Henry was heading to his lean-to from the cottage, traveling along the stream that ran like an echo of the road. He was laden with empty packs he must fill with his winter’s meat, when he first caught sight of the faerie-kin.
She wore nothing but her skin, her young body strong and darkened by the sun in a way he had seen sailors, or those who lived in places far closer to the center of the world.
Or else people from mythical places he had heard of, around the bawdy houses and theatres of Southbank, where people were said to be so dark they seemed made of earth, or even night.
He’d seen women and men of her shadings, but none were from here, where the sun shone as though through water, dimly…
She moved as one who was meant to be in wilder places than this little bit of common woods, scarcely two days’ walking in any direction, and set aside for freedmen to hunt within.
She seemed to have the born wariness of a wild beast, now, listening, scenting at the air, and blending into shadows so that, if Henry had not known these woodlands even better than he knew the walls of his own cottage, he would not have seen her at all.
He knew he should move along -he had need still of meat, groundnuts, and furs for the coming cold. And nymphs and their ilk were known not to suffer well the intrusions of mortals, no matter their reasons.
If that be what she was.
It was said, though, that such creatures were enchanted, that once looked upon, there was no looking away, no returning to the life that had been. Henry had never believed it, not truly.
Now, though, as the small creature stopped to sit quietly upon the bank, her gaze lighting everywhere, then fliting away again, he was not nearly so certain, for he could not leave off staring at her, even at the risk that she would see him.
She half-turned, and Henry forgot even to breathe, lest she see him – yet the fading sunlight danced with eyes that were as blue – nay, bluer! – than the sapphires he’d seem on the bedecked ladies the morts and their men favored for the purse -cutting, and her hair a shining flow dark as night. Of a sudden, he wanted to see those eyes smile and laugh, to touch that hair, which looked softer than even the finest of ladies could boast. He wanted to know all there was to know of this lovely, rare creature.
It seemed that she must have seen him, must know he watched, but she gave no sign of it. The wide bright eyes – eyes that seemed to belong to a child perhaps three years less aged than he – kept moving, in the way of wild animals who must look, and she was still scenting the air.
But Henry knew how to become part of the woodlands. He had used the musk of a rutting fallow deer to mask his own scent, and he knew how to be still and silent, so that even his breath could not be seen. Even though she was only off twenty paces or so, she did not show any knowing that he was there.
She stayed as she was a moment more, before fixing her gaze on the water in a way that bespoke a wildcat far more than a faerie. She leapt lightly from her place to crouch upon a sunwarmed rock, and went still – still in a way that Henry knew he could not, even with a lifetime to practice it, the way schoolboys studied sums and letters. His pride in his own stillness faded – she was as the trees, or the rock beneath her…
After the sinking sun had moved nearly to the edge of the bank, she brought her hands up to her head, where a long strand of ebon hair had fallen into her face. She pulled it back, and with a twisting motion, she secured it all in a knot at the nape of her neck.
And Henry bit his lip hard to keep from gasping at the sight of her delicately pointed ear…an ear that said, beyond all doubting, now, that she was not as he was, that she was not a girl as he was a boy…not human.
It terrified him, and excited him, to have this sudden proof that such things did exist, and he wondered what manner of fey creature this was. Or was she a witchling, else demon-spawned?
He could not think so, watching her watch the water, leaning carefully forward so that she could see, but not so far that she cast any shadow below. No, she did not have the feel of wrongness about her. Otherness, for certain, and he would not deny that. Yet, still- she belonged to wild places, was a part of them. Henry could feel that.
But would Satan announce the guise he used to steal souls?
He wanted to go now, to flee, to pretend that he had seen no such creature, that he was just as he had been when he set out this morning.
But he knew that he would not leave while he could see her. He could not; he was ensorceled by her…no, there was no leaving her. He knew he would follow her, if he could, and learn all he could of her.
The girlchild-creature began to – to become something else, something that came in bits and pieces, stuttering forward only to retreat again, and then the other way, until, at last –
An animal that looked very like a young lynx kit crouched, slowly sinking belly to rock, so slowly lifting a paw, holding, motionless, as the sun dropped lower, drawing shadows over the water…
The paw shot out, the body uncoiled, and, before Henry was fully aware of her motion, she had flipped a leaping fish up out of the water, bitten through its backbone, and tossed it behind her on the bank, settling at once back to wait, as though she had not moved…
But the fish was there behind her on the rock, twisting in its death dance.
- ROW80 Goals Update, 1/9/13 (shanjeniah.com)
- Genesis 2013 – #ROW80 Round 1 Goals Update, 1/9/13 (shanjeniah.com)