This is a first draft of Chapter 8 of The Unicorn Guide, the fourth book in the 11 Quests series. Books 4, 5 and 6 tell a new story, so you can read The Unicorn Guide even if you haven’t yet read the first three books. Since this is a first draft, if you spot any errors please let me know! I’d be happy to find out in email and fix it. Feel free to send along any other comments you may have. Make sure you read Chapter 1 first!
Running Along the Border
After reaching the end of the part of the border for which the unicorns were responsible, Esmeralda and Tumi returned to the Unicorn’s Glade for the night. They were both quite hungry. Tumi quickly devoured a mealfruit while Esmeralda started grazing in the Glade.
Esmeralda’s father approached. “Was the border secure, Esmeralda?” Eduardo asked.
“Yes, Father,” she replied. “We didn’t see anyone who had ventured into the Lost Jungle.”
“We saw this giant machine, and Esmeralda made it so that the machine couldn’t harm any more trees!” Tumi exclaimed.
Esmeralda glanced sharply at Tumi.
“What is this, Esmeralda?” Eduardo asked. “You tampered with a human machine? On the other side of the border? You know that you should not cross the border. Doing so puts the Lost Jungle in jeopardy, should anyone see you.”
“No one saw us, Father,” she said. “All of the men had left. The machine was really close to the border, and I was worried that they might soon accidentally break through the border.”
“Those machines have been close to the border before. I do not know all of the secrets of the border’s magic, but I do know that the people come near to the border, but they do not cross it. I guess there is no harm done, since no one saw you. Breaking their machine will not stop the people, but it will slow them down.”
Esmeralda’s head drooped a little. “I thought I was helping the herd.”
Eduardo touched his horn to hers and used it to lift her head back up. “Patrolling our border helps the herd, but crossing it can be dangerous for us. Protecting the herd involves knowing both what to do and what not to do. You’re doing just fine during your First Protection.”
“Thank you, Father.”
A short time later, the herd settled down to sleep, though “settling down” did not mean “lying down” as it does for humans. The unicorns slept much like horses do: standing up with their weight adjusted on their legs in a manner that they find comfortable.
“Good night, Esmeralda. And thank you for showing me the border,” Tumi said.
“You’re welcome. I enjoyed it, even though you are a human,” she replied. “Good night, Tumi.”
Tumi stretched out on the ground and enjoyed the unusually clear view of the stars that the Unicorn’s Glade offered him. He felt completely safe among the unicorns and was grateful that they allowed him to stay with them. Sleeping on the soft grass was much more pleasant than up in a tree with a vine around his hand.
The next morning, the air was heavy with warmth and moisture. The sun was shining, but Tumi felt certain that rain was coming. He wasn’t sure what he would do on this day. It was already the fourth day of his Usimaro and everything was going much better than he had ever imagined possible.
The herd had dispersed through the jungle, each unicorn going about its business for the day. Unlike horses, unicorns were protected well enough by their horns that they didn’t feel the need to stick together as a herd all the time. Esmeralda was still in the Unicorn’s Glade.
“Good morning, Esmeralda,” Tumi said as he approached her.
“Good morning, Tumi,” she replied.
“Is there anything you need to do now for your First Protection?”
“Not now. I just need to keep my eyes and ears open for any trouble, but otherwise I can do whatever I want.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to go see if those people got their machine running again!”
Esmeralda turned and galloped down the path that she and Tumi had taken the day before. Tumi went racing after her, but there was no way he could keep up with a unicorn, even though she wasn’t able to run full speed because of the bushes and trees. Esmeralda did occasionally stop and stare at Tumi impatiently while he caught up.
Tumi was out of breath by the time they could see the clearing. The men were back and appeared to be trying to repair the machine. The tires were still flat and black smoke billowed forth from the engine until one of the men started yelling at the others.
“Can we go to where we were yesterday to get a better look?” Tumi asked.
“Yes, let’s do that,” Esmeralda replied, racing off once again, forcing Tumi to run after her.
Once again, they followed the split in the path. This time, they stopped short of the border. Tumi could just barely see that the border was about two feet in front of them on the path.
They were close enough to the men that they could see the angry looks on their faces. One of the angry faces, the one belonging to the horse rider, turned and looked straight at Tumi and Esmeralda.
“I think he saw us,” Tumi exclaimed, a little too loudly.
“Quiet!” Esmeralda hissed. “He can’t have seen us. We’re still inside the border. If you’re too loud, he will hear us, though!”
“But, you said the border just distracts people. It doesn’t actually stop them. And, he doesn’t look distracted.”
In fact, the man was still staring in their direction. He finally turned and said something to the man next to him, pointing right at where the boy and unicorn stood, transfixed. The other man shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. The horse rider then grabbed his arm and started walking in the direction of the trees in which Tumi and Esmeralda were hiding.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Tumi said.
Esmeralda looked worried. “Yes, but you can’t move fast enough.” Her eyes closed in thought for a moment. “Climb onto my back.”
“What? But, I’ve never ridden a horse before.”
“I am not a horse. Climb on, now.”
The men were getting closer and there was no time to waste. Tumi quickly leaped onto the back of the unicorn, who took off running when he was just barely seated. An inexperienced rider would have been thrown from a horse in an instant under these circumstances, but Esmeralda was no horse. She had magical control over her body and could sense when Tumi was slipping off and make adjustments to keep him on her back.
When they got back to the main path, they turned right and headed away from the Unicorn’s Glade. They ran for five minutes, though it seemed like much longer to Tumi. He couldn’t believe the speed with which they had passed through the jungle and knew that it would have been impossible for the men to have kept pace with them.
They had made it to the far side of the clearing, not far from the road through which the men had left the evening before. The road through the trees was a short distance from the border, which was just a few feet away from where they were standing.
Esmeralda’s body felt quite hot to Tumi. She had been running very quickly down a path that was quite difficult to navigate.
“I think we’ve gotten away,” he said reassuringly.
“Yes, for now,” Esmeralda replied, still panting from the run. “I’m worried, though, because I think they may have crossed the border.”
Tumi peered through the trees at the open fields and up the slight slope to where the men were trying to fix their backhoe.
“I think I see him there,” Tumi said, pointing to the men standing around the machine.
Esmeralda looked and saw that the two men who had been walking toward them in their last hiding spot were now back with the others by the machine.
“Whew,” she said. “I think the border worked.”
“It looks like it did.”
“Great. Now please get off my back.”
Tumi climbed down, just then realizing how exciting it had been to ride on a unicorn’s back. He had never ridden any animal before and had never traveled at a speed even close to the one he had just experienced. It had been amazing!
Esmeralda started walking and Tumi walked along beside her.
“You ran so far, so quickly, Esmeralda. I could never have run that fast on my own,” Tumi said.
“That’s true. Unicorns are much faster than humans. Much faster than horses, for that matter. You’re probably the first human to ride on a unicorn in years.”
“Of course! Humans treat horses like their own property. They couldn’t get away with that with unicorns!” She swished her horn around for effect.
“Good point,” Tumi said, smiling when he noticed his pun.
They were walking along a path that was not very visible, covered as it was by a great deal of undergrowth. It was clearly not used often. Perhaps the creatures of the Lost Jungle stayed away from this path because it was so close to the border, and to the road that the humans had put just on the other side of the border.
Tumi could hear the sound of flowing water and it was getting louder the longer they walked. After another two minutes of walking, they could see the Amazon river. From where they stood, the water looked greenish and was flowing swiftly. The river was only about fifty feet wide at this point and Tumi guessed that it would take nine unicorns of Esmeralda’s size to stretch all the way across.
In both directions along the river, the banks were covered in trees. The only breaks in the foliage were for the road which stopped at the river and then picked up on the other side. There was a boat docked at the side of the river with a completely flat top, except for one small compartment. Tumi guessed that this boat would carry the men across the river when it was time for them to go home.
Esmeralda was the first to spot another boat upriver that was swiftly moving in their direction. This boat was tall enough to hold people on two separate levels above the deck. Several people were standing on the deck looking into the jungle and pointing small rectangular devices this way and that as they saw things they found interesting.
“The border stops at the river,” Esmeralda said. “They won’t see us, and I don’t think those things they’re holding will see us either.”
Tumi had no idea what those rectangular devices were, but he sure hoped Esmeralda was right that the people coming by on the boat wouldn’t see them.
Continue reading with Chapter 9…