A unicorn in Oxford Street, wolves in Hyde Park? And what is the strange prophecy uttered by a tree spirit on Ealing Common? Melody must make sense of all these encounters, and venture into the Otherworld, if she is to learn the secrets of her own existence and understand the destiny that awaits her.
This novel is published by Our Street Books. Available from Waterstones, Amazon and other sellers.
Read the prologue of Melody’s Unicorn here
The wolf stood at the edge of the clearing. The subtle browns and fawns and greys of its coat made it almost invisible in the dappled light from the trees above. Only its eyes were clear, glinting pools of light fixed on Melody where she stood in the open with her father. Melody stared back. She had noticed the eyes first, and then her keen sight had begun to separate the shape of the wolf from its shadows, until she could see the whole of the beast as clearly as if it were drawn in ink against the background. There was no mistake. It wasn’t a dog, some Alsatian or wolfhound that had strayed into the forest, or been brought by an adventurous walker. This was a wolf, pure and wild, and it was standing watching her with fierce intensity. As yet it made no move to attack, but Melody wasn’t in any doubt as to its capabilities or intentions. It could rip her apart before she could move three paces, and the presence of her father would do nothing to stop it.
Melody was torn between fear and anger. The fear was a natural thing, the response of any human being out in the open, menaced by a predator. The anger was personal. To her, wolves meant one thing, the death of her mother seven years before. She too had been in this forest, she too had been stalked and threatened by a wolf. She had died.
Abruptly Melody’s anger turned to wild, uncontrollable rage. She raised her left hand, the plain brass ring on her forefinger glowing in the sunlight, and pointed at the wolf. Her father shouted, ‘Don’t!’, but it was too late. Melody concentrated all her mind on the wolf’s head, between the eyes that were suddenly assailed by doubt, and wished with all her heart that the wolf would die.
There was no sound. The wolf’s head snapped back, arching as if hit by a bullet. Its body quivered, jerked into the air, then slumped lifeless to the ground. Where there had been a threatening predator there was just a heap of disordered fur and flesh. Melody could feel her own heart beating fast and the rush of air from her lips as she exhaled the breath she had been holding since she’d first seen the wolf.
‘Why did you do that?’ Her father’s voice was stern, even angry. Melody had never known him angry, never heard such a tone. He was the calmest, mildest, kindest man she could ever imagine.
‘It was a wolf,’ she answered simply, and the rage she had felt still echoed in her words. ‘A wolf killed my mother. The wolf had to die.’
Her father gripped her by the shoulders, not gently, and spun her round. His voice hadn’t lost its edge. ‘Why did it have to die? Is one death answered by another? Is this all you’ve ever learnt?’
Melody met his gaze, wouldn’t look down, but his depth of anger stunned her. He’d never spoken harshly to her, never raised his voice to anyone. He was the calm, measured forester, not disturbed or provoked by anything.
The core of Melody’s rage had been spent in her destruction of the wolf, but the lingering emotion that had been with her all her life remained.
‘That creature killed my mother!’ She wanted to shout, but restrained herself, just. ‘It would have killed me, and you too, if I’d let it live! I had to kill it.’
Her father continued to hold her by the shoulders, and stared at her almost with hostility. ‘Do you know that? Do you know this was the creature you believe killed your mother? Do you know it would have attacked? What if it had come to say sorry?’
Melody was about to retort that wolves didn’t say sorry, that was a stupid idea, but her mind was caught by two other words her father had used.
‘What do you mean, “you believe”? What are you saying? That my mother wasn’t killed by a wolf? You’re the one who told me that, don’t you remember?’
To her surprise it was her father whose gaze faltered first. He looked away, over her shoulder, towards the carcase of the wolf.
‘It isn’t as simple as that. You were too young. I told you that your mother had been killed by a wolf, but I’m not certain. It’s not clear exactly what happened.’
‘What do you mean?’ Melody repeated. She was confused, the anger draining away and leaving a mixture of emotions. The shock of the wolf’s appearance and death, and her surprise at her father’s attitude, were being overlaid by a sense of uncertainty. It sounded as if all the things she’d believed were about to be undermined.
Her father let go of her and drew himself up to his full height, standing tall as if to compose his feelings and set himself to what he had to do. Melody had often seen him use the same gesture before a difficult task, whether that was the felling of a particularly stubborn tree or an argument with one of her teachers over his daughter’s moody and rebellious temperament. His gaze came back from the wolf to rest on her, but there wasn’t one of his comforting smiles on which she so often depended. His face was stern, resolute.
‘It’s time you knew the truth. I never told you, because the lie seemed simpler. It seemed a kind of ending, something definite, to tell you that your mother had been killed by that wolf. The truth is, I don’t know. There was a wolf, or wolves, sure enough, and they had stalked your mother in this forest, very near here. I have woodsman’s craft enough to tell all that. But I don’t know that she died. Her body was never found. She just disappeared. There were no signs of struggle, or violence, no sign that she used her power against her enemies or that she was overcome. She just vanished. Gone. I’ve never seen her again, nor any sign of her, nor any indication of what might have happened. I’ve thought through every possibility, walked every path and off every path, looking for evidence. There is none. What happened to her, perhaps only a wolf could tell us.’
There was a long silence as Melody’s mind tried to take in what was being said to her. She remembered her mother as a tall, beautiful woman with immense strength of character and immense power, all focused through the intricate silver ring she wore like moonlight on her left hand. The ring was what Melody remembered most clearly of all, the wonder of it and its strange otherworldly beauty. Her mother had told her she would inherit it in the fullness of time, and as a tiny girl she had been overawed at the thought. The ring had vanished along with her mother, and for years Melody had imagined it lost somewhere in this vast forest where, she had always believed, her dead mother lay. Her own brass ring and her own temperament were pale imitations of her mother’s power and greatness, ways of remembering what she had lost. For seven years she had mourned her mother, had vowed to avenge her. Now her father was telling her that neither her grief nor her vengeance were what she had thought them to be.
There was something else though, something her father had said. “Only a wolf could tell us.” And earlier he’d said that perhaps the wolf had come to say sorry.
She looked up at him. ‘What do you mean, about wolves being sorry and able to tell us things? Do you believe that? What do you know about wolves?’
Her father’s shoulders had sagged as he’d explained about her mother’s disappearance. She watched him draw himself up again as if coming to another difficult decision.
‘Not a lot, but more than you’d expect. There’s so much that you don’t know, that I’ve never been able to talk about. It was too painful for me, and too difficult to explain it to you.’ To her immense surprise, Melody saw that her father was on the verge of tears. She’d never seen him cry. Instinctively she reached out to him and they hugged, clinging on to each other for support.
‘Your mother was a remarkable woman,’ her father said in a voice so low she could barely catch it. He was trying not to let the tears prevent him speaking altogether. ‘Special to me, of course, but much more than that. She had power, true power, you know that. And she understood so many things that I’ve never guessed at. There were creatures in my woods that I hadn’t seen, and I think she could talk to them in ways I couldn’t imagine. I knew there were wolves here, despite what any authorities might say, but I didn’t view them as dangerous. She used to disappear in the forest for days, sometimes weeks, but I never worried. She was part of it, or it was part of her.’
‘That’s why you didn’t want me to kill the wolf,’ said Melody with sudden understanding. ‘You didn’t view it as a threat. You thought it might be able to give us information about what happened to my mother.’
Her father hesitated. ‘Not exactly. It’s more basic than that. I don’t think you should kill any living thing without knowing why you’re doing it. We kill stuff all our lives, to eat or to help us, but we don’t do so thoughtlessly. When I chop down a tree I know why I’m doing it, and I apologise for taking its life. And I don’t know that the wolf could have helped us. I don’t know that it wasn’t a threat. You may have been right. But you didn’t think before you acted.’
Melody did cry then, long and soundlessly. All the grief for her mother, all the sorrow that she couldn’t be what her father wanted her to be, couldn’t be calm and thoughtful, all her emotional life blended into one long shaking and sobbing. Her father held her, not speaking, until the tide of emotion had slowly receded.
‘I’m sorry, love,’ he whispered. ‘I know what it’s been like for you, how it’s been.’
Melody tried to speak calmly. ‘It’s been hard for you too.’
She felt her father’s grip tighten. ‘Yes, it has. Harder than you’ll ever know. Not for you to know. What’s done is done, and we must deal with it.’ So saying, he drew himself away from Melody a little, and raised her chin so that he could look in her eyes.
‘There’s so much going on, I don’t understand a lot of it. You have power too, that comes from your mother, but you don’t control it in the same way. I feel you need to know more about yourself, to discover who you are.’
‘And how am I going to do that? Where’s the mother who should teach me, show me how to use my power and what I’m supposed to do with it?’
Her father’s eyes closed for a moment, then opened again. ‘I know. We’ve both lost what we need. And I’ve done all I could for you. So I think we ought to look elsewhere. I have a cousin in London, he knows about these things. I think you should go to stay with him for the summer, to see if he can help.’
‘I’ve never been to London.’
‘No. And you’ve never met my cousin either. There’s a world of experiences waiting for you, and London itself is a special place. I don’t know, but for some reason I think it’s important that you go there.’
Melody was torn. Part of her had stirred at his words, and the idea of going somewhere unknown and finding completely new things was exciting. At the same time she was aware of how much her father needed her, how she needed him, and the thought of leaving him scared her.
‘Because it’ll help me understand myself?’ she said uncertainly.
‘More than that. I can’t explain properly because it’s just a feeling. An intuition, if you like, and your mother taught me to trust such promptings. “What the heart says is right.” Don’t you remember her saying that?’
Melody did, very clearly. It was one of the things that conjured her mother’s voice and face most vividly. “What the heart says is right.” As a young child Melody thought it meant that you could do whatever you fancied, and it had led her into a lot of trouble. At this moment she thought she realised better what her mother had really intended her to learn. “What the heart says is right.” Yes, she trusted her father, she felt that what he said was destined to be. London. She would go to London.