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Introduction to L. Sprague de Camp's "Eudoric's Unicorn":

Like Sturgeon, L. Sprague de Camp is a seminal figure, one whose career spans almost the entire development of modern fantasy and SF. Much of the luster of the "Golden Age" of Astounding during the late thirties and the forties is due to the presence in those pages of de Camp, along with his great contemporaries Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. Van Vogt. Important as de Camp was to Astounding, though, he was indispensable to Unknown, Astounding's sister fantasy magazine—it was in Unknown that de Camp's talent really blossomed, and it was there that much of his best work saw print. In fact, great as de Camp's impact on SF was, his impact on the development of fantasy was incalculably greater, and it is impossible to imagine the shape of modern fantasy without him. De Camp's stories for Unknown are among the best short fantasies ever written, and include such classics as "The Wheels of If" (one of the first alternate worlds stories), "Divide and Rule," "The Gnarly Man," "None but Lucifer" (with Horace L. Gold), as well as novels such as Solomon's Stone and the brilliant Lest Darkness Fall, (another alternate worlds story, and one of the three or four best novels ever written on that subject). It would be the "Harold Shea" stories, though, written in collaboration with Fletcher Pratt (the first of which was "The Roaring Trumpet" in 1939) that would have the greatest effect on subsequent work. Collected into book form in 1940 as The Incomplete Enchanter, and followed a year later by a sequel, The Castle of Iron, the two Harold Shea novels (they were collected in an omnibus volume, The Compleat Enchanter in 1975) are truly landmarks of modern fantasy. (It is also interesting to note that the magazine stories that would make up The Incomplete Enchanter were published almost simultaneously with T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone, the first section of The Once and Future King, and that both works were charming, intelligent, and highly literate fantasies that depended heavily for their effect on whimsy and deliberate—and very funny—anachronism; obviously some special kind of muse was in the air that particular year.)

De Camp is also in large part responsible for the current flourishing popularity of "sword and sorcery" or "heroic fantasy": in 1963 he edited an anthology called Swords and Sorcery in an attempt to preserve and revive a long-forgotten and "endangered" sub-genre of heroic fantasy, and in so doing exposed modern readers for the first time to some of the older giants of fantasy, some of whom had been out-of-print entirely since before World War II; de Camp also helped to start the big Conan boom of the sixties and seventies, and has himself converted a number of uncompleted Robert E. Howard manuscripts into Conan stories and novels. He has also published some of the major critical books about fantasy, notably Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers and the definitive Lovecraft: A Biography. De Camp's other books include Rogue Queen, The Tower of Zanid, The Search for Zei/The Hand of Zei, Land of Unreason (with Fletcher Pratt), The Glory That Was. His most recent books are The Great Fetish, and the collections The Purple Pterodactyls and The Best of L. Sprague de Camp.

Wry humor mixed with fast-paced and vividly colored adventure has always been de Camp's forte, and the story that follows is no exception, as he turns his sharp satirist's eye toward the unicorn legend . . .


L. Sprague de Camp

When Sir Eudoric Dambertson's stagecoach line was running smoothly, Eudoric thought of expansion. He would extend the line from Kromnitch to Sogambrium, the capital of the New Napolitanian Empire. He would order a second coach. He would hire a scrivener to relieve him of the bookkeeping . . .

The initial step would be to look over the Sogambrian end of the route. So he posted notices in Zurgau and Kromnitch that, on a certain day, he would instead of turning around at Kromnitch to come back to Zurgau, continue on to Sogambrium, carrying those who wished to pay the extra fare.

Eudoric got a letter of introduction from his silent partner, Baron Emmerhard of Zurgau, who once had almost become Eudoric's father-in-law. The letter presented Eudoric to the Emperor's brother, the Archduke Rolgang.

"For a gift," said Emmerhard, fingering his graying beard, "I'll send one of my best hounds with thee. Nought is done at court without presents."

"Very kind of you, sir," said Eudoric.

"Not so kind as all that. Be sure to debit the cost of the bitch to operating expenses."

"At what value?"

"Klea should fetch at least fifty marks—"

"Fifty! Good my lord, that's absurd. I can pick up—"

"Be not impertinent with me, puppy! Thou knowest nought of dogs . . ."

After an argument, Eudoric got Klea's value down to thirty marks, which he still thought much too high. A few days later, he set out with a cage, containing Klea, lashed to the back of the coach. In seven days the coach, with Eudoric's helper Jillo driving, rolled into Sogambrium.

Save once when he was an infant, Eudoric had never seen the imperial capital. By comparison, Kromnitch was but a small town and Zurgau, a village. The slated gables seemed to stretch away forever, like the waves of the sea.

The hordes who seethed through the flumelike streets made Eudoric uneasy. They wore fashions never seen in rural parts. Men flaunted shoes with long, turned-up toes, attached by laces to the wearer's legs below the knee; women, yard-high conical hats. Everyone seemed in a hurry. Eudoric had trouble understanding the metropolitan dialect. The Sogambrians slurred their words, dropped whole syllables, and seldom used the old-fashioned, familiar "thou " and "thee."

Having taken quarters at an inn of middling grade, Eudoric left Jillo to care for the coach and team. Leading Klea, he made his way through a gray drizzle to the archducal palace. He tried on one hand to take in all the sights but, on the other, not conspicuously to stare, gape, and crane his neck.

The palace, sheathed in stonework carved in fantastic curlicues, in the ornate modern style, rose adjacent to the Cathedral of the Divine Pair. Eudoric had had enough to do with the court of his own sovran, King Valdhelm III of Locania, to know what to expect at the palace: endless delays, to be shortened only by generous tipping of flunkies. Thanks to this strategy, Eudoric got his audience with the Archduke on the second day.

"A bonny beast," said Rolgang, stroking Klea's head. Clad in gold-and-purple Serican silks, the Archduke was a fat man with beady, piercing little eyes. "Tell me, Sir Eudoric, about this coach-wagon enterprise."

Eudoric told of encountering regular coach service, unknown in the Empire, on his journey to Pathenia. He recounted bringing the concept back to his home in Arduen, Barony of Zurgau, County of Treveria, Kingdom of Locania, and of having a coach of Pathenian style constructed by local wainwrights.

"This bears thinking on," said the Archduke. "I can foresee some effects adverse to good government. Miscreants could use your coach to flee from justice. Bankrupts could leave the site of their indebtedness and set up in business elsewhere. Subversive agitators could travel 'bout, spreading discontent and rousing the rabble 'gainst their betters."

"On the other hand, Your Highness," said Eudoric, "if the business prosper, you may be able to tax it some day."

The beady eyes lit up. "Aha, young sir! Ye've a shrewd instinct for the jugular vein! With that consideration in mind, I'm sure his Imperial Majesty will impose no obstacle to your enterprise. I'll tell you. His Imperial Majesty holds a levee at ten tomorrow. Be there with this pass, and I'll present you to my 'perial brother."

Leaving the palace cheered by this unexpected stroke of good fortune, Eudoric thought of buying a fashionable new suit, although his thrifty nature winced at the thought of spending capital on another such garment before his present best had begun to show wear. He cheered up at the thought that he might well make a better impression as an honest rustic, clean and decent if not stylish, than as an inept imitation of a metropolitan dandy.

Next morning Eudoric, stocky, dark, square-jawed, and of serious mien, stood in plain russet and black, in line with half a hundred other gentry of the Empire. Emperor Thorar IX and his brother passed slowly down the line, while an official, introduced each man:

"Your Imperial Majesty, let me present Baron Gutholf of Drin, who fought in the Imperial forces to put down the late rebellion in Aiona. Now he doth busy himself with the reconstruction of his holding, dyking and draining a new polder."

"Good, my lord of Drin!" said the Emperor. "We must needs show our deluded subjects, stirred to rebellion by base-born agitators, that we love 'em in spite of all." Thorar was tall, thin, and stooped, with a gray goatee, an obvious hair piece, and a creaky voice. He was clad all in black, against which blazed a couple of jeweled decorations.

"Your Imperial Majesty," said the usher, "this is Sir Eudoric Dambertson of Arduen. He hath instituted the coach line from Zurgau to Kromnitch."

" 'Tis he of whom I told you," said the Archduke.

"Ah, Sir Eudoric!" creaked the Emperor. "We know of your enterprise. We'll see you anon on this matter. But—are ye not that Eudoric who slew a dragon in Pathenia and later fought the monstrous spider in the forest of Dimshaw?"

Eudoric simpered with modesty. "Indeed, 'twas I, Your Imperial Majesty, albeit I came through more by good hap than by good management." He did not add that Jillo had killed the dragon, largely by accident, and that Eudoric, when he had the giant spider Fraka under his crossbow, had let her go on a sentimental whim.

"Stuff, my boy!" said the Emperor. "Good luck comes to those prepared to make the most of it. Since ye've shown such adroitness with strange beasts, we have a task for you." The Emperor turned to the Archduke. "Have ye a half-hour to spare after this, Rolgang?"

"Aye, sire."

"Well, bring the lad to the Chamber of Privy Audience, pray. And tell Heinmar to dig Sir Eudoric's dossier out of the file." The Emperor passed on.

In the Chamber of Privy Audience, Eudoric found the Emperor, the Archduke, the Minister of Public Works, the Emperor's secretary, and two bodyguards in silver cuirasses and crested helms. The Emperor was turning the pages of a slim folder.

"Sit down, Sir Eudoric," said Thorar. "This bids fair to take time, and we'd not needlessly inflict sore knees 'pon loyal subjects. Ye are unwed, we see, albeit nearly thirty. Why is this?"

Eudoric thought, the old boy might give the appearance of doddering, but there was nothing wrong with his wits. He said: "I have been betrothed, Your Imperial Majesty, but chance hath each time snatched away my promised bride. That I am single is not from lack of inclination towards the other sex."

"Hm. We must needs 'mend this condition. Rolgang, is that youngest daughter of yours promised yet?"

"Nay, sire."

The Emperor turned back. "Sir Eudoric, the gist is this. Next month, the Grand Cham of the Pantorozians comes on a visit of state, bringing a young dragon to add to the 'perial menagerie. As ye may've heard, our zoological collection is, after the welfare of the empire, our greatest passion. But, for the honor of the Empire, we can't let this heathen Easterling outdo us in generosity.

"Dragons are extinct in the Empire, unless a few still lurk in the wilder wastes. We're told, howsomever, that west of Hessel, in your region, lies the wilderness of Bricken, where dwell many curious beasts. Amongst these is the unicorn."

Eudoric raised his eyebrows. "Your Imperial Majesty wants a unicorn to give to this Pantorozian?"

"Aye, sir; ye've put the bolt in the gold. How 'bout it?"

"Why—ah—sensible though I be of the great honor, Your Imperial Majesty, I know not whether I could manage it. As I told you, my previous escapes were more by luck than by skill or might. Besides, my coach line, requiring constant attention to detail, takes all my time—"

"Oh, stuff, my boy! Ye crave a just wage for your labor, as do we all, however we bluebloods affect to be above base thought of material gain. Eh, Rolgang?"

The Emperor winked. Eudoric found this ruler's genial cynicism refreshing after the elaborate pretence of the country gentry, among whom he lived, to care nothing for vulgar money. Thorar continued:

"Well, at the moment we have no vacant baronies or counties to bestow, but my brother hath a nubile daughter. She's not the fairest of the fair—"

"Petrilla's a good girl!" the Archduke broke in. "None denies it, none denies it. Neither doth anyone propose her for the Crown of Beauty at tournaments. Well, Sir Eudoric, how about it? One unicorn for the hand of Petrilla Rolgangsdaughter?"

Eudoric took his time about answering. "The young lady would have to give her free consent. May I have the honor of meeting her?"

"Certes. Rolgang, arrange it, if you please."

Eudoric had been in love several times, but the outcomes of these passions had given him a cynical, practical view of the battle of the sexes. He had never found fat girls attractive, and Petrilla was fat—not grossly so yet, but give her a few years. She was dark, dumpy, blunt of feature, and given to giggles.

Sighing, Eudoric totted up the advantages and disadvantages of being joined with this unglamorous if supremely well-connected young woman. For a career of courtier and magnate, the virtues of being the Archduke's son-in-law overbore all else. After all, Petrilla seemed healthy and good-natured. If she proved too intolerable a bore, he could doubtless find consolation elsewhere.

Back in Arduen, Eudoric sought out his old tutor, Doctor Baldonius, now living in semi-retirement in a cabin in the woods. A wizardly scholar who eked out his pension by occasional theurgies, Baldonius got out his huge encyclopedia and unlocked its iron clasps.

"Unicorn," he said, turning pages of crackling parchment. "Ah, here we are. "The unicorn, Dinohyus helicornus, the last surviving member of the family Entelodontidae. The spirally twisted horn, rising from the animal's forehead, is actually not one horn. This would be impossible because of the frontal suture, along the mid-line of the forehead. It is, instead, a pair of horns conjoined and twisted into a single spike. The legend that the beast can be rendered mild and tractable by a human virgin appears to have a basis in fact. According to the story . . .' But ye know the tale, Eudoric."

"Aye," said Eudoric. "You get a virgin—if you can find one—and have her sit under a tree in a wood frequented by unicorns. The beast will come up and lay its head in her lap, and the hunters can rush out and spear the quarry with impunity. How could that be?"

Baldonius: "My colleague Doctor Bobras hath published a monograph—let me look—ah, here 'tis." Baldonius pulled a scroll out of a cabinet of pigeonholes. "His theory, whereon he hath worked since we were students at Saalingen together, is that the unicorn is unwontedly sensitive to odors. With that great snout, it could well be. Bobras deduces that a virgin hath a smell different from that of a non-virgin human female, and that this effluvium nullifies the brute's ferocious instincts. Fieri potest."

"Very well," said Eudoric. "Assuming I can find me a virgin willing to take part in this experiment, what next? It's one thing to rush upon the comatose beast and plunge a boar spear into its vitals and quite another to capture it alive and unharmed and get it to Sogambrium."

"Alas! I fear I have no experience in such things. As a vegetarian, I have avoided all matters of chase and venery. I use the latter word in its hunting sense; albeit, scilicet, the other meaning were also apt for an adept like myself."

"Then who could advise me in this matter?"

Baldonius pondered, then smiled through his waterfall of beard. "There's an unlikely expert dwelling nigh unto Baron Rainmar's demesne, namely and to wit: my cousin Svanhalla."

"The witch of Hesselbourn?"

"The same, but don't let her hear you call her that. A witch, she insists, is a practitioner, of either sex, of black, illegal goëtics, whereas she's a respectable she-wizard or enchantress, whose magics are all beneficient and lawful. My encyclopedia traces the derivation of these words—"

"Never mind," said Eudoric hastily, as Baldonius began to turn the pages. "I've not met her, but I've heard. She's a crankly old puzzle, they say. What would she know of the techniques of hunting?"

"She knows surprising things. 'Twas always said in the fraternity, if ye wish some utterly useless bit of odd information, which nobody on earth could rightly be expected to have—say, for example, what Count Holmer the pretender had for breakfast the day they cut off's head—go ask Svanhalla. I'll give you a letter to her. I haven't seen her for years, for fear of her raspy tongue."

"So ye be a knight now?" said Svanhalla, sitting with Eudoric in the gloom of her hut. "Not by any feats of chivalry, ta-rah! ta-rah! But by shrewdly taking advantage of what luck hath brought you, heh? I know the tale of how ye slew that Pathenian dragon—how ye missed clean with the Serican thunder-tube and ran for your life, and how Jillo by chance touched off the sack of fire-powder just as the beast waddled o'er it."

Silently cursing Jillo's loose tongue, Eudoric kept his temper. "Had I been twice as brave and thrice as adept with the thunder weapon, Madam, 'twould have availed us nought had luck been against us. We should have made but toothsome morsels for the reptile. But let's to business. Baldonius says you can advise me on the capture of unicorns in Bricken."

"I mought, if ye made it worth me while."

"How much?"

After a haggle, Eudoric and Svanhalla agreed on a fee of sixty marks, half then and the rest when the unicorn was secured. Eudoric paid.

"First," said the witch of Hesselbourn, "ye must needs find a virgin, of above fifteen years. If the tales I hear be true, that may take some doing in Arduen, what with you and your lecherous brethren . . ."

"Madam! I have not carnally known any local lasses for nigh a year—"

"Aye, aye, I ken. When the lust becomes too great, ye fare to the whores of Kromnitch. Ye should be respectably wived by now, but the girls all think you a cold-blooded opportunist. Therein, they're not altogether wrong; for whilst ye love women, ye love your gold even more, heh!"

"You needn't rub it in," said Eudoric. "Besides, I seek advice on hunting, not love."

"Heh! Well then, your brother Olf doth cut a veritable swath amid the maids of Arduen. Not that I blame the lad overmuch. He's good-looking, and too many peasant maids think to catch a lordling with their coyntes for bait. They hope, if not for lawful wedlock, at least for affluent concubinage. So they all but shout: 'Come, take me, fair sir!' 'Tis a rotten, degenerate age we live in."

"Since you know so much about affairs in Arduen, who, then is still a virgin?"

"For that, I must needs consult my familiar." She issued further instructions on the mechanics of capture, ending: "Come back on the morrow. Meanwhile go to Frotz the rope-maker to order your net and Karlvag the wainwright for your wheeled cage. Be sure they be big and strong enough, else ye may have less luck than ye had with the dragon, heh!"

When Eudoric returned to Svanhalla's house, he found her talking to a bat the size of an eagle. This creature hung upside down from her rafters, along with smoked hams, bags of onions, and other edibles. When Eudoric jumped back, the witch cackled.

"Fear not Nigmalkin, brave and mighty hero! She's as sweetly loving a little demon as ye shall find in the kingdom, heh. Moreover, she tells me what ye be fain to know."

"And that is?"

"That in all of Arduen, there's but one wench that would fill your bill. True, there be other virgins in fact, but none suitable. Cresseta Almundsdaughter is ill and like to die; Greda Paersdaughter's father is a religious fanatic who won't let her out of his sight; and so on."

"Then who is available?"

"Bertrud, daughter of Ulfred the Unwashed."

"Oh, gods! She takes after her sire; one can detect her down-wind at half a mile. Is that the best you can do, Svanhalla?"

"So it is. Take it or leave it. After all, a proud, fierce adventurer like yourself shouldn't mind a few little stenches, now should he?"

Eudoric sighed. "Well, I shall imagine myself back in that prison cell in Pathenia. It stank even worse."

Bertrud Ulfredsdaughter would, if cleaned up, have been a handsome girl; some would say, even beautiful. Ulfred the Unwashed had once been told by a fortuneteller that he would die of a tisick caught from washing. He had therefore forsworn all external contact with water, and his daughter had fallen into similar habits.

Eudoric rode roundabout from Arduen back to the wilderness of Bricken. He avoided the demesnes of his old foe, Baron Rainmar of Hessel, and tried to keep on the windward side of Bertrud.

Besides Bertrud, with Eudoric rode Jillo's younger brother, a simple farm worker named Theovic Godmarson, to help with the heavy work. Jillo followed, driving the wheeled cage. Eudoric left Jillo with this vehicle at the edge of the forest, into which no road wide enough for it ran.

After a day of searching, while watching cautiously for the nearly-invisible webs of the giant spiders, Eudoric chose a spot. Here grew a giant beech, with enough boughs near the ground to make for easy climbing. It also stood near an affluent of the Lupa, by which they pitched their camp.

It took the rest of the day to rig the net, attaching it by slip knots to the higher branches of the beech and two nearby trees, so that one good pull on the release lanyard would bring the whole thing down. Leaden weights along the edges of the net assured that, when it fell, it would envelop the prey. They made the net heavy, and the summer day was hot. By the time they completed their task, Eudoric and Theovic were bathed in sweat. They threw themselves down and lay panting and listening to the buzz and chirp of insects.

"I'm for a bath," said Eudoric. "You too, Theovic? Bertrud, if you go round yonder bend in the stream, you'll find a pool where you can wash in privacy. 'Twould do you no scathe."

"Me, wash?" said the girl. " 'Tis an unwholesome habit. An ye'd risk your death of cold, 'tis your affair."

During the night, Eudoric heard the snort of a unicorn. The next morning, therefore, he caused Bertrud to sit at the base of the beech, while he and Theovic climbed the tree and waited. Peering through the bronze-green leaves, Eudoric held the lanyard that would release the net. Bertrud languidly waved away the cloud of flies that seemed to follow her as a permanent escort.

When it arrived, in the afternoon, the unicorn did not look much like the dainty creatures, half horse and half gazelle, shown on tapestries in the Emperor's palace. Its body and limbs were like those of a buffalo, six feet at the shoulder hump, while its huge, warty head bore some resemblance to that of a gigantic hog. The twisted horn sprouted from its head above the eyes.

The unicorn approached the great beech, under which Bertrud sat. The beast moved cautiously, one step at a time. When it was almost under the net, it halted, sniffing with big, flaring nostrils.

It sniffed some more. Then it threw up its head and gave a colossal grunt, like a lion's roar but more guttural. It rolled its eyes and pawed the earth with cloven forehooves.

"Bertrud!" Eudoric called. "It's going to charge! Get up the tree, forthwith!"

As the unicorn bounded forward, the girl, who had watched it with increasing dismay on her soil-caked face, scrambled to her feet and swarmed up the low branches. The beast skidded to a halt, glaring about with bloodshot eyes.

Eudoric pulled the lanyard. As the net began to fall, the unicorn sprang forward again, swerved to miss the tree, and continued on. One of the leaden weights of the net struck the unicorn's rump as the net settled to the ground.

With a frightful bellow, the unicorn whirled, champing its great dog-teeth or tusks. Seeing no foe, it galloped off into the forest. The crashing and drumming of its passage died away.

When the unicorn-hunters were back on the ground, Eudoric said: "That settles it. Baldonius said these creatures are sensitive to odors. You, my dear Bertrud, have odor for six. Theovic, you shall go to Hessel Minor and buy a cake of soap and a sponge. Here's money."

"Wouldn't ye rather go and leave me to guard the lass, me lord?" said Theovic with a cunning gleam.

"Nay. If I were recognized, Rainmar would have his bully boys after us; so keep a close mouth whilst there. Go, and with luck you'll be back for dinner."

With a sigh, Theovic saddled his horse and trotted off. With a trembling lip, Bertrud asked: "What—what will ye do to me, sir? Am I to be beaten or raped?"

"Nonsense, wench! I won't hurt a hair of your head. Don't think that, because I have a 'Sir' before my name, I go about bullying the commonality. I try to treat folk as they merit, be they serf or king."

"What will ye do, then?"

"You shall see."

"Ye mean to wash me, that's what! I'll not endure it! I'll run away into the wildwood—"

"With unicorns and other uncanny beasts lurking about? Methinks not."

"I'll show thee! I go—"

She started off at random. Eudoric imitated the grunt of the unicorn. Bertrud shrieked, ran back, and threw her arms around Eudoric's neck. Eudoric firmly unpeeled her, saying:

"When you're cleaned up and the unicorn's caught, then, if you're fain to play such games, we shall see."

Theovic returned at sunset, saying: "Here's your soap and all, me lord. Jillo asked after you, and I told him all went well."

Since Bertrud was cooking their supper, Eudoric let the bath go until morning. Then, stripped to his breech clout and with gleeful help from Theovic, he pushed and hauled Bertrud, struggling and weeping, down to the branch of the Lupa. They pulled off her skirt and blouse and forced her into the water. She shrieked:

"Gods, that's cold!"

" 'Tis the best we have, my lady," said Eudoric, scrubbing vigorously. "By the Divine Pair, wench, you have layers of dirt over layers of dirt! Hold still, damn your arse! . . . Hand me the comb, Theovic. I'd get some of the tangles out of this hair. All right, I can manage the rest. It's time you fed the horses."

Theovic started back towards the camp. Eudoric continued soaping, scrubbing, and ducking his victim.

"Now," he said, "does that feel so dreadful?"

"I—I know not, sir. 'Tis a feeling I never have felt ere now. But I'm cold; let me warm myself against you. My, beant you the strong fellow, though?"

"You're no weakling yourself," said Eudoric, "after the struggle I had to get you in here."

"I work hard. There's none to do the chores, since me mother ran away with that pedlar, but me father and me. What thews!"

She felt his biceps, inching closer until her big, firm teats rubbed his chest. Eudoric felt a familiar stirring in his loin cloth.

"Now, now, my dear," he said. "I said, after the brute's captured, not before." When she continued her attentions and started to explore Eudoric's person, he barked: "I said nay!" and pushed her away.

He pushed harder than he intended, so that she fell backwards and got another ducking. When she scrambled up, her expression had changed.

"So!" she said. "The high and mighty knight won't look at a poor peasant lass! Too grand for aught but them perfumed, painted whores of the courts! Ye may take them all to Hell with you, for all of me!"

She strode out of the pool, picked up her garments, and vanished towards the camp.

Eudoric looked after her with a troubled smile. He devoted himself to his own bath until the smell of breakfast reminded him of the passage of time.

He and Theovic rigged the net again. This time, the unicorn came around noon. As before, it seemed about to approach the seated Bertrud but then went into a frenzy of rage. Again, Bertrud had to scramble up the tree to safety.

This time, the unicorn did not even wait for Eudoric to pull the lanyard. It blundered off into the forest at once.

Eudoric sighed. "At least, we shan't have to haul that damned net up into the trees again. But what could have gone wrong this time? . . . " He caught a faint smirk on Theovic's face. "Oho, so thither lies the wind, eh? Whilst I was bathing this morn, you were futtering our frail, so she's no more a virgin!"

Theovic and Bertrud giggled.

"I'll show you two witlings!" howled Eudoric.

He whipped out his hunting falchion and started for the pair. Although he meant only to spank them with the flat, they fled with shrieks of mortal terror. Eudoric ran after them, brandishing the short, curved sword, until he tripped over a root and then fell sprawling. When he had pulled himself together again, Theovic and Bertrud were out of sight.

On the borders of the wilderness, Eudoric told Jillo: "When that idiot brother of yours comes in, tell him, if he wants his pay, to return to finish his task. Nay, I won't hurt him, for all his loonery. I should have foreseen what would happen. Now I must needs leave these nags with you whilst I ride Daisy back to Svanhalla's hut."

When Eudoric came again to the cabin of the witch of Hesselbourn, Svanhalla cackled. "Ah, well, ye did your best. But, when the devil of carnal desire reaves a youth or a maid, it takes one of monkish humor to withstand it. That's something neither of those twain possesses."

"All very true, Madam," said Eudoric, "but what next? Where shall I find another virgin, sound of wind and limb?"

"I'll send me familiar, Nigmalkin, out to scout the neighboring holdings. Baron Rainmar's daughter Maragda's a filly unridden, but she's to wed in a month. Besides, I misdoubt ye'd find her suitable."

"I should say not! Rainmar would hang me if he could lay hands on me. But . . . Harken, Madam Svanhalla, would not you qualify for the part?"

The witch's bony jaw sagged. "Now that, Sir Eudoric, is something I should never have hit upon. Aye, for all these years—an hundred and more—I have forsworn such carnal delights in pursuit of the highest grades of magical wisdom. For a price, mayhap. . . . But how would ye get an ancient bag of bones like me to yonder wildwood? I'm spry enough around this little cabin, but not for long tramps or horseback rides."

"We'll get you a horse litter," said Eudoric. "Bide you here, and I shall soon be back."

Thus it came to pass that, half a month later, the aged witch of Hesselbourn sat at the foot of the same beech tree on which Eudoric had rigged his net. After a day's wait, the unicorn approached, sniffed, then knelt in front of Svanhalla and laid its porcine head in her bony lap.

Eudoric pulled the lanyard. The net fell. As Svanhalla scrambled to safety, the unicorn surged up, shaking its head and snorting. Its efforts to free itself only got it more entangled. Eudoric dropped down from the branches, un-slung the hunting horn from his back, and blew a blast to summon Jillo.

Eudoric, Jillo, and the forgiven Theovic rolled the beast, exhausted, but still struggling, on an ox hide. Avoiding thrashing hooves and foaming jaws, they lashed it down. Then the hide was hitched to three horses, which towed the ungainly bundle along the trail to where they had left the wheeled cage.

It took most of a day to get the animal into the cage. Once it almost got away from them, and a soaking thunderstorm made their task no easier. At last the brute was securely locked in.

Eudoric and his helpers shoved armfulls of fresh-cut grain stalks through the bars. The unicorn, which had not eaten in two days, fell to.

The Archduke Rolgang said: "Sir Eudoric, ye've done well. The Emperor is pleased—nay, delighted. In sooth, he so admires your beast that he's decided to keep the monster in his own menagerie, 'stead o' sending it off to the Cham of the Pantorozians."

"I am gratified, Your Highness," said Eudoric. "But meseems there was nother matter, touching your daughter Petrilla, was there not?"

The fat Archduke coughed behind his hand. "Well, now, as to that, ye put me in a position of embarrassment. Ye see, the damsel's no longer to be had, alas, no matter how noble and virtuous her suitor."

"Not dead?" cried Eudoric.

"Nay; quite otherwise. I'd have saved her for you, but my duty to the Empire overbore my private scruples."

"Will you have the goodness to explain, my lord?"

"Aye, certes. The Grand Cham paid his visit, as planned. No sooner, howsomever, had he set eyes 'pon Petrilla than he was smitten with a romantical passion. Nor was she 'verse.

"Ye see, laddie, she's long complained that no gallant gentleman of the Empire could ever love a squatty, swarthy, full-bodied lass like her. But here comes the mighty Cham Czik, master of hordes of fur-capped nomads. He, too, is a short, stout, swart, bowlegged wight. So 'twas love at first sight."

"I thought," said Eudoric, "she and I had exchanged mutual promises—not publicly, but—"

"I reminded her of that, also. But, if ye'll pardon my saying so, that was a hard-faced commercial deal, with no more sentiment than a turnip hath blood."

"And she's—"

"Gone off with the Grand Cham to his home on the boundless steppes, to be his seventeenth—or mayhap eighteenth, I forget which—wife. Not the husband I'd have chosen for her, being a heathen and already multiply wived; but she'd made up her mind. That's why my 'perial brother did not deem it necessary to send the Cham your unicorn, since Lord Gzik had already received from us an unthridden pearl of great price.

"But, even if Petrilla be no longer at hand, my brother and I mean not to let your service go unrewarded. Stand up, Sir Eudoric! In the name of His Imperial Majesty, I hereby present you with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Unicorn, with oak leaves and diamonds."

"Ouch!" said Eudoric. "Your Highness, is it necessary to pin the medal to my skin as well as my coat?"

"Oh, your pardon, Sir Eudoric." The Archduke fumbled with fat fingers and finally got the clasp locked. "There ye are, laddie! Take a look in the mirror."

"It looks splendid. Pray convey to His Imperial Majesty my undying thanks and gratitude."

Privately, Eudoric fumed. The medal was pretty; but he was no metropolitian courtier, swanking at imperial balls in shining raiment. On his plain rustic garb, the bauble looked silly. While he could let Petrilla go without uncontrollable grief, he thought that, if they were going to reward him, a neat life pension would have been more to the point, or at least the repayment of his expenses in unicorn-hunting. Of course, if times got hard and the order were neither lost nor stolen, he could pawn or sell it. . . .

He said nothing of all this, however, endeavoring to look astonished, awed, proud, and grateful all at the same time. Rolgang added:

"And now, laddie, there's the little matter we spake of aforetime. Ye are authorized to extend your coach line to Sogambrium, and beyond, if ye can manage it. By a decree of His Imperial Majesty, howsomever, all fares collected for such scheduled carriage shall henceforth be subject to a tax of fifty per centum; payable monthly. . . ."

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