Once Upon A Certain Solstice|
Posted: December 24th. 2001
Times Viewed: 5,434
Somewhere within the blackness that he knew was the forest, a twig snapped. The sound, sharpened as it was by the bitter cold air, seemed to go right through him. Instinctively, the man reached for the amulet hanging from the worn leather thong about this neck. His ears strained above the pounding in his chest for any other sound that might tell him what sort of beast could be roaming in the wood. Silence had seemingly regained her composure however and he heard no more. The moon was almost down and the dawn would soon bring his sight back to him. He hesitated, uncertain as to whether to wait here in the meadow for the light or to push on for the line of dark tree shapes that lie just over the hill. The snow was deep and covered over with a thick icy crust. The journey up here had already taken him through most of the night. Leaning upon the gnarled top of his staff, he rested his forehead for a moment against the ancient well-worn wood while he pondered his next move. "Damn, cow," he muttered into the night. "Why does she hafta go a-wanderin' bout the countryside when she could be all warm and cozy in her bed?" "And so could I be," he added, "Stead of draggin' my weary bones all bout the hills a-lookin' fer her sorry hide, I could be dreaming off me Solstice mead in mine own!" Raising his head, the man looked once more toward the sky and decided that he'd best press on. A line of clouds whipped overhead and if that same wind should find its way to the ground, he knew that he'd be fighting it all the way back down the hill. "Damn cow."
He wasn't a particularly superstitious man. In fact, he often had a bit of fun at some of his neighbors' expense as round the fire he'd spin some yarns (His favorites being about the time that he met the bean-sidhe at the river or when he had came upon the band of trooping fairies in these same hills...) and then he'd watch in secret delight as their eyes began to dart at the shadows now lurking about in the corners. The man smiled to himself as he recalled how they'd jump when a log in the fire suddenly snapped or how they'd hesitate at the door, afraid to make that walk back to the safety of their own hearth, but even more afraid to admit that they believed his tales to be anything but the old stories that he purported them to be. Which was worse, they seemed to ponder upon the threshold: the thought that they could be frightened like little children over a mere story or an admission to themselves that the story just might be true?
The man stopped to get his bearings, and as the night began to recede, he could see the trail where the cow had broken through the snow's crust out ahead of him. Sure enough, she had headed right for the wood like he had thought that she would. Just as she had so many other times, so many other nights, before. Damn that bull-headed cow! Just what could possess her to go traipsing off into the cold dark instead of staying snug and warm like all of the other animals? They didn't care to so much as stick their nostrils or beaks outside the lean-to. No siree. They had enough sense to stay home!
The man could travel a little faster now that he could place his feet into the path broken by his wayward livestock and soon he reached the crest of the hill. And there he stopped short. In the faint grayness of the approaching dawn, something moved in the trees. A soft and glowing mist glided about the thick firs and it seemed to gently caress the low hanging boughs as it retreated into the deep green thickness beyond the wood. It traveled as if it knew the way well and the man felt a sudden urge to follow it. His feet in fact had taken two or three steps forward before his mind knew what they were doing. And just as he was about to take another, the heavy clunk of a cowbell shook him from his trance.
Here she came, that damn cow, with steam rising from her hide as if she had just returned from some hard run and with her sides all a-heaving with quick and labored breaths. "Damn you, cow!" said the man as he took the lead from his pocket and hooked it into her nose ring. "I hope you're damn happy with yourself..." He gave the lead a tug and man and cow began the long trip down the hill. So suddenly did the man stop short that the weary cow bumped into him and almost toppled him into the snow. What was that? "William..." came the sound again and it was with no small chill that the man realized that someone had called his name. "William..." it came again with more urgency. Without knowing why, William turned around and looked back to the woods. Nothing. Just trees and snow and the tracks of one cow and one man behind him. Strange, he thought. And then it came again, fainter, but still unmistakably his name.
William stopped again. Walking past the cow, he took a few steps back up the hill. All was quiet and he heard no more. Turning back to the trail, his eye was caught by a small flash of light. "What's this? What have you got caught up in your tail now, you stupid cow?" He glared at her for a moment as if waiting for her to explain herself. If the cow knew, she wasn't telling, so William worked his fingers around the ensnarled object and finally managed to work it free. What he saw when he held it up to the almost risen sun took his breath away. At that moment he wouldn't have been at all surprised if the cow had actually begun to talk.
For there dangling from the thick fingers of his glove was the most delicate and fine silver necklace that he had ever seen. In fact, it was doubtful that anyone had ever seen such a piece before. Tiny silver and gold leaves of the finest workmanship dangled from links so thin that they seemed almost to have been spun from spider silk. And when he moved his hand to get a closer look, the littlest of bells that anyone could ever imagine being possible tinkled their greeting. William was still standing with mouth open and wondering what to do next when he heard it again. Like a fading breath, he heard, "William..." And in that instant, he knew what- and who- it was.
Hurrying back up the hill, almost stumbling over himself, he raced the sun for the trees. Gasping for air, he reached up and hung the little silvery necklace on a branch. Spinning around, he began to run. He ran back to the cow. Then he and the cow ran some more and they didn't stop running until they had reached home. Later, tossing some straw in the cow's crib, William was still thinking about the woods and the cow and the little silver necklace. The cow just munched at her hay and refused to say anything more about it. It was the man's story to tell, she figured with perfect cow logic, and so he would have to be the one to tell it.
And tell the story was what William did for many years until everyone in that part of the countryside could tell it, too. He told of that Solstice when he had to chase his damn fool cow up the hill to the wood. He told of the night when he had returned the fairy's necklace and of how she would have been trapped by the light of day, never to be able to return to her homeland again, without it. And he told of how he had run all of the way home because he was afraid that he would change his mind if he didn't. He told the story until he was a very old man. He told it until the very day that he disappeared.
The old man had made it up the hill. Barely. His breathing came in great gasps and the trees swam before his eyes. But he kept going. Just a little bit further, just a little bit...No. This was it. He could go no further. He leaned his frail and tired back against the tree trunk and closed his eyes. This had to be far enough because this was as far as he could go. Here is where he would stay. Here is where he would wait. He fumbled with his gloves and finally got one off. Reaching into his cloak, he pulled out his small flask of Solstice mead and took a sip. As the warmth embraced him, he relaxed. Slowly his eyes closed and his breathing grew fainter and fainter. And then he was still.
The faint sound of tiny little bells tickled his ears until he awoke. As William's eyes opened, he saw dangling before them, a fine glittering necklace dancing with little silver and gold leaves and bells and all wrought upon a chain so fine that it looked like it had been spun with spider silk. Even before he saw her face, he knew that she was beautiful. Even before she spoke his name, he knew her voice. And even before she took his hand, he knew that she had come to guide him home.
That is what they say happened on the day that William disappeared. At least, that is the story as it was told to my grandfather. And that is the story that he told to another William, his son and my father, who in turn told it to me. But whether this story is just a story- or whether this story is a true account of what happened in a certain darkened wood upon on a certain Solstice night- is something that you, dear reader, will have to decide for yourself. Because that damn cow, of course, would never say.
Walk in Love and Light,
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, December 24th, 2001
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