The Unicorn in the Old Tower
Copyright 2019 by S. Thomas Kaza
“Are you sure?” the young prince asked.
The princess nodded. She was five years younger than the prince, barely eight years old. But when she furrowed her brows and pulled her long auburn hair back over her ear, it reminded the prince of his mother. He did not say anything, but he looked away.
“There you go again,” the princess said.
“What?” the prince asked, turning his black eyes back on her.
“Wandering off wherever you go when you look that way.”
The prince shook his head. “I was remembering someone.”
The prince nodded. He bit at the nail of his thumb as he always did when he was nervous. The princess stopped herself from scolding him like their father always did.
“Sometimes people tell me I look like mother,” she said.
“But I don’t remember.”
“You were too young when…..” the prince paused, “when she passed away.”
The princess frowned. She didn’t like those words. They took something away from the anger she felt for not having her mother. “You mean when she was killed.”
The prince looked at her for a moment and sighed. “Father has warned us about saying such things.”
The princess crossed her arms and frowned. “I don’t care. Sometimes I think we don’t talk about it enough. Besides I am only saying it to you. Unless you go and tell father.”
The prince smiled, almost laughing at his sister’s serious demeanor. “I will not tell him, sister. But can we get back to the matter at hand?”
The princess smiled back. “You mean the unicorn in the old tower?”
The prince nodded. “Are you sure about it?”
“Yes, I saw it chained to a spike in the middle of the chamber. And it was sad. Very sad.”.
“How do you know that?” the prince asked. He started biting his thumbnail again.
The princess pursed her lips and shrugged her shoulders. For a moment she seemed to struggle with finding the right words. Then finally she said, “I don’t know. I just….. just felt it.”
“In your dream?”
“I told you, brother. It was not a dream. I was awake when I saw it.”
“A vision then,” the prince said with some authority. He had been reading up about such matters.
“If that is what they call it….”
The prince crossed his arms and looked away. He was not sure what to do. He did not want to bother his uncle, Lord Rabor, who was managing the affairs of the kingdom while their father was away. His uncle had become angry the last time the prince approached him. Something seemed to have been bothering him. Was it bandits in the forest? Or the holiday preparations not coming along as quickly as he wanted? The prince could not tell. But he did remember that his uncle had been with the sorcerer again. And the prince remembered the scowl on the sorceror’s face.
“But why would uncle keep a unicorn in the old tower?” the prince asked.
“Maybe it was hurt,” the princess suggested.
The prince shook his head. “Then why not keep it in the stables where it could be better cared for?”
“Maybe,” the princess smiled, “maybe it is a present for my birthday?”
The prince frowned. “One does not gift a child with a unicorn,” he said, trying to sound much older than he was.
The princess looked disappointed, but she nodded as if she understood.
The prince sighed. He did not want to say anything to his sister, but he had a feeling that the sorcerer was somehow connected to this whole affair. If his father was here, he would march off and tell him the whole story. He might even mention the part where the sorcerer scowled at him. The prince knew his father did not like the sorcerer, who was brought to court by Lord Rabor. He remembered once hearing his father under his breath call the sorceror “a rat” when he caught him skulking in the shadows.
“If Uncle did manage to capture a unicorn,” the prince said aloud, “wouldn’t he parade it through the streets of the city or announce it to the people?”
The princess nodded. That did sound more like the uncle she knew.
“But maybe he is saving it for the festival?” the prince wondered aloud.
He walked over to the window and looked out across the courtyard toward the old tower in the distance. It was a fair, sunny day with a few clouds moving across the sky. The old tower jutted up into the sky, grey and weather-beaten. No flags or banners flew from its rooftop. It was part of the old castle, abandoned when the new castle was finished, but still patrolled by the castle guard. Left now to the ghosts of ages past that wandered there at night.
“Maybe we should go have a look?” the prince suggested.
“The two of us?”
“No. Father always tells us never to go anywhere without a guard,” the prince said, “Even if it is inside the walls of the castle.”
The princess smiled. She didn’t say anything, but sometimes when her brother became serious he reminded her of their father, the king.
The sorcerer watched as the prince and the princess made their way across the busy courtyard. The soldiers and servants they passed bowed and greeted them. With them was a young courtier who wore a single sword on his belt. No armor. He would be woefully unprepared. The sorcerer smiled.
“Yes, my little ones,” he whispered to himself, “why don’t you go and take a look.”
And with his mind he reached out and strengthened the spell he had placed on the princess. Young minds were so simple and easy to manipulate. So trusting and not yet able to feel the icy edges which would tell anyone other than a drunk or an idiot that they were being manipulated by magic. Until her last moments the princess would believe that a poor, wounded unicorn was being held in the old tower.
Behind him the door to the chamber opened. A short hunchback entered and shambled across the room to where the sorcerer stood.
“My lord,’ the hunchback said.
Without turning the sorcerer asked, “what did he say?”
“He said you should proceed as planned.”
“Those were his words exactly?”
“Yes, my lord.”
The sorcerer turned to look down on the hunchbank.
“And there were no other….. instructions?”
Under the gaze of the sorcerer the hunchback took a step back.
“No….. no, my lord.”
The sorcerer nodded. Good. Lord Rabor wanted the children and any witnesses dead as they had discussed. The sorcerer would claim he saw the children heading off toward the old tower, felt a pang of fear for them, and ran after them. But he would show up a moment too late just as they were being slaughtered. Then he would kill the beast. Lord Rabor’s men would arrive soon after, alarmed by the screams from the old tower, testifying to everything he claimed.
Then with the heirs to the throne out of the way, Lord Rabor would once again become next in line of succession to be king. Eliminating the king would be next. But that plan could wait for another day. First the heirs.
The sorcerer turned from the window and walked over to the table where he had been reading. Reaching out with one hand, he put out the flame of a candle between his thumb and forefinger. A thin line of smoke rose up from the wick. It was time.
“I am going out for my walk,” he said to the hunchback.
“Yes, my lord.”
The sorcerer looked around the corner across the way to the doorway of the old tower. The children had left the door open. But there was no sound from inside the tower. What was going on? Had the damned beast fallen asleep?
He drew himself up, a fire spell already on his lips. The moment he heard the children’s screams, he had planned to rush in. But there was nothing. No sound. He noticed a raven perched high on top of the tower. A slight breeze blew in from the sea carrying the smell of salt. He considered waiting a little longer.
“Damn!” he said, realizing he could not wait anymore.
He stepped out and started across the way. He would cast his firespell into the tower. Later he could claim he was defending himself against the beast, that he was caught off guard and unaware the children were inside. Down below he noticed Lord Rabor’s men waiting. One of them caught sight of him and pointed him to the others. The sorcerer ignored them. It would be over before they could reach the tower.
He stopped just before the open door and craned his neck to peer in. It was dark inside the tower. He reached out with his magic and felt for the children, but they were not in the tower.
“Where had they gone? Had the beast already killed them without a sound?
With the firespell tingling on his palm, the sorcerer lifted his hand in front of him and stepped into the tower. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. When they did he saw the prince, princess, and the courtier standing in the center of the chamber, looking back at him.
“Children,” the sorcerer said, feeling confused, “what are you doing here….. alone?”
He frantically tried again to reach out to them with his magic. There they were, standing not ten paces from him, but he could not sense their thoughts. What was wrong? It was as if someone was hiding their presence from his magic. But who? Who had such magic?
“We know that there is no unicorn,” the princess said.
“A unicorn?” the sorcerer asked, feigning surprise.
“And it was all part of a trick to get us to come here,” the prince added.
“A trick? What? Me?” The sorcerer shook his head. The original plan had failed. Now he would need to take matters into his own hands. “Children, what are you talking about?”
And even as he spoke to them, he strengthened the fire spell already forming on his outstretched palm. At the same time he frantically began looking about the chamber. Where was that damned dragon? He was about to cast his spell when suddenly it fizzled out. He felt a burning sensation on his hand and pulled it back.
“Your magic won’t work here,” the prince said.
“But how? How can you?” the sorcerer started to ask. He then narrowed his eyes and focused on the boy. He grimaced, reaching out and trying to seize hold on the boy’s thoughts. But he couldn’t. He expelled his breath forcefully.
“You cannot hide your thoughts from me!” the sorcerer cried out.
Surprised by his sudden, violent anger, the children stepped back
“I hid their thoughts from you,” a deep voice, rich with the ages, spoke from behind the sorcerer.
The sorceror turned to find the brown dragon behind him.
“You….. you can talk?”
“Yes,” the dragon said.
“But you are…..”
“An ignorant beast? A brown dragon from the Mirlands?” the dragon asked. “Is that not what you wanted me to be?” He then shook his great head back and forth slowly. And in a twinkling all his dull brown scales changed to shiny gold.
“You are a gold!” the sorcerer said, his jaw dropping open in wonder.
“You should not judge a book by its cover,” the dragon said, “And you should never judge a dragon by its scales.”
“But, but I captured you,” the sorcerer said, and his eyes shifted to look at the distance to the doorway.
“I let you capture me. I sensed you were up to no good.”
The sorcerer bowed, all the time keeping his eyes on the doorway, “forgive me, lord dragon, I…..”
“I can read your thoughts,” the dragon said, “I know what you’re are thinking. You will never make it.”
The sorcerer stiffened his back and held up his chest. “Then you will stop me? You will set your magic against mine?” the sorcerer asked.
“No,” the dragon chuckled and said, “No, I will not try to stop you.”
The sorcerer grinned. He had only needed a few moments to begin secretly preparing the words to the ancient binding spell. Now he could call out the words in a language lost to men that would freeze any creature in its place, even a gold dragon. But before he could spit the words out, he felt something poke his back. He winced and looked down, noticing the head of a bolt protruding out the front of chest. The sorcerer then felt the pain, surging throughout his body. He could not form the words of the spell. With the pain his memory failed him. He turned and saw the children behind him. He saw the young courtier holding the crossbow. He wanted to strike out, but he found he could no longer support himself on his legs. He dropped to his knees.
“Please!” the sorcerer pleaded with the children.
“Should we get somebody,” the young princess asked the dragon.
“No! Let him die here on the cold stone of this abandoned tower. He had much worse planned for you.”
The children stood and watched as the life seeped out of the sorcerer while the dragon whispered to them what they would need to do next about their uncle.