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‘Looking up, I saw mine enemy,
only to discover that he was nothing
more than mine own reflected image.’
Malina paused from her work to let her back rest a moment, and to check on the children. Here she was, kneeling in a stream, doing the washing like any Elf or Human woman! With a wry inner smile, she thought that this was perhaps Theuli’s way of settling an old score. Hitching up her peasant dress to her lap and wringing some of the water out of it, she then sat on a wide, flat boulder that was black and smooth, sun soaked and deliciously warm against her bare backside and the backs of her legs. The coolish water gurgling about her feet sounded as cheerfully effervescent as it felt, and she wriggled her toes, taking no small delight in this simple pleasure.
She looked up for a moment at the tall weeping-willows, hoary with moss and ancient, that shaded the stream, and listened to the wind hissing quietly through their variegated canopy of yellow-green leaves, watching their fine branches move irrhythmically as the light breeze caught at them. Beneath the trees grew thick aromatic beds of herbs which bloomed with tiny flowers of red, blue, white, yellow, lavender and pink. Here and there along the stream’s banks were thick beds of iris, peony, lily, crocus, daffodil and sweet William, bachelor’s buttons, snowdrops and bleeding hearts which thrived in more shady places, and myriad other wild flowers that may have had no name . . .
She had once been very much a part of this setting. Not long ago her home, located only a few short miles up this very stream, had been an old bird’s nest lined with feathers and thistledown, situated amongst the upper branches of an enormous oak tree, itself as hale and ancient as a well-maintained mansion that had survived untold generations of change. Her only real means of safety had been to make herself as small and inconspicuous as possible. Even then, her existence was often fraught with danger, for many deadly creatures such as hawks, owls and carnivorous arboreal reptilian and mammalian creatures preyed on small things which lived in trees. For a long time, her only true hope in life was that she might simply be overlooked.
To one side of her dwelling, concealed beneath a worn scrap of tooled leather, was her precious booty: a bit of brass chain, a few broken shards of brightly painted crockery, some pretty stones and snail shells, some smooth-worn pieces of coloured glass, a wooden clothes pin that someone had made into a little doll, that no doubt some child had lost. The thought of these things, once so dear to her, was enough to cause her eyes to mist, her throat to ache. She had played with that doll for untold hours, she playing the part of her own mother, trying to comfort herself in the form of the little doll, trying to explain over and over again why she had disappeared one day, never to return, to leave her young child so utterly alone in the world.
But there had been happier moments. There was a natural rhythm to living in the forest, and when one became attuned to it, participating in the endless unfolding of life itself, one became imbued with a deep sense of peace and belonging. Malina had been able to more than revel in this feeling, however, for her connectedness to this world had gone beyond a simple feeling. She had been physically able to merge with it, becoming invisible to any but those with a discerning eye, a breath of wind that was not a breath of wind, a living sense of watchful wonderment that was no less exhilarating than flying.
But Rowf had inadvertently changed all that for her. From the moment he had first scooped her up in his arms on his front lawn, that physical closeness and contact, something she had experienced only with her mother, had touched remote places in her being, evoking strong, unknown and unfamiliar feelings of longing and desire. But being a Pixie, there were no words or associations she could make, to explain or understand what she felt.
Irresistibly drawn to these new sensations, upon returning to her own world, she had been forced to make a choice; either to return to what she was, a Pixie, child of Nature and innocence, or to follow her feelings and try to become something else.
Well, now the choice was made, and already she was paying the price. All about her was magic; in the air, in the water, in the ground, in the trees . . . magic she could no longer touch. She was separate now, not only from her own world, but from her old life. She thought of her Pixie dress, where it lay a world away, safe and hidden at the bottom of a drawer. She did miss it, but like her childhood, it belonged where it was, a carefully preserved and happy memory.
Perhaps she was missing out on all those things that went with her old life: regardless, she was not going to risk going back to who and what she was, and losing all hope of ever being with Rowf. Leaving her Pixie dress behind was not so much a conscious decision, as it was an affirmation of who and what she was determined to become. As for what little remained of her Power, she found that it actually came as a relief. It meant that at the least, she belonged to herself now, and not to her old life.
A movement under the water caught her eye; a large, bluish crayfish was working its way along the stream bed. As it crawled slowly away from her, she sighed. At one time, the creature wouldn’t have even noticed her presence. Now, however . . .
But she smiled wistfully as she watched Rani and Zuic playing together. They seemed, in a way, to be a world and a lifetime away, laughing happily, at peace amongst the tall grasses, and green and yellow shadows, as timeless and ephemeral as the filtered sunlight which passed through the willow-trees.
Turning her attention back to her work, Malina pulled the last of the laundry into the water, and tried to sort out the disturbing undercurrents of emotion which tugged at her whenever she had a moment to reflect on the changes that had taken her so far from a life she thought she knew.