Award winners Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman’s THE UNICORN ANTHOLOGY preview: “The Highest Justice” by Garth Nix
In celebration for the release of THE UNICORN ANTHOLOGY, from the World Fantasy Award-winning tandem Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman.
girl did not ride the unicorn, because no one ever did. She rode a
nervous oat-colored palfrey that had no name, and led the second
horse, a blind and almost-deaf ancient who long ago had been called
Rinaldo and was now simply Rin. The unicorn sometimes paced next to
the palfrey, and sometimes not.
bore the dead Queen on his back, barely noticing her twitches and
mumbles and the cloying stench of decaying flesh that seeped out
through the honey- and spice-soaked bandages. She was tied to the
saddle, but could have snapped those bonds if she had thought to do
so. She had become monstrously strong since her death three days
before, and the intervention by her daughter that had returned her to
a semblance of life.
that Princess Jess as a witch or necromancer. She knew no more magic
than any other young woman. But she was fifteen years old, a virgin,
and she believed the old tale of the kingdom’s founding: that the
unicorn who had aided the legendary Queen Jessibelle the First was
still alive and would honor the compact made so long ago, to come in
the time of the kingdom’s need.
unicorn’s secret name was Elibet. Jess had called this name to the
waxing moon at midnight from the tallest tower of the castle, and had
seen something ripple in answer across the surface of the earth’s
companion in the sky.
hour later Elibet was in the tower. She was somewhat like a horse
with a horn, if you looked at her full on, albeit one made of white
cloud and moonshine. Looked at sideways she was a fiercer thing, of
less familiar shape, made of storm clouds and darkness, the horn more
prominent and bloody at the tip, like the setting sun. Jess preferred
to see a white horse with a silvery horn, and so that is what she
had called the unicorn as her mother gasped out her final breath. The
unicorn had come too late to save the Queen, but by then Jess had
another plan. The unicorn listened and then by the power of her horn,
brought back some part of the Queen to inhabit a body from which life
had all too quickly sped.
had then set forth, to seek the Queen’s poisoner, and mete out
halted her palfrey as they came to a choice of ways. The royal forest
was thick and dark in these parts, and the path was no more than a
beaten track some dozen paces wide. It forked ahead, into two lesser,
way?” asked Jess, speaking to the unicorn, who had once again
mysteriously appeared at her side.
unicorn pointed her horn at the left-hand path.
you sure—” Jess asked. “No, it’s just that—”
other way looks more traveled—”
I’m not losing heart—”
know you know—”
to yourself?” interjected a rough male voice, the only other sound
in the forest, for if the unicorn had spoken, no one but Jess had
palfrey shied as Jess swung around and reached for her sword. But she
was too late, as a dirty bearded ruffian held a rusty pike to her
side. He grinned, and raised his eyebrows.
a tasty morsel, then,” he leered. “Step down lightly, and no
said Jess indignantly.
unicorn slid out of the forest behind the outlaw, and lightly pricked
him in the back of his torn leather jerkin with her horn. The man’s
eyebrows went up still farther and his eyes darted to the left and
your pike,” said Jess. “My friend can strike faster than any
give up,” he wheezed, leaning forward as if he might escape the
sharp horn. “Ease off on the spear, and take me to the sheriff. I
interrupted the Queen. Her voice had changed with her death. It had
become gruff and leathery, and significantly less human.
bandit glanced at the veiled figure under the broad-brimmed pilgrim’s
he asked hesitantly.
groaned the Queen. “Hunger.”
raised her right arm, and the leather cord that bound her to the
saddle’s high cantle snapped with a sharp crack. A bandage came
loose at her wrist and dropped to the ground in a series of spinning
turns, revealing the mottled blue-bruised skin beneath.
’em!” shouted the bandit as he dove under Jess’s horse and
scuttled across the path toward the safety of the trees.
For more info about THE UNICORN ANTHOLOGY, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Thomas Canty
Design by Elizabeth Story