It was early yet for her to walk among them. The season’s turn had just begun, and would not complete for another two moons. That she was roused caused a few brows to knit in surprise- those who knew from childhood forays the nigh impossibility of waking her before her time. Most let slip a sigh as they eyed the wood shelter and started calculating how long it would take to fill it, thinking nothing odd of the early arrival. She was a fickle creature, their lady, as wont to come swiftly as she was to come slow. It was merely part and parcel of life in the Forest.
Young Chantzler heard the whisper of the lady’s strides coming closer as he went about his daily chores, sprinkling feed for the chickens as they clucked around his feet when her arrival stopped him short. He halted with his hand in the feed sack, tongue swollen as he waited for the judgement that he was certain was his due. Visions of screaming children frolicking with clanging bells outside her entrance flashed in his mind. It was tradition, he knew, but at this moment it felt very much like an idea turned sour.
Her gaze pierced through him, straight through to his heart. The shard of ice that was surely in his chest tightened to a pinpoint edge, freezing his lungs as the blue in her eyes devoured his soul. She blinked, and he was free, now sitting on the ground with the feed sack on its side, spilling bits of golden treasure for the taking.
“M-my lady,” he stammered, eyes cast down lest he meet her gaze again. His fingers tingled as she reached down to brush them with her own.
“Chantzler,” her delicate voice chimed, taking and turning his name from one of earthbound utterances to that of a starlit song. “You call for me yet cast your sight upon the ground when I am near. Do you fear me so, dear one?”
Voice surging with denial, he raised his head to meet her own and clearly spoke, “No. I would never fear you, Lady.”
She smiled like the rising sun, rays lifting dusk into the dawn and gifting light and joy to all who saw her. Chantzler felt a thousand sparks ignite within him as he watched the break of dawn for the second time that day within her face.
Rising, she pulled him with her to stand once more. His whole hand tingled with the sharpness of her grasp, though pleasant in a curious way. His hand felt charged, and changed, and more when it was held by her. He felt its loss down to his feet when she slipped her fingers back and clutched them to her chest.
“I forget how warm you creatures are,” she softly laughed to him. “Brother Fire left his mark where none can help but see.”
Understanding came slowly as the legends came to mind. How all the lords and all the ladies of the Dwamer Forest old had brought together all their gifts to make the creatures of the new.
Chantzler smiled in return with a bobbing of his head. “I remember Mammy’s stories of the time before this time, and how all the greatest beings crafted soul and flesh and bone. Brother Fire gave us life, Sister Water gave us love, Mother Earth gifted bodies, and the Ladies gave us time.”
“How right you are, my little one.” The lady smiled bright. “The gifts we gave have gifted us with precious ones like you.”
A blush spread fast across his cheeks, and feet scuffed ‘cross the dirt. The lady’s words had struck a chord of happiness within.
The lady stood beside him for a little while more, then reached a hand to brush his cheek and left to roam the world.
It was the last time people saw her, as far as Chantzler knew. The entrance of her lair was left untended from then on. No more forays by the children, looking for a thrill; no more whispered strides as she awoke and brought the Forest to her heel.
He never knew just what it was that caused the lady to withdraw, just that he was of the last to have her stop and speak with him. Rumors came from lands beyond the Forest where he lived, of people causing changes in the earth that cradled them. The elders spoke in voices hushed of what became of her, but by the time he joined those ranks they spoke no more of what once was. She faded from the minds of most, but Chantzler held her dear; the memory of her starlit laugh entombed within his heart.
The night that Chantzler breathed his last, he felt the urge to seek her lair and walked a path not trod in years. The vines and brush and taken hold, the forest claiming back the cave that served the lady fair in Summer’s stifling warmth.
He cleared the entrance for himself and slowly stepped inside. The coolness of the darkened cave descended like a dove; he felt the brush of fingertips and shivered through and through. He crept in further, breath held tight, and swore he heard her laugh.
He kept on walking farther in, but slow with shoulders bent. The years had taken their just due and left him pains and aches. The air within grew cold and dry the deeper that he went, and whispered strides surrounded him and fingers brushed his cheek. The sharpness of her touch recalled the wonders of his youth, when the lady stood before him by the village chicken coop.
“Dearest one,” she called to him, just barely out of sight. “Come, my Chantzler, come to me, to shelter in the night.”
Another step, then two, then three, Chantzler took until he stopped. There his lady stood resplendent, holding out her hand. A wavering door appeared behind her, and he knew the time had come. He thought to look behind him at the path that he had walked, but having lived through everything, he met her gaze instead.
“My lady, you’ve been missed these years,” he whispered with a sigh. “Your starlit laugh and frozen grasp are fading from this place. I know the age of ladies and of lords has finally passed, but I thank you for the time you gave and seek to leave with you.”
She smiled bright and took his hand and motioned to the door. It opened wide to lives not lived and both stepped through to live some more.
The flesh and bone were laid to rest when family went to find him. They did not speak of the brittle ice they found him lying in, though the cave was moist and damp, and neither did they speak of pure white snow, unmelted, in his hand. The Mother took his body and returned it to herself, and so passed Chantzler of the Forest, who now travels times unlived.