I was walking alone in the forest, in the wake of the pack of hunting dogs I had let loose to roam ahead of me, when first I saw the fairies dancing.
I had long lost the sound of the dog’s baying, and I followed then only their scent upon the twisted grass. As I walked, I saw in the touch of the wind upon the green leaves a shimmering radiance, moving in the forest’s dance with the air. For a moment I thought it mere shadow and light, but then like a cloud becoming a shape or a dream fading to waking my sight cleared and I saw them.
Tiny female figures, lithe and graceful in the may-dance of happy women at springtime harvest; voices laughing and singing in the innocence of the forest sunlight moving through the leaves. The sight enchanted me and I stood motionless, filled with fear and wonder; hoping they would never see me, and remain there dancing until I had grown old and died watching. But such was not to be the case.
In but an instant they knew of my presence. I do not know how I alerted them, but suddenly a lady in white commanded their silence in a gesture and spun to meet me with her eyes. I was transfixed by her sight as a deer is by a hunter’s arrow. Then she laughed a pearly bell laugh full of a tiny mirth unlocked from a tiny body that carried an awful power. I do not know all that her look conveyed, but I saw in her eyes glee, and a subtle malice laced with spite. –This transgression will be punished, mortal– She told me with a look –Come… and see what wonders await you.–
In an instant they were gone, dancing away in little trilling blurs of music, and despite the echoes of doom that my prudent self-preserving conscience commanded in my heart, I followed; knowing and fearing that only fools follow where fairies go – for they do not love the likes of man, and take offense at our intrusions into their affairs. Nevertheless, my newfound wonder compelled me with all the indiscriminate authority of love to move, to see, to know. I knew not what I would do should I find where they were going, but I followed nonetheless, without thought for consequence nor hope of reward.
Over hills and under fallen trees I scrambled, through dark dells of twisted briars and shadows locked in darkness, where the damp soil stained my knees and elbows and the flickering light of my dancing quarry was a daybreak at the distant end of a tunnel. Past trickling streams of dark water and falls of sparkling crystal my elusive prey led me, to at last a deep pool where sunlight played on the surface of a depthless-blue darkness.
There I stood, eyes wide in wonder at the sight laid out before me; the pool moved with the fluid reflective candescence of sunlight and forest canopy, shadows dancing together as I had seen the fairies do not so long before. Then, from that mirrored darkness, the goddess surfaced. Tall and pale she was, and her beauty was as the silver of moonlight across the face of the star specked sky: flawless, innocent, poignant, and perfect. To see her, my heart shriveled and shrunk within my breast as all love was leeched from me, given completely to her. My heartbeat and hope became as the rattle of dry seeds within a gourd when the empty husk is shaken.
She turned towards me amidst the placid waters, and I looked quickly away in modesty, but it was by then far too late. I knew that I had trespassed upon such a sanctity as to undo the mortal soul. For a moment she registered only my presence, a flicker of awareness that turned slowly to shock, and then to anger: cold-faced and furious. The look in her eyes struck me as soft toned moon beams do that reach straight in through your eyes and, in a moment of chill ecstasy, clutch at your heart. In that moment I was dead. I fled screaming into the forest, her fury building to heat and breathing like a hound upon my heels.
Through the briars I crashed, ducking under fallen logs and tripping, only to rise again with knees bleeding and run. I lost myself in my flight. Mindless, I scrambled on hands and feet up a mossy slope and then, only moments later, bound on four legs springing across a meadow’s open expanse. I was changed, my humanity slain by her anger; I was a creature to be hunted, and that was all that remained.
The hounds were real then, I could hear their voices baying as they caught a scent upon the grass, my scent, the scent of their prey. I fled them, my heart racing at the sense of their breath upon my heels.
At the forest’s edge I paused and turned, nostrils flared in fear to look wide-eyed back at the long-nosed hunters that followed me. But I did not see them, I saw only her: only her eyes, only her anger. I am sorry, my queen, my love, I am so sorry. I give myself to the hunt. Take this heart, and be appeased.
In the final moment I saw them, there on the dog’s backs they rode laughing, and the lady in white smiled as the hound’s teeth found me.