I remember the morning when, indeed I did feel revived. Revived from sleep and from the blindness that I had endured for years before I had met beloved Caitriona. The Highland air had blown through the Forest of Souls, frosting the grass and trees around us so that the moving of roots around us came to our ears like the cracking of bones. I had led on the ground of the forest, watching an earwig scrabble over a leaf as I came to my senses. My lady slept delicately around my arm, intoxicating me against the hatred that I had once shared for the place that had murdered Thomas, and before that, his virtuous daughter.
I had ignored this, turning to her and seeing her in all of her beauty. Something had stirred beneath where we both slept tangled, and I had recoiled in fear that it was a root to crush my neck. Instead, it had been green shoots bringing forth bright bluebells, sprouting in a circle around us and subsiding the deathly grey that the Forest had been born from.
‘Are you not a man of God, Daniel Sherwood?’ she had asked me, showing that she had not been asleep. Her eyes had opened and stunned me, as blue and amorously as the flowers growing around.
‘So say my parents, what of it?’
I had noticed her playing with something unusual amongst the leaves; a golden ring. ‘Only,’ she smiled, ‘is adultery not a sin to your God?’
‘Whose is that?’ I had asked,
‘Yours,’ she had replied, though I had never seen such an object in my life. ‘It is a gealltanas, a promise of love that transcends far beyond the physical, seen only by me, a creature beyond such simple worldly things. You have no need for it, Daniel Sherwood, for as promised, you are now mine.’
There had been no part of me that had objected, for all I wanted was her, upon me, within me, at my side, it did not matter. All that I had known was that she carried a part of me now that I could not bear to lose.
I had kissed her as best I could with mortal lips, though it seemed that nothing could sate her well enough. I could not have believed that she led with me for hours after she had woken, I could not believe it was I she had chosen as her own.
‘Why do you choose me?’ I had asked her,
‘Because you are different,’
‘But how? A man of murder and a man of virtue are different, yet they are still bound by their manhood. What is it that makes me so worthy of you, and unworthy of a death in this place?’
She had leant up, her voice quiet as she’d brushed away the curls of leaves from my hair. ‘I love you, Daniel Sherwood, know this. I will carry you forth into every lifetime I live with me, and if you should reject me, your heart shall wither and you shall never feel a love like mine again. I have given you this because you value your life the least of all those that met me here, and of those who tried to take me. When they begged for their lives and offered me what they could give, it was immaterial to me. You offered me nothing for your life, but you offered everything for others; for your children. So the children that I shall bear with you shall be loved by you tenfold, and I by you a hundredfold. This I know deeper than the flesh of my heart,’
She had pulled my hand to her stomach and even then, I had felt another’s warmth. ‘They already grow, my love, though for how long I cannot say.’ We had kissed, and she had held me as I never believed a woman could hold a man. ‘If one should die, I wish for our love to sustain so that we may try again, and again after that until our lives bloom together.’
‘Where are we to go? This village is not for a beauty such as you, and I have never believed it to be a place for me. My world has become yours, and I will go where you will. So I have sworn, my love.’
When we had shared each other once more, we travelled together through the Forest, I no longer fearing the trees where the scent of rotting flesh had seeped from.
‘I know it to be you. The woman who I had seen before from the church gardens many months ago,’ I had told her, our hands twined as she led me deeper towards mystery.