Facing into the trees, she breathed a long rattling breath. Home. The leaves seemed to respond, to reflect her brightness back, and the open landscape behind sent up shivering lines of heat, still threatening, even as a terrain conquered.
She crossed the threshold in dawn’s fingered light with fierce grace, her fingers trailing along trunks, her glance flashing into shadows, innately attuned to the forest. Her lithe step was in no way diminished by her large size. In fact, it may have been her size that so much reinforced the fairy sense of her, someone regal and finely made. She walked in step with her heartbeat and she focused her mind; she listened for – something.
Dried blood stained the ripped belly of her shirt. It hung open enough to reveal a swathe of bandages. She wore heavy leggings, also torn and bloodied. Closer examination might tell of the slightest limp, just the smallest unnatural movement in her forward flow over the green and brown earth. Yet she did not cease to move nor did her body fail her will.
The forest bent and moved with her. There was silence and there was presence.
The limp became more obvious and sunlight poured through the leaves and the day passed with small rushes of air glancing off trees like flat stones skipping over a glassy lake. The once imperceptible injury produced a stagger as night seeped down and new blood surfaced, restaining the cloth near her skin.
When she finally collapsed, it was a dark that felt watery, as if the moon had tried to wash it away, but still there hung darkness, hovering and filling shadows with thicker layers of dark like sediment. Just as she fell, a sound became audible and she seemed almost to stir, but it was too faint, too slight a sound to revive her from that bodily night.
In the wee hours, they came. The peal of their drums resonated against leaves’ soft film and barks’ course facade long before they found her.
They circled in closely and the rhythm became overpowering. It was a beating that none but the most frightened hearts can produce, a frenzied and pulsating thing.
The people were long and grand as she was, with sharp chins and thin muscled arms, bare against the cool wet night. They sweated and beat, and they stepped in time with one another, in the way that an orchestra plays in time with one another. Circling and circling, they played a rhythm to the tune of the cosmos and the microcosmos. Three of the beings approached her body and lifted her, cradling her against themselves, and beginning forward in a movement that played a new harmony to the throbbing chorus of beat surrounding them. Her body sagged over their arms. They moved in a dance, ever encircled.
Her eyelashes flickered. Her fingers twitched. Her long legs straightened. One hand struggled to her belly and pulled the bandages free.
In a single downwards sweep, the three set her on her feet again and she began to dance a melody that wept like a tragedy recounted for the first time, through a forest where dappled light had begun again to appear, and all the while, the drums beat on.