The Factory and the Town were beginning to have problems.
Easton was the fifth of the Factories, the fourth of the Towns connected to Centon City and to the villages by the Silver Road. The other Towns had settled into the factory work, to the shackles of the Silver Road, to the puffing of the smokestacks and the red dust that landed on everything. There had been no reason for the governors or the administrators to believe that Easton would be any different, and, indeed, for the first five years it hadn't been.
The strange things had begun with unicorn sightings in Easton. There weren't supposed to be unicorns in the Towns; most townfolk believed the unicorns to be nothing but a myth. The new Administrator had been appointed for the factory, a new Mayor was elected for Easton, and the factory burnt more coriander and planted cilantro all around the buildings.
That was, unfortunately, only the beginning of their problems. The coriander kept the unicorns out of the town square and out of the Factory, yes. The new Mayor and the new Administrator kept order in Easton and the Factory respectively, yes. Curfews kept the Villagers and the Townsfolk from mingling too much, yes. But the factory workers hadn't all been born in Easton, and you couldn't stop people from moving out of the Town, at least, not yet.
It had started with rumours, whispers, hints. It had started with gossip over coffee at the market, conversation over clotheslines, stories sent home in the mail. It had started with people talking to each other.
It ended up with guerilla warfare.
In between, there was a mess on the hands of the Mayor and the Factory Adminstator, and a lot of misunderstanding to go around.
But it came to a head when one young woman with a rounded belly knocked on the gates of Easton.
The guards at the gates were not trained that pregnant women were a threat.
If they had been so trained, they would have rejected their training. The towns, Easton, Weston, the others, were not so far from the villages as all that; pregnant women were their mothers, their sisters, their wives (and sometimes, rarely, themselves).
But they were not spared the training only because of their sensitivities; the Mayor's staff and the Administrator's staff in Easton understood the threats far differently than the villages did, and perhaps did not expect nor understand that a pregnant woman could be dangerous to their town and their stability.
All that being said, the man at the gate that day did what he could, given a lack of instruction and a general cultural bias.
“Miss...ma'am, do you have your papers? Only it's not a market day, and Easton is closed except on market days.”
“I have no papers.” She tilted her head, looking up them in a way that seemed more beast than woman. “I am... here to see my agéd grandmother?”
There was no doubt it was a lie. There was absolutely no doubt she was unicorn-touched. Her eyes glowed white and shimmery; the guards had only heard about such things.
Only heard about such things in stories from their own agéd grannies.
The guards coughed and let the woman in. “Do remember to bring your papers next time. And our greetings to your agéd granny, ma'am. Best wishes on the baby, too.”
“Ah. The foal.” She blinked those white-opal eyes at the men, and then she was gone into the gates.
The guards tried their best not to think about it, and had it been a one-time meeting, they probably would have, in due time and overdue wine, forgotten it entirely. Even in Easton, the unicorn-brides were not unheard of. In this day in age, there was no place in the land that the unicorn-brides were unknown.
The second one came two weeks later, just long enough that they had started to forget the first. She, too, was here to see her agéd grandmother, and, again, the guards let her through.
The visits spread out over almost a year, long enough that the guards took quite a while to come to any conclusions and even longer to say something. It started with two on night duty, bored and rather embarrassed to have noticed the beauty of the woman they'd just allowed through.
“Hey, Rand?” The first guard had been a guard since Easton began hiring them. It was better work than the Factory, paid better, and he was single, anyway, so had no family to miss. “How many agéd grannies do you imagine Easton has?”
“That's not the sort of question you want to be asking, Chenner.” Rand could have been a manager-sort, but, like Chenner, he preferred the quiet nights.
“But it's the question I'm asking.”
“Don't.” He moved away, but his fellow guard followed.
“Why not? Don't you think someone ought to ask the question?”
“If someone asks that question, the next one will be, why did we let them through, when obviously they're not all coming to see their grannies, and then comes 'and where are they going, then, if not to their grannies' houses?' and then come more questions. And I don't know about you, Chenner, but if their are people I don't want to anger, it's unicorn brides and their grannies.”
“But we said they don't all have grannies.”
“Do you want to take that chance?”
It was a fair question. Chenner shut his mouth.
For a minute, at least. “Rand?”
“What is it this time, Chenner?”
“We let in five women last week to visit their agéd grannies, right”?
“Right.” Rand tried to make his voice suggest that there was no more conversation to be had there, but Chenner, once he had hold of a thought, did not let go.
“Only four left.”
That might have been a turning point in the war. The guards could have warned someone that there was a problem; the Mayor and the Factory Administrator could have put into play emergency plans developed for just this sort of situation.
But it was too late, the guards too slow to engage pregnant unicorn brides and their theoretical grannies. Because just as Chenner was about to say “and the week before...” things began to explode.
The first firebomb hit the Factory's distribution center in a wave of cinnamon-scented flame; by the time Chenner and Rand had gotten there, the entire factory district was in flames, and there were invisible shimmering blockades at every street.
“Unicorns?” Chenner whispered the word. The shimmer in front of him moved closer, a prickling shivering through Chenner's chest.
“Don't say the word. To say it gives them power.”
“They're invisible and they come with three-foot-long piercing weapons, I'd say they're plenty powerful!” Chenner reached out, cautiously. He was no virgin, though he was no great lover of anyone; he was not the pure soul that he'd once been, either. Once, in a village, down by the river...
but he had been a child, and a boy child at that.
"We are come." The voice boomed through Easton. It was a woman's voice, echoing with something that sounded like unicorns looked - like pearls, Chenner thought, and like blood, and how weird was that? "We are come. We are here. And we will no longer be victim to this stupidity."
Chenner didn't look at Rand again. He didn't need to. He stepped forward, knowing deep in his gut exactly where the unicorn was.
"Chenner, Chenner, you moron, what are you doing? What are you doing?" Rand grabbed him, but it was too late. Everyone who had an agéd granny knew what the unicorns did to those who weren't pure enough.
It could be said that Chenner's was the first blood shed in the war, but it was hard to say for what side he bled. Certainly the unicorns weren't saying; just as certainly, Rand wasn't saying. There was no corpse to return to the family by the time the monsters were done, and, besides, Rand had died in the same attack.
It was said that the Silver Road that bound the five cities was unicorn blood and unicorn tears. If so, then a new road was paved as the war began, the red road, and the bricks glistened and shined with it all throughout Easton and beyond.
We have come. We are here.
They had always been here, the unicorn brides, the unicorns.
We are here. We are standing firm.
They had been the thing in the background, for all those decades.
And we will no longer be victim to this stupidity.
It was far too long before someone asked which stupidity?
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