Return to Stories Menu

by Destrier

Way, way back, before Time had really got a hold of things, the world was one huge garden. Eden, the Humans called it. The Unicorns called it "Shamagin" - the place where there is water, after the sacred spring from which all life had emerged: the spring that had burst forth where the first Unicorn touched his horn to the then-barren earth.

"Garden" was the only word for the world then. No death, no pain. All creatures lived in accord: all spoke the same language. There was duration: day followed night followed day, but no ageing. Time was still feeling its way around then, and it had just about worked out how to stop everything from happening at once, and hadn't invented more subtle effects like Entropy, Deat, Decay. It was, truly, paradise.

There were a few things missing though. Of course, what you don't know about, you're hardly in a position to notice, but a traveller from today might, after a while, notice a few absenses. No Cats. No Dogs. No Horses. Lions, yes; Wolves, yes; Deer, yes; all these had struggled wetly forth from the frothing river of life that had sprung from Asallam's horn. But there were other creatures whose genesis sprang from stranger roots.

There stood a Man: a Human male. Let us call him Alpha, for reasons that will become apparent. His actual name is lost in Time (or at least Duration). Alpha stood on a slight rise, gazing out across a gentle valley, comfortingly cloaked in open woodland, laced with gentle streams and still pools, accented at one end by a proud cateract of white water that spilled from a high ledge. Deer grazed here and there, sometimes in groups of friends but not yet needing the safety of a herd.

In the meadow of springy turf that carpeted the valley floor played a group of five Humans and two Unicorns, chasing an animated globe of spellfire that one of the Unicorns had created. The ball of rainbow light dodged this way and that as the group attempted to catch it, and their delighted cries and yells floated up to Alpha's ears. In that bright time, Humans were a fairer race: tall, slender, elfin perhaps. Alpha's eyes did not follow them though, even though one of the women was quite special to him. His eyes lay on the Unicorns.

Even in a world of perfection, the Unicorns somehow shone through it, brighter still. Maybe it was because their race was older than the world they lived on, lending them a literally unearthly beauty.

Alpha gazed hungrily at the young male, a powerfully built Karkadam male, and the ethereal grace of the deer-like female Avarim. There were seven Unicorn Houses now, though Alpha knew the Unicorns hated to be defined, constrained even through words, and an individual would sometimes slip into a subtly different guise: change Houses. Tayana, the first House, were rare even in Eden, perhaps fortunately so. Their beauty was so bright it burnt the soul. Alpha had glimpsed one once and cried for days.

It was perhaps that moment that had crystalised the unique desire in him that now prevented him from enjoying paradise.

A soft, warm breath touched his shoulder. Alpha closed his eyes and marveled how such a large creature could move so silently.

"You are unhappy again," Starfall said. The golden-horned Unicorn (an Issilda, destined to become the most common image of a unicorn), looked concerned. Alpha carefully avoided the creature's eyes: Unicorn eyes are deep enough to drown in.

"What's wrong?" persisted the Unicorn. "I felt your thoughts five leagues away. In all the world there is no unhappiness like yours. I would help if I can."

"You can't," Alpha sighed. Facing his friend full on, his eyes traced the Unicorn's outline; the slender yet powerful legs, the cleft hooves with their delicate skirts of silken hair; the long fall of plumed tail and flying mane that flew on the slightest breeze yet never tangled or impeded; the graceful curves of body and proud arch of neck, and the noble, gentle face.

"If not I then surely someone," said Starfall. "How will we know if you keep it to yourself?"

"It's... stupid," Alpha said. "Forget it."

"I cannot. You are my friend for one thing. For another, your mind cries in misery and it's a hard thing for one such as I to ignore."

Alpha ground his teeth. Starfall knew perfectly well he didn't want to talk about it. Knew too, that little good would come of Alpha squirreling his thoughts away and brooding on them. Alpha knew this too, and being read so well annoyed him.

"All right then. I want to be like you," he snapped.

"Well, and are we so very different, you and I?"

"That isn't what I mean and you know it!"

The Unicorn gazed at him levely and Alpha felt the penetrating eyes until he was forced to meet them, losing himself in their amaranthine depths. "Then stop evading me and say it," Starfall said gently.

"I want to be a Unicorn," Alpha whispered.

Starfall took a step forward, allowing Alpha to collapse bonelessly against his neck. He placed his great head over Alpha's shoulder and held him, hugging him with his chin. Alpha had, the Unicorn knew, been bottling this up for some time, and the release, enhanced by Starfall's own aura, was a little overwhelming. Starfall offered the Human what comfort he could, drawing Alpha's frustration into himself.

So you are the first, the Unicorn thought. The first to be disatisfied with what you have: what you are. How many millions more will follow you I wonder, and can we even blame you, we who are happy with what we have?

Aloud he said softly, "That is beyond my power."

Alpha said into Starfall's downy neck, "I know."

"Perhaps Asallam might be able to do it."

Alpha looked up.

"After all, after creating a whole world, how difficult can a single Man's problems be?"

Asallam was not hard to find. Time was not the only quality still finding its legs: Space was still a fairly flexible entity, and if you wanted to find something, it was usually only a few minutes away, however you might travel.

Asallam was a Karkadam. He was big: the largest of all unicorns, and his body rippled with barely contained power. His horn was not only spiraled but curled, and when he moved his magnificent head, phantom fire glimmered along the helical length of the alicorn. Asallam had been the tool of the Creator when the world was formed, and that colossal power still hung poised at the tip of his horn.

Alpha was awed to be in the Unicorn's presence, and even Starfall, old enough to be known as an Elder, felt like a mere colt in comparison. Starfall was merely a Unicorn. Asallam was the Unicorn. He listened gravely, while Alpha stammered over his request.

"Why do you want to be a Unicorn?" Asallam asked in a surprisingly soft voice.

Alpha gave him a helpless look, unable to articulate the longing he felt whenever he saw a Unicorn. How to you express the desire to be something else? When you can see that creature and envy every move, every sensation; almost imagine how it must be, but always fall short. When you feel jealous of the people that are so happy with the shape they are born to? He just knew he wanted to be a Unicorn: that he was unhappy being Human. How could he put that across?

Asallam gave a snort of wry amusement. "You did very well actually."

Alpha started, coming out of his revery to find he had lost himself in the Unicorn's eyes. Unicorns aren't precisely telepathic: it was more like they could see souls directly.

"What you ask is difficult," said the Eldest Unicorn finally, meeting Alpha’s look of hope. "I cannot make you a Unicorn." Alpha’s face fell. "Part of that magic must come from within and you do not -quite- have what it takes to be a unicorn. But this goes beyond that. The Creator did not intend for us to be disatisfied with the shapes we were born to."

"Did not intend?" Alpha burst out. "But I am disatisfied! It does not matter if He did not intend it!" He hung his head. "What am I to do? This is no casual wish. Every time I see one of you it wounds me! I don’t want to be a Man!"

Asallam hesitated. "There is another path you might consider. It’s not an easy path, and I must levy a stern pledge from you. You were born a Man with a Man’s destiny. You cannot foresake that, therefore if I change you, you must still be a part of Human destiny. I cannot imbue you with the powers that would make you a Unicorn, but if you will forego that which makes us magic, I will make of you a new creature, like us but not quite us. A faint reflection perhaps, but closer to us than you are now."

"If I remain a Man, I will remain forever unhappy," Alpha said. "I will take your offer."

"It is not made lightly," Asallam warned. "Whatever I make of you, you will be for all time."

"I accept that condition," Alpha said. "You have warned me. I am content."

"Then prepare yourself," Asallam said.

The Unicorn reared high, arching his neck and thrusting at the air with the spiralled alicorn upon his brow. The horn glowed and flashed, seeming to draw faint lightning from the air in a plethora of rainbow hues. Then, with a surge of Power, the harnessed magic leapt forth and became a glowing, shimmering sphere, taller than a man.

"If your heart is truly set on this, step into the light," Asallam said. His voice was tense, and the effort of sustaining the magic showed as a faint tremour across his perfect skin.

Alpha looked at the light, and hesitated. He threw a glance at Starfall, watching with wide, dark eyes.

"Your choice," said the younger Unicorn.

Alpha nodded to his friend and stepped forward.

The bubble of light parted to admit him and then closed again. It spilled around him like a liquid, and he felt himself changing. It was a gentle, soothing sensation, as the Unicorn’s magic coaxed his body into a new configuration. He was softly turned and set upon all fours, and his hands reset to tread the ground. Strength flowed into him and fired his limbs; filled out his body; raised his lengthening neck in a proud arch.

The magic parted, leaving the first Horse standing trembling between the two Unicorns. In form, it strongly resembled Starfall, but no horn ascended from its brow: there was only a star of white fur. Where Starfall’s hooves were cloven, this animal’s hooves were solid. Starfall was a blazing white in colour, but this creature was golden as the rising sun, with a creamy mane and tail.

"Hear me," Asallam said. "For the present the world is yours as it is all creatures’. But when the time comes, and it will, you will follow the race you were born to. You will give them your strength and your speed and you will often get little in return. This is your destiny, and that of your children, and their children down through time. Do you accept this?"

The Horse reared and gave a high, silvery cry that echoed down the valley. "I do!" In that movement, you could clearly see the reflection of Unicorns.

"Then that shape is now yours," said Asallam, "And I name you Equus." which in that time meant strength through beauty.

Equus bowed his golden head between his slender forelegs and turned to Starfall who nodded approval.

"I wonder," said the Unicorn, "If those legs are as good as the originals." He lifted one foreleg by way of illustration.

"I think there is only one way to find out," Equus replied gravely.

Starfall said, "There is a Willow at the far end of the valley."

Equus nodded. "That will do very nicely."

And in a whirl of bright flanks and long legs the two friends were away, racing each other across the valley meadow in a thunder of hooves.

Asallam watched them go and shook his head indulgently. There would be others, he knew. More Horses, and other forms. The Creator had predicted this, and predicted the descent of Humankind in which such creatures would play a critical role in slowing that downward spiral. A battle fought on countless fronts, with countless casualties, but as many victories.

Starfall flashed past the willow first - no creature is quite so fast as a Unicorn - but Equus was hard on his heels. Asallam nodded in contentment as the two friends rounded on each other in play, bucking and leaping in the sheer joy of being.

Which in that place, in that time, was as it should be.

The End