The Time Between Times
The ancient Celts had a name for the elusive,
watery hours, after moonset but before sunrise, when the world is
cool and fresh and furtive. They called it the
time-between-times, neither night nor day, and they believed that
it held special powers. During this time more than any other, our
world draws close to the Otherworld, and wonders may happen in
Carys Pritchard was a morning person… but not in
the traditional sense. Whenever possible, she liked to stay awake
all through the night-gaining a respite from the crowd and noise
that was her large family-and step outside, to walk the
countryside of Anglesey, north Wales before dawn.
When she was very young, she discovered that if
she made it the whole night, she could see the colors of the sky
and the strange quality the light would take early in the
morning, when the sun had not yet arrived and it looked like the
sky itself was diffusing a watery blue glow, and she grew to be
very fond of it. As a teenager, she discovered the phrase
"time-between-times" in a book, and instantly knew what she had
She began to sit up during school holidays and on
weekends, distracting herself with books or music until just
before dawn, and then slipping out of the front door, where the
wet, chilly air would hit her like a washcloth. The colder the
season, though, the more she would pull it deep into her lungs,
trying to rapidly adjust as if cannonballing into cold water.
Before long she would feel alive and fully awake, and wander
through the familiar hills and thickets around her home,
wondering playfully if she would meet a brownie, or, even better,
a graceful elf. During these times, she felt exceptionally close
to her homeland… the mystic, wizened, strange and beautiful place
that Wales was when she called the land Cymru, its ancient name,
back to itself.
But then, always, the mist would fade, the light
would come in proper and turn a resented yellow, and she would go
inside, now just a sleepy girl with wet ankles. The enchanted
dawn became only morning, time to be active and tackle a to-do
list, and a wave of fatigue would engulf her at the prospect of
another fifteen hours without sleep. The sun would always came
up, and the fields would be only her family's land again,
familiar as Mam's voice and only unpleasant in comparison with
their secret, pre-dawn selves. And then, after the dawn had faded
a few more times, it would be time to return to school, and she
never even considered waking up while it was still dark just to
take a walk. Carys always slipped back into her schooldays,
filled with classes, gossip, football practice, choir, church,
dances, college applications, and watching her little brothers
and sister. She enjoyed her life, but it was different than the
dewy, magical summer and Christmas mornings that belonged just to
her and her land. So, near the end of the summer before Upper
Sixth, her final year in secondary school, she prepared herself
to stow away the memories of those special days and move on,
falling into a normal, comfortable, busy school routine. For a
few months, she did.
Then she started bursting into wakefulness every
day at four am.
The first few mornings this happened, she would
only give a little sigh of annoyance and try to go back to sleep.
But she was only able to lie there, drowsy yet unable to lose
consciousness. She saw the blue light outside her window and
thought about going out to swim in it, leaving her little
envelope of sheets and sleep, but told herself that was silly. It
wasn't that time, she wasn't that person right now; she had to go
to school and couldn't be bothered. Anyway, what did she expect
to find if she did go out? "Elves and fairies in a ring?"
But on the fourth day that she found herself
awake, staring at a glowing green four-zero-three minding its
business on wall opposite her bed, she decided to get up. It was
now November, and the realization that she would soon be leaving
her home for good was beginning to dawn on her-she was in her
last year of school, about to move to her father's college town,
and who knows if she would ever get the chance for such nice
country walks again? So she got up, put on a pair of Wellingtons,
and slipped out her door and down the stairs, but after stepping
out, shyness kept her standing on the porch steps. Enjoying the
light and the thick-hanging air, she looked around her, around
the house she was born in.
left was the worn-in path of tires that lead to the road and her
bus stop, but directly in her view, in front of the house and
past the short, tidy garden, were acres of Wales' famous rolling
hills, divided by clusters and ridges of tall trees and scrubby
bushes. The flora of Wales was prolific but patchy; there were
few true forests, but many small bunches of a dozen or so tall
pines and oaks, huddled together in groups like families or
fighters. Between the clusters were a few flat plains, dramatic
hills, gorse, and, more often than not, somebody's wandering
sheep. Carys realized that she longed to go into the familiar
patchwork of hillocks and valleys, plunging through the mist into
certain adventure (for how could the world not hold spectacular
promise at this hour?), so she made for a favorite tree in a
thicket visible from her front door. She heard a bird chirp, and
smiled to herself at the thought that nobody else, besides the
animals and her, knew that he had trilled just then and just
there. Carys strolled across a field, glad for the Wellingtons,
and entered the glade where her tree stood. She looked from side
to side, enjoying the glow that made everything, even her own
skin, seem just a little bit different-like the earth was winking
at her, hinting at fantastic secrets that tingled just below the
surface of everything she knew.
No particular plan in mind, she put her hand on
the trunk of the enormous pine, a gentle giant with low, regular
branches that encircled his trunk like stairs. She whispered the
Welsh word for "tree" and swung herself up. Steadily she climbed,
concentrating on balance and grip and finding the next place to
put her hand or foot, until she stopped noticing the cold and the
light. Soon she was almost at the very top of the tree;
carefully, she held on to a thin young branch by its base and
pulled herself up into a crouching position to fit between the
willowy, close arms of the pine. Then she had space to stand,
hugging its trunk, at the moment that a strong gust of wind bent
the top of the tree and lifted both Carys' hair and a cry of
surprise from her throat. But her judgment had been good and she
stood steadily as the sudden but long wind continued, like the
embrace of a relative that had been awaiting her. She gripped the
tree with one arm, feeling the muscles in her firmly planted legs
and her jubilant heart, and looked out over the valley, still in
the grip of the cold passion of that wind. She could see her
house, she could see a family of rabbits in the next field, she
could see the moon, transparent, moist, and as thin as a
"Diolch yn fawr… thank you," she
whispered to the sky, as the time-between-times faded away.
Far in the distance, heard but not seen by
Carys, a magnificent stag bellowed. A formation of geese cut
through the air, and a jogger pounded down the street, the only
other human awake for miles.
Carys was late coming in to breakfast that
morning, but was cheerful. No porridge had ever, or would ever,
be as good and hot and sustaining as the bowl that was waiting
for her when she reached the kitchen.
"What on earth were you doing outside?" her
mother asked over her shoulder, between giving the pot several
quick stirs and pouring orange juice for a yawning son.
"I couldn't sleep, so… I took a
For a few weeks, Carys continued to
naturally rise just before the sun and go out walking, weekend
and weekday, like clockwork. Just when she began to rely on it,
however, her ability to wake up before dawn, her internal alarm
clock, simply disappeared. So she started setting her actual
alarm clock for the wee hours, which even her accepting parents
thought was a little much. Her uncanny levels of energy
throughout those days when she was surviving on four or five
hours of sleep also left her, and she became
short-tempered-although never in the mornings when she came in to
breakfast. Her grades started to decline as well.
"I just don't see why you feel the need to
wake up in the middle of the night and go wandering about out of
doors in the cold! It's no small wonder your schoolwork is
Carys and her mother had been arguing while
Carys was doing her homework at the kitchen table. Unwisely,
Carys had snapped at Mrs. Pritchard several times and Mrs.
Pritchard, as was becoming her custom, had brought up her
"It's just a hobby, Mum! Lots of people
exercise in the mornings."
Mary Pritchard stopped wiping down the
counter top. Her bright brown eyes locked on her daughter, and
Carys shifted uncomfortably.
"But whythe sudden health kick? Where
exactly do you go to every morning, Carys
"Mam!" Her proud daughter stared at her in
insulted disbelief. Carys did not drink or smoke, or do anything
worse, and rarely dated. This caused her to take any suspicion
"What-why are you talking like that?"
Her mother put her hands on her hips, and
said firmly but evenly.
"Your father and I never gave you
permission to leave the house at the crack of dawn for no
"So I like to watch the sun rise! What do
you find strange about that?" Carys realized how rude she was
becoming and shifted gears, for tactical reasons, before her
mother could speak.
"Mam, what if I quit football?"
"Wha-why would you give up football? You've
played since you were a little girl!"
"Yeah, and I liked it, but now I have
another programme I like more. And I'll be less tired-I'll have
more time in the afternoons to do my work." Carys began talking
very quickly. "My grades will pick up, I promise, and I can watch
Colin and Petey longer. Os gwelwch yn dda, Mama?
Startled by her daughter's sudden and
earnest devotion to sunrise jogging, and her willingness to
abandon a hobby she had pursued for years, Mary Pritchard was
silent for a moment. Carys' pleading expression did not change,
so finally she said,
"Well… I'll discuss it with your
Carys bit back an annoyed response-it was
her life, why did they need to 'discuss' whether she could leave
a schoolgirl football team?-and nodded.
"Okay. Diolch yn fawr."
Mary got up for another cup of tea. Carys
could not possibly understand that what was disagreeable to her
mother was the idea of not understanding her child. In reality
she trusted Carys very much; it was only her age that made her
secrecy and her odd habit a bit unsettling. But Mary had two
children older than Carys and she was learning how to let go.
Anyway, could remember being something of a morning person,
before her children were born.
As for Carys, she wasn't sure why she felt
the need to be a bit defensive about her predawn ritual.
Something she could not explain about the quiet air, the mist,
and the subtle communion between her and her country felt
private-not shameful, only private. Still, she was a little
surprised by how quickly she decided to give up football.
Although the choice made sense, it hadn't occurred to her more
than a moment before she suggested it to her mother, and she
wondered how much she would miss the camaraderie of her team and
the excitement of the game. But she put that out of her
mind-after what had happened that morning, she was more devoted
than ever to coming out, faithfully, into the strange light of
the time-between-times. Because since that morning, Carys was
beginning-just approaching, without even admitting it to
herself-to believe in magic.
The morning before she told her mother she
would leave the football team, Carys had roused herself around
five and bundled up in her thickest, most rustic sweaters. It was
not uncommon for her to see snow settling down from the pearly
sky these days. She slipped downstairs as usual and quietly let
herself out into the frozen, silent yard.
This morning, her wanderings took her along
a rock wall built before Carys' grandmother had learned to walk,
and into a deep meadow where the Pritchards' neighbor sometimes
pastured his scraggly cows. Carys liked this place; its high
walls of loam and grass and its distance from the road made it
quiet and private, and the woods in the center (a continuation of
those sparse pines that grew in front of her own house) looked
serene. Carys had never been down to the center of this valley
before, so she made her way toward the bare branches in the
deepest part of the natural basin. When she was near, she stopped
to rest on a large boulder, her breath pooling in front of her
face in sudden and short-lived clouds. She knew her cheeks were
flushed, and the seemingly unremarkable thought brought forth an
unexpectedly powerful emotion in Carys. Out here in the mists of
Cymru, in the special time when she could see both the moon and
the sun, the young woman could not help but feel that some of the
country's beauty, its mysterious, graceful air should be
diffusing into her. Surely her un-made-up face was pure and
shining, and her hair, not yet brushed for the day, was a thick,
cascading halo. She felt, almost with pain, the grace of her own
movements and the piercing beauty of her expression when she
turned her face to the sky. Then Carys felt vain and silly, and
then she felt nothing, and then she felt vaguely lonely. Then
something wonderful happened.
A small movement in the woods in front of
her caught her eye, and, when Carys turned her head, she realized
that she was looking at an enormous stag. Under his great crown
of antlers, he looked placidly at Carys from several yards
"Oh!" Carys gasped. She had never seen a
live stag, let alone on so huge-although she did not have the
experience to put this into words, the animal measured nearly
eighteen hands. He moved his head a little, pointing his nose to
the sky. Carys was as struck by the creature's appearance as if
she had seen a griffin or the famed Welsh dragon. What a strange
creature-his branching horns seemed as thick and hard as rock but
so weightless, reaching from his curly-haired head with a kind of
weird grace. She was fascinated by the way they moved when he
turned his head, a web of bone hovering over the majestic
Expecting the stag to bolt at any moment,
Carys rose and started slowly making her way toward the flat
bottom of the valley, where he stood. The animal held her gaze,
not lowering his head to snuffle for grass or moss, not twitching
an ear even once. Breathlessly, Carys advanced, one arm
outstretched, pace carefully slow and regular. He was still
looking at her, and every second he seemed larger. He was shaggy
and strong, with a wonderful fringe trailing down his throat and
joining a mane on the center of his powerful chest. Carys thought
to make a soothing noise, so she began crooning the word that had
been pounding in her brain since the second she saw him:
"Carw… carw." This was the Welsh word for stag,
familiar to her from coloring books and stories from forever
"Carw!" she called in a light,
even voice. Suddenly the stag lifted a hoof, and Carys thought
that it was over-but she was wrong. The massive animal did not
walk away, but began walking toward her… steadily, fearlessly,
not exactly obediently. His movements were slow and controlled,
almost regal. Stunned, Carys froze. Suddenly the big animal was a
big animal, and he was coming toward her. Then he
stopped. They watched each other for a moment, and the stag
stamped a hoof-once, twice, three times, all the time staring at
Carys. With a sense of surreality she began walking again and
stopped at the leveling of the valley floor. He was just twenty
or so steps from her, and still looking at her with a calm,
almost eerie clarity. Carys thought wildly that she might be able
to stroke that velvety nose. She was still watching the animal,
still with her tingling arm outstretched, when the stag
Carys barely had time to scream before he
was upon her; she heard three, maybe four hoofbeats on the frozen
ground-that was how close they were-after he charged, as suddenly
as if he were spring-loaded. Carys closed her eyes, too startled
to run, and heard a whoosh as if from a breeze, and then
a light thud. She whipped around.
The stag had jumped clean over her, and was
now cantering behind her, tossing his head and bellowing-a sound
that seemed to almost mask quiet human laughter. How had he
jumped over her, and from such a close distance? He would have
had to go almost straight up into the air!
The stag made an arc that took him back in
Carys' direction. Before she knew what she was doing, or wanted
to do, she took step in his direction. But this time, the stag
did not jump; rearing like a horse, he gave Carys one last
glimpse of his powerful frame, his hugeness, and his alien crown,
before running into the woods. He seemed to be going straight
toward a tree, and seconds before he collided with it, Carys lost
sight of him-he was simply gone. A gentle wind, under which soft,
friendly laughter was barely discernable, brushed Carys' face as
she stood there in the chilly valley.
For several mornings after that Carys went
into her neighbor's valley, into that fold, in search of the
stag. She went, without explicit permission from her parents, but
without explicit forbiddance either. Without the physical toll of
football practice, Carys' grades (and temper) did improve. Since
Mrs. Pritchard congratulated her, Carys took that as permission
and continued to look for the stag, faithfully, every morning.
She did not see him in the valley, but one day she caught sight
of his distinctive form on the crest of a far-off hill-still
motionless, and still, judging by his position, looking at Carys.
After that, she knew that the mysterious non-stag-he
must be something more than that-did not stay in one
place, and resumed her basically random wanderings.
She glimpsed the stag a few more times; he was
easy enough to recognize as the largest creature around, even
without his unnaturally attentive, sentient air. She never got as
close to him as she had that first day, even though she wanted to
very much… whenever she got close, he would run gracefully away,
and vanish into the nearest thicket. But this mission of seeing
the stag again came in and out of focus in her mind. As she
walked, sometimes she took crumbs to feed the birds,
occasionally, she brought a prayerbook or journal. Never did she
sleep in-now Carys was again unable to sleep past four o'clock in
the morning, so set was her habit.
A new problem presented itself, though, a weighty
mist that clung to some of January's, February's and March's most
beautiful mornings. Carys was finding new experiences everywhere,
during the time-between-times when the world was different. She
had been worried about growing bored outside, and losing the
magic, but so far nearly every morning had found her in awe of
the smells-the air so fresh she felt she could live on it instead
of food and drink-the tingling difference and sameness of the
earth. In fact, she was almost too much in awe: outside when no
one else was, privy to the comings and goings of small things no
other human around her could see, alive to the wildness and
beauty of the spirit of her country, Carys felt fresh and wise
and beautiful every morning... she hoped that she wasn't as vain
as she sounded, but she couldn't help but feel that the dewy and
dramatic beauty around her was inside her, too-in sweats and
unbrushed hair, she felt beautiful; elfin, even. But
there was nobody to appreciate this.
At the same time, she didn't think she wanted
company. Sometimes a car would pass when she was by the road and
she would be self-conscious. Or she would run into a jogger or
milkman, and their small talk was always pleasant, but took her
out of the spell of her druidic setting. So Carys felt sadness,
but didn't understand it.
One Saturday morning, she came in with the sun
behind her and went into the bathroom she shared with her
sisters. She glared into the mirror, disappointed to see a
blotchy face, stringy hair, flat breasts, and a hundred other
things that weren't otherworldly or breathtaking, like she
thought they should be. She went slowly into her room, walking
past a sleeping sister with the stiffness of an old woman. She
collapsed into bed, burying her face in a pillow-not the warm,
breathing chest of the elf, bursting with life and mystery, that
she felt she should have met by now. She must be sleepy-talking
about meeting elves in Anglesey… a companion to see her beauty,
or to make her beautiful. Someone she could thank for showing her
Carys fell asleep that morning with frustrated,
confused tears bathing her face.
Carys slept in for a few days after that morning
she stood in front of the mirror, trying to connect the face she
saw in the mirror with the person that she felt she was outside.
But her eyes still opened of their own accord, an hour before the
sun rose, and anyway she didn't feel like herself.
The first day she stepped out again, the first
thing she saw through the watery haze of cold light and mist was
the stag, standing barely outside of her front yard, with his
back to Carys' own trees. She smiled.
Before long, she was in front of him again,
murmuring in all the Welsh she could muster. As before, she
reached a trembling hand to his muzzle, with the strange
sensation that this gentle beast was more than he seemed. He
turned before she could touch him and cantered off, to Carys'
sigh of frustration. Then he turned to look at her.
"Why do you do that?" she snapped (still
in Welsh). The stag started to run again. And Carys ran after
Soon he looked over his shaggy shoulder, and
slowed down ever so slightly. Carys kept running, demanding
breath after breath from the soft air. He trotted up a hill, down
the other side, and through a flat meadow. Carys jogged,
sprinted, and dashed to keep up with his long strides, panting
and laughing and cursing, still in Welsh. When she finally had to
stop for breath, he stopped too, and reared like he had the first
morning. Carys looked behind her. This was further than she was
used to going in this direction. The stag tossed his head again,
and made for a line of trees.
"No!" Carys cried-it was always into trees that
she lost him. The sun would be coming up soon; she had school.
But when she saw the dark shape of spreading antlers and massive
shoulders hurtling toward the woods, and realized that he wanted
her to follow, she stood up and took off after the stag.
Now Carys was crashing through branches, snapping
twigs, and stumbling over rocks to keep sight of her quarry, who
seemed impossibly far away-but did not disappear. Carys' sides
hurt, and she was getting scratched by vines and stray branches.
Her legs, unused to such rigorous activity, grew heavy and stiff.
Carys felt her hope of ever catching up to this creature slipping
away again, and she put her head down in despair, dogged
tenacity, or both. But when she looked up, the stag was gone.
And then she felt the ground disappear from
beneath her feet.
Carys was too startled to make a sound, but the
roof of her mouth thudded wit surprised fear as she stumbled and
slid down what she realized was a steep hill. She was almost
thrown off her feet completely, but instead fell to her knees
before clattering ungracefully to a halt, with growing sensations
of exaggerated anger and cautious pain in her ankles from the
sudden fall. Looking around, she saw that she was sitting on the
new grass of a bank, and that it was colder here than higher up
the hill-but, strangely, the light seemed brighter. The fog that
had begun to clear on the higher plains was still thick here, so
much so that it totally obscured the stream, which Carys was only
aware of because of the sound of bubbling water coming from
somewhere very close. She stood up and peered ahead of her to try
to spot it, and a second later, she realized that she was looking
at something through the mist-the wild but sturdy shape of an
antler, a straight expanse of neck, a muscled shoulder-it was her
stag, standing still by the water, and looking at her. In the
same breath, she saw that he was not alone. Close to the
magnificent animal's face, stroking his nose and smiling broadly,
was a man. He caught Carys' eye.
He was not a man.
What the teenager from Wales saw was a face, a
long and straight-nosed and beautiful face like a man's, above a
cleanly shaped body in the fashion of a man's… but it seemed more
appropriate to say that a man's body was shaped, however poorly
and insubstantially, like the one of this being. Every line,
every color, every living inch of this creature was beautiful-but
it was nothing, nothing like the beauty Carys found in famous
actors, or singers, or local boys she would glance at around
school. Without question, this beauty was something to be
revered, venerated-never desired. It would be a desecration.
How could she describe him… was she even sure it
was a him? The being, the elf, the angel had long hair down his
back, which was the color of sea-polished wood and was braided
with leaves of holly and oak, which were somehow green. It
carried a staff, carved with wild Celtic designs and ornamented
with a small, perfect replica of the stag's antlers. It had no
facial hair, and the eyes beneath straight brows were deeply
green. She couldn't even think to realize what It was wearing
(although she saw that Its pointed feet were bare), she was so
struck Its presence and Its appearance… It was just simply
more than everything she was. Its gaze was captivating,
but also made Carys afraid-and deeply, deeply ashamed, of
something, but she didn't know what. She wanted to look at It,
but at the same time, wished It would look away.
After the longest second in Carys' life, after an
enraptured second of a thousand years, after a lifetime-second of
standing in the bright, soft white light of Its presence, the
angel's expression softened. Its smile at seeing the stag had
been huge, open-mouthed, and childlike, in fact, Its enthusiasm
seemed incongruent with Its impressive appearance, but It now
resolved It's expression into a gentle grin. (Carys could have
looked for days at just the slight curve of Its seashell lip.) It
looked at the clumsy human with tenderness, still stroking the
stag, which was moving his nose, almost imperceptibly, toward Its
ear. Carys' cheeks began to burn, and she vaguely realized that
she was now very warm. Her eyes were watering, and every second
It looked at her she felt better and worse.
"…Please…" Carys whispered, with no idea what she
was asking for. The angel looked affectionately at the stag, who
appeared highly pleased with himself. The angel chuckled, and
then looked kindly back at Carys. She perceived that It was
speaking; she saw Its mouth moving but did not hear a voice. Then
Carys was overcome, and sank to her knees in the soft grass and
even softer fog. The noise of the stream filled her ears, but as
her stricken eyes closed, words appeared in her mind. Two
sentences, detached but plain as if the melodious Welsh were
being spoken in her ear…
"This creature is a good friend. He will lead you
to something precious."
When Carys woke up, she was still buffeted by
white mist, but the sun had come up. The light above her was now
golden, but on this morning, the brightness was not resented or
harsh like most mornings. She sat up. She could see the stream
now, a wide, pebbly path through the young spring grass. Then
Carys remembered something…school. She had to be in school soon.
But she wanted to stay here, in the glorious white and gold, and
remember the dream-her dream! The stag, the run, the fall… the
angel… Carys glanced back at the stream banks. There were no
marks, of hooves or feet, in the smooth cold mud… but she
wouldn't think that those beings would leave any. She got to her
feet; the scratches and muscle strains were certainly there.
Carys looked at the soil, at the trees around her, at the hill
she had stumbled down. There was no trace of the fantastic pair,
except the voiceless whisper that still lingered in her ear, and
the euphoric quality of the sunlight piercing through the piles
of wooly fog. Silently, Carys climbed back up the hill and went
After accepting a reprimand and a drive to
school, the day that she thought ought to change or even define
her life did the odd thing of marching on just like any other
Thursday. For some reason, the rhythm of her school day continued
unbroken, her parents watched the news that evening and reported
that world events were unfolding predictably, and Carys had to
give her smallest brother a bath. But for her, it was like these
ordinary events were parading past a window, and she was still in
a little cleft, caught up to the stag, seeing the… whatever It
Carys wondered what would happen if she followed
the animal again. Would she have another-dream? Would he really
lead her to something? This would be, if her life were a story,
the part where she doubted her sanity and pretended that the
Event had never happened. But in her heart of hearts, she did not
doubt. It felt more like she had a promise, a treasure, a glowing
secret buried in her like a fixed root in the soil. As Carys lay
in bed that night, she smiled.
And then she set out with a purpose. Early as
always, she rose and set out for the hills. She would see the
stag again, and then she would know-forever-that it had really
happened. She would chase him again, as far as he would lead her,
out of Anglesey of necessary, and he would take her to whatever
it was she was supposed to find. She began, for the first time in
months, to set her alarm clock again. She also began to get tired
again. But she kept at it, pressing herself to get up earlier, as
soon as there was the merest scrap of light to see by. Sometimes
she overshot it, and got up too early. Then she would feel dead
on her feet the next day. Once she accidentally woke up her
father, who was understandably cross and made her go back to bed.
She lay still for half an hour before slipping out again.
When she didn't see the stag after a week, she
was only more determined. She had begun to suspect that he would
take her to another angel, or-her heart began to thud whenever
she thought of this-even a gateway of some sort. He would take
her to meet elves, elves like It. (The line between the two
creatures, between the elves of Celtic lore and angles, had
become blurry for her.)
When she had spent a month searching, she began
to deflate a little. Her sleepiness was getting worse, but
whenever she thought about staying in for a morning-recovering
from a long school assignment, or a cold, or week with three
hours of sleep a night-she would think of the stag. What if that
was the morning he had planned to meet her? She imagined him
wandering into her yard, waiting by the trees, walking down the
driveway, and even (when she was very sleepy) rapping on her
front door with one antler-tip, ready to take her to the elves,
and her sleeping through it. With a groan, she would drag herself
out of bed, splash cold water on her face, and go out, only to go
through another morning of searching, trudging, waiting. Then the
dewy air would get to her, and make her skin feel fresh, and her
body graceful, and she felt that her expression, upon seeing
whatever it was she was supposed to see, would be surprised and
gentle and perfect, like it must have been when she gazed on the
angel. Then she would be disgusted, by her loneliness, her
sentimentality, and her narcissism. These aches, for the stag,
for someone to see her beauty… to give her beauty to reflect…
they got old.
By the time two months had elapsed, Carys was
completely Spartan about her morning routine. It was nothing like
a walk or a soothing balm, and everything like a search, a job.
She followed paths mathematically : a day to the north, then one
to the east, then the south, finally the west, and start it all
over again. She would spend weeks without visiting the far-flung
stream where she had seen her vision, thinking that the stag
wouldn't go to the same place twice. If this was a supernatural
thing, maybe she wouldn't even be able to find that place again.
But one morning she was possessed with a desperate desire to see
it-maybe the stag lived there!-and set out, only to find
it on her first try. So she travelled there every day for a week,
but saw nothing.
Actually, Carys had not seen anything for days
and days; not only had the stag not chosen to appear, but she had
stopped noticing everything about the land and the sky and the
morning that had previously captivated her, and drawn her out
without resistance, and kept her energized, happy, alive. She
forgot to think about why she had started taking walks in the
first place, and thought only of the place the stag was going to
lead her-not its qualities, not the reasons she wanted to go
there, but only the drive that told her she had to find it. She
became gray and tired, and she stumbled and was ill-tempered
during the day. In short, she felt miserable.
And then she gave up. Really, she should have
done so long before-and she had flirted with the idea. Finally,
around mid-May, the morning came when Carys, barely five minutes
into her search (today she had gone across the road in a vaguely
easterly direction, toward the fading moon), decided that it was
time to stop. Once she voiced that thought clearly and definitely
in her head, a weight was lifted from her. Instead of heading for
one of those numerous empty, hilly expanses, bordered and patched
by clumps of trees, she stopped right at the edge of a glade and
leaned against a trunk. She would rest here for a few minutes
(she was so tired), and then she would go home and climb into her
warm bed and slip into wonderful sleep for an hour or so. And
then she would be done.
She wondered how disappointed she would be for
losing a chance to meet them… the elves. Was she even sure that
was what she was looking for? It must be-what could be more
precious than seeing more of the terrible, beautiful creatures,
like the one the stag had lead her to in the first place? She
would be sad… she must be. But for now, with the relief of her
promise to herself to end the search, with the calm and beauty of
the time-between-times sweeping over her dazed spirit for the
first time in recent memory, she was not discontent.
Carys breathed deeply and looked at the moon. It
looked like it had that day, that first morning, when she had
climbed her tree. It seemed so soft… like mellow white cheese.
She wanted to taste it. Carys laughed, then remembered that she
had thought, before, that she could have lived on the air of this
secret time, breathing instead of eating. How long had it
been-she had forgotten what that felt like! Immediately she took
an eager, deep breath, and she thought she heard a rush of air,
louder than her own nostrils would make. She looked over her
shoulder, and there, as if he had been standing by her the whole
time, was the stag. She gazed up at him.
And the stag looked back at Carys, lowering his
head to see her better. He was very close. Slowly, he raised his
head, and began to walk… heart thudding, Carys saw a brief forest
of dun-colored legs pass, catching glimpses of white on the
insides of the enormous thighs. Then he was in front of her,
ambling instead of running. One of his ears flicked. He swung his
magnificent head around and gazed at her. Carys hesitated, and
then got to her feet.
They walked for a time, and then began to canter
gently, and finally Carys was running beside him again. She felt
alive-to be in this air, in this light, running, communing with
this fantastic creature.
They were now approaching a wooded area. Carys
felt apprehension rise inside her. It was always trees that she
lost him into, all but the one morning, when she met It. She
began to stumble again; the ground was rocky. She kept her eyes
on the stag's back, which was arching and dipping like a fish,
slowly growing smaller and smaller in front of her.
"No… don't… do… that… again!" she panted.
Suddenly the animal put on an unbelievable burst of speed-there
was a second of desperate sprinting for Carys, but he jumped,
and, almost instantly, was gone again. Carys was left on her
knees in the dirt, gasping. She didn't know what to think.
Hadn't she been given a promise? Had she dreamed
it-dreamed everything? She stumbled over to a large stone to
catch her breath, and realized with some surprise that there was
a trail through these woods-some kind of jogging or hiking trail.
She kept gazing down the dirt path, wishing that he would come
back for her. Were the creature and his master only trying to
keep her coming, aware of her freshly minted promise to stop
searching for the stag and his "something precious?" Should she
continue to drag herself out of bed every dawn… were they
encouraging her? Testing her?
Had they betrayed her?
Before she had an answer, movement almost
directly in front of Carys arrested her attention. There was,
suddenly, a young man before her on the path. This time she was
sure it really was a man: he had a mass of curly dark hair, which
was currently sweaty, and stubble, not a long mane and an
impossibly smooth cheek. His feet were not bare, but encased in
running shoes, and he was carrying a water bottle, not a staff.
But when he looked at Carys, she saw that his expression was just
like the one she had imagined on herself-a look of surprise and
wonder-as she wandered the lonely hills, the expression she
imagined to be the most beautiful: a look of enchantment. Her
heart started to race again. There was a moment of silence in the
still of the dawn, and then, trembling, he spoke.
"Hello," he whispered. Carys smiled.