Gemma Leighton sat at her desk staring out the window with her chin resting in one hand while the other hand clutched a stack of bills. Her eyes didn’t see the newly planted native grasses dotting the quarter acre landscape between the circular driveway and the wrought iron front gates. She didn’t see the men working to restore the old stone fountain or her cousin Maddie frolicking with her 150-pound black Newfoundland puppy. And, she didn’t see the dark clouds moving in from the south bringing another batch of February rain their way.
All Gemma could see was an endless stack of bills and the dwindling numbers in her bank account. This was a problem she had been struggling with since the day she had inherited her adopted grandparent’s estate. Why Myrtle Bosworth had chosen to leave everything to a granddaughter, she had little affection for was a question Gemma still hadn’t answered. She did suspect, however, that it had something to do with the fact that most of the Bosworth fortune was gone.
Whether Myrtle was playing an awful joke on Gemma or the old woman honestly thought Gemma was capable of saving the 187-year-old mansion with its 210 acres of land, she didn’t know. All she did know was that they were barely getting by even with the sale of multiple pieces of artwork and antiques. It didn’t help that many of the items had sold for much less than their appraised value, or as she was quickly learning, that at least half of the valuables in the mansion were either forgeries or not as valuable as the Bosworth’s claimed they were.
Gemma sighed and stared at the latest statement from the auction house. The current value of the last lot was 40% less than what she expected. So much for the new furnace she had hoped to install. Fortunately, warmer weather was on the way and with any luck at all she might raise enough to at least start restoring the formal gardens behind the mansion.
“Aah! Why do I bother?” For the millionth time she asked herself why she was putting herself through this torture. She paced around her sitting room office trying to ignore the fading wallpaper, the burnt-out bulbs in the electric chandelier, the worn rugs. Why should she care about the vaunted Bosworth legacy anyway? She wasn’t even a true Bosworth. She’d been adopted by Charles and Myrtle’s daughter Eloise and her husband Randall.
Gemma yanked open the door of the sitting room and stepped into the large bedroom that had once belonged to Meribelle Bosworth, the first mistress of Merivale.
A large black raven perched on the back of a Queen Anne chair squawked and flapped his wings. “Must you do that? I was sleeping.”
“Sorry, Breknell.” When the raven had first started hanging around Gemma believed he was an ordinary raven that someone had tamed. At the time, she had called him Chester, but it wasn’t long before she learned his true name was Breknell and that like several other residents of Merivale Mansion he was a magical being.
Billy the Hob was putting a fresh log on the fire by floating it from the stack on the side of the fireplace onto the hot coals. “Hello, Miss Gemma.” He tried to adjust the log using a metal poker that was almost as long as he was tall. At two-and-a-half feet, Billy was slightly taller than the average Hob but he was still no match for the metal rod he was wielding. It caught on the brick surround shoving the round end into his belly knocking the wind out of him and sending him teetering backward.
Gemma rushed forward and caught Billy and the poker just as the Hob was about to fall over. She took the poker out of his hands and gave Breknell, who was snickering, a look of disapproval.
“Thanks you, Miss,” Billy said as he straightened his brown cap and tunic.
“You’re welcome, but next time use your magic.” She smiled at him and put the poker back in its stand.
She pulled her sweater tight around her waist and plopped down onto the sofa watching Billy work. This was the real reason she fought so hard to keep the mansion going. She did it for the magical beings who had been living at Merivale since the mansion was first built. The Sprites had come first and were soon followed by the Hobs and Mrs. Landy. She didn’t know how long Breknell had been around. He refused to reveal his age.
“Well, now that I am awake, I think it is time to go hunting.” Breknell stretched his wings and glided from the chair to the French doors that opened onto a semi-circular balcony. One wing morphed into a hand that lowered the door handle and pulled it open enough for the raven the exit. The door snapped shut behind him.
“I hate when he does that. It’s so creepy looking.” Gemma faked a shiver.
Billy giggled. “I don’t likes it either. Is there something I can bring Miss?”
“No, thanks.” She checked her watch. “I think I’ll go down to the kitchen for lunch.” Gemma knew she’d been holed up in her room for too long. If she didn’t make an appearance soon her cousin Maddie would come looking for her.
“Very good, Miss.” Billy toddled off on his long thin legs and walked through the wooden door leading to the hallway as if it weren’t there.
Gemma stared at the flames trying to reconcile the million and one thoughts fighting for attention in her brain. After a few minutes she gave up and wandered out of her room into the wide hallway beyond. She was passing the wrought iron railing that overlooked the first floor atrium when a flash of bright light caught her eye.
She leaned over the railing and blinked. The light she had seen was emanating from a pure white horse. No, not a horse. A unicorn. It whinnied and shook its head causing its silvery mane to ripple like an ocean wave. She squeezed her eyes shut. It couldn’t be. She must be imagining it.
She opened her eyes again. It was still there nibbling on blades of grass that surrounded Meribelle’s spring. “Mrs. Landy.”
The tall housekeeper shimmered into existence moments later. “Yes, Miss. What can I—oh, my.”
“Is that what I think it is?” Gemma pointed at the unicorn.
“Yes, Miss. It is a unicorn.”
“Where did it come from? How did it get here?” The unicorn was beautiful and all but she and Maddie were the only people who knew about Merivale’s magical secrets. How was she going to hide a unicorn from Al and all the other people who came to the mansion?
“I will take care of it, Miss,” said Mrs. Landy.
“How? It may be a unicorn but it’s also a horse. We can’t have a horse living in the mansion.”
“No, Miss. He will not remain in the mansion.” As always, Mrs. Landy’s hands were clasped over her starched white apron.
“He? I thought unicorns were female.” Gemma stared at the creature who was now drinking from the spring.
“They are both male and female. Males have larger horns. Shall I tend to him now?” Mrs. Landy’s tone was polite but Gemma could hear the tinge of impatience in her words.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“I will take him to the forest, Miss.” Mrs. Landy smiled down at Gemma. “There are… others there who will care for him.”
“Others? What others?” And why was she just hearing about this now?
“Fauns and Elves primarily.”
Gemma found herself staring into space as if she could see through the stone walls of the mansion into the forest. “Have they always been there?”
“No. They have appeared gradually over the last four decades.” Mrs. Landy kept her eyes focused on the unicorn.
“But… how? How have they appeared and why?” Gemma was trying to keep her attention focused on Mrs. Landy but found she couldn’t help glancing at the unicorn.
“As we all have, Miss.” With that the housekeeper shimmered and vanished reappearing next to the unicorn. Moments later both the unicorn and Mrs. Landy were gone leaving Gemma to gape at the now vacant spot.
“As we all have. What kind of answer is that?” Gemma shook her head frustrated once again by Mrs. Landy’s reticent nature. The cheerful bubbling of the spring’s waters drew her attention. She knew Meribelle Bosworth had used magic to call the Sprite’s out of the spring. She recalled the scene the ancient mirror in her room had shown her. Meribelle was dressed in a gauzy white dressing gown sitting next to the spring and singing until dozens of bluish white balls of light emerged from the roiling waters of the spring.
Gemma gazed at the ring on her finger. At the end of the dance the Sprites had gifted Meribelle with the milky white stone that she had set into a silver band. Somehow this stone had made Meribelle and Gemma the Mistress or leader of the Sprites and those magical beings who joined them. More important to Gemma the ring that refused to come off her finger had made her responsible for the safety and well-being of the magical beings now in her care. This was their home; a place where they could live in peace without fear of being hunted by frightened and unbelieving humans.
And now she had to worry about a unicorn living in the forest with a bunch of fauns and elves. How had they gotten here? Was someone secretly calling these creatures out of the spring?
Gemma spun on her heel and hurried back to her room. She locked the door behind her and stood before the large antique mirror with its gilded frame. “Mirror, show me how the unicorn got into the atrium.”
The mottled surface of the mirror rippled like a pebble thrown into a still pond. Seconds later the reflection of the atrium and spring appeared. The waters of the small pool at the base of the spring bubbled and churned shining with a bright white light. A silver white horn pierced the surface and rose revealing the unicorn’s head, neck and body. Gemma scanned the area surrounding the spring. There was no sign of any other living thing.
“Thank you, Mirror.” As the image disappeared the mirror returned to its resting state. Gemma wandered over to the sofa and sat staring at the red and yellow flames in the fireplace.
This was not good. She couldn’t have creatures popping up out of the spring any old time. How could she possibly keep Merivale’s secrets secret knowing some strange creature could appear at any time? The Hobs could become invisible at will and the Sprites avoided humans mainly because they didn’t like them. Mrs. Landy looked human and was accustomed to behaving like one. And Breknell, despite his love for inane chit-chat knew when to keep his mouth shut and act like a bird. But, a unicorn? Gemma could imagine the tabloid headlines.
It wasn’t that she minded having them around, she didn’t. She honestly cared for all of them. Even the Sprites who seemed to spend their days hatching up new ways to irritate her. She grinned at the thought of some of their antics that really were funny at times.
Gemma’s cell phone rang, and she knew without looking that it was her cousin Maddie. “Hey, Mads. What’s up?” She listened as Maddie relayed her breathless and slightly frantic account of the Sprite’s latest prank. “They did what? Never mind. I’ll be right down.”