It was magic. Really and truly. The first time I saw her figure, slightly obscured by the brush and thickets, I thought nothing of it. I assumed she was an ordinary woman, like any other, probably out for her daily harvest. But I started to stumble upon her more often and ,ever so slowly, more of her was revealed. It started with her feet. Always bare. And yet no matter where she walked, not a mark, scratch or even dirt. Nothing. Their slender length traversed the earth with such grace I needed not assume the elegance and poise she held. Her body was next, clad always in a dress of emerald green. With every shift or sway the leaves shimmered and glowed, illuminating the canopy. They twirled around on their stems until they broke free, dancing all the way to the forest floor. Upon impact as if brought up by a strong wind-though the air lay still- they rose and danced around the length of her dress. At the end of their performance they always came to rest upon her head as a golden crown. Finally, after weeks of silent watching, I caught the first full view of her face. I was surprised. She had quite plain and simple features. A small nose, deep set eyes and thin lips. I struggled to find any unique or identifying traits. To put it plainly, her face was forgettable. Not that I had much room to talk, with my own simple features. Straight brown hair that reached my shoulders and refused to grow any longer. Black eyes that remained a dull brown in the sunlight. “Neither ugly nor pretty”, is how my older sister Franke would put it. She was the only gem in our family. Though I do not envy her. Because of her beauty she was married off at a 16, and from what I can tell, can barely handle her three boys. No, her life was nothing to envy, but to pity.
The lady of the woods did remind me of my sister though; they shared one singular trait. Their hair. That brilliant red hair. It brought everything around her to life. That day I nearly collapsed out of fear. I had thought the forrest was on fire. A bright red light appeared to slowly blaze across the trail I usually found the woman walking. But that’s where it stayed. Along the path. Deciding to get a closer look I crept slowly forward, parting branches to get a clear view. And I saw that the light was her hair, brilliantly illuminating the clearing. It was if it was capturing the rays of the sun, unsuccessfully trapping it tight, and little by little it slipped out bursting forth into the clearing.
I don’t know why I kept doing it, watching her. I think I was waiting for something, something magical, to happen. While she was in herself magic, I had never actually seen her actively perform any sort of magically act. I worked hard to hide my movements from my family. Extremely hard. I know it was silly, but I felt like keeping her secret was my duty. Like a knight from the olden days it was my job to protect the princess from the fire breathing dragon. The dragon being the town. They used to be a kind folk, always willing to lend a helping hand to their fellow neighbour. But with the spread of the idea of witches they started to become cynical. Closed off. We’ve had three burnings and two hangings in the last year. But none of those women reminded me of the lady of the wood. None of them seemed special. The burnings were the worst. Those women begged and screamed and cried and yet even the kindest amongst us, turned their backs. It was brutal. It was wrong. It was murder. And yet, in their words, it was justice.
One day I was careless. I awoke on my 19th birthday. Another year had past and I was still unwed, much to my mothers dismay. I had gotten away with it that long thanks to father. Franke may have always been mothers favourite. An obedient little daughter from the start. Father was never as stern as mother. He delighted in my daily antics and escapades. My fondest memories were of us going into the mountains together to herd the sheep. He would always make me a set of horns he made of straw and told me to bleat at the top of my lungs and they would come running. That method never worked of course though he always led me to believe it did. It was Dunni, our dog who worked the sheep back down the mountain. When they were all safely back in their stocks he would say, “ Well done my little lamb.” And he would pat he on my head and chase me around with a pair of shears saying he needed to harvest my wool. We always got along and had fun together. Mother , on the other hand, would chastise father for treating me like the son he never had. I resented her for this. She’d tug me away by the arm sit me on the chair infant of her mirror and violently rip out the knots from my hair caused by the straw horns. With each brush she’d tsk, mumbling that it was such a pity. “ You could be just as pretty as your sister if you just put in a little more effort.’’ “Look at the woman your sister has become. She makes our family proud. ” I grew up on these words. They had become a sort of battle cry. I knew when I heard them my mother was looking to stir up trouble. But I also learnt that when she sounded the horn, to agree. Say that I would try harder to make her proud. It would settle her and she would move on. But today, as soon as I got up she started, and no amount of placating would stop her. ‘’Margot, I think it’s high nigh you grew up. Lass, you got to start acting like a lady. Stop your gallivanting in the forest and set up roost here in town. Mrs. Doherty says that her son is interested. Why don’t run a little errand for me. Stop by their bakery and pick up a few things for me will you? Maybe you will run into James.” I turn desperately searching out father, pleading with my eyes to sympathise with me. Instead he looks away, making sure his blue eyes never meet mine. He purses his thin lips; runs a hand through the little wisps of hair he did have left. He furrows his forehead so that his thick grey eyebrows reduce his eyes to slivers. Today, for the very first time, he sided with mother. I turned my now blazing eyes back to her, but my anger quickly dissolves. I suddenly saw her in a new light, perhaps with age came maturity. Though I was still upset with her I saw something I never noticed before. She looked tired. Her normally thick and luxurious blond hair was seemed dull and thin. Her eyes seemed sad. The crows feet around her eyes appeared to have doubled overnight, and her normally robust figure withered away right there before my eyes. It was like she had aged ten years in a split second. And for the first time in my life I heard her battle cry for what it was, a song of concern, which she had been singing for my whole life. Now, after years, it would appear her voice is strained; the words to the song slipping from memory. She was no longer looked tired, for she was tired, from worrying about her youngest daughter, wishing for nothing but her happiness from the only source she knew. Marriage to mother equated happiness, security. And while I understood that having a partner to face the world with could make the journey easier, I knew I wasn’t ready. I knew I could be, someday, but not today. For the sake of her sanity I took the woven basket she had hanging at arms length in front of us, picked up my shawl hanging by the fireplace and opened the door to our small cottage, looking back one last time at my parents. Mother smiled brightly, encouragingly, while ringing a washcloth in her hands. Father looked me in the eyes for the first time that day. He ,too, smiled. A smile that asked for forgiveness. I smiled back widely trying to reassure them both that I would be fine. But I didn’t feel fine. I felt trapped. Trapped in a life I wasn’t sure I wanted.