It was full dark when I finished the Baron’s vest. Not the best leatherwork I’d ever done, but close, his complex crest delicately etched into the butter-soft calf skin.
It was a clear night, late summer warm, with an enormous Hunter’s Moon, so I’d have no trouble making my way from my cottage here on the edge of the forest to Old Tom’s “tavern” in the village.
“Tavern” was an exaggeration, but if we wanted a beer better than what we’d brewed at home, or a bowl of good stew, or a chance for gossip or some time with the dice, Old Tom’s was the place we villagers went.
I slung my harp in its tooled leather case over my shoulder as I left. You never know when inspiration for a new song will come up.
I gazed up at the brilliant and impossibly numerous stars as I walked toward Old Tom’s and thought of a verse by my own favorite bard, Eleanor of Farjeon.
The night will never stay.
The night will still go by,
Though with a million stars
You pin it to the sky.
As I neared Old Tom’s door, I saw her standing next to it. Her beauty in the moonlight stopped my heart. She was gorgeous. Exquisite! Her body a dream. And her legs! Long, delicate, and perfectly shaped.
And she was tall! Sixteen hands at least. Mane and tail flowing like silken threads in the moonlight. Saddle and bridle of leather more finely made and tooled than anything I’d ever attempted. Or seen.
I instantly understood why some of my kin steal horses despite the risk, and desire rose within me. But the look in her wild, green eyes made me pause and think again.
I turned away from her and stepped inside.
Old Tom was, as always, at the bar, but he appeared distressed. Grief stricken.
Sean stood nearby, and I asked, “Who rides that horse?”
He nodded toward the table in the corner.
A man sat there, slim and elegant, his silk and leather garb a match for the horse’s….
Wait! Not a man. A woman. And at her feet, groaning, Tully, the blacksmith. A huge and mean-spirited man. And the closest thing we have to a village idiot.
“What…?” I began.
“Tully dint like the way she’s dressed. Said t’was disgusting and agin nature. She just ignored him. So, he went over to drag her out.” He paused to take a long swig from his tankard.
“She caught his arm as he reached for her. And did—somethin. And of a sudden like, he was on the floor with a dislocated shoulder.”
Well aware of our scrutiny, the woman rose from her bench and moved toward us. She didn’t so much walk as flow. Like water over smooth stones.
Ignoring Sean, she stood directly in front of me and looked me up and down. Like her horse, she was tall, easily my height, and I am not a small man. And, like her horse, her eyes were wild and deeply green. I seemed to feel myself falling into them.
Glancing at my harp case, she said, “Your work?”
“Primitive!” she said. “But interesting. Energetic and spontaneous. Are you like that?”
“Well, I, um…”
Interrupting, as though my answer were unimportant, she went on. “I came back to see Young Tom, but he’s not here. You might do.”
She turned and moved toward the door and I….
I followed her.
She paused at her horse’s side and looked back, possibly to make sure I hadn’t gotten lost. Or tripped over my own feet and fallen into Old Tom’s well.
Satisfied, she mounted, again with an impossibly graceful flow of movement that made me feel like a child attempting its first steps.
“Get up behind me”
I grasped the wrist of her extended arm and tried to mount as smoothly as she had. I didn’t need her mildly amused snort to tell me I didn’t succeed. If her horse noticed my added weight, it gave no sign.
“Where are we going?” I asked, settling my harp’s case against my hip.
“I know a place”, she replied.
She moved her hands minutely, almost unnoticeably, and her horse wheeled and moved off toward the forest. Like hers, its movements were uncannily smooth and effortless. Despite my awkward position behind her, I didn’t really need any support to keep my seat, but she guided my arms around her, placing one hand on her midriff and the other…higher.
Nimble as a doe, her horse took us deeper into the forest, perhaps following the light movements of her hands on the reins. Perhaps needing no guidance.
I tried to pay attention to our path, but the warmth of her body and the blended scents of leather, silk, horse, and her stole all my awareness.
We stopped at a lovers’ bower. It could be nothing else. The smooth grass, the nearby brook, the concealing shrubbery, the trees’ limbs creating a perfect frame for the moon. It was all perfect. And it was not any part of the forest I knew.
She dismounted with a supple twist of her body, then helped me get down.
“Wait!” said my mind. “This is wrong! This is backwards! I should be the one who….” But I remembered Tully with his dislocated shoulder and said nothing.
She stepped close to me. Very close. Our eyes met again and this time I did fall forward—slowly but unstoppably–into hers. My memory of what happened next is hazy, although I think I died several times.
Hours—Days? Weeks?—later I looked up and saw her smiling down at me.
“You’ll do! Come! The Gateway closes soon!”
Stumbling to my feet, I struggled to straighten my clothes. She was already impeccable. “What?” I managed to ask as she flowed–and I scrambled–onto her horse. “Gateway?”
“To Tir Na Nog. My home. Only during your ‘Hunter’s Moon’ is it open. I’m taking you back with me.”
I didn’t argue. I didn’t object. I wanted nothing more than to go with her. To Tir Na Nog. To the moon. To anywhere. I was—quite literally—enthralled.
But it wasn’t enough. The “Gateway” was not a single spot but a long stretch of cobbled road. That was aflame all along its length. The heat—or was it just eldritch pain that felt like fire?– intensified as we rode, and eventually I screamed. I tried to bear it and could not.
Turning, she looked at me with sadness and disappointment. With a sigh, she wheeled her horse, and we rode back to the bower.
She did not dismount. She simply let me slide to the ground like a sack of grain.
“So, not just Tom. All of you. Wild. Intense. Passionate. And so pitifully fragile.”
She wheeled her horse again and said, “Well, if here is where we must meet, so be it. I’ll come for you at next Hunter’s Moon. Don’t be like Young Tom. Don’t disappoint me!”
She rode off into the night. She did not look back. I looked around our bower. There was nothing to show that anything had happened here.
I sat down and sobbed my heart out. No, not my heart. She had that.
When morning came, I managed to make my way back to the village. The unfamiliar forest that held the bower gradually became the woods I knew well, and I was soon home.
It was late morning. Everyone was at their work. Old Tom’s tavern was deserted. Except for Old Tom. He no longer looked distressed. His eyes held sympathy. And understanding.
“You couldn’t pass through either” he said.
“And you’re ‘Young Tom’.”
“I was. Fifty years ago. She said she’d return at the next Hunter’s Moon. I waited. Hunter’s Moon after Hunter’s Moon. But she never came back. Until tonight. And she didn’t even recognize me. Though she looked the same as she did then.”
I shook my head. “She told me she’d return at the next Hunter’s Moon, and I think she spoke the truth. The truth for her. But she is of the Fey folk and lives in Tir Na Nog, and their time does not pass as ours does.”
“So, what will you do?” he asked.
“Wait. As you have. And neither bed nor wed anyone until she returns, because she owns me, body, heart, and soul. And if it is, again, fifty years, she will not know me. But I will be able to see her one more time. And that will have to be enough.”
I seated myself on the nearest bench, and Tom brought me an ale. I removed my harp from its leather case (“Primitive but energetic!”) and touched its strings as the words came.
“It’s true, you ride the finest horse
I’ve ever seen.
Standing sixteen one or two,
With eyes wild and green.
And you ride your horse so well,
Your hands light to the touch.
I could never go with you no matter how I wanted to.
Ride on! See you!
I could never go with you no matter how I wanted to.”
(Click here for the full song)
Al Carlson is a retired Librarian who fell in love with mythology at an early age and with technology somewhat later in life. He joined OLLI-USF in 2017 during an Open House beneath a Hunter’s Moon. He is still the co-editor of OLLI Connects although he currently lives in North Carolina. The Web doesn’t care where you are.