Short Summary: The unicorns keep the water clean for the villages, but the price they demand is maidens… and their children are born from those maidens.
Content Warning: The unicorns in these stories are heavy on the rape metaphor, and it’s very heavy in the below story. Also, violence, via unicorn horn, discussed in the past tense.
I think this has an ending but it wasn’t sure.
People, as a rule, were not very good at keeping secrets.
The more unusual the information, the worse they were at keeping them close.
There was a girl in Shepachdar’s tavern, and she was a unicorn-born who hadn’t changed, already an anomaly.
There was a foal in Lastowe that had changed early, and it had grown wings instead of a horn, strange beyond strange – and yet it seemed to be needed.
How will he mate? some people muttered. But very quietly: they didn’t talk too loudly about what happened down at the river. They might know – almost everyone knew. The unicorns and the maidens, they made more unicorns, and there was blood, there was always blood, whether the result was a dying girl or a pregnant one.
What will come of the girl? some people asked. They were far less quiet about that; personal tragedy was interesting, it was personal, and it didn’t come tainted with the guilt of the Silver Road and the blood of all those young girls.
Eventually, the questions came back to the tavern in Shepachdar, and back to Ursel, the girl with the nubbin of horn on her forehead.
“So…” It was Fazenia who asked, Fazenia who had started this whole mess rolling. “If you haven’t changed…”
Ursel sat down and stared at Fazenia for a long time. The men looked away. The other bar-maids looked away. Fazenia did not.
“Every child a unicorn sires is a unicorn,” Ursel began. “This is the truth of things.”
Around her, people were muttering. Fazenia, who had gone down to the river in her own time, held Ursel’s gaze and waited.
“Common knowledge says it’s the horn, but that is only a an indicator of certain things.” She touched the nubbin on her forehead. Fazenia touched her own stomach, below the navel. “I know,” the woman who should be a unicorn continued, “that many children are born after the river trips, and more than half of those are born with no horn. Those births are easier. Those men live fine lives, and their daughters have an easier time of the river. Those women… they either have an easier time at the river, or everything goes horrible.” She ducked her head. “Unicorns, the ones who have four legs and who swim the river, they are not human, whatever they were born. They don’t think like humans, and they don’t communicate like humans. And unicorns either favor the two-legged of their kin, or they hate them unbearably.”
Fazenia’s fists clenched in her lap. Ursel, now, was the one to look away, but just for a moment.
“I digress. Every child conceived at the river is a unicorn. I know. So many babies you have all seen, maybe yourself, maybe the child you raised as your own. All unicorns.”
Somewhere, someone opened their mouth. One of the bar-maids shushed them before they cloud say a word.
Ursel nodded, although nobody had asked anything. “It’s not what we’re taught, any of us. Only the ones who transform – only the sons, and not all of the sons. I think many mothers tell themselves that the daughters, the sons who don’t change, that they all come from somewhere else. But the truth, as I have been told it, is that we are all, every child the unicorn-horn puts into you, unicorns.”
“Who told you?” Fazenia’s voice was very quiet. Nobody in the bar had trouble hearing it.
Ursel hesitated, swallowed, and nodded. It was a fair question.
“I didn’t change,” she said, which was obvious to everyone. “I was born with the shining spot on my forehead, but my mother ignored it, because I was born a girl. When I was a young child, the nub developed, the way it did for some boys. My mother styled my hair to cover it.” She brushed her hair out of the way. “We pretended it was a place I had hit my head, or a strawberry mark. When the boys in the town started, you know, their voices changed and then, if they had the nub, they changed, my mother sent me to live with my aunt and uncle, who lived far from the water. She was keeping me safe, she said. I didn’t question it. I was a good child.”
“But I got the black bean, when I came back home. That’s what my village does, draws a black bean to see which girl goes down to the river. And I went, because how could I not? I was a child of the village, the same as anyone else. We hadn’t told anyone, not even my mother’s husband, what I was. And I went down to the river.”
Fazenia reached out, dropped her hand, and reached out again. Ursel didn’t pull back, so Fazenia put her hand over the barmaid’s.
The men were silent. The other tavern girls were silent. This story ended badly so many times, even when it ended well in the long run.
“The biggest unicorn I had ever seen came up to me. She — it was a mare, and those are so rare, you know — she touched her horn to my forehead, and it was…” Ursel’s voice broke. “I didn’t belong there. Too human,” she told me, and I could feel her horn pressing… pressing into the nube where my horn should be growing. Too much, too full, too many words.” Ursel looked up. “I have been looking for an explanation since that day. I had to many words. I was too full of humanity. Why?”
“My daughter,” Fazenia spoke softly, her voice like water over gravel. “She went down to the water. No horn, no nothing, but she’d been born from the unicorn stab.”
The whole bar flinched. Nobody said stab connected to unicorns. Nobody but those who’d felt the horn.
“She went down to the water, and this stallion, he… he savaged her. I wasn’t supposed to be there, you know, it’s the thing between the girl — the young woman and the river. The unicorns. But I hear her scream.
“So I ran down, what mother wouldn’t?” The dryness in her voice spoke of mothers who hadn’t, all the mothers who listened and bit their lip and did nothing while their daughters screamed. “I ran down, and there’s this giant stallion. standing over her, his horn red with her blood, and still shining, still looking pure, ridiculous, I remember thinking, how can he be pure, with her blood all over him? but he was still pure like the snow, white, even the black-red of her blood shining. And,” she pounded her fists on the table. “And he spoke to me. That creature, that monster, he spoke to me.
“‘Too human,’ it said.” She spat the words out. “‘Tainted. She tastes of the clear water where it meets the factory’s spew. It sickens me,’ he said. Sickens him, my beautiful daughter, bleeding out on his shore.” She slammed her fists into the table. “And his delicate stupid horsey taste-buds nearly killed my perfect daughter…” She looked up at Ursel. “And you’re telling me it’s because he made her? His kind made her, slammed their horn into me and put her in there, and, and, and that thing that the unicorns made, that perfect daughter,” she repeated with an angry sob, “that’s too much for them?”
“They don’t like making girls,” Ursel admitted very quietly. “I think. They don’t like talking, you know, and they do it so rarely. But something about the seed of theirs turning to a girl… we taste too much of humanity.”
“But,” an unwise barmaid offered, “wouldn’t we all, then? We’re all human. And yet, she said..”
Fazenia grimaced. “‘Where the river meets the factory water. Those bastards. They piss in our stream and call it pure and clean.”
“The factories?” one of the men asked, more cautiously than the barmaid.
“No.” Ursel touched her forehead. “The Unicorns. We’ll never be enough for them… because we made them.”
It wasn’t quite a sob she made, and not quite a whimper, but Fazenia made the noise for both of them, sob and wail and whimper in one long noise. Mother and foal and yet never kin, they sat together in the center of the bar with their tears and their scars.
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1188427.html. You can comment here or there.