe grew bigger and stronger in spite of mourning for Moonglow. However, in some ways he didnt feel entirely motherless. To the little unicorn it was as though a spirit within the Silver Forest of Argentsiana sent him comfort and watched over him. Most creatures, humans included, believed the forest to be guarded by the lost, blind goddess for whom it had been nameda goddess who nearly two thousand years ago ruled Lazaronia as Queen Siana. Whatever it was that comforted him, it soon helped wear away the worst of his grief.
But Quicksilver never fully recovered from his mates untimely death. Albishadewe was forced to grow up in a hurry as he realised his father needed looking after more than he did. Only another desperate reminder from his foal that without him Albishadewe would be alone in the world forced Quicksilver to try pulling himself together. However, he wouldnt eat any of the grass at the Silver Forests edge.
Theres not much of it and you need it more than I do, little one, because youre still growing, his images told Albishadewe as he munched without interest on dead leaves.
Albishadewe gave a small, snorting sigh, but didnt argue. At least his sire was eating again.
However, he soon found loss of appetite to be the least of his worries where Quicksilver was concerned.
Where are you going? he whinnied in alarm as one day Quicksilver simply turned from his side and trotted out of the forest.
Quicksilver halted, looking confused. He stared over the plains, ears pricked. Moonglows out there, Albishadewe. Shes calling me.
She cant. Shes dead. Albishadewe trembled so much his images were nearly as confused as his sires.
Her spirits out there, calling me. She wants revenge.
But you dont even know who killed her.
She says it was King Lazarones twin, Ignarius. She wants me to kill him.
Albishadewes hide prickled all over. You cant kill the Kings brother! The royal family will kill you too.
Quicksilvers nostrils flared. Ignarius is evil. Its rumoured that two thousand years ago he was also twin to the Godking, Lazarone the First, who married the Goddess Lazaria. Ignarius was jealous of his brother and murdered him in the caves of Geheimberg, the Secret Mountain. As Albishadewe looked at him with a question in his eyes, Quicksilver continued, Geheimberg is Lazaronias highest peak. It gets its name from the spell of invisibility placed upon it by the Piksenvolk of Piksenville, which lies somewhere deep inside the mountain. The Sacred Mountain (for its sometimes called that too) then turned upon the murderer and sealed him in with a landslide at the caves entrance. Legend has it the Godkings brother somehow reincarnated himself as the twin of our present King, Lazarone the Third. But to do that, Ignariuss spirit must have found a way to escape the Voice of Judgement, which would definitely have consigned him to eternal non-existence for his crime.
The prickling in Albishadewes hide had strengthened with every image his sire sent. You mean the Kings brother is a sorcerer?
The most powerful sorcerer the land has known. Sorcerers arent necessarily evil, Albishadewe. The Piksenvolk, who are a race of mountain pixies, have magic powersthey can levitate, for instanceand theyre certainly not evil. But theres no doubt Ignarius is. And he must be killed for the good of the whole land. Its the least I can do for Moonglow. If Id looked after her better
In a rush of insight Albishadewe understood why Quicksilver was making no effort to get over his loss. You cant blame yourself for what happened to my mother. She was a full-grown adult, not a helpless foal. Now please come back into the forest. If anything happens to you too Ill be all on my own.
Quicksilver immediately obeyed. But it seemed to take him an enormous effort. And he wouldnt stop gazing longingly over the plains as he had done ever since giving Albishadewe the news of Moonglows death. Albishadewe found keeping an eye on his sire so exhausting he finally fell asleep on his feet. When he awoke Quicksilver was nowhere to be seen.
Albishadewe searched and called for ages. In the past one call was enough to bring either parent to his side. But this time he received no answer. Clearly Quicksilver had obeyed his delusions and left the forest.
There was no help for it, Albishadewe told himself. He would have to leave the safety of the Silver Forests boundaries. And the world out there looked so huge. From the forest borders the plains seemed to go on forever. He had never caught as much as a glimpse of the mountain range where Geheimberg lay behind its spell of invisibility. His father said the range was at least as big as the Silver Forest. And there were other, ordinary forests as well.
But in which direction lay the dwelling called Castle Lazarone with its many pointed towers? According to Quicksilver, the sorcerer Ignarius lived there with his brother the King, Queen Esmeralda and the little Princess Esmé. If Quicksilver was determined to kill the Kings brother he would surely have headed for the castle. He would lie in wait from a hiding place in sight of the castle gates until Ignarius came out alone.
Albishadewe sighed as he stared out over the plains. The last thing he wanted was to leave the safety of the Silver Forest. But he had to rescue Quicksilver from his own folly. And he didnt sport even a budding horn. Surely that meant hed be safe?
He gave another snorting sigh, gathered every atom of courage he possessed and rushed into the open. Almost immediately he felt the sun on his back. It was much hotter than when filtered through leaves. He wasnt sure he liked it.
At the same moment it seemed that the forests silver canopy abruptly turned a textureless blue and rolled up and away. Confused, Albishadewe skittered to a halt. He blinked upwards. Of course! That blue wasnt forest. It was sky. So that was how the sky looked without the forest. Hed never realised how far away it was. Even the few clouds flecking its surface looked miles above him.
He felt himself begin to shake. All his instincts shrieked at him to return to the protection of the Silver Forest.
Only the thought of the ignoble death awaiting Quicksilver should he succeed in killing the wizard Ignarius made Albishadewe force his legs back into a gallop. There was no time to waste. Judging from the angle of the sun, hed been asleep in the forest for some hours. Would he be on time?
© L A Barker Enterprises