An Impossible Match
She shut her eyes, took a breath and stilled. She concentrated on the sounds outside of her body; the sound of the wind, the insects, the hushed rustling of small scurrying animals in the underbrush. These sounds her ears discarded, they were common nocturnal noises. There was one sound she wanted, one sound that did not belong in the Forest of Argeil.
The pale skin on her forehead wrinkled with effort. She shook her head slightly, then swiveled her head to the right and there it was. She repressed a triumphant smile, opened her eyes and flattened herself against the rough wooden planks of Ren's house. A small splinter embedded itself deep in her lower back. Meghan bit down on her tongue to keep from yelling, covered her mouth for good measure. Then she heard the hushed voices off to her right for the second time.
"Did you see 'er?"
"No, did you?"
"Yeah." There was a deep chuckle. "Yeah, I saw 'er. Runnin' through them trees over by the shack."
"Whad she look like? Does she look like the ones in Crae's book?"
"Na. This one is smaller. Looks like a youngin' judgin' by the size of 'er."
Meghan frowned, her mood suddenly petulant. Ignorant human. She was not a youngin'. Why, just ten summers past she had been permitted into the sacred heart of the Argeil. Only faeries that had emerged from their Chrysalis could enter into the ancient grove of the Elldredge tree. Meghan had spent a glorious year under the sacred tree's leafy boughs eating of its healing fruit, regaining strength lost from long decades of hibernation.
Upon emerging from the Chrysalis, Meghan had found she had metamorphosed into something wondrous. No longer a tiny sprite that could fit on a man's fingertip, but a beautiful, willowy creature who now stood as tall as a short human woman. Gone were the nervous, fluttering wings, Meghan emerged with wings that stretched the length of her body. She thought they were exquisite, shimmering like mother of pearl in the new dawn light. Meghan had delighted in her new wings, from sunrise to sunset she would leap from the topmost branches of the ancient grove trees and glide to earth shrieking with joy.
The Elder faeries, who were the keepers of the grove and of the Elldredge, smiled their ages old smiles and nodded their heads at each other, remembering the days when they had been young and newly emerged. By faerie standards Meghan was indeed young, no more than a child really. And as a child she was impulsive, impatient and far too curious. Especially about mortals.
Now, huddling against the rough wooden walls of a human dwelling, with two mortal men hunting her in the dark, Meghan fervently wished to be back in the deep wood. She cursed herself a hundred different kinds of fool for wandering this close to the forest edge. Etain had warned her many times never to venture near human places. In her head Meghan could hear Etain's normally singsong voice take on a lecturing tone: "Humans are stupid, superstitious creatures who fear their own shadow under a noonday sun. What they do not understand is evil and therefore to be feared, and what humans fear, they destroy. Stay away from humans, Meghan. They are trouble."
Never one to follow good advice, Meghan was now without the magical protection of the Elldredge, whose influence ended where fay wood met human settlements. She longingly eyed the sheltering trees that were a hundred paces away, too far to run without being noticed. Knowing that it would be a matter of time before she was found, Meghan decided that she would have to seek out a more suitable hiding place.
Crouching down, she inched her way along the rough planks until her fingers encountered empty air. She had reached the end of the wall. Cautiously, with her heart hammering in her ears, she peered around the corner. The space was empty. Meghan repressed a sigh of relief, instead scanning the trees at the edge of the clearing.
Satisfied that she was still unseen, Meghan crept along the bottom of the wall until she reached a small, rough-hewn door with a braided rope handle.
Carefully she pushed the door open, hoping that it would not creak. It didn't. She bit her lip, suddenly undecided. I'm sure Ren won't mind. She risked a quick glance inside the dark interior, she could see no one, but there was a cloying human odor. Wrinkling her nose in disgust but knowing she had no choice, Meghan took another look around the clearing to make sure she was unobserved and disappeared inside the dwelling, quietly closing the door behind her.
With her wings folded tight against her back, Meghan sat down on the floor, put her head in her hands and let the tears fall. She sat that way for some time, barely aware of the cool, dirt floor she sat on, or the wetness of her face and hands. Voices outside the door brought her to attention; she listened, wide-eyed and trembling.
"Are ya sure you saw 'er go in there?"
"Yeah Dim. She was creeping along the wall there, then she disappeared inside."
There was the sound of shuffling feet, then a slight shove at the door. Meghan almost screamed, her heart beat like a wild thing inside her chest, her wings shook like leaves in a gale. If they open that door I am going to die, she thought. But then she heard a third voice, a voice she knew and suddenly hope cracked the terror that gripped her.
"What's going on there?" It was a deep voice. Commanding. The two farmers stuttered and searched the ground for a hole to sink into. The one called Dim answered rather meekly, "Nothing Ren. We were out doin' a little huntin' for possum when we thought we saw someone go in yur shack. We weren't gonna go in. We were just gonna bang on the door a bit. Ya know, try an' scare em out." He finished with a helpful grin.
"Scare them out, you say. And do you really think that whoever is in my house, if there is someone in there, would come out here to your waiting guns to let themselves be shot dead?" Meghan heard a trace of amusement in Ren's voice. In her mind's eye she could see him shaking his dark head. "No, gentlemen, I don't think so. I also don't think that you saw anyone. But what I do think is that the two of you have been into Crae's liquor again and both of you have had more than your fair share."
Outside, Ren stood with his broad back to the door, sternly looking at each man in turn, "Now I want both of you to head on back home." He shooed them away with both hands. "Go on now. Run home like good boys."
The two men backed away slowly, unsure. Dim's companion, Gair, looked as if he were going to speak, then thought better of it. Instead he lifted a hand in farewell and tipped his hat. Dim did likewise and both men moved on towards the trees and the path that would eventually bring them to the small farming community of Toft.
Ren watched them until they disappeared, then turned to his door. He stood silently staring at it for a moment, hesitating as he reached for the rope handle. He cocked his head suddenly, listening, then he smiled and pushed open the door.
Immediately a small, pale form threw itself into his arms. Meghan was shaking and crying and talking, her words muffled in the fabric of his coat. He held her tightly, murmuring reassuring words until he felt her relax. Meghan lifted her face from his chest and rubbed her tear-swollen eyes with both fists. Ren smiled at the childlike gesture. He held her pixie face gently between his large hands and tilted her head up so her eyes would meet his.
She nodded, too ashamed to meet his eyes for more than a second. He let her go and she shivered as his warmth faded from her body. The human smell that had permeated the air in the small cottage disappeared with Ren's appearance.
It was replaced with a scent that reminded Meghan of fresh herbs and autumn leaves. Meghan hid a small smile as she suddenly thought about how different Ren was from the other two mortals. His voice was always soft and soothing, not at all like the jarring vulgar accents that had come from the mouths of Dim and Gair.
Ren was kind and thoughtful, the former being an act the other two were incapable of and the latter was a process they lacked entirely.
Meghan watched as he moved around the small cottage, lighting candles, removing his coat, selecting bread and cheese from the cupboard. Meghan thought he was remarkably graceful for a human.
Ren sat down at the small, unsteady wooden table, motioning for her to come and join him. Meghan slowly sat in the only other chair in the room, pulling her legs underneath her and wrapping her arms around her waist. She sat, unmoving, unblinking, watching Ren as he ate.
He said nothing and Meghan was too unsure of her situation to begin the conversation. He offered her food; she shook her head, declining. He shrugged, finished his meal, placed his elbows on the table and turned his full attention to Meghan. The intensity of his stare unnerved Meghan so much that she turned pink. Not just her face, but her whole body including her wings, blushed the color of a dawn morning.
The effect was startling to watch. Ren closed his eyes for a moment, when he opened them the intensity was gone, replaced by kindness and something Meghan could not understand. It was a softness, more than just kindness or friendship.
He smiled gently. "Now my fay friend, what reason can you give for your presence at the edge of the wood? It has to be a very good reason Meghan, I will not accept anything else. For only foolish sprites wander into human domains."
Knowing her fay charms were useless against Ren, Meghan told him the truth. Fixing him with her luminous jade green eyes, she told him she wanted to see what men, other than Ren, looked like. She especially wanted to see a human woman. "I hear you speak of them so much, I wanted to see one for myself."
"And did you?" She frowned at the tone of his voice but his expression was unreadable.
"No. I never got close enough. I encountered the two men on the way to the village. I didn't hear them coming but I smelled them." Ren grinned as she wrinkled her little nose at the memory. "Humans smell awful, Ren." Then her eyes widened in alarm as she realized her mistake. Ren laughed and waved his hands at her to continue.
"I fled into the forest, thinking I could disappear, but I couldn't. I then tried to take human form but I had moved too far from the Ellredge, I was powerless. So I came here, hoping you would be home. You weren't and I was frightened, so I came in and hid. They were just about to come inside when you showed up."
Ren sighed and shook his head, his dark curls bouncing. "All this just to see a human woman. I hope you have learned your lesson well Meghan of the Fay."
He shook a finger at her, but his eyes were laughing. "If you wanted to see a woman so much you should have told me. I would have brought you a picture. As a matter of fact, I will bring you a picture of everything and anything, just as long as you promise to never, ever come this close to human kind again. Next time I may not be around to help you."
His eyes changed then, that strange intense light came back into them and suddenly Meghan had difficulty swallowing past the lump in her throat; all she could manage was a meek nod.
After this night, Meghan was sure that she would never want to see another human again. All humans except for Ren. He knew about faerie folk and their ways. He was a wizard, and by virtue of that title, safe.
Satisfied that Meghan had learned her lesson, Ren decided that it was too late to return Meghan to her deep forest home. Her eyes widened as he offered her his bed for the night. But she did not refuse the offer. So for the first time in her long life Meghan slept away from her fay kindred, in a human house, in a human's bed. As Ren moved about the room dousing the candlelight,
Meghan snuggled deeper into a soft feather mattress that smelled not in the least bit vile. It smelled like her forest home; tangy pine and sweet, aromatic leaves. Meghan smiled lazily, thanking Ren softly for the spell he had cast on the bed so that her sensitive nose would not be offended. Before Ren could answer he heard her soft breathing slow and as he glanced over at her she was already sound asleep.
Long after the lights had been extinguished, Ren was still awake, watching Meghan's sleeping face from his chair by the hearth. He shook his head slightly, wondering at himself for the tender feelings he found surfacing every time he looked at her. He reminded himself that she was a friend. That she saw him as such. You're a human wizard. She is an Elldredge faerie. The match is impossible. He snorted at the thought of a romance between them.
Impossible, he thought. It's as if her fay charms are working on me. But that was also impossible. He was warded against such things. Becoming irritated with the direction his heart was taking his mind, Ren laid down on his makeshift bed next to the hearth, stole one last glance at the sleeping faerie and made an attempt to quiet his mind.
Closing his eyes, he concentrated on putting all his thoughts into a white box in a black field. It was a mind exercise he had learned in school years ago. It was designed to help young wizards focus their thoughts and energy on a single purpose, a practice that was necessary if a spell was to be done properly.
In times past when Ren had used this exercise, he had become strangely relaxed. Sometimes relaxed enough to sleep. But this time his mind refused to be lulled and his thoughts scattered.
His mind brought him back to the day he had met Meghan. It was last year, in the spring. He had just finished building his small cottage and had decided to explore the surrounding forest. At midday he emerged into an open space where he had come across Meghan as she was sunning herself on a rock beside a broad stream. She had been unaware of his approach. His steps masked by the noise of the water as it cascaded down a rocky ledge next to her. When she finally opened her eyes and saw him standing down by the waters edge she met him stare for stare with no fear in her eyes, only surprise. They stayed that way for a span of a few heartbeats, neither wanting to be the first to look away.
Meghan did first, but only so she could watch where she placed her feet as she made her way down the rocky trail to where he stood. Ren had seen pictures of faeries in books at school and had read many tales concerning them but until now he had never seen one.
She was the size of a young girl, or rather a petite woman as he suddenly noticed that there was nothing immature about the figure under the short filmy dress she wore. Her skin was creamy white and looked to be as flawless as the finest porcelain. Her long, wavy hair was a very pale shade of yellow, it looked almost white. As she stepped barefoot from rock to grass he noticed that she moved with grace and dignity. With her head held high and her long, diaphanous wings folded against her back she resembled the faerie princess from one of his books.
Ren smiled. Maybe she is.
Meghan stopped a few feet away from him, appraising him silently. She studied his face, his clothes, his hands and the small satchel he carried. She fluttered her wings and took a step closer to him. Her nose wrinkled and her delicate features twisted with a look of disgust. Ren almost laughed at her expression. He knew that her kind did not care for certain smells, and it seemed that he was one of them.
He murmured a few words and was delighted to see her expression change almost immediately. Her eyes widened perceptibly, and her face became slack with surprise. Then suddenly she smiled and took the last step towards him. Ren could now reach out and touch her if he chose to.
She regarded him with large, almond shaped eyes that made him think of the cool green places that lay in the secret hollows of ancient forests. He felt himself sinking into their eternal depths and quickly warded himself against her fay charms. Her smile became a grin and then a laugh. Ren smiled at the sound. Bells. Her laugh suddenly reminded him of the bells that used to sound every Churchday in his village when he was a small boy. He hadn't thought of his village or those bells in many years. Strange that her laugh would prompt that memory.
"Human wizard you are." It was a statement and she looked very pleased as she made it. Ren could only nod.
"Name is Meghan."
Ren mumbled his name, amazed when she reached out her small hand, joined it with his and pumped them up and down. She kept grinning at him and looking very happy with herself. "Glad I am to meet you, Ren. I have wanted to meet a human but the Elders never will allow it. I hear stories only. Now here you are, human and a wizard too. The Elders won't mind so friends we can be."
She saw his confused look and tried to explain. "Wizards be safe, don't you know that? As a young wizard you were taught about the Kindred, yes? So you cast a spell to protect yourself against Kindred magic, yes?"
He nodded, trying to follow her rapid fire speech.
She laughed, pleased that he understood. She pumped his hand up and down again and grinned up into his face. "Friends we are then."
"Friends we are then." The words she had spoken so long ago spun in his mind.
Ren smiled into the dark. He had been overwhelmed by her at first. Meghan had a zeal for life and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. She expressed wonder at everything he told her about himself, his life and others like him.
Ren had taught her his language and she had mastered it in a remarkably short period of time. He was constantly amazed at her intelligence, warmth and beauty. Meghan in turn showed him the hidden places of the forest and told him of her life and kin. They became fast friends and quickly developed a deep, trusting relationship. Ren conjured an image of her in his mind and he knew in his heart that friendship was no longer enough. He growled with frustration and flopped over on his stomach, throwing his hands over his head. It is an impossible match.
He was still awake when Meghan sat up, wide-eyed and disorientated at dawn. Her eyes darted nervously around the room until she saw Ren, then she visibly relaxed. She offered him a shy smile. He smiled and appeared cheerful, keeping his inner turmoil from showing on his face.
"Did you sleep well?"
Meghan laughed and hugged her knees. "Ren, it was wonderful! When I get back home I am going to ask for a bed just like this. The others will be so jealous."
Ren grinned and Meghan saw a flicker of what he was feeling in his eyes. She kept the frown from her face, but inside she wondered. She noticed he looked like he hadn't slept all night. Before she could ask he was already talking.
"Are you hungry? I have bread and cheese. I also have some milk to wash it all down."
Meghan again declined food, but she eagerly accepted the milk. Ren watched as she gulped it down, set the empty mug on the floor and licked the milk from her upper lip. He looked away. Meghan watched him from under her thick lashes and wondered.
It was well past sunrise when Ren and Meghan finally began the journey back to the Elldredge. Ren unconsciously slowed his step so that Meghan could keep pace and they spent an animated morning discussing humans and their odd habits. As the sun shone down on their heads at noon, Meghan felt re-energized and she knew that she was home. She laughed with joy and impulsively reached up and kissed Ren on the lips. He laughed with her, enchanted by the sunlight playing in her hair. "I'm glad you're home too."
He looked around and sighed. "So that you stay where you belong, I need you to promise me that I will never get a visit from you again," He placed a finger on her lips as she was about to protest. "Instead I will visit you just like I have always done. Agreed?"
After receiving a satisfactory promise from Meghan that she would never again venture to the forest edge, Ren clasped her two delicate hands in his large ones and promised her that he would return.
"With pictures" Meghan added, smiling.
Ren matched her smile with one of his own. "Yes, with pictures. I will bring you a satchel full of books on my way home from Asherlon."
Meghan's eyes instantly lost their sparkle. She became very still. Ren saw the change immediately and cursed himself for bringing it up. Asherlon was the City of Mages. Only those who were going to study, or to be tested went there.
"Are you going to study?" she asked slowly, hoping that was why he was going.
Although he looked to be the right age for the other. When he shook his head and began to tell her that he was to be tested, her heart sank and her world became dark. If Ren passed and became a High Mage he would remain in Asherlon. If he failed, he would not remain at all, anywhere. Either way she would lose her friend. She feared for him and said so.
He gazed steadily into her eyes. "I will come back Meghan. I promise you."
She shook her head. So many have died during their testing. He shook her gently. "Meghan, I will come back. I will not fail. I cannot." He was touched by her concern and thought for an instant that perhaps she felt for him the way he felt for her. Angrily, he pushed the thought away. The match was impossible. "Meghan, listen to me. I promise on my soul that I will meet you in the spring at the very spot we first met. You remember don't you? The Whispering Falls, when the cherry trees were in full bloom."
She turned away from him. What was wrong with her? Why does his leaving hurt so much? She tried telling herself it was concern for a friend. Ren was a wizard after all. Asherlon was a fated journey for his kind. If a wizard did not make the journey to the City of Mages when called, they would go mad from the magic, then die.
I don't want him to die like that. Better that he die during the testing. Oh, how it hurt to think that way.
Meghan mustered up her brightest smile and nodded. "Until next spring then. I will wait for you under the cherry trees." She reached up a small hand and placed it on his cheek. Ren felt warmth slowly travel down his body.
"These gifts I bestow to aid you on your journey. I offer you my blessing dear traveler as you tread your life path. May the love and the strength of the Elldredge flow through you as you wander. May the trees bend to your favor, and the vines beware your passage, no thorn shall rent your skin. In the deepest night or raging storm shelter shall always be found. May the east wind guide you, the west wind sustain your courage, the south wind feed your hunger and may the songs of the Kindred show you the way home."
As her soft words faded away, Meghan stepped away from Ren and held up a hand in farewell. He said nothing, holding his hand up to hers. A blue spark danced from his fingertips to hers and they shared one last smile.
Then with a final wave of farewell, Ren began his journey back to his world as Meghan watched his tall form slowly disappear into the trees.
She stood there for a long time staring at the spot where he had been lost from view. She chewed on her bottom lip, mulling over a thought which had just occurred to her. She smiled slowly as her wings stretched out behind her. With fierce determination showing plain on her face Meghan began to chant. It was more sound than words with odd little trills and deep, rhythmic lows. No human could vocalize the song that Meghan was now singing.
As she chanted her otherworld spell, the air around her began to shift and a faint orange glow formed around Meghan's body. Within seconds she was enveloped in a bright sphere of burning color. Then Meghan began to scream. She writhed in agony within the glowing ball, her body and face hideously contorted. Her normally green eyes were ablaze, her full lips twisted in a snarl of pain. Tears streamed down her face as she released everything that she was, and became that mortal curiosity which had drawn her to Ren in the beginning.
The orange sphere shattered then; a million pinpoints of light that ever so slowly drifted to earth then winked out of existence.
In the place where Meghan had stood now lay a human woman. Slowly coming awake, she blinked up at the blue sky in bewilderment. She slowly brought a small, pale hand to her face, caressing the soft skin. Her fingers traced the outline of human ears, rounded tops and soft fleshy lobes. The woman choked back a sob, rolled onto her side and pushed up with her arms. Then she raised herself to stand on long, wobbly legs; looking down at herself, she began laughing and crying at the same time.
She found nestled between her breasts a small orb attached to a fine silver chain that hung around her slender neck. The globe pulsed with a faint orange glow that kept time with her heartbeat.
The woman watched the soothing light for some moments before lifting her head, gazing in the direction that Ren had taken earlier. Smiling ever so slightly, traces of pain still lingering in her green almond eyes, the woman clutched the glowing sphere between her breasts and whispered, "To Asherlon I will go."
So Meghan began her journey into a world she did not know or understand.
But she never looked back. Not once.
Sylvia Forlenzo lives in southern Connecticut with her husband and infant daughter. She has been writing since the age of eight but has never been published. "An Impossible Match" is Sylvia's first published story. She is currently working on the second chapter of "An Impossible Match" as well as doing research for her novel titled Legacy.