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A moonlit connection

Part One

 

The village stilled as the lights went out. Not a flicker of a candle or flash of a torch could be seen through the walls of heavy curtains and unyielding doors.

 

Ayla peeked out of her window and stared at the blanket of black that settled around her and the village folk. She knew the village protocol on nights such as this. Everyone did. But her whole body thrummed with the thrill of adventure. A hive of bees crashed against her rib cage, desperate to escape.

 

Against local law and lore, she heaved a moth-eaten winter coat over her delicate shoulders and slipped small, calloused feet into her old snow boots. The boots laced together, loops upon loops of string pulling over and under, locking in the warmth of the soft rabbit fur inside. Muscle memory made swift work of the boot lacing, with Ayla ready to brave the cold night within minutes. 

 

With a torch in her coat pocket, just in case, Ayla set out into the dark. She knew no townsfolk would intervene on her night walk. Not while darkness swallowed the village. She knew eyes would be watching her, though, that there’d be consequences on the morrow.

 

Salt around her house. Icons painted on her door. All to root out the evil that may have bedded down into Ayla in the dark. The premonition of her temporary exclusion from society only served her ambition to find something worth the penalties she would suffer.

 

Ayla didn’t lock the door as she left the little cottage. The things that sought entry into her home could easily snap the cheap mortice lock nestled in the crumbling wooden door. Creatures of the night seldom have interest in an empty house anyway.

 

She slipped down the street on whispered feet, stepping lightly with the weight on her tiptoes to avoid the clump of a boot as she walked. Adventure she sought, yes, but the tickle of a thrill at sighting a wish-granting fae kind. Not the attract the monsters that rip you to shreds kind.

 

After a few minutes, the shadow of the church bell tower loomed over her. An old graveyard encircled the church, it’s grounds not as well tended as the building it protected. The headstones were old and chipped. Some were crumbling and others were merely piles of old stone marking the passing of an ancient soul. As if she or anyone else needed a reminder that appeasing God with his immaculate House was vastly more important than any one person and their final resting place.

 

As she drifted through the gaps, taking care to walk around any obvious graves, she murmured a little prayer for those now long at rest. Not a prayer that would be heard trickling from the walls of the building she walks around but something much older. Heresy, if anyone heard her. If anyone understood the soft whispers under her breath.

 

A long trail led down to a river behind the church. The night seemed somehow darker as she stared down the stretch of road. The sound of the gushing water below gurgled up to meet her, making her feel a little nauseous. It was disorientating to hear the rapids that ran below the village when they were out of view.

 

As if sensing her hesitation, the impermeable clouds overhead parted just enough for the full moon to peek through. As the clouds gave way, the moonlight travelled along the path, lighting Ayla’s way.

 

Accepting the sign from powers greater than herself, Ayla continued her journey toward the water below. Rivers are a beacon for wildlife, but all hear the call of the water. Fairies. Elves. Water sprites, of course. Ayla knew that to find the kind of other-spirit to grant her wish, it was the riverbank she must seek.

 

As the village began to fade behind Ayla, her footsteps echoed through the sparse woodland that demarcated the line between civilisation and wilderness. Whilst the cover was light, the danger was not. Monsters lurked behind the trees, somehow squeezing their bulk behind the thinnest of trunks. Ayla’s steps quickened as the shadow monsters moved alongside her, shrinking and growing with the forest around it. It was then she noticed the echo-step pace did not match her own.

 

With a tremble in her voice, she called out, a breath above a whisper, “Who’s there?”

 

A shadow replied, massive and grotesque. A head with teeth as long as spears. A torso at twice her height even as it crawled on all fours.

 

The Shadow elongated into a towering monstrosity as it moved out from the cover of the tree before shrinking to match the man who appeared in front of Ayla.

 

“Forgive me, dear lady. I mean you no harm.” He spoke with a strange accent, his dress that of city folk.

 

Ayla considered the man in front of her, his arms low and outstretched in placation. He reminded her of someone. A whisper of a dream of a life long ago. His hair was as raven black as hers; cropped short in contrast to her cascading, weighty curls. His face all angles were juxtaposed to the soft fullness of hers.

 

The man moved closer, steps slow and steady, as if approaching a frightened doe.

 

Part Two

 

Ayla rolled her eyes at his mollification. She was no fragile thing, and no city-man would strike a fraction of fear in her heart.

 

“If harm you do mean, you will do none to me, Sir. It is you that should be frightened if you have malevolent intent this eve,” she replied. She gave a silent thanks to her body for not betraying her as her heart fluttered faster and faster with the closing gap between them.

 

His hands retreated into his pockets as the shadows shifted on his face. Through the moonlight, Ayla realised that he was now smiling. He bowed as he says:

 

“Forgive me, lady. I meant no disrespect. I am a man of the city; temperaments of the fairer sex are much softer there.”

 

Ayla scoffs, “You mean no disrespect, and yet you diminish me as fair. I am, like all my kind, fierce. You would do well to recognise the lion in all women-kind lest they make you their prey.” This man is insufferable, she thought. She knew she needed to shake him. No beings would approach her with this non-believer, this city man, in tow. And she was prepared to let the night end without claiming the price she sought.

 

His smile faded before bowing once more. “I apologise, sweet la…” he paused before trying again, “good person. I fear I have given you a terrible first impression. Please, do let me try again.”

 

Ayla’s foot began to tap impatiently at this drawn-out exchange, this diversion from her task.

 

“’Tis fine, Sir. But I must bid you well and farewell,” She began to curtesy before remembering herself, bolting upright and nodding curtly instead.

 

The corners of his lips tugged at that insufferable smile as he nodded back. Ayla stomped past the stranger, elbows jutted out, back straight, with the hope she looked more menacing than she felt.

 

As she walked away, the moonlight faded, plunging her into a darkness deeper than the deepest ocean. She fumbled in her coat pocket, digging deep until she found her torchlight.

 

Part Three

The last stretch of the path to the river was steep and rugged. Ayla navigated her way through shifting pebbles and jutting rocks, conscious of just how treacherous the journey was in the dark. Exposed tree roots snaked along the ground, threatening a great slip, a deathly fall. Ayla stepped carefully, using the dim light from her torch to find her way unharmed.

 

Finally, the riverbank met her with a splash. She shook her boot, but it was no use; the water had flooded it on contact. The water was already sinking into her skin, cooling it to a dangerously low temperature on a night already shrouded in cold. But Ayla ignored the bite of the chill as she sat on the edge of the river. She wriggled into the silt, shifting her weight into different positions, none of them comfortable. Finally, she settled on crossed legs, pocketed her torch and let her arms rest on her thighs. As she closed her eyes, she began to speak her longings to the river. To any ethereal beings that could catch her cry and be willing to help her, be powerful enough to grant her wish. 

 

As the night drew on, Ayla’s faith wavered. The blanket of night shifted, threatening dawn. The moon had not shone since she left the stranger.

 

She knew what the creatures wanted from her: the last thing she held dear. The one thing she swore never to let go of. But she knew that she couldn’t wish for the future while still living in the past. It hurt her heart at the thought of relinquishing the last thing that bound them, but it hurt more to hold on. She slipped the plain gold band from her ring finger and twirled it between her fingertips. To let new love in, she needed to let old love go. With a deep breath and a single tear, she threw the ring into the river.

 

 

Part Four

 

She imagined the river whisking away her old love, rushing in new life, until a rustling behind her interrupted her meditation.

 

Ayla gasped. It worked! She gave a quick thanks to the old Gods before hauling herself up as quickly as her oversized coat would allow her. She dug the torch back out of her pocket, keeping it off to avoid spooking the spirit, and spun around to see what lurked in the forest. 

 

What had the Gods sent to grant her wish? A fairy, she hoped. They were the most powerful, the least tricksy. Well, the good kinds were. She had to tread carefully, she realised. It was hard to tell the true nature of such creatures, and wording was vital. Villainous spirits were excellent at mimicking their good counterparts. It was why all the creatures of the forest were shunned, why the promise of the new God’s love pushed away the gods of old. He was uncomplicated; the old world was not. There were good Gods and deviant ones; the creatures that did their bidding mirrored their intent. There were signs to weed out the malevolent creatures, but their trickster nature meant they found ways to cheat the test. A film across their skin to pass the iron test, compelling another person or creature to stealthily break a salt circle. Soon, the risk of bargaining with an old God was not worth the reward for many people. Ayla knew what she faced and was willing to face it. She’d not turned her back on the Gods of old, not entirely. She hoped that they knew that. 

 

She moved forward slowly, careful to bow with each step to show the creature reverence and respect. 

 

The shadow stood still, letting her approach. The outline appeared human-shaped, but Ayla knew that night creatures could change their shape. 

 

Finally, the shadow spoke.

 

Part Five

“Hello again,” the shadow said.

 

Her heart sank as she turned on her torch to see the stranger from the woods.

“Hello,” she muttered, disheartened.

 

The moon burned through the clouds again, casting a light the sun would envy. She saw him more clearly now. Sun-kissed skin and a lop-sided smile. His ears were on the cusp of elvish as they tapered to a delicate point. His eyes were a midnight blue, flecked with pinpricks of light grey. He bowed again, his movements graceful and light.

 

“I know not how I found you in this darkness, but I thank the Gods that I did. You are more beautiful than I imagined you to be.” He bowed before adding, “I am Artair. It is an honour to meet you, Moon Goddess.”

 

Ayla looked at him, puzzled. “Moon Goddess?”

 

“Yes, I have searched the realm for you for countless days, hoping you’ll mend my wounded heart.”

 

Ayla felt laughter bubble in her throat. Her a Goddess? What nonsense. As much nonsense as you seeking a fairy to find you a Prince, she thought. Her laughter died at the thought, at the pleading face that stared at her.

 

She gave him a mournful smile. “I apologise. I am no Goddess. I am just another wounded soul seeking fae magic.”

 

 

She looked at her feet in embarrassment before conjuring the courage to meet Artair’s midnight eyes again. She looked into them, and he looked straight back into the spirals of hazelnut dancing in hers.

 

They broke into laughter simultaneously, doubled over in throes of mirth neither had felt in years. Tears trailed down their cheeks, laughing harder each time they caught each other’s eyes.

 

Finally, Ayla gathered enough breath and composure to speak again. “Well, Artair. It seems we are both fools to the folly of folktales.”

 

“Yes, it seems so…” Artair paused before adding, “I am sorry, I do not know your name.”

 

“No, I am sorry I did not share it. I am Ayla.”

 

He gave her a shy smile, “That is a beautiful name.”

 

“And yours strong, Artair.”

 

Silence surrounded them as both wondered what to do next.

 

What is the etiquette when two strangers meet in the woods searching for love granted by imaginary beings?

 

The moon remained steady in the sky, radiating light only on Artair and Ayla. An impossible breeze blew in opposing directions, pushing the two closer together. They felt the push, noticed the ring of light around them, and wondered.

 

“The wind is bitter here. I think it best I head back to the village,” Ayla declared, yet she made no move to leave.

 

“I think that wise. May I join you on your walk back?” Artair asked.

 

“You may. If the lights are back on, we might stop at the farm tea room. It isn’t much, but it is open before dawn.”

 

“That sounds magical, Ayla. Thank you.”

 

Ayla laughed as she walked past him, leading the way until Artair caught up and fell into step beside her.

 

I watch as they leave, a shadow behind the trees, a whisper on the wind. Corporealising on the spot where they stood, my gaze follows their fading forms.

 

“Well, that was a tough one,” I say to the forest before looking up, “Thanks, dear friend.”

 

The face in the moon graces me with a wink as I disperse into the wild once more, waiting until I am needed again.

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