Being a young faun wasn’t easy. Especially when you had three older brothers who loved tormenting you. My brother Adalwolf was the largest and strongest, Alfwin, the smartest and Ansovald was the fastest but I was none of these. Even in my dreams, there was no escape from them.
At least twice a week for the last year, I had a reoccurring dream that seemed to become clearer the more times that I dreamed it. In my dream, I’m surrounded by tall hedges and was walking toward a shiny object, lit by moonlight. It was a dark, cold night and a light mist filled the air. The sounds of the forest could be heard in the distance, like Centaurs galloping and mischievous pixies chatting. Along with my footsteps on the frosty grass.
As I approached the object, I heard what I thought was music, but my attention was drawn to furtive footsteps. I stopped and remained as quiet as possible, but I no longer heard them, so I continued walking toward it.
I was now close enough to see that it was a gold harp and the music that could be heard, was the sound of the wind, blowing gently through the harp strings. I had just grabbed it, when I heard the sound of running and growling… That’s the point when I would wake up.
It was now early morning and I could smell the delicious aroma of roasting frogs, so I emerged from the pile of wolf pelts that I slept in and looked at my reflection in the opaque mirror. Yep! My horns were still small…
I walked up to the fireplace and found my brothers already eating. Mother turned to me and said,
“Good morning, Amalric! Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, I did mother and you?”
Just then, I felt a frog leg hit me in the back of the head and heard sniggering. Mother then turned around and gave me a plate of frogs and boiled kale, then I sat beside my brothers and ate breakfast.
To my left, was Ansovald. His horns were long but thin and to my right, was Alfwin, who had extra twists in his horns, while Adalwolf’s horns were thick and long. Mine were about an inch long… It wasn’t uncommon for Fauns to have delayed horn growth, but I was also the runt of the litter. Even the fur on my legs weren’t as thick as my brothers.
After breakfast, my brothers and I joined our father in the fields, now ‘he’ was a great specimen of a faun! Eight-foot-tall, covered in fur with long-twisted horns that were as thick as my arms! I had a great relationship with my father, but I never really knew why. Especially as he had three other sons that were a lot more… more!
We all had our own jobs to do and mine was to check that the pixies weren’t eating our turnips. Pixies were approximately six inches tall, had delicate wings and were tricky and if you catch one by itself, they’re cute and pathetic. Two or three and they could be a little brazen but six or more could get you into trouble. I however, had a different relationship with them. For some reason, they treated me differently to my family. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the heart to kill them if they ate our vegetables. Instead, shooed them away gently.
I gathered the ripe turnips and placed them in two large baskets, that we would bring to the village, along with the other produce that we grew. I walked up to my father and asked,
“Father… This will be my first trip into the village. What should I expect?”
“Well, Amalric. It will take a whole day to get there. Meaning, we will camp on the way there then on the way back. There are about five or six stores and huts in the village, but we’ll sell our goods from our cart.
There will be many match making opportunities and we’re hoping that your brother Adalwolf, might attract a mate. But the most important thing is the festival of the Faun, where the bravest of us will enter the labyrinth and seek the prize.”
I watched my father, as he looked back into the past and thought about his father, who was brave enough to enter the labyrinth, found the prize and became the Grand Burgrave of the county. He’d often tell me about my grandfather, as he said I reminded him of the great Aldous, but I could never believe him.
“Why was it dangerous, father?”
“Well, the maze is very large and it’s possible to get lost in it then never find your way out and starve to death. Then, there are the creatures of the maze. No one knows what they are or what they look like but, they can be heard from outside of the maze. Along with the screams of lost fauns.
Your grandfather was the only faun that had encountered one and lived. He didn’t get a good look at it, but it did make three deep scratches on his face. He said that… It was darker than black but… you won’t ever have to worry it, as you’ll never enter the maze. There are years when no faun would venture in, despite of the glory that could be had.”
“Grandfather… changed when he emerged, didn’t he father?”
“Yes! Hew grew at least one foot taller, became stronger and his horns… shone! He received so much respect from the village and that very night, courted my mother. He reminds me so much of you…”
The day past by and we headed for our hut, for a well-earned rest. My brothers teased me, but I didn’t get angry. They were way up in the pecking order and it was my duty to respect that. Adalwolf wiped the grilled lizard from his mouth with his fury arm and asked me,
“Did any of the pixies attack you today, Amalric?”
My brothers laughed but I didn’t mind.
“No. Not today.”
My brothers were a little restrained in the presence of our parents but could get a little physical when they weren’t around. I had a scar on my chest that was healing, where Alfwin had rammed me. Adalwolf then announced,
“When we arrive at the village, I will have my pick of the does!”
My brothers played along and made ruckus, while my parents gave each other knowing looks. The next day, we loaded the carts with our produce and hooked up our Aurochs, which pulled the carts to the village. My mother stayed home while we embarked on our odyssey, but I started to panic, once we crossed the far river, as it was the furthest that I had been away from home.
We made camp that evening under the stars, but it took me a while to fall asleep. I was roused the next morning by my brother, Ansovald. Well… roused was nicer than saying he kicked my feet, then we continued our journey.
I could ‘smell’ the town before I even saw it, as we had to walk around the huge labyrinth but once it came into view, I was immediately impressed! There would have to have been… a hundred faun, all in the one place and I’d never seen a crowd so big!
There were bucks and does, young and old, talking… laughing, buying and selling. I heard music from a trio playing a drum, a lute and flute but it was the lute player that caught my attention. She was pretty, about my age and seemed slender, compared to the heavy set does that milled about. I caught her eye; she smiled at me and I was so distracted, that I accidentally walked into the back of another faun.
He was almost two feet taller than me and was very annoyed by the accident, and when two bucks locked horns, physically or metaphorically, it was never pretty. He grabbed me by my vest and yelled,
“Watch it, halfling!”
From behind me, I heard a blood chilling growl and my new friend’s demeanor changed. It was my father who had issued a clear warning.
“Just be careful, son.”
He then unhanded me, and I turned toward my father and said,
“Thank you, father.”
We set up our stalls near a family that sold rabbits and lizards then we started meeting customers. Most of our sales didn’t involve gold coins but instead, exchanges of similar valued items. For example, I traded four turnips for a lizard. Then a few hours later, a buck and his young daughter came by our carts and I recognized her as the one that play the lute earlier that day.
I stood beside my oldest brother, Adalwolf who had been doing his best to attract a mate but wasn’t doing well, when the young doe smiled at me, while I got a frown from her father. The old buck then smiled at Adalwolf, which ironically drew a frown from the young doe. Adalwolf smiled at the doe, showing his bottom canines then pushed me aside and said,
I tripped over a basket and fell on the ground. None of my brother’s had called me names before or insulted me in public and for once in my life, I was angry! I looked at the young doe, who had a expression of pity on her face and before I knew what I was doing, I picked up a turnip and threw it at my brother’s head! That was not good.
Fauns had fought and killed each other for much less and because it happened in front of a prospective mate, it magnified the transgression. The fact that Adalwolf was my brother, meant little in something like this.
He turned and faced me, then lowered his head, snorted and it was then that I feared for my life. I sprang quickly to my feet and ran in the opposite direction… directly toward the labyrinth. My brother was much faster than me, but he started slowing down when he realized where I was headed.
I intended to stop just near the entrance of the labyrinth but slipped on the wet, mossy ground then I found myself flat on my back ‘in’ the labyrinth and unwittingly started a journey of discovery. For instance, you can’t leave from the way you came. I could see my brother just outside of the entrance, but his image shimmered, and his voice was muffled. I tried to get out but couldn’t get through!
The other thing was that it was night-time and cold in the labyrinth and I heard all manner of creatures of the night, like hooting owls and bats. A light fog… Wait. This was like my dream! I began walking toward the centre of the labyrinth and remembered what my father said about most fauns never getting out, when a group of pixies flew toward me. They glowed slightly in the same way that fireflies did and chatted to each other in their squeaky, nonsensical language. Surprisingly, they motioned for me to follow them!
I decided to do so and walked deeper into the maze, made up of twenty-foot-tall hedges then turned left then right… then right again. A few hours later, I spotted a moon beam shining on an object in the distance, and the sound of running steps. I could have predicted exactly when I would have heard them and that gave me an idea. If I knew what was going to happen at the end, I could prepare for it!
Instead of walking slowly toward the object, I decided to run. Thinking that it may bide me some time to deal with the unseen creatures that I had dreamed about. Which I now know were the same creatures that my grandfather had encountered.
I heard the faint sounds of the wind blowing through the strings of the harp and running footsteps in the distance, then I grabbed the harp, turned to face my pursuers. I don’t know why I did it, but I reached my hand toward the running footsteps and said,
Bright light shone from my hand, illuminating the labyrinth and the creatures that pursed me. The creatures weren’t black, they were devoid of light and when the light hit them, they screamed and disappeared. The light then enveloped me and all I could see was white, then I fell asleep.
I don’t know how long I slept for but when I arose, I felt… different and my clothes were smaller. I looked at my legs and found that my fur had thickened and my arms… were huge! I ran my hands over my body, then my head and felt two thick, long horns but they didn’t feel like bone. They were smooth and metallic.
Did this really happen or am I dreaming? I looked around for the harp but there was no sign of it, but I did see movement in the hedges of the labyrinth. I watched closely as the maze made a path that led… back to the village.
I started running as fast as I could and even this simple act felt different. I was so much faster and more powerful, then as I approached the exit, I found another shimmering barrier but this time, it allowed me through.
The transition from dark and cold to warm and sunny was startling but not as startling as the fauns standing near the exit! I looked ‘down’ at my father and he said,
Wait! Was that me? My voice was so much deeper! Everyone started to cheer, including my brothers and the whole village market turned into a celebration, with wolfs and ostriches cooked on spits. My father, brothers and I, sat around the fire, talking about what had happened then my brother, Adalwolf sheepishly apologized to me. They regarded me with awe and one by one, asked if they could touch my horns. I felt like saying ‘brothers! It’s still me!’ but I knew that things have changed fundamentally between us.
Adalwolf grabbed a length of cord and wrapped it once around his arm, so he could compare it to the size of my arm. I was so much bigger, then before the evening died down, the pretty young doe that I briefly met early that day, approached me. Along with her starstruck father…
I had a few father’s and daughters approach me in the afternoon, but I planned to speak to this one. The old buck then asked,
“Excuse me, sire… Are you Amalric?”
He called me sire! The same faun that looked at me with disgust earlier today. I turned to my father, who had a huge smile on his face.
“Yes I am.”
“Amalric… With all due respect, I would like for you to consider taking my daughter as your mate. I am a wealthy faun and I offer you a large hut, right here in the village as dowry. You would not need to tend the fields or hunt, as I have spoken to the village elders and they say that having you be with us, is an honor that we would gladly pay for!”
I was so overwhelmed with everything that had happened that day and it took me a moment to comprehend what my future could behold. I looked at the young doe and asked,
“What is your name?”
“Would you like to walk with me?”
Most bucks would base their decisions solely on looks alone but I wanted to know more about her. We talked for a while as we circled the village campfires. By the time we returned to my camp site, I had decided. Adalgisa was beautiful inside and out, then I walked up to her father and asked,
“Faun… What is your name?”
I was still amazed at how deep my voice had become.
“Aenor. I am honored to accept your daughter as my mate and your hut as our home.”
There was a great cheer from the fauns that stood nearby, then Aenor went to retrieve a barrel of meed. We made short work of it so other villagers contributed barrels of meed and food. They even gave my father wolf pelts, goods and gold coins as homage, for being my father.
A month later, they asked me to be the Grand Burgrave of the county and I accepted, then in the following spring, Adalgisa gave birth to our first buck, which we named Aldous, in honor of my grandfather.
The years went by and fauns stopped running the gauntlet of the labyrinth and in time, it became a wild, overgrown hedge. During a visit from my father, I asked him,
“Father… I had never asked you but ‘how’ could you say that I reminded you so much of Grandfather, when I looked nothing like him when I was younger?”
“I didn’t say that you ‘looked’ like him. My father was wise and compassionate, which in turn made him a great leader. ‘That’s’ what I saw in you. What I’ve always seen in you.”
I thought about what he said for a long time. Was my compassion toward other creatures evident to the pixies that lead me to the harp? Whatever happened to it? Maybe it had somehow… became part of me. Either way, I used what I had learned to help raise my four sons. Each of which had unique qualities and strengths, but I taught them to be compassionate… to be kind and they all found at different times, there was true power in that.
I had been so blessed with everything I had, the village prospered and had doubled in size but unbeknownst to me, my story had spread all over the land and even to the Centaurs.
The story of the faun…