The Brumbies and the Unicorns (with audio)

I think @jayne_dough_too  requested three things close to her heart:

Nurse + Mountains + Unicorn


Podcast Version

Text Version

Selina sighed and rolled over in bed. She glanced at the clock:


She should be asleep by now. As if on cue, she heard the front door open and the sound of footsteps approaching her room.

A figure gently opened her door and crept into the room.

‘I’m still awake Mum,’ Selina murmured, squinting at the light entering the darkened room. ‘How was your shift?”

‘It was good. My work tonight reminded me of why I became a nurse. But, my beautiful girl, you should be asleep,’ Marina murmured. She walked over and sat on the end of the bed.

‘Is something wrong?’

Selina sighed.

‘I’m just sick of being different,’ she whispered, wiping fresh tears from her eyes.

‘My darling, what is different about you. You have your father’s beautiful eyes, my mother’s long brown hair and you and your brother both have the same fierce determination.’

‘But my brother doesn’t have my hijab,’ Selina replied flatly.

Marina smiled ruefully.

‘Your hijab is part of who you are too Selina. You choose to wear it as a sign of the things that matter to you. The things that you are passionate about.’

‘I know Mum,’ Selina replied. ‘But the other girls at school don’t see it that way.’

‘Ahhh,’ Marina replied. ‘You have forgotten the story of the brumbies and the unicorns.’

Selina sighed once more.

‘That is a story for children.’

‘No, my love, it is not. Let me tell it to you again.’

We all know about the brumbies in the mountains surrounding Canberra. And of course, we know about the horses that live amongst the humans; but we know very little of the unicorns that live in the rivers and valleys.

One story we do know is of the bitter and sad conflict between the brumbies of the Brindabella mountains, not far from here, and their cousin unicorns from the Murrumbidgee river.

Some decades ago, the brumbies, horses and unicorns were living in relative peace. The brumbies were the biggest of the cousins, due in part to their living in the lush and bountiful Brindabella Mountains. Nonetheless, the horses and unicorns preferred to live in their home countries, which for the most part had enough food and water for them to thrive.

The cousins would share things across their borders. The brumbies strength meant they could obtain food from difficult and inaccessible parts of the mountains. They would trade this with the horses for manmade things like trinkets and jewellery. The unicorns are a mystical creature, and they could make healing potions from the river water and flowers; they would trade these to the brumbies for food.

But, from time to time, horses and unicorns would seek refuge in the mountains with the brumbies. Sometimes this was because of conflicts between themselves, or because the horses’ masters were treating them badly; sometimes it was because of bad brumbies who had strayed into their lands and taken their resources.

When the first horses or unicorns came, the brumbies would accept them into their herd. At first, the brumbies knew that they had more than enough to share, and at times they might be responsible for the horses and unicorns having to leave their homes.

But on each occasion, as more unicorns or horses came, the brumbies would grow jealous of having to share. There was still more than enough to go around, but they would become suspicious of the horses and unicorns coming. It was particularly bad for the unicorns. The horses looked more like the brumbies, and left to run wild, would quickly take on the brumbies appearance and aggression. But the unicorns were always marked by the single straight horn on their forehead.

Nonetheless, those outsiders would make the brumbies herds stronger and better. They would bring their knowledge of healing and the human world. Over time, the brumbies would recognise this, and celebrate this difference for those that had arrived long ago. The brumbies, horses and unicorns would marry each other, creating new and wonderful children who combined the best elements of the different species.

Until the next new comers came, and the tension would begin again.

On one occasion, not so long ago, during a terrible drought, the unicorns ran out of water in their rivers. They had no choice but to seek refuge with the brumbies. And again, like the times before, the brumbies would at first welcome them, but then, as more and more unicorns had to leave their homes, the brumbies became more and more jealous. More unicorns than ever before were coming to the herd because of the drought.

Some of the brumbies began to speak openly about asking the unicorns to leave. At the Great Herd Conference on Bimberi Peak they met to debate what was to be done.

‘They are different from us. They believe in their mystical potions. We are practical creatures. They will change us, ruin our way of life. They should either become like us or leave,’ some said.

But others remembered the history of the herd.

‘Unicorns and horses have been joining our herd for generations. Many of you are descended from the wonderful marriages of our species. We have benefited greatly from the contributions they bring. Our brother and sister unicorns are in need, and we have the ability to help them.’

But these brumbies were drowned out by the larger ones, who agreed unicorns should either become like brumbies or leave.

And that’s what happened. Some unicorns cut off their horns, while those that refused were forced to leave. And for decades no unicorns were seen in the mountains, or the rivers, or the valleys.

They were thought extinct by horse, human and brumby alike.

Until the black plague came.

It wiped out whole families of brumbies. Striking them down with black eyes, then black skin, and then finally, a black mouth, that prevented them eating. Eventually the poor, wild, fierce brumby would lie down and die.

That’s what happened to little Lola’s father, and brothers. She wanted desperately to help them, but she didn’t know what to do. She was only a foal, the same age as you.

And then her mother’s eyes turned black.

As soon as she saw her mother’s illness she ran to see her grandfather, who was a member of the Great Herd Conference on Bimberi Peak. But when she arrived, her grandfather, Mistletoe, was deep in discussion with the other brumbies.

‘We must do something to end this plague,’ her grandfather was saying. He was distinctive by his silver coat and broad shoulders.

‘But unicorns are not the answer,’ yelled back a bigger, white coated brumby. ‘For all we know, they brought the black death upon us. And that assumes they still exist.’

‘Nonsense Firebrand, the unicorns did not bring this upon us. The legend tells us that a unicorn can be found at our greatest time of need, by the banks of the Murrumbidgee, close to the Cotter.’

‘And what then Mistletoe?’ Firebrand asked. ‘Send a party out to the Murrumbidgee. That is not our land. It is too close to the humans. We cannot survive there. We will die, or worse be captured by them. No instead we should continue trying our own flowers.’

‘The legend says that a unicorn will help us find the healing flower.  His or her horn will glow red when the flower is close,’ Mistletoe began.

‘Enough,’ Firebrand yelled, cutting him off. ‘I am the leader of this herd, and I will determine who comes to this herd and under what circumstances. No more unicorns. We are a great and lucky herd. We will find a solution ourselves.’

Lola watched Mistletoe drop his head in disappointment, and then she knew what she must do. She didn’t have a moment to spare. She galloped as fast as her legs would carry her away from the mountain peak.

She ran and ran for many hours, always heading down hill. But darkness had begun to descend around her, and she realised she had no idea where the Cotter mouth of the Murrumbidgee was.

She slumped down and began to cry. She didn’t how long she lay there sobbing, but suddenly she felt hooves approaching.

She leapt up and looked around.

‘I’m sorry,’ came a timid voice from the darkness. Into view came a small grey horse.

‘Are you a brumby?’ the male horse asked.

Lola nodded.

‘Are you going to hurt me?’ the horse asked.

Lola laughed.

‘Brumbies don’t hurt horses…’

And she stopped herself.

‘Do we?’

The gray horse shook his head.

‘I don’t know. I only know that brumbies are fierce, wild horses. I’m Raiden. What if we agree that we won’t hurt each other?’

Lola smiled and nodded.

‘I heard you crying, are you okay?’

Lola sighed.

‘I’m lost. I’m trying to find the Cotter mouth of the Murrumbidgee.

‘I know where that is.’ Raiden replied. ‘But it is a dangerous place. Why do you want to go there?’

‘My mother is sick, and I believe there is a unicorn there that can help me.’

Raiden paused for a moment, before at last speaking. He seemed to be weighing up a great problem.

‘Alright, I will take you.’

‘Great, let’s go!’ exclaimed Lola.

‘We should wait until tomorrow, when there is light Lola. It will be easier to find, and sometimes that can be a dangerous place at night. It is many days ride from here.’

Lola nodded, and yawned.

‘I could do with sleep.’

‘Me too,’ replied Raiden, and he lay down next to her. They nuzzled into each other to keep warm and closed their eyes.

Just as she was falling asleep, a thought suddenly occurred to Lola.

‘Raiden, you are a horse. Why are you wandering around the mountains at night?’

‘Must sleep now,’ he replied sleepily. ‘I will tell you tomorrow.’

At first light the two adventurers set off. They made quite the sight: the slightly larger chestnut brown female brumby and the smaller but stockier grew horse.

They had many adventures on their way to the Cotter; adventures that would bind them together. They would each save each other’s lives. But that is a story for another time.

At last they reached the woods near the river, and Raiden stopped. He was bigger now, for they had travelled some months. He had also become wilder, taking on less of the appearance of a horse.

‘There is the river mouth Lola, we have been through much together, I hope you find what you need there.’

‘Aren’t you coming with me Raiden?’ she asked.

He shook his head.

‘You asked me, that first night we met, about why I was on that hillside. I couldn’t tell you then, but perhaps I can bring myself to tell you now.’

‘My humans kept me in a paddock near here. One night, another group of humans broke into the paddock. They set fire to the grasslands and scared my family. We ran away in many different directions, and that is last time I saw any of them. I do not wish to go any further into this place, and certainly do not wish to see any humans.’

Lola nodded.

‘Thank you Raiden.’

‘I will be here if you need me.’

It was first light, and the pair had hoped this would minimise the number of humans around the river. Tentatively, Lola walked out of the woods and into the open grasslands around the river. It was a beautiful sight; recent rains had filled the river, and it was running quickly over rocks and falls. The sandbanks and gum trees surrounding it, along with the mist gently moving over it, gave the place a mystical air.

But Lola saw no unicorns.

What was she to do now? She walked around, searching for some sign of nearby life. She dared not call out.

She suddenly felt incredibly thirsty. The pair had found few water holes on their travels, and the desire to drink from the river overwhelmed her. She walked to the river bed, and checking around for human life, knelt down and drank.

The water was delicious, rich and cool. More refreshing than water she had drunk before.

When she was finished drinking, she again scanned the area around her. Had she really come this far only to fail?

She then heard a sound behind her. It was Raiden.

‘Raiden, you didn’t have to come. I think I am going to go back to the forest anyway. We have failed my friend. There are no unicorns here.’

‘Lola, he whispered. Look at your reflection in the river.’

Lola again turned towards the water and looked down. She took a step back in surprise at what she saw.

There was a single horn protruding from her head.

‘Raiden, how long has that been there?’

‘It appeared just now Lola, that’s why I left the forest. I had to tell you. You are the unicorn. You are the legend.’

Lola stared at her reflect in the river. She was indeed a unicorn. And there was a slight red tinge to her horn.

‘Raiden, help me. I think my horn is telling us there are the mystical flowers nearby.’

Together the pair walked around the area. Raiden watched Lola’s horn as they moved.

‘This way Lola. Yes, this is it,’ he said, indicating to a patch of purple flowers.

‘I know these flowers,’ Lola said. ‘They grow wild where our herd graze.’

She plucked them in her mouth and the friends rushed back. By some force of nature, their trip back was much quicker. Perhaps they knew the way the second time, or perhaps it was Lola’s new powers.

They arrived back into the Brumby camp late at night. Lola returned to her home, to find her mother lying down, a black rash all over her body. Without thinking, she nuzzled the flowers into her mother’s mouth.

At once, the blackness began to recede from her body. In a matter of moments, she was standing and back to full health.

‘My darling Lola, I didn’t know where you have been. What have you discovered?’

‘The cure, mother. The cure.’

And she had. Lola helped others find the flowers nearby, and the herd was quickly rid of the plague.

Raiden joined the herd, and along with Lola, became a great leader. They had children, some brumbies, some horses and some unicorns. And they passed a law that never again would the herd turn away those in need.

And that is how the horses, unicorns and brumbies were reunited. Through one beautiful girl, who dared to dream of something better.

Marina looked down at her daughter, who had now fallen into a deep sleep. She didn’t know how much of the story she had heard, but she was pleased.

Because there was a smile on Selina’s face, and in her hand, she held tightly to her chest, her hijab.

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