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Beneath the Whitethorn

By Trahelion All Rights Reserved ©

Horror / Fantasy

The Hunter and the Hind

Young Vaelnar leapt over a fallen oak and landed silently in the loamy earth. He narrowed his eyes as he scrutinized the ground. No tracks. The forest had been growing more and more quiet over the years - some blamed poison and others the wrath of gods. He found it far more likely that when the war swept the land, the soldiers consumed more than nature could provide.

Heaving a heavy sigh he pressed on - he would not return home until he had a proper bounty. The root-blight has been far too hard on father’s crops, and mother grew another child in her belly. A brother, the pretty hedge witch’s apprentice had let slip to him. The thought of both a companion and help on the farm pleased him to no end. But it would do them no good if they couldn’t eat.

Crunch.

The sound of breaking twigs roused his attention and he lifted his bow while drawing an arrow from his quiver. He spied a doe with a beautiful red hide, it’s face and chest a shimmering silver.

He nocked the arrow and drew, then released. It’s tattered feathered backside screamed through the air, it’s whistle drawing the deer’s attention. The hind gracefully bounded away as the arrow struck the vine-laden stone behind her.

Vaelnar groaned and sprinted after his prey. He would not lose his only quarry, not with his family hungering so. If only he had fletched new arrows...

He chased and stalked, through thicket and bramble, snagging his cloak and cutting his flesh.

As the chase went on, he felt a pain through his heart and slowed to a stop. He struggled to breathe, his air coming in ragged gasps. Doubled over with his hands on his knees, he looked up to the clearing before him. A sight he had not known before greeted him. The large, single-hilled meadow painted with wildflowers and crowned with a towering whitethorn - taller than any he’d ever seen - opened before him.

Where whitethorn trees grew there had to be rabbits, or other prey, though his mouth watered at the thought of the red berries. He climbed up the stony hill and entered the exceptionally cool shade of the tree.

He approached the trunk and circled around it, as he approached where he had first began he found himself meeting a pair of eyes - grey like storm clouds, on a round face framed in fire-hair.

“Hello!” She said bouncing on her heels, “What is your name?”

Vaelnar opened his mouth to speak, but found that her beauty had taken the words from his throat.

“Well, you are not going to tell me, may I know where you’re from?” She said, following with laughter as light and joyous as chimes in the wind.

“My name is Vael. I’m from Aluston,” He said, utterly stupefied. His mouth had grown instantly dry, but he managed to awkwardly produce more words, “What’s yours?”

“Maeveena, but you may call me Maev,” she replied, turning her back to him as she placed her hand on the broad trunk of the tree. As she left his sight, he felt a hand upon his shoulder. “But tell me, for I am truly curious, why are you here?” She whispered into his ear.

“I was hunting,” He said, startled. He turned around to see her wearing a mischievous smile, “My family’s farm is stricken and the crops are failing. The blight has spread to the south. Nothing grows right.”

“Well, you must be a very poor hunter to make it this far with nothing to show for it,” She said, playfully punching his arm, “But I share in your sorrows as I am here for the same reasons - my own suffers as well.”

“Where are you from, yourself?” He asked, watching as she spun and danced, stopping to pluck a yellow bloom from the ground. Something about her seemed to bubble with joy and happiness, an innocence he had never seen, “Surely, you must be a princess, or of some great family.”

“I was, once, and I am from a land both near and far;” she sung in lilting notes as she wove the flower into her hair. “Of silver leaves and golden moons, between and throughout.”

“I must not be like the boys you know,” He said. “Fancy nobles with their riddles and high speak. I don’t understand what you mean.”She stood before him, and leaned quite close. She smelled of flowers and earth. “I can sing to you of it,” Her full, red lips were mere inches from his own. The more he stared into her eyes, his thoughts became butterflies and his arms too weak and weary to catch them. He felt himself crave her ivory flesh, and parted his lips and leaned in to kiss her.

“Come, sit beneath my tree and I will sing to you of my former home!” Said taking him by the hand and leading him to a crook in the great roots. Part of him was disappointed, he found himself longing for the undoubted sweetness of her lips, but it would still be more than he could dream of to hear her sing and look upon her.

“Why is it your former? Was your family in the war?” He asked, lowering himself to cool dirt and finding the ancient roots to be quite comfortable, as if they had conformed to be a shaded seat for hot summers.

A look of sadness took her face, and he found his own heart aching at seeing her beautiful smile fade. “My family was hungry, and we took what wasn’t ours,” He saw the tears welling in her eyes, and the agony in his heart grew deeper. One of such gentle heart should never know sadness. “And so, we were cast from our fair lands.”

She shook her head, and tears were gone, and the mournful expression was replaced with the coy smile that seemed most at home on her lips. Never had he felt such adoration for another, let alone one he had just met. Was this the love at true sight that father said he felt when he met mother? The witch’s apprentice had a knack for turning him red with a secretive wink or a blown kiss, but Maev... Her name sounded like the temple-horns in his head, echoing and refusing to leave, sending thoughts flying from his head like startled pigeons.

Her song drew his mind back from idle fantasy of her own form.

“Leag faoi bhun mo brainsí.”He knew not what she spoke, but the strange words filled the air like birdsong.

“cliabhán i mo fréamhacha, beidh mo duille a bheith ar do blaincéad.”

He ogled, she danced using little more than her hands and hips, motions like a willow caught in the winds. He did not know where his eyes wanted to fall.

“Pas a fháil ag an ghrian, ní heed an ghealach.”

He wanted to stand and join her in song, to dance with her into... The night, where had the sun gone?

“Agus a chloisteáil ach mo amhrán, mo chroí, mo chumhacht.”

There was the sun once more, shining bright, soaring across the sky as if it were a hare, and the moon a hound.

“Titim isteach sa talamh, d’fhoirm trua.”

Fear crept into his mind, something was so very wrong. Day and night passed between heart beats. He tried to stand but his limbs were too weak.

“Beatha dom, beatha mo ghaoil, beatha an mháthair!”

Her storm cloud eyes were so cold, and her lips which hinted at mischief snarled. Shadows crept in his vision, and breath came with more struggle than he could muster.

“Deoraíocht ó an talamh duille airgid agus Gealacha órga.”

Her tone shifted to lower pitches as her song came to a finish.

“Fásann mo chumhacht go fóill.”

Vaelnar stirred no more. Maev lowered her arms and stood over his limp form. The flesh of men fell so easily to the slipping of time, and their minds to simple legerdemain and glamour, of which Fairy-Song relied. She dug her long, graceful fingers into the loose soil and sprinkled a handful over the young lad’s pale face.

“Feast and grow strong once more, Mother,” She whispered, standing. She gently pressed her lips against the tree in a soft kiss.

She turned away, walking towards the forest - her footfalls first of a delicate young girl, and then as the cloven hooves of deer.

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