Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
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Unicorn Thief

by Janie Brunson




"There's no way we're going to escape," I said to the unicorn, "Would you stop pacing already?" He stopped his agitated prancing and came over to lie down next to me with a resigned sigh. I leaned against his silky flank and wrapped my fingers in his cloudlike mane. Now I'm really not the unicorn-hugging type, but we had been through a lot tonight, and one or both of us might be executed today, so I figured I might as well. Besides, he didn't seem to have any conception of the idea of personal space.

"We could light some of this on fire and maybe burn a hole in the wall," I suggested, kicking at the loose straw on the floor of the stall where we were both imprisoned, "Do you have any matches?"

The unicorn sighed again and looked up at me with skeptical clear amber eyes.

My sigh echoed the unicorn's. This wasn't going the way I had intended. Steal the unicorn, collect the gold, and leave the kingdom: that had been the plan. Notice that being locked in a stable with said unicorn had not been part of the three-step process. At least being locked in a dungeon has some dignity to it, in a dark, tragic-hero kind of way. Stables don't have quite the same sense of gloomy glory. It was just another reminder that I was no one's hero, tragic or otherwise. I was just an orphan from the streets, a criminal, a unicorn thief.

The troubling chain of events that eventually got me into this situation began when Lord Traymark hired me to steal a unicorn from the king's stables. He didn't tell me why exactly, but it wasn't hard to figure out. To explain, I'll need to give a quick history lesson. I didn't pay attention at all in Remedial Kingdom History back at the orphanage school, but basically, there are four races in this kingdom: humans, elves, dwarves and trolls. They all used to do their own thing until some conquering hero named Jordan The Subjugator (human, of course) showed up, united the four races into one kingdom against their will, and proclaimed himself king over the whole mess. That's who I'm named after, by the way. They weren't feeling too creative the morning I was dumped on the orphanage doorstep, so they named me Jordan, the most common name in the kingdom. Anyway, this whole kingdom is in a constant state of undercover war, with the other three races trying to get rid of the human king, who is currently Jordan the Subjugator's grandson, Roland.

Lord Traymark, who is one of the elf nobles, hired me to do the one thing that would force the king to declare an open civil war: steal a unicorn. Only the royal family has unicorns, and they're really proud of it. There's something about unicorns that brings their riders power, so the king doesn't want anyone else to get ahold of one. Don't ask me. Like I said, never paid attention in school. I left that orphanage when I was twelve and started making my own living as a thief in the marketplaces and city squares. At first, I just stole to survive. It turned out, though, that I was really good at it. Not trying to brag, but within a couple years, people started asking me to steal stuff for them, because I would do a better job than they would themselves. I got some pretty high-profile jobs that way. I've stolen magic wands, crystal balls, famous swords, and, once, a handful of dragon's gold. I'd never stolen anything alive before, though. Lord Traymark promised me gold if I did this job for him, more than I had ever hoped to have in all my life. It was enough gold that I could actually get out of this miserable kingdom and start a new life somewhere far away. I could even retire from thieving!

I said yes, even though it was risky and I didn't trust Traymark as far as I could throw him. He's about three times my weight, so that's saying something. I've always been short and slim for my age.

The next step in the unicorn job was having my partner in crime, Trista, check out the castle and give me an idea of what to expect. Trista is this charming elf girl who always looks completely put together and confident. No one ever questions her if she's spending time around the king's castle, pretending to admire the unicorns. If I did that, they'd lock me up within the first five minutes, with plenty of curses about the kingdom's corrupted youth. At least it would be in a proper dungeon.

Sneaking into the King's stables was almost insultingly easy. It was a warm night, and the guards on the gate were sleeping, all wrapped in their fancy cloaks and slumped against the wall. It was a simple thing to climb over the gate, swim the moat, and run lightly along the path Trista had described to get to the stables. The guard on the stable door wasn't sleeping, but he was a dwarf, and they never know what's going on right in front of their nose. I walked right past him. There was an old ladder propped against the stable wall, and I climbed it, quietly pried open the window at the top, and slithered through the narrow opening to a soft landing in the hay loft. Everything was going completely according to plan. I crept down to the stalls, lit my fairy lamp, and started trying to decide which unicorn to steal.

I swept the light along the row of stalls slowly, marveling at what I was seeing. They were amazing animals, truly. Their coats were in vibrant colors, from flawless silver to warm tan to a rich, dark chestnut. Their horns caught the dim light from my fairy lamp and shone with their own inner pearly radiance.

I'm the last person to stand around appreciating beauty, especially when I have a job to do, but I was dazzled. There was a big, magnificent red one that I kept returning to, dazed with the desire to take him with me. How much more respect would I get if I had a unicorn like that by my side, if I could ride high on his back ... I shook my head sharply to scatter the daydreams. What was my problem? I couldn't afford to space out on the biggest job I had ever done. The red one would likely be hard to control because of his size, not to mention conspicuous, with that bright coat. I made myself walk past his stall. Although, taking a second look at them all, I acknowledged that there wasn't a single one which wouldn't be conspicuous. So I returned to the red stallion. He was so amazing, and he posed such a challenge. If I could steal him, I would be the undisputed best thief in the whole kingdom. I just couldn't resist. My hand reached for the latch on the stall door. I didn't notice it was trembling until I accidentally made the latch clink loudly as I unfastened it. Damn! How had I let that happen? The red stallion opened his eyes, stirring from sleep. Then he threw up his head, looked directly at me, and let out a loud, powerful whinny. My breath caught, and, for a second, I just froze. I'm usually really good at thinking on my feet, pulling off narrow escapes and the like, but, either because things had gone wrong so suddenly, or just because I was stunned by the unicorns and the amount of gold that was on the line, my mind went blank.

"What's going on?" called the dwarf guard from outside, "Someone in there?" I heard keys jingle as he unlocked the door. I swore under my breath, heart beginning to race. I was standing in plain view! I moved rapidly away from the door as it opened, to the very back of the stable. The last stall was shadowy and, thankfully, empty. I looked down at the fairy lamp still shining in my hand and quickly extinguished it, then vaulted over the stall door, not trusting myself to handle the latch without screwing up again.

"Hello?" called the guard, moving down the row of stalls as the unicorns all stirred restlessly, "Who's there?" He was carrying a light of his own, though it was just an ordinary torch. Fairy lamps were rare. I'd stolen mine from that troll merchant just last month, and he was still trying to hunt it down. I crouched in the straw on the stall floor, trembling with nerves. This was about as bad as I'd ever messed up. If he decided to shine that light into this stall, I didn't know what I would do. Something moved in the dark right next to me. I mean, literally six inches from me, and it was something big. I managed to keep from crying out, but I did gasp sharply and the dwarf heard it. "Who's there?" he demanded, sounding more threatening this time and rapidly coming closer. Dwarves were shorter than humans, but much stockier and more muscular, and this one was armed with a club and, probably, a knife hidden somewhere. My chances in hand-to-hand combat were pathetic. Oh, God, how could I ever get out of this one? Caught in the royal stables. There would be no mercy for a unicorn thief. I would be killed, and probably very publicly and nastily. The creature beside me moved again, and I felt it nudge my shoulder, its warm breath puffing against my skin. I jerked away, heart thudding wildly. I had to know what was in here with me! I lit my fairy lamp with shaky hands. It flared up, its unique soft purplish glow lighting up my stall and giving my hiding place away completely. My companion was a unicorn. Of course. I was in a unicorn stable; I didn't know why, in my uncharacteristic panic, I had had visions of, I don't know, an enormous rat or something. And it was a very small unicorn, too. It blinked in the light, staring up at me with curious, amber eyes, its pure-white coat gleaming. It laid its nose on my shoulder and looked up calmly. Like I said, no conception of personal space.

"Stay where you are!" came the guard's sharp command as he strode toward me as fast as he could, "You are under arrest for trespassing in the royal stables!"

Just a few more steps and he would be at the door to this stall. I drew back my arm and threw the fairy lamp as hard as I could. It shattered with an almost-musical tinkling. Tiny fairies and their magic, shining dust scattered everywhere. The dwarf cried out in his own guttural language as the bright dust flew in his eyes. His foot slipped in the broken glass and he went down on one knee, losing his grip on the torch, which tumbled end over end through the air before landing in a nice heap of dry straw. Setting the royal stables on fire was the last thing I wanted! But that's what happened. As I watched the straw go up in flames with astonishing speed, all I could think was that it had been a huge, stupid mistake to take this job. Who did I think I was? Well, pride comes before a fall and all that. Or, in my case, it comes before an inferno.

The dwarf wiped the fairy dust from his face, blinked several times as his vision cleared, and then stared in horror at the spreading fire. The piercing scream of a unicorn broke the silence, making both of us jump. He turned from the blaze and looked straight at me.

"You!" he cried, "Unicorn thief!" I opened my mouth to say something defensive, probably about how it was his own fault for being such a terrible guard, but I coughed on the smoke that was beginning to fill the air.

The unicorns were getting extremely agitated, and I didn't blame them. Flames were licking up the side of the nearest stall. Honestly, why would they make a stable almost entirely out of wood? It's like they're asking for it to go up in flames. The dwarf and I traded one more quick, hostile look as the cries of panicked animals started to rise to a clamor. I saw his eyes darken with resolve as the dwarf made a snap decision; he turned away from me and threw open the first stall. The unicorn lunged out of the blazing wreckage and bolted for the open stable door.

The dwarf raced down the row, throwing open doors and trying not to get trampled by desperate unicorns. I looked around at the fire. It was leaping from one piece of dry wood to the next, moving even faster than the dwarf's short legs.

The aisle between the stalls was a tunnel through walls of flame. Why was I still standing here frozen? I kicked the stall door aside and started running down the tunnel. My eyes watered in the bright, flickering light and the crushing heat. Breathing was extremely difficult. My longer strides got me past the dwarf in a moment and I started throwing open stall doors also. I didn't even consider leaving the animals to die in these flames in order to get myself out of there faster. I steal things, but I don't hurt anyone.

I kept moving, and opening, and narrowly escaping plunging hooves and grasping flames.

Stray sparks seared my skin, my lungs were burning and straining and my heart was pounding and I couldn't see— I somehow stumbled free of the burning stables, gasping and coughing, my momentum carrying me blindly forward until I tripped and fell to my hands and knees.

The dwarf guard came into blurry view beside me, frantically grinding his flaming cloak into the dirt before collapsing next to me.

We sat there for a few seconds, glaring and getting our breath back so we could start cursing at each other. Thinking about it later in my prison stall, I suppose I can admit that he had just a little more reason to be upset than I did, since I was the one who had attempted a crime and made him drop the torch and all. Honestly, though, he had screwed up on the job just as much as I had. Almost.

We had almost coughed all the smoke from our lungs when the sounds of frantic shouts came from the castle. We shot another look at each other, this time of mutual fear. I glanced around for the unicorns. They seemed to have scattered to the winds, the last few rapidly disappearing into the night in various directions. Except one. The little white unicorn was standing a few feet away, watching me and the dwarf curiously, as though wondering what we might do in this situation. Speaking of, what exactly was I going to do in this situation? I looked from the dwarf, who was looking increasingly panicked as the voices came closer, to the calm unicorn. I had come here to steal a unicorn and maybe I could still pull it off. Maybe I could get the gold and be three kingdoms away before Lord Traymark found out what a complete disaster this had been. Of course, that meant I'd have to take the shortcut through the really dark, dangerous, and universally avoided forest. Obviously. I'd worry about that later, though.

I stood up quickly and, in the same motion, moved to the unicorn.

The dwarf gave a strangled cry as I gracefully sprang onto the unicorn's back. Okay, so maybe graceful isn't really the right word. It was more like I slithered and flailed until I was in the right position. I can move fast, but I don't necessarily have that much muscle mass. The unicorn put up with it, though. He's small, but so am I, so I knew I wouldn't be too heavy. I took a death grip on his mane, held on tightly with my knees and tried to nudge the unicorn in roughly the right direction. The dwarf was staring at me with hugely wide eyes, seemingly unable to make himself do anything to stop me.

"What's your problem?" I said to him over my shoulder, and then the unicorn suddenly broke into a gallop and we were speeding straight for the dark, midnight woods.

I held on bravely as the unicorn splashed through the moat, jumped the really high castle wall, tore across the open fields and then plunged into the completely dark and tangled trees. I was really brave, honestly. I only screamed a few times. Okay, I screamed mostly the whole time. But I miraculously managed not to fall off until we made it into the forest. Then the ground was really uneven, and a sudden steep slope sent me flying through the air at an impressive height. I crash-landed really painfully on my back in a bush. I lay there with my mouth open, gasping, trying to get breathing to work again.

The unicorn came over and nudged me gently with his nose. I coughed and pushed him weakly away, then tried sitting up. It took a few minutes, but I was able to get to my feet and check my injuries. Countless scratches, small burns and large bruises. Plenty of pain, but I was no stranger to pain, having spent a long time handling life on the streets and even, occasionally, in the wilderness. This forest, though, was a whole new level of wilderness. Let me explain really fast that all that enchanted forest stuff is overrated. It's not that this forest is more magical than the rest of the kingdom; it's just that it remains untamed and largely undiscovered. Not everyone avoids it; people go hunting there and explorers and researchers alike have poked around. It's just that, much like a muddy swamp full of alligators, decent people wouldn't wander into it for a Sunday stroll. Get what I'm saying?

I laid my hand on the unicorn's neck and informed him, "That's the last time I ride. We are going to walk, very slowly and carefully, in this direction." Luckily my trusty smashproof compass (stolen from an explorer on the borders of this very forest and kindly replaced with a much cheaper one) had survived this whole mess way better than I had, and I knew generally which direction I had to go to end up at Lord Traymark's estate. I started walking, keeping a firm hold on the unicorn's mane, and he followed along calmly. Wow, I thought to myself, who knew unicorns were so easy to handle? If only I hadn't completely ruined everything, stealing one would have been the simplest job ever.

I kept waling and walking on narrow paths, wading through underbrush, staying alert for any sounds in the night that were more suspicious than usual. That part's boring, so we'll just get to the troll attack.

Like I said, I was paying attention to my surroundings, so when I heard a rustle in the brush, I turned sharply, catching a glimpse of a vague, large, humanoid shape in the thick shadows. Another sound came from the opposite direction. There were figures all around me, moving silently through the woods, tall, broad, and walking upright. There was only one species that matched that description: trolls. By far the least civilized of the races, a lot of the troll citizens of the kingdom keep to themselves in their forest tribes, and most of these "forest trolls" don't even speak The King's Jargon, which is our common language. I turned my head frantically, trying to keep them all in sight, but that was, of course, impossible. They were in their element, and they had me surrounded. Realizing that I had seen them, and also that I had no weapon and wasn't really likely to pose a threat, they dropped their cover somewhat and started conversing in their own language. The troll tongue sounds like someone trying to spit out something nasty; lots of hisses and short, sharp consonants. It wasn't very relaxing to listen to, especially since I could tell by their gestures that they were talking about me. I took a step forward, hoping that maybe they would let me and the unicorn through, but one troll actually drew a heavy sword and held it across my path. I stepped back quickly. My good luck seemed to have run out tonight in a spectacular way.

"Please," I tried, "I'm just passing through. I don't want to cause trouble."

My plea was greeted with a lot of hisses and gargles. I noticed that they were staring and pointing at the unicorn, who was standing calmly beside me. He nudged me gently, trying to get me to pay attention to him, I guess. I stroked his velvety nose, taking some comfort from his warm, friendly presence, even as I knew he'd be zero help in a fight.

I looked around again at the group of huge and heavily-armed trolls. A dozen, at least. With my wonderful talent for strategizing, I decided that, given the odds, diplomacy would probably be the best tactic.

"Do any of you speak The King's Jargon?" I asked, trying to make my voice sound steady and strong. Someone pushed through the crowd, snapping at everyone until they shuffled out of her way. Yes, it was a female troll. Yet another fun fact about trolls: they have a matriarchal society.

"I speak your Jargon, human," she said, with a rough accent as she came to stand in front of me, "We want your unicorn."

I took a nervous breath.

"Well, I would, but he's not mine, see, and I'm supposed to deliver him to someone else. It wouldn't be good for me if I didn't."

"It will be worse for you if you do not give him to us," the troll matriarch threatened, and a dozen blades grated against sheaths as they all drew weapons. My throat became so dry at the sight of all those sharp edges that I could barely speak. They were truly, honestly willing to kill me. I looked at the unicorn, who moved closer, pressing against me.

"There are a lot of unicorns roaming around," I said, trying unsuccessfully to sound like I wasn't terrified, "They all escaped. I'm sure it wouldn't be that hard to find one. Please, I really need this one."

The trolls stared at me for a moment, then the female leader turned to the group and asked a brief question. She got some kind of resounding response from the crowd. She turned back to me with a glint of hatred in her dark eyes, which I could see even through the thick, tangled mop of her hair. "You are a liar!" she snarled, "No unicorns would ever escape! The king would not allow it!"

Another troll handed her a sword and she raised it.

"It was an accident!" I cried, stumbling backwards until 'i felt another troll nudge me in the back, trapping me in their circle.

"I swear, they all escaped!"

"Liar!" cried the leader, positioning her sword so that it aimed directly at my chest.

"We do not know how you got this single unicorn, but it does not matter! You have brought him to us and we will use his powers to free ourselves from the cursed human king!"

I was about to say that they could have the unicorn, they could have whatever they wanted as long as they didn't stab me, but the troll queen continued before I could babble any of that.

"We do not need you. You will cause trouble. So I will kill you."

I looked up into her face and knew that she meant it, and I went numb with terror. My knees buckled and I felt like throwing up. I couldn't look at the sword. The troll queen snapped a command in both languages: "Hold him." Someone yanked me up and locked me in a grip that would have made struggling impossible, if I had had the strength or self-control to struggle. I could barely organize things enough to open my mouth in order to beg for my life, to promise anything, to scream. But she didn't give me a chance. I suppose she just wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. I saw her quick, smooth movement in the forest's darkness. And then the troll's sword plunged through my chest. I can't say it was exactly painful, because I'm sure my body was in complete and total denial. It felt horrible, though. I went icy cold, and there was a sensation of crushing pressure in my whole upper body. The queen snapped something and the troll holding me just let me slide to the ground. Then, he yanked the sword out of my chest. At least, that's what I assume happened, because at that point, I lost consciousness from extreme agony. For a moment, I was in thoughtless oblivion, and then I felt something like a nudge against my mind. In my dying moments, I was brought back to some form of consciousness by a vivid mental picture of a unicorn. The white unicorn I had stolen. Feeling weightless, I blinked as a scene coalesced around me. Lots of trees. All the trolls standing around, having what looked like a heated conversation. And, lying off to the side, abandoned, bloody and still as death, was me. The unicorn alone was close to my broken body, standing over me. I felt the gentle mental interruption again, then a stream of concepts. Not so much words as ideas. An explanation, and a question. It translated to something like this: Jordan? It's me. You don't look very well. I thought maybe I should help you. Is that okay?

Yes, I responded mentally, watching the blood run from my ruined body, I'm dying!

Oh, okay then.

The unicorn stepped closer, lowered his head, and inserted the tip of his pearly horn into the horrible wound in my chest. For a moment, both my body and the unicorn were encased in light, and then I drew a deep, shuddering breath. The trolls were shouting and pointing, some of them even waved swords, but I had no reason to be afraid anymore. I stood up, feeling strong and fantastically healthy. But, more than that, I was confident, and I understood now exactly why everyone wanted the unicorns for themselves. I knew why the king had kept them locked up, and why Traymark and the trolls wanted one.

"You can't hurt me," I said to the troll queen, who was staring with her jaw hanging open, "He chose me. He'll save me, every time. Healing: that's the unicorns' power. And that's why no one has been able to overthrow the king."

Wordlessly, the trolls shuffled aside to form a path through their ranks.

"Go, unicorn thief," whispered the troll queen, "The unicorn has chosen you. No other can command him now. Go. Please."

I could have walked, but I felt like riding a unicorn away from the people who had just essentially killed me was more dignified.

"Give me a ride?" I said softly to my unicorn. He crouched immediately, and I slid onto his back and rode away from the trolls, all of them staring after me in wonder and even fear.

We broke out of the forest before I could think about what to do next. I wasn't sure how long I'd been riding through the dark trees; I had been in a kind of trance, trying to process my near-death experience, and the fact that I was now almost indestructible, and wondering how and why all of this could have happened to me, of all people. Before I knew it, Lord Traymark's mansion was looming before me, and the sun was rising.

I urged the unicorn onto the well-tended grounds of the estate, intending to stop for a moment and think of the best way to approach Traymark. While I knew that I could never give this unicorn to anyone else, some ridiculous part of me thought that maybe I could reach some deal with Traymark. Maybe we could work together to use the unicorn against the king, and maybe I could still have a portion of the gold I had been promised.

But these hopes were crushed before I even took time to think about it, because Lord Traymark and a half-dozen armored guards were waiting for me.

"Unicorn thief!" Traymark cried, striding toward me with the fluid grace that marked the movements of the elves, "You have destroyed everything! Completely, and irreversibly!"

How had he found out so quickly?

"What do you mean?" I asked, "I stole a unicorn?” I knew the innocent act wouldn't work on him, but it did get him to explain himself, which was its only purpose.

"You somehow let all the unicorns escape! Now every commoner in this cursed kingdom can stumble across a unicorn and be chosen!"

I frowned thoughtfully, despite myself, and asked, "And that's not a good thing?"

"No!" snarled Traymark, his face becoming pale and tight with deadly anger, "because the healing powers were only supposed to go to me. I was supposed to lead the rebellion, not some worthless peasant."

I almost commented that no one would appreciate a revolutionary leader with an attitude like that, but, probably luckily for me, that was when Traymark ordered his guards to drag me and my unicorn to the stable and lock us up. I was weary and didn't see a good reason to struggle, so I didn't make it too difficult for them. Lord Traymark glowered at me hatefully through the bars which had been affixed to the stall door.

"Are you going to kill me, Traymark?" I asked quietly, not even bothering to use his title of respect, "because someone already tried that tonight."

I lifted my shirt to show my chest where there was a small, faintly glowing scar.

Traymark's large eyes widened. He hadn't realized, apparently, that the unicorn had healed me. The implications of this shook his confidence somewhat, but he quickly reapplied his vicious scowl.

"There are ways, thief. How would your unicorn save you, for example, if he wasn't there?"

With that, he turned and glided away, gesturing for his guards to follow.

One of them lingered to whisper through the bars, "A unicorn chose my dying son and healed him from his illness. It was a miracle! You are a true hero, unicorn thief!" Tears glistened in his eyes as he hurried after his lord. And that's how I ended up locked in a stable with a unicorn.

I was tired, but after the night I'd had I couldn't sleep, so I spent the next couple hours going over everything that had happened. I felt almost like a different person, and not just because I had almost died and been healed by magic. I had managed to steal a unicorn, the greatest feat of thievery I had ever accomplished, but I felt no pride in it. I also felt no shame in the fact that I had failed in almost every other way: setting the stables on fire, literally getting myself killed, and then getting imprisoned by my employer. I wasn't even too upset about not getting my promised reward.

None of these things seemed important anymore. I still wanted the same thing I always had, though, essentially. I wanted to leave this kingdom and go somewhere I could live in peace. It was just that, now, the unicorn would come with me.

I could hear important things happening outside, the roar of angry crowds of people, the clanking and ringing of weapons, and, above it all, the whinnying of unicorns. I had caused it all, and yet it felt like something or someone more important than me had driven these things to occur.

The bars on my door rattled, jolting me out of my detached reverie. I jumped up, laying a protective hand on my unicorn.

"Jordan!" whispered a familiar voice, "Hold on, I have the key." The door swung open after a moment and I looked into Trista's large, dark eyes.

I don't think I mentioned the fact that my partner is Trista Traymark, Lord Traymark's eldest daughter. I wish I could explain her reasons for participating in the criminal network, but she's never made them clear to me. She just says her noble birth is too confining. I've learned not to ask questions.

"I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show up," I said, grinning at her in thanks.

"The people are asking who they can thank for the release of the unicorns," she said as I stepped out of the stall.

"No one needs to thank me," I replied, meeting her eyes, "I really can't take credit for it."

"Jordan," she said, catching my arm as I was about to lead my unicorn to the door and freedom, "I don't think you understand. The people are already calling you a hero and a savior. They would follow you without question. They would even make you their king."

I stopped and stared at her blankly. A king? Me?

"But that doesn't make sense," I tried to protest.

"It makes perfect sense," she said firmly, "They will call you Jordan The Liberator, the thief who stole an entire kingdom. You can have the respect and the power you have always wanted."

That shook me out of my daze. I met her gleaming eyes. She was very beautiful, standing there looking at me in the half-light of early morning that shone through the cracks in the stable walls.

"I don't want that," I said softly, "I don't need that. I just want something simple and honest."

"But the people—“ she began.

"They seem to be doing fine on their own," I said with a slight smile, hearing the crowds in the distance.

"Someone else can be king, someone better suited to it. Or the four races can each have their own kings. I'm not the one who will make those decisions."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Very sure."

She lowered her eyes in disappointment.

"I think you would have made a good king, Jordan," she whispered.

"Thanks," I smiled, "but I don't want to take the chance."

I hugged her quickly, then led my unicorn out of the stables and rode away. The kingdom was in uproar, and no one noticed me as I passed through. They were all too wrapped up in their rebellion, and besides, a lot of people had unicorns now, so I wasn't that unusual.

I wondered if they would mention me to their children in Remedial Kingdom History, when all of this was over. If they did, I would be known only as the nameless, mysterious unicorn thief who disappeared into the morning mist.


THE END


2017 Janie Brunson

Bio: Janie Brunson is a law student who writes speculative fiction in all the spare time she doesn't have. Her favorite things include chocolate and Broadway musicals. Her work has appeared in 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, and Bards and Sages Quarterly.

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