Where’s My Unicorn Horn?

Camille was dazzlingly white. Her flowing mane and swishing tale were flecked with delicate colours of pink and purple. Her legs were no longer quite so wobbly and she could now stand steady and proud next to her magnificent mother.

That was just as well because Camille was about to make her first public appearance in front of all the other creatures of the mystical forest. Falling down would not be the done thing. After all, unicorns are known for their grace as well as their beauty.

Camille was at first shy, peering around her mother’s legs. All kinds of animals looked back at her with wide-eyed wonder, among them frisky rabbits, fidgety red squirrels, bashful badgers, knowing owls, twittering robins and noble deer. Camille grew more confident and took a stride forward. A shaft of sunlight broke through the woodland and shone on the young unicorn, as if she was a star in the spotlight of a glittering stage performance.

The hushed and magical moment was rudely interrupted by a family of wild boar, who arrived late to the gathering and came barging through the crowd in a careless and chaotic manner. It was the wild boar’s way. Nothing they ever did was blessed with calm.

“Make way there, make way!” said the mother of the family of five. “Boars coming through…boars coming through!” She battled her way to the front and used her snout to nudge her four children even further forward to get the best possible look at the new arrival.

“Well, isn’t she just a beauty,” declared the mother boar, who snorted in approval in a very oink-like, pig-like way.

“Oh yes, Ma,” said her first piglet, “she’s brilliantly white, so beautifully bright.”

“Indeed, Ma,” said her second piglet, “what colourful hair, a mane beyond compare.”

“Agreed, Ma,” said her third piglet, “that swishing tail, it’s the best without fail.”

“Hold on,” said the fourth piglet. “Are you all a bit thick? It seems to me you are all missing a trick. What’s the use of a unicorn, if that unicorn has no horn? I could be very wrong of course…but this unicorn looks more like a horse.”

There was a collective gasp, followed by a stunned silence. The fourth piglet was right. Camille did not have a horn in the middle of her head, as her mother did. As the gathered crowd had never before met a baby unicorn, they were inclined to believe the piglet’s claim that this might actually be nothing more than a plain, old horse. Camille ambled over to a puddle of water and saw her reflection. She could not see a horn on her head.

There were murmurings and mumbling in the crowd. Suddenly, the creatures turned on their hooves and talons and claws and paws and wandered away from the unicorn mother and her child.

Camille was confused as she heard a jumpy rabbit say: “What a rip-off. Nothing more than a horse!” A zig-zagging squirrel joined in: “What a fuss over nothing!”

“Am I a horse, Mother,” asked Camille, “or am I nothing at all?”

“You are a unicorn, my precious daughter. Never be in any doubt about that.”

“But they are right. I don’t have a horn on my head as you do.”

“Give it time, young one,” said Camille’s mother, as she sank to her knees and nestled into the dewy grass. “Your unicorn horn will be found only in a place called patience.”

“A place called Patience,” repeated Camille, as she, too, dropped to her knees, cosied up to her mother and closed her eyes for a nap.

Later, Camille awoke before her mother and saw an opportunity to sneak off on a journey to find her unicorn horn. Camille disappeared beyond the tall ferns and wandered into the forest. She looked skywards as she heard various tweets and squawks. She could see only the smallest glimpses of turquoise sky peeking through the giant trees.

By looking up, Camille was not paying attention to what was ahead of her. “Ouch!” she exclaimed as she felt a pricking sensation in one of her legs. “That hurts!” She looked down to see a ball of prickles. She gave it a kick and it rolled towards a fallen log. As it hit the log with a gentle thud, out popped a snout and a pair of eyes on a cute brown face. It was the face of Henry the hedgehog.

“Would you please mind not kicking me,” said Henry.

“I just wanted to get you out of the way,” explained Camille. “I thought you were a ball of thorny twigs.”

“I’m a hedgehog, silly. Anyone would think you had never seen a hedgehog before.”

“I haven’t. I’m new to the woodland. I’m the new-born unicorn.”

“If that’s the case, where is your horn? You look more like a little horse.”

“That’s just it, you see. I’m on a journey to find my unicorn horn. My mother said I’ll find it in a place called Patience. Do you know where Patience is?”

“Sorry, I don’t. But I’ll help you look for it…as long as you promise not to kick me again.”

Camille welcomed the company and her journey continued with her first ever friend alongside her.

Later, a furry blur shot before their eyes and up a tree. A few minutes after that, the furry blur darted back across their path and up another tree. It was an inquisitive pine marten, checking out the two travelling companions. When he saw there was nothing to fear, the pine marten stopped in front of them and speedily asked: “Where are you going? Can I come too? Three travelling friends is better than two?” The pine martens talked as quickly as he moved – and that was very fast indeed.

“If you promise to slow down,” said Camille. “We can’t keep up with you at your speed. Henry has no legs to speak of, just feet. We have to move at his speed.”

“I can do that, I can do that,” said the pine marten in his pacey patter. “My name is Mardy. That’s Mardy with a D…not Marty with a T. Do you like my yellow bib? What about my bushy tail?”

The bib he referred to, was the yellowy-white throat patch that stood out against his glorious brown fur. He was a long and slender creature, about the size of a small cat, and was most at home up a tree.

“Are you sure you are not a weasel?” asked Henry. “I’ve heard you can’t trust a weasel.”

“It is true, I am from the weasel family. There may be weasel blood in my veins. But I am most definitely…most positively…abso-blooming-lutely a pine marten. Look…my yellow bib…that proves it.”

Henry accepted the explanation, before Camille spoke of their mission to find her unicorn horn in a place called Patience. “I thought you were a small white horse – although your colourful mane and tail confused me a bit…you know, just a jot…just a spot. But I get it now. Let’s find Patience…let’s find your unicorn horn.”

Back among the tall, green ferns, Camille’s mother was frantic with worry. Where was her precious daughter? She called on the birds of the wood to help her, sending out a search party of beady eyes in the sky. However, a mist that had fallen on the forest glade made their task an impossible one.

Camille, Henry and even the nimble Mardy were slowed by the mist. They could barely see their noses and snouts in front of their faces.

“This is a real pea-souper,” said Henry.

“What’s a pea-souper?” asked Camille.

“It’s like when you do a really long wee,” said Mardy. “You know…a super pee.”

“Don’t listen to him,” announced Henry. “A soup made out of peas is pea soup. Its consistency is so thick you can’t see through it. When there is thick mist and fog you cannot see through that either. This is a pea-souper.”

“Still think my weeing explanation is better,” said a defiant Mardy.

Just then, Camille walked into a tree, smacking her head on the trunk with a loud thud.

She slumped to the ground with another “Ouch!”.

“What was that?” Henry asked.

“Me, hitting my head,” said Camille. “I think it’s safer if we stop a while.”

“Agreed,” said Mardy.

Suddenly there was a fourth voice in the misty mix. “Halt, who goes there!” came the cry from somewhere near the base of the tree. It was a badger who lived in a den, known as a sett, beneath the roots of the tree. “How dare you disturb the Masked Mauler!”

“We are looking for a place called Patience,” said Camille. “We mean you no harm. We hope you will not strike us or maul us for simply getting lost in the mist. It’s just my friends Henry and Mardy and me.”

“Waking me in the middle of the day,” said the angry badger, “it’s an outrage! Such a thud. The Masked Mauler needs his sleep, you know. You won’t find any patience here. Certainly not from me.”

“Forgive us,” pleaded Camille, who was feeling somewhat threatened. She had not experienced this feeling before in her infant life. “I’m the new-born unicorn and I’m in search of my unicorn horn. Mother told me I’d find it in a place called Patience.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” said the badger, “I would do anything for the She Unicorn, our woodland queen.” Camille had not heard her mother referred to as a queen until now. “Come on in, out of this mist and out of the cold. Night will be drawing in soon. That’s when I’m at my most wide awake, so I can keep an eye on you. It’s not safe around here for one so young and precious.”

It didn’t feel much safer in the badger’s sett. It was pitch black and a tight squeeze through the first tunnel. But they struggled through to a more spacious area, where the badger flicked the switch on a torch and lit up the room. For the first time, the travellers could see their host and he could see them.

“Aaaaargh,” screamed Henry. “It’s a badger. Let me out, let me out!”

“What’s wrong, Henry?” asked Camille. “Please, don’t go.”

“Badgers eat hedgehogs. They are not even remotely scared of our prickles.”

“Oh, calm down,” demanded the badger. “I wouldn’t eat you or your kind if you were dipped in honey and covered in sugar. I’m a fruitarian.”

“A what?” Mardy asked.

“I only eat fruit. Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted….” The badger glowered at Henry, who was still shaking. “It’s not much, but it’s home. I found this light thing lying in the woods one night. It’s a magical thing – very useful when I have guests, which is not very often if truth be known. My reputation rather precedes me.”

“Your reputation?” asked Henry, still worried.

“As I said earlier, I’m the Masked Mauler. In my younger days, there was not a badger that could beat me in a brawl. I’ve got these for starters.” From his outstretched paw, he showed off his large, sharp claws. “If anyone ever invites you to climb in a sack for a badger brawl, just say no.”

“Oh, we will,” said Mardy, spinning quickly in a circle while keeping his terrified gaze on the claws.

“I’ve also got these,” said the badger, showing his bottom to everyone in the room. It was full of bites and scars. “No male badger worth his salt is without scars. But if you think these look bad, you should see the bums of the badgers I beat.” He chuckled to himself, looking off in to the corner as his former glories were played out in his memory. “Good times,” he said with a sigh.

“Why the word ‘masked’?” inquired Henry, suddenly feeling braver.

“Because of these black marks down my face. Duh. It’s a permanent mask.” The badger jumped from one spot to another on all fours, declaring in a rather strange voice: “I’m the Masked Mauler…I’m the Masked Mauler…I’m the Masked Mauler.”

The three friends looked at each other quizzically, then looked back at the badger who was again staring out in some kind of trance. He shook his head to snap himself out of it and added: “But my friends call be Bert.” With that, he promised to rustle up some food and entered a second chamber in his sett.

“That was weird,” said Mardy. The friends sat quietly, contemplating what they had just seen. Henry, who was thankful hedgehog meat was not on Bert’s menu, turned to Camille and saw something else to worry him.

“Oh no, Camille!” exclaimed Henry. “You’ve got quite a lump on your head from walking into that tree.”

Outside, the mist was no longer quite so dense. The birds flying overhead in search of Camille could now see more of the forest floor. But as the young unicorn and her friends had clambered below ground, the birds were not going to spot Camille today. They reported back to Camille’s mother that her daughter was still missing and the unicorn queen shed more tears.

Back inside the sett, Camille was telling Henry and Mardy: “My head does feel fuzzy. It’s like I’ve got a heartbeat in there. It’s kind of pounding.”

“What’s pounding?” said Bert, returning to the first chamber with an armful of grasses, nuts and berries.

“My head. I have a lump where I banged it on your tree.” Bert examined Camille’s forehead.

“Now I see,” said Bert calmly. “Suddenly all is clear.”

“It is?” asked Camille. “My lump has gone?”

“No, I mean all is clear in my mind. I’m no longer quite so confused over this place called Patience and your lost unicorn horn. Your lump will disappear, though, I promise you. In fact, a good night’s sleep and I bet all will be fine by the first light of dawn. First, though, we must feast.”

Badgers like to forage at night, so after the feast Bert left the three friends to sleep in his sett as he meandered through the woods and gathered the fruits of the forest. His return, just as the sun was starting to peek over the horizon, disturbed Henry and Mardy from their slumber. All three of them looked on in bewilderment and amazement.

Lying there in contented rest was Camille. Her lump had disappeared. There was something else in its place.

Camille stirred, opened her eyes and saw the three creatures staring at her. She was startled. “What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Come on, we need to show you something,” said Bert. Camille was worried.

They emerged from the sett and travelled in the direction of a pool of shimmering water. There was screeching and squawking overhead. The birds of the forest had renewed their mission to find Camille and could now see her wandering through the trees below. One – a nightingale – immediately flew back to inform Camille’s mother, while the others hovered overhead, certain not to let Camille out of their sight. Camille’s mother called on all her magical speed and raced to her child as quickly as the wind could carry her.

As Camille reached the pool of water, Bert quietly said: “Look in there, princess. It wasn’t a lump from a bump on the head. It was just the start of something. Now, you have found it.”

The birds on high and the friends nearby saw the little unicorn drop her head towards the water. Thanks to the help of the nightingale and the swift spirit of the wind, Camille’s mother arrived just in time to witness the scene.

Camille saw her reflection in the pool and let out an excited cry of joy. There in the middle of her forehead was a beautiful spiral unicorn horn in palest hues of blue.

“This pool, this place, must be Patience,” she uttered, “because it is here that I have found my unicorn horn.”

“No, my child,” said the unicorn queen. Camille turned and raced to her mother, nuzzling close and sighing with contentment. “Patience is not a place but a quality of character. It is the ability to stay calm and wait for what’s to come and not expect everything to happen exactly when you want it to. You have shown yourself to be impatient and caused me great concern. That is not the behaviour I expect of a princess.”

“Mother…I didn’t know…I’m so sorry.”

“My child, no unicorn is born with a unicorn horn. But within days it grows, as you have discovered. When I said it can be found in a place called patience, I didn’t expect you to go running off in search of it.”

“But all those animals – they all thought I was a horse,” said Camille.

“Ignorance can be another character flaw and sadly too many of the woodland creatures showed their ignorance that day. Let’s head home – we’ll show them the error of their ways. And along the path, perhaps you can introduce me to your new friends.”

Bert bowed before the unicorn queen. “Your Majesty, I am most honoured,” said the badger. He turned and bowed again, this time to Camille. “Your Highness, it is an honour to know you.”

Camille looked up at her mother and whispered: “When were you going to tell me I was a princess?”

“In good time, my child. Patience, remember. In all things, patience.”

Copyright: Phil Jones 2018