The End of an Oak and the Birth of Paris

This is a giant oak from Hatfield, in the UK. It is huge and moving in its grandeur. I thought I would show it to you, as the following start to a story has such a large and lovely oak in the background as well.

The Birth of Paris

     She has been waiting such a long time, since her body grew too old to function, too old to stay in this place of air, earth, and water, woven into life. Or has it been a short time? She reminds herself that the body and its memories are not who she is; they are only a function of biology, of molecules responding to the laws of the universe. Her ‘being-ness’ though, that is the Great Awareness that she should have melted into by now. Still she remains. She waits. Nahasdzaan Shima, named for Mother Earth, waits and wonders in a place between.

     Long before Shima lost her corporal image of herself, she heard a whisper. It came in tendrils of passing dreams and in scents on the breeze. Something was moving in the ground; something was coming forward from a place of stillness, a place of long rest. Something had allowed itself to be recognized at last, to awaken, and to function in the world of humankind: something very old, and very interesting. The aspect of Shima that still held this memory, also held the long slow smile of knowing it.

     Thirty-five years before the now (my how time flies), two very determined people were preparing to have a child. It was not their cognitive intention to co-mingle their respective genetic materials, but since the universe supplies limitless causes throughout time (flying or not), without any preamble or discussion, it was probably unavoidable. 

     William Buller (whose good-name had French roots, meaning ‘Scribe’), was academically inclined, but not a scribe at all. He was a young Department Head at Cambridge, with deep interests in Celtic Studies, in a century when this arcane subject was barely surviving, due to the fact that human survival had become a far more insistent topic than it ever had been. In public he was very dry, a little vain, and not inclined to laugh. His Cambridge persona was something he had inherited, along with a hefty bank account and a very traditional, but often empty, stately home situated somewhere northeast of London, perhaps near Kettering? He seldom mentioned it. 

     Will had met the woman named Bijou Dubois, while on Easter Holiday in London, where he let down his hair, so to speak. Her name was apparently also from French roots, by way of Haiti. Will had cultivated a group of friends from his college days who also had inherited uncomfortably large amounts of credits (they seldom mentioned it), but far fewer societal restrictions. Among them he could comfortably explore what he thought of as his ‘true-self’; something with lots of unexamined, and momentarily undisguised, appetites. In many ways Will was a very simple man.

     Bijou was a bright young woman who had seen more of life than she had strictly wanted to, before leaving home. Now she wanted to see the world and this time on her own terms. Bijou was an exchange student from Haiti, studying in London. One of Will’s friends had her as a student in his classes there, and hoped to have her elsewhere as well. He had invited her along to these parties with that outcome in mind. Instead, Bijou and Will did one of those things that people sometimes do, regardless of the differences in their ages, cultures, economic situations, or sexual inclinations; they fell in love. Will’s friend was momentarily perturbed, but he was nothing if not a man of the age, and gracefully gave up the suite he had taken in anticipation, just down the road, for his friend and company.

    This is where terms such as ‘whirl wind romance’ are coined and earn their authenticity: in the scattered clothing, the foolish comments, and the primal longings of the heart. They had only 10 days before classes resumed, so Will, after having used his friends’ suite well, took Bijou back to his ancestral home. He boldly knocked up, frightened, and then reassured the elderly staff, and preceded to show Bijou the life that she was pretty sure she had been born to. 

       On the last day, a day of unusual warmth and sunshine in the burgeoning spring, they chose to have a picnic lunch, out the back, across a wide lawn, over the hillock, and some yards beyond the folly. There grew a ponderous oak of unknown age. Beneath its shade they took their repast and made their child. 

     Before anyone assumes that our dark, small, delicately featured, Bijou had any specific intentions when she forgot to bring her birth control on holiday, remember the words ‘whirl-wind’ and also remember the most primitive parts of the human brain, and how for some indefinable reason, no matter how difficult life becomes, no matter that you end up raising children with the Neanderthal in the next valley over (and loving it), or you bring home the cheese monger from another continent who will never learn to speak your native tongue (except in the most intimate of situations, when you are sure you have just resolved all of the worlds philosophical conundrums, but failed to care), remember that humanity would rather fall in love and reproduce than remember any other thing on earth. Cut her a break.

     The point of this, however, is not love, however it may seem so. The point of this is the oak, or rather, the oak and its complimentary fungus, growing slowly and resolutely in the grass beneath. Sweet William and his darling Bijou forgot about the blanket that the cook had packed for them, and the butler had pointed out before handing off the picnic basket. They talked and laughed and drank wine. They nibbled sandwiches and each other until the need for or even the location of the blanket was superfluous. They scrambled and rolled and… Let us just say that the molecules that it took to conceive a child were similar in size to those molecules of bits of the tree and its loving fungus. It might be good to consider the oak as a vast storehouse of learning and wisdom, and its mycorrhizal fungi as something like the Internet. Or perhaps not.

     There now, enough said. In the months ahead, the discovery of a certain child in a womb was considered a sweet thing, and set various other things in motion. A wedding was had, a small cottage in Cambridge was purchased, a man, 21 years older than his wife, knew himself to be smitten and didn’t mind, a young woman of only 20 years felt blessed and contented and at ease with the world. A child was born whole and healthy, and named for the most romantic thing her mother could think of, and everyone was happy. It is one of life’s most wonderful realities; no matter how lovely or poorly things seem to turn out, they are bound to change.

     Returning to the now, where the story began: the oak is long dead; its trunk was cored by some eager graduate students some 5 years after the birth of Paris, they had discovered it as one of the last English oaks surviving, and chose coring as a direct route to determining its age, Will and Bijou had split only two years after the birth of Paris, when Bijou was invited on a longish holiday to the continent, by a ‘friend’ of Will’s, that she never remembered to come home from, and Paris has long since learned to take care of herself very well and has reasoned that she has nothing in common with her parents, although she too is now smitten, perhaps just as they were, with a young doctor named Alan.

Also, just as an aside, Nahasdzaan Shima, with whom this story began, will soon have some of her questions answered. Due to the fact, that every action has a reaction, and that limitless causes have preceded every single bit of happenings in the known universe, of which this is only an excruciatingly small detail, a tiny window into existence; everything is still as it should be. Interesting.

Sacred Journey of the Tree

Sacred Journey of the Tree

“These Things are One. They are Unity. They are Ourselves.”

These are the words of Ramon Medina Silva: The Mara’akame of the Huichol people of Mexico. He describes seeing the world reflected in ourselves. Seeing ourselves in all things; the collective dream.

The landscapes of dream are often where my clearest images erupt; transforming, healing, and integrating what has lain on the surface of my conscious mind, too thinly scraped to call attention. This realm is a place of understanding that is so very difficult to form into words. Sometimes I wonder if the Earth may be dreaming us in her attempt to understand. May she understand.

In Joan Halifax’s book ‘The Fruitful Darkness’, she shares her own understanding of the Huichol people:

“The myth of the journey to Wirikuta is at once a sacred journey and a collective dream. The history recounts how the Ancient Ones, the gods of the Huichols, fell ill through forgetting, yet, returning to the traditional ways, were healed. The myth is also a collective dream reminding the people of the value of the continuity of traditions, particularly as they apply to place, to sacred and real locales.”

So far removed am I from my traditions in the waking world, that when they call my name in the dairy isle of the market, I hear only the blare of music and read those mythic labels with dulled uncomprehending eyes.

The wonder and the mystery are so easily lost.

Carroll Cloar 1913-1993

So for the moment I will try to share that wonder, beneath the tree. I may be stricken, I may be wounded, but I still do dream. Small impoverished dreams perhaps, but even the smallest thing has its place in the grandeur.

Tree-friend

Part Six: What May Enter Here

Culley sat waiting for his grandmother’s attention, cross-legged before the fire in her private rooms. He did not mind. Time between both worlds moved for Culley in a way that neither world seemed to notice. He would have been hard pressed to put it into words, had anyone asked. No one did. 

     He had noticed a shift in his mother after the thing that had happened to her. It was as if she were more still, rather than different. Her tone and her manor had not changed much, but the time between her words seemed to rest within a plane of its own. She now seemed, to Culley, to be nearer kin to the trees than to their surrounding human neighbors. He did not find this to be a bad thing, having been friends with the trees for a very long time, but any change in ones own mother seems to be a cause for deeper attention if only to reassess that all is still well.

     Todd had become, if anything, a more vigilant and now insistent caretaker since that happening. He was soft spoken and humorous as always, but his word brooked no gainsaying when it came to the issues of safety. This had forced Todd to travel more openly in the world of man, since he would not leave Culley’s Mama to travel alone. At first Culley had been stunned to see such an unflinchingly courageous fellow change color and twitch when riding in the auto to the market, but Todd quickly adapted and even attempted to operate the hulking ancient Citroën his mother had kept from her fathers estate, long before Culley was even born. Considering the normal self-adjustment that takes place when a Citroën is ignited: a rising and shifting due to the hydro-pneumatic forces, which gives the impression of sentience, this was an act of true bravery. 

     Todd was only allowed to cruise the small road that bordered the fence of their property in the end. Culley’s Mama had to explain licensing requirements, and identification issues, to Todd in great detail, again and again, and how they prevented him from traveling farther afield. Todd seemed to think that there must be some sort of loophole that would allow an unremarkable fey fellow to trundle down the roads of man-kind. She eventually came close to losing her temper.

     “You are not The Doctor waving psychic paper!”

     “Sorry, what Ella? Not Who?”

     Culley knew exactly what she meant and smiled ear to ear to hear Todd step unerringly into the ‘who’ joke. Season’s 1 and 2 of ‘Doctor Who’ were the only DVD’s that his mother had ever owned. The tiny flat screen TV, and the DVD player, along with the two best seasons, were a gift from a college friend from long ago; before she had met Culley’s father. The entire device lived beneath a colorful Costa Rican tapestry and Todd had thought it was an art installation; so much of the house was scattered with such things. Culley took him by the hand, sat him down, pulled the cover off with a magicians flair, and then pluged the device into an electrical socket. Todd was delighted.

     “You have never seen a movie?”

     “I had heard rumors, but who would believe such a thing existed.” Todd leaned into the picture so as to catch every word, while Culley watched him with a smile. Ella was talking softly to the groceries in the kitchen. Since she always had done this, neither of them paid much attention.

     “Most of the neighbors have something like this. I think it is too noisy though.” Culley informed him.

     Todd cast him a worried glance. “Where does this man live? Is such magic common place, if so many have seen these things?”

     “Only the magic of the machine. This is merely a Bard’s tale, captured by the machine. Such magic is long gone from man’s world, if it ever were here at all.”

     “But the machine itself is magic, so why not the magic it portrays?”

     Culley paused, feeling an unusual sense of frustration. “Todd?” He tried at last. “When you encounter a sense a magic in yourself, can you say where it grew from?”

     “No, not truly. I can remember the things that led to my knowing, but not the true path itself.” Todd was intensely curious about this and had pushed the system’s ‘off’ button on the block that Culley had shown him would control the device. “In other words, it seems unexplainable: true now, but hidden before,” he added.

     Culley nodded, still unsure of what he could explain. “When a human understands something in mans ‘science’ or ‘magic’, and sees how it works, he might feel the same way as you; shifting from not-knowing to knowing. However, he captures each part of the process, so that he can hand it to another human, sharing it with them as a practice of opening. He understands the physical properties of this world so well that he can teach their use, by repeating the process in tiny events, each entirely under his control.

     “So, there is no mystery?”

     “There is always a mystery. In Fey the mystery is held differently. Most men fail to hear it, or smell it, because the other ways they ‘know’ are not only very loud, but considered proper. To use the methods normal to Fey is considered either weak or perhaps mad.”

     Todd seemed to consider this deeply, silence resting with him for some moments, then he slide the remote over to Culley with a sheepish smile. “I believe I will help your mother prepare the dinner.”

      That had been last night. Culley still felt some sense of guilt. He had destroyed Todd’s wonder with simple unadorned facts. Even now he was not completely sure that he understood the whole of it. After all, his own knowledge of science came only from books, not experience. Behind him, he heard his grandmother rustle her papers and cork her inkwell. She now cleared her throat; a long standing sign between them that he would be given attention now. Culley smiled to the fire and stood, turning to face his Queen and kin.

     “Good evening Grandmother, are you well?”

     “Yes, child. As well as might be at my age.” She winked at him and he smiled back, meeting her eyes for a moment. “What is it you wish to speak to me about?”

     “I wonder if I might stay here in your home for some time to come?”

     She crinkled her brow and spread her hands in inquiry, but held her peace.

     “I have work to do of a nature that must be constantly attended to.” Culley looked down to gather his thoughts. “I believe it will benefit from the air of Fey.”

     His grandmother nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “I will inform the household. Will your mother be pleased with your choice?”

     Culley barely moved a shoulder in answer. “I will speak with her soon. She has always been my support.” Then he paused in a way that held his very heart in check for a moment before going on. “May you and I speak with ease in this room?”

     She watched him with the same still care. “Yes.” she answered softly, none the less, and then turned to close the door. She indicated the chairs by the fire and lifted a cordial in its cut crystal decanter from the table set between, filling one glass, then after a pause, filling the other by half as well.

     Culley smiled and tilted his head as he watched her. She returned the gesture as she handed him the full glass and seated herself to listen, taking a small sip. Culley also took a sip and set the glass aside as he curled his legs up onto the chair beneath him.

     “Who are they Grandmother? I need to know.”

She looked seriously at him for a few moments, with a thoughtful frown. “I suppose you are planning to tell the trees?”

Culley lifted a shoulder a fraction, in answer, as his grandfather was wont to do now and then.

Much later, as the queen still sat, eyes resting on the fire, but not seeing its flicker, a rap on the door brought her back into the room.

     “Enter!” she called a bit shortly, feeling startled and not liking it.

     “Only me, my dear.” Her consort stood leaned with one arm against the carved wooden frame, his stick thrust under the other arm, un-needed. He tilted his head and looked so much the rascal, that it forced a laugh from her. “Dinner?” he asked, the epitome of casual disinterest.

     “Have I kept you waiting?” Her eyes twinkled.

     “Only this last hour. Your cook is displeased, I am merely curious.”

     “Come in and shut the door. I have been talking with Culley.”

     “You are concerned?” He asked this with a sudden serious turn of attitude.

     “Not so much concerned as thoughtful, but yes, there may be cause for concern eventually. He is so much like his father.” Dain’s own father walked to the other chair and sat down facing her.

     “What has he discussed with you?” He was brisk and serious.

     “He wants to know who our enemy is and why.”

     “You have told him?”
     “What I have told is true.” She looked down, the glass still in her hand catching firelight. Her face folded in anxiety as she spoke.

     “What you must tell is all. He will suffer if he does not fully understand.”

     “What do any of us understand?”

     “Do not equivocate, my darling. We made a mistake in not fully warning Dain, in waiting. You must be blunt and clear.”

      “You are right,” sorrow and worry flooded her eyes. “I will speak with him when he returns.”

     Her heart’s love stood and bent to kiss her lips tenderly, before guiding her to dinner.

What May Enter Here

Royal Geographical Society’s Brunei Rainforest expedition to Borneo
Boyd and Evans

The mysteries of the forests of our world are endless. We are simultaneously drawn and repelled, I assume by the instinctual architecture of our brains; the portion that tells us to survive. One teacher addressed it as the immediate judgements that we make, before thought intervenes. We ask ourselves, at lightening speed: can I eat it, will it eat me, can I mate with it. These are the brains imperatives to keep the body going.

Our call to forest is in the verdant opportunity. It is wet, full of the possibility of food, and provides shelter. It is also dark and full of things looking for their own meal. Take your choice. No wonder it is also full of magic, how could it not be?

Once, I had the good fortune to stay at an ancient farm and hall in Derbyshire (UK): Highlow Hall, built in the 16th century on land owned by the Eyre family from about 1340-1840, just south west of the village of Hathersage. It is a notably ‘White Lady’ haunted site.

Though I was blissfuly unaware, in the three times I stayed there, of any sense of haunting, two strange occurrences remain with me. One of them was just down the road in the trees surrounding Dunge Brook. The other I will save for another time.

It was not a particular happening, but a strong experience none the less. I am very fond of trees (if you have not guessed), and had agreed to a near moonless walk in the November air with my sweetheart. We took our leave of everyone, happily, and slipped in silence down the road, past pastures of sheep and into the trees. As we walked, holding hands and barely speaking, I was filled with an uncharacteristic dread. I felt that someone was peering at us from the trees and following us.

If I had been in another location on the planet, some other forest, I would have wondered if I was being stalked by a carnivore. This not really being a possibility, any longer, in Derbyshire, I tried to ignore the persistent rising of my hackles. It was when my very solid and unflappable friend turned to me and asked:

“Do you feel like somebody is watching us?”, that I calmly nodded and pulled him with me back to hearth-light and comfort.

Photo from: https://www.naturetrek.co.uk/tours/polands-primeval-forests

The sense I took away from this feeds this story. So here is the Fifth segment.

Part Five: What May Enter Here

     Ella was periodically aware of the cold and of the pain in her feet, but the awareness would fade and there was the walking, or the skipping, followed by the dancing to distract her. She smiled until it hurt to smile and still her lips stretched. It pleased her to be laughed at and disturbed her that they barely touched her, even in dance. They were so radiant, so lovely, and she felt their scorn like a brand. In time she stumbled and her knees would not unbend, so she was dragged to the edge of the clearing by her arms, where she folded in on herself like a wilting flower at days end. They left her alone, but she could hear the sounds of their revels and the relentless call to return to them.

     A long time passed, it seemed. She was not present when a foot kicked her side; no one responded. Much later she smelled water and her parched body reached out when a still faced servant placed a cup to her lips. She could not be grateful, she had forgotten how. Now, someone small knelt at her side. She glanced at the not-human face, then quickly glanced away to prevent the rising questions. Too much, too much.  A soft hand brushed her face and she looked again with a sigh of resignation.

     “Can you stand?” it asked.

     She pulled her will into a single hot place at her center and pushed her body up by way of answer. The creature grunted approval and helped her stand, though it was a head shorter at least, it was strong. She guessed it to be female from its robes, but she could give this no further thought. Its paw-hand stroked the air around them, pulling light in streams down, around, and over their bodies. ‘Glamour’, Ella thought; a thought that fell like a leaf from her mind. Together they navigated the revelers as a ship in a storm, moving first right then left, holding steady, or still, for moments on end. At last she was pushed over the back of a sturdy small pony, somewhere in the trees. She had ridden as a child and the normalcy, of pulling a leg over and hugging a rough and smelly pony’s neck, felt safe and good. Her savior made another satisfied sound from near the pony’s head, and began to lead them away.

     It was slow work, but they did not pause as the dark forest unfolded around them. Ella’s full effort was required to stay awake and seated on the pony, if seated is what you would call her horizontal embrace. Now and then her sweet new friend would make a sound of comfort, to remind her she was not alone. Ella did not cry tears, but a soft moan would, occasionally, leak from her like blood and lymph from a shallow wound. 

     At last another’s strong arms, someone much larger than her savior friend, carried her to a low bed in a room warmed and lit by fire. An old woman, who looked, or somehow smelled familiar, tipped a cup to her mouth. She did not want it, but the drink went down warm and strong anyway, taking her away, far away from dreams and pain. She slept.

     Todd arrived when the fire was down to coals, thrusting through the doorway at a run; he fell to his knees, his face a mask of fear. Behind him followed the old woman; tall, controlled, arms folded within her long sleeves. Only the depths of her eyes echoed his disruption. 

     “She sleeps Todd, she lives.”

     “Am I to be comforted by that?” He leaned in to gather up Ella’s hand in his, not looking once to the woman behind him.

     “Don’t discount it.” Her tone was harsh. So was his.

     After some time he turned his head and met her eye. “Piece by piece they destroy us? Who is next, Lady? Your grandson? Your self? Your consort is weak and can not come to your aid.”

     “You may not judge him!” This had struck a nerve, but Todd sought truth here, not advantage.

     “He is not wrong,” came a husky voice from the doorway. The woman spun to face the speaker with a sound of frustration. Todd shook his head, then gently releasing Ella’s hand, stood to face the door as well.

     He was half a head taller than his wife, gaunt, in robes cut for a younger, fuller, figure. He moved forward slowly, a rune-incised stick tapping the floor beside him: once a seal of his power, now a support for each uncertain step.

     “We must not act too soon, this I know. We must bring an absolute end, not a temporary one.” She spoke to them both, ignoring what had been said and could not be unsaid.

     “They see us as weak and take whatever they wish.” Weak he might be, but his mind was clear and his assessment sharp

     “Unplanned furry will destroy our advantage. They are counting on that. Do you think this was an arbitrary act of hatred? They watch you, Todd. They know you. They fear us and wish to undermine our power, as you say, piece by piece! You think I did not wish revenge, Todd!?”

     Todd dropped his head at this, moving his gaze back to Ella. Then he shook it. “No Lady,” the sound of him, now resigned, “I do not think that. I cannot see your plan or understand your mind. Guide me, if you wish to advert mayhem. My last reason for anything else lies here before me and I can not even assess the damage done to her.”

     “She lives, Todd. She is strong, and I believe she is far more powerful than any of us know. What human has made this journey, walked this path, and still lived?”

     Todd nodded, his face porcelain, but calmer. “Where is Culley?” He asked softly. 

     “His teacher is fetching him. She was the one to find your Ella and bring her to us.”

     “Then I owe her much.”

     “You do.”

     “And yourself, Lady. I thank you.” He swiveled now to meet her eyes and confirm his sincerity.

     “I wish us to unite for the power it will bring.” It was explanation and question at once. Todd could not remember a time when this woman ever pleaded for anything. He paused to consider what imperative this foretold.

     “I gave liegence to your grandson. You must know that.”

     “I do. And I thank you Dain-friend. I honor your council and your goodness.” These words were new too. Todd looked to the Consort who smiled vaguely and shifted a shoulder as if adjusting his robes. This was followed by long silence in which a coal cracked and fell. A soft sound from the bed brought them all to attention.

     “Todd?” Her voice a whisper, she touched his leg with a fingertip. Todd dropped to his knees beside her again and cradled her bruised cheek tenderly. She sighed and closed her eyes. From where he knelt he could see her ravaged feet, salved but left uncovered and unwrapped in their rawness. An explosive heat rolled through him. The old couple drew closer, leaning against each other. From beyond the room, a heavy door fell closed and the sound of running feet grew near.

     “Mama!” Culley moved from the doorway to his mother’s side like a wind, brushing the others away. Todd shifted and stood; Ella barely opened her eyes, but watched her son with alertness. 

     Culley’s teacher followed, crouched next to Cully and took Ella’s hand. “She is brave and strong, boy. We are proud of her.” 

     In another swift movement, Culley stood and pressed his crumpled face against Todd’s shirt, wrapping his arms around him hard. Sobs broke and fractured them all. They moved as a group, one shuffled step in closer. Todd wrapped his arms around the boy, thinking ‘Dain-son, heart-child’, and lastly, ‘clan-weave’.

     The light in the room shifted, the fire seemed to have faded. The old man laid a hand on Todd’s shoulder, the other arm around the woman at his side; she, no longer Regent as much as wife, mother, and grandmother, reached down to take the knowledge-weavers free hand. Gently as a breeze, Ella slipped her other hand out to wrap Todd’s ankle.

     Tendrils of light woke from the air, weaving, rising, connecting the raw intention, the clear knowing of something so ancient and so powerful it had no name. Todd breathed it in like salvation, in red gold, coppery strands. Culley looked up at him, open mouthed in wonder as the group morphed in a slow melting shimmer, vibrated and then reset, as if untouched.

     The no longer old couple stood back with a gasp, fey youth, which deep sorrow had drained away, was restored. Culley stood inches taller, and his teacher, though seemingly unaffected, crinkled a smile of knowing on her eldritch face. Best of all was Ella, rising up on her elbow to smile at Todd and shake her head with her own wonder.

     “Yes!” Their Queen shimmered in her power. “I knew there was something I could not grasp about you Todd.”

     “And what is that, My Lady?” his voice weak in the aftermath of the power that had shifted his world.

     “You wield love like a sword.” Her voice shook in awe and tendered a charming sweetness.

     Her consort chuckled to himself. “We must not let them see”, he told them grinning, in the voice of a delighted child.

     “Yes, a glamour!” The Queen swiped the air with a complex and powerful gesture, returning them all to their former appearance. “Return to your rooms, we will gather in the morning.” Her smile was beatific.

     The Consort tapped his way to the door, a bit more quickly than he had entered, stopped at the room edge and leapt into the air, clicking his heals together. Tossing a grin over his shoulder, he departed, his tapping sounding down the hallway. The other three left behind him, arms linked.

     Alone at last, Todd examined Ella at length (her whole length, should it be told) and found nothing amiss: bruises healed and delicate feet, smooth. 

     “I am so sorry for this.” He told her at last, as the fire flared to new wood laid across the coals.

     She looked at him with her head tilted. A speculative look, which he knew from watching her art making. She would consider the materials with a slightly open mouth, as if listening for their own inclinations. It made him feel, somehow, ready for her touch, willing to be remade into anything of her choosing. 

     “Let us set sorrow aside, for now Todd.” She smoothed his hair from his brow, causing a shimmer of light in the room that neither noticed. “In this moment there is only one thing, and I refuse to turn away from it.”

     No more words were needed.

“Where Sunshine Flecks the Green”

A poem by Siegfried Sassoon, titled:

“Dream-Forest”

Where sunshine flecks the green, 
Through towering woods my way 
Goes winding all the day. 

Scant are the flowers that bloom 
Beneath the bosky screen
And cage of golden gloom. 
Few are the birds that call, 
Shrill-voiced and seldom seen. 

Where silence masters all, 
And light my footsteps fall,
The whispering runnels only 
With blazing noon confer; 
And comes no breeze to stir 
The tangled thickets lonely. 

Lake District, UK

I was moved by the feeling of Mr. Sassoon’s forest. It returned me to the mystery I find in the woods. This in turn led me back to another segment of my urban fairy tale.

“What May Enter Here” : Part Four

Where Sunshine Flecks the Green

     The summer neared its close and Todd had been careful and circumspect in all his visits. It was nearly a year since Culley had begun his journeys to that other place. I wondered if I had somehow offended Todd on the day I think of as ‘The Art Class’. I certainly did not have the skill to make such a judgment and I could hardly ask Culley “have I made Todd angry?” It would sound ridiculous and only confuse him in the face of my uncertain relationship with his father’s family and all the Fey for that matter. 

     It had seemed such a pleasant encounter. He showed humor of a level that surprised me with its intimate understanding of some portions of our culture, juxtaposed with a complete and utter ignorance of other aspects. He was gentle and courteous about my own ignorance as well, which is vast. I feel so unprepared to interact with anyone of his world, or of my own if I am to be honest; Dain and I were separate from any of them, either mine or his. We made our own world apart.

     Today I found the fox on my porch, when I returned from the store. I knew there was something wrong at once. The clothes I had supplied him were mostly scattered beside the hen house, the feed bin where they were kept lay open. The shirt remained where it had caught and torn on a hinge. He wore only the trousers and he was slick with rain. It had been a misting rain that came early and I assumed would be burned away by the sun before noon. I did not see him at once. I had pulled up and began to gather the shopping bags from the back of the auto when I looked up to see him, off to the side of the porch, hunched as if awaiting a blow. 

     “Todd?” he did not speak, but only looked at me from beneath his brows. A look that caused fear to rush up my spine. Still I could think of no reason for any problem, so I acted with a polite manor to set him at ease, if not myself. Nothing is normal in this life I have chosen. “Come in,” I told him, “I have to put away this food and then I can make us tea.” He stood in a near mechanical way, for a creature so normally graceful. I tried and failed to quell my anxiety as I led him in.

     I shoved milk, butter, and meat into the refrigerator and turned to face him, the question on my face beyond recall. In one step he wrapped me in his arms and laid his head against mine. He held me hard and I answered him in kind, feeling his sorrow. Then the question struck me hard.

     I pushed him back and asked, “Is it Culley?” Terror staccatoed my heart so suddenly that I could not breath.  A flicker crossed his face as he realized my confusion and he rallied himself.

      “My foster mother Mora has passed. I had no other place to go.” He seemed ragged and tired. Grief I understood and I nodded closing my eyes for a moment of recovery. He seemed inclined to speech now, so I took his hand and waited. There was more than grief here. He was despondent and there was a barely held fury as well. “She asked me to prevent them, but they took her. They have their ways and care not for any other choice. They will burn her remains and dance and laugh pretending to honor her.” He panted with his outrage, unable to go on. I squeezed his hand and he nodded. “They held me aside like some churl! I fought them, but they knew and came with many and with weapons. They laughed.” 

     I could see the bruises now on his arms and chin. He had fought them hard. I slipped my arms around him and laid my head against his skin, strangely aware of the scent of cinnamon. We stood like this until I heard his heart and breath slow. He continued.

     “She asked to be buried in the wood by my family’s grave, where the sun finds its way at end of day. I promised her.” He looked into my eyes with a pain so full that it washed through me as well. I held his eyes, incapable of words and he shuddered and then bent to my lips. In ways I do not know, we made our way to my bedroom and to my bed. I had forgotten touch, forgotten the lost sense of boundaries. The confusion of who is toucher and who is touched as you are convinced there is only one joy, one longing, one heart brought into being.

     We slept and woke to touch again, returning to sleep and woke and slept yet again. It was as if we had fallen into a dream, a cycle of moving together and then not quite apart. The sun moved to play patterns of leaves against the wall. I heard the screen door slam. Culley!

     In my blue robe, its sash knotted firm against me, I pulled open the door to my room. There stood Culley, smiling. 

     “Hello Mama.”

     “It’s not…” His direct gaze froze me. Never had I spoken less than truth to my boy: the being of my heart. “I want…” I began again, feeling helpless to find a word that would not make me cringe. My child saved me.

     “You want me to know that you love me.” I nodded. “I know that. I want you to be happy.” He paused and watched me with a guileless gaze that I had never questioned, and still could not. “I believe you are.” He ended softly and left me without voice at all. Behind me, the door opened wider and I cast a glance back to see Todd clothed only in my blouse, knotted around his waist: a floral voile of less than useful translucence. I covered my mouth but not in time to stop the snorted laugher. Both men (for man my son had become) looked at me with incomprehension. I simply shook my head, letting go of any need to explain. 

    “Todd.” My son’s voice rose in volume and clarity. He seemed taller and older, and I knew this to be a glamour of sorts. “You are welcome here: all entries, posts, lintels, doors, windows, of any kind will let you pass. You are held as friend and family in my home. Here you may find protection, anonymity, support and succor. Only ask.”

     Todd had dropped to one knee as Culley spoke. I felt strange and appalled, but somehow right as well. “I thank you my Lord Culley.” Todd’s voice rang out with similar clarity. “With all my heart I pledge troth to you and yours. If there is work or council or aid I may give, you need only ask. If a day comes to take up arms, I will stand at your shoulder.” A thread of fear chilled me with these last words, though it all seemed only formal.

     Now Culley grinned, all little boy. “Just ‘Culley’ at home Todd, please rise.” He turned back to me as Todd stood. “I realize you had already given permission, Mama, but there is a formula that must be met, if the protection charm is to stand firm.” I nodded, still mute. “Todd, my grandmother sends her greetings. She promises that todays’ outrage will be met in kind. Both you and my father will be avenged.” There was a silence we all held at these words. Then my boy seemed to deflate, and to transmute himself back into ‘boy’. “When’s dinner? I’m starved!” He turned and clomped boy-style into his room, where rucksack fell and books were ruffled and the sound of the bed being flopped on put to an end to things.

     I turned to look at Todd who showed me a face of amazement and a growing smile. Gently he reached for my hand and drew me back into the room, where we took a peaceful moment or two before retiring to the kitchen to prepare ‘Lord’ Cully’s dinner.

     I have grown used to waking to a tangle of limbs and easy caresses beneath my covers. Sometimes I find a fox, wound tightly on top the coverlet, tail tip over eyes. If I have the bad sense to tickle him then, sometimes I sport a painful nip. I return it later. 

    I do not know what the future holds, but the ‘now’ has resolved itself nicely.

Gentle Thief

(Part Three of “What May Enter Here”)

I sat upon my haunches in the early morning light. There was no need for me to be here. The boy knew full well his way and the way was short. No, it was not responsibility that drew me nigh, and not the boy I watched for. For a creature like myself, curiosity is the greatest flaw.

     The lights came on in the small clapboard house and I stood leisurely, stretched, and trotted off to the nearby enclosing clump of trees. There, I lay down, chin resting on paws, so that I might watch unseen beneath the leafy boughs, which nearly brushed the ground. It was a fair day and eventually all the curtains were opened in the house, presumably to let the sunlight in. I knew the woman’s habits well and watched with a unsettling delight as she moved from room to room, ending up in the kitchen, moving deliberately, moving with an economy of effort, while keeping her carriage tall. 

     I tried to see her beauty, but was unsure of what I saw. Dain had loved her enough to risk everything he had been raised for, and I had most certainly loved Dain, my only friend. I wondered what the flavor or scent of this human woman had been to capture the heart of a Fey man, but Dain had never been ordinary, had he? Fey or not, he had bent every rule made; becoming friends with one such as I, had been only one of them.

    Culley left at his appointed hour, carrying a lunch and shifting a rucksack over one shoulder as he turned to wave to his mother. I held still as a stalled breeze, as he passed, but Culley spoke “Good Morning Todd” softly with a smile, while seeming to look straight ahead. I smiled back, my red tongue escaping for a moment. I found it easy to be myself around him. The boy was defiantly Dain’s child in so many ways. I had met Dain at about this age. He was the first child of any kind I had met, my adoptive mother having rightly judged my safety to outweigh social interaction.

     Mora was already old when she found me, late in the night, mewling and whimpering in the back of a blood soaked den. Herself a victim of Fey power maneuvers, she guessed my plight and hid me away until she deemed it safe. Neither she nor I have ever gleaned the truth, even Dain’s endeavors in the lofty world of his family led to nothing. My mother was killed by an arrow; the other kits were easily dispatched with something blunter. I have no strong memory of it, only a time of terror and hunger ended in Mora’s arms. She gave me food and a bed and in the morning left to bury my family.  I did not see the arrow she had preserved until I was 16 and she told my story to both me and Dain.

     My kind have no name, I have met no other like me, nor had Mora. The word “Todd” simply describes “fox”, which Mora called me in the years before my first transformation at age 4 or 5. My bipedal form holds no name, nor do the other forms I may possess but which have not yet arisen for me. I still live with Mora, but since Dain’s passing I trust no other. I am now well known for my skills in parlay, I am held in trust by the highest in that land, but that trust is not returned, for I must believe one of them ended my family. I watch their eyes and I wait.

     Today is a different sort of inquiry. I give Ella another hour before I rise to announce myself. Trousers and shirt are stored in the feed cupboard by the chicken coop, by previous agreement. The hens have grown used to me, which I find irritating. One day I may reeducate them about this fox. I smack my jaws wetly, snuff the air, and fantasize choosing the brown one. Strange to raise them only for eggs: a waste. The clothing is soft; the trouser seams are bound down on the inside, so they will not rub. She chose this for me when I tried to wear Dain’s hard blue pants the other way out: its seams were unbearable! Ella says I am wearing clothing made to sleep in. I asked her why anyone would sleep in clothing and caused her to blush. I am as rough and graceless as a stable boy in this world, at times. We have both learned to laugh at our shared ignorance. Laughter heals, a truly universal magic.

     I press the button, which rings a bell. I delight in such things, still appalled at the easy magic these creatures have mastered.

     “Todd!” Is she pleased, surprised, or unhappy? I cannot decide. “Come in. I was planning to work today. Would you like to have tea in my studio?”

     “I have always wondered about the art you make, Ella. Thank you”, sometimes I am too blunt, but she seems unfazed by my expressed interest, which I judged to be remarkably rude as it left my mouth. Her smile seems genuine. I pretend I am Dain for an instant, to understand what called him to her. Immediately I falter, it seems too offensive. I am ashamed and silently ask Dain’s forgiveness before entering. I have no shoes to shed at the door, but I wipe my feet and she waves me into her inner sanctum.

  “Go ahead and look around, I will fetch the tea things.”

     I cannot even respond. It is by far the largest room in the house, with the roof as high as the second story. It appears to have been built on at a later time. The windows are notably different; large and unframed. Daylight sparkles across the room and brilliantly lights the paintings, and other stranger things hung on every wall. Canvass and oil I understand, but natural wood melded with glass or metal to create lifelike forms, is beyond me. She finds me slumped in a padded chair, my head back, my mouth open, as if I had been tippling.

     “I had no idea. Dain never said. Is it done with magic?”

     She placed the tea and food on the table while trying to control her face. She did not want to laugh at me.

     “Your complements are far too much for my simple work. I thank you,” was her controlled answer.

     She sounded so diplomatic and proper that I burst out laughing myself and she joined in. “Truly, I have never seen art of such shocking beauty and intriguing concept. Perhaps I sound like a fool in your world, but I am not given to flattery. Have you noticed?” I ended with this, in an attempt to disarm her and return to some sort of more natural conversation. It worked, but I was still over awed by the plethora of creation around me. We poured tea and I asked her to take me piece by piece through her work. It took over two hours. It was marvelous.

     At last we sat, the teapot empty, and I had no more contrivances that might allow me to linger. The day was passing and I could feel her desire to return to the work that was her livelihood.

     “Thank you Ella,” I spoke simply as this was all I had. Her responding smile was radiant. I could hardly look at her. She cast no glamors; that I might have fought. It was in her pure unsullied honesty that I might drown. In horror I knew this is what it had been.

She and Dain had actually fallen in love.