Nemus Animae: Entering the Woods of the Soul

(c) Nin Harris 1997-

Figures flit from shadow to shadow as you brush aside the leafy tendrils that drop from overhanging branches to brush your cheeks. The air here is sweet and rich. It also seems to pulsate with inner life. Musk, incense and night-flowering herbs tease your nostrils as you step cautiously in between the embracing trees. Above you the branches weave an arch, creating a sylvan corridor of green as well as a light golden glow that suffuses everything. Your heart seems lodged in your throat. Something tells you you are being followed. This unseen stalker is a presence so immediate it causes the hair on the back of your neck to rise. You shiver as the air, like many roving hands casts goosebumps on exposed skin. The grass rustles as you step on it, while the wind seems to whisper its secrets.

Somewhere beyond the edge of consciousness you fancy you hear voices speaking in different tongues. Some are high and lilting while others guttural and harsh. And then the music begins. It is elusive and insiduous, like the trill of a bashful celesta. The soft murmur of woodwinds is interspersed with the plaintive melody of a Stradivari violin. The concerto seeps through your flesh and takes root deep within your bones. Perhaps a frisson of fear and unbearable sadness will seep through your skin now, as you listen. Perhaps you will be aroused by memories or evocative images. Perhaps you will even cry. You sway from side to side and find yourself taking off your shoes.

Almost shy, you tentatively step through the trees. You step into a clearing lit by the golden glow of an overripe moon. Nasturtium, frangipani, hibiscuses, white orchids run rampant here. There are also hydrangeas, rugosa roses, foxgloves, ivy and flowering herbs that seem to have been scavenged from different continents and different climates. You gape for a while and then you will see them. Some are dressed in red and green and gold. Some are in virginal white while others prance about in black slashed with deep violet. Some drip with sparklies and gold, while others have flowers and ivy woven into their hair. There are lovely maidens dressed in a motley assortment of patch-worked rags and crones garbed in diaphanous veils. As you watch, a misshapen face jumps out at you and leers at you. You shriek and step away from the goblin, just before he makes away with your purse.

A neighing sound heralds the approach of a quartet of kelpies. They step out of the river, magnificent black stallions with fiery eyes. As you watch unbelievingly, a livid orange glow envelopes them. As the glow slowly disappears, three tall, muscular men donning velvet suits join the circle of dance. An unusual pageant slowly unfolds in front of you. Both the lovely and the grotesque dance with animal grace round and round the circle, as the light of an eerie moon shines down on the tableau. They seem to be having too much fun, you think, as a cluster of nymphs fall down in a tangle of exposed limbs, shrieks and inebriated giggles. The music pulses through your brain and enters your bloodstream. You step closer, filled with an unbearable longing to join the fun. Just as you step forward something (or someone) maliciously trips you. You land on your face.

You have no idea how long it has been since you lost consciousness, but it is darker now, and the dancing pageantry has disappeared. In front of you sits a gnome with kind eyes and a rather battered red cap. He offers to lead you out of the Grove before you get into deeper trouble. He lectures you on the temptations of faerie excess. You stare at him. He shrugs, and ambles off, warning you to stay away from faerie fruits and the Faerie Lord’s Bower. A buzz of sound and a faint shimmer takes you by surprise as a lovely, seemingly shy and slightly out of breath faerie jumps out of thin air to land in front of you. Now here is a faerie who looks more like what you have always imagined. But then a glint of mischief enters its eyes as it curtsies with exaggerated courtesy. A grin betrays needle sharp teeth as it fishes a scroll out of the air and begins to read it with importance. It appears that the Faerie Lord has noted your presence and is summoning you to his Bower. Curious and fearful, you follow the creature who weaves almost drunkenly in the air before you, her diaphanous wings fluttering in an erratic fashion.

*

At first it is as though you have been plunged into darkness, a thick, living, breathing darkness of inky blue. Then your eyes begin to adjust to a gloom lit by eldritch lights. Your cheeks begin to tingle as though millions of light feathers are being trailed along their expanse.You gasp in mingled irritation and fear. Slowly, as your sight improves, you realize that you are surrounded by clusters of curious pixies with their gleaming wings a-flutter.They move back as you turn around in wonder to observe your surroundings. You have landed at the center of a tangle of pathways of thick,wide interwoven branches. It is dark and cool here, for the light of the moon cannot penetrate the inky foliage of the Trees of Midnight.

 

Circe Offering the Cup Up to Ulysses by John William Waterhouse

 

The air here is sweet, even sweeter than that of the rest of the Grove, but here it is also filled with an air of foreboding. The pixie lanterns hanging from the trees and the minuscule glowing forms of the resident are the sole illumination for this bower-constructed on a platform of interlocked trees. Wild white orchids loop and weave with silver and violet night-blooms, ivy and ferns to create a living dome moulded by faery magic and supported by the branches and trunks of four oak trees. Peering into the darkness, you spot a female form leaning languidly against the trunk of one of the trees, her form draped in a gauzy luminescent fabric of the indistinguishable colours of twilight. It is Circe, and she gives you a challenging stare as one of her alabaster hands rest on the shoulder of one of her many goblin attendants. You take a step back. For all her loveliness, Circe seems to make the faeries you have just met harmless in comparison to her feral elegance.

*

 

You wonder at what manner of creature owns this eerie yet lovely home.A chorus of giggles cause you to look upward at the pixie-lantern draped branches.They are crowded with all manner of winged creatures, dark and fair, who peer back at you with inquisitive and mirth-filled eyes. You quickly avert your gaze and await the Faerie Lord’s presence in cold sweat.

A breath of warm air alerts you to his presence. He is standing close, very close. You step back and whirl around…and gasp as you behold a tall and well built form with huge, brown eagle wings. He wears a circlet of interwoven grass and ivy around his dusky brow and the scent of musk, grass and fragrant woodsmoke seems to wrap around, and menace you with the threat of~too much beauty? His eyes are regal yet wild, wild and eerie as they bore into you like twin daggers of dark crystal. You return the gaze with the breathless, trapped look of a deer within pouncing range of a huge cat. You are utterly captivated as his thin lips part in a dangerous smile. His teeth are ever so slightly pointed and the light in his eyes is unholy. You are in the presence of wildness, yet are bowed down with awe and reverence even as you wonder if he is going to rip out your jugular.

Then, quick as the beat of firefly wings, the mood shifts. The light in his eyes becomes almost civilized, and the laughter that escapes his lips are of genuine mirth. You relax and begin to forget the cruel, wild creature you thought you saw. You begin to smile ingratiatingly as you realize you are within the presence of faerie royalty and wonder awkwardly if you ought to bow or curtsy, if you are even remotely presentable, and wildly rack your brains for something respectful and witty to say. Suddenly you are filled with the overwhelming desire to please and impress this beautiful, regal and wonderful being.

He nods towards the silky divans and cushions which are scattered on the mossy floor of the bower

 

Sit

 

His voice sounds within your head.You nod dumbly and stumble in your haste to comply. No matter how strong minded a mortal may be, the faerie lord never fails to have that effect on them.

“Who are you and what do you hope to find within my Grove?”, he asks, his voice mildly curious.

You grope within the recesses of your soul for an adequate response.

The Faerie Lord grins, but there is not much humor in the expression which is closer to a grimace than a smile.

“Dumbstruck are you? Humans normally are.”

He stares into the distance and you sense that his attention is very far away from you at the moment. Nothing in the mortal world can hold his attention for long. He is that which remains remote even as he is eternally intrigued by those of flesh and blood. Energy incarnate or a spirit from the past you wonder, even as you lean closer, and yet closer to your possible doom. He will look back at you and smile, even as he slowly fades back into the shadows, even as the rest of his mocking court hurries away, leaving you alone, bereft, and hungry for more than just a glimpse.

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