Of Goblins & Moonshade

by B.R. Grove

Vivian never ventured outside of the village alone before. She made a few trips back and forth to market with her mother when she was a little girl, but never had she been sent out by herself. It was too dangerous, her parents had said. A child could easily stray from the stone path and end up lost in the woods. The woods were dark and deep; anyone could get trapped in there, least of all a young girl.

But she was a woman now, her mother had told her. That, and there was no one to make the trip with her. Mother needed to stay home with Tatiana, due to Vivian's elder sister's illness. Father was out with the rest of the men hunting wild prey in the less deep part of the forest, across the bridge to Longside.

But the only way to the market was through the path, made of thick grey stone, and winding through the dark parts of the forest.

"There's nothing to fear now," Mother said as she tied Vivian's lilac-coloured shawl beneath her chin, and handed her the brown herb pouch to sling over her shoulder. "As long as you don't stray from the path. You're smarter now; you can handle it on your own. And your sister needs those herbs to heal."

So now here she was, walking along the line of grey stone, trying to keep her gaze on the road ahead. It was difficult, and she found herself looking around at the trees that marked entrances into the twilight woods. Their branches were twisted and curled, like fingers of beckoning hands.

She wouldn't admit it, but part of her wanted to answer their call.

She grew up with tales about the woods: of goblins and imps and other things that went bump in the night. But unlike the other children, who cowered away from the woods in fear, the stories only drew her in; fed her curiosity and desire to explore the dark unknown.

Eventually the end of the path came into view between the trees up ahead. Vivian shook herself out of her thoughts and sped up her walk. She passed through the gap in the trees, and stepped onto the path that had turned into a dusty dirt road. The grey shifted rock stopped where the forest did.

Ahead was the entrance into Longside. This town always seemed especially dismal, she noticed as she made her way through the fairly busy town square. Even when she came there as a child, she remembered the sun not shining, and how a shiver ran through her from the cold air. Now that she was grown, she developed a fondness for the rarity of grey days. The sun always shined in her own village, and she preferred the calm peaceful autumn days to the summer ones. As she wandered, lost in her thoughts, she had reached the vendor's tents and stopped in front of a short, hunched old woman selling herbs laid out on a wooden display.

"Penny for your thoughts, my dear?" She asked in a creaky voice.

Vivian jumped, not having realized she wasn't paying attention. "Oh! Um…sorry, did you say something?"

The woman grinned, revealing a set of jagged, broken teeth. "You seem to be stuck in a thought, dearie."

Vivian blushed in embarrassment. The woman let out a wheezing laugh. "Not to worry! Everyone gets their head stuck in the clouds from time to time. Let me guess…" She made a twirling motion with one of her bony fingers as she squinted her eyes in thought. "You're in need of a specific kind of herb, yes?"

Vivian nodded, surprised that the woman knew. "Yes! I need something to help with a fever. My sister is ill, and I need to get something to help her get well."

"I see! Well, I have something for you here. Tell me, dearie, are you from out of town? I figure I'd remember a pretty little face like yours around here!" She reached a finger out and twirled a lock of Vivian's brown hair around.

She jerked back, and the curl fell away from the crone's grasp. "I'm from the other side of the woods," she replied.

The lady tutted. "That's a long ways away," she said. "Did you come through there all by yourself?"

Vivian nodded, and the woman tutted again. "That's mighty brave of ya."

She plucked a few herbs from the display, muttering to herself as she took a cloth pouch from the drawer inside her booth. She dropped them inside, tied it closed with twine, and handed it to Vivian. "Five gold for these."

Vivian fished around inside her herb pouch and only came up with three gold coins. "I...I thought that it was three…"

"My prices have gone up. It ain't easy to find this stuff, you know!"

Her heart sank, and she dropped the coins back in her bag. "I don't have enough…"

The woman shrugged her shoulders and undid the pouch. She placed the herbs back on the display.

"I-I still have three coins! I can see what else I have in here-"

"Don't bother," the woman responded coldly now as Vivian went to reach for her bag. "It's five or nothing."

"Please! My sister has never been this sick before! I really need these herbs!"

"Well I hope she gets better for your sake." The woman scowled at her. "Now scram! I have other customers around here!"

A lump formed in Vivian's throat. She lowered her head and walked back into the crowd. How was she supposed to return home now? Her mother wasn't going to be pleased that she came home with nothing, and now Tatiana had no means to get well.

Part of her wanted to look around at the rest of the market, but glancing around and seeing so many unfamiliar faces staring at her like she didn't belong there convinced her to go back home again. It wasn't worth the stress.

She arrived at the entrance to the woods and went back inside. She wasn't even halfway home when the sky started fading into a beautiful sunset; the orange moon visible through the bony tops of the trees. The air cooled, and she drew her cloak closed around herself to stay warm.

She stopped walking, tired, and peered curiously into the woods. They were dark as ever, and deep as a well. An urge to walk inside swept over her. She shook her head, knowing that it was foolish. Still...she didn't want to go back home yet, and a surely a little peek wouldn't hurt, would it?

She took a deep breath and stepped off the stone path. The grass at the base of the forest was dark, mossy, and covered in twigs. She held her cloak tightly around her body as she continued her trek into the woods. The ground was messy and covered in fallen branches and underbrush. Still, she kept walking.

After what felt like an eternity, the ground turned soft. She looked down and saw clear green grass. Up ahead, there was a horizontal dirt trail coming out of the trees on one side and into the ones on the other. Vivian turned to look in the direction she came from, and saw nothing familiar. Her heart started pounding harder, and she feared that she was lost. She wanted to turn back, but she didn't want to scrape through all the underbrush and stumbling on roots again. She looked over at the road in front of her again, and decided to follow it in the direction she had been going in out of hopes of returning home.

It was fruitless, she realized after another eternity of walking. The dense trees surrounded her on all sides and stretched on endlessly. The sun had long faded, and only the faintest hint of moonlight through the treetops illuminated the trail ahead. Vivian hugged herself as she kept lumbering forward.

What if she never got home? There was no way of knowing, that she could see, where exactly she was or how far she had strayed from the stone path. She had been afraid of facing her mother's wrath for not doing what she set out to do, but now she feared she would never see her mother again. Or Tatiana. Or her father.

Was she doomed to wander in the woods forever, like the creatures that so intrigued her? And if those creatures did stalk the woods at night, would she even live long enough to see the sun tomorrow?

Her blood ran cold, and she stopped walking. She strained her ears, listening for any sounds. There was the sound of insects, and trees blowing slightly in the breeze. Then it came: a rustling noise. It came from a collection of bushes behind her. She gasped and spun around.

A tall figure stood amongst the shrubbery, shrouded in the darkness of the woods. Vivian cried out and backed up, only to step on the hem of her cloak. She shrieked as she fell backwards and landed on the ground. She stared up in horror at the menacing figure above her.

A deep voice emanated from the shadows. "What are you doing here?"

It was gravelly, and seemed to reverberate off the trees. The figure moved, and walked out of the bushes. It stopped in front of her, and she stared up in surprise.

The faint moonlight illuminated the face of a man. His skin was white as the full moon, and his long, black hair reached well past his shoulders. His features were angular, and curled into a look of confusion. His eyes were bright yellow, like the centre of a daisy- a stark contrast to his saturated appearance. He wore the clothes of a nobleman- dark breeches and a deep violet shirt. The rough-looking dark robe around his shoulders rustled as he knelt down to her level. He held out a hand to her, his nails black and long like claws. Reluctantly, she took it, and he helped her to her feet. She noticed, in the dim light, that his ears were long and pointed, and knifed upwards through his hair.

"I...I'm sorry," she stammered. "I got lost. I can't find my way back to the stone path."

He stared down at her. Those eyes...they seemed to bore into her. She shivered.

"You should have heeded the warnings of your elders," he said sternly. "The woods are nowhere for the likes of you."

"I know, but I was curious..." She sniffed. "...and I don't know if I'll find my way home again. Can you tell me how to leave this place?"

"It's simple, if you know where to go. I can help you, at a price."

"...what is it that you want?"

"A truth is all I ask for. Tell me, what brought you out here so far, all by yourself?"

She narrowed her eyes at the faerie man in front of her. She knew all about their trickster ways, and she knew better than to give him anything personal that he could use against her. Still, if she didn't tell him anything, would he still help her find her way home? She decided to try and appease him. "Well...my sister is very ill, and I took the path to get to Longside Market."

"What did you seek to get from there?" He asked.

She hesitated, and answered. "Herbs. My mother was going to boil them into medicine. Unfortunately, I was unable to buy them because I didn't have enough money. Now my sister has nothing, and I'm afraid that she's going to get worse. I don't even know if I'll see her again, unless I get out of here."

Something flickered in his eyes, and he looked away. Had it been a flicker of annoyance? Sympathy? Vivian wasn't sure.

"I'll help you." He pointed a long finger towards the thicket of trees up ahead. "This way can lead you to the edge of the woods, where it reaches your village."

They continued walking along the dirt path, deeper into the forest. Still intimidated by her formidable surroundings, Vivian stayed close by the side of the faerie man. She looked up at him curiously. His profile was stern in the moonlight, yet there was something strangely beautiful about him. Elegant, perhaps, was the way his long nose was hooked, and how his narrow lips were set in a firm line. She had a desire to reach up a hand and caress his sallow cheek, to feel his skin under her fingers, but she blushed immediately upon realizing her thoughts and turned her head away.

Silence made time drag. The sounds of nothing dirt and twigs crunching and the dragging of the two's robes on the ground nearly drove Vivian mad. She decided to speak. "What's...your name?"

He didn't respond at first. She worried that she had offended him somehow, but then he spoke. "Names carry a great amount of magic among my kind. To know one's name is to have power over them." He gazed down at her, and his eyes were soft. "...but you may call me Rav."

She smiled. "My name is Vivian. It's nice to meet you, Rav."

He gave a small smile back to her, sending a feeling of delight through her. She blushed and looked down at her shoes.

More time passed, and Vivian noticed a change in the forest floor beneath her. Thick vines covered the ground in a crisscrossing pattern, and wrapped around the trees. She looked up.

Light blue flowers that glowed like stars hung from the tree vines. Crystalline beads of dew rested on their petals. "What are these?" She asked in awe.

"They are Moonshade," Rav said. He reached out a hand and slid a finger along the fuzzy vine. "They are in full bloom this time of year."

They continued past the luminescent trees, and Vivian gave a contented sigh. Being surrounded by the soft glow of unknown beauties in the middle of the once-dark woods was oddly pleasant. "It's beautiful," she breathed.

"Indeed."

He had stopped now, and had turned to face her. She looked at him. There was something in his eyes that she couldn't recognize. "If you want to help your sister…" He turned and plucked a flower from a tree and presented it to her in his palm. "...you can take this with you. Faerie plants are much stronger than mortal ones."

She stared at the flower in his hand. "Are you sure?"

Gently, he took her hand in his free one, and placed the Moonshade into her palm. "I am positive." Then he gave it a soft squeeze, and her heart skipped a beat.

"Thank you," she murmured.

"You're welcome," he replied.

He looked so ethereal with the faint blue light reflecting on his handsome features. Vivian stepped closer to him until she could almost touch his chin. He never took his eyes off of hers. She gave him a small smile before raising herself up on her toes and softly kissing him on the lips. There was a sharp intake of breath, and she feared she had made a mistake. He sighed in contentment and kissed her back. She felt herself lower down to the ground, and realized that he was bending down to her level. He cupped her cheek with one hand as he kissed her, softly stroking her cheek with his thumb, and his other hand entwined itself in the brown curls of her hair. She wrapped her arms around his neck, not wanting this moment to end.

He pulled away slowly, his breath still sweet on her lips. She kept her arms locked tight around him, trying to pull him back down to her again. He was stronger though, and slid her deftly away. Her arms fell to her sides, and she rubbed her hands on her dress, as they had gotten sweaty. They stood there in silence for a moment.

"W-we should keep walking," she said. He nodded curtly, turned and started walking ahead. She followed, her face heated with embarrassment. She didn't know what had gotten into her.

At long last, they reached a part of the woods that looked familiar. She peered through the trees up ahead and saw the lights of her village. She sighed in relief.

"Here we are," Rav said.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Clutching her pouch, she trudged up the rest of the way until she was in the gap between the trees. She stopped and looked back at Rav. He stood there, almost blending in with the forest's shadows. Only his eyes stayed bright and noticeable, glimmering like a cat's. She felt a stabbing pain in her chest and she wanted to run back into the shadows with him; to have him take her in his arms again. She didn't want to leave.

She swallowed the lump in her throat, turned back to her home in front of her, and kept walking.

Her mother answered the door seconds after Vivian knocked. She ushered her into the house, chastising her for her lateness, and then again after Vivian told her she'd gotten lost in the woods. It's a miracle that you came out alive! She exclaimed. Understandably she was skeptical when Vivian presented her with the Moonshade, but was willing to take the chance of using it on her eldest daughter, who had grown weaker that day.

It was successful. The following morning Tatiana awoke bright and healthy, and over the course of the day she proved to be back to her strong and jovial self.

The rest of the week came and went, and soon everyone forgot about the ordeal. Everyone except for Vivian, however. The bordering woods called to her, and every night she lay awake thinking about the kiss that she shared with the faerie man.

How soft his skin was...

How he'd tasted...

The young men of the village didn't appeal to her anymore- not that they had to begin with- and she felt like something was missing inside of her.

One night, she waited until her family was asleep before donning her lilac cloak and walking into the woods. She walked under the gnarled bodies of the trees, not paying them any mind. They didn't look like twisted hands anymore. It took forever to get in deep. Her feet ached, but she carried onwards. Finally, the familiar glow of the Moonshade appeared, and she slowed her pace. Surrounded by the beauty, she noticed something further to the right, in an empty space between more of the vine-covered trees.

It was a cottage! There was something magical about the place, and she knew that it didn't belong to a human. She walked along a worn path through the trees and stopped in front of it. It was blue like a robin's eggshell, and the panels of the roof were the colour of midnight. She wondered who it belonged to, when a familiar voice sounded out from behind her.

"What are you doing here?"

She turned to see him standing at the entrance to the clearing. His eyes were as bright as ever, and his clothes were now a deep green. Her heart beat faster and she smiled. He remained stoic, and she stopped. "I wanted to see you," she answered.

"Why? I showed you the way back to your village!"

"I missed you."

He stopped, and closed his eyes. Vivian was afraid that he didn't want her there, and felt tears prick the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see you one more time," she said.

"It's just not safe for you here," he said.

"I don't care," she said, taking a step toward him.

"There are other beings here other than myself, and they won't take kindly to having mortals in our forest."

She continued to step forward. "I will deal with them if they come. I just want to be with you."

A pained look came across his face, and she stopped right in front of him. "I won't be able to protect you," he said, his voice like a whisper.

She reached up a hand caressed his cheek. He shuddered and turned his face so he could brush his lips against her fingers. "You don't have to," she pleaded. "I can learn how to live here. As long as I'm with you."

He nodded, and leaned down to her level. She met him halfway and their lips met. He placed soft kisses along her cheek and down her neck and she giggled. He lifted her into his arms as if she were his bride and kissed her again. "My sweet Vivian," he murmured. "You may call me Ravenel."

Vivian nuzzled her head into Ravenel's neck as he carried her to his cottage door.