In the heart of the heavenly forest, beneath the black marble sky, sat a man with a pair of hazel eyes. The frown lines on his features ended on a smile, staring in rapture at the virescent beauty of the lake that ran only half a mile. White flowers that bloomed around its banks were born from the beauty that put the night sky to shame and her blood. Its fragrance intoxicated his senses as if love was fashioned into its delicate petals. And reminded him of the discontent of her heart.
“Who does this sweet fragrance belong to?” the man asked in a low rasping voice. His coarse fingers stroked the fair reflection in the lake. A tear from his eye mixing with the serene exquisiteness of the water almost opaque.
The gaze that stared back at him, was more soulful than all the new-born leaves and buds of the summertime. But they glistened with tears that held the sheen of the pearls. And in her long curl, she locked the buoyant blush of autumn. “Who holds the ocean hues in her eyes?”
A tale orchestrated of woe and love. The violent passion of the man whose hand fortune forced. Taking what never belonged to anyone, never ended worse than this. Under the velvet midnight, where Taurus touched the sky, was where the stage was set. The fragrance of tall grass and the hidden world of the forest led a tall man to the maiden’s place of rest.
Leather quiver on his back draped in a brown cloak, he followed an irresistibly sweet melody laced with grief. The invisible string of symphony pulled him to the heart of the forest, and in his eyes, he beheld the true beauty on whom were made odes of quests.
By the edge of a lake as bright as a mirror, stood a willow tree. Each dancing branch brushed against the water, in a mournful way. Like the frown of the fair maiden, who sat in its shade. The full moon behind the willow tree painted the forest in its soft glow. And the man’s heart leaped when the maiden raised her gaze, painfully slow.
“Oh!” the maiden cried, springing from the bank and taking a flight. The sapphires were put to shame with the colours that held her eyes. Strong and bold, yet pure and fearful. It seemed all the floral bloom tinted her agape lips. And the tresses kissed by fire, fell over her shoulder as she peeked from behind the trunk of the tree.
“Please don’t be afraid,” the man said, holding his arms out. Without intending to, he took a step forward, as if a siren pulled a thread. “I only heard your voice and followed it.”
The long locks that cascaded down her back were mingled with the branches overhead. “Who are you?” she asked in a voice softer than any singing muse. She backed up against the tree, hiding her mesmerizing face.
The man came to a halt, trying to hold her gaze. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Are you a hunter?” she peeked at the blade hanging by his waist. Soft arched brows, raised when she met his eyes. He knew he would leave his heart by her willow that night.
The man rested his hand over the hilt of his blade and nodded. “Yes, by profession I am.” He pulled it out, with its sharp side towards his torso as he said, “But here,” dropping it on the ground, he pushed it away. “I’ll leave my blade here.”
It could have been a minute… it could have been a day… the man waited as the maiden pushed back her unruly hair and stepped out at the centre stage. “Who are you?” he asked, resting his hand over his pounding heart.
“I’m the Water Spirit Maiden.”
“Water Spirit Maiden?” the man asked, wide-eyed. It couldn’t be possible… they were as rare as angels. “I thought they were rumours…”
Her laughter was the summer rain, sweeter than the songs of a nightingale. “Well, I stand in front of you.”
“If I may ask,” the man whispered, now standing in the shade of her willow, “what’s your name?”
A faint line appeared between her shining eyes and she tilted her head. The innocence of her soul mirrored her words, “I told you.”
“No,” the man shook his head, taking another step towards her, “your name.” His index finger pushed the locked out of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear with a gentle smile.
“Amara,” he enjoyed the way her name rolled off his tongue. Her fragrance was as soothing as her smile. Swirling with the subtle notes of petal showers and the forest after the rain. It slowed his heart in its calm embrace. “You have a beautiful voice.”
That night rolled away faster than they desired, but in her heart, she had locked his gentle words, smiles, and light shrugs. Feeling the rough texture of his hands was different than the softness of his soul, yet not alarmingly wrong. They talked about the forest, circling the willow and when the sun was ready to stretch his arms, her heart once again wept.
“You must leave now,” Amara said, glancing over at the blue replacing the black sky, “the dawn is fast approaching.”
Soft illuminating rays of the sun, kissed the man’s face. For the first time, Amara was jealous of the sun’s gaze. “You’ll be in the forest alone?” he asked, picking up the quiver resting against the willow trunk.
“I’ll hardly notice being alone,” Amara replied, pulling up her lips in a smile. Her eyes tried to take in the depths of his. It would be her solace in the empty morning… for others, it was a promise of a new day.
“Can I visit you tonight?”
Limbs already growing stiff, Amara clutched onto the willow trunk. “I shall wait…” she said, watching him melt into the brightness of the sun.
Every night he returned with eager footsteps and a bright grin. And she waited under the willow with her hand resting on her chin. She had given him her heart and kept his safe. Not once in all those nights did he bring his blade.
Instead, in his coarse hands, she would find the beauties she had long forgotten. Handing it to her, he would whisper his promise of keeping her safe. And in his ways he told her, he remembered her every minute of every day. “The blush of your cheeks reminded me of these flowers.”
“They’re beautiful,” Amara whispered, touching the delicate petals of the pink roses. The fragrance she began associating with him. And when she’d see his pricked fingers, she washed the blood from the water of her lake and sat under the willow talking the night away.
“Sawyer,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around her knees. “What is the town like?”
“Dull,” he replied, combing her tresses with the wooden comb he bought for her. “The beauty of this forest makes every other beauty paler in comparison,”
“You’ll get bored of this place soon,” she whispered, hanging head and hiding her downcast eyes. The world has more to offer him than Amara could. Soon he would find a better maiden that could leave her place.
“Why would I?”
“There’s nothing much to do here.”
“I enjoy sitting by the lake in your company,” he replied, adorning her hair with the blue and white hyacinth he picked from her lake, “and that’s enough for me.” Holding her hands in his own, Sawyer gazed into her eyes. For the first time, she saw impatience in his eyes. “Why do you have to stay here?”
“In the forest of the night, I shot an arrow at a deer who was only a babe,” Amara began, her head hung low and tears shining in the moonlight glow. “It took me only a while to realise that I couldn’t take anything from the forest of the night,” she whispered, pursing her trembling lips, “I was cursed to stay in the forest for eternity.” The ache in her heart returned, and she blinked back the tears as she said, “Knowing I had murdered my tomorrow, I wept for five and ten days, and of those tears was formed this lake.” Her gaze shifted from the calm lake to the full moon in the sky. “But my weeping continued as I watched my tresses mingle with the branches and my body turn into the willow, and my heart that only the moon would awake.”
“You have to stay by this lake for the rest of your life?”
“It’s a lot longer than yours,” Amara replied, nodding in a subtle way, “I have an eternity to spend.”
“But what if I could help you?” Sawyer asked, holding her hands against his pounding heart. “You can come with me and at dawn, we shall wed.”
The sadness drained through her when she realised, she couldn’t step a toe out of her cursed life. She was the Water Spirit Maiden of the Forest of Night and he a son of the light. “I can’t match your footsteps and leave this lake.”
“Leave it on me,” Sawyer said, rising to his feet. With a feather-light touch of his lips on her hand, he set her heart ablaze. “I shall find a way to help you out of this misery.”
“Where are you going?” she asked, on her feet at once.
“It’s almost dawn,” Sawyer pointed at the brightening sky, “I shall return tonight.”
Sawyer searched far and wide, for a cure to break the curse, that tied the maiden’s ankles to the willow. Although people were enamoured by her tales, there was still no hope. In the town where it rained gold in the merchant’s house, he rested his head for the night and opened his eyes in the morn’. All the town’s men were missing, right at the break of dawn.
“Where are all the men?” Sawyer asked, passing a plump woman in the streets.
“Someone spotted the Water Spirit Maiden, close by,” she answered, looking up from the basket of her bread. The smile on her lips was tinted with a bright shade of red. “The men went out to hunt.”
Taking the path of the forest, that only he knew, he rushed to the willow with a sinking heart. Sawyer’s eyes beheld not only the destruction of the place but his beloved’s paling face. The willow was replaced by a burnt trunk. Few leaves scattered in the water and the hyacinths crushed. Her feet had left a trail of blood along the banks of her lake. Her fierce red hair sprawled across the green grass, and her breath all but gasps.
“Amara!” Swayer bellowed, holding her cold, limp hand against his tear-stained cheek. A gruelling pain rose in his heart, as the wind scattered her fragrance. He would soon forget the petal showers and forest rains either way. But he clutched onto her fading body, letting out an anguished scream.
“I cannot come –” she whispered, “– with you,” drawing her last breath.
From the blood dripped in the heart of the forest, bloomed flowers as white as her skin. The amaryllis looked at Swayer, as he settled on the banks of her lake. They held her delicate fragrance and died with the end of spring.
Touching the reflection once again, Sawyer longed to hold her gaze. “Who has tied fire in her red tresses that cascaded down her back?” he whispered, inching closer to his beloved, ready for fortune to draw the curtains. “Whose heart did I rip out with my blade?”