Chapter 1: Forgetting Hannah
“This way!” she yelled, running through the field.
A cold breeze swept across the open land. From where he stood, it almost seemed as though she was running on water, as the frost on the swaying tall grass caught the rays of the sun. “Hannah, stop! Come back, we’re not allowed here.”
“No, Mainard, I saw him go this way, I don’t want to lose him.”
Mainard was frustrated, he took another quick look around for the small animal that Hannah had befriended, but could see nothing. “Come on Hannah, it’s gone. It went home, we should do the same. Your father will kill me if he knows how close to the stone fence we’ve come.”
She looked back at him, her pale blue eyes gushed tears. “But I wanted to keep it.”
“Hannah, you’re just an eight year old girl, you can’t decide suddenly that you want to keep some wild animal. Your father was right, it’s not wise to have taken it in, we don’t even know what it was.” Mainard said, finally catching up to her as she sat in the field. “Quickly now, the sun is on its way down.”
“It spoke to me. It said it was fey.” She said, stubbornly ignoring his outstretched hand.
“Hannah, I’m not much older than you but I know animals don’t talk, and faeries don’t leave the forest.”
“Well this one did! It whispered in my ear.”
“Come on now.” He said, taking her shoulder and picking her up.
A sharp gust of wind rustled through the nearby forest, and from within the trees that lay on the other side of the stone fence, a strange cacophony of whispers erupted.
Mainard stood in shock, his eyes locked on the darkness between the trees with a steel cold fear that dropped to the bottom of his stomach with the thud of a heavy stone.
“Mainard, you’re hurting me!” Hannah yelled.
His grip had tightened unexpectedly, and her lament broke the charm. “Hannah, we have to go, now.”
“No, we MUST go now!”
Mainard took her up and nearly dragged her through the frost covered grass toward the village in the distance. As they got further from the forest, the whispers subsided, and eventually ceased. “You must never come this close to the stones again Hanna, it’s dangerous and our elders have warned us for good reason. That forest is not natural; it will swallow you if given the chance.”
“My friend is there, he would protect me. He said he would.” Hannah replied, still resisting against his pull.
“Well you’ll just have to forget about your friend now, he’s gone.”
That night, Mainard was scolded by his father for being absent for dinner. He had lied about retrieving Hannah from the stone fence, for his proximity to it would have gotten him in greater trouble. Instead he said he was out playing swords with Kuno. The strikes were worth it, and although they hurt, he felt he had avoided a far greater punishment. He went to bed with an empty stomach and a sore ass.
“Get your boy down here. I can assure you he knows where she’s gone. He’s always doting on her!”
“Doting? He’s only ten years old, he knows nothing about doting!”
The argument woke him from his sleep, and Mainard crawled from beneath the pelts to see what was going on near the door of the hut.
“She’s gone!” Tancred said, “He knows where, I swear it!”
“Argh!” Clovis yelled, “Fine I’ll wake the boy.
“I’m here father.”
“Good! Tell Tancred where you were this night and get this over with.”
“Tancred.” Mainard said, “I was with your daughter.”
Clovis’ smug grin sharply turned to an angry scowl. “What? You lied to me! You said you were with Gunther!”
“I was father! But Hannah ran to the field searching for that creature she had brought home, I went to get her because I know we’re not allowed there.”
Tancred pointed to Clovis with an outstretched arm. “I told you! What little faith you have in me. You should have trusted my word.”
“The forest,” Mainard continued, as both fathers returned their angry gazes to him. “It spoke to us.”
Their eyes widened.
Tancred turned and left from the doorway immediately, “Hurry! She’s been charmed!” he yelled, running to his hut.
Clovis turned and moved the curtain to his room and immerged with a cloak and his sword. “You stay here boy! You’ve caused enough trouble.”
“No!” Mainard said, standing up to his father.
“If you say that word to me once more I will beat you to unconsciousness!”
“I may be at fault, but you’ve always told me to take responsibility for mistakes and follow them through. I’m coming with you. Besides, I know where she entered. You always say to use whatever is at your disposal, bring me.”
Clovis’ expression changed, he was frustrated that his teachings had been turned against him, but couldn’t ignore the logic in his sons words. “Very well, stay behind me.”
A small militia was hastily formed and made its way to the field where, in the distance, a few swore they saw a white robbed girl disappear into the forest beyond the stone fence.
“It’s too late. We can’t go in after her.” An old man said.
“Like hell, I’m not leaving my daughter.” Tancred said.
Clovis shook his head. “The old man may be right, how can we help her now?”
Tancred turned to Clovis. “Don’t make me call upon the favour you owe me Clovis.”
Clovis’ expression became vacant. “I’m with you.”
“I’m with you as well.” A young man said, his brother in tow.
“Fine then,” Said the old man. “You’re on your own, I’m turning back.”
“Suit yourself old man,” said Tancred, turning toward the forest, his nephew Kuno at his side. “Six men will do.”
“Thank you for counting my boy.” Clovis whispered to him as they walked alongside each other.
Tancred concealed a smile, “Get him up here, we need to know where they were.”
Clovis summoned Mainard and he pointed the way they had gone earlier that evening.
It only took a few minutes for them to reach the stone fence, and soon after they reached it, an eerie silence descended. The marsh insects and frogs went silent, nothing but the cold breeze could be heard as it rustled the leaves of the forbidden forest.
“We haven’t crossed these stones for more than four generations. Be prepared for anything.” Tancred said, tightening his cloak to fend off the cold wind.
As soon as his foot was upon the first stone, the forest quivered with whispers.
The brothers staggered back.
Tancred set his hand up, “Don’t be afraid, but be wary. Forces of evil are at play.”
“At play,” Clovis repeated, “You couldn’t have chosen better words.” He said, alluding to the traits of the residents of the forest. “Mainard, stay close.”
They entered the forest, stalwartly. The darkness within was impenetrable, even their torches made little difference within the mystical woods. The strangeness of the forest beset them in moments, as children’s laughter could be heard. The laughter passed them by, as if the children were running at their feet. There was the rustling of branches and underbrush, but no sight of the ghostly youths.
One of the brothers walked headlong into a tree. “Ugh, damn it I can’t see a thing! My torch is useless.”
Mainard tugged at his father’s cloak. “I can see father.”
Tancred felt for the boy, “The child’s eyes can penetrate the darkness, let him lead the way Clovis.”
“Are you afraid?” Clovis asked his son.
“I am, but fear can be conquered.” Mainard replied, repeating one of his fathers teachings.
“You will be a great warrior some day, but tonight you must do only as you are told.”
“Yes father.” He replied, moving him toward Tancred and leading them into the forest.
After a few hundred meters, small glowing orbs became visible.
“Father, do you see the lights?” Mainard asked.
Tancred answered first. “I can see them, they’re Will-o’-the-wisps; The spirits of the dead.”
“What ever they are,” Clovis said, “They’re lighting the way.”
“There!” The nephew exclaimed. “I saw her!” He said, rushing into the depths of the forest.
“Don’t wander off!” Tancred yelled, “They’re trying to split us up.” He gestured to the others and they all made their way quickly in pursuit of the nephew.
Clovis saw him turn behind a large tree but when he made the same turn, the nephew was nowhere to be found. “Where did he go?” Clovis asked, turning around and searching the unnatural darkness as Tancred came to him.
“We must stick together.” He said as he reached Clovis
“Get out!” a children’s whisper exclaimed, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” The whisper became a shout, and soon the words repeated were so loud that Clovis and the others fell to their knees.
“Not without my daughter!” Tancred yelled, bravely withstanding the cries of the forest.
“She belongs to us now!” said the forest, with a thousand voices. “Leave now and we will let you live, stay and you will be damned for eternity!” Behind them a path opened, and the canopy retreated, revealing a moonlit path. The archway that had been created led to the stone fence.
“Tancred.” Clovis said, taking his arm. “There is nothing we can do, we must go.”
Tancred’s eyes watered, “No.”
“Then you’ll stay here.” said one of the brothers.
As they made their way toward the village the passage collapsed abruptly. “All or none!” said the voices.
“Tancred.” said Clovis, “We have no choice, we can’t sacrifice six men for your daughter.
“That’s simple for you to say! It’s not your boy out there. It should be!”
Clovis grasped the handle of his sword.
“Father.” Mainard said, resting his hand on marble pummel of the sword. “I will take her place.”
“You will do no such thing!” Clovis said.
Tancred looked at the boy, his tearing eyes softened.
Mainard turned to the forest. “Return the girl and I will take her place.”
Clovis grasped his son by the shoulder “No! You can’t negotiate with these beings!”
“Get out! We trade nothing!” The voices said. “Leave alive, or stay dead. Get out!”
One of the brothers drew his blade. “I’m not dying here Tancred, if you wish to stay, you stay as a corpse.”
Clovis drew his blade and stood between Tancred and the brothers.
The second brother drew his sword as well.
“Do you two think you can best me? I’ve killed a slew of men, all far greater warriors than you. Stand down or I will prove my words.” Clovis said.
“Do it!” a voice whispered. “Kill them!”
Clovis shook his head. “Your charms won’t work. I will not kill by mere suggestion.”
“Perhaps they are of weaker will.” It said. A small spark of light appeared on Clovis’ shoulder, where the whisper had been coming from. It took the shape of a miniscule man and flew toward the other two. Sparkles of light trailed behind it and it emitted a sound similar to the crackling of ice. “Will you amuse me? Take up his offer! Prove that you are greater warriors. It’s two against one, the odds of winning are greater for you!” It said to them.
Their eyes seemed glazed as they watched the floating sprite that continued to charm them.
Clovis shook his head, “Don’t be weak fools, all it wants is a show. It’s playing with us as a child plays with a new found toy.”
Tancred watched as more, perhaps a dozen or so appeared. “Where is my daughter?” He asked, to the sprites.
“She is no longer yours. She came of free will to us! She belongs to the forest now.” One said.
“We can take him.” One of the brothers said, stepping toward Clovis with his sword at the ready.
Mainard moved toward Clovis, “Father!”
“Stay back.” He said, pushing him away with his free hand.
The man lunged forward.
Clovis quickly parried and pulled the mans arm to put him off balance. He repositioned his sword to parry the potential blow from the second man, but the man was apparently still spellbound by the faerie before him. Clovis took advantage of that fact and struck him in the head with the marble pummel of his sword.
The man crumpled to the ground unconscious.
“You see! He killed your friend!” the faerie said to the remaining assailant.
“Clovis!” He yelled thrusting once again toward him.
Clovis simply sidestepped to avoid the clumsy blow and simultaneously grabbed the mans sword hand while striking him with the broad side of his blade. He lowered the dazed villager to his knees and disarmed him. “Tancred, carry the other one, we’re leaving.”
“At least my nephew!” Tancred continued to plea.
“Fine, the fun’s done anyway. Take your prize and never return, or I’ll curse you myself!” said the faerie who had appeared on Clovis’ shoulder.
The tree they had stopped at cracked open, the nephew slowly rolled out, covered in a brown sludge that reeked of rot.
Behind them the passage opened once again.
The six left, Tancred carried his nephew while the disarmed man carried his unconscious brother. Mainard walked with his father and couldn’t help but look back at the faeries in search of the one that had charmed Hannah. It had changed shape by now, and he couldn’t make out much before the forest closed up behind them.
The group walked over the stones, Tancred stopped to look back; as did Mainard.
“Come, we can’t stay here.” said Clovis
Mainard took Tancred’s free hand, partly to console him and partly to ask forgiveness.
Tancred looked down at the boy. With a solemn tone he spoke. “You did something very brave tonight Mainard, it won’t be forgotten.”