This piece was written in response to Fantasy Writers' weekly challenge.
The challenge: "A dragon fight with unicorns coming to the rescue."
"Verithica's wail shook our whole village!"
"The whole village? Oh, Grandpa, did not."
"Sit down, Aric. This is Grandpa's story. Sit down now. Be quiet."
Little Aric sucked in more air than a six-year-old's lungs should hold, grunted his frustration, and sat. His lips protruded in an exaggerated frown that left his charcoal eyes peering at Grandpa from beneath thin, rigid brows.
"Mommas grabbed their babies. Everybody ran trying to find someplace to hide. Dragons are fearsome creatures, you know."
"Uncle Yaris said their wings cover the whole sky! Is that true, Grandpa?"
"Sometimes, Nevin. If they're close enough to you. But you don't ever want to be that close to a dragon. They get mighty hungry and think little boys make good snacks!"
"Dragons don't eat boys, Grandpa," Aric countered.
Nevin's eyes lit. "Uncle Yaris says they do! Especially when you don't do your chores."
"That's cause you never do your chores, Nevin. Tell him, Grandpa."
"Most dragons are rather fond of boys that don't let Grandpa finish talking." He paused long enough for Aric to fold his arms and animate a sigh. "Verithica was angry. And hurt!"
Little Nevin scooted forward in his chair. "Who hurt her, Grandpa?"
"Rendowin! The great red dragon himself. Nasty beast! All fireballs and temper that one is. And he was in a mighty foul mood."
"I thought Rendowin and Verithica were married?"
"Dragons don't marry each other, Nevin. Not like we do anyway. But they were mates. And he was mad. Flying over our houses and shrieking louder than summer's thunder. And Verithica shrieked right back at him too. She had her talons ready in case he got too close. White dragons can't blow fire, you know."
"They can't? I thought all dragons breathed fire."
"Not the white ones, Nevin. All white dragons are females. They can chase you down and claw you up, but they can't burn you like the red ones can. And they can fly higher and faster and longer than any other dragon. So if Rendowin was gonna cook her, he had to catch her first."
"He was gonna eat her?"
"We didn't want to stick around to find out. But there was nowhere for us to go. Every time Rendowin spat fire at Verithica some of it fell down here too! Things started catching fire everywhere. The barns and sheds, even our own roofs! Everything was burning! Verithica kept swooping down at him, trying to knock him out of the sky, but Rendowin's a red dragon, and red dragons are as strong as they come. And he wasn't going to let some white dragon get the better of him--even if it was Verithica."
"What'd you do?" Little Nevin nearly fell off the edge of his seat.
"There was nothing we could do! We were all gonna burn up and couldn't do anything about it!"
"Grandpa, you were not."
"Aric, Grandpa's not going to tell you again now."
"Yeah, Aric, be quiet."
"Only one thing can stop you from getting burned by dragon fire."
"A unicorn's horn! Right, Grandpa?"
"That's right, Nevin."
"Where'd you find one of those?"
"We didn't. One came to us."
"On a unicorn, silly. It heard the awful raucous the dragons were making and knew we were in danger. It knew that if we could gather around it, its horn would keep the fire from burning us. And it came and stood right out there," he said, pointing at the village's well. "And everybody in the village gathered around it, squeezing as close as we could. We could hardly breathe; everyone was pressing in so tight. Most of us couldn't even hear it neigh with all the commotion betwixt the dragons a screeching and all the folk a yelling and crying. We didn't know until it was too late."
"Know what, Grandpa?"
"The unicorn couldn't breathe either."
Nevin's voice was little more than a whisper. "It died?"
Grandpa lowered his eyes and nodded. "It died, Nevin, rescuing us from the dragons."
Aric stretched his legs and rested his heels on the floor, his arms still folded and his mouth contorting into a sneer. "Grandpa, everybody knows unicorns don't exist."
Grandpa stood and reached for the mantle. He pulled a length of rolled cloth from atop it. Grandpa met their eyes as he slowly unwrapped it. Nevin gasped and Aric's eyes grew wide at the sight of the slender horn of a unicorn.
"You're right, Aric," Grandpa said. "Unicorns don't exist. Not anymore."