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The weather was beautiful on this spring day in late May. The little cottage in the woods where I lived was full of sunshine shining through the windows. Sunshine fell on the kitchen table at which I was seated with an envelope the color of snow in my hands. My cousin, Arlington, had dropped it off this morning on his way to the big city. Since it was early, I had not read the letter yet, nor had I broke the ruby red seal on the envelope. It was from the Baron Lancaster, I knew, and it was something important. As my little brother, Junior, dropped a cast iron pan on the floor, my fingers broke the seal and wiggled the letter out of its envelope.
“Junior!” my mother scolded. “How many times do I have to tell you not to touch the cast iron pan? It’s much too heavy for you and you’ll ruin it if you go on like this.” As my mother scolded and my brother fretted, I read over the letter.
Even though the letter was important, it was too lengthy and dull to go into details, but the basics of it were that I was selected to help with the unicorn hunt. I was to get the unicorn to come to me, then the Baron and his hunting party would come and kill it. Completing this job would give my family a lot of money, which we needed terribly. Details of why I was selected were also included. Only the most beautiful, and kind hearted girl was necessary. My parents always said that there was not a more beautiful face, or kinder soul than mine around, so that bit, at least, made sense.
It didn’t matter to me that I would get money, or honor, or even that I would get a bit of the mane. All my thoughts were on the fact that the unicorn would trust me, but I would betray it. I would not be able to live again, for in my heart a person who betrayed someone, anyone, was a true villain. While the word villain thundered in my head, I did not notice my mother looking over my shoulder.
“Mother, no!” I cried in surprise, as her hand gently touched my shoulder. “I won’t kill a unicorn, not for all my life!”
“Shush Naomi, don’t cry like that,” mother scolded. “I know the thought frightens you now, and of course you don’t have to do it, but think of the money. Oh the money we will get! Forty gold talants, and a piece of mane too. We’ll be rich Naomi, rich as can be. But of course, no one is forcing you. You make the choice, whatever feels right in your heart.” Just then Father walked into the kitchen, a sullen look on his face. I listened to the heavy stomps his boots made as he walked over to where we were standing and skimmed the letter.
“I will go to the Baron’s hunting estate right away, and let him know that we accept the invitation”.
“What, but Father no… I don’t want,” I spluttered. My heart thundered. My father would not make me kill a unicorn, this was my own choice!
“It does not matter what you want or do not want, Naomi. I, as your father, make the decision for you. We need the money, you know that, so don’t be selfish and do what your family needs. That’s all that I have to say about that matter, and you will do as I say.” Having said this, he marched out of the room, probably to go and inform the Baron of his decision. Tears welled up in my eyes. I could not recognize my father; he was always so understanding, but now he was just a tyrant.
“There there now Naomi, don’t you cry,” Mother comforted me. “It is no big matter, for you will always find that in life, we women do what our men want from us, and yet we always find a way to get our own way in. Wipe your tears now, and help me out here.” I did as my mother told me, and helped out with various tasks for the rest of the day, but my mind was full of thoughts. By dinner time, I had made up my mind to do as my father said, and informed him about it. All I got in answer however, was an approving grunt. So, feeling slightly discouraged, I took myself to bed and tried to sleep.
I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable, and to shut out my thoughts, but alas, no success. When I did fall asleep, it was very light, as my thoughts were racing. I just could not accept the fact that I would actually kill a unicorn.
As morning dawned, I was up and ready, washing my face, braiding my hair, and quickly spooning porridge into my mouth. The Baron liked to start his hunt early, so I had to be at the hunting estate ten minutes after dawn.
My father drove me to the estate in an open wagon, and left me with the butler. He was a nice man, slightly round in the belly, but I did not like him much. Butler Pier was just too posh for me. He led me out to the back of the estate, babbling something incomprehensible in French. When Baron Lancaster approached, Butler Pier gave a bow, and indicated for me to curtsy.
“Ah, so this is the girl who is to be a trap for our unicorn,” the Baron remarked. “They were right when they said that she was the most beautiful girl around. Now all you have to do is sit nicely under a tree, and be patient. Once the unicorn comes, you give a little whistle, like so. Can you do that?” I nodded and we were off.
I rode with a young squire, and he left me at a tree, not too big, not too small, just right. I had with me a flask of water and a pouch of food that my mother gave me. I took nothing else, as I was to be attentive. The stress that I had been feeling this morning had disappeared, and I enjoyed the quiet and calmness of the forest.
In half an hour or so, I heard a slight rustle in the bushes. I turned expecting to see the young squire or someone else from the Baron’s hunting party coming to check on me, but instead I saw the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Yes, it was the unicorn, such a small one I thought it was a foal. It’s coat was snowy white, the mane and tail a pastel turquoise, and the horn a glimmering silver. It’s eyes were brown like mine, and so kind and gentle that for a minute I felt truly sorry.
It approached me, shy at first, but bolder later, and I held out a bit of velveteen grass, the kind unicorns like, to tempt it a bit more. It snuffled at the grass, and licked it gently off my hand. It then settled in the grass next to me, putting its head on my lap. The fact that the unicorn had so much trust in me amazed me, and while I knew that I should be whistling at this point, I also knew that my heart would break apart if I betrayed it. I sat there for a minute, just stroking the velvety nose, and coat of the unicorn. Birds chirped, a gentle breeze blew, and everything was perfect. For a moment I dreamed that it would always be like this, that the unicorn and I would have the best friendship. I slowly broke out of my daydream, realizing that someone from the Baron’s party may come check on me any minute, and inquire about why I was not whistling. I had to take action, either by giving a whistle, or… Well in truth I didn’t know what the “or” was. As I pondered this, I suddenly felt in my heart that by betraying this unicorn I would destroy something magical, important. I just could not bring myself to do it. And right there and then I made up my mind to save the unicorn no matter what happened.
The first step would be to wake up the unicorn, as it had dozed off, and to get it to follow me to a safer location, far away from the hunting party. I touched the coat with one finger, then two, then jostled Aura, the name which I gave the unicorn, and giggled when she snorted in dismay for being woken up.
I whispered, “Please Aura, my beauty, please. Aura, I know you trust me, so follow me wherever I go, for it is not safe here. I will take you somewhere safe, I promise, just come with me please”. Aura nodded, and her deep eyes told me she understood. We slowly got up, and I assembled whatever provisions I had, as well as some velveteen leaves for Aura. I looked around for where to go, and heard hounds baying, and horses galloping and knew that the hunt was nearer.
I took off in a run, going in the opposite direction of the hunt and called for Aura to follow me. We ran for a long time, through brambles that scratched my face, and grass that tangled my legs. I was out of breath and I thought Aura was too, but I could not stop, would not stop, until we were safe. Soon though my legs would not listen to me, they buckled and I fell on a patch of mossy ground. Aura trotted up to me with an inquiring look on her face.
“Just give me a minute,” I panted. “Let me catch my breath and figure out where we are”. Aura nodded reluctantly, and settled down on the moss. As I looked around, searching for landmarks, I realized that one of my biggest fears has come true. Getting lost in the woods. It had been my fear since I was a little girl.
I had run out of our cottage in the evening and I heard the wolves howling, close so close.
I didn’t know where we were or where to go, and night was coming. The wolves would be out, and wolves have no mercy. I suddenly felt tears running down my face. I could not help it, I burst out crying. It has been a long day, running for most of it, I had not gotten much sleep the night before, and now we were lost and the wolves would get us. I heard a gentle whinny and turned to see Aura licking my hand gently.
“I’m sorry Aura, so sorry,” I sobbed. “I was trying to save you, but now you’ll die anyway, and me too, for the wolves will get us, they surely will.'' I sobbed into Aura’s mane for a few minutes, then she nudged me, got up, and looked at me, as if wanting for me to follow. I shrugged, somehow knowing to trust her, and dragged my feet to go after her. I was still very tired, but I figured that Aura has more sense in her head than me right now, and besides she must know these woods better. We slowly make our way through tangled, overgrown paths, leading who-knows-where. I ate a little bit of bread in the process and Aura nibbled on velveteen grass, of which there seems to be an abundance for in this part of the woods, as we went. Slowly the path became more clear, and easier to navigate. It also widened a bit, so it is as if human beings made it, instead of animals. I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going, all my thoughts going into keeping my eyes open, when suddenly Aura gave me a nudge.
I looked up and saw a beautiful valley, with lush green grass, and a lazure blue sky overhead. The grass was velveteen, all velveteen, except for some patches of sunny dandelions here and there. All over the valley were unicorns, all snowy white, just like Aura. Their manes differed in shades of pink, purple, and turquoise, all pastel and beautiful. The horns shone with silver and my heart was beating fast as I realized where Aura has brought me. The mystical land of unicorns, a dazzling paradise, to which only a few lucky people have been. Aura bounded over to a unicorn who looks just like her, but bigger. It must be her mother, for she nuzzled the smaller unicorn and looked over at me with a thankful look in her eyes. I, however, was so tired right then that all I really needed was some sleep. I started walking to a nice tree, when Aura trotted over, and we went together and lay under the shade of the tree. I knew that my family would worry, and I felt a slight pang in my heart at the thought of them, but I did not know how they would accept me back into the family after I had failed to please the Baron. I also felt that after experiencing the pureness of this place I would no longer be able to live in a world in which people were cruel enough to kill unicorns. I did see myself visiting in the future, but for now... As I fell asleep, I realized that this was how it was meant to be, that I belonged here with the unicorns, and that I would stay here for the rest of my life with Aura. Aura, such a beautiful name, my friend, my true friend, who led me here to this land of paradise… My eyes closed and I drifted off into the best sleep I had ever had, perfectly contented with life as it was.