Sheila looked around the camp. It was late afternoon. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing--from Myno, skillfully mending a saddle girth, to Kara, who had returned to camp with bow in hand and a brace of rabbits over her shoulder. The unicorns wandered freely, stopping to graze every now and then on sparse grass or thorny bushes; Sheila was fascinated as she watched how delicately the unicorns twisted their lips in the leaves to avoid getting stuck.
Watching unicorns was fun, but it wasn't something she could do all day. What was she supposed to be doing? Sheila wondered. Everyone else seemed to have some task or another. but no one paid any attention to her. She hadn't even been told where she would sleep, or if she was going to have to stand guard like the others. Though there was still plenty of light, the sun was already slipping behind the horizon, and a chill was rising from the rapidly cooling earth. Sheila shivered and gracefully pulled the cloak Pelu had lent her more tightly about herself. Weird! This was all so weird! Had it really been only a few short hours ago she had been talking with Cookie about studying?
Sure. A few short hours ago--in another world--in another dimension!
Sheila shivered again, this time it wasn't from the chilly air. How was she ever going to get home?
"Uh . . . Sheila," said a hesitant voice.
It was Darian. Oh, fine, thought Sheila. the last thing she wanted right now was to get into another fight with him!
"Darian, I--" she began, just as he started:
They both laughed nervously and stopped.
Sheila," began Darian again, not meeting her gaze, "I . . . What I mean is . . ." He gave an exasperated sigh. "Look, what I'm trying to say is, I acted like an idiot before. I don't know why I did it. I'm not usually so . . . obnoxious. Sorry."
Sheila eyed him warily. "Did Illyria make you say this?"
"No!" He glared at her indignantly. "I'm trying to apologize to you! Are you going to let me or not?"
"Hey, what happened wasn't my fault! You don't have to yell at me!"
To her surprise, Darian only grinned. "Yeah. You're right. I've got an idea. Why don't we just forget the whole thing and pretend we're just meeting for the first time now? Okay?"
"Okay," she said with a smile. "My name is Sheila. What's your's?"
"I'm Darian. Pleased to meet you, Sheila."
"Pleased to meet you, too, Darian."
They solemnly shook hands, then burst out laughing.
"Friends?" the boy asked.
"Friends," agreed Sheila. "Ah . . . why are you staring at my wrist?"
"That bracelet you're wearing--it's moving!"
Sheila glanced down at herself and laughed. "That's just my Mickey Mouse watch."
She had to say Mickey Mouse watch in English, of course, and Darian gave her a blank stare. "Magic," he said at last.
"It's not magic, It's just a way to tell time."
"Tell it what?"
"Very funny. This is a device to let you know what time of the day it is." Assuming, of course, she added to herself, that this world has the same twenty-four-hour day as mine!
"The sun tells you that."
"Suppose it's a cloudy day?"
Darian grinned and shrugged. "You've got a point. But if that--that 'watch' isn't magic, how does it work?"
"You wind this little knob, and gears turn, and--"
"Yes, but how does it work?"
"Well . . ." It dawned on her that she really didn't know; a watch was just one of those things you took for granted. She sighed. "All right. Call it magic."
"Fine!" His grin widened. "You're lucky you found us when you did. When we were stopping for a day, I mean, to give the unicorns a chance to rest. That gives you time to get the feel for riding."
"In only a day . . . ?"
"It shouldn't take longer. They're easier to sit than horses. You'll see."
Darian's voice was so casual. Of course, realized Sheila. This world didn't have any automobiles or subways or anything like that. Everybody here would take horseback riding very much for granted.
"Now ," said Darian cheerfully, "let's see about getting you a unicorn."
Sheila suddenly felt someone watching her, looked up to see Dian staring at her, dark eyes filled with rage . Great! thought Sheila. She's Darian's girlfriend, and now she thinks I'm trying to steal him! Well, she couldn't worry about that right now. "How do you go about getting a unicorn?"
"Well, you don't exactly. You wait until one of them picks you."
What happens if none of them wants me?"
Darian looked at her in dismay. "But they will. They must."
Sheila thought about being left here, in the middle of nowhere, and shuddered. "I hope you're right."
"Here, we're far enough away from camp now. Sit"
"Wait, where are you going?"
"I'll be back, don't worry. Just sit."
"And . . .?"
With a wave of his hand, he hurried off, and Sheila was left all alone. Wondering if this was Darian's idea of a practical joke, she sat. And sat. It was growing really dark now, and chilly, and she was beginning to realize it had been a long time since she had last eaten. She looked at her watch. Just a few minutes more and she was going to give up on the whole thing and--
Something warm and soft brushed her cheek. Sheila yelped, and something large let out a startled "Whuff!" and jumped aside. Then it moved warily forward again, and the girl held her breath. A unicorn! More than that. this was a lovely young unicorn mare, reaching down to sniff delicately at Sheila's face.
"Oh, you beautiful thing!"
The mare seemed to like that. She pushed gently at Sheila's shoulder, then suddenly folded her legs and lay down beside Sheila, resting her head in the girl's lap.
"Oh. You--you've chosen me, haven't you?"
Wonder struck, she stroked the silken coat, and the unicorn gave a faint, contented sigh. Even in the fading light, Sheila could see that the unicorn was a lovely cream-white, with a black mane, tail, and slim, elegant horn. Her big blue eyes were shaded by long white lashes. As the mare got to her feet again, Sheila saw that all four legs were black, too, from hoofs to knees: markings like that were called stockings, she remembered, on horses anyhow.
"Hey, great!" Darian's voice said suddenly. "This is the sister to my own unicorn, Wildwing. Be nice to her, eh?" he told the mare, who whuffled at him.
"Isn't she beautiful, Darian? But what's her name?"
He laughed. "Who knows what unicorns call each other? You'll have to name her yourself. Don't worry, a name will come to you. Now let's get back to camp or we'll miss dinner. Aren't you hungry?"
All at once Sheila remembered just how hungry she was. "Yes!" she said.
The unicorn leaned her head on Sheila's shoulder, almost as though she was saying "Don't go," and Darian grinned. "All right. You too!" he told the mare.
The unicorn nodded her head vigorously and whinnied at them. Darian and Sheila burst into laughter and laughed all the way back to camp.
Finding a place to sleep, Sheila learned, was a simple thing on such a clear night. you merely found a level spot, curled up in your cloak, and closed your eyes. She was tired enough to be glad not to have to move anymore today. But sleep was another matter. For a long time she lay staring up at the night sky. Without any pollution or street lights to interfere there seemed to be more stars than she had ever seen: the sky was blazing with light. It was incredibly beautiful. But something about it wasn't quite right . . .
Oh no! Sheila thought. All at once she knew. Dr. Reit had taught her the constellations, but she didn't recognize any of the star patterns she saw now. The stars blurred as Sheila's eyes filled with the tears she had held back all day. But she was here, however far away "here" was, and she would just have to make the best of it! She wiped her eyes with the corner of her cloak. Besides, she had that lovely unicorn mare to think about.
Have to find her a god name, Sheila thought.
She shut her eyes.
And this time she slept.
Sheila groaned. Was it morning already? It didn't seem possible. but birds were singing loudly, and people were moving about all around her, doing things that seemed to make an awful lot of noise and shouting a lot. Sheila groaned again, reluctant to open her eyes, every muscle aching. She'd been camping before, but there was a big difference between sleeping in a nice down sleeping bag and having only a cloak between you and the ground. The hard, cold, bumpy ground--
A sudden snort made her open her eyes with a start. Something large was standing between her and the brightening sky, and for a moment, heart racing, she thought of fearsome monsters. Then the creature gave a friendly horsy little whicker, and Sheila laughed.
"Oh, it's you."
The unicorn mare snorted again, and Sheila smiled. Beyond the spiral of her horn glinted the last star of early morning.
"Why, that's it! That's your name. Morning Star. Do you like it?"
She giggled as the unicorn tossed her head as if nodding in agreement. Sheila got to her feet, stretching, trying to get her muscles to limber up. After a moment she became aware of eyes on her, and realized that all of the others in the camp were watching her, almost as though she were some kind of exotic animal that might do something dangerous.
Great. they still think I'm a sorceress. And they're scared of magic.
Pelu was sitting nearby, toasting something over a small fire, looking as calm and settled as though she had been awake for hours. "Good morning," Sheila said to her with a determinedly cheerful smile, and was a little relieved to see the young woman return the smile. Pelu, at least, wasn't scared of her. Or not so it showed, anyhow.
"Good morning, Sheila. Come have some breakfast."
"Yes," added Darian, stopping by Pelu's side. "And then, Sheila, you can start learning how to ride."
"And use a bow," Kara joined in.
"And a sword," said Illyria. Sheila looked dismayed. "I told you it wasn't going to be easy, didn't I?"
Sheila stood next to Morning Star, looking up at the unicorn's back. It seemed impossibly far away. "How do I get up there?" she asked Darian plaintively.
The boy gave her a puzzled look. "We found you a spare saddle. What more could you want?"
"Stirrups, for a start!"
"Stirrups?" He echoed the unfamiliar word carefully.
"You know, sort of loops that hang down from the saddle. You put your foot in one to help you climb on, then keep both feet in them while you ride."
"Well . . . to keep you from falling off, for one thing."
Darian shook his head impatiently. "You don't fall off that easily. Look, all you have to do is vault onto a horse's back, and then just sit his gaits. It isn't that difficult."
"Maybe not for you!" muttered Sheila. "All right, here we go."
She took a running start, made a graceful leap--and smacked right into the unicorn's side. Morning Star gave her a reproachful look.
On her second attempt she leaped a little higher--and found herself dangling foolishly half on, half off the unicorn's back.
But he only cheered her on. "That's it! You're getting it."
"Oh, I am, am I?"
She gave a mighty heave, lost her balance, and slid back down to the ground in a heap.
Gritting her teeth in determination, she got to her feet, backed off, gave a mighty leap--and found herself sailing right over Morning Star's back, landing with a thud on her backside. The unicorn turned her head to watch, and Sheila could have sworn she was laughing.
"All right," she said grimly. "One more time."
She leaped. For a moment she was hanging on for dear life--and then she found herself sitting astride Morning Star! Sheila laughed. It was so high up here, but so wonderful! She could feel the warm strength of the unicorn under her, and the long black mane felt like silk in her hands.
"I did it! Hey, Darian, look. I did it!"
"Sure." He grinned at her. "Now you only have to learn to ride."
* * *
By the end of her first lesson, Sheila was so stiff she could barely slide from Morning Star's back.
"But I stayed on," she told the unicorn, hugging the glossy neck. "I stayed on at the walk and the trot and even the canter!"
"So you did," said Kara calmly. "Now let us see if you can handle a bow as well."
"Handle it," said Sheila a little later, when they were standing before a makeshift target made out of some straw tied into a rag. "I can't even draw your bow!"
That actually got a faint smile of of the grim Kara. "I thought you might have trouble. Don't feel bad about it, though: it's an expert's weapon, after all. Pelu can't draw it, either. Let's try something else. Hey, Dian! You and Sheila aren't that far apart in size. Lend her your bow."
Dian glared at Sheila. "Just don't go putting any spells on it," she said.
But Dian had already stalked away.
"All right, Sheila. Pay attention. We don't have any blunt target arrows with us. So we'll have to use the real thing. I don't like the idea, but . . . Come, you hold the bow like this."
The lesson came pretty close to being a disaster. Sheila, who had thought her arm was strong enough, found out that holding a fully drawn bow was very different from throwing a softball to first base. As hard as she tried to keep her arm steady, something always went wrong each time she loosed an arrow. The first one dropped right off the bow. The second shot straight up into the air. the third missed the target altogether and landed in a tree. Kara was very plainly holding in her temper, keeping her voice just a little too calm and quiet. But when the fourth arrow shot off at a wild angel, making the other women dive for cover, the archer shook her head.
"looks like the bow just isn't your weapon," she said with great restraint. "Well, try once more. Carefully, this time!"
Shaking, all Sheila did this time was shoot down the target.
"Give me that!" Dian snatched the bow from her hands, examining it for scratches, then glared at Sheila. "Stick to your spells, sorceress!" she hissed. "You'll never make a warrior!"
That night, too sore and tired to sleep, Sheila silently agreed with her. Oh, Illyria had tested her with the sword, and told her she showed definite promise as a swordswoman, but still . . .
I want to go home! Sheila thought. Dr. Reit, wherever you are, I just want to go home!
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 4: Questions
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
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