ĎThe Tarpit of Extinctioní, read the crude wooden sign next to the bubbling pond of black substance.
"This was an incredibly bad idea; I hope you know that," Wenselaft the 'Weak-willed' wizard moaned.
William Nonsyrnamé resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Yes, Wen, youíve said that roughly twelve times within the last hour."
William bit his lip and looked down at the map in his hands. He had to admit it: he was lost.† The only available map of the Concealed Valley Wenselaft had been able to procure was more than a little lacking in details. Actually, William was beginning to have doubts of the map's validity altogether.
"I kind of get the feeling that this thing wasnít meant for people on serious quests."
Wenselaft peered at the map over the Chosen Oneís shoulder. "Why do you think that?"
"For one thing, I donít think proper maps are supposed to be full of colourful pictures of happy woodland critters."
"Then again," William said, adjusting the long sword strapped to his back and handing the map to the wizard. "I donít really think this is a quest, not yet anyway."
"ThatÖ That would depend on how you define a quest." Wenselaft tucked the map into his robes. "I should look up a definition for a heroic, divinely sanctioned quest."
"Later, maybe. I donít think there are any good dictionaries in the forest. StillÖ" William reasoned, "the acquisition of better travelling clothes would be essential for any significant future quest."
However, Ye One Who Is Plucked from Among the Numerous Masses, more commonly known as the Chosen One, had never figured that getting better clothes would involve a troublesome trip to the wilderness.†
Passing the steaming tarpit, William glanced up at the peaks of the mountains that surrounded the valley. Daylight was running out, and he had yet to locate the appropriate spot, or at least what he thought was the appropriate spot. Without an accurate map and next to no knowledge in the matter of fairy behaviour, William could not be confident that he could find the site of the mating ritual. As for Wenselaft, he was never confident of anything, from what the Chosen One had gathered from their time together.
Well, thought William, just because they lacked the knowledge and the skills, did not mean that the two of them could not try and find the Clearing of Mythic Mating. Taking a deep, determined breath William trekked ahead with Wenselaft trailing behind him. One could not hope to save the world from unholy perils, if one lacked the courage to try.
Sadly, Williamís assurance did not protect him from the threat of well hidden roots and lack of natural light. With a startled yelp, he landed face first into a fortuitously thick patch of moss.
"Oh!" Wenselaft stumbled over to William to help him. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I think so." William looked down at the moss, thankful at not having so much as bloodied his nose.
"Comfy, isnít it?" a dry voice from ahead said.
William and the wizard turned to see a curious individual walking towards him them on two legs ending in hooves. He (based on the voice, William decided that it was a he.) was about five feet tall and covered almost completely in silver hair that shone in the light of the rising moon. A pair of long ears stuck on the sides of his head and a single curved horn grew from the centre of his hairline. His large eyes, one pink and the other light blue, were looking at the pair with a mixture of ennui and irritation.
"Hello, Iím William and this is my friend Wenselaft—"
"Friend is bit of a strong termÖ"
William gave Wenselaft a quick look, shutting him up, before returning his attention to the creature before him. "Who are you?"
The creature raised his eyebrow with an odd air of amusement. "Iím Aldrosius Dragveeni Unicumius Monotrillio Extremenea Sarvellen the Seventh, but I donít expect you remember all that, so just call me Aldrosius."
William made a pensive sound. Now he understood the reason behind the apparent amusement.
"This might be a stupid question—"
"Iíve yet to hear an intelligent one."
"—but what exactly are you?"
The look of amusement grew into a smirk. "A single horn, glowing hair, hoofed feetÖ Iím sure even stripling mortals like yourselves can put those features together."
"Uh, well." Wenselaft did not seem quite certain, if he should be insulted. "Iíve heard about a creature..."
"And that would be?"
"Unicorns," Wenselaft said.
"Wait." Williamís eyes grew wide. "I thought unicorns were extinct."
"Youíve been getting bad information. Unicorns are extinct, apart from three individuals, and I would be one of them."
This was a momentous occasion, William decided, being able to meet the third-to-last unicorn. Certainly worth noting in any future ballads or sagas.
"Then again," Aldrosius sighed. "With the two others being a pair of prancing idiots, whoíre likely to jump off a cliff while looking for the Land of Enchanted Treacle, we might as well be extinct."
"Sorry, if I sound pushy, but what are you doing in a isolated place like this?" William asked.
"Oh, I donít know. Maybe I enjoy the fresh valley air or the low prizes or— What do you think?" Aldrosius gave him a withering glare. "Iím avoiding people!"
William smiled uncertainly while Wenselaft cowered in questionable safety behind his back. William was not aware of what dangerous abilities mythic beings like unicorns might possess. While he thought it unlikely that Aldrosius could spit out fire and sulphur, he could at least run the two humans through with his horn, should they anger him further.
"Now, then. What are human spawns like you doing in these parts?" Aldrosius strolled closer and circled around William and Wenselaft. "Aha, I know that sword."
William looked over his shoulder. "Yes, itís—"
"The Sword of Ye One Who Is Plucked from Among the Numerous Masses. And that would make you the latest Chosen One."
"Well, I wouldnít call myself the Chosen One, really, but Haande seemed to think I was appropriate for the job."
The unicorn returned to stand in front of William, a sardonic smirk on his face. "And if the Supreme Goddess says itís so, then it must be so. No use arguing with divine powers. But Iíve yet to hear what youíre doing here."
Just then, a swarm of fairies fluttered passed the three of them. Their high-pitched voices, sounding full of mirth, pierced the air. The fairies skipped above long grass, chasing each other and spinning in circles. All that was missing was music, but based on what William had heard of fairies, they had more than enough inner voices and tunes to share and thus had no need for music.
Following the twirling fairies with his gaze, William discovered that they had, quite literally, stumbled into the Clearing of Mythic Mating.† Surrounded by old birches, the clearing was gradually filled by whirling specs of light.
"Pests," Aldrosius spat out. "Going around, flirting and copulating and leaving their body glitter all over my rock pile."
"Body glitter? You mean their fairydust?" William raised an eyebrow.
"That stuffís worse than pollen. Iím going to be sneezing for a month."
"Uh, the thing isÖ We kind of need some of that dust."
The unicorn looked at William as if he had just grown an extra limb. A pair of fays fluttered between them, twirling and groping each other without any sign of modesty.
"Wenselaft and I have to get ingredients for durable travel clothes." William held up the torn hem of his cloak. "And the best thing for strengthening fabric is fairydust. But I heard—"
"That fay only excrete the dust during the mating dance? Thatís partially true. The little suckers sure fling it about more than usual at that point, but itís not impossible to get them to spill the glitter at other times."
"You know a lot about fairies," Wenselaft said in frank admiration.†
Aldrosius rolled his eyes. "Please. How else am I supposed to know how to avoid them? Itís a small blessing this kind of big gathering only happens once a year or else Iíd be even more miserable."
William frowned, not quite certain why the anthropomorphic unicorn would be inclined to be miserable.
Wenselaft, showing a rare bout of proactivity, said, "is it also true that the dust is more potent during the mating season?"
"Could be." Aldrosius shrugged. "The only thing about the dust that concerns me is how to get it off things."
As they stood there for some time in what William could only describe as a soul crushing silence, the fairies dancing and gyrating around them began to fly towards the centre of the clearing. The glowing creatures assembled into a slowly growing mass where the they spun around in numerous circles. What resulted was a small version of an intense whirlwind. William could swear he felt the airflow where he was.
"Looks like the great climax of glitter is approaching," Aldrosius said, his expression one of extreme irritation. "You better get under them, if you want to get the dust."
William was about to run to where the fairies were gathering, when a thought struck him like a rock to the head. "Um, Wens, did you bring a jar?"
"Arenít you a well equipped Chosen One?" Aldrosius shook his head.
The unicorn walked up to a nearby tree and struck his horn against the trunk. After a mighty bang, a vaguely round lump fell down from the tree and landed in Aldrosiusí waiting hand. He trudged back to William and held out the lump. To Williamís surprise, it was a hollow burl.
"Oh, thank you." William took the burl and hurried underneath the sparkling miniature tornado.
The sight above William was a spectacular one. Thousands of colourful lights spinning, tiny figures clutching one another, bodies pressed close together. William cleared his throat and looked away, feeling intensely corrupted for having seen what went on in the fairy whirlwind of reproduction, however wondrous it was. He held out the burl as a thick shower of fairydust fell around him.
Judging from the weight, the burl was full. William ducked away from the ever faster gathering of fairies and returned to where Aldrosius was examining the tip of his left hoof and Wenselaft was following the proceedings with a similar air of embarrassment as William.
"Have a fun time?" Aldrosius raised his lip.
"It wasÖ" William tried to find the right word.
"Pfft. Trust me, those giggling airheads couldnít care less about somebody watching."
"Itís just that Iíve neverÖ Well, you know?"
Wenselaft cleared his throat. "Yes, one doesnít usuallyÖ"
Aldrosius snorted, "you mean you never conveniently passed by the local pond when the barmaids were bathing? Or walked in on some farmhands while they were having a private moment in the barn?"
"No!" came the collective reply.
"You really are a pair of naïve lads. How your sort always get picked to save the world is beyond me."
"Iím not that naÔve, I know things." William protested. "Just because Iím not a shameless voyeur, doesnít mean I donít know what happens in barns and attics and behind stacks of hay."
"And I donít particularly care to know." Wenselaft shook his head.
"Okay then." Aldrosius seemed thoroughly unconvinced.
William prepared to further prove his worldliness, when a collective screech of delight came from the fairy tornado and a massive wave of fairydust burst forth, nearly knocking William, Wenselaft and Aldrosius off their feet. After that the fairies could be heard dispersing and giggling to themselves.
The youth spat out a glob of dust and wiped his eyes. Before him, covered hoof to horn in several inches of glitter, stood Aldrosius and Wenselaft.
"Disgusting," the unicorn growled, trying to shake off the sparkling flakes.
Wenselaft was glancing at himself in utter horror, looking like he was either going to scream or faint.
Williamís free hand flew to his mouth to suppress the laugh that threatened to come out. His whole body shook at the force of the hilarity, making his sides ache.
Aldrosius glared at him. "This isnít funny."†
"It is!" William cried out, yielding to the laughter.
"Well." Aldrosius folded his arms. "You donít look much better."
William breathed deep, the laughter subsiding to a titter. "Probably. Hey, you wouldnít mind joining our quest, would you?"
Now the unicorns eyes widened. "What?"
"Iím going to take that as a yes." William smiled.
Stories and artwork Copyright 2009-2011 by Mette Pesonen. Copying in whole or in part is prohibited. However, you may link to this page.
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