Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in a small hut in the shadow of an empty castle. This was no average girl, although her red hair and freckles would lead you to believe it, she had a secret that she kept very close to her heart. Now, because we’re friends I’ll tell you her secret… she is a princess, but not the princess of this castle. She had come from a land quite far away that she had no desire to rule over. It didn’t matter though because she never would have ruled. She was the younger sister of an older brother and the daughter of a wise king. Her brother would have ruled, and in his wisdom the king would have married her off to a stuffy old duke to form an alliance of peace for the future of the kingdom. But she didn’t want that. She didn’t want any of it, so one day, in the still of the night she packed her most precious belongings and snuck out of the kingdom. When the royal household awoke the next morning there was much weeping and searching with not a clue as to where their precious princess had gotten too, and the kingdom mourned their loss… but this is not a story about them.
In the darkness she slipped on to the back of a wagon that was plodding slowly away from the castle and watched as her home disappeared into the distance. Once it was out of sight she rejoiced because for now, it looked like she was free. With a smile on her lips she rode along on the wagon until the merchant noticed her and threatened a flogging for strays that hung where they didn’t belong. She had never been threatened before, she was a princess after all, but instead of being indignant she hopped off the wagon and jogged into the near by woods to avoid the large man with the very threatening whip. Thus started her real adventure. Now, you see, because she was a princess she was grossly unprepared for life outside the castle walls and there were many days when she had nothing to eat and bruises and scrapes that would have never happened in that protected environment.
Her silken slippers didn’t protect from the rocks under foot, and her hair of satin tangled and knotted in the foliage. Though troubles abounded she persevered and one day, after what seemed like ages of walking she saw a shadow appear ahead of her on the debris strewn path she had been traveling. The sun dappled path was not dark, but the figure of a large steed appeared in shadow and mist to her weary eyes, and always just out of reach. It seemed that no matter how she ran to catch up she could never get any closer. She started to wonder if perhaps it was a demon sent to punish her for running away, and other times, when the sun would glint off the shadow like a blazing star, she thought that it may be her salvation from this silly and dangerous path she had chosen. It didn’t really matter, what did she have to loose anyway. It had been days since she’d seen another human being, she could be hopelessly lost and no one would even find her bones if she were to die here. Darkness started to fall, and the mysterious figure became harder and harder to see, eventually, in exhaustion and frustration the princess flopped to the ground and cried herself to sleep.
The next morning when she awoke she found herself on the edge of a great wood, and before her stood the most magnificent castle she had ever seen. It’s towers and turrets gleamed white marble in the sun, and the red tiled roofs looked sturdy and welcoming. Finally, she had found somewhere else. Somewhere she had never been. She had traveled far and wide visiting castles of royalty, but never in her life had she seen this one. With a giggle she rose to her feet and, very un-princess like, ran towards the huge iron gates that stood closed within the tall stone wall.
“Hello!” she called out as she ran, but no one emerged from the guard house. “Hello!” she shouted louder as she reached out to wrap her dirty hands around the thick bars of the gate. But again no one answered. Strange, she thought, with a castle like this that no one is around to let me in.
Peering through the bars, the castle grounds were beautifully landscaped, the lawns trimmed, the gardens in bloom, and even a large red and white striped tent stood in the ready for a picnic, but there was no one to be seen. After standing for a while, admiring the grounds she noticed something else… there were no birds singing within the walls. There were no bees or butterflies admiring the gorgeous blooms. No palace cat or dog chasing the non-existent gophers. There was no life with in these walls, and she found herself feeling very alone, and very scared.
Just then, she heard a noise that pulled her gazed to the far corner of the castle wall where the shadowed stallion stood in the full sunlight, yet still shrouded in mist. It seemed, even though she couldn’t see it, that they locked eyes for a moment before it disappeared around the corner, and the princess ran to catch up.
“You, there, stop right this instant!” she demanded in her most princess like voice even though she coughed and wheezed as she ran, because princesses, after all, are never to run, or shout. “Come back here!”
Rounding the corner she stopped in her tracks. Before her stood the most majestic stallion she had ever seen. His flanks glowed a shimmering black. Its mane flowed in waves down his neck, and his thick tail nearly touched the ground. And to her surprise, a single silver horn gleamed from the center of his forehead, so intricately carved with spirals that it looked like a master’s carving, but infinitely better.
“You are a unicorn!” she gasped, placing her fingers to her lips in surprise. “oh, great beast, forgive me for chasing you.” Falling into her most courtly curtsy her tattered skirts spread out around her. “I’m you humble servant.”
“Get up girl. I am not your master.” The voice was not loud, but carried an authority about it that had the princess jumping to her feet to obey. “Why would a silly princess like you be wandering so far into the woods?”
“Who says I am a princess?” She asked a bit indignantly. Because, after all, she was running away so she wouldn’t have to be the princess any longer.
“No one has to tell me you’re a princess, foolish child. I can see the glow about you as though there were a crown lay upon your brow.”
“I do not want to be a princess anymore.” She said to the unicorn, crossing her arms over her breast.
“So you say. Perhaps you will change your mind.”
“I wont.” She replied.
“Then why have you come to this castle?”
“You led me here, sir. Another castle was not my destination.” She paused, looking up at the high wall beside her, thinking of the beautiful castle hidden within, and a question occurred to her. “Why is there no one living in this castle?”
The unicorn let out an amused whinny tossing back it’s head. His horn catching the light and sending shattered pieces of sunlight across the ground.
“There once was an entire kingdom here. Thriving farms as far as the eye can see. It was ruled by a prince who was vain and selfish and cared not a lick for the lives of others. One day a lovely young lass came to the castle petitioning for the princes' hand in marriage. A beautiful girl though she wore not a crown or fine silks. Upon seeing her the prince fell in love, but when she had not a title he had her removed from the palace and his sight so he would no longer be tempted by her beauty. For he was a prince and as such deserved someone more beautiful who was royalty. Her petition for marriage was simply to save her family from being wrongfully killed, and asked no more of the prince than his hand in marriage, but he could not accept her as she was. She stayed at the gates of the castle for days, begging to return to the palace, but the prince would have none of it. In the night the girl died, curled up on the ground, and in the morning a brilliant white unicorn lay dead at the palace gates.”
“Let me guess,” said the princess, “All in the palace were cursed and you are that prince. Who was supposed to learn a lesson.”
Again the unicorn laughed. “Goodness no.” He said. “You are right about the curse though. The unicorn that died for this prince was my sister. She had fallen in love with the human man, not knowing of his less than attractive traits. She gave up her life as a unicorn through the magic of the nymph Khatri. She only needed the prince to accept her as she was and she could live with him forever… but if he didn’t then, well, then Khatri would destroy the unicorns.”
“Oh no.” the princess whispered and took a step closer to the unicorn. “But he didn’t marry her so how are you still here?”
“The nymph cannot see me. I was already cursed with a coat of black. While the others frolicked in their shimmering white. I would never be like them, my magicks are different. I am not a unicorn the way the others were. When Khatri destroyed them she looked only for the white rays of sunlight, and didn’t check the shadows. When all the unicorns had gone, I returned here and cursed this kingdom. This is my doing.”
“You poor thing.” The princess, who had a gentle heart, ached for the last unicorn, and closed the gap between them. Placing her small white hand on his muzzle she stroked his jaw to comfort the creature, though he didn’t seem to need it.
“I am not poor. Only lonely.”
“What can I do to help you to not be so lonely?”
“I wish you to take this castle as your own. And have me for a husband.”
“Oh, No. No, no, no.” The princess replied. “I shall not take the castle. I do not want to be a princess. I just want to be me. No servants, no silly dresses. Just me. As I am now.”
“And you would not have me either?”
“Dear Unicorn, I would have you. But I will not take greatness.”
The unicorn snorted and pulled his head from her grasp. “Then you cannot have me.” He said, and cantered towards the encroaching forest.
“Are you sure you are not the vain prince?” She called after him, but he just disappeared into the trees.
Finding herself alone again the princess let a single tear roll down her cheek. “What am I to do now?”
From the trees shattered light spread across the ground again, blinding her for a moment. When the light had gone the princess found herself standing at the door of a tiny cottage that seemed to have grown from the ground. It sat nestled against the wall of the castle. Her gift from the black unicorn that had saved her from wandering aimlessly in the forest. Her heart swelled with gratitude as she entered her new home. Everything inside was just as she had wished it could be, and she lived quite happily ever after.
Now, you’d think that was the end of the story, but it’s not. The princess did live quite happily there in her little hut in the shadow of the empty castle, but eventually she did grow lonely. One day she went outside into the bright sunshine and stood, staring into the dark of the forest, remembering how the unicorn had told her that the nymph had forgotten to look into the shadows.
“Unicorn!” She called out, because since she no longer considered herself a princess it was perfectly acceptable to shout. But there was no response to her call. Day after day she did the same thing, and day after day there was no response.
She didn’t want to give up hope of seeing the unicorn again, but as time passed she found herself missing him. She had no idea how to lure him back. All the tales she had heard about unicorns said that they only appear to someone once, and if you didn’t take the offer when it was given you’d never see it again. She had seen him, and refused his offer, and now, she was afraid that she would never see it again.
She walked aimlessly and eventually found herself standing at the gates to the empty palace. It had been so long since she had rounded this corner she had nearly forgotten that there was a castle behind the wall. It was still beautiful behind the gates, and she found herself wanting to go inside and touch the silks and china… but only for a moment. She didn’t miss that stuff. Reaching through the bars she pulled the lock and the gates swung open quietly, letting her into the still wonderland beyond.
Quietly, like an uninvited guest she strolled through the gardens, and lounged in the silken pavilion. Closing her eyes she wondered what it would be like living in this magnificent palace, instead of her perfect little hut.
“Admit that you miss this, princess.”
Startled, the princess let out a squeal as she fell off her chair. And there, before her face were four silver hooves, attached to long shimmering black legs. Above her stood the unicorn. Her unicorn. She couldn’t hide her excitement at seeing him again and jumped to her feet throwing her arms around his neck.
“It is not the frivolities I miss.” She cried into his silken hide, “It is you. I will be anything for you if only you say you shall not leave me again. I have felt your loneliness, and I can bear it no longer. Take me with you. Either here into the castle, or into the dark of the woods. I care not. I care only that I am no longer without you.”
“And I only care for a princess.” The unicorn replied.
“Then that is what I am. I am a princess. The first daughter of a king. The next after my brother. I am who you say I am. I will not deny it to you.”
”Then it is as it should be.” The unicorn replied.
In an instant the court yard came to life. A bird sang in a tree. A bee buzzed through the flowers, a chorus of water cascaded into the fountain. Life returned to the air.
Looking around her, the princess clasped her hands beneath her chin. “It’s alive!” she cried out joyously.
“Princess,” the unicorn said, returning her attention to him. “It is now your choice. Would you stay here and rule a kingdom of us, or would you throw off your mortal bounds and join me in the woods.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought…I want…”
“Hush now, princess. Close your eyes and make your wish, I care not what it is.”
Closing her eyes the princess smiled brighter than the sun as the unicorn touched his horn to her heart. The two were swept up in a magical glimmering light fulfilling the wish of the princess…
written by liz evans 6.28.2011