NZ Forest Native Birds
Extract from Silvranja of the Silver Forest by fantasy author Laraine Anne Barker

 PART I:                                       10

Although all sense of menace had departed, Silvranja and Flare wasted no time leaving the Far Isles of Raldyss. During their long journey they crossed the paths of countless wyverns. But the creatures appeared almost desperately intent on avoiding them.

     “News travels fast.” Flare’s mind-voice held an unmistakable dry chuckle of relief.

    Nevertheless, when they arrived at Emerald Forest they entered warily, for it was very dark and they were too exhausted for another fight. Flare led Silvranja straight to a safe hideawayan artfully concealed cave where someone centuries before had created a shrine to the Goddess Lazaria. Unfortunately, since the entrance was too small for a dragon and Flare’s teleportation powers were spent, he had to settle down outside, sleeping with one eye open and half his brain alert in the manner of a dragon on guard.

     Next morning Silvranja awoke to the sudden rustle of the vegetation at the cave mouth being pulled aside. A beam of sunlight lit the cave, telling her Flare had gone. From the shadow the intruder cast she saw that it was human.

     Hardly daring to breathe, she watched the stranger cross to the shrine and bend to light the lamp by the Goddess’s image. Only then did she grasp that she had to be looking at the one she soughtthe Princess of Lazaronia herself.

     Silvranja had been expecting a taller, more commanding figurea disdainful young woman, pampered by all because she was the only one of her generation in the whole of Lazaronia. She was therefore much relieved at sight of the unassuming girl, still only a child, who sat down at the feet of the statue and started talking to it in the manner of one woman confiding in another.

     Unwilling to eavesdrop, Silvranja moved. The Princess whirled in fright, nearly upsetting the lamp, but laughed in relief on seeing Silvranja. “Oh! A wild pony! A silver one! I’ve never seen a silver one. Have you come from the Goddess?”

     Silvranja wisely ignored the question: if she had to spend her future as a tamed wild horse, she admonished herself, then she had better start behaving like one!

     The Princess extended her hand as though offering friendship. With extreme reluctance Silvranja walked over and sniffed the hand. But it told her nothing. It simply smelled human, and her mother had taught her that human odours always signified danger to her kind. She would have to trust her dreams, as Flare the Fearless had urged.

     So Silvranja let the human child stroke her nose, fondle the silk of her mane and talk to her in gentle, soothing tones. Only then was she able to acknowledge that Albishadewe was right: she really had put herself in the hands of a human who would defend her right to live with every fibre of her being. And if, in return for this security, she had to endure being saddled and ridden like a domesticated horse, well was it really too high a price to pay for the ultimate salvation of her species? She might even learn to enjoy it, as she was enjoying the unaccustomed attention now being lavished on her.

     She nickered softly, blowing into the Princess’s ear. The Princess laughed and stood up. “You must be hungry. And you’re in a dreadful state. Let’s get you groomed and fed and find you a stall.”

     Silvranja allowed herself to be led all the way to Castle Lazarone’s stables, where the Princess herself groomed her before leaving her with plenty of food and water. After the bed of bones, on which it had been impossible to stay upright for long, the stall seemed unbelievable luxury.

     Silvranja spent the rest of the day trying to work out her stablemates’ primitive form of communication; for her very survival depended on convincing them she was one of them. Fortunately all the humans kept at a strict distance. However, she would have to win them round also.

     It wasn’t going to be easy; she wasn’t home yet, she told herself as she settled down that night. And with little room for error she would need to be vigilant all the time. Every single move, every voiced sound, would have to be carefully thought out …

     It was moonlight pouring through the suddenly open top half of her stall door that alerted Silvranja. She opened her eyes, expecting to see, as in her dreams, the indistinct white shadow shaped like a horse. But it wasn’t a shadow that looked at her over the door. And it certainly wasn’t a horse.

     Mindful of the sleeping animals around her, Silvranja approached the door and poked her head through the gap. Albishadewe moved nearer. This time she heard his hooves on the cobblestones. Legend, she saw, had not exaggerated: Albishadewe was enormous. But with his face in shadow and his eyes deep pools of darkness she couldn’t read his expression.

     “All you have to do is believe in yourself as I do,” he told her in mind pictures. So he was aware of her self-doubt.

     Next moment, to Silvranja’s astonished joy, he bent his head and touched the point of his silver horn to her forehead where, years later, she too would grow one. “I’ll come for you when yours starts to show. Until then, Silvranja of the Silver Forest, stay safe in your new home.”

     The white unicorn raised his head, giving Silvranja one more long, intense look. Then in a clatter of hooves he turned and was gone.

© L A Barker Enterprises
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