|Two Gods and a Faerie
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
In the sixty years since its destruction after the War of Magic, the Whisperwood had regrown. Although it was dominated by faster growing, softwood, trees, the hardwoods were slowly making their own recovery. But, although it had been devastated, the forest had never been completely destroyed in the Cataclysm. A few trees survived, all huge, ancient behemoths that towered over the rest of the forest. One of these had been almost toppled by the tidal wave, but, somehow, it had managed to remain upright. Not perfectly though, for its roots had been weakened, and slowly, year by year, it had tilted a little more.
Finally, the angle was too much. The massive trunk began to topple and fall, quickly passing through the younger trees, stripping off their leaves as it passed, until it hit the ground. Its limbs shattered, and its trunk broke.
Gradually, the echoes died and the birds let out tentative peeps.
Until the base of the tree, huge and massive, ancient and gnarled, began to creak and waver. The base crackled and snapped and then wavered and shrunk in upon itself, changing and twisting. Changing and twisting until all that was where the trunk and roots had once met, was the naked form of a faerie, his legs dark with dirt.
The faerie shook his head and slowly stood up. His limbs felt old and stiff, but then they became young and supple and his transformation finished. Then he turned around and looked at the remains of what had been his body.
Sweeping his eyes along the trunk and away to where the crown lay smashed into the earth he remembered the days of his treehood. He remembered seeking upward towards Vashigan's light, as He shawn down upon the World. The Faerie remembered slowly pulling the water and minerals up through his toes and exhaling them through his leaves. He remembered the drag and pull of the water as he always inhaled and exhaled. He remembered the feel of rain falling on his leaves, and the feel of damp earth around his roots. He remembered the nights when his breath changed, and he inhaled through his leaves. He remembered the feeling of paws and beaks and claws and insects upon his trunk and leaves. He remembered slowly waving back and forth in the wind. He remembered the fall of winter and the goddess Tamiola putting him to sleep...
What was that?
He remembered the winter. It had been dark and he had grown sluggish and slept. There had been a massive weight upon his limbs before he had dozed off. He frowned. That first winter had been long, but then it had been a long time before the next, which was also long. And then the winters became short.
How long had he been an oak?
It couldn't have been that long, for then his body would be aged. But he was still young and the World was full of new experiences to enjoy. But not quite yet, for he had to complete his task. His master had told him to live and experience three things that flew, three things that walked, three things that grew, and finally three things that swam. He remembered being a raven, and then a bat, and then a swan. He remembered being a deer and a lion and a squirrel. And he remembered being a rose, and a dandelion and finally an oak.
It couldn't have been too long, maybe only ten years, or twenty at the most. Maybe this winter thing was just a dream.
That was it. That had to be it.
Good. Then on to the next. He had to become something that swam, and for that he needed water.
Slowly he stood up and stretched his arms out before him and closed his eyes and remembered. He remembered his antlers and felt them grow. He remembered his legs and hooves and tail and his limbs stretched and he fell upon all fours. And then he remembered his ears and his eyes and his nose. And then the change was done.
He opened his eyes and looked around at the forest and drank in the scents of fresh earth, of broken leaves and grass, and the old reek of hunters. They were long gone, but still it was open and dangerous so he bounded away from the clearing into the brush and then halted. Now it was safe. But he was here for a purpose. Water, he needed water. He sniffed and listened and then knew that a small brook was nearby. When he knew where it was he bounded and then walked till he was there. Then he lowered his head and drank his fill of the cold water.
But now he had to return. He raised his head and looked around. But returning was hard, and this felt so right, so quiet...
He shook his head and knocked loose some leaves with the tips of his antlers.
Then he forced himself to remember. He remembered his nimble feet and legs, slow and heavy, but they could climb and let him see so much. He remembered his clever grasping hands and the joys of colour and of speech. Speech and talking and learning.
And then the faerie was there, crouching by a brook. He looked down and saw movement - small and crawling. A small pale crayfish.
A crayfish would be perfect.
He looked down at it and reached into its mind with his own. He felt its hunger, and its fear, but he calmed it and mentally rubbed its fear away. He leaned down and quietly placed his hand into the cold water and felt the crayfish crawl into his palm, its toes and claws prickling and tickling his skin. Closing his eyes, he began to breathe slowly and deeply. He felt the coldness of the water as the crayfish felt it. He felt the flow of its currents and scents over his body and his feelers. He felt the warmth of his palm and the fear of open water. He felt the crayfish, and let the crayfish flow into him.
But something was wrong.
His body didn't change. His tail wouldn't grow. He was large and in the open and drowning in the air. His feelers were gone.
The faerie's eyes flashed open and the crayfish fled back into the rocks.
He looked around at the trees and the stream, and then down at himself. Still with arms and legs. Still one of the faerie.
Why hadn't he changed?
A harsh voice behind him spoke, "Because you're cursed."
He stood up and spun around and stumbled backward into the brook, the water cold on his legs, and the stones biting into the soles of his feet. He turned around until he saw the source of the voice.
The voice belonged to a faerie, but she was coloured all in shades of greens. Pale green was Her skin, and dark green were the tiny hooves in which Her legs ended. Green was Her hair - although it was not really hair, but instead was leaves, the leaves coloured all the shades of green, and made up from all the trees he had even seen. There were oak leaves, and maple leaves, and even pine needles. The leafy covering that was Her hair flowed from Her head and down Her back and past Her waist and past Her knees until it eventually faded into the long grass that lined the brook. And then recognition, and memory from his childhood - when the other Gods had made Her one of them, had made Her the Goddess of trees and grasses and plants - floated up in his brain.
The harshness remained, "Yes, betrayer." She glared at him.
What had he done? He opened his arms and bowed his head.
"You would dare disguise yourselves as one of My children? Dare to hide from Me as I and the other Gods sought out all of your kind?"
"Use my children's form to hide your tiny black soul from Our wrath even as Our Curse found you and made you immortal so that you wouldn't age!?"
Black soul? Curse? Not Age? He was only finishing his apprenticehood to be a priest. In fact a priest of Cernus, the God of all the animals! And now Cernus' wife was accusing him? "But..."
"You have stolen My protection. You have tried to hide from the Curse you and your kind earned with your revolt. And now, you decide to flaunt your escape. Flaunt it in My very presence!"
"Tamiola, goddess, let me..."
"No explanations! You want to change? You want to be a crayfish? Fine. Then you shall be a crayfish forever!"
And then she was gone.
What had happened? How long had he been an oak? What...
His body was suddenly wracked with pain. He felt his bones twist and shatter into slivers that shot through his muscles and organs. He screamed once in incredible agony as his boneless body slumped into the red-stained brook, and then he was silent. His skin began peel and flake and twist and yank away from him and drift down the fast flowing brook. Each piece was torn from his soul, the pain hot and burning and stabbing, but he couldn't scream again as his lungs had nothing to pull on to inflate.
What seemed like hours passed as his skin was slowly worn away by the brook. He could feel each piece twist and bounce in the flowing water until a fish gulped it down and then it slowly dissolved and was digested. His lungs had to have air, and they strained and struggled but they couldn't inflate - he couldn't breathe. He had to breathe, but he couldn't. And he couldn't even die!
The pain went on for days, years, ages. Longer than he had been an oak. Longer than he had ever been. Longer then he could remember, but he couldn't forget. He couldn't forget a single agonizing second of the pain and agony.
But, eventually, it ended. All his flesh had been dissolved, all his bones gone and buried. All that remained was a crayfish crawling along looking for food, and remembering an insanity of pain and agony without being able to go insane.
Kor, alone on the great plains, felt the faerie's agony and pain. He changed into a raven and flew through the days and nights until he finally reached the Whisperwood. He flew from tree to tree until he came to a brook. Then he landed and changed back to his caldayan form, the form of a cat centaur that seemed so much more natural to him now. He padded to the brook and crouched down, dipping his hands into the cold flow and then called the tortured crayfish to him.
Eventually it came, slowly, hesitantly, wanting to go mad, but unable to. It crawled onto his hand and then just sat there quivering.
"You don't deserve this," Kor began. "You're just a single forgotten soul." He shook his head, his mane waving back and forth.
"You must forgive her, forgive all of them," he continued. "In all their eons of absolute power, they've forgotten what it is like to be without power. They've forgotten how to make mistakes, and they've forgotten how to forgive."
Kor closed his eyes and took away the memories of pain and agony from the crayfish which had once been a faerie.
"You've missed much. While you were a tree, the faerie revolted against the Gods and lost. The Gods turned from the world and let it freeze until the faerie surrendered. Then the rest of the Gods, and even I, pronounced Our Curse. The faerie wanted Our immortality, so We gave them immortality. And then We locked them into their form, forever alive, and forever unable to change, to learn, to grow. And you were bound as a tree through the whole conflict and curse by Tamiola who protected the spirits of all Her trees from Our wrath and Our winter."
The crayfish was quiet now, looking up into Kor's eyes.
"And then the Second Age came. We created humans and caldayans and hid magic from them, until I helped Luani give it to them, in secret. But then the Others found out and I fought, and won, and killed Vashigan. And then the Others punished Me and made Me a mortal until I could find Vashigan's soul. And when I killed Vashigan, his death devastated the World and We were all too stupid and too arrogant to protect any of it."
The crayfish waved its antennae and waited.
"As a mortal I remembered. I remembered the past and Our dreams when We created the World. And I remembered all that We had lost and all the horror that We had become. Then, eventually, I found Vashigan's soul and We were both reborn." Kor closed His eyes and remembered.
Until the crayfish slowly pinched a finger.
"Now We come to you. What do you want? I can't make you faerie again, because the Others would know."
The crayfish calmed and remembered the creatures it had been. It remembered the glories of flight and those memories were what made it smile inside.
"Is that what you want?"
The crayfish knew that it was, and Kor knew it too.
"Then come with me, and help. There is much to do to free those who have been punished by the uncaring Gods."
Then there was a raven standing on the ground by the stream. It looked up at Kor. "AWWWK!" it croaked. It had tried to say thank you, but couldn't remember how it had made words long ago when it had first become a raven.
But Kor knew. "You deserve more, and I wish I could do more. But come, you have a new life while you aid Me. And then this life will pass and you can be reborn and grow, and gain all that the Gods have lost."
Kor smiled and then there were two ravens. The second one took off into the trees, and the first one followed.