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The Black Unicorn

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The Black Unicorn

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Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Orbit, 2007
Del Rey, 1987
Series: Magic Kingdom of Landover: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Comic Fantasy
Alternate/Parallel Universe
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Synopsis

A year had passed since Ben Holiday bought the Magic Kingdon from the wizard, Meeks. But unbeknownst to him, he has been the victim of a trap by Meeks, who has succeeded in stealing the Paladin and appropriating his face. Suddenly none of Ben's friends know him, but all of his enemies do. He must win it all back again--only this time on his own!


Excerpt

"I had a dream last night," Ben Holiday announced to his friends at breakfast that morning.

He might as well have been giving a weather report. The wizard Questor Thews did not appear to hear him, his lean, owlish face furrowed in thought, his gaze directed some twenty feet above the breakfast table at an invisible point in space. The kobolds Bunion and Parsnip barely looked up from eating. The scribe Abernathy managed a look of polite curiosity, but for a shaggy-faced dog whose normal look was one of polite curiosity, that was not particularly difficult.

Only the sylph Willow, just come into the dining hall of castle Sterling Silver and seated next to him, showed any real interest--a sudden change of expression that was oddly disquieting.

"I dreamed about home," he continued, determined to pursue the matter. "I dreamed about the old world."

"Excuse me?" Questor was looking at him now, apparently returned from whatever planet he had been visiting. "Excuse me, but did I hear you say something about ...?"

"Exactly what did you dream about the old world, High Lord?" Abernathy interrupted impatiently, polite curiosity become faint disapproval. He looked at Ben meaningfully over the rims of his eyeglasses. He always looked at him like that when Ben mentioned anything about the old world.

Ben forged ahead. "I dreamed about Miles Bennett. You remember my telling you about Miles, don't you--my old law partner? Well, I dreamed about him. I dreamed that he was in trouble. It wasn't a complete dream; there wasn't a true beginning or end. It was as if I came in halfway through the story. Miles was in his office, working, sorting through these papers. There were phone calls coming in, messages being delivered, people in the shadows where I couldn't see them clearly. But I could see that Miles was practically frantic. He looked terrible. He kept asking for me. He kept wondering where I was, why I wasn't there. I called out to him, but he didn't hear me. Then there was a distortion of some sort, a darkness, a twisting of what I was seeing. Miles kept calling, asking for me. Then something came between us, and I woke up."

He glanced briefly at the faces about him. They all were listening now. "But that doesn't really tell you everything," he added quickly. "There was a sense of ... some impending disaster lurking behind the whole series of images. There was an intensity that was frightening. It was so ... real."

"Some dreams are like that, High Lord," Abernathy observed, shrugging. He pushed the eyeglasses back on his nose and folded his forelegs primly across his vested chest. He was a fastidious dog. "Dreams are frequently manifestations of our subconscious fears, I've read."

"Not this dream," Ben insisted. "This was more than your average, garden-variety dream. This was like a premonition."

"Abernathy sniffed. "And I suppose the next thing you are going to tell me is that on the strength of this emotionally distressing, but rationally unfounded, dream you feel compelled to return to your old world?" The scribe was making no effort to conceal his distress now, his worst fears about to be realized.

Ben hesitated. It had been more than a year since he had passed into the mists of the fairy world somewhere deep in the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains twenty miles southwest of Waynesboro, Virginia, and entered the kingdom of Landover. He had paid a million dollars for the privilege, answering an advertisement in a department store catalogue, acting more out of desperation than out of reason. He had come into Landover as King, but his acceptance as such by the land's inhabitants had not come easily. Attacks on his claim to the throne had come from every quarter. Creatures whose very existence he had once believed impossible had nearly destroyed him. Magic, the power that governed everything in this strangely compelling world, was the two-edged sword he had been forced to master in order to survive. Reality had been redefined for him since he had made his decision to enter the mists, and the life he had known as a trial lawyer in Chicago, Illinois, seemed far removed from his present existence. Still, that old life was not completely forgotten, and he thought now and then of going back.

His eyes met those of his scribe. He didn't know what answer to give. "I admit that I am worried about Miles," he said finally.

The dining hall was very quiet. The kobolds had stopped eating, their monkey faces frozen in those frightening half grins that showed all their considerable teeth. Abernathy was rigid in his seat. Willow had gone pale, and it appeared that she was about to speak.

But it was Questor Thews who spoke first. "A moment, High Lord," he advised thoughtfully, one bony finger placed to his lips.

He rose from the table, dismissed from the room the serving boys who stood surreptitiously on either side, and closed the doors tightly behind them. The six friends were alone in the cavernous dining hall. That apparently wasn't enough for Questor. The great arched entry at the far end of the room opened through a foyer to the remainder of the castle. Questor walked silently to its mouth and peered about.

Ben watched curiously, wondering why Questor was being so cautious. Admittedly, it wasn't like the old days when there were only the six of them living at Sterling Silver. Now there were retainers of all ages and ranks, soldiers and guardsmen, emissaries and envoys, messengers and assorted others that comprised his court, all stumbling over one another and into his private life when it was least convenient. But it wasn't as if the subject of his going back to the old world hadn't been discussed openly before--and by practically everyone. It wasn't as if the people of Landover didn't know by this time that he wasn't a native Landoverian.

He smiled ruefully. Ah, well--there was no harm in being cautious.

He stretched, loosening muscles still tightened from sleep. He was a man of ordinary appearance, his height and build medium, his weight evenly distributed. His movements were quick and precise; he had been a boxer in his youth and still retained much of his old skill. His face was brown from sun and wind with high cheekbones and forehead, a hawk nose, and a hairline that receded slightly at the corners. Age lines were beginning to show at the corners of his eyes, but the eyes themselves were brilliant blue and icy.

His gaze shifted ceilingward. Morning sunlight streamed through high glass windows and danced off polished wood and stone. The warmth of the castle seeped through him, and he could feel her stir restlessly. She was always listening. He knew that she had heard him speak of the dream and was responding with a measure of discontent. She was the mother who worried for her brash, incautious child. She was the mother who sought always to keep that child safe beside her. She didn't like it when he talked of leaving.

He glanced covertly at his friends: Questor Thews, the wizard whose magic frequently misfired, a ragtag scarecrow of patchwork robes and tangled gestures; Abernathy, the court scribe become a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier through Questor's magic and left that way when the magic couldn't be found to change him back again, a dog in gentleman's clothing; Willow, the beautiful sylph who was half woman, half tree, a creature of the fairy world with magic of her own; and Bunion and Parsnip, the kobolds who looked like big-eared monkeys in knickers, a messenger and a cook. He had found them all so strange in the beginning. A year later, he found them comfortable and reassuring and felt protected in their presence.

He shook his head. He lived in a world of dragons and witches, of gnomes, trolls, and other strange creatures, of living castles and fairy magic. He lived in a fantasy kingdom in which he was King. He was what he had once only dreamed of being. The old world was long past, the old life gone. Odd, then, that he still thought of that world and life so frequently, of Miles Bennett and Chicago, of the law practice, of the responsibilities and obligations he had left behind. Threads from the tapestry of last night's dream entwined within his memory and tugged relentlessly at him. He could not forget easily, it seemed, what had comprised so many years of his life ...

Questor Thews cleared his throat.

"I had a dream last night as well, High Lord," the wizard declared, returned from his reconnaissance. Ben's eyes snapped up. The tall, robed figure hunched down over his high-backed chair, green eyes clear and distant. The bony fingers of one hand scratched the bearded chin, and the voice was a wary hiss. "My dream was of the missing books of magic!"

Ben understood the other's caution now. Few within Landover knew of the books of magic. The books had belonged to Questor's half-brother, the former court wizard of Landover, a fellow Ben had known in the old world as Meeks. It was Meeks, in league with a disgruntled heir to the throne, who had sold Ben the kingship of Landover for one million dollars--certain that Ben would fall victim to one of any number of traps set to destroy him, certain that when Ben was finally dispatched the kingship would become his to sell again. Meeks had thought to make Questor his ally, the promise of knowledge from the hidden books of magic the carrot used to entice his half-brother to his cause. But Questor and Ben had become allies instead, eluding all the traps that Meeks had set and severing the old wizard's ties with Landover for good.

Copyright © 1987 by Terry Brooks


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