My people fear the forest.
I don’t know. No one in the village or in my family has ever told me why. All they say is “do not venture past the forest’s edge,” or “your fate will meet you if you traverse the forest’s domain.” Sometimes they simply say “you will die if you dare enter the forest; do not go in.”
Naturally, one would be skeptical. Why shouldn’t I enter the forest? What on earth could be in there? The forest seemed friendly enough. Birds could be heard happily singing in the branches; sometimes a little rabbit could be seen poking out of the brush; deer sometimes fed on the outer rows of trees.
I pondered these things as I gazed into the beautiful forest. Thousands upon thousands of trees grew there; bushes grew and flowers flourished; animals of many, many species took refuge there. What was so dangerous about it?
No one really knew what was so dangerous about it, but legend had it a pond of liquid diamond laid in the center of the forest. That alone made people think menacing, supernatural beings lurked there.
A charming whistle floated on the breeze.
It came from the forest! My curiosity piqued; I squinted to see the forest’s edge clearer. All I saw was a gorgeous doe silently eating berries. Her ears flicked up as the whistle sounded again. She lifted her head and looked at me.
Something grasped my attention. Entranced, I walked closer and closer to the forest. The doe’s emerald eyes seemed to read my mind and pull me in.
Leaves crunched under my bare feet. I looked down. I was in the forest.
I looked up––the doe was gone.
Nothing happened to me.
I chuckled to myself. So, it was all a myth. There was nothing to fear in the forest. I walked further. The worst that happened to me was a small splinter that stuck in my heel. I pulled it out easily and continued walking. Deer stared at me and birds greeted me with sweet melodies. Rabbits and squirrels looked at me, astonished.
Sleep began to overcome me; I knew not how long I had been walking. My heel ached, and I wanted to rest. I leaned against the trunk of a strong oak and settled in amongst its fallen leaves. The edges of my eyelids longed to meet each other; they became heavier as sleep enveloped me.
Sweet, calm darkness swallowed me.
The summer breeze brushed past my sundress as I walked down the lane. Pebbles stuck between my toes and to the bottom of my feet. My hands were folded behind my back and my hair fluttered in the breath of the wind as I walked along, lost in thought.
I heard the hunter’s dogs barking in the distance and the trample of dozens of horse hooves; it was the shouts of the hunters themselves that shattered my daydreams like glass. They always shouted when they rode home––like the group of overgrown hooligans they were––but this time, it was different. The shouts weren’t those of joy and a successful hunt.
Alarm seized my body and I felt numb as I heard the name they were shouting.
My heart dropped into my stomach.
Emotion pumped adrenaline into my bloodstream. I began running as fast as I could. Fear constricted my lungs and throat, making it difficult to breathe. I tripped over a large rock and tumbled heels-over-head into the brush.
Dazed, I picked myself up and continued running. It was at least five minutes until I came in sight of the village. I heard wails and mourning as I approached.
The scene unfolded before my eyes: A ring of hunters stood around a deerskin cot. Woebegone women covered their faces with their hands and rocked on their knees; cries leaked through their fingers and rang in my ears.
I saw my father leaning on his staff, looking sorrowfully at the cot. His eyes were becoming red, and I could see tears building and trickling down his face.
He looked up. I locked eyes with him. I didn’t need him to say anything. I knew it was Lorcán. I knew he was dead. My father held his hand towards me. He wanted me to come. Fire bubbled up in my soul.
Lorcán was the only one who could comfort me––but Lorcán was gone now.
The fire rushed into my legs and burned my body and mind. There was nothing I could do now except run.
Run from the dread.
Run from my family.
Run from the village.
Run from the pain.
Sharp wind pricked my face as I ran. My legs ached and my head spun. The pounding of my feet against the hard ground hurt my head.
Before I knew it, I stood before the forest. The very same forest my people feared––had feared for generations. I didn’t care anymore. I wanted to disappear.
I darted into the forest and ran farther.
A large root missed my attention. I felt something snag my foot and pull me down. The last thing I saw was a rock––searing pain filled my head, and then–
Everything went black.
Gold, creamy light shone on the ceiling. Something wet trickled down my forehead.
I opened my eyes.
A girl was standing beside me. Her big emerald eyes seemed familiar to me; her skin was fair as white lilies. Brown freckles were scattered along her slim cheekbones. Long, fine, fawn-colored hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back. She was dressed in simple doeskins––however, none of these things seemed out of the ordinary until I noticed her ears. They were placed where ears were usually placed on a human, but they were soft doe’s ears.
The girl smiled at me. How are you feeling, Little One?
My heart skipped a beat. The girl hadn’t moved her mouth at all, but her delicate voice rang in my head like sweet bells.
Who are you? I thought back to her.
I am Inerys, a simple doe-girl. I saw you in danger, so I rescued you. Her thin eyebrows furrowed as she looked at me. I sense you are troubled. What has chased you into the Starlight Realm?
The pain of Lorcán’s death rushed back. I looked away as my eyes welled up with tears. I lost part of myself, I replied shakily.
The one you call Lorcán?
Yes. We were preparing to be wed. He was my best friend. There’s no sense in living now that he’s gone.
Inerys wiped my forehead soothingly with a soft, wet rag. Do not despair, dearest. You feel sore over your recent loss, but do not quit. Your wounds will be healed soon––your head was quite injured after your fall. Good things are in store for you, if you wait.
I wondered what Inerys meant. I didn’t wonder for long, though. Inerys gave me food that seemed to dissolve my physical pain and help me sleep.
I didn’t know how many days I spent with Inerys, but they passed like a dream. She told me of many wonderful things in her world. She chronicled the adventures of the deer-beings, the tricks of the fox-folk, the arts of the rabbit-people, and many others.
After many moons, Inerys finally told me the Legend of the Diamond Pond. I sat up eagerly on my cot as she told me the tale.
Long, long ago, began Inerys in her soft, magical voice. Artemis, the Mother of the Animal-Peoples, created the Starlight Realm. We are her children; Artemis created us because she was sick of human folly. Artemis promised the Animal-Peoples’ safety by laying a curse on any outsiders who entered.
The only law the Animal-Peoples had to follow was this: Never touch the Diamond Pond.
Naturally, humans would be quick to break this law, but the divine ancestry of the Animal-Peoples keeps their thoughts unstained; not one of our kind had ever laid a finger on the liquid diamond of the pond.
Artemis told us that those who touched it would see their future, but would suffer their worst fear.
A shiver ran down my spine when Inerys finished her story.
Can you take me to see the Diamond Pond? I inquired.
Inerys sat back in her rocking chair and thought. I do not know, Little One, she said slowly. Your human nature will make it very dangerous.
Please, I implored. I promise I won’t touch it.
Very well, Inerys consented dubiously. Remember what will happen if you touch it.
The next day, Inerys and I set out. She turned into her native doe form and let me ride her soft back.
We walked for a few hours. I noticed that the chirping of the birds slowly died away until there was silence.
I no longer saw rabbit and squirrel beings scuttling around; sneaky fox folk were nowhere to be seen; every now and then, I saw a silent deer-person wandering around.
The forest became darker and darker as Inerys and I walked on. The only sound I heard was that of Inerys’ hooves.
I became tired of watching the forest trailing by us and looked down. Inerys’ shoulder blades and muscles rippled under her hide as she walked. I drifted off into memories of Lorcán as I rocked to the rhythm of Inerys’ steps.
Little One, look up, I heard her say.
When I looked up, my eyes were met by a crystal white light. It was the purest light I had ever seen.
Inerys walked closer, and the Diamond Pond came into view.
It was about ten yards in diameter; the perfectly circular shore was littered with sand-like diamonds.. A beam of moonlight shone on the pond. The liquid diamond filtered the light into rainbows that bounced around in the pond.
I slid off of Inerys’ back and walked towards the shore.
I could hardly believe my eyes. The diamond light drew me in. I felt the diamonds under my feet. I looked back at Inerys.
Do not touch the water, she said. You know not what will happen.
I looked at the water. A vision of Lorcán flashed across the surface.
He was riding towards the forest!
Why did I see him in the Diamond Pond?
What if the water was the way I could return?
I looked back at Inerys. I saw panic in her eyes.
Thank you, Inerys, I said. I love you. I’ll miss you, but I’ll always remember you.
I ran back and hugged her neck. I dashed back to the shore before she could morph and catch me.
I fell to my knees and reached forward, touching the surface of the diamond water.
My hand felt as if I was holding it to ice. I drew my hand back from the cold, but two hands reached out of the water and grabbed my ankles.
I shrieked in surprise. The hands dragged me into the water. I tried to cling onto the shore, but the diamonds filtered through my fingers.
My head went under, and I couldn’t see anything. Fear, excitement, sadness, anger, pain––every emotion and physical feeling I had experienced flashed through my body and soul. Everything seemed to tie itself into a knot and climax. I couldn’t feel anything. I was dead.
“Kaorí! Kaorí, wake up!”
Familiar voices surrounded me. Someone snatched me up and held me against them.
“Kaorí, my darling, please, wake!”
I thought I was dreaming––it was Lorcán’s voice! I opened my eyes. I saw Lorcán’s panic-stricken expression.
When he saw my eyes were open, he cried with joy and kissed me. His warm breath blew over my face and neck as he caressed me. I laughed––I don’t know why. It felt like the only thing I could do at the moment.
“Lorcán, Lorcán, you’re alive!” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck and meeting his lips with mine.
“Dear, I was never dead! It was you who almost died!”
“What? But I saw you––you were lying on a cot. People were crying and wailing. I ran into the forest and saw the most wonderful things.”
“Kaorí, it doesn’t matter now. We’re both here. I want you to tell me about your adventure when we get home. You look spent and exhausted. Come rest with me.”
Lorcán lifted me up onto his horse’s back and jumped up behind me. I looked back. A doe stood in the shadows of the forest’s edge. Her emerald eyes met my brown ones. I lifted my hand and waved. The doe bowed her head.
Have a safe journey, Little One.
The doe disappeared into the woods.
“Who’re you waving to?” Lorcán asked.
“A friend I met in the forest,” I replied.
Lorcán turned and peered into the dense forest. “I don’t see anyone.”
“She’s there,” I said. “On the edge of the forest.”
I watched the distance between us and the forest increase. An odd feeling crawled into my head.
“Lorcán?” I said, alarmed. “Lorcán, what is happening?”
Everything around me began to fade away. I tried to cling on to pieces of Lorcán, but nothing helped.
I screamed his name, trying to find my way around the darkness.
Someone held me down. I was flinging my arms and legs, trying to get free.
“Lorcán!” I screamed. “Lorcán!”
My screams echoed in my head. Where was he? He was just by my side!
“Kaorí! Be still!” Someone’s voice broke through the black chaoticness.
“Kaorí, he’s gone! I’m sorry!”
I knew it was my father’s voice. He held me down and tried to calm me.
“Where’s Lorcán? And Inerys? Where are they?”
“Lorcán is dead,” he replied softly. “Who is Inerys?”
I grew still under the calm of despair.
Lorcán was gone. Inerys was probably gone as well––or never existed.
I remembered her comforting words. Good things are in store for you, if you wait. Lorcán was gone now, but I had to keep living. My love for him would never die.
He would wait for me in the Diamond Pond.