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Lovers in the Forest of Desire
- Lovers in the Forest of Desire -
Long ago, there was a rich and powerful duke. So powerful was he, and so vast were his holdings, that comparisons between his influence and that of the Royal Castle were not uncommon. And one year, to this duke and his wife, a daughter was born.
The duchess had wished for a daughter for many years, and now that they had been graced with one, the daughter was showered with affection, given everything she might need or want.
As the jewel of her parents' eyes, a coterie of servants followed her everywhere, afraid that a scratch might mar her silky skin or that a cloud of dust kicked up from the road might dim the glimmer of her hair.
More than a little over-protected, she spent many a long day by the window, reading her books and sighing as she watched other girls her age make their long-awaited debuts into high society.
Time passed, and the duke's daughter blossomed into a young woman more beautiful than any flower. One day, the Duke and his family were invited to an event at the castle. It was to be a masquerade - and this girl's first official appearance before the nobles of the court.
All were in awe at her radiance, and doted upon her, but the void she felt in her heart was not sated; it seemed only to grow.
Though she did not know it, she craved something that, like a stone thrown in a peaceful pond, would ripple outward and bring excitement to the steady, measured tranquility of her daily life.
It may be, dear reader, that the silent cry of her heart had been heard by the heavens. For one day, as she rode through the forest with a hunting party, the group was set upon by a pack of wolves.
The horses spooked and scattered, with the girl's mare bolting deeper into the forest. Frightened and separated from everyone, all she could do was tightly clutch the reins as the commotion grew more and more distant behind her. The last thing she heard was the sharp whinny of the horse as it tripped over the gnarled root of a tree...
With their beloved daughter missing, the duke and duchess offered a great reward for anyone who found their daughter. Search parties were sent out to the forest, but returned empty-handed.
Several days later, she was discovered in a part of the forest near Sen Mag, unconscious but completely unharmed.
Although they rejoiced at the return of their daughter, the duke and duchess were unable to wake her, even as they tended to her day and night.
Several days later, rumors began to spread within the duke's manor. Some claimed to have seen the princess awaken in the dead of night and wander around, as though she were lost.
The maids, in hushed tones, whispered that something strange must have befallen her during those days she was in the forest.
Although those caught saying such things were disciplined by the duke and duchess, the rumors had a mote of truth to them, and so lingered about the estate.
But the duke and duchess's sorrow was only to increase. They received one day a curious letter, unsigned, telling them that the reason their daughter remained unconscious was because she had given away a portion of her life to someone else during her time in the forest, and that she would need to remain close to that person for the rest of her life if she hoped to awaken and live out a natural life.
As if invoked by the letter's arrival, strange happenings began to occur around the manner. Valuable items began to go missing during the night, flowers in the garden would go from full blossom to completely withered in the space of a single day, and many of the servants reported terrifying nightmares. And even as the duke's anger burned hot, his daughter's cheeks grew paler by the day.
Several days later, with heavy hearts, the duke and duchess decided to return their daughter to the forest, in the hopes that she would awaken from her slumber.
As the procession entered the forest, one man quietly broke ranks, concealing himself in the nearby brush as the sorrowful band returned to the manor.
He was a knight in the service of the duke, whose job it had been to guard the duke's daughter since she was young, and he could not shake his worry as to whether his charge was being left in the forest alone and defenseless.
From deeper within the forest, he sensed something approaching. A form seemed to emerge near where she lay on the dew-beaded grass. His appearance was like a man's, but for the two pairs of horns faintly visible through his long, silvery hair. A blue light seemed to dance around him like wisps of cold flame.
The knight made not a sound, lest he be discovered. The very presence of the visitor struck him with intimidation like he'd never felt. It was almost as though he was being suffocated.
As the sylvan being approached the duke's daughter, her violet eyes fluttered open. The knight breathed at last a sign of relief; a breath he had not known he was holding. In spite of his own fear, she seemed to hold none toward whatever manner of man it was he saw there.
The horned man slowly turned toward where the knight hid, and for a brief moment, their eyes locked. Unable to stay a moment longer, the knight instinctively fled, escaping the forest as fast as his legs would carry him.
Since that day, the esteemed duke issued an order forbidding anyone from acknowledging or even speaking of his missing daughter. So it was that she passed out of the pages of history and lineage, and into the pages of legend.
For even to this day, the tale of the beautiful young noblewoman who shared her life with the dark, handsome stranger from the forest is often told whenever travelers pass through those woods. And among couples especially, it is believed that, if you walk through that ancient forest with the one you love, your hearts will be bound together eternally.