Valley of the Unicorns

Valley of the Unicorns

Before I was a farmer, I don’t remember much. But what I do linger in the memory of the shape of late-night stories around the fireplace, when the cold winds howled across Kamchanod Forest and froze our small house right down to the bones of the floor.

There are unicorns in the forest, my grandmother would whisper carefully, not wanting my parents to hear. They thought grandmother’s stories were foolish, not something to tell a small child destined to become a farmer like his father, and his father before him. A farmer. At the time, I didn’t know what was wrong with farming, and in many ways I still don’t.

When I’m putting up hay in the evening hours of late summer, though, and the monotony of the hot, humid sun bakes down on my shoulders, and the backs of my horses, I can’t help but to imagine them differently, their backs rippling with muscles, their necks strong and corded, a solitary silver horn in the center of each of their foreheads, pointing squarely, defiantly at the hot skies. Noble beasts, meant for the forest, not the farm.

Instead, I sit on a worn, weathered wooden bench seat of a wagon, patiently as my worn and tired horses, bony, worn from years of toil in the field, make their way across my fields of hay and back toward the barn where the end of another tired day awaits us.

The unicorns, my grandmother, whispered late at night, are the majestic, magical keepers of Kamchanod Forest. Few ever see them, and those fortunate enough, still only catch glimpses of the elusive creatures between the shadows of the stately oak, elm, and centuries-old hickory. Most who see them insist they look like wild horses, not so large, but majestic no less.

But others, grandmother, would whisper urgently, claimed to see darker, more sinister beasts that they insisted were true unicorns. Those who saw these unicorns, told tales of beasts dark like the shadows in which they lurked, with the head of a stag, the feet of an elephant, and the tail of a boar—a creature wild, fierce, and elusive.

Somewhere deep in the forest, where she claims grandfather disappeared many, many years ago, rests a glen between the trees, the Valley of the Unicorn, where a centuries-long battle still wages between the protectors of the forest, and the more sinister stag-like unicorns that threatened to destroy all that inhabited the forest.

Only once did grandmother describe a battle that she must have only imagined, where my grandfather stood astride one of the smaller unicorns, wielding a pitchfork, and defending against the shadowed, and fearsome beasts that threatened to destroy him and the unicorns he valiantly defended. Horrified, my mother overheard and made her never tell of the battle again.

But when the horses are in for the night, and the hay has been put up in the loft, long after the setting of the sun, and the rising of the Harvest Moon, that’s often what I see in the greying-purple of the end of the day. Somewhere deep in Kamchanod Forest, my grandfather, forever young, and forever brave, a grandfather I never knew, with a look of fierceness and bravery only matched by the look in the small unicorn’s own eye, standing side by side staring down an inevitable, but hero’s death, they knew fated to befall them both.


The tolling of the village bell startled me from sleep, but not nearly so as the beating, no the pounding, of horse hooves. A strident rumbling, a near thundering that made me think less of horses stampeding in the darkness of a late, late night, but of the immortal battle in the Valley of the Unicorn.

The bell in the village, however, told a different story than one of epic struggle between fantastic unicorns. It rang instead with imminent danger. With a start, I realized that though the sound of the horses was receding, it wasn’t from my dreams, but away from my village. For such a noise to exist, every horse in the village had to be driven from town, either escaped or worse: stolen.

No hero, just a simple farmer, I grabbed my clothing, rushed into my pants as I struggled for the door, and whatever fate awaited in the village square where the bell continued to toll. The din from the horses’ hooves receded somewhere over the horizon to the west.

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