The man and the unicorn came to the seashore, letting the waves wash their feet and hooves.
“Let’s rest a while,” said the man. He pulled out the bloodied ropes and muddy sandbags. Picking one up, he tossed it from hand to hand.
“You… kept them?” asked the unicorn.
“I couldn’t leave them on the road. Someone has to carry them,” said the man. “I’m quite strong enough,” he said.
“No, please, I can’t have you carry my burdens. Please, let me carry them on my back for you,” said the unicorn. “In fact, put everything on my back. Ride me the rest of way,” pleaded the unicorn.
The man gave him a sideways look. “Your back hasn’t healed yet, and you want to take on a burden greater than the one you carried? One that isn’t yours to bear?” asked the man.
“Well…” started the unicorn.
“I was instructed to walk and care, so care and walk I will,” said the man.
Seagulls chirped above them, riding the thermals. The beach was cool and tranquil.
“Tell me about these bags,” said the man. “Where did they come from? Where did you come from?” he asked.
The unicorn straightened his muscular shoulders and faced the horizon. “I came from the same place as you, I imagine,” he answered slyly.
The man gave him a gentle splash. “Alright, alright. And the bags?”
As the tide went down, a smooth black rock appeared in the sand. The man sat, ready for the unicorn’s tale.
“I came upon the herd of horses running in the field one day,” he began. “I’d been wandering on my own, looking for something for many years.
“One of the colts found me, and wanted to play. What he didn’t know is that though I was only a little bigger than him, I was older than his grandmother,” said the unicorn.
“You’re an old soul, then,” said the man.
The unicorn reared on his hind legs and splashed the man as he landed. “Not unlike yourself, sir!”
Wiping the seawater from his eyes, he said, “but a child at heart nonetheless.”
The unicorn looked at the scars around his hooves, the memories pulling him back into his heaviness.
“The colt had a short, thick dark mane, and a rich brown coat that shined as he ran. I followed, and chased him through the tall grass, but he was much faster than I was. Finally when I was just close enough, I charged and tipped my head just so,” said the unicorn. “And my horn touched him.”
“He was a good sport about it, I hope?” said the man.
“I suppose. It was the first time I’d really played with anyone. After I’d tagged him, he stumbled to a stop and trotted over back to me. The poor lad had only just realized I’d had a horn at all!
“‘Where did that come from? That’s not fair, put it away!’ he cried. I told him quite simply I couldn’t and that it had always been there, but he wouldn’t believe me.”
“Hmm,” thought the man. “I suppose, with your silver coat and if your horn were shorter then, it could have gone unnoticed by young eyes.”
“Oh, what young eyes,” said the unicorn. “He’d never seen anything like me, and he thought I was a horse.” The unicorn smiled to himself. “Then again, I thought I was a horse. I’d never seen anyone who looked even a bit like me,” he said. “But that’s when the colt said something I haven’t stopped hearing since.
“‘You’re… strange,’ he said. ‘Strange?’ I asked. ‘Yeah! Um… different. I’m only a colt and you can’t run as fast as me, and you’re bigger than me. And your coat is different, and your voice is different, and you’re dull like the grown ups, but not quite as dull. And then you’ve got… that thing, of course.'”
“Ha, a tongue as quick as his gallop! Indeed you are different from the horses. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were made of moonlight itself,” interrupted the man.
The unicorn ignored his comment and recollected his thoughts.
“The colt brought me to the herd and the adults also weren’t sure what to make of me. Was I a horse, a child, an adult? I’m not sure why, but they invited me to stay. I had nowhere else to go, so joined their herd.
“Growing up with them, I had never belonged anywhere before, so I was determined to be a horse. With time, and training, I could run with them, and loved running. I even ran faster than some of the other horses.”
The man waited for the unicorn to continue, but he was still staring at the horizon.
“…And the bags?” asked the man cautiously.
“Oh, they were my training of course. If I could run day and night with the horses while I was weighed down, how much faster would I be without them?” said the unicorn. “Some nights I thought to myself, ‘once I’m fast enough to take these off, I may even grow wings and fly with the Pegasus,” he said.
The man surveyed the unicorn’s impressive figure. Muscular, powerful, lithe. Scarred, weary. Though he was capable, being a horse was not his element. Though he was content, he was not satisfied. It broke the man’s heart.
“I see you,” said the unicorn, almost playfully. How could the man have forgotten that piercing gaze?
“You’re wondering why I never took off the sandbags,” said the unicorn. The man adjusted his seat on the rock, waiting.
“Tell me,” he said.