Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Keeper of the Forest: Part I

Will sat at the bar, staring at the empty mug.

"Refill?" He looked up at the bartender smiling at him, probably hoping her low cut top and perky attitude would earn her a couple extra dollars. It would probably work, too, he thought as he stared directly at her chest, not bothering to be discreet.

"No thanks. I'm already drunk." Why did he come here? To slip into the world where nothing matters. Well, it worked--too well. Nothing matters--the good along with the bad. Why did he ever want to be drunk, to feel emptied of everything?

He swore abruptly. The bartender looked up at him surprised. "I wish I'd never come!"

"Are you certain?" a voice asked behind him. First, Will noticed the bartender looked both jealous and awed as she gazed at the speaker just behind him. Then he swiveled around and he forgot about the bartender. A woman stood looking at him. She had the friendliest smile, the greenest eyes, the brightest golden hair he'd ever seen. Her ears were slightly pointed at the tips, and her short dress was earthy brown, woven into green, so that Will thought she must have sprung from the ground instead of being born.

"Are you sure that's what you wish?" she asked again.

"Wish what?"

"Do you really want it to be like you never came here? It may be painful."

Will was very confused, but he nodded. "Yes. Yes, I wish I hadn't come. I wish I weren't drunk, I wish, especially now, seeing you. I don't see things properly when drunk. Its hard to concentrate, focus my eyes--" he stopped short as she reached out a hand and touched his mouth.

Immediately Will fell on his knees and vomited all over the floor. And once everything from his stomach had come out, he felt something moving inside of him, all through his veins. His heart sped up, his legs felt powerless, and he suddenly had a terrible urge to pee. He tried to stand, but couldn't. He heard the strange woman talking.

"Crissy, my good bartender, fetch Will a large pitcher of water please. Quickly. And here is a tip for your troubles."

Strong arms pulled him to his feet and half carried him to the back of the bar, to the men's restroom. Crissy came running up with the pitcher and handed it to the woman.

"Thank you, Crissy." With only one arm, the woman leaned Will up against the wall, and held the pitcher up to Will's mouth with the other. "Will, drink this."

He gulped the water down, his mouth suddenly feeling incredibly dry.

"You'd better relieve yourself now." He stumbled into the restroom and leaned against the urinal for what seemed like an hour. When he was finally done, his drunkenness was gone and his head was clear again. The pain was there, what he had gone through so much trouble to forget, but he was more curious about this mysterious woman outside the door. He took a look in the mirror, didn't like what he saw (untucked shirt, brown unwashed hair, unshaved face), so ignored it and walked out the door. The woman was there laughing at him.

"Come on then, that took long enough! I have something to show you!" She smiled and held out her hand.

Will hesitated. "Wait, first, what's your name? Who are you? It's not fair of you to know mine--Wait, how do you know my name?--Should I know who you are? Do I know you?" And Will looked carefully at her, thought he recognized her face, but then realized that if he knew anyone with a face like that, he would never have forgotten it.

"So many questions! I am Silvana; I am Fae; many things of this world aren't fair; your name is written all over your eyes; before now you didn't know me; but we've met now, so you know me!" She laughed and extended her hand to him again. "Come on! We haven't got all night!"

Will slowly took her hand. She grasped it tightly then suddenly turned and ran. Will felt his arm nearly dislocate, and began running too, to keep up. They ran out of the bar and down the street and then sped up. The city went by them in a blur and soon downtown turned into suburbia, and they ran even faster, and suburbia into countryside, and Will wondered if their feet were even touching the ground. Then they left the roads, and Will reckoned that they had gone into the national forest, and became afraid that they'd smash into a tree at a hundred miles per hour. But Silvana just laughed and soon their feet really weren't touching the ground, and they were jumping from tree to tree. Then they were going uphill, and then as suddenly as it started, it was over. They stood in the lower branches of an old oak tree at the top of a hill. Silvana turned to Will and laughed. Will was out of breath and just stared at her hoping that his lungs wouldn't explode.

"Aw, is the poor human not used to running?" Silvana mocked. She put her hand on his chest. "You need to take better care of yourself! Cars are crutches, you cripple!" She laughed, but at her touch, his breathing subsided, and he felt refreshed.

"Come!" she said, "Let's see my kingdom." And she began swiftly to climb to the top of the tree. Will watched her go, and tried to remember back to when he was ten, more than a decade ago, when climbing trees was an everyday occurrence.

"Come on, Will, are you going to let a girl best you?" taunted Silvana from the top branches. Will didn't think this was exactly fair, as he began to strongly suspect that she wasn't actually human. Nonetheless, he clumsily lumbered to the top. He found that the main trunk stood taller than the branches jutting out from it, as if the branches had bowed down just so that someone could stand on at the top and look all around. Indeed, the branch that Silvana was sitting on was shaped like a perfect seat, and Will wondered if it was natural, or if someone had carved it. Silvana motioned for Will to come sit next to her. Will looked at the seat, and thought that it was only big enough for Silvana, but when he reached her, he realized he'd been wrong, and there was plenty of room beside her.

"Look, Will! I have taken good care of her so far." Silvana swept her arm in a great circle, and he looked all around. The moon was full, and cast silver on all the trees. Fireflies blinked here and there. The wind blew softly so that the trees slowly danced in place.

"Will look! Jupiter salutes my return home." She pointed to the sky and Will looked up and saw a brilliant shooting star dart across the zenith of the sky.

"That was the brightest shooting star I've ever seen."

Silvana giggled and and looked at Will. "That's because you were near me! But now I must salute Jupiter in return." She closed her eyes, and sang a short line in a language Will did not understand. It was beautiful, and Will felt that she was calling something to her. A moment later, a squirrel climbed up to Silvana and dropped a nut into her hand. Then two butterflies flew and landed on Silvana's arm. She whispered to them, and blew on them, and they took the nut between them and flew upwards, until Will could not see them anymore.

"Who is Jupiter?" Will asked. "A god?"

"Many have called him that. I am not so sure it is a good name for him. He does not have power the way you might think the gods have power."

Will shifted. "I didn't think the Roman gods existed."

Silvana smiled at Will. "You are wise not to believe in them. It goes better for those who do not sacrifice to what they perceive as gods."

"So, if Jupiter isn't a god, then what is he?"

Silvana looked thoughtful. "The stars, the planets, the moon and the sun," she began, then suddenly slipped off the branch and landed softly on the branch below.

"The meteorites, the northern lights, the highest clouds, the comets, the furthest galaxies," she continued as Will followed after her as well as he could. He climbed straight down the trunk, but Silvana flitted from one branch to another, spiraling around Will as they both moved downward.

"They are all part of a dance. Their movements are more precise than a ballet. Each step is carefully measured before taken, and any misstep spells disaster." They both landed on the ground. Silvana took Will's hands and looked up through the leaves to the stars.

"Jupiter is the great choreographer of the skies," she finished

"And what are you, then?" Will asked, "Are you the choreographer of the forests?"

Silvana laughed at him. "No! Of course not. I am the keeper only of one forest. So many forests would be too great a burden for one being." Her face became more serious with these words. Will looked at her, and saw her as a queen, proud of her forest, and yet not haughty, concerned for all her subjects, but rejoicing over each of them. But soon the vision passed.

Silvana looked over Will's shoulder and her eyes lit up. Will turned, but didn't see anything.

"What is it?" he asked.

Silvana smiled. "Can't you see?"

Will shook his head. Then slowly Silvana began to sing:

"Before the stars rise to the sky
They linger near our Home,
The heavens' gift to mortal man,
Among the gods to roam.

We play among the flickering lights
And watch their perfect dance,
They let us catch their blaze to see
The starlight in our hands"

Will looked again and saw them. "Fireflies!" he said, and smiled. The forest was full of them. One flew in front of Will, and he reached out his hand to grab it, but it flew away. He laughed, and Silvana laughed with him. Then Silvana and Will ran around like children chasing the glowing bugs. Finally Will stopped and rested, and Silvana came to him, and again sang a short phrase, and all of the fireflies of the forest came to Silvana and landed on her. Then all at once they dispersed, and the night grew darker.

"Are you tired, Will?" Silvana took his hand and led him to the other side of the large oak in the center. Between two large roots of the tree was a hollow covered in moss that looked quite comfortable. On seeing this Will suddenly felt tired, and remembered it had already been late when they had left the bar.

"Yes," he replied, "But I don't want to miss anything." He lay down in the hollow, despite his words.

"Don't worry. I'll be right here with you, and we have all of tomorrow before us." Will tried to remember what day it was and if he had work in the morning. Sleep started to take him before he could think clearly. The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was Silvana climbing the tree again.

During the night, Will was disturbed with dark dreams. It seemed that on the horizon was a great darkness, and it came closer and closer to him, but he could do nothing. Behind him there appeared a great white light to fight off the darkness. The darkness and light battled each other, and Will was helpless and could only watch. He awoke with a cry, and he thought he saw the light of his dream above him. He rubbed his eyes to see it more clearly. When he looked again, the light was gone, but Silvana dropped from the lowest branches of the tree and whispered strange words to him, and kissed him on the forehead. He fell back asleep, but did not dream again.

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