The Unicorn Dilemma



Spring again, time to sacrifice a virgin to the forest dragon.

Near the edge of the glade, MaryLynn primly sat on the moss-coated log and examined the manacle that bound her wrist to the massive oak. With a deft squeeze of her hand, she slipped the iron from her hand, massaged her wrist, and then restored the bond.

Morning light streamed through the upper tree branches and misted dew from the open meadow. The meadow rolled green with flashes of yellow dandelions, splashes of red poppy, and a spectacle of violets. The grand oak shed strands of golden pollen that merged into the composting leaves lining the woodland floor. Beyond the glade, the deep woods thickened to a darkness that quieted the songbirds.

A single red rose rested in the lap of her white silk dress.

MaryLynn adjusted the garland of daisies woven into her long blond hair. She breathed deeply. The air smelled of humus and flowers. She sighed.

From the edge of the woods came a shuffle and a tentative push against the bramble. MaryLynn gasped as the white shadow pushed from the dark tangle of leaf and wood. The first time she had seen the creature, she thought it was a white stallion as pale and untouched as her gown, but now she knew better.

One, two, and then three shivers rippled from the beast's shoulder to withers and echoed from croup to buttock. The creature tossed its head to reveal a single horn that spiraled from its forelock.

The unicorn had returned. 

The creature pawed the ground with nervous energy. It took a tentative step toward her.

MaryLynn smoothed her dress and demurely clasped the rose in her lap. She waited. She anticipated.

Soundlessly, one hesitant step after another, the unicorn paced toward her. Its eyes rolled with fear, and the beast seemed compelled towards her, unable to control its destiny.

MaryLynn spoke no word, yet she could not help a nascent smile.

Soon the magnificent beast stood before her, poised to flee, but unable to turn away. Its nostrils flared. The unicorn's breath smelled of exotic spices. It snorted and pawed the ground as if to free itself from unseen bonds. Each ear flicked independently, nervously.

MaryLynn reached toward the unicorn. Slowly, the unicorn lowered its head for the girl to stroke.

MaryLynn stopped to regard her manacle. The chain had enough slack for her to touch the unicorn, but...

The dull thud of hoof beats startled the unicorn, and a knight in gleaming armor plunged from the woods onto the glade. The unicorn fled into the forest, and soon the shadows concealed its retreat behind a rustle of leaves.

With a jingle of chainmail, the knight dismounted and used both hands to plunge his sword into the ground. The hilt quivered. He dropped his helmet and regarded MaryLynn. His smile unleashed a twinkle of light that danced across his front tooth and flashed to his eye.

MaryLynn sat on the moss-coated log at the forest's edge. She ignored the manacle that bound her to the sylvan oak at the edge of the glade. She adjusted her white, silk dress. She avoided the thorns and inserted the red rose into her hair garland, and then she primly folded her hands in her lap.

She arched an eyebrow, smiled, and said to the knight, "I suppose you are here to slay the dragon and save the virgin."

The knights stepped forward, peeled off his gloves, and loosened his tunic to reveal his chainmail shirt. "Actually, I have a completely different strategy in mind." He let the gloves drop to the ground and pulled at the waistband that bound his tunic.

"Perhaps," MaryLynn said, "but if that is your strategy, you will need a much larger lance."

The blast of dragon's breath struck the knight before he could take another step. The knight's armor glowed with the heat and caramelized him into a tasty morsel. His white-hot chainmail toasted a grill pattern, which enhanced the crunchy flavor.



King Wilhelm studied Sir George's face for a long moment. "You say that the forest dragon is actually a girl who lures knights to their death. She sounds more like a witch to me."

"She is no witch," George said. He hated these sessions at the royal court. The solitude of the open countryside suited him much better. "She is at times a girl, a gentle, beautiful girl at that. At other times, she is a dragon, an impressive, ferocious dragon, thrice the size of a warhorse. But she casts no spells nor brews any potions."

Sir Gagalot swaggered to George. "How do you know that?" he demanded.

"I, er..." George's face reddened.

Gagalot pursued him. "If we believe your story, then this she-dragon has slain and devoured more than a few knights. You claim to be the great dragon slayer. How many dragons now? Three, perhaps four. Why have you not slain this dragon? Did you witness this dragon kill good knights and aid them not? What treason works here?"

George gripped his sword hilt.

The King extended his voice. "Sir George restrain yourself until we complete this discussion. Careful, Sir Gagalot, do not impugn a knight's honor without good cause, especially a knight with a short temper. Sir George, explain how you came by this knowledge of a most peculiar dragon."

George felt fresh embarrassment flush the anger from his face. "I, uh, I... A unicorn told me."

"Unicorn," Gagalot shouted. He laughed and spun round, arms extended, hands waving to encourage the court to join his merriment. When the laughter quieted, he thrust his prominent nose close to George's face. George winced. Gagalot's breath smelled of garlic.

"Everyone knows that a unicorn will only speak to a virgin," Gagalot said. "Are you some sort of sissy knight?"

With a roar of anger, George unsheathed his sword in one liquid motion that ended with Gagalot cleaved from shoulder to hip.

The King winced as blood splattered across the white ram-skin rug at his feet. The court gasped and fell silent except for one old woman who still twittered about sissy knights.

"Sir Gagalot, I warned you of Sir George's temper. Ah well, 'tis too late to chastise you further, but Sir George, consider the mess."

George surveyed the blood where it seeped into the stone floor. "I will see to it, Your Majesty."

"I mean all of it, George, not just the gore here. We can't have a girl, a dragon--whatever she be--luring knights to their death. 'Tis bad for morale. See to all of that." The King waved his hand in dismissal.

"But, Your Majesty," George said. "I dare not strike a woman."

The King touched forefinger to lip to caution silence. "Woman or dragon, you will see to the problem, George."



When Sir Waldo's wife reported her husband missing in the woods, George spurred his horse to the northern forest that bordered Waldo's keep. After a furious day's ride, he approached Waldo's castle and summoned the missing knight's squire.

The squire met him at the portcullis and whispered to George, in a confidential, man-to-man tone, "I did not tell Milady all. There was a woman at the edge of the woods. Lured by her beauty, Sir Waldo followed her into the deep forest. From the commotion that ensued, I believe a dragon has taken them both."

George handed the squire the reins to his destrier. "Care for my weary horse while I attend the dragon."

"But, Sir George," said the boy. "You leave your weapons and armor with the horse. How can you, unarmed, defeat the dragon?"

George snugged a poniard in the waistband about his tunic. "Each dragon requires its own approach."

He turned from the castle and marched into the forest. A few miles into the mass of trees, sunset forced him to an uneasy rest against the base of a tired pine. He spiked his dagger within easy reach in case a predator strayed too close. While his mind impatiently raced ahead, he waited for the dawn.



At morning light, by the edge of the glade, MaryLynn primly sat on the moss-coated log. She bothered not with the fake manacle for she did not plan to hunt that day. Still, she wore her white silk dress. A wreath of daisies interwove her hair, and a single red rose rested in her lap.

She crossed her ankles and rested her hands across the rose in her lap. She was well-fed and contented.

From the thicket came a rustle of leaves, a snap of twigs, a flex of branches. The unicorn pushed through the underbrush into the meadow.

MaryLynn drew a sharp breath. Her heart skipped. She put an alabaster hand to her breast. Again, the unicorn. She had loved the creature from the first moment she saw it.

The unicorn nudged forward another cautious step.

MaryLynn smoothed her dress and demurely clasped the rose in her lap. She waited. She anticipated.

Soundlessly, one hesitant step after another, the unicorn edged toward her. Its eyes rolled with fear, and the beast seemed compelled toward her, unable to control its destiny.

MaryLynn spoke no word, but a wisp of a smile formed on her lips.

Soon the magnificent beast stood before her, poised to flee, but unable to turn away. Its nostrils flared. The unicorn's breath smelled of exotic spices. It snorted and pawed the ground as if to escape from unseen bonds. Each ear flicked independently, impatiently.

MaryLynn reached toward the unicorn. Slowly, the unicorn lowered its head for the girl to stroke.

She touched the creature's nose, caressed his forehead, combed his forelock, and shyly fondled his horn. The unicorn trembled. A tear rolled from one eye.

The unicorn spoke. "Sir George comes to slay you. How can I stay his hand?"

"Sir George?" MaryLynn said. "I know that name. The dragon slayer is he?"

The unicorn stepped back from her caress. "Yes. He has killed three dragons."

"And I, as many knights. Does that mean we are well-matched?"

"The King ordered Sir George to stop you from killing knights."

She stood. "And I, MaryLynn, have set myself the task of stopping knights, particularly Sir George, from slaying more dragons."

"Please," the unicorn said. "George is a powerful knight. I cannot bear the thought that he might kill you, for I have loved you from the first moment I saw you."

MaryLynn felt her heart melt. She reached for the unicorn, but he stepped back. She must reassure him. Her white silk dress dropped to the ground as she reformed in a mass of purple smoke and fire. Near the fallen puddle of clothes, the abandoned red rose contrasted against the green grass. A single petal fell from the rose.

The air swirled with the odor of flame and sulfur. MaryLynn towered over the unicorn as she assumed full dragon form. Her tail wickedly flicked, her small wings stroked to balance her on her hind legs. Her iridescent scales sparkled and rainbowed the morning sun.

From the corner of her mouth, smoke wisped through her gleaming teeth. She growled. "Could Sir George stand against all this?"

The unicorn stood his ground. The tremble left his body. The fear deserted his eyes. "Perhaps." The unicorn's voice was cold. "But it is a battle I wish never to see."

MaryLynn hesitated. Perhaps her beloved unicorn was right. Perhaps enough dragons and knights had died. She reassembled into a girl and stood naked before the unicorn. As she approached the creature, again he trembled. His hind legs gave way and he sat heavily on his haunches like a waiting dog. His horn wavered forlornly as his desperate eyes searched for escape.

MaryLynn nuzzled his nose and hugged his neck. "Do not fear, my sweet unicorn. I, too, loved you the moment I first saw you. I could never hurt you."

The unicorn shimmered and reformed into a powerful young man. Like the unicorn, he too was naked.

MaryLynn stepped back. "Who are you?"

The man rose from his haunches. His voice was husky. "I am George."

MaryLynn swelled to half again his size. Raw hormones extruded immature wings through her shoulder blades. Her half-formed tail thrashed the ground. Her vision clouded with red anger. A suggestion of flame escaped her nostrils and the air filled with the pungent smell of sulfur.

George blinked and sneezed, but he did not step back. "I love you." He turned his empty hands palm up. "I hold no weapon, but never could I strike you ere I did. To prove my love, I commend myself to your mercy."

Marylyn was confused. "You, the unicorn, whom I love, are Sir George, the dragon slayer, whom I despise?" Her resolve waivered.

"And you MaryLynn, whom I love are the dragon I am foresworn to stop, but nevermore shall I lift my hand against any dragon as surely as I love you with my life." He stepped toward her and extended his arms. "I raise my arms only to embrace you whether for my love or for my death."

She hesitated, and then, once more all girl, she rushed into his arms. His warmth consumed her, and their bodies melded.

"What do we do now?" she whispered.

His gentle laugh vibrated against her. He stroked her hair and pulled back to look full into her face. "Like porcupines, we proceed very carefully."

She crooked her naked leg about his knee and molded herself to him. Her bare foot discovered the dagger strapped to his ankle. He tensed for a moment as her foot explored the poniard. He grinned apologetically, shrugged, and then nuzzled his face into her hair.

As a reminder that she was not helpless, she exhaled a brimstone taint of breath against his neck before she snuggled in his arms.

 "Yes, My Love," she sighed, "very carefully, indeed."