"You realize what this means, your highness?" Kirden asked with a soft, sweet voice as he leaned closer to the young man on the throne. "There are no more unicorns. The prophecy, I fear, is coming to pass."
Amaro stood to the right of the throne with Master Teland, the elder mage. Amaro had never liked Kirden, and liked the man even less today, as Kirden stared intently at the king, waiting for him to speak.
King Charis gave the man a frown. "Not all dead," he replied. "I had a report of one in the Fardells just yesterday."
Kirden frowned. "We can only hope that's true, sire," he said with a bow of his head.
Amaro had the feeling Kirden didn't hope for the unicorns at all, but that was no secret. He didn't want to see Kirden displace the king, but if the unicorns -- the very symbols of the peace and prosperity of the royal family -- were gone, then the family that had ruled for five hundred years must step aside.
The prophecy was coming true. A member of the royal family must lead a unicorn through the town once every fifty years at the great celebration to renew their hold on the land.
The king dismissed the court. Amaro went with Teland, feeling the weight of the pronouncements. The thought of such drastic change --
Teland caught him by the arm. "We have to move quickly before Kirden can kill the last unicorn."
The words startled him on several levels; first that Kirden would do such a thing, which was beyond evil since the unicorns could curse the land. But second, that the two of them might have some way of catching a creature that could only be controlled by a member of the royal family.
Teland ordered horses from startled stable boys. Mages weren't apt to go anywhere fast.
They were out of the castle grounds before Amaro could think of a question to ask. Then they were in the town, and Teland lifted his hand for silence.
They were heading, Amaro realized, for the Fardells. And how far behind them would be Kirden?
"Your grandfather was King Mepin," Teland suddenly said when they reached the open road. "You know the stories about him and other women? They were true. One daughter grew up working in the castle. She married a bright boy who unfortunately died in a border skirmish. The mages agreed to take you in when you were born, and she went to live in a country village, away from everything that reminded her of what she'd lost. It was not an easy choice for her, but a good one. We've made sure she is happy. And we knew who -- what you were."
He rode on, staring at the man.
"Royal blood," he finally said.
Teland nodded. "You are going to help keep your cousin on the throne. Kirden wants to use an old prophecy to take power. He really should have considered who created the prophecy to begin with and what we would do to proect it."
"Of course. When the Royal Family came to power a lot of people claimed to be one of the line. Mages created the prophecy and the spell that tied the unicorns to the royal house. Unicorns weren't bothered by it. They got to parade around once every ten years, which they rather enjoyed. No one considered how killing the unicorns would be the easy answer to gaining the throne since that would doom the land."
"Fools," Amaro mumbled.
He'd have to come to terms with everything else later. He suspected the mages may have tampered to get him in their hands. He'd had a good life, so he had to weigh that against the fact he was about to make Kirden his enemy. Well, he didn't much like the man anyway.
Fardells was, actually, quite close. They arrived at the large, open land before noon.
"Off the horse and walk out ahead of me," Teland said, glancing over his shoulder. "Our hope is that Kirden believes he has time as long as the King doesn't leave to gather the unicorn."
Amaro was glad enough to be off the horse since he'd rarely gone anywhere in his nineteen years of life. Now he limped out into open ground, wondering how to get a unicorn --
No need to worry. He'd barely gone a couple yards before one stepped out of the trees, the glow from the horn drawing his attention. And another. And four more. The largest walked straight to him and lowered his head.
Someone should have told him they could speak. He wouldn't have made the funny little yelp.
"You are not who we expected," the unicorn said. And then, after the yelp -- "Is there a problem?"
"No, fine. I'm not what I expected either. What now?"
"You lead us to town and I have a very pointed discussion with Lord Kirden," he said. He turned a little and with a twist of his head, indicated a long deep cut in his side.
"I can help," Amaro said and spread healing magic over the wound.
"Oh much nicer, yes. Mage huh? But not King -- not from the way you're dressed."
"My cousin is still the king. I'm just as happy to have it stay that way."
"Wise," the unicorn said. "Let's go talk to Kirden, shall we?"
Amaro suspected unicorns were a bit bloodthirsty.
Unfortunately, the unicorns didn't get their chance at Kirden, who had barely started along the trail when he spotted the group approaching town. He turned tail and ran away from the castle.
They had a good celebration that year. King Charis and Amaro agreed not to make anything of their blood relationship, but they became good friends. The unicorns liked him as well, and for as long as the two lived, the kingdom had peace and prosperity.
Kirden didn't do nearly as well after the unicorns and mages cursed him.