The Lyte Brigade moves out, then continues moving out for the next several hours before deciding to stop in the shade of a grove of trees by the roadside. They take the opportunity to rest and eat a quick meal.
So far, Tancred is enjoying himself. He can’t even remember the last time he’s dwelled on his many, many shameful losses at chess to Sally. Except for right now, he supposes. He quickly pushes such thoughts out of mind. He knows that the Lyte Brigade needs his complete and undivided attention right now, and so he resolves to devote himself entirely to the assistance of his guildmates and playing his part in ensuring their victory over these bandits.
Besides, it’s such a nice day, that he won’t ruin it with gloomy thoughts of defeat after defeat on the chessboard.
“Isn’t this bracing?” he asks the others. “Fresh air. Exercise. Not a cloud in the sky. A lovely breeze. Perfect weather for a proper adventure! I’m finally starting to feel like a real knight. Going on a quest and all. Isn’t that what knights are supposed to do?”
“I’m just glad I invested in some new walking boots,” Amara says, fanning herself with her hand. “I can’t recall the last time I’ve walked this much.”
“At least you’re tall,” Pela notes. “How do you think I feel? My legs are so short, I’ve had to take twice as many steps to keep up with you all.”
She looks hopefully up at Nolan.
“Hey, Captain, can I have a horse?”
“I don’t think we have the money for a horse,” Nolan says.
“Oh. What about a wagon?” Pela asks. “I can ride in it and I could be, like, in charge of guarding our luggage.”
“We’ll talk about it when we get back,” Nolan offers.
“You sound like my Dad,” Pela mutters.
“Miss Falcata? Is something wrong?” Tancred asks, noticing the Amazon spring to her feet and reaching for her spear. “Are we under attack?”
She raises a finger to her lips.
“There is something hiding in the trees,” she says quietly. “It has been following us for a while now.”
“Can you tell what it is?” Nolan asks, moving beside the Amazon and readying his sword and shield.
Falcata shakes her head.
“It’s getting closer,” Matilda notes, pointing to where the as-yet unseen interloper is moving through the trees with a growing rustling of leaves.
Nolan catches glimpses of a shape: large and pale. And four-legged. He hesitates and lowers his sword.
“Is that a horse?” he wonders aloud.
“Do horses usually live in forests?” Pela asks. “Maybe it’s lost.”
“It’s pointy,” Matilda notes.
“That’s not a horse,” Nolan realises. “It’s a—”
“—Unicorn?” Tancred says. “Well. That’s not what I was expecting.”
The Lyte Brigade breathes a collective sigh of relief. Unicorns are generally known to be docile and curious around humans. In fact, Tancred has read that most unicorn-related injuries are accidental, arising from people being overly incautious around the unicorn’s horns and finding themselves unintentionally poked.
The unicorn is much like a typical horse, though with several notable exceptions. Its coat is sky blue, and its mane is a pale purple. It has a large spiral horn jutting from the centre of its head. And it seems to possess an almost humanlike level of intelligence as it happily approaches the six adventurers.
“If Grandfather were here, I’m sure he’d tell us all about all the von Ivanhoe-Hauteburgs who’ve used a unicorn as their personal arms,” Tancred notes.
“The Amazons consider crossing paths with a unicorn a good omen,” Falcata says. “They are sacred to our goddess Parthene.”
“And if it sees its shadow, that’s six more weeks of winter, right?” Matilda asks.
Nolan stares sceptically at his sister. “Isn’t that beavers?”
“Well,” Melisa says. “I know it’s not badgers.”
The unicorn approaches the group, trotting towards them and graciously keeping its horn pointed away from any of their faces.
“This is a very good omen,” Falcata says quietly.
The whole group stands around the unicorn to ooh and ah and make the most of this rare encounter. For its part, the unicorn seems quite pleased to be the centre of attention as the members of the Lyte Brigade rub its flanks and run their fingers through its luxuriant, shimmering mane.
Melisa is smiling the most happily of them all. She’s always liked unicorns, though she tries to keep both that fact, and the giddy smile currently creeping across her face, hidden.
“Hey, Falcata,” Pela asks suddenly as the others are absorbed by ooh-ing and aah-ing at the unicorn. “What kind of omen is this?”
She points up to the unicorn, which has begun eating her hair.
“I do not know,” the Amazon admits quietly.
“Help?” Pela asks, attempting to pull her hair away from the unicorn. “Ow. Ow. Ow!”
She quickly discovers she’s fighting a losing battle and the unicorn refuses to relinquish her hair. Apparently, it enjoys the taste.
Amara steps resolutely towards the unicorn. “Stop that! You’re a unicorn! You’re supposed to be a graceful, elegant creature. Yet here you are chewing on one of my friends like… like a common goat!”
The unicorn turns towards Amara and seems to regard her gravely for a moment before it snorts derisively, lets go of Pela’s hair, then gallops off with a haughty flip of its mane.
“And don’t come back until you’ve improved your attitude!” Amara calls after the unicorn.
“Did we just get disrespected by a horse?” Matilda mutters. “Nolan, you are not paying me enough for this.”
“Ow,” Pela groans. She reaches up to make sure that her hair is still attached to her head. Fortunately, her hair is still largely intact.
Unfortunately, it is also covered in unicorn slobber.