Jules and the Unicorn
A Faerie Story from the Worlds before the Door
By Abby Jones
Perfect. Gleaming. The unicorn filly danced just beyond the end of Jules’ reaching fingers. Jules smiled and made a clicking noise with her tongue. The young unicorn’s ears twitched. Hesitantly, she stepped closer. A cool breeze stirred her rainbow mane. The wind frolicked through the orange and red leaves of the forest, lifting, tickling, teasing. It sent shadows dancing over the filly’s dappled fur, and over the girl with out-stretched fingers. The young unicorn gazed at Jules with her dark, wise eyes.
With a small, gilded step, the filly came closer.
She extended her nose and slipped its velvet softness into Jules’ cupped palm.
Jules giggled with delight.
The unicorn danced back, but returned more quickly. She nuzzled the pocket of Jules’ pale pink dress, smelling golden apples. Jules stroked the unicorn’s neck, watching her rainbow mane slip through her fingers. The smart thing sniffed out an apple and ate it whole with noise chomps. Jules giggled again. The filly gave her a gentle nudge with her head. Butterflies fluttered around them. They settled in their hair, like living, bright bows.
With sudden swift destruction, a gun sounded.
Butterflies fluttered away.
The forest stilled.
A net darted through branches and leaves.
The unicorn squeal.
Jules threw her arms around the filly’s neck.
The net settled in a heavy rush across the girl and the unicorn. The unicorn quivered, her eyes wide and rolling. Jules held her close.
Out of the trees bounded three men, who all looked at least half troll or goblin. Wait. One of the three was a particularly hideous women. She bent down eye to eye with Jules. The unicorn tried to prance back, but the net held her fast. Jules clenched her teeth and met the woman’s gaze. Fear flutter all up and down Jules’ spine, but she tried to keep her face brave.
“Ha!” the ugly woman barked a laugh. “Works every time. Use a little girl to catch a ‘corn. Every time.” She straightened. “Come on, boys. Tie ‘em up ‘fore their parents come a-hunting.”
“Yeah…” the uglier of the two men said, picking his nose, “I don’t want nothing to do with no grown ‘corn.”
“‘Urry up then.”
The men reached under the net with manacles for wrist and hoof. Cold iron touched Jules’ skin.
“Don’t you dare take us anywhere!” Jules stamped her foot, fire in her eyes. “My Daddy’s scarier than all three of you. You don’t want him angry with you.”
“Shut it, girl,” said the other man. Mean scars covered his face. His eyes were cold and dark.
Jules clamped her mouth shut. They pulled the net back, rolling it tight. As soon as the weight left her back, the young unicorn shot off for the trees. The manacle pulled her up short, jerking her legs out from under her. She bleated, a frightened animal noise. The forest seemed to lean back from her. Leaves and dirt flew in the air as the unicorn kicked and fought to regain her footing.
“Hold onto her, Toog, you idiot. We don’t want her damaged.”
Toog growled, “I am holding her.”
The woman glared at him and started off into the woods. Toog followed with the filly, who trembled under his rough hands. The mean man grabbed Jules’ free hand. Jules kicked him in the shin. He didn’t flinch, he just slipped another manacle over her wrist. Jules hissed like an angry cat, but the mean man dragged her off into the trees after the others just the same.
Jules’ heart raced. The filly had trusted her, and these people had used that. These people were coming into the forest and taking magical beings and things from it. They were taking Jules away from the magical forest.
“No,” Jules whispered.
The mean man gave the chains a yank.
“No!” Jules planted her feet and stopped. The man tugged the chains again. Jules stumbled. She grabbed a young oak tree and wrapped her arms and legs around it.
“Knave,” the woman called from up a ways, “don’t get separated.”
Knave jerked Jules. “Come on, girl.”
Jules pressed her face to the tree, ignoring the sharp pain in her wrists and arms as Knave snapped the manacles. When Jules didn’t let go, Knave came closer. His dull eyes lit up. He raised his hand.
Jules shrank back.
The tree she clung to suddenly batted Knave away like he was nothing more than a pesky fly. Knave flew through the air, crunched against the trunk of a mighty pine, and crumpled to the ground. The forest floor curled up over him, and he disappeared from view.
Butterflies fluttered back down into Jules’ hair.
Mouth agape, Jules stared at the tree. The dryad—who lived in the tree, that lived in the forest, that lived in the world—bent down, cupped Jules’ face in rough hands, kissed her forehead, and said, with a voice like wind in the leaves, “Root and water. Save the young unicorn, save the forest. We will all help you.” The dryad faded back into the tree with a wink.
Jules frowned. Who would help her?
“Hello love.” A tiny man, with a fiery mane, dropped down from the tree. He hovered in front of Jules on flickering wings. “Young Oak here,” he patted the trunk of the tree, “said—”
“Old really,” a voice rumbled from the ground under Jules’ feet. She stepped back, the manacles clanking. Another tiny man, formed from dirt and seemingly always in danger of dribbling away, flew up beside the first.
“Yes, well, Old Oak here,” the fiery man patted the tree again, “says you need help.”
“Of course she does, Fire,” the dirt man said. “Look at them there chains on her pretty little wrists.”
“Right you are, right you are, Earth my love.”
Earth hid his mouth with his hand and whispered loudly to Fire, “Do you think you can work with that iron, Fire?”
Fire also hid his mouth with his hand and loudly whispered, “Well, my dear, I think I can—”
“Please!” Jules interrupted. “We can’t save the unicorn if we just stand here.”
“Rude.” Fire stuck out his tongue at Jules.
Earth scratched at his bald, dirty head. “But not wrong.”
Fire put his hands on his hips, rose in the air, and huffed.
“Don’t mind him,” Earth said to Jules. “He’s melodramatic, he is.”
The dryad reappeared with a sigh. He reached out with two great roots, broke the manacles from Jules’ wrists, and disappeared back into the tree. She rubbed her red skin. The cold, heavy iron had made her wrists ache.
“Thank you.” Jules pressed her hand to the bark of the tree.
It warmed under her fingers. “Root and water.”
Jules nodded and hurried away after the unicorn, sending the butterfly tumbling through the air.
“Come on, Fire! An adventure!”
“Tally ho!” yelled Fire, and the two fey followed after Jules.