HornSight

Submitted into Contest #51 in response to: Write about someone who has a superpower.... view prompt

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Fantasy

Unya startled awake. The knobbly horn on her forehead was throbbing uncomfortably. Unya passed her hand lightly over the horn, and as she did so, a sinking feeling clenched her stomach, the familiar sinking feeling of knowing, with the dark but absolute certainty of HornSight, that her mother, Cyra, at this moment, was leading the women of Xevia into battle beneath the bright and familiar banner of The Horned Queen. HornSight was Queen Cyra’s special gift from her father, the legendary Unicorn Nightwind.

               “My mother---your grandmother---was Letha, a most ordinary and humble girl.” Unya’s mother had told the tale so many times that Unya could hear it now, as if her mother were sitting beside her on her sleeping pallet. “But Nightwind came from afar to find a Queen, a powerful woman to guard this land.”

               “What did Nightwind look like? And where did he come from? And why?” Unya had always asked, when she was a little girl.

               “Nightwind was the Chief of the Unicorns who were chased faraway from these islands by men.”

               “Men like the Balryans?” Unya would always ask, for the Balryans, from the nearest island, were the Xevians’ constant enemy, especially now that the Xevian women no longer chose them as

               And Cyra would nod, and smile at how her daughter remembered before going on: “Nightwind was enormous, strong, white as snow, with a horn that shone with rainbow lights of purple, pink, and gold to show his power, the power we call HornSight. He found some of the Balryans to be sympathetic to---or at least in awe of ---him and his cause, but in the end, it was not enough. My father knew that the unicorns would have to yield, and he sought to find a woman who would safeguard---and fight for--- these islands against the day when the unicorns could return.”

               “And he found Grandmother.” Unya would say, grinning.

               “Yes, and he gave her a sword, the sword I wear that we call Hope’s Heart, to help her in her rule of these lands. But to her daughter, born to Letha from Nightwind’s own seed, came the horn, and with it the special gift of HornSight.”

               “And it came to her granddaughter too!” Unya would crow delightedly.

               “Yes, your father Arion was Nightwind’s own son, so you too have HornSight, my daughter.” Even now, a dark shadow always passed over Cyra’s face when she spoke of Arion, the powerful unicorn who had ravaged her so briefly with such tenderness and strength and then returned to his own faraway lands, each knowing that they might never see each other again.

               Perhaps to help dissipate the darkness, Unya would always tug at her mother’s hand, bringing the queen’s attention back to the next question, “Mother, if the Unicorns want this land, why could they not remain and fight the Balryans?” For the return of the Unicorns was Unya’s dearest and deepest wish.

               “It is not their way, Unya. The unicorns are peace-loving before all else. They are creatures of great wisdom, but their peace is their strength, their world, their heart; without it, they are lost. That is why, having lived so long in the peaceful solitude and beauty of this island, they permitted themselves to be chased away…and it is why they will not return until peace has come back to Xevia. They know that they cannot coexist with the unpeaceful spirit of the Balryans, but they know that they are able to live with us.”

               “How do they know…since we too go to battle?”

               “Well, once Xevian natives did live in peace with the unicorns here, before the the Balryans began to challenge us. And even now, little one, our fighting only means that we women of Xevia choose to make and craft and mold our peace by fighting for it. The Balryans fight for vengeance, for the cold-blooded pride of the kill. That is the Balryan spirit that the unicorns could not accept.” Here, Cyra would always pause. “Remember, Unya, when you are Queen, take your example from your father and your grandfather. Use your power only to make peace. Your HornSight will show you many things, but do not abuse its power by using your visions for vengeance or evil.”

               The last question Unya asked was always the same. “Mother, someday must I truly be the Queen?” And the answer was always yes.

               Unya was drawn back from her daydreams to the wailing sound of battle alarms, shrill and shrieking, that confirmed her HornSight and seemed to penetrate to her very bones. She rose and hurried to dress as the alarms’ intensity increased, mingled with the occasional war whoop as the women of Xevia rushed into battle. “Princess! The Balryans have landed on the southern shore.” Unya’s best friend, Portia, rushed into the chamber, still buckling her sword around her waist.

               “Slow down, Portia, take a breath and fasten your sword properly or it will fall from your belt as you ride to battle!” Unya fastened her own belt and secured her scabbard, sliding her own sword, Darkheart, into place and finding comfort in its weight at her hip.  “Xevia is a small island dynasty of women, and the Balryans, being male, are incredulous. Not only do we no longer choose them as lovers and spouses and so deprive them of the chance to rule our bodies, but they have not yet even conquered us in their simple striving to rule our land! An attack from the south might have been expected; it is our weakest point. But the Balryans will see today that even our weakest point is truly a stronghold!” At Unya’s words, Portia grinned, and together, the two women ran for their horses. Unya had always wondered what it would be like to be more like her father and grandfather---to have a unicorn’s body, not just a horn, and to be able to gallop, on her own power, toward the beach. But for now, she was content to turn her cream-colored stallion, Nuala, sharply toward Xevia’s southern coast as Portia followed. 

               As Unya neared the coast, she instinctively began to search out the bright royal flag that would signal her mother’s presence and proclaim her safety. The Balryans, large and bald and darkly-clad, were still swarming inland from their fleet of small ships, but many were being cut down almost immediately by the Xevians, whose flowing white gowns belied the chainmail vest and thick white leather pants and boots beneath. Sighting her mother’s flag at the far end of the beach, Unya breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the pinch of the chainmail across her chest as she rode into the thick of the battle, dispatching several Balryans in her path.

Suddenly Nuala sidestepped an oncoming spear and stumbled in the sand; Unya hauled on the reins to keep the stallion on her feet, floundering to wield Darkheart at the same time. But as quick as that, Portia and Anne were at her side, and the spear’s owner fell to their blows.

“Thank you!” Unya shouted to them over the din.

“Princess, there is trouble.” Anne cried. “Over there, look, the flag! It is going down!” And Unya rode for her mother.

+++++

The Queen’s women had dragged her back from the shore, and as the fighting continued on the beach, several clustered around her while others kept a tight, close, guard around the circle of trees where they were hidden. Even as she swung herself down from Nuala, Unya was already running, elbowing blindly past the guards and the covey of hovering women to kneel at her mother’s side.

“They do not pursue me any longer,” the Queen whispered. “for they know he has dealt me a fatal wound. So there is no need,” she paused to draw in a ragged breath. “for such a guard. Tell the women…”

“Mother! Mother, don’t say such things.” Unya leaned close, her mouth to her mother’s ear. Ria, one of Xevia’s healers, knelt quietly on the other side of Cyra, her hands busily working to staunch the bloodflow. But the Queen’s face only grew whiter and, even through the tears building in her eyes, Unya could see her mother fighting for the strength to say more. “What is it, Mother? Just lie quietly now. Everything will be alright.”

“My daughter, remember. Peace. Only for peace.” Cyra gasped.

“Mother,” Unya fought to keep her voice from rising, not wanting the gathered women to hear her words. “you cannot ask that of me anymore. I must avenge…”

“No, Unya. Peace. I will be with you…..” Cyra was silent, and Unya saw Ria bow her head, as the other women around them bowed deeply in reverence.

“It is over,” Unya thought. “My mother is gone. And now I am Queen.” And again, through the spasms of her weeping, her horn throbbed.

+++++

Unya shook her head as if to shake loose the pain and grief that haunted her. Two days had passed since the battle that had taken her mother’s life. Through the fiercest and supremely draining efforts of every Xevian woman of battle age, the Balyrans had once again driven away. But even as the sword Hope’s Heart hung heavy and sure at her hip, Unya did not have much faith that this shaky peace would last. Her most immediate hope was to be able to give her mother fitting farewell rites before another battle broke. Now though, she could not concentrate on the funeral plans, for her horn was pulsing so that her whole head ached. Since her mother’s death, Unya had feared what her HornSight would show her, but now, in the desperation of blinding pain, she finally pressed both hands to her horn and closed her eyes.  

Immediately the scene of the battle was vivid before her….her mother at the far end of the beach, fighting alongside her closest friends, Raven and Marya, the flag above her waving proudly to mark her progress as she drove back the oncoming Balryans. Unya could see her mother’s flashing gray eyes and long silvery hair, tendrils slipping into her face and blowing in the breeze as she guided her stallion forward through the crush of men. Then Unya saw one man, more gaunt than the rest, but still quite large, scuttling through the press of the battle. Unya could see the tip, not of a sword, but of a smaller sharp dagger, flashing in the sun through the black folds of the man’s garments. In the intensity of the vision, Unya cried out, “Mother, look out! Mother!” Dimly, as if from a far distance, she heard Marya and Ria and dear Portia enter her chambers, heard their voices and felt their hands as they tried to rouse her from this waking nightmare. But she could not respond to them, could only watch as the man, unnoticed, drove his unseen dagger into the neck of her mother’s stallion. As the stallion fell, Unya in her vision wailed aloud, watching the man tower over the flailing Queen and use the dagger again, this time driving it deep to slice into her mother’s groin. The fatal wound. Unya saw, with sickening clarity, the man, crab-like, scurrying away toward the forest as the royal flag fell in chaos.

The vision subsided into darkness and Unya opened her eyes, finding herself lying on her pallet, ringed round by concerned friends.

“Y—your Highness…Unya…what has happened? Are you alright?”

“Go back to the southern shore. Search the beach and the surrounding woods. And do not fail to bring me the man you find there.” And Unya was surprised at the new coldness she heard in her own voice.

+++++

Standing before her, he looked older, smaller, and even thinner than she had suspected. Great dark rings were hollowed out around his eyes, but he watched her intently. After these days of turmoil and grief, Unya’s rage, burning deep in her gut, was all the strength she had left, but it would be enough, she thought, to dispatch her mother’s killer. As seemed fitting, she had had the gallows erected here on the beach in the very spot where the royal flag had last flown, and the women awaited only her final order to take the man up to the gibbet. Once this was over, this burning rage would begin to subside and Unya hoped she would be able to lay her mother to rest, in peace.

“P—please, my lady…” Unya was surprised to hear him speak.

“Do you dare make a request of me, you who killed our Queen?”

“But—you must hear me. Yes, I killed her. But once…once I tried to help him.”

“This Balryan makes no sense. Take him to his death.” Unya ordered. But as the women came forward to take hold of him and drag him away, the man twisted in their grasp to face Unya once again.

“No---no,” he cried. “I am not—I am no longer---Balryan. They paid me to do this, and I needed the coins I earned. I am a bounty hunter of sorts, a mercenary if you want. I am not proud of it, but it is all I have. And I will not have the strength to do it much longer.” With his tied hands, the man gestured toward his white hair. “My age is catching up with me at last.”

“I do not believe that you are not Balryan, for you are dressed as a common Balryan soldier.” Unya pointed out.

“But it is true, Unya,” Portia put in softly. “We found a bag of silver coins in his garments.” 

“Even if you are telling the truth, you are still my mother’s killer.”

“But I am proud---“ the man said, struggling against the women’s efforts to move him toward the gallows. “that once I helped Nightwind. Who I believe was your grandfather.” At these words, Unya swayed suddenly.

“You---you---what?” The women let go of him, and the man stood quietly before her, meeting Unya’s eyes as he told his story.

“I am Smokes. I was a proud Balryan, years ago when the unicorns still lived on this island, and I knew Nightwind…and the others, even little Arion.” Unya flinched at her father’s name, but Smokes continued. “When it was clear that most of my people sought only to conquer Xevia and, in their greed for this land, would not accept a peaceful coexistence with the unicorns, Nightwind confided in me. He said he sought a woman to whom he could entrust this land. And I…I knew a woman of great strength and fire. Her name was Letha.”

“Letha! But Letha is the name of…”

“Yes, Letha was your grandmother. She was  my truest love and…and she was to be my wife, you see, but I gave her to Nightwind, to this island. They---they became lovers. I knew it was right from the first moment I saw her look at him.” He looked at the sand for a moment and Unya thought she saw a tear splash down onto his bound hands before he went on. “Once Letha was Queen and Nightwind and the unicorns were leaving, well, after that, at first, I wanted nothing to do with the Balryans and their ways. But I did not fit---I did not fit anywhere, not with the unicorns where they were going, not here with the women on Xevia, not anywhere. I suppose my loneliness has made me bitter along the way; perhaps that is why I returned to the Balryans’ land and agreed to kill even Cyra, Arion’s own daughter. But underneath everything else I have done, I am still proud of the woman I love and proud that I gave her to this island and to her great horned lover.”

Hearing all this, Unya sat down, falteringly, on the chair that was always in readiness for the Queen she now was. Smokes diffidently shambled over to stand beside her, and she looked up at him.

“I---I have a power..." she told him. "the things I see---my mother told me never to use what my power might show me in vengeance. I almost did. And if I had, I would have killed you. I can’t forgive you---yet--- it will take time. There is still so much we have to talk about, so much I want---need—to know. But, for now, I think----I think you should be with me at my mother’s funeral.”

Unya rose and, as she walked away from the beach with Smokes at her side, the women of the island who were her companions and helpmates streaming along behind them, she felt a new presence. It was as if her mother and grandmother walked with her, and her father and grandfather as well, all their horns shining in the pink and purple and gold of their power, the power of Hornsight. 

July 22, 2020 20:10

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