So did the prince ride upon the unicorn’s back, far to the west, swifter than the wind, through many kingdoms and principalities, across deserts scarcely inhabited, over mountains and seas, until at last they arrived at the briar wall that enclosed the dwelling place of the legendary maiden.
Here and there upon the massive thorns of the briar hung the bleached white bones and rusted armour of all of the enchanted maiden’s previous would-be suitors, but the prince was not afraid. “If my beloved is truly on the other side of this wall,” he said to himself, “then I must breach it somehow, or die in the attempt.”
But even as Prince Zakir approached the briar wall the thick thorny vegetation parted of its own accord, forming a path for him straight to the great lawn on which Geva’s castle stood. So without hesitation he followed the path safely through the briar, and as he crossed the lawn and approached the gardens he saw Geva standing there at the castle gates beside a large rosebush, with sunlight in her hair, looking even more beautiful than she had in his visions.
When Geva saw her prince she nearly lost her breath. “You are the man of my dreams,” she said, and meant it quite literally. For she had often dreamt of him but had told no one about this, not even Ancoron, as she had thought it but a bit of folly.
“And you are the woman of mine,” he replied.
She blushed. “I never dared hope that you truly existed.”
He took both her hands in his. “The hope that you truly existed is what has kept me alive all these years.”
Meanwhile, when the witch’s familiar saw that the briar wall had come down, it immediately slunk off to tell its mistress. But before it even left the castle grounds, the cat was once again pinned to the earth by an invisible spirit.
“I can see that you’ve been up to no good again,” said Ancoron as he kicked one of the wicked creature’s nine lives out of it with his mighty hoof. And no sooner had he done so than Geva’s mother ceased her babbling and got out of bed and went looking for her daughter, having been under the spell of the witch’s familiar for all that time. As for the cat, it ran back to its mistress with its remaining eight lives and never returned to the castle again.
When the unicorn next found the couple in the garden Geva scarcely noticed him at first, so enraptured she was with her charming prince. But then at last she turned to him, and ran to embrace the fair creature, weeping tears of joy. “Ancoron!” she cried happily. “I feared I would never see you again!”
“It was I who found your prince for you,” said he, not without a fair bit of pride.
“I know,” she said. “He told me. I can’t thank you enough! You are a true friend.”
Now that Geva’s mother had regained her wits, she busily prepared a magnificent wedding feast. But in her happiness she forgot to invite the witch. As it turned out, the old hag showed up at the castle anyway, and as soon as Geva’s mother saw her she blanched, but recovering herself quickly, ushered her in and announced her to everyone as the guest of honour. But she wouldn’t say why she should be the guest of honour at her daughter’s wedding feast, and so Geva began to fear that her mother had lost her mind again.
The feast was indeed a magnificent affair, with the finest minstrels in the land playing continuously in the gallery, and a luscious board laid out in seven courses, and jesters and jugglers entertaining the many highborn guests. But the prince and his new princess soon found it tiresome. They only wished to be alone with one another, yet they sat through it patiently nonetheless, making eyes at each other from across the table and laughing at each other’s jests. After dinner they danced together for the first time, and that was the most delightful part of the evening. Then, before they knew it, it was all over, and the guests were leaving. They both heaved a sigh of relief.
But before the witch left the castle she pulled Princess Geva aside. “You look radiant, my dear. I am so happy for you and your new husband.”
“As am I,” said the princess.
“Alas,” the witch replied, “too bad such happiness cannot last.”
“No, I’m afraid not. For after tonight you will no longer be innocent.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is difficult to explain. Innocence can only be fully comprehended by those who have lost it. But trust me when I say that once you and your husband have lain together you will no longer be innocent.”
Now a thought occurred to Princess Geva that she had not considered before, and she politely excused herself and went out into the gardens where Ancoron was always wont to appear to her, whereupon she called the unicorn’s name softly.
“I am here,” he said, stepping out of the shadows.
“Ancoron!” she cried. “After tonight I will no longer be innocent! Doesn’t that mean I will never see you again?”
“Alas,” said he, “it does.”
“Oh, no!” Now she was on the verge of tears. “You have been my dearest friend—my only friend! I can’t bear to lose you again, Ancoron!”
“But you must.”
“No—I can’t—at least, not yet. I will speak to my husband. He will understand.”
And so she went back into the castle, and spoke to the prince, telling him what she had learned, and tearfully explaining that she could not bear to part with her dearest friend so soon.
“Then we must live apart for a while,” Prince Zakir said sadly, “lest the temptation become too great for us. But I will visit you often, and furthermore I vow that whether we be together or apart, I will have no other for as long as I live.”
So the prince went back to his own land; but true to his word, in the weeks that followed he remained faithful to his wife, and returned often to visit her and her mother and Ancoron. And on one such occasion, as the young couple strolled through the garden together hand in hand on a brisk autumn evening, they both saw snow for the first time, whereupon they laughed and laughed as it fell upon their upturned faces, delighted with it, and with the world, and with each other.
And as Ancoron watched them unseen, it was then that he finally made up his mind to convince Princess Geva of the wisdom of letting him go that she might truly be with her prince. But he waited a week, delaying the awful moment when he would have to say farewell, and thus before he could do so, the maiden’s dear old mother passed away.
“I can’t leave her now,” the unicorn said to himself. “Not so soon after losing her mother.”
And so another month passed, and then another, and through it all Prince Zakir waited patiently, staying at the castle but still remaining chaste and ever true to his vows.
Then at last one day Ancoron felt it was high time he convinced Geva to let him go. Yet he knew it wouldn’t be easy, so he sought out the fairy again to ask her advice. He also knew that this was a long shot, for fairies are capricious beings at best; but once he had told her all that had transpired since their last conversation, she became furious. “That meddling witch!” she cried. “So she’s the reason I was trapped in that bottle in the first place! Come with me, Ancoron. I’m going to go give that old hag a piece of my mind.”
When they reached the witch’s dwelling they found her busily brewing some foul concoction or other in her huge cauldron, humming an ancient tune to herself as she churned it with the boat paddle, so preoccupied that she didn’t even notice that anyone had entered at first. But then suddenly she looked up in surprise at Ancoron standing there in the doorway, and immediately ceased her stirring of the foul-smelling substance, a sound issuing from her foul mouth that might have been a gasp though it more resembled a death rattle. Even though the witch was far from innocent and pure of heart, she was able to see the unicorn because she too was a magical being and possessed the sight. But she could not yet see the fairy, who had cast a veil of invisibility over herself that even the witch’s third eye could not penetrate.
“At last!” the old hag cackled with glee. “At last I have my very own unicorn! I knew it wouldn’t be long before you fell into my trap!”
Just then the fairy appeared to the witch in all her glory: a fearsome creature with hair and eyes of silver flame.
“Spirits preserve me!” the hag cried.
“Not likely,” the fairy said. “I have come for my revenge.”
“This is the extent of my mercy. You must abandon any plans you have of capturing a unicorn. And you must help Ancoron find a way to convince Geva to let him go and consummate her marriage with the prince. In return for this, I will overlook all the trouble you’ve caused me.”
“All right, all right,” the witch groaned. “I’ll tell you what must be done. But your one-horned friend will not like it.”
“What is it?” asked Ancoron.
“You must cause her to forget all about you,” said the witch.
“And how do I do that?”
“With a potion. Give me an hour or so and I’ll mix one up for you.”
“Very well,” said the fairy. “You have one hour. And I will stay to make sure you hold up your end of the bargain.”
An hour later the potion was almost ready. The witch turned to Ancoron then with a wicked grin. “The last ingredient is the hardest to come by,” she said. “But we’re in luck, because it just so happens it’s a unicorn’s horn, and you’re a unicorn.”
“But if you take my horn,” Ancoron replied sadly, “I shall not have long to live. Nevertheless, I will not stand in the way of Geva’s happiness. Do what you must.”
“Ancoron, you fool!” the fairy cried. “It’s a good thing I stayed.” Now she turned toward the witch, her pale face flushed with fury. “There’s no way in hell you’re harming a hair on this creature’s head!”
“Never fear,” the witch assured them, “it needn’t come to that. I need only spread the potion on the tip of his horn. But then he must wound her with it—it needn’t be a deep wound, you understand—just the merest scratch, but enough to draw blood.”
“And what will that do to her?” asked Ancoron.
“She will fall into a deep slumber, and when she awakens, she will no longer remember you. I suggest you have the girl meet you by the rosebush that grows beside the garden wall. That way, when she awakens, she will think she merely fell asleep and scratched herself on one of the thorns.”
Ancoron looked long at the potion. “And just like that, all memory of me will be gone. It will be as though we never met—as though our friendship never existed.” He sighed heavily. “Well, I suppose it’s for the best.”
The fairy looked upon him kindly. “Mortals are much more than mere bundles of memories,” she said.
“True,” said the witch. “Though the girl will no longer remember you, she’ll still feel your loss—somewhere, deep inside of her, as a vacancy—like that left by a missing puzzle piece—a part of her that’s empty, that hungers for something, though she won’t know what. She won’t feel truly whole—not for a long while—perhaps not for the rest of her life.”
“Is that true?” Ancoron asked the fairy as doubt began to gnaw at him once more.
“For the most part,” she replied with a scowl at the witch. “But many a truth is told in malice, as they say. On the bright side, the love of her prince may mend Geva’s heart eventually; for true love has healing powers that none of us immortals will ever comprehend.”
The unicorn thought about this for a long moment. “And what of Prince Zakir? Must I wound him as well?”
“The spell will not work on him,” the witch replied, “for the very reason that he does not love you. He loves Geva only, and has no room in his heart for anything else.”
“You must bid him swear never to mention you to his bride,” the fairy suggested.
“He will not like that,” said Ancoron.
“Then you must explain to him why it is necessary,” she replied. “Now I must go. But remember, old hag, if you betray us I’ll be back for you.”
© 2014 by Strider Lee