Who Was I Before?

“You’ve lived here all your life,” my lover told me.

He said a hundred things, and amid the green and gilded gloom of that place I forgot them all, spun away into the silken dream of him.

Sometimes he was the forest itself, a being of many limbs and forms that held me in the nest of itself and gave me endless pleasure. Then he was a creature like a beautiful elf, with hair that flowed like meadowgrass in a sensuous wind about us. Other times he was, in looks, a boy of twenty, soft as calf skin in his love.

And others, others…

He was a monster of wiles and wood, my prince, a horror of whom I well knew to be afraid.

Now and then I tried to run from him, naked and screaming for aid from those I’d lost, whose names and faces I no longer knew. Always a vine would trip me by the foot and bind me, and I would be the vessel of his mercy, my lover amidst the faerie trees.

From time to time he was kind in what he did, as though I had merely confused my way in that enchanted glade as I had that first time, where, from some strange path, he had spirited me away into the emerald thicket of his magic.

“My darling,” he would croon to me. “I am here. You have come back to me again.”

Then all my terror would die, moth-like, in the blaze of his goodness, and all my hurt would rot, and die away.

Yet more often than not I would see the soft and slinking evil of his cankered heart, hateful and jealous. That darkness sold me to him further still, for I saw him as something delicate and wounded, and sought to heal him, if I could.

Had he been ugly, perhaps I would not have made so grievous an error of judgement. As it was, my lover was beautiful in a way that men are not, and only the elves of long ago ever were. He was far more beautiful even than the twisting forest that he inhabited, for he was a prince among Fae, sibling to Time, and the Elements; a demi-god, if I had known that name.

Moreover he was wild, and man, and possessed of delirious and fantastical power.

Sometimes, when we made love, it contorted my body into configurations that were improbable, inhuman. We became creatures. We became things. We became horrors inconceivable.

Then my mortal form would return to me, I would shake to think what agonies my shape had wrought me that were forgotten, what strange and sickening pleasures. Then the forest God would have me love him again, and my distress would become no more than vapour on the wind.

I lost all to his love, but time surest of all.

“How long have I lived with you?” I would ask him, as we lay together in a bed of moss, many branches casting a latticed shadow like splayed fingers cross our faces. “How many years? I do not remember.”

“Does it matter, my darling?” he would sometimes reply. “We are together; why strain yourself to think of anything more?”

Or, more often than not, “You have always been here, at my side. There was nothing before.”

But once, on a whim, he told me the truth, knowing well his magic would softly scour the words away before they sunk their roots. As he did so the prince ran his fingers idly through my hair, as though I were some beast to be tamed through his feigned sweetness. As though his words were not emblems of his unhinged evil.

Yet it was not for another swollen month of my lover’s delight that I heard the tale again, and held onto it, or else I should never have had the thought to relay to you the words.

The forest God had gone away, as he would, to the court of his brethren, which was the only place beyond the woods that he could go without losing all his power. This limitation angered him, I knew; I had seem him pace the perimeter of trees like a caged tiger, yearning for the world beyond that could never be his, unless he were prepared to die for it.

So it was to the palaces of the Fae that he would escape, when he could, to be amongst his friends, and brethren.

Had I been of the same matter as my prince he would have taken me with him, so proud and possessive a being was he. That he could not do so should have told me that he and I were not of the same ilk, but I was made half a fool by my enchantment, the contents of my mind naught but sand and shadow.

All that occurred to me in my prince’s absence was that I was unhappy, and did not quite know why. Weeping, I lay on a moss-shrugged hillock, wondering at the depths of that formless despair.

It was as I languished there that an unfamiliar being passed through the forest, playing a flute as he twined through the trees. Like a small and slender boy he looked, though his eyes were yellow and slit-pupilled, like a goat’s, and his curly head was horned like one, also.

Upon seeing me he put down his flute and sat, cross-legged, before me.

“Little lost one,” said the faun. “I have a gift for a poor soul like you, if you will take it.”

“What gift?” I asked, wiping my face clean of tears on the back of my hand.

The faun grinned, merry as a child.

“A story,” he said. “One that you will not forget even here, in this emerald dream. Would you care to hear it?”

I clapped my hands and crowed; never had I received a visitor in the forest before, particularly not one that so readily came forth with presents.

The faun tootled a few notes on his pipe and nodded, a coil of amber hair falling down over one mischievous eye.

“Very well, lovely one,” he said. “Hark to me.”

I inched close to the faun across the grass, and obeyed, my hands sweetly clasped in my lap.

What tale I expected from that pretty tulip mouth I do not know, for the forest had shaken every tale from me to such extent that even the most familiar children’s fare were as foreign to me as what lay beyond the stars. Yet when the faun began to speak I felt that I had heard his words a thousand times, or else that they were carved into my very bones by a hand a did not know.

“Once, there was a girl,” said the faun, “foolish and fair, with hair to her waist as black as a poppy’s heart, and skin like the very bark of the trees she passed through on the way home to her mother. The maiden had gone foraging for the meal they were to share that night by the fireside, which was how she came to wander the forest alone.

Blue she wore, that day, her dress and cloak a river around her, or else a shimmering dream. She was innocent, a temptress without knowing the lure her innocence dangled before the lusts of the Forest God, who was himself a Fae Prince bound to that place until the end of worlds. Cruel and ravenous was he, for often he took young men and women from the woods for himself, though he tired of their pleasures, in time.

He would release them many years after their taking, each addled and lustreless from the reaping of his magic, and entirely alone, their families having aged, or gone to their graves.

The wandering woman, however— she captivated the Prince as not even the loveliest nymphs ever had, her eyes so guilessly dark that they served as pure and perfect mirrors to him. So it was that the God cast down the net of his capturing spell, changing the woods in such a way that it trapped the young woman, mazelike, until she stumbled, lost and weeping, in the arms of the man that would make her his servant.

There was nothing she could do, of course; she was but a mortal woman that knew nothing of the poison spilled into her eyes and eardrums, scarcely feeling the prick of the Prince’s thorn as he drew her down into a meadow and took her virtue.

Sometimes, in stirring moments, the maiden would remember that pain and scream, but the prison that held her was such that even agony was the most elegant and exact pleasure to her. There that lady would remain for two hundred years, as eternal in her beauty as the Frozen North, and thinking herself in love, poor thing.

The girl’s mother had gone looking for her daughter the day after the woods took her, folly that would see that hapless crone lured up into the hollow heart of a tree that closed upon her, trapping her there until she died. The maiden would not learn of this until her time in the arms of the jealous Forest God had near ended, and her mother’s corpse had dried to a husk, where she would never be found.

One day, a faun took pity on that lost maiden, and told her what she was, and from whence she came. He could lead her from the forest, he told her, if only she would follow him, and never look back at the path she had left behind.

At the border of the dark woods the girl would find the flint tips of arrowheads from a long-dead hunter piercing the flank of a great oak. These she would strike together to create the yellow spell of fire, and in a blaze this power would destroy the Forest God.

Now you know what you must do, Aeli. So come. Follow.”

The faun hopped to his feet, piping a ditty that charmed the very birds down from the brush. Yet I only lay and sobbed under the weight of the grief and rage that swept through me in a bitter tide. I had wasted so many lifetimes in the thrall of a murderer, a defiler of the pure and beautiful of this realm. My mother had died for me, and I did not know if there was still a village beyond the forest.

“Aeli,” said the faun, gently. “You must follow. You know how this tale must end.”

Slowly I dragged myself up, rallying what pale nerve and strength I had left after an age devoted to a monster, and inched after the faun in wavering footsteps. The sound of the trees about me was now threatening and strange; I had seen the Prince hunt and kill intruders by twisting the very flora around them, or else chase on foot with speed only unnatural power could account for.

My breath came hard and horrible through me in my fear, furthered by the sinister notes of the flute as the faun skipped easily through the rustling wood.

At last we came to the edge of the forest, beyond which I saw rolling plains, farmland, and beyond that the dark specks of faraway homes, each as minute as the pores in one’s skin. I could have fallen to my knees again in the emotion of seeing that there was indeed existence beyond the Forest God and his luscious cruelties, but I remained upright, leaning my weight against a tree whose bark pricked the underside of my palm till from it rolled sapphires of blood.

Indeed I had discovered the arrow heads of which the faun had spoken; the creature himself had disappeared, and as I glanced about in search of him I understood that, from here, I was to go on alone. Yet the faun’s absence panicked me in more than the terror of independence; the small hairs on my neck and arms rose sentinel, and I clutched the arrowheads to my hand with a desperation that I did not quite comprehend.

I imagined setting fire to the forest, as the faun advised, hearing the woods crackle and scream in a tide of ochre flame, dying, dying. In my mind’s eye I could not see myself striding down to the village, victorious, as sometimes I dreamed; I would be a stranger to my people, now, broken, unskilled, and useless to any host, mumbling in some tongue from the forgotten past.

Better to walk into the fire and burn there with my false lover than live in a world in which I no longer belonged.

Yet I could not being myself to ignite the killing flame, for all that I yearned for an end to myself, and the bell jar existence I inhabited. Amidst helpless tears I abandoned the flint and cast the pieces down into the grass, caught between the woods, and society, and the black opacity of what lay beyond.

There came a rustling through the trees beside me, the fading note of a flute; thinking my friend, the faun, had returned to comfort me I did not think to conceal my emotion. Only when a cool hand graced my cheek and pushed aside a tear-dampened coil of hair did I realise that it was the Forest God, returned from his duties.

To my amazement he was not angry with me.

“My test,” he said, softly. “You passed it. I returned your faculties to you, unveiled the truth of what I am, and you once were, and still you remain at my side. You are a worthy bride. I need never bid you forget your life again.”

“You were the faun,” I said, accepting kisses, the swathing of my body in his robes, his hair, his arms.

“Yes,” said the Prince. “You did not know, and still, you honoured me. My queen.”

His eyes, as he gazed into mine, were as black and beautiful and terrible as the night. I knew then that I would live with him always, that my place was at his side, for all that I would suffer. There would, at least, be pleasures as well— and have indeed been, for I have remained there ever since, in the palace my God has built for me, in the trees, long may he keep me.

Published by (Not actually a Lady) Ruthless

I'm a Manchester based horror writer! Non binary. Stuck with this domain because I'm lazy

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