Author: W.E. Steihm

As the Lady in White swiftly slipped in and through the paths of her well known forest of Woild, vines of silken green and brown wove their fanciful patterns at her indomitable instruction: designs that no human eye would recognise as threads cleverly intentioned to entrance and entrap. To lose such a sweet prey once was shame enough; twice, quite unthinkable. At this thought, the lovely face took on an even sweeter countenance. A second visit was quite enough to lure and entice. This would be the lad’s last ride in the world of men. In expected anticipation she flashed a green-eyed glance toward the town from where her quarry would come.

On his way home to a lovely warm stone fireplace, over which was placed some even lovelier vegetable and rabbit stew, a young man would come across a being that he had once, with most difficulty, escaped before. The hour was just past eight, the wind was scattering brown, lifeless leaves across the forest floor, and the swirling mists around the wood through which he must pass were already slipping down through the darkening trees and their gnarled outstretched limbs. There was no moon yet, but still enough light escaping through the covering clouds to allow for a slip of sight to expose various secrets which the forest seemed inclined to hide. For the youngish man, the sight that he saw inspired the type of terror that is entirely impossible for a modern to even glimpse. For not only was the forest full of unknown wraiths birthed from the faraway lands of the unknown, the whiffs of what such creatures could do to the soul of a mere mortal where undiscoverable, and thus all the more awful. But just as the roots, crannies, crooks, and dark places of the gathered trees held unknown ugliness and unwelcomed surprises, the earlier generations of men were not so foolish as to only associate evil with that which was unseemly and grotesque: the shining brightness of beauty could also hide within it a nefarious and malicious intent to harm and hurt. This, though now nearly forgotten, was not lost on the young man.

Riding his May, the most well-behaved horse any would have been blessed enough to possess, the lad was making his way home after a long day in town. He would have never entertained the idea of going home through the Woild forest, but he had little choice. His young wife was expecting, and with the increasing cold of the evening, he wanted to be sure to be around if he was needed. Not that his wife had asked for old lady Mildred the midwife, but he wanted to be around, still. A man couldn’t do much good at the delivery, but he could always be handy for something small – even if it was to simply pray. All these things floated in his mind as he rode May down the evening path.

The forest he was now in the middle of was not unlike most of the other forests, only he felt that this evening had a purpose for him that he didn’t entirely want to be a party to. While leaving the town a dog had strangely made a number of runs at May; the dear thing was sturdy and surefooted as ever, but the happening was off. Not only was the dog of pure white, it was sleek and fast on its feet. It seemed only to wish to torment. Most city dogs were simply want to have a little fun at a horse’s expense, but this dog had rather sharp looking teeth. Later on the path, and just at the entrance to the Woild forest, a wiry birch tree had nearly caught his old leather pouch of money. The path had been used by more than a few travelers, so the fact that a branch had been sticking out and hadn’t been cut off previously was most odd. After he passed, the tree almost looked sorry that it had failed in its mission of mischief. Then there were the strange white birds that kept circling around his and May’s path; and their calls were of an off note and pitch. May was mostly unbothered, but every once in a while she would press her ears to the back of her head, look annoyingly upward, and snort. While the birds never got close enough to identify, their presence passing in and around the often tightly knotted limbs of trees made for a strange impression of malaise.

Horse and man had travelled for some time through the Woild Forest without so much as a bothered heartbeat until the sun began to fall in earnest and the air began to take on the nature of night. Not that either horse or lad was prone to fear, it was just that the opportunity for something of the fearish kind could make itself more apparent. As cool eddies of air passed by and the shadows stretched in unpleasant ways, as they are so often wanting to do, both travelers became more sensitive.

The slight movement of a white shape in the trees ahead of them was so quick at first that only May noticed it. She faced the way of the passing white blur, but then lost interest. A few clopping steps later and the white blur was more in line with a recognizable shape: it was of a young woman dressed all in white. Recognition made a tightly knit knot of the lad’s stomach.

After the glimpse of her, he tried without much effort to coax his old mare forward. The horse too had sensed the presence, as indeed most animals are more apt to do, and had become in her fear more prone to paralysis than speed. The lad knew that this second time in his life he hadn’t enough will power to defeat the thing that was following him. In desperation he prayed the two prayers he had been taught, but as his lips mumbled them his heart was quite certain in its own faltering lack of faith. This time the white darkness would take him. It would be gloriously wicked, indeed! His mind began with unstoppable force to produce the images that tore at his heart. How would his small little family survive without his strong back and skill? He knew that strength would be the first thing to be sapped from his him. Though not his physical strength so much as his will. Yet he knew that even while it would happen he would veritably be thrilled – like the lost soul on the edge of a great precipice, who knowing that he is about to damn himself from the Church, feels both fear and utter exuberance. And it would happen so quick.

With savage desperation he kicked the sides of his poor mount; he even felt pity while he did it for she had always been a true and faithful beast. As he struck and squeezed and cursed he knew with a terrible certainty that it was all for naught. Yet like the hare with its neck stuck firmly in the noose, it continues to pull horribly backward, until the very end has been realised, and at last there is no more life left from which to resist.

The poor horse began to go at first faster but then slower and at last staggered; she even began to waiver left and right, causing him to fear that she would fall over. The thought of having a horse on top of him momentarily gave his otherworldly fear reprise. He secured the reins and whispered reassuringly in the horse’s ear, “my dear May, don’t scare so. It’s all right, ssshhh, it’s all right.” Like most animals, it trusted the voice of the one it knew and settled. Her flaring nostrils slowed and her feet began to become more firmly placed. His own heart, for truth, had slowed too. For a long moment, as the leaves circled in their falling path, he considered if the whole thing was nothing but a fleeting fancy caused by an upset imagination. The horse had almost gotten back to its normal pace. The light was now nearly gone out from the sky and all was dark and grey shadows that had stretched past any kind of meaningful form. The wind still blew the smell of fall, and the odd old birch let out a misgiving creak and the pines the occasional snap. And so it continued for unknown minutes.

After passing through the part of the forest which was the worst, the rider began to grasp at the hope that he had passed the plight of capture. Indeed, a slip of moon now shown on the path that he knew so well. He began to imagine the trees as nearly becoming friendly. “It’s ok, it’s all going to be well,” they seemed to say. He felt the slightly colder night air brush against face as he reached the near end of the forest boundary. His horse also seemed to be steadying. She, like many a horse realising that home is in sight, began to quicken her pace with a happy plodding. Both beast and boy’s breathing were free’er from fear. And as they neared the last clump of trees the moon fell full on the path beyond. It would be a good evening.

Passing the clump of birch, the horse first, and quite unexpectedly, tensed and then absolutely fell forward on both knees, and finally over into the ground completely. The lad jumping free got to standing a foot away. Wanting to offer assistance to the horse, he went to go to her, only as he did, his foot caught a horribly large root, and he landed prostrate in the leaf scattered forest floor. Scrabbling on hands and knees, he called to the horse, “May, are ye ok?

Don’t fret, your feet are fine. We shall sort ourselves and then be off for a good meal … May?” After calling out a few more times, he could hear nothing but the odd leaf reach the ground. As he brought himself up, he noticed the sweet wafting of vanilla and cedar and something else. As he sniffed at the air, he heard a rustling nearby, followed by a questioning voice ask, “but dear May, will it truly be ok? Or will we both be of a mind to stay; to ne’r from her stray.” As he came full upon his feet, he could see by the moon a slender young form dressed in white, leaning against a tree. Her eyes reflected the moon like a forest creature, and in them he could see the nearest hint of green. Forthwith he fell directly down and did not rise.

When at last he opened his eyes, and onto the thing which he feared most, his heart sank to the utmost of despair. The wispy and soft voice of the fae came into his ears like the welcomed dew of the morning to the dry petal of posy. It was not cold or bad or unwanted; it was warm and lovely and welcome. He raised his head and looked at her. The white flowing dress streamed outward like a rippling from the recently bumped surface of water. The ground which touched its hem seemed to glow even a little more green – not that this was possible to see in only the grey moon – and the very air seemed to thicken. While her outline was clear in the pale light, her eyes, emerald green, swiftly brought back his fear to its full. “It is far too late in the chase for that my dear, you shall not be saved by any haste or other hope that embraces, save me.” As her eyes grew greener, he could feel the will in him fail. Oh merciful heaven, help me in my hour of utmost need. My own horrible desire for notability was something I wished too much for … but after I knew of the cost, I did recant … I turned her down … Mother of God have mercy and don’t let me be tempted again, lest I fall forever and never return to the things I have learned to truly value.

“How is it that you have evaded me for so long dear one,” the fae spoke. He did nothing save stare back into the night, though as if trying to defy to the last, and not let his eyes fall into hers. As she drew closer, his memory began to bring back all the early memories from their last encounter. “Why don’t you speak to me, when I know it to be that you very much wish to?” she asked with her clear voice that had a hint of crystal, and perhaps also crystalline sharpness as well. “You know that I do not wish it all; I have never properly before, and I never shall in any future of mine. I do not wish it. I do not want to hear what you have to offer. I know what it is, and I refuse,” he stated flatly. At this, she glided across the ground and knelt down by him and put his chin in her hand and slowly – deliberately – made him look into her eyes. Perfectly placed within the white face, her eyes had seemed to have stolen the very essence of a perfect emerald; and it was with these eyes she looked full into his face. “You will recall, dear one, that it was you who called me when you came to my stream in the far-off woods; it was you who wept and pleaded for some skill that you had only partially; it was you who when first seeing my form rise from the water nearly kissed the feet that were still wet. And it was you who plead, at the cost of anything, for my inscrutable instruction and assistance. So how can you now say that you never desired it?” Without looking into her eyes he breathed out slowly, “I was young, ill-bred, overly excited, and too little read; I did not understand the price which was asked in return.” In a sweet flourish the fae stood up, releasing his head from her hand, and with a near matronly movement, swept her arms upward, and then finally looked down at him like a misunderstood governess. “Oh you poor young and inconsolable creature, allow me to help you now, like I wished to before; the price is not so stern as you make it sound; indeed, as you know, it is no price at all, merely an offering that you yourself willingly give. You are not the first who has set his gaze against the world and looked to me alone.” She bent back down and put a soft hand on his head and whispered, “follow me, and all will truly be well. You are not leaving family of ken or land except for the best of reasons: to reach the utmost pinnacle of perfection, to be that thing that you must be.”

The lad’s head slumped a little and rested slightly on her now stronger hand. He had wished it once: the power over verse and rhythm and rhyme. He couldn’t quite remember why he had refused the first time when he had finally found this lovely muse: this lovely and beautiful creature. She only wanted him to go away with her for a time. She only wanted to help him in that other land. And he would only have to stay as long as he wanted. It was no sentence of death or destruction, but rather a short reprieve into her land. “Can I still see them if I wish to in later years?” he asked. “My dear one, but of course you can; you are entirely free to do and act as you wish.” At this softly spoken word his face flushed and his head, so it seemed, had suddenly began to clear. “And you will help me?” he asked with a little more boldness. With that she took both her hands, bent over his face and smiled a fresher smile than any night could afford and peered with emerald eyes first back towards his earlier destination and then into his eyes. “You, my dear, shall have me and what is of me for as long as you shall live.” As he rose up with her aid, the lad began to smile a faint and wispy smile. He never heard the nickering of his horse May; to him it was as the quiet whispering of the leaves blowing around his ankles: not a warning, but a welcoming of loveliness ahead.

Black dangles of her hair bobbed as she looked at him – what was the word that humans used, she mused – “chattel.” She then returned her attention to the boy and asked, “now when is it that you plan to come back for a visit, my sweet dear?” He replied in the voice of the wooed, “when were you wishing to come back?” “Probably never,” she said sweetly as she gazed at him with those dazzling green eyes. “Well, then I guess I won’t be wanting it either.”

Like a small fawn being led onward by a silken strand, the horse May only watched as the boy was led by the hand back deeper into the forest by the Lady in White. Only once did she turn her head backwards and give one final green eyed stare to where the lad had almost escaped. As the wind blew and tussled her white dress, both she and the lad began to pass into the mists. The horse, of course, could not know, but as the Lady in White led the boy out of this world, she was smiling.