The Deception
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118 pages

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Sixty years after the unicorns’ narrow escape from extinction, Azaria's Legacy has gone wrong. The new generation barely exists, hidden in the depths of the forest. Their cruel and ruthless leader, Icarus, threatens them daily with Jaresh, an invisible being capable of taking away their powers. Angry, the young colt Ulysees and his friend Téo rebel, following an old, abandoned trail where they’re discovered by humans. Now the entire herd must flee. But Ulysees learns there’s a far greater danger than humans when he meets a giant creature who warns him of impending doom…"If you liked Richard Adam's Watership Down, you'll love the series, Shadow of the Unicorn.



Publié par
Date de parution 02 février 2016
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781771459488
Langue English

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Shadow of theUnicorn, Book 2
By Suzanne deMontigny
EPUB 9781771459488
Print ISBN9781771459518

Copyright 2016 bySuzanne de Montigny
Cover art MichelleLee
All rightsreserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reservedabove, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in orintroduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, orby any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise) without the prior written permission of both thecopyright owner and the publisher of this book.
To my Uncle Denis who has always stuck upfor me, andto a little girl I once knew named Marie. May the writing of this book somehowheal a wrong of so long ago.
* * *
Author’s Note
Half of the author’s proceedsfrom the Shado w of the Unicorn series are donated to the Third World EyeCare Society, a group of eye specialists who travel to third worldcountries delivering thousands of pairs of glasses and performingeye surgery for free.
Chapter 1
In theBeginning
The colt wasborn in the early hours of the morning when birds chirped in hushedtones, and the sun reached out to touch the earth. Squinting at theshimmering colours the day brought, he shivered in the crisp airwhile the warm tongue of his dam licked his wet fur.
“Hurry, littleone. You have to rise.” His mother’s eyes darted back and forthsearching between the narrow trunks of trees and the dark foliagesurrounding them. “There’s no time.”
The coltstruggled, his legs trembling at the weight of his body. Giving asmall grunt, he rolled back onto the dried leaves and needlesscattered on the soft earth.
“Quickly, oryou won’t survive.” He felt her nose nudge his ribs.
He yawned, hiseyes still heavy with sleep. A warm scent filled his nostrils,luring him. Hoisting himself up, he took two wobbly steps forwardand reached for her udder.
“That’s it,”the mare cooed. “You’re doing well. Come on.”
The colt tookanother tentative step.
A deep voicegrowled from behind. “Hurry, Sarah. We have to move.”
The coltflinched and turned to see a creature much like his mother whosewhite coat shimmered against the shadows of the dark forest, andwhose silvery head was crowned by a long spiral horn like hers. Buthe was much bigger and his voice more forceful.
“Just give hima little more time, Icarus,” she pleaded.
The stallionscowled. “No. You have to get back to the herd before the nightcreatures smell him.”
Sarah movedforward, her hooves rustling in the dry leaves as she coaxed thefoal to follow. The tiny unicorn’s legs gave way, and he fellagain, rolling on the cold ground below.
The stallion’seyes blazed. “Get him up. Fast or I’ll –”
“No, it’sokay!” She moved between them and nuzzled the colt again. “Come on.You can do it.”
The coltfaltered for a moment, but this time caught his footing. Seeing hismother take slow steps forward, he followed her, his breath heavy,steam flaring from his nostrils. They walked together, his legswobbling and trembling, until they arrived to where the othershuddled together in a copse of trees, wary and expectant.
“This is thelast of the foals,” said Icarus, drawing up alongside an aged marewhose coat bore a dull grey, but whose eyes spoke of authority.“Quick we must name them so we can return to the shadows to hide.”Facing the herd, he commanded, “All hail Ramah, the ancientone.”
The unicornsparted as the old mare moved with ceremony to the center of theherd, her pale blue eyes challenging. “Bring the foals forward,”she ordered.
The colt felthis mother nudge his rump. Throwing her a desperate glance, he dugin his hooves and let out an anxious whinny.
“You need togo, little one,” Sarah coaxed. “It’ll only be for a shorttime.”
He spun aroundand dove between her hooves, his ears flattened, until he saw threeother foals, all damp like him, standing by Ramah. Gathering up hiscourage, he took cautious steps to join them.
The coltshivered when Ramah lowered her head to his level and grunted. Heturned, following her every move. She circled him with narrowedeyes and rumbled from time to time. His heart beat fast, and hisears twitched as she studied him.
Then shenodded. “Sarah, you have born a strong son. Already his stance issteady, and he shows stamina. I daresay he may be an explorersomeday. I shall name him Ulysees.”
“U-li-si-uss.”The colt tried his name.
Before he couldfinish saying the word, Ramah had moved to one of the other foals.“And you, Clarisse, have born a filly of great beauty.” She pacedaround, tilting her head from side to side. “Her eyes reflect thecolour of the heavens.”
Ulysees glancedup at the ever-brightening sky. It was true. The filly’s eyes werethe same blue.
“I shall callher Alannah,” said Ramah.
Quiet mumblingsrippled through the herd.
Then Ramahturned her gaze to the other colt whose hooves never seemed to stopbeating the ground.
Ulysees’ tailflicked back and forth at the sight of the foal.
“Rebeccah, yourson is rambunctious. I foresee a great protector. You shall namehim Téo.”
Ulysees brokeinto a full smile and took his first leap toward the other colt.Sarah rumbled a warning, sending him scurrying back to herside.
Ramah moved tothe last foal. “Susannah, your filly possesses warm, brown eyesfilled with serenity. Undoubtedly, she will someday be aconsolation to the other mares. You shall call her Lilia.”
Again, softmumbles sounded within the herd.
Ramah clearedher throat. “And now, before we disperse, we will all repeat ourvow to our ancestor, Azaria, the founder of our legacy. It is tohim we owe our survival. It is he who defeated Ishmael, allowing usto thrive. To him we are forever grateful. Let us renew ourpromise.”
The unicornsbowed their heads in reverence, their horns pointing to the agedmare, their voiced joined in chorus. “We pledge allegiance toAzaria that we shall always flee the humans and their allies fromhere until the end of time, or so spare me Jaresh.”
Ramah began thechant. “We will survive!” Her voice was soft at first, but grew inintensity.
The othersjoined, “We will survive, we will survive, we will survive!”
When the lastechoes of the mantra died down to a murmur, the ancient mare spokethe final words. “And now, let us return to the depths of the woodswhere we shall live as shadows.”
Chapter 2
The Meadow
Five sunslater, the cries of the other foals awoke Ulysees. He raised hishead and strained his sleepy eyes toward the noise in time to seeIcarus herding the bawling foals away from the mares.
Ulyseesclambered to his dam’s side. “Mother!” He searched her face forreassurance, but Sarah stood transfixed, her eyes skittering.
“Come,Ulysees,” a cold voice said from behind.
Ulysees swungaround. It was Ramah. He bolted back two steps. “Mother, saveme!”
Sarah remainedfrozen, her voice quivering. “Ulysees, you must go with them. Youhave to learn the skills vital to your survival.”
“Sur-vi-val?” he asked. “What’s that?”
“It means no human can capture you or harmyou because you’re strong and swift. You must never lose yourfreedom because it’s far worse than death.”
Ulysees shuddered, his eyes wide. “But whatare humans?” he asked.
Lowering her head to his level, Sarahspoke in a near-whisper. “They’re strange creatures that walk ontwo legs and have no fur. And instead of hooves, they have hands,like apes, that give them the power to do things you could neverimagine. They’re very dangerous.”
Ulysees turned and eyed the other foals, hishide rippling.
“Go, my son.The day will pass quickly enough, and then you’ll be with meagain.”
“But Mother–”
“You have nochoice.” She cast her eyes down.
Ulysees feltthe thump of Ramah’s nose pushing him from behind. He let out anervous cry and dug in his heels.
“Stop that!”commanded Ramah, her coarse voice grating his ears. “You’re aunicorn. You must show honour and valour.”
“But I don’tknow what valour is.” Ulysees’ face contorted.
“Don’t besilly. You have to be brave. You can be away from your mother for alittle while,” she said, her voice filled with sarcasm.
He swung aboutone last time to search for Sarah, but she was already gone.
The foalswhimpered while they traveled, but as the distance from the maresgrew, their cries became weaker. They walked for what seemed ages,until they came to a meadow deep in the forest. Here green grassblew softly in the wind, and the sun warmed the earth, unhinderedby the shade of the leaves. The colours, tiny drops of red, yellow,and pink that grew in the grass – the flowers – made him draw inhis breath.
Slipping inbeside Téo, he waited to see what Icarus would do.
The stallionturned and addressed them, his voice stern. “You are all theancestors of Azaria, the Great Stallion, the one who defeatedIshmael and founded our Legacy. It was he who taught the unicornsour three survival techniques, and you shall all learn them toperfection. Perfection – understood? For if you don’t, you mayperish at the hands of the humans.” He paused, assessing each ofthe foals in turn.
Ulysees and Téoshared nervous glances.
Icaruscontinued. “The first technique you must learn is to ride the wind.It looks like this.” Icarus leapt forward and … disappeared.
The unicornsexchanged wide-eyed stares, mumbling excited words until thestallion rematerialized.
“You saw that?”Icarus asked. Looking somewhat smug, his eyes roved over the foalsand landed on Ulysees. “Ulysees, you’ll try it first.”
“B-but I don’tknow what you did,” said Ulysees.
“And you won’tknow either until you try it,” Icarus said, his tone derisive. “Nowgo!”
Trembling,Ulysees took two cautious steps forward. He raised his forelegs torace away, but before he could move, Icarus shouted.
“No! You haveto wait until the wind blows, and then catch it and let it carryyou.”
Ulysees coweredat his words. “Like this?” He paused for a few seconds, a breezeruffling the downy fur of his ears, and then leapt, galloping onlya few lengths.
“Ugh!” saidIcarus, his patience waning. “Wait longer. You have to become the wind.”
“But I don’tknow how to become the wind.” Ulysees’ voice shook.
“Do you want tobe captured?” Icarus growled.
“No.” Ulyseescowered.
“Then do what Isay!” ordered the stallion.
Ulysees triedagain. He stood unmoving, listening for the rustle of the leaves inthe trees. When a strong gust blew, he leapt again. This time, thewind lifted him, transporting him for a short distance, and thendropped him with a soft thud. His heart racing with exhilaration,Ulysees let out a cry, his eyes wide at how far he’d travel.
Icarus rewardedhim with the tiniest hint of a smile, but then resumed his hardstance. “Alright, that’s the idea. Who wants to try now?”
Téo was next,then Alannah, and finally Lilia. They spent the afternoon leapingand catching the wind until their eyes grew sleepy and their younglegs wobbly. When the sun had traveled low in the sky, Ulysees wasoverjoyed to hear the eager steps of the mares who had come to findtheir young.
Despite hisfatigue, he bounded to Sarah, bursting with news. “Look, Mother. Ican ride the wind!” He ran with all his might, leaping into theair, flying little stretches to the end of the meadow.
When his mothercheered from a distance, he did it again – anything to see hersmile, until Icarus’ ferocious neigh made them turn, and theyfollowed him obediently in complete silence.
Chapter 3
The Hidden SpotAmong the Trees
As night fell, they gathered together inthe hidden spot among the trees, the entire herd mute; their earsflicking. The air was cool, and the sky had turned a dark, indigoblue. They waited for the sound of Icarus and Ramah’s hooves todrift away into the night, and then burst intoconversation.
Ulysees hung close to his dam and listened tothe excited chatter that sprouted and grew with each passingmoment.
“Do you know if the pink flowers have startedto bloom?” whinnied a mare.
“ Yes, they have, and the dandelions arecoming up too,” said Sarah, her voice pitched high withexcitement.
“What about the purple ones? Any sign?” askedanother mare.
“No, but you know how rare those are,” saidSarah.
“That’s because this isn’t the right placefor purple flowers,” an aged voice grumbled from the edge of theherd.
“Now, now, Danae,” said Sarah.
“It’s true.” The old stallion said. “Thevalley where the unicorns lived before the fireball had purpleflowers growing everywhere.”
Ulysees’ ears pricked forward at hiswords.
“My great-grandfather Gaelan told me. He saidit was a paradise before the humans came.”
“ Danae –”
“ What happened to it?” asked Ulysees,moving closer.
Danae took a deep breath. “Well, you see,there was a great fireball that struck the earth many years ago. Atfirst we thought it was the sun that had hit us because everythingwent dark, and because the air was filled with ash that fell formany moons, killing off the plants. Then the storms that slept andreawakened came, destroying our forests. Many of our kin starved todeath, and the older ones were taken by the storms. For a while, itlooked as though we wouldn’t survive, but then spring came, and thesun returned, bringing the tender shoots that saved what was leftof us.”
Ulysees shuddered, his eyes growing twicetheir size. “No sun ?”
“ No sun,” said Danae. “They thought theirtroubles were all over,but then the humans arrived with their leader, Ishmael, and built atown of sand and straw. It’s amazing what they can do with thoseape hands. At first, they didn’t seem the slightest bit interestedin the unicorns, so the Great Stallion let his guard down. Bigmistake, because when they least expected it, Ishmael captured oneof the herds.”
The foals gasped, their restless hoovesthudding the ground.
“ Whoa!” shouted T éo.
“ Then to make matters worse, a plague brokeout among the humans, and Ishmael discovered the healingpower of ourhorns.”
“How?” asked Alannah.
“ It happened when his own daughter caught the disease and was neardeath. A kind mare took pity on the little girl and touched herwith her horn. The child sat up talking and laughing like she’dnever been sick at all.”
The foals mumbled with excitement.
“Well, you’d think Ishmael would be thankful,but no. He began exploiting the unicorns to heal the plague inexchange for gold.”
“What’s gold?” asked Lilia in the quietest ofvoices.
“It’s little yellow stones that catch thelight of the sun. No one knows why humans like the stuff. It’s notlike you can eat it or anything.” He shook his mane and snorted.“Anyway, nine unicorns gave up their lives curing that plague.”
Ulysees heard him swallow.
“ Nine” Danae paused as though deep inthought. He cleared his throat. “Then, by some miracle, thecaptured herd escaped, but it didn’t stop Ishmael one tiny bit. Hewanted more gold, and so he tracked those unicorns into themountains where he discovered they could disappear at random andtravel without leaving traces. Once he knew that, he figured outhow to outsmart them. Then he gathered his cronies together andorganized a hunt high into the hills. He got so close that theGreat Stallion, Polaris, had to lure him away so the others couldescape. But it cost him. Not only did he lose his life, but he losthis horn when Ishmael sawed it off. That was why Azaria swore fromthen on that all unicorns would flee humans until the end oftime.”
The moonlight reflected in Danae’s eyes for amoment revealing tears. He let out a long sigh. When he spokeagain, his voice had hardened. “That was all before Jaresh.”
“Danae, no,” cried Sarah, her voice rising.“It’s forbidden.”
“I don’t care,” Danae rumbled. “I –”
“Who’s Jaresh?”asked Alannah.
Sarah pausedfor a moment, and then with a faltering voice, began herexplanation. “He’s the great being who gave us the gift of healing… and our abilities. He also gave Azaria the power to defeatIshmael.” Her words rang uncertain.
Danae let out asnort. “Horse manure!”
“Danae.” Sarahwhispered.
Ulysees’ earspricked forward with interest. “What does he look like?” heasked.
A slow clouddrifted over the moon, momentarily darkening the night.
“No one knows.”Sarah sighed. “Because no one has seen him.”
Ulyseesshivered at their words and moved closer to his dam. “Then how dowe know he exists?”
As the cloudfloated past the moon, Ulysees saw Sarah steal a quick glance tothe trail behind her that Icarus and Ramah had taken. “Becausewe’ve been told so throughout the years.”
“Yeah, right.By someone with a really big mouth and long teeth,” retortedDanae.
Ulysees heard akick and a grunt.
“Ow,” criedDanae. “You don’t have to kick me. It’s true.”
Ulysees stifleda giggle. “What is he then, Danae?”
“Don’t,”whispered one of the mares.
“You’ll bepunished if you do. Remember Sampson,” warned Sarah, her voicequivering.
Ulysees heardDanae’s tail swishing faster and faster.
“What willJaresh do?” Téo asked.
“Take away hispowers,” Sarah said, her voice hushed. “And if he can’t use them,he has no defense against the humans.”
Ulysees gulpedat her words. “But how would Jaresh know Danae did somethingwrong?”
“Because Jareshis everywhere,” replied Sarah, her voice unsteady. “He’s alwayswatching us.”
Ulysees’ coattwitched. His eyes darting, he searched the dark woods surroundingthem. When an owl hooted, he huddled closer to Sarah. “Mother, I’mscared.”
“You don’t needto be,” she said. “He’ll protect you just as long as you follow theLegacy of Azaria.”
“You mean theLegacy of Icarus.” Danae gave his mane a vigorous shake and let outa loud huff.
Ho of beats drummed the ground in thedistance, silencing the unicorns. It was Icarus andRamah.
The herd huddled together in the dark asthough not a word had been uttered during their absence.
“Did I hear something about Jaresh?” Icarus’voice menaced.
“No,” Sarah said lightly. “We were justtalking about flowers.”
“Yeah,” said another mare. “Flowers.”
“Purple ones to be exact.”
“And dandelions.”
Icarus’ fierce eyes glowed in the moonlight.The burning orbs traveled over the herd, weighing and measuring. Noone moved nor spoke … until the stallion’s hoof beats were heardthumping toward the farthest reach of the hidden spot among thetrees.
Chapter 4
The Training
The foalsfollowed Icarus and Ramah to the meadow each day, their headshanging as they moved in the cold morning air, awaiting thedrudgery and impatience of the stallion. And each day, Icarusdrilled them endlessly until they were barely able to stay awake.Ulysees survived those days by remembering that when the shadowsgrew long and night came with all its vibrant sounds and smells,he’d be surrounded by the laughter and the warmth of the herdagain.
On the dayafter the dark moon, the Great Stallion led them again into themeadow. After they had formed their line, he announced, “Today,we’ll learn to camouflage.”
Ulysees let outa despondent sigh.
“Who can tellme what that is?” asked Icarus, a sharp edge to his voice.
When no oneelse dared respond, Téo chanced an answer. “You disappear?”
The stallionlooked at Téo through narrowed eyes. “Show me.”
The colt tooknervous steps forward. “Umm … like this?” He crouched beside awhite rock and squeezed himself into as small a ball aspossible.
“No!” Icarusshook his head with disgust. “You look like the perfect target forany human. Get up and go back to your spot!”
Téo’s jawclenched as he moved back beside Ulysees. “I hate him ,” hewhispered.
“So do I,”Ulysees hissed back.
“Camouflagingis not scrunching up beside something the same colour as you. Whatif there’s nothing white around?” Spit sprayed from Icarus’ mouthas he spoke.
“Ahhh …”Ulysees ventured forth, his voice unsure. “Danae says you have to become the thing. He said that –”
“Never mindwhat that old fool has to say! Just watch.” He took two stepsforward and stopped. The stallion’s eyes glazed as he mumbled underhis breath, “I become the boulder. The boulder and I are one. We…”As he uttered the words, Icarus faded from sight.
The foalshuddled together, their eyes round.
“He’s gone!”said Téo.
But beforeUlysees could respond, Icarus reappeared.
“You see? Ididn’t try to imitate it like Téo did. Had a human been near, hecould have lost his horn. Badly executed, Téo.” His eyes roved overthe four foals. “Now who wants to show this imbecile how it’sdone.”
The foals clungtogether, silent, until Alannah took brave steps forward to whereTéo had stood. “I’ll do it,” she said, decidedly
“Alright,then,” said Icarus as though someone had finally come to theirsenses.
Standing verystill, she began whispering, “I’m the boulder. I’m gray andspeckled and I’ve been here for a long, long time …” For just amoment, she faded in and out.
“Yes,” saidIcarus, nodding and straightening out a slight twitch at thecorners of his lips. “That’s better. Now who’s next?”
Ulysees took achance, and then Téo. By the end of the day, they were each able tocamouflage for a few breaths – all except Lilia. Her head hung lowwhen the mares came to retrieve their foals.
“Oh, Mother,”Ulysees said, “Icarus keeps picking on Lilia because she can’tcamouflage yet.” He stole a glance at the filly. “And she’s reallytrying.”
Sarah sighedand shook her head. “I know, Ulysees. He is heartless, andyou may find this hard to believe, but he used to be like the restof us until …”
“Until what?”asked Ulysees.
“It’s a verylong story,” she said, her voice changing to a whisper when theGreat Stallion approached them. “I’ll tell you someday when we’realone.”
Icarus struttedpast them. As usual, the mares and foals fell in behind thestallion, Lilia last of all, her tiny hooves dragging in thesoil.
Chapter 5
The Hollow
Many moonstraveled the skies, the foals growing more accomplished each day.Ulysees and the others could now ride the wind with ease andcamouflage for several breaths. Lilia still struggled to learn theskills, but eventually could camouflage for short periods of time.How the foals had cheered the morning she first disappeared forjust an instant, and then reappeared, her smile so wide all herteeth showed while Icarus merely emitted a slight grunt ofapproval.
Ulysees loathedthe day the Great Stallion would teach them the final skill. He hadheard the yearlings complain about how difficult it was to learn,and how brutal Icarus had been. He knew the day had arrived whenthe stallion led them to a muddy trail that ran a short distancefrom the meadow.
His stone-likeexpression unmoving, Icarus addressed them, his cruel gaze sweepingover the foals and landing on Lilia. “You’re all ready now for theshadow-walk – all of you, not just three, but four ofyou.”
Lilia loweredher eyes.
He continued.“I want you to walk along this stretch of muddy ground withoutleaving a trace or making a sound. It’s not easy, but it must bemastered. Lilia, you’ll go first.”
Lilia stareddown at the trail, and then back at Icarus. Her voice shook. “But Idon’t know how.”
Icarus gave animpatient sigh. “It’s easy. You become your shadow. Anyone can doit,” he said, his voice sarcastic.
Lilia’s bottomlip trembled, and tears welled up in her eyes.
“Come on!” Hethumped a hoof. “I don’t have all day.”
Ulysees sawTéo’s eyes flash with anger.
“Quickly, Isaid!”
Trying to catchTéo’s attention, Ulysees shook his head, but before he could stophim, the enraged colt leapt to Lilia’s side.
“Leave heralone!” he shouted.
Ulysees’muscles tensed, bracing himself for the worst.
“What did yousay?” Icarus’ voice was low.
“I said, leaveher alone!”
Icarus’eyeballs bulged, and steam escaped his nostrils. His gaze lockedfor several tense moments with Téo’s. Then he spoke, his voicefilled with venom. “Alright then, why don’t you go?”
Téo’s lipsturned up in a sneer. “Okay, I will.” He shot a look of mischief atUlysees, and then strode to where the strip began. He ventured onlya few steps, then drove his hooves hard in the mud, leaving deepgouges.
Icarus burnedwith anger. “Did you do that on purpose?”
Téo staredback, his chin raised, his eyes blazing. “Yes, I did.”
“Why you …” Thestallion lunged at the colt, aiming a sharp nip at his rump.
Téo dodged thebite and moved back several steps. He let out a victorious laugh.“Missed me.”
Icarus’nostrils flared. “You dare defy me?” When Téo’s expression ofmockery remained unchanged, Icarus pawed the ground and chargedagain. “You’ll do as I say!”
“No, I won’t!”Téo sang as he darted away from Icarus’ teeth again.
Ulysees glancedat the fillies. They hung back, frozen in fear. “Téo stop!” heshouted. “This can’t possibly end well.”
Téo let out abray. “No way! I’m quite enjoying this.”
Icarus swungaround, his anger boiling over, and broke into a gallop.
Téo danced outof the way again, grinning.
“Téo, please,”whinnied Lilia. “Stop it.”
“No. I’m doingthis for you,” he called back.
“Ulysees, makehim stop,” cried Alannah. “Quick before Icarus catches the wind.Téo’s no match for him.”
With one swiftmove, Ulysees dove between Téo and Icarus. “Forget him. I’ll do itinstead.”
The stalliondropped his hooves and narrowed his eyes at Ulysees. “Alright,then.”
His heartthudding, Ulysees marched to the edge of the strip. Fixing his eyeson his shadow, he concentrated for all he was worth and took a fewsteps, noting the marks he left. Breathing hard, he took more andmore steps until he finally reached the other end and heaved a sighof relief. When he looked back, most of his prints were there, buta few had graced over the mud, invisible and soundless.
“Not goodenough,” rumbled Icarus. “Do it again – become your shadow!”
Ulysees triedagain, despising Icarus with every breath, but with his hate alsocame determination … and less hoof prints.
The stalliongave a curt nod. “One more time,” he ordered.
The colt turnedonce more, his gait growing more expert with each length. Then, ashe neared the edge of the strip, something caught his eye – a darkspot in the woods. His heart quickened. Taking care to hide hisdiscovery from the stallion, he turned and glided past, watchingfrom the corner of his vision.
The stallionnodded again. “Okay, take a break.” He faced Alannah. “Yourturn.”
Ulysees slippedin beside Téo as she moved away. “There’s a path leading into thewoods over there,” he whispered.
Téo leanedcloser. “Where?”
“Over there.”He tipped his head in the direction of the hole.
“You mean thatdark patch?”
“Yes,” saidUlysees. “It looks like it hasn’t been used for a long time.”
“I wonder whereit goes,” said Téo.
“I don’t know,”replied Ulysees, but if we could only get away from Icarus, wemight have a chance to explore it.”
“Yeah, but how?You know old Lion Breath.” Téo cast a heated glance at thestallion. “He keeps his eyes on us all the time.”
“I know, butlet’s just keep watching, and the minute he’s not looking, we’llslip away.”
Their chancecame a few days later on a perfect afternoon when summer burst fromevery corner of the forest. Cicadas chirped, and bees hovered overcolourful flowers in the meadow while baby birds tried newwings.
Ramah climbedthe knoll that rose above the hidden spot among the trees andaddressed the herd. “Unicorns, it’s a beautiful day. The foals haveworked hard, and most of them are now able to shadow-walk. I sayit’s time for a rest. Let’s all take a day to enjoy ourselves anddo as we please.”
The unicornsbroke into joyful whinnies.
“Why don’t wego to the meadow and graze all day?” said one of the mares.
“Yeah!” saidanother. “Finally! A chance to eat dandelions!”
“And maybewe’ll find some purple flowers,” said a young male.
They boundedaway, laughter filling the air, hooves clapping noisily against theground, leaving Icarus behind grumbling about mares and their sillygames. When they reached the meadow, they set about sampling thefine grasses and flowers the field had to offer while the youngerunicorns ran about just for the sheer pleasure of it.
Ulysees and Téoheld back, their eyes flicking between the herd and the entrance tothe trail.
“This could beour chance,” said Ulysees, his voice low.
“You may beright,” said Téo.
Taking casualsteps toward the hollow, they waited for the right moment. Ulyseesglimpsed his mother’s back turned to him. Ramah was nowhere to beseen. Emboldened, he took a few mores steps.
Then someoneshouted. “Hey, everyone. Come and see. There’re apples in thistree.”
“Apples?” astallion whinnied.
In a fewbreaths, the unicorns surrounded the tree on the edge of themeadow, their eyes peering up into the branches.
“Now!” Ulyseesspun around and threw his weight forward only to be stopped by asmall voice.
“Don’t,Ulysees.” It was Alannah.
He froze, hisfront hooves in mid-air.
“You know whatIcarus would say. We’re not supposed to wander off. I’ve seen thepath too, but we don’t know where it leads. It could bedangerous.”
“Who cares what he thinks? We’ve lived morethan six moons. Look, I even have a bump where my horn is startingto grow. And besides, we know the three survival skills.”
“But Icarus says –” Lilia joined her.
“Old Lion Breath.” Téo spat the name. “Irefuse to listen to him anymore. Especially the way he treats you,Lilia.”
Ulysees glanced at the herd surrounding theapple tree. They were already backing away. “Come on, let’s go!There’s no time.”
“But Ulysees,” Alannah whispered. “You –”
“ Never mind,” Ulysees said. “Just becauseyou’re a filly, doesn’t mean you know everything.”
“Ulysees …”
It was too late. The colts had slippedthrough the hollow.
Chapter 6
Through theWoods
Ulysees and Téoleapt, catching a gust of wind that carried them several lengthsinto the forest. When their hooves landed on the ground, they brokeinto a swift gallop, gleefully turning their heads back every fewlengths to see if Icarus followed them.
“You mustn’tgo, you mustn’t go.” Téo mimicked Alannah.
“Oh, no!Disobey Icarus. How could you?” Ulysees said in an extrahigh-pitched voice.
“What do theyknow?”
“Nothing.They're just fillies,” said Ulysees.
“Well … Lilia’spretty wise even though Lion Breath picks on her.”
Ulysees raisedhis brows. “Hmmm,” he said, taking a side glance at his friend asthey raced. “I think someone likes Lilia.”
Téo staredstraight ahead, his lips pressed together as though he hadn’theard.
Ulysees let outa chuckle. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Never mind,”said Téo. “Let’s go.”
They ran justfor the sheer joy of it, no wind-riding, no camouflaging, anddefinitely no shadow-walking.
“Look at us –unicorns, and we’re not afraid,” called out Ulysees to theforest.
“And imaginethat, we haven’t been captured by humans yet.”
“Oh, yes, theevil humans,” Ulysees scoffed. “I bet they don’t even exist.”
“I know.” Téosnorted.
Despite hisbravado, a cold shiver ran down Ulysees’ spine. His mother hadnever lied to him before.
They traveledon until the path narrowed, brambles and thorns scraping againsttheir backs. Slowing, Ulysees scanned the woods around him. “Idon’t think this trail’s been traveled on in years. I don’t seetracks anywhere, do you?”
“Just thelittle forked kind the squirrels leave,” said Téo.
Ulysees’ gazemet his friend’s, uncertain. “I wonder why. Maybe we should turn around. What if Alannah’s right?”
Téo’s eyescombed their surroundings. “No. We’ve come all this way. Let’s keepgoing. Besides, we’ll be in trouble no matter what we do.”
Icarus’ angryface scowled at Ulysees in his mind. “Yeah, you’re right,” hesaid.
Deeper anddeeper into the forest they flew, reveling at the strange and newsights until a strong, musky odour filled the air. Ulysees pulledup, his nose wrinkling at the smell. A twig snapped – a really bigtwig. Startled, he jumped back.
“I think weshould turn around,” he said.
Téo’s eyes grewlarge for a moment. Then he turned his head and stared at somethingin the distance, squinting. “No wait. I see light. I think we’renear some kind of meadow.” He broke into a trot. Ulysees followedclose behind.
As theyapproached the bright spot at the end of the trail, they came to awall of brush. Pushing through the tangled web of branches withtheir hooves, they made a hole large enough to pass through. Whenthey reached the other side, they halted and stared in wonder atthe beauty that lay before them.
“It’s like themeadow back home, only bigger and sunnier,” exclaimed Ulysees.
“Yeah. Look atall that grass, and so long. But those trees,” said Téo, “they lookdead, like after the wind blows too strong. Why are they arrangedlike that – like they’re lying one on top of another?”
“I don’t know.Let’s go have a look.”
Taking cautioussteps, they moved forward until they reached the fallen trees.
“Smells likedead trees,” said Ulysees.
“But where arethe roots?” Téo sneezed at the moldy stench.
“I don’tknow.”
“Wait ’til wetell the fillies about this. Can you imagine how mad Icarus willbe?”
“Who cares?”said Ulysees.
They let out athoughtless laugh, throwing their heads back and shaking theirmanes. Ulysees snorted and stamped his hooves mimicking thestallion. Again, they brayed with laughter … until out of thecorner of his eye, Ulysees saw something move …
Chapter 7
The BrownUnicorn
Ulysees darednot breathe.
The creaturestood watching them, tilting its head from side to side.
Ulysees gulped,his muscles tensed and ready for flight.
The three eyedeach other, neither moving nor speaking.
It was Téo whobroke the silence. “A brown unicorn!” he exclaimed.
Ulyseesfrowned. “But why does he have such big hooves, and why hasn’t hegot a horn yet?” he whispered. “He’s almost the size of a yearling.I mean, even we have small nubs.”
The brown colttook timid steps toward them. He lowered his head as thoughinspecting them and said. “Hi, I’m Xavier.”
The unicornsshared a look of surprise.
Téo took abrave step forward. “I’m Téo.”
Ulysees’ heartskipped at his friend’s courageous gesture, and then swallowing hisfear, he ventured forth too. “And I’m Ulysees.”
The brown coltbroke into a warm smile. “Téo and Ul-i-ssi-us?”
“Yeah,” saidUlysees. He eyed the colt up and down. “So how come your fur’sbrown?”
Xavier lookeddown at himself, and then shook his mane. “I don’t know.”
“And why areyour hooves so big?” asked Téo
Glancing at hisshaggy fetlocks, Xavier answered, “They look like normal horsehooves to me.”
“You’re ahorse?” asked Téo.
“Yeah, aren’tyou?”
“No,” they bothsaid, breaking into a chuckle.
“We’reunicorns,” said Téo.
Ulyseeswondered how Icarus would react to news that such a creatureexisted. What if he’d never seen one before, and Ulysees and Téowere the first unicorns to meet one? He saw Icarus nodding – no,praising them – before the entire herd in his mind. Imagine ifIcarus actually liked him.
“Wanna race?”asked Xavier, pulling Ulysees from his thoughts.
“Sure.” Ulyseesburst into a gallop.
Sarah’s wordsof warning about humans echoed in his mind. Doing a quick scan fordanger, he caught sight of a curious object in the distance andslowed to eye it. Like a cave, it had an entrance, but was made ofstraight lines. His brow pushed into a frown, and he contemplatedinvestigating it. But when Xavier passed him, he quickly forgot thestructure and bounded forward to overtake him.
They raced fromone end of the piled trees to the other and back again, pausingonly to catch their breath, and then to gallop off again. Sprintingseveral times around the meadow, Xavier finally pulled up, puffingand sweating.
“You guys arefast,” he said.
“It’s becauseof Icarus,” said Ulysees, breathing hard. “He makes us gallop allthe time. He says all unicorns have to do it because of the Legacyof Azaria.”
Xavier twitchedhis ears, and then offered an inquisitive smile. “The Legacy ofwhat?”
Ulysees and Téoexchanged amused glances.
“It’s some oldfart from a long time ago who saved the unicorns,” saidUlysees.
Téo snorted.“Yeah, someone with really long teeth. He’s not worth talkingabout.” He tossed his head back in defiance.
Xavier let outa chuckle, and then turned toward a small creek that bubbled nearthe edge of the meadow. “You want to get some water?”
Nodding, theunicorns followed him to the brook and dipped their heads in todrink.
When Xavier hadswallowed a few mouthfuls, he said, “You know, you two should entera race.”
“What do youmean?” asked Ulysees.
Xavier smiled.“You know, like the ones in town. Only the fastest can takepart.”
“In town?”Téo’s ears pushed forward. “What’s that?”
“You don’t knowwhat a town is?” It was Xavier’s turn to be amused. “That's wheremost of the humans live. Everyone knows that.”
Ulysees brokeinto a sweat. “Humans?” Glancing at Téo, he saw his own fearreflected in his friend’s eyes. “We’re not allowed nearhumans.”
“Why not?”asked Xavier.
“Becausethey’ll take away our freedom,” said Ulysees, his voiceanxious.
“Yeah,” addedTéo his eyes as large as sunflowers. “It’s worse than death, youknow.”
Xavier cockedhis head. “Free-dom?”
The unicornschuckled.
“It means noone owns you,” said Téo.
“But I’mowned,” said Xavier.
Ulysees let outa low nicker. “By a human?”
“Yeah. He givesme food, and I get to go for walks with my dam sometimes.” Helooked toward the path in the grass that led away from the meadow.“She’s gone to town right now.”
“Then why–”
A shrill neighrang through the meadow.
Ulysees and Téowheeled about to find Icarus at the head of the trail, his manetangled and his coat frothed as though he had galloped the entireway. His eyes blazed with anger. Certain that Icarus would be happyonce Ulysees shared his news, he leapt forward.
“Icarus, comeand see –” he cried.
The stallionreared, shouting, “What are you doing here, you stupid colts? Comenow!”
“But … we’replaying with Xavier,” said Ulysees in another attempt to share hisdiscovery.
Icarus’ facecontorted with disgust. “You fools, he’s a horse!”
Ulysees joltedback. “What’s wrong with that?”
The stallionstretched his neck out, baring his teeth. “They’re the allies ofthe humans. They ride horses to capture unicorns. We’re mortalenemies!”
Ulysees flungabout and stared at Xavier, seeing the creature in a new light.“Well, I didn’t know,” he cried, his eyes filling with tears.
“Don’t you everlisten?” Icarus shouted, the sarcasm of his voice digging deep intoUlysees’ soul. “You’ve committed a very dangerous act ofdisobedience. Did you not notice those strange trees?”
“Yeah, but wedidn’t know what they were,” bawled Ulysees, wild with fright.
“They’re deadtrees that have been cut and tied together to make a fence. Onceyou’re inside, you can’t get out. You could have been captured. Nowget out of here!” Icarus dashed forward, his teeth narrowly missingUlysees’ flank.
Ulysees leaptaway from the stallion. He broke into a gallop and dashed back upthe trail. As he ran, he glanced one last time over his shoulder atXavier. The little horse stared at the ground, hurt. Ulysees slowedfor a moment until he caught sight of something terrifying on thepathway that led to Xavier’s meadow.

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