The unicorns are no longer with us. They do not graze in chaste splendour in fields glittering with the metallic residue of their golden hooves. They do not kneel by the sides of maidens, harnessed by their purity and unbound hair. Their ivory horns, composed from an alchemist’s fantasy of unnamed antidotes and elixirs – the random mysteries of science – have vanished. Ground into powders that lie forgotten in chemists’ cupboards, or mixed into tinted pastes that still wait on boudoir tables – these symbols of equine mythology are no longer with us. They have escaped into the elements – blood and legend vanishing into symbols written on a wall: earth, air, fire and water.
Beneath our feet, their muscles still ripple – their bones still shape the world. Continents split as the buried memories grow restless and shake their heads in noble impatience. The white horses carved into the sides of ancient mountains are paying homage to their improbable ancestors whose nacreous skin once shimmered like a torrent of pearls.
Curling through the air in vaporous filigrees, thundering down from the clouds in equine gusts, their breath pursues us – tickling our necks, urging us to turn around. Invisible and companionable, they live in the breezes that circle the earth and gallop above the waves in a salty, ethereal frieze.
They live above the constellations, beyond the moon who rules the sky with her femininity and luminescence. Prancing above a twilight circus of planets, interstellar dust and clouds of diamante and lavender, they kick with a lunar spirit creating a burst of disturbed, pronged stars.
Yet as their breathing twists through the air, so do their silhouettes twist in the flames – in the graceful fire that sparks and flashes like hooves on stones. Their shadows hide in the blaze – their courage and nobility feeds it. When we stare, hypnotized, into the fires that soar like bronzed wings, it is the unrecognized mythological profile that holds us so tightly. It is the resting, waiting legend that spellbinds us.
Long ago, in a perverse reversal of animals escaping from the sea in a triumph of scales and slime, unicorns escaped into the ocean. They walked through kelp forests, rhythmic inside of turquoise and jade currents, grazing with the fishes in the apricot shadows of coral beds.
But fishing hooks – piercing the water with their unsubtle bait – scarred their skin. Their legs were caught and broken in the nets that billowed with tremulous danger. Fishermen pulling up their nets saw the tears and broken bits of horn and thought fabulous thoughts. And when they returned from the sea, their stories created new legends and fears.
Within its newest hiding place, the unicorn evolved. Its legs disappeared; its body became thick and mottled. Its tail, which was once tended by ladies with diamond and ebony combs, turned into flesh. Almost unrecognizable, it lives there still.