(This was written in the year 2000 when I was in a TLU online roleplay game. I actually had forgotten about it completely, and then I found it tucked away. It's so different from how I write now . . . In any case, I hope you enjoy it. )
Schmendrick stood and gazed out into the night. The air did not seem as thin as he remembered it to be in early spring, no doubt due to the unicorns passing so recently through the area. A slight breeze, perhaps of the nearby ocean, rustled his hair, and he removed his wizards' cap. He wasn't sure he even needed it anymore.
A laugh choked him, somewhere between a chuckle and a sob as his eyes searched the jeweled sky.
Before meeting the unicorn, all thoughts of his future had hung upon what he would go through until receiving the "gift" of magic. Now, his quest was at an end, and he knew as surely as he ever had that his potential was not meant for him, for one so incapable of putting it to good use. The unicorn had said twice that there is nothing a man can do that would make any difference . . . the last time, only the night before this long, lonely one.
Schmendrick wondered at himself . . . not at the loneliness, but at the lack of loss. Stories were told of how, upon seeing a unicorn, one would never feel the same for the longing of it. Molly did seem rather heartsick, but Schmendrick did not feel that way at all. He merely felt the faint sorrow that one associates with missing a departed friend who is far away, but always close to one's heart.
A shifting sound settled behind him, and he turned slightly, already sensing that there was no danger to him. This too, unnerved him, his sudden ability to sense things that had before gone unrevealed.
"Schmendrick." The soft, husky voice sounded lighter and higher with sleep, years shed from the owner.
He turned, hat in hand, to face a shivering Molly Grue, standing in the darkness. Her curly amber hair framed her face and darkness stained the underside of her almond eyes. Slowly, Schmendrick offered her his arm, and she uncertainly stepped forward. "Cold?" he asked, noting her worn dress. The woman nodded, debated silently, then relinquished herself to his waiting arms.
Schmendrick enfolded her gently with one arm, cloaking her with his lengthy, thick sleeves. As Molly settled against him, he returned his eyes to the sky, pushing his thoughts away from the physical world around him.
He had been young, once . . . very long ago, with bitter and vague memories of a childhood of rejection, suffering and failure. With another pained chuckle, Schmendrick murmured, "Angst builds character."
Molly stirred from where she stood, clutched against him, and raised her head to stare at him. "What did you say?"
"Angst builds character," he repeated, smiling now for some inane reason.
"It's getting colder," she muttered, dropping her gaze and pulling away. "We should sleep now so we can rise early enough."
"Where are we going that needs such an early rise?" he wondered, confused.
"Does it matter? We are following in Her footsteps, aye?" Her head tossed equestrian-like as her eyes returned to his, reminding him of the unicorn as the sight forced upon him a painful intake of breath.
Molly peered at him, waiting patently for an answer to her mocking question.
"What's wrong?" he said instead, concern pressing thoughts of the past from his mind.
She shook her head. "I don't know. I guess, without the Lady, I'm feeling a little lost. I've had a life without much excitement until now. I . . ."
"You're not sure if you can go back," Schmendrick finished for her. Ever since they had split parties with the Prince, she had slowly begun drawing into herself.
Her brown eyes glared at him. "Maybe. How do you know?"
"I feel the same." He shrugged, knowing it the obvious answer.
"Hmph. What would you know about a dreary life?" she scorned him, more bitter than he had seen in many months, though there had been little time to talk while diverting the king's attention away from The Lady. "You've had your quest. The Lady had hers, but I am only a woman past her youth."
This time it was Schmendrick who backed off, his eyes falling as he raised a hand to run long fingers through his wind-tossed hair. "I don't know anything. Anything at all. You're right, Molly. We should get some sleep. Tomorrow morning we'll decide where to go from here."
He unfolded his wizard's hat and, with dreary eyes, debated returning it to his head, then, discarding the thought, crumpled it up again and shoved it into a pocket of his robe.
"Good night," he threw at her feet, then turned away from her and headed back towards where his cloak lay disheveled upon the ground beneath a large, dead tree, beside which stood the brown horse he had conjured up for Molly just two days ago. Unknowing whether she would follow and not really caring, he gathered the cloak and lay down, draping it over him as he closed his eyes.
Moments passed, and Schmendrick couldn't help but wonder what Molly was doing. But a strange hum of worry and sorrow flickered across him a split second before he felt the cloak rustle.
"I miss her, Schmendrick," came the husky tone from beside him.
He opened his eyes and looked over to where she lay, her skin shining slightly blue in the moonlight. "Me too. But . . . it's fading."
She shivered, not meeting his gaze.
He pulled a little near her. "We should share our warmth, or you'll catch ill, and I don't think I should have to use my magic to cure something so preventable."
With an uncertain pause, Molly edged towards him, stiffly settling against his side. Schmendrick adjusted his arm to lay under her neck, and after a moment, she relaxed. "You're a kind, silly man," she mumbled, "and I'm glad that I met you."
Quietly, he barked a harsh laugh, hoping she wouldn't hear. "Only because if it were not for me, you would have never met Her," he whispered.
The air hushed as the sounds of the forest carried in the silence. "No," Molly spoke suddenly, and Schmendrick's face grew hot at the knowledge that she had heard, "not only because of that. Not . . . not because of that at all."
After that, they spoke no more, but Molly shifted as though uncomfortable, and the roots of the tree just beneath the ground dug into Schmendrick's back. He wished it were softer, and felt the tingling of power ready for his command. The ground became smooth and slightly buoyant under his will, and both relaxed, and fell slowly into sleep.
In Schmendrick's dream, Molly stood before him, smiling slightly. A summer sky of blue shone above her, and the dead tree that the horse had been tied to was blooming with white flowers.
"Do you really believe Her?" the dream Molly asked, her large brown eyes mocking him. "That men can do nothing of any difference."
He rose from where he sat, and the warmth of the sun beat down upon him as he turned to look across the fields of flowers. "That's what she said. Who would be wiser than a unicorn?"
"Who wouldn't be?" Molly chuckled, and for a moment she did not seem like Molly at all, but softer, stronger, younger and stunningly beautiful, yet more plain than Molly had been when he had first set his eyes upon her in the woods nearly six months ago.
"Schmendrick," she continued, "The unicorn lived in her woods for ages, alone and uncaring of the world beyond it. How wise can an innocent and naive creature be?"
A nervousness shuddered through him and he cast his eyes to the dream tree. The wrinkly bark rippled like water in his vision, and he quickly looked away, feeling sea-sick. "What are you talking about?" he demanded.
Not seeming her clinging self whatsoever, Molly chuckled, "Without you, where would the unicorn have been?"
He thought hard, and for a moment, the world around him turned the whiteness of nonexistence. "I'm no man," he said, as if recalling something said eons ago in another life.
"'I'm a magician with no magic,'" she quoted, almond eyes holding his rigidly, "'and that's no one at all.'"
And for one moment that flashed before his eyes, Schmendrick stood at the threshold of Hagsgate with the unicorn and she, on the lip of the beginning and the end of that journey.
But then it was gone, and he glared at the dream visage of Molly laughing heartily at him and he shuddered. "What are you saying?" he demanded.
"You know very well what I'm saying," her rough voice stated. "You just have a hard time believing that anything you do could amount to something or be worth anything."
The world became brighter again, flashing, and for a moment Schmendrick could see Molly gazing at him. Then the sun pierced his eyes, and his dream shattered with the harsh light of dawn flowing across the valley.
Molly woke when Schmendrick lurched upright, his green eyes wide and blinking sporadically. "Wuh—What's wrong?" She rubbed sand from her eyes and yawned slowly. "Schmendrick?"
He turned to her and stared at her, and Molly looked at herself as well to see what was so suddenly interesting. "What?"
"Did you dream anything?" he spoke softly. "Did you?" His sharp tone drew her eyes to him.
She touched her ratted hair, felt at it with slight disdain, then answered his question with deliberate casualness. "No, not really." Her eyes glanced up at the man, taller than her even when sitting, and murmured, "Did something happen? Did She come to your dream again?"
He shook his head slowly. "No. I guess it was nothing." His green gaze locked with her eyes, and she marveled at the hesitation there, when the past two days of sudden magic had been filled just as suddenly with his easy assurance. Gotten over his high, he has, she thought. Perhaps now he would act more like the man she had grown to slowly know and like and less like the mysterious stranger he had been more recently.
"Well, then," Molly Grue broke the silence unrepentantly, "let's get moving, shall we?"
There was nothing to pack because they had nothing there, so they were quickly on their way. The only problem became the horse.
"Let me take the reins today," asked Schmendrick of her, his green gaze so imploring she would have given in, if not for the childish, demanding tone of his voice.
"No. 'Tis my horse. Why don't you conjure yourself up another one?" she said, rather harsher than necessary, yet relishing in making him angry. She found a lascivious pleasure in watching his green eyes narrow at her and his soft mouth tighten with rage.
True to her expectations, he glared at her, quick to show how wonderful his talents were. "Fine? Why not? What better way to use my magic than to make my life easier."
"Hmph." Suddenly finding herself dissatisfied, Molly mounted the brown horse and snapped, "Make it quick. I want to find Her woods at least once."
As she edged her horse into a walk, she heard him mutter, "Won't be very easy with so many unicorn roaming the hills. Like finding a needle in a haystack. A haystack FULL of needles."
"C'mon!" she called over her shoulder.
His snarling voice returned, "I'm coming! Hold your horse!"
An equestrian nicker sounded from behind Molly as she slowed her stead. She cocked her head to watch as Schmendrick appeared on an ebony stallion, so dark that it revealed via comparison how much Schmendrick's robes had faded from their rich black to a dull shadow of gray.
They rode silently, and soon Molly found that looking at the scenery did not ease her thoughts. Unbidden always came the memories of the dream the unicorn had sent her and what she had been asked to do. It would not be easy, she thought, casting a rueful glance towards her companion. But what worthwhile goal ever was?
Schmendrick's dream enflamed his waking moments. The clip-clop of the horses proved little distraction, and it did not help that every time he glanced at Molly, her dream counterpart superimposed itself upon her.
More distracting, however, was that this was the first time since their foot travels with the unicorn that he had the leisure to truly look at Molly Grue, and the change to her since that journey months ago was astonishing.
Her curly hair had altered from the dirty blond of dead grass into a darker shade, with slightly warm, reddish tones to it, and her wide brown eyes glowed with warmth and a youthful wisdom. This metamorphosis brought to mind the unicorn's pilgrimage, and Schmendrick turned his head away as he blushed at the memory. Those were days when he had been selfish and unbelievably jealous of Molly. To think that he had truly felt that the unicorn could be his companion alone! He had truly not matured, not in body or mind, it seemed.
And now Molly had blossomed further than even before, and all had gone unnoticed by anyone. But the silence and monotony of the road gave Schmendrick no excuse not to see how Molly had filled out when she did not have to scrounge for food but instead found it readily available, when she lived in a warm shelter and worked diligently every day. No more had she bony arms and legs. Instead a muscular calf peeked from her skirt, and her arms were round and strong at her horses neck.
As Schmendrick peered harder, longing to be able to gaze into her face but not wanting her to be aware of it, she suddenly turned, and bemusement flashed across her face, right before her creamy skin became as sunset, and she ducked her head.
Schmendrick flushed a little as well, but found he did not mind, and continued his musings.
Molly's work at Haggard's castle had not returned her to the hardened state she had festered in when he had first met her, but seemed to have done no harm whatsoever. One would assume it was the unicorn's doing that she had remained soft and glowing within all that darkness and death, and yet, Her departure had not reversed Molly's renewal, either.
"Why do you stare at me that way," Molly suddenly demanded, and Schmendrick started from his deep thoughts.
"No important reason, really," he admitted. "It's just that you've changed greatly since we first came to the castle."
The large brown eyes, very beautiful and sad even when she laughed, turned to him. "So have you."
Silence fell again, but Schmendrick felt a strange, embarrassed need to clarify. "I mean, I hadn't really seen you much while we were there, what with me entertaining Haggard and--and you doing so much work around the castle—"
He broke off when he noticed her smiling patiently at him.
"Schmendrick, do you think you could use your prized magic to make me some breakfast?"
Sitting beneath a wild apple tree among a grove of others, Molly ate around the core of her apple and watched as Schmendrick stood and muttered to himself. A light traveled from his feet to his head, and suddenly his tattered, grayed garments had been restored to a condition even better than when she had first seen him sprawled across Jack Jingly's horse, a black to match the breath of night that was Schmendrick's new steed.
It was so easy for him. Too easy. Schmendrick was relying on his magic the same way the rich merchants relied on their money to always be there. Molly wondered if he would ever again be as human as he was when he was immortal.
In a way, the thought of his change awoke a clamor of fear from within her. What would he do if he realized he no longer had to put up with her sanity? What if he truly lost his mind from the power he now possessed? She shivered, though there was no wind, and returned her eyes to her fruit.
He had created two plates of sumptuous delicacies where Molly would have preferred meat, cheese and bread. As it was, she hadn't had the stomach to finish the rich meal, and had left half uneaten. The magician, with his elation, hadn't found any trouble with downing his own breakfast and then finishing off hers as well. A little part of her wished him to be sick, just to prove he was still human.
He turned to her, displaying his new clothing, and Molly raised her head, praying that her uncertainty did not flash across her face the same way it was flashing across her churning stomach. "It looks very nice," she attempted.
"Your clothes are worn as well," he spoke slowly. "And you have no shoes. Would you like me to make you new ones?"
"No," she spoke, perhaps too quickly. "I survived without them long enough."
"I insist." He looked at her with deep green eyes, and she paused at the pleading tone of his voice.
One calming breath followed another, then Molly uttered, "Why? What does it matter whether my feet are shod or my clothing attractive?" She slowly stood, facing him and feeling the fear metamorphasize into the strength she needed, the bravery that the unicorn had unintentionally helped to bring out. "Is it because you care for ME, or because you don't want anyone to see such a pitiful poor woman traveling with such a powerful magician?"
"How DARE you—" he raged.
"No, how dare YOU!" she interrupted. "I thought I knew you, Schmendrick. But I don't know you at all. What are you?" He didn't answer, and she fell to her knees, exhausted and suddenly numb. "What ARE you . . ."
Schmendrick backed away from her outburst, confusion drowning out any anger. "I . . . What are you talking about? Of course you know me! Nothing's changed . . . and I DO care about you. It doesn't matter who travels with me. I've lived a poor life for three generations and been mocked as a fraud. Why do you think I no longer wear my magician's hat? I don't care what other's think."
Slowly, she stood, shaking her head. "Then . . . then how will people know you as a magician?"
"They won't," he smiled sourly, studying her face now that he could.
Her pointed chin rose as she returned his gaze defiantly. "Very well, then. If you wish me to have shoes, I will, and clean and mended clothing wouldn't be a horrible thing either, I suppose."
Smiling a little weakly, Schmendrick announced, "Good. Well, then, what would you like it to look like?"
Her eyes lowered, and he thought for a moment that her skin turned a shade whiter than it had been. "Does it really matter?"
He started to answer, but she quickly began, "Don't make it upon me, as you did to yourself, please!" Her hands rose, flat palmed, as if to unconsciously protect her.
"Uh-I-I won't," he gave a sharp humorless laugh in an attempt to veil his reactions to the bolt of fear that echoed through him, fear that was not his own, and rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Molly, please . . . something is wrong, and I know . . . I know it's not that you're missing the unicorn."
Her curly hair hid her face as she bent her head to the ground. "No, it isn't. I . . . I DON'T really know you, Schmendrick. You've changed, and I thought it was just because your powers had gone to your head for a time, but you haven't gone back to the person you were before."
He stared at her, her pale face and her tattered dress and her bare feet. "But . . . but I'm the same! Really!" He heard his voice break with desperation, and he clutched his black robe and twisted it in his fingers. "I'm the same," he said again, softly.
Slowly, Molly Grue shook her head, and her chin rose so that she could look him in the eye where he stood above her. "You're not. You used to be pleasantly young at heart, and now you are strangely wise and sometimes emotionless." Schmendrick blinked at her, injured, but she continued. "You spoil yourself with your magic . . . and I worry about what you will possibly do with it."
Now he felt his own anger stirring within him. "What does it matter? Just like the unicorn said. A man can't do anything of worth, can't make any change that would make a difference in the world." He knew he sounded bitter, but he couldn't help it.
Molly narrowed her eyes slightly with worry as she saw how upset Schmendrick had become. Stepping forward until she stood very close to him, she stared up into his downcast green eyes, willing him to look at her. "You have waited many years for this magic, this ability. And now you are telling me that you will do nothing with it?"
His mouth twisted into a dark frown that sparked a tiny lick of fear down her spine, but when his eyes met hers and he began to speak, she did not shy away. "I can do plenty. I can make you a dress, or open a locked door, or have a horse appear, or levitate us into the air." He snorted derisively and moved back slightly, away from her. "But does any of that make a difference?"
Molly glared at him. "It does if you want it to!"
"You're going against her," Schmendrick said, voice suddenly high and shaky, the troubling dream echoing in his mind. Molly took a step towards him and reached out a hand that he simply brushed away carelessly. "You're going against the unicorn that you love so much. How is that possible?"
"I'm not going against her." Molly tried to touch his arm, but he wouldn't let her. "How am I going against her?"
"She said," he began, calming a little, "that no man could make a difference. I don't care if she meant man as a species or man as a gender. I'm both, and therefore, I can't. And I never will." His nervous energy left him, then, and he turned away from her slightly to lean his forehead against a nearby tree, drained.
Slowly, Molly approached him, her voice gentle. "She doesn't believe that anymore," she told him. "She may have said it, but she doesn't believe it. She knows it can't possibly be true."
His green eyes gazed at the tree as though beyond it, reflecting a strange pain that Molly had only seen in injured animals. "How can you know that?"
"I just know." This time he let her touch him, and one brush of her hand on his arm drew the rest of him like a magnet. With a comforting murmur, Molly held him in her arms. "You made such a difference already," she told him as he clung to her, his face buried in her hair.
"By doing what?" he muttered. "Turning her into a human? That can never be undone, and though she doesn't regret it, I do."
"If you hadn't, she would have taken the fate of all the others," Molly reminded him. "You knew that when you did it, while I raged at you and she went into shock, you knew it was the only way. Why doubt it now?"
He shook his head against her hair. "I didn't know how horrible it would be for her. Now that I know, I feel awful."
She gently pulled away to gaze deep into his eyes. "Don't. Know that what was done may have harmed her, but it was necessary." Squeezing gently around his thin waist where she grasped him, she moralized, "Your power, your magic, is special. There must be a reason that you came by it at the moment you turned a girl back into the unicorn she was meant to be. There is something glorious within you, and it shouldn't be wasted on horses and shoes."
She stared hard at him, as if to force her belief into him through her eyes. "You can make a difference in this world. I don't know what it was that finally pushed the magic into you for good, but one unicorn's doubts can't take it away from you. You have it. But you must decide how to use it."
He seemed uncomfortable in her gaze, and he shifted his eyes away. "I . . . thank you. I'll try." He gently released himself from her hands and wrapped his arms around himself. "You . . . you never seemed bothered, before. When we were in Hagsgate after it crumbled, when we left the prince . . . You did nothing then. Why not?"
"What could I have said?" she asked in response. "You were happy, and I was happy for you, and at the time, it did not seem to go further than that."
He nodded as if what she had said was enough. "I will try," he repeated, more, it seemed, for his benefit then for hers. "But it won't be easy."
"What worthy thing is?" she shrugged, and grinned a painfully beautiful grin that caught at his heart.
He nodded, unable to look away from her golden gaze. "Perhaps . . . we should get going."
Her grin melted into a shy smile, and she blushed as she approached the horse. "You're right, let's go."
Bemused but light-hearted, Schmendrick joined her.