Plight of the Unicorn

Liessa and Skye Greyhawk had ridden into Arimas the night before. They were finally on their own, away from the loneliness of the orphanage in which they’d grown up, away from Llewellyn where they were taunted for their half-elven features.

Liessa had a passion and a talent for telling tales and was apprenticed to Master Stefano, Llewellyn’s Master Bard. This journey was an opportunity for her to put her song and tale-telling skills into practice outside of her own village. She had been accompanying Master Stefano for some years and had just begun to lead the songs and tales on some of the minor festival days. She had learned well from her master and was on her first journey in his stead.

She was to deliver the village’s annual report to the regional governor’s office in Tennia. When hearing the news of her upcoming trek, she ran to the forest to tell her twin, Skye.

Skye had always loved the woods and the solace of the old places left by the forest guardians. She had spent most of her free time in the company of the forest’s remaining guardian, Lysendra, learning the old ways from the ancient Druid. She had taken on the role of apprentice, helping Lysendra keep the forests around Llewellyn healthy and thriving, making sure the healing herbs were always plentiful and helping maintain balance among the creatures of the forest. She had learned to track the wild ones and helped them when they were sick or injured.

Skye heard her twin coming long before she reached the clearing. Dear Liessa, she had the voice of a songbird and the feet of an ox. Skye wondered what had her sister so excited that she ran headlong down the forest path and not walking deliberately, enjoying the music of the wild.

“Skye, Skye!” Liessa yelled as she slid to a halt in the small clearing where Skye had been listening to the forest.

“What is it?” asked Skye. “What has you so excited?”

“Master Stefano is sending me to Tennia with the village report!” she exclaimed. “He cannot go this year as he is expecting a new apprentice in less than a tenday. He says if I deliver the report to the governor’s office by the Solstice and make it back by Llamas, he’ll call this my Trial then I’ll be on my own as Journeyman!”

“Oh, Liessa!” Skye swept her sister up in a bear hug. When she finally let her twin’s feet touch the ground, she had sobered. “What will I do while you’re gone? It’ll be the first time we’ve ever been apart at the Solstice Festival.”

“Silly!” said Liessa saucily. “You’re coming with me.”

“How can I?” Skye replied sadly, “This is your Trial.”

“So, we convince Lysendra that you are ready for your Trial, then I’m sure we’ll be able to travel together.”

And so, here they were in Arimas. They were to stay in each village for a few days; Liessa to entertain and share news at the local inn, and Skye to survey the local wild areas.

They hadn’t had a chance to do much more than get settled at the Inn of the Wild Boar, having arrived in Arimas so late the night before. This morning as they were breaking their fast, the innkeep, Tomas, approached Skye and asked to speak with her.

“Sorry ta disturb ye, Sister. But somthin’ terrible ‘as ‘appened. Ye see, there’s a White Lady livin’ in our forest, and we think she’s been captured by nasties. We’re fearin’ they mean ta take ‘er ‘orn from ‘er. And we was hopin’ that, you bein’ a Sister an’ all, you could see if’n anything could be done about it.”

Skye threw a glance at Liessa and knew her sister was thinking the same as she.

“Of course, we’ll leave immediately,” she told the old man.

With that, the pair, having finished their morning meal, went to their room and donned their gear. When they came back down into the common room, a small crowd had gathered.

“I hope ye don’ mind,” said Tomas, “but I told the mayor, and ‘e thinks young Daevyd may know somthin’ about where she may be.”

With that, the mayor hustled a boy of maybe eleven summers in front of the two young apprentices.

“Well, mums, I was . . . um . . . huntin’ rabbits in th’ woods t’other day, an’ I . . . uh . . . ‘eared this noise like our Lady Aratha was ‘urt, so I . . . uh. . . went to see. I was so scared when I seen these nasties draggin’ ‘er toward the ol’ ‘ermit’s cave near the cliff, that I… er… wet meself,” the boy finished in a whisper.

Skye put her hand to her mouth as if thinking, but it was really to hide the grin she couldn’t suppress at the boy’s last remark.

Finally, her grin under control, she asked, “Daevyd, what did these ‘nasties’ look like?”

“Welp,” the boy started, his face screwing up as he remembered, “they was only so tall,” he measured about 15 hands above the floor, “an’ they ‘ad flat faces, wi’ pointy ears, an’ yellow eyes,” he finished triumphantly as he looked up at the twins, proud that he had remembered so much.

“Thank you, Daevyd, that was very helpful.” Skye smiled down at the boy. She turned to the mayor, “we’ll check this out. We should be back by nightfall.” With that, the pair left the inn and headed to the forest.

Skye was able to find the place where the “nasties” had attacked the unicorn. From there even a blind man could have followed the goblins’ trail to the old hermit’s cave. When they arrived, they saw an ancient wooden door set into a rock face.

They listened for anything that would tell them what to expect when they went through that door. Skye could hear three voices arguing over something. The voices didn’t sound very close to the door, which was good for the twins.

While Skye listened, Liessa was busy practicing her lockpicking skills on the aged wooden door. When she finally fumbled the lock open, they readied their weapons, took deep breaths and burst through the door.

As they tumbled into the room, the goblin closest to the door grabbed a weapon and leapt up to swung at Liessa, grazing her buckler arm as she leapt away from the wicked morningstar. She swung her sword back at the little creature, but he hurdled himself to his right. At the same time, two goblins on the other side of the room rushed to help their tribesman. In seconds, the young half-elves were in a fight for their lives.

Palms sweating, Skye swung her quarterstaff at the goblin coming from the opposite corner of the room, hitting him hard on the head, felling him. She had little time to celebrate the small victory as his tribesman closed on her, bringing his weapon down toward her head. The slight half-elf barely had enough time to bring her staff up to meet the spiked ball when it struck, numbing her hands and arms.

Liessa had her hands full parrying blows with sword and buckler while trying to hit the little monster bouncing around in front of her. She could feel her buckler arm begin to weaken. The arm gave out on a particularly vicious swing and the morningstar grazed her temple. She fell to the dirt floor, unconscious.

Skye swapped blows with the goblin in front of her when she saw her twin crumple, bleeding from a gash to her head. Fear swept through her as she desperately prayed for strength. Feeling a burst of energy, she landed a solid blow on the goblin she had been fighting. He staggered back, momentarily stunned. With renewed effort, she rushed in and brought him down for good.

She then turned her attention to the remaining “nasty,” the one that had hurt her sister. They traded several blows before Skye was able to hit him, and then only slightly. She was moving faster than she ever had in training, and now knew what Lysendra meant by “battle reflexes.” Her arms felt heavy and ached as each blow vibrated through the oaken staff as she parried, dodged, and tumbled out of the way of the flying ball of metal. A thrill passed through her as she struck the pesky little goblin again and again.

When he finally fell, Skye dropped her staff and rushed over to where her sister lay, her head bleeding from a wound at her temple.

“Liessa! Liessa!” She held her sister tightly. “Liessa, wake up!” She was terrified that her twin was going to die. “Liessa, please wake up.” It took her a few moments to realize that panic would not help here, she had to calm herself.

When she was finally calm, she remembered what Lysendra had taught her. She spoke softly over Liessa’s prone form and watched impatiently as her sister began to stir slightly.

“Leissa, are you alright?” she asked when she saw her twin’s eyes flutter.

Liessa moaned and brought her hand up to her head where the morningstar had grazed the side of her head. When she realized where she was she jumped up, and regretted the sudden movement. She sat back down just as quickly as a sharp pain pierced her skull.

“No, don’t try to get up,” said Skye. “You took a blow to the head. Rest for a moment and I’ll check on Lady Aratha.” With that, Skye sat her twin back against the wall and crossed the room to check the unicorn.

As she stepped over one of the goblins, she glanced around the room and noticed a second door near the corner where the unicorn was lying. She saw dried blood on Lady Aratha’s coat and her legs were hobbled. The young half-elf knelt beside the sleeping creature and placed her hand on the dried blood. When she did, the unicorn stirred and tried to rise.

“No, don’t try to stand, Lady Aratha,” said Skye. “Let me cut these ropes binding your legs.” She drew a small dagger and began to cut at the heavy ropes. When she finally sawed through the ropes binding the unicorn, she again placed her hand on the animal’s wounds and muttered softly.

The unicorn turned her head toward the young druid, a look of gratitude in her huge lavender eyes. As she rose from the floor to her full height, she leaned down and touched Skye with her horn and the half-elf felt energized. The creature crossed the room to where Liessa sat propped against the wall and touched the injured woman with her horn. Leissa’s eyes cleared and she looked more alert that she had just moments before.

“My gratitude, lady unicorn,” said Liessa, bowing her head to the Lady of the Forest.

Lady Aratha bowed her head to Liessa and Skye, “my thanks, Elvenkind. I know you not, how came you to my aid?”

“We are traveling to Tennia and stopped in Arimas for the night. The village folk told us of your capture,” said Skye. “I could not stomach the thought of foul ones such as these causing you harm, so my sister and I offered to come to your aid.”

“And for that, my undying gratitude you have. In my forest, you are ever welcome.”

“Our thanks, Lady Aratha,” said Liessa.

With that, the graceful creature exited the cave, leaving the twins alone with the three dead goblins.

They searched the room and the bodies for clues as to who had sent them. They found nothing on the goblins except their weapons, armor, and a few coins. They gathered the coin, and left the weapons and armor. Near where the unicorn had been lying, Liessa found the bow the goblins had used to shoot the unicorn with sleep arrows, although they found no sign of any remaining arrows.

When they finished searching the main room, they turned to the second door — it was unlocked. Skye opened the door to a pitch black room, a foul odor wafted from the darkness. She lit a torch and went in, Liessa following. Scattered around the room were three piles of fetid blankets and a pile of worse smelling food. The goblins had obviously been using this room as their dining and sleeping room.

What caught the young half-elves’ interest was the small wooden chest on the floor against the far wall. Liessa crossed the room to examine the chest. She found that though the chest was not locked, it was trapped. As she examined it further, she saw that it had a simple poison trap. Skye disarmed the trap, as she was much better at these things than her sister. Inside the chest was a fine sword and a pouch of gold coins.

After relieving the chest of its contents, the women searched through the piles of putrid blankets. They found nothing in the piles to indicate who had hired the goblins to capture the unicorn.

The twins gathered all of the blankets and food and carried them into the other room. It didn’t seem right to them to leave the goblins’ bodies and gear to rot in a perfectly good cave, so they dragged everything outside and dumped it in a pile.

They went back to the hamlet and explained the events of their day to the mayor.

“You might want to send someone out to burn the bodies and bring the remaining gear back,” Skye told the mayor. “We didn’t want to leave them in the cave to rot and it was getting too dark for us to do anything with them.”

The mayor thanked them profusely and offered the pair a small sum for their help.

“We gather’d a few coins fer yer trouble,” said the mayor. “T’isn’t much, but tis what we coul’ spare.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Liessa, accepting the handful of silver pieces. “Will you and your kin join us here tonight? I’ve learned a new ballad and haven’t had an opportunity to sing it to an audience yet.”

The mayor’s face brightened. “Why, we’d be honor’d, m’lady. We don’ get many bards pass our way.”

With that, the mayor left the inn.

The innkeeper’s wife, who had come out of the kitchen when she heard their voices, approached the girls, “I ‘ad Trudie ‘eat water fer ye’s. There’s a bath waitin’ for ye’s in th’ bath shed behind th’ kitchen. No charge.”

“How thoughtful, thank you, Eilssa,” said Skye.

With that, the young women went to their room for fresh clothes and soap. There were clean towels waiting for them in the bath shed and Trudie was there to take their gore spattered clothes to the laundry.

“I wonder if this is a taste of things to come,” said Liessa.

“I don’t know,” replied Skye. “I just hope we’re ready for it, whatever it is. How’s your head?”

“Much better. Lady Aratha took the headache away completely.”

“I was terrified when I saw the blood. I thought I’d lost you.”

“Nah, I’m blessed with a hard head,” Liessa grinned at her twin. “Besides, I wouldn’t leave you alone to have all the fun.”

Skye splashed water at her sister and grabbed the nearest towel and stepped from the bath. “I don’t know about you, but I could eat a wild boar, I’m starving!”

With that, the young Journeymen-to-be climbed out of the bath, satisfied with their first deed. And only the goddess could say what further adventures they would encounter on their Trial.

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