One Thousand and One Maidens
by Christine E. Schulze
At last, he stood before her, towering high over her graceful form, like a tree shading a lily. She herself was tall but could not match his seven feet in height. She smiled playfully up at him, biting her lip, contemplating her next move. He was all hers, her shiny new toy, and she must decide how to use him wisely.
“Come with me,” she breathed. Her slender hand latched onto his with surprising strength, as if afraid to lose the new toy she had acquired so quickly. Irony played upon his smirk. Hopefully, she would not tire of him like a toy. He could not be so easily gotten rid of...
At the other end of the immense, arching bridge — he recognized it for an impossibly large root, not a log — a small pool glittered. A strange blackness clung to it so that its depths were unsearchable, and yet the sunlight glittered like tempting ripples upon its surface. She did not lead him here, but down and around to the garden spanning beneath the arch.
“So...” She gazed upon the vast array of flowers, proudly as though they were her children. “Here lie the gumnuts. Lazy little things this morning. Waken them, if you will.”
He stared, first at her, then at the flowers. Such a lowly request, to stir from the realm of dreams a sea of blossoms? Perhaps better yet to be stuck in the abode of some mindless lord...
But then, a strange urge came over him. A want to bend over, tickle one of the flowers as if beneath its chin. Then he smiled, against his will, but the longer he looked at the flowers...
He nearly toppled over in restraining himself, then snatched out and tickled the flower lightly under its petals.
The flower’s laughter rippled through the garden as its petals touched those of the flowers closest to it. The laughter spread until the whole entourage of flowers unfurled their petals, swaying in the breeze, singing in the gentle, innocent strains of a child’s voice.
“Gumnuts,” she breathed. “Spirits of the children of the rain forest...
“Open wide to receive your breakfast.”
As the gumnuts stretched their petals wide towards the sky, a soft rain began cascading, and a gentle neighing caught in his ears. Turning curious eyes upward, he watched the fleet of unicorns sail across the sky, spreading their cloak of gentle rain wherever they glided.
“The purifiers... they come daily to purify all waters of the wood.”
He glanced upon the pool shimmering like a precious black diamond nestled beneath the safety of shadows.
“What of this one?”
“Hmm... Oh. That is an ancient pool, darkened by age, history, forgotten memories... and mystery. The purifiers do not go near that place for some reason.”
“Yet it is safe for us to stay here?”
She smiled, a small, sad, reflective smile. “As in every part of the wood, one simply has to know which are the safest times to travel to certain places. Although the purifiers are here, they won’t come near the lake... we are quite safe...
“Come. It makes me sad to sit here and think of such things. If you are to stay one with me, I have more to show you before dawn’s fall.”
Her small hand closed about his — again with the security of a child grasping that of a favorite friend or sibling — and led him to the top of the arch. He wriggled his toes against the cool comfort of spongy moss.
Planting her feet firmly, she looked up into the gap of blue sky amidst the trees and sang out a long, vibrating note, low and melancholy, like a weeping phoenix. Then she remained still, eyes cast ever upward, and waited.
For a long time, nothing. Then, it seemed as though the huge leaves began to flutter from the great heights towards them. But they floated too smoothly, elegantly for leaves. As the wide, flat, green things neared, he took in his breath, at once captivated and amazed. And how rare such feelings had been for him for so long, a true novelty in themselves.
The creatures gliding steadily towards them were huge sting rays. Their eyes shone black as the lake, yet different, wrought with a powerfully gripping calm. Both those eyes and their low, gentle call echoed a song like a lullaby, a lullaby which did not wash away wakefulness but fear, filling him with a forgetting of pain and sorrow and all things unlovely.
Craving, thirsting to fill himself with that blessedness, he hurried towards one of the creatures. Then he paused, looking up at her. She smiled, a sad but serene, contented glow illuminating her face. Suddenly, her eyes seemed old, but as if the moments in which they rode would make her young again, remind her of times when her eyes were freed of such sorrows. Side by side, they mounted their steeds and rose gently into the air.
All across the wood they flew. From time to time, she would narrate in her quiet voice some story of a precious memory long past, triggered by the sighting of some landmark to a brief yet hopeful reality, like a candle’s wavering but yet glowing flame.
Her name was Munya, appropriately “daughter of the moon,” and she said they were in Ulala, southern realm of the world of Fairie. The rain forests belonged to her and her sisters, the Veela, of whom there were hundreds scattered abroad. They alone remembered the ancient language of the purifiers, connecting to their spirits to feel any oncoming danger, leading them to any human who had been injured or lost their way...
She spoke of a dark spirit stirring in Fairie, wishing to amass the powers of sacred stones to overthrow not only the underworld from which he hailed, but the overworld as well. But then she spoke of destined heroes which she and her sisters awaited, heroes who would thwart the evil so that Fairie could be free again, at least for a time.
This was said to be the last evil Fairie should face until the end of all worlds. While she did not know when this might be, she hoped Fairie’s beauty might linger on many more, long years...
At last, as the sun set, illuminating her skin like a cove of rubies, yellow sapphires, and fiery opals, she whispered to the rays who swooped down, fluttering like phoenix feathers with their phoenix calls towards a huge fall from which curls of steam and large bubbles rose.
As she neared, she jumped down into one of the bubbles, her skirts wrapping about her like the petals of a delicate lily. For the second time that day, he stared in awe. She remained suspended in the bubble, able to swim about, to its fringes, and hop to the next, slightly lower bubble.
He followed suit, and they swam and hopped until they reached the ground. He left the final bubble reluctantly; it too gave him such a free and floating feeling, weightless, like he always imagined walking on the moon might feel.
Taking his hand, she announced quietly they would take the quick route home. This involved her flying and surfing betwixt the trees on huge leaves; it was both an adrenaline rush and a heart-pounding race to keep up with her.
But at the last, they emerged into her clearing. The gumnuts’ petals were furled, and they buzzed in contentment. The moonlight granted the pool an almost celestial sparkled, rippling brightly upon its ripples as though it never dare sleep.
But its most enchanting effect was its dancing upon her pearlesque skin, her hair like strands of moonlight and starlight entwined. Her eyes like the pool, deep, full of memories and mysteries and treasures he longed to be the one to explore...
Only then did he realize how close he stood to her, how truly delicate she was against his tall, muscular stature. Only then did he decide he did not care about the nervous fear leaping in her eyes. He had always been sworn to be close to a human, but while he craved true closeness, he never truly experienced it. That opportunity met him now. If he were a mere man, her spell would entrance him to the point of madness, eventually death, as he pined for a beauty he would most likely never call his own.
But as a djinn, he entranced her. One look, one touch of his hand brushing her chin and lifting her lips — sweet and succulent like the nectar of a fresh, undying moon blossom — to his...
Long they kissed until he too lost himself in the trance of the dream. When at last they broke away, she looked up at him like one dazed, and then she smiled. A huge, radiant, though shy smile. He noticed, for the first time, her freckles dancing at him, and he smiled too.
For a long time still, they just looked at each other. What a strange relief to look at someone and find that simple act of looking dissolving all anger, bitterness, sadness, and other weary emotions pent up for too many years of solitary wandering. But now, the shadow passed from both their eyes, if but for a time.
“I am tired,” she breathed at last. Her hand still in his, she led him over the arch, beside the lake. She curled upon the soft grass of its shores and her eyes beckoned him to join.
But he shook his head. “As a djinn, I am duty-bound to protect you at all times. I have always stayed awake to watch over my master. And now I am also heart-bound as well...”
He spoke boldly, like one who has wasted too much time already in loneliness and cannot afford to waste a moment more. With a final grin, she closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.
He watched her. Watched her all through the night. Admired the peace washing over her face in that glorious rest. Awed in the beauty of her moon-ray hair, her sea-zephyr breaths. Most of all, he wondered at the cynical bitterness which passed so quickly from his heart. So this was love at first sight. So the stories he often loathed to hear from his brethren rang true. And truer still was the spell true love could cast upon all, even a djinn as powerful as himself.
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Copyright © 2011 by Christine E. Schulze