"These powers of yours are asking me to be a baby sitter?"
"Heaven forbid. He has an older sister for that. He will be wanting a companion, like, a pal, if you get my meaning."
"Thirteen year old girls, in the eighth grade do not pal around with eleven year old boys."
Tim laughed. "Even I know that, lass, you being in the eighth grade and all, but the Powers had something different in mind. They were wanting you to go as a boy again..."
As the last bell on a Friday afternoon rang, I hurried for the door, no longer bothered by the scent of vanilla and lavender that I wore, or the sensation of Mom's favorite skirt swirling around my legs. I didn't have a favorite skirt, yet, since my mother had taken over the job of being my fashion director.
Outside, the June days grew long, and hot straining the school’s air conditioning again, but this time, the town had a mayor that did things about outdated school buildings and honesty in office.
"Hey, Kim!" "Kimberly, hi!" I heard many people shout as I rushed by. Waving, I sighed as I thought I could never have been this popular if I had stayed on as Brian.
Once home, without too many distractions on the way, I ignored the squirrels and assorted other creatures asking for my attention. I raced inside, left my books on the kitchen counter, and took my math book upstairs to my room. I tossed the book in the general direction of my computer desk.
"Watch it, there, my good beast," a small voice said from the desk. "Top of the morning to you, as well."
"The rest of the day to yourself, wee Timothy," I answered leaving the leprechaun sputtering. "If you need a ride over to see your pal John, I'm sorry, but I'm way too busy."
"Busy, are you? Well, as a matter of fact, so is he. Our John is tied up with his own concerns, affairs of the heart, you might say."
I laughed. "He's got a girlfriend? It's about time."
"Spoken like a true female of the species," he said with a sigh.
"I look like a boy to you?"
"No, not at all. But why then, would a young lass of your charms, worry her pretty little head over mathematics, let alone chuck books at unsuspecting people?"
"Unsuspecting people as small as yourself should let unsuspecting unicorns know that you are there before you do get a book chucked at you, and if I don't know math how could I ever tell if you were cheating me with all that gold?" I asked and walked over to the desk to pick up the book
"Me? Cheating you, is it? You think I'm a thief?"
I laughed as I sat down. "Now there's a loaded question. If I say 'yes', you'll spend the next year letting me know how much I hurt your feelings. If I say 'no' I'll have to triple the security on the gold so you won't think you can pull a fast one on me."
The leprechaun sighed, and shook his head. "You do know me all too well, lass, I'll give you that. But now then, my girl, it's your lovely self that I'm needing today."
"It's nothing like that, and that one passed a few months back, unloved and un-mourned to the end. I have been asked to ask you on a mission by the Powers themselves," Tim said and waved his arms grandly.
"There are powers and powers, Tim. What do you mean?"
"Not what, but who. You, my lass, as a Guardian of the Worlds, do have the Unicorn's share of powers, in a manner of speaking, but on my world The Powers are the controlling forces. Much like the old gods on this one. No, they are not the creators, but everyone pays respect to them," he laughed for a moment. "Well, treats them much like they do leprechauns on this world, if you get my meaning. But the Powers are real, and they wish you to do them a favor, if you will."
I shrugged. "If there is fame, fortune and a handsome unicorn at the end I am so there, just like the last time."
"I can't say as there will be any of that, now, but there is a young lad that is in desperate need of a friend, shall we say, to be with him through the troubles that will face him in the weeks ahead."
"You know I don't date outside my own species, Tim."
"I'm not asking you to date him, girl, he's only but eleven, for pities sake."
"Eleven," I demanded. "These powers of yours are asking me to be a baby sitter?"
"Heaven forbid. He has an older sister for that. He will be wanting a companion, like, a pal, if you get my meaning."
"Thirteen year old girls, in the eighth grade do not pal around with eleven year old boys."
Tim laughed. "Even I know that, lass, you being in the eighth grade and all, but the Powers had something different in mind. They were wanting you to go as a boy again, after all, Brian of Trent is famous in that world."
I paced the room, and remembered to smooth my skirt before I sat down on the bed. "You don't know what you're asking me to do. I'm a girl, now. I made a promise to my mother and everything. It's been over a year since I became a unicorn, and it's taken almost that long for me to -- get in touch with my feminine side. I kind of like wearing this stuff now. I'm popular with everyone in school, and I have a boy friend. I don't know if I can go back to being a boy."
"Like riding a bicycle it is, you never forget. Go on, laddy, get into some proper clothes because we have to go."
"Thirteen year old boys don't hang around with eleven year-olds, either," I said trying to protest, although I was already changing into the old me.
"Then go as an eleven year old."
"I'm thirteen, I.... What the heck," I grumbled and made myself younger.
"Well now, very nice, I think. What are you supposed to be?"
I looked in the mirror, and laughed. "So, I'm pretty for a boy. At least I'm not the little geek I was the last time I was eleven. We'd better get out of here before Mom sees this."
The Powers asked a little of me. I never actually saw them, but I heard them and felt their presence through my entire body. I had no choice but to believe Tim's story. I agreed to meet the boy in question, Toby by name, in the bakery shop of a small village. As good as any spot, I thought, making sure I had a lot of ready cash with me.
The scent of baking bread lead me straight to the bakery. Once again, I felt impressed by the builders of this village, it was gorgeous, with wide streets, flowers everywhere, and even a fountain or two. Not many people showed themselves, but it was early, several horse drawn carriages did roll past, although each team stopped to pay respects to me.
The drivers didn’t notice me, just yelled at the horses for stopping. I shook my head, and walked into the bakery. I had almost expected row after row of donuts and cakes like the shops back home, but this one had nothing but bread. The baker, an elderly man, wearing mostly a large apron, worked between two huge ovens, the heat from the fires left me sweating in seconds.
The man looked up, stared at me, and hesitated before he spoke. “Well, what can I do for you —— child?”
“I don’t care how much, and I want all the bread in the shop.”
He smiled, a warm, wide expression. “What are you supposed to be?”
“Hungry. Starving. I’ve never smelled bread that good in my whole life.”
Shaking his head, he tried again. “I meant, are you supposed to be a girl or a boy.”
“That’s up for discussion.”
“What do you mean? You have to be one or the other.”
My turn to shake my head. “I’m a boy, that used to be a girl, that used to be a boy, and I will be a girl again, or my mother will just kill me. After that, it gets complicated.”
He held up both hands, “Please, lad, don’t make that more complicated than it already is. This batch of bread is for the Lord’s wife, but after that I can sell you some. One copper penny per loaf.”
“I could eat a dozen right now, but I can wait. Could I….” We both turned as the door opened. A boy, about my size entered. This one glanced everywhere, like a wild animal. He checked out the street behind him a couple of times before taking another step inside. Closing the door, he held up one hand with three fingers up.
“Be done in a few minutes, Toby, my lad. Where’s that beautiful mother of yours today?”
“Gone,” he said, as he put three copper coins on the counter. “Cassandra wants these.”
“And half a loaf for yourself?”
Toby nodded so hard his body shook.
For the first time I realized that Toby broadcasted on a wide spectrum. I picked up the emotional content first, then the pictures and words he was sending to the man. I found a lot of parental feelings here, on both sides, but no blood relation.
“Now, Toby, do you know this lad?”
With a shake of his head, Toby glanced at me, and looked away.
“I’m Brian,” I said, and sent back to him. I held out my hand, but all he did was frown.
“What did you say?” Toby asked me.
“I’m Brian, I….”
“You can talk,” Toby screamed in my mind, as he threw his arms around my chest and hugged. “No one in this village can talk, except those weird human grunts.”
I laughed. “I’ve never heard it put just that way.”
“What?” the baker asked me. “Well, our Toby seems to like you.”
“I can talk to him,” I said with a shrug.
Toby looked at the man and nodded.
“No,” the man said. “That boy’s a wild thing, living out there in the forest as he does. He can barely say three words when it comes to that.”
Both Toby and I laughed at that. “It’s so sad he doesn’t understand real speech,” Toby commented. “He’s really a nice man, and he likes my whole family. No one else does around here.”
I held up a finger. “You know, sir, if you listen really hard you might just pick his speach up. He would love to talk to you.” I gave the baker a slight nudge with my horn, and had Toby turn to face him. “Okay, Toby. Say something, and not too fast, okay?”
Again, Toby broadcast to the man, and this time I saw the expression on the man’s face change to wonder.
“I heard that, I really heard that. You can talk?”
An odd feeling grabbed me by the throat. I left Toby and the baker talking, and walked outside to find my best colt-friend. He was dressed as a teenaged, human boy, but with a face that made me shiver and sigh. He frowned as he took a good look at me.
“I don’t suppose this is a chance meeting?” I asked, sweetly as I walked with him away from the bakery.
“No, it isn’t. Why are you here?”
“I came at the invitation of the Powers.”
He snorted. “Ah, the Powers, is it? And I suppose these powers also made you appear as a human male? It is most unbecoming for you.”
“Yes, you big jerk. The powers wanted me to be a boy to help watch a child that is important to them.”
“Ah, I see. The Powers.”
I laughed. “Yes, the Powers. You don’t believe me?” I asked, letting the hurt sound in my voice.
“The elders asked me to ask you if you intend to meddle, once again, in the affairs of humans. Powers or not, that is something you tend to do.”
“One time, and they will never let me live it down,” I said. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t know. Where you go, trouble is bound to follow close behind you.”
I looked up at him, and gave him my best grin. “Oh, you’re calling yourself, Trouble, now?”
“No, I….” He said, and caught on. “Point taken, my dear. No, I don’t believe your story about the Powers, either.” He stiffened, and closed his eyes for a moment. An odd expression crossed his face, then he looked down at me. “Sorry, I owe you an apology. The Powers did tell me that your story is true. And…. They asked me to keep my tail out of this.”
“You have a very cute tail, as a matter of fact,” I said. “But I think I can handle the kid myself, but if you want to stay with me, he could use a strong, male role model.”
The now named Trouble gave me his pinched lip grimace, “I think I will leave the child rearing in your lovely, and capable hands, and no matter what happens, the Elders will know it is the fault of the Powers that asked you to do this.” With that, he vanished.
I walked back to the bakery to find the baker removing a dozen loaves of bread from am oven with a huge, wooden board. Toby gave me a puzzled glance. “I met a friend outside, for a moment.” I explained.
“I have no friends here, except for Mr. Bederick,” he thought indicating the baker.
I nodded, and watched as Mr. Bederick sliced a small loaf in half, gave each half a generous dollop of butter from a crock under the counter and handed them over to us.
Never had I had a more intense experience with bread. From the first bite, of the light, and flakey crust, through the delicate middle, I felt that my life was complete. “I’m sending a hundred loaves home to my mother to keep for me,” I said.
“Baker,” a rather large woman said from the doorway. “Is Lady Everly’s order ready, yet?”
“Only just, good wife. I have all the loaves cooling now.”
“I don’t have time to wait. Wrap them up now, and….” she paused as she looked down at us. “Oh, I see your letting animals into this shop? I’m not sure if she will want those loaves if you let that creature near them.”
“Then tell her ladyship that I will have the order ready late this afternoon, after the boys have left,” Mr. Bederick said quietly. “That child is as the Powers have made him.”
Toby bowed his head at the mention of the Powers. I did the same.
“Witch’s brat,” the lady growled out. “Should have been put to death at birth. I will take the order now, and let them cool at the Manor House.”
“I’m sorry you had to hear that, lads,” the baker said as the lady stormed out of the shop, loaves in her basket.
A few minutes later, a tall man, wearing a badge of sorts, entered the shop and looked down at Toby, then at me, then back to Toby.
“So, it’s true. The brat’s here by himself.” He placed his right hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Get out of here, Gustav,” Mr. Bederick said half flying over the counter. “No one is going to threaten this or any other child in my shop. His mother is away so you feel brave enough to fight a little boy?”
“I will have his head. I will stake it outside the forest by his Mother’s cabin. Let that show her what we do to witches around here.”
“Bad! Man bad,” Toby said. He lowered his head and rammed it into the man’s chest.
“He stabbed me. You saw that, he stabbed me,” Gustav yelled.
“Where would that boy hide a dagger?” Mr. Bedrick commented, apparently ignoring the spreading blood stains on the man’s shirt.
With a flourish, Gustav drew the sword from the sheath, and held it out. “I’m going to….” he started as Toby broke into peals of laughter. I couldn’t help myself, and laughed, too.
Gustav stared at the empty hilt. “My sword. What happened to my sword?”
“I would think it to be the Powers,” Mr. Bedrick said. “They do not want you to harm Toby more than I would, or do you think one of the lads here could have stolen it from under your nose?”
“Witch’s magic,” the man spat, then turned and hurried out the open doorway,
I brushed aside Toby’s curly black locks, to find a handsome pair of white horns. On second thought, antlers, I thought. They reminded me of a fawn’s growth. “You’re a faun?”
Toby nodded. “Part faun,” he said, out loud, but sent a torrent of pictures to me of his life in the forest.”
Outside the warm confines of the shop, I felt a crowd gather. “We’re going to have trouble,” I said. “Maybe we had better leave now.”
“Bread,” Toby said, simply.
“I will take care of the rest of it,” Mr. Bederick said, quietly.
When Toby’s loaves were ready, the baker tied three with a rope, and lead both of out of the shop. People did shy away from Toby as we walked down the street.
I said, in a voice designed to carry to everyone. “Mr. Bederick? I know I’m new in town, but why does everyone hate Toby so much?”
“He’s the witch’s brat,” several people shouted back.
“Then why does everyone hate his mother?”
“She’s a witch,” people told me, as if I was dense.
“I know that, but what has she done to make you all hate her?”
“Melody moved into a cottage inside the Forest about fifteen years ago,” Mr. Bederick told me. “She sells potions and trinkets, that sort of thing. She’s never done anything to anyone here.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked looking around at everyone. Toby just shook his head.” “You mean she doesn’t open the heavens and call down lighning and tornados on this village once a week?”
“Not once,” Mr. Bederick replied, playing along.
“What sort of witch is she? What about bringing up savage demons from the pits to run around tearing people up? No, maybe a plague of locusts or frogs?”
“You can get frog beads at her shop,” someone pointed out. “Very nice they are, my wife loves them.”
“Beads?” I demanded. “She runs a bead shop? Ooooh, scary.”
“Think what you like, boy, but you never can tell with witches.”
“I don’t know about that, sir. I mean, you should know where you stand with a witch. If you stay around a wicked witch it’s a sure bet that you will wind up a frog, or worse. If you stay with one of those good witches, you’ll wind up all sweetness and light. So what kind of witch is this Melody?
Not getting an answer, I said, “Okay, let’s find out, then. How many people here have been turned into lizards?” I waited. “No one was turned into a newt? That doesn’t look good. Okay, who had their little dog, threatened?” I cackled and added, “And that goes for your little dog, too? Anyone? Say, what about those potions she sells? Do they work?”
“Of course they work,” several people added.
I shook my head. “So, you do have a real, card carrying, bubble riding, good witch there. I’d register a complaint with the Witch’s Counsel, all of you are missing out on the real, witching experience, here.”
“You never can tell with witches,” another man, stated.
“Maybe not, but what about mothers” I asked back. “Since Toby is Melody’s only son, do you think if you hurt him, she might get a bit mad? That guy, Mr. Gustov said he wanted to cut Toby’s head off and stake it outside her home. That might show her that you hate kids, but do you think she’d let it go? Oh, well, it was all an accident, no harm done?”
Several people shook their heads.
“I know what my mom would do if someone hurt me. I’d think Toby’s mom might just show you that witching experience after all.”
“The boy is lying,” Gustov called out. “Melody wouldn’t dare do anything to the entire village.”
I looked right at him, and shook my head. “You never can tell with witches.”
Someone threw a stone at Toby’s head. He spun around, caught the stone and threw it back with a delighted, “Catch!” The stone hit the man right on the chest knocking the wind out of him.
“Did you see that?” several people shouted.
“Great catch, Toby!” I said. “What a throw. You’ve got a career in the major leagues with am arm like that.”
Another man drew back his arm, but a bolt of lightning sizzled through the air and struck his boot. He jumped a few times trying to put out the fire, A dozen more lightning bolts struck the ground inches from people’s toes. Everyone leapt backwards.
“Witchcraft!” several people shouted.
As several dozen more bolts hit the ground, the crowd scattered. The people that remained seemed more determined to do something.
“Look!” I shouted, and pointed to a huge black cloud forming at one end of the village. Funnel clouds touched down and grew into twin tornados. The twisters moved forward as arms and legs took shape in the clouds.
“Demons,” a dozen people yelled. The twisters resolved into towering figures, that appeared to be an inky black insult to the sunny day. They lumbered at the villagers.
That did it. “Man,” I said. “Why did everyone run away?”
“I think we should be going, too,” Mr. Bederick said, quietly, looking back at the demons.
“They won’t hurt us,” I commented.
“Is that what you wanted, Unicorn?” one of the creatures asked in his own language.
“Exactly. You guys were wonderful. Thanks!” I thought back to them.
The demons faded out as Mr. Bedrick took Toby by the hand and started hurrying down the street. “I’m taking you home,” he said.
Toby nodded, and clutched his loaves tighter.
For two kids and an old man, it took hardly any time to half walk, half trot to the edge of town. The road lead through several flat pastures before the ground gave way to the line of trees that marked the edge of what appeared to be a great forest.
Toby pulled Mr. Bedrick by the hand towards the woods.
We walked for a while. I turned at the sound of horses behind us. I saw four riders galloping hard after us. “You get Toby home, sir. I’ll take care of this.”
“Brian, I can’t let you….”
“Those demons were friends of mine,” I said with a quick wink.
“You think I can’t call them back? They weren’t even demons. The only real demon in this part of the world is a friend of mine, call him Charlie for short. He’s exactly what you’d expect from a demon, too. He’d slip a knife in your back as he shakes your hand.”
He frowned for a moment, as if trying to think of something, then nodded as he let Toby hurry him down the road.
I turned to face the riders, with my arms crossed over my chest. The horses ran within five yards of my position, then stopped, without warning. Two of the riders flew forward over the animals’ necks, and hit the ground with a splat. The others held on, barely. The two horses with riders, threw them off, then all four walked around their riders to stand before me, and bow. I let them up and each nuzzled me, in turn. “Wait for me over there,” I said, and the horses complied.
The men picked themselves up and dusted off. All but Mr. Gustov, who sat waiting for someone to help him. Once on his feet, he glared at me.
“What happened?” he demanded and walked toward me.
I held up a hand as a large, wooden sign appeared next to me. All four men took their time to read: ‘Beware of Unicorn’.
“So, boy, you claim to be a unicorn?” Mr. Gustov demanded.
A second later, I reared up on my hind legs, taller than the men now as a unicorn, and let my horn speak for me.
“Any questions?” I asked as I turned back to human. “The boy, Toby and the baker are under my protection, is that clear?”
“A thousand gold to the man that brings me that horn,” Gustov shouted out.
The three men shuffled their feet for a moment, but didn’t make a move.
“Did you ever hear of a man named Creel?” I asked them.
“Oh, right,” said one. “He was that slaver that was turned into a donkey….”
“I was the last being to see him as human. It wasn’t something I’d wish on anyone else. He does look a lot better now, but do you really want to spend the rest of your life pulling that man’s plow?” I asked and pointed at Gustov.
“He’s lying,” Gustov shouted. “Nothing will happen to you while I’m with you.”
I stared at him. “They call me and my kind of unicorns, the Guardians of the Worlds. You think you can fight me? What, with that sword of yours?”
The empty hilt of the man’s sword flew from his sheathe, hovered in front of his nose for a moment while the blade grew back, then promptly smacked him on the backside.
“I’m the richest man in this Duchy,” he said and glared at me. “You don’t frighten me, not at all. Grab him, men, and I will take the horn.”
“You want a piece of me?” I asked, with a laugh.
Three men backed away from me, slowly. “You want that horn,” one of them said, “You take it.”
I dropped my arms and sighed. “You just won’t learn, will you? Go ahead, try and take my horn, but when you’re a donkey and all of your wealth has reverted back to the Duke, you can’t say you weren’t warned.”
“But we’re his only family, we are,” one of the men protested. “We should inherit like all his money and property.”
“Better leave that to the courts, guys, but you will get one good donkey out of the deal.”
With a scream of frustration, Gustov bent over, and charged right at me. I stepped out of the way, but he grabbed me with one arm, and picked me up. He clamped the other arm around me in a bear hug, before he screamed once.
I dropped to my feet as the man stared at his hands, melting quickly into hooves. “What did you do to me?”
“Only a jackass would touch a unicorn like that, mister. I can’t believe you were that stupid. Okay, maybe I can, but you asked for it.”
“Turn me back,” he whimpered.
“What part of ‘You’re going to turn into a donkey for the rest of your life’, didn’t you understand? I put up that sign, showed you what I was, and still you got greedy. Too bad, so sad.”
“But,” he trailed off as his mouth stretched into a donkey’s muzzle.
“You’re friends were smart enough to leave me alone. They are getting five thousand gold, each, and one donkey, from your estate. The rest is up to the Duke. Run along, Snowflake, you have a lot of hauling to do yet. I get the horses, okay?”
Without waiting for an answer, I jumped up grabbed a saddle, and directed the horses after Toby and Mr. Bedrick.
Toby turned around and waved when he realized it was me riding one horse and leading the others.
“Get on up,” I said, and waited for the other two to mount. “Gustov won’t be needed these animals anymore, and I thought we could ride.”
“It would take a miracle from the Powers themselves to make Gustov give up one horse, let alone four.”
“He’s not very bright. How in the world did he ever get to be so rich?”
“He married the Duke’s only daughter, not for long, mind you, but he’s the only heir to the Dukedom.”
“Not anymore,” I commented. “It’s complicated.”
Mr. Bedrick gave me a wide smile, and nodded his head for a moment before helping Toby up.
We rode to the edge of the forest. I jumped down from the saddle, and asked the horses to follow me into to the line of trees that marked the forest proper. Toby stayed on the horse, enjoying the ride, but a look of guilt crossed his face as a taller boy, stepped out in front of us.
“Deelan,” Toby said, more to the boy than as an introduction.
The boy — faun, I thought, or rather fawn, was just that. From the waist down Deelan stood a deer, with a russet velvet coat, long legs, and split hooves. A pair of respectable antlers grew from his head. With no clothes, or any sense of modesty, he stared at us.
“Where have you been?” the faun demanded in the picture, telepathic speak that Toby used.
“To the village to get the bread. This is Brian, who saved my life a couple of times and Bedrich the baker.”
“Thank you for the life of my brother,” the boy told me in halting speech.
I answered him in the same picture language that he used with Toby. He gave me a wide grin, which reminded me of my fox back home -- probably for the same reason, too.
“Your sister,” Deelan told Toby, “is yelling and screaming at Father about something at the house. Do you know what it is?”
Toby shook his head, as we walked and lead the horses through the woods. “Cassie was home when I went to get the bread.”
The word ‘cottage’ didn’t come close to describing the house, that looked like it was built into the living trees in a small clearing maybe two hundred yards from the forest’s edge. White, with green shutters, the house welcomed us inside. I loved the place from the first second I entered. Not grand by any means, but the place felt more like home than even my own.
A large crow squawked from the back of a kitchen chair.
“From Mom?” Toby asked
“Yes,” the crow answered. “The wizard in the tower is sending Melody to the Moon. You and your sister have to go quick.”
“Excuse me,” I said, with more than a hint of impatience in my voice. “Would you like to repeat that message properly, this time?”
The crow looked at me, out of one eye and then the other. “I work for Melody, not you.”
I laughed at the wicked glint in the bird’s eye. “What a cheeky bird,” I said with another laugh. “I don’t believe you said that to me.”
“You aren’t the boss of me. I take messages for Melody.”
“That’s a great attitude, for a crow, you know that?” I asked the bird. “It would be a real shame for me to have to turn you into a beetle. There you are, crawling on the ground for the rest of your life, but….”
I looked around the room and a large, glass jar appeared on the kitchen table. “I’ll keep you in here. I’ll have lots of twigs and leaves for you to eat, and aphids and things, and twice a day we can play — Earthquake,” I said and shook the jar with my right hand. “Won’t that be fun? Since you can’t take messages for Melody any more, who will be the boss of you?”
“You will,” the crow said, struggling to move his wings.
“I will at that. Now, which would you prefer — being a beetle for me, or having me tell Melody you were lying to her kids?”
“Okay, okay, you big bully. The wizard in the tower…” He paused as I used his thoughts and memories to map out the location of the tower. Even with the horses it was about a week’s journey to the North.
The crow cleared its throat. “The wizard is taking Melody on a trip to see the honey moon. There, I said it. Can I go now?”
“A honey moon?” Deelan asked. “The moon is made of cheese, not honey, everyone knows that.”
“It’s not that at all,” I said letting the crow fly off. “So, how long has your Mom known this wizard?”
“I don’t know,” Toby said with a shrug. “I didn’t think she knew any wizards.”
“A whirlwind engagement, then,” I said and the baker took in a deep breath. I nodded to him. “It’s really romantic.”
Toby made a face, and turned to face the door as a teenaged girl stormed into the house.
“We have to leave now,” she said to Toby. “And who are all these people?”
“That’s Deelan, my brother,” Toby said with a straight face.
“I know that, and a lot of help his father was. Mother is in terrible danger and would he offer any help at all?”
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Brian and this is Mr. Bedrich the baker. We had to get Toby out of the village and fast this afternoon and we brought him home. So, your Mom is getting married. That’s great. Looks like we are all going to the reception.”
“What do you know about this?” Cassie said, glaring at me.
“Your Mom sent a messenger crow with the news. He was just here. They want us to go to the reception before they go on their honeymoon.”
Mr. Bedrich nodded. “He’s right, my dear. The crow said as much.”
“That crow told me the wizard was going to sacrifice my mother to the Moon. Who are you going to believe? Me? I have almost as much power as mother does, or this boy?”
“Brian,” Deelan said. “You have power, he knows how to talk to crows.”
“Brian made that crow tell the truth,” Toby added in thoughts.
“Well, you can tell your friends thank you, but we have a long journey ahead of us.”
“Brian and I will ride with you, of course,” Mr. Bedrich said. “I am not about to let the pair of you go off alone to find this wizard.”
“I go, too,” Deelan added.
“Whether or not your little friend is right about the crow’s message, we will need protection, very strong protection against the wizard when we get there, and on the way,” Cassie announced. “We don’t need two little boys on this trip. Deelan, you will stay with Toby, but you, Brian, are going to be a wolf.” She pointed at me, and sang a word of power.
I shook my head. “Sorry, girlfriend, but I don’t do dogs.”
She tried again, as both Toby and Mr. Bedrich protested. This time, I just laughed. “You don’t have the kind of power it would take to touch me, Cassie. Besides, there’s a really great horn in the way. Let’s just let it go at that.”
“You don’t understand,” Cassie said. “I need something that is powerful enough to protect us on the journey, and save Mother from that wizard.”
“If she needs saving?” I asked her.
“I could never see mother marring some old man with a beard down to his toes.”
“Suppose he isn’t an old man. Wizards don’t need to look like that any more than witch’s have to look like green skinned crones. Malicious stereotypes if you ask me.”
“No one asked you,” Cassie said. “Toby, since your little friend refused, it’s going to be you, now. What we need is something more powerful than anything in the world, so I am going to make you a seeger.” She put up a wall almost a force field effect around Toby
“No,” Deelan said, pounding both fists on the wall of power.
“Dictionary, please,” I asked the house. A large book opened in front of me to the appropriate page. “Seeger, the speaker for the Powers,” I read. “Seegers are defined as elemental forces, chosen by the Powers, to speak for and if necessary, use the Powers own magic on the Powers’ behalf. Seegers take the shape of large cats, two or three times the size of a housecat, with wings. They are considered to be the most powerful creatures in the world, with the possible exception of the Guardians of the Worlds. See Unicorn.” I looked up from the book at Cassie.
“You don’t do cats,” she snarled at me. “But Toby does.”
“The Powers select the Seeger, not you,” I told her. I walked through her wall of power. “Are you going along with this?”
Toby shrugged. I heard a different voice answer, though.
“This is as it should be. Do not fight it. We have been waiting for Toby.”
The world spun around for a moment. A second later Toby grabbed my hand as we found ourselves in a huge, empty room. I started walking toward a brighter patch of light. A man, a tall man, wearing furs and a huge rack of antlers on his head, appeared in front of us.
“Welcome, you are most welcome here, children. I am called the Hunter, and you, Toby are the one who would join us? You have no speech, yet you would speak for us?”
“I don’t know,” Toby said with a frown. “I’m a faun, not a cat.”
“A seeger may speak for us in any shape it pleases, but your sister has requested that you be a cat. If you wish to take on the powers and responsibilities that come with being a seeger, you will take on the form of a winged cat, as all the others have, but you will also have this one.” The man nodded, and Toby changed from a mostly human boy to a full faun.
Toby glanced down at himself, and rubbed his hand on his new coat. “This is me. This is who I really am. I don’t care about power or anything else if I can be a faun like this.”
“Granted,” The Hunter said.
“What about Brian? Is he going to be a cat, too?”
“No,” the man said with a wide smile. “But he is your first project, Toby. It is important that Brian here gets to your Mother’s wedding safely. They are counting on it. You will make sure that happens, will you not?”
“Yes, no matter what my sister says,” Toby said with a deep bow to the Hunter.”
Back in Toby’s home, we stood within the wall of power. Toby bent over and changed in one, fluid movement into a cat. Black as soot, with sparkling green eyes, the faun did make a beautiful animal. He spread his wings, for a moment, then folded them back along his spine.
“What did you do?” Deelan yelled. “Toby cat!”
“Yes, he is,” Cassie said taking down the wall, and examining her brother. She glanced at me. The expression on her face was priceless, half anger and half confusion.
“You have power,” Cassie said to me. “Who are you?”
“It’s complicated,” I said with a shrug.
“Change Toby now,” Deelan said.
“I can,” Toby said and stood up again, as a faun. “The Hunter did this for me.”
Cassie screamed out her anger. “No, you’re a seeger. You have to stay that way.”
“Why?” Toby asked as Deelan hugged him. “I can speak for the Powers like this.”
“No one will know what you are, and they will attack us.”
“They will find out what I am if they attack us,” Toby told her. “I’ll be a cat if I have to, but only then.”
“He’s right,” Mr. Bedrick added, walking over to Toby.
Cassie’s finger’s flicked as she cast a small spell at her brother. If Toby felt it, he didn’t say anything, so I did.
“That wasn’t called for, girlfriend, casting spells like that at your brother. If you want him to protect us, you might as well be nice to him.”
Toby looked at me and shook his head. “A minor control spell,” he said. ‘Nothing to worry about, but thanks.”
I removed it, just to be on the safe side.
“The horses are packed, and I made sure that we have everything we will need, clothes, lots of food, blankets and bedding. Everything,” Toby announced.
“Good work,’ Mr Bedrich said quietly. “I think we have a long way to go, yet.”
“I know the way,” I added.
We camped for the night on the other edge of the Forest. I helped the baker start a fire and get tents up while Toby and Deelan organized dinner. Cassie gave everyone orders, which she seemed good at.
“There are a group of humans heading this way,” Toby said quietly as the fire died down. “They want the horses.”
“Kill them,” Cassie told Toby.
“All life is sacred to the Powers,” Toby said. “Even theirs.”
“We could use another horse,” I suggested, “so you wouldn’t have to double up with Deelan.”
Toby shook his head, closed his eyes, and smiled. “That’s taken care of. They won’t bother anyone anymore. I turned them all into squirrels.”
“Just what the world needs, more tree rats,” I said with a sigh.
“But now they can steal as much as they like and not hurt anyone” Toby said, feeling proud of himself.
I patted him on the back and nodded. “Good work.”
Breaking camp, early the next morning, we left the safety of the forest, for the open plains. Steppes, I thought, that would lead to the north, north by northwest as I guided the horses on. A couple of minutes later, we stopped at the sound of a crying child approaching us.
A boy, fully human and looking about thirteen, half carried, half dragged his little sister toward the forest. “Hush,” he told her, over and over.
“I’m hungry,” the girl, who looked to be about three insisted.
“I’ll get you something to eat as soon as we find Da.”
“What’s going on,” Cassie demanded.
The boy looked up at us, startled.
“I asked you what you are doing to that little girl.”
“I’m sorry, miss. Our mum died last year, our da hasn’t been home for weeks, and we don’t have anything to eat. I need to find him to get money so we can live, and I can’t just leave her alone now can I?”
“You don’t have the right to bully your sister like that. I swear, all of you boys are just alike. I should make the two of you switch bodies so you can see what it’s like.”
“Now that would really help them out,” I said and jumped down from my horse.
“Toby, do it. Switch those two to teach him a lesson.”
“Me?” Toby asked. “The Powers say no. Let Brian do this.”
“What’s your name?” I asked the boy as I handed the girl a muffin. She stopped bawling while she ate.
“Eric,” he answered, and held out his hand for a muffin himself. Instead, I gave him a fist sized leather bag filled with gold coins.
“Get yourselves a real breakfast, Eric, and stock up for the next couple of years, okay?”
“But….” The boy visibly shook as he looked inside the bag.
“You’re a smart kid, Eric. Tell everyone your dad got you some money, no need to tell them or even hint at how much, right? Spend just enough to get by.”
He dropped to one knee, “Thank you, Lord.”
I laughed. “Not me. Here,” I said and gave him another bag filled with food this time. “This will keep both of you from starving on the trip back to town.”
“Thank you,” the little girl said and held up her arms.
I picked the child up and hugged her. “There, do you feel better now?” She nodded. “Eric’s going to take you home now, cause it’s much too dangerous for you two to wander in the forest all by yourselves. There’s lions and tigers and bears, oh my, in there, and seegers and unicorns and fauns, too. Here,” I said and handed the girl to her brother.
“Come on, Lil, we can go get a real breakfast at the Golden Griffin, now.”
I turned back to the others, to find Cassie in a glaring contest with her brother. I jumped back up into the saddle.
“We can go on, now,” I said.
“Not until this stupid cat learns some manners,” Cassie said. “How dare you disobey me? I made you a seeger, and you have to do what I say?”
“The Powers made me a seeger, and I speak for them. That’s what seegers do.”
“I don’t care, you listen to me, and listen good. You will do what I say, or I will make you a cat, just a plain old house cat, this time, and I will never turn you back,” Cassie snarled out.
“Okay, but remember this. I don’t do cats, either.”
Cassie turned her glare on me. “You were certainly generous with our supplies, weren’t you?”
“I didn’t touch our supplies, if you have to know, and those kids were starving. They needed the food a lot more than we did. Shall we go?”
“Toby, turn this impudent boy into a rat, now.”
“He doesn’t do rats,” Toby said. “The Powers said it’s important for him to get the Mom’s wedding.”
We rode most of the day, through a rolling countryside of green meadows and small villages. Bypassing the towns, we made good time, until about dusk. We made camp in a small, wooded glen overlooking still another meadow. I spent some time with the horses that night, grooming them the old fashioned way.
Crawling into the boys’ tent, I found Toby and Deelan zonked and down for the count. I stretched out on my bed roll, then frowned as I felt a summons, not very strong, but insistent. Outside, I followed the feeling to the other side of the glen and looked out across the ground to see two unicorns, standing side by side, waiting for me.
These were not Guardians, but members of a herd, somewhere.
“Join us, daughter,” the male said, in my thoughts. The female added the same sentiment. “We are so few, now.”
“I know, but the Guardians are fewer still,” I answered with a sigh. “I am needed here.”
The unicorns stiffened as Mr. Bedrich made his way through the woods. I lowered my defenses, and the others relaxed.
“Brian? Are you….” He placed his hand on my shoulder. I saw the look of sheer awe and wonder register on his face as he saw the unicorns. “By all the Powers, do they know we are here?”
“Of course, they do. It’s okay, you’re with me.”
“I’ve never seen anything more beautiful in my life.” The unicorns started walking in our direction. “I thought they would have vanished into the mist before anyone came this close.”
“Normally,” I said. “Every unicorn has it’s own set of defenses. You know what happens if you touch a unicorn?”
“At the approach of a human, if one unicorn lowers its defenses, that signals the rest of the heard that it’s safe.”
“That might be the case, lad, but how do they know it’s safe from us?”
I gave him my best grin. “I’m the one that lowered my defenses to let them know you were safe. I thought you might do that,” I said nodding to his hand with my head. “I didn’t want you hurt if you did.”
He withdrew his hand, as if burned. “You’re a unicorn?”
“A Guardian of the Worlds,” I said with a nod.
“You’re Brian of Trent? The one that broke Lord Kalandros?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “He asked for it.”
“I lost my wife and children in one of Creel’s raids, they didn’t survive. It was the gold from your Unicorn fund that paid for my shop.”
“Not much of a repayment for that,” I said, slowly.
“It was enough, although now I’m not sure if I can go back to my shop.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m taking you home with me. With your baking, we could be very rich, in a week. No one can make bread like you do, at home.”
“That is a thought, but wouldn’t I stand out what with all of your unicorn friends?”
“I was born a human, a human boy. I feel more comfortable as a human, than a full time unicorn.”
He pulled me into a big hug. “Whoever you are, whatever you are, I can thank you for what you did for the world, and me.” He let go as the unicorns joined us.
I changed shapes, and nuzzled with the unicorn female for a moment.
“You are needed with us, as well,” she told me.
“Someday, I might just choose this,” I told her, “But not now, mother.” I felt someone else. My defenses went up as the others vanished. I took my human form, long before Cassie joined us.
“What’s going on?”
“We were watching the unicorns,” I said. “They must have startled when they heard you, because they just vanished into the mist.”
“Oh, really,” she said. “You need to get to bed, young man.”
About noon the next day, I spotted the first hint of smoke ahead of us. We quickened the pace for the horses, and found a large village, smoldering from a recent fire. Bodies lay strewn along the roads.
“Raiders,” Toby said.
“Let’s see what we can do,” I said.
“No,” Cassie said. “We do not have time for this. We can ride around the outskirts of the village.”
“But the Powers,” Toby started to say.
“The Powers aren’t here, and you do what I say, remember that.”
‘Toby does what Powers say,” Deelan cut in. “Not you.”
“It’s okay. I will see what I can do for the people here, and meet you on the road later,” I said.
“Toby and I go with you,” Deelan announced. “We need to help.”
“You stay with me,” Toby said, with a real frown on his face. “They can catch up later, if we let them.”
I saw the faun looking torn. I placed a hand on his shoulder, and pushed him towards Toby. “He’s your brother and he will need all the help he can get from his sister. Stay with him”
Deelan nodded, gave me a slight smile, and walked nudged his horse over to Toby’s.
Mr. Bedrich and I dismounted, while I checked each of the bodies for any sign of life. Although most of them were dead, I was able to bring a few people back.
The majority of the villagers huddled together in the town hall. From their faces I could have sworn it was the aftershock of a bomb blast or something. They all had that far away, shocked look of disbelief. There were some happy reunions as the recently wounded found their families, but no one else paid the slightest attention to us.
“Who is in charge?” I asked. “My friend and I would like to help out, but we need help with the dead.”
“The elders were killed when they burned the village,” a young man, in his twenties told me. “The boy’s right. We need to get out there and check the damage.”
“My friend, Bedrich, and I have brought food, and supplies, too.”
A few people stood up at that, but the rest kept their places.
Outside, I pointed at two buildings that hadn’t been there when I went inside.
“You will find most of what you need, for the moment, stored there. I’m Brian,” I said and held out a hand.
“Oh, sorry. I’m Will,” the man said. “We had no warning,” he said quietly. “They rode into town with torches, shooting arrows and swinging swords. So many people were cut down. They must have taken everything that wasn’t nailed down, and it looks like they burned the rest.”
“Not all of it,” I said. “Here.” I placed a large pouch in his hand. “You can do a lot of rebuilding with this, and….” I had a bad feeling as I saw a large crow launch itself from a rooftop. “You,” I shouted and pointed at the bird. “Front and center.”
The bird fought me for five minutes. I didn’t want the creature hurt, but I had lost my patience. I used enough power to drag the bird from the sky. It landed at my feet. I bent over, picked it up by the neck, and shook it.
“You want me?” the crow demanded.
Not bothering with niceties, I read the crow, turned it into a beetle, and kicked it under a rock. “The raiders are camped about two miles from here, waiting on word back from that crow as to when help arrived.”
“I should have thought about that, myself,” Will said. “I won’t ask you about that crow, but what can we do?”
“Do what you have to, with our blessing,” I heard the voice in my thoughts.
“I will take care of it,” I said with a shrug. Will,” I said and met the man’s gaze. “There are two rules of magic that you, and your village will need to remember and live by.”
He frowned and shrugged his shoulders.
“Rule one: don’t touch the unicorn. Rule two: don’t get greedy. After that it goes downhill.”
Before he had a chance to answer, I jumped into the air as a hawk, and circled my way to the raiders’ camp.
Whoa, I thought, as I took a quick count. Several hundred men stood around the campgrounds. The sheer volume of horses and cattle spread around the camp was breathtaking. Flying higher, I spotted several small bands of horses, heading out presumably on raiding missions.
Looking further, I found another, larger band of raiders dashing toward the outskirts of a large village. The villagers ran for cover. I sent my thoughts out to the horses, and each of them stopped, then turned as if scared to death. Panicked, the horses ran back in the direction of the camp.
Now what, I thought as I called the rest of the horses home. I’ve got three hundred and some raiders, and I had to do something with them. I didn’t want to wind up their judge, jury and what have you, but I didn’t see anyone else being able to do this. For a moment, I wondered if the powers had intended this for Toby, after all, they were parked their right on our way north. I sighed, it was the kid’s decision to stay out of this, but I had a feeling the Powers were not pleased with him.
I circled the campground again, and focused on the man I took to be the leader. He certainly acted it, from what I could see. I read him, and pulled back. I felt I needed a shower or something to wash the filth of his mind off me.
After a moment, I found out where the raiders hid their loot. With a thought, I transferred all of it to my storehouse that used to be one of Lord Kalandros’ castles. I wondered what Tim would say when he saw all of that.
After a while, the last of the raiding parties rode in, well, they were dragged in by their horses, and there hadn’t been a single death today. With my horn, I surrounded the campground with a wall of power, and commanded all within the wall to freeze in place. I watched as the men struggled to move. I landed, changed back into myself, and walked between the men towards the leader. The men couldn’t talk, but their thoughts were still going on at rocket speed.
The campsite reeked of the stench of hundreds of unwashed men, animals, and the open latrine toward the back of the grounds. I managed to keep from passing out, but just barely.
I felt something small land on my shoulder. “Wondered if you would make an appearance, Timothy.”
“Merciful Powers preserve us. What have you gotten yourself into? What is all this?”
“They all belong to him,” I said walking up to the leader. “This person calls himself ‘Black Johnnie’,” I said. “He’s the leader of this rag tag gang of vermin.”
“I know who is he is -- by reputation only. Do you realize this is probably the most wanted man in the history of the world?”
“Really? Hi, I’m Brian Trent, unicorn at large, and this is my pal, Timothy. “I know I didn’t bother with the niceties, and all, but I thought you and your vermin were much to dangerous for that,” I told him and froze about half a dozen men trying to sneak up behind me. “I cleared out that warehouse you had in Glengarion, what was that? Twenty — thirty years of loot? Tim, did you see all that stuff?”
“Aye, that I did, laddy. Which brought me here.”
“How much gold did we get from Lord Kalandros in Glengarion?”
“I couldn’t answer that.”
“Oh, right, because I’m a ditzy female that doesn’t need to know math?”
“Still harping on that, are you? I suppose one of these centuries you might think to forgive an old leprechaun that spoke out of turn, but what’s done is done, as they say. I don’t know how much of all that gold came from Glengarion, nor do I wish to. What are you doing with this one, anyway?”
“Nothing much,” I said with a shrug, and walked around the man. “Doesn’t look like much, when you get right down to it. I really think this whole set up was meant for Toby, but he turned it down, so I’m the one that had to do it.”
“Do what?” Timothy asked.
“Put an end to Black Johnnie and all his men once and for all. I mean who else could do it? It would take a Duke or even the king to raise the kind of army that would be needed to catch these creeps, and I don’t see that happening, since most of the nobles are way too quick to take bribes from him.
“So,” I said with another shrug. “It’s up to me.”
“The price on his head is staggering,” Tim said. “Even more than for old Lightning Jack a few years back.”
“What happened to him?”
“Well, Lightning Jack was another raider, until his own men turned him in for the reward. They hung him, and let him swing for weeks out in the square by the King’s own castle, they did. They said that Lightning Jack left behind a treasure that would stagger the imagination.”
“Did you?” I asked, looking right into Black Johnnie’s eyes. “You did, at that. More than what I already took? Well, it’s all gone now. We’re going to need a bigger place.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is Lightning Jack, and Bloody Pete, and several other names. He’s had quite a career with this. When the heat’s really on, he has his men turn him in for the reward money, and there are always enough people, even in the Royal Guards so he can bribe his way out. The people don’t know what he looks like, and they wouldn’t care, really, who was hanging out on display.”
“So, what happens to them now?” Tim asked me.
“Well, this one is going to spend the rest of his life, and a short one it will be, as a housefly. He can live off other people’s waste for a few months, then die. The Powers, I am sure will welcome him to the afterlife, personally. What was that?” I asked, and looked at the raider. With a thought, I let him speak.
“You,” he sputtered. “You can’t do that. I’m a human being, I am.”
“No you aren’t,” I said. “You gave that up years ago when you decided to prey on others of your own kind. I mean, you raid these little villages filled with people that have almost nothing, and you take it, kill and burn while you’re at it, and come back in a few years to do it again. Not anymore. You’re men are going to spend their lives as farm animals, they will be divvied up among the towns that you raided, recently, to help rebuild.
“No one will know how you died, but your name will probably pass into a legend as a nightmare for kids. ‘Better be good, or Black Johnnie will get you.”
“You have no right to do this,” Johnnie yelled at me. “If you stop this….”
“What? You don’t have anything left to bribe me with, and if you did, I would just take it like all the rest.
“And, as for rights, I have every right, since the Powers themselves have asked it of me. What right did you have to take all those lives over the years? So, stop whining. I could grab you after you change, pull your wings right off and toss you in that trench back there. You’d still have plenty of food even if you couldn’t fly.”
Black Johnnie turned green at the thought. I think it finally sank in as to how he would be spending his time as a housefly.
“You can’t,” he said, weakly.
“Too late, I already have.”
Black Johnnie curled in on himself, shrinking, and screaming as his extra legs grew in. A minute later, he was in the air flying right for me. I caught him, shook him up, and said, “Help me, help me!” until I let him go. He flew right at my eyes. I grabbed him again, and said, “I know you can hear me in there, you do this again, and I will tear off your wings.”
The fly spun around for a moment, then headed for the trench.
“Any questions?” I asked the rest of the men. “None?”
“Can I be a fox?”
“Yes,” I told the man in the back. “You are.”
After that, I had twenty others that chose to be wild life, badgers, weasles and such, no skunks or rabbits, and the rest I divided into cattle, lots of chickens, horses and mules. Tim called in his friends, to drive the animals to their new homes.
Twenty minutes later, I rode a horse leading a procession of animals, most were loaded up with bags containing the property that had been removed from the village the day before.
The people from the town hall were all out, now, working together. I could smell food and lots of it either baking or roasting, and I realized how hungry I was. Everyone stopped and stared at me, and I heard several shouts and people recognized their animals.
Will met me, and shook his head. “What happened?”
“I found the raiders camp and I felt I had to something to stop this, so I did. I brought back everything that I could find that belongs here, including these animals, and I thought the extra animals might be put to good use. Uh — those are dairy cows, you know, for milk and butter? They aren’t for eating, if you follow me.”
“You mean you turned all those….”
I held a finger to my lips, and nudged the horse along the road. “You may not want to let people know that, but you can safely say that Black Johnnie is now a housefly. I think he’s better off like that. My friends will be around in a few days. We’re splitting up all their stuff between the towns that have been raided. I think that’s probably everyone, but you will get a sizable share.”
Will took the reins, and lead the horse for me. “I don’t know how we could ever thank you for this, Brian. Brian of Trent is it?”
“That’s me.” I said.
“Well, to whatever Power sent you to us, I will always be grateful.”
Will stood aside as I jumped down from the saddle. I gave the horse a good petting, and sent him off to join the others.
A long table had been placed by the town’s fountain. Loaded with food of all sorts, I walked over as everyone at the table stood up and cheered.
Will gathered the rest of the villagers, and stood up on one of the benches. “Everyone. Today, I think we should all thank the Powers, and this young man, for giving back to us what was taken. The lives that were lost yesterday can never be returned, but for those of us left, we can honor their passing, and their lives, by moving on and rebuilding. We now have the means to do just that.”
I tuned out the rest of Will’s speech as I stuffed my face. This had to be the one thing I missed most as a girl, being able to eat anything and everything I wanted without having to watch my “figure”. I swear I was ready to toss the next salad my Mom served me right on the floor for real food, but I was still mostly a vegetarian.
“What’s going on here?” a loud voice demanded behind me.
I think everyone looked over to see Cassie and Toby standing by the fountain.
“You are most welcome here,” Will said. “We are having a celebration for young Brian, there and his friend Bedrich.”
“You honor them, but what about me?”
“Brian has helped to restore this village from the raiders, and has given us the means to restore our lives. What part did you play in this?”
“She didn’t want to help, so she took her brother and rode off to sulk. Where’s Deelan?” I asked her.
“He was being too much of a pest, so Toby sent him home.”
Toby hung his head, but nodded.
“You didn’t. Not your own brother.” I saw where Toby had sent Deelan, to a large wooded area as a full deer. I sent him a thought, turned him back, and sent him home. “He’s okay now,”
“The Powers aren’t happy,” Toby said as he sat down next to me. “I was supposed to do something for them, but they said you took care of it. Thanks.”
Seething, Cassie sat down across from me, and glared. “We’ve wasted half a day, you know.”
“You agreed you would ride on, and let us catch up to you. You were the one wasting time coming back, but since it is a party for me, have some fun for a change.”
About an hour later, Toby and Cassie had filled themselves as well. She started talking about leaving, and I had to agree.
Five men, all dressed to the nines, approached my table and stopped two paces behind me. “I am Basil, lord Basil,” one said. “My friends and I are represent the top five families in this village, and we didn’t get nearly enough to rebuild our properties.”
I shrugged. “Take that up with Will, gentlemen, he’s the one in charge.”
Will, himself appeared a second later. “You have questions?”
“You gave us next to nothing to rebuild our homes,” Basil said.
“Yes, that’s true, but your homes weren’t touched in the raid. I understand that a tree on your property was burned, so I gave you enough to replace it. You, Serge, and you, Rupert, nothing at all happened to your property, so why do you expect money to rebuild?”
“I, for one,” said Basil, “want to rebuild my estate from the ground up. This time, I want a house at least three times the size of the current one, as befitting my station.”
“That would take most of the money we have,” Will protested.
“Then we’ll get it from the boy.”
“Sorry, mister, but that would break every rule in the Do-Gooder’s Handbook. This village gets what it needs to rebuild, but no one is going to get rich, or richer from it. In other words, you’re forgetting rule number two — Don’t get greedy.”
“This village is mine. I have the final say, by the King’s law, and I say that our houses are rebuilt before anyone else’s.”
“You’re just begging to be a housefly, aren’t you?”
Toby stood up. “I speak for the Powers,” he announced. His shape shimmered into the seeger form. He spread his wings, as Cassie said.
“Don’t you dare get involved in this.”
“The Powers say,” Toby insisted. He stared at Basil, then the others. A man’s voice spoke through Toby’s mouth.
“Basil, after the service that young Brian performed for this village today, and the rest of the world, we, The Powers have decided that you are no longer fit to be human. We are directing our seeger, Toby, to plant you on your estate as a tree for the next few years. When you are truly ready to apologize to Brian for your actions we will let you return to your human life. We have spoken.”
The man tried to speak, but it was too late, Toby closed his eyes. Basil’s entire body turned wooden as he vanished from the village.
“Thank you, seeger Toby,” Will said quietly.
The next afternoon we found a small village, untouched by the raiders. A few people were about, most seemed to be off working. Cassie lead the group to the town center, and waved her arms at the people, mostly children, that were there. “Hear me, I am Cassandra, the most powerful witch in the world.”
The smallest kids ran for home calling for their mothers. The older kids just laughed.
“Well then, Miss Witch,” one of the men called out. “What would you have us do?”
“Have a celebration in my honor,” Cassie said. “A grand feast it will be, too.”
“This is but a poor village, miss. Where are we to get the food for your celebration?”
“We have it,” I said poking Toby in the ribs. “We can put a spread just like yesterday.” I saw his eyes glaze over at the thought and he nodded his head.
“No,” Cassie insisted. “The town is supposed to do that.”
“Look, Cassie, I don’t think your getting this whole idea, yet. Why would the town wish to throw a party for you when they have nothing to throw it with? If you want a party, we throw it for the town?”
“They will do this, or I will have Toby burn the village to the ground and turn everyone in it to mice.”
“Well, that’s a good reason to party, isn’t it.” I jumped down from the horse and walked over to stand beside Cassie. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the people around here don’t like witches much. You may not want to give them any more reason. I know, you never can tell with witches, but we may want to leave before they start throwing rocks.”
“Brian’s right, Cass,” Toby added. “They throw rocks at me just because our mother is a witch, and she never said anything about burning a village down.”
“I don’t care, it’s my turn to be honored, not Brian this time.”
“But Cassandra, my dear,” Mr. Bedrich said quietly. “Brian actually did something for the entire village, he didn’t ride into town and demand a party. There is big difference there.”
I saw the way the square filled with people, and I called out. “All part of the act, folks. Come, see our play about two brave youths and their kindly, old, father, against the very wicked witch.” I bowed, but no one bought it.”
“Do we have that celebration, or not?” Cassie asked.
“I think you lot had better leave town, now, before someone decides the world’s most powerful witch should burn at the stake,” one of the village women told her.
“Toby, I command you to burn this village to the ground, and turn all these people into mice.”
“Don’t you dare,” I said as I felt power gathering around the seeger. “You started this with all of your talk of witches. They have every right to throw us out, and I say we go before they do.” I jumped on my horse, and gave the command to the other horses to hightail it for the wide open plains.
Two miles out of town, I stopped the horses, and gave Cassie a long glance. “Look, girlfriend, I understand that you grew up in that cottage in the woods, and that you haven’t had that much contact with people, but that still gives you no excuse for that. You are really lacking in social skills, you know, so next time leave the talking to me or Mr. Bedrich.”
Cassie seethed. “Toby, turn this insolent puppy into a puppy. See how he likes it.”
“I don’t do dogs,” I said.
“Toby, I’m going to count to three, and you had better do what I say.”
“There are powers and then there are powers,” I said. “Neither one of you has the power to touch me. Let it go at that. We have a day and half left to get to the wizard’s tower, shall we get going?”
As we rode, Mr. Bedrich took a position next to Cassie, and it looked like they were having a real heart to heart. I hoped that would work, because she was really getting to be an issue.
Toby rode next to me, and shook his head. “Brian, you had better be careful. I didn’t have to turn you into a puppy, this time, but the next I might not have any choice.”
“You really would have burned down that village and turned everyone into mice?”
He shrugged, and nodded his head. “Cassie wanted it, and yes, I would have.”
“Don’t you care about the people involved?”
“No, why should I?” he asked me right back. “Humans have always hated me for being a witch’s brat and a faun. Why shouldn’t I hate them?”
“Because you speak for the Powers now. With the Power you have, you have to care about this world and the people in it — all of the people, humans, too.”
“Tbe Powers say that you are right. You are always right. I don’t care. Do not cross Cassie again.”
We rode up to the outskirts of a large town. There were hundreds of people on the road, most entering the city, some leaving. Riders made room for walkers and those riding animal drawn carts and carriages.
“You,” Cassie said, and pointed to a boy about Toby’s age. The kid looked at her, and held out his hand. I dropped a coin in it. “Run ahead,” Cassie told him, “and let everyone know that I, Cassandra, the world’s most powerful witch, will be arriving shortly.”
“You,” he said and broke down laughing. “You’re the world’s most powerful witch? Then why aren’t you flying on a broomstick or riding a tornado?”
“I don’t want to make a scene.”
“Eric, Danny, Clarence,” he called ahead. “Take a look at what we’ve got here. This girl’s the most powerful witch in the world. Said so herself, she did.” The boy ran ahead to join his friends. All four looked back at Cassie and laughed some more. They turned, and darted through the town gates.
“That really wasn’t very bright, girlfriend,” I said.
“Brian is right, my dear,” Bedrich said, quietly. “I thought we had an agreement that you were not going to make an issue of your position in power.”
“If we go that way,” I said and pointed. “We will avoid the town completely.
“No,” Cassie said, determined to push on.
A dozen kids, ten boys with two girls, met us inside the gates, only to laugh at and tease Cassie all over again. There were grown ups watching, but none made any attempt to stop the kids.
All the way to the town square, the kids danced beside us, calling out, “Here she is, everyone, the most powerful witch in the world. Show us some magic, miss. Show us how powerful you are.”
“Lighten up, Cassie. Even you will have to admit that you brought this on yourself, and the kids are just doing what kids do best. You know that. You still are a kid, after all.”
“Be quiet, just shut your mouth and give me some peace,” she said although her cheeks were still burning red.
Even though the square was filled with people, the commotion the kids were making didn’t seem to register. A few people glanced our way, but most went about their business.
“Everyone! I am Cassandra the world’s most powerful witch. Listen to me.”
“Of course you are, my dear,” an elderly lady said from beside the fountain. “Would you like to buy some flowers or herbs for your potions?”
“Go on, miss, might help your cause,” said the first boy.
“Toby, turn all of these brats into statues of me. Someone will honor me for this.”
“Now, now, dear. Don’t get yourself all in a fuss. Have some tea, that will help your nerves.”
Ignoring the old woman’s words, Cassie said, “Toby, do it. I want these people to see what power I command.”
“That would kill them,” I said.
“So, what are you supposed to be, then?” several of the kids asked Toby.
“I speak for the Powers!” Toby shouted out. He changed into cat’s shape. With his wings spread, he glared out at the children.
I hopped down from the horse, and moved in front of the kids.
“Toby, these kids are under my protection now. You aren’t speaking for the powers, and you are not about to kill them.”
“Get out of the way, Brian, or you will join them. Oh, I know, you don’t do statues, either.”
“All life is precious to the Powers, you said so yourself.”
“I don’t care,” Toby said, and I felt power gather around him.
“I’m a Guardian of the Worlds, Toby. Don’t mess with the unicorn.”
Toby laughed. “You? You’re nothing but another stupid human. You have no powers, and I warned you.” A ball of flame flew from his eyes, and stopped halfway between us. The flame danced for a moment on the breeze, and died out.
“You guys get back,” I said. “The kitty cat there is getting out of line.”
“Toby, get on with it,” Cassie yelled.
Toby summoned power, real power this time. With a thought, I released it. Adults were hurrying the kids away from the square now. Some stayed behind me, though.
“Toby, I’m your friend, and I always will be, but this fight has to stop before someone is hurt. Go ahead, ask the Powers what you should do?”
Instead, he threw spell after spell at me. I blocked each of them, and sighed. “You were given this chance to speak for the Powers,” I said. “But you aren’t. You can’t speak for your sister, when everything she asks is wrong. Drop this now.”
The seeger reached into himself and drew power, more power than I had ever felt before. That much power, if released, would go off like an atomic explosion.
A spark from the tip of my horn opened a minor vortex in the air over Toby’s head. I could see the swirling lights of stars in infinite blackness of space through the hole.
I directed the power from Toby into the vortex, where it exploded into a bright new star. The flame from the star burned itself out in seconds.
Another spark from my horn sent more beams of power down my body as I took my real shape again. A tear rolled down my cheek as I pointed my horn down at the cat. Toby tried backing away, but I wouldn’t let him move.
“You were given a great power, but you weren’t ready for it. Go back, Toby. Go back to the kid you used to be. You will always be a seeger, able to speak for the Powers, but you will have no more power, yourself.”
The cat vanished, and I covered Toby in a robe.
“No!” Cassie screamed at me.
“You are no longer a witch of any sort, Cassandra. You will never have power again. You lost that right when you commanded your brother to kill.”
“When my mother gets through with you, you will be sorry,” Cassie said.
“So be it. Let’s go talk to her, now.” I opened a gate to the wizard’s tower and sent the others through. I changed back to human boy, turned to the people of the village, and said. “Sorry for all the fuss.” I walked through the gate and closed it.
I could not believe the village I walked into. Barely controlled chaos, I thought, compared to the orderly and neat villages I was used to. Houses seemed thrown around built wherever they could squeeze one in, although I did see one house pull itself up on little feet and walk over to a sunnier spot. This was crazy, and I wanted to live there.
Fairy folk filled the village, from the smallest sprites to full grown centaurs. As I walked further, a crowd of pixies surrounded me, laughing their heads off. All were naked and about the size of elementary school kids. I gave off several sparks of power from my horn, before they got the message and backed off.
A second after that, Toby grabbed me from behind, and hugged for all he was worth. I turned, and hugged him back.
“I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Brian. You saved my life back there.”
“That’s what unicorns do,” I said. “Where’s your Mom?”
“I haven’t seen her yet, but I’m sure Cassie’s found her by now.” He looked down for a second, then back at me. With a perfectly straight face, he said, “You are really beautiful when you’re angry.”
I shuddered trying to keep from laughing, but the giggles won out. “Thanks, I think.”
We walked down a winding path to what looked like a tall, brown stone Tower off to one side. Everything along the way, including most of the people were dressed up for what I gathered was a wedding party.
“Brian?” A man’s voice said from behind me.
“John?” I said, and turned around to face someone I never expected to see. “What are you doing here?”
The wizard grinned at me, “Getting married. I thought Timothy told you.”
I must have turned a dark shade of red. “You’re the one marrying Melody? I know he said you had a girlfriend, but…. Congratulations! That’s great. This is your new stepson, Toby, the seeger.
“Go on, he’s going to be your new step dad,” I said and pushed Toby forward.
Toby gave the wizard a quick hug. “Hello.”
“You’re a lot bigger than I thought,” John said and returned the hug.
“Brian,” Mr Bedrich called out from my right. “Trouble and it’s coming fast.”
“John, this is Mr. Bedrich, the baker. We have got to get him a shop here, he is a true wizard when it comes to bread making.’
“I’ve heard, but….”
“Long story,” Mr. Bedrich said.
A tall lady, with raven black hair stormed up the pathway. Power seethed around her, and for a second, I felt worried. Now this was a witch.
“My mother.” Toby said.
“Wow, she is the most gorgeous lady I’ve ever seen. Way to go, John.”
“Hello, my dear,” John said, and stepped forward to greet his bride.
“I take it this child is the one called Brian?”
“Yes, he is and Brian is a very good friend of mine, from my country. In fact, Brian is the very special guest I’ve been telling you about.”
“Do you realize that this child has ruined your daughter’s life?”
“I would trust Brian with my life,” John said, quietly. “I’m sure there is a good explanation….”
“I can explain,” I started to say.
“I’ll deal with you later, young man,” she snapped.
I felt deflated. “Yes, ma’am.”
For a second, John looked relieved. “Melody, Brian is….”
“A meddling little fool for all I am concerned.” I felt more power gather round her.
Toby stepped in front of me. “Mom, it’s my fault. All of this is my fault. I’m sorry.”
I stepped around Toby to stand in front. “No, it isn’t. None of this is Toby’s fault, ma’am. I stared at Toby for a second and he nodded. We said in unison, “It’s Cassie’s fault.”
Toby side stepped around me, again. “I never should have listened to her.”
“I should have known you boys would stick together.”
“I resent that,” I said. “My name is Kimberly, actually,” I said and changed back into my female self. “I can’t be John’s best man, but if you need a maid of honor, I am so there.”
“You’re even prettier when you aren’t mad,” Toby whispered.
“You, boy — girl, whatever you are, you have a lot to answer for. You took my daughter’s powers from her.”
“She gave me no choice,” I said. “She ordered her brother to kill people with his powers.”
Toby nodded. “Brian tried to stop it, over and over again, but I listened to Cassie, not him. I’m sorry.”
“It’s a long story,” I said, stepping in front of Toby. “The Powers asked….”
“I’m telling it,” Toby insisted and stepped in front of me.”
“Okay, you tell it.”
He did just that, in pictures and words, I saw the last few days played back for Melody’s benefit.
“Just what were doing at the baker’s by yourself,” she demanded.
“Cassie gave me the money, and told me I had to,” Toby said and showed her the scene.
“The people of the village didn’t try to burn you or stone you to death?”
“They did, but Brian stopped it. He saved my life.” Toby showed her.
“What did you mean by saying I was a ‘card carrying, bubble riding, good witch’?”
John broke out laughing, and another voice as well. I looked down to see Timothy by my feet.
“I’m glad you find that so amusing,” Melody said, with ice in her voice.
“Brian was making a reference to a theatrical show,” John answered. I sent her a mental image of the good witch, and her bubble. “There, you see, he was just distracting the people of your village from their anger at Toby,” John added.
Picking up the story, Toby showed her the lightning bolts and demons and our flight from the village. He gave her a full account of how I made the crow tell the truth, and for the first time, Melody laughed.
“That crow hasn’t been the same, since.”
The story went on, until Toby showed Cassie commanding him to change Deelan into a real fawn.
“Cassandra!” Melody shouted out, in a voice designed to carry.
“I’ll get her,” I said, and with a snap of my fingers made the girl appear next to her mother.
Cassie startled, then glanced at her mother. “Oh, did you want me? Did you find that horrible creature that took my powers?”
“Yes, she did,” I said. “I want you to tell your mother the truth, Cassie, and there is a word for creatures like me. Why don’t you use it?” I changed back to boy. “It’s me.”
Cassie glanced at me, then back to Melody. “He’s a…. He’s a unicorn, Mother. A Guardian of the Worlds.”
“This I have to see,” Melody said.
“Okay,” Toby answered and caught his mother up on his adventures so far.
I felt completely awed by the sight of me as a unicorn, as seen through Toby’s eyes. There I was, surrounded by golden streams of power, lowering my head to point my horn.
Melody sighed, and looked away from her son. “Cassie, I won’t tell you how angry I am for what you have done. Nothing would compare to it. How could you do that to your own brother?”
“Brother? Mother, that animal may call itself your son, but I will never be its sister. I had a chance to use it to get all the power in the world, and I took it. I didn’t know that unicorns were more powerful than seegers. And you had better watch that horn, horse boy.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, and I will warn you, you don’t qualify to touch me. Go for the horn, and you will wind up a donkey, like so many others.”
“Cassie? What does he mean you don’t qualify to touch him?”
“Oh, mother, I’ve been seeing boys for a long time, now. I had to something than just sit around in the forest, watching your pet.”
Melody looked down at me, and shook her head. “It would seem that you know my daughter much better than I do.”
“I am a teenaged girl,” I said with a shrug. “I have a boyfriend, but it’s different for unicorns.”
“I may not be a ‘Good Witch’, as in your show, but I cannot tolerate my daughter’s behavior, either. You were absolutely right to take her powers, as you did, and I apologize for the way I treated you earlier, Guardian.”
“Now do you see why I was so anxious to have Brian, or Kimberly here for our Wedding?” John cut in.
“Yes, I do, and I, too, will be honored,” Melody said, simply.
“Brian,” John asked me, “When you can travel as you do between cities, and worlds, why did you decide to ride here from Melody’s home. You could have saved yourself a lot of time, and effort.”
I nodded. “Yes, but the Powers asked me to do it this way, as did our Timothy, and it took me long enough to figure out the real reason for it.”
“And that was?” Timothy asked.
“The Powers knew what was going to happen to Toby, and they were willing to give him a chance. It’s not often that they have a chance to make a new seeger, but they had me along to make sure that nothing went wrong. They didn’t want me to let on to Toby or Cassie that I was a unicorn, and they wanted to see how Toby would handle himself and the powers he had. At every step of the trip he was given an opportunity to prove himself, you know, like one of those choose your adventure books back home. If Toby knew how much Power I had, he would have behaved himself, and probably forced Cassie to, as well. Who else could have stopped him if he did go bad? So you see, the immovable force, that’s him, met the irresistible object, that’s me.”
“That was so cute,” Cassie said from right behind me.
“Brian, watch out,” Toby called out.
I stood there as Cassie raised up a huge rock, and brought it down on my head. The rock crumbled into dust long before it could have touched me. “Thanks, Toby. I knew she was there.”
At that point, Cassie must have lost her temper. In spite of Melody’s screams, Cassie reached out to grab me by the throat. She came within an inch of touching me, before I made her freeze in place. I ducked away from her.
“Why don’t you take her to her room, put her to bed, and maybe tattoo rule number one on the back of her right hand,” I told the witch.
“Rule number one?”
“‘Don’t touch unicorns’,” I said. “I’ve always wondered why people tend to ignore that when they’re around me.”
For the rest of the day, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t spend time with Toby. His mother kept interrupting. She chatted, and talked, and wouldn’t leave me alone. I was tempted to go home and wait for the wedding ceremony, but I thought Mom would not understand.
At one point, Melody asked me a weird question. No one else was around, and I was sorry for it.
“Brian, you’re a very attractive young man, what do you think of my daughter?”
I broke out laughing. “Me? Attractive? Attractive to what?”
“No seriously, you really are a handsome boy. Cassie’s noticed it. What do you think of her?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t noticed anything about her. She’s completely self-centered, selfish, and power hungry, and if she ever grows out of ‘Princess’ mode, she might be a nice person…. Uh, I really doubt that, but you should know her better than me.”
“No, I meant how she looks. You two would make a great couple.”
I laughed again. “I can see that. It would be so romantic, you know, there we are, probably at my house, me on one end of the couch and Cassie on the other. She’d wave at me, and I’d wave back, then she might try to get closer to me. I’d tell her not to, of course, but she doesn’t listen. She moves closer, and closer, and she puts her arms around me. She’s hoping for a kiss, I just know it, but with her arms around me like that, she’d turn into a donkey for the rest of her life. I’d think, that would put a damper on things.”
“That’s the most horrid thing I’ve ever heard. Surely you don’t feel that way?”
“It’s the truth. I’m a unicorn, if you aren’t sure about that ask John, but a unicorn is a type of horse with a bloody great horn sticking out if it’s forehead. I’m a female. I’m not interested in other females, especially human ones, and I would never date outside my species.”
“But you’re a boy now,” she protested.
“You saw me in my real shape, earlier. So did Toby. “I came here as a boy at the request of the Powers. They thought Toby would be more comfortable with another boy of his age, instead of an older girl. He has one of those already.”
“I see,” she said, and for the first time that afternoon, she turned her back on me and walked away.
I cut another gate, and stepped through it to stand underneath my favorite waterfall. I could never get enough of the scrubbing and cleansing I felt every time I stood there. Another unicorn joined me in the spray. He nuzzled my neck for a moment.
“I hope the Elders aren’t mad at me?” I asked him.
“Relieved, I’d say,” Trouble answered me. “You acted on behalf of the Powers as you said you would, and that is it. Well, the adventure is over for you, my dear. Would you care to join me at home?”
“Not yet,” I said. “I still have to be at John’s wedding, and then, who knows, I might.”
I joined John and Mr. Bedrich for dinner that evening. The weather was perfect, and someone had set up a dozen picnic tables outside the Tower. All the tables were decorated for the wedding. One taste of the bread, and I knew who baked it.
“I have a new shop here,” Mr. Bedrich told me. “Much bigger than the old one.”
“I know where I’ll be every morning, buying bread for my mother.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” John said. “She is invited to the wedding, if you would like to bring her back here tomorrow.”
“I’ll ask her.”
“Brian, what happened with you and Melody this afternoon? She was fuming about something.”
“And this is different from every other times she fumes?”
“You have a point, but she was really upset.”
I glanced around, and said, in a low voice, “She tried to set me up with Cassie. You know, what a lovely couple we’d make, and all of that. I didn’t tell her where to go, but I did let her know, it wouldn’t work. You know, she’s going to be trouble. I will do my best not to ruin your wedding for you.”
“I appreciate that,” he said. “You really think she would try something?”
“Look up the definition of witch sometime. John, you know me, I don’t want to say this, but -- she’s an airhead.”
John nodded, “You have that right, but I do love her.”
Shortly after the meal was finished, Melody brought three kids over to the table, and it was all I could do not to gag at the scent. She didn’t seem to notice, and neither did John but if nothing else I knew the smell of troll — a lot like rotting plants with a dead skunk thrown in for good measure. I could see the spell she cast on them, but why would she bring me trolls?
“Brian, good, I was able to catch you. I have three adorable kids here, who would live to see a real, live unicorn. Would you mind?”
I changed shapes, and moved away from the table. With a thought, I turned the kids into pixies for real this time. There was no way I could let three trolls loose in the village. Melody didn’t notice but the kids did. They patted themselves down, glanced at me, and ran in the opposite direction.
“Come back!” Melody screamed after them. “Come back.” She turned very pale.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her, and loaded her up with a truth telling spell.
“Those weren’t kids,” she said, with a frown. “They were trolls.”
“Trolls?” John and everyone else at the table demanded. “What were you thinking, bringing Trolls here. Now what do we do about it. They could kill people.”
“Why trolls?” I asked her.
“They were going to surround you, to pet you, and then turn back so I could….” She made her move, grabbed my horn with both hands, and broke it right off my forehead. With a shout, she held out the horn. “Now let’s see about those trolls.”
The horn started struggling in Melody’s hands. It jerked one way, and then another, trying to get free. She said a word of power, but it didn’t slow the horn down at all. She held on harder, until the horn pulled her off the ground. She dropped down as the horn shot up through the darkened sky trailing sparks of gold and white.
The horn exploded in the sky in huge clouds of multi-colored lights and sparks. Five, then six times the fireworks went off, until the last explosion resolved itself into words written across the sky for everyone to read.
“Congratulations John and Melody. Love, Kim.”
Everyone cheered, and applauded the show until the last of the sparks and words faded from view.
“You gave up your horn for that?” Melody asked, confused.
“Are you kidding? You think you could actually touch my horn and remain a human?” I asked her back. “I changed those trolls into real pixies, and they are off to join a troup. As for the horn, consider that a wedding present. You’re still you, and I still have my horn.” I showed her the real deal for a second, before I turned back into Brian.
“But how…. How did you know?”
“I know you’re Toby’s mom and everything, but you are about as subtle as one of those trolls. How many times have I told you I was a unicorn? One dozen, two dozen? You saw the size of my nose. If you had used even a little thought you would have known I could smell those trolls from the moment you brought them here.
“Normally, if someone brought Trolls to me disguised like that, I’d take it as a hostile action, but you wouldn’t be much of a witch if you didn’t try for my horn. I wouldn’t be much of a unicorn if I wasn’t ready for you. So, you’ve had your fun, no harm done, and I’ve had mine. If you try for the horn another time, you are in so much trouble.”
Melody pointed her right hand at me, and shouted out a word of power. I felt the power flowing from her, and it was strong, I had to admit that. She said another word, then cast a full blown spell at me. I yawned.
In spite of all the magic she threw at me, I sat down next to John. “I know you’re going to marry the witch, but if she keeps this up much longer I am going to get annoyed.”
“I could never tell you how sorry I am about this. She’s never behaved like this before. If I thought she would go this crazy at the thought gaining your power….”
“I’m going to have to do something, you know. This is getting out of hand.”
Toby put his hand on my shoulder. “The Powers say end this.”
I stood up, and patted Toby on the shoulder in return. “Okay, now that’s speaking for the Powers.” I turned to face Melody again. “Getting tired, are you?”
She looked it, her hair was hanging down in strands, and sweat covered her face. “I will find something that works against you, you miserable brat.”
I laughed. “You’re the one casting all those spells at me, and you’re calling me a brat? What if I threw them all back at you?”
“You can’t, those were my spells.”
“Okay, fair is fair, but the Powers want this ended. You have no more power, Melody, none. You are, for the rest of your life, a human woman, never again a witch.”
Melody spat out a word of power, anyway. This one was a doozy. I stood back as a dark cloud appeared in the air between us. A tall man, wearing gray robes and clothes of a noble stepped out of the cloud.
“Charlie!” I called out, delighted.
He took a moment to recognize me, and his face turned a little sour. “Kimberly, my love, so good to see you again.”
“Why, Charlie, you handsome devil you.”
“Now let’s not get personal, here. You called me?” he asked in disbelief.
“Not me, sorry. That was Melody, there — your ex-witch.”
“Ah, Melody, you look a little pale. Is there something I can do for you?”
She glanced between the two of us, and glared at me. “You know this demon?”
“Charlie? Sure, if you want us to go twenty rounds, it won’t happen. Been there, done that, you know, that sort of thing. Besides, it was just a matter of you not thinking things threw again. I’m a Guardian of this World, and I need to know what and who I’m guarding it from. Especially that horrendously, evil demon.”
“Why Kimberly, flattery will get you everywhere with me.”
“Don’t I know it,” I said with a laugh.
“Demon,” Melody said. “I summoned you with the last of my power. Help me. I want that unicorn’s horn,”
“What ever for? If I could give you your powers back, I would, but that would have been a more sensible request. It’s not true, you know, that ground unicorn horn has healing properties.”
“That horn is the most powerful magical item in the universe.”
Charlie laughed. “Only if it happens to be attached to a unicorn. It’s nothing more than bone without the unicorn to give it power.”
“He’s right,” I said.”
“You never told me that,” Melody half yelled at me.
“Would you have believed me if I did? Really, you would have thought I was protecting the horn by making up a story. Wouldn’t you?”
She nodded. “I would have. So now what?”
I called Cassie out of the crowd and when she had joined her mother, both of them fainted, gently to the ground.
“What did you do?” John asked as he ran over to kneel beside Melody.
“Take them inside, wrap them up snug and in the morning neither one will ever remember being a witch. You will have your family again, and I will have lost a real headache.”
“Until we meet again,” Charlie said, and vanished back into his cloud.
“John, I’m going home to get my mother, when is the ceremony?”
“We will be here.” I said, and walked away from the village.
“Well, my girl, not a bad trip after all,” Tim said from my shoulder. “A fabulous treasure, and you gave John his life back from that blood sucking female. How she ever got her hooks into him I will never know.”
“You could have warned me,” I said.
“Not on your life. You had to see for yourself what sort of creature that was, and you did the right thing. I thank you for it, as do the Powers.”
“Well,” I said with a sigh. “There is one thing I learned from the villagers, and I will never doubt their wisdom again.”
“What was that?” he asked with a frown.
“You never can tell with witches.”
“Aye, lassie, remember that. The same holds true of almost anyone in this world.”
“Even me.” I said my good-byes to Timothy and headed home.
End of Part Three
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