THE UNICORN WHO WALKS ALONE
Europe

      The Unicorn is a beautiful, mysterious beast who always walks alone. He is rarely seen.  But once - and only once - the Unicorn did walk among the other animals. And that one and only time, he shared with them his strange, magical powers.

      Far, far away was a wood, and under the shady trees was a pool of fresh water. It was the animals' pool, where they all came to drink.

      Now, for months there had been no rain. The sun had shone, hot and fierce, drying up the streams and rivers. The grass had turned yellowy brown.  Even the weeds had frizzled up and died. But the animals' pool, under the shady trees, stayed full to the brim. And so the animals had enough water to drink.

      Until, one day, a serpent came slithering out of a cave. He streaked across the dry grass, into the wood, and straight toward the animals' pool. When he reached the water's edge, he slowly raised his head and, swaying from side to side, spurted out a flood of deadly poison over the pool.  It floated across the surface like oil, covering every inch. Then the serpent slithered off, as fast as he had come, back to his cave.

      Why did the serpent do this? Because he was wicked. Because he felt like it. And because he cared for no one but himself. That was why.

      At their usual times, the animals meandered toward the pool in ones and twos and friendly little groups. But as soon as they reached the water's edge, they smelled the poison and saw it floating on the surface. And they knew that if they tried to drink, they would die.

      The animals were distraught. Some moaned quietly. Others yelped and roared their anger. Yet not one turned and left.

      By evening a huge crowd surrounded the pool. Animals who were definitely not good friends and who never drank together stood side by side: the lion, the buffalo, and the antelope; the wolf, the camel, the donkey, and the sheep and many more besides.

      The moon rose in the sky, and still more animals came. From time to time, some would call out, and then others would add their voices to the loud, mournful cry. Each time, the plaintive sounds grew louder. Was there no one who could help them?

      The Unicorn, the beautiful one who walks alone, was far off, but at last he heard the animals' cries. He listened and understood they needed him. He kicked up his hooves and came trotting, slowly at first, but steadily gaining speed, until finally he was galloping faster than the wind.

      As he approached the wood he slowed, and, stepping softly, he wound his way in and out among the trees. He saw the ammals gathered around the pool. He smelled the poison. Then he knew everything.

      The Unicorn knelt beside the pool, lowered his head, and dipped his long, pointed horn into the water, deeper and deeper, until it was completely covered. He waited a moment, then lifted his horn out of the water. He stood up. His magical horn had done its work. The poison was gone. The water was fresh and pure again.
      Without pushing, nudging, or quarreling of any kind, the animals lowered their heads and drank. When their thirst was quenched and their strength returned, with one voice they all called out their thanks to the Unicorn.
      But he was not there. His work done, he had departed while they were drinking.  He was content always to be on his own. He was the Unicorn who walks alone.
    

From: Mystical Birds And Beasts From Many Lands
By: Margaret Mayo
Illustration: Jay Ray