22 Jan Fantastic Fridays: Three Short Tales of Red
I am delighted to be sharing again on Fantastic Friday! Each Friday in 2016, I will post an excerpt from my stories or from stories by my favourite fantasy authors.
I hope you enjoy these words … and that they sweep you away from the mundane into a world of fairies, gods, fates, and in this case, wise wolves.
We’d been watching the child for a long time. She had a tendency to wander into the woods, like an innocent babe that did not understand the darkness that awaited her. The world was not a simple place. Much as she might wish it so.
Though the woods, by far, are a kinder place than the human world. When I speak of danger lurking amongst the trees, I do not speak of animals, unless they have turned rabid. No. Any threat in the dark spaces of the woods comes in the form of man.
As with most things, humans have the truth backwards. The moment they donned clothing, they separated from us. The day they built towns, humans believed they were superior. And the year they put walls around their towns, they decided we were the source of all darkness.
Humans could build all the stone structures in the world. They could never deny that they spawned from beast. They were born of the woods. The more fervently they denied that they belonged to the realm of blood, bone, and fur, the more their deviant ones claimed leadership that led them further astray.
They courted death with their tribal disagreements, yet somehow, they refused to see they held fast to the ways of the pack. They dressed up their battles in vibrant colours and elegant music, but war was war. Whether it was fought with metal sticks or claws and fangs. They were as feral as the day they left the forest.
The humans had forgotten, but we did not. We knew their heritage. Besides, the wildness was not an element to be feared. No. We all bear the mark of the wild. A howl that frees the heart and sings to the soul of the earth. Why would they deny such a power? Such a beautiful, rhythmic way of living? I could not understand.
And the more they denied the truth, the stronger the call to the shadows.
They lit their streets with electric bulbs, chasing away shadows as though they did not belong. As though humans could decide that they were above all other creatures. But just as surely as the sun belongs to the day and the moon belongs to the night, we carry both. We must acknowledge both.
Otherwise, the creatures of the dark corners get restless and demand their due. Like any being told he does not exist. The act of denial is infuriating. They lash out. Or growl in a corner, feeding on anger and resentment, until the right moment appears for revenge. No one likes being trapped in a box and denied that she exists. Least of all the shadows.
And that is when the trouble began.
As I said earlier, we had been watching the child for many a year. She would enter the woods on the hard days. When the humans in her world had been particularly cruel. I could feel the pain in her heart. The confusion in her mind. And so she sought solace with the old ones. The tall ones. The ones who always listened.
For no one had the patience of the trees. Especially cedars. They had more tolerance than any other creature of the earth. They had witnessed more acts of love, hate, betrayal, and outrage than any other being. And still they stand, quiet and proud. Believing in their gentle ways. Never changing.
When the Red One came dancing into the woods, swinging on their trunks, each cedar longed for her touch. For as much darkness as this girl of sixteen years had witnessed, she was one of the purest heart.
As her foot crossed into the sacred woods, all the trees whispered a prayer of protection. They shielded her with love. She must have felt their attentiveness, because she shed the caution and care that burdened her soul when she walked among them. And became, once again, her true self. Guileless, kind, and filled with joy.
Each touch of her hand sent shivers up the spines of the cedars. Their bark would tremble as her surge of adoration touched their souls. They had not felt such reverence since the days they were worshipped as gods. Long ago, when humans still honoured the allegiance they had sworn to the old ones in the ancient gardens.
But those days were long gone. As each year passed, the humans forgot a little more. And a little more. Until they forgot altogether and swung their axes with abandon. Sending ancient elders to the ground without even a whisper of thanks. Tearing apart generations of families and casting aside millennia of mutual care.
So when the girl with the red locks came into the woods, the cedars held their breath. Her essence reverberated with the veneration of days gone by. The trees were taken off guard. Who was this child that felt like the people of the garden? The ones who acted like brethren to the creatures of fur, feather, and bark?
The cedars began to whisper among themselves. Was she a sign? Would this girl being back the hope of yesteryear? Or was she simply a lost child seeking the comfort of a temporary hideaway, oblivious to the difference she made to the ancient hearts of trees?
I peered around the curve of one of the oldest cedars. Hugging my body close to the bark as I had been taught. I came from a long line of hunters, well-schooled in the art of camouflage. I watched the girl silently. Waiting for the right moment to approach.
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