Scene without a story
“Uncle Tolly,” Belinda said, poking her head into his office, the small office where all the work was done, not the big impressive office where he entertained guests, “That unicorn is back, around in the alley. She wants to talk to you.”
“How can you tell?” Old Tolly asked, getting up from his desk, with much more ease than he had in past years. “I didn’t think you spoke unicorn.”
“No more I do,” she retorted. “But she understands Telianese fine, and can nod or shake her head with the best of them. ‘Sides, you’re the only one around here who *can* speak unicorn, as far as anyone knows, and she didn’t bring one of them translators.”
Old Tolly sighed as walked down the hallway and back out to the alley. “I suppose you put her up in the usual spot?” he said.
Belinda nodded. “Yes, and I made sure there was fresh running water, as well as the clean hay and straw beds. I even grabbed a good plateful of fresh fruit from the kitchen. When I left she was guzzling down a bunch of grapes.”
“I better hurry then,” Old Tolly said. He quickened his pace, the crutch thumping louder as he stomped along.
He came out in the parking lot behind the restaurant, and made his way into the booth they had set up in the past year, after the new queen of the unicorns had started to surreptitiously visit him a couple times a month.
“I hope you’re comfortable,” he said to her as he entered. Her pure white fur and mane shown in the light of the single bare bulb which hung from the ceiling.
“I’m fine,” she said, the unicorn speech bubbling up in his mind. “Belinda is learning what I like.”
“You managed to escape your guard again?”
She laughed, a soft whinny, and silver laughter floated in his head.
“No, I fear they have given up on me. They escorted me to the end of town, and gave dire warnings should I overstay my time.” She gave a half-wistful sigh. “That’s far easier, but not nearly as much fun.”
“Can’t blame them for wanting to take care of you,” he pointed out.
“Oh, I know,” she said. “But I’m just learning this queen business, and the Grand Mares keep pressuring me to choose a mate. It seems like a lot of inter-clannal politics will be decided by whom I choose.”
He laughed then, and lowered himself down on one of the hay bales. “I thought the unicorns prided themselves on not having politics like us.”
“Seems like the “like us” is the operative part of the sentence,” the unicorn said tartly. “It’s so convoluted I can’t figure most of it out myself, even with the Grand Mare assigned to explain it to me.” She sighed. It seem like there wasn’t as much difference between being a Library student and a Queen as she might have hoped.
“And have you heard from Peter?” she asked. “Or any of the others?”
“Now child,” he said, remonsturatively. “Is that a question you should be asking? What with the Grand Mares watching you and all?”
“I suppose not,” she sighed, and nosed her way through the fruit bowl. “But I miss him. Miss them all.”
“Well, that one fellow, Jasin, I think he’s called, has been hanging around here every vacation and holiday they have at the Library. He’s deliberately not paying any attention to Belinda, and she’s deliberately not paying any attention to him. Makes me exhausted just watching them.”
“You remembered her name!” the unicorn said.
“Yes, well.” He looked embarrassed. “She’s not here to tease. And she’s almost decided I don’t need as much looking after as she thought.”
“That reminds me. Hubbard Horngelt thinks it’s about time for you to come in for another session.”
“That’s really not necessary,” Tolly said, rubbing his lame leg. “He’s done so much already. I hardly need my crutch anymore.”
She smiled again. “Don’t concern yourself on their account. They’re even more stubborn than you are, and they’re determined to lick this magic dampening business. Horngelt’s chagrined enough that he wasn’t able to cure you months ago, like he should have been.”
“They might be as stubborn as I am,” he said, “but I have far more _practice_ at it.” Then he relented, and said, “but I’ll get out there next week. Or the following. Though it might be good if the Grand Mares think I need at least one more visit to convince me, eh, lass?”
She smiled conspiratorially at him.
He counted himself lucky that she didn’t ask after Peter again. Not that he could have told her much that she didn’t already know, he was up north, studying art at the prestigious Darthen Library, and by all reports doing well.
“Oh, there was one more thing the Elders, and not just the Grand Mares, said to tell you,” she said, as she finished up the last fruit in the bowl. “Did you know there was a maiden imprisoned int the waterfall north of town? And should we try to release her?”
“Tryst Falls,” he said, suddenly sitting entirely still. “That’s my sister. My baby sister. And she’s not exactly imprisoned. She’s a water sprite, and that’s her home.”
“So there really is something there,” the unicorn remarked. “I couldn’t see anything, still being new to this magic business and all. I thought maybe they were all having some sort of game with me.” She took a long drink of water. “You’ve never mentioned a sister. Are there any more long lived siblings about?”
“No, there’s a lot of things I never mentioned, child. At one point I had four sisters. And five brothers. But that was long, long ago. I’m not even sure where their families have all gotten to. And now Jelana and I are the only ones left.”
“So, should we try to get her out?”
“Just ask nicely, I’d say. If she wants to come out, she will. She hasn’t for me,” he continued with a sad sigh. “Not for over one hundred and fifty years. Maybe longer.” It had probably been at least six months since he had gone out to the waterfall to visit her. He had let it go too long again. Not that she’d notice. The life of a waterfall doesn’t change that much, season in, season out, year after year. The same cycle over and over again. He could talk to her, but he noticed she was getting slower and slower to respond to him. And you had to listen very carefully to hear the response in the sound of the rushing waters.
He saw the unicorn off, and watched her go trotting off down the alley-way, her horn and mane gleaming in the light of the streetlights. Just a dim figure that might be anyone’s dream come to life.
He sighed, and went to get out his car. He seldom used it, preferring to walk through town, but thought he should warn his sister that the unicorns might be coming.
When he reached the waterfall, he took off his shoes and socks, and waded into the pool at the base of the waterfall. He never was entirely sure how far her influence extended. Whether just the falls themselves, or the pool and a good portion of the river. But he was at least certain that she followed what happened in the broad pool. He pulled out his ocarina, and played a few notes, and waited for a response. At last one came, a change in tone of the water sound. He continued to play, and the responses started coming quicker, until he felt that she had woken up, and they were on the same time, and he’d be able to talk to her.
He told her about the unicorns, and that they’d taken an interest in her. He’d discussed the unicorn’s return with her before, often, but she hadn’t always responded. He never knew how much she understood, absorbed, and remembered, and how much swept over her, like the water over the falls. He wondered again if he had failed her in some way over the centuries, that she should choose to spend all her time in liquid form. Not that he’d ever ask that of her, For all he could tell she was happy, or at least content, watching the seasons roll by as the water flowed.
He at last heard the words forming. He never understood how a waterfall could form words, but tried not to think of it too much. But he knew it was difficult for her, and it always took her a while to wake up, and bring herself up to his speed.
“I’ve seen the unicorns,” she said. “They come to my banks and drink. Very restful. We’ve talked from time to time. I didn’t know they could talk to you.” There was a moment of the water sound returning to water, then she continued, “But I’m glad they did, big brother. I’ve been missing you.”
“I’ve missed you, too, little sister,” he said, with a slight choke in his throat. “I’ve often wished you would visit me as well.”
“I would if I could,” the fading water voice said. “But, you see, I’ve forgotten how . . .” And the voice faded, until just the sound of the water was left.
* * * * *
He went through all of his duties for the next couple of days without hearing anything further, and managed to put the whole incident into the back of his mind. It was heading on to summer, when they’d start getting the summer tourist in. He wanted to get as much routine maintenance done before that happened. And there was a lot to do in a building as old as this one was. He’d almost forgotten that he’d arranged to meet the unicorn queen again when she showed up.
“It’s all arranged,” she said, sounding smug. “Your sister will come out of the waterfall tomorrow evening. They’ve helped her remember how to do it, and she’s been practicing. She wants you to bring her clothes.”
“But all of her clothes have gone by now,” he said. “I kept them for years, but they started to fall to pieces.”
“Of course not the same clothes,” she said. “They’d be hopelessly outdated by now. Who wants to go around in last centuries fashions?”
She pulled a piece of paper out of the shoulder bag he hadn’t realized she was wearing until now, and put it in his hand. “Here’s a list of clothes, and the approximate sizes she needs. They might not fix exactly, but should be good enough until she can try things on here. And they’re all quite stretchy, so it won’t matter that much.”
“You’ve learned to write in that form?” he said, taking the paper. Some of the younger unicorns had managed it, holding the pen between their cloven hooves, but she had never gotten that far.
“Don’t be silly. _She_ wrote the paper. We were lucky to find it and a pencil out there. Or maybe it wasn’t lucky. Some of my new friends are uncanny when it comes to finding things.”
Old Tolly looked down at the paper in his hand, with its rather old-fashioned script, and uncertain spelling.
“So, she’s been out already,” he said.
“Just for a couple of short whiles. Wouldn’t do to come to town as she was, you know. And she really didn’t want you to be there in case she failed. She was worried about that. She wouldn’t mind being in the same waterfall forever, but she didn’t want you to see her try, and fail.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered to me.”
“Maybe not, but it would have mattered to her. Now you get to see her come out in triumph, and that’s better for all concerned.”
He looked down at the paper again, deciphering what was written there. “THis can’t be right. Leggings? Sweat shirts? Where are the dresses she always liked to wear?”
“Why not ask for sunbonnets as well?” the unicorn asked, slightly crispy. “Do you really want her to look as if she just stepped out of the last century?”
“Well, she did . . ”
“But she doesn’t want to look that way. And she’s as much aware of passing styles as you are.” She eyed Old Tolly’s utilitarian shirt and trousers with a sniff. “Probably even more so. Just make sure to get things in browns and greens. Natural colors, she said. Though she might get some bright colors later on. Just one outfit for now, will be all right, until she can go shopping on her own later, in town.”
When Old Tolly still looked doubtful, the paper gingerly held by his fingertips, she continued, anxiously, “This isn’t a problem, is it? It won’t cause any hardship for you?”
“Oh, I can afford it, all right,” he said. “If that’s what you’re asking. And if I couldn’t, it really wouldna have made no difference, to have my sister back, even for a short time. Just, I hadna thought of how things change. Though they always do.”
She tapped him lightly with her horn, comfortingly. It flashed with magic for a moment, which disappeared without doing anything, as magic always tended to do around him. When he’d been younger, he couldn’t even have seen it like he did now, even if dimly.
“I keep forgetting,” she said, with a slight laugh. First I forget that I have magic, and then I forget there’s no point in wasting it around you.”
He smiled at her fondly, and patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. He considered passing on the list to Belinda, or one of the other workers, and letting them handle it, but that would doubtless open him up to nosy questions. As would showing up with a previously unmentioned sister, no doubt, but he’d worry about that later.
They talked inconsequentials for a while, and the unicorn queen reminded him of his promise to come see the healers soon. He saw her trot off back home, under the streetlights that always seemed to make her appear to be something unworldly.
The next day, he arrived at the waterfall in the late afternoon. He’d miss the dinner rush, which raised a few eyebrows when he told it to his staff, but they were too well trained to inquire. He’d had his housekeeper set up a guest room for her, and done the shopping for her clothes. He thought he’d gotten everything the way she wanted, but it was hard to tell, he couldn’t read everything,, and had no idea what some of the words were supposed to be. But he figured out enough to put together a complete outfit. On his own initiative, he added a red silk scarf to the stack of brown and green clothes, and ignored the glances the clerks gave him for buying clothes suitable for a teen-aged girl. Let them look. He’d endured worse over the years.
At the falls, he watched as the last of the picnickers finished their meals, packed up their games, and left. A small band of many colored unicorns came up behind him, the familiar white form of the young queen in the middle.
“The Grand Mares insisted on coming,” she told Old Tolly as she came up to the table he was seated at. “I didn’t think it was necessary, but they wanted to Witness.”
He bowed to them respectfully from his seat, and after a moment, they dipped their horns in return, but didn’t come any closer. He turned and looked at the falls. He remembered back long ago, when Jelana would slip into and out of the water as easily as putting on a coat, but that had been a long time ago now.
He watched the water surface, and a dark haired head poked out of it.
“Brother dear,” the old familiar voice said, “Leave the clothes there on that that stump, then turn around. Really, what were you thinking?”
He blushed a little, and did as he was told.
After a couple minutes, she said he could turn back around. He saw her there, sitting on the tree stump, just putting on the socks and shoe, the greens and the browns complementing the pale skin, while the freckles stood out in contrast. Her brownish red hair, perfectly dry, was caught up in a ponytail.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” Old Tolly said, looking down at her. He always forgot how tiny she was once she became human again.
“You have,” she said, looking at him thoroughly. “You’re walking so much easier . . . are the unicorns helping? And I think you look younger than the last time I saw you. With my eyes, I mean.” She stood up, and stretched, first one arm than the other reaching toward the sky, and then out to the sides. “It’s been so long,” she said, reaching down to her toes. She took off at a run, and did a couple of cartwheels, a backflip, and ended up with a somersault. “Ah, that’s much better.”
He looked down at his little sister as she bounced back toward him. “It’s been very long,” he agreed, trying to keep his voice light.
“Far too long,” she agreed, making a face back at him. “Though I always enjoyed your visits, brother dear.” She sat down on one of the picnic tables and stretched out her toes. “What name are you going by now, anyway?” she asked. “Tolman, Tolbert, Tolkran?”
“Toliver,” he said, somewhat proudly. “Toliver McLichtensen.”
“Toliver?” she repeated, dissolving into squeals of laughter. “Toliver? That name doesn’t fit you at all. So stuffy.”
“I rather like it myself,” he replied, somewhat stiffly. He noticed that the unicorns had faded back into the woods by this time, seeing only the young unicorn queen for a moment by the edge of it. She saw him looking at him, and dipped her horn and vanished.
* * * * *
I really have no story to go along with these opening scenes yet. I can see her (Jelana) traveling north by some round about way. My main character, An, will have trouble getting along with here, since Jelana will have the tendency to go into gymnastic runs at the slightest opportunity, even in the middle of a serious conversation.
At least once she’ll collapse into tears, sitting all curled up, and everyone will again become aware of how tiny she is.
And at least once she will climb into a river, right next to a stone wall guarding someplace they need to get into, and climb back out of it some hours later, exhausted and filthy, right before the wall collapses. (And, no, taking a nice hot bath won’t really work. Well, sort of, maybe.)
She doesn’t like swimming pools (too much chlorine, makes the water feel dead). Ponds are all right, but lakes are too big. She gets lost in them. And, no, I don’t know where the magical division between lake and pond occurs. Oceans are, of course, far worse, not even considering that she has a problem with salt water.
When they finish their adventure, she’ll make her way back, cross country, stopping to rest in various creeks and rivers along the way, probably taking about six months. She’ll travel by rivers for large parts, but can’t do it all the way, Finally, one night, she’ll make it back to her brother’s house, about midnight. He’ll open the door to find here there, shivering and exhausted. The next morning, he’ll drive her back out to “her” waterfall, and toss her back in.
Epilogue about leaving clothes in a waterproof box near the waterfall, and how she often comes back into town to see him (and other people).