I’d been wandering the forest for a long time. I didn’t know how long exactly, but I had a feeling it had been hours. The sun was starting to set. My body ached much worse than before. But all the anger, all the frustration, had been dulled by my ceaseless wandering to the point where I wasn’t feeling much of anything. I wanted to go home. I wanted to find Faith and Nolan and I wanted to go home.
The shadows of the trees around me were long and twisted in the falling sunlight. I stepped wearily between them, forcing my body to keep moving, afraid that I would just collapse if I stopped walking even for a moment.
I wondered how I was going to find Faith in a forest this big. I didn’t even know which direction she’d gone, and here I was stumbling along in what might be the complete opposite way. I thought briefly of calling out to her, to see if she would come to me. But as much as I wanted to, I felt mute. It felt like my throat was sealed shut. Like my lungs were empty. I couldn’t form her name on my tongue, let alone shout it loud enough for her to hear. And so I kept silent, and kept walking.
It was getting so much darker now. The sunlight was slanting down at a sharper angle, shining into my eyes, streaming like blades between the trees, blinding me as I struggled to guide myself. I squinted and raised a hand to ward off the harsh lighting, but there was little I could do to stop the sun. It was determined to shine as fiercely as it could and there was nothing I could do to dim it.
It was making it harder for me to get my bearings, though. I knew I was in an unfamiliar part of the forest, that much was clear, but my blindness made it impossible to see any paths snaking through the trees. I couldn’t tell where exactly I was going and it was driving me insane. I wanted to see. I didn’t need the headache this light was causing me.
And what was I even doing, wandering like this? Was I stupid? There was no way I was going to find Faith just based on luck. The enormity of the forest, the enormity of my task… it was overwhelming. What was I doing? I wasn’t going to find her. Frustrated and helpless, I growled and snapped a skinny branch off a nearby tree. I then angrily peeled off its bark, stripping it down before snapping it again and dropping it on the ground.
“What am I doing?” I muttered, turning circles as I ran my hand through my hair. This was hopeless. I would starve before I found Faith. But I was too restless to stop. So I kept moving. There was no point, but I needed to walk. I needed to find something.
And after several more long minutes, I did exactly that. I found a river, wide but shallow, lit up like a stream of gold fire in the last of the day’s light. I couldn’t be positive, but it looked a lot like the river that ran by the gypsy sprite encampment. If it was the same one, then I needed only to follow it and I would be back in familiar territory. Where the gypsies–and maybe Faith–would be waiting.
But which way? I could either go upriver or down, but I couldn’t remember which way would bring me to the gypsy camp. And if I went the wrong way, I would be worse off than I was now.
The sunlight thickened, reflecting blindingly bright off the water’s surface. I squinted and turned in a circle, weighing my options, trying to reason out my course of action. If I could only remember…
I spun immediately, my hand reaching for my sword, and then looked down at my hip with stunned disbelief. My sword was missing, something I’d failed to notice on waking after the battle. Heart pounding, I looked up at the source of the voice, ready to fight with my fists if I had to, but soon relaxed my posture when I got a good look at the strange woman. While she certainly looked human, it was clear there was something about her that wasn’t quite so.
“Alex?” the woman said again, this time making it sound like a question. I stared at her, unsure whether I should answer, and she stared back with curiosity vivid in her eyes. She crept forwards on bent legs like a cat stalking prey and I watched with wary interest. The golden light made her skin look like gleaming bronze and lit up her eyes like burning stars, but there was something else beneath the surface that made me think that maybe she was one of them.
One of the Small Folk.
“Why have you forgotten?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper, as she reached one trembling hand out towards me. Her hand seemed to call to me but I shook my head, resisting the urge to take it. I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know if I could trust her.
Those burning eyes gazed long at me as her hand lingered in the space between us. “You have changed so much, haven’t you? And I do not think you like these changes…” She took another step forwards, shoulders angling towards me. I didn’t know how she knew me, because I didn’t remember her at all. I didn’t remember this wild woman, wearing the colours of the forest, her hair woven through with flowers. Maybe I had forgotten her when I forgot the language of the Small Folk. Maybe she was just another piece of magic no longer within my reach.
But yet… There was her hand. Just a bare two feet away. I could take it. I could join her, go wherever she was offering to take me, maybe even remember what I had lost. No. There was a part of me that knew I couldn’t do that. Whoever she was… I could not join her.
And I think she understood.
“The forest is deep in your bones,” she murmured, blinking slowly, holding me pinned with that steady gaze. “You have gone deaf to its voice, but you have not lost its blood.” She lifted her hand higher and turned it so that the palm was facing upwards, cupping the last of the sun’s flaming light. “Trust yourself. You will find your heart again.”
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to ask her a thousand questions–about who she was, what I should do–but I sensed there was no time. Because just as the last of the sun’s light began slipping out of the sky, she turned quick as an arrow and darted back into the trees. I shook my head, startled by how fast she had gone. It was like she’d never been there.
Except that the anger that had burned so constantly within me these past weeks had faded.
The darkness, the hopelessness–it was being drowned out, beaten back by a golden light.
I didn’t know who that woman was, or what she had done to me, but I knew that the gift she’d given me was priceless.
She’d given me hope.
Yay, another LotSF chapter!
Last week was my first week at work at that stupid factory job. Well, most of it was training, and I haven’t actually done any work yet, but I am officially initiated into the factory workforce. Yippee. There were high points and low points, not gonna lie, but for the most part… it was okay. Survivable, let’s put it that way.
The nice thing–and something I maybe didn’t expect–is that the people are great. I can’t even tell you how many times someone reassured me that the work wasn’t so bad, or how many times someone went out of their way to talk to me/make me laugh. I even have a couple sort-of friends, if you can believe it. So I shall survive. I may not be happy about it, but I will be alive.
And I have to say, writing this chapter was so wonderful. First of all, no anger in this one, so that’s a relief :P And just… writing about the forest, and the sunlight, and imagining what magics lie beneath the surface… it’s so soothing. I was thinking earlier today about how spring is coming, and I’ll be able to start pressing/drying leaves and flowers soon. I am beyond excited. It kept me very busy last year and I can’t wait to do it again :D
I hope you lovely people are doing well. You let me know if you’re not, okay? Cause that’s unacceptable. We gotta make sure you’re all doing okay.
Take care, guys :)