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Volume 15, Issue 3: Similitudes

A Hunting Party

Douglas Wilson

"What is Greenland?" Andrew asked.

"It is not a nation, or a land, if that is what you mean," said Beow. "There is no king here. The best way to understand it is as a great march, a barrier between the Grey Sea to the north, and the villages of the Kale people to the south."
"How wide is it?"
"The land is about fifty miles wide at this end, but it narrows to about thirty miles at the other end where the dragon lives."
Andrew was curious. "Why does there have to be a march? Does the ocean flood?"
"No, Prince, the problem is the longboats filled with warriors from the Grey Sea islands. They sail south every spring to take whatever they can, and to burn whatever they cannot fit into their boats. The Kale chieftains discovered many years ago that settlements on the coast could not be successfully defended. So they moved back inland, giving the Viking marauders a good stout march before they can even try to take something."
"Are the Kale good?"
"After a fashion. They are good fighters." said Beow. "Maggie is from the Kale, and she has a good heart."
"Shouldn't we ask for their help with the dragon then?"
To this, Beow just lowered his head. Andrew flushed, embarrassed that he had asked a foolish question. At the same time he was not sure how it could have been foolish. Still, he was afraid to ask it again. He looked up again at Beow just then, and was frightened to see how the unicorn had stopped suddenly. His white ears had stiffened and were laid back on his head. His nostrils were flared, and the flesh on his elegant neck was quivering as though he were soaking wet and cold.
After a moment of struggling in terrible silence, Beow finally said, so low that Andrew could barely hear him, "Andrew, do not forget me." With that, the unicorn suddenly bolted into the woods on the left side of the path. It seemed that after just a few bounds he was completely out of sight. Andrew could hear the distant sounds of Beow rushing through the bracken. And then, softly, beyond the clouds, beyond that, he heard a woman's voice singing, high and melodious.
He looked down and was surprised to see that he had drawn his sword. What should he do now? His guide had abandoned him. Shouldn't he follow Beow? Wasn't he supposed to stay on the path, always west ? How was he supposed to find the dragon by himself? Beow had acted as though he needed help. Was this an enchantment? A trick?
It took him a few minutes to decide, which was very fortunate, given the adventure which followed. Breathing hard with excitement, Andrew finally stepped off the path. But he soon found that Beow's haste had made the trail an extremely easy one to follow. Normally, as he found out later, Beow would have been impossible to track.
He followed a straight course, over small hills and down through ravines. He lost the trail in just a few places, but soon recovered it again as he came to some brush that Beow had just galloped through. After a hard march, Andrew came to the crest of a hill, and then dropped quickly to one knee. There, a distance ahead of him was a hunting party of about five men. Their backs were to him, and they were steathily approaching a meadow just down below them.
Andrew peered out into the meadow and was startled to see Beow, lying down, with his head on the lap of a beautiful woman. She was the singer—Andrew could hear her much more clearly now.
Home is the peerless animal now:
Home from the hill and the rambling road.
She had a long full dress of a rich hunter green. Her white bodice was unlaced, and her hair was hanging loose about her shoulders. She was softly stroking Beow's neck and head—the unicorn seemed completely unconscious. The five men stepped out into the meadow, and Andrew suddenly saw that a long net was stretched out between them. They were walking very slowly, and the woman seemed oblivious to them and continued to sing.
Andrew turned quickly to the right, and dashed along the ridge that ran around the meadow to the right. He could not hope to get past the hunters from behind them, and he thought his only hope was to run down toward the woman and Beow from the side before the hunters got there. He ran as fast as he could without raising an alarm, and when he came to the point even with the singing woman, he noticed a path running straight down into the meadow. Without stopping to think about what sort of plan he might have, Andrew bolted down the hill. When he emptied out into the meadow, he let out as a great a war whoop as he could manage, and ran straight toward the woman, sword in hand.
The results were entirely satisfactory. The woman screamed, pulled away from Beow, and began to run. The hunters dropped the net and ran back to the edge of the wood where they had left their weapons. Andrew bent over Beow, and was glad to see that he was beginning to stir.

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