Forget about once upon a time—this nonsense occurred just a few weeks ago. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Pardon Afool, last name pronounced affle. I proudly come from a long line of entertainers and have faithfully served King Lewis as a court jester for twenty years. That is, until a fortnight ago when all six of his stable boys succumbed to smallpox. It was quite tragic; may the Lord bless their souls. As a result of that incident, the king, in a fit of panic, appointed me as the acting stable boy. Let me explain.

            The king’s only daughter, Princess Lala, has spent most of her childhood fighting various illnesses. It was somewhat of a miracle that her sixteenth birthday was nearing. The only gift she requested—the one thing she wanted more than anything in the world—was a talking unicorn. I don’t know how she acquired such a notion. Everyone knows there is no such thing as a unicorn. That can speak. They only make regular noises, such as whinnies, neighs, and so forth. However, in desperation to please his daughter, the king sent his men into the darkest, most dragon-infested forest, in hopes that one would turn up.        

            Here’s where I come in. People readily believe I’m a fool since I act in mindless ways to make them laugh. My job brings me great pleasure, but in reality, I am quite intelligent. Ever since I invented the chamber pot, the king has trusted me to help him solve many pressing problems. Though, I had never doubted my ability to rise to a challenge until that point. If the men were to return empty-handed, it would be up to me to figure out how to make the princess happy.

            On my first day working in the stable, the men were still out on their search. I spent my time feeding, cleaning, and otherwise caring for the horses. By the time I finished, the sun had settled at the horizon. I was exhausted from the physical labor. It was a welcome relief to step out into the fresh air and take a rest. As my gaze wandered, I glimpsed movement at the top of the hill. Heads bobbed, slowly becoming bodies. It was the king’s twelve men, in silhouette against the pinks of the sky. Each had a unicorn in tow.

            Shouts erupted behind me as the guards at the gate yelled for the king. It took only moments for him to appear from the castle. He hurried toward me.

            “Goodness!” he cried. “There are twelve of them?”

            “It appears so, Your Highness,” I replied.

            “Are there enough stalls?”

            “Yes, Sire.”

            “Most excellent, Afool.”

            I had never seen a unicorn in person before. As they approached the barn, I could tell at once they were beyond magnificent. They had shimmering white coats and delicate horns that held the golden warmth of sunlight. Their wavy manes and long tails were adorned with colorful streaks of glitter.        

            The king was delighted. “How incredible that you found not one, but twelve talking unicorns! Lala shall be the happiest girl alive.”

            “Sire,” one of the men said, “I don’t wish to be the bearer of bad news, but none of them can say a word.”

            The king’s face scrunched up—a sure sign that the steam of anger was building within him. “You mean to tell me, you brought back twelve useless animals?!”

            “Please allow me to explain, Sire,” the man said. “I wonder, perhaps, if it might be possible to teach at least one of them to speak.”

            The king considered this for a moment, his face un-scrunching. He nodded slowly. “Yes, yes, I suppose it’s worth a try.” He turned to me. “Afool! You are not to leave the stable until these animals start speaking, do you understand?”   

                        “Yes, Your Grace.”

                        I knew I was neck-deep in the moat at that point. I’d been faced with an impossible task, and almost immediately, things turned sour. Don’t get me wrong, the unicorns themselves were quite easy to get along with. They even gave off the faint aroma of strawberries, a fact of which I was not previously aware. No, the problem was, how should I say this—their poo. Apparently, with unicorns, whenever nature calls, balls of glistening glitter drop from under their tails. Once these delicate objects come in contact with the ground, they pop and glitter goes everywhere. Unlike horse manure, it can’t be gotten with a pitchfork. It’s difficult to sweep, and it sticks to everything.

            Despite this unforeseen issue, I wasted no time in trying to teach these gentle creatures to talk. They were all very good sports about it, and a few of them seemed quite interested in giving it an honest go. They moved their lips around, opening and closing their mouths, but, they just couldn’t make the proper sounds. All they managed was a bit of an “uh” noise.

            I decided I could not do this alone, so I summoned the best English tutor in the kingdom. Inga Bottoms.

            “Oh, they’re lovely!” she declared when she met the unicorns. “Do they have names?”

            “Huh,” I said. “I don’t suppose they do.”

            “Well, they need names. How else shall I keep track of their progress?”

            The unicorns were standing in a half-circle around us, so I started with one at the end. “Okay, uhhh, well that one there with the lilac streaks in her mane, let’s call her… One. Next to her, with the chip in her horn, she shall be Two. Then, let’s see, we have Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve. How’s that?”

            Ms. Bottoms nodded. “That shall suffice. Let’s begin.”

            And so we did.

            Every morning after I fed the unicorns their breakfast of oats and hay, Inga Bottoms arrived at the stable to give them their speaking lessons. After two weeks, I was beginning to lose hope. The princess’s birthday was only five days away and nothing resembling a word had been produced from any of them.

            That morning, however, during mouth exercises, Eight kept playing around with her tongue on her teeth. While making different sounds with her throat, out came a “La.”

            Ms. Bottoms snapped her head toward me. “Pardon, did you hear that?”

            “I did indeed. Eight, do that once more!”

            “La,” she said.

            My entire body quivered with excitement. “Now try to say it twice.”

            “La. La.”

            “Sweet Mary and Joseph,” Ms. Bottoms exclaimed. “She can pronounce the princess’s name!”

            “I shall go fetch the king at once!” I ran out of the stable, through the lawn, over the drawbridge, into the castle, and burst through the door of the throne room.

            “Sire,” I wheezed. “You need to come quickly.”

            “What is it, Afool?”

            “A miracle you must see to believe.”

            The king followed me to the stable. As soon as his foot crossed the threshold, a gasp escaped his lips. “Good Lord! What is the meaning of all this?”

            I assumed he was speaking of the ankle-deep glitter in which we all stood.                        

            “Sire, forgive me. You forbade me from leaving the barn, and I’m the only one here to handle all the work. I apologize. Things have really… piled up.”

            “No matter. I will summon help to address the mess. But first, show me what you have accomplished.”

            “Of course,” I replied. “Eight, if you will…”

            She obliged. “La la.”

            The king’s eyes widened, his hands clasping together in front of his chest. “Splendid! Lala will be pleased beyond measure to receive such a unique gift. Yes, this one shall become the princess’s unicorn.”

            “Most excellent, Your Grace. What shall we do with The Leftovers?” I asked.

            “Pardon?”

            “The leftover unicorns, of course.”

            “Oh. Uh, release them back into the forest at once.”

            I was ecstatic. There would be no more glitter to become stuck to my hair, stuck in my ears, stuck on my… sensitive areas. I happily led the unicorns to the edge of the forest and sent them off. Then, I hastened to my chambers to clean myself. I had to dump the water from my bathing barrel three times to remove all the glitter.

            The next morning, before I was due to resume my duties as the court jester, I went for my regular walk on the castle grounds. I turned on the path by the well and could not believe my eyes. The Leftovers were standing in front of the stable. All eleven of them. Sweet little Three had a nasty dragon bite on her rump.

            “Oh, no,” I murmured. I hastened to them. “You cannot come back,” I said. “I appreciate your efforts on behalf of the princess, and I realize the forest can be somewhat dangerous, but we are not equipped to take care of you here. You must leave.”

            But they refused to go.

            Everywhere I went, they followed. Whenever I was in the castle, they stood patiently outside, waiting for me, dropping more glitter. It blew into the eyes of the guards at the gate. It settled on the surface of the moat, leaving a sparkling sheen. Things would soon be out of hand. 

            I was forced to approach the king with this predicament.

            “Sire, the unicorns are back and they refuse to leave. I’m at a loss as to how to get rid of them. I apologize. I feel I have failed you.”

            “No apology necessary, Afool. They are rather amiable creatures. Perhaps we should allow them to stay,” the king replied.

            “Oh, no, that I do not recommend. The mess they leave behind is unbearable. Like a punishment, actually. We must find somewhere else for them to go.”

            “A punishment, you say?” asked the king. “Yes, yes, I suppose it is. Alright then, bring eleven petty thieves from the dungeons and the stocks. Provide each of them with a unicorn and send them home. But choose only those prisoners who have children.”

            “Fantastic idea, Your Grace. I will make that happen straight away.”

            Within the hour, eleven men and women stood before me on the lawn. I bestowed one majestic nuisance animal upon each of them and sent them back to their families. Problem solved.

            Over the past few weeks, it has become apparent that children and unicorns thrive in the company of one another. The princess has not had so much as a sniffle since being gifted with Eight. Not to mention, Three’s dragon bite healed as soon as she took her place among her new family. I can’t speak on behalf of the parents who now shoulder the burden of perpetual glitter removal, but I suspect everyone else will live happily ever after.

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Erika Seshadri

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