Ephie and the Unicorn
by Amanda Beck
Ephie opened her eyes that morning and saw an unusual sight. She wasn’t in her own bed, but rather she found herself in a beautiful green field. The sun was just starting to peek over the edge of the hill she was facing, and she saw in the distance a path leading between it and the bigger hill next to it.
“Where am I?” she asked herself aloud.
“You’re in my field,” said a voice that came from behind her. Ephie was a little startled because she thought she had been alone. She turned over her left shoulder and saw a beautiful white horse standing next to her. She looked around to see where the voice had come from. Maybe its rider was on the other side of the great animal.
“You will find no one else nearby right now, daughter. I am the only one here.” The horse was the one speaking to her. She looked up at him and saw that he was no ordinary horse—he was a unicorn! She had only heard of his kind in legends.
“Hello,” she said curiously. “This is your field?”
The unicorn’s lips did not move as he spoke. He simply opened his mouth and it was like the words just fell right out.
“Yes, this is my field.”
“But where are we, I mean, bigger than that?” Ephie asked.
“It’s just my field. It extends from here until forever in all directions.”
Ephie strained her eyes trying to see some familiar landscape to her left and right, but all she saw were green and rolling hills. She caught sight of something blue behind her. It was a stream.
Suddenly, Ephie realized just how thirsty she was. She asked the unicorn if she could have a drink.
“Of course, daughter,” he said, neighing with a mysterious tone. “Please help yourself.”
Ephie leant over and cupped her hands. The water was cool, but not too cold, like the way it feels on a spring afternoon. She stood up and brushed the grass off her knees.
“Are you ready to go?” the unicorn asked Ephie.
“Ready to go? But I just got here! And I don’t even know your name,” she protested. She didn’t want to leave yet because was enjoying this place. She wasn’t afraid anymore when she found herself in unfamiliar places. Lashta was always nearby.
“We have met before, Daughter. My name is Herren, but in other times you have called me Lashta.”
“Lashta, is it really you? I haven’t seen you in so long!” With a great smile, she threw her arms around her old friend.
“It really is me, beloved Ephie. I am still the same old Lashta, but sometimes I will look differently to you. I have always come as Lashta before, because that was what you needed, but now you will see a different side of me. Don’t let that frighten you.” He looked into her eyes to make sure she understood. She smiled back at him with her pure and fresh smile that he loved so much.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked her.
Without any hesitation now, Ephie emphatically nodded. Anywhere Lashta was, she wanted to go. They had been on so many adventures together already that there was little doubt in her that this would turn into another one. Herren knelt to let her on his back. She took her seat upon him and he began to trot. The trot quickly turned into a gallop.
Even though she had never ridden a horse before, it was not hard to stay on Herren’s back when she wrapped her arms around his neck and kept her face to the side of his thick white mane. They rode quick as lightning through the field until they came to what looked like its edge. At the edge, Herren didn’t stop his gallop. In fact, running as fast as he could, he leapt over the edge. Ephie let out a loud “Oh!” but in a matter of seconds, Herren unfurled large and strong wings that caught the wind current. Soon they were flying through the air. Ephie was delighted at this new development!
“This is so wonderful!” she shouted into Herren’s ear.
“Isn’t it fun?” the unicorn responded. She almost couldn’t tell what he was saying because the wind was flapping his lips. The horse and rider were moving very fast.
A few minutes after they leapt over what seemed to be the edge of Herren’s field, Ephie realized that they were still in his field, just a different part.
“It’s like the park at home,” Ephie thought. “Part of it is an open place for sports and races and games, but a big part of it is forest, full of places to hide and new animals to see.” The trees grew tall here and the fruit gave off a delicious smell. Ephie took it all in.
They had flown for almost an hour and Herren’s head moved from side to side, surveying the ground below them looking for a place to land. Finally they came upon a little clearing next to the river. Ephie noticed they had been following the river for a few miles. She was sure it was the same stream where they met, only widened now. Herren circled the clearing once to make sure this was where he wanted to land, and then he came down very gently. Ephie hardly noticed that they had touched down.
“See the animals, Ephie?” Herren nodded with his head to his right once they had landed. She looked over to see two long necked dinosaurs affectionately brushing their heads against the other’s neck. She turned and saw a weeping willow leaning into the water. From behind its draping branches swam a pair of swans, swimming side-by-side and quacking gently at each other. Even the bugs were in pairs, Ephie realized, as a couple of beetles crossed in front of her feet. She watched them with curious delight—curious because beetles were not her favorite insects, but delight because they were completely unaware of her existence, enjoying the company of the other without any thought of her.
She looked up at Herren. He was smiling down at her. “Ephie, isn’t love wonderful?” He smiled a unicorn’s smile as she rubbed her hand along his snout.
“I suppose so, Lashta. I mean, Herren. I’ve never been in love before. I’m only eleven!”
“It is a marvelous thing to love and to be loved.” He licked her face and she giggled and reached up to wipe her cheek.
“I am in love, Ephie,” Herren said softly, very joyfully but very seriously.
“Are you in love with a unicorn? Or with a lady?” Ephie asked innocently. She was a little confused because she wasn’t used to this new side of Lashta. She was still trying to wrap her head around the idea that he was Lashta and Herren at the same time. Despite her confusion, she was not jealous. Lashta was like her older brother—much much older. Somehow Ephie knew that he was talking about a different kind of love than simply the brotherly kind.
“No, she’s no unicorn,” he said with a smile. “She’s a human.”
Ephie paused to think of a unicorn loving a human.
“I know it sounds strange,” Lashta began. “There are many more sides to me, Ephie my dear. But enough about me—let me tell you about her! She is beautiful. I love her more than life itself, Ephie! I would do anything to be with her! We are so different, but that doesn’t even matter to me. Nothing she could do would make me stop loving her!”
Ephie could tell that this human, whoever she was, occupied the central place in Herren’s thoughts as they interacted that afternoon. She and the unicorn lay down in the grass by a great oak tree on the riverbank to take a nap and to eat some grapes off a nearby vine. Herren produced some tasty wafers seemingly from his own side. Ephie didn’t question—she just ate and was glad. The great unicorn looked into the distance, to the other side of the river.
“She usually comes here in the afternoon, Ephie. I want you to meet her. She knows I am waiting for her here. Don’t worry about her recognizing me as I am today—she would recognize me no matter how I came to her. When she sees that we are here, she will cross the river to be with us,” Herren told her as they relaxed and settled down for the afternoon. They waited all afternoon, talking of life and creation and how so many things in nature reflected the Creator’s heart, like the changing of the seasons and the process of the death of winter and the rebirth of spring, the dryness of summer and the maturing of fall. For an eleven-year-old, Ephie was sharp. Herren was always impressed with how much she understood, even though she was only a child.
Just about the time Ephie began to feel hungry for dinner, Herren lifted himself suddenly to his feet. Ephie directed her gaze to the spot on which he focused in the distance. About 200 yards away, there was a beautiful lady—with no spot or imperfection—walking along the water’s edge. She was on the opposite side of the river from the two observing her and she had not seen them yet.
Still unaware of their presence, the woman came closer. She was now directly in front of them across the river. With the weeping willow to her right, she leaned down to look at herself in the reflection of the water. How beautiful she was! How beautiful she knew herself to be!
She touched the water and her reflection changed with the ripples. She let out a little laugh, so sweet and so pure. Unbeknownst to her, the branches of the willow began to move. After a few minutes, she heard something—or was it someone? —whispering to her from behind the willow’s branches. It was a slippery and deep voice. It made the hair on Ephie’s arms stand straight up. Herren looked concerned, but he did not move. Ephie held her breath to see the woman’s reaction. The voice began saying sweet things to her, like, “How pretty you look today, Lille. How lovely are your skin and your face.”
Lille looked at the willow and tried to discern a face within its branches. The voice continued.
“Yes, you are lovely—the loveliest in all creation,” it said. Lille smiled. The voice continued, “But is there not a greater beauty?”
Upon hearing this, Ephie saw Herren’s muscles tighten and she knew that he was restraining himself. “When she asks me,” he whispered to Ephie, “I will cross the river to carry her over.”
Lille still did not see Herren and Ephie, waiting for her on the other side of the river. And when she heard the voice speak of a greater beauty, she became curious and reached her hand out to draw back the curtain of willow branches. With caution, she disappeared into them. And though the two were now hidden within the tree, Ephie and Herren could still hear their conversation.
“You say there is a greater beauty?” she asked.
“Yesssss,” the voice said, with a serpentine sibilant. Ephie and Herren recognized the voice of Onde, the snake that had hindered them in their last adventure together. Ephie turned a concerned look up to Herren, but his eyes were closed. When he opened them again, he focused them on the willow.
“There is a greater beauty. And I am the only one with the key to it. This beauty will change you forever. No longer will you wait for another to notice you—he will not be able to help but fall under your spell, bewitched by what he sees. Would you like to see the key to this incredible beauty?”
After a pause, Ephie heard Lille answer, “I would like to see it.”
“Good!” said Onde. “There’s one thing you need to know before I can show you the key to such beauty. You may look upon it now, but once you do you must receive it for yourself, unlocking the beauty that is already within you. There is no turning back. Do you still want to see the key to untold beauty?”
Lille hesitated. “Well,” she reasoned, “I want to be as beautiful as possible, do I not? That way I can be all that I can be for my beloved, and he will always desire me. Yes, I want to look upon this greater beauty.”
Ephie realized that she had been holding her breath when she heard Herren release a powerful sigh. He reared up his head and let out a cry that arrested all that was happening in the valley. Birds stopped singing, the sun stopped shining, the ants stopped marching. Immediately a great wind came and swept open the willow’s curtain to reveal Lille and the snake. She gasped at the sight of her companion. The snake had a long-stemmed rose in its mouth and Lille was reaching down to take it from him. The tip of the longest thorn of the rose’s stem just brushed the girl’s finger, drawing the smallest drop of blood. She recoiled and looked up to see Herren across the river. She heard the cry of his heart and she cried out to him—“What is it, my lord Herren?”
Herren rushed across the water to the tree, his hooves barely wet in the speed of his flight. Onde stood up straight as only a snake can do and flashed his eyes angrily at the unicorn.
“She has accepted the beauty I offer,” he said, “and she must receive it! You know that it is written in the stars that she must have the choice—your beauty or mine. And now she has chosen, ungrateful beast. There is no way to undo what she has done.”
“There is a way,” Herren said boldly with sorrow, looking firmly into the eyes of his adversary. Their rivalry had stretched on for more years than any human could account for.
Onde’s serpentine eyes narrowed into a glare, searching out the meaning behind Herren’s claim. Gradually he understood. His gaze softened and he smiled a wicked smile.
“Unless, of course, you are willing to take the rose from me for yourself,” he simpered. Herren nodded. Lille watched this interaction in confusion, not understanding the trade that was taking place. Finally her heart understood and she sank to the ground in despair. She was to lose her beloved to the poison of the snake.
Herren approached her and nuzzled her face. “I will take the rose for you, my love.”
“What have I done, Herren? Only now can I see the great thorns on its stem! It will hurt you! You will be broken for my sake?”
“It is the only way, darling. Do not worry.” And as she knelt still, Herren put his head in her lap and lay down. As she held him, she shut her eyes. Ephie stood motionless, watching from across the river.
Onde slipped over to them with the rose in his mouth. With a look of pure evil, he scraped the thorn-covered stem up and down Herren’s back, leaving scarlet traces of wounds that cut deep. He wrapped the stem into a crown and put it on Herren’s head, pressing it hard against his head, the thorns piercing his majestic brow. And finally, he moved to each of the unicorn’s four legs and sank his long and poisonous fangs into the fair white flesh above the hoof. Finished, he gave Lille and Herren a snarl and a laugh and retreated to the edge of the water.
Herren opened his eyes one last moment and looked at Lille.
“I love you, Lille. You are worth this to me.” He breathed his last.
A cry erupted from Lille’s heart that tore the heavens and brought down a flash of lightning. The lightning struck the tree and ignited a fire, which burned all around them. The fire did not fall on them, though. It only scorched the tail of Onde as he fled, seeking refuge from the storm that was beginning to pour water onto the riverbanks.
Ephie stood motionless on the other side of the river. She didn’t know what to do. For now she had shelter under the tree. She fell asleep here soon, and when she awakened she was back in her own bed. The scent of a summer rose faintly filled her room.
“What do I do now?” Ephie wondered sorrowfully to herself. She felt a terrible ache inside her chest as she remembered the scene where Herron gave up his life for Lille.
Ephie paced around her small room, wondering what could be done. In the past, Lashta, or was he really Herron, had always come to her in a dream, even though when they were together it was as real as waking-time. And there was always something left behind in her room to let her know that what she had seen was more than just her imagination. She remembered the time that the old woman left bread for her, and when she woke up with the purple fruit in her hand from beside the river, and the lilies after she visited the star. For three days she paced and thought, eating hardly anything. Each day was harder than the one before, for she grieved alone. How could she explain to anyone what had happened? She didn’t think that anyone would understand.