Childhood Again

Unicorns are fierce, and a little scary. Maybe I should qualify that a little – drunken un-dead unicorns are fierce and scary. More specifically, drunk, un-dead, magic-using unicorns with red hair who shout at me like my mother did when she was angry are scary.

I had gone to the tavern to catch up on the stock-taking and book updates I hadn’t done the previous day, on account of being distracted by gryphons. Mitternacht was there, looking somewhat sorry for herself; bruised, black-eyed, and somewhat shortened in the horn department. Her story was that she had fallen down the stairs, returning from the palace in the dark. It sounded like an excuse, but, aside from Eli, I can’t imagine who might want to punch her. Plus, given her age, unsteadiness and her height relative to the stairs, falling down was entirely possible. She was in search of some herbs to help with the pain where her horn had broken off. I was not sure what to offer her. I could only recall the willow bark that Mother used to use, or the clove oil she would use on toothaches. I did suggest the infirmary, although I had no idea what drugs might work on a unicorn, but as she pointed out, getting treatment there would be difficult.

She didn’t seem too concerned about the horn. In fact, she gave me the piece that had broken off, thinking it would be better than the smaller, green piece she had given me at the start of my magical training. Apparently, her horn will grow back, but she will have to carve the spiral in it again. And there was I thinking that the spiral was a natural part of the horn. I thanked her and put it away, though I did have to confess that I had neglected my magical practice of late. I made some other suggestions about pain relief, including offering a whisky. This idea, she liked, so I poured a double and put it in a bowl for her to drink and gave her a refill when she asked.

Aoibheann turned up, looking like she had lost a fight, and cradling a tiny seedling in a pot. She seemed more concerned, however, for the plant, which she had called Ardan. She was looking for a safe place to put him. I remembered the care Mother used to take of the house plants and her herbs, and suggested the window of the front bedroom, or the balcony itself, both south-facing, reasoning that now spring was here, frosts were unlikely, and the balcony was a nice sheltered spot. Mitternacht wondered if she had fallen down the stairs also, but Aoibheann was not to be deflected. Still she asked about the plant, even asking Wren, who turned up after school, playing with her rat. We all pretty much gave the same advice. Well, I did, remembering how mother used to look after her herbs, and Wren had similar ideas, which she only briefly mentioned before the rat escaped and she ran off after it. Mitternacht, on the other hand deigned to give advice, claiming that she was useless with them, always forgetting to water them. She started slurring her words a bit and Aoibheann immediately blamed me, asking how much I had given her and why hadn’t I given her Chamomile tea. I told her that I had only given Mitternacht what she asked for and that she was old enough to decide what she wanted. I also said that Mitternacht was an experienced herbalist, who presumably knew best what she needed to deal with her pain.

That, apparently, was the wrong thing to say. She got really touchy about that, as though I had told a blatant lie. Mitternacht, meanwhile, seemed to have tired of our whisky and produced something from her saddlebag. I don’t know what it was, but even the smell was enough to crinkle paint. I suspect she had been drinking it before she came in. All of a sudden, she yelled at us both to kiss already. I was mildly amused, even though I have no such intentions towards Aoibheann, but she got really angry, flaring and hissing at me that she had all these things to deal with – faeries and magic and stuff and didn’t need to deal with me. I responded that this was a shame, since somebody had to deal with the tavern while she was off doing all these things. We didn’t get any further because Mitternacht lost her temper and yelled at us both again to stop bickering. It was just like being back at home when Gilbert and I would sometimes fight where we were children. Except my mother never got so angry that she zapped some passing rat with a bolt of magical energy. She really tore into us, telling us she would make saddle-bags of us if she found us fighting again, again, something my mother never would have done, and complaining – hadn’t she brought us up right, which did sound like Mother.

Aoibheann went all quiet, staring at the ground and apologised quietly. I decided to offer the first olive branch and apologised to Aoibheann, offering the opportunity to talk about things, clear things up. This wasn’t too hard as it was something I had been intending to do for a while, but was rather hoping to put it off until the effects of my vitae had worn off. She didn’t say much at all, but eventually agreed to that. Mitternacht’s anger cooled somewhat, but then she started arguing with somebody who wasn’t there. From previous experience, she sounded like she was arguing with her late husband, but I could see no evidence of a ghost in the bar. Eventually, she dropped off to sleep. I fetched a blanket to put over her and then made Aoibheann a cup of tea and a sandwich as a sort of peace offering. She, by now, was slumped over one of the tables, looking exhausted. Figuring that she was in no mood to talk, I left her to it, asking Wren, who had returned after catching her rat, to keep an eye on her.

So, that was the excitement of my day, being shouted at by a unicorn who thinks she is my mother, and being made to make peace with my boss. I expect Mitternacht will have forgotten the former when she wakes up, but I must try to not forget the latter. Maybe I should start by revealing my nature. Or maybe I should not. On that, I still do not know what is best. Maybe I should ask Brigitte.


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