Bound to the Crown

The earth crumbled around Caern's hooves as he sprinted through the forest. His strides grew shorter and the arrow imbedded in his flank sent pangs through his body, weakening the muscles in his legs. He heard the crack of branches around him, accompanied by the rustle of bushes being forced apart. His pursuer knew this forest better than him; he would catch up soon enough.

He choked out another breath; flecking spittle against his shiny white coat, and charged toward a rocky slope he had spied in the distance. Even with their fatigue, his nimble limbs made short work of the climb. The rocks disturbed by his crystalline hooves broke from the slope and tumbled down, creating a new set of obstacles for the pursuer. Caern laughed at his cleverness and leapt to the top of the slope. From there, he could view the entire forest. Maybe he could spot the hunter before another piece of sharpened silver found its way into his flesh.

A patch of clouds covered the sun so that only three beams of light escaped. Each ray struck the golden horn on Caern's head and spiraled out toward the forest. Through the mixed streams, Caern saw his pursuer struggling up the slope, ivory bow clutched in hand. The hunter was almost as skilled at climbing as his prey. Caern flattened his ears and snorted. He had sought out Theyryn, the black unicorn, for this?

Theyryn had been exiled to the outskirts of Wyls, the haven of his herd, centuries ago. He had been banished for discovering a path out of the Wyls and using this path to roam freely about the mortal world. Their kind was only allowed to leave their homeland to bring inspiration to the purest of maidens. Each member of the herd was chosen for a specific maiden and could not enter the mortal realm unless it was to see her.

Theyryn had been an adventurer like him. He had tired of waiting to find his maiden, of the dull lifestyle of the herd, and of letting fate decide his life. Theyryn had journeyed to find another meaning for his existence and according to the legends he had found it.

Surprisingly, he had not objected to sharing his knowledge once Caern found him a century later. All he had asked for was Caern's ability to be invisible to humans. Theyryn had been born without this trait, an unfortunate defect. Caern had agreed and after exchanging power, Theyryn presented Caern with a pool that connected the Wyls with the other world. Caern had wasted no time in jumping in.

The portal had deposited him in another lake, the one belonging to this forest. Caern had been busy shaking some water from his lion-like tail when an arrow sank into his left side. Not knowing what else to do, Caern had run.

Caern waited for his pursuer to ascend the slope; he knew he had to fight back. This human would not stop him from seeing the world. Caern backed a few yards and pawed at the ground with his hoof, which bore a crescent-shaped mark above it. He lowered his head; the golden horn on top glistened like a bejeweled dagger.

Another arrow flew at him and Caern knocked it away with the horn. The hunter appeared and stood by the edge. Caern charged. But his opponent possessed remarkable speed; he rolled to the side. Caern reared as a blade sliced at his chest. His action startled the hunter, who tripped as he tried to back away. Two hooves slammed down by the hunter's feet. They rose again as Caern neighed in fury, kicking his legs in the air. His nostrils flared and shot out puffs of air. Both of his eyes shone with ire. Shades of blue, violet, and gray passed through them in erratic patterns.

The hunter shrieked.

Caern started to lower his hooves. Suddenly, he felt dizzy. The wound in his flank was numb and his back legs had started to tremble. One slid back, throwing Caern over the side of the hill and down the deadly incline. Caern screamed.

His descent came to an abrupt stop with a splash.

***

Kayne took a few breaths before crawling over to the edge. Had the beast survived the fall? Slipping his hunting dagger into his boot and slinging his quiver back over his shoulder, he moved to the ledge and glanced at the river below. His quarry lay half-submerged in the water. The animal's front legs and part of its torso remained on top of a huge flat stone. Kayne could see the chest heaving with the creature's relaxed breath.

"Thought you could attack me," Kayne gloated as he started to climb down.

About halfway through his descent, Kayne stole another look at the beast. He was shocked to find a nude human figure on the stone that had supported his prey moments before. Strands of white-blond hair, threads of the finest silk, clung to the skin, all the way to the ankles . Whatever skin Kayne could make out from beneath the misty sprays gleamed in a shade more fair than alabaster. He couldn't find a single blemish.

Believing that he had discovered a water nymph or some form of angel, Kayne hurried the rest of the way down. But when he reached the bottom, he realized that the chest of his "nymph" was disappointedly smooth and lacking the most essential feminine qualities. Kayne cursed at his misfortune.

He considered leaving the boy to the river. There was no time for this; he had to find his special quarry.

Then, he noticed the pink mark by the boy's wrist. It was a crescent, the same mark that he had seen on the creature that had gone over the cliff. His previous glee returned to him. This whole time he had thought he had been hunting a unicorn when it was an alicorn he chased. Kayne had heard the minstrels sing of them: these creatures that resembled unicorns but could take human forms. Indeed, this was a prize.

Kayne smirked. "Wait until the others see this. I have to be the only person alive who's ever captured an alicorn! I doubt many even know they exist. This should earn me the rank of Theria's best hunter for sure. Maybe even the best hunter ever!"

He removed the cloak from his back. It had been made from the skin of a griffon. Like the rest of his treasures, the cloak had come from his own kill. Among his other prized possession were a bracelet of Naga skin and a necklace bearing a dragon's tooth.

Even the arrow that he had used against the alicorn was decorated with a phoenix's radiant feathers. That one had been dipped in dragon's blood to poison his quarry. He had forgotten about the natural healing powers shared by unicorns and their relatives. It took a direct hit to the chest or the throat to bring them down. All other injuries could at most stun them.

"You should thank me for choosing not to add you to my collection," Kayne said as he gathered the alicorn up in his cloak.

***

Caern woke up on a cold floor. He was relieved that the pain was gone from his side. It would have been much worse if he had been both sick and freezing. A series of bars cast their shadows over his bare body. He grabbed one and pulled with all his might. It wouldn't budge.

Vulnerable in this form, Caern returned to his usual one and assailed the bars with his hooves. They still didn't give so he tried biting them with his teeth. The bars tasted metallic against his tongue. Caern neighed and began to kick at the back bars. When nothing happened, he grew frantic and proceeded to buck and flail his legs. He stomped his feet against the floor of the cage and threw his body against the bars. It only left him sore and discouraged. Caern paced about the small area, tossing his head and rattling the bars with his horn.

How could he have been so foolish?

"Stop making so much noise, alicorn! It's time for sleep," a voice shouted at him. It was arrogant with a touch of whining in it, an adolescent's voice.

"RELEASE ME!" Caern demanded in his human speech.

"Amazing! I didn't know you could talk," the other voice exclaimed in boyish excitement.

"RELEASE ME!" Caern repeated.

A figure stepped down the stairs. It was the hunter--dressed in a suit of royal clothes! The hunter practically leapt down the steps and rushed over to the cage, smiling smugly . "Do you like my showroom, alicorn? No other prince has a room like this. I made it myself. You see, I have a fancy for seeking rare beasts. Most are brought here." He gestured to the walls lined with skins and other miscellanious trophies of creatures ranging from kelpies to catoblepas and basilisks.

Caern's eyes filled with horror. "Disgusting human."

The hunter looked annoyed. "Excuse me, do you have any idea who you are speaking to? From now on, you will address me as Prince Kayne, son of Teyrnon and heir to the throne of Theria."

"Such a big name for such a small creature," Caern mocked.

Compared to his boasts, Kayne was nothing much. He had a gangly body with unkempt brown hair that hung at his shoulders and a pair of wide green-blue eyes. This human was more child than man. Caern twitched his ears and turned so that his backside faced the prince.

"You will not insult me!" Kayne hissed, stomping at the floor. "You are my prize. I caught you fair and square and you will treat me with respect or you shall suffer for you insolence." Caern lashed his tail, causing Kayne to go red in the face. He sprang at the cage and shook the bars."You're a stupid, ugly horse!" He whirled from the alicorn and stormed back upstairs.

Caern sighed and settled himself on his knees. How long would he have to endure this torture? He missed his herd. Even the tedium of the Wyls was appealing over a future of captivity. He set his head on his shoulder and closed his eyes.

***

The weeks passed for Caern in a miserable pattern. Everyday, Kayne would bring more people into the showroom and subject him to their gawking and noisy murmurs. He didn't care if they had never seen an alicorn. They didn't have to get so close to his cage and gasp or break into tears at the sight of him. These humans were simply unstable in his opinion. Kayne was more stable; he was just a brat.

Caern showed his disapproval through frequent snaps at the visitors and displays of kicking and bucking. Those who persisted received his glare and others earned a snort for getting too close. At night, he kept the castle awake with his attempts to escape and throughout the day, he frightened people with his vicious temperament. By the end of the week, people were begging Kayne to get rid of the alicorn.

"No! He's mine! I caught him," Kayne would always insist and throw such a fit that the others would give up. It baffled Caern that this childish human was the same hunter that had filled this showroom. He must have possessed innate talent.

Some nights, Kayne would stumble into the showroom, bedraggled with huge bags under his eyes. He would stand away from the cage and scream at Caern. "Why can't you just be quiet? I haven't slept in five days. Look at me! I look like a commoner."

To this, Caern would blink his eyes before turning his rear to the prince. He had stopped speaking to him since that first night. It was a waste of breath.

Things always ended with Kayne exploding into a rage and throwing everything he could at Caern. He even resorted to death threats but Caern continued to make as much noise as possible. If he had to suffer, then so should these humans. Once, Kayne had brought down a whip to teach the alicorn a lesson. Caern had caught the lash around his horn as it sailed toward him. He had used it to pull Kayne against his cage so he could bite him. Kayne still had a scar on his shoulder.

But like Caern, Kayne refused to give up. He would not release the alicorn. It was his greatest prize and every time he looked at the creature, Kayne could revel at how special he was for catching him.

One day, Kayne only brought one person into the showroom. It was a young red-haired maiden named Belsda. Kayne had cared dearly for her since he first laid eyes on her. As he was reaching his sixteenth year, he had noticed that his feelings had grown steadily stronger. On this day, Kayne hoped to show Belsda the secret about his prize that he had shown nobody else. She would be so pleased that she would surely return his affections.

As usual, Caern snapped at the maiden and showed her his contempt. Belsda wasn't frightened and was merely enticed by the alicorn's anger. She knelt by the cage and spoke praising words, lavishing her enchantment with the beast. Caern was too furious with Kayne's presence to appreciate the gentle adulations.

"He's more than an ordinary unicorn, Belsda. He's an alicorn," Kayne announced, seeing how quickly Belsda had taken to his prize.

"Really?" Belsda's eyes sparkled. "Could you show me?"

Kayne grinned proudly. "As you wish, my lady." He stepped up to the cage. "I command you to change, alicorn."

Caern stared at him in stupor. Did he honestly think he could make him do anything? He bared his teeth.

"Hurry up now. Change for my friend," Kayne said sharply.

The alicorn lay down and pretended to sleep.

"This is just a regular unicorn, Kayne. It can't change," Belsda sighed, getting up.

"No no no." Kayne forced her back down. "He can change. He can! He's just being stubborn." He raced over to his wall and yanked a bow and arrow from a display. Glowering at the alicorn, he prepared his bow and sighted his arrow. "Either you change right now or I'll shoot you." Caern kept his eyes shut. "CHANGE!" The arrow shook.

"You monster!" Belsda screamed, rushing at Kayne and pushing him against the wall. She struck him with her dainty fists as Kayne cowered. "You horrible horrible cad! How can you even think of shooting such a beautiful animal? You're just like the others say. You have no heart!" She stood up and ran up the stairs. "I'm never speaking to you again!" The door slammed behind her.

"Belsda!" Kayne yelled.

Caern whinnied and laughed at the same time. "You have a way with the ladies, Prince Kayne."

Eyes wet with unshed tears, Kayne jerked around and glared at the alicorn. "Bite your tongue! Do you have any idea what you've done?"

"Saved that poor maiden from your friendship?"

"I really am going to kill you this time!" Kayne roared, snatching his bow and stalking over to the cage. He was just far enough that Caern couldn't reach him. Kayne readied his shot.

"Do you think I'm afraid? I prefer death to a life behind these bars. That way, I can still have my pride."

"You're dumb."

"And who's the one that just drove away his only friend?" Caern taunted, shaking his mane.

At the memory, Kayne dropped his weapon and fell to his knees. He covered his eyes with his hands and leaned forward, trying not to cry. "Why couldn't you just change?"

"Why should I? What have you ever done for me?"

Kayne's head shot up. "For you? I don't have to do anything for you. I'm the prince of Theria!"

"So?"

"You have to do what I say. Everyone inside Theria does."

The alicorn winced. "This must be a horrid place to live."

Caern's cage shook as Kayne kicked at it. "I hate you."

"Then why don't you let me go?" Caern asked, kicking back.

"Because you're mine."

They remained in silence for a while; neither looked at each other. Finally, Caern spoke in a peppered tone. "I can't believe this! I just wanted to see new things but the view here is rather monotonous."

Kayne giggled a little. "You're almost amusing, alicorn. We should talk more often."

Caern narrowed his eyes and tore his head from view. Kayne wasn't even listening to him. He should have known better than to pout around the selfish boy.

"My kingdom is quite large, alicorn," Kayne put forth without warning. "If you agree to changing forms before my subjects when they come here, I promise I'll show it to you."

"Honestly?" Caern questioned in a voice that dared to hope. "You'll let me go."

"I'll release you from your cage so you can see things."

It was more than a little suspicious and Caern did not trust Kayne but this could be his only chance to get out. He couldn't pass it up. Maybe he could even convince Kayne to set him free while they were out. If Kayne had offered to give him a bit of his way, then the prince might be negotiable after all.

"I'll take up your bargain," he told Kayne.

"Excellent! It's been a while since I traveled the town with a companion." Kayne paused. "Uh…you can't go in that form. You'll have to be the human."

"Rubbish!" Caern snorted.

"Well, I'm not taking you unless you're human," Kayne said in a huff as he left the alicorn with his thoughts.

***

When Kayne entered the showroom the next day, he was pleased to see Caern had taken human form and was lying with his back to him. A long necklace dangled from his throat, a white gold chain adorned in garnets, emeralds, topazes, and sapphires. Its centerpiece was a huge diamond. Each jewel had a different runic symbol engraved in its center. Caern was studying each of the jewels and their respective symbol.

"I thought you'd like them. They're magical like you. As long as you wear them, you can't leave the castle gates without me accompanying you," Kayne explained.

"I should have known you'd add a catch," Caern snapped, fingering the tiny lock in back of the necklace. Kayne had probably hidden the key when he had attached the necklace last night.

That wasn't the only thing Kayne had done in his sleep. Caern's extremely long hair had been reduced to his shoulders. The rest surrounded him in the cage. Caern didn't bother to ask why Kayne had done it. The reasons wouldn't bring it back.

Kayne tossed a set of clothes by the cage. He admired the alicorn's new look. Caern looked less mystical with the shorter hair and he didn't keep reminding him of some frail damsel. He watched Caern reach a slender arm through the bars and drag the clothes toward him.

"I have decided a name for you, alicorn. You shall be called Leigh. It means healer," Kayne said, not even bothering to turn as Caern dressed.

"I will not answer to such a wretched title," Caern growled as he pulled on a tunic.

"You'll answer to it or you'll stay in this cage."

***

"I want to see more of the towns. These things you people make are most interesting. Some of you humans have an eye for beauty. I could swear that they were inspired by my kind."

"Certainly. I know all the quickest ways around this place."

The day proceeded in this fashion with Kayne dragging Leigh from place to place. He did redeem himself somewhat by letting Leigh linger for as long as he wished. Leigh pored over books and pictures, stunned by the mastery of the arts. He watched with fascination as people performed plays and dances. Later, Leigh forced Kayne to listen to him attempt to play various musical instruments. Once he decided that he more enjoyed listening to others, both boys spent hours trailing minstrels and bards.

Leigh absorbed it all and loved every minute of it. This made the whole thing worth it. He could have never seen such wonders in the Wyls.

As dusk fell over Theria, Kayne and Leigh sat on the edge of a horse coral. Earlier, Leigh had spotted some humans racing the horses around a ring. In order to curb Leigh's rage, Kayne had bought the whole herd. Leigh had been elated to spend time around creatures that reminded him of his herd.

Unfortunately, the horses possessed a limited intelligence compared with his brethren. They really just wanted him to feed them sugar cubes and caress their necks. Leigh finished off some cubes himelf. They tasted sweet, much better than that bitter chocolate Kayne had offered earlier.

"Can we go back now? It's getting cold," Kayne griped. Leigh ignored him and continued to devote his attentions to the horses. Kayne stretched on the fence. "So what do you think of Theria, Leigh? Still think it's a horrible place to live?"

"It's wonderful. I wish the Wyls were like this," Leigh responded, closing his eyes.

"Is that where you come from? What's it like there?"

"Boring. We do nothing but lie around and ponder the mysteries of the world and wait to visit some chaste maid."

"Lucky."

"What? The maids?" Leigh asked, letting a teasing tone color his words.

Kayne looked down at the royal ring on his right hand. "No. I mean all that freedom. You can do whatever you want."

"So can you," Leigh noted.

"It only seems that way. I'm bound to this kingdom. Even if I can visit new places, I must always return here. That's my birthright." He turned back to Leigh. "A gilded cage is still a cage, Leigh."

Leigh leapt over the fence and took a walk among the herd. "It wasn't just the boredom. I've never fit in there. The other alicorns, as you call us, didn't understand my unrest. So they avoided me. I didn't really have any…friends."

"Like me."

"Well, that's really your fault," Leigh gibed. He was already changing back into the alicorn. The horses took to him immediately. He missed the feet of the grass brushing against his forelocks and the thrum of his hoof beats as he raced the wind. Neighing in delight, he fell onto his back and rolled in the grass. He expected Kayne to shout at him but Kayne was strangely silent.

"It is my fault, isn't it? I don't know how to act around people. I want them to like me, but I also want them to think I'm strong. A prince has to be strong," Kayne mumbled.

"Stop making everyone do things your way. Give them a choice for once," Leigh grumbled.

"But I have to show people I have authority. My subjects can't rule themselves."

"Try for a happy medium…unless you want to be hated forever."

"I guess." Kayne glanced at the darkening sky. "We should go home, Leigh."

Leigh threw his forelegs over the fence. "Time to return to my cage?"

"Forget the cage. Change back and that sort of thing will be unnecessary."

"What trick is this?" Leigh inquired, distrusting.

"No trick. I just decided I would rather have a companion than a prize. I've never had someone to talk to. I really like it. You must stay with me forever, Leigh. I'll take you all around the world. We'll see everything there is to see. It will be the best!"

The alicorn's eyes fell. They darkened to a shade of gray. "You're not letting me go?"

"You can't leave! Not ever! You're the first real friend I've ever had."

"You think I'm your friend?"

Kayne looked hurt. "Aren't you, Leigh?"

Yes, Kayne could be such a child, but Leigh was beginning to feel sorry for the prince. He was a prisoner just like him, just of a different sort. It seemed like he wanted to be nice, he was just afraid of looking weak or foolish. Only Kayne couldn't run away like he had.

Leigh reassumed his human façade and put on his discarded clothes. He grabbed Kayne by the shoulders. "Ask me that again after you try out my advice."

This might not be so bad. Kayne had promised to let him explore as he had intended. Having a companion to share the adventures with might even increase his enjoyment.

It wasn't like he had much of a choice anyway. Might as well focus on the positive.

***

Years passed and the castle was all a flutter with the news that Prince Kayne was approaching the time when he would take over his father's position. His eighteenth year was only a day away. Prince Leigh had been staying with him since Prince Kayne had found him, the last surviving member of his family. A coup had taken the rest away from him. Prince Leigh was introduced to all members of royalty and the princesses that always showed up at the palace, hoping to make a match with Prince Kayne. Most of the prince's disagreeable traits had vanished with age and with the mentorship of Prince Leigh.

Even the prince's gorgeous pet unicorn had been groomed into an animal of superior disposition. It roamed about the castle gates freely. No hunter could threaten it so long as Prince Kayne's necklace hung from its throat. Sometimes, Prince Kayne would take the unicorn into the valley and let it run about there. No longer could visitors come to stare at his unicorn. Prince Kayne chased most away, decreeing that the beast was his alone. Not even his occasional maiden was allowed to spend time with the unicorn. Though, they saw Prince Leigh often enough.

***

Leigh flipped through the book's pages, touching the pictures and recalling memories of playing in the fields of the Wyls with his kind. He thought of the eternally blue sky and the grass that never froze with the coming of the cold. The alicorn remembered lying by the trees and letting the tiny birds roost on his back while chattering rodents scampered by his folded legs. It had been so long. If he didn't have the books to help him remember, he probably would have forgotten the Wyls completely.

It wasn't as though Leigh wasn't content with his new life. He and Kayne were constantly traveling the world and finding all sorts of adventures. They met scores of people and made a number of friends, which they communicated with over letters and such. Leigh had scaled mountains and basked in the glowing sands of the beaches. He had pranced through layers and layers of snow and tasted the sweet flakes on his tongue. In human form, he had dived beneath oceanic waters and chased the skittish fish.

On particularly warm days, he had even taken to giving Kayne rides while in alicorn form. For added fun, he usually tried to unseat Kayne with surprise jumps and accelerated speeds. He found it was easier to move around treacherous passes this way and, on many occasions, left Kayne's servants behind. With Kayne's help, he had seen so many things. He could barely imagine places greater than the ones he visited. Leigh was indeed happy with their arrangement.

However, Caern still remained deep inside Leigh. Caern also enjoyed all the excitement Leigh lavished in but Caern yearned for one thing that Leigh had seem to have forgotten: his freedom. Caern had been a noble and wild creature, a rebel who heeded no one. He could not submit to being trapped in Kayne's world forever. As much as Leigh cared for his friend, Caern cared more for his pride and free will. Caern would never allow Leigh to be truly happy in the life he had chosen.

So on days when Kayne was busy with other courtly matters or wooing some fine princess from another kingdom, Leigh found himself buried in these books. They were his last connection to the life that Caern had known, to the time when he had been an indomitable spirit, one of the mystic realm's most amazing creatures.

This was where Kayne found him when he came to tell Leigh about the marvelous party he was going to throw in celebration of his departure from boyhood. Leigh smiled for him and pretended to act eager to mingle with a whole new crowd. But Kayne had grown much through the years. He could see through Leigh's glamour.

"What's wrong, Leigh?" he asked, leaning over to peek at the book Leigh was reading.

Leigh quickly closed it. "Nothing, my prince. I look forward to your coronation. You will make a fine king."

"You are not happy. I don't understand. I've given you everything. Don't we take trips every week? Don't you have fun courting with the ladies in waiting? Don't you leap at each chance to lord over me with your advice?"

"I am happy with all that. You have become a most agreeable person, Kayne, and I cherish our times together." He tugged at his necklace. "You are the only one I will ever call friend."

Kayne noticed the motion and frowned. He looked away, appearing slightly weak. "Except what friend would force someone to stay with them?" He left the room as Leigh wondered about the reason.

The prince returned with something small and gold pinched between his fingers. A key! Leigh forgot to breath. Kayne motioned to him and Leigh followed in a trance. They reached the castle gate and Kayne seized the back of Leigh's necklace in his hand. Leigh heard a light click as the necklace fell upon the ground. The jewels around it shattered. Leigh's face lit up and he took a step past the gate. Then he stopped and gazed back.

"I've grown out of needing a companion," Kayne said in a rough voice. Leigh blinked. Forcing his eyes to the ground, Kayne backed away and flung out his hand. "I release you, alicorn. I no longer want you."

Instantly, the alicorn had taken his true form and had rose on its hind legs. Caern soared through the gate and galloped away from the castle, tossing his head and making a grand show of his glee.

Kayne stood still as Caern raced out of his life. He knew where the alicorn would go: to the lake where he had first seen him. Leigh had once told him how he had used the portal to come here. Now, he would go home.

Before Kayne realized it, he was running toward that spot, trampling the discarded fragments of the once enchanted necklace.

***

Caern's heart leapt at the idea of seeing the Wyls again. He ran so hard that his hooves felt as if they would crack. The alicorn never saw that he had picked up a follower.

This man had been trailing him since he sprinted past the town. The man had seen the alicorn with the prince every now and then and had dreamt of the day he would be able to claim the creature as his. Much gold could be made off such a beast. Each part of a unicorn was known to have incredible powers. Now, without the prince's symbol of ownership, the animal was fair game.

He kept up with the alicorn as it reached the edge of the forest. Some growth had appeared over the years and sealed off the location to the lake. The alicorn had to take time to break through with his horn and hooves. His pursuer crouched upon a nearby hill and brought out his arrows. He grinned and kissed the metal tip of one. Just one good shot and he wouldn't have to worry about money for the rest of his life.

The alicorn had almost cleared his path as the man took aim.

"Leigh!"

Caern reared and the arrow shot by his throat and snapped against a tree. Panicking, he charged into the gnarled blockade, tearing at his skin but passing through. He never turned and just kept heading toward his goal.

Meanwhile, the hunter had whipped out another arrow. He grasped it in a fist. Something threw him on his back. Bright blood spilt over his tunic. He pushed something off his chest.

"By the Gods! The crowned prince!"

Half of an arrow protruded from the prince's chest. The look in his eyes made the man doubt that the prince was aware of the wound, much less anything us. All color draining from his face, the man scrambled away. He swept a handful of arrows from the ground and left the rest as he took off.

Out of the forest came Caern. He had sensed something terrible had happened. The painful burning inside him left no question about what it was. It wasn't necessary for him to look.

The man tried to shoot Caern while running back, realizing that at that speed the alicorn would crush him. Caern was quicker than any of his shots. They grazed his flesh. The man let his last arrow fly, nailing Caern in the chest, but not high enough to kill. It was his last thought before Caern's horn slid in above his ribs.

Caern glared at the lifeless creature speared by his horn. Even now, he recalled the penalty for killing a human. His humanity was forfeit, making him the same as every other unicorn. It pained him but he did not wish to take back the act.

Shaking the human off, Caern broke into a run.

"Leigh…"

He stopped at the sound and lifted his head. A drop of dark blood splattered in the grass. He looked down at it and then looked back at Kayne, curled on the ground with a tiny red circle around the arrow stuck in him. Caern cleared the leap to him and stood over Kayne.

Kayne's eyes were closed. "I forgot to tell you…goodbye," he choked.

"My kind do not say such a thing," Caern uttered kneeling so he could place his horn against Kayne's wound.

"Well, I'm the prince and I can say it anyway," Kayne coughed. He noticed he felt stronger. The prince tried to open his eyes. "Don't forget me, Leigh."

"Leigh is gone. I killed him when I killed that man," Caern replied somberly. Silver light from his horn flowed around the arrow, closing the skin and forcing the metal out. The arrow rolled to the dirt. Caern raised his head. "Return to your castle. You have a kingdom to inherit."

"You can't change back?" Kayne questioned, hoping he misunderstood the alicorn. "You gave it up? For a human?"

"Not for a human. For Prince Kayne, the next king of Theria," Caern corrected, a chuckle rumbling through him.

Caern nickered and nudged the underside of Kayne's chin with his nose. Kayne made an amused sound and brushed the hair by Caern's horn. He met the alicorn's eyes and suddenly knew what he had to do.

"Get out of here, you brainless beast," Kayne scolded lightly, rising to his feet and swatting at the alicorn's haunches.

The alicorn snorted and nipped at the prince's fingers. He stalled, knowing what this moment signified. Was it supposed to feel this strange? He no longer had Leigh's emotions but he could still feel a sense of grief.

For that moment, he embraced the feeling. It was enough. His adventure was over. Still looking back at the prince, he dashed back into the forest.

Kayne didn't watch him. He couldn't bring himself to look. The first thing he'd ever given up in his life and it had to be something that he wanted so much. He knew this was the first step to becoming a king. A prince had no place in Caern's world and that was the way it should be. But it still hurt.

He turned and started his walk back to his home. There was showroom to clear out before his coronation.

***

Notes: I know the ending is rushed. I have to keep this at 20 pages for the submission it was written for. If anyone has any suggestions about fixing this, please give them. Also, if anyone has a better title, I'd love to hear it.

I'm kinda considering writing a sequel to this. ^^