Long way home
The simple fact is, they left me out here to die. I lived in a small village on the edge of the forest. And unfortunately for me, we still believe in nature spirits. The harvest had been bad for a couple of years, so this year the elders decided to make a sacrifice to the forest god. Guess what? I’m the sacrifice. The elders slipped me a sedative and dumped me deep in the woods. I have no idea where I am, which way is bringing me back to the village and I have nothing on me except my clothes.
I’m stranded, all alone and darkness is creeping in. When I was young, I was always told to stay out of the forest. Only adults who knew what they were doing were allowed in the forest. It was said evil monsters lived hidden behind the trees. Growing up I never believed the stories and thought they were fairy tales. Now, with darkness setting in, I believed every little titbit they told me.
All of a sudden there is a noise coming from somewhere to my left. It is coming for me and fast. This is it, and I embrace the fact that this is the moment I’m going to die. Eyes clenched shut, arms around me, I wait. Then I feel a tap on my shoulder? I open one eye first, afraid it’s a wild animal playing tricks with me. I blink away the tears and look up. It’s the forest god. Or at least, I think it is. He looks like the pictures I’ve seen when I was little. Not so tall as in the tales, but still, a striking resemblance.
“Good night, miss. If I may ask, what are you doing in the woods, at this hour and all alone?” the God asks me. I’m still scared he is going to hurt me, so I keep silent for a moment. Then I decide to confess, hoping for some sympathy.
“My village has dumped me here as a sacrifice to you, the forest God. They are hoping to get on your good side and have a good harvest this year.”
There was a silence between them.
“Ah, that daft superstition again,” the God says, “Well, you are not the first being left here.” He snaps his fingers and holds out a coat. I reluctantly accept it and put it on. Its warmth gives back some of my confidence.
“Sir, I don’t really care what happens to my village, but please, don’t kill me,” I tell him, “If they are stupid enough to dump me here, they don’t deserve a good harvest.”
He looks surprised.
“My dear girl, how can you have forsaken your heritage so easily?”
“That village is not my heritage. I was left behind on the edge of the forest by a gipsy family. They were hoping I got swapped for a changeling.”
That caught the God off guard.
“A gipsy child left for a changeling… That’s new. But that does explain your lack of sentiment. Let me add that I’m not going to kill you, and certainly not for something as trivial as a harvest. I’m a God, not a fertiliser.”
I let out a sigh of relief. I really didn’t want to die. “Since I can’t return to my village, is it safe for me to stay in the forest?” I ask.
The God smiles at me.
“Contrary to what has been told in your village, the forest is a lovely place and a joy to live in,” He turns to look at the woods, “But I don’t want to leave you here in the dark without a place to sleep. If you like, you can stay with me this night. A meal and a bed, you can leave anytime you want.”
I take one look around and know I won’t make it out here without basic necessities. “I would love that, thank you.”
After a big dinner, the God offers me a drink and tells me he has to ask me a big question. I sit down on one of the luxurious sofas and take a small sip.
“Maybe it’s a big thing to ask already, but I am a God and a good judge of character. I’ve been alone now for a long time, and I would like you to become my assistant.”
Even before I can react, he continues. “It would be nice to have someone who can help me with daily chores. Not keeping the house clean or something, but dealing with the forest animals. I will give you the ability to speak with the animals, and elevate you to demi-god status. You will have your own wing in the house and you can do what you want.”
This is the first time someone sees something in me and I don’t need time to think about it. “Yes, I will become your assistant.” I smile, and the God smiles with me.
“Agreed, we’ll start tomorrow. Get a good nights’ sleep, busy day ahead!”
Three months he trains me. Learning the languages of the animals with all of its subtleties, dealing with their quarrels. I make new friends amongst the different animals. Wolves are drawn to me, as are mockingbirds and bats. I meet the other inhabitants of the forest, like fairies and gnomes. The God is pleased with my progress and happy with his decision. One night he tells me I can execute my plan.
We have been talking about the village where I came from. It is causing a lot of problems for the animals in the forest and I want to take revenge for leaving me behind. Even though it is the best thing that ever happened to me, we still want to get rid of the humans living there. This forest has a unique diversity of animals and the humans are threatening the balance.
I make arrangements with the animals and the God wishes me good luck. At the break of dawn, I step out of the forest and slowly walk over to the village. I want as many people as possible seeing me, so they can gather up everyone before I reach town square. And it works. The whole village is up and in front of me the moment I reach the square. They recognise me, I can see it in their faces. Fear settles down in the bodies of my former fellow villagers.
“By the power vested in me by the Forest God, I order you to leave this town and find a new home. You have until the first new moon to leave this place. Everyone left behind will be sacrificed.” I tell them. First, there is disbelief while my words sink in, then it turns to anger.
A village elder steps forward.
“And who are you to order us something like that? If the forest God wants us out, let him come and tell us that! We are not taking orders from a gypsy child!” The other villagers agree with him and start yelling at me.
“Do you really think a God is going to deal with you, puny humans?” I laugh, “You are not the centre of the world.”
The elders discuss my words quietly. But, as I expected, they don’t want to reason with me. One of the biggest guys comes lunging forward, sword raised high in the air. Before he reaches me, I freeze him in time, unable to move but still alive.
“I have come before you, unarmed and with nothing more than a proposition. Still, you attack me as if I killed your children. Have I done you any harm?” I speak with a calm voice.
“You just ordered us out of our village, the village we have lived in for hundreds of years. We don’t take orders from a gypsy!” one of the elders spits at me.
“If you have such a problem with gypsies, you shouldn’t have taken me in, and shouldn’t have sacrificed me to the God of the forest,” I had to know, “Why did you take me in if you hated me so much?”
“For all we knew, you really were a changeling. That would have ensured our harvest for years. The outcome would have been the same,” the elder raised his voice, “We will not leave, ever. We will throw you to the wolves!”
I laughed, loudly and freely.
“No need to throw me to the wolves, they come when I call.” I whistled and the mockingbirds took over. Within seconds the wolves came out of the forest, growling, teeth exposed. The wolves had a feast and I had my revenge.