Unicorns, with their single ivory horn, are elusive and magical creatures of myth. Yet even more elusive are the purple unicorns.
First sighted at the Superstars Writing Seminar, their legend has grown year after year until it could only be contained in this anthology. Nineteen storytellers, including Peter S. Beagle, Todd McCaffrey, and Jody Lynn Nye, as well as new and rising authors, invite us into worlds both near and far, across a desert oasis, a pet shop, a Comic-Con exhibition floor, and more, and show us the many variations of purple unicorns, from the imaginary to the actual—and one very memorable half-unicorn, half-potato.
One Horn to Rule Them All is an unforgettable collection of imagination and creativity. So, saddle up, and take a ride beyond the rainbow.
All profits benefit the Superstars Writing Seminar Scholarship Fund.
ONE HORN TO RULE THEM ALL is an anthology of Purple Unicorn stories. Really. If that isn't enough to whet your appetite, it grew out of years of our writing workshops where we used a mythical "purple unicorn anthology" as an absurd example to emphasize that an author must always do his or her best work, no matter what. Well, other writers who heard that talk kept writing and sending us purple unicorn stories that we decided to show just how good they could be in an anthology, including works by beststelling authors Todd McCaffry, Jody Lynn Nye, and the legendary Peter S. Beagle himself, author of The Last Unicorn! This anthology is devoted to raising money as a scholarship for Superstars Writing Seminars, and has so far funded three scholarships! – Kevin J. Anderson
"I thoroughly enjoyed each and every story in this collection."– Lisa Mangum, Editor
"Purple Unicorns? (Don't knock 'em till you've tried 'em!) This delightful anthology is a master class in what can happen when authors of diverse genres and experience come together to create something 'out of this world.'"– Amazon Review
"A great collection of original tales...it's the range and the delivery of such ideas that makes this collection so endearing. There are so many different flavors here spanning multiple genres, different voices, tones and themes. The authors' creativity matches their skill, and every tale is a unique spin through a magical world. Impressive and enjoyable!"– Author David Sakmyster
Purple Unicorns? Really?
Bookstores are filled with theme anthologies, some of them with terrific concepts, while others fall under the "What were they thinking?" category.
Purple unicorns? Really?
What were they thinking?
For almost twenty years now, my wife, Rebecca Moesta, and I have given classes and lectures on professionalism and building a writing career. We tell both established and aspiring writers that they must always deliver their best work, no matter what the project is. Whether it's an obscure story, an article, an interview, that piece will be some reader's introduction to your work, and you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Don't phone it in—put 100% into the story, and if you can't do that, don't accept the job in the first place.
For instance, if you agree to contribute a story to an anthology about purple unicorns, don't just roll your eyes and whip off something mediocre because, well, who cares about purple unicorns? Maybe the theme of the anthology makes you roll your eyes, but don't think that gives you an excuse to deliver a bad story. The people who buy an anthology about purple unicorns really want to read about purple unicorns, and if you accept the assignment then you are obligated to deliver your best possible story about a purple unicorn. And if you do write a terrific purple unicorn story, the readers of that anthology may well remember your name and seek out your other work.
It's one of our most important lessons. But it's become more than that, too.
Over the years, various writers have come up to me after we give that lecture. "You know, Kevin, I'm going to write a purple unicorn story for you. I accept the challenge." It was always a joke, but then it got more and more serious.
In 2010, Rebecca and I launched our intensive business-related Superstars Writing Seminars with fellow writers Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, and Eric Flint. Every year, Rebecca would give our professionalism talk, using the purple unicorn example. And more and more students would offer to write stories for the now-legendary Purple Unicorn Anthology.
At the 2014 Superstars Writing Seminar, one of our guest lecturers was Lisa Mangum, an editor for Shadow Mountain Publishing, and she heard our professionalism talk. A few weeks after the seminar, she wrote me to say she couldn't get the idea out of her head—and she proposed that we do the anthology. For real. Something that would be open to submissions from all the past Superstars attendees. She offered her services as editor if WordFire Press would be interested in publishing the book.
We continued discussions and realized that we could do the volume as a benefit for Superstars, with all profits going toward a new scholarship fund that would allow a disadvantaged person to attend the writing seminar. Bestselling YA author and artist James Artimus Owen, one of our Superstar instructors, offered to do an original cover for the anthology. The WordFire team would publish it—and our Superstars tribe would get behind it.
Lisa developed the guidelines, opened herself to a flood of submissions, and our students got to work. But word leaked out, too.
Todd J. McCaffrey, well known for the Dragonriders of Pern novels coauthored with Anne McCaffrey, sent me a story out of the blue, which we were delighted to include. Delighted that we were so delighted, Todd sent us a second story, with which we could bracket the anthology.
I told him, "You know we're not paying anything for this, right?"
"Yes, but it's for a good cause."
Then New York Times bestselling author Jody Lynn Nye offered to write us a new story.
Then the legendary Peter S. Beagle, author of the classic The Last Unicorn, gave us a story. Free. For the scholarship.
None of these big names took slots away from the students; with well-known authors in the table of contents, I just added extra pages to the book. (As WordFire Press publisher, I can do that!)
The submissions came in, and Lisa received about four times as many stories as she could use, and the Superstars students cheered each other on, knowing that most of them wouldn't make the cut.
And now you have in your hands One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology, and I venture to say that these are the very best purple unicorn stories ever written.
Until the next volume.
Kevin J. Anderson, publisher
The elvish girl walked spritely up the path.
"Gran!" she called, stopping for a moment to peer ahead and then starting forward with a skip in her step. "Gran, where are you?"
There was no sign of him in the front of the stone cottage.
"Eilin?" an old voice called in surprise. The doddering old man, steps quick but wobbly, rounded the corner from the back of the cottage. He had a guarded look on his face and then smiled as he spotted the girl. "Eilin, what brings you here?"
"My lady was worried," Eilin replied, peering up at the silver-haired man. "She didn't see you in the garden."
"Oh, I was around back, just pottering."
"Pottering?" Eilin repeated. It was a strange word, like so many of the other words he used.
"Aye, nothing more," Gran replied, gesturing toward the front door. "Come in and I'll put on some tea for ye."
Eilin nodded, not trusting her face. Gran was forever going on about "tea," but it was always hot water poured over strange roots and never quite the amazing brew he made it seem. She glanced back over her shoulder down the path she'd taken. Finding no respite—no signs of her lady mother beckoning her back imperiously—Eilin knew she had no choice but to accept her Gran's offer.
"And what brings you here on such a fair day?" Gran asked as he opened the door to his cottage and bowed her in.
"My lady mother—"
"Ach, lass, that's what ye said," Gran interrupted. "I meant the real reason."
The silver-haired man followed her into the cottage, waved her to her favorite seat, bustled about near the stove and came back, beckoning for her to stand again, while he settled in the one plush chair and settled her on his lap.
"Was it the spiders?" Gran asked softly as she lay her head on his warm shoulder.
"No," Eilin said in a half-drowsy voice. Her lady mother said that they kept Gran because he was so good with children. Perhaps it was true: Eilin could never listen to his singsong voice for long before falling asleep on his lap. "Not spiders."
"The prince, then," Gran decided.
"The baby, actually," Eilin allowed. Her brother, the prince, was no longer a pest after she'd discovered that he was more afraid of spiders than she—one night harvesting the worst of them and laying them over him as he slept cured the Prince of any desire to annoy her—which was as it should be.
A whistle from the kettle on the stove disturbed them, and Eilin allowed herself to be manhandled as Gran stood, deposited her gently back on the warm chair, sauntered over to the stove and poured steaming water into a clay pot.
Eilin's nose crinkled as the strange smell came to her. Another of Gran's terrible brews, she thought.
How long had it been now? Twenty years? Forty? More? Once his hair had been red, his eyes keen, his face fresh like a new apple. Now it was lined, his eyes were dimming, his hair all white and lanky. Even his body seemed smaller than once it had been, as though time had forced it to curl in obeisance.
Changelings never lasted very long. She'd only just gotten him properly broken in and now he was all worn out and creaky.
The smell shifted and Eilin sniffed again, her eyes open and senses curious. This time Gran's brew did not smell so bad.
Gran came back with two mugs on a tray and set them near the sofa. He scooped Eilin back up, settled himself, and pulled a mug over in one hand.
"If you'd care to try…" Gran offered.
"Of course," Eilin said, never one to refuse a graciousness. She sniffed, took a quick, thin sip and—amazed—her eyebrows rose in pleasant surprise. She took another sip, a bit deeper but only just; the liquid was piping hot.
Gran chuckled at her evident pleasure.
"Rhubarb and beet," Gran said. He took the second mug for himself.
"What's it for?"
"It's for the unicorns," Gran said.
Eilin took another sip. It was always unicorns with Gran. Always the same joke.
"Do you think they'll like it?" Eilin asked, deciding this time to play along.
"We'll see," Gran said, taking another sip. "We'll see."
"Tell me about the unicorns," Eilin said as she'd said most every day she came to the cottage. She sipped her tea and wondered why in the Elvenworld Gran could ever come to the notion that unicorns might drink such brew.
"What's to tell?" Gran teased her.
"No one can see them," Eilin said, repeating his old story. Days and years he'd told her, put her to sleep with his singsong, sad, sorry voice telling her about the unicorns.
"No one can see them," Gran agreed. "Their horns take them from Elvenworld to our world and back."
"They brought you here."
"When I was just a lad," Gran said in agreement.
"And now you're here and you'll never leave," Eilin finished. She leaned back, resting her head on his warm shoulder companionably. "You belong here, with us."
"Forever in Faerie."
"With the Elves and the unicorns, my lady mother, lord father, and the prince, my brother," Eilin concluded. "This is your home and we love you."
"I had a home," Gran reminded her, his voice going soft and a bit hoarse, "and those who loved me."
"Long gone, time slips differently here," Eilin reminded him.
"Drink your tea," Gran said, raising his mug to his lips and draining it impatiently.
For once, Eilin did as he said.
"No one can ever see a unicorn," Gran said to her as she drifted off into pleasant slumber.
O O O
It was weeks later when Eilin came again. The prince, her brother, had discovered the thorny roses and had tormented her by presenting them to her as a gift, then hiding them in her bed as she slept.
The pricks and pains of the thorns had sent her, crying, to the comfort of Gran's cottage in the distance.
"Gran!" she cried. He had the greatest cures and poultices, perhaps he could pull the sting out of her. "Gran!"
No answer, no movement from the cottage. Alarmed, Eilin picked up her pace.
She ran around the cottage to the back, crying, "Gran!"
"Shh!" Gran called from the far end of the garden. "I'm here, no need to shout!"
"What are you doing?" Eilin asked, eyeing the green growth and dirty ground in surprise.
"Just tending my garden, princess," Gran told her, rising from his knees to stand and then bow in front of her.
"My brother, the prince, used thorns!" Eilin cried, raising her pricked palms toward him and then pointed to the gash in her neck and the others on her arms. "He put roses in my bed."
"I can help you," Gran said, nodding toward his cottage. "A bit of brew, some cold water, and you'll be right as rain."
"And how is rain right?"
"It's right when there's a rainbow and the air is clear of dirt and full of freshness."
Eilin nodded. Rainbows were expensive outside of Faerie; her father had the drudges work until they expired to find the treasure required for each rainbow. Gran had once called him too vain for his own good, but Eilin could only think of the pride of the kingdom and the bounty of the Elvenworld. The drudges were only human, lured by the same gold they died to provide, and of no matter to her father, the king, nor even to Eilin herself.
Gracefully, Gran followed her to the cottage and bowed her inside, gesturing toward his comfortable chair. She sat, waiting in pain while he pottered over the stove and set potions to brew.
Presently he was back and had her in his lap again, gently applying his hot brew and holding pressure on her pale white skin until the thorn-punctures closed and the pain went once more.
"Do have you more tea, Gran?" Eilin asked as the last of the pain faded into dim memory.
"Tea?" Gran asked as he put his potions and cloths to one side.
"The purple tea you made," Eilin said.
"Unicorn tea," Gran said in a questioning tone.
"No one can see unicorns," Gran said, half-teasing her.
"The tea was good," Eilin said, feeling her eyelids drooping as the rise and fall of his chest and the warmth of him calmed her.
"The tea will make your stings come back," Gran said. He took a breath, then continued, "Let me tell you about the rainbows."
"There were three that day," Eilin said, recalling his words from so many times before. It was a marvelous story, Gran told it so well, and Eilin always filled with pride at the brilliant trick her father had played.
"Three rainbows and only one with gold," Gran said by way of agreement.
"Fool's gold," Eilin remembered, a smile playing on her lips.
"Fool's gold," Gran agreed. "And the fool was me, parted from friend and family by the faint hope that I could find enough gold to save them—"
"—from the famine," Eilin finished, her eyes now closing. "The unicorn ripped through that day, ripped from our world to yours three times."
"Ripped indeed," Gran agreed, his tone tightly neutral. "But no one saw them."
"Unicorns are invisible," Eilin agreed, closing her mouth at last and snoring gently on the old man's chest.
"Clear as the water they drink," Gran said softly to himself while the little elvish girl slept on.
O O O
"Gran!" Eilin shouted as she traipsed up the path to the cottage. Drat the man, where was he? "Gran!"
He usually replied by now, doddering out from his cottage or around from the silly garden on which he so doted. He was being slow, and she'd make him bow so long in penance that his back would hurt.
Well… maybe not that long.
No sign of him in the cottage. He was old, Eilin remembered and picked up her pace. Disposing of bodies was something she never liked, and then there'd be the bother of having to find a new human. She sprinted around the corner, looking for him kneeling over some of his silly rhubarb or his beets, but he wasn't there.
His garden opened up on the fields of cloudgrass—the favorite food of unicorns. Gran had insisted on it as inspiration and best location for the sun his plants required.
Every now and then over the years, she'd find him looking at the fields of cloudgrass, waving white and brilliant, watching as clumps were eaten by invisible grazing unicorns.
"What do unicorns eat?" Gran had asked early on when he still dreamed of escape from the Elvenworld.
"They eat cloudgrass and drink clear water," Eilin had told him expansively. "That's why they're invisible."
"And how they can cut between the worlds," Gran guessed.
Eilin didn't know and, as it was inappropriate for a princess to be ignorant, she said nothing, pretending that he was correct.
Eilin gazed from Gran's garden to the field, and her jaw dropped as she spotted the path. She followed it with her eyes, even as she willed her feet into action.
"Gran!" she cried, racing into the cloudgrass fields. She couldn't see him, the grass was nearly taller than she was. She'd forgotten that most days when they'd gone into the fields she'd been riding on his shoulders—Gran being her very own special two-legged beast of burden.
In the distance, she heard thunder. Unicorns were racing. She saw lightning where their hooves struck hard ground.
They were stampeding. Soon enough they'd bolt and tear holes between the Elvenworld and the slow world of humans.
Was Gran hoping to catch one? How could he—they were invisible!
"Get on!" a thin reedy voice came to her over the winds and the thunders. "Ride on, go on!"
"Gran!" Eilin cried. "No, Gran, you'll never catch one!" He'd be trampled for certain, unable to see the unicorns, unable to dodge their panicked flight.
"On with you! Thunder and lightning!" Gran's voice, exultant came over the noises and the cloudgrass.
Eilin remembered a knoll nearby and raced toward it. It was only a few quick strides for Gran but for the little elvish girl it was nearly a hill.
At the top she could see over the cloudgrass, across the fields and—there!
"Gran!" Eilin cried. Oh, the fool, the fool!
He was riding a unicorn, his weak old arms tightly clasped around its neck, his bony legs gripping its withers tightly, and in one hand he held a long-stemmed rose, waving it wildly, striking the unicorn's hindquarters—the unicorn's purple hindquarters.
Rhubarb and beets, Eilin thought to herself with sudden clarity. All those years he hadn't given up hope, he'd merely been planning. Oh, clever human!
He'd raised the beets and the rhubarb for the unicorns. Fed enough, the usually invisible hide took on a faint, purple hue. Coaxed with a gentle voice and the sweet and the sour of the rhubarb, it was no trouble to bring one of the unicorns to within hand's reach.
"Gran!" Eilin cried, her thin voice dying in the winds. "Oh, Gran, take me with you!"
The old man didn't hear her.
"Gran!" Eilin cried at the top of her lungs, realizing at last how much she loved the old human. How he'd been the only one to hug her to him, the only one to ever care the slightest about her as a person. "Gran!"
Thunder. Lightning tore through the sky and, suddenly, the wicked electric-blue glow of lightning burst from the purple-veined horn of the unicorn Gran rode.
In an instant, the Void was torn and the far human world sprang into view. The unicorn, goaded unerringly by Gran, leaped through and the tear closed.
A final burst of lightning and thunder rolled through the skies—unicorn and rider were only a dimming memory in the elvish girl's eyes.