Stacy and Tanya squeal like little girls as they walk into the village of Spring Valley, which sits three days East of their village. Behind them, the horse-drawn wagon steadily moves forward being led by Tanya’s father and filled with their supplies and sleeping bags that they used along the way on their trip. Three other men from their village trail behind the wagon as they walk towards the inn to get a room for a few nights. The horses that are hitched to the wagon as well as the ones that they rode on and off during the journey, paw at the ground and neigh while they let their humans lead them through the streets.
Tanya is worried that she will be cutting it close with getting the tasks for Morlock finished but she knew that she had to try and not act like she is in a hurry. She is tired of lying to her parents but again she doesn’t want anything to happen to them so she must play the game and do what she can to keep anyone from asking too many questions until she broke down and told them all the truth. She can feel the heaviness of the special dagger that Morlock has given her to use on this next task in her bag. She shifts the traveling bag, trying to get it to move a bit so that it doesn’t feel so heavy but she can’t stop the heaviness she feels in her heart. Even though she is laughing, her heart and mind are sad because she doesn’t want to kill a unicorn. She has loved seeing the creatures roam free whenever they visited her meadow in the Spring and especially when she sees them walking in the distance with babies trailing behind them. But they haven’t returned in nearly four years so she has to travel here in order to find a herd of unicorns.
Tanya and Stacy head off after telling her father that they want to go look around before they have dinner and get to bed. Her father lets them go as he and the others go to the stables in order to unhitch the wagon and let their horses rest. They pay the stable boy to feed and water their horses before they walk back to the inn in order to pay for their rooms, carrying their bags and hand-made fishing poles. The men go to the rooms and stay inside, tired from the long journey. They joke that they had no energy because the young girls have taken their energy. They sit outside their rooms, watching as the sun begins to set, talking about their plans for the fishing early the next morning while the girls do their shopping.
Tanya and Stacy join them before the sun goes any lower in the sky and go into the room that they will be sharing with one another. They unpack a little then join the men, the group heading into the tavern that is across the street from the inn in order to have a quick supper of mead for the men, milk for the girls, soup, and bread. They talk with the locals, listening to their stories, and getting to know the others in the tavern. The men start talking about their own village and the conversation went on quite late to Tanya’s horror.
Finally, they troop back to the inn, exhausted and ready to get to bed. Tanya and Stacy say their goodnights to Tanya’s father and the other men, Stan, Ezekiel, and Ethan. Stacy climbs into the bed after getting ready and lays down, groaning at how tired her feet are now that she is relaxed. Tanya laughs and agrees, climbing into bed next to her. She closes her eyes, not being able to keep them open any longer and decides that she should rest and finish the task tomorrow night. She isn’t ready mentally yet for what she has to do and maybe a good night’s sleep will help her prepare better. She can sense the knife that Morlock had given her buzzing in the bag as if knowing that she isn’t doing what she should be doing. It is almost like Morlock is in the room right now, glaring at her and urging her to do the task but exhaustion wins over magic.
The next day spins in a whirl as Tanya enjoys herself exploring the village with Stacy, meeting other young girls who show them their favorite shops, and going for hikes on a few of the trails that the locals tell them are the best. But once night begins to approach, her heart drops and she has to pretend to be still having fun. She knew that she could no longer put the task off so that night she would do what she really came to do; to kill a unicorn and take its horn. In her heart, she really didn’t want to have to murder a living thing and she knew that it was selfish of her to do so just to break a curse she can easily break by telling Morlock she will marry him, but she could not bring herself to marry the man. She has to ready herself for taking the creature’s life as she and Stacy get ready for dinner with the men and ready herself to listen to the stories that she knows will be fabricated.
Dinner was slow but delicious at the tavern across the road from the inn once again. As she predicted, the men began to tell tall tales about their fishing trips, telling the girls how the big one got away and that each one had been the one who caught it but it broke their line. Stacy and Tanya look at one another, roll their eyes, and groan inwardly as they listen to the men argue about who had the biggest fish that had swum away. Though she knew that the men have a lot of fish that they will be taking home, she knew the stories like the back of her hand about the one that got away and that she will have to groan through the stories again when her father tells her mother the story. Once dinner has concluded, Stacy and Tanya return to their room to get ready for bed. After Stacy has fallen asleep a couple of hours later, Tanya slips out of the bed as softly as she can so that she doesn’t disturb her friend and grabs her black dress, cloaks, and boots she has stored in a dark corner that Stacy hadn’t noticed. In seconds, she is standing outside of the room in the star-lit night, the sounds of a sleeping town deafening to her ears.
Tanya slings her travel bag over her shoulder and pulls out the map so she can see where she has to be, her fingers shaking as they hit the blade she has to use on the unicorn. She finds the spot where the unicorns play in the moonlight in an open field a few miles from the town and walks quietly out of town. She still doesn’t have a plan on what she will do in order to kill the unicorn but she still knew she had to go through with it. It is task number 5 and that means she has two more to do to get this cruse lifted off of her before she can save her family and friends. She needs to figure out how to get out of the last task because she will in no way harm Mark.
As she nears the field, she can hear the sounds of pounding hooves and the neighing of the unicorns as they dance and play. She stops just at the edge, seeing a group of baby unicorns trots past a few feet from her, throwing their heads around and neighing as their manes sway in the moonlight. Their parents stand around as if they are conversing with one another while their children play just like humans do and she can’t help but just watch them. Her hand slips inside her bag and her fingers grow numb as soon as her fingers find the hilt. She drops to her knees, letting out a small cry as she watches the unicorns. How can she kill any of them? They are so beautiful, and her favorite animal. But she has to kill one for its horn in order to stop Morlock’s curse from killing her. She pulls the knife out of her bag and gazes down at it, tears dropping down onto the blade with a small sound that seemed to echo across the field. Tanya closes her eyes and lets the blade fall in the high grass at her knees before wrapping her arms around herself and rocks back and forth in frustration. She couldn’t go through with the task. Maybe it would be better if she were to just let the curse kill her.
She lifts her head, brushing back her hair, having forgotten to tie it back for the occasion, and gasps, her breath catching in her throat. Standing in front of her is the whole herd of unicorns, their eyes solemn as they watch the crying maiden. She wipes the tears away from her face and stands quickly, her foot hitting the dagger. The unicorns look down to see the dagger then look back up at her, glaring at her as if they knew why she was there.
She raises her hands and shakes her head, “Don’t worry, I can’t go through with it. I…I will just…pass away somewhere quietly.” To prove that she has no intention of harming them, she kicks the dagger a few feet away from her, the grass bending as it rolls over it. She sits back down, feeling defeated, and wraps her arms around her knees, bringing them close to her chest. “I love watching your little ones play. It made my heart sing and wishing that I could run and play too, but I know that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.” She laughs a little before she stands up, grabbing her bag. She then looks for the dagger so that she can return it to Morlock and tell him that she can’t murder the unicorns. She knows that she is signing over her life to death but she will not cause them their deaths too early.
The unicorns watch her for a moment before they bend their heads closer to stare into her eyes. One, an elder of the group, steps forward and presses his horn to her forehead. Tanya gasps as she feels a warmth flowing through her body and words form in her mind as the elder gazes into her eyes. “Child, what has happened to you?”
Tanya takes in a shaky breath and watches as the other unicorns move closer so that they can hear the story. She tells them everything from the promise between two kids up to the two curses placed on herself and her family and her town by Morlock. She then tells them about the tasks that she still has to perform and the ones that she already has performed. She also tells them about the witch helping her and about the phoenix and how she couldn’t do anything except being attacked by the bird as she ripped a few feathers out of the bird’s back feathers. The elder only nods slightly, not breaking the connection with Tanya, his eyes growing sad as he listens to her tale. She tells them how she will not harm them and will tell Morlock to just end her because she will not marry him.
The elder unicorn shakes his head, “You will finish the tasks. The next will be tough but we will help you with your unicorn task. You see we have had one of our elders passed yesterday. Yes even, unicorns pass on. So, take your dagger, cut the horn off, and take it to Morlock. We are here celebrating her life; she is my mate. She was an amazing unicorn and I know that she will want you to live, not give up and let yourself die at the hands of this crazy wizard. I wish that we could break the curses but our magic is not strong enough to break them. We are truly sorry.”
Tanya blinks back more tears as she breaks the connection, stepping back in awe, “You…you all would do that for me?”
The unicorns, young and old, nod their heads and step back so that she can pass to where there is the body of a unicorn under one of the trees at the edge of the field. “Thank you, all of you. I will try my best with the next task though stealing an egg from a dragon will surely mean death in its own means but I will try. For your mate, for my family, for the man I love, and for myself.” She takes the dagger out of her bag once more and with a heavy heart, she walks over to the dead unicorn and cuts off the horn. The dagger sliced through the horn like a knife through butter. She stares down at the blade, seeing how clean and shiny it is and instantly knowing that Morlock will not believe that she hadn’t killed the unicorn.
She turns around to see a few of the younger unicorns behind her. Without a word, they each step forward and cause her to drop the dagger. Once it hits the ground, one unicorn uses his magic to lift the dagger and gently stab the three others around him, splattering their blood onto the dagger. He then floats it into her bag and lowers his head, moving forward, running his horn against her side, drawing blood. She jumps backward then stops, seeing that they are once again helping her by making it look as if she had a fight with a unicorn before killing it and taking its horn. She thanks them again then turns back to the body and even though she knows it will take all night, she helps the unicorns bury one of their own.
She returns early in the morning, sweaty, dirty, and bloody, her dress needing to be mended again. She groans as she slips inside the darkroom, stripping off the clothes and stashing them into the bottom of the traveling bag, wrapping the horn and dagger inside of it. She ignores the bed that is calling for her and goes out with clean nightclothes, as well as with the special cloth and cream from her new witch friend in hand. She moves silently down the hall to the washroom and begins to wash away the dirt, grime, and blood. Once her body is clean, she looks down at her new wounds and groans, her body growing with more scars. She shakes her head as she gently rubs the cream onto the wounds, hissing in pain as the herbs began to clean the wound and gently begin to heal them. She then presses the cloth to them, the cloth sticking to them without the need for any sort of adhesives.
Tanya returns to their room, feeling exhausted, and slips back into the bed, praying that she gets a few hours of sleep before they have to pack and begin to travel home. As soon as her eyes close, she can see herself in the field with the unicorns again. She is running around, playing, and laughing with the unicorns. In her dream, Stacy and Lennie join in the fun while Mark, Sid, and Dan stand off to the side, watching and enjoying the sight. Her mother and father enter the field next talking with her witch friend, Lilly. Tanya waves to them before she takes off running again, chasing the baby unicorns in glee. She looks back to see her parents, Lilly, Mark, Dan, Sid, Stacy, and Lennie all vanish. The sky grows dark and the unicorns run off, screaming in fear. Tanya stops running as the wind picks up, her hair flying around her face as she tries to find out what has caused the change. Her eyes watch a dark figure walking into the field and she instantly knows who it is, Morlock. He lifts his head, his eyes no longer the color she remembers but a crimson red she has never seen before, and his smile turns her blood cold.
Tanya wakes up, scared, her hearts pounding in her chest, and she looks around to see that she is in the room alone. Stacy isn’t in the bed beside her and she can tell that the sun is just above the horizon, the birds have been up for a couple of hours chirping noisily away. She shoves the sheets back and steps out of bed, feeling as gross as she had last night since she is once again sweaty. She pulls out her traveling clothes and exits the room, heading for the washroom again. Along the way, she meets Stacy who was in the washroom getting ready to travel back home. They smile at one another and say good morning before they go their separate ways. Tanya’s eyebrows wrinkle and she turns to look back at Stacy, noticing that she is different, that she seems to be bothered by something. She closes the door and washes up quickly before returning to the room in order to finish packing. She steps inside to see Stacy has already packed and is sitting on the bed, waiting for her it seems.
Tanya gets busy packing then stops and turns to face her friend, “Are you all right, Stacy?”
“I woke up last night to use the washroom and you weren’t in bed. What happened to you last night?” Stacy asks, eyeing her friend.
Tanya sighs, “I was outside seeing the stars. I mean yes I know that they are the same ones we see above our village but for some reason, they seem brighter here.” She sits down, “And I heard that there are unicorns somewhere around here but I couldn’t find them.” She makes a sad face at her friend. “I was going to surprise you with seeing them after I had found them but I couldn’t discover them anywhere. I kind of wish we were staying another night then you and I could both go search for them together.”
Stacy’s jaw drops, “Unicorns? No way! And yes, you should have woken me up last night so we could have gone out looking together.” She pouts as she watches Tanya get back up to finish packing for their three-day trip home.
Tanya nods, “I know but I was so sure that I could find them by myself. And then I would came back and woke you up, tricking you into following me somehow without giving it away, and then we could have watched the unicorns for a while. But now I am exhausted and have no idea how I am going to make it walking back.” She chuckles as her friend makes a face at her.
“Well that is your fault now isn’t it?” Stacy teases her then hops off of the bed, satisfied by her friend’s response and helps Tanya finish packing.
The girls head out of their room, returning the key to the master of the inn and meets the other men by the wagon that one of them had fetched with the horses early that morning. Stacy and Tanya pack their things into the back of the wagon before they climb in for the long ride home. They eat a small breakfast of figs and cheese while the men ride their horses and Tanya’s father drives the wagon. Stacy and Tanya watch as their new town friends wave goodbye as the wagon sway to and fro with each step of their horses. They wave back as well then pulls out their bags of goodies and look them over again to make sure that they had bought what they had wanted for their clothes projects. They tell each other their plans for the clothes they wish to make when they get home, making plans to meet up with Lennie the day after they get back and begin to make their clothes.
Tanya then thinks quietly to herself as she packs up her finds, ‘And the day after I have to disappear and get that dragon egg.’