Inspired by an advert tagline I saw on the tube - a spot of magical escapism.

The Hour

At lunchtime I feed the Unicorn. He grazes placidly amongst the trees of the glade, save an occasional twitch of an ear or swish of his long silver tail. He enjoys, in particular, an herb with greyish leaves and small blue flowers that we call Skyflower.

The castle is quiet at this time of day. Everyone is either in the dining halls or busy with affairs of state. It's easy to slip away; through the stable-yard, down the shady path behind the kitchen garden, across the Field of Gold, where the Unicorn lives and through the gate into the woods.

The woods are cool and green, lit by shafts of sunlight breaking through the softly rustling leaves. Sometimes the dryads come to talk with me, tall and slim, their dresses changing with the seasons - fresh greens and blossom in Spring, rich greens in Summer, then a glorious riot of gold, bronze and red in Autumn. In Winter the deciduous dryads are sleeping and the only ones about are the hollies and pines. They don't mind the snow and frost and wear necklaces of snowflakes and earrings made of icicles. The Unicorn loves snow, it brings out the foal in him and he plunges through the drifts snorting misty clouds of breath and tossing his mane, his winter coat warm as velvet.

Now though it is early summer and if I sit here quietly does will bring their fawns to drink at the pool and the rabbits will come out to play. They are safe here for the wood is bounded not only by the castle and village, but, at its further reaches in the foot-hills of the mountains, by charms strong enough to keep out the most determined of wolves, ogres and trolls. In addition the mountains are protected by the dragons who, contrary to popular belief, are wise and generally peaceable creatures. Indeed their wisdom is such that apprentice sorcerers each spend a year in the mountains learning their language, culture and magic before moving on to the mines, which are the domain of the dwarves and elves, to learn the secrets of metals, gems and rare minerals.

The Unicorn, grazing, has crossed the glade and now stands beside me. He has grass about his muzzle and a stray skyflower is caught in his mane. He drops his head into my lap and huffs gently at my hands. It's time for us to go back. I get to my feet, shake out my skirts and we walk to the pool. He stands in the shallows and drinks deeply. Lifting his head, he snorts softly at a passing dragonfly. The old toad is almost submerged today, shadowed beneath the old fallen tree that rests across one corner of the pool, its decaying bark jewelled with moss and toadstools.

We turn from the pool and make our way back through the trees. The Field of Gold is so called because its grass is so full of celandines in spring, and buttercups in summer, that it glitters like a newly minted coin. Coming out again into the sunlight, it is momentarily dazzling and I have to blink to clear my vision before latching the gate behind us. The Unicorn tosses his head and whinnies gently. I ruffle his forelock and he rests his head against my shoulder, his opalescent horn cool against my cheek. I relent and give him the apple I have saved for him. Leaving him I walk back across the field and up the path beside the kitchen garden. I'm later than I thought and when I reach the stable yard some ostlers are returning from the dining hall. I have to wait in the shadows until they have gone about their business in the tack room.

Picking up my skirts I run lightly across the yard and up the steps to my tower. Entering my room I find the cat sitting on the windowsill washing her paws. She turns as I enter and jumps down to curl herself about my ankles. I stroke the fur beneath her chin and she closes her eyes and purrs ecstatically. I glance at the hourglass on the mantleshelf. It's nearly time; I pick up the cat and return to my four poster. The last golden grains fall and the enchantment descends again.

Even sleeping princesses get lunch breaks.

© Samantha Newbury 2003