Just before dawn, Flern awoke to the sound of a soft honk and the poking of a beak. She tried to brush it off but sat up straight and quick when she realized it was not a dream. The swan quickly waddled away, and it seemed a very pronounced waddle, Flern thought. Flern stood and glanced at the other sleepers. Laurel had gotten up and gone off somewhere, and Moriah sat up, but the others were still out for the night. Flern had to squint to see the swan in the gray light, but she felt sure the bird wanted to be followed, and she had no qualms about doing so. This swan, assuming the same swan all along, had saved Wlvn’s life more than once.
“I’ll be back.” Flern told Moriah, even as Laurel trotted up with a rabbit in her hands.
“Where is she going?” Laurel asked. Moriah shrugged, and they went about waking the others.
Flern made no effort to hide her trail, not that she knew how to do that, so she knew the others would not be far behind; but in the meantime, she could not resist seeing what the swan wanted to show her. She found it, even as the light turned from gray to misty white. A unicorn had gotten trapped in a man-made, or something-made trap, and struggled to get free. Flern looked around for the trapper, but no one could be seen, and she assumed that the swan had flown off as well.
“Pretty baby.” Flern could not help calling the unicorn by that name, though she was not so foolish as to run to it. The beast looked like it could be fierce if it wanted to be, and the horn looked like it could be deadly. “I can help if you let me.” Flern said, not knowing if the unicorn could understand her. “I can cut the vines and set you free if you like.” She pulled her long knife slowly and showed it to the beast. The unicorn gave no indication that it understood a word Flern said, but after sniffing at the blade from a distance, it got to its knees and then fell to its side so its trapped foot remained on top. “Poor baby.” Flern repeated herself. “Everything will be all right.” She inched forward slowly and carefully, and when she reached the beast, she heard the others gather behind her and hoped they would be wise enough to keep their distance.
Flern cut the vine-rope quickly and cleanly where it stretched taught, some inches from the unicorn’s hoof. Then she set down her blade and slipped the loop off the hoof itself. The unicorn brought up its head and Flern heard at least one gasp behind her, but the unicorn only nudged her and was very careful about the horn. Flern sighed and loved this beast for all the purity and love she felt emanating from the creature. She could not help kissing the unicorn on the neck, and she felt such peace.
“You are free now,” Flern said. “You can go but be careful.” Flern scooted back and the unicorn appeared to understand. It got to its feet, and with one more loving look in Flern’s direction, it raced off to disappear in the bushes.
“Well, I never,” Wlkn said. Elleya cried for joy at having seen the beast, and Moriah seemed inclined to join her. Laurel had something to say.
“Not just a beast as it appears. Unicorns are greater spirits of all things pure and good. Only children and a virgin with the purest heart can dare to approach.” Andrea stepped up and put her arms around Flern for a hug but stared all the time at the bushes where the unicorn disappeared.
“Definitely not made by human hands.” Boritz and Badl examined the trap.
“And not a little one trap either. My guess is ghoul, or some other creatures of the darkness.” He looked all around, and Boritz looked with him, and he looked worried. “We should probably be safe in the daylight, but I would not mind reaching the village by dark, even if it means crossing two rivers. As if on cue, everyone lifted their heads at once as they heard the sound of a baby crying in the distance.
“Damn!” Wlkn swore.
“What is that?” Andrea asked.
“You don’t want to know,” Badl answered.
Breakfast became a hurried affair, and as they were right at the Prt River ford, they soon put that water between them and the creatures. Badl pointed out that while the river did not look too wide at that point, it remained deep enough to come up to the horse’s necks and that should probably be too deep for the night creatures to cross, easily. Flern did not feel assured by the word probably.
On the other side of the Prt, between there and the river Swr, the forest changed to include more firs and pines among the deciduous trees. Snow had fallen here as well, as they wound along and around the hills that snuggled up close to the mountains. Flern rode in the middle when the horses had to string out in single file. It became hard to look back around Boritz, but she kept looking back anyway. She hoped, since there were no more iced over swampy areas between the rivers, maybe the ghouls, or whatever they were, would not be interested in the terrain.
Flern looked back again. The Storyteller suggested all sorts of possible nasties including orcs and goblins taken straight from Tolkien. That frightened her for a minute until she realized that goblins were of the elf class. They were dark elves, as the gods of Aesgard called them, and thus they were her responsibility. For a while, she kept hoping that the traps were set by trolls, but Badl assured her that there were not any trolls locally who were smart enough to do something like that. So Flern looked back. She could not help it, and she patted Thred’s neck every now and then and talked softly to the horse. “If the spookies come after us, you will ride like the wind, won’t you?” she asked, and Thred appeared to nod his head. That made her want to hug the horse, or maybe hold on for dear life when the time came.
Lunch did not take long. Flern had to touch her sword and ask Badl about practicing, but Badl said they had no time for that, as she suspected. She figured it got her brownie points so later she could say she offered, without really having to practice. Unfortunately, Boritz said he could help teach her, and then she got trapped. She sighed. She knew she had to learn for the sake of her village back home, but at the moment she did not really want to learn for fear she would be expected to face the Titan.
Ghouls find them, but they are looking for the red headed boy… Happy Reading