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Amber Paulen

The Children (a fairy tale of sorts)

Part One of a Series: All Praise the Fantastical!

Long ago and in a place far away, two children lived within the depths of a beautiful forest. Legend and lore had spread, bed time stories had evolved, about the mysterious powers held by the trees within. Rumor had it that this forest was enchanted above all other enchanted forests and that the two children were enchanted above all other children.

The stories spread as wild fire tempted by dry grasses—far and wide—despite no one ever venturing over a hair’s breadth within the forest and no one ever laying eyes on the two children. Their powers, if they did indeed have some, were elaborated almost beyond the mysterious and magical, if there is indeed a beyond. They were said to live in the trees. They were said to be in cohorts with such beings as elves, dwarves, fairies and gnomes. They were even said to fly. Soon, it became the habit of the villagers, especially those situated near-by, to impute all matters and phenomena, whether dire or joyful, onto the forest pair. These children became almost Christ-like, if you will.

Meanwhile, deep within the forest, the two children lived as any normal child may have lived in any normal forest: eating acorns and wild blackberries, befriending the animals who dwelled within burrows and atop lofty branches, playing over the land without limits; across the streams and brambling bushes they ran, to throw themselves, exhausted and exuberant, onto a grassy green gap in the trees. They needed neither gender nor clothes. They did not need names; they were as one, titles would only forge their separation.

The only thing they could ever said to be in want of was warmth when the harsh winds of winter came whistling through the trunk of their tree. During these times they would call the foxes to their side to lie against them. During these times they would spin fabulous yarns, which were conveyed by mutual and speechless communication, about the days when the forest was filled with light and the warmth dripped from their foreheads in salty trickles. The tree pulsed with life among the dormant and the animals drew inside for their long winter’s rest.

Spring surely came. The ground beneath the children began to relax, the rains penetrated the earth, the roots tunneled their patient winding way, giving life before complete birth. Each year the children were amazed anew. What is not possible when witnessing the deliberate and intrepid, the beautiful and mysterious revitalization of nature?

The villagers, on the other hand, always failed to find wonder in anything. They looked to spring as they looked to the necessity of waking up every day, as something that happens. Spring was the time for sowing of seeds and the airing-out of the long closed-up houses. Sure there was laughter and delights on certain drunken nights, but these too were cut short by the habit of being rounded-off. Even the children of these villagers seemed only to be plodding out a doldrums existence, courtesy of their parents, no doubt.

It should come as no surprise that these folks were rather spiteful towards one another. Sometimes there were meaningless threats or a splatter of other nasty businesses. It was only the fulfillment of an eventuality when a parricide did occur in a village situated by the fringe of the forest. When the youngest son arrived home that day to find his father bludgeoned and dead on the floor, he turned out without a wail and fled full sprint into the forest.

As one may imagine, the town’s murmur grew to an uproar. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the murderer was the eldest son but the case was long and complicated and had many holes that the citizens peeked into. Soon, they forgot it was even a parricide at all. What if it was the neighbor? What if it was my neighbor? Man and woman alike became confused and easily convinced of other interpretations of the recent events. They became afraid. They saw in the eyes of their neighbors, friends and relatives, the motivations of a killer. They began to see evil at all turns. They began to build walls around themselves. Each individual became a fortress, each fortress became an entity of grandly ignorant proportions. It goes without saying that they immediately forgot of the young boy, though, in the worst times began to remember the two children, not as a beacon of hope and salvation, but instead as the blackened source of the dark problems.

It did not take long for the two children to instinctively perceive the growing malevolence and disquiet rising from the village. They wandered as far away from the illness as they could get, happening onto the young boy by chance. The boy was in tatters. The nights and days had passed numberless. He was weak with hunger. He was weak from his dead father haunting his heels as he pushed himself on. He had seen the dead. He had convinced himself that he must be dead as well. He was in desperate need of solace.

The two children, never having looked upon another human other than themselves, were first struck by the novelty of the discovery. Then gradually they began to recognize qualities of themselves in this boy, but, these qualities were almost eaten alive. Deep within his hallow eyes there was a light and it was this light that they called out to. They did not speak words but used a communication of the highest order, a voice used by all creatures of nature. The boy, when awakened, became one with them so that now they were three.

Spring became summer and the forest reached its zenith of life. Buzzing insects, chattering birds, the tepid water of the creeks, the great undulations of the earth below. Under the shady boughs of the towering oak trees, the boy from town struggled to teach the children how to speak, for words were alive in his head and he needed their release. Names came. “Tree,” instructed the boy. “You. Me.” But the two children remained pleasantly attached to their old way, slipping into their raw unity where designations never effected them. The boy, on the other hand, had such lofty thoughts that it was almost painful that they could not be shared. The woodland pair and the boy who came from darkness into the light were always saying the same things, just in different ways.

The poison of the village eventually grew so strong that it could no longer be overcome by simply moving further away. The boy’s most obese fear was that the purity of the children may be tainted. His experience in the village hung over him like a darkened cloud: his swift departure, his father laying in a pool of his own blood. After all, he was still a child, but yet this heaviness weighed on him as if it were the whole of the world.

As it happened, the men of the village were marching through the forest at a steady stream. They were seeking reparations for the damage they had incurred. They swung at branches and brush with their sharpened swords. They stomped out any delicate obstacle that stood in their way. They left in their wake a path of destruction so complete that the forest groaned and resonated with the force of their intrusion. On they marched! Singing drunken songs, chanting wicked poems, treading out such a hairy path that even the snakes were keen to shudders. They struck out blindly, reasoning that the enchanted children would stupidly stumble before their path. To the men’s surprise, it was not two meek and dirty kids who stopped them, but the small boy of the murdered man.

The men moved their hands to their defenses at first sight of the apparition for the boy did not appear to them in the usual way, along the ground, but he came as if from above. It seemed that the men, in their fervent pillage, had forgotten that this forest was enchanted. “Who goes there?” bellowed the leader with a grisly mouth and a long red beard.

The boy smiled graciously, he had forgotten the ways of men. “It is I, the son of the cobbler who was struck down in his own home. And who are you to dare to walk through these sacred lands without benevolence or fear?”

The men stacked behind the leader began to laugh open-jawed. The boy talked as if he had all the legions of Rome behind him and not an armed one to his fore. The man with the red beard laughed the heartiest though suddenly restrained himself to seriousness for it was seriousness that brought them. “We have come to avenge the death of that very cobbler. How do we know that you are his son and it was not you who has killed him?” The group behind began to raise their fists, shouting, “It was him! It was him!”

“Believe what you may,” the boy smiled. “My only concern is that you go.”

Again the men laughed uproariously, chanting, “It was him! It was him!” Their group temperature rose to its heights and their group anger accumulated into a unified one. Though by training they remained still, for they were instructed not to move until bidden.

The red bearded leader had begun to take action of his own. With his sword drawn he circled the young boy maliciously, grinning and chuckling madly to himself. “So it was you small boy? All this pointing of fingers in the village while you have been walking free in the woods, sheltering yourself with branches and moss, fearing the moment when we would appear and take blood for blood. Your father has long been unrestful in our village demanding that the murderer be found and fairly tried. At this instant he must be smiling in his grave. Today we have found him! Today we will try him! What do you say men?”

“Guilty!” rose like the wave of an ocean, sent out in centrifugal motion over the earth and through the air of the forest which cringed with such blindness.

But yet the boy knew not fear. He had walked along in the shadow of the valley of death and now physical death meant nothing to him, it was as if he thought himself immune to it. The man that circled round him had breath that was hot and sticky and smelled of aged meat. The young boy had forgotten the repugnance of men, he must brace himself to bare it.

When, of a sudden, just as the group of men were taking their leader’s cue, the forest began to moan. It was a low deep moan that sounded like pain to human ears. The moan was pierced by sharp howls. Slowly and imperceptibly the trees began to sway, swaying much more than when they are bothered by strong breezes. The men were now silent and watchful. “The children!” rose from some lips in a shaking whisper. “We have forgotten about the children.”

The wonders and mysteries of the stories that had spread so thickly through the villages began to take hold of the grimy men’s imaginations. The forest has awoken. The unconquered depths of it seemed to rise up before them like a mountain suddenly penetrating the heavens. Nervousness and anxiety penetrated their hearts, their eyes revealed their fear to one another. The group quivered in an anguish which can only be caused by that which is not known. “We leave at once!” the leader ordered and snatched up the arm of the young boy with a snake-bite grip.

They walked hurriedly through the trees. They insisted that they were without fear.

“Have you seen the children?” the bearded leader hissed into the boy’s face. “Have you seen them?. . .The children that live in the forest.” The boy remained stubbornly silent.

It is then that the second mysterious and wondrous miracle occurred. Centered on the path the children stood. They were naked as the day they were born and held at their sides tall and twisting staffs, which were double their size. They did not move or talk but waited until the brigade had come to a full and silent stop. The young boy was instantly forgotten. He walked off to the side and sat on a mossed trunk.

The children lifted and pointed their sticks. The forest and animals had already been stirred so that when the sticks were lifted the sounds of them rose with striking force. They echoed and combined into a such a tangled myriad that nothing could be deciphered, so that the totality was terrible. The wind grew. The animals emerged fearlessly to face the trespassers. It was a great and awesome chaos. The three children laughed gleefully as the men ran with all their might and will out of the forest. They threw themselves onto their threshold, where the women kicked them with their toes saying, “We would have done better to have gone ourselves.”

The life of the village soon returned to its pace almost immediately after the cowardly men’s return. The people of the village soon forgot why they had even gone into the forest and began weaving new tales while embellishing the old ones, about the enchantments there within. On occasion, when one of was full of spit and vinegar, he would get up onto the table and begin belching out his version, “When we battled the forest nymphs. . .How their eyes quivered with the fear of my blade.” But no one listened or if they did they burst into laughter for it was all old jokes by now.

As for the children. The two of the woodland variety were neither better nor worse from the encounter and never dedicated a seconds thought to the matter. They were always humble in an unconscious way. The boy soon began to feel restless. His experiences began to weigh on him much more than his life in the forest could stand. The two children never aged but the boy verily did. He was now a young man ready to search out his path. He re-entered the the world the same way he went out, walking through the streets of the village, now a stranger from a strange land. He stopped to mumble a prayer at the door of his father’s house which wailed with the cries of a hungry baby. From there he walked. He walked until he could walk no more. And in his waning years he scribbled out a great many books that sit on bookshelves still today. For ever since that time when the words swam briskly in his head he had reassured himself, that one day, they would be released. Maybe that’s why he was always seen to be smiling.

The End

Bracciano, Italy
November 2007


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