by Brooke Breazeale
“Are you sure you saw it come this way?" asked Marisa, twisting her white apron with nervous fingers.
I sighed softly, frustrated already with her, though we'd only just started our trek through these woods. "Yes, Marisa, twice I've seen the foretold white fawn enter the Mystic Wood." I stepped over a fallen tree trunk, lifting the hem of my linen skirt.
"I don't see why we must leave our homes forever,” she complained.
I clenched my fist tighter around my skirt, as I tried to not let my impatience show. "The land has changed. The disease grows quickly. If we are to survive, we must find a new home. Please, hold your tongue and help the little ones."
Not waiting for an answer, I continued on. Around me the forest had grown quiet. The bugs and birds had flown away or waited patiently for us to pass. From the path behind me, I could hear the low murmur of my traveling companions- four women and six children- and the bleating of one milk goat. An occasional twig would snap and echo through the dense trees. Sunlight speared the dimness as we traveled, giving us enough light to see by. I noticed that the children were lagging behind the goat. Their feet dragged, kicking up puffs of dust, and their shaggy heads hung wearily. I held up my calloused hand. "Let's stop here. Marisa, Ida, pass out something to eat. I'll search for water."
I started away and Marianna followed. We walked in silence for a time before she spoke up. "Liana, do you know where we are going? I only ask because Annetta is almost due. This isn't good for the baby." She pushed her bonnet off her head. Her blonde hair flowed over her shoulders.
I stopped her with a sharp look. The pain of a lost child clouded my vision and once again I watched in slow agonizing memory as Tonio's life slipped away from me.
Marianna's blue eyes widened as she watched my face. "Oh, Liana, I'm sorry! I had forgotten about your boy."
She rushed over to comfort me, almost tripping over a small shrub. I pushed her away and continued on.
"That is the reason we must keep moving. We must follow the fawn," I said harshly over my shoulder. "Our children are dying. The males don't make it three days and the girls only survive a month."
I pushed a tree branch out of my way and was greeted by acidic smell of a fir tree. The white fawn sat expectantly in the clearing beyond. I motioned Marianna to stay behind me and to remain quiet. The sweet sound of birdsong surrounded us once again.
The fawn stood before me, watching me with deep green eyes. Its coat was like the snow on the distant mountains, pure and untouched. Its small ears twitched as we slowly walked into the clearing. Around the fawn, tall wild grass grew. The brown and green colors looked more vivid in the golden sunlight. The fawn ignored the bees that wove in and out of the grasses around it.
"Marianna,” I said in a low whisper. "Go back and gather the others. But go slowly, so we do not startle the creature."
I don't know if she nodded or not, but she slipped away unheard. When she was gone, the fawn dropped its head as though it was going to eat, and then brought its head up without so much as a leaf. Twice it repeated the gesture. I stood there silently not sure what was happening.
The fawn must have been frustrated by my lack of understanding, because I suddenly found myself on my backside with all of my breath knocked out of me. I swear I didn't see it move.
”Thank you for sitting,” it said softly inside my head. The sound was gentle and smooth, like the fur of a bunny after a long winter. The fawn’s voice didn’t startle me, for the fireside stories all said it could talk.
”What else do these stories say about me?” the fawn asked, laughing curiously.
"Well," I said to it out loud. "They say you only appear when a crisis arises with children."
It nodded, confirming that story, swiveling its ear forward.
I held up my hand and started ticking off other traits. "You can fly, you are female, the goddess Damara made flesh, your tears have healing properties and you can make the dead live again."
Amused laughter bounced around inside my head and I stopped to see the fawn sitting on its haunches, like a family cat or dog. I wondered if maybe it was going to clean itself like one, too. I shook that thought off as the fawn's laughter stopped suddenly
“I am not a family pet.” It was not amused anymore.
"I, I'm sorry," I stumbled. "Sometimes I just think odd things. I've learned to not say them out loud."
The fawn nodded. “You have much improved from when you were younger.”
My eyebrows rose, as my eyes grew wide. "How would you know?"
”I know many things.”
"So are you the Goddess Damara?"
”No. And I can neither fly nor bring the dead to life.”
I looked down at my hands. I hadn't noticed the brambles and thorns that clinging to my skirt. I began to pull these nuisances out as the white fawn continued to talk.
”I know you were hoping I could bring your boy, Tonio, back. It's why you originally sought me out. But I cannot.’”
I nodded. I heard the faint sounds of voices and crying from behind me. "That was true, but now I just want safe passage through the Mystic Wood and a place to start again, without fear of the disease that took my son and the other children."
I looked up hesitantly as the rest of my group settled around me. I felt Marisa and Ida lay their hands on my shoulders; their warmth was welcome, as the children crowded around my back. Marianna and Annetta stood behind us all like guardians.
”There is such a place.”
I could hear several gasps in the grassy clearing as the fawn’s voice came to my companions.
"And how far is this place?" Annetta asked, her hand resting on her swollen stomach.
The fawn looked at her, but we all could hear it's reassuring voice. “The babe is fine; strong and healthy.” It tilted its head and paused. “A boy, I see.”
Smiles broke out and cheerful laughter erupted.
”Safe passage is granted for you and all who follow you. Take to the path behind me.” It rose to stand again and swung its head towards the parting grass.
Another gasp arose from my companions, but I just smiled. Everything felt right. More right than it had for a while now.
My companions went by me and started down the path. I turned to the fawn.
”Four days until you reach a safe haven,” the fawn confirmed.
"How did you know what I was going to ask?"
The fawn stamped its hoof. “You will.”
I caught my breath. ”I'll have children again?"
"Do you have a name? As you are not the Goddess Damara, I'd like to know whom it is I address."
The fawn tilted its head again, like a dog giving a curious look. “I am the Mystic Woods”
"May I call you Mystic?"
”That would be acceptable.”
I watched as the goat took up the tail end of the line.
"Liana, are you coming?" Marisa called.
"I'll be right there," I called back. “Thank you...” I turned to finish my sentence, but the clearing was empty. "Mystic?"
Four days and a few hours after sunset, we found a valley lush with fruits and clean water. Other families had made their way through the Mystic Wood and had built their homes here in Salvation Valley.
Annetta gave birth to my godson two days later. He is now six and mischievous as any child could be. Dante was the first born, but not the last child to grace this valley.
”As we gather on restdays, like today, we spend them telling and retelling the story of our trip through the Wood, for the sake of the children. Of why we had to leave our old homes and find a new one.” I reached down and ruffled Dante's shaggy hair. “One day, you will take up the responsibility of telling the tale."
"We won't forget Mystic," Dante said, resting his chin on my knee.
"No." I met my godson's deep green eyes and smiled. "No, we won't."
When not writing, Brooke Breazeale can usually be found outside her Northwest home gardening or reading by her pond. She was raised in Oregon and has remained there, were she can enjoy the ever-changing weather. With three kids, one dog, one cat and a husband, Brooke keeps very active. Her love for reading has inspired her imagination for writing. Although fantasy is what she writes, it is not the only genre she has written.
What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?
Never stop reading and never stop believing. Anything can happen in the world you create on paper. Never stop imagining; the ordinary came become more if you want it to.