The execution was to take place dawn the next morning. The clearing was empty except for Alak and Serenity, both tied back to back against a pole in the ground. Serenity had been too scared to speak so they said nothing. Alak wanted to say something to her, to comfort her, but the words sounded all wrong. They were going to die within a couple of hours at the first light of dawn.
How ironic, Alak thought. First my father is executed for something he didn’t do, and now I am to be executed for something I didn’t do. He lowered his head, trying his hardest not to cry. Serenity’s head rested against the back of his shoulder. He would not disturb her last few hours of dreaming by upsetting her. But a single tear did manage to squeeze its way out of his eye and fell, hot and burning, down his cheek.
Don’t cry, the voice came again in his mind, gentle as the summer breeze. Don’t cry, Alak. I’m here.
Alak looked up to see a milky white creature standing before him, as pearly white as the moon and had a faint glow around it. It looked to like a horse, but sleeker with a longer neck and cloven hooves, and had a long tail that looked like a lion’s. A silver horn spiraled up on its forehead.
Alak couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d thought unicorns had long been extinct since the end of the First Age. All that was left of them were the alicorns, unicorns that had been magically altered by elves to replace war horses. “I don’t mean to stare,” Alak apologized. “I thought unicorns had been extinct.”
The unicorn chuckled, the sound ringing like tiny silver bells in his mind. I am not a real unicorn, it explained in a voice that sounded neither male nor female and yet both. What you see is an illusion. But my magic is strong. I shall be able to help you.
Lowering its horn, the unicorn used its magic to untie the ropes that bond the prisoners. Serenity woke up and gasped. “A unicorn!” she gasped.
“It’s an illusion,” Alak informed her.
“What’s the difference? He’s gorgeous.”
Thank you, Daughter of Gondor, the unicorn replied. Now we must make haste. We must be out of Grey Wood before dawn. But do not run. Running will attract the centaurs’ attention.
Alak had no idea how they were supposed to exit Grey Wood in a matter of a few hours, but he said nothing. The unicorn brought the Silvan Sword to Alak, the weapon floating telepathically in front of it. This belongs in your hands only, it said. Alak took the sword, which seemed to burn slightly in his hands. He sheathed it and helped Serenity to her feet. They walked at a brisk pace, the unicorn in the lead as the plunged into the woods. They had no difficulty following it. The unicorn seemed to glow like a full moon in the midst of darkness. Alak was afraid it would attract every orc, goblin, and centaur in Grey Wood.
When he voiced this, the unicorn laughed again, making Alak feel somewhat foolish. Star Speaking is the one night a year centaurs completely drop their guard. But come dawn, they will scour every inch of Grey Wood until they find you. And as for orcs and goblins and other evil creatures, none dare touch a unicorn even if I am an illusion.
They walked without speaking. At first, thoughts whirled and tumbled and played relentlessly in Alak’s mind. As time passed, his head began to ache. Soon, his thoughts faded until one chanted to the rhythm of his pounding heart: Move forward.
His lungs burned as air forced its way into his chest. An invisible knife stabbed him in the side. The muscles in his legs screamed with pain and protest. How long have they been walking at this torturous pace? Two hours? Three hours? Dawn was fast approaching. They had to move on!
Serenity stumbled and fell. She just lay there, gasping in exhaustion. How easy it was just to stay here. Maybe the centaurs wouldn’t see her. Then she could sleep in the peace of the forest forever.
Someone grabbed her by the waist and pulled her to her feet. “No…” she protested softly.
“Yes, come on!” Alak exclaimed. “We have to keep going!”
We’re almost there, the unicorn spoke up. Hang on! Just another mile to go.
How they managed it, Alak had no idea but at the breaking point of sunrise, Alak and Serenity stumbled out of the forest and onto the Road leading to Mirkwood. The unicorn had vanished. “Where did he go?” Serenity asked, looking around almost heartbroken that it was gone.
“I didn’t even see it leave,” Alak declared. What a bizarre adventure this was becoming. The unicorn said that it was an illusion. Then what was it really? It had helped them escape, but had it only to destroy them for its own evil purposes?
“Alak?” Serenity spoke up. “What are you thinking about?”
He laughed. He couldn’t help it. She began laughing, too. Soon, they were sitting on the ground, holding each other and giggling hysterically. Only a few hours ago, they had felt only despair and regret, tied to a pole like a pair of dumb beasts, waiting for death. There had been no hope of escape. Now here they were outside of Grey Wood, alive and well and both next to refusing to believe it. It was as if a bolt of madness had struck them. They laughed. They had to. It was the only way to release the oppression and tension they felt in those woods. Anyone with sense would continue on his way. All they could do was laugh.
“Alak?” Serenity inquired once they managed to calm down.
She blushed a bit and said shyly, “Thank you for staying with me even when I didn’t want you to.”
Alak bowed his head. “Aw, it’s no…”
He was cut off when she kissed his cheek. All the blood went rushing up his face, and he stared wide-eyed at the ground as if his life depended on it. “No problem,” he squeaked. Then he coughed to clear his throat and stood. “Shall we continue, my lady?” he asked in a playful voice of one with high regard.
“But of course, my lord,” she replied, exaggerating the batting of her eyelashes as she took his hand. The sun began to shine with bright warmth as they marched down the Road.
“You enjoying yourself?”
“Well, considering I was almost killed, I’m having a wonderful time.”
“Oh. Me, too.”