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Volume 15, Issue 4: Similitudes

Fight in the Meadow

Douglas Wilson

Andrew looked frantically up at the hunters, who had just reached the wood, and then back down at Beow. The singing had enchanted the unicorn, and his eyes were still rolling back in their sockets. Andrew laid down his sword in the grass and began vigorously slapping Beow's neck.

"Wake up! Beow!" Andrew shouted. He looked up again to see the hunters running toward him, swords and spears in hand. They were all very angry at the loss of their prey. "Beow!" Beow lurched as though he were trying to get up, and then fell back into the grass. Andrew grabbed his sword, bent over Beow, and pricked him at the top of his left foreleg. A crimson spot appeared as Beow snorted in pain. Andrew could not afford any more time with Beow, and so he turned around quickly to face the hunters.
One of the hunters was faster than the others, and he was just about twenty yards away by this time. The other four were about ten yards behind him. The first hunter raised his right arm, sword clenched in fist, and began to kih yih yih yih in a high treble voice.
Andrew had no idea how to fight with a sword, and in an odd way, for just a moment, this provided him with an advantage. The hunter thought that his movements were calculated, and, since he had never seen anything like it before, he slowed down, hesitating for a moment. That hesitating moment gave Andrew an opening, and he lunged forward, slashing at the hunter's legs. This movement was amateurish, beyond all question, and the hunter smiled coldly and stepped forward.
In the meantime, Beow had struggled to his feet and staggered off to a pool just behind him that was fed with a small waterfall. His horn was enflamed, as though he had a great fever, and he stepped into the pool and stooped his head and horn under the cascading mountain water. Instantly, the fever was gone, his mind was clear, and the remains of the enchantment fled to find the woman who sang it into him. Beow turned toward Andrew to see how it fared with the boy who had saved him. By this time, Andrew had fended off three or four blows from the first hunter, and was backing up steadily. The other hunters were standing just behind the first one, letting him disarm Andrew, which was sure to be the work of mere moments. They could have killed him easily, but it was apparent that, despite their anger, they intended to take him prisoner.
Beow threw back his head and gave a great cry. The echo rushed back toward the fighters across the meadow from the slope across the way. Horses neigh, and lions roar, but unicorns do something in between. The hunters all turned violently toward him, and began to ignore Andrew completely. Andrew backed away from them, sure now that Beow would be able to get them out of this.
The four hunters had clearly lost their stomach for unicorn hunting. They had begun to inch their way backward. But the first one, a grim man (but still very brave), was angry enough to fight with Beow. This was very foolish of him—a man with a light sword cannot hope to fight a unicorn successfully. The best any hunting party of the Kale had ever done (without a singer and nets) was to kill a unicorn with three men who had long spears. That great event had happened three generations before, and men still talked about it on their trips. But still, this man, whose name was Kared, stepped forward to challenge Beow in mortal combat. His hunting companions turned white, their weapons held lightly in their hands. I have told you his name because he comes into this story again, and that means that Beow decided to honor his bravery over his wisdom.
Beow bowed his head in a salute, and then suddenly galloped off toward Andrew. Unicorns are not like men in such circumstances. No one had ever seen a unicorn behave in a cowardly manner, and so it was impossible for Beow to be ashamed of turning from this fight. All who heard of it would simply conclude that Beow had spared Kared's life, and not that the unicorn had feared for himself. He stopped just by Andrew, and dropped to the ground to let him on. Once he had mounted, Beow told him in a low voice to hold on with his knees and not to grab at his mane.
The unicorn then reeled back to face the hunters. "We have shown mercy, despite your attempt on my horn for your potions. The next time there will be no mercy."
With that, Beow turned and started to canter towards the wood. Andrew sat on his back, jolting up and down in the most fearful way. Recalling it later, Andrew remembered that he had hoped he had cut a noble figure for the group of hunters, with his sword still in his hand, riding a unicorn off towards the forest. The second thought was that he hoped he would not fall off before they got to the edge of the woods. A fine impression that would make.
When the forest swallowed them, Andrew leaned over and begged to be let off. "Please." Beow obliged, and Andrew got down stiffly. When Beow stood up again, he bowed his head gratefully, and nuzzled Andrew's shoulder.
"I'll have to thank you, little one, for saving my glory. They were going to take my horn for powder."
Andrew did not know what to say, so he said, "You're welcome."

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