Image: From Artist Vicky Hayes, 2018
A story about a woman and her love for a unicorn.
‘Rescued by her courageous prince and his glorious horned steed, the princess escaped the monster’s clutches and lived happily ever after.’ Her mother shut the book. ‘That’s enough Lucy. It’s getting late.’ She stood, tucked Lucella into bed and kissed her on the head.
The lantern flickered on the shelf behind her mother’s head, making her auburn locks glow and throwing disturbing shadows around the room. They looked like monsters, with teeth and horns and claws, just like the one from her story.
‘Do you think I’ll ever see a unicorn?’ Lucella squeaked, clutching her blankets to her chin, trying to ignore them. There was the clatter of hooves as a carriage passed her shuttered window.
‘If you’re good,’ her mother said, ‘and if you are in need. Unicorns are wild and majestic and wondrous and will only protect the purest and most virtuous of maidens.’
‘Have you ever seen one?’
‘No.’ Her mother picked up the lantern and approached the door. ‘But I’ve never needed protecting. I have your father for that.’
‘Yes?’ she said, hand on the door frame.
‘What does virtuous mean?’
‘You will find out when you’re older.’
Lucella sat up. ‘Mammy?’ she said, as she was closing the door.
Her mother sighed. ‘Yes, sweetheart?’
‘Am I virtuous?’
‘Of course.’ Lucella smiled and lay back down. ‘Now, good night.’
The door clicked shut, snapping off the light. Though the shadows descended, Lucella closed her eyes and imagined her beautiful white saviour with his pearly horn and goodness and strength carrying her away, far away, where there were only flowers and rolling fields and blue sky and where no monster could touch her.
She clenched her fists around her blankets. No matter what happened in her life, she would be pure and true and virtuous or whatever that meant and would find herself a unicorn.
Smiling, she drifted asleep.
‘Maid! His lordship is asking for you,’ Davensby said.
Lucella straightened out her skirt and nodded. Eric Davensby, his lordship’s greasy-haired, sour-faced manservant, held open the door. As she passed through it, he sneered, ‘Have fun.’
The door clicked shut behind her. Lord Braya’s chambers were immense and lavish: wall-to-wall golden-framed portraits, heavy curtains with gold tassels, ornate Persian rugs, crystal chandelier, a giant four-poster bed with silk sheets, and a mahogany work desk with felt matting which his lordship was currently sitting behind.
The room was dark, but a lantern glowed upon his desk, drawing out the lines and hollows of his face. He didn’t bother to look up at her entrance as he sliced open an envelope with his letter opener. He matched the room perfectly: austere, wealthy, high class. When he went out, he would always leave with his top hat, cane, sash, pocket watch and coattails. Always stylish and refined. A proper gentleman. Lucella knew better.
Head lowered, Lucella gazed at her shoes. They were so thin and overused they were almost worn through. Somehow, she would have to find the money to buy another pair.
‘Come here,’ he commanded.
Eyes still on the floor, she shuffled over to the desk. She looked up cautiously beneath her brow. He was looking faintly amused, the corner of his mouth curled mockingly. She looked away as he stood up. The floor creaked beneath his slippers as he rounded the desk. He was already dressed in his nightclothes: white shirt flared at the arms and open at the chest, exposing a spattering of dark hairs, hair brushed out, sideburns long and thick and whiskery.
He took her chin and lifted her face, and the curl in his lip pulled back into a genuine smile.
‘So beautiful.’ He pushed back her maid’s cap and untied her hair so it flowed in blazing locks down her shoulders. He brushed his fingers through it, gazing at it, then turned to the buttons on her shirt, undoing them one by one.
Lucella’s heart hammered in her chest. It was far from the first time they had made love. Usually, it was nice, sometimes even pleasurable, but occasionally it turned brutal. She still bore the marks on her back to prove it. What would it be tonight? She could never tell.
He found her breasts, his palms rough against her skin, then pressed his face into her throat and sucked. She gasped as he pushed her against the desk, the hard timber ramming into her backside.
‘Turn around,’ he said in her ear, his voice thick with lust. Lucella’s heart hammered harder. ‘I said turn around!’
She cried out as he flung her around and threw her onto the desk, her rump at his disposal. The lantern toppled and fell to the floor with a crash, snuffing out the light. The tears flowed as he shoved up her skirts and yanked down her drawers. Moonlight streamed through a crack in the curtains, catching upon the silver blade of the little letter opener, and her tears dried up.
As he released her to unbutton his pants, she grabbed it, and in a whirl of skirts and screaming, stuck him under the chin. But that wasn’t all. She yanked it out and stabbed him again and again, in the chest, in the cheek, in the hardness between his legs, until blood gushed and spurted all over the fine, Persian carpets and turned her maid’s white uniform red.
‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!’
She stabbed him for every bit of rotten luck, for every hurt, for every abuse, for the death of her parents, for her life as an orphan and now as his whore and maid, for her lost virtue, her lost childhood, her innocence.
When she came to her senses, he was sprawled on the ground, blood pumping from his neck, twitching and gurgling. Gasping for breath, knife clenched tightly in her fist, she gazed down at what she had done.
There was a booming knock at the door, a shout, ‘Your Lordship!’—Davensby, alerted by all the noise.
At the sound of a key scratching in the lock, she dropped the knife and pulled up her drawers. Just as he opened the door, she barged into it, knocking him to the floor. She stumbled over him, grabbing at the wall as her legs threatened to give way.
Moments later, she was on the street, her shoes pounding the pavement as she dodged carriages and horses and late-night walkers. People pointed at her in horror, her uniform covered in blood.
The moon was bright and full and glistened on the wet leaves and grass as she sped through the woods. Sobbing and shaking, she ran until the trees closed in so tightly she was forced into a stagger. Soon, she couldn’t catch her breath. The tears swelled in her throat. Her legs bowed and wobbled. She collapsed.
She didn’t know how long she lay for, gazing into the treetops, numb to the cool autumn air and the horror of the terrible thing she’d done, when she blinked and turned her head at a sudden rustle. There was a thump, a crack of a snapping branch. She sat up. Light blazed through the trees, as bright as the moon but shining in the wrong direction, flooding the woods.
She got up with a gasp. ‘What are you doing here?’
The unicorn stood at least eighteen hands tall, strong and formidable and as black as midnight. Its long, pearly horn was as sharp as a blade and glowed with that blazing light. She lifted her hand against the glare, squinting. The unicorn bobbed its head and pawed the ground. It seemed to understand her discomfort, and the blaze ebbed into a warm glow until she could see again.
‘I said, what are you doing here?’ Tears coursed down her cheeks as she thought of her mother. ‘You’re too late. I am a virtuous maiden no longer. I am tainted. Guilty. Impure. I will only sully your beauty.’
It merely stared at her with its deep, black eyes.
‘Didn’t you hear me? I am no maiden. Did you want a filthy whore’s crotch rubbing against your back?’
She picked up a rock and threw it. It went wide, hitting a tree.
‘Go away! I don’t want you.’ She threw another as more tears flowed. ‘Where were you, huh?’ She threw a stick. ‘Where were you when the sickness took my father? Where were you when those men took my mother, brutalised and killed her. Where were you when Lord Braya—when Lord Braya—’
Out of things to throw, she sank to the ground. The unicorn didn’t move, watching her. She lifted her head at the sound of shouting. The unicorn pawed the ground and whirled its head, sending its black mane flying. She looked over her shoulder. Flaming torches shone through the trees. She scrambled to her feet. The unicorn was already on its knees, ready for her to mount. She leapt onto it, and they fled, leaving Lucella’s pursuers, her suffering, her life, far behind.
Lucella lay in a field of flowers, green fields rolling into the distance, as she stared into a glorious blue sky.
They had travelled for months, across vast distances, through countless landscapes, across seasons, until they reached a place where no pain, no murderers, no Lord Braya, no monster of any sort, could touch her.
She closed her eyes and laughed when Black Thunder nuzzled her cheek, his long mane tickling her face.
‘All right, all right. I’m awake. Time to ride is it?’
She gripped onto his neck, and he dragged her to her feet with a pull of his beautiful head. She pressed her face into his cheek, breathed in his horsey scent, his mane flowing around her in a black waterfall. It was so soft, nothing like an ordinary horse’s mane. She gripped his horn, pulled his head and gazed into his eyes. When they had first met, she had thought them black, but deep in the centre was an astonishing ocean-blue, like a tiny flame in the dark.
She kissed his horn. ‘Let’s go.’
He bent his knees, and Lucella vaulted onto his back with practised ease. She had ridden him so many times he felt a part of her now.
As they rode, Lucella laughed. Ever since her mother died, she had never laughed. Now, she couldn’t stop. He jumped over a hedge and galloped over the hills, towards the horizon. He rocked between her legs. She rocked with him, back arched, thighs clenched hard against his flanks. As he galloped faster, she rocked faster, her pleasure building and building until she couldn’t hold on any longer. She flung her head back with a cry.
Soon night fell, and they hunkered down together. There was a clear sky, a new moon, stars twinkling. A city stretched out in the distance.
Lucella looped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his hair. ‘I love you so much, Black Thunder. More than any man could hope for. But I wish—I wish so much I could hold you like a woman. If only for one day.’
She lay down and snuggled against him. Black Thunder rested his head upon her breast, horn as bright as the stars.
Later that night, Black Thunder gently pulled away from Lucella and stood. He trotted over the hill, and once he was out of earshot, galloped into the distance.
He came upon a dense wood and disappeared inside. It was thick, the roots and vines threatening to trip him up, but he avoided them with ease, slipping through like a shadow.
Soon, he stopped before a small hut built of thatch and timber. A dank smell came from within. The door was open, as though he was expected.
‘Well, what have we here?’ the witch said as he entered. ‘What is a fine specimen such as yourself doing at my little old door, hmmm?’
The unicorn bobbed his head and nickered.
‘You want something? A spell?’ The witch scratched at the wart on her pointed chin. ‘And what do you want? Hmmm? Immortality? Beauty? Strength? Power?’ There was a glint in her dark eyes as she grinned. ‘Wealth?’ She cackled, went to her cauldron and stirred the contents within. It hissed and bubbled, frizzing up her straggly grey hair. ‘They’re the usual requests, but you, unicorn, have all that you need and more. What is it then? Speak up.’
Black Thunder stomped his hoof and shook his head.
The witch stopped her stirring. ‘A woman, is it? A human woman?’
He stomped his hoof again.
‘I should have known. It’s about love then is it?’ She fondled the wart on her chin and grinned. She looked between his legs. ‘Or maybe it’s about sex?’
He reared up with a whinny and slammed his hooves down on her wooden floor.
‘Very well, very well! It’s love. Don’t destroy my home. If I help you, what will I get in return, my handsome boy? Hmmm? What can you offer me?’
He lowered its head and nickered. The witch gazed at his horn and licked her lips. ‘You would do that? For a human?’
Black Thunder bobbed his head and stomped his hoof.
‘To be in possession of such a thing, even if it is just a taste, is a grand payment indeed.’ Her eyes glinted. ‘She must be very special, this woman.’
The unicorn bobbed his head, his tail swishing from side to side.
The witch stirred her cauldron, lifted a spoonful to her mouth and tasted. She smacked her lips. ‘It just so happens I have finished the very potion you need. Remarkable coincidence, isn’t it?’
Black Thunder shook his head with a snort.
‘Not fooled? Think I knew you were coming?’
He reared up and slammed his hooves down again.
‘Very well! So impatient. Let’s get it done then.’
The unicorn trotted towards the cauldron.
She raised a clawed hand. ‘Hold it. Do you take me for a fool? Payment first.’ She picked up the butcher’s knife, her eyes gleaming against the shining steel. It had been polished and sharpened recently, no doubt in anticipation of his coming. ‘On the barrel.’
Black Thunder bent his knees and curled himself on the floor, then lowered his head so his horn rested flat across the barrel.
The witch seized his horn in a gnarled fist. She raised the knife. It came down with a thud and the tip of his horn spilt into her hand. She dropped her knife and cackled greedily at the little pearl shining on her filthy palm. The floor creaked as the unicorn thrust himself to his feet. His horn, once so sharp, was now blunted an inch from the tip.
The witch closed her fist around her payment as the unicorn approached the cauldron once more. ‘This will only last one night, my handsome boy. Make it count.’
The unicorn gazed at the thick, bubbling slop within. It stank. Nevertheless, he lowered his head and drank. When he was done, he reeled back with a whinny and shook his head, baring his teeth.
The witch laughed. ‘I never said it would taste nice. But I promise you, it’s potent enough. A wish from the heart is powerful, and she wished fiercely. Even the bats in the sky heard it.’ She looked out the window. Morning was coming. ‘The spell will begin to work at sunup. I suggest you get back to your lady love bef—’
But Black Thunder was already out the door, hooves thudding into the distance.
He galloped through the woods, pounding the soft earth, snorting for breath, whisking through the trees so gracefully the leaves barely trembled in his wake. By the time he returned, he was shaking and lathered in sweat. But he had made it in time, the blazing sun only just peeping above the horizon.
Lucella looked up and grinned. ‘You’re back.’
She was kneeling by a small brook, naked, as she washed herself. Long, red hair curled wetly over her shoulders and between her breasts. A trickle of water ran down her abdomen and into her belly button before disappearing into the crimson thatch between her legs. A sexual heat, such as he’d never known before, stirred in his loins, then whipped, then blasted along his flanks like fire. Whinnying, he paced the clearing.
Concerned, Lucella got to her feet and approached him. ‘What’s the matter?’
The unicorn backed away, snorting and shaking his head, unable to look away from those shining, wet mounds. He had only noticed them as a curiosity before, but the sun had almost risen and he was changing.
Lucella’s eyes widened. She grabbed his head, her face dropping in horror. ‘Your horn! What’s happened to your horn?’
He yanked out of her grasp, reared onto his hind legs and screamed. The pain. The witch hadn’t warned him about the pain! His hooves slammed to the ground.
Lucella backed away. ‘What’s happening? What’s wrong?’
He reared again, kicked out. Then his back legs gave way, and he dropped with a terrific thud. Sprawled on the ground, he thrashed and kicked and squirmed. His hooves punched at the air, beat at the earth, kicked up leaves and grass and gouged deep troughs through the dirt. He screamed again, whinnied, frothed at the mouth.
Quickly, his thrashing turned to twitches as he sagged into himself. His hooves spread into fingers and toes, his tail coiled and twisted and pulled back into his rump. His ears and snout shrank into his head. His body hair went slippery and lost its softness. He grasped at his horn with his human hands at a terrible blast of agony as it shot back into his brow. He shrank, and shrank some more, twitching and moaning, the pain easing until he lay naked and cold and curled into a ball, and he was still. The day had finally risen. The birds chirped and the grass rustled in the wind, disguising his ragged breathing.
‘Black Thunder?’ came a tentative whisper.
He opened his eyes and looked up. Lucella was standing at a distance, clutching at herself, eyes shining with fear.
He sat up with a groan. A strange vibration coursed up his throat. ‘Lucy?’ he coughed.
She gasped and took a step towards him. ‘What’s happened? You’re a—you’re a—’
He gazed down at his hands, straightened out his legs, wriggled his toes. He was broad and well-muscled and yet felt so light and weak. He twisted around his forearms, traced his fingers down his ebony skin, wrinkled his face, smiled, frowned. Everything was gone, all except his flowing mane which hung about his face in a black curtain.
He stumbled to his feet, staggered. She rushed to him, catching him in her arms.
‘Thank you. Two legs—’ he shook his head—‘how can you do anything?’
She laughed. ‘I don’t really know.’ She ran her fingers through his hair. ‘How?’
He took her hand. ‘Can we talk about it later? Let me hold you, talk with you, love you, just for this one day.’
‘I can’t believe it,’ she whispered. ‘My Black Thunder.’ She brushed her hands over his broad shoulders, down his arms, then took his hand and pressed it to her cheek with a sigh. ‘My dreams come true.’
Playing with his fingers, she looked into his eyes. ‘You heard my wish.’
She frowned. ‘But you were such a beautiful, wondrous, magical beast. Don’t you feel sad?’
‘Let’s not talk about it now.’
And he pulled her against his chest and kissed her. He had never kissed before but somehow knew how. It was a powerful spell, like the witch said. Lucella sagged into his arms with a moan, exposing her long, graceful neck. He was more than strong enough to take her weight, but he wasn’t used to his legs and overbalanced, and they tumbled to the ground.
Laughing, Lucella rolled on top and straddled him. ‘What use are legs anyway? We won’t need them, at least for today.’
He laughed too, a noise so strange to his ears, a feeling so alien. It was wonderful.
She lay on top of him and held him, cheek pressed against his. She was so warm, so soft and smelt so perfect. He took her hand and entwined their fingers, something he’d been aching to do for too long.
Lucella looked at their hands and smiled. ‘Your skin is so black against mine.’
‘Is that a problem?’
‘No. I prefer it. Lord Braya’s slaves always treated me kindly.’ She brushed her fingers along his chin. ‘You even have stubble. Like a real man.’
‘I am a real man.’
She grasped him between the legs. ‘Oh,’ she giggled, ‘you certainly are.’
He grunted and placed his hand over hers. He was so hard it was painful. Smiling, she sat up and tucked him inside.
‘Uh,’ he said.
He had mated before, of course, but never like this. He could touch her, feel her, with his remarkable hands. He had never known such softness before. He could look into her eyes, see the pleasure in her face. Humans were so lucky. Despite all his power and wonder, he could never know love like this.
She rocked against him, hair streaming over her shoulders in a river of fire, head tilted back, breasts shining in the sunlight. She rocked faster. He grabbed her hips with a grunt as he came.
She smiled, then lay beside him, and they talked the day away, the sun hovering above like a glowing eye.
‘I felt you, you know,’ he said.
‘Felt me what?’
‘Today, when you were riding me. Your pleasure.’
Lucella sat up, face flushed. ‘Oh.’
He laughed. ‘It felt good. I enjoy your happiness.’ He entwined their fingers again and pulled her against him.
‘Why did you save me?’ Lucella asked, eyes shining. ‘With the way that I am?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You mean—a woman? Strong and brave and beautiful?’
‘Well, yes, I guess. My mother told me—’
‘Humans don’t know anything. I came for you for what’s in here—’ he pressed a black finger between her breasts—‘not what’s between your legs. Give me some credit. I am legendary, not some puerile fantasy.’
She gazed at him, tears rolling down her cheeks, then pressed her face into his throat. He held her until she stopped shuddering and her breaths grew regular and even, watching as the sun sank below the horizon.
Lucella woke stretching and smiling. She opened her eyes and sat up with a gasp.
‘Black Thunder, no!’
The unicorn looked at her, horn broken, sadness in his eyes, but as glorious as ever. She clapped a hand to her mouth. ‘I’m sorry. I just thought, hoped, but—no. I only wished for one day, didn’t I?’
She took a shuddering breath, looped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his mane.
‘Let’s go for a ride.’
© Morgan Tonkin 2018