Unicorns, unicycles, uniforms . . . who wrote this shopping list?

The Price of a Corn.

by Mary Elizabeth Thompson © 2002

When Anna woke, she found herself slung across the withers of a horse. Her hands were bound; her head throbbed in rhythm with the horse's steps.

She remembered a man who stank of smoke, like a smith. While sheıd been on an errand for her father, the man had grabbed her, pulled her between the buildings. His hands had been strong, stronger than all her might, one over her mouth and the other clutching both her wrists together. She'd bitten him; he'd knocked her against the stone wall.

"Where am I?" she asked now.

He didn't answer.

She couldn't turn to look at him for fear of slipping off the horse.

"Where am I? Who are you? What do you want with me?"

"Too many questions. Ask only one."

"What stupid rule is that?"

"My rule. That was one question."

Anna fumed in silence, then used her five senses, and tried again.

"A meadow. But I can smell a forest nearby, and salt water. The long shadows of evening lead us. You have brought me east."

"Smarter than you look," he said. "What good does that knowledge do you?"

They stopped by a lone tree. He eased her down to the ground and dismounted, then untied her hands.

"If you run, I will kill you." His hand rested on the hilt of his sword.

"You smell of smoke," Anna said. "Your clothes are sooty, but you are not a smith from my village. Your accent is from the shire south of us."

His expression shifted from guarded to icy. He opened his pack and took out a strip of dried fish.

"For that, you do not eat. Now sit. We had some time yet to wait."

Anna plopped down. She tried to be brave, but dusk set in, and she remembered stories of girls stolen by men, dishonored, murdered.

The full moon rose over the sea. Finally, he spoke.

"The corn of a unicorn is a miraculous thing," he said reverently. "It purifies water, neutralizes poison. To drink from it renders one immune to illness. But a unicorn will not be caught." He bit off some of the fish and talked as he chewed. "It's also said that the unicorn will kneel before a virgin and surrender its life to her."

"Unicorns are just pretend," Anna said. "Just in stories."

"This one is real enough. When the moon is bright, he grazes in this meadow. I have seen him."

"And you think he will surrender to me?"

"Are you not a virgin?"

Anna blushed. She was only in her eleventh summer, not yet a woman.

"As I thought," the man said.

"When the unicorn surrenders, what will you do to it?"

The man raised his head, gazed off to the meadow behind her.

"Stand up," he ordered.

She stood.

"Move over there, where it will see you."

She moved, then looked.

The unicorn glowed in the moonlight, gorgeous, proud, with a single corn rising from its forehead. When it saw Anna, it threw its head back with a long whinny, then began to walk toward her.

"Be still," the man whispered. She heard him move behind the tree. She also heard him unsheathe his sword.

The unicorn was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. Its spiraled corn was as long as her arm; a lock of hair curled around the corn and hung down between his eyes. Its nostrils trembled when it breathed.

"Do you know," the man whispered, "how much a nobleman will pay for such a corn?"

Slowly, the unicorn kneeled before her.

"Excellent," the man whispered. "Still now. Only another moment."

The unicorn looked at Anna with such tenderness, she thought her heart would burst. Anna nodded to it, then looked up at the man.

The unicorn jerked its head and rose just as the man stood over it, sword raised, about to strike. Its corn ran him through the chest with the horrid sound of bone against bone. Then it slung his body against the tree.

"We are both free again," Anna said to it.

The unicorn whinnied its understanding, hoofed the ground.

Anna managed to climb on the manıs horse and head in the direction she thought her village to be. What an adventure sheıd had. She couldn't wait to tell her father. And she wondered how much a nobleman would pay for such a fine horse.

x x x

A corn, a horn, a September Morn--looks like a bad guy fell on a thorn. Anna sounds like my kinda girl. Comments to the BBS, please.

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