by Will Greenway
Wordless, Freyah recorded the twentieth score-day of her stifling by notching the wood perimeter of the academy flower bed. Each mark tallied frustrated days, unable to laugh or say she loved her mother. Freyah set her gaze on the forest gate. A gust flicked her copper hair, chilling her pale freckled skin. Beyond the school’s wall of partisans lay the Ghost Woods, the realm of the timber gods that banished her ability to speak. At sunset, she would try again to reclaim her stolen voice.
Freyah rose, brushing debris from her gray academy habit. She sniffed the star-blossom’s sweet pungency. Mother decorated with cuttings from this garden. They reminded her of Father. She preserved the blooms as art, pressing them in the pages of a grimoire. Sometimes, Mother sat staring at the tome with a desolate expression on her face.
Freyah’s voice was the second thing the Ghost Woods took from their family.
After the stifling, Mother forbade Freyah to enter the glade again. After seasons of ridicule defaming her as an unspeaking clod, she stopped attending school. Mother enjoined her to weather the disparagement, to have faith her penance would soon end. To Freyah, hoping alone wasn’t fortitude.
It was surrender.
To her, bravery meant the courage to try to save yourself.
The tower bell clanged for evening recess. Seeing the yard empty, she hurried along the curving promenade of inspiration to the contemplation terrace. The path circled the college’s fountain of deities. Water gurgled over the worn twelve-faced effigy of the silent guardians.
Fingers laced, Freyah paid her respects. Mother always chided her to perform the remembrances before traveling. Mother’s advisements were many. ‘The ideal person,’ Freyah remembered her saying, ‘is sincere and studious. They face adversity without complaint, saving their energy to overcome.’
Freyah confronted everything in silence. She did not feel ideal.
For luck, she tossed a coin into the basin.
With stealthy care, she snuck to the gate and slipped through.
The portal clacked shut at Freyah’s back.
Fading sun behind her, she forged into the Ghost Wood. Soon she passed beyond the shadows cast by her mother’s college.
Insides tight, she approached the misty glade. Giving off a spectral glow, fungal great caps, phantom stalks, and wood cushion formed a perimeter around the heart of the meadow. In the twilight, the faerie ring cast shafts of violet illumination into the shadows.
Here, the spirits cursed her. A punishment meted for ignoring mother’s warnings, being late and rushing home without acknowledging the forest celestial.
Wood spirits showed no mercy, even to children.
Trembling, she shuffled to the portal between the two largest cap-stalks. The radiance made Freyah’s eyes ache. Between the pillars of magical vegetation, the air sparkled. A feminine figure, wispy and blue-skinned, stood in the threshold. The creature appraised her with luminous gold eyes, expression neither benevolent nor cruel.
Heart thrashing, indecision seized Freyah. None of mother’s rituals had worked, but the sylph never appeared before this.
Choose faith or be brave…