“But how can a forest be truly beautiful if nobody can walk through it, even see it or share the privilege?”
The young Prince’s face turned scarlet with rage as he spat those words.
Yet his father’s back was dumb as he waked away.
“My land remains shut. The great cull begins in the morning. Get some sleep boy and be there with your hunting bow.”
Tears blurred his eyes as he stormed from Ashridge house. But his feet led instinctively to the path, through the crisp bracken and jade ferns down to the mirror pond pool.
The birds, for once, held their collective breath. They too knew what the bloody dawn promised.
Slumped against a willow tree, chest thumping still, his face turned to the warming sun. A heady scent was drawn deep with each angry sob.
Eventually his lids grew heavy and he crossed into a deep sleep.
After several dark waves of slumber, the boy was gently awoken by the sounds of subtle splashing.
Opening his eyes, his attention was drawn to the shapes of what immediately appeared to be the most enchanting women he had ever beheld. When they laughed, it was like crystal glasses chiming.
Their limbs were like alabaster carvings that moved with the grace of moths on the wing. And their faces near burst with ripe joy.
He wanted to cry out, but they were naked and gavotting with such abandon that something warned him to seal his lips, lest his rudeness break the magic of the moment.
His instincts were true. Instead, he blended with his surroundings, like a timorous prey animal and simply watched, his senses crackling.
The nymphs splashed one another, using the tips of their wings like he cupped hands. But suddenly, as one, they froze. Then, in chorus they turned to face him. And he thought his heart would burst.
Without merest suggestion of self-consciousness, the Fae approached him, now barely rippling the water with their tread. Soon, he was surrounded by a crescent moon of iridescent delight.
They didn’t really speak. It was as if he had invited guests through a portal into his very head, where they quickly translated his thoughts and his feelings. Gradually, their expressions changed from wonder and warmth and delight to what he could best describe as a knowing disappointment, whichpassed between them like storm clouds blown by the west wind in a blue sky. Then, one by one, they took to the air on butterfly wings.
All but one.
“You smell of sadness. Your head is filled with anger and fear. But every life has a season. Every season has an end. Thus is the cycle. It is Mother’s way.”
He recoiled at THAT word, as if stung. Then he saw his flinch echoed in her beautiful eyes. He had not thought about his mother for many years and that wound had clearly still not healed.
“You don’t understand” he found himself shouting. “He will kill them. They will turn the land red. Destroy them all.”
The faerie simply smiled. Her eyes, brown pools, reflecting the water that surrounded them.
“Call them” she whispered, like a pregnant pause.
“Open the way and they will come.”
As she spoke, her features dissolved into the shimmering light.
She was gone.
The Prince sprang to his feet and waded into the water, but there was no sign of their presence or passing. He did notice that the wild roses on the bank had swollen into bloom as if struggling to contain a happy secret. The flowers were the only indication that the Fae had been here. That and the compulsion in his breast.
All afternoon, down in the village, the Prince busied himself among the artisans, the heralds,
minstrels and printers. He knew the simple people well and was greatly loved for his kind manner, tenderness and steady heart. He shared one urgent message with them all. They, in turn, spread their magic in the town.
He also shared his passionate secret with the small animals of the hedgerows and the fields. For he also knew them well, having rescued many from cold winters, cat’s claws or the raptor’s grasp.
He slept badly that night, racked by self-doubt, fear and insecurity. Still, he was up and dressed in his hunting clothes, when the King’s cold messengers arrived.
The pomp of the hunting party was as brash as the pageantry of its train and the excitement of the hounds terrifying. But he took his place by his father’s side, his black pony dwarfed by the King’smighty war horse that snorted like a dragon exhaling hot air into the morning mist, like fire.
The plan dreamed up by his generals was to start with a perimeter patrol, to check that the
boundaries were all secure. That nothing could leave the estate. Or, just as importantly, no
trespassing poachers or pleasure-seekers could violate the monarch’s land.
Sensitive to the mini-dramas payed out in the lives of the worlds between nature’s veils, the boy could see and feel the hairy and feathered families fleeing this four-footed mob. They took to the highest trees or the deepest dens, muttering a silent prayer to the old Gods as they fled.
Upon completion of their first brutish circuit, they approached the ancient oak that marked the boundary gate. It was rumoured that it was beneath these same mighty boughs that he had been conceived on a night when the silver moon was at its most proud.
He looked up. Could that be the hint of a smile on his father’s face?
That thought didn’t last long as the expression changed from something approaching vulnerability, to what appeared to be, if he didn’t know better, a look of …..awe.
The Prince followed the beam of his father’s gaze, noticing that the army had now been stunned into silence. And there, framed by a golden glow, walked what appeared to be every humble peasant from the village.
Furthermore, they were being led, guided, inspired by a great, enchanting white deer, thousands of woodland animals and a bewildering procession of the Fae.
As they approached, the sharp fences inevitably dissolved and the heavy gate towers crumbled.
And there was no need for words as soon, tears became the one universal language.
*This is a short story featuring characters from the Legend of the Lost universe, also known as The Changeling Saga, available from various outlets or as signed copies direct from the team.