The world beyond
“It is said that there is a mysterious path that crosses the Forest. A path that does not start anywhere known to man, and its end is a secret even for beasts. The spirits roam in silence and with soft steps, avoiding the mortal beings who find it by chance. But at the same time, the path takes its walkers to the deep starry caverns, to the magnificent halls of the elven kings, to the steep high peaks, inhabited by ice dragons. It goes across the villages of the Half-breed, from the wild tribes of the north, to the houses of the wise children of the river. Fairies, deer, korred, squirrels and brownies roam their winding routes, minding their affairs and in complete harmony. The trail leads to majestic waterfalls, impenetrable groves, dangerous cliffs and, if you’re lucky, gentle hills covered with thousands of fragrant flowers, whose very existence leaves a permanent and pleasant warmth in your heart, even if the trail does not allow you to return to that wonderful place. Because, as every creature in the Forest knows, the path has a life of its own, and its will prevails over all others. If you find the path, it speaks with your soul and guides you right to the place you should be, even if it is not the same one you wanted to go to. But it’s also capricious, and if you don’t take care of your steps, it’s impossible to kno...”
- It’s time to go to bed, both of you.
The story was abruptly interrupted, leaving their mother with her mouth open, and the words floating in the air. Finn and Maeve turned to their father, who was watching the scene with a frown. The dinner was over long ago, and while he smoked his pipe, sitting in his huge armchair in front of the fireplace, their mother had told them about the legends of the Forest, their favorites, curled up on the carpet, near the comforting heat of the flames. But father’s tone left no room to protest, the rest of the story would have to continue the following night.
- Father! Just a little more, we live right next to the Forest, but as you never let us get close, we can only learn about it through mom’s stories.
‘Finn is not very smart’, Maeve thought. She also wanted to keep listening to the stories, but at her young age, and unlike her older brother, she knew she would never convince her father. She rose obediently and kissed her mother’s cheek, who returned a sympathetic smile, silently promising to continue the story whenever possible. Finn crossed his arms over his chest, looking at her reproachfully due to her lack of support.
- Mom, please! I want you to tell us about dragons.
- Finn, I will not repeat myself, go to bed right now - His father was a reasonable man, but his patience was not unlimited.
- If the forest is really so dangerous, shouldn’t I learn as much as possible about it? How am I supposed to defend myself if ...?
The loud voice silenced the room immediately. Maeve watched her father nervously as he rose from his chair and stood in front of Finn, who had lowered his arms and eyes, tense. Beside her, her mother watched them calmly.
- The only thing you need to know about the Forest is that it is dangerous, and that you should never enter it under any circumstances. It is the territory of the creatures that populate it, and men are not part of them. It’s a crime, Finn, and if the king finds out, I’ll be severely punished. - Finn looked at him, not understanding what he meant. Why would his father be punished if he entered the Forest? His father immediately understood the question in his son’s eyes.
- Because you, little one, will be very busy roasting in the cauldron of an ogre. - Maeve gasped, while covering her mouth, horrified at the idea of her brother being served as a monster’s lunch. Her father didn’t said another word, and pointed severely toward the door, ending the discussion.
Finn, defeated, kissed his mother and they both said good night before heading to their rooms. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her father wrap her mother in a tight hug, showering her face with kisses. Yes, he was a stoic man and could be very severe with his children, but nobody could deny that he was completely at the mercy of his beautiful wife, whom he loved deeply. Maeve loved seeing her parents so happy.
The walk through the halls was silent, each child lost in his own thoughts. But Finn’s curiosity did not diminish at all. His father could threaten him with all the monsters and wild creatures that occurred to him, without causing the least effect. Maeve sneaked a peek at her brother, and gave an annoying snort, seeing clearly that Finn would not stop getting into trouble. Her father seemed convinced that the matter had been forgotten, but she knew her brother better. They both enjoyed the stories, but Finn was obsessed with the Forest. And he was an idiot, Maeve had no doubt. The siblings said goodbye in the hallway, and Maeve went to bed feeling very much awake.
Perhaps it was for that reason that she was completely alert when she heard a few steps outside her door. She got up without hesitation and put on her leather shoes and a coat before entering the shadows of the castle, sensing where to go. She discarded the front door and instead slipped quickly to the kitchens. She knew the road so well that even absolute darkness did not disorient her.
Upon entering the huge room, she could hear how the door to the patio was closed carefully, and hurried to keep track of her goal. Without making any noise, she advanced through the cold stones, narrowing her eyes as she followed the shadow that advanced in front of her. They continued on their way to the garden and out of their father’s land. Maeve snorted, annoyed.
‘Finn is going to spend the rest of his life grounded if he goes any further’.
The wet grass had soaked her shoes, unsuitable for a walk in the field, and she found it increasingly difficult to move forward without noise. Finn didn’t seem close to stopping, and Maeve began to fear where her brother was heading.
The moon was veiled by heavy clouds that threatened to drop a downpour at any moment, so Maeve began to get restless. In addition, she had noticed that the omnipresent shadows of the Forest were getting closer and closer.
‘He wouldn’t dare!’
- FINN! - She could not contain herself once she realized where her brother was going. Not only did she fear her father’s punishment, the possibility of being ogre food felt increasingly real.
Finn was startled to hear his sister so close, he had not noticed her presence, completely focused on his goal to enter the Forest and see with his own eyes if it was as wonderful as his mother described.
- What are you doing?! It’s dangerous, go back to your room!
Finn retraced his steps until he reached Maeve, annoyed at the interruption. He was so close! The Forest was just a few steps away, the first trees rose in front of them, hiding the storm that threatened to break loose.
His discomfort dissipated as soon as he reached his sister. Maeve was shivering with cold, her little feet soaked. She was only 5 years old, it was dangerous for someone so young to get sick from the cold. Finn took off his own coat and covered his younger sister with it.
- You shouldn’t have followed me! I just want to visit the Forest for a moment, I will not go far.
- Dad is going to p-punish you! Come b-back with m-me now!
The cold and dampness of the night had Maeve shivering, and Finn saw no other solution but to accompany his sister to the safety of the castle. He sighed and put an arm around her delicate shoulders, disappointed by the change of plans.
They had only taken a few steps, when they felt the change in the wind.
A warm wind blow from the forest, and the sound of tree leaves stirred by an enormous force reach them. Both siblings stopped dead in their tracks and turned slowly, terrified and fascinated at the same time.
At the edge of the Forest, the trees were slowly shaking to the rhythm of the footsteps of a huge creature. Maeve opened her eyes wide, noticing that right in front of them, the terrain had changed. A huge hill covered with shrubs and young trees stood among the trees that a few moments ago, were completely motionless.
The hill shook gently, advancing deep into the Forest. Maeve felt her brother’s arms tighten around her, and turned to look at him. Finn seemed about to burst with emotion. His eyes shone reflecting the moonlight, which had appeared only for a moment before hiding again behind the clouds. Finn hugged her tight and whispered excitedly:
- Maeve! Do you see it? It’s a Wandering Hill!