King Arthur And The Unicorn

      In his youth King Arthur went sailing alone in search of adventure. He was overtaken by a storm which took him far off course, and he ended up stranded on a lonely shore with his vessel stuck fast on a sandbank. Gazing along the ragged coastline, the only sign of habitation was a single, square, red tower at the edge of a forest. So Arthur headed that way to seek help.

      It was a strange tower with no doors or windows and, at first, there was no response to his calls. Then a man's head appeared on the battlements. "Who are you and what do you want?" he called down gruffly. Arthur explained how he needed help to free his ship from the sands.

      The stranger appeared to soften a little. "It is a reasonable enough request," he replied, "but nothing can be done until my son returns from hunting. If you are prepared to wait, we will surely help to set you on your way."

      Since he had little choice, and was by now curious about the man in the tower, Arthur settled down to wait. In due course he asked the stranger how he came to be living in such a remote place.

      "Sir, " came the reply from the battlement, "you cannot tell this from where you are, but I am a dwarf, and long ago I was in the service of the ruler of Northumbria. As you must know, a dwarfs life is a precarious one, and when things go wrong we are more likely than other men to catch the blame. So it happened with me, and my master had me banished and set ashore with my wife in this desolate place."

      "She, poor lady, died almost immediately in childbirth. After I had buried her I wrapped the babe in her cloak and went looking for somewhere to shelter for the night, from the the elements and the wild beasts for it was winter then and I feared for the child's life."

      "In the forest not far from here I found a large hollow tree filled with dead leaves. As I began to make a bed for my child among the dead leaves, I heard a rustling and found a nest of fawns. They had been so well covered in leaves that I didn't see them until they moved. Each fawn had a tiny horn in the middle of it's brow."

      "Well, I was so taken by this sight that for awhile I did not know what to do. Then suddenly the mother returned, she was a great white beast, as large as my horse, with a horn like a lance on her brow. She had a spark in her eyes that said she believed I had been about to steal or harm her children. I panicked and ran and was just about to congratulate myself on my escape when I realized that somehow I had lost my own son. Then I heard his crying from far away and knew I must have left him back at the hollow tree."

      "In fear and trembling I crept back and my heart almost stopped when the babe's crying suddenly ceased. I loved the child greatly, both for his own sake and because he was all I had to remind me of my dear wife. As I crept nearer, I found the Unicorn lying in the hollow of the tree with her fawns nursing at her breast, and my own babe in there among them feeding as mightily as if he were their brother."

      "That night I hid nearby almost freezing to death, unable to decide what to do. It was plain that the Unicorn could feed the babe better than I, but how could I abandon him to the care of a wild beast? In the morning the Unicorn left to feed and I took my son and washed him and wrapped him in swaddling as best I could. I intended to return him to the nest, but before I was done, the beast returned. This time, though, she greeted me in the sweetest and gentlest way and when she lay down with her fawns, she motioned with her head for me to return the child to her."

      "From that day until he was weaned the Unicorn remained my son's nurse. I built a hut by the hollow tree and we lived together as a family, no evil creature daring to threaten us. Such was the goodness of the Unicorns milk that my son grew into a giant, soon able to uproot trees with his bare hands. In time he built this tower so I should be safe when he was off hunting or at play. The Unicorn is still my son's constant companion even though her other children have gone off into the world."

      As the dwarf concluded his tale the ground began to shake. "Here comes the boy now" said the dwarf, and Arthur, who had not known how much of the tale to believe, was mightily impressed to see a true giant come striding out of the forest with a dead bear slung easily over one shoulder and a mighty club over the other. Beside him came trotting, a milk white Unicorn.

      The mystery of the towers absence of doors and windows was explained when the giant lifted Arthur up to the battlements, where he joined the dwarf for a feast whilst the giant remained outside. The following day the giant and the Unicorn helped drag Arthur's boat off the sands and he set sail for home.

Nigel Suckling