Section I: Sapient Races
Section II: Beastly Races
hunt the one horn!
free over the grass, oh white dream,
thunder with your hooves,
the green with your bright streaks.
will track your trails,
will follow your flight,
with feet as fleet as your hooves,
shall run beside you.
arrow true will spear your heart,
your hornéd blessing
make my sons like you,
song of the tribes of the Northern Steppe, beyond the Redrob Fault
“You know what I like about unicorns? Most people don’t realize that they’re the dumbest creatures in the world! You don’t have to worry about the wind, about not being seen, or anything like you need when hunting, say, deer. The unicorns will just stay in plain sight, as if they hadn’t figured out yet that the sight of man means death.
“Leastways that’s how I see it. Never had a problem bagging a dozen horns on my summer safaris to the Redrob. One month’s travel to the steppe, one month’s hunt, and then one month back home to Chazevo where I can sell the horns for enough gold that I don’t have to move a finger for the remaining ten months of the year.
“If those foolish buyers knew how damn easy it is to get the ivory, they wouldn’t pay me that much. So, let them stay dumb. Far as I’m concerned, I like them as dumb as the unicorns themselves.”
“The horn of a unicorn is valuable, indeed. Wizards use it as spell ingredients, clerics swear by them, and I have heard that they are much desired for witchcraft as well. Especially when it concerns matters of the heart. ‘The one-horn warms the heart of a cold woman,’ I have heard. ‘When she drinks a potion of it, she will rush to the man who gave it to her, and she shall belong to him forevermore.’
“Perhaps this is true. The virility of the unicorn stallions is renowned among the tribes of the Northern Steppe. The hunter who has slain a unicorn and eaten of its meat is a prized husband and shall father many sons. The man who has tamed a unicorn and rides the fleet beast, he is destined to father a dynasty of kings. The one-horn’s power passes into the man who has mastered it, wherefore it is not surprising that he may take as many wives as he likes, passing on his power.
“Such a pity that none yet have found a way to drive unicorns into areas better accessible by civilized people. Surely we could then find methods to harness them more effectively than the savages can, breeding them like ordinary horses, so that there would be herds of them rather than the solitary creatures of the steppe.”
Ywild, Master Druggist,
“I hear them called ‘bright’ unicorns, and some claim that their fur is always white. Not so, believe me. Most of the ‘unicorn fur’ sold on markets is that of a white horse. Unicorns do have light colors, but the most common is beige, often dappled with darker tones. Only the horn is truly white, the pure ivory.
“They really are just normal horses, with a horn growing from their forehead. They don’t run in herds, but in small family groups – with the occasional stallion roving the steppe alone. But that’s pretty much all the difference there is.
“I’ve wondered often what their horn is good for. Not for us who rob it from their slaughtered carcasses, but for the unicorns themselves. When first I heard of their kind, I thought that it was for defense. Yet there are few creatures in the Northern Steppe large and common enough to have a good use. I am sure that the horn has helped many a unicorn survive by staving off the attack of a dragon, yet dragons are not so frequent that unicorns would face them on a daily basis. Perhaps there once were other predators in the area which warranted the horn, predators that have now left.
“Or perhaps it developed because they use the horn in the hottest months to stir the ground and find the last vestigial water spots. I have seen them do that now and then, usually successfully. That’s still not a good enough explanation to me, so the mystery remains, and seems likely to keep us mystified for centuries more.”
Conteral, Darawk scholar,
“Beware when you travel the Northern Steppe and carry bow and arrow. If the savages get it in their heads that you are hunting unicorns, you will face their wrath, the silent arrow in the night or the thunderous assault in the day. Be sure to let them know you seek other prey. Pay them the worthless baubles they favor so much, and they should let you pass.
“But be absolutely careful that none of the savages can see what you are carrying, for they might see the knives for separating the horn, and savage though they are, they have learned to recognize these!”
author, Thousand Islands
“I love the romanii. Really, I do. Every time I see one down here in Robhovard, he’s bound to ask me about the wonderful unicorns. All right, I wear the horn slung across my back, so that’s pretty obvious, but that’s not the funny part.
“That is when the romanius will start talking about how beautiful a unicorn is, a white horse with a horn that is utterly peaceful and can be a guide to places mythical and mystical. You know, they actually believe in that.
“Peaceful, my foot! And guides? The only guide they’re liable to provide to a human being is the straight way to their stomachs.
“See? I bet you just looked up in surprise. How come that no many people don’t know that unicorns favor the flesh of sapient beings? Humans, dwarves, elves, the occasional alreu, they love’em. First they spear you, then loosen your carcass by dragging you over the ground, and afterwards they’ll start to work with their fangs.
“Yes, I’ve heard of another kind of unicorn far up in the north, where it’s warm and hot. Those are supposed to be white, like the romanii’s fabled beasts, and they’re herbivores, but they probably won’t engage you in any conversation, either.
“The unicorns I know, now these are man-eating monsters. Their shoulders are twice as high as those of an ordinary horse, their fur is long and shaggy, mostly brown, some are black. Giants they are, and when they run and hunt, you can feel the earth shudder under each of their steps. A gallopping unicorn can put fear into the staunchest heart.
“Look at the skull of one, and you’ll doubt it’s related to a horse. That squat, ferocious head, the fangs in a mouth not made for grazing. The eyes are close together, set in a brow of bones, barely covered by fur, and in those eyes you see the hunger for meat. Add to that the black horn growing right above, all four feet of it (fully grown), spotty from all the blood that’s been spilled on it. No, that’s not the pretty, gleaming horn the romanii dream of. It’s a dark weapon, and it’s not smooth either. There are tiny spikes all along it, which tear up the flesh of the victim.
“Killing them, now that’s an art. They’ve got thick skins, so putting an arrow through their hearts is tough. The eyes are little better, because of the bones protecting them. I’ve had quite a lot of arrows bounced off of the brow, and the beast only got more murderous. I won’t tell you the best way to kill them. Professional secret, you understand.
“But it’s possible. The horn I carry comes from a unicorn I killed and slaughtered myself. I’ve killed three others, but their horns I’ve sold for a pretty fortune.
“If you’re in Robhovard, count your lucky stars if you never meet a unicorn. And blessed be the gods for the unicorns are so rare you can get lucky.”
“’You ride a unicorn?’ I asked my barbarian acquaintance. ‘I thought they were impossible to tame.’
“Ghendar laughed loudly and spilled his beer. I quickly ordered a refill for him, to keep the barbarian in a talkative mood. Fortunately he barely noticed his own mishap and said, ‘It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. You’ve gotta get a foal, one that’s only drunk mother’s milk till then. Once the beast’s gotten a taste of human flesh, that’s all you’re gonna be for it. Meat. Prey. ‘fore that, though, you can tame it.’ He laughed again. ‘Of course the mother’s gonna mind your taking her foal away. My own steed’s mother – took me three days to get her good and dead.’
“His beer arrived. Ghendar paused in his tale to empty the mug in a single swig. Then he continued, ‘Doesn’t get any easier after that, you know? First, you’ve got to keep the foal with you, so it’ll have to get used to you. And you’ve gotta feed it, which is pretty tough on whichever milk-giver you’ve brought. Best is a mare, of course. Though the foal is almost the same size, it’ll recognize the mare as a good source of feeding.’ He laughed. ‘Well, it would have done that anyway, later on. But here it’ll see the mare as the kind of feeder that survives the feeding! That also gives you another advantage, because you can keep the adult with normal horses, and you don’t have to worry about all the horses having gotten into the unicorn’s stomach the next morning.’
“He called for another beer, at least his fourth during our conversation. I, still drinking my first, listened attentively.
“’You’d best get a foal that’s about seven months old. They’re about to be weaned, so you won’t need the mare for long. And they’re big enough that you can start riding it pretty soon. You need to do that as quickly as you can, so the beast gets used to it. Have you ever tamed a horse? A wild stallion?’ I shook my head. ‘Didn’t think so, you’re too soft. But a stallion is nothing compared to a young unicorn – and you can forget about the adults. I guess that if you found a man big and strong enough, he might be able to get a grown unicorn to submit to him, but he’d have to be ten feet tall! Harder to find than the unicorns!’
“Ghendar laughed, then snatched the mug of beer from the serving girl, taking a long draught.
“I used the opportunity to interject a question. ‘In the north, unicorns are seen as a symbol of fertility. Do you think so as well?’
“He looked at me curiously, then started laughing harder than before. ‘Fertility!’ he exclaimed. ‘Priest, unicorns are the safest bet to cut your own fertility short! They’ve got a long horn, but that’s not the one they use on their mares, if you know what I mean. Besides, there are so few of them, you kinda wonder if the stallions are even sufficently equipped in that regard.’ He shook his head, getting a bit more serious. ‘Taming my unicorn, it’s helped me insofar as I now have a pretty free pick of the women of my tribe. Can’t resist a man like me. But that hasn’t really changed from before, anyway! I’ve been a good hunter and a good warrior. Now, of course, I’m better. I only have to ride my unicorn out in front of the tribe, and the enemies will start pacing backwards!’
“He shook his head. ‘Not that I do that often. Would be foolish, you know? Only makes you a good target for their arrows – as if it wasn’t bad enough that I’m seated twice as high as everybody else. Worse than that, if the enemy ran away, I wouldn’t have my spoil of victory. So, I’ll stay back a little, until the battle’s begun, then I join and reap my good share. You can’t imagine how easy an enemy is defeated when he’s staring into the killer eyes of a unicorn!’
“’Do you let it feed on your enemies?’ I asked carefully.
“Ghendar’s eyes widened for a moment, then he quickly made a warding sign. ‘Not on humans, surely not. Priest, that would mean undoing all the taming I’ve done! Soon as a unicorn gets a taste of human flesh, that’ll be the end of it! I’ve got to put a muzzle on my steed, ‘fore I engage human enemies.’ He shrugged after a moment. ‘Now, other species, that’s another story. I’ve let it have a good taste of dwarven meat, and now the unicorn’s more eager than ever to attack the little stoneheads. Dwarven smell is different from human, so the unicorn doesn’t even think of considering us the same thing, fortunately. Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here calmly and drinking this beer. I’d have long since taken to riding inside my steed rather than on it!’ Ghendar laughed again, then emptied his current mug.
“’Priest,’ he said, ‘I should take you unicorn hunting some day. Maybe that would make a man out of you, no matter if we can kill one or not. The mere sight of the beast would cure you of any other fear you have in your life!”
Eroil, Nash’Geo priest