This is the next part of my Fantasy story, The Woman in the Wood.
The first part is here:
The woman in the woods appraised the man who sat and talked with her while they drank her favourite Chamomile and Calendula tea. The man had come to find her to seek her help and had brought her a gift. The gift of a smile, something she had not seen in the longest time. The simplest things we often take for granted become a gift of the highest pedigree when we are deprived of them. The gentle aroma of the tea and the scent of the bunches of herbs tied to the eaves drying created a warm and relaxing atmosphere. As the woman admired the mans face, his strong jaw and brow, his brown expressive eyes, he gave a yawn.
“You must be tired after your long journey. You may rest here. There is a simple bed in the back room, I’m sure not what you are used to, but there are no fleas or bed bugs, of that I can assure you.”
“Then it is surely a finer bed than I have slept in for this past week it has taken me to get here. I doubt there is an Inn in the whole world where one can truly boast a man sleeps alone. He always has the bugs for company.”
They laughed easily together, as if they were old friends instead of people who had only met a few small hours ago. The Man looked into her eyes earnestly and asked.
“Will you help me? Can you give me something to save my Father?”
“If your Father is as far gone as you have described, he is too far along for me to just give you a potion, there would not be much hope that it would work. I think I must see him myself to be sure, I may be able to help, I may not. I may have some powers but Death is master of all. There is nothing I can do once someone is firmly in Deaths grasp.”
“Will you travel with me then? I would be so grateful.”
“I will go with you. Rest here tonight and we will travel tomorrow.”
The man’s face lit up with his smile. It had a bewitching charm of its own. She thought about how old he must be. He wasn’t a young man, just emerged from his boyhood. He had short brown stubble that clearly indicated a man used to shaving regularly but having gone without for a few days. He had a few fine lines on his forehead and around his eyes. She guessed that he was in his early thirties. She knew, however, how difficult guessing someone’s age could be. No one would be able to guess hers. She had taken steps long ago to disrupt the aging process. She would appear to many as a woman in her late thirties or early forties. She had however lived many, many years longer than that.
She showed the man to his bed and bade him good night. The sun had only just set, but he must have been tired because he was gently snoring in a very short time.
The woman made plans for her long journey. She only needed a few hours sleep and so, while the man slept, she weaved a spell by candlelight. The air around her crackled as she flung her arms wide. Her head fell back as she spoke her words of power into the sky. A dome of pale light surrounded the cottage and its surrounding garden and the forest glade looked like it was bathed in the light of a full moon. Yet there was no moon that night. The spell cast, the woman finished her tea and climbed up the wooden ladder to her bedroom to get the rest she now needed.
She was content that her home and her animals will remain preserved in time until she returned to break the spell, be that weeks or even years ahead.
The next day, the man awoke to the smell of eggs and mushrooms being cooked. He felt refreshed and full of energy. He saw that a bowl of steaming hot water and a clean towel had been placed on the table for him to wash. He pulled out his shaving knife and soap from his bag and began lathering up his face to shave before the water got too cold.
The woman looked up as the Man entered, clean-shaven and wearing a clean white shirt. They smiled at each other.
“I hope you like eggs and mushrooms, my Lord. I also have some bread with goat butter. I’m afraid I have no meat.”
“That sounds wonderful. It is definitely the best Inn I have stayed in. I have been surviving on a breakfast of porridge, although that did have the added flavour of weevils. This is a dish fit for a king. By the way. please call me Perseus. What is your name, may I ask?”
“Oh, I have been called many names over the years. Hecate, Selene, Phoebe, once I was even Nemesis, but more recently I have been Panacea. Call me what you will, I will answer, as there is no one here but me to do so.”
“Very well, I shall call you Diana, because you are queen of the wood.”
This made her smile deepen. He had chosen a name close to her heart.
They ate breakfast together and discussed the journey ahead of them.
It was only when Perseus was replacing his saddle on to his horse that an important question came to him.
“How will we travel? I have only one horse and I don’t think he can carry our combined weight all the way. I suppose you can ride while I walk, but I fear my father will not live long enough for us to return. It would take us so much longer.”
“You ride, I will travel another way.” Her green eyes held much amusement as she said.
“I will introduce you to another name I have been called. The Morrigan.”
She left him to finish preparing his horse and went upstairs to her bedroom.
Just as Perseus was ready to ride, he heard the loud call of a bird and out from the upstairs window of the cottage flew a large pure white raven. He didn’t have to be told that it was her. The Raven landed on his horse’s neck and gave him a hard stare. Her voice emerged from its open beak, soft and mellifluous, not the harsh cries of a Raven.
“Well, are we going then?” She opened her white wings and flew off towards the rising sun.
He smiled to himself and gave a flick of his reins and galloped to catch up with her.
The journey had begun.
Copyright: Kristian Fogarty 15/May/2018