By Julia Moser
“Goldenmane!” Rebecca sprinted lightly across the green field, towards the creamy white, golden-maned unicorn she was supposed to be keeping an eye on. “You really shouldn’t run off like that,” Rebecca scolded, “You’ll get us both into trouble.”
Rebecca was in her first year at Mythic Academy, where students studied and cared for “mythical” creatures, such unicorns and dragons. She had been assigned to watch Goldenmane, a 2-year-old male unicorn before class while Miss Meretell, their teacher, went to get a bag of silver apples for the lesson. From the first day of class, Rebecca and Goldenmane had been drawn to each other. Rebecca didn’t know why, they just were.
Finally, Miss Meretell got back and other students started arriving. The lesson started, and Miss Meretell began to teach them to feed the unicorn. “Boy, you are hungry today,” Rebecca commented as Goldenmane gobbled apple after apple, not even pausing to breath in between huge mouthfuls. Several students looked rather worried, maybe thinking that Goldenmane would miss the apple and bite their hands instead. They ran out of silver apples very quickly, and Miss Meretell went to go get more from the storehouse. However, she came back empty-handed with a worried look, and announced that class was dismissed early. While the other students chatted happily as they walked off, Miss Meretell quietly called Rebecca back. Goldenmane, rolling himself off his back, followed. Miss Meretell nervously glanced around, took a deep breath, and whispered, “There is only one apple left in the storehouse.” Rebecca gasped, and Goldenmane, not really grasping what was going on but understanding that he was supposed to be alarmed, whinnied and shook his head. “You know,” Miss Meretell continued, “that unicorns cannot eat regular apples. They can only eat the pure silver and gold apples that grow far over the Gem Mountains. Gold apples can sustain them for months, and planting one can grow a whole forest of golden apples in a few hours. However, one has not been seen for years, so we use silver. Every summer before school starts, we are brought a load of these apples that last the whole year, but this year’s supply seems to have run short. The unicorns won’t be able to go more than four or five days without their apples, and we don’t have anything else to give them. We-we-” Miss Meretell paused, taking a deep breath, and Rebecca could see she was trying hard to stay calm. “We may have to close the school.” Rebecca stepped back, stunned. She had only been at the academy a few months, but already it felt like home. “But- you can’t! We- everything-” Miss Meretell sighed, putting a hand on Rebecca’s shoulder. “I feel the same way you do, Rebecca. I will speak with the headmaster. But we can’t keep the unicorns if we can’t feed them, and the school can’t stay open without the unicorns.” She started walking away. “I’ll do my best,” she said, over her shoulder. Rebecca felt tears spring to her eyes. If the school closed, if the unicorns and other mythical creatures were brought back into the wild, she might never see Goldenmane again. “You’re the only friend I have,” she whispered aloud to the unicorn, who rubbed up against her leg, the way he always did when she was upset. Rebecca stroked his soft silky mane; and suddenly realized that she could not let them close the academy. This was the only place in the world where she had a friend, even if he was a unicorn. She couldn’t let them take him away. “We’ll do it ourselves.” Rebecca announced. Goldenmane looked confused. “We’ll go over the Gem Mountains and get more apples. And we’ll bring them back to the school in time to keep them from closing it. We should pack right away! I’ll go get my stuff.” Rebecca ran off towards the academy, leaving Goldenmane staring off after her.
That night, after having packed almost everything she could get her hands on, Rebecca tried to sneak her suitcase and Goldenmane out of the castle unnoticed. It was harder than it looked, and eventually she decided to spend the rest of the night in the forest surrounding the academy, then start anew in the morning. Goldenmane, after looking longingly back at the stables, quickly chose the softest spot of ground, lay down, nudged a few leaves into place and was asleep in five seconds. That left Rebecca to rummage through her suitcase for a blanket, and toss and turn for hours until she finally fell asleep from exhaustion.
In the morning, Goldenmane sprang out of his pile of leaves and nuzzled Rebecca awake. She had aches and pains all over, but Goldenmane dragged her over to the edge of the forest. Finally Rebecca woke up, stretched, yawned- and gave a start to find herself in the forest. After a moment it all came back to her, though, and she went over to her suitcase to unpack the pancakes she’d put in a plastic bag. They were extremely cold, and her teeth almost froze eating them. Goldenmane pawed the ground, looking hungry. “Sorry, boy. I don’t have any apples.” Goldenmane whinnied, and snatched one of Rebecca’s pancakes. He immediately spat it out. Rebecca sighed. She could tell this was going to be a long trip.
They started walking and walking, getting cramps in their legs and making Rebecca wish she’d brought some other method of transportation. She started to realize that she had absolutely no idea how to get over the Gem Mountains with a unicorn, or, even more importantly, how to find the Gem Mountains. They kept going for days, always just hoping that the Gem Mountains were indeed to the north of the academy.
Finally, the forest ended, and Rebecca was relieved to see the Gem Mountains quite a few miles away. With new determination, she set out again, only to come to a foggy, deep looking swamp a few minutes later. “Hey!” piped a small, high voice. Rebecca twirled around. There, sitting in the branches of a small tree, was a tiny young girl as big as the leaf she was sitting on. Make that a foggy, deep looking, pixie infested swamp. “What’re you doing in our swamp?” the little creature called out. “Ummm-” Rebecca started to answer, but more little pixies started coming out of the trees everywhere, calling out and some even venturing close enough to touch them. Goldenmane whinnied, kicking out his hooves at the little pixies, but they just kept coming back. The two of them had to fight their way across the swamp, and when they finally got out, it was quite a while before the sound of the pixies’ screeching voices died out in the distance. “Those pixies are quite troublesome for such small things,” Rebecca commented with a yawn. She and Goldenmane lay down together on a big mound and fell fast asleep.
In the morning, Rebecca yawned, got up, stretched- and gave a start. The big mound she’d fallen asleep leaning on wasn’t a mound- it was the base of the Gem Mountains! Rebecca stepped back. “Wow.” The mountains were so huge, she couldn’t see their tops and wouldn’t have been surprised if they went beyond the clouds. Then Goldenmane snorted, waking up too, and giving Rebecca a new thought. “How are we going to get you up there?”
They finally started climbing, which was now, officially, the worst part of the trip so far as Rebecca was concerned. Until then she had forgotten that she was afraid of heights, and halfway up a mountain that reaches the sky is not a very good place to remember that. Twice they almost fell; first, when Rebecca looked down for just a moment, saw the trees and bushes looking like tiny green dots and freaked out, grabbing Goldenmane’s hoof to stop her from falling. Second, when Goldenmane’s hoof slipped and Rebecca had to push him back up again to keep both of them from plummeting to their deaths. Finally however, after many hours of climbing, the ground leveled out and the two stood on top of the Gem Mountains.
After a minute of catching her breath, Rebecca began to feel queasy, so they turned around and tried to start heading down the other side. Fortunately, though, someone before them had thoughtfully smoothed a path down the side of the mountain, which Goldenmane trotted happily down, whinnying when he reached the ground. Rebecca looked at the long way down, closed her eyes, sat down, and slid all the way down. “Thank goodness for that path!” she gasped, out of breath. “So, where do we go now?” Goldenmane looked hungry. “Oh yeah, the apples. So, where do we find-“ Rebecca broke off, because there, only about ten yards in front of them, was a tree. On that tree, gleaming in the late afternoon sun, was one shining golden apple. She started to run forward, but Goldenmane grabbed her shirt with his teeth and wouldn’t let go. He waved his hoof at the bottom of the tree. Rebecca stepped back, glad she hadn’t grabbed the apple like she’d been trying to do. There, lying curled around the base of the tree, fast asleep, was a huge, scaly, dragon.
“What do we do, what do we do, what do we do?” Rebecca paced around the small clearing. “We’ve got to get that apple, the unicorns back at the school won’t be able to go much longer without apples, but I am not risking being scorched by that dragon.” Suddenly, the dragon curled around the tree gave a snort and sat up. Rebecca backed off, tripping over her bag with the frozen pancakes in it. “That’s it!” Rebecca exclaimed. She quickly unzipped her bag keeping one eye on the growling, advancing dragon. She pulled out a pancake and threw it to the other side of the clearing. The dragon stopped. It turned its head, and slowly, warily, began to inch towards the pancake. “Good dragon. Nice, hungry dragon,” Rebecca called nervously, tossing another pancake a little farther than the first one. The dragon walked over to the pancakes, sniffed them, and began gnawing ferociously on them. “Poor thing. It obviously hasn’t been fed in ages,” murmured Rebecca, inching towards the tree and gently plucked the apple off it. The dragon was too absorbed in the second pancake too notice. Rebecca left the dragon the rest of the pancakes, and she and Goldenmane quietly left. Rebecca gave a sigh of relief and looked out into the distance. “Now we’ve just got to get back home.” Goldenmane whinnied in agreement, and the two of them walked off into the sunset.