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Guardian Of The Wood
Darren was a young man who was fortunate, as few were. He was raised in a loving family by a doting mother and a father who took the time to teach all he knew to a son, whom he loved. He grew up in a time when there were few organized schools and people were generally sparse away from the great cities. There was a city that was the pride of the land, but it was many days ride from Darren's home. Darren's parents had little money. Some of the other youngsters, that were his friends, went to the city for their education. Darren had to make do with the things his folks taught him at home. Both his mother and father were both educated. Both of them could read and write. They had once been in the employ of the king, but retired to the country to have their family.
Darren's parents saw to it that he had an education. He could read, write and figure with numbers. This though, was not the knowledge that Darren was most hungry for. He was most interested in the forest and the animals that lived there. From the earliest time that he could remember, they had lived on the edge of the great primeval forest called Darkwood. It seemed properly named, as once you left the edge and went into the wood, there was very little light that filtered down through the huge trees that formed a canopy overhead. For as long as Darren could remember, there was talk of the wood as an evil place. It was rumored that people went into the forest and never returned.
Darren wasn't afraid of the wood, like most were. To him, it was a place of wonder. No matter how much time he spent there, every trip into the interior was a learning experience. His parents had taught him all they knew of woods lore and left him with a healthy respect for nature. From his father, he learned to track and hunt. They had never taken more than they needed to survive. When they needed fire wood, they didn't do as most did and chop the nearest tree. They searched out the dead or dying trees and thus the forest continued. There was a veritable bounty that was available in the forest. The family rarely had to buy food from others. There was a variety of plants and things that were edible. You just had to know where to find them.
Darren led a happy life until the plague. When he was but 19 years old, the only people in his life whom he loved were suddenly taken away. No one knew how this vile plague started, but many people were stricken. Darren's father came down with it first. He had been in contact with others more often than either he or his mother. He started with a hacking cough and a light fever. As the days passed it got worse quickly. Within two days, he had passed away. Darren's mother was heartbroken. She had stayed by his side and nursed him until his death. She was afraid for Darren and sent him to stay with a neighbor. This neighbor lived a day's walk from their hut and she told Darren that she would come for him, when it was over. She extracted a solemn promise from Darren, that he wouldn't return for at least a six-month, unless she came for him.
The time, was for Darren, the worst in his life. He so wanted to go back, but remembered his promise. Two months passed with no word from home. Darren spent his time exploring the forest. It was one place that he could be sure of being safe. He had no worry of danger in the forest. He had dealt with this type of danger for years. The things that he couldn't deal with, were unseen things like the plague. He used the time to learn. If he couldn't do anything for them, the least he could do was further his education. Finally the period passed and Darren made for home as fast as he could. He entered the clearing and shouted for his parents. He was greeted by silence. He spied a grave that stood near the house. He did not know which parent it was, but knew he had suffered loss. He entered the house and found out the rest. On the bed, was what was left of his mother.
He found a note hastily written by his mother. She explained what had happened. His father had died within a few days. She had not come for him for fear that she now carried the plague. It turned out that she had been right. Within weeks, she found herself sick and knew that she was going to die. She wrote the note for Darren, leaving instructions on how to deal with the remains. Darren was to burn the house with everything in it. That was the only way that she could be sure of Darren's safety. He abided by her wishes, as he always did. As the only home that he had known burned, Darren turned his back and made his way back to the neighbor to get his things and headed into the only place where he could find peace; the forest.
Morgan was an imposing figure. She could have been described as a centaur, at least in her present form. She had the head and upper body of a young woman, attached to the muscular body of a large doe. She had recourse to several other forms, but usually preferred to remain in this one. Untold countless years ago, Morgan had pleaded with the Gods to save her precious forest. Wood cutters and poachers were raping the wood and had almost destroyed. They had offered her the chance to be the protector of the forest. She was so distraught over the pending loss, that she readily agreed to their terms. The first thing that had happened, was that she was transformed into a form that was more proper for the woods. She also gained special powers that aided her in the rebuilding of the wood. She had the power to transform those that she caught in greedy abuse of the forest.
She had been warned. Try to transform anyone not deserving of it and she herself would be turned into an undesirable form to live out all eternity. This was a powerful incentive, not to be petty in her judgements. The first few years, she made all sorts of animals and trees. People had disappeared in droves. The forest had quickly gained a reputation for being evil. Morgan relished this fact, as it made her job much easier. By the time that people had stopped coming into the wood, most of it had been replenished. Over the following years, there were still a few hardy thieves, that came to steal, but she had easily dealt with them.
Morgan was also given the gift of immortality. It had been hundreds of years since she had taken the offered gifts, to save her forest. Time passed slowly for Morgan and it began to wear on her. She had done her job so well that people rarely came into the wood and to put it bluntly, she became bored. She had given up her human existence to become the protector of the wood and now began to regret the deal. Once more she pleaded with the Gods. She wanted out of the deal. It was years before they responded to her. Even then, in the fickle manner that they had, they wouldn't release her from her contract. She remained firmly bound to her eternal job. They did however, grant her a boon for the great job that she had done. If she ever found someone that she wanted for a mate, she had but to touch her wand of transformation to his forehead and he could eternally share her fate. They would be together forever.
Unfortunately , there was a problem with that solution. Firstly, very few came to the wood any longer. There was no one to choose from, even if she would doom anyone to the existence that she had to bear. She couldn't live with someone she didn't love anyway. Morgan began to feel doomed. She sobbed herself to sleep.
Darren picked up his belongings and walked into the forest. He decided that he would make a home in the wood, the only place where he had any hope of happiness. He didn't want to see or speak to anyone. He wanted to be alone with his grief. He lived off of the land, taking only what he needed. He was careful not to harm anything. Thus was the training that had been instilled in him and he could no more harm the land, than he could have harmed his family. He spent his days roaming the forest. Finding paths that he had never seen before and getting to know the lie of the land. He went into places that he had never been in all of the years he had lived near it. He caught glimpses of something that he couldn't quite identify and was intrigued. He carefully laid plans to trap what ever it was that he sensed followed him. Nothing worked. No matter what he tried, he could never catch more than a glimpse of it.
Morgan had sensed the latest invasion of her wood. She became a deer and discreetly followed him to see if he violated the rules of the forest. He had almost caught her on many occasions and it became a sort of game to her. She would lie in wait and then flee. She was amazed at the care he took in treating the forest. She didn't have to transform him, as he was reverent to the land. He proved quite a woodsman. He found her tracks, but thought them no more than a deer.
She realized that she was falling in love. Darren was as handsome a man as she had ever seen. She was disheartened though. As bad as she wanted him, she couldn't let herself be seen. She wouldn't take him, no matter how much she needed him. Little did she know, that Darren found the place where she bathed and had hidden himself to await whatever was following him. She was not as vigilant as usual. As she walked, she thought of him. Darren had waited for almost a day, then she appeared. Darren wanted to know, but never expected what he saw. She was the most beautiful creature that he could have ever imagined. To Darren, she almost seemed to glow. Before he knew he was going to do it, he burst from his hiding place and confronted her.
Morgan was stunned. There was the object of her desires, standing there staring at her. Finally he managed to speak," What are you ?" She was truthful," I am the guardian of the wood," she told him. "I am charged by the Gods to protect the wood from those who would destroy it." She, still in her centaur form, knew that he did not care. She could see in his eyes that he had instantly fallen in love with her. She had long longed for him also. Still she couldn't do it. Darren spoke," I need you. It is you that can finally make me whole once more." Morgan was tempted almost beyond endurance, but true to her nature, she had to explain the problem." "I am under a geas, she told him. I made a deal with the Gods and now I am stuck with it. I am immortal and bound to this forest. I cannot stand to watch you grow old and die."
'Then is there no way for us to be together?" he cried. She couldn't dare to hope. 'Yes there is. If you agree to it, you can share the geas, with all of the conditions. This means that you would be immortal and also bound to here forever." "I love you too much to ask it of you," she told him. " You would be bored in due time and stuck like me." Darren thought about what she said. He was scared, but knew he could never bear to leave her. "I don't care," he told her. 'As long as I am with you, I'll never be bored!" Her decision made for her, she moved to him and touched him with the wand.
Darren felt strange. It was as though a blanket had descended upon him. He heard his clothes rip, as his body swelled. As he looked back, Darren saw a tail grow outward from his spine. His buttocks were being covered by a light brown, course hair. As his clothes fell away , he saw that his new hair covered him from the waist down. He felt his pelvis shift, as his spine lengthened. His buttocks were moving away from him, taking his legs with them. He looked back forward and saw a new pair of legs supporting him in the front. His ears tingled and changed also. As he reached and felt them, he realized that they were the ears of a deer. Small vestigial antlers sprouted from his forehead and the change was complete.
Darren was amazed and pleased with his new form. Now, he was a perfect match for his love. He looked forward to his new life. Morgan moved over to him and began to rub her new body against him. Darren felt himself getting excited. She suddenly shifted into a full deer and bounded off into the woods. Darren knew the game that she was playing. Suddenly, without hardly thinking about it, he shifted also. The formerly small antlers became a huge rack. Hands were absorbed into his body and his neck stretched. His face pushed outward, forming the shout of a deer and he bounded after his mate.
The Gods were well pleased also. The female had served them well and deserved to be rewarded. Their cherished Forrest had a new protector. He would be needed as times changed and new threats developed. Even they couldn't predict the future.
Guardian Of The Wood copyright 1997 by Tekwolf.
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