Don’t go down to the woods today
Once upon a time there was a girl with hair as golden as autumn corn, and skin as white as winter snow, lips as pink as spring blossoms, and eyes as blue as a summer’s sky. Ah, but for all she was beautiful, she had her faults. For her temper was as changeable as a spring storm, her fury burnt hot as the summer sun, her compassion as dry as autumn leaves and her heart as cold as winter’s ice.
And though her parents begged her not to, she loved to walk at the places where the lands of men touch the lands of the Sidhe. She would stand for hours on the edge of the woods, with one foot in shadow and one in sunlight, face upturned, piebald – one half golden, one half dark. And whatever her parents said to warn her of the danger, it was no use. She heeded them not.
At length, they sat her down and spoke to her, saying. “You are no longer a child, but a woman, and it will soon be time for you to make your own way in this world. We love you, but we fear for you. You did not listen when we told you to stay away from the dark woods, but listen now.
For the love we bear you, and you bear us, do not go into the wild woods. If you must go into the wild woods, keep always to the path. If you must leave the path, never enter any building nor even a circle of stones. If you must enter a building or circle of stones, keep always on your feet, no matter how tired you be. If you must sit and rest, do not eat anything while you rest, no matter how hungry you be. If you must eat, do not sleep, no matter how weary you be. If you must sleep, you will never awaken, no matter the love we bear you and you bear us. Heed these words, if none other.
But it came to pass, not long after that, as she was walking, one foot in sunshine and one in the shadow of the woods, she heard a bird singing sweetly, just out of sight in the branches. And the song was so sweet that she forgot what her parents had said, and went into the wild woods. And as she walked, the path grew thinner, and fainter, and she, following the sweet singing, did not notice when the path was not a path any more.
And she found the bird at last, perched on the chimney of a cottage, singing as if her heart would break for joy. And a homely, welcoming cottage it was too, and the girl, wondering who might live here, went inside.
And there she found a table laid out with a bowl of warm porridge, and a chair pulled up beside the table, perfectly inviting, as if awaiting the girl. Suddenly ravenous, she sat and ate, and never noticed when the singing of the bird stopped.
And when she had eaten her full, she went into the other room of the cottage, and there was a bed, all laid with soft furs, and the girl lay down as if in a trance, and slept.
And as she slept, she dreamt. And this was her dream: Her father came into the cottage, and looked at the empty bowl, and said: “For the love your father bears you, who has eaten this fae food?’ Her mother came into the cottage, and looked at the chair, and said ‘For the love your mother bears you, who has sat here and rested in the home of a fae? And then the bird came into the cottage, and flew to the girl in the bed, and it spoke to her parents saying ‘For the love your child bears you, you will see when she awakens.’
And she awoke, and then awoke again. And the Changeling smiled, showing teeth suddenly sharp as winter frost, strong as autumn winds, hard as summer-sun-baked clay, and glistening wet as spring dew.
And the Changeling said ‘Father, Mother – for the love you bear me, I do thank you. And you are always welcome here in my home: There is food to share, A cosy chair, Why, spend the night here, if you dare.”
And the bird sang its sweet, sweet song as the mother and the father ran away as fast as their legs would carry them.
By Nicky Lawrence