Which reminds me, this story does involve adult themes or at least activities which should be confined to consenting adults and, in this story, are.
The grandmothers had sent Philene to the river this year, not that they’d had much choice for she was the only girl the right age in the whole village. Then, after the lip biting fear, nothing had happened. She hadn’t seen hide or hair of a unicorn. She’d come home untouched in any way, the water running past their village hadn’t been purified and so was turning foul. The grandmothers blamed her and were sending her away to do the other thing she could do to keep the village safe; they were sending her to the Town to work in the Factory.
Philene had snuck away for a last walk by the river, past where the willows grew and the blackberries flourished. Tomorrow she was going away for ever, everyone knew that anyone who went to the Factory never came back. She sat on a willow stump near the water’s edge, face on her hands and elbows on her knees, watching the colourful patterns of the oily sheen over the darker brown of the polluted water. It wasn’t fair, she’d done everything she was supposed to. How was it her fault if there were no unicorns?
“Hello there,” she didn’t recognise the man’s voice and so rose and turned in one movement to face whoever had come up behind her. “All alone down here by the river?” He was tall, the right number of years older than her to be interesting, pale skinned, white blond haired and he stepped carefully over the willow roots like a colt delicately placing its hooves.
“I came for one last look,” she told him sadly. “They’re sending me to the Factory in the morning.”
“Why are they doing that?” He sounded sympathetic.
“I was sent to the river this year but there weren’t unicorns so,” she gestured at the river behind her. “The grandmothers say it must be my fault so I’m being sent to keep the Factory happy instead.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” he was standing in front of her now, hazel eyes smiling at her. Then he leaned down and kissed her.
Afterwards, when it was over and their clothes were disarrayed around them he said, “You don’t have to go to the Town, you could marry me instead. I’ve a cottage down along the river. I make a good living selling my withy and rush baskets, and if you go to the Town I can never see you again,” he finished in a rush.
“You’d have to speak to my father tonight,” she smiled up at him. “Now let me up, we have to get dressed again and it’s getting dark.”
“Very well,” he kissed her again and let her up.
She was sitting on the stump doing up her shoes while he knelt by the water’s edge doing up his own when she said, “The grandmothers aren’t going to let me marry you are they? It’s all about the water…”
“Don’t worry,” he said cheerfully. “I’ll think of something. I’m good at that.” Then he risked a sideways glance at the river where the clear eddy of water was expanding out from where he’d dipped his hand in. “You never know, come the morning it might not be a problem.”