Pelu was a fine storyteller. As she spun her tale, Sheila found herself listening so intently that pretty soon she forgot everything around her. Instead of a ragged tent, she seemed to see the adventure itself unfold before her eyes. . . .
The village was a peaceful place of thatched cottages set in a small green valley high in the mountains. It was a perfect place to raise the swift, sure-footed horses for which the village was known. And the finest horses were bred by a man called Sandrous. Sandrous had two children, Illyria, even then already tall and beautiful as a goddess, and Darian, her younger brother, brown of hair and eye, and daring of heart. Their mother had died when they were very young. But Sandrous taught them many things, from the proper way to handle a frightened colt to the method of taming a horse without breaking it’s spirit.
That was a good, happy time. But far beyond the mountain village, the world was changing. In Campora, the wizard-king, Amar, a good and kindly man, had been deposed (some said by dark and devious sorcery), and Dynasian, ambitious and cruel, had usurped the throne.
Sandrous thought that since Campora was so far away, the problems there could not possibly affect him. Still, he decided, better to be prepared. Sandrous had been a warrior when he was younger, and now he taught his daughter and his son weaponry, the ways of sword and spear. Illyria soon became as skillful with the sword as any warrior Sandrous had ever seen.
That’s very interesting,” Sheila cute in,” but what about the unicorns?”
“Hush, little sorceress. I’m getting to them.”
One fine day Illyria and Darian went riding. They were enjoying an ordinary ride through the clear mountain air. Suddenly Illyria’s horse shied, and the young woman found herself looking down at the bloody, beaten body of a handsome young man.
“Hurry, Darian! We’ve got to get him to shelter!” she cried.
The young man was badly hurt, but Illyria nursed him back to health. His name was Egael. He told her to beware of Dynasian; it was the tyrant’s men who had beaten him and left him to die.
As Egael healed, he and Illyria grew close.
But one night Illyria woke suddenly, sensing that something strange was happening. Alarmed, she ran to the room in which Egael slept. But he was gone! Illyria ran out into the night, frantically shouting Egael’s name, but the only answer to her calls was the wild cry of an eagle. Far in the distance she saw the fading shadow of great wings. And somehow, she didn’t know how or why, Illyria knew that Egael had vanished from her life.
As she stood in the moonlight, wondering, blinking back tears, Illyria felt a soft muzzle brush her arm. One of the horses has gotten loose, she thought, and turned–to find herself facing a magnificent white stallion. A unicorn stallion. That was Illyria’s first meeting with Quiet Storm. And he is with her still.
In those days Quiet Storm lived a peaceful life, siring handsome unicorn foals with Sandrous’s mares. The horse foals were sold at market as always; the unicorns–Sandrous being a wise man–were allowed to run free and happy, as unicorns must. And the village flourished. No one fell ill. The harvests were bountiful. And everyone knew this was due to the magic of the unicorns.
Pelu paused. “Storytelling is thirsty work. Illyria usually keeps a water jug in here . . . ah, yes.”
As the woman drank, Sheila prodded her eagerly, “Go on! What happened next?”
“What else? Trouble. Listen. . . .”
Word of the valley full of fabulous unicorns reached Dynasian’s ears. Or, rather, it reached the ears of his favorite sorcerer, Mardock. A foul and cruel man, Mardock is as dark of heart as he is of heard and hair. An exile, it is said, from some mystical land to the east, Mardock is a fine companion to his tyrant master.
Mardock looked through his magic window and saw that while the unicorns roamed free, strange things began happening to Dynasian’s legions. Whenever they’d try to collect taxes, the taxes would turn to rocks, or bright blue butterflies. Whenever they would try to arrest and innocent soul, their swords would shatter. People began to laugh at them, and at Dynasian.
It is never wise to mock an evil man.
One terrible day Illyria and Darian returned home to find the village destroyed and Sandrous slain. The unicorns were gone. Dynasian had stolen them all–all except Quiet Storm and Darian’s own mount.
Dark times followed, full of plague and misery. But then Illyria had a dream; in it a great eagle, large as a man, told her that the land would prosper once more only when the unicorns–those beings of Light and Goodness–were freed. Upon waking, Illyria swore a solemn vow: she would free the unicorns from Dynasian’s snares, or die in the attempt.
“And?” insisted Sheila.
“And she’s been traveling ever since. Campora is very far from here. Some of the captive unicorns have managed to escape Dynasian’s men; those are the ones we ride. As for us . . . well, now, we are a band of seven, counting Illyria and Darian, all of us escaping tyranny of some sort. You already know my story. Red-headed Myno, whom you’ve–ah–met, is a runaway slave.” Pelu winced. “She never talks about her former life, but I’ve seen the scars of whips on her back. You can imagine how she hates Dynasian and all he stands for! She’s the only one of us who’s actually been in Campora. And if ever there was genius for figuring out a sly, clever plan, it’s she.”
“What about the black woman? She seems so proud.”
“Ho, she should! Our Nanine is a princess in her homeland to the south. She ran away from the foppish pig of a prince she was being forced to wed. She claims to like our rough life far better than any silken prison of a harem, even though she complains about having to sleep on the ground ‘like a commoner’ and eat food that’s ‘barely fit for swine!’”
Sheila giggled. “And what about the archer?”
Pelu’s smile faded. “Kara’s our archer, and she doesn’t laugh very much. You see, she has her own mission: Kara is looking for her sister, who was carried off by Dynasian’s soldiers. Poor thing, she may or may not be alive in Campora.”
“What about the black-haired girl? The one who’s about my own age?” Sheila asked.
“Dian? Oh, she’s our ‘baby.’ She found one of the unicorns lost and hurt, and took care of it. When the unicorn recovered, and rejoined our herd, Dian came along with it. She’s showing signs of becoming a fine warrior. And she’s got a lovely singing voice, too, very comforting at when we’re all gathered around the campfire and feeling sorry for ourselves.” Pelu smiled. “So. There you have our story.”
“And a fine story it is, too!” said a sudden voice.
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 4: Questions
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