NZ Forest Native Birds
 
Rider of the White Unicorn

Rider of the White Unicorn can now be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format, for which you don’t even need a Kindle. The Kindle.app is available for desktop and laptop computers: Mac Windows and is even available for iPad and iPhone.

 

Rider of the White Unicorn
can be found

here

 

Chapter 1
The All-Enveloping Mist

Esmé sat at her bedroom window, lowered her chin onto the back of her hands on the windowsill and gazed with unseeing eyes into the constantly shifting mist.

 

The wizard, she mused, was still buried under thousands of tonnes of rock and earth. So who was responsible for blanketing the countryside in impenetrable fog? Did Ignarius have a power of which even the Goddess was unaware that enabled him to weave spells from nearly one hundred metres underground? Surely, as Ilsamere had argued, he would need to concentrate all his skills on freeing himselfan event that they all knew was only a matter of time.

     Esmé had been forbidden to venture outside the castle grounds until conditions improved. Hence her continual vigil at her bedroom window. The army was having enough trouble getting supplies of food and fuel to the snowbound sections of the population, Queen Esmeralda reminded her, without having to send out search parties for a princess whom Lazaronia couldn’t afford to lose.

     Esmé stared at drifts of mist weaving eerily in and out of the trees in the royal forest that partly clothed the lower slopes of Emerald Hill. The trouble is Lazaronia can’t afford to allow Ignarius to free himself, she thought. To stop that happening we need the key right now. But without the key we don’t seem to have enough power to find it.

     In many ways it appeared to be a Catch 22 situationas Ilsamere had said some earthlings called this type of problem. However, the more Esmé thought about it the more convinced she was that she was the only one who would be able to find the key.

     Apart from the mystery of how Ignarius had created the blanketing fog, how had he known, without enough power to have freed himself by now, that the soldiers were searching? A natural assumption? Surely he couldn’t have heard or felt footsteps from so far above his head?

     Or could he?

     Esmé jerked up. After all, she reasoned, he was a powerful sorcerer, with senses far beyond those of ordinary mortals. And soldiers were only men, defenceless against the might of one such as he.

     Would Ignarius be able to sense a flying unicorn or dragon? she wondered. Anyway, surely she had enough skill and power to create a protective shield around herself and Albishadewe?

     Her mind made up, Esmé wasted no more time in mere wondering. She pushed her feet into a pair of warm boots, slung the furry white cloak the Goddess had given her over her shoulders and crept out of the castle.

     She had no idea where Albishadewe was. She had wanted to keep him in the stables with the royal horses, but he had refused, letting her know what he thought of her idea by bolting. She hadn’t seen him since.

     At Ilsamere’s suggestion Esmé then obtained a whistle similar to those used by Earthlings to call their dogs. Set on its highest frequencies it was inaudible to humans, who, if standing nearby, could hear only the sound of the blower’s breath. But Albishadewe had keener hearing than any dog, and Ilsamere said she was sure he would be able to hear the whistle from wherever he happened to be. Esmé hadn’t yet had a chance to use it but felt certain the unicorn wouldn’t fail to come at her call.

     Since getting the whistle she had worn it on a chain around her neck. Now, once out of sight of the castle, she brought it out and blew long and hard into it. Then she waited with bated breath.

     She didn’t have to wait long. Within seconds the air in front of her started to shimmer, almost as though the shifting strands of mist were coming together to create a ghostly image in the shape of a horse. The half-formed image reared as though pawing the air in soundless challenge. Next moment the great hooves sank silently to the ground and Albishadewereal and solidstood before her.

     He had no saddle or bridle, which were still hanging in the stable that he had wrecked. His horn had grown to about twenty centimetres since he’d lost the first onenearly sixty centimetres longin killing a wyvern at the Albiwaeter Falls.

     Esmé gave him a quick but affectionate greeting, which he returned in full measure. She then led him over to a group of boulders so that she could get onto his back, for he was fully twenty hands high and, at less than a hundred and sixty centimetres tall, she could only just touch his back with her outstretched fingers.

     As soon as she was on the unicorn’s massive backwith more than a little help from himshe wove a spell around them to protect them from being sensed by hidden enemies. Then they were trotting through the forest. The unicorn’s silvery unshod hooves, which normally sounded as though fitted with something even harder than iron, made no noise at all on the frozen ground.

     Then, to her surprise, Albishadewe let her know he remembered exactly where the key had fallen by sending her a mind-picture of him thrashing out with his front hooves and knocking the key from the wizard’s hand. To Esmé it was almost like going through the experience all over again. She saw the key tumbling over and over, sending out brilliant flashes of golden light. She felt again the frustration as the light suddenly went out before the key hit the ground.

     Grateful that Albishadewe seemed to know exactly where to go, she let the unicorn have his head. As much as possible he kept to the cover of groves of trees.

     So quiet was their progressand so hushed the snowbound countryside under shifting shrouds of mist that made it look as though the sky had swallowed up the horizonsthat it felt as though they were the only living things around, that all other life had deserted Lazaronia.

     It was therefore a tremendous shock to Esmé to hear a voice coming out of the mist somewhere in front of them. Albishadewe came to an instant halt at the edge of a stand of trees.

     “You must help me,” the voice said in little more than a whisper. And Esmé was surprised at how clearly she heard the words. Her spine started to feel as though something unpleasant was crawling along it. She and Albishadewe must, she thought, be getting close to where the wizard had fallen into the ravine. Had it been his voice she had heard? Was he talking to her, sensing that someone was close but unable to work out who it was?

     Then Esmé realised that they were very close to where the landslide had crashed down upon the wizard. She couldn’t be surefor everything looked so different in the eddying mistbut she felt that Albishadewe was standing exactly where he had waited while she and Mark said their farewells. Despite her feeling of uneasiness, the memory brought a painful lump to her throat and made her eyes sting.

     Abruptly, a little ahead and to their left, two figures emerged out of the mist, walking slowly. Both wore voluminous black cloaks with hoods pulled well forward. Near the bottom of the slope, right in front of Esmé and Albishadewe, they stopped and stood with their backs to the unicorn and his rider. The mist swirled around them as though trying to protect them from prying eyes so that Esmé couldn’t tell whether they were men or women. Both were tall, one being slightly taller than the other.

     The one whose voice she had heard beforethe shorter onespoke again. The voice was low-pitchedlittle more than a whisperbut the surrounding silence was so absolute that Esmé could hear every word. From what the speaker said she realised the voice must be that of a woman.

     “This is where he’s buried. Please, you must help me,” the speaker repeated. “I love him so much. I’ve been trying for three months, but I can’t free him on my own. And I can’t find that wretched key so that he’ll have enough power to free himself. The most I can do is to keep the others from finding it by stopping the mist from dispersing and by making it thicker when someone comes too near where the key fell. I know you can help me. Right now your powers are greater than mine.”

     “I didn’t come here to help you but to get you to stop meddling around with mist,” the taller figure hissed in fury. “You’ve cost the lives of several soldiers. He’s not worth even one of those lives. I can think of plenty of good reasons why I should help his enemies destroy him. Can you give me one good reason why I should help him to destroy Lazaronia?”

     “He won’t destroy it. He only wants his rightful place as king.”

     The other snorted. The sound was very loud in the still air. “He is not the rightful king. Remember he’s killed two rightful kings.”

     “If Lazarone the Firstthe so-called Godkinghad truly been the rightful king he would have had more than enough power to stop himself from being killed. If necessary he’d have killed Ignarius instead. As for Lazarone the Third, he had no one but himself to blame. He should have had more sense than to approach a unicorn, let alone force it to accept him on its back.”

     “You’re confusing might and right. The possession of might doesn’t necessarily give the possessor any rights at all. And it was Ignarius, not Lazarone the Third, who used sorcery on both his brother and the unicorn and thus was responsible for the King’s death. Even the Godking kept his distance where unicorns were concerned.”

     “Now who’s confusing things? Surely the ultimate test of a god, whether a king or not, is that he is more powerful than those he rulesespecially mere animalsand at least as powerful as his enemies?” The voice was full of scorn.

     The taller figure sighed. “Nothing’s ever that simple. Life is complicated. Peopleespecially godsare complex creatures. The world would be a boring place if things were otherwise.”

     Both speakers had been looking at the devastation created by the landslide the Goddess had caused to bury her enemy. Now the first speaker turned to stare at the second. Esmé could just make out the tip of her nose. “So you still refuse to help me, even though you’ve seen what her vicious anger did to him?”

     “Of course.”

     The woman stamped her foot. “Have you no compassion? You can feel his torment. How can you bear it? Can’t you even imagine what it’s like to be buried alive?”

     “Well I can now,” the other answered with apparent indifference. “But I wouldn’t worry about him. He’ll free himself sooner or laterunfortunately.”

     “You’re just jealous. Only jealousy of my love for him could cause you to be so callous.”

     “Don’t be so stupid,” the other replied coldly. “You should know me better than that by now.”

     The speaker turned to leave. The woman grasped the figure’s cloak in another desperate bid. “What about me? Don’t you care about my happinessmy feelingsany more? We were once inseparable. Does that no longer mean anything to you?”

     The other pulled away from the woman’s clasping hand. “Not when it clashes with my loyalty to Lazaronia and my love for those who deserve it far more than you do.”

     “I suppose that means you’ll betray me?” the first speaker asked, a tinge of anxiety in her voice.

     “And see you hanged for treason?” the other hissed. “If you succeed in helping him to free himself you’ll deserve such a death. But I don’t think I could bear it.” The figure pulled the hood closer at the front, turned and walked back the way they had come, moving with long, angry strides. The black cloak started to swing out behind, but a breeze sprang up, slapping it back against the wearer’s legs. Eddies of mist chased each other around the figure, as though making sport with the folds of the cloak. Then they intermingled and swallowed it.

     Esmé found herself looking at the bowed shoulders of the first figure. She realised, with a peculiar sense of embarrassment, that the woman was crying. And suddenly she felt a surge of sympathy for this stranger who, like Esmé herself, was forcibly parted from her beloved.

     As though in a dreamnot really aware of what she was doingEsmé slid from Albishadewe’s back. The unicorn neither helped nor hindered her but stood as though turned to stone. Esmé was too preoccupied by what she had just seen and heard to even notice his ominous stillness. She landed, rather noisily, in an undignified heap in a drift of snow, scrambled to her feet and brushed herself down.

     Subconsciously she noted that the figure ahead didn’t turn, or even move, although she must have heard Esmé’s fall. But Esmé hardly gave the matter another thought. She hurried down the slope with little idea of what she was going to sayjust wanting, with a need that was almost desperation, to ease the woman’s overpowering grief.

     She drew level with the woman and stopped, her hand half raised. The poor thing is so overcome she still hasn’t heard me, she thought.

     It was only then that she sensed something wrong. But it was too late: the woman swung round and gripped Esmé’s wrist. Familiar eyes stared into herseyes usually filled with affection and concern. But nowbeneath their anguishthey blazed hatred, anger and vengeful triumph at her. The grip on her wrist was amazingly strong.

     “Ilsamere!” Esmé’s voice came out in a strangled, agonised cry.

     “Yes.” The woman’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. “Ilsamere the nurserymaidIlsamere the governessIlsamere the schoolmarm, little more than a paid slave. Now Ilsamere the rejected. But finally it’s my turn to take the power. You and your precious Earthling are going to help me free the wizardthis very instant.”

© Laraine Anne Barker, 1992
All rights reserved

BONUS
Further extract from Riders of the White Unicorn

Back to Top

Did you enjoy this chapter extract? Even if you didn’t I would like to hear from you. Send your comments or questions by emailing me.

By the way, the recording mentioned here does exist. The bands of pink noise are the most fascinating things on the whole LP. However, I doubt that it would be available on CD since a good half of it is devoted to things to help you set up your turntable and pick-up arm correctly.

Excerpt from fantasy Riders of the White Unicorn novel by fantasy writer Laraine Anne Barker
NZ Forest Native Birds
 

Excerpt from Riders of the White Unicorn

Chapter 1
The All-Enveloping Mist

Esmé sat at her bedroom window, lowered her chin onto the back of her hands on the windowsill and gazed with unseeing eyes into the constantly shifting mist.

 

The wizard, she mused, was still buried under thousands of tonnes of rock and earth. So who was responsible for blanketing the countryside in impenetrable fog? Did Ignarius have a power of which even the Goddess was unaware that enabled him to weave spells from nearly one hundred metres underground? Surely, as Ilsamere had argued, he would need to concentrate all his skills on freeing himselfan event that they all knew was only a matter of time.

     Esmé had been forbidden to venture outside the castle grounds until conditions improved. Hence her continual vigil at her bedroom window. The army was having enough trouble getting supplies of food and fuel to the snowbound sections of the population, Queen Esmeralda reminded her, without having to send out search parties for a princess whom Lazaronia couldn’t afford to lose.

     Esmé stared at drifts of mist weaving eerily in and out of the trees in the royal forest that partly clothed the lower slopes of Emerald Hill. The trouble is Lazaronia can’t afford to allow Ignarius to free himself, she thought. To stop that happening we need the key right now. But without the key we don’t seem to have enough power to find it.

     In many ways it appeared to be a Catch 22 situationas Ilsamere had said some earthlings called this type of problem. However, the more Esmé thought about it the more convinced she was that she was the only one who would be able to find the key.

     Apart from the mystery of how Ignarius had created the blanketing fog, how had he known, without enough power to have freed himself by now, that the soldiers were searching? A natural assumption? Surely he couldn’t have heard or felt footsteps from so far above his head?

     Or could he?

     Esmé jerked up. After all, she reasoned, he was a powerful sorcerer, with senses far beyond those of ordinary mortals. And soldiers were only men, defenceless against the might of one such as he.

     Would Ignarius be able to sense a flying unicorn or dragon? she wondered. Anyway, surely she had enough skill and power to create a protective shield around herself and Albishadewe?

     Her mind made up, Esmé wasted no more time in mere wondering. She pushed her feet into a pair of warm boots, slung the furry white cloak the Goddess had given her over her shoulders and crept out of the castle.

     She had no idea where Albishadewe was. She had wanted to keep him in the stables with the royal horses, but he had refused, letting her know what he thought of her idea by bolting. She hadn’t seen him since.

     At Ilsamere’s suggestion Esmé then obtained a whistle similar to those used by Earthlings to call their dogs. Set on its highest frequencies it was inaudible to humans, who, if standing nearby, could hear only the sound of the blower’s breath. But Albishadewe had keener hearing than any dog, and Ilsamere said she was sure he would be able to hear the whistle from wherever he happened to be. Esmé hadn’t yet had a chance to use it but felt certain the unicorn wouldn’t fail to come at her call.

     Since getting the whistle she had worn it on a chain around her neck. Now, once out of sight of the castle, she brought it out and blew long and hard into it. Then she waited with bated breath.

     She didn’t have to wait long. Within seconds the air in front of her started to shimmer, almost as though the shifting strands of mist were coming together to create a ghostly image in the shape of a horse. The half-formed image reared as though pawing the air in soundless challenge. Next moment the great hooves sank silently to the ground and Albishadewereal and solidstood before her.

     He had no saddle or bridle, which were still hanging in the stable that he had wrecked. His horn had grown to about twenty centimetres since he’d lost the first onenearly sixty centimetres longin killing a wyvern at the Albiwaeter Falls.

     Esmé gave him a quick but affectionate greeting, which he returned in full measure. She then led him over to a group of boulders so that she could get onto his back, for he was fully twenty hands high and, at less than a hundred and sixty centimetres tall, she could only just touch his back with her outstretched fingers.

     As soon as she was on the unicorn’s massive backwith more than a little help from himshe wove a spell around them to protect them from being sensed by hidden enemies. Then they were trotting through the forest. The unicorn’s silvery unshod hooves, which normally sounded as though fitted with something even harder than iron, made no noise at all on the frozen ground.

     Then, to her surprise, Albishadewe let her know he remembered exactly where the key had fallen by sending her a mind-picture of him thrashing out with his front hooves and knocking the key from the wizard’s hand. To Esmé it was almost like going through the experience all over again. She saw the key tumbling over and over, sending out brilliant flashes of golden light. She felt again the frustration as the light suddenly went out before the key hit the ground.

     Grateful that Albishadewe seemed to know exactly where to go, she let the unicorn have his head. As much as possible he kept to the cover of groves of trees.

     So quiet was their progressand so hushed the snowbound countryside under shifting shrouds of mist that made it look as though the sky had swallowed up the horizonsthat it felt as though they were the only living things around, that all other life had deserted Lazaronia.

     It was therefore a tremendous shock to Esmé to hear a voice coming out of the mist somewhere in front of them. Albishadewe came to an instant halt at the edge of a stand of trees.

     “You must help me,” the voice said in little more than a whisper. And Esmé was surprised at how clearly she heard the words. Her spine started to feel as though something unpleasant was crawling along it. She and Albishadewe must, she thought, be getting close to where the wizard had fallen into the ravine. Had it been his voice she had heard? Was he talking to her, sensing that someone was close but unable to work out who it was?

     Then Esmé realised that they were very close to where the landslide had crashed down upon the wizard. She couldn’t be surefor everything looked so different in the eddying mistbut she felt that Albishadewe was standing exactly where he had waited while she and Mark said their farewells. Despite her feeling of uneasiness, the memory brought a painful lump to her throat and made her eyes sting.

     Abruptly, a little ahead and to their left, two figures emerged out of the mist, walking slowly. Both wore voluminous black cloaks with hoods pulled well forward. Near the bottom of the slope, right in front of Esmé and Albishadewe, they stopped and stood with their backs to the unicorn and his rider. The mist swirled around them as though trying to protect them from prying eyes so that Esmé couldn’t tell whether they were men or women. Both were tall, one being slightly taller than the other.

     The one whose voice she had heard beforethe shorter onespoke again. The voice was low-pitchedlittle more than a whisperbut the surrounding silence was so absolute that Esmé could hear every word. From what the speaker said she realised the voice must be that of a woman.

     “This is where he’s buried. Please, you must help me,” the speaker repeated. “I love him so much. I’ve been trying for three months, but I can’t free him on my own. And I can’t find that wretched key so that he’ll have enough power to free himself. The most I can do is to keep the others from finding it by stopping the mist from dispersing and by making it thicker when someone comes too near where the key fell. I know you can help me. Right now your powers are greater than mine.”

     “I didn’t come here to help you but to get you to stop meddling around with mist,” the taller figure hissed in fury. “You’ve cost the lives of several soldiers. He’s not worth even one of those lives. I can think of plenty of good reasons why I should help his enemies destroy him. Can you give me one good reason why I should help him to destroy Lazaronia?”

     “He won’t destroy it. He only wants his rightful place as king.”

     The other snorted. The sound was very loud in the still air. “He is not the rightful king. Remember he’s killed two rightful kings.”

     “If Lazarone the Firstthe so-called Godkinghad truly been the rightful king he would have had more than enough power to stop himself from being killed. If necessary he’d have killed Ignarius instead. As for Lazarone the Third, he had no one but himself to blame. He should have had more sense than to approach a unicorn, let alone force it to accept him on its back.”

     “You’re confusing might and right. The possession of might doesn’t necessarily give the possessor any rights at all. And it was Ignarius, not Lazarone the Third, who used sorcery on both his brother and the unicorn and thus was responsible for the King’s death. Even the Godking kept his distance where unicorns were concerned.”

     “Now who’s confusing things? Surely the ultimate test of a god, whether a king or not, is that he is more powerful than those he rulesespecially mere animalsand at least as powerful as his enemies?” The voice was full of scorn.

     The taller figure sighed. “Nothing’s ever that simple. Life is complicated. Peopleespecially godsare complex creatures. The world would be a boring place if things were otherwise.”

     Both speakers had been looking at the devastation created by the landslide the Goddess had caused to bury her enemy. Now the first speaker turned to stare at the second. Esmé could just make out the tip of her nose. “So you still refuse to help me, even though you’ve seen what her vicious anger did to him?”

     “Of course.”

     The woman stamped her foot. “Have you no compassion? You can feel his torment. How can you bear it? Can’t you even imagine what it’s like to be buried alive?”

     “Well I can now,” the other answered with apparent indifference. “But I wouldn’t worry about him. He’ll free himself sooner or laterunfortunately.”

     “You’re just jealous. Only jealousy of my love for him could cause you to be so callous.”

     “Don’t be so stupid,” the other replied coldly. “You should know me better than that by now.”

     The speaker turned to leave. The woman grasped the figure’s cloak in another desperate bid. “What about me? Don’t you care about my happinessmy feelingsany more? We were once inseparable. Does that no longer mean anything to you?”

     The other pulled away from the woman’s clasping hand. “Not when it clashes with my loyalty to Lazaronia and my love for those who deserve it far more than you do.”

     “I suppose that means you’ll betray me?” the first speaker asked, a tinge of anxiety in her voice.

     “And see you hanged for treason?” the other hissed. “If you succeed in helping him to free himself you’ll deserve such a death. But I don’t think I could bear it.” The figure pulled the hood closer at the front, turned and walked back the way they had come, moving with long, angry strides. The black cloak started to swing out behind, but a breeze sprang up, slapping it back against the wearer’s legs. Eddies of mist chased each other around the figure, as though making sport with the folds of the cloak. Then they intermingled and swallowed it.

     Esmé found herself looking at the bowed shoulders of the first figure. She realised, with a peculiar sense of embarrassment, that the woman was crying. And suddenly she felt a surge of sympathy for this stranger who, like Esmé herself, was forcibly parted from her beloved.

     As though in a dreamnot really aware of what she was doingEsmé slid from Albishadewe’s back. The unicorn neither helped nor hindered her but stood as though turned to stone. Esmé was too preoccupied by what she had just seen and heard to even notice his ominous stillness. She landed, rather noisily, in an undignified heap in a drift of snow, scrambled to her feet and brushed herself down.

     Subconsciously she noted that the figure ahead didn’t turn, or even move, although she must have heard Esmé’s fall. But Esmé hardly gave the matter another thought. She hurried down the slope with little idea of what she was going to sayjust wanting, with a need that was almost desperation, to ease the woman’s overpowering grief.

     She drew level with the woman and stopped, her hand half raised. The poor thing is so overcome she still hasn’t heard me, she thought.

     It was only then that she sensed something wrong. But it was too late: the woman swung round and gripped Esmé’s wrist. Familiar eyes stared into herseyes usually filled with affection and concern. But nowbeneath their anguishthey blazed hatred, anger and vengeful triumph at her. The grip on her wrist was amazingly strong.

     “Ilsamere!” Esmé’s voice came out in a strangled, agonised cry.

     “Yes.” The woman’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. “Ilsamere the nurserymaidIlsamere the governessIlsamere the schoolmarm, little more than a paid slave. Now Ilsamere the rejected. But finally it’s my turn to take the power. You and your precious Earthling are going to help me free the wizardthis very instant.”

© Laraine Anne Barker, 1992
All rights reserved

BONUS
Further extract from Riders of the White Unicorn

Back to Top

Did you enjoy this chapter extract? Even if you didn’t I would like to hear from you. Send your comments or questions by emailing me.

By the way, the recording mentioned here does exist. The bands of pink noise are the most fascinating things on the whole LP. However, I doubt that it would be available on CD since a good half of it is devoted to things to help you set up your turntable and pick-up arm correctly.