Walking through the deep forest, a knight passed across a stony place and chanced upon a huge brambly nest holding a frightful leathery egg. He hid himself and waited to see what creature would come to brood over such an egg, but none came, and the sky was slipping into night, and the air faltered coldly. He came closer, and feeling some life in it, he held it to his chest, and brought it home to his castle. He placed it by the hearth, and he cared for it.
Autumn rolled into winter, and winter into spring, and in the fullness of time the egg shook, and tore and cracked and when it hatched, it was, of course, a dragon. But the knight continued to care for it, for some reason known only to himself – the heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.
The dragon grew, and tested its wings, and breathed fire, and it went thundering about the countryside, tearing through the sky, blocking out the moon. The villagers came and said, “We cannot have this dragon louring over us like this,” but the knight sent them away, because he cared for the beast. And soon enough, barns were burnt, and sheep were stolen, and no one actually saw the dragon do such things, but everyone knows what dragons do, and they were afraid that their maidens would soon be carried off.
The peasants came again, brandishing pitchforks and big sticks and torches, and they said, “Either you kill this dragon right now, or we will hack it to pieces here on this very spot, and you as well.”
And the knight drew out his sword, and placing the point on the beast’s brow, between its eyes, he said, “This is not a dragon. This is a unicorn.”
The unicorn is the most magical, and the most beautiful of all creatures. But it is not born, it is not hatched. It is created, by love.
But some dragons remain always dragons.
It stretched the span of its scimitar wings, ascended to the sky, and blasted the village with a mighty spray of flame that showered the women and children in a fountain of death.
Then it flew away, a diminishing demon of scale and naked leather.
The villagers – the stench of the burnt flesh of their loved ones still sharp in their nostrils – rose like a great wailing and beat the knight unmercifully and cast him into a pit. And he was dragged before the king, and condemned as a sorcerer and sentenced to be flayed.
But even as the verdict was carried out, the sky grew black and a great wind rose. It was not the dragon, returning to rescue the knight. It was a wild storm, and blew so violently the people were scattered, and the knight crawled off and escaped.
He found in the forest a barren and secret place where he hid. He rested, drinking dew and eating such things as came to his lips. In time his flesh mended, even after such a torment. But his spirit was broken, and in bitterness his heart wept unceasingly.
He lived in silence among the stones, where no human voice was heard. Sometimes he imagined the prancing of silver hooves, but when he looked, only char-dark ravens hopped across the rocks, their long black beaks clacking like snapping flames.
After a time he went no more to look when some thing skittered over the slaggy waste. He dreamed no more, since dreams rise only from a spirit that is not broken.
The dragon has disappeared to strange countries, and memory of it is dim, like the fading of grief.
The knight alone mourns, with anguish as hot as the first flame of betrayal. His food is bitterness, and there is no comfort to be found in the silence of these stones, where ever he seeks to rest his head.
Winters have passed, and the forest is said to be haunted by monsters. A shepherdess tends her flock in the meadows of the wood, and a new lamb has wandered away and is lost. With trembling, the young woman enters the shadow of the trees, seeking after it.
A wolf has torn the lamb to pieces, and mad with the heat of blood it rises to attack her. With a mighty bound it leaps, its slavering jaws hot at her throat, its teeth now wet with the blood of two creatures – the lamb’s, its own – for its head has been crushed by the blow of a great stone.
The maiden is trapped under the weight of the huge wolf, and still death looms black in her vision, for the beast is not yet killed and the raw gasping of its breath is hot and savage on her breast.
In terror she sees a man, the man crouch and such struggle and he heaves the massive monster off the girl and flings it to the side. She rises, in terror, in terror, transfixed now at the horrible sight of the looming wild man before her – his scarred face – his hair matted as hard as scales – his hands clasped now before him and bubbling with blood.
Clutched together, his torn belly, blood pouring through his fingers like overflowing wine. What fateful, what tragic swipe of the fatal beast’s fearful claws has so torn him open, to make so deep and ghastly a wound?
The man sinks to his knees, sways, lays on his side with a soft sigh, curled like a sleeping child, like an unwanted child under a torn blanket of burned leather. The girl moves to him, kneeling, his head in her lap. She touches his torn skin, his hair, scales, his eyes, his eyes, his, no, not mad, no, not anguished, not sad, no, his kind, his kind eyes. His eyes, so full of gentleness, so filled with love.
Thus do dragons become unicorns – created by love.