Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity
Ogechi’s story, The Baron, the Unicorn, and the Boy, is about an ordinary boy, Albert, and how he is rescued from the boredom of a school outing by a dream-like adventure in a fairy-tale past. Ogechi’s writing is clear and forceful. Like all good fairy tales, her story can be read as a pleasant tale. The familiar elements — the kind, bewitched king, the lovely unicorn, the powerful ruby, and the arrogant baron — are like familiar friends or favorite foods that make for a satisfying few minutes’ entertainment. Also, though, like all good fairy tales, Ogechi’s story can be read on a deeper level.
Albert was lost in a museum. But at some point in most people’s lives they feel themselves to be lost and without purpose. At those times it is natural to dream of adventure and radical change.
This is the spirit behind the fantasy of daydreams. Rarely, but it does happen, adventure reaches into our ordinary lives as it reached into Albert’s. By some amazing chance we win a game when usually we are a terrible athlete. Or there is a hurricane or some other natural disaster and suddenly there is lots to do and we do it. Albert woke up from his adventure to find a necklace around his neck. Others wake up to find a trophy on their bedroom shelf or read about themselves in the morning paper. Did I really do that? Most of us are like Albert. The adventure suddenly appears in our life and when it is over we have little more than a memory and a souvenir.
Project: Write a Story in Which an Ordinary Person Is Suddenly Involved in an Adventure
Whether your adventure is grounded in reality, like a sporting event or a natural disaster, or whether it is a fantasy, like Ogechi’s story, try to create a believable world.
Ogechi’s treatment of the unicorn provides a model for how to make a fictional creature seem real. Notice that, in addition to mere physical descriptions, Ogechi show us the unicorn as a living, thinking creature. She does this by showing us how the unicorn and Albert communicate with each other. When writing your story, always remember that if you can show how living things relate to each other, through words, gesture, or even by some mystical tie, your imaginary world will seem real.
The Baron, the Unicorn, and the Boy
By Ogechi Cynthia Njoku
Illustrated by Andrew Ujifusa
Albert gazed listlessly at everything before him. Statues and tombs stood around him, both of great and delicate antiquity. People shuffled noiselessly past him, admiring the artifacts set before them. As you can imagine, Albert was at the museum. This was one of the numerous outings he’d been obliged to take part in during the school year. Thus, he was spending hours in the detested place.
“Can we leave now?” he asked. His voice hung in the heavy silence, and, receiving no answer, he looked up to find himself alone. Panicking, he ran to the exit,thinking that his class had perhaps gone or moved on to another interesting display, but, instead of facing the usual glass panels, he found himself facing an old door. It was so gray with dust and veiled with cobwebs that Albert could hardly see it. Curiosity, with a thread of fear accompanying it, forced him to open it.
He stepped over the threshold. The room was covered with layers of dust with an open grime-covered window showing glimpses of a barren and desolate land. The room was empty except for a large figure at one corner. Albert shivered and took a few steps backward. Just then something stirred and some dust brushed off the figure’s face. Its eyes blinked open and stared at Albert. He turned with his heart in his throat, his sole intention to run out of the place, when the voice arrested him. “At last you are here. I have waited for a long time.”
Albert turned slowly and stared at the man, for man he was! While he was busy brushing himself off, Albert diligently studied him. He was young with stalwart features. His face was kind but with a hint of sadness and suffering hovering around it. His clothes suggested long ago prosperity but were now in rags. His limpid eyes lifted to meet Albert’s and he smiled.
“I am Raymond Fitzgerald,” he said. “I am a king but have not seen much of that aristocratic world. At an early age, I lost my father and mother in tragic circumstances, indeed, there was a lot of mystery surrounding their death. I was made king, and, as young as I was, I was made to do a number of duties. In one of them, I was visiting a nearby kingdom. I took with me enough sustenance to last a month, my unicorn, and the baron.
I once trusted. My unicorn was envied in many kingdoms for its strength and spirit. My baron, as I found out later, also liked it, and, halfway through the journey, he attacked me. Taken by surprise and totally unarmed as I was, he easily defeated me. He took my unicorn and kept me captive here. Even then…,” he shrugged. “Without that unicorn I am nowhere. Luckily, the baron informed me of the unicorn’s whereabouts, thinking that I’d never be able to reach it. The unicorn is in a cage situated about three miles from here. Give him this flower.” He withdrew a crushed flower from the tattered folds of his cloak. “It will enable him to free himself from the cage. Beware of the baron for he is very sly. You may use no arms as only the ruby can kill the baron. Do you agree?”
Silence followed in which Albert trembled. His instinct told him that to agree was to sign his death sentence. But maybe he was thinking of the long-ago sense of chivalry or perhaps he believed in the code of honesty and bravery. Whatever it was, it was enough to make his heart stop skittering like a ping-pong ball. He looked straight at the king. The king somehow sensed his approval and led him to the door. He lay his hands briefly on Albert’s shoulder and Albert could feel his gratitude.
As the door was shut behind him, his eyes widened in surprise. Instead of mummies and pharoahs staring disapprovingly on the waxed museum floor, he stood in the middle of a clearing. A dense forest surrounded him and it was rapidly approaching dusk. About three miles from here, he thought. He started walking quite happily, whistling as he went, but soon the whistles died in his throat. In the heavy darkness, the trees seemed bunched together as if hiding something, and eyes seemed to be watching him from every side. No longer trying to fool himself, he ran like he had never run before, stopping only when the first pale rays of the morning appeared. The last few faltering steps led him to a cage, but his eyes closed and he lay down exhausted.
When he woke up it was to feel something nudging his hand softly. It was the hand that had held the flower, and Albert sat up in panic when he felt that it was gone. But he gasped when he saw the unicorn. The unicorn was a thing of perfection and beauty with its almost translucent skin and the pearly horn that rose gracefully from its forehead. Its gray eyes looked atAlbert and he felt a sense of faith and trust pass between them. He lay his hand on the unicorn. Its feathers were also of the same pearly white as its horns.
“What are you doing?” The voice was quiet and soft, but there was no mistaking the menace that lay beneath it. Albert turned around, startled, and grew pale. I must be dreaming, he thought frantically. He was looking at the baron. His long black hair was visible beneath a bowl-shaped metal helmet, and a furious scowl was visible despite histhick black beard. He was dressed in black with a leather tunic and cloak. His eyes were small and glinting, burning with fire and hatred, and his mouth was set into a cruel, harsh line. His sharp, iron-headed spear pointed directly at Albert was perhaps the most frightening thing that Albert had ever experienced. Albert stood rooted to the spot, but the unicorn galloped a few yards away, sensing danger.
“Regard your strange manner of garment,” he continued in an antiquated British tone. “You fare from a strange land, but that does not give you leave to take people’s possessions, or does it?” His expression as he looked at Albert was that of one who sees something he wishes to destroy in a moment. “The unicorn is mine, and neither you nor Raymond can take it away from me.” He started walking determinedly toward the unicorn, and it started rearing frantically as he approached. But the baron laughed a cruel laugh that sent the shivers up Albert’s spine. As he laughed, Albert caught a flash of gold and saw with surprise the large gold chains that encircled the baron’s neck. They met at his broad chest and on it gleamed the ruby! It glowed with wicked lustre and now Albert recalled the king’s words,”Only the ruby can kill the baron.” It was the source of his power, and he had to get it — somehow.
The baron in the meantime had stopped a few feet in front of the unicorn. He grabbed his ruby and, muttering something unintelligible to Albert, pointed it in the direction of the unicorn. The surprise and anger showed on his face when the unicorn did not react to the ruby. Albert, seeing this, took hope and ran toward the unicorn, but the baron turned quickly. “If I can’t get one, I’ll get the other!” and he pointed the ruby at Albert. Albert felt himself growing numb and cold, and he couldn’t move. The baron laughed again, an almost happy expression in his eyes. “King Fitzgerald may have warned you about me, but you both do not know the extent of my power. With you turned to stone, I can easily recapture the unicorn!” Albert felt himself grow cold all over, and suddenly, terror like he had never known before snaked through him and a scream broke loose from his throat.
The unicorn sensed his danger and galloped to his side. As soon as he felt the soft head nudging him, Albert felt his strength slowly returning. But there was still danger. Albert could see the baron climbing onto his horse and his spear gleamed in his hand. He could guess that the baron was planning to dash madly at them and. . . well, he could guess what the spear was for.
The unicorn nudged Albert, and Albert, sensing what it wanted, mounted its bare back and they soared into the sky. They reached the baron, and the unicorn soared low, encircling him. The baron made futile attempts to spear the unicorn for he had realized that the unicorn was no longer in his control. It took only one precisely timed kick to send the spear flying and it fell in Albert’s ready hand. They turned and flew a fewyards away and landed. They turned once again and started to race straight at the baron. The mere strength and anger of the animal rooted the baron to the spot. Albert was ready and, as they drew nearer, he thrust his spear out and it caught onto one of the large gold links, and all that was needed was a little pressure for it to break and the ruby was falling uselessly to the ground. A scream was all Albert heard before he was struck into a swirling darkness….
Albert opened his eyes and found himself in the museum. He gave a sigh of relief. Then he saw that in front of him hung a portrait. The caption read, “King Fitzgerald,” and the young king seemed to be smiling at him. Albert turned to go, then smiled and gasped — for around his neck hung a medallion shaped like a unicorn.