Sisters of the Forest
I wish I had listened to grandmother. As I grow older and the nights feel longer, I can feel my fate heavy upon my shoulders, waiting for the day. As a child, it was easy for my sisters and me to ignore her musings or disregard her wisdom. I took it as the ramblings of an old woman, someone who struggled to understand anything of the modern world. I never used to listen to her warnings, and took her fairytales as what I thought they were – outdated stories from a book meant to lull children to sleep. I didn’t really understand the origin of those stories, or the lessons they were trying to teach before it was too late.
“Beware the women of the forest”, she told me. At first, I thought she was mad – seeing things. Every fairy tale started as a rumor, after all, born in the minds of those bored and superstitious. Slowly, I began to realize that she wasn’t entirely crazy, and I could actually see the women there on the odd occasion. It started out of the corner of my eye, like a trick of the light. Sometimes, I would hear a faint laugh on the wind. I told my sisters about it, wondering if they heard it as well, and they simply ignored me, accusing me of believing in stories and feeding into grandmother's ramblings. It wasn’t long before I could see them there, dancing along the tree line, stalking some invisible wall that seemed to stop at the edge of grandmother’s property, at the end of her cobblestone path. Once I started looking directly at them they would just stand and stare at me, smiling, beckoning me to join them in the forest.
“Don’t follow them,” grandmother had said one night, her sunken face illuminated by firelight after my sisters had gone to bed. “It all seems like fun and games at first, dancing through the forest. Those faes are never happy to have someone once, though – they’ll plague you with a curse of daughters, to make sure you never have a son as long as you live. Then, when they feel that you’ve done enough as a mother, they’ll come back for you, day after day, waving from the tree line until you join them forever. It might take years, but one day you’ll be theirs. Those women were just like you and me, once. Just like your mother”.
My mother. I didn’t tell grandmother but I saw her there, with them, playing among the trees. In the summer they were clad in light linen, swaying with the breeze and moving like flowers, their long hair catching in the wind. In the winter I would see the smog of their breath rising in patterns like smoke signals, “come with us,” they beckoned, “be free”. Fear for the fae women turned to resentment, and then to envy. I would longingly stare across the farm, mesmerized by their graceful movements and easy laughter. I remember the day I finally went with them, on the hottest day of the summer, guided by my mother’s hand as she giggled like a youthful child, pulling me into the forest.
In the forest, every breath I took sounded like music, and each step was like falling through the air. They held my arms strongly, their nails digging into my skin through my dress, but I felt no pain. I strolled with the sisters through the dappled light, seeing the forest of my childhood through new eyes. They took me and we bathed in the crystal springs, bare as the morning, our hair drenched and heavy. The cover of the forest was dense, though the sun still tried to break through, speckling the ground in patches. I remember that even in the sun, the forest was cold as winter solstice… yet I did not shiver. I basked in the joyous, wordless freedom of the sisters, ate their food and drank their wine.
When I returned home – how long was I gone? Hours? Days? The places where the sisters held my arms were deep with the marks of nails, healed over and scarred deep red. My grandmother, relieved to see me, looked at me with stoic eyes. If she was upset, she had stopped crying long before I returned. Instead, she took me in with a measured gaze, and said, “As you grow older, your fate will sit heavy on your shoulders.” Quietly, I wondered if she had said the same words to my mother.
I suspect they don’t listen, but I tell my daughters that it’s not just a bedtime story and more than a simple folktale. Still, I know that curious young minds are unlikely to heed my warnings or listen carefully to my stories. I suppose that they think they are ramblings, as I did with my grandmother. I am too scared to ask but I find myself plagued with a thought: do they see them yet? Do they admire the light, timelessly youthful fae, falling through the wildflowers, dresses flowing in the breeze? Every morning when I get up to feed the cows, I still see them there, beckoning from the tree line, waving playfully and dancing with each other. Years later, I still have the scars on my arms, red and painful. I shiver. Each day I feel the beckon of the forest. I wonder if I will one day lead my daughters astray, too. I feel our fate heavy upon my shoulders.