Swift as a Shadow, Short as Any Dream

This story was published in the Fall 2009 issue of Circle Magazine, under the pen name Madison Leigh. I gave up that pen name after I discovered more people hitting my website searching for a certain gross YouTube video than for my writing… Enjoy!

***

The hollow whistle of pan-pipes trickled into Sen’s dreams and soon banished them completely.  She inhaled and tasted the fresh nip of Spring in the air; then she opened her eyes.  The player of the pipes stood over her, silhouetted by the sun.

“Finally,” he said, removing the instrument from his lips.  “We’ve waited ever so long.”

His voice was young; sweet; melodious.  Laughter hid behind it, the unceasing kind, and she knew this person had never known anger.  His words tinkled in her mind like a dozen tiny bells.

Slowly her eyes adjusted, and she could see Robin Goodfellow for the first time.  His eyes were the brown of the earth, of trees, of things soft and good.  Curls of the same shade covered his head, parted by two nubs of horns that sprouted from his forehead. His bottom half bristled with coarse fur, and he stood upon cloven hooves.

“Waited…” she repeated.  “Waited for what?”

“For you to wake up, Sen,” he said, grinning so that his freckle-splashed nose wrinkled.  “Or are you too lazy to play with us today?”

Sen couldn’t help but smile back.  Then, others chimed in.

“Yes, come play!”

“We’ve waited long enough!  Imagine, someone sleeping in our wood!”

Squeals and giggles echoed across the forest glen.  Sen looked around at her friends.  Tree folk, tiny men, girls on gossamer wings.  Animals, and those that were both man and beast.  Naiads and dryads; hobs and lobs.  The last of her weariness washed away.  She was reborn on this Spring morning, the dawn of Ostara.  With that realization, she stretched her arms out to the Sun, letting its energy nourish her limbs.  She breathed in the wild smell of new things.

“Come, my sleepy nymph!” Robin cried.  He snatched the chain of acorn caps from around her neck.  Everyone cheered as he dashed off, holding his prize high in the air.  Sen didn’t hesitate; she leaped to her feet and chased after him, laughing with the rest.

The chase lasted wonderful days and sleepless nights.  Sen’s feet flew over the soft grass and moss of the forest, never tiring.  Every time she spied Robin, he disappeared again in a blink.  His shadow teased the edge of her sight.  A gnome would whisper, “This way!” and a fairy, “There!”  The forest itself played along, whistling and thumping its music for all to dance to.  A glimmer of movement caught Sen’s eye.  She tiptoed around a tree, and suddenly hands grabbed her from behind.  Her gasp was stopped by Robin’s lips on her own, and it came out as a giggle instead.  Her gaze met his, and she loved him; not as a tragic mortal might, but as she loved the night sky, and the warmth of the Sun; the water she drank, and the air she breathed.  He leaned to kiss her again, but she grabbed her necklace from his hand and ran off again.

Day turned to night, and they danced beneath the stars.  Night became day, and they played and chased and sang.  Change crept upon them, and one morning Sen noticed the corners of Robin’s eyes crinkle when he smiled.  His horns curved out on either side of his head, glimmering in the sun like a crown.  Their love deepened and settled, no longer so desperate.

A time came when the ground beneath them crunched with leaves.  Sen paused in her play to look down curiously.  The fresh green grass had turned pale and dry.  She noticed then the blanket of weariness that had settled on her.  Her friends seemed likewise affected, a weight slowing their every movement.  Breaths fogged in the air, and feet cramped with cold.  When Sen looked to Robin for comfort, she saw him old, wizened.  Wrinkles ran furrows through his face, and a sadness shone through his eyes.

“Samhain is upon us,” he announced.  “The time for rest is here.”

Many of the smaller fairies had already fallen, giving their lives back the Earth.  Animals made their final preparations for Winter.  Sen watched as squirrels came and took seeds away; children who would be born next Spring.

“You are tired, Sen.”

She turned to look at her love.  He may have aged, but there still lived a spark in his eye.  He was prepared for the season of Death, for with Death came the promise of new life, the chance to be born again into the warm Spring of youth.  With Nature’s promise of renewal, Sen found it difficult to remain melancholy. Robin looked out beyond her.  She turned to follow his gaze.

Ahead of them was a hill, on which grew a lone oak tree.  Its leaves dropped with the night wind, falling like tears of orange and red onto the newly fallen snow. Next to the tree lay an ancient stone; the stone where the Great Horned King would sit and peacefully pass his life on.

“Winter has come so soon,” she said wistfully.

She laced her fingers into his, for her resting place was also on this hill.  Robin’s pipes lay quiet in his hand.  For once there was no merry-making, no frolicking.  That time had passed.  They would leave it to the young, the new ones that would come in the Spring.  For now the old would rest, letting their seeds germinate and sprout fresh again to the sounds of pan-pipes and laughter next year.

They meandered to the top of the hill.  When they reached the stone, Sen traced the etching on it, barely decipherable with age.  It was the ancient symbol for life, death, and regeneration: the Tree of Life.  Even as her finger followed its outline, Robin sat down and leaned his back against it.

“May you bloom brightly when Ostara comes, my love.”  He closed his eyes.  Despite the peacefulness of his face, a slight smile betrayed his nature: merry and mischievous.

Sen watched him from her tree, waiting to feel the true moment of his passing.  As the sky turned gray and her tree’s branches grew bare, her eyelids drooped, and a calm flowed through her.  The lullaby of a frosty breeze sang her to sleep.

 

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