The Mystery of the Works of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516?)
It's All Relative
Fierce and Sweet
Down to the Wire
No Foolin'! April news
Letting Goby Shannon Wolff
It wasn’t fair.
For months Maura had watched over Stardance. She’d taken care of the little unicorn, she’d fed her, laid in the straw next to her in order comfort her while thunder storms raged, walked with her in the sun, hid her from prying eyes, protected her from the outside world. And now she was just expected to step back and let her charge leave her forever?
Maura sighed and leaned against the low wooden fence. The warm afternoon sun shown on her back. It would happen tonight, the day she’d been dreading for months. In just a few hours' time the field Maura found herself staring blankly across would serve as a staging area to send Stardance away forever. After the sun went down the elders would gather, spells would be cast and incantations spoken. Then, as the full moon reached its zenith, a portal would open so Stardance could return to her herd, never to set hoof in the human world again.
How could she be expected to just let go like that? Stardance would be gone and she’d be left all alone. It just wasn’t fair!
And Maura intended to do something about it.
“That could be trouble,” Luna sighed, watching Maura push herself away from the fence and run off with determination in her stride.
“Leave it alone, Lu,” Sebastian muttered. He continued to weave the cut willow branches together in preparation for Stardance’s departure. “You know Maura would never do anything to hurt Stardance.”
“There’s a difference in not hurting someone and doing what’s best for them,” Luna replied in a huff as she turned her attention back to the willow hoop she and Sebastian were weaving.
“Maura wasn’t chosen for this task lightly,” Sebastian sighed. He and Luna stood the hoop upright to house the portal for Stardance’s exodus. “She’ll do the right thing.”
Maura’s breath caught in her throat as she slipped into the stable unnoticed. She supposed she didn’t need to be quite so sneaky. No one would think anything of her paying Stardance one last visit, and by the time anyone suspected what she’d done there would be no doubt she was the culprit.
Forcing herself at least to appear relaxed, Maura made her way towards the back of the stables, taking in the smell of fresh hay and horses as she went. She had to hand it to Elder Benedict; he sure knew how to hide mythical beings. Who would think to look for a unicorn in an ordinary stable? Since Stardance’s horn had yet to reach its full length, still little more than a nub sprouting from her forehead, hiding her at the back of the dimly lit stable was like hiding a diamond in a bag of glass pebbles, a fact that had made Maura’s task of protecting Stardance infinitely easier.
“Hello, Stardance,” Maura whispered as she approached her charge. Her throat was suddenly dry. “How would you like a nice little walk?”
Elder Benedict sighed as he inspected the final preparations. It was always a bittersweet night when a unicorn left the world. The world of humans in which he and his colleges lived was no place for a unicorn. Too many bight lights and loud sounds, too many curious gawkers and unscrupulous poachers looking for easy money. No, it had been many centuries since the world of humans had been fit for unicorns. They were much better off in a world of their own, safe from prying eyes and careless hands. Still, when a unicorn left the world a little magic went with it and the world lost a little of its light.
Stardance had been a special case. A unicorn born into a world where she should have been safe, the world of the unicorns, only to suffer a terrible accident and need the aid of those who’d sent her parents to safety. To that end, she’d been sent through the portal so Elder Benedict and his order could take care of her until she was well and could rejoin her herd, and the bulk of that task had happily fallen to Maura.
Elder Benedict sighed again as he thought of Maura. While the girl had been elated when he told her of her chore, he’d watcher her humor deteriorate since being informed Stardance was well enough to go home. Everyone in the order had come to love the little unicorn in the months it had been their privilege to care for her, but none loved Stardance more than Maura. And it would be Maura’s heart that would break once Stardance left this world for that of her birth.
It had been unfair of Elder Benedict to ask Maura to pour her heart into safeguarding Stardance only to take her way, he saw that now. And as he stood gazing at the willow hoop in the field he vowed to find a way to make it up to her. Though, he doubted such a thing was possible.
“Elder Benedict!” A breathless stable hand cried as he raced towards the elder in a state of near hysteria. “Elder Benedict, we can’t find Stardance!”
“Calm yourself lad.” Elder Benedict began in the soothing voice that has served him so well in the past. “Why don’t you ask Maura where she is? You know that girl hardly ever lets Stardance out of her sight.”
“You don’t understand. We can’t find Maura either.”
Maura shivered as she peaked out from the bushes by the roadside. So far so good. She’d made it to the outer marker stone without attracting any attention. Now the hard part began.
Maura realized how poorly she’d thought this through. She and Stardance had miles of open country to cross without being seen, not to mention the fact that she really didn’t know where they were going. Truth be told, all she really knew about the journey ahead was that it would be long, difficult, and dangerous. But at least she and Stardance would be together.
Almost as though she knew Maura was thinking of her, Stardance whinnied softly and gently tugged on the lead line Maura clung so tightly to.
“What’s wrong, girl?” Maura asked softly as she stoked Stardance’s nose. “Is the cloth too tight?” She added and turned her attention to the strip of cloth she’s tied around Stardance’s head to hide her horn.
The cloth strip around Stardance’s head actually served a duel propose. First and foremost was to hide her horn. Maura would be the first to admit the end result made Stardance look more than a little silly, but no one would take her as a unicorn, merely an ordinary enough horse who’s suffered an unfortunate injury and was now wearing a bandage until she healed. Nothing magical there. The second reason was really more of an afterthought Maura happened upon as she led Stardance away from the stable. She doubted anyone would try to steal an injured horse.
“There we go,” Maura purred as she adjusted the cloth, taking into account how tender a unicorn’s forehead could be while their horn was growing. “That’s better. Pretty soon it’s just going to be you and me. We’ll go so far away no one from the order will ever find us. They won’t be able to send you back then. If we run far enough, we’re bound to find a nice little place nobody knows about. We’ll settle in there and it will just be the two of us. We can look out for each other and I’ll protect you.”
Stardance gave a muffled neigh and nuzzled Maura’s hand, making her feel every bit the fraud. Maura knew her plan was foolhardy at best. Even as she spoke the words and her mind raced to find a way to make them come true, she knew it wouldn’t work. Elder Benedict’s words on the matter came back to haunt her as she stood with Stardance in the light of the rising moon. She knew of the abuse unicorns had suffered at the hands of humans who were, at best, careless and, at worse, selfish. She tired to picture the little out of the way place she’d find with Stardance, where they would live happily the rest of their days, but the only images her mind’s eye found were that of disaster and heartache. Images where Stardance was caged or hunted or….Maura didn’t even want to think about it.
Even though it broke her heart, Maura knew the human world was no place for a unicorn, no place for Stardance.
But how could she bear to let her go?
“Elder Benedict, we’ve looked everywhere and there’s no sign of either of them,” Sebastian said in a breathless huff as he returned to the willow hoop.
“Maura must have taken Stardance somewhere!” Luna declared and folded her arms over her chest. “I knew she was going to be trouble when I saw her this afternoon.”
“Maura knows Stardance can’t stay here. You’re just jealous because you weren’t chosen to be Stardance’s guardian.”
“Well, if I was Stardance’s guardian we’d know where she is right now.”
“Enough.” Elder Benedict sighed and ran his hands over his face. “Fighting won’t bring Stardance or Maura back.”
Despair settled in Elder Benedict’s chest as he shook his head and looked back towards the hoop. The incantations had already been said the spells cast, all in the hope Stardance would be found, but it now appeared to be all for not. Within moments the portal would open and Stardance’s herd would be standing on the other side waiting for her. How could he explain what happened in the short time the portal would be open? He couldn’t. Any moment now, the portal would open and the unicorns, many of whom remembered the cruelties that drove them to their other world, would find one of their own missing. Unless Stardance miraculously showed up before the portal closed she would be stranded in the human world forever and the unicorns would never trust them again.
As Elder Benedict’s mind raced for an alternative solution, the moon reached the high point in the sky and the portal opened. Within the confines of the hoop a thin shimmery veil appeared, and beyond it laid the world of the unicorns.
Elder Benedict opened his mouth to say something, anything, to reassure the unicorns staring back at him from the other side of the veil that he and the order would not rest until Stardance had been returned to them, but he never had the chance. No sooner had Elder Benedict taken a breath than a joyful neigh sounded across the field and Stardance was seen racing towards the portal.
All stood in awestruck silence as the sleek little unicorn leapt through the portal to be greeted by her herd, their grateful neighs and whinnies of reunion echoing in the moonlight as the portal closed. Leaving the two worlds separated once more.
A sense of wonder lingered in the field long after the portal closed and the moon began its downward trek towards the horizon. And as the mood faded a lone figure could be seen at the edge of the field, a ragged bandage in her hand and tears gleaning in the moonlight.
“Maura!” Sebastian cried as he raced towards the teary-eyed figure and threw his arms around her. “I knew you’d come back.”
“Then you must be a prophet, because I didn’t,” Maura said in a hoarse voice as the others joined her and Sebastian.
“Indeed, child, we were beginning to wonder,” Elder Benedict sighed as he reached the knot of people forming at the edge of the field. “You attempted to run away with Stardance, I assume.”
“Knew it,” Luna smirked, though nobody noticed.
“It’s like you’re always saying,” Maura began slowly over the lump in her throat. “Sometimes love means letting go.”
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