Aleysha and the Unicorn
“Now I will believe that there are unicorns…….”
— William Shakespeare —
Sta-Na the unicorn walked here for a while, he stirred the imagination, and revived the dream. This is a short story which tells something of his time amongst us and how he came to meet Aleysha, but to get to the heart of a story you have to go back to the beginning.
There are many stories of Unicorns throughout the cold lands of northern Europe; the dusty highlands of Ethiopia; the hot desert sands of Arabia and from Asia and the Orient where they were revered in the same way as the dragons with which they shared the continents.
Early paintings and texts tell us how the unicorn was the first and most beloved creature to be named by Adam in the Garden of Eden after the Creation. Some people believe that Unicorns became extinct many years ago, while some believe that they had refused to get on to the Ark before the floods. Many others believe that they never existed at all. But Unicorns will continue to thrive in the memories of those with open minds; and in the dreams of our children’s children who will never forgive us if we ever let such beauty disappear from the earth.
Generally to be found in the wilder and more remote special places, Unicorns live their own lives and refuse to be tamed or exploited like other animals, and even though they were once hunted and killed for the magical powers of their horns, they have always had a liking for people in general – and particularly for beautiful young maidens to whom they are irresistibly attracted.
No-one actually saw Sta-Na arrive but he came in the night by the bright silver light of a full moon; from a land of dragons and dreams somewhere out beyond the rising sun and the far distant horizon where the sky meets the sea. He was certainly around the area when Gwen Dragon the red sky dragon built her Weyr beside the river and laid the egg from which young Draco later hatched to become the first River Dragon on this stretch of water.
Even though he had never actually been here before, the knowledge of the area was already imprinted in his genes; passed on down through generations of his ancestors that once roamed free in the land beside the river.
The dew pond had dried up months before. In the pasture beside the river, the low-lying land had been a constant source of fresh water for some years past, but now the shallow water had disappeared, and only a few clumps of spiky marsh grass remained to mark the site. Another similar pond over on the other side of the hill, near the pylon beside the Underbank had gone too.
Through the turning of the seasons there had certainly been enough rain, but, rather than the soft regular showers which maintained the balance and order of the land, much of the rain had fallen in torrential day-long deluges which flooded the fields for a while and then quickly flowed away, down through the channels in the marsh, to the river, and on out into the sea. Maybe this was evidence of climate change at a local level; who knows? It was certainly not so unusual. After all, the hills around the river had themselves been created by glacial deposits left behind after the last ice-age.
Sta-Na may have travelled from in-land, and found himself by chance here on the northern shore of the coastal peninsula between the river and the western sea. It is possible that he came down from the remote high country forested areas beyond Pyrelick and Fiendsdale, and crossed the river further upstream, most likely near the old carter’s ford where it was much narrower, shallower, and easier to cross on foot. From there all he would have had to do was follow the river as it flowed south, then west and finally north down towards the sea.
But wherever he came from, he knew where he was when he arrived. This stretch of river is tidal and the murky muddy water is dirty and salty, and not good to drink at all – even for a unicorn. He also knew the secret places where he could find sweet clean fresh water to drink even though both the dew ponds had disappeared. The marshland beside the river is a dangerous place with hidden channels which can snap the legs of horses; and areas of deep muddy quicksand which can swallow up children and grown-ups alike if they are foolish enough to stray from the clear riverside path.
Sta-Na was always most careful to avoid the salt marshes even though they grew colourful wild marsh flowers throughout the year. He stayed on the path beside the river, but mostly he preferred the peace of the hill from where he could look out and see for miles around. Out to the west, white horses rode the wave crests rolling in across the wide sandy bay. To the south he could see over the treetops to where the huge tower stood pointing up into the sky. To the north he would gaze across the river at the panorama of hills where shapes and colours changed throughout the days with the passing of light and clouds. At times those same hills would appear clear and almost within reach, at other times they completely disappeared from view as if rubbed out or removed by some mysterious hand. To the east was a vista of green fields, hedgerows, trees and low undulating hills.
At times Unicorns take great pleasure in jumping over sleeping dragons, so Sta-Na felt quite at home sharing this stretch of land beside the river with Draco the young River Dragon. And just as the dragon gazed longingly out towards the western horizon, watching for his father the great golden sea dragon and his mother Gwen the fiery red sky dragon flying high in the sky, so too the young Unicorn was ever drawn towards the setting sun.
The unicorn and the dragon really enjoyed playing together and they spent many happy hours during the long warm sunny days of summer making up new games to play. Hiding and seeking, running and jumping; Sta-Na could run much faster than Draco of course, but Draco had small dragon-wings so he could fly.
While they played their games, Sta-Na took great care to avoid the crocodiles with their rows of sharp pointed teeth and great gaping snapping jaws. And he was always on the look out for the Trolls who lived down below the old bridge, waiting and watching for unwary travellers. Draco had no need to fear crocodiles – he could eat them, and trolls – well, he just laughed at them as he flew over their old bridge.
In the warm glow of evening-time on long lazy summer days, Sta-Na could often be seen running westward across the top of the hill and suddenly jumping up towards the sun in the hope that he would be carried up and away into the sky. But the biggest playground of all for the Unicorn right now is in our own dreams.
It is not easy to say how old he was. A Unicorn year is about the same as 50 human years, very much the same as it is for dragons but, as he stood about three and a half feet tall, and his horn was nearly 8 inches long, we can guess that he was probably a yearling.
[After the first year, Unicorn horns grow at about 1 inch each 50 years to a maximum of about 18 inches which means that unicorns can live for at least 500 years which is about the same life-span as that of dragons].
His horn was slim and spiral shaped; narrowing to a sharp point at the tip, and his coat was all gleaming white, as was his long shaggy mane and tail. But his big eyes were the colour of the deepest deep blue sea as they shone and twinkled with flashes of light like the brightest stars in the dark night sky.
The old man who walked beside the river was Aleysha’s Grandfather. It was he who had also discovered Draco the first River Dragon some time earlier, and now he was the first to see the young unicorn standing proud, in silhouette, against the skyline high up on top of the Hill of the Four Winds.
What had first caught her Grandfather’s attention was the hawk hovering about fifty feet above the hill top and the old man stood and watched in silence as the big bird floated on widespread wings and then swooped down towards the ground below. The old man thought the bird was probably diving to catch a fieldmouse but it was actually showing him where the unicorn stood. Even though the Unicorn had excellent eyesight and could see for many miles, the hawk was Sta-Na’s eyes high in the sky. They were good friends and had arrived together.
The unicorn ate well on the fruits of nature’s own larder which was packed through the changing seasons with a variety of crab apples and damsons, blackberries and hawthorn berries, juicy green grasses and wild herbs. Shiny nut brown chestnuts, winged sycamore seeds, pale amber acorns and bright golden gorse flowers all added to his menu in turn over the months.
Farmers on the land around Wood House, Nettleton and Aylesbeare put out fodder for their animals and did not seem to mind when Sta-Na came along to share the food supplies. Grandpa gathered up conkers which fell naturally or had been discarded by young boys, before squirrels took them and buried them in their winter larders under the hedgerows. The old ferryman’s cobbled cottage was long gone – now a pic-nic area but the old orchard still remains although now the few remaining trees are gnarled and overgrown among the brambles, burdock and banks of wild garlic.
A fellow way-farer who walked along over the hill with Grandpa one bright sunny morning told him that seals could sometimes be seen in the river down below. It is possible that one of those seals is actually a mythical Silkie from the cold dark waters around the remote islands off the shore of the wild lands to the far north.
Grandpa, who had discovered the dragons and the unicorn, had never ever seen a seal in the river before so now he knew to always be on the look out to see if he could discover a Silkie and maybe learn something about the legendary creature which can rise up out of the seas and change shape to live for a while on land amongst people before returning to the watery depths.
At times when Sta-Na was quietly relaxing and gazing out to where the sun kisses the sea, he could occasionally be seen laying down in his field of gold, content to simply watch the seasons turning, and measuring the passing of time by white seeds of the dandelion clock drifting by on the breeze blowing across the hillside.
There are also special magical times when rainbows bridge the river, joining shore to distant shore. Sta-Na knew the stories of what might be found at the end of a rainbow. But just as he told Aleysha that there isn’t always a pot of gold there, he did teach her the seven colours of the spectrum which make each rainbow; starting at the top down in turn through the layers of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.
It may have been a combination of natural events – a big bright full moon and very high tides over the weekend flooding paths beside the river. It may just have been time for Sta-Na to move on to live in someone else’s dream for a while. But what ever the reason; he was gone.
Although people in many parts of the world have tried to see unicorns and dragons, very few have ever succeeded. Only those dreamers with open hearts and the eyes to see are ever lucky enough to find them, and even then it is only by chance because it is the creatures who choose if and when to allow themselves to be seen by humankind.
Sometimes all you have to do to become a dreamer is throw your arms open wide, turn to face the wind, and look. And then find the magic to turn the dreams into the reality that creates myths and legends.