Written by [Dark Side of the Moon] Copyright 2008, Melanie L. Wood
From beneath his bushy eyebrows the old wizard cast a glaring, rueful look at the little girl sitting across the table from him. She sat in woeful silence, thinking about what punishment she would have to serve this time. The fragmented remains of a delicate beaker swam atop the glowing, smoking orange potion that was now pooling toward the centre of the great stone table. The girl-child gathered the sleeves of her robe and pulled them to her shoulders; but because of the abundance of material they immediately fell to her wrists again. She began to reach across the table to clear up the mess when the wizard suddenly stopped her.
“Now, you know,” he said in his deep, quiet voice while rubbing his forehead, “that you can only touch that if the unicorn is present.” Her trembling hands quickly withdrew. She swallowed hard from nervousness. “Go and call him. Remember that he has to lay his horn to it first. When you’ve cleaned up this mess come to the parlour so I may speak to you.” The wizard arose and left the room.
“Yes, sir,” she answered softly to his departing back. The child slipped from the big wooden chair. She padded over the floor to the open door that led to the balcony. She wished, not for the first time, that she would grow wings and fly away into the night sky and get lost among the sparkling stars. Her hands gripped the marble railing as she gazed up at the heavens. A quiver of fright ran through her. She was afraid of the unicorn. He didn’t have a name so she never really knew how to call for him. Sometimes he appeared behind her without warning. Other times she saw him cantering across the firmament, weaving his way over, behind and under the stars. He never spoke. Perhaps his silence made her fear him. On top of this there was the burning guilt that she had yet again botched a simple potion that would turn a person into a toad. The wizard had frowned deeply while shaking his head. His response repeated itself over and over in her small head: “If you can’t mix an easy potion how can you ever expect to learn to cast spells?” She sighed deeply as she raised her tiny hands toward the black sky.
“I’ve failed again,” she implored to the night.
A small flash of light sparked in the dark gardens below. She looked down. There came a spectral figure from the lush hedges. The girl knew right away that it was the white lion-like unicorn. The bushy mane surrounded him and flowed to the ground. His long gently curved horn glimmered like silver fire in the blue moonlight. He stopped below the balcony to gaze up at her while his whip tail swished side to side. With one smooth, flawless leap he gained the tier. He did not move to the room as he usually did. This time he paused to study the child that now stood humbly before him. His eyes sparkled like amethysts from under the wisps of mane that fell over them. She could feel the warm breath flowing in and out of his goat-like nostrils.
“It’s in there,” the child said shyly. The unicorn cocked his head to one side. In the dim candlelight of the room she fancied that she saw a faint smile cross his black lips. He moved past her into the laboratory. His narrow paws barely touched the floor as he walked. When he approached the table he twisted his head around until the point of his curved horn touched the surface of the potion. The changing property of the liquid was abolished. It was now safe for her to handle. She came near him cautiously.
“Thank you again. I know that I will learn some day.”
The unicorn shook his mane. She watched him leave the room and leap forward into the sky. Away he galloped until he disappeared behind a tiny green planet.
Dawn drew near. The little girl climbed into bed for the day, hoping that she would be able to sleep despite the guilt of disappointing the old wizard again. His words to her were not as harsh as she had expected them to be, nor the punishment so severe. She lay on the mattress facing the window, watching the red sun peek over the horizon. The birds began to twitter and pipe outside. Usually the sound lulled her to sleep; instead it kept her awake. Higher rose the sun, brighter grew the light and still the child did not feel drowsy. At last the sunlight was so intense that she squeezed her eyes shut. A shadow dimmed the rays. She opened her eyes to see what it was. The unicorn stood before her.
“Come with me, child,” he said gently.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked.
“Climb onto my back and you will see.”
The girl easily got onto the unicorn’s back by standing on the bed. She grasped a bit of his mane into each hand. He smelled beautiful, like day lilies after a spring rain. Up he leapt into the blue morning sky, galloping straight for the sun. To her own surprise the little girl was not at all afraid of him and even less afraid of flying high into the air. She smiled with thrilled delight. The world spun away under them until the wizard’s castle was no more than speck in the distance behind. Farmer’s fields spread out below like a patchwork quilt. They climbed even higher into the heavens, passing the height of the clouds, until the colours of the field quilt gathered into one and finally disappeared. Still higher they went. The surrounding sky became black and littered with stars. Now she looked back and saw her blue world growing slowly smaller. On and on they flew, drawing ever nearer to the sun. Somehow she was able to look directly at it without harming her eyes. A comet was passing by. The unicorn galloped the length of its long tail while sparks whizzed about them. The little girl caught a few in her hand and stuffed them into her pocket.
At last, after what seemed only an hour they came to the sun. The unicorn sped over the scorching surface. Suddenly he plunged toward it. They fell through the brilliant plasmatic aura like a blazing meteor, diving down in a fiery descent to the radiant world below it. The girl was dumbstruck at what she saw. As they fell she saw castles and great cities shining like the brightest burnished gold. Even the smallest houses glimmered as though made of silver. And the light did not come from overhead like it did in her world. It came from below, from the ground, so that when you stood upon it you stood upon light. The unicorn slowed to a canter and continued on. An object came into the girl’s view. At first she thought it to be a large mountain made of gold. Yet as they drew closer to it she was able to distinguish spires and turrets. In the midst of these stood a great tower capped in pearl and surrounded by many smaller towers. This was not a mountain at all – it was a castle, an immense, magnificent castle, so large that it was itself an entire city.
“Welcome to my home,” said the unicorn. He pranced to the great tower and entered an open door with no balcony. No one but he could enter that door nor could any but he exit by that way lest they should fall. Within the tower was a vast, magnificent throne room. In the very centre sat a large cushion draped with deep red velvet. An angel of gold stood at each of the four corners of the cushion. Their wings outstretched so that their wingtips touched each other’s. This was the unicorn’s throne. Strange creatures stood all around the room. Each one was robed in white. The little girl had never seen such beasts before. Some had human bodies with animal legs; some had animal bodies with human legs. The unicorn lay down to let the girl dismount.
“Come sit beside me,” he said. He lay down on the velvet and settled himself comfortably. The little girl took a place next to him. She saw that he smiled at her. She couldn’t help but return it. It was nice to be beside him. “Ask me anything, child.”
“Whatever you want to know. It is why I’ve brought you here.”
She thought for a moment. “Why is the sky blue?”
The creatures in the white robes chuckled softly amongst themselves. Even the unicorn gave a quiet laugh. “Because I have made it so.”
The girl nodded. There was a long pause while she thought of another question. She tried to think of something very hard but there was only one question that remained constant and nagging in her small brain.
“Why do I fail at magic so often? Don’t you get very tired of coming down to sweeten the potions before I can touch them to clean them up?”
The unicorn’s face grew serious. “No, child, it does not tire me. That is when you need me the most. That is what I desire above anything else – for you to need me. And you will fail at magic many times before you truly learn it.” He studied her for a moment. “Have you ever seen a man read aloud from a spell-book and then say that he is a wizard? Does reading from that book make him one if the spells do not work for him? No, certainly. He must put them into practise before he can truly call himself a wizard. And that is what you are doing my dear. You are putting the spells and potions into practise and by practising you will become better and better at it. You are truly my little wizardess.”
“I don’t feel like one though,” she said glumly.
“Feeling like one and being one are two different things, dear girl. One relies on fickle emotion the other relies on action. There is but one thing that you do not understand yet. Once you understand it you will succeed at casting spells.”
She looked at him with her bright blue eyes. “What is it?”
“The knowledge that you must believe as children do in order to make the spells work. When you look at your mentor you see him as an aged and complicated man casting his charms while you try to work up to his level. But it is not so with him. The spells work for him so easily because he believes so simply. There is nothing difficult in them. I wrote the spells. He just believes that what I wrote will work. Until you realise this you will continue to have disappointments. But have courage little one because these setbacks are but rungs on a ladder for you to climb on your way to perfection. With each letdown you learn a little more about simple belief.”
“Why am I always punished for it though? The wizard makes me do tasks when I’ve failed at something.”
The unicorn laughed gently. “You call it punishment. I call it learning.”
For a long time the girl said nothing. On a nearby pedestal there sat a small glass orb. She picked it up carefully and held it between her two hands. Her eyes closed. A moment later she pulled her hands slowly apart. The orb floated between them. She opened her eyes to see it. A satisfied smile crept across her pink lips. She took the orb into her hands and set it onto the pedestal.
“You see, my daughter?” smiled the unicorn. “It only takes simple belief.”
“I have so much to learn,” she sighed. “I still have to learn more mixing of potions, spells, herb lore, animal lore, histories…it makes my head spin.”
“You have a lot of time to learn these things, my dear darling daughter,” he replied softly. “And you will always have me to help you just as I help all wizards. But come, you are tired. Lie here beside me and sleep.”
She curled up next to his side and snuggled into his warm fur, yawning wide. Yes, she was tired. It would be nice to get some sleep. Just as she was about to close her eyes she asked another question.
“Who are they in the white robes?”
He breathed into her face. A sweet scent lingered all around her. She could feel herself starting to drowse.
“These are the wizards that once lived in your world. They were faithful to me and did not try to pervert my spells.”
“Why do they look the way they do?” she asked.
“You know that there are human wizards and animal wizards. The human wizards have animal legs because they conquered their baser instincts to pervert my spells. The animal wizards have human legs because they overcame the desire to be lords in their own eyes and the desire to reign over the humans by twisting my magic to their will."
Though these things seemed strange to the little girl she did not question them. The girl started to drowse again.
“Don’t worry for anything, my dearest darling daughter,” the unicorn whispered. “You shall overcome also for I am with you in all things, great and small, good and bad, success and failure. I will never leave you. I will never leave you…never…”
The even breathing of the unicorn finally lulled her into a sweet sleep. After a time she opened her eyes again. All was very dark. Night had come to the old wizard’s castle again. She sat up, feeling puzzled, unsure of where she was. A small light flared in her room and rested.
“Ah, you’re awake, child,” said a pleasant voice. The scent of sulphur wafted through the chamber. The old wizard had lit a candle. “I didn’t think you would come round. You seemed to have been sleeping rather heavily.”
The little girl reached over to her nightstand and picked up the candle that sat there. She blew lightly over the wick. It immediately lit into flame.
“Grandfather,” said the child as she set the candle down again, “I’ve been to the unicorn’s castle on the sun.”
His face was orange in the dim firelight. A look of grave surprise swept over his countenance. “No child, you must have dreamt it. No one can go there.”
“But I did. I rode upon his back.” She reached into her pocket. “Look.” Dust from the comet glittered in her hand. “He galloped down the tail of a comet and I caught these.”
The corners of his mouth twitched. He sat down on the bed next to the little girl and pulled a small phial from his robes. Sparks whirled round inside of it, lighting the room with a white glow.
“I caught these when I was your age,” he said quietly. “And on the sun I saw a great golden tower with a pearlescent roof. The tower had a door that no one could enter and that no one could leave – no one but the unicorn. What did you ask him?”
“I asked him why I fail so much,” she said sadly.
“And what did he say?”
“He said that I have to believe the magic like a child.”
“Do you believe what he told you?” asked the wizard.
“Yes.” She tossed the comet dust into the air and spread her arms apart. “Fly,” she commanded it. Suddenly all of the sparks zipped about the room like tiny fireflies. “I know that I will someday learn the harder spells but not just yet. After all,” she grasped one of the sparks as it flew past, “I’m still learning.” She blew into her fist, intent on turning the speck into a flower. Instead it turned into a tiny, loudly giggling clown. “Oops,” she said.
The wizard smiled at her. He opened his phial and released more dust into the air. With a wave of his hand he sent it spinning about with the other particles.
“Don’t worry, daughter,” he said. “You will learn.”
He gathered the little girl into his arms and set her down on his lap. He smelled nicely of sweet pipe tobacco and herbs. As the comet dust continued to fly around them and the tiny clown continued to giggle, the old wizard took the girl's face into his hands and kissed her forehead. Outside on the balcony, the unicorn gazed in through the open veranda doors and smiled.
Word count = 2794 words