The unicorn is a legendary animal that has been described since antiquity as a horse-like animal with a large, pointed, spiraling horn sticking out from its forehead. It was usually described as a very wild forest creature, a symbol of purity, grace, and independence, which could only be captured by a virgin. It was believed in the old times that its horn had the power to turn poisoned water drinkable and to heal sickness. According to the legend, there were many unicorns inhabiting the earth centuries ago, but slowly, under the advance and pressure of the human civilization, they disappeared.
In the mountains of Southern Portugal, somewhere in the region of Alentejo, there is a ravine called “Amo’s gorge.” I was there some time ago and heard from the locals the story about the last unicorn called Amo. According to the story, there were really two unicorns. Male Amo and female Ama, but nobody could tell me what happened to Ama. Some believe that she is still somewhere around running through forests and over the meadows. At least, that is what the legend says.
This is how the story goes. Some three hundred years ago, there were two last unicorns left in the world. Male called Amo and female called Ama. They really didn’t know each other because they inhabited different lands, but they felt each other’s existence. Often, they would dream of each other and felt some strange longing, like they belonged together. But, life was going on and they lived their lives separately never expecting that they would ever meet.
Ama was a young unicorn, happy with her being, proud of her independence and freedom. She often looked at other animals wondering why they allowed humans to tame them and use them. She couldn’t understand them. She enjoyed every bit of nature that surrounded her. She loved wild flowers, cold streams, deep and mysterious woods, sounds of wind in the trees, and the music of birds. She could only feel complete feeling the land, roaming over mountains and through valleys. She felt the wholeness of creation. She knew that she was one of the most majestic living creatures still around and she was proud of it.
Once in a while, humans would see her running over lands and they admired her beauty and grace. Of course, they wanted to catch her and tame her, but she would never allow that. She enjoyed their admiration and liked to play with them. She really enjoyed the attention they were giving her. So, sometimes, Ama would even let some humans come close and touch her, manipulating their senses, just so they could feel that she was real and not a dream. Then she would run away, leaving them wondering what happened, and often, leaving them sad for the missed opportunity to catch such a precious animal.
She wasn’t sure what she felt about people, but she was sure that she never wanted to give up her freedom and the wholeness and happiness that she felt running aimlessly through the wilderness. It was who she was, and she didn’t want to change, not for anything in the world.
On the other side, in a completely other part of the world, lived Amo. He was a different story. Like Ama, being a unicorn, he loved all the same things and was proud of his independence and freedom.
He was quite older than Ama, but still a very strong male unicorn. But being male, he always had a need to prove his strength and superiority over other animals. He always needed a recognition for who he was. Especially from humans.
Occasionally, he would allow them to catch him and make them believe that they tamed him. For a while he would work on their fields, pull their carriages, run in the horse races, and do everything they asked from him, just to show his superiority and strength and to enjoy admiration by humans. But then, he would get bored by it and run away always leaving damage behind him. He would knock down barns, break fences, run over crops he was working on, pull out vines, always wanting to show to humans that he can’t be used, wanting them to pay for the belief that he could be tamed. Then he would run free over lands until the next time he would allow humans to catch him.
Over time the word spread around among humans of Amo and many very angry humans were trying to catch him and punish him for the damage he was always leaving behind him. Some were even claiming that he was not a real unicorn, but just a wild horse who deserved to be put down. For them, unicorns were gracious beings, who would never have acted like him. Amo didn’t care about their opinion. He knew who he was and continued running through life the same way.
After many years, he got tired of the game he played and decided to settle somewhere where nobody knew him, in different part of the world, so he could avoid humans forever. He came to the mountains of Alentejo, not knowing that he moved to the lands that Ama was inhabiting.
One morning, he was standing on a high ridge, enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun, when suddenly in the distance he saw Ama running over the fields. He couldn’t believe his eyes. She was the most beautiful creature he ever saw. She was the one from his dreams. His heart started pounding fast. She saw him too. Ama was equally excited, but cautious. On one side, she was happy to see another unicorn. He was a bit old, but still appeared strong and handsome. She was asking herself if it were possible that he was the one whose existence she sensed all her life. She wasn’t sure if she should come closer. She was always afraid of being disappointed.
Amo ran to her direction. He was running fast, trying to impress her and show his strength. For a while, they were running parallel, but in the distance examining each other. By each mile, Amo was coming closer and closer. Ama was still afraid, but she was allowing him to shorten their distance. In the evening they came to the same meadow. They were drinking water from the same spring carefully observing each other.
Finally, Amo came to Ama. She wasn’t moving. She just looked at him. They could hear each other’s heart. He touched her. They laid next to each other with their bodies touching. It was a glorious feeling for both of them. A sense of completion. Of dreams come true.
In the morning, they woke up and continued running and walking through the woods enjoying the surroundings and more than anything, enjoying each other. Ama was really happy. At last, a real unicorn was next to her, somebody that could understand her. Somebody that would not try to tame her. Somebody to share in the joy of freedom and of creation without limits and without conditions. Somebody of the same kind. She couldn’t believe that it would ever have happened, but it seemed that it was right here, in front of her eyes. She still had her doubts, being all her life by herself, the only unicorn. But he was here, strong and true.
Amo was also happy. He promised never to leave her side. He thought that he would always be there for her, but Ama didn’t want him to be there for her, but with her. She never felt that she needed any protection or help. She was strong enough and wise enough to care for herself. She wanted to be with Amo as two equal independent beings, respecting and enjoying each other’s freedom. She wanted to share the greatness of her pure love, the experiences of nature. She wanted to be enriched by the presence of the same soul, not restricted or slowed down by it. She wanted to share the affection for the things they both cherished.
Well, Amo knew what Ama wanted. He wanted the same thing, but the time he spent around humans changed him a little. On one hand, he wanted to run with Ama to the end of time, and enjoy their togetherness in the freedom of open fields, forests and mountains. On the other hand, he also wanted to have a place that would be their home. Somewhere, where they could settle and feel the warmth of their togetherness.
The home that he was thinking about was a human category. For unicorns, home was the whole of universe. Space without boundaries. That was what Ama called home. Anyway, Amo was persistent. He took her to the ridge he discovered. He wanted to make a garden for her, full of different fruits and plants. She looked at him thinking that he was playing a childish game. Why would unicorns ever want a small garden to work in when the world was a huge garden ready to be explored. Nevertheless, for a while, she enjoyed in planning, even helping him make the garden.
Yes, she was thinking, maybe once in a while, they could stop there and rest, but for her settling somewhere was an impossible thing—something that she thought she would never enjoy. Amo failed to realize that she wanted an equally independent and free unicorn. Somebody that she can admire for his freedom. She wanted to give him her love, but she didn’t want to sacrifice her liberty. It was not the nature of unicorns. She would be unhappy forever and she didn’t want him to sacrifice anything for their love and togetherness either.
Amo was of a different mind. He thought if he settled down, and built a home, that she would join him. Too many years spent with the humans had blurred his mind. He was thinking like the humans. So, he sacrificed his freedom and settled on the ridge. He wanted to show Ama that he would sacrifice anything for her love, even the freedom of a unicorn. He was waiting for her patiently.
Ama would come once in a while and spend time with Amo. She truly loved him and she hoped that he would realize his true nature and continue to run around with her as unicorns should, and forget those ideas of home.
But Amo was persistent and kept remaining on the ridge. She was getting less and less excited to go there. It was just a ridge, one of many in the mountains of Alentejo. She was losing her patience with Amo. She couldn’t understand how a true unicorn could act like a human. A true unicorn would never sacrifice his freedom, not even for love. Freedom is a part of true love. For unicorns, love was an unconditional category. She actually saw his sacrifice as a weakness, something that made him lose her respect and not gain her love. She heard some of the stories that humans were spreading around about Amo, and sometimes, she was asking herself, What kind of unicorn would ever act like that? Maybe he is really some wild horse pretending to be a unicorn. Is it possible that she made a mistake about him? One day, she couldn’t look at him like that anymore. He didn’t appear as the unicorn from her dreams. She almost felt sorry for him. That was not Amo that she first met—the fast and strong unicorn running with her shoulder to shoulder. She told him she would not come back anymore to the ridge and that everything was a mistake. And she left. She was disappointed and hurt, but she knew that nothing would lower her spirits once she was back running over open fields and through deep woods. It was the open air of the high mountains that made her feel alive. For her, it was better if Amo remained as he was, just in her dreams.
Amo stayed on the ridge feeling sorry for himself and for the lost love of Ama. He couldn’t believe that she really left him. He neglected his garden and soon he had no food left. He didn’t eat for days. He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to live. He didn’t care about anything anymore. All he was thinking was how he needed Ama. Finally, he realized what a big mistake he made. All she wanted from him was to be who he was, a true unicorn. He was angry with himself for acting like a human. How could he be so stupid?
As he was laying for days on the ridge, humans from the valley who were trying to find him and punish him, noticed him there. They started advancing up the hill, getting more and more eager to make him pay for his bad deeds. He looked at them approaching. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to run or stay there and wait for his destiny, but something inside him told him that he should jump and run. That he should try to be a true unicorn. Maybe one day, it didn’t matter when, Ama would meet him again. He will show her that he is the one: a true unicorn. He was the unicorn from her dreams.
He stood up slowly. He couldn’t go down the hill. Humans were closing in on his escape route. The only way was to jump from the ridge to another ridge over the deep ravine. He looked at the distance. He used to jump further than that before. He would make it, he thought. Then he jumped. But his muscles were weak and his body wasn’t what it used to be. Days spent laying down without food and water took their toll on him. He didn’t make it to the next ridge. He fell into a deep ravine and died there.
Humans came to the edge of the ridge looking down at his motionless and bloody body. One of them said, “Well, they were right. After all, he was not a unicorn, just a wild horse who met his deserved destiny. A real unicorn would jump this distance.”
Years later, at the place he fell, a spring broke out from the rock with an abundance of extremely pure and fresh water. Local people were talking about the magical properties of the water that was healing many illnesses. Some local people remembered that a unicorn fell and died there and connected those two things, so they named the spring, “ Amo’s Spring” and they named the gorge, “Amo’s Gorge.” Some say, it was just as he would want it. He always craved human recognition. Now, he finally had it forever.
Once in a while, people swore that they saw Ama coming down to the gorge to drink water from Amo’s Spring. But those were only stories. People like fairytales.