I remember very little of my past. I am nothingness, a lost entity. Once, bliss enveloped me as a mother’s embrace shields a child from harm. Now, there are days of emptiness. All I hear is His laughter, hot and cold at once. No one offers me release.
Once, beautiful songs emanated from me in liquid rivers of melody. I was a graceful dancer, my steps flowing and never-ceasing as I cavorted with my brothers and sisters in perpetual rapture.
The incident that changed all occurred when an uninvited guest stole into my mother’s garden. Perhaps, in a way, he was invited. I know that I often wondered what lay beyond my mother’s home. So, am I the one to blame? No one ever answers this question. All around me is silence save the ever-present laugh of derision.
She ran through the wood, her breath escaping in painful gasps. The wood watched her hurried progress, some of the trees bending as if to offer protective shelter. Others did not stir, peering at the fleeing girl with chilling indifference. The girl stumbled but managed not to fall as she pelted through dense undergrowth. Behind her, guttural growls and doom-laden footfalls pursued with lightning swiftness.
Oh, someone, shield me. The plea ran through her mind like a mantra, constantly and never-changing. She dared not call to the goddess of her land, the one whom her uncle revered above all.
Periwinkle? I am here. Do not be afraid.
A gentle voice stole upon her, deep-toned and authoritative. Comfort washed through her, yet she was too frightened to stop her flight. “It’s to the temple with you, girl.” Her uncle’s voice had been matter-of-fact. “I cannot keep you, and the goddess needs servants.” She thought of her best friend, Buttercup, who had gone to the temple, who had lost her life because of her defiance of the goddess’ commands.
As Periwinkle ran, an apple tree caught her attention. The golden fruit upon it shimmered, and a sweet fragrance assailed her nostrils. Periwinkle hurried to the tree, intending to stop just for a moment. A trill of birdsong made her gaze upward. Upon a bough of the beautiful tree, a snow-white wood thrush perched. His melodious notes spilled onto the air in intoxicating songs of joy. Sit here, my child. Eat and be refreshed.
Periwinkle’s legs suddenly became as weak as water, and she knew that she could not run another step. She sank to her knees, gasping with exertion.
Behind her, the guttural growls grew in intensity, and Periwinkle shivered uncontrollably. They will not see you, child. She heard a “snick” sound and felt a round object fall to the ground beside her. A shimmering golden apple. Her mouth began to water, and her stomach growled with hunger. As Periwinkle retrieved the apple from the ground, movement caught her eye. Blinking, she stared as a resplendent animal approached her. There was no denying the kind of animal this was. Periwinkle stared in shock.
She is so beautiful. I am drawn to her as an ordinary mule is drawn to its feed box after a day of arduous toil. Her chestnut hair is bound in a lavender-colored kerchief, yet tendrils have escaped and cascade down her back. Her eyes are a piercing blue, as blue as a still lake. She is frightened. I can tell by her trembling hands and pale skin.
Tentatively, I approach on quivering legs. She will not see what I have become. I know because of her stare. Though she is terrified, she is mesmerized. She sees my dappled coat, my piercing eyes and the shimmering horn that adorns my forehead. My heart pounds. I am frightened, too.
Periwinkle stared in fascination at the approaching unicorn. All the nursery tales she had heard from her mother before the plague that had taken both her parents flashed through her mind. This beast was real and so very beautiful. Shaking, she held out her hand. The wood thrush sang reassuringly. Hold still, child. He is frightened as well. Then, his song seemed to travel beyond her until it directly addressed the unicorn, Fallen One, my lost child, go to her. The song throbbed with compassion.
The unicorn emitted a strange sound, an agonized wail of pain. He tossed his head and stared at the apple tree. His hooves pawed the ground, and he neighed with shrill cries. It was as if great pain had seized this beautiful beast. The wood thrush continued singing, The other girl is safe. She is with me, now. This girl longs to help you.
Periwinkle rose shakily to her feet. She knew if she stepped beyond the shelter of the tree, her pursuers would be upon her. Yet, the unicorn’s distress filled her with sadness. Clutching the golden apple, she approached the trembling creature and held out her hand. “Are you hungry?” The unicorn lowered its head and gently took the apple from her.
Suddenly, a thunderous roar shattered the stillness, and two Black Dogs rushed into view. Their eyes gleamed with brutal light, and their jowls dripped saliva. One of them lunged for Periwinkle’s throat, his growl growing louder. The maiden fell to the ground, her cries of pain fading under a resounding bellow of anger.
I rush into the milieu of growling and screams. One of the dogs lies atop the girl, his mouth inches from her throat. The other pinions her legs to the ground so she cannot move. My horn darts forward, and I attempt to impale each dog. I know who I truly am, and none can stand against me.
The Dogs see my true nature, my enormous frame, my cloven hooves that can pulverize worlds as I run. Yet, my efforts are futile. They do not run from my attack. Just as the yellow-haired girl stood before me on that fateful day, the one who tried to bind me with a glimmering golden halter. She had stopped, jewel-like tears flowing down her cheeks and turned away. “I cannot!” she had cried, “I will not!” I do not know what happened after that, only that she crumpled to the ground before me.
The Black Dogs simply growl, so intent ar they to do the bidding of another. Once again, I try to intervene, yet nothing can be done.
A trill of birdsong, the same song that I heard a moment before, bursts upon the guttural growls. Go! Leave her! The voice is terrible in its anger, yet it is overwhelmingly sad. She is not yours. I remember that same song from long ago, a song that I should know how to sing. Yet, the words do not come. The song had been sung to the yellow-haired maiden on that fateful day as well, a song that brought peace to her even as she lay dying.
The growling stops abruptly, and the Dogs cower in fear. One of them whines. Quickly, they release the girl and turn to run.
Suddenly, that ever-present laughter floods my mind. I whinny in fright. He appears before me, the guest who stole upon me in my mother’s garden. The one who embraced me and promised me beautiful things. “My slave,” his fiery voice seeps into my heart. “So, you look at this girl with longing, do you? Must I remind you of another girl, the one my sister bid bind you? Mortals will only bring you trouble.”
I paw the ground, tossing my head in an attempt to rid myself of that beautiful yet unendurable voice. “This girl who lies before you left her home, escaping from a fate that awaited her. My sister is none too pleased.”
“No, brother.” Another voice steals upon my heart, one that is cold yet oddly kind. It lacks the menace of its male counterpart, and I feel enveloped in a cocoon of comfort. “There is no need to frighten the creature. You are much too brash in your approach.” A hint of amusement fills the voice. “Sweet unicorn, she will be well, but only if you help her. The Black Dogs have wounded her, and she will die an agonizing death. You can make her suffering vanish. Simply finish the Black Dog’s work. She will feel no pain.”
That other voice guffaws. “What foolishness is this, sister? He is mine!”
“Silence, brother,” the icy voice hisses. “Leave us in peace.”
I bend my head over the quivering maiden. She gasps, and I realize that she now sees my true form. Anger, hot and overpowering, surges through me. Will she reject me as well? Always, the incessant screams of puny mortals! Always their running feet as they flee from my presence! I lower my head, preparing to strike. Centuries of bloodshed bursts upon my mind. One more death will hardly—
A form towers over the girl, a glowing man. My horn sinks into his chest, barely inches from his heart. A crimson jet of blood spurts forth, falling onto the girl’s wounds. I watch as the wounds close. The girl sits up, her eyes surveying the man and then turning upon me. I expect to see anger and hatred, yet I can only discern sadness. She reaches out a trembling hand and caresses my head. “I wish I could help you,” she murmurs.
I hear the icy voice cry out in anger. No longer is her tone comforting. “I must have her! She is to serve in my temple!”
The man addresses the voice. “She is not yours, Life-In-Death.” Turning to me, he says, “You needn’t listen to her. I am here to help you. You will be liberated.”
“He lies,” the voice murmurs. “Where was he when my brother came to your home? If he speaks truly, how do you account for all the pain you endure? Trust in me, poor creature. I will be a mother to you, providing for your every need.”
Mother. I murmur the word in my mind, caressing it and clutching it to my heart. I stare for a moment at the majestic man, then turn away and bow my head. What must I do, Great One?
Gentle arms wrap around me, a soft hand caresses my mane. I nicker and lower my head, placing it in a lavender-scented lap. Briefly, a sharp coldness shrouds me, and I feel the bite of a golden halter gently being slid over my neck. “Sometimes, it is best to do things yourself. That fool of a goblin will have what he seeks.” the icy voice is filled with triumph. “You will hardly think to pierce me as you pierced the one who bore you. Is that not so, creature?” Her voice is filled with laughter, the same derisive laughter as her brother’s. I realize what I have done, yet there is no remedy. Then, all is silent.
Periwinkle stood beneath the towering apple tree, her place of servitude. Many people stumbled upon this place, people fleeing the Dark Brother and his Sister. They never stayed long, for this was merely a stopping post on longer journeys. She offered weary travelers apples and counsel. The wood thrush guided her in what to say, and she obeyed his voice.
Hoofbeats pounded in the distance, and a shimmering form approached her, an all-too familiar Fallen One. Periwinkle held out her hand, inviting the tarnished creature to approach. He hesitated, but did not come forward. He simply gazed at her. Words filled her mind. I go to the wilderlands. I must wait for a maiden there.
“Why must you? Won’t you go to the haven that awaits you? My Master will take you there.”
The unicorn tossed his head. I do my master’s bidding, not yours.
He turned away preparing to leave. Periwinkle proffered a golden apple. Her eyes shimmered with tears. The unicorn bent his head and took the gift she offered. Then, pawing the ground, he whinnied in anger. What must I do? The question stabbed into Periwinkle’s mind, making her step backward. His voice was full of such frightening anger and desperation.
A trill of birdsong provided comfort to Periwinkle’s mind, and she listened to her Master’s answer. Gently, she addressed the unicorn, “My Master says you must die.”
After a moment, the unicorn turned and walked away, his cloven hooves barely creating a stir as he tread lightly upon the lush grass. Periwinkle never saw him again.
I do not understand. She still reaches to me, and so does the one she serves. Yet, I am a ruin, a worthless creature. I journey to do my master’s bidding. Perhaps one day I will understand. I will know how to rid myself of this cursed existence. I will journey home.
For a moment, I stare at the maiden who refused to hate me. She need have no fear, for I will not harm her, yet I long to experience what she does. She is special. I turn and walk away. For the first time in a long while, a seedling of peace germinates within me.
Perhaps all will be well.