Trigger Warning: This story contains mentions of attempted sexual assault
There is a story often told, having fallen into legend, and then myth, in which the moon falls in love with a flower. It has become poetry and song. It has become a bedtime story told to children, all tucked up in their beds, as the moon watches over them in the sky. It always begins with the line "when the moon fell in love with the marigolds…", but that's where they get it wrong. You see, it was not the moon as a solar body nor a single marigold blossom, but Luna, the spirit of the moon, bound to the sky, and Magnolia, a floral, lesser god, bound to the earth. Their story is not only a love story, as the modern mythos might suggest. They are, as one could say, unlikely heroes.
Before her time as a god, Magnolia was a gardener. She was young, when the elderly cook of the Wrathmore Estate found her, small and asleep in a clearing; a branch of magnolia blossoms clenched tight in her fist. She was a cheerful child, always smiling, always wanting to be helpful, but she was odd. She had no memory of who she was, and no matter how they tried, no one could get her to speak. They named her Magnolia, after the flowers she held so tightly to when she was first found, and soon she was enveloped into her new life at the Wrathmore Estate. First she was a helper in the kitchen, but when they saw how the kitchen's herb garden flourished under her care, she became the official gardener. She was inquisitive and sweet, making humming sounds of curiosity whenever she came across a puzzle or challenge in her work, and grinning with joy when she solved it. Everyone loved her; the cook like a daughter, the stable hand like a sister, but no one more than the young Mr. Wrathmore. He took a shine to her the moment the cook brought her home. They were both around eight years of age, and she was the first real friend he had ever had. In their early teens, he followed her around the gardens as she planted, carrying around a cushion and a book, so he could read aloud to her as she worked. Though she had no words of her own, she adored to be read aloud to. When young Mr. Wrathmore came of age, still as small and soft spoken as he had been as a child, his parents decided to send him away to school. They were a powerful family. Their only son had to marry well, and to do that, in the words of the older Mr. Wrathmore, "he needed to become a man."
While away, he and Magnolia sent each other stories and letters. He mailed her books that he thought she would like, and after four years passed, the young Mr. Wrathmore returned home. He was broader and stronger than when he had left, and when he returned, he brought with him a gaggle of friends. In the weeks after his return home, the residents of the Wrathmore estate saw more foot traffic than they ever had. The cook was working overtime, taking orders from the young Mr. Wrathmore's friends. In his time at school, he had learned that the other people of his status were not friends with the help. Magnolia still held a place in his heart, but he had become colder in person, while he had remained the same in his letters. Two weeks after his return, he brought a cushion and a book to the garden, and sat and read to Magnolia as she worked. For that moment, everything felt as if it was as it should be, only to be broken by the rambunctious footfalls of his new friends.
The worst among the group was a man named Mr. Graver, who insisted she call him Henry. Upon their introduction in the garden, when she did not speak, nor smile at him, he grabbed her by the chin and wrenched her around to face him. He was redirected by the young Mr. Wrathmore, who explained Magnolia's lack of speech, and distracted him with a reminder that lunch was being served in the dining room. While leading Mr. Graver away and up the path towards the main house, he gave a quick glance over his shoulder. Magnolia had returned to kneeling in the flower bed, gently packing soil around the root ball of a rose bush. Her shoulders were shaking. She had never before been touched with anything but kindness.
While the younger Mr. Wrathmore's friends stayed, Magnolia did her best to avoid them. The garden flourished like usual, under her care, but there was an uneasiness to the air in the garden; as if a stiff breeze could topple the trees and uproot the folliege. In the early evening hours, a full month after young Mr. Wrathmore returned home from school, Magnolia put on a thick wool cloak, gathered jars and a basket, and set out into the woods to collect moonflower seeds. She hummed quietly to herself as she set down the path into the woods, thinking about where in the garden she would be planting the moonflowers. In her distracted state, she did not hear the heavy footsteps behind her. It was only when a large shadow blotted out the moon and the overwhelming scent of alcohol surrounded her that she realized she was not alone. There was the large figure of Mr. Graver looming over her. He seemed more sinister in the dark. His teeth had a shine in the moonlight as he grinned a terrible grin, and he grabbed her and threw her to the base of a nearby tree. Her basket fell from her hand, and her jars tumbled away into the brush. He was an animal after prey, but she fought back. She raked her nails down the side of his face, leaving a deep mar down his cheek. He brought his hand to his face, and felt the wet heat of blood running down his neck, and he lost his smile. She screamed a wordless scream as he tore at her dress, and the terror bubbled up in her culminating in the first word to leave her mouth since she had been discovered in the clearing all those years back.
"No!" left her mouth not as a cry of terror, but as a command, and Mr. Graver stopped, frozen where he stood. She pulled herself from his frozen grasp and backed herself up against the trunk of the tree. As she leaned against the night-cooled bark, she felt it grow warm with her tears, and then warmer still. She felt the earth below her shift and the grass grow tall around her, weaving itself into a soft, green dome, shielding her from him. All she could feel was her heart beating in her chest, and then she felt a gentle thumb wipe the tears from her cheeks. She looked up to see a figure made of flowers in front of her.
"We've been looking for you" said the flower woman "You fell from you tree when you were so very small, and we couldn't find you." She wrapped her hands around Magnolia's and gave her a gentle tug, so she was standing. "Come with me." she said, and then walked through the bark of the tree and Magnolia followed.
When morning came, the Wrathmores sent out a search party for their missing gardner and their missing guest. Just within the treeline, they came up Mr. Graver standing frozen and bleeding in front of a dome of foliage at the base of a tree. The stable hand broke through the dome with an ax, but lying on the grass below was not their friend Magnolia, as they had hoped. What they found instead was a branch of blossoms from a Magnolia tree.
You see, Magnolia was not quite human, but nor was she a god. In the beginning, she was a forest spirit who fell from her tree, and took the shape of a child. But forest spirits never truly leave the forest, and when she was in danger, her sisters heard her cry.
Before Luna was the spirit of the moon, she was the captain of a ship, and the best navigator of her time. She used the stars to find her way, and the moon to tell the passing of time. She was a hero in all respects; sinking embargo ships, stealing from the rich and returning the money to the poor, and rescuing women who were left as a sacrifice to the sea gods. She knew the sea gods, and they did not desire the blood of innocents to be sacrificed to them. They desired tales from the land above, and music. On stormy nights, Luna would sit on the deck as the ship rolled in the waves, and tell the gods of the sea the bed time stories her grandmother had told her. She told the story of the man on the moon, who opens and closes the shade that makes the lunar cycles, and of the little girl gardener who could make flowers bloom on command. She told the ocean gods of the harvest festival in the town in which she lived, and how the women there danced and smiled and seemed to glow in the firelight. She told them about her grandmother's soup, and how the recipe changed every time she made it, but you could always taste the love. And slowly, bit by bit, the ocean calmed, and the ship was once again sailing on course. There, in the early morning glow, Luna heard the voice of the ocean gods call up to her. "Are those stories true? Do the village women glow like stars on the harvest? Is the man on the moon really there?"
With her ship safe, Luna sat on the edge of the railing, and smiled down at the gods below.
"There is so much joy on their faces, and so much warmth from the fire, that they seem to be glowing. I don't think there really is a man on the moon, but the story remains the same, nonetheless. Stories exist to teach us wonder, so even if they aren't true, they are still important."
The gods pondered her statement for a moment, and then nodded. It seemed they agreed.
The evening of the worst storm they had ever experienced, Luna tied herself to the railing of the ship, and stood out in the rain, at the mercy of the rolling seas. She could hear the ocean gods screaming, their rage made tangible in the destructive force of the storm. It had been the summer solstice. Once again, with accordance to their tradition, the coastal towns had thrown young women into the sea as a sacrifice to the gods. The ocean gods cried out in horror
"we punish them for the blood the force on our hands, yet they repent for their sins with more blood! What horror it is to watch humanity, what horror it must be to be human!". Hearing their anguish, Luna began to hum a quiet, calming tune. Something akin to a lullaby. As the winds died down, and the boat stayed righted, Luna peered over the edge of her ship. As they had been at the end of their tantrums, every other stormy night, the sea gods were there, at the bow of her ship, waiting like children for a story. She told them of the meadow folk, who burn berries and sweet cakes soaked in wine as offerings to their gods, and of the baker by the marsh who made pies of every kind. She told them of the libraries and universities in the larger cities, and how on summer days, children who still believe, whole heartedly, beg fair folk to conjure snow. "when we grow older," she said "the world tries to tell us that the magic we have known for our whole lives isn't really there. I'm forever grateful that I am good at seeing through lies."
Luna was alone among the occupants of her ship, in the continued belief in magic. At best belief in magic was seen as child's play. At worst, women accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake. Aboard her ship was a man who thought himself far too educated to believe in gods of any sort, but when he saw Luna calm the storm with story, he forgot his vehement stance for the sake of accusing her of witchcraft. On the open seas, a mob mentality can be dangerous, but it can also be effective as the means to an end.
The next night, to the horror of the gods of the ocean, they watched as their storyteller was thrown from her ship, wrists and ankles bound. They bustled around her sinking form as she fell further and further into the depths, unable to help her. As her body hit the soft, sandy surface of the ocean floor, her soul dislodged, and the ocean gods caught it in a bubble, to keep it from floating away and getting lost in the current.
That night, the ocean gods struck a deal with the goddess of the moon. Luna would become the spirit of the moon, to open and close the curtain that makes the lunar cycles, and the goddess would have a place of holding along the ocean's floor to store her spare and leftover stars. That night, a mere mortal became the soul of the moon, and one of the storyteller's tales became true.
You see, Luna was human, but she was also more. She was kind and she was curious. She was a rare form of humanity, who retained her childlike wonder, and with it, she gained the respect of the ocean gods and goddess of the moon. There aren't many who have done that. When the deal was struck, it was as if an instant and an eternity had passed in the same moment. The ocean gods popped the bubble around Luna's soul, and she was taken into the company of the goddess of the moon. Her soul was clothed in a dress of the finest stardust, and she let her role as the engineer of the moon's shadow absorb her. She was safe and happy in the company of the moon goddess, but she felt as if she was alone in the world; unique in her footing as formerly human, currently more.
One night, in the warm season, the season of moonflowers and cherry blossoms, Luna peered down curiously between the clouds, to the surface of the Earth. Walking through the wilds of the forest was a women with golden hair and a marigold colored dress. She seemed to glow against the deep dark of the plant life around her. Every few paces, she would stop, kneel, and collect a moonflower blossom. Luna watched in fascination as she cupped it gently between her hands, brought the flower to her lips, and whispered something against the petals. Even from as far away as the moon, Luna could see that the blossoms she had held had turned from petal and leaf into a fine shimmering dust. She did this, and yet she appeared human. "At last" Luna thought. She had found someone like her. In her excitement and joyous celebration, Luna took one step too many, and slipped right down the curve of the moon. She slid off its surface and into the ether of space. It didn't matter, though. She felt no fear, for she was falling towards Earth, towards the girl in the marigold dress.
It was springtime, the season of growth and fertility among the flora and fauna, and Magnolia, though no longer nymph from her time spent as a human, had been granted the status of a lesser god. And so she went along under the light of the moon, performing her duties to keep the Earth's flora in their balance. She collected, blessed, and then dispersed the souls of every type of flower, so that they may continue to grow and fill the empty spaces humanity had carved into the earth. Gently lifting a trampled vine into her hands, Magnolia held it close and closed her eyes. For a moment, all of the life around her was silent. With a hum and a warm golden glow, the damage to the vine was reversed and with the reverence with which she treated all lives under her care, Magnolia carefully wrapped the vine around a nearby tree. It was in this moment that Luna tumbled her way down from the sky in a flurry of tangled limbs, stardust, and smiles. There was no crash. Not a sound was made from her impact, because there was none. She simply stopped falling, three feet off the ground. She had become a creature of the sky; granted access to the ether of the universe, but fated never again to touch the cool, dark soil of the Earth. Once the disorientation was shaken from her limbs, she followed the sound of the sweet, light humming, and the scattered trail of shimmering dust, treading lightly at the air as she went.
There was a stillness to the night, as there always was in the hours between sunset and sunrise. The only sounds were the shifting of tree branches in the breeze and the rustling of the nocturnal animals in the brush. The silence remained as the two women met, eyes locked with eyes, and baited breath. On seeing Luna, Magnolia, for a moment, looked surprised, only to be overtaken by a grin of delight. She offered her hand, and Luna took it. They didn't break the silence of the midnight hour that night, but for the first time in a long time, neither was alone.
In the centuries that followed, Luna and Magnolia spent their nights together. Some nights were spent talking and laughing, others in companionable silence. They were creatures of the same peculiarity, but had they followed the natural order, they would have been fated to never meet. Magnolia was bound to the soil; bound to nights spent filling in the gaps in the foliage formed by humans, and days spent molding the forest towards the path of the sun. She could not lift herself from the planet's surface. Luna was bound to the sky; bound to days filled by moving the shade on the moon, creating cycles of waxing and waning; bound to nights calling down to the earth, a wake up call for the bats, the foxes, and the fireflies, who in turn woke the larger of their peers. Yet somehow, by a sort of beautiful serendipity, they could spend the midnight hour and the time that surrounds it, sitting level with each other in the trees.
Four hundred years, and then some, after the two had met, they sat together on the top of a towering pine. Time had changed them, as it had changed the world they lived in. Their gods had fallen into obscurity; their impact on the Earth less and less than what it had been when both women had been alive. The moon spirit and goddess of flowers had both become something other, as the years had passed. Luna grew paler and paler, until her skin was the silvery-grey of the surface of the moon. Magnolia's hands, perpetually covered in soil and seeds, sprouted flowers that wove their way up her wrists and her arms, settling comfortably at her shoulders. It was a new moon; barely visible in the sky. Under the light of the stars, Magnolia hummed, while braiding bellflowers and forget-me-nots, from the garden that grew from her, into Luna's hair. From where she sat in front of Magnolia, Luna wove tales of the adventurers who had visited the moon.
"They were humanoid figures, with hulking shapes, and big, round heads like marbles. They came in a ship like nothing I've ever seen, that sailed on fire, rather than water, and -"
Luna stopped her sentence, at a tap on the shoulder, from behind. Turning slowly, in order to curl her legs beneath her, Luna faced Magnolia with a smile. Magnolia pointed at her hair, with a quizzical look, asking what she thought of her handiwork.
"Beautiful, as usual, my love" she responded, kissing Magnolia on the forehead.
With the practiced care of centuries spent in treetops, they settled back against the sturdy trunk, to watch the beginnings of sunrise. The moment it crested the horizon, they knew Luna would be pulled back up to the moon as if by tether, to continue her daily work. They knew Magnolia would be pulled back down to the planet's surface by the cries of the plants wishing to be turned to greet the sun. But for those little moments, it was nice to watch the sky creep it's way back to a lighter shade of blue; painting the sky rainbow in the process.
This day was different than the previous centuries had been. As Luna felt herself floating up, and Magnolia felt herself being weighed down, their farewell was cut short with a dull and heavy thump that resonated through the entirety of the tree. It was shortly followed by another, and then another, and then a scream that went unheard by the men with the axes. This tree housed the soul of a nymph. With their axes and voluntary ignorance, the men chopped through the soul of a creature, that in their childhoods, they had so admired. As the sun crested the horizon, the last thing Luna saw as she was pulled away was Magnolia falling as their tree was felled.
The next night was like walking through a nightmare. In the wake of the day's final sunbeams, Luna threw herself from the moon, only to see that their world had been destroyed; replaced and reduced by these horrible machines in unnatural shades of yellow and red. The trees in which they lived were in pieces, stacked in rows along the forest floor. The foliage was crushed, chewed up, and spit out by the treads of the wheels that harbingered the destruction. In the wreckage, Magnolia was nowhere to be found. In an increasingly frantic state, Luna pulled herself through the forest, by the branches of trees, not used to the lack of Magnolia's guiding hand. She called out for her beloved, though she knew a response was unlikely, regardless of the outcome of the felling of the tree. At last, she made her way to the stump of the great pine, where they had spent centuries falling in love. There, amongst the weapons against nature, sat Magnolia, who cradled the small body of the fallen nymph. Luna reached for her, but she had curled herself up so small around the body of a woman she had once called a sister, that there was a full foot of air between them. For a moment, Luna was frozen. From where she was stuck in the air, she was unable to help her beloved. The air was heavy with dread, rage, and sorrow, all mixed up with the sawdust from the formerly living trees, whose stumps surrounded them, still bleeding sap. She tried and failed to speak, over and over again, seeing her beloved so shattered, before her words returned.
"My love," Luna asked, "How can I help?"
Magnolia turned towards her with a start; eyes rimmed with red, the flowers on her arms wilted from sorrow, and the flowers on her hands torn from her palms in fury. Magnolia lifted the nymph, gently passed her to Luna, stood, and began to walk deeper into the forest. She motioned for for her to follow. And so the two of them went, Luna cradling the body of the nymph, and Magnolia collecting branches, flowers, and leaves, as they made their way to the temple of the goddess of the trees. Magnolia motioned for Luna to lay the nymph on the altar, where she took to weaving the plant life she had collected into the nymph's hair, and up into a Magnolia preferred to be silent, as she had been as a human, words were no longer lost to her. Her words held power, as they had in her human form, and in this moment of anguish, she used them. Stepping down from the altar, after her preparations of the body were complete, she kneeled at its base, and prayed to the goddess of the forest.
"May she be yours once more.
May she be one with the Earth.
She is worthy of honor for her sacrifice.
May she be honored for the good she has done for us all"
Magnolia had her head bowed, as she stood, pressed a kiss to the forehead of the nymph, and then stepped away from the altar. There was a moment of silence, and then the air grew thick and sweet, and flames of a blinding blue surrounded the nymph upon the altar. When they faded, in her place was a maple sapling. Cradling the tree with deserved reverence, Magnolia turned and looked to Luna
"Now, we fight."
Magnolia sent out a call amongst the nymphs, who passed it along through a whisper on their leaves, which was picked up by the wind. Though her domain was the flora, all of the souls of the forest answered her call to arms. The forest was their home, and it was under attack. They surrounded the offending mechanical beasts, and each attacked in the way they knew best. The river spirits soaked the surrounding earth, creating sticky mud that made the wheels sink and the temporary structures topple. Nymphs filled oil tanks with berries and pierced tires with sharpened sticks. Bears and wolves felled the machinery as the machinery had done to the surrounding trees. Luna was passed boulders from the ground, and from her vantage point in the sky, she dropped them into the glass of the machines, breaking windows and control panels. When each and every creature of the forest had had their turn, and Magnolia was the only one left in the clearing, she closed her eyes, and ever so slowly brought her hands up, arms straight, until they were level with her shoulders. The grass and foliage around her climbed their way up and in, ensnaring the machinery in its grasp. Vines wove their way around them, crushing them like cans, and the roots of surrounding tree stumps grasped the tires from below; a revenge from beyond the grave, and pulled them deeper and deeper into the earth, until the human impact that had been made was no more, and they had reclaimed their forest.
When the workmen returned the next day, there was a whisper that rippled among the crowd. This forest had been called enchanted, all throughout history, but none of them paid the legends any mind. You see, this had become a land that forgot it had magic. A land of fae working office jobs, who dreamed of snowstorms in the summer; a land of wizards who thought of the incidents caused by pent up magic, as just being accident prone, but no one could deny the forest its identity. To the horror of the management and the wonder of the workmen, the forest had spoken for itself, a clear message. The forest is alive, and will fight for itself.
Slowly, as word spread throughout the world, of the living forest and the magic it embodied, the inhabitants of the Earth began to believe again. Children, the purest of heart and the truest of sight, began to seek out the magic of the world, and slowly, a new civilization based around magic was built by a generation with respect for the world as it truly was. As the generations came and went, and the world evolved with its magical nature reinstated, the gods were once again worshiped, having fallen to the wayside in an era of mechanism and industry. In having to relearn religion, the hatred between factions and the undesirable sacrifices of innocents were abandoned from practice. Instead the legend of the storyteller was passed from group to group, and it spread like wildfire. Soon the gods of the ocean had no reason to sink ships, for they were gifted stories on stone tablets, berries, and wine-soaked cakes in lieu of young women like the ones Luna had rescued throughout her life. Each coastal town had a storyteller, who would sit on the beach, during storms, and weave tales for the gods until the seas were calm once more. There was a holiday instituted to honor the goddess of trees, who had, alongside her nymphs, passed along the magic to anyone willing to listen, and another for Magnolia, the goddess of flowers; who on that fateful day was the voice of the forest. While their work was beautiful, the day the forest consumed the the machines in reclamation of itself remained fresh in everyone's minds. As a gift of gratitude for helping to reinstate magic into Earth's culture, Luna was granted the ability to roam the earth, once more, and Magnolia, the ability to explore the sky. Out of convenience, or maybe nostalgia, they built a house of woven thatch and stardust on the tops of the towering pines, from which they watched and occasionally interfered with the goings on of the living. They continued to perform their responsibilities, and the world continued in its imperfect ways, but there was a kindness in existence that had been missing in the time in which the world forgot magic.