There were two animals in the pen and the smaller was under the larger, nursing at teats which were not visible under her long, shaggy hair. The rest of the herd had retreated into the mist spangled with the yellow leaves of the hazel trees that shared the spit with the oxypines. The female was tall and barrel-chested with a long neck, long, forward curving ears and large eyes that accentuated her alert expression. Holden thought she looked like an animal he had seen once in the Biodome but, unlike that one, she was equipped with a short, curved horn that grew from a spot just above her smooth black nostrils.
The calf soon finished its suckling and they both walked over to the edge of the fence to inspect their captors. The calf had just a little nub behind its nose, from which, Holman surmised, a horn would gradually grow. Jin threw in a bundle of breathgrass and a handful of hazelnuts which they immediately began to gobble up. After a few days they would come and eat the nuts from her hand and she learned to reserve them as a reward for good behaviour. (Sometimes the mother would get annoyed and spit.) Holden brought a plastic pail of rainwater, slid it under the gate and the beasts immediately began to lap it with their salt-parched tongues. Spear in hand he eased around the pair (mindful of that horn) picked up the salt block and took it out of the pen.
When the rains changed to snow they haltered the singlehorns and led them into the lower room of the tower where they could stand or cush on beds of hay and dried kelp. Their body heat added to the warmth that rose to their pad in the lens room, along with rich animal smells. Jin was able to make friends with the mother and eventually to both milk her and ride on her back. Riding was much less exhausting than walking though both humans noticed that they could now go longer without sucking breathgrass. Holman thought their lung capacity was increasing (Jin’s more than his) and maybe their bodies were somehow using the available oxygen more efficiently. Or maybe the atmospheric oxygen level was rising? More trees were growing now. Trees like birches, hazels and pines which had survived because they had never been dependent on insects or birds for pollination. He had seen clouds of yellow pollen released from pine boughs by the summer wind. And he had found the following note in the lighthouse keeper’s notebook:
Sneezing like crazy today. Almost all allergenic pollens are wind-borne, including that from the hazels that grow hereabouts.
I remember an old poem:
I went out to the hazel wood
because a fire was in my head
and cut and peeled a hazel wand
and hooked a berry to a thread
(The Celts had a tale that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool, dropping nuts into streams that were eaten by salmon who absorbed the wisdom.)
And when bright moths were on the wing
and mothlike stars were flickering out
I dropped the berry in a stream
and caught a little silver trout.