Illyria slid down from the back of her unicorn. He turned his head to nuzzle her affectionately, then trotted off to be unsaddled by one of the warriors. Illyria signaled for Sheila to follow her, then started toward the largest of the few worn, patched tents. Inside the tent were only two camp chairs, the sort that fold up flat, a wobbly table consisting of a plank set on two rocks and a pack that Sheila suspected held Illyria’s spare clothing.
Illyria raised and eyebrow. “Not luxurious enough for you, sorceress?”
“I’m not a–” began Sheila, then stopped short. By now there wasn’t any way she could pretend to herself that this was all only a dream. Oh no, this was all quite real. Like it or not, she was stuck, without a clue as to how to get home, getting firsthand information on an alternative world where magic worked. Maybe, for safety’s sake, she had better play along and pretend to have magical powers of her own. Magical powers for good, not evil, of course. Illyria seated herself in one of the chairs, chin resting on steepled hands. Her fierce eyes studied Sheila without blinking. “Sit, girl.”
“My name isn’t ‘girl’ or ‘sorceress,’ it’s Sheila.”
“So. Sheila. Now, tell me what you’re doing here.”
“Ah.” She thought frantically for an answer. “Not much, really. Just trying to figure out a way to get home again.”
“Don’t play games with me, girl. The very fact that you didn’t speak our language proves you’re not from around here.”
“No,” agreed Sheila honestly. “Believe me, I’m from far away. Very far away.”
“Then how did you get here? Sorcery? Why are you here?” The blue eyes blazed. “Did Dynasain send you?”
Sheila shrank back from the attack of questions. “Who?” she asked in bewilderment.
“Come, come, I’m not a fool! Everyone knows the name of the tyrant who usurped the throne of good King Amar!”
“Everyone but me!”
Illyria paused, studying her, then frowned slowly. “I could almost swear you were telling the truth.”
“I am! Look, I didn’t want to come here; I don’t even know where ‘here’ is!”
“There are the Steppes of Arren, Many days of hard riding away from Campora.”
That didn’t mean much to Sheila. “Oh,” she said blankly.
Illyria’s frown deepened. “Why, you really don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?”
Sheila shook her head. “Sorry. The only think I can tell you is that I was on my way home from school.”
“Not–not exactly. Anyhow, I stopped off to see Dr. Reit. He’s a scientist friend of mine.”
“A . . . scientist.” Illyria pronounced the word carefully, as though it were foreign to her. It was foreign Sheila realized after a moment; she’d had to say it in English because there wasn’t any such word as scientist in Illyria’s language.
“Oh. Well, I suppose you probably would call him a wizard. His cat tripped me–”
“Deliberately? This cat-creature is the wizard’s familiar?”
“No, no, he’s just a pet! And it was an accident, that’s all! He tripped me, and I fell right through the . . .” But there weren’t any words like Molecular Acceleration in this language, either. Sheila ended up lamely, “Let’s just call it a spell that wasn’t tested yet. Only in the place I come from, we don’t use magic. We use science instead. You know: airplanes, television . . . no,” she added sadly, seeing Illyria’s bewilderment, “you don’t know, do you? Hey, wait, I’ll show you!”
Sheila rummaged around in her backpack, trying not to notice that Illyria was keeping a wary hand on the hilt of her sword.
“Ah, here it is! This is something from the world of science: a cassette player.”
She pressed the “on” button, and the tent was flooded with the sound of Bon Jovi. Sheila grinned.
At the first note Illyria sprang up, sword drawn. Eyes wide, she murmured, “Sorcery!”
“Hey, it’s all right! Don’t be afraid! It can’t hurt you,” Sheila said quickly.
She turned off the player. “It’s just something kids like me use for fun.”
Illyria sighed. “I’m willing to believe you’re not a spy, Sheila from the World of Science, where even mere children wield magic. Your sorcery had nothing of the foul taint of Mardock about it.”
“That’s the second time someone’s mentioned Mardock. Who is he?”
The woman raised a surprised eyebrow. “Didn’t you know? I though surely all magicians would know the name. He’s Dynasian’s pet sorcerer, and his spells are all of Darkness.”
“But I still don’t know who Dynasian is!”
“Later. First, you still must prove to me that your own magic really does no harm, and–”
The sounds of quarreling outside the tent interrupted her.
“No what?” the woman muttered under her breath, and moved to the tent’s entrance. “Stay where you are, Sheila. Pelu! What’s going on?”
“Myno and Kara are arguing over the–ah–the sorceress.”
Illyria let out her breath in an angry hiss. “Come inside and guard our . . . guest. I will be back.”
The tent flaps swung shut behind her. “Uh . . . Pelu,” Sheila began after an awkward silence. “What is all this? I mean, who are you people? What are you doing here? And–and those really are unicorns, aren’t they?”
Pelu gave her a quick grin. “I know how you feel! When I first met Illyria’s unicorns, I thought I must be dreaming. But yes, they are unicorns, and they are quite real.” She hesitated. “As for what we’re all doing here, I can only speak for myself.” Pelu paused again, toying with memory. “Since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved animals. At first my parents only laughed when I’d want to take care of stray dogs or wounded birds, even though they couldn’t deny that I seemed to have a true healer’s touch. But when I told them I wanted to train to become a professional healer of animals, they stopped laughing and beat me instead.”
Pelu shrugged. “In our village women are forbidden to work with animals. That is men’s work. A woman’s place is at home, taking care of her children and obeying her mate.”
“But that’s ridiculous! If you’re good with animals, what difference does it make if you’re male or female? Where I come from, a woman can do anything she wants! We have plenty of women veterinarians, women who are healers of animals.”
Pelu sighed. “You must come from a strange land, indeed. Here, the only way for me to follow my dream was to run away. But no one would hire a woman healer. I would have starved had I not met Illyria and joined her band. And when I was befriended by my own dear unicorn–”
A sudden crash outside the tent made Sheila and Pelu both jump. Pelu let out a little cry of pain.
“What is it?” asked Sheila. “Oh, you’ve cut yourself!”
“It’s nothing, a scratch. I was careless with my dagger and–” Pelu stopped abruptly, staring, as Sheila rummaged around in her pack. “What are you doing?”
“Hunting for . . . ah, here it is!” The girl smiled at Pelu. “Hey, don’t look so scared. This is only a . . .” But the language didn’t have a word for Band-Aid, so Sheila finished, “This is a sort of sticky bandage.”
Nervously, Pelu let her put it over the little cut.
“See?” said Sheila. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
Pelu looked at her bandaged finger in wonder. “You are a sorceress! But . . . this is healing magic. No evil sorceress can work with any of the healing arts. Nor would she stoop to doing a good deed.”
“Uh . . . no. I guess she wouldn’t.”
“Then it’s true. Your magic is good, not evil.”
“Well . . . if I have any magic, it’s good magic,” said Sheila carefully.
“Pelu studied her for a moment. “But you’re still very young sorceress, aren’t you?” the woman asked gently. “And very far away from home.”
Sheila swallowed hard. “F-farther than you think.”
“Poor thing! You really don’t know what’s going on here, do you?”
“Very well. While we wait for Illyria to return, I shall tell you a story: the story of the Unicorn Queen. Listen carefully. . . .”
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Chapter 10: Illyria's Story
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 12: Trapped!
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle
Chapter 16: Sailing Away