**Please note: Words are intentionally interchanged depending on the character such as you/ye as a distinction in dialect and upbringing**
Twinkling throughout the trees lit up the sooty night as I headed home. The bright glow as if a hundred fairies perched upon the branches. Perhaps they came from their dwellings to play with spring nigh. I shall leave thimbles of milk out in thanks for their guidance upon the path.
A streak of furred brown raced across my path, looking for its burrow. I searched the trail for what pursued him. A red fox jumped upon the fallowed ground from a nearby rock, his hungry maw searching for his intended meal.
“Leave him be ye foul brute. Ye have eaten yer dinner this night,” I scolded.
He stumbled upon a stone and turned, unaware of my presence afore now.
“There will be plenty more on the morrow.”
He waved his bristled tail and raced back into the woods. The hare, long gone, becoming a distant memory.
A screech owl circled overhead and landed on a nearby branch. He spread his wings afore settling, scattering the fairies.
“Who, who, who were you talking to?” He called into the night.
“That pesky fox from the forest over by the next glen. He thinks he be sneaky when I look away.”
“I will swoop down and remove his fur if he should return.”
“Leave him be. I will be ever watchful of his intent.” I continued along the path to my home.
Ahead, my cabin stood nestled amongst the trees in a protective circle. I gave thanks to the mother goddess for the shade they provided in the height of summer and cover from the winds with the season changes. Their branches shielded my sanctuary from unwelcomed eyes for many a twelvemonth.
The thatched roof gleamed in the moonlight from the early dew. A small patch of grass surrounded the rear where the morning sun hit. Already the nighttime foragers filled the plot, grazing or looking for an easy meal.
“Be gone, ye nettlesome beasts. Go hunt in someone else’s garden.” I waved my staff to shoo them away.
Angry chitters and growls filled the air as the animals scattered. I tuned them all out. If I let every creature’s voice invade my head, there would be no room left for my own.
When I opened the door, the moon sent an arc of light, casting shadows throughout the room. It only seemed to enhance the emptiness.
Few strayed this deep into the woods, the eerie tales of enchanted forests well known throughout the land. Those brave enough to enter ofttimes ran from the fierce beasts calling the place home. The unlucky ones who made it this far disappeared with the wind. Nary a soul had passed this way in many a day.
Alone. The gift the mother goddess saw fit to give me shattered any hopes I had of finding one to spend my life with. It was a burden I continued to wear, its shroud separating me from the rest of the world. If not for the woodland creatures, I would go mad with only myself to converse with. But I had accepted my lot in life and vowed to take care of those she entrusted to me.
As expected, my trip to the river took me well past the gloaming hour. My earlier preparations of the fireplace and dinner allowed quick work of lighting the cabin and warming the inner room. I set the stone crock over the coals and prepared the vegetable stew. The earthy smell soon filled the space.
I pulled a wooden chair closer to the fire and hastened through my meal. I dared not feast upon the creatures of the forest. Many moons ago, when my father tried to slaughter a pig in our village, its desperate pleas roused my tears. Father knew not what had ailed me in my frantic outcry but released the pig in order to tend me. When I beseeched him to leave the animals be for their yowls filled my head, he swiftly moved us to the forest so none would think me bewitched.
Fruits and vegetables became our meals, grown from the garden out back. Upon occasion, a trip to the village became necessary for such things as wool clothing or grains. He always took care and reminded me to stay silent, so none grew suspicious. I had been known to answer animals where others could hear and drew curious stares or even fright. Father guarded me carefully and diverted unwanted attention away when necessary.
I missed him so. Since his passing twelve moons ago, the animals had become my only companions.
Chittering at the window gave me pause from my melancholy. “Would you like some company this night?” The bushy tailed squirrel twitted.
“Nah, not this eve. Maybe on the morrow.”
I daren’t risk harming him in sleep. For a sennight, dreams have plagued me. I would awaken feverish and aching, the bed linens pushed to the foot. In each one, a man stood in the foggy glen searching for something, or someone. His wrinkled brow above his kind eyes giving stock to his grievance. He would reach out towards me. I knew not what, or who, he looked for, only he drew me in as if the village witch cast me with a love spell. He be beautiful. I knew if I grazed his hand, it would forever change my life.
After placing a thimble of milk on the window seal, I donned my worn nightshirt, the scratchy material abrading my skin. The moon filtering through the window, the only light as I climbed into bed. Nighttime insects serenaded me with their haunting song while the toads croaked in harmony, lulling me into sleep.
Once again, dreams besieged me, only this time, the stranger whispered my name on the wind. “Callan.”
Morn’s light broke and filled the cabin, waking me from my restless sleep. Why was yestereve different? The man had spoken nought afore now. And yet, this time my name left his lips as sure as I knew where I lay. What had caused the dream to change? Was it my own imaginings? To have someone long for me so…
Rap, tap, tap. “Rise, good sir. Much awaits you this day,” a raven cawed from his perch on the window seal.
I groaned and untangled myself from the bed linens. A chill filled the cabin, the fire dying down to coals long ago. I rushed to stoke it, throwing a few pieces of kindling on top, and set the kettle to boil.
A commotion from the yard reminded me I had duties to attend to, and I quickly dressed. Though I be tired, the animals cared not when hungry. Their impatient voices filtered through the door.
“Cluck, cluck, did he forget? Cluck, cluck.”
“Moooo, of course not you nagging fowl.”
“Hee-haw, stop your yawping.”
I grabbed my milking pail and made haste to the pen. “Ye ever be impatient. Ye all know I will feed ye.”
I threw some chicken feed onto the ground. The hens began pecking about while the bantam rooster strutted about the yard.
“Ye not wake me this morn. Are ye lazy?” I teased.
“The raven said, leave you be. You rested not last nigh.” He fanned his tail and spread his wings. I backed away. I had no desire to scrapple with him today.
“Caw, caw, you called out in your sleep many a time.” The raven landed on a nearby post and stretched his coal-black wings, their glimmer catching the early rays giving him a blue shine.
“Tis true. Another dream befouled my sleep. I know not what they mean.” I grew aggrieved and flustered. It felt as if something was about to happen, but I knew not what.
I pottered about the yard until bellies were full, and offerings gathered. The eggs and milk would last a sennight with me here alone. I brushed aside the nagging melancholy again.
A deer ran from the woods, nearly barreling into me. “Come quick! A man be in the glen. He carries a weapon at his side.”
“Do not worry. I be sure the wolves will run him off or the bears if they be rooting about for blackberries for noonday meal.”
“Nay, Sir. He be not scared of them. He speaks to us as if he knows we understand. He looks for someone.”
My heart pounded as if a team of horses galloped in my chest. I dropped my milking pail, spilling it onto the ground. I had no use for weapons; the animals took care of anything out to do me harm. My walking stick was all I had, and it lay by the door in the cabin. I searched the forest floor for something to use. How did someone get this close? Did they come to take me away? Had my father’s fears come true?
Birds swooped from the trees in a rainbow of color, circling overhead as more animals sprang from the woods. Squawks, growls and hisses created a cacophony of sound. I covered my ears to drown out their many voices.
“Cease!” A hush fell across the land. Tails flicked to and fro, eyes widened, and ears twitched, but none spoke. I heaved a sigh of relief. The pain between my eyes dimming in the quiet.
“One at a time, please.”
The young buck from earlier stepped forward. His growing antlers nearly touched the ground as he bowed afore me. “Allow me kind sir. I was the first to spot the human. I thought he be a hunter looking for dinner. He had nary a bow or quiver, only a gleaming sword resting on his hip. I thought him mad in his grumblings. When he spotted me, he asked if I had seen an angel. None save you have ever spoken to me afore.”
“An angel? Perhaps the local witch hexed him. There are no angels in these woods.”
“No, Sir. He called you by name. Come. I will take you to him.”
My heart thundered in my ears, and I stumbled along the path as I followed him to the glen. Could it be? My name only be known to my father and the animals, but the man in my dreams knew as if he had spoken it hundreds of times. My name leaving his lips like a caress.
When we came upon the clearing, there he stood, searching the tree line. I squinted through the reflection of the sun on his shiny armor. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword as if he expected something untoward. The animals surrounded me in a protective circle as we slowed our approach.
His dark hair hung about his face save a small patch on top pulled back with a leather cord. His face, clean shaven and reddened from the midday sun, felt familiar. He turned, and I stilled the moment he laid his eyes upon me. It was him. Heat blossomed through me as he stared at me in awe. A smile graced his lips as he moved towards me.
Surely, he be an apparition. Dreams stayed in sleep. They did not come true. As I backed up, I tripped over a log. He rushed forward and caught me afore I hit the ground.
“I’ve been looking for you, Callan.” His honeyed voice washed over me.
“Why? Who are ye?”
He stared down at me, still cradled in his arms. “I am Prince William Everly of the Kingdom Natura. Animals live amongst us within the kingdom as you do here. We speak freely with them and protect them from danger.
"Over a sennight ago, the mother goddess appeared to me in a dream. She said, ‘Go to the glen hidden by the Ents in the enchanted forest. There you will find the one meant for you.’ I woke the next morn, gathered my weapon and horse, and left my home. I have searched many woods before now."
“Tis none here but I,” I whispered.
“Aye, then my dream has come true.” He leaned down and brushed his lips against mine.
The animals cheered, their hoots and growls filling the air. Fairies danced around us, and a shower of petals and leaves fell from the trees.
He pulled me up and set me to rights on my feet.
“I must dream still.” I pinched myself and let out a little yelp. “Are ye really here?”
He rubbed his hand across my abused flesh, sending a shiver down my spine.
“I am here, as surely as you be. Tis Fate that hath brought us together.”
I spied an old crone at the edge of the forest. The animals parted as she hobbled towards us. I rushed to help her over a fallen log.
“Callan, my boy.” She placed a withered hand on my cheek. “You have treated my creatures with boundless care. For you are worthy of many things. I have heard your call for someone to share your life with.”
She turned to William. “Prince Everly, you have done your duty to your kingdom. I have also heard your prayer to find a mate, as is the custom with your people. You both show great concern for my creatures. I am entrusting you with their continued care.”
She took our hands and clasped them together. A ribbon appeared and wrapped around our wrist.
“May you know nothing but happiness from this day forth. May your love grow, never ending. May you be blessed with your greatest desires, and may you continue the will of the mother goddess.”
She raised our hands in the air. “So, it may be.”
When I looked at William, his face was full of wonder. He pulled me into his arms.
“Callan, would you spend your life with me?”
“Aye, ye be my very own prince.”
The old crone’s laugh filled the glen, and the animals danced around us in celebration as William drew me to him and kissed me.
Twas never too late to believe in fairytales.