July 18, 2005

Lion and Unicorn

“Come here, beautiful “ crooned the great beast in a playful singsong grumbling voice that echoed among the rocks and trees to rebound from all sides at once. She froze in mid - stride, right there in the open dusty ground next to the great granite swell of the hill slope at the head of the valley.
This valley had been their home for the past year , the children's laughter bouncing happily around as they played, the adults a little busier with the concerns and complications of life. They had fled the old place to escape the tyranny and oppression of an autocrat’s rule; a self-proclaimed king whose only virtue was strength, whose only concerns were his own advantage , his numerous offspring and the security of his rule.
The result had been the disappearances in the night, the whispering morning conferences when everyone tried to account for the latest mysterious disappearance,optimistically trying to assign some blame to the victims in order to reassure themselves of their own safety.
Finally, when even the noon sun seemed unable to lift the gloom and mothers kept their brghtest toddlers tightly by them, the band had set out from the only home they knew. They had found this fold in the hills on the fourth day of their journey, bright with bird song and green as a dream , and had settled in like ducks into a pond.
She stood at full alert, heart speeding up to a frantic gallop while her legs seemed made of quivering mud, almost collapsing under her . Where was he lurking ? - she scanned the dappled shifting shade of the white -thorn tree , the deeper shade of the rock beside it -- all that moved was a wren bobbing about its business in tiny self- importance.
She knew that voice, the threat his presence here in the valley brought to all her family and friends - the image of those hairy paws on her daughter’s shoulders, that foul breath --she breathed out suddenly in disgust, clearing the very thought from her nostrils.
With the snort came resolve. No more. No more running, someone had to make a stand or this would never end, living in fear of that beast, never knowing where or when he would strike, no peaceful playtimes free of worry. Innocent young ones just tender meat in his eyes.Time to fight him face to face.
With studied nonchalance she stepped forward, head held high - “ Come see what I have for you big guy “ - she answered in a voice somewhat higher pitched than she had hoped.
All around an uneasy silence spread , only the hot breeze rustled the grass standing in clumps here and there among the trees. If things went as usual, there would be no witnesses until after it was all over, and no retribution. The thought fanned her into restrained rage, her breath began to whistle in and out as the adrenaline surged through every part of her.
Suddenly he stepped into view, seeming to glow brightly against the dark rock behind him. How had she missed seeing him until this moment ? -- he was so big, so menacing it seemed impossible that he had been hidden until now .
He swaggered confidently forward, arrogant and sway-bellied, in control of everything he knew - his rivals run off or dead , his prey his for the taking .
He paused for a moment in faint puzzlement - why was she making it so easy ? Looked like he wouldn't have to run to catch her - who cares why - he could save his breath , though hed grab her from in front instead of behind like usual. Good enough. He grunted deep in his chest as he swung into practiced action. As he reared onto his haunches to grab her by the neck - his favourite opening move - she lowered her head and stepped sharply forwards, driving her single spiral horn into his exposed belly.
For once the unicorn had won, the lion lay bleeding in the primordial dust.
Turning away from the spreading dark puddle of blood in the dust , she walked to the stream and dipped her head into the cool water, waggling it from side to side to rinse the blood off her horn while it was still wet. It was hard enough to be born as different as she and a few others were, without being shunned by the herd because of a smell of blood . She would show her grand - daughter the body and demonstrate her successful moves to her, at least there was one bright child amongst the herd to pass a few lessons on to. Most of their herd mates and relatives were just ordinary eland, born with two horns and no ability to learn language. In every generation a few were born like herself, one - horned and able to understand and learn the spoken language beyond the few simple grunts and whickers of the main herd. If they could only live in peace for a while, perhaps they could increase their numbers to the point where they could safely breed only with other speaking ones, instead of having to mix in with the ordinary herd and have some children born to the bright pain of intelligence and some to the dull certainty of a placid animal life. That lion had been really quite frightening, a predator with a rudimentary grasp of language and the ability to think . A truly terrifying prospect if he had bred intelligent cubs, but as far as she knew he had not. He had been conciously targetting the brigfht ones of the herd in their previous home, which had reduced their numbers to a frighteningly low count before they had moved here.
The great flat top of the mountain with its ever present clouds and mist had been their haven , their home for many generations until that animal had caused their recent move. Perhaps now they should move back there and resume their old life, after all the relationship they had built up with the small men there, the users of poison arrows , had been quite interesting. The men had sent their wise ones up the mountain to spend time with the herd, and the learning had gone both ways. Here in the lower country the men were herders of sheep and cattle and not quite as ready to accept an intelligent herbivore as an equal.

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