That’s when I saw something unexpected lying on the path: a skillfully woven grey-green cloak. I picked it up and felt how soft it was, like the fine mist of the early morning fog on my face, waiting to wrap itself around me. I glanced over my shoulder, looking for the owner. No one was about, so I put it on, unable to resist the temptation to be enveloped in something so smooth. As I closed the clasp around my neck, I heard a firm voice behind me.
“That’s it then. You’re the one.”
I spun around in time to see a white unicorn step out from behind a tree!
I stared at her, not believing what my eyes were showing me. Then, to my amazement, her mouth started moving and words came out!
“It’s about time you turned up. I’ve been waiting for someone to come along and try on the cloak. All I’ve seen go past the last couple of days are thieving pixies who want to make it into blankets.”
My knees went weak and I sat down hard on the ground, staring at the unicorn. A talking unicorn! I’d heard rumors that there were a few unicorns left in the land, but I’d always believed unicorns were only a legend. Yet here was one right in front of me—and it could talk!
“Who are you?” I asked with a tremble in my voice.
“I’m Crimson,” she said. “I watch over Sir Ivor.”
I recognized the name. Sir Ivor was a national hero. He’d slain dragons, scared all the witches from the kingdom, and defeated the giant trolls single-handedly. Was the cloak his?
“I’m . . . I’m sorry. Where is he? I wasn’t stealing his cloak. I only meant to try it on for a minute. I’ll put it back here for him,” I babbled as I yanked at the clasp, trying to open it.
It stayed shut, like the mouth of a young child refusing to eat his vegetables.
“He’s not coming back,” Crimson said. “He left the cloak for me to give to his successor. That’s you. I hope you didn’t have any other major life plans. It is a full-time job being a heroine.” She smiled at me.
I felt like a cat thrown in a deep river.
“I’m no heroine. I’m just an ordinary kitchen maid on my way to visit my sister at Lord Hudson’s castle. Please, just take the cloak and give it back to Lord Ivor,” I said as I tugged at the clasp.
“Lord Ivor’s retired and gone back to his family across the sea. Now, I need you to stop trying to remove the cloak and come with me. There’s a commotion going on at the castle. You need to help sort it out before your sister gets hurt. Climb on my back.”
She stared at me and I felt strange, as if I had to do what she said. Before I knew what had happened I was in the saddle she was wearing and galloping towards the castle.
As we approached, I saw a blood-chilling sight: a gigantic river monster in the castle’s moat! It looked fierce, like a colossal red snake with orange and black stripes all over its body. Its eyes were like blazing fire, and its fangs pointed like daggers. Water shook off its body as it waved backwards and forwards, trying to reach the windows near the top of the castle’s tower. It would only be a few more minutes before it got high enough to slither through them. I could hear terrified screaming coming from inside. I was paralyzed with fear myself as I sat, motionless, on Crimson’s back.
“Off you go then,” Crimson said, nodding her head in the direction of the monstrous creature.
“Wha . . . wha . . . what?” I stammered.
“Reach inside the cloak. There is a pocket, and inside the pocket is the dragon dagger. It’s magic—it kills dragons and river monsters instantly. Once you stab him with it, he’ll just . . . poof . . . dissolve away.”
“Once I do what?” I forced the panic out of my voice.
“Once you stab him,” she said.
“I can’t do that. He’ll eat me before I get close.” I wanted to shout, but I was so scared of the river monster I only managed a hiss.
“Pull the hood of the cloak over your head and you’ll be invisible. But be very quiet—he can still hear you. Do it now. He’s almost in the tower.”
Some kind of power emanated from Crimson and I stopped trembling as I felt a surge of strength and bravery rise up inside me. I tried to fight it off with the last dregs of common sense I possessed, but the strange feeling overwhelmed my terror.
My hand betrayed me by reaching up and pulling on the hood, and I vanished! I couldn’t see my hands or feet or any other part of myself, nor could I see the cloak. For a brief moment I forgot the river monster and wondered if I was still alive—does a person still exist if they totally disappear?
The roar of monster dragged my attention back and that invading sense of courage which had now reached my head yanked me into action.
I climbed down from Crimson’s back and ran nearer to the moat. The monster was stretching up from the other side, about to go through the tower window. He was even more terrifying up close, with saliva drooling from his mouth and an overpowering stench. His skin was made of knife-edged scales. Would I have the strength to push the dagger through them? He was on the opposite side of the moat—how was I to reach him?
I kept running closer but my foot caught on the bottom of the cloak and the traitorous clasp chose that precise moment to come undone! The cloak fell completely off me and I could see myself again. Which meant the river monster could too!
He whirled around and bent his head down toward me, crossing the water. I clutched the dagger with two hands above my head and shut my eyes. His mouth was coming towards me—I knew because I was getting covered in his saliva. Pure fear raced through me. I was about to become his snack. What good could the small blade I held overhead do against the ravenous mouth descending upon me?
But the knife was was the only hope I had, so I jabbed it upwards and felt it connect with the soft tissue inside the monster’s mouth. A force like a hurricane knocked me off my feet as the river monster gave a loud, piercing scream . . . and dissolved into nothing. Nothing, that is, except some repulsive, sticky, smelly ooze, which engulfed me.
Crimson was right there beside me.
She smiled as she spoke. “Well, at least you didn’t get any monster muck on the cloak.”
I wondered if Crimson would disappear if I stabbed her with the dagger.
“Pick up the cloak and climb on my back. It’s best to keep you a secret for a while yet. Let’s get out of here before someone recognizes you.”
I could hear cheers and shouts coming from the castle, so I did as Crimson asked and we galloped back into the forest.
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