|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
Sometimes, When We Dream
Chapter 1: THE FOX
Melinda was not what you'd call a country girl. She had never considered herself one -- at least not until she moved to the city. It seemed that the longer she was surrounded by concrete, glass and steel, the more she craved the quiet simplicity of the rural life she left behind to attend college.
At 21, Melinda had long since come to the conclusion that somewhere on the great highway of life, she'd taken the wrong exit. Something wasn't right; something was missing, but damn if she knew what it was. A slender woman with dark brown hair, Melinda saw herself as the proverbial round peg surrounded by a bunch of square holes. She felt ill at ease at home -- surrounded by people who never saw, and would never see, the wide possibilities offered by the outside world. And shunned in the city by people who just thought of her as a bumpkin.
One weekend early in the fall, Melinda returned to her parent's home feeling particularly blue. She knew from experience that the only way to recharge her mental and spiritual batteries was to get out in the open air -- away from cities, away from family, and away from everybody and everything.
So the morning after she arrived home, she collected her camping gearing and went into the woods for an overnight. She hiked several miles to a secluded and remote glade that she had discovered as a girl. The glade was her magical spot in a mundane world.
It took several hours for Melinda to reach the glade. The woods surrounding it were particularly thick with old growth, as if the forest didn't want this open spot found by humans. Melinda had discovered it only because as a girl she was small enough -- and daring enough to wiggle through the briars and vines to reach it. The glade was roughly circular and just over a quarter on an acre wide. The southwest edge was dominated by a flat rock three feet high and about nine feet long. It was on this natural rock bed that Melinda like to camp. After arriving, she set out her lunch and blanket, and basked in the warmth of the late September sun.
As she dozed in the sun, she became aware of a noise on the other side of the glade. No not a noise, she thought, it was more of a cry . . . the soft cry of an animal in pain. Jumping from the rock, she crossed the meadow to where the brush started to overhand the open grass. She could hear the sound of an animal thrashing in pain. She parted the bushes and made a startling discovery.
"A fox? She exclaimed aloud, and caught in a poacher's wire snare by the look of it. The more the creature struggled, the tighter the noose drew, and the more the cruel wire cut into its neck, leaving a band of bloody fur about its neck.
"I'll bet it's that damned William Twekes again," she thought, recalling her neighborhood's resident illegal hunter and poacher. "He thinks the game laws were made for everybody but him!"
As gingerly as she could, Melinda attempted to approach to trapped fox. With a ferocity that belied its small size, it leapt and attempted to bite her. Only the short length of the wire stopped it from reaching her hand. She'd have to immobilize the animal, but there was nothing handy to wrap the animal in except . . . perhaps . . . her shorts?!?
Forsaking modesty, Melinda quickly removed her hiking shorts, revealing what would have been a ridiculous sight -- had anyone been there to see it -- of a woman in nothing more than a sweatshirt, panties, white socks, and hiking boots. She carefully folded her hands inside the cuffs of the shorts, and timing her move, she caught the fox on the first try.
Although the animal thrashed wildly, Melinda was even quicker, pinning the struggling creature under her. Her tan shorts quickly showed signs of the animal's wounds as blood began to seep through the fabric.
"Oh, well," she sighed. "I never liked them anyway."
Carefully she picked at the wire that trapped the fox until she felt it loosen. Wedging her fingers under its neck, she opened the loop and freed the animal from certain strangulation. Melinda carried the fox back to the rock, aware now as the field grasses and short briars tore at her bare legs. She backed herself up to the rock and put the wrapped animal on the ground. As soon as it left her hands, she scooted on top of the rock in case the fox attempted to bite her.
As soon as it realized it was free, the small animal shook itself from the folds of the garment and bounded to the other side of the clearing. It ran beneath the bush and vanished. Melinda wished it well and was pleased to see that the fox clearly avoided the area of the trap.
For the next half-hour, Melinda surveyed the edges of her glade and to her dismay and disgust found and destroyed more snares and traps, several with dead animals in them. Carefully she buried the remains she found trapped. It was obvious that the traps had not been checked recently, so that even the excuse of wanting the animals for food didn't hold up. Her legs were now covered with cuts and scratches, but, so far, Melinda had avoided putting back on her shorts, merely pulling down her oversized sweatshirt as far as possible as her gesture to modesty. Although neither a squeamish nor a prude, she nonetheless had no desire to put on a piece of clothing still wet with another creature's blood.
She laid her shorts out on the rock, hoping the sun would dry the blood before she had to put them back on. She unrolled her sleeping bag on the rock. Removing her boots and socks, she sat on her bag with her arms circling her legs at the knees and let the warm rays of the late afternoon lull her senses. She was tired after her hike and her exertions with the fox. The late afternoon air was growing cooler, so she slipped into her sleeping bag. Before she realized it, she had fallen fast asleep. When she awoke, night had fallen. The moon had risen.
She was not alone.
Seated on its haunches not 20 feet away was the fox. It seemed to be healthy and she could see no sign of the cuts around its neck. It just sat there quietly staring at her.
"Well, what do you want now?" she asked the fox. Reaching into her pack, she pulled out an apple and bit into it. The fox continued watching her, it's eyes never leaving her. Melinda took several more bites.
"Are you hungry?" she said to her companion, taking another apple from her pack.
Carefully, so as not to startle it, she lobbed the apple, rolling it as close as she could to the fox. After the apple had stopped, the fox carefully padded to the apple and sniffed it. It looked intently at Melinda, and to her astonishment, it placed its right paw slightly out in front of its body, and keeping its neck stiff and its eyes on her at all times, the fox lowered and raised its head, giving in all appearances a formal and dignified bow.
"Well, I never . . ." Melinda thought as the fox lifted the apple in its jaws and silently went back into the brush.
Melinda spent the next forty minutes arranging a modest campsite for the night, grateful that the bright moon gave enough light for her to get herself organized. Off to her left, she could see the flashing lights of the "will-of-the-wisps" floating in the air. She smiled at them and welcomed them as old friends. In her childhood, she had often chased the elusive lights and made many wishes on them.
Even now, she sighed. "Oh, I wish I was as free as the will-of-the-wisp!"
The wonderful thing about going back to the primitive was the realization that once the sun went down, there really was nothing else better to do than go to sleep and to stop worrying about things. Suiting her actions to her thoughts, Melinda prepared herself for bed. She pulled her arms inside her sweatshirt and unfastened her bra from the inside. Then she pulled the sweatshirt down lower on her legs to use as a nightshirt.
In a relatively short time, Melinda was asleep.
She awoke to the touch of a small wet nose on her hand. Her eyes opened. The fox had returned. She was strangely untroubled by the nearness of the animal. It tentatively placed its front paw on her chest, and she found herself paralyzed, unable to move or speak. With its full weight on her chest, she could feel its breath on her face. Its nose probed her left ear and carefully licked the ear canal. The fox repeated itself on her right ear. Then it very lightly licked her eyelids. Finally, softly, the fox flicked its tongue across her lips.
Melinda felt her head explode. Suddenly the air was full of sounds she had never heard before -- like music and song on the air. She opened her eyes, and discovered the glade was strangely illuminated. She looked toward the fox and to her astonishment, he was not there. Standing on her chest, at about 18 inches high, stood a perfectly formed human-like male creature with pointed ears and eyes that were a solid cobalt blue. He was dressed in a silky material of muted forest colors.
"Call me, Oberon," the creature said after a moment.
Melinda considered it a good time to faint.
Chapter 2: OTHERWORLD
"I'm dreaming," was Melinda's first conscious thought upon awaking and seeing the small figure that called itself Oberon seated beside her. He was dressed like a medieval huntsman, with a silver dirk at his hip. Around his neck hung a silver medallion on a chain. Inset on the medallion was a cameo of a lovely female surrounded in a halo of precious stone.
"Ah, mortals," he sighed in obvious humor. "I had forgotten how amusing you can be at times."
"What? How?" she muttered, looking about her. She was still on the rock in the glade, and it was still night. A look at her watch revealed that it was only a little past 10 p.m. Yet the glade appeared as it would if the sun was at twilight.
"For want of a better word, it's called ╬faerie light'," Oberon said, as if reading her mind.
"My touch on your ears, eyes and lips allows you to interact with what we call Otherworld. It allows you to see the Otherworld as we do. You can understand us, and we you."
"Are you really Oberon? . . . Oberon . . . the king of the faeries?" Melinda stammered.
"Aye," he replied.
"So if you are Oberon, there must be a Puck and a Titania and the others I've heard or read about?"
"You seem surprised, Lady, your thoughts are full of dreams of my kind, and yet as I stand before you, you doubt your own senses," he said. "For as long as wild woods remain in your earth, my people may still walk the borders between Man's world and Otherworld.
"At this time of year, my court resides in these lands. My consort -- she you call Titania -- holds court elsewhere. I am forever and always in your debt, Lady, had you not released me, I would be no more."
Melinda puzzled. "Do you mean dead?"
"Not death as mortals die, but death as it is for my kind," he said.
"How were you caught? Couldn't you see the snare?" she asked the monarch.
"No," he replied. "My sight were blinded. The iron that caught me was cased in a cloth that hide it from my eyes until it was too late and I was trapped."
Melinda was confused by this, until she realized the wire had been coated in plastic. That's why Oberon had trapped himself, she thought. The iron that all faeries were vulnerable to had been masked by the plastic coating on the wire.
"Have many of your people been hurt by the snares?" she asked.
"Aye, I have recently lost several from my band and, because of the iron, we could neither help them get free in life nor bury them in death. But thanks to you, my Lady, my poor dead subjects have been attended to. What is more, you have removed the hated traps and their accursed iron. For these reasons I decided to reveal myself to you. Come! I would have you walk with me," he said, extending his hand.
Instinctively, Melinda reached out her huge hand towards the king, but when her fingers touched his, she felt a "snap" of static electricity jump from the King to her. Then she felt a shudder run through her body. She threw aside the flap of her sleeping bag and stood. Somehow, she noted, the king seemed larger. He was now seemingly over two feet high and growing. Then she realized that the sweatshirt that barely covered her thighs a few moments ago, now almost reached her knees. Even more embarrassing, she could feel her panties grow loose and baggy on hers hips and fanny.
She then understood! He wasn't growing; she was shrinking! Within a moment, her hips could no longer hold up her underwear and they fell to the ground around her diminishing legs. Her arms were lost inside of her sweatshirt, her fingers barely reaching where her elbows were only moments before. The hem of the shirt was on the ground and continuing to become bulkier and harder to move around in. The once soft cloth felt coarse and rough on her skin. And she found herself constantly needing to lift herself from foot to foot to keep her balance as she shrunk.
Suddenly, her neck and shoulders had grown too small for the shirt to contain, and it was a very embarrassed and very nude Melinda who stood before the Monarch of the faerie kingdom. She adopted the classic pose of a woman caught naked by a man ÷ one arm flew across her breasts and the other to her groin.
Oberon laughed heartily, "I had forgotten how modest mortals are about their appearances ÷ especially the females. He walked calmly to her backpack and rummaged around. He withdrew one of her father's large white handkerchiefs she carried when camping.
"This will have to suffice as a kirtle for my Lady," he said with a mock bow.
He withdrew a silver knife from the scabbard at his side and made a few seemingly random cuts in the cloth. Then he handed it to Melinda who grasped it and turned to pull it over her head. It was only after she had done so had she realized that she had "mooned" the king of the faeries.
Although he had slit a neck hole, the hankie was still too large and the bottom dragged on the ground. Taking his knife, Oberon cut the cloth until it was almost at mid-thigh. Melinda stayed his hand for a moment, saying it was short enough.
"I appreciate your modesty, my Lady, but you will thank me for the length when you don't get you kirtle caught in the bush and grasses of this realm."
The king, after finishing his cutting, he wrapped the cloth tightly around Melinda's frame and, removing his own belt, girdled her middle and drew the fabric tight. He then removed a gold brooch from his tunic and folding back a piece of the material around her neck, pinned the front of the makeshift dress together.
"Were your time in Otherworld not so short, I would have my subjects weave you a garment fit for Titania herself, spun of the softest spider-silk. But, alas, you cannot stay that long. Your time in my kingdom must be limited," he said.
Melinda made minor adjustments to her clothing. Then she looked about, marveling at her new perspective. She'd always been a tall girl but now found herself looking up into Oberon's face. In a matter of moments, she had gone from 5'9" to a tiny doll-like figure no more than 15 or 16 inches tall, dressed in her daddy's handkerchief!
"If Oberon was 6 feet tall at normal height, I guess now I'd be no more than 5'4" ÷ maybe less," she reckoned, giggling when she realized for the first time in her adult life she would be considered "petite."
Taking her hand in his, Oberon walked Melinda to the edge of the rock. It now looked to be more than 30 feet off the ground to her and more than a little intimidating. Just a few hours ago, she could have stepped up onto this rock without any effort, now she'd need a rope to safely lower herself down without injury.
Sensing her hesitation, Oberon deftly swept her up in his arms. She instinctively threw her arms around his neck as he calmly jumped from the ledge to the ground. He set her down in chest high grass that barely reached her shin before.
"Come, see my realm -- and my justice," Oberon said, leading her off into the brush.
In the distance, Melinda could hear a choking noise being made. The closer she got to the sound, the worse it sounded. Breaking through the bracken, Melinda was confronted with the sight of an ill-dressed man in his late forties, reeking of tobacco and whiskey struggling in the bushes. It was William Twekes Around his neck was a noose of grass fibers. He clawed desperately but ineffectively trying to break free.
William Twekes was dying. For all he knew, he somehow had gotten twisted in some bushes. He was running out of air. All he could do was lie quietly and whimper. Then, after a moment, his oxygen starved brain sensed he was not alone. With effort he was able to focus his eyes and saw before him a fox and vixen looking at him, while chattering at each other.
"NO!" Melinda screamed.
"Why not?" Oberon asked, almost in astonishment. "He has killed several of my people. Why should I spare him?"
"I won't defend him for what he has done, but I beg you not to kill him."
William's tongue had already begun to blacken, as Melinda begged. Oberon's disgust for the dying man was almost palpable, yet he turned to Melinda and with a bow, said, "As my Lady requests."
With a snap, the vine parted and William's neck was free. He laid there in the bushes, spent and exhausted. Melinda and Oberon stared at the unconscious giant.
"For your sake, Lady, I spared him, and for your sake I suffer him to live, but I also lay a geis upon him that from this day forward, he will remember Oberon's noose and the pain he has caused my people."
Melinda bowed and meekly said, "Thank you, your Majesty."
The two watched silently as Twekes slowly rose to his feet and moved off into the forest. In a few moments, he was gone.
Chapter 3: THE SONG OF THE WE
The King's dark mood passed and the smile returned to his face.
"I wish that I had the time to bring you to my court and present you, but alas my people are scattered across my realm and it would take too long to assemble them. And as other mortals who have visited Otherworld have discovered -- much to their dismay -- time here moves at a different stride than in your world. You can only spend this night in my company or risk altering your life line," he said.
"Do not worry about me, Majesty," Melinda said. "Just knowing that the creatures of my dreams exist is reward enough for me. Besides, how many mortals can say that they not only helped the King of the Faeries, but took a walk with him as well."
"Well said, my Lady," he answered with a laugh. "But I also know your thoughts and your dreams. Inside of you is a wish to meet and experience life among the peoples of Otherworld. While I will not grant you permanent residence, I can arrange for you to live one night among some of my people. Is this acceptable?"
"One night is not much to experience as much as I hoped to, but I gladly accept your offer," she replied.
"Done and done," he said, slapping his hands together. He then leaned forward and touched the tips of his fingers about her head.
After a few moments, he removed them, "Before the sun rises, you shall have your wish fulfilled. I promise that you shall know life as no other mortal has."
Oberon leaned forward and lifted Melinda's chin. Very softly, he kissed her on the lips. Melinda, without even realizing it, found herself responding, overwhelmed with the raw sensuality of the King. She closed her eyes and when she opened them, she was alone again on top of the rock in the glade. She was still only little more than a foot tall. Suddenly out of the bracken to her left emerged a string of floating lights. It was her old friends, the will-of-the wisps! With her faerie sight, she made an astonishing discovery.
They were alive!
She watched in awe as the lights circled around her. She realized she was looking at incredibly tiny beings -- each less than an inch tall. One fluttered around her face. Melinda extended her hand and the tiny creature landed lightly on her open palm. Melinda's own reduced size allowed her to see the tiny creature in detail. It was incredible.
Vaguely human-like in appearance, the tiny being was translucent and emanating its own light internally. It was completely hairless, with two small insect-like antennae growing from its head. Wings attached to its back like a mayfly's and its eyes were two lidless black periods in its face.
Melinda could see no evidence of mouth or nose, although its nostrils were visible. More striking was it had but a single leg supported by a central trunk, as if carved that way by an artisan. Obviously, the creature used its leg merely to support itself when landed. It had two arms, but only three fingers and no thumbs. And while in the air, the single leg move back and forth like a tail.
Melinda was charmed by the tiny creature. She sensed no hostility from it or its siblings as they floated around her. Indeed, she felt the creature radiating goodwill at her. As she stared at the creature, Melinda noticed that it was glowing brighter and brighter. Melinda's hand glowed as well. Soon it was her entire arm then upper body and within seconds, Melinda glowed with the same light as the tiny creature.
She felt her makeshift dress grow loose about her as she once again began to shrink. Within seconds she was too small for her dress, which fell to her feet. Melinda whole body glowed with the same light of the creatures which now surrounded her. She looked at her hands and saw her third and fourth fingers had grown together and begun to elongate. Her thumbs became mere vestiges, and then disappeared. She touched her head and found her hair had regressed into her scalp, as had all her body hair.
She watched in wonder as her breasts diminished and her nipples completely faded away. With her line-of-sight completely unobstructed, Melinda noted that the telltale signs of her gender were gone as well. She was completely sexless, or at least asexual. Her thighs and lower legs had fused together as she continued to grow smaller. She retained only a slight curve to her hips -- not entirely female, yet more so than male. She could feel the antennae growing from her forehead and it was then that she discovered her mouth has completely closed up -- her lips completely gone. Melinda could feel neither her tongue nor her teeth.
Her three-fingered hand touched her face and could find nothing but solid bone under what had been her mouth. Her nose had retracted completely, leaving only the twin nostrils visible. She almost didn't notice that her wings had begun to sprout and unfold. Within seconds they had completely opened and began to flutter feebly.
The other landed about her. Almost completely identical, they welcomed their newest sibling with their voiceless song. There was no sound, yet Melinda could sense all they were telling her through her antennae.
In her tiny form, Melinda abandoned any concept of individuality or self. Here, among these creatures, she became one of the "We."
The We -- that is what the creatures called themselves. There was no notion of individuality. All were one and all were joined in the song of the We.
For centuries, man had seen this most common of magical creatures, often ascribing malevolent intent to their appearance. They were known as witch lights, will-of-the-wisps, or fairy lights. And yet, the We had no such concept. They couldn't even comprehend a being such a man. There was no "I" among the We.
They spent their days at rest in quiet corners of the forest, entirely translucent, unseen by man with his eyes that only saw the one world. They curled on their leg and slept, looking like humanoid question marks -- their dark eyes covered with their hands. It was only at night, when their bodies were suffused with the light of Otherworld, did these beings became visible to mortals.
Yet they had no thoughts or man, or of entrapping him. Their lives were the "circle," the dancing circle that all We spent their nights performing.
The newest We danced the circle that night. It broadcast its joy over the spectrum of its being. At one point, the We danced around a dark moving shape. It was William Twekes stumbling around in the darkness, trying to find his way out of the woods.
The light of the We fooled him. He thought it was headlights from cars in the distance. Within a few minutes, he had been completely turned around and was now lost. He lurched toward the nearest light and stepped into a bog. Completely drenched and muck covered, he crawled up on the bank, and curled up under a tree, cursing and crying at his predicament. Although he didn't know it, his skin was now covered with several dozen leeches, each greedily sucking his blood.
But the We continued their dance throughout the night. Finally one of the We alighted on a fallen log. Every sight, every smell, and every sound of the forest filtered through its tiny body. There was no human emotion which covered the absolute contentment and joy experienced as a natural occurrence by the We.
But somehow, this We did. As the dawn creased the rim of the sky. This We curled itself up in the manner of its kind and prepared to sleep. It's tiny wings fell off and fluttered to the ground. They would grow anew in time for nightfall. Its lidless black-on-black eyes surveyed its world. It tasted the world once more through its antennae and felt the rising song of the daylight. It yearned for sleep and yet, its restless spirit tried to drink in the song of earth. It rested on the leaf of a tree, curled in the shape of a question mark. Its two hands reached up and covered its eyes -- and the We slept.
Melinda awoke with a start -- disoriented as to her surroundings. She was back upon the rock, lying nude on top of the sleeping bag. It was still dark. Her watch marked the time as 11 p.m.
"A dream?' she thought, but only for a second. For in the remote corner of her soul, she could still hear the dimming notes of the Song of the Circle.
Unbidden tears formed in Melinda's eyes as she cried for the life within the circle of the We that she would never know again. She cried because she knew that she could never again come even remotely close to happiness as she had during her time among the We. And when at last, when her tears were dry, Melinda looked out across the forest with the eyes of the Otherworld and saw the circle dancing.
She stretched out her hand, as if this gesture could somehow connect her, however tenuously, back to the We. And then with a sigh, she pulled back the cover of the sleeping bag and wrapped herself inside and closed her eyes.
And then Melinda slept.
Chapter 4: DANCING IN THE HEATHER
Melinda awoke with a start.
The light of dawn was creeping over the horizon. Her first thought was, "It was a dream. I had it in my mind that the glade was a magical place, and I dreamed it all up -- Oberon, the faerie lights, everything."
"Too bad," she sighed aloud . . . but then realized that she couldn't hear the sound of her own voice. Melinda looked around and realized she was no longer in the glade. In fact, she had no idea where she was.
"Calm down, girl," she told herself. "Think! Think! What's the last thing you remember?"
But try as she might, all Melinda could recall about the previous evening was her dance with the We. She cast about looking for something familiar. About all she could tell was that she was in a grove of trees. As Melinda looked at them, she realized that most of the trees were not all native to her woods. Oak. Larch. Cypress. Maple. Ash. Pine. Redwood. All types of trees, even tropical tress were in evidence, and certainly trees you usually don't find grouped together.
She walked into the grove and was surprised to feel a sensation as it she had passed through a parted curtain. She looked behind herself and was surprised to see an immense Holly tree standing where she herself had been only a moment before.
"What's going on?" Melinda puzzled.
"Good morning, Holly," a female voice called.
Melinda spun around and saw a beautifully thin girl with hair so blond it almost seemed . . .
"Ash!" Melinda said. "Good morning, Ash."
Melinda turned and saw a female form emerge from nearly every tree in the grove. You could see the girls inside the trees walking toward you as small tiny figures. They grew bigger and bigger the closer they got to the outside world, until they emerged as normal sized creatures. Soon fifteen to twenty of the young females were out and about, walking and talking among themselves.
"Nymphs . . . wood nymphs. That's what they, I mean, we are," she thought to herself. "What did they call me? Holly?"
"Come, Holly, let's go down to the stream and bathe," a red-haired nymph called.
"Coming, Maple," Melinda answered almost instinctively.
It was easy to guess who was who among the nymphs. Each seemed to have the characteristics of their particular tree about them. All the nymphs had the leaves of their tree intertwined within their hair. Melinda touched hers and felt a sharp prick on her finger. She reached up and plucked the leaf and yelped in pain as it came free. It felt like she had pulled out a clump of hair. Looking down at the holly leaf in her hand, she was surprised to see a drop on blood on the stem.
"The leaves aren't just IN our hair," she exclaimed. "They're growing OUT of our heads!"
Her theory was confirmed when they reached the bank of a slow moving stream. Melinda knelt at the edge and looked down. A small young looking girl with blood-red hair and a cupid-bow mouth looked back at her. Sure enough, poking out between the strands of her hair were the green leaves and red berries of a holly tree. Melinda touched her face. The more she looked at her face the more she thought her first impression was wrong. Her features weren't young -- rather they were ageless, neither young nor old.
She was wearing a diaphanous garment of greenish silk material like a cross between a toga and a dress. Looking about to see if the other nymphs were watching, Melinda slipped off the garment to have a look at herself.
"WOW!" was her first and only comment. She was gorgeous. Her skin were perfect and flawless. She had a perfect hourglass shape -- athletic -- without an ounce of fat, and yet she appeared soft and feminine at the same time. Her breasts -- well, they were . . . in a word, uh, huge. Well, huge in relationship to the rest of her body, which was quite petite.
Melinda shook her head in wonderment as she looked at her "endowments." They seemed to just sort of hover there, defying gravity. Melinda knew it was magic, because no mortal woman's breasts could be that big and hang quite as naturally as Melinda's now seemed to do.
"Holly! Come in and swim with me!" a nymph called. Even at this distance, Melinda could smell the pleasantly distinctive aroma coming from the female.
"I'll join you in a minute, Cedar," she answered and lowered herself into the water. Soon almost all the nymphs had disrobed and entered the water. Melinda suddenly knew why. Like other trees and plants, the nymphs were watering themselves as they bathed. Melinda could literally feel water flowing into her body, although she felt no discomfort or bloat.
After an hour or so, they all climbed out and dressed. As they walked back toward the grove, a dark shape leaped out of the bushes and charged at them. The nymphs all screamed in unison and scattered in every direction. Melinda, not knowing what was going on, ran along side of Maple. Maple ran swiftly down the path, looking back over her shoulder to see if she was being chased.
Melinda took a quick look back and saw the small hairy thing chasing them both. She redoubled her pace and passed Maple and put even more distance between herself and the beast. Melinda could feel her heart beating rapidly in her breast. She didn't know what the thing was, but it obviously was something to be avoided.
Then she heard Maple make a sound. She turned her head, but Maple was looking back as well. Melinda heard the sound again. It wasn't a cry for help or panic, it sounded more like . . . laughter. Melinda turned again, and sure enough, Maple was laughing and giggling as the creature gained on her. Then Melinda recognized their pursuer.
The hairy little goatman had nearly caught up with Maple, who was finding it harder and harder to run and giggle at the same time. The bleats of the creature did not sound so threatening now. Melinda slowed her running when it was clear that Maple was just about as interested in getting caught as the satyr was in catching her. With a maneuver that Melinda would not have believed if she hadn't witnessed it, the satyr grabbed Maple's dress -- which conveniently came off -- and Maple turned herself around in mid-stride and landed on her back with the satyr between her legs all in one fluid motion.
"I'm not a prude! I'm not a prude!" Melinda, blushing as red as the berries growing from her head, kept repeating to herself as she put her hand over her eyes and tried to put as much distance as she could between the two noisy love makers. On her way back to the grove, she came across several of her "sisters" engaged in romantic rendezvous. She had nearly made the grove when another of the goat creatures emerged on the trail in front of her, it's member wiggling like a snake about its groin.
The creature seemed only about four feet tall, yet it was nearly a foot taller than Melinda in her current form. It did not seem threatening. For all Melinda knew, Holly had had countless engagements with his kind. Hell, for all she knew, he could be her favorite.
But not today.
As he reached up to embrace her, Melinda brought her knee up hard and full between the satyr's legs. She was pleased to note that the technique worked as well on magical beings as it did on a few of her dates who didn't believe her when she said, "no means no." The poor creatures eyes bulged and its lungs emptied as it grabbed its crotch and rolled over and curled up in a ball, bleating like a little lamb.
"Sorry," Melinda said, meaning it, as she hurried away.
She was almost to her grove when she heard the music coming from a long way off. It sounded like a harp. Her body seemed to move of its own volition and soon she was in a open glade. Standing next to a large stone which resembled a table, Melinda could she an immensely large four-legged creature strumming on a lyre. There was no mistaking it. It was a centaur.
The centaur was playing a slow melodic air on it lyre. Melinda listened intently and without realizing it, she closed her eyes and began to move to the rhythms of the music. The music had an erotic effect on Melinda. She felt her passions rise. She slipped her garment from her shoulders and danced sensuously to the music. A small corner of her brain knew that if the satyr showed up while the music was playing, she'd be on her back without a qualm. She rubbed and massaged herself, scarcely was aware of her actions. At least until the music stopped.
"Please play on," she panted.
"I think my Lady has heard enough music for the time being, don't you think?" the creature asked with a laugh, and with a familiar voice.
"Oberon?" she quizzed, and grabbed for her garment when she realized she was naked.
"The same. And how do you like life among the All-Maker's happiest children?" the king said.
"Why did you make me a nymph?" Melinda asked.
"When I searched your thoughts I found a little walled part of you mind that never allowed itself to let go and enjoy the the world around you," he replied. "And you thought you could change that by turning me into this little bimbo?" she asked sharply, still angry at her self for lack of self-control when listening to the music.
"I'm not familiar with your words, but I recognize their tone. I take it that you are less than pleased with your current incarnation. But understand, I did not choose this form, anymore than I chose the "We" you were earlier -- or the forms you will take the rest of this night. What you are, and what you will become, have been drawn from what is inside you," he said.
"And to speak poorly of your nymph sisters -- without any understanding of their lives and ways -- does both them and you a disservice," he added.
"I'm sorry, your Majesty, but in my world, females who look like this -- with large breasts, and this shape -- are looked down upon and treated as stupid creatures, good for nothing but sex," she said. "Please understand that in my world, a nymph is generally just another name for a whore."
"My Lady, I forget that you are not of Otherworld. In your world, your science and machines have drawn your people away from the rhythms of the natural world. Despite your disapproval, fecundity is a natural function of nature. Your sisters engage in their activities, not out licentiousness, but because this is their normal and natural behavior."
"Perhaps, my Lady has noticed that there are no male nymphs," he continued. "Without their liaisons with my little satyrs, there would be no female nymphs as well. Like bees, the satyrs serve to pollinate my nymphs. It is from their unions that other satyrs are borne, or the seed of another nymph tree."
"Seeds?" Melinda asked.
"Yes, nymphs are linked to the tree that formed them. Nymphs aren't born, they grow. When a nymph mother is carrying a female, it is born in the shape of a seed. That seed is planted and tended by all the nymphs of the grove. When the seed bursts forth as a sapling, a new nymph is borne and joins the sisterhood."
"And if they seem happy with their lives, nor untroubled by the world around them, is this not their right? And should you look down upon them for what they are because they do not fulfill your image of what a female should be? You might as well complain about sunrise."
The fact that she was three feet tall didn't help the childishness that Melinda felt after Oberon's gentle admonishments.
"Come," he said. "I am not here to judge you either. But before you dismiss my nymphs as worthless, let me show you a little more of their world."
Before she realized it, Oberon had scooped her up and placed her on his broad horse back and trotted across the clearing. As he moved, his form shimmered and dissolved into a horse's form, even as great wings sprouted from his forward flanks. He leaped into the air, his great wings beating, as Melinda screamed and latched on to his mane.
"Look down, my Lady," Oberon's voice sounded in her head.
As Melinda peered over the winged horse's flank, she could see land below her growing smaller and more distant. As they rose into the air, Melinda saw the land of wood nymphs resembled a great circular depression surrounded by roiling white banks of fog. The more she looked about her, it seemed that the whole landscape was dotted with similar depressions going off into infinity in all directions.
"These are the many realms of Otherworld," Oberon explained. "Each is a world unto itself, although some realms overlap and interact with others. This is the home realm of the nymphs of the Woods. From here, over the uncounted millenia, they have carried their great gift of trees, plants and flowers into many different realms. They were among the first the All-Maker created when he formed Otherworld. At first, there were naught by great voids, empty of life. Then the first nymph sprouted and from her bounty, the other nymphs and satyrs came."
"Their passion and exuberance of life caused great forests to blossom and grow, for although there are few nymphs, there are many trees. And there will always be trees as long as there are nymphs," he said.
"So the nymph's were the first created?" Melinda asked.
"Among the first," he answered. "And certainly the most prolific. There was no life in Otherworld until the nymphs brought forth the forests. There were others that existed within the void, ancestors of all the many creatures of the faerie realms, but the gift of the nymphs allowed the sun to shine, the weather to form, the land to blossom, and the world to grow. The plants and flowers and grasses are all creations of the nymphs," he said.
"Oh, I doubt that any great conscious thought went into the creations," he said. "I suspect that one day, a nymph may have seen a rainbow and decided that she'd like something, small and delicate to look at. And so a flower was created. Another nymph liked what her sister had created and made up another -- a different flower -- for her own. Over the countless eons, this pattern must have been repeated many times. Until the handiwork of the nymphs filled every realm of Otherworld. And since Otherworld and your world co-existed for many years, the nymphs eventually populated your world with their handiwork."
As they flew over the nymph's realm, Melinda could see many different nymph groves, each always located near a fresh source of water. She could also sense a rhythm to the placement of the groves. They never crowded on each other and seemed always to circle the rim of the nymph's realm. As they past over the groves, Melinda noticed that the groves started to feature younger trees, until they reached a stand with only saplings.
She started to ask, but Oberon merely said, "Wait."
When they passed over the next place Melinda expected to see a nymph grove, it was empty. Oberon landed and shifted immediately to centaur form. He lifted Melinda from his back and placed her on the ground.
"Why are there no nymphs here?" she asked.
"There have been," he answered. "And there will be again. For thus is the cycle of life."
"A tree lives long, my Lady, but not forever," Oberon said. "The nymphs seem to know this. A grove is planted and a colony establishes and flourishes. But eventually the grove is full, and the nymph's cease to reproduce. Generally a dozen or so of the last nymphs with seed-nymphs will strike out away from the grove of their trees and undertake a journey to find a new grove to establish. It is a one-way journey for them, for a nymph without her tree cannot survive very long.
"Eventually, they will find a likely spot with good water, and plant their children. When nymphs die, their bodies act as the nutrients for the seedlings to grow. As the saplings grow, and the new nymphs within them awake. Eventually, satyrs will find them and the great cycle begins anew.
Melinda looked around and noticed that eight or ten small seedlings were growing from the ground. Around each of them was a mound of humus. As she looked carefully, she saw she could make out a familiar outline among the humus mounds.
"Are these what remain of my sisters?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered. "When a tree or plant dies, it releases itself back into the soil to come again as a new life. It is the nymph's greatest gift to the world -- the miracle of rebirth."
Melinda solemnly crossed to the small brook and, cupping water in her hands, silently watered each of the saplings.
"Grow well and strong, my sisters," she prayed.
"Come," Oberon said. "I will return you to your grove."
They did not speak again as they flew back. When the Oberon landed once more in the clearing where Melinda had met him, he simply let her from his back and trotted off.
"Are you leaving me here?" Melinda asked.
"You will return to the glade on your own when you're ready to," he called back and was gone.
Melinda walked back to the grove as the afternoon sun was beginning to set. Her sisters, she noticed were not engaged in merely picking flowers and running with satyrs. She noticed, for the first time, a sense of reason as they moved plants and flowers around the landscape.
Over the next few days, Melinda/Holly carefully watched and emulated her sisters in their tasks. Melinda found a small clearing that just didn't look right. She began casting about and planted a number of different plants and flowers. One or two of her sisters saw her working and carefully and tenderly assisted her.
Holly and Cedar were walking back from the stream one afternoon after washing the grime of their work from their bodies when a familiar form leaped from the bushes near them. With a scream, Cedar bounded off to the north, careful to show as much of her shapely legs as possible, and looking back to see if she was being pursued.
Melinda stood her ground and looked at the creature. It was the satyr she had kneed a few days earlier. He looked at her with a quizzical side-to-side shift of his head. Like it or not, Melinda felt a smile form on her lips. Then slowly, and with great deliberation, she turned around and started to walk away from him. She felt her hips sway, and she consciously began to exaggerate the back and forth motion of her shapely rump. As she increased her distance, she picked up her pace. The satyr bleated plaintively and walked behind her.
Then she broke into a easy jog and then turned around and blew the creature a kiss. With that she was off with a shot. She ran for all she was worth. Behind her Melinda could hear the sound of her pursuer as he attempted to overtake her. Her blood-red hair streamed across her back as she turned to gage the progress of the satyr. A giggle escaped her lips at the sight of his little goat legs pumping and his enormous "member" slapping back and forth across his thighs like a riding crop.
Melinda, now totally Holly, loosened her garment and let it slip from her shoulders. The sight of her beautiful naked form only served to re-emphasize the efforts of the little goat-man. Melinda/Holly thrilled at the feel of the cool air across her breasts as she ran, and the warmth between her legs. Her giggles and passion rose as she attempted to increase her speed. One part of her brain was determined to make the satyr run for his prize, and the other part sincerely hoped he was faster than she was.
She reached a fork in the forest path. One direction went deeper into the woods, but the other led toward the heather fields . . . the nice . . . soft . . . heather. Decision made, Melinda turned toward the clearing.
The satyr was gaining on her.
Or had she slowed down? She couldn't remember.
The male was only a few steps behind her. In fact, his hand was already poised to touch her. The fingers of his hand came down on her shoulder, and she began to turn. The satyr leaped into the air as Holly/Melinda began to turn around.
Somehow in the midst of her turn, she planted her feet and sprung backwards into the air -- her legs opening like the petals of a delicate flower. The satyr rose to meet her -- but Holly already knew how she planned to land.
Chapter 5: THE RHYTHMS OF THE SEA
Melinda awoke with the sound of distant thunder in her ears.
She rubbed her face to banish sleep, and cocked her head to listen more intently.
"No, not thunder," she thought. "Water . . . surf . . . sea."
As if in a trance, she stood. She had grown taller during her sleep, but she was still nowhere near her normal height, but at least she was taller than she had been as Holly.
At present, she figured she barely topped five feet. She looked at the tiny dress Oberon had crafted out of her handkerchief, and over at the clothes she had worn when she arrived in the glade in the afternoon. Both sets of clothes seemed alien to her. But that was all right, since she felt no compunction to dress. Indeed, what was the point, she had nothing that would fit her in her present situation.
It was still dark. She found her watch in the puddle her clothing had formed when Oberon shrunk her, but she couldn't read the time. She placed her hands to her eyes, and the faerie sight returned. Her sense of time was completely turned around. Although she knew she had spent at least the night with the "We," and, at the very least a month or two with the nymphs, according to her watch, less than an four hours had passed since she first met Oberon.
Suddenly, Melinda felt a tugging at her consciousness -- a compulsion to go toward the sound of the sea. She crossed the glade in the direction of the sound. The grass and bushes parted before her like water. She neither noticed nor felt it as she passed. The light grew brighter even as the sound grew louder. That part of her mind that remained logical rebelled at the thought that she was even remotely near the coast, yet she could already taste the salt spray in the air.
The sight which greeted her as she passed from the forest was no beach with which she was familiar. The sky was sullen and lead in color. Huge black rocks and boulders dominated the shore. Here was no white sanded alluvial beach, but the wild rock-tossed Celtic seascape of the Scottish Hebrides.
A word formed unbidden in her mind . . . home!
She lightly skipped over the kelp-covered rocks toward the sea. Ice laced the stone and hung in spears from the sides of the rocks, for here it seemed as winter.
"I should be cold," Melinda thought. "But I'm not. In fact, I feel quite comfortable."
The closer she got to the water's edge, the more Melinda noted the change in the way she walked. Her gait took on the exaggerated side-to-side swaying motion of a woman trying to call attention to her hips. But as much as she tried to stop it, she couldn't. What's more, she had placed her arms down straight from her sides with her hands placed at a stiff ninety degree angle. She arched her shoulders back and pushed her breasts out in front of her.
Her mind was screaming, "What am I doing?" Yet her whole body had taken on a languid and voluptuous air of sensuality. She could feel her hair growing. Before she realized it, her tresses fell completely down her back. With each step, her swaying hips caused the hair to brush against her buttocks.
She stopped by a clear tidal pool and looked at her reflection. She had changed again. Her figure was much more exaggerated -- more voluptuous -- more female. Her figure was much more rounded, like an hourglass. Her hair was lighter, fairer and, most surprisingly, it was tinged with light green highlights.
Then her form shuddered and Melinda felt the familiar sensation of shrinking again. She looked once more into the tidal pool and noticed that her bust had decreased in both size and shape. She looked and felt differently than she had only moments ago. Then she had it!
"Younger." she thought. "I'm getting younger!"
She watched in fascination as adulthood slipped away, and she regressed from young woman, to teen, to just barely adolescent. But before she could even digest that in just moments she had gone from age 21 to 13, she noticed that except for her head, and eyelashes, she was now completely hairless.
But even more changes were being wrought. Melinda brushed back the hair by her ears and saw that they had grown into delicate fluted points. She looked at her hands and discovered her fingers had developed a thin webbing between them. Her fingernails had rounded and become small sharp points.
She looked down at her herself, her lower torso was covered completely with a whitish-gray skin there felt like a cross between kid and suede. She continued to the edge of a rock that stood about 18 feet above the surge of the ocean.
"COME . . . COME . . . COME TO ME, MY DAUGHTER . . ." the waves seemed to call to her.
Melinda leapt from the rock into the water, her arms outstretched as if to receive a lover. The water enveloped her, yet she felt no panic. She opened her mouth instinctively to breathe, but she discovered that she no longer breathed through her mouth or nose. She knew she was holding her breath, but didn't know how. She rose to the surface and felt a puff of expelled air blow across her hair and shoulders. Melinda placed her hands to her throat and found slits on either side of her neck open and close every time she breathed.
Outside of her breathing slits, her face, arms and upper torso remained almost unchanged. Then she looked down at her legs. She was covered from navel to feet in white-gray skin, quite unlike her human skin From her knees down, her legs had fused together into a single trunk ending in the broad fan of a dolphin or porpoise. But unlike storybook pictures of mermaids, her hips and thighs remained thoroughly human-like, despite the changes. She could still open and close her legs, which allowed much more maneuverability than she would have had with a solid fish body below her waist.
She now understood the need for exaggerated hips, it allowed her to move much more gracefully and easily in the water. Her hips, buttocks, and genitalia remained essentially human, yet covered in the softer, dolphin skin. The water seemed to draw her girlish breasts up even tighter and closer to her chest. Her hearing seemed much more acutely sensitive to the sounds of the sea around her. She soon discovered that she could stay underwater for incredible amounts of time, depending upon how much air she circulated through her system through her breathing slits.
Delighted with her new body, Melinda pushed herself into a more or less horizontal position and tried an experimental thrust with her tail. Her ease of movement astonished her -- a little effort with her tail seemed to result in covering incredible distances -- distances which would have daunted even the best of mere human swimmers. By experimenting, Melinda quickly began to master the intricacies of her new form. Her tail provided locomotion. Her webbed hands provided direction. And by undulating her hips with subtle movements, she could maneuver in any direction within a moment.
Without realizing it Melinda had pushed further and further away from the shoreline. Even with her now more sensitive hearing, the sound of the surf was lost to her. She rose to the surface and looked about. There was no land in sight, yet Melinda didn't feel any panic. The sea was as familiar to her as the backyard of her parent's house. The sea told her where she was. She was no more lost in mid-ocean then she would be on the streets of her hometown.
Over the following days, Melinda roamed the seas at will. She learned to use her human intelligence and mermaid speed and agility to hunt for fish and mollusks, which she devoured greedily. The claw-like nature of her former fingernails were excellent tools for prying apart her prey. Though she never liked sushi as a human, Melinda involuntarily choked when she thought of actually cooking any of her catches.
When her first lunar cycle as a mermaid had passed, Melinda, for the first time, felt something missing in her life -- companionship. Although she almost couldn't bring herself to admit it, she was lonely for the company of others. So she forsook the open sea and slowly began to wend her way toward land. One morning, as she sat perched on a tidal rock prying succulent pieces of a conch out its shell with her fingers when she noticed she was not alone.
In the waters surrounding her rock, Melinda could see 12 or more heads peering at her intently. She opened her mouth to speak, but human speech was no longer possible for her. She raised her hands with palms open, hoping that this would be recognized as a sign of peace. Immediately, all heads popped below the surface. Melinda returned to consuming her dinner, yet she kept a weather-eye on the sea around her. Something in the water to her right caught her eye, and when she turned back, she was no longer alone on the rock.
Seated next to Melinda was another mermaid. At least mermaid was what Melinda referred to herself as. The female next to her looked intently at Melinda's features, as if trying to judge her. She looked at Melinda, and then at the conch. Cautiously, Melinda offered the other female a piece of the shellfish.
The stranger took the offering and swallowed it. She smiled at Melinda, turned, and dove back into the water. A moment later, the heads reappeared. It was then Melinda noted that nearly all the creatures were female. Soon the rock was crowded with 14 mermaids of varying ages ÷ from a small child still nursing at his mother's breast to young children and teens to the five adults. All the adults were female.
It was obvious to Melinda that the first mermaid she met was the leader, all the other females deferred to her. She looked older, too, more like a woman in her mid- to late twenties. The other females ranged from early 20's to Melinda's current age of about 13. She watched in fascination as the group socialized on the rock. As their hair dried in the sun, the older females took turns arranging and dressing each other's hair. One of the adults motioned Melinda to turn and before long, Melinda's hair had been combed out and arranged around her shoulders.
This was the longest time Melinda had spent on dry land in more than six weeks, so she was amazed to discover that her legs and feet returned to normal upon drying. At least, she regained feet. The dolphin skin that characterized her lower torso remained. Soon the young females were running and playing on the rock, capering and giggling soundlessly as they ran.
Finally, the matriarch of the group raised her head and opened her mouth. A sound issued forth like none Melinda had ever heard. The four other older females formed a circle with their leader and joined hands, raising their voices with hers. Melinda could not determine where the sound was coming from but the tone was lovely. Before she realized it, Melinda felt the song rise from her as well. The leader smiled and gestured Melinda to join them. The circle opened and Melinda joined the group.
In the weeks that followed, she learned a great deal of her adopted kind. She had been adopted by a aquatic species that the ancient Celts called Selkies. The group hierarchy was matriarchal as most Cetaceous creatures were. Females grouped together in social pods around a dominant female. Only adolescent males were kept within the group. Older males and young bachelors traveled alone, only joining the females for mating purposes. The pod had quite a large range, covering hundreds of square miles of ocean, but their territory seemed to center on the coast of the Scottish Hebrides, where the females congregated to bear their young.
Melinda learned the language of the Selkies. The link between mermaid and Cetaceans was particularly strong in language. For the mermaids communicated with clicking sounds often outside the range of normal human hearing. Their language, likes themselves, was simple and direct. There were no need for names since everyone female in the pod knew the other. Mostly they communicated where the children were, where to find food, or to sing their peculiar song. Had Melinda still been thinking like a human being, she would have noted the similarity between the Selkies' songs and the songs of whales, but such thoughts were no longer of importance nor of interest to her.
All the females shared in child-rearing duties. While some were off foraging for food, others stayed close to the pod and guarded the young from sharks and other dangers. Two months after joining the pod, Melinda witnessed an astonishing sight. She had been left on nursing duty with the pod's second ranking female when a 15-foot shark appeared. The juveniles formed a protective circle. Melinda was in a state of near panic. They had no weapons and were less than a third the size and one tenth the weight of the predator. Yet her fellow adult hovered motionlessly in the water watching as the shark circled for an attack.
With blinding speed, the shark came on, and in an equally blurring motion she could not even follow, Melinda saw her companion not only dodge the gaping jaws, but she watched her sister run her hands along the shark's flanks and stomach, and everywhere her hands touched long grooves of lacerated flesh appeared.
Bleeding and enviserated the shark moved off. As Melinda looked at her companion's hands, she could see the nails of her fingers slowly retracting into her body. Within seconds they were normal size, but during the attack, they had extended out more than the length of her hand. Melinda spent the next week trying to copy what she had seen and was rewarded one day when by just thinking her nails longer, they grew to whatever length and curve she needed. After that Melinda no longer felt defenseless, and she even went out of her way to provoke a fight with another shark.
Although Melinda's group had staked out its territory along the Hebrides, they were never completely alone. Other Selkie pods would join them for a few days or weeks. And every so often, a lone head would appear on the surface of the water around them as they played or rested.
It was inevitably a male.
At these times the leader would go off with the stranger, or sometimes one of the younger females. Melinda would watch the pair leave together, often leaping and frolicking in the water like the juveniles. At times, Mother would often look questioningly at Melinda when a male appeared, but she never interfered with Melinda's choice of avoiding a liaison.
Slowly and inevitably, time moved on. Melinda had been with the family for more than two years. During that time, two of the sisters -- including Mother -- had given birth. One of the older males had left the pod, after much hugging and silent tears on the part of the family as he left. And one of her sisters had gone off and never returned. Whether she had been killed by a shark or other predator, they never knew. The family mourned her loss but life continued on much as before.
One year later, Melinda was sitting on what she had come to regard as "her rock"-- the rock she had been on when she first met the family. She ran her fingers through her long blond-green locks and thought of her past life for the first time in what seemed like ages. She looked up the rocks toward the headlands. A small insistent voice seemed to be calling to her -- tugging at the edge of her consciousness -- it seemed to be saying "come home."
"Not yet," she thought.
She turned her attention back to the sea and some time later she happened to look down at her reflection . . . and gasped. The face in the water was not that of the mere child she thought of herself as, but that of a woman. The youthful features that had dominated her self-image for so many months paled in the reflection of the woman she had become. The fullness had returned to her bosom. She was larger, and her breasts had a more classical shape than she remembered. Her face and features had the calm self-assurance of a woman. She looked up to see Mother had joined her on the rock.
Although her Mother's smile was the same, it was obvious to Melinda that her Mother, like herself, had grown older. Mother's face remained fresh, unlined and beautiful, but her light green hair was now streaked with strands of dark green, indicating her age. Her Mother looked no more than 30, but to a Selkie, 30 is old indeed. Her Mother smiled and placed her hand upon her protruding stomach. She was carrying another child.
With the smile never leaving her face, her Mother placed her other hand upon Melinda's stomach and raised her eyebrow in question. Melinda shook her head no, but her Mother was insistent. The young ones were playing in the surf when one of the adults noticed a fin break the water. With a shriek no human ear could hear, the Mother and all the sisters dove into the water toward the children as an Orca and his mate stalked their meal.
Melinda and Mother swam furiously toward their family. The male had circled in close to shore, wedging himself between the brood and safety, while the female whale stood further out to sea. With a snap, one of the adolescent males disappeared in a spray of white water and blood. The male had made his kill, but he continued to stand guard to keep the juveniles from reaching the shore.
Despite her youth and lack of pregnancy, Melinda found herself falling behind her Mother, who skimmed across the top of the water making as much noise as possible. As the female Orca closed in on one of the children, Mother grabbed the child and held it aloft from the water. Mother made no attempt to avoid the jaws that closed on her, waiting almost to her last living moment to throw the child -- her family's legacy -- beyond the Orca's mouth. Melinda herself caught the child and held it tightly in her arms.
Through her tears, Melinda watched the Orcas move off. The family was safe until the whales needed to feed again. Melinda ducked her head below the surface and saw Mother, although lifeless in the jaws of the whale, still had a smile on her lips as if she had triumphed, even in death. Melinda watched until the whale was no longer in sight.
The family gathered on Melinda's rock and cried for Mother. The three remaining older females joined in circle and raised a song of love for their departed family members. One of the younger females, about the same age as Melinda when she joined the group, raised her voice in song for the first time as an adult, and she was invited into the circle.
And so the cycle of life continued. One leaves, another takes her place. First sister became Mother and, to her surprise, Melinda, and not her other sibling, became second sister. Later that year, whether voluntarily or unconsciously acting out Mother's last wish, Melinda swam off for the first time with a male.
Contrary to myth, merfolk mate on land in much the fashion of humans. Melinda stayed with her mate for several days, enjoying the sensual pleasures of the Selkies for the first time. It was the first of many pairing she enjoyed over the years.
One day, Melinda realized she was herself with child and climbed her rock and sang a song of new life. Her sisters and Mother joined her, as did the young ones, each taking their turn to rub Melinda's swelling womb. As her time drew near, Melinda knew where she would have her first-born.
As the pangs of labor stirred her womb, Melinda journeyed alone -- as her kind did -- and climbed upon her special rock. The sun's rays warmed and dried her skin and soon she had rejoined the two-legs. In the peaceful surroundings of the nurturing sea, Melinda brought forth a daughter. For a week, she stayed on the rock, never leaving her child, growing thin with hunger, but not with love as she nursed her baby.
Finally, she could wait no longer, she slipped back into the waters and slowly lowered her daughter down. The child formed breathing slits and a tail just as readily as Melinda did. Her happiness complete, Melinda rejoined the family.
In the years ahead, Melinda bore more children. In time, she became Mother. In the songs of her family she was renown as "Great One." They sang of her courage, and how whales and sharks avoided Mother's pod. And it was sung that she never lost a fight, nor a child.
But time passes for all. Mermaids are not immortal. Their lifespan is less than half a human's. Melinda had grown old among the family. Her first-born was now Mother, although all still deferred to Melinda. As among her kind, her blond-green tresses had grown dark kelp-green in color as a sign of her great age. Yet her face and body were unmarked and unlined. Any man who saw her would still call her beautiful.
But she was ancient and she knew it. And she was tired. With an effort that belied her still great beauty, Melinda climbed her rock. The sea around her was dotted with the heads of her family. Under Melinda and her daughters, the family now exceeded 30.
She let the sun warm her tired bones and as her hair dried, she wove it in the style of her youth. She looked out over the family and saw in the faces of the children remembrances of sisters and Mothers who had passed. She remembered the first Mother who died saving her child from the jaws of the Orca. She had never understood that Mother's willing sacrifice until she herself had borne children. Even now, as old and tired as she was, she knew she'd fight a hundred whales and sharks before she'd let them near her family.
One of her daughter's daughter's children swam by and waved to her, and Melinda wave back. She raised her voice to sing, but for the first time, no sound emerged. She touched her hand to her throat. Then everything around her grew dark. She suddenly realized she could no longer hear the ocean. For the first time in years, her world was silent. Then in the distance, she heard a voice calling her. She no longer understood the words, but she knew the meaning. With great effort, Melinda raised her head and turned to each point of the compass and bowed.
The voice in her head was growing more insistent, as Melinda felt herself quietly falling asleep.
"Coming," her mind whispered.
Mother found the Great One silent and still upon her rock. As Mother cradled the head of the Great One in her lap, she sang the Selkie song of mourning. One by one, the sisters joined Mother on the rock and sang. Children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sang or watched in quiet celebration at her passing.
And when at last the song was ended, Mother and second sister cradled Melinda's still form between them and slowly swam away from the shoreline. When they had gone well beyond the family's territory, they released the body into the currents. For this was their way. There are no graves or monuments in the sea, beyond that of each living generation. The Great One's body would float on until some scavenger found it and disposed of it, as no enemy had ever been able to do in life.
And so one cycle had completed. Countless others remained.
And on a rock off the Atlantic Coast of the Scottish Hebrides, a circle of Selkies sang their songs on a wave-tossed rock.
And in a forest glade -- miles from any ocean -- a young woman slept.
Chapter 6: CRICKET AND THE GOBLIN
Disoriented for a moment, she rubbed her face and eyes with her hands. Her mind was having trouble processing her recent experiences. Melinda wasn't even sure who she was. Slowly, she realized that she was back in the glade. She glanced at the watch lying near her. It was just after 3 a.m. Her lifetime in the sea had lasted little more than two hours.
She listened intently but she could no longer hear the ocean. She turned with faerie sight in the direction she had taken but try as she would, she could sense nothing but the sights and sounds of the forest. Melinda felt alone. She missed the sea. Her family. The absolute sense of belonging. She missed her sisters. Her children. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She looked about her, and realized that she was lying inside of her sleeping bag. She was not alone.
"Well met, my Lady," Oberon said when she finally noticed him. "It takes a few moments to become accustomed to a human world after a sojourn in Otherworld, doesn't it?"
"Yes," Melinda said quietly.
"Have you enjoyed Oberon's gift so far?" he queried?
"It's nothing like I expected. The experiences seem . . . so real. . ." she answered.
"Of course they do," he replied. "They seem real because they are real. You must cease to think in a mortal's terms and begin to think in terms of Otherworld. Time here runs a different course from time in your world. Every experience you have had in Otherworld has been a "real" experience -- no different from any others you have encountered in your life.
Melinda closed her eyes and in her mind's eye, she felt the beat of her We wings, the joy of the circle dance. Her lips could taste the cuttlefish she ate standing waist-deep in the beating surf during a winter storm. Her hand flew to her breast as she felt the caress of the satyr's touch. And her hips involuntarily shuddered with the remembrance of each child she had borne upon her sea-swept rock.
"You have been touched by Otherworld now, my Lady. Life will never be the same again." Oberon said. "Perhaps, you would like to refresh yourself?"
Melinda felt the now familiar sensation of shrinking as she was reduced once again to Oberon's height. She pulled herself free of the huge sleeping bag and quietly padded toward her hankie dress.
"My Lady seems to have lost some of her modesty in the past few hours," Oberon observed.
"I've spent what felt like the past 20 years naked and it didn't seem to matter. Besides, I've given birth on a bare rock in winter and in the face of the Northeast wind. A little nudity seems inconsequential now," she replied.
"Twenty-five, actually," Oberon said.
"What?" Melinda asked.
"I said 25. You spent 25 years with the family. You were ancient in Selkie terms -- nearly 40. Most of your folk succumb long before their thirtieth birthday. Some are lost to sharks or whales, others die of injuries. There are many dangers in the sea. Yet you avoided them all. You are quite resilient. Much more than I would have expected from a mortal. I admire that," he said.
As before, he swept Melinda up in his arms and alighted to the ground. This time, he took her off to the east. Before long they encountered what appeared to be a grotto. Although if Melinda had been her normal height, it would have appeared to be just a small place between the rocks.
"Inside you will find a small pool, heated by springs from within the earth," he said. "Go and refresh yourself. Its waters will soothe you. You still have a journey ahead of you, and this bath of my people will serve as the way-station between your travels."
Melinda turned to enter the grotto and stopped.
"Will I see you again?" she asked.
"Aye, Lady, before this night passes, we shall meet again."
The cave was lit with a natural luminescence. Melinda quickly disrobed and entered the waters. They were warm and soothing to her skin. She looked down, half expecting to see her Selkie tail in place of feet, but she remained resolutely bipedal. She swam about the pool for several minutes and then hauled herself up on the rocky ledge and put her hand instinctively to her hair to braid it. It's short length now startled her. She drew her legs from the water and sat at the side of the pool and gazed at her reflection when the waters had subsided. Try as she might, there was nothing that Melinda could see in her features or form which reflected the scope of her recent experiences. Her hand kept instinctively going to her hair, which was too short in it's present state to braid and arrange as she had been wont to do as a mermaid.
"Maybe I'll let it grow out," she mused.
She look back into the pool. Like the cave it was lit to its depths with the same natural luminescence. At its utmost depths, Melinda could make out a disturbance. Using her faerie sight, she was able to discern the movement of people in the water. But their appearance puzzled her, because mostly what she could see were legs, as if she were at the bottom of the pool looking up and not vice-versa.
The bottom seemed a long way off, but diving underwater held no terrors for Melinda. Although her body now lacked her mermaid's lungs, Melinda breathed in and out rapidly to store oxygen. Without a moment's hesitation, she dove in and swam down toward the bottom.
Moments later, she broke the surface of the water.
Melinda found herself surrounded by a host of young and adolescent girls washing and cavorting in the pool.No one seemed surprised at her sudden appearance. Melinda continued to breaststroke about the pool looking at the girls. They looked like female versions of Oberon. Their hair colors ran the gamut from blond to red to brunette to dark brown and black. Each had the distinctive ears that Melinda associated with elves. All the girls shared the highly arched eyebrows, but it was their eyes that Melinda couldn't stop staring at.
Like Oberon, their eyes had no whites or irises. They were all uniformly almond in shape and solid colors. Some were varying shades of blue, brown, green, violet, and hazel. Outside of their obvious differences, the elven girls seemed remarkable human-like and familiar to Melinda. The younger girls carried dolls and played among themselves, the older ones seemed to gather among themselves grooming and gossiping with one another. The girls all wore long hair, most falling to mid-back or lower. All in all, Melinda felt she could just as well have been in the locker room of any spa in the city, things seemed that familiar.
An adult female entered the grotto and clapped her hands.
"Girls! Girls!," she called. "Your time is up. The males have the grotto now. Now collect your belongings and please move along."
One by one, the elven girls exited the pool and began to dress in shorter versions of what the adult female had worn -- a long silken shift of varying colors. Melinda stuck to the water until the last girl left. None of them had spoken to her. Finally she was alone. She looked down at the bottom of the pool and could not see the bottom. By whatever gateway she had entered this pool, that gate was, at present, closed.
Melinda climbed from the pool and immediately knew she had undergone yet another change. The person whose face was reflected in the pool's water was not Melinda. Again, she was young, hardly past puberty it seemed. Her breasts were mere bumps, only a preview of what might develop later. Her face held the roundness of a girl's with only a trace of maturity on it. Melinda guessed her age at no more than 12.
Unlike the rest of the girls, her hair was cut short in a pageboy style and it's color was a glossy onyx black. Her eyes were her most striking feature. They were a deep emerald green with flecks of gold reflecting in them. She now looked like one of Oberon's people.
"CRICKET!" a loud male voice bellowed from the mouth of the grotto. "CRICKET! ARE YOU STILL IN THERE?"
Without even thinking, Melinda called back, "Yes, Poppa."
"WELL GET OUT HERE! THERE ARE OTHERS WAITING TO USE THE GROTTO!"
Melinda, now obviously someone called Cricket, began searching for her clothes. The only things left were a pile that seemed to be a boy's rather than girl's clothing. It consisted of a short jerkin, leather pants and soft, knee boots. Lacking anything else, Melinda began putting them on, and to her surprise, they fit.
Dressed in her garb, her hair still wet, Melinda emerged from the cave. She felt the consciousness of the girl named Cricket rise to the forefront -- pushing the Melinda part of her mind to the rear. It seemed natural and right, so Melinda didn't fight the feelings and allowed herself to "go along for the ride" in young Cricket's body.
She was still sorting out the conflicting spirits of Cricket and Melinda, when a dark shadow fell across her. Towering over her was a dark-haired elf, hands on hips looking down sternly at her.
"Last one in and last one out! At least you're consistent. Do you know that you've kept me, T'uv'or, your clan chief waiting? And that your tardiness has caused me to look foolish in the eyes of my people? What do you have to say for yourself, child?" he asked.
With her head down, and in a soft voice barely audible, she whispered, "I'm worth it."
The Melinda part of her mind gasped at the audacity of the girl whose body she shared, but the elf, no longer able to restrain his smile, laughed, "Aye, so you are!"
Cricket, laughing as well, ran and jumped into her father's arms and kissed his cheeks.
"Oh, Poppa, I've missed you since you've been gone."
"And I missed you, my Cricket! Have you minded your mother while I was away?" he asked.
"Yes, Poppa," she replied.
"Really ???" he asked skeptically.
"Well, mostly," she finally admitted.
He laughed and lifted his young daughter upon his shoulder.
In all the village there was no child -- boy or girl -- quite like Cricket. Had her people had a name for it, tom-boy would most likely have suited her best. In a culture where tradition named all females with the names of plants and flowers or gem stones, there were girls named Aster, Garnet, Amaryllis, Thyme, Beryl, Amethyst, Emerald, Camellia, Rosemarie, Sapphire, Larkspur, Sage, Rose, Poppy, and Bluebell by the score. But in all the elven villages of the valley, there was only one Cricket.
In many ways, Cricket's special position was easily explained. T'uv'or's sons had been killed before Cricket was born. He had placed his great plans for the future in his sons, but they were both killed in the last Elven-Goblin war more than 60 years earlier. Her parents were inconsolable. T'uv'or and her mother, Bay, had tried to have more children. After many years, they were rewarded with the birth of a daughter who cheeped instead of gurgled prompting her father to name her Cricket. Although her parents hoped that Cricket's appearance signaled the start of a new family brood, after the birth of their daughter, there were no more children.
And so young Cricket became T'uv'or's substitute son, much to her mother's dismay. While other young elven girls were learning kitchen and household chores, T'uv'or was teaching his daughter how to draw and shoot a bow. He trained her to use both a dirk and dagger. Her mother drew the line at a sword, but her father showed her all the other tricks and secrets of manhood that a father generally teaches his son.
He liked to carry her with him during the hunt, stalking deer for the village larders. Her earliest memories were of the chase, holding on to her father's neck as he raced through the woods chasing his prey. Her father was her life, but all this changed a few months after her father's return from the Elven Conclave held during Summer Solstice.
Cricket had turned thirteen. She had been feeling poorly for several days, but as was her wont, she neither complained nor gave any sign that she was sick.
But one morning, while in the privy making water, she was horrified to find her thighs covered in blood. An involuntary cry escaped her, drawing her mother's attention. Bay took only one look and knew that her daughter had began her journey toward womanhood.
That evening, after Cricket had gone to bed, T'uv'or and Bay had the closest thing they had ever had to an argument. Bay was adamant; Cricket was becoming a woman, and it was time that she put aside her boyish garb and weapons and assume the mantle of maidenhood.
"She'll be wanting a husband and children one day," Bay charged. "And she knows nothing of hearth or loom. Would you have our daughter lie fallow and barren to soothe your need for a son?"
T'uv'or looked at the fire for a long time. Bay knew this was difficult for him but, finally, he nodded his assent. Bay comforted her husband and helped him to steel his heart toward the task before them -- changing Cricket's boyish ways.
>From that day forward, his demeanor toward his daughter changed. Much to Cricket's dismay, he started treating her like -- a girl -- as if she would break if a strong wind blew on her. He began to complain about her dress or appearance. And he stopped taking her on their regular jaunts through the forest.
Some weeks later, when the men gathered in the square of the village to prepare for the fall hunt, Cricket came as usual, dressed in her hunting greens, with her bow at her side. Before the whole village, T'uv'or angrily berated his daughter, pulling the bow from her hands and breaking it across his knee.
"Begone, girl. This is men's work. Get back to your mother's hearth and learn her ways. Your behavior and demeanor disgraces me. Begone!" he shouted.
Her cheeks burning in shame, and tears coursing down her cheeks, Cricket left the menfolk, and did not see the tears of her father's broken heart as he sent her away.
The fall hunt was a major undertaking. The hunt generally last two to three weeks. In the old days, when the Goblin power still held strong in these lands, the hunt was a time of great danger. It was absolutely essential for the men to gather as much game as possible to carry the village through the winter, but it also meant leaving the village unprotected.
In the old days, nearly half the men would stay behind as guards while the other half hunted. This put a great strain on the hunters and the village, since it meant there were fewer hunters collecting game, and this generally meant that the rations were poor during the winter.
But then 60 years ago, the Goblins made a bid for total dominance in the valley, attacking and pillaging a number of elven strongholds. Just when the war seemed lost, a great warrior clan chief named T'uv'or arose and united the elves of the valley, and together they fell upon the Goblin caves.
In a series of dark and terrible battles, T'uv'or's elves killed or drove the Goblins from their dark mountain refuges. In over 40 years, there had not even been a sign that any Goblins survived the war. This meant that in the past few years, more and more of the men joined the hunt, leaving the village guarded a few crippled older males and young males on the verge of winning their names.
Cricket watched tearfully as her father led the hunters into the forest.
"Why does he hate me so?" she asked her mother as they watched T'uv'or disappear.
Bay clutched her daughter tightly to her breast and said, "It is because of his great love for you that he forces you from his side. He wants only the best for you, his beloved daughter. Both he and I think it is time that you lay aside the trappings of your youth and take up the mantle of womanhood."
"That is Poppa's wish?" Cricket asked.
"So be it," she said. "For Poppa . . . anything."
Before her mother's astonished eyes, Cricket stripped off her jerkin, pants and boots and threw them into the fire.
"From this day forward, I am T'uv'or's daughter. Dress me so," she said.
The next two weeks were hard on Cricket as she began dressing as the other girls did. She endured the taunts and sniggering whispers of the other village girls. Hoping to make up for lost time, she threw herself into learning all she could of "women's ways," but she discovered that being a woman was a lot trickier than it appeared at first glance.
Bay sat by her fire one evening knitting. The menfolk should be home any day, she mused She looked up to the nook above her where her young daughter slept and smiled ruefully. It had been over ten days since Bay had tasted any bit of food that wasn't either raw or charred. Cricket had taken to cooking like a fish to flying, but she had to give her daughter credit for sticking with it. Even now, Bay spent most of her nights trying to undo or repair Cricket's attempts to sew or mend. But Bay was happy, and she was sure that T'uv'or would be too when he returned.
Suddenly, the door to the housed was kicked in, when Bay saw the creature in the doorway and recognized it. She shouted a warning to her daughter as she reached for a fire iron. The Goblin laughed, it's great tusks and pig snout nose wrinkled in savage delight as it relished attacking it's prey. It lifted it's paw-like hand and loosed a bolt from its crossbow. The dart slammed into Bay's shoulder, spinning her around and knocking her into the fire.
"Mother!" Cricket screamed from her perch in the loft as Bay's clothing began to catch fire. Bay slapped feebly at the fires with her one good hand and Cricket, in her night dress, jumped to her mother's side to help her. Cricket extinguished the flames and the Goblin walked over to Bay and callously yanked the dart from her wound.
"No sense wasting a good arrow," it grunted. It had not meant to kill the female -- that treat would come later -- at the feast. Pointing, the Goblin motioned mother and daughter out of the house.
All across the burning village were the sound of screams. The bodies of friends and neighbors lay in the streets. The survivors were being herded toward the edge of town. Cricket tore strips of cloth from her nightshirt to staunch Bay's wound and somehow the two struggled and stumbled together in the dark. By dawn, the smoke that marked their burnt home was a distant smudge.
In the growing light, Cricket was able to see 50 or more survivors, all females, being herded up the mountain by the Goblins. She was surprised to see that with the exception of her mother, all the females were young. After more than a day's march, they were herded into a cave entrance. Cricket shuddered with the feeling that she might never see the sun again. After taking them down a number of dark and wending tunnels, the elven woman found themselves inside of a chamber.
When the last of the female was inside, the Goblins rolled a large stone in front of the only exit from the chamber and the women were left alone. The girls were crying and screaming, calling for parents and husbands to rescue them.
"Quiet!" Bay shouted. "All of you! Now be quiet!"
"But we're trapped and alone," an elf named Amaryllis said. "No one even knows we're here!"
"Don't be foolish," Bay retorted. "Of course, our people know where we are. Some must have escaped the village and have gone for the menfolk. They're probably searching for us now. It's our job to look after the sick, hurt and young ones until they come for us. Now settle down, and stop acting like nervous geese."
Even this small effort had taken much out of Bay, weakened by loss of blood, and she collapsed into the arms of her daughter. Cricket saw a side of women in her mother that she had never seen before, or even suspected. Her mother was just as strong in her own way as T'uv'or was in his, and this surprised her.
"Do you really think they're coming?" she whispered to her mother.
Bay smiled and nodded at her daughter. Looking about to see if any one was watching, Cricket hiked up the hem of her night shirt, and showed her mother that strapped to each of her legs was a dirk and dagger. Bay nodded with understanding.
After several hours, the great rock was rolled back and several Goblins entered the chamber and stood on either side of the opening. A Goblin much bigger than the others entered. It looked about and, spotting Bay, crossed toward her.
"Mate of T'uv'or," it lisped. "I have burned your village and killed your people, just as T'uv'or did to my folk so long ago."
"It was your people who started that war," Bay said defiantly. "But it was MY husband that finished it. I would have thought that you would have remembered that lesson."
"Did you know that it was I who killed your sons?" it said. "I cut their hearts from their living chests and ate them. Over the bodies of my dead I swore I would do the same to T'uv'or and his kin."
With those words, Cricket launched herself at the beast. Bay screamed, NO!" But the head Goblin merely slapped the youngster aside.
"T'uv'or's whelp has spirit. Only she shall proceed you in death. But before I kill you, mate of T'uv'or, I will first eat your daughter's heart while you watch."
He turned and gestured to the guards. Each grabbed one of the elven girls and dragged them off screaming. The great rock rolled into place and they were left alone. Bay quietly wept, not for her own fate, or even for Cricket's, rather she wept because she knew that the young girls so cruelly snatched were even now being devoured, for the Goblins were great eaters of elven flesh.
Over the next few days, Goblin guards entered the cavern three times, each time grabbing three or four elven maids and carrying them off. Each time it happened, Cricket swore words that would have gotten her into trouble if her mother knew she had picked them up from T'uv'or. But each time, she did nothing.
"Too many of them," Cricket thought. Her father had always told her that the key to fighting against heavy odds was only to strike when you possess the maximum advantage. And so far the odds were completely against them. Cricket knew that if they were to try to escape that she would be on her own. The rest of the girls were completely useless -- good for nothing but tears and wailing. And her mother wound had infected, leaving Bay weak and feverish. Cricket would not be able to count on her mother for much more than moral support.
Things had been quiet for several hours when, the great rock was rolled back. A Goblin entered that Cricket recognized. It was the same creature who had shot her mother. The elven girls melted away from the Goblin as it strode around the room, apparently looking for someone or something. It stopped in front of Bay who was lying on the ground -- still very weak from here wound. The creature pointed its loaded crossbow at Bay's shoulder and laughed. It made a point of licking the tip of the arrow bolt in his bow, as if tasting it and relishing the flavor.
It then lowered the tip of the arrow to the hem of Bay's dress and lifted it, exposing her legs. Bay pulled the dress back down, but the creature slapped her savagely on her wounded shoulder and snatched the dress and ripped it from hem to waist. With its crossbow pointed squarely at Bay's chest, the Goblin loosened its outer clothing and exposed itself. It kneeled, roughly pushing Bay's legs apart. As it began to lower itself on the wounded woman, it snapped straight up, opened its mouth as to bellow, but no sound emerged.
Then Bay saw great gouts of blood spouting from its neck, as it staggered to its feet. As it moved aside, Bay saw Cricket had manuevered herself in back of the creature. In Cricket's hand was a bloody dagger. Bay then saw that Cricket had slipped her dirk between the side gap in the creature's armor as well.
The Goblin was weakening, blood stained its throat and ribs as its life force ebbed. It tried to focus on Cricket with its crossbow, but when it fired, the bolt missed -- sailing across the chamber and lodging firmly into the wall. The Goblin then fell to the ground on its side and was still. Cricket calmly walked over to the dead creature and tugged until her dirk pulled free and cleaned her weapons on its cloak.
"Poppa always told me to always cut the throat first, so your enemy can't scream or call for help when you slip your knife into his heart," she said to her mother matter-of-factly. "Can you move, Momma?"
"We're getting out of here," Cricket told the remaining elven girls. "Now keep quiet and follow me."
"You don't expect us to go out there! With those . . . beasts!," a girl named Garnet asked in astonishment. "I won't do it! You can't make me!"
Cricket walked over to the older girl and slapped her sharply three times across the face. "You'll either come with us, or I'll leave you on the floor the same way I left that Goblin. Now shut up and move."
Thoroughly intimidated, the girls began to move toward the opening. Cricket took the lead and said, "Follow me." The tunnel corridors were deserted. Or at least they seemed to be. Cricket, her nose more attuned to hunting, sniffed the air.
"Stay here. I smell blood up ahead," she whispered to her mother.
Moving cautiously and quietly about 20 steps in front of the rest of the girls, Cricket found a body lying in a heap on the floor. It wasn't the right shape for a goblin. Turning it over, she gasped -- it was the body of an elf named B'y'lor -- one of the hunters.
"Poppa's here," she hissed to her mother upon her return.
"What?" Bay said.
"I found the body of one of the clan hunters just up ahead. Poppa's in here somewhere looking for us. We must try to find him," Cricket said.
"We can't go stumbling around these caves, not knowing where we are, trying to find your father. Especially not with all these girls," Bay countered.
"Then they should return to the cavern we were being kept in while I search for Poppa."
Bay thought for a moment and agreed. Together, they lead the shaken girls back to the chamber. Cricket handed her dirk to her mother and turned to leave. Mother embraced daughter and then Cricket was gone.
There is no such thing as darkness to an elf. Even in the blackest unlit hole, an elf can see with only a small amount of difficulty. Using the skills her father taught her, and her own innate elvish sense of direction, Cricket began mapping her way through the maze of tunnels. Everywhere she went, she saw signs of fighting, but still no sign of other Goblins or elves, other than the dead.
She had been moving around for about an hour when the sounds of fighting reached her ears. She moved cautiously toward the sound. Up ahead she saw that the tunnel lead toward a larger lit area. The tunnel opened on a huge chamber. Thirty feet below her, a melee was being waged by elves and Goblins. She searched the fighting crowd for her father, but could not see him. Suddenly another group of elves and Goblins emerged from a side tunnel. Fighting in the van, with sword and morning star, was T'uv'or.
"Poppa!" Cricket screamed.
T'uv'or stopped in mid-swing and began frantically searching around with his eyes for his daughter. He might have died on the spot had not one of his fellow elves jumped between T'uv'or and the nearest Goblin and engaged him. Looking up, he finally spotted his daughter.
"CRICKET!" he bellowed.
Cricket waved and ducked back up the tunnel, sure that she could now find her way to her father. But another saw the reunion of father and daughter and broke off to intercept the elven girl.
Cricket knew from her explorations, that she had to go down several levels before she could rise back to the level her father's fighters were on. She had gone down several flights of stone stairs and was begin to run up the last flight of steps between her and her father when her way was blocked by the hulking presence of the Goblin chief.
He had an arrow in his right thigh and another in his shoulder. He was also covered in a number of cuts, but none of these seemed to be bothering him much. His great paw of a hand reached out and snared Cricket's hair. He lifted her off the ground by her hair. She cried out in pain, but managed to slash at him with her dagger at the same time. Had the Goblin's arms been a little shorter, or if Cricket's aim had not been spoiled by her pain, she would have cut his throat from ear to ear. As it was, she merely left a painful cut across his thick neck.
With a curse, he flung Cricket against the wall like a child's doll. The impact stunned her and she dropped her dagger. As she attempted to rise, the beast brought his open palm down in a wide arc striking the left side of her face, and spinning her like a top.
With a grunt, he kicked her prostrate form, breaking several of the young elf's ribs. He picked her up once again by the hair and dropped her off the side of the stairs. In her dazed condition, Cricket didn't realized what had happened until she hit the ground. With a loud snap, her left leg broke, driving the bone out of her flesh and into the dirt floor. In the quiet part of Cricket's mind where she had been quietly resting and observing during the past months, Melinda awoke.
Cricket retched with pain as the bone from her leg scraped along the ground. Her sides ached, her head was bleeding and her left eye was beginning to swell shut. Her mouth was filled with blood. As she lay there, she sensed rather than saw the Goblin chief approach and stand before her.
"Not so full of fight now, are you, whelp?" he grunted. Tucking her under his arm, he carried Cricket back into the maze of tunnels. Although Cricket's mind was barely conscious, Melinda was alert. Even in her present state, she knew the direction they were heading. The creature stopped only for a moment to retrieve an axe from the body of another Goblin before heading toward the cavern where the elven captives were.
A young elf named Rose had been left had been left outside the cave by Bay to call out a warning if goblins approached. The poor girl nervously wrung her hands, looking back toward the safety of the cave, more than the dark corridors leading to it. Fortunately, she never saw the axe that took her head. The first indication that Bay had that they were in trouble was the sight of young Rose's head rolling at her feet. The girls screamed hysterically at the gory sight and ran to the far side of the chamber away from the door. Bay, dirk in hand, stood resolutely between the girls and the Goblin as it entered.
"I return your daughter, mate of T'uv'or," he said, holding up Cricket's broken and bleeding body and then throwing it down beside the body of the dead Goblin. "Now, as I promised, I shall have her life, and yours."
Bay's natural instinct to run to her daughter's side was tempered by the knowledge that she was the only thing that stood between the beast and the other girls. And wounded and untrained as she was, she was determined to defend them with her life if she had to. With a mother's tears falling from her eyes, she turned from her daughter's body and faced the Goblin.
The impact of striking the ground jarred Cricket/Melinda to near consciousness. Every part in her body was in pain. She opened her one good eye and took in the sight of Bay attempting to stand up against the Goblin Chief. All thoughts of pain were forgotten as Cricket searched frantically about her for a weapon. Surely the dead Goblin had a knife or something, she thought. Then she spotted the crossbow lying next to the body. She stuffed a piece of cloth in her mouth to stifle the moans that escaped her as she dragged her broken leg across the floor -- the protruding bone leaving a shallow furrow in the floor.
Cricket picked it up and pulled an arrow bolt from its quiver. Cricket had never fired a crossbow before, but Melinda understood the principle behind how it worked. The problem was she doubted whether she could draw the string back in her weakened condition. The Melinda part of her mind worked to help her. Cricket tugged at the string, which cut into her fingers, but she lacked the strength. As she looked up, Cricket saw the Goblin casually knock Bay's weapon aside with his axe.
Then Cricket heard another sound in the distance, it was a voice called her name -- Poppa!
Bay heard it, too, and screamed her husband's name. The bellowing sound of T'uv'or was growing louder, but the Goblin never took his eyes off Bay as he slowly lifted his axe and began to swing it over his head.
"Your daughter is probably dead anyway," it lisped. "I'll have to settle for you."
Using her unbroken leg, Cricket braced the front of the crossbow with her good foot and drew back with all her strength. She knew that T'uv'or would never reach them before the Goblin could strike, and so she was their only hope for salvation. The blood from her fingers was running down her arms in rivulets, as the string cut deeper into the flesh of her hands, but somehow the string snapped into place with a twang. Without even pausing, she fitted the arrow and braced the crossbow across the dead Goblin's body.
T'uv'or was only feet from the chamber, but the Goblin moved as if he had all the time in the world. He reached his paw and grasped Bay's hair and flung her down at his feet. He lifted the axe and watched the door. He was prepared for death, but he wouldn't die until he made T'uv'or witness the death of his mate. His great tusked mouth was already set in a grin of pleasure when he heard a young girl's voice call out, "Let my mother go."
The Goblin turned his head toward the voice as T'uv'or burst into the chamber.
Frantically, T'uv'or bellowed a challenge at the Goblin Chief as he saw the beast, axe already raised to strike his wife. He knew there was no way to cross the intervening space in time to stop the death blow.
"BAY," he screamed.
His wife looked toward him as he saw the axe begin to move downward. She closed her eyes, but no blow fell. The axe slipped from the grasp of the Goblin and, as a tree falls, so fell the Goblin. T'uv'or could scarely believe his eyes. He ran to his wife and scooped her in his arms. The elven girls were crying and grabbing at him as more and more elven fighters moved into the chamber.
"Bay," he whispered to his wife, as he tenderly examined her wound. Then he looked to the dead Goblin chief and saw a crossbow bolt lodged to the fletching in the great beast's eye.
"How?" he asked.
Bay motioned to the still form of Cricket slumped on the floor, crossbow in hand.
He left his wife in the care of one of the village healers and went to his daughter. T'uv'or gazed at Cricket's black and swollen eyes and lacerated face. He bent down and kissed her cut and bleeding fingers, torn in her attempts to string the crossbow, and then he saw her leg. A pure cry of animal pain burst from him as he held his daughter in his arms and wept uncontrollably.
One of the healers took the girl from his arms and examined her.
"She lives for the moment, T'uv'or," he said. "Now leave the wounded to me, and tend to your people."
T'uv'or could scarce believe his ears.
"You are Clan Chief," Bay gently reminded him. "Tend to our people, I will tend to our daughter."
He reached over to his wife and lightly caressed her face with his hand and turned to organize the sweep of the rest of the Goblin caves for survivors. When he returned, he saw the healer had improvised a splint of wood and bandaged around his daughter's leg. Her face and head were also swaddled in bandages. He sat down beside his daughter and began to stroke her hair.
"It's a very bad break, T'uv'or," the healer told her. "And she is bleeding inside. I have done my best. Fortunately, she is your daughter, and she shares both your spirit and your hard head. It is up to Cricket now to decide whether she chooses to live or die."
Cricket's eyes fluttered open and she looked up into the face of her father and mother.
"Oh, Poppa," she whispered weakly. "I'm sorry for not being a lady like you wanted me to be."
"Hush, my sweet one," he said. "No father ever had a child that made him more proud than I am of you this day. Now rest." Cricket never remembered much of the long journey back to the village. The neighboring elf clans gathered to assist T'uv'or's village repair the damage and bury the dead. But for Cricket, this was all a blurred memory. Melinda pushed the consciousness of the young girl back and she, herself, endured the pain and sickness that Cricket incurred by her bravery. For weeks, despite the efforts of the best healers in all the elven conclaves, Melinda felt their joint body teetering on the brink of death.
The first snow of winter had already fallen when early one morning, Melinda awoke for the first time without a fever. Asleep in chairs on either side of her bed where Cricket's father and mother. She smiled as she looked at them. Bay's arm was still in a sling and she could see the still healing cuts on her father's face. She lay there quietly until Bay awoke. When she saw her daughter awake, Bay reached out and touched T'uv'or arm. He was awake instantly.
"Good morning, Momma. Good morning, Poppa," she said.
Cricket had passed her moment of crisis and was now on the mend. After a week or so, the healers permitted her to be carried from her parent's home to the grotto where the warm springs helped in healing her broken leg. Slowly, Melinda relinquished her hold and allowed Cricket to regain control.
Cricket couldn't understand the fuss and bother people seemed to be making over her. Girls who barely spoke to her before, now wanted to spend hours in her company. Young and old alike nodded respectfully at her when her father carried her out each day.
Unknown to her, her deeds in the Goblin caves were widely repeated and admired. "Imagine a female with that much spirit," people would say. Young girls -- and even older ones -- found themselves wanting to emulate Cricket and her ways. Several fathers and mothers came privately to T'uv'or to complain that their daughters were not acting like daughters any more. T'uv'or called a clan gathering to discuss the matter.
Listening from the window of her father's cottage, Cricket heard T'uv'or say, "I have been told that many families are concerned with the recent behavior of their young daughters. They are concerned that girls are picking up knives, not for kitchen work, but to learn to fight. I am Clan Chief, so hear me: I believe that our traditions of what is a man's place and what is woman's place are wrong! If more of our young women had known how to fight or protect themselves, many families might still be together who are now grieving for lost loved ones."
"If my wife, Bay, wishes to learn to defend herself, I will teach her. My daughter already knows how and, by the All-Maker, I am proud of her. But I will force no female who does not wish to learn into doing so. But from this day forth, it shall be their right to choose."
Needless to say, T'uv'or's ruling stood elven society on its ear. But elves are a resilient people. Cricket, of course, knew none of this uproar, she was still relegated to her bed. At Winter Solstice, the elven clan gathered for their conclave in the great circle in the center of the valley. It was a two-day trip by cart, which was how Cricket and her mother traveled. The gathering was a great festival for the elven. It was here that young males received their adult names and took their place as full members of the community.
The ceremony was a solemn affair, the one of greatest significance to elven society, since male names are not just an identification, but a description of their place and rank in elven society. Sixty years ago, an elf named K'ry'lr -- or fleet foot -- by strength, character and deeds won the name of T'uv'or, which means "Chief of All."
When T'uv'or as Clan Chief had finished awarding names to the young males, it was expected that the great winter feast would commence. But he held up his hand to stop them.
"There is one more naming to be proclaimed at this solstice. The Clan Council has met and unanimously voted to confer title on one more who by deed and action has proved worthy of this great honor. Bring forth the youth!"
The Council itself went out into the crowd and gathered on either side of Cricket's cot. They picked her up, cot and all, and carried her to the great stone platform in the center of the circle. T'uv'or lifted his daughter in his arms and proclaimed, "Cricket, daughter of T'uv'or and Bay, from this day forward you are no longer a child but a full member of your village and clan. Your voice will be sought in councils and gatherings. And hence forth, we confer upon thee the name and title of Lady A'malphia -- Lady Sure Arm -- in honor of your great deeds, great courage, and great heart!"
The clans erupted in cheers for the new Lady A'malphia. Cricket looked to her father and mother, both crying with joy and pride at their daughter's elevation.
She herself was too shocked and stunned to realize what had happened. She could feel the presence of Melinda in her mind, screaming with glee and joy. For the first time in elven history, a female had won a name. And elven society would never be the same again. But Lady A'malphia wasn't thinking about the future or new traditions. She tugged on her father's sleeve.
"Why is everybody making this big fuss? I just did what you taught me. What does all this mean?" she asked.
"It means, my dear daughter, is that from this day forward you are a great lady whether you like it or not."
The Lady A'malphia looked down with a sadness that she could never be as free as she had been before.
Seeing his daughter's frown and sensing its cause, he whispered into her ear, "But don't go taking on any airs, my lady. Because no matter how many titles they give you, or how big your britches get, you're still just my little Cricket!"
"Oh, Poppa," she giggled and hugged his neck. Maybe this won't be so bad after all, she thought.
As winter faded into spring, the Lady A'malphia's leg healed well enough for her to soak it twice each day in the warm mineral waters of the grotto. She was very self conscious about her leg, since the bone had ripped a great gash, leaving a terrible scar. Out of deference to her, she was given about a half an hour each morning and afternoon in the grotto alone. She entered and disrobed, and sat naked on the ledge and lowered her leg into the warmest part of the spring. It felt heavenly.
She looked down at herself in the water, she realized that in the intervening months that time had moved on and left it's mark upon her. She was beginning to look more and more like a woman and less like a child. Her breasts, while not large, could no longer be called bumps. She had definitely developed. This was a good thing, she noted to herself, because for some reason boys liked breasts big.
Her pageboy hair had grown out, too. It now fell to just below her shoulders. She turned herself three-quarters to examine her back, and was pleased to note that she was looking less like a boy from behind as well, and had taken on more of the delicate feminine shape of her mother.
But most of all, she was grateful that her face's encounter with the Goblin's rock wall had left no permanent scars. All and all, she was quite pleased with how her looks were turning out. She had even started sneaking into her mother's make up when she thought Bay wouldn't notice. Cricket eased herself into the warm water and floated, her hair billowing out away from her body.
She rolled over to swim a bit and saw a curious light coming from the bottom of the pool. A great compulsion overcame her. She was filled with the knowledge that she must dive to the bottom. Cricket looked around the grotto as she breathed in and out to fill her lungs.
"I'll miss you," the Cricket side of her mind said.
"I know," Melinda answered. "But it's your life, not mine. I'm just grateful for the chance to ride along with you, and witness your great deeds."
"It's more than that, and you know it," Cricket's mind shot back. "We wouldn't be here if it weren't for you!"
"Oh, really?" Cricket retorted. "I nearly passed out after stringing the crossbow. Then suddenly, all the pain drains away for a moment, letting me take the shot. And don't think I didn't notice that you shielded me from most of the pain and sickness while I was healing.
"Well . . ." Melinda's mind answered lamely.
"Well indeed," said Cricket. "You as entitled to be called Lady A'malphia as I am!"
"It's time for me to go," Melinda said finally.
"A part of me goes with you," Cricket said.
"And me with you," Melinda answered.
For a moment, Cricket relinquished complete control, Melinda spun the body towards the opening of the grotto and, just before she dived, whispered, "Good-bye, Poppa. Good-bye, Momma."
Down she dove. Deeper and deeper into the pool's depths. She was getting light-headed from lack of oxygen, but just when she thought she was about to drown, her head broke the surface.
It was Melinda who swam to the edge of the pool and lifted herself out. She was home again.
Chapter 7: SOMETIMES, WHEN WE DREAM
It was a quiet and subdued Melinda who emerged from the grotto a few minutes later, dressed again in her makeshift kirtle. Unconsciously she had been limping, favoring her left leg. She stopped herself and smiled ruefully.
"The Lady A'malphia had a broken leg, not me," she said to herself, although she couldn't help but examine her leg. It was probably a trick of the light, but Melinda could have sworn that her leg showed a thin white line in the same place where Cricket's scar had been. And then she noticed her eyes. Gone were the brown eyes she had been born with. In their place were two emerald jewels, flecked with gold, inlaid on a white background.
As she exited the grotto, she half expected to find Oberon waiting for her, but he was nowhere to be seen. The sky was beginning to take on the lighter hues of the pre-dawn. Although still only 15 inches tall, Melinda walked purposely back toward the great rock. In her heart she knew her adventures were over.
She reached the rock, which in her reduced state, loomed over her head. Her life -- her real life -- was waiting for her on top of that rock. Without Oberon around to enlarge her to her real size or to, at least, help her up, she'd have to get up there on her own. With a self-confidence she didn't know she possessed, Melinda scaled the rock and pulled herself over the top.
Her sleeping bag and clothing were exactly where she had left them. She arranged a comfortable spot on the top of the sleeping bag and sat down. One of the sleeves of her huge sweatshirt lay near, so she dragged the sleeve over and wrapped herself up. The rough material felt like canvas to her reduced body, but at least it helped to knock off the early morning chill.
"Good morrow, my Lady," Oberson said as he materialized before her.
"Good morning, your Majesty," she answered.
"You've had quite an night's adventure. Was it all you hoped it would be?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered quietly.
"Why so pensive? Was this not what you wished for?" he asked.
"Perhaps I did. I was unprepared for the feelings and emotions I experienced here. I guess I kept expecting happy endings to my adventures," she said ruefully.
Oberon laughed, "I am afraid that life -- whether in your world or Otherworld -- seldom lends itself to happy endings."
Melinda asked, "Pardon me, your Majesty, but I must ask . . . Are you of T'uv'or's clan?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"Then I am glad that you so honored me as to place me among them," she said. "But I am puzzled as well. Why is it only here that we are reduced to tiny creatures? The elves, indeed, everyone I met seemed of normal size?"
"Size, like time and space, is relative. Think of this glade as a portal between my world and your world. The circle of the glade defines the perimeter of overlap between Otherworld and your world. There are many such portals in the world. Only here at the overlap does time and space seem out of joint. Only here can I work the power that I do -- work changes in myself -- and in others," he said.
"My consort, Titania, and I act as guardians of the portals, protecting and preserving those of our folks who venture by accident or design into your world, and guarding against the intrusion of your kind into ours. Creatures like the beast who trapped me tonight," he added.
Melinda looked again at the medallion that hung about Oberon's neck. The face on the medallion now seemed very familiar.
"I beg your pardon again, your Majesty, but the lady who's portrait hangs around your neck looks very familiar to me ÷ is it a picture of Cricket?"
"Yes, my Lady, it is indeed a likeness of the Lady A'malphia -- my mother -- carved from life by one of our greatest artisans," he answered.
Melinda gasped, "So she was real? Did I really live a part of her life?"
"It would seem so. Although that was not my intent when I sent you into the grotto. I assumed you would spend a day or so living among my kind. I was as unprepared as you were to watch you acting out the pivotal event of my mother's youth," he said.
"She was a great and special lady among my people. Indeed, the Lady A'malphia was the first Faerie Queen. It was she who set up the portals between your world and Otherworld."
"You speak of her in the past tense, is she . . . is she dead?" Melinda asked softly.
"Yes, she passed away a very long time ago. Now only the stones and I remember her as a living, breathing creature," he answered.
"Perhaps, it was her spirit that drew you into the grotto. Perhaps, she wanted both of us to see her in her youth -- before she was queen -- before she was anything but herself. But come, dawn approaches and I must return you to your world."
"Thank you, your Majesty, I shall treasure my experiences and carry them with me in my heart forever."
"I am afraid my Lady, that is where you will have to carry them. When you leave this circle, all that you have seen and done here must remain behind. You memories will fade into dreams. But I promise that they will always be there inside of you. And sometimes, when you dream, the memories and experiences of Otherworld will return to you."
As a tear formed in Melinda's eye, she felt her body begin to enlarge. The pin holding her kirtle popped open and within seconds, she was a 5'9" woman sitting naked on a rock with nothing but the torn remains of a man's handkerchief draped over her shoulders. Slowly, and with no great hurry, she dressed. From the rock where she had left them, she recovered her bloody shorts and donned them, along with her socks and boots.
The sun had come over the horizon and it's rays lit the glade. As she handed the tiny brooch back to Oberon, his form seemed to grow hazy. Melinda opened her mouth to say something, but at that moment, the sunlight hit her and Oberon was gone -- only a small silver fox remained. Her faerie senses were gone. The king bobbed his head and jumped from the rock, bounded across the glade and was gone.
Melinda gathered up her things and prepared for the trek back to her parent's house. Already the event of the previous night seemed less real, more dreamlike. She felt like a sleeper who had awoken from a marvelous dream -- but who couldn't quite remember what the dream was -- other than it was wonderful.
As she left the glade, she noticed something hanging in the briars -- it an incredibly small medal and chain hanging on a bush. Melinda was quite intrigued with the intricate workmanship of the tiny cameo of a woman inset in the medal, but had no idea how it could have arrived in the remote glade. She put it around her neck and never took it off again. It became, as she laughingly called it, her magic medallion. By the time she got home, her only strong memory of the past day was freeing a poor trapped fox she found in a snare.
"Poor little bugger," she concluded. "I hope he stays away from wire snares."
The next morning she return to college. Not surprisingly, Melinda didn't feel too bad. In fact, she felt pretty damn terrific. Over the rest of the semester her friends and acquaintances all remarked how different -- more assured and assertive -- Melinda seemed to be. She herself was quite unaware of the changes.
It was nearly Christmas when Melinda returned home again. She pulled her blue Nissan into the service station for gas. As the attendant was filling the tank, Melinda looked up and happened to see the old poacher William Twekes searching through the dumpster searching for bits of scrap metal to sell. The word was that his poaching days were over after nearly drowning in a bog one night last fall. His once powerful voice had been reduced to a hoarse whisper and he was constantly gasping for breath. Melinda only glanced at him casually, but came up short and looked at him very closely.
"Why does he have that rope around his neck?" she asked aloud.
"Rope? What rope?" the attendant asked, looking at Twekes. When Melinda looked again, she couldn't see the rope either. Shrugging, she paid for her gas and left.
It had been a long drive, but now she was nearly home. She was nearly there when she saw something on the road ahead of her. Slamming on the brakes, she stopped the car. Twenty feet in front of her, sitting bold as brass in the middle of the highway, was a fox.
He just sat there. Melinda blew the horn, but the creature didn't move.
It merely rose and placed its right paw slightly out in front of its body, and keeping its neck stiff and its eyes on her at all times, it lowered and raised its head, giving the appearance of a formal and dignified bow. With that it turned and bounded off into the underbrush.
"Well, I never . . ." she exclaimed to herself.
Melinda's adventures were over. If she had been able to consciously remember them, she could have said that she'd had enough adventures to last four lifetimes -- because surprisingly she did.
And who knows, since no mortal can consciously remember Otherworld, how many of us might have crossed the threshold to walk its paths and behold its wonders. So, perhaps, sometimes -- when we dream -- our dreams are not the fantasies of our minds, but our memories of a faerie realm -- of a place called Otherworld.
-The End -
Sometimes, When We Dream copyright 1998 by Mark van Sciver.
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