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This story totally did not come out how I intended.
“I hear in Cardenborn, their unicorns went weird.”
Burghard Doser heard lots of things. He was the sort of man that you found in any tavern, any where in the Seven Counties, anywhere in the Five Kingdoms, anywhere in the world. He Heard Things. But unicorns going weird, that might have been something Burghard should not have heard, not that day.
The girl on his lap tensed. “Why would you say something like that, you?”
Nobody wanted the girls in the tavern to get unhappy. Shepachdar was a small village, a glorified sheep camp on a bald hill. That they had a couple woman of the sort who liked to spend time in taverns – that they had woman in the village who were not their mothers or sisters or daughters – was a luxury the little hamlet had not often seen. Nobody wanted to scare them off.
“That’s just his ale talking.” Rolf’s own ale made the answer hurried and brash, but it was an answer nonetheless. “You don’t want to listen to Burghard when he’s in his cups.”
“Oh, but I might.” Ursel was a pretty thing, young and bright. The sort of girl that might make a good wife, if she could be coaxed out of the taverns. And Rolf had just lost her off his lap. “I’ve heard of unicorns going strange before. Being born bad.”
“We don’t talk about that.” The girl on Burghard’s lap was getting very unhappy. Uncomfortable, even, an unbiased observer might notice.
“Why not, Adalinda?” Fazenia leaned forward over her ale. She had no need of a pretty wife, no need to keep difficult women in the town. “When a unicorn is second-born, everyone knows. When they are second-born wrong, everyone speaks of it. Don’t they do that where you come from?”
“Who’s to say what is wrong and what is strange?” Adalinda stood up, her skirts swishing. Burghard reached for her, but his hands were clumsy, and she was not. “Who’s to say what is simply change?”
“Change,” Fazenia pointed out, “is what brought us the Factories.”
“Evil brought us the Factories.” Ursel glared at the older woman. “And change let us live through them.”
“You weren’t there, you little stripling.”
“And neither were you.” She tossed her hair angrily, the silken curls shaking away from her forehead. “We all change.”
The tavern had frozen. Ursel’s fair forehead, normally covered in long fair hair, bore the tiniest bump of iridescent horn. A unicorn who had not been second-born. A unicorn acting as a tavern wench. A unicorn whose horn had not come in. A female unicorn.
She was aware, by this time, of their attention. She tossed her hair again, and looked around at the suddenly-more-sober crowd.
“Some of us just don’t… Change.” She offered it up nervously, looking at them all.
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