Victims of Love
by Mike Phillips
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
There could be no uncertainty that she was one of the enchanted peoples, but now that she had a closer look, Miss Weigenmeister thought she knew just what the woman was. Not since her childhood had Miss Weigenmeister encountered one, but there was no way else to describe what she saw.
“Wood nymph,” she said to herself in amazement. Their eyes met.
“Come,” the wood nymph called out. She was soft-spoken, but her words held command.
“I did not recognize you, dear child, or else I would have invited you sooner. Do you like my entertainments? Come, I invite you, such peoples as ourselves should be friends and share all that we have. Wouldn’t you agree? Please, do not be shy. I am Diana of the Lost and I am your friend, or wish to be.”
The wood nymph stood, her gown shining. She extended her arms, offering a gesture that beckoned Miss Weigenmeister forth. Behind her the throne of living vine grew up in her support, cradling her body like a lover. Flowers budded and bloomed, the scent of sweet nectar as pungent as wine.
Diana said in a hypnotic voice, “You are from the old world also. Come, be my companion here in the forest.”
“Yes,” Miss Weigenmeister said in a daze.
The fragrance upon the wind was intoxicating. She was captive to the smell of the flowers and the sound of the voice, all her senses collecting rapturously beyond her control. The gentle whispering entered her mind, becoming more important than any objection or principle. She took to the air, flapped her wings with no sense of flight, and landed on the woman’s open hand.
“Now my pet, come and kiss my lips and our friendship will be consummated. Be my friend. That is all that I will ever ask of you. Be my friend and we shall rule the forest, make these silly men our slaves, live as our people were meant to live.”
“No,” Miss Weigenmeister said in a far-off voice. “No, we can’t, we can’t.”
“Certainly we can,” Diana soothed, stroking her black feathers, the palm of her hand warm and soft, as smooth as silk upon glass. “We are the enchanted, women possessed of great and terrible power. These boys are but playthings for our amusement. Look how they dance for me. Look how they wish to please me.”
“But no, it’s not right.”
“Worry not, for they love me and they will love you. Just be my friend.”
“Be your friend.”
“Yes, be my friend and you will see. They are happy to please and we will treat them well, as all good masters do.”
Putting a hand to Miss Weigenmeister’s beak, Diana of the Lost said, “But hush now, listen to my voice, be my friend. Forget all your worries. Just be my friend and everything will turn out as it should. These men live to please us, to serve us. Be my friend and...”
“No!” Miss Weigenmeister shouted, breaking the spell, turning her head in a flash and taking a savage nip at the woman’s hand. Then she was off, making a short flight to the ground, careful to perch upon a boulder and stay away from the enchanted plants. “I have come to set them free.”
“Silly girl, I am Diana, daughter of the trueborn lords of the forest. Here I rule above all others.”
“I have come to save those young men, and I will stop you if I may.”
“Arrogant fool, you may not!” Diana said, her hands twisting in obscure patterns, the light of some magic fire starting to burn within her grasp. She raised her arms and the throne grew up around her, a thorny armor following her every turn. The whole forest seemed expectant, every leaf and twig a possible advisory. Diana was beautiful and terrible, given the power of all that grew, master of the woodland realm.
“Stop,” Miss Weigenmeister shouted, investing the word with command. Powers of the mind were her particular talent, and even in the guise of the crow, she could use those powers to great effect.
Diana lowered her arms. The fire was extinguished. She seemed confused, but then in her eyes the light of reason returned, and she remembered herself once again. In a cold voice, she said, “Use my own tricks against me, I think not. Perhaps I shall trade with you in kind.”
In the beautiful woman there began a change. A white light surrounded her, growing outward, radiant like the sun. The outline of the woman that was could be seen through the brilliance, and as intensity peaked she grew small, the shape of her limbs changing. Her nose and face curved in a beak and her arms grew thick with feathers. In a few seconds, she had transformed herself into a sparrow.
Screeching wildly, Diana soared down to where Miss Weigenmeister perched upon the boulder. Testing her foe, the crow waited until the last moment before taking flight, causing the smaller bird to cast herself against the rock as she flew away.
But Diana was not so easily beaten. She chased after the crow, following her under the branches of the forest.
Beyond the shining meadow, the night had not yet abated. The forest seemed utterly black, as dark as the deepest cavern. Miss Weigenmeister flew with caution, hardly able to see, regretting her decision to go amongst the trees, a feeling of malice growing in the air like fog.
Something breezed by her face, missing her by fractions. The crack of a whip, a branch shot out from nowhere, striking her in the wing. She tumbled to the ground. The wound was painful. She had lost feathers and maneuvering while in flight would be much more difficult because of it.
The trees and shrubs reached out with skeletal hands. The grass grew up around her, enveloping her, the edges knife blades stabbing into her flesh. Frightened, Miss Weigenmeister pumped her wings and was away, making a short flight to the safety of a nearby rock. She knew that she could not stay here. The contest would have to be joined in the meadow, and so to the meadow she returned.
Diana was not far behind her. The sparrow flew into the clearing, coming to rest upon her living throne. She had fared little better than Miss Weigenmeister. Though she did not have angry flora to contend with, the darkness was her enemy and she was little tested in her present form. She had caused herself some small injury and the experience had left her exhausted.
“You look nearly as bad as I. Shall we talk this over like civilized people?” said Miss Weigenmeister as they caught their breath.
“Talk then, if you must.” She returned to her human form and leaned back in the throne. “You seem to like talking overmuch.”
Taking the comment in stride, Miss Weigenmeister replied, “I must compliment you on your choice of antagonist. Many would have chosen an eagle or an owl, thinking a greater bird more likely of victory.”
“Is it such a wonder to you? I have seen the tribes of men rise and fall, and have known all that happens in the forest. Only the sparrow and a few others are ever really a match for a crow. Might does not always make right.”
“How correct you are,” said Miss Weigenmeister. Her voice became stern. “Can we not settle this contest another way? Come, tell me why you have done this. You are not evil and I believe none of these little ones have caused you injustice.”
Looking away, Diana said, “Just a bit of fun, that’s all, something to chase away the dull hours between dusk and dawn.”
“There’s more to it than that.”
“The forest is a bore. Most of my folk have gone away. No more is there dancing and singing under the stars like in the old days. The others hide in fear of satellites and video phones and all-terrain vehicles.” She sighed with disdain. “The world has always held danger for our kind, and we have always found a way to survive.”
“Yes, but I think perhaps now they are correct.”
“Many of my people thought as you do,” Diana scoffed. “They were destroyed, every last one of them. Some were my mates. Some were my sisters. Now they are gone, all gone. Tell me, what good has hiding done?”
“You are fortunate as well as powerful, perhaps too much so to see things clearly. The world has changed and we must find a way to change too. Adapt or be destroyed.”
“Is that what you do? Pretend you are one of them?”
Miss Weigenmeister didn’t answer.
“What fun is that? I am a spirit of joy, a spirit of fertility. Soon I must find a new mate. Then I will go to the long sleep.”
Stricken, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Not death?”
“No, silly.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “When I awake there will be a whole new generation of my kind. Sleep for a hundred years and give birth to a hundred lovely daughters to beautify the world.”
“That is wondrous indeed.”
“So you say, but what a sacrifice. Don’t I deserve to have a little fun first?” All through the meadow, the plants seemed to wilt, to grow less alive as Diana sunk into a profound melancholy. “Has there ever been a man or buck or boar or dog that found my sort of play disagreeable?”
“None would be my guess,” the crow agreed, her gaze straying to the circle where men of every sort yet danced. “And since you never meant them harm, there is no reason for me to be concerned about their safety.”
“No, they will be well taken care of, on my pledge and honor,” said Diana, a delicious smile curling her lips. “They are a handsome bunch.”
“You shall need their services if your people are to survive. Losing your kind from the world would be a travesty indeed.” Giving a crow’s equivalent of a sidelong glance, Miss Weigenmeister added, “And it seems a shame to waste such talent.”
“They won’t remember any details. They will just have a pleasant feeling of satisfaction.”
“And you will let them go in a day or two.”
“Oh, of course, on my pledge and honor.”
“Then the only question left for you, Diana of the Lost, most honored and noble of the enchanted peoples is: Will you be my friend?”
The wood nymph laughed. “Yes, my mysterious crow, I think I will.”
Copyright © 2013 by Mike Phillips