Upon reflection Madi should have known what to expect when the mob came for her. After all, one did not spurn the advances of the Mayor’s son without facing some sort of consequence. To be fair, she told herself, you did more than spurn Tobor. She recalled taking the boy’s knife from the sheath around his waist and threatening to geld him should he grab her again. She had supposed she would be made to apologize or serve on some mission of mercy to the poor. It had never occurred to her that she would be banished from the village.
Be glad that it’s only the Unicorn you’re getting, she told herself. In her great-grandmother’s time, dissident women were accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. The thought was no great comfort as she knew most maidens sent to the Unicorn killed themselves after their wedding night. Others were found days later wandering without their wits. Those poor girls ended their days abused and killed by bandits. The thought of losing her mind scared Madi more than the thought of death. She had witnessed death plenty in her nineteen years: first her grandparents to the Red Fever, then her mother died giving birth to a stillborn boy, and finally her father the past spring—killed in a dispute over money.
Madi sighed and adjusted the pack on her back. She was allowed to take only what she could carry. Everything else, her family’s cottage, their grazing plot, even their old nag was to go to the village. From where she stood, at the outskirts, she could already hear the wagons rumbling up to the cottage. There was little satisfaction to be had with the knowledge that they had owned little of value.
“Better get on with you,” said the guard who had been sent to escort her out of the village. He would stay at his post until tomorrow to make sure she didn’t try to return. To insure that she wouldn’t just run away to another village, she had been marked with the symbol of the Unicorn, a spiral in the middle of her forehead. The skin itched where the symbol had been charmed on. It would not come off with scrubbing or herbs. If she were caught in another village she’d be stoned for shirking her duty.
“Once it was customary for the Unicorn’s bride to be escorted to the nuptial bed by a procession,” Madi said. “She was given a new set of clothing and women would cook a feast for the newlyweds.”
“That so? Well I think everyone is too busy to cook your feast. Move on now.”
Madi gave him a nasty glare and started down the trail into the forest. If the elders thought she would quake with fear at a walk through the forest, they were disappointed. For years she had been venturing into the forest to collect herbs, seeds and fire wood. While other village maidens worked their kitchen garden plots or sewed lace on their wedding gowns Madi learned the surrounding forest well enough to navigate in pre-dawn gloom. Even if she wasn’t so familiar with the area, the trail was well maintained. The village offered up a virgin to the Unicorn every generation. A cabin had been built to house the bride only a few miles into the forest.
Madi had no intention of ending up like previous brides. The first hours after judgment was passed and she was locked up while the charmswoman was sent for, her thoughts had run a wild race: terror of her fate chasing anger at the village chasing grief that she had no one to stand up for her. As the day wore on, she realized that the worrying wasn’t helping her. Well, what am I going to do about it, she asked herself. Her mother had often told her that if she were to have a quick tongue she’d need a quick wit to back it up. Keeping those words in mind, Madi came up with a plan.
Now, as she walked along the path, she kept the growing fear at bay by collecting herbs, wild carrots and onions, and flowers. Whenever she felt her limbs begin to shake she focused on her surroundings, looking even harder for those items she needed for her plan.
She had never been out to the Unicorn’s cabin. Except for those women who maintained the cabin, the villagers avoided the area, respecting it at a distance. When she finally came upon it, she was disappointed by how normal it looked. The cabin had but one room, a stone fireplace, outhouse and stone markers at the boundaries to signal it as sacred ground. She expected the home of so many hapless maidens would be more sinister, dripping in cobweb moss and housing bats. Or, as in the home of the Unicorn, that exotic flowers would bloom in the garden and a sweet perfume would permeate the air. Shrugging, Madi entered her new home.
The place was dusty, but free from the ravages of the environment. No animals had taken up residence in the corners, and the furniture, while rickety looking, showed no signs of damage from insects. Madi collected wood from a pile behind the cabin and started a fire. From her pack she retrieved two battered copper goblets, the last pieces of her grandmother’s trousseau, and a bottle of wine. With her eating knife she peeled the wax drippings and pried off the cork. A quick sniff of the contents assured her that the wine had not turned.
On the mantle of the fireplace, Madi found two plates and a bowl. A copper kettle hung opposite the door. With an improvised pestle of rock, Madi ground the herbs she had collected against the stone hearth. These she shook into a little drawstring pouch, which she tied to her wrist. On the walk to the cabin an idea had sprouted. She didn’t know if it would work but she was unwilling to surrender to whatever horror the Unicorn brought without a fight.
As if her thoughts had the power to conjure, Madi felt a presence behind her. Turning slowly, she found the Unicorn standing at the open door. He didn’t look like the Unicorn she had been taught about. He looked surprisingly human, but there was no mistaking him for an ordinary man. Long silver hair fell about his shoulders. His features had an equine cast to them, his forehead high and broad, his nose long, eyelashes soft and an elegant neck. He wore a simple tunic of green and loose hose but no shoes. Of course he wouldn’t come to his wife on four legs, Madi thought, entranced for the moment by the picture before her. After all, how on earth would they consummate their marriage? The bawdy thought broke her out of her reverie.
“Welcome, Husband,” she tried to hide her nervousness behind a bright smile.
“Well met Wife,” he replied, his voice pleasant. He stepped inside the cabin and shut the door.
“I’m sorry there is no feast. The village sent only myself.” She wondered suddenly if this would offend the Unicorn.
“That matters little to me. You are the only one who matters.” The Unicorn moved closer and reached out to Madi.
“Until the next maiden is sent along.” Madi sidestepped his touch. She could feel her body pulling towards him. Since she had become aware of his presence, she felt a growing desire that set off a sense of panic.
“They do not stay long,” the Unicorn said, as if conceding an important point.
Doesn’t he know what happens to his brides, Madi wondered. He’s right, I am the one who matters, and what matters now is that I don’t let him seduce me with his godling glamour. Madi moved to the other side of the room and fetched the goblets and wine from a table beneath the window. “I did bring wine. It’s not much of a wedding feast, but I wasn’t allowed to bring much with me. I was actually sent here. Against my will, really. Banished. I don’t know how attractive of a bride that makes me …” She knew she was babbling, stalling for time, but didn’t care.
“I find you to be very attractive.”
Madi shivered at the sound of his voice. Men and boys in the village had often complimented her, usually as a prelude to propositioning her, but the Unicorn’s tone touched her in a way they never had. She could almost believe that he meant she was the only attractive maiden he had ever laid eyes upon. That’s ridiculous, she thought. The Unicorn was moving again, she could hear the whisper of clothing. Keeping her eyes locked on the dirt floor, Madi went towards the door.
“Look at me.” His voice was gentle, but assured. Madi looked despite herself. Her body obeyed without bothering to consult her will.
The Unicorn stood before the hearth, naked. The light from the fire lent a halo to his form, highlighting a fine golden down that covered his legs and arms. Madi was a virgin, but not innocent. She had seen naked men bathing in the Moss Pond near the village. She had always been of the opinion that a naked man was one of the ugliest creatures in the world. The Unicorn was not ugly; his body was lean, muscles sculpted over his tall frame. The word “glorious” came to mind. A flush of heat overcame her as her eyes traveled over his nakedness, settling finally on his other horn. Any vulgar comments she had deserted her.
“Please, I’m a little nervous,” she said, not completely feigning a quaver in her voice. “Would you share a glass of wine with me?”
Her husband arched an eyebrow at her request, but his smile was warm. “Certainly. The night is long. We have plenty of time before the sun rises.”
He lay down on the fur lined bed, pulling the quilt over his body.
Madi felt her body relax ever so slightly when he was covered. The unearthly quality about him faded slightly. Madi wasted no time. She turned her back to him, poured the wine, and emptied the contents of the pouch into one of the goblets. The herbs settled at the bottom of the goblet as she swirled it in her hand.
The Unicorn patted the space beside him. Instead, Madi handed him the sedative laced goblet and sat at the foot of the bed. She raised her goblet to her husband and then drank deeply of the sweet wine. When he sniffed at his wine, Madi nearly snorted the wine out her nose. The Unicorn could sense poisons. Would he catch scent of her herbal concoction? It’s not a poison, she told herself desperately.
“Wonderful,” he said at last. “It has been many years since I’ve tasted wine.” He then took a long draught.
Madi covered a sigh of relief with another gulp of her wine.
The herbs took affect sooner than she had anticipated. Madi couldn’t tell if she had used more than necessary, or if the Unicorn was simply vulnerable to non-lethal drugs. She took his empty goblet and placed it to the side. When she turned back she heard deep, even snores. He was truly asleep. Madi didn’t know whether she should give thanks or laugh. Instead she finished off her wine and scooted to the far side of the bed, wrapping a blanket around her, and tried to catch some sleep.
Madi woke alone. Sunlight streamed into the cabin from the one window. Feeling a familiar ache below her navel, she made her way to the outhouse. Upon returning to the cabin, she fished a hard roll and the wild carrots from her pack. She thoughtfully broke her fast while surveying the cabin.
It was solidly built. The well still provided sweet water. Cracks between the logs needed chinking and the furniture was better suited as firewood. “Still,” she said aloud, “it’s better than living in the woods.” Despite the dull pain that gripped her body, Madi set about cleaning up the cabin.
She found little touches of domesticity as she worked: a rush broom had been left in a corner, a rag rug under the bed, curtains tied back from the window. Madi imagined some poor girl bringing a small trousseau with her only to wind up dead or mad a few days later. Well that won’t be me, she thought.
Fueled by her determination, Madi set about cleaning. She hauled the tables and chairs out back, moved the rest of the furniture to the side of the room and swept the floor. With a little moss, she patched most of the holes. She scrubbed out the fireplace and relit the fire. Beside of the cabin she marked out the boundaries of a garden. At mid day she cooked oats and onions for her supper. The work was exhausting and kept her occupied, unable to worry.
As the light faded, she found herself thinking more and more about the night ahead. Could she keep drugging her husband indefinitely? She doubted that the Unicorn was stupid. He’d have to catch on sooner or later. Then what would he do? “I’ll face that challenge when it comes along,” she told herself firmly.
As before, Madi didn’t hear her husband approach. She simply turned away from the fire, where she was heating water for tea, and found him standing in the doorway.
“Hello,” he said. His brow was wrinkled in puzzlement.
Madi started and dropped the ladle of hot water, scalding her hand. Her husband was at her side instantly. Despite the pain, Madi marveled that she hadn’t seen him move. He took her burnt hand into his own and massaged it. At once the pain subsided. Soon it was no more than a memory.
“I thought you only protected from poison,” Madi said.
He only gave her a shy, sweet smile. “I remember you. You were here last night.”
“Yes.” She remembered his words from the night before: They don’t stay long. Had he come expecting a new maiden?
He continued to hold her hand and look at her quizzically until a second later his face brightened in a wide smile of understanding. “That’s because we didn’t …” He trailed off as he leaned in to kiss her.
So much for hoping he wouldn’t catch on, she thought, bracing herself. Before his lips touched, her he pulled back. “You are bleeding.” He took a step back.
Madi looked at her hand, it was whole, not even a redness where the skin had been burnt. It took her a second to realize that he wasn’t referring to that. An uncomfortable heat flushed her face. “Well, yes, it’s my time—”
“I cannot stay when your blood runs.” There was a hint of regret under the firm authority of his tone. “I will return when your time is over.” With that he disappeared, again moving faster than she could see.
Madi sat on the floor, oddly disappointed even though she knew she should be relieved. She’d have seven days or more to make plans for his next appearance. Still, she was aware of how quiet the night was. No noises of the village filled in the background. She would not see nor talk to anyone else in the morning. A small spark of loneliness and self-pity crept into her thoughts. After all, she hadn’t asked to be banished. She hadn’t even asked to be pawed at by stupid, drunken boys. She certainly hadn’t asked to be married to a godling who caused nuptial madness.
While nursing a mug of tea, Madi entertained thoughts of revenge against the village. When she was tired, she climbed into the bed feeling uneasy and sad. I will not cry, she told herself. If she cried, then they had won. Instead, in the light of the banked fire, she found long silver hairs matted into the blanket and pillows. Carefully she collected all she saw, twisting them together into a thick strand, which she then tied around the middle finger of her right hand. At the very least, I can have a wedding band, she thought.
The village came looking for her several weeks later. Madi was working on clearing land for the garden. She knew she wouldn’t have a chance to cultivate anything before winter came, but at least she could prepare the plot. The forest had provided her with ample food from foraging and the occasional rabbit or fish. At the back of her mind, she wondered what she would do once summer was over. She wouldn’t be able to put away enough food to last her through the winter. Perhaps she could winter with a family in the village. Surely they couldn’t leave her out in the forest to starve.
While she pulled rocks and stubborn weeds from the ground, she heard voices approaching. It’s about time, she thought grumpily, wiping her hands on her skirt. Three matrons appeared at the boundary of the Unicorn’s cabin. Their looks of open-mouthed surprise were almost worth the last few weeks of solitude.
“Welcome, Mothers.” Madi walked down the path and met them at the boundary. “Would you like to come and refresh yourself with some tea?” While she had practiced all sorts of acrimonious greetings during the long days and nights, Madi had finally decided that when she met the villagers again, she would show her best manners.
The Mayor’s elder sister stepped forward. “We came—”
“To collect my body or to find me running around mad? Well I suppose that I would have expected that as well. As you can see, marriage has suited me.” Madi smiled and moved aside to allow the women to pass. They moved forward as one body. In the cabin they gawked at the neatly ordered interior. Madi put the kettle over the fire.
“So you have truly … married the Unicorn?” the elder matron asked.
“Oh yes, Mother.” Madi fetched mugs, thankful that she had found two others during her cleaning of the cabin. While she added herbs to the steaming water, she hid a tiny smile. If only they knew, she thought to herself.
Another of the matrons, a spinster whom Madi had never liked, spoke up. “How can we know that she’s been truly married? Perhaps the Unicorn didn’t come to her.”
“If you don’t believe me, I can offer proof,” Madi said, handing mugs of tea to the women. She held out her hand so that they could see her wedding band. The silver hair shone in the light from the open door. There was no mistaking the hair as having come from anyone but the Unicorn. “He has also healed my hand when it was burnt. And come to the cabin nearly every night.”
“‘Nearly?’” asked the spinster with a raised eyebrow.
“Even the Unicorn is like husbands everywhere,” Madi said quickly. She didn’t want to discuss the Unicorn’s avoidance of her blood.
They exchanged looks and sipped their tea. Madi stood uncomfortably next to the bed. Now that she had visitors, Madi felt irritated at their presence. She could feel their breath filling up the air, their hands leaving marks where they touched the walls. Absent-mindedly she picked her husband’s hair from the bedding.
“He sleeps here then?” the spinster asked.
“Some nights,” Madi admitted.
“Has he used these mugs?” The women examined the mugs in their hands, amusing Madi with their looks of wonder.
“He has.” A thought blossomed as she watched them. “I know not of the Unicorn passing his powers to vessels. His hair, water he touched, these have healing properties.” She looked at them to gauge their response. They all watched her closely. “I was thinking that I could do with some proper dishes, and furniture, something appropriate for the wife of a godling.” It took little more on her part to have promises of furniture and food in exchange for the Unicorn’s hair. They would return on the morrow with the items.
That night Madi set aside the tea kettle with water and waited for her husband. She worked in the firelight, braiding the hairs together into amulets to be tied around the wrist. As she worked, she recalled the confrontation she had with her husband when he came to her after her bleeding had passed.
“Do you know what happens to your wives after the nuptial night?” she asked when he moved towards her.
“They leave; some have died, I know.” He frowned. “You women are fragile creatures.” His voice was quiet, wistful.
“Do you miss them? Your brides?”
“Some I do. Some I don’t remember. There have been many. As soon as I grow lonely another shows up. Like you. I don’t remember any staying as long as you have.” The Unicorn smiled brightly, setting Madi’s heart aflutter. She could feel his charisma working on her again.
“They go mad, you know. After you’ve taken their virginity.” She spoke harshly, trying to fight off the rising desire to reach out and stroke his hair.
“They do?” He stopped where he was and frowned again.
“Something. I don’t know. There is something about you; after the wedding night the girls go mad. Some kill themselves. That’s why they don’t stay for long.”
The Unicorn was silent for a long while. He stared into the fire. Madi watched the flames reflected in his eyes, feeling dreadful for having caused any kind of distress to such a creature. What will happen to me if I don’t make him understand, she thought. She didn’t think she had the reserves to hold out against the appeal of her husband for much longer.
“But you are here,” he said at long last.
“Only because I have tricked you and avoided your embrace,” Madi said as gently as she could. “I was sent here by the village because they thought they could rid themselves of me if I too went crazy or ended my own life. I don’t want that. I’d rather live, even if only as your wife in name only.”
She could see that he was considering her words and struggling with them. Perhaps he was just as much a slave to his glamour as she. Could he even resist the role he was supposed to play?
“In name only? What does that mean?” he asked.
“That we wouldn’t …” For once Madi was at a loss of words, but she sensed it was important that she clearly state her thoughts. “That our marriage would not be consummated. I will cook for you, be your companion, but I remain a virgin. Do you think that we could do so?” She realized her fists were clenched, her nails digging into the flesh of her palms, but she couldn’t relax. If this doesn’t work, she thought, I’ll make a run for it. She tensed for flight.
“I want you as my wife,” the Unicorn said. His words came haltingly, as if he were measuring their weight before saying them. “I feel, as if I must embrace you. But if it means that you will leave, I don’t want that. I don’t want to be alone.”
Madi nearly burst into tears of relief. The tension flowed out of her body, leaving her weakened and shaking.
“Are you ill?”
“No, just very happy that you agreed.” She waved him away when he held out his hands to her. “I think it would be best, at least for right now if we didn’t … touch.” He nodded and sat on the edge of the bed with a small smile.
“I had not realized that marriage would be so much work. I do not have practice with it.”
“Neither do I, so we will just have to learn together.”
They settled into a routine after that. When the Unicorn came to the cabin, Madi told him about her life in the village and those places outside the forest. The Unicorn would tell her about the forest, even taking her out with him in the early evening to show her secret places no other human eyes had seen. They moved uneasily around each other, taking great care not to touch or get too close. Over time Madi felt less drawn towards her husband, as if the familiarity armored her against his charisma. A camaraderie sprung up between them as they nurtured their strange marriage.
Madi had found a way to survive, selling Unicorn charms. She thought she would feel guilty using her husband in this way, but couldn’t see how it would hurt him or her. The longer she lived out in the cabin, the less likely it would be that another young girl would be sent to her doom.
The summer passed without incident. A chill crept into the air but Madi paid it no mind as she snuggled beneath the quilt one villager traded her for a vial of Unicorn water. In the afternoon when it again became hot in the cabin, she opened the shutters another villager had made for her. At night she dined on bread, cheese and meat. There were several bottles of wine for her to choose from. Word about the Unicorn’s wife had spread quickly, and people from villages a half day’s travel away showed up at her gate with items to trade. Even priests and healers came to Madi for a curative. Clearly she had nothing to fear when winter came.
While collecting herbs from the forest, she came across a group of men, led by Tobor, in a small clearing, smoking pipes and brandishing various weapons: spears, swords and bows and arrows. At first she thought they were just a hunting party and started to skirt the clearing. None of these men had come for amulets or water, and she didn’t want to run into Tobor again.
“She’s claimed to everyone who goes to her that the Unicorn comes to her,” Tobor said. “Can’t stop talking about it. ‘Wife of the Unicorn.’”
Madi crouched behind a fallen tree, her stomach suddenly clenching.
“What if it doesn’t come? Maybe she’s just making it up,” another man said.
“It’s no well water she’s peddling. I watched it heal up my sister’s brat when it had the summer fever. None of her herbal teas did so much.”
“It didn’t come last night,” another man said, a tired whine to his voice.
“Didn’t I tell you that it doesn’t come every night? She’s said as much. We have to keep an eye on the cabin. When it does show up, we pounce. There’s a fortune to be made in the horn alone.” Tobor shook his money pouch for emphasis.
“But then there won’t be any more water,” another said.
“Why not run back to your granny’s knee if you don’t have the sack to kill a Unicorn? There’s the horn and the hide, hairs a plenty and they work just as well as any water. We sell the horn and keep the hairs. Or we sell the whole lot and buy a healer proper.”
They didn’t seem to be quite convinced by Tobor’s plan, but neither did they seem to like having their prowess questioned. Tobor glared hard at each man until they all looked away, conceding the point to him.
“Right, then. You two will take watch tonight. We’ll camp here and you call if it shows up.” With that they began to make camp. Madi slipped away into the woods, her retreat covered by the men’s noisy business. It’s a wonder I didn’t hear them skulking around last night, she thought.
She didn’t dare return to the cabin. The Unicorn came to her wherever she was, oftentimes finding her at dusk in the garden, or wandering through the forest, even once when she was bathing in a nearby stream. If she stayed at home, he would walk into a trap. Instead she headed deeper into the forest, where the men were less likely to travel. She walked all day, her cloak stuffed into the pack on her back, her collecting basket long ago discarded and her skirts tied up above her knees to avoid snagging branches. At noon she stopped to drink from a stream and to eat berries. A noise from the direction she had come spooked her and she soon was moving again. Mosquitoes and biting flies feasted on her bare arms. Around her the forest seemed to be watching her progress, holding its breath in anticipation of what she would do next.
Towards dusk her body screamed for her to stop. Only when her legs collapsed underneath her did she finally heed her sore muscles and aching stomach. Underneath a spreading oak tree, she curled into a ball and covered herself with her cloak. Tomorrow she would return to the cabin, she decided. Better yet, she’d go to the village, confront the Mayor and demand that he … what? Punish his son? Ban the hunting of the Unicorn? Or would her suggestion inspire others to try and kill her husband? Madi shook her head, trying to decide what course of action to take. She drifted off to sleep, where she was plagued by images of the village matrons chasing her through the forest intent on killing her for the horn hidden in her chest.
With a cry, she woke up to find the Unicorn standing over her. The moon was high overhead and her face was wet. Madi wiped away the tears with the edge of her cloak.
“Why are you here?” He sat close, but still far enough that no part of his body could come into contact with hers.
“Some men want to kill you, take your horn. They were waiting outside the cabin, so I ran away.”
The Unicorn nodded, his eyes large and sad. Madi saw an intelligence there that she had not noticed before. Where his eyes had once had an innocent wide-eyed wonder, now they seemed more fitting for a creature that had lived for centuries. “It happens at times, I remember now. In the beginning they would send a virgin to try and lure me into their nets. Then, the hunt stopped, only the maidens kept coming.” The Unicorn looked into the distance, as if listening for his pursuers. “I don’t like the hunt.”
Madi watched him sitting on the forest floor. Dirt smudged his breeches and a leaf had become entangled in his hair. Once again she was struck by how glorious, how perfect he was. She had not felt this way for some time, having become used to his presence. Now she reached out and plucked the leaf from his hair.
“Come, Husband,” she said, moving on her hands and knees to him. Her body protested but she paid it no heed. Once she was within reach, she pulled him into an embrace. Warmth, a feeling of well-being, washed over her, soothing the aching muscles.
Madi didn’t allow him to protest but kissed him, running her tongue over his lips until his mouth opened to hers. It was so easy to give in to the heat that was rising up the longer she touched him. She felt the rigid control by which she had kept from giving in to her husband melting away. Nor was it difficult to lead the Unicorn into her embrace and do what came naturally.
Madi remembered little in the days after. She remembered a sense of great loss, that she had found something wonderful, something divine, and had lost it. The loss was too great for tears—although she did cry, and scream, and tear at her hair. There was a memory of icy water, perhaps she had tried to drown herself, although none of the nearby streams were deep enough for that.
Always, though, as if through a fog, she sensed the Unicorn’s presence. In the shadows of the forest she would catch sight of a white flash, his hind quarters dappled in the sun, or his horn rising up but never entangled in the branches. She thought that at times he would approach her, lay his head in her lap when she sat weeping. Other times she woke in the night to feel cool hands stroking her brow. At those times she felt calmer, the loss bearable. In the morning she would find berries or nuts piled near her. Some made her sick and she quickly recognized the poisonous berries accidentally gathered among the benign.
On a night with a full moon, she suddenly felt her mind clear, as if a fever had broken. She watched clouds pass across the face of the moon, listened to the forest night sounds, felt the griminess of her skin, tasted the sourness in her mouth, and knew that she had survived her madness. Despite her weariness, she could not sleep. Time passed slowly as the stars disappeared and the sky lightened. When the sun finally made its appearance, Madi could stand.
The walk to the cabin was shorter than she had expected. By noon she had reached the gate. Several matrons and maidens met her at the door, helped her into the cabin, and laid her to rest on her bed. Someone brought her water to drink while another started a pot of gruel. Madi looked around her home tiredly. The wall hangings had been torn down, the furniture broken. Smashed bits of pottery were swept into a pile in a corner. The room smelt of purifying herbs, but underneath their sweet scent was the stench of urine.
“The men?” she asked of the Mayor’s Sister.
“They came here looking for the Unicorn,” she said. “When they could not find him or you, they tore the cabin apart.” She frowned, looking as if she were going to spit, but refrained. “They have been punished, sent to the other villages to work as servants for a season. The Mayors and Elders have proclaimed your home and the Unicorn protected. None may hunt the Unicorn, lest they be punished as well.”
“We are not as stupid as those young men,” another matron said, bringing a slice of bread to Madi. “We know that a live Unicorn is worth much more than one dead.”
Madi stuffed the bread in her mouth and closed her eyes. The women fussed over her, finished cleaning the cabin, even brought her water to wash with. They stayed until late in the night, not wanting to leave her alone in her state. Madi tried to tell them they could leave her, but she finally succumbed to exhaustion. When she awoke in the morning, she bid the women farewell. They had their own families to tend to, although many promised to stop by to check on her.
She spent the day sitting in the sun, watching the woods. The cabin felt too small to her now, with the walls pressing in on her. She wove daisy chains until her fingers ached and were stained green. She ate the food the women had left behind and looked for her grandmother’s goblets, but could not find them. Every sound from the forest sent her hurrying to the gate, looking for a flash of white.
By the third night, Madi had given up on the Unicorn. She lay on her bed, staring at the herb bundles hanging from the ceiling. Reflexively she played with the band of hair around her finger.
A stray breeze came in, setting the bundles rocking back and forth. Madi looked up to find her husband standing in the doorway.
“You stayed with me,” she said quietly, too overcome to think of anything else to say or do.
“Just as you gave yourself to me so that I would not search you out and chance being killed.”
“They won’t hunt you again. The villagers have declared you protected.”
The Unicorn nodded.
“Why are you here? I am no longer a maiden.”
“But you are my wife.”
Madi had no argument for his logic, nor did she want to search for one. Instead she opened her arms to her husband, holding him close for as long as she could keep her eyes open.
“The Unicorn’s True Wife” originally appeared in Peridot Books. Copyright 2004, Raechel Henderson.