Once upon a time, the prince and the princess lived happily ever after.

Until the very moment they did not.

In the depths of the Glenmewl Bog, the darkness crept through.  The trees rustled with the first of the evening breezes and leaves and the dried petals of the fall flowers circled in the wind.  The prince leaned, heaving but as quiet as he could bear, against a felled tree.  He was a hunter, and he waited for his shot, the clear moment.  It would come.

The Dark Witch of Hangrim-san-Tee had come for her vengeance and cast her wicked spell on the princess.  The young beauty fell into a deep sleep, was transformed into a withering shell.  The witch informed the prince, and the parents of the princess – the King and Queen of Aberdorn – that only the purest water filtered through the magical horn of the last unicorn could save her.  They had six months.

The prince was a hunter and a soldier.  He wasted no time in preparing his horse and himself for a long, but fast trip to Glenmewl Bog, the only known place where the magical creatures where even thought to exist.  It would be fast because his abiding love for the princess would drive him like a madman to find her cure and make her whole.  The trip would be long because from Glenmewl Bog, Aberdorn was on the other side of the known world.

The king insisted the prince take a team, and because it was the daughter of the king, he acceded to his demands, taking six horseback soldiers and his friend, Plasencio.

Two weeks out of Aberdorn, and the prince and his men had found a rhythm.  Then the goblins came.  Someone in the kingdom had advanced word of the prince’s mission, and the goblins would be unstoppable.  Goblins long had an interest in the magic of unicorns.  It was told that no power was greater than the power of the unicorn magic, and goblins desired only to obliterate the world of all life but their own.

The prince fought to breathe silent, a nearly impossible task given his position.  His arm burned like fire.  Goblins dip their arrows in poison, and he could feel it beginning to course through his veins.  He knew his time wasn’t long, and yet his hunter’s instinct let him know that he had arrived at the right moment, the right time, the right place.

Goblins weren’t exactly sharpshooters, and he’d managed to avoid them all this way, until now.  It had been a fluke, a freak shot.  They typically came in packs of six or eight.  This was a group of six.  The first two were always the easiest, because they would make noise to raise the dead, and take their time running for cover.

The second two would be slightly more difficult, but easy enough with patience.  Goblins have poor eyesight – the arrows and spears flying well above his head, or far away to either side.  They would stand out in the open to see if their arrow or spear or knife hit the mark.

The last two would normally follow suit, and he waited patiently for them to step out from behind two trees.  One did, let fly the arrow, and as it glanced off the tree four paces away, it clipped his arm.  His muffled cry set the goblins into a frenzy, but a frenzy out in the open.  He felled them both.

The poison dried his mouth and made his ears ring.  He prepared one more arrow for the unicorn, and tried to calm the slightest shake in his hands.

The first soldier died somewhere in the Mountains of Oldon.  The mountain elves attacked in the night, in the second month of their journey.  Mountain elves were not like their quiet forest ancestors.  Something had happened to the elves many lifetimes ago, and they went mad.  Even today they live in the mountains and attack anything that moves – ferociously.

The second two died only weeks later in the Groo Badlands.  The trolls would have their meal.

A goblin ambush took the next two – one alive, his screams as they drug his injured body away a sound the prince would never forget.  The last soldier simply disappeared, though the prince and Plasencio found disturbing tracks around the camp the next day –the skeletal feet a sign, no doubt, of the presence of the undead.

Weeks passed as the prince and Plasencio traveled onward, the prince became aware that, barring a miracle, it might be impossible to get the horn of the unicorn back to his princess in time.  And yet he journeyed onward.

What else would he do?  What else could he do?

Plasencio died in his arms, the spear of an orc through his midsection.  He begged his friend the prince not to despair, to continue onward.  That love – and magic – would find a way.

It was the fifth month.  The princess had less than four weeks to live.

And now, seven month later, on the other side of the world, beyond the Mountains of Oldon, beyond the Groo Badlands, across a raging Medever Sea, through countless small towns and deadly encounters, a world away from Aberdorn, in the soft, quiet murk of Glenmewl Bog, the prince had a decision to make.

In the clearing ahead, the brush rustled and the pebbles at the edge of the stream registered the sound of hooves.  As the blood in his veins turned as black as the evening shadows, he steeled himself for the shot.  And for his final choice.

A world away, the sun came up on a tower of the glorious castle of Aberdorn.  The moat shone in the summer sun, and the sound of birdsong filled the air.  It was spring, and the world was alive.  Somewhere, in the castle, so was the princess.

© 2016 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.

Originally published at terribleminds for a flash fiction challenge.