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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A boy meets a strange girl who begs for his help saving her forest home.

I always loved to watch the sea. My home was an island and shipmaking was not a craft my people possessed, yet from my youth all I wanted to do was voyage to other lands. Though it was true that ours was a pleasant one. A mountain sat at the center of it, forever capped in ice and in the winter the snows would rush down the slopes, even to the seashore where our small village lay. We made our homes just back from the tide line of a small bay, spending much of our time fishing from the nearby cliffs or off the reef that ran almost up to the sand on the west end of the inlet. Many youngsters would often venture into the forest that divided us from the sheer precipices of the island’s white crown, but while the other boys played their war games and hunted stags, I would stand on the reef or the sea cliffs, watching the horizon, hoping to see something from some other place drift up to our shores. I cherished the time with just the waves, but I was never granted much time alone.
“Amairgen! Aye, where are you?” My younger brother’s voice always preceded him by a while.
“What, what do you want?” He neatly skidded to a stop in the dusty soil on top of the otherwise grassy slope. It took him a moment to catch his breath.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing, Connall, go away.”
“Why nothing?”
“What is there to do?”
“Why don’t you go hunting with Jarick and the other boys?” I gave him an exasperated glare. 
“Why on earth would I do that? I have to spend enough time with them in lessons.”
“Don’t you like them?”
“You know I don’t, Connall.” He sat down on one of the many rocks that adorned the cliff top. “What is it that you came to get me for?” He seemed to need reminding. 
“Oh! Mother wanted you. She said you need to come get ready for the festival already.” I let out a long sigh.
“Why does she make us go? I really don’t think the ‘goddess’ would blight us with famine because one 17-year-old didn’t want to dance.” I tossed a stone into the in disgust, but I knew it was pointless: I’d end up going.
“She might Ami, don’t joke about that!” I hated that nickname he had for me, but he hurried on before I could complain. “You know Jarick’s brother Sean saw her the last time we were playing Mountain Creatures.” He gestures to the forest less than a mile distant, under whose dark branches the younger children played their fantastical games.”
“Sure, he did, Connall, I know.” He looked about to argue against obvious disbelief, so I continued. “Come, I guess we should prepare.”

The town was a blaze of colored lights and riotous sounds of celebration. There were booths with simple games, stands with the town merchants showing off their new wares, candy and cakes for the children. The other youngsters had gathered in the middle of the Square, in front of our band, preparing for the traditional Harvest Dance. The adults had knotted together to one side to congratulate Mr. Dhun, the Vineyard owner, on decanting a new vintage. It was the same as the last 4 years: we’d had another good harvest. Even the people from the more rugged parts of the island, the shepherds and herdsmen’s families from the mountainside had come down: there were many faces I couldn’t put a name to in the crowd. However, I had no intention of joining in the revelry. 
“Would you care to dance?” A girl’s voice rose behind me. I turned to refuse (I didn’t even recognize it,) but she made me think twice. Slender and nearly as tall as I, with voluminous long black hair, I found I couldn’t tear my gaze from hers. I had never seen purple eyes before. 
“uh…” I had trouble answering. All of a sudden, dancing sounded wonderful.
“Oh, please? I don’t really know anyone here, and you seemed…a little nicer than the other boys.” I looked around the square at my contemporaries. Most were either drunk in groups, singing ribald songs of their own invention, or were trying to convince some of the young ladies to find a place for a private celebration.
“O-Okay, but I have to warn you, I’m not very good.” She laughed: a musical, enchanting sound. 
“That’s allright, I don’t even know how.” She took my hand and led me out into the crowd. As we moved with the rhythm of the other dancers, the faces in the crowd began to swirl around me: my brother, perplexed as to why I was doing this; my mother’s, ecstatic that I had finally joined in the dance for once; Jarick’s alight with envy, as he obviously found my partner more desirable than the one he had managed to entice. Then the slow dance of the Harvest ended and a quicker tune began. We began to circle quickly with the other dancers; the rest of the night was lost in blurs of her simple and elegant white dress as it twirled before and around me, her long dark hair brushing softly against my chin as we danced close for the slower songs, amd when the music finally stopped, her soft hands leading me out into a secluded forest glen. 

I awoke the next morning feeling all of last night must have been a dream, but as my eyes came open I found myself in a small meadow, not my own bed. But I was alone. She had left me in the night; I can hardly ever remember feeling more devastated. She hadn’t even told me her name. I was, however, resolved to finding her. 
When I trudged my way back to town, I began to ask everyone I saw if they had known the girl I danced with, but nobody had recognized her. I searched the inn, for none of the Hill-Folk had left town yet, but no one knew her or even remembered meeting her. Apparently, she had spoken only to me. I wandered at random now, until I, out of habit I guess, made my way down to the sea cliffs around mid-day. I sat on the grassy slope, despondent and weary, listening to the melancholy rhythm, crashing, crashing against the rocks below and very soon the ocean lulled me to sleep. 
Something woke me as the sun fell close to the horizon. I groggily looked around; there the girl sat on a rock not ten feet from me, her white dress radiant in the fading rose light of evening. I sat up sharply, hardly believing that she would just show up again like this after her sudden disappearance. Where had she been while I searched? I had almost begun to believe she was just a dream. 
“Is that really you?” She smile, a slow, secretive expression and nodded slowly in answer to my question. “What is your name?”
“I already know you, Amairgen.” I slowly got to my feet, but I was still so drowsy that I nearly stumbled. I closed my eyes to steady the world around me. 
“Where did you go last night?” But she didn’t respond right away. When I opened my eyes, she was far away, at the bottom of the rise up to the cliff. But as I made my way down, she moved further and further away, but I could still hear her laughter, an enchanting melody, as if carried to me on the wind though not a breeze was to be felt. And when she reached the forest, she seemed to vanish within the very branches.
“Fand!” I called for her over and over, but I could find no trace of her between the trees as I rushed deeper into them. The Sun’s failing light had turned the gap between every trunk into a shaft of gold, where falling leaves and flecks of dust shown as if burnished in bronze. I paused, deciding which way to search when I heard her laugh, seeming to come from high in the leaves all around me, when a flash of the evening found a hem of white. To my left I saw her, moving gracefully and gaily between the rowans, before she suddenly disappeared again.
“Over here.” I heard her whisper from right next to me; I felt her lips brush against my ear, but when I turned there was nothing but a twisting vine hanging from an old oak. But then there she was again, in front of me, beckoning before she lithely ran off into the trees once amore. I saw the now purplish light glinting off her hair as I raced after her before she was again nowhere to be seen. I moved to where I had seen her last when I found myself in a clearing, a small pool of limpid blue at the opposite side from where I stood. It abutted against a rocky outcrop from which a spring was almost noiselessly bubbling into the pond. The water itself was as clear as glass but seemed to have no bottom, and as the last light of sunset faded a pearlescent glow shined from its depths. The glen seemed to me more absolutely quiet and calming than was possible. 
“Do you like my home?” I nearly cried out in shock. Fand had somehow alighted atop the outcrop, standing just over the mouth of the spring; she had not made a single noise. I merely stared up at her, bewildered. “Are you scared, Amairgen?” 
“No.” Whatever I was feeling, it was certainly not fear. 
“I’m glad. She slowly made her way to the ground and circled the pond. “You are a kind man, and brave; determined, too. No one else has been able to find my glen. Most don’t even see me anymore. Please, would you help us?” 
“Us? Who else is there? And what will I be helping you with?”
“Will you drink with me?”
“What?” She knelt down at the water’s edge and cupped her hands to take a drink. She then offered her palms to my lips. 
“Will you drink with me, Amairgen?” I drank, brushing against her fingertips, and she then took my hands and pulled me down to knee in front of her. “Now I can show you what you can save us from.” Nothing seemed to change, other than her brilliant violet eyes were closed. “There. At the other side of the glen.” This time I did cry out, though on one reacted. Stalking out of the shadows was something from the raving dreams of a burning fever. 
Its eyes actually glowed; I could see the poisonous green sheen on the trunks even over the light shining from the water’s depths. It was taller than any man I had seen, and it moved forward sometimes on two legs, sometimes on four, looking akin to a great spider. It was covered in rough gray skin like a lizard, its hands and feet ending in long hooked claws. Its face was dominated by its short snout with slit nostrils, and fangs protruding from its black lips. It seemed to taste the air periodically with its long, yellowish forked tongue. And it was viciously armed. Two curved swords lay across its back, and it held in its hands a spear at least as long as it was tall. At each thigh it had strapped a shorter, hooker blade. “Don’t be scared, Amairgen, it’s only a vision. But I must show you what they do to your kind. You will not like it.”
Now the creature vanished in a wisp and a man and his two sons came out of the forest. They were the Danens, who had crossed the Island after the mother had died. Everyone assumed that they had been lost in the high crags of the pathless mountain; apparently not. I watched as they were captured and tortured, as the creatures slowly mutilated the boys while the father watched helplessly, strung up with his arms outstretched. Watched as they delicately cut the father at lapped up the blood that rose from his wounds; as they cut off larger and larger portions of the boys to eat until they simply couldn’t survive. Watched as the monsters finally split the father’s chest down the middle and made him bleed to death. I retched, and the vision vanished like the first. 
“These creatures lie in wait for the day when they can slaughter your townsfolk like lambs. For centuries my forest has protected you. The first people to settle here planted the beginnings of it, and four priests called on me to help it flourish and grow. I return for such a beautiful home, I would protect their descendents from the creatures that sometimes killed settlers in the night. Not a single one has made its way to your town since. I’ve made them learn to fear the trees. But now they grow too numerous for me alone to keep at bay. I need you.” I sat motionless for a moment before starting to pace around the glen.
“How?” I whispered. “How can I help against those? I’m not a warrior or a soldier; you won’t find a single weapon of war in our entire town. What could I possibly do?” I was nearly shouting now.
“You can get help!” She cried. “I know you, you stand day after day, dreaming of lands across the sea; you are determined; and you showed me such kindness and caring at the festival. You are truly brave; you were never frightened of me. Which is why you are the only one who can help me. “ I looked down at her pleading face; angry, desperate tears shone out against her cheeks. “No one that can that is afraid of me can hear me. I haven’t been heard by anyone in almost three centuries. And now in my most desperate need comes a man who I can beg this of. Please, Amairgen, help me.” Her last words spoken again echoed as if it was being repeated by all the surrounding verdure. Who was this woman? Was she really the goddess we prayed to for new life and good crops?
“What are you, really?” I asked quietly. She was a long time in answering. 
“Your villagers call me all sorts of names: Harvest spirit, Lady of the Trees, Goddess…but my name truly is Fand. I truly am the girl who found you last night. I can say with all honesty that none of what you saw in me was false.”

That night I watched as she commanded the trees to fashion a vessel large enough to take me across the sea, and filled it with at much food and water from the forest that could be stored on board. As I climbed on to the deck she assured me that she would put me on a course for a port called Cliath, where my people had sailed from originally. She then kissed me softly. She hadn’t just used my affections, she assured me, but I had no response. The moment I was safe on the ship she summoned a gale to fly me on through the night. 
I had one task; the four priests who had called on Fand first were members of a temple that worshipped her father. I was to find their order and convince them to come and help however I could. She said she had left a mark on my hand so they would know that I had in fact spoken with a goddess. But how I could persuade them to help neither she nor I knew. Most importantly, though, it was vital I return within one year. She was always watching the creatures, with the eyes of the forest animals or trees or sometimes her own, and she knew that they may try to break through her barriers even as soon as that. She would lose her home and my family and friends their lives. 

For months I drifted along the course she had set me, no change in the wind or weather, until as I slept one night I was woken by shouting: heavily accented but still in my same tongue.
“Tie it down! C’mon, it dasn’t look like no one’s aboard.”
“Ge’ up there, Geoffrey, throw down a rope an’ check the hol’.”
“Why in ‘ell would someone jist leave their ship?”
A small man pulled himself up over the port side and threw a rope down to his comrades. He nearly jumped back down himself when he heard me stand. 
“Where the ‘ell did ye come from?”
“This is my ship. Where am I?”
“’Ow did ye sail it yerself?” 
“What port is this?” I could see the lights of a city many, many times larger than my home stretched out before me in every forward direction. 
“This is Cliath. ‘Ere the fuckin’ ‘ell are ye from?” Cliath! She had sent me a right, then. 
“Please, I must go to the temple! Can you show me where it is?”
“What? The Temple? Those bastards’ll kill ye for interruptin’ their worship.”
“But I must speak to them! I sailed for months for that very reason.” I closed on the man and took him by his collar. I was close to raving, I guess. I had been along so long. “Please, tell me where it is!”
Fear shone is his eyes; I was after all much larger and taller. “That way!” He gasped out. “Jes’ follow that street to its east end.” He pointed, very obligingly to the street at the end of the wharf I now saw my ship was tied to. I let go, only now realizing how threatening I must have seemed and swung myself over the side down the rope. As I shouted my thanks, his comrades standing around me speechless, I broke into a run down the street. 
An hour’s journey later I came upon the temple; a simple, large single story building, but made of rich, dark colored wood. And as I swung open the rough shod door, I was taken aback at the beauty inside. Every surface seemed to be covered in gold. The pillars that lined the entrance way glinted almost redly in the flickering torchlight that was the only illumination. No one came to greet me, but in the shadows of the pillars I thought I heard a rasp of a blade on leather. Perhaps they truly did mean to kill me. I spoke, loud enough that I hoped the whole temple would know I was here.
“Please, I come to ask for your help.” As if from nowhere, four men in plain brown robes which even shadowed their faces now stood surrounding me. The one to the back of me spoke. 
“Why should we not slay you where you stand for defiling our temple with your uninvited presence?” I swallowed hard, preparing to explain.
“Six centuries ago, four men of your priesthood sailed with a group of settlers who wished to live away from this city and these lands. They arrived on a beautiful and seemingly deserted island far to the north, and the people settled and planted the beginnings of a forest. But when the island’s other inhabitants, vicious, ghastly creatures, began to prey on the townspeople in their homes, the monks called on your God. He sent his daughter to protect us. For centuries, my people have lived peacefully on one side of the island while the other things lived on theirs, the forest separating us. But now the Goddess Fand has too little strength, and the creatures grow so numerous, that she cannot halt them alone. She begs for your help. I showed them my right hand, where the mark she had left still lingered. In less than nine months my home will be destroyed unless you do as your goddess requests.” I steeled myself for an attack, a noise of disbelief, some kind of argument. Instead one of them simply said: “Lead us.” We sailed later that night. 

My return was greatly hindered, however. While bound away from the island, I had been sped along by a current, which now held us back. But though we never felt even a gust of wind, we sailed inexorably homeward: perhaps it was her, calling to me. Nevertheless, while it had taken me a bare three months to reach Cliath, the return was taking more than twice as long. As I counted down the last days of the year I had been given, I felt growing terror that we would be too late. The monks did nothing but sit in their cabins and wait.

“There is smoke on the horizon.” Called one of the monks (they had never told me their names in the 9 long months we sailed together.) I hastily tallied the days in my head. 
“Two days left…we’re too close, the creatures must be stronger than Fand knew.” The next four hours were constant, pure dread. Would the town still be there? The forest? Would Connall and Mother still be alive? As we drew into the bay, it seemed “no” would be the answer to all those questions. I could see flames where one of the inns had been, other buildings trailing smoke, rubble where many homes had stood. But as the wind rushed down to us off the mountain some hope was kindled. Shouts and the sounds of battle flew to us on the sip. I prayed only that we would be of some help. I finally leapt over the ship’s side and made my way ashore with the priests close on my heels. I could see now the fortifications the town had made around itself and the people fighting desperately with hoes and spades to keep the creatures at bay. No one had noticed the five of us or our vessel; this seemed a last desperate battle. Soon the townspeople would be gone entirely.
As I gained the beach I was roughly shoved to the ground. “Out of the way!” bellowed one of the monks. Then taking a long piece of driftwood he hastily drew a large triangle in the sand and the other three rushed to stand at each point. The first then stood in the center and encircled himself with another line. “Call to her!” He commanded. 
“Fand!” I called to her, over and over, until finally there she was, but not quite the same as I remembered her. She seemed faded, almost transparent in limbs, bloodied and with her dress torn. “How is this?” I asked, aghast. 
“As my home dies, I fade, Amairgen. I can’t save them…I can’t even do anything to save my people…” She sank to the ground openly weeping.
“My goddess!” The center monk cried. She turned to look, and I saw a look of horror on her face as her gaze found them. A series of shouts rose up behind us as Fand cried out to the monks No, don’t. But the town was now open; the creatures had broken their defenses. An immense pillar of light then arose behind me, and I turned to watch it envelope the four. As it rapidly faded, they collapsed, but Fand just as instantly became complete once again. Never had I seen anyone look so shocked, but after only a moment I saw her back straighten, seemingly stronger than ever. 
“Amarigen, please, put your hand to me.” As I knelt down and placed my hand between her shoulders, she placed hers palm downward on the muddy sand. “I may need your strength as well.” And then she began sing quietly, as though only to me and the beach, when cries went up within the battle. The forest, look at the forest, they seemed to say. And the trees seemed to have…been awakened. The trunks writher, branches swung and the ground between the tree line and the town began to buckle upward until it ruptured. Thousands of thorns, tangling vines and crushing roots spewed into the fray. The creatures were pierced, torn apart, crushed or entangled and hacked to death by the tools of the townspeople. Not one was left alive. Fand then let out a strangled cry and went limp in my arms. 

There was no celebration that night. I found Connall, drenched in black blood and brandishing a sickle, but he ran to embrace me, crying He’s here, he’s alive over and over again. Unfortunately, our mother was not so lucky, but our family was of a very small number in having lost so few. But those that remained very soon began the wearisome task of rebuilding. They treated the monks as heroes; they had given their lives to their goddess to give her new strength. They treated me as one doubly so, but I could not suffer that. I did, though, ask a temple be built near where the Four had fallen. 
Fand lay where she fell for days; If I tried to move her, she seemed rooted to the spot. But on the fourth she was nowhere to be found until I ventured back into the forest and found her in her wooded glen, sitting with her toes in the pool. “I hoped you would find me again.” 
“Fand…thank you.”
“Amairgen, I should be showing you thanks…I’m alone, so so alone. The hundreds of years of silence I can no longer bear.” She slowly swirled the water with her long, delicate fingers. “When I fell, I spoke to my father. He said I could not stay here as a goddess because my job here was done; I had helped to save your people. But I couldn’t stand returning to him and be parted with this place. So I was allowed to return, but only as a mortal. But for these short years I know I won’t be alone.” She smiled, the same smile as when she first told me her name. I sat down next to her and entwined her fingers with my own.
“No Fand, I’ll always hear you.” And we slowly made our back through her forest to my town.

Submitted: November 09, 2010

© Copyright 2021 S Antonio Gomez. All rights reserved.

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