They gather slowly, the hare women, moon transformed. They wait at the edge of the wood where it borders the meadow, bodies strong and lithe, whiskers twitching. There are far fewer now; some have learned to ignore the call and many no longer hear it.
She has tried to evade it. Tried to reject it. In her flat in the city, she does her best to tune out the longing, but when the full moon is bright, it’s impossible. The sister song spirals through her soul; unanswered, it makes her listless and irritable. She seeks solace in distraction but it’s not enough. She paces like the caged animal she is, jumps at shadows, hugs herself, asks yet again why she puts herself through this. Why she needs to force herself to be something she’s not.
Ordinary. Non magical. Just a woman, not a hare.
She is glad to be with them again. When she joins the circle, finds herself in the sisterhood, when she changes and loses herself in the richness of a new sensory world, she remembers. The connection to the earth, the profusion of scent and sound, the freedom of running faster, faster, worry and self abandoned in the pure joy of the moment.
Each time, she feels she could keep running forever.
Each time, it gets harder to bring herself back.
They break from the tree line, bounding across the meadow, zig zagging through the streams of pure silver light that spill from the sky. They nibble on wildflowers and pause to rest, sheltering by the hedgerow; they warn each other of predators, fox, owl, badger, and dance with the shadows and gaze at the moon.
As the dawn begins to wash the ink from the sky, they stream from all corners of the field back to the wood, finding their own secret spaces to transform. And one by one, before the day has fully broken, they slip away to their cars and their bicycles and their other lives.
She starts the engine, pulls onto the road. She leaves the radio off. Her senses are still heightened, tingling. It is always a wrench, to return to the ordinary world; the sadness is like a vice around her heart. The choice becomes harder each time; this is why she tries to deny her hare, to stay away from the meadow and her sisters and the moon.
Because she knows that one day, she won’t come back.
The girl knew it was there. She knew in her bones, even though everyone else dismissed it, told her she had an overactive imagination, that monsters were only pretend.
That was why she always checked the wardrobe, even after her mother had put her head right in, and made sure that the door was really shut.
That was why she took a deep breath and looked under the bed as her father knelt with her, face against the carpet, and shone the torch around before he tucked her in.
That was why she peered behind the curtains and why she pleaded for light; to have the hall light on, the nightlight on, the bedroom door open. They agreed, yet she knew it made little difference in the end.
The shadows were patient, you see. The shadows waited until her parents turned off the hall light and went to bed.
Darkness terrified her but, in fact, the semi darkness was worse. The streetlight outside her window cast a fuggy dimness through the curtains. She would watch the shadows slip across the ceiling and slither down the wall, sharpened by the nightlight, a growing, writhing mass that she thought would swallow her whole. When she closed her eyes against them, she was sure she heard the creak of the wardrobe door and something crossing the room. She lay rigid and still, trying to give no indication that she was there, living, breathing prey, waiting to feel the hot breath of the monster as it snouted around her.
She counted until she could no longer bear it. Then she hid beneath the duvet and told herself stories to fend off the terror.
Every night. For years.
Until she was old enough to convince herself that monsters really didn’t exist. Well, not that kind anyway.
She stopped checking behind the curtains and in the wardrobe. She learned to sleep with the light off.
But she was still scared of shadows. And the ones that had gathered under her bed, well, there were almost enough of them now. In the wardrobe, something was stirring.
She blooms in your veins, she sings in your dreams, she dances on your skin like seed silk. She pulls you in beyond the edge, into the trees, into the quiet. The bark creaks, new wood twisting beneath its skin, the air shimmers mist and bluebells and sun and moon. Acorns and beech nuts constellate the floor, stars beneath unfurling bracken. She calls you, calls you in, to the cracks and the crevices, the burrows and the hollows, the homes of those that creep and crawl and slink and trot and walk and flap and fly. The sounds, oh, the sounds of her, the chirping, crunching, slithering, rushing breath of all that she is; you feel the memories flutter, a tantalising flicker of freedom. She draws you in deep, her roots finding yours, guiding them down, down through the rot and the mould to the loam and the worm tunnels, down to the map of mycelia and other roots, other beings, all connected, all one here. The flow is streams and waterfalls and rivers, veins and arteries that sustain all hearts as one. And just as you are melding into the tide you burst up again, through the surface, black with earth and berry blooded, unfurling, birthing, budding, reaching for the clear sky and the tender light. She is atomic and infinite, the spirit of the forest; she is everything, she is you.
He woke to a loud and insistent hum. External, although the constant clamour of anger and loss still shouted in his head. Garden machinery probably. It filled the room and rattled through the cavity wall behind his bed. He turned his back on the window, where sunlight was invading through the curtains, and pulled the duvet over his head. He wasn’t ready for the day yet, even though it was midmorning.
The hum settled into a buzz, deep and resonant. On, off, on, off, just irregular enough to be intrusive. Not machinery. Definitely an insect. Impossible to ignore, like his thoughts. He turned on his back to listen. It was hard to place, seemed to be above him. It sounded huge. Damn.
Wasps nest in the loft? Hornets?
He rose, cursing. Cursing the insect, cursing the day, cursing his insomnia, cursing her and the hole she had left. The pain was as persistent as the buzzing but it was easier to turn it to anger than deal with it.
That had been the problem. It was what he’d always done. She’d tried, he had to admit that. Tried to help, to understand, tried to make him happy. She’d realised though that his happiness was not her responsibility, just as her happiness was not his.
He could not pinpoint the sound, no matter how many times he paced round the room. Eventually he got dressed and ventured into the loft with a torch and some trepidation.
She’d taken responsibility for herself. She’d tried harder. Tried even, to take responsibility for him. It didn’t work; how could it? And then she’d left him.
He made coffee, took it outside in search of the continuing noise. There, trapped in a spider’s web by the bedroom window, a honey bee was fighting for its life.
He knew how it felt.
He retrieved a short ladder and carefully freed the bee from its hell. It fell onto the windowsill and lay there for a while. He was just beginning to worry when it took off and flew down the garden.
He wished he could disentangle himself from his misery that easily.
Later, as he was clearing brambles by the shed, the hum returned, much louder this time. He watched the swarm come in, settle in the cherry tree in an ordered buzzing bundle. He wondered if it was the same bee, whether she had brought her friends because she knew he wouldn’t hurt them.
He wouldn’t hurt anything, anyone, not on purpose. But that hadn’t stopped him.
They were still there the following day. The beekeeping friend who came to collect them was cheery. He captured most of them and took them away.
“There’ll be a few left,” he said, “but they’ll go within twenty four hours, probably back to where they came from.”
The little cluster still hung from the branch when he returned from work the next evening. And the next. And the one after that. He was happy to see them. He found himself talking to them, telling them about his day. His friend was surprised that they were still there a week later.
“They’ll go eventually,” he said.
But days became weeks and still the bees stayed. He found himself becoming strangely fond of them, crossing his fingers each evening as he walked up the garden, hoping they would still be there, dreading that the branch would be empty. The relief that flooded through him each time he saw them made him almost lightheaded.
He talked more and more to them about all sorts of things, from the mundane events of everyday to the sadness and guilt that he hadn’t even been able to voice to himself.
He told them about her. About how it had been wonderful. How it had gone so horribly wrong. As summer turned to autumn and then to winter he talked it out and the bees, against all that was normal, continued to buzz and cluster on the branch.
Come Christmas he started to go out a bit more. In early spring he saw her in the street and it didn’t hurt as much. At the beginning of summer he met someone new.
He told it all to the bees. He didn’t know that he was following an age old tradition. He just felt that they should know.
He told his new girlfriend about them, showed her pictures. When she came over to his house for the first time, he took her to see them so that she could speak to them too.
The next morning, they took their coffee into the garden. The bees had flown but hanging from the empty branch was a honeycomb, the cells wax plugged in the shape of a heart.
** ** ** **
Note: Last summer we ‘woke to a loud and insistent hum’ and my husband rescued a bee from a web. Later that day, it did indeed return with its friends to rest in our cherry tree for a few days. It seemed an almost mythic occurrence. How lucky were we?
I wasn’t sure whether to post this but was encouraged to by some good friends. To anyone who recognises any of this, hang onto the light and remember you are not alone, even though it may feel that way. You will get through it.
One breath at a time. Reach out and grab that rope. Love and light to all.
I. Am. Breathing.
I am still breathing. I’m not sure how.
I fell such a long way. Couldn’t stop myself, even though I tried. There didn’t seem to be anything to grab hold of, nothing to slow the fall.
It’s dark down here. I can’t move. My limbs are leaden and they’re aching like mad. But at least I can feel them.
And I am still breathing.
I should’ve been more careful, I suppose. Paid more attention. I could see the cracks, feel how things were becoming slippery. And they warn you, don’t they? Not to go too close to the edge? Be vigilant at all times. I didn’t realise that I was too close, not until it was too late.
I didn’t know that the crack was going to open up and swallow me whole.
It felt as though I was in freefall forever. Time’s funny like that; it loses its meaning when you’re spinning dizzily downwards in blackness, with every thought you’ve ever had plus a few extra for good measure clamouring for space in your head. You lose track of everything, even which way is up.
It was almost a relief to hit the bottom. Strange. I let sleep claim me even though I knew it was full of shadows. Maybe something worse.
But I am still breathing.
It’s so dark.
Tears start to spill now and I can’t stop them. I don’t even have the energy to wipe them away. Stupid. Stupid. As if they’re going to solve anything. But they keep coming anyway and after a while they’re like rain. I’ve learned to ignore the rain.
I can’t see anything.
I don’t think there’s a way out.
I’m so tired even though I must have slept for hours. Days maybe, or just minutes. I have no idea what the time is, what day it is even. That weird time anomaly again. It means nothing down here. I wonder if anyone’s missed me, even noticed that something’s different. I drag my hand up to my face and swipe at my eyes. The pain is excruciating. My head feels as if it might explode from the dark and the fear and the hurt.
I can’t stand it.
I don’t want to be here.
There. There! I see it, tiny but absolute. A point of light. I’m not imagining it.
You are in the room. You have lifted the duvet the littlest bit from where it covers my head.
“Hey, honey,” you say gently. “I’ve brought you a cup of tea. What else do you need?”
You have thrown me a rope. It’s the same rope you’ve been throwing me for months.
It was on the doorstep when Cinderella and Snow White got home from lectures, no card, no note. Cinderella took it inside, despite Snow White’s misgivings, and set it on the table in the kitchen diner.
An apple. Perfectly formed, with deep red skin that glistened like a ruby. It rested on a small wooden platter beneath a glass dome.
Cinderella’s fingers danced on top of the glass. It was so tempting.
“Don’t.” Snow White had deliberately stayed on the other side of the kitchen. “You don’t know where it’s come from. It’s just weird, leaving it like that. We should throw it away.”
Snow White hated apples. They made her choke.
Rapunzel looked up from the sofa. A book, as usual, lay open on her lap. She watched Cinderella’s long fingers curl round the handle of the dome.
“Don’t be daft Snow,” Cinderella said as she lifted the glass. A heady scent swirled through the room. “It smells gorgeous. What do you think Rapunzel? Schrodinger’s apple? Poisoned AND not poisoned?”
“There lies the conundrum.” Rapunzel pretended to be nonchalant. She tried to ignore the strange gift. It stirred melancholy within her; it reminded her of…
Cinderella plucked the apple from its platter, holding it up to the light just as Alice wandered in from the back garden. She’d been trying yet again to fix a hole under the fence where next door’s rabbit kept getting through.
“What’s that?” she asked as she added her mug to the line.
“A gift,” said Cinderella.
“A curse,” said Snow White. “But she won’t listen to me.”
Alice examined the apple in Cinderella’s hand. She was wary of food with no provenance. She had been caught out before. Badly.
“I wouldn’t eat it if I were you,” she said. “Don’t know if I’d even have touched it. You need to be careful with these things.”
“THANK you.” Snow White distributed the mugs, then sat by Rapunzel.
Cinderella turned it this way and that. It shone. It was the most wondrous apple any of them had ever seen, rounded and luscious, full of promise.
Rapunzel sipped her coffee, kept sipping even though it burned her tongue. Anything to block that pervading scent, the bitter sadness it awakened.
“Really. What harm could it do?” The apple drifted closer to Cinderella’s lips.
“I’m sure Eve said the same thing,” Snow White said. “It could kill you, is what.”
“Don’t Ella, really,” Alice added. “Who leaves apples on doorsteps anyway? It’s beyond curious.”
“But it smells soooo good.”
Alice took the apple gingerly by the stalk and put it back on its wooden plate. She clapped the glass dome over it and placed it up on the windowsill. The tantalising fragrance disappeared immediately.
But not for Rapunzel. It was in her bones now, her blood, in the tears that burned behind her eyes. He’d always brought her apples. He knew how she loved them.
“We need to get moving,” Alice continued. “We’re supposed to be at Dorothy’s in an hour. Don’t want to be late.”
“You coming out tonight, Rapunzel?” Snow White asked. Rapunzel shook her head.
“Essay due on Monday,” she said. “No time.”
“You work too hard,” said Cinderella. “Live a little. It’s just one night.”
“Might do you good,” Snow White added. “It’s been a while.”
They didn’t understand. How could they, with all those happy endings.
Later, as the front door closed, Rapunzel stood in front of the mirror, curling a strand of hair round her finger. It was short now, chin length. She’d had it cut when he’d left her. The scent of the apple reached up from the kitchen, curling and twisting through her memories.
How he had been a prince amongst frogs.
How perfect they had been together.
How he had led her out of her turret into the light.
How she had taught him to love books.
How his eyesight had begun to fail.
How the headaches had got worse.
How he had changed, become harsh and unkind.
How the doctors had found the tumour.
How he had left her, refused her support, discarded her love.
He was still out there. She’d heard that treatment had been successful. But he wouldn’t take her calls, reply to her messages.
She still loved him. He didn’t love her.
She had climbed back into her tower and she was the one who had fallen to break, spectacularly, on the ground.
Bitterness tainted her tongue. She was tired of feeling stuck. Change was possible, she knew that. The strange gift proved it.
Rapunzel left her room and went down to the kitchen. The apple beckoned from the windowsill and without hesitation she freed it from its prison. Then, standing by the window, watching next door’s rabbit hopping through the daisies on their lawn, she opened her mouth and took a great big bite.
See the little cottage in the clearing ahead. That is where we will take our repose tonight. We have walked for many hours; you are hungry and need to rest.
“Who lives here?” you ask.
No one now, but it is a place of welcome. You will find whatever it is you need. Food, drink, warmth. A bed to sleep in. Comfort and healing for everything from a broken heart to a wound of the flesh. See, there are lanterns lit in the windows. It is all ready for you.
How did they know you would come when you did not know yourself? Well, that is the magic; it is not to be questioned, just accepted with gratitude. Try the door. It is not locked.
The table is laid for us and the fire is dancing in the grate. Come. Sit and I will tell you how this cottage became enchanted.
Once upon a time, long ago and far away, a great king lived in a beautiful castle with his wife and their daughter. The land he ruled was peaceful and prosperous, for his greatness lay not in the battles he had won or the power and wealth he had accumulated but in his fairness, his honesty and his generosity. Merchants traded freely and fairly with the neighbouring realms. Farmers grew abundant crops and their livestock were healthy. Artisans and crafters flourished, creating both the practical and the beautiful. There was music and art, poetry and learning. People cared for each other and disputes were settled quickly and honourably.
Often the King would ride out amongst his subjects to share with them their fortunes good and bad. The Queen and the Princess rode by his side. As the Princess grew up, she learned justice and government from her father and healing from her mother. She knew herself to be truly privileged and wished only to become as good a leader as the King.
Now in that country there was a legend: that whosoever held the sacred jewels of wisdom, truth, justice and love was the true ruler of the realm, and that so long as the jewels were protected then so also was the land. The gems were kept safely within the castle. The sapphire of wisdom, the diamond of truth and the emerald of justice were set into the crown that the King wore during state business; the ruby of love was deemed so precious that it was kept in a secret hiding place.
Some had tried to take the jewels, by theft or by force, but none had ever succeeded.
Years passed. But In the shadowy forest at the northern edge of the kingdom, a dark force was growing, cloaked by malevolent magic. There lived a powerful sorceress, whose greed and hatred knew no bounds. All she saw she needed to possess; the wealth and abundance of the realm had drawn her to it and the jewels were her heart’s desire. So she plotted and planned and conjured all manner of evil to do her bidding. She sowed seeds of destruction and discord throughout the region; a fight here, a failed crop there, food spoiled in a tavern kitchen, missing coins from the notary’s pouch. Whispers of plagues and rumours of war spread and festered, making the people fearful and angry. They began to doubt the King’s integrity and to question his leadership. Into this cauldron of distrust the sorceress poured false promises of a better way, a new leader to protect them.
The King tried to reassure his subjects but he did not know what he was fighting. Turmoil and trouble grew until, at the state celebration of the Princess’s seventeenth birthday, the sorceress swept into the castle with her legions and claimed it for her own. The King was cut down instantly, and a spell cast on all present, immobilising them.
“Where are the jewels?” she demanded of the Queen, but the Queen would say nothing save “They are all here.”
So the sorceress had her minions ransack the castle and they returned triumphantly with the crown. Setting it upon her head, she seated herself upon the throne, saying “I am truly the Queen now, and you will kneel to me or die.”
With that she cast another spell; the guests knelt before her, whether or not they wished to. They found themselves back in their homes, still on their knees.
The Queen and the Princess stood, unable to fight the evil magic.
“Where is the last jewel?” the sorceress asked, but the Queen refused to speak. “Very well. You will pay for your stubbornness. Cast her into the dungeon with the brat.” She walked over to the Queen, spoke just before the guards dragged her away. “It will not stay hidden for long. You will tell me. She,” she indicated the Princess, “will make sure of it.”
The two women were bundled away by the guards and dragged down into the dungeon. It was dark and empty – it had not seen a prisoner for years. One guard lifted a set of rusty keys from a nail in the wall while the others cast them into a cell. The door clanged shut and the footsteps faded away.
Tears blurred the Princess’s vision. Her mother took her by the shoulders. “They will be back soon,” she said. “When they have searched again and failed to find the ruby. You must not be here when they return. I fear what she may do to you.” The Princess opened her mouth to speak but the Queen hurried on. “I have a charm. It will create a door for you to escape through. You will have to hide who you are but at least you will be safe. One day you will return. I know this.”
“You must come with me,” the Princess said desperately but here mother shook her head. She reached into her pocket and drew out a silver pencil. Holding it momentarily over her heart, she used it to draw a rectangle on the thick stone wall. A door appeared, light glimmering round its edges.
“Open it,” the Queen instructed and her daughter obeyed. On the other side was a room.
“I cannot come with you,” the Queen continued. “Only one may pass.” She embraced her daughter. “Be safe, my darling. May we meet again.” Then she pushed the Princess gently through the door. As soon as she was on the other side, the opening vanished and the wall became stone once more.
Thus the Princess found herself in a tiny cottage in the woods on the border of the kingdom. (This cottage). Scared and alone, she had little choice but to try and make a home there and learn to live off the land. She remembered watching farmers planting seeds and bakers baking bread, how the seamstresses sewed clothes and the maids lit the fires in the hearths. She recalled the knowledge she had gained from her parents and from all those who had lived and worked around her. Though her heart was well and truly broken, she would not give up.
As days became weeks and weeks became months, she began to carve out a new life, simple and quiet. She planted a garden and grew food and the healing herbs her mother had taught her. She collected fallen wood for her fire and water from the stream. Sometimes she would walk through the wood and onto the road, following it to the village nearby where she exchanged vegetables for bread, flowers for cloth, kindling for sugar and salt. She offered healing for those that needed it, balms, tinctures, liniments and syrups. These she gave freely.
“This is the gift my mother gave to me,” she would say. “A gift that I can pass on to you.”
But she noticed the change. A deep sadness covered the land like a blanket. The sun struggled to shine and the stars were dull in the heavens. Gales whipped the air and the rains were heavy. It was as if the very skies wept.
As one year became two and then three the people struggled more and more. There was little music or poetry. Smiles were rare, laughter rarer still. The new Queen, angry that she had not yet found the last jewel, ruled with an iron rod. Her guards searched constantly, leaving terror in their wake. She demanded tithes and tributes from everyone, even those who could not afford it. Fields became fallow, livestock sickly. Flowers would not bloom and children could not play. The Princess grieved for her parents and her beautiful country as she continued to offer healing for those in need. Her garden, somehow, seemed unaffected by the blight that cursed the rest of the land.
Word of her abilities and her kindness spread. People came from further and further away to seek her skills. One day a woman knocked at her door, hooded and cloaked. The Princess ushered her in, thinking that she must be very afraid to need to stay so hidden. Once inside, the woman lowered her hood and the Princess recognised her mother’s maid.
“I have come to bring you home,” the maid said. “For you have grown into a wise and strong woman and your kingdom needs you.”
“What can I do against the wicked magic of the sorceress,” asked the Princess. “I don’t have the power to fight her.”
“You have more power than you think,” the woman said. “You are the heart of this land. That is why your garden grows when little else will. Why you still heal others when all around you people fight and steal. You are the reason that the sorceress cannot find the last jewel.”
“I don’t understand. Please, sit. Tell me first of my mother.”
“She still languishes in the dungeon. The sorceress was furious when she realised that you had escaped. She keeps your mother prisoner to taunt her. She still believes that eventually she will gain the location of the ruby.”
“I do not know where it is. How is it that I keep her from finding it?”
The maid smiled. “Because it is in your heart. Unlike the other gems, the ruby chooses its own guardian. It chose you. That is where your healing power comes from, the strongest magic of all. Love. And that is how you will defeat the sorceress. The wicked cannot survive in the light of pure love. Come back with me now. Save your people.”
The Princess was aghast but she did as she was asked. Fearful as she felt at the prospect of facing the sorceress, she longed to see her mother again and bring harmony back to the land. She was shocked as they travelled, by the bare fields and dried up rivers where before there had been a velvet patchwork of crops and softly flowing waters. There were few people on the roads now and many of the buildings were in a state of disrepair.
The castle however was as beautiful as she remembered it. She wrapped her cloak around her and pulled up the hood as she knocked on the door and asked for an audience with the sorceress.
“On what business?”
“I have information about the missing jewel.”
That got the guard’s attention. She was shown into a small anteroom while he scuttled off to announce her. Finally she was shown into the great hall where the sorceress sat on the wooden throne, the King’s crown on her head. She walked toward her, suddenly unafraid.
“Why do you not bow to me?” the sorceress demanded. “And why have you not bared your head in my presence? I am your Queen.”
The Princess stood in front of the dais in silence.
“Your audacity astounds me. I should hang you from the tower as a snack for the buzzards. Tell me where the jewel is or that is exactly what I will do.”
The Princess calmly lowered her hood and stared at her. A shock of recognition crossed the sorceress’s face.
“The jewel is here,” said the Princess placing her hand over her heart. “It has come home but it will never be yours.”
“We’ll see about that,” the sorceress shrieked. She rose, pulling from her robe a sharp black blade. “I will cut it out myself.”
But the Princess stood fast and light began to shine from all around and within her. It grew brighter and brighter and as it did, the sorceress grew smaller and more withered until finally she was nothing more than dust. The crown fell to the floor, Truth, Justice and Wisdom glowing brightly in the light of Love. Her guards were shocked into stillness, not sure quite what to do. The Princess picked up the crown and turned to them; they bowed deeply, in awe of the gentle strength that emanated from her.
“Please free my mother.”
The two women wept with joy as they were reunited. The Princess offered the Queen the crown.
“It is yours now,” said the Queen, “but I would be honoured to help you in any way I can.”
That is how the Princess began her next adventure, rebuilding the realm into the happy and prosperous place that it had been before. And this cottage is the legacy that she left behind, a place of welcome and of refuge, where anyone may come to find food, rest and safety.
So, now we should eat and take the chance to sleep. We still have a long way ahead of us.
Come, I will show you something magical. There is a glade not far from here where wonder can be beheld. Here; let us settle on this log and observe. It’s beautiful, isn’t it, the way the moonlight plays on the leaves, turns them to mirrors. They shimmer like mercury. See how it silvers the grass that covers that mound on the other side of the clearing; how it ripples very slightly even though there’s hardly a breeze. It almost looks as though the ground is breathing.
Look up. Have you ever seen so many stars? Diamond bright, all those gems, as if some sky pirate has scattered treasure far and wide, so no one being can ever gather it up again. I see you tracing out patterns, some familiar, some less so.
different here,” you say.
Indeed. For we
are between here; between worlds, between planes, call it what you will. But we
can see many sets of stars, a myriad of constellations. I know you will
recognise Orion, Draco, Ursa Major and Minor. Others too. But some will be new.
The doe, the fox, the serpent. And some are more surprising than others. You’ll
see. Not long to wait now.
I see your eyes
widen but you are not mistaken. It seems that the stars are moving, coalescing,
taking on their true forms. And yes, here they come, tumbling and dancing,
flying down from the heavens and leaving crystalline trails behind them.
The hare is
first, silver whiskers twitching as she bounds, weightless, across the
clearing. The fox follows and a shoal of glittering minnows dart impossibly in
and out of the trees. The badger and the mouse amble across the grass and the
serpent coils luxuriously around the mound that seems to draw them to it like a
The ground is stirring. He is waking up.
A small giant, a
green man made of earth and roots, bark and leaves, sits up in his loamy bed
and stretches. His eyes are a deep bright green and he is smiling as he greets
his friends, stretching out his hand to stroke heads and backs. A flock of
birds swoop in to land on his shoulders and arms and the starry creatures whirl
around him until he too stands up and begins to dance. Faster and faster they
spin and turn until his guffaw of delighted laughter shakes the leaves on the
trees. The star creatures fall to the grass to rest.
The green man remains standing. They wait and sure enough the last visitors arrive, gently and quietly, a doe and a stag, their feet barely touching the grass as they stop in front of the man. Such a moment of peace descends; have you ever felt anything like it?
Then the man bows
to the two deer and they return the courtesy. He watches as they turn and
gallop back up into the sky, the other animals following one by one. They
become smaller and smaller until they resolve back into constellations,
sparkling in the indigo.
The green man
goes back to his earthy bed and pulls his grassy blanket over himself. He will
slumber until the next turn of the wheel.
Are you frightened? You do not need to fear me – I will not
harm you. Well… not unless you give me reason to. Threaten my family, my pack
and I will not be held responsible for my actions. Otherwise you go about your
business and I go about mine. Mutual respect.
You don’t say it but I see the question in your eyes. The
things you’ve heard about wolves. The stories that are told about us following
people, misleading people, carrying them off and tearing them limb from limb.
Tricksy, nefarious, dangerous wolves.
You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. I did not eat the grandmother or destroy the houses of the little pigs. As for the girl in the red cloak… I did not lure her from the path. She sought me out. She wanted things she could not have. She is dangerous, that one, a wild, dark spirit that should never have been contained in human form. But she wanted what she wanted and when I could not give it she wreaked vengeance not just on me but on my whole bloodline. Words have power you know. A rumour here, a story there, a pretty young girl with a sad face and a knife covered in her grandmother’s blood well hidden in her basket… no wonder the woodcutter was taken in.And the huntsman and the villagers and so many people since. Including you, it would seem.
What did she want, you ask? My skin. Not just to wear it, but to inhabit it. She wanted to oust me from my own body, to use it at will, become a shape shifter. She thought I had the power to make it so, that I would capitulate for one so young and pure and beautiful. But I cannot perform sorcery. I am just a wolf. A talking wolf, you make a fair point, but a wolf nonetheless. There are far stranger things than me in this forest. And even if I could, I am too fond of my own skin to give it up. So I snapped and snarled and eventually ran, her promise ringing in my ears. That I would regret my choice. That my skin would be difficult to live in for ever more. And her lies have made it so. I am maligned, hated and hunted along with the rest of my kin.
You have heard of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The irony!
The girl, the innocent, who wanted to wear a wolf, just because she desired
more power, more control than her looks and her wiles gave her. What big eyes
she has. All the better to see you with. What a lovely smile she has. All the
better to lure you with. What a sweet voice she has. All the better to fool you
with. What a black heart she has. All the better to break you with. It’s her
you should run from, not me. She still roams these woods so be sure not to
stray from the path…
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