Tuesday, 2 August 2016
Three times to the garden of eve
Know this: All forests are one and there are still the same spirits that haunt and protect them as they have done for centuries and will continue long past when you are dust. This is a tale of the great forest and of the spirits that dwell there.
There was once a young man called Richard Wroe. He was brought up the son of a forester. Richard was a carefree, gentle and noble man (even though he was, in truth, neither of these by title). Pure of spirit and strong of mind, he was also brave and true.
Richard would walk with his father; tend to the deer, pheasants and rabbits with his father and fish the lake that lie near the centre of the forest. He would set traps for the crafty fox, keep an eye out for even craftier poachers and hunt for wolf, bear and boar. He would pluck the pheasants and prepare the vegetables ready for supper. And then in the evening he would explore the forest on his own, always with quill and paper; for this was where he was different from his father.
His father was a practical man, born and bred to the forest. He had no need for anything save his hands, his senses and his wit. He knew the forest and it knew him and having lived there all his life he saw no reason to write anything down. For him memory sufficed, not that anyone would have cause to read it anyway. Richard, however, possessed a quality that his father never had, and would have no use for. Imagination was the reason that prompted the walks into the forest, for there he would sit for hours on end, crafting such tales as the “Boar Who Fell In Love With Its Shadow” in which the lovelorn boar fell so deeply for his own shadow that he painfully chewed it off, so it would become a mate for his life.
One day Richard found himself in a stretch of the forest that he did not recognise. He was sure that he knew every inch almost as well as his father did. Indeed he had been on many a walk exploring the boundaries, and right into the deepest, darkest heart, but this part was not familiar to him.
There were the same trees and fauna to be sure, but everything seemed somehow different. There were shadows now where there had been none before and there was an eerie buzzing that became louder the deeper into the wood he walked. He placed his ear to the bark of a rather statuesque oak and to his surprise the buzzing was intense and seemed to emanate from within. He placed his hand on the tree to steady himself and the buzzing stopped. When he took his hand away again the buzzing returned. It was then that he realised that the buzzing came from all around him –all the trees and bushes, each plant possessed the same quality. But what was it?
“That is the sound of the forest. It’s breathing… its heartbeat.” Richard whirled round to address the voice that so suddenly startled him. To this surprise the face that greeted his gaze did not match the grizzled voice that shocked him. Judging by the voice Richard had imagined the person to be a woman, very aged in years and bent in stature; haggard and worn like a gnarled branch. But when he turned round he was faced with a vision of such haunted beauty that he felt a shiver traverse the very length of his spine and back.
“Why does it stop so when I touch it?” He asked, hesitating. Was this all just a dream?
“How would you like to be prodded and poked?” The woman asked and with that she jabbed Richard in the shoulder hard; she was real enough.
“Ow! Not much at all, I don’t think!” Richard exclaimed.
“Know you then how it feels. Now tell me, young Sir, what are you doing so far out of your way? What are you doing in the Garden?”
“Garden? What Garden?” Asked Richard.
“Garden… of course it’s a garden!” The woman chastised. “Know you not a garden when you see one?” This attitude did not suit the vision that befell Richard, and he had a hard time from restraining himself. He knew nothing of her and did not want to incur her displeasure by losing his temper. She might be one of the Faey Folk and turn him into a toadstool or something worse.
“I thought I was in the forest still.” He replied, being very careful and measured in his response. “Well, what I mean is… one minute I was in the forest…”
“Forest.. Garden; makes no matter of mind. They are one of the same.”
“Pardon me, then m’lady.” Richard asked hesitantly, “But who are you that are so wise and beautiful?” The lady paused and stared at Richard for what seemed like an age, and he felt as if she was reading into his very soul.
“I have had many names.” She replied. “But you may call me Helene of the Green. It will do for now. And to anticipate your next question, you are in the very heart of the forest, Sir Richard!” She smiled and curtsied. Richard was bemused and somewhat taken back by this.
“But my father and I have explored this forest, every inch and I have certainly never spied this place before!”
“That is not surprising, Sir.” She replied, with a wry smile on her lips. “Few can ever find this place. Indeed not many people even know of its existance; and those that do very rarely find their way back to the mortal realms again.”
Richard knew to be very wary now but needed to know more. “But where is here?” He asked. “You said this place was a garden, then a forest and now you say it is neither twixt nor twain. You have me at a severe disadvantage.”
“Again, I am not surprised. You men of mortal clay are so easy to be led astray.”
Richard was right to tread carefully; this was no ordinary lady, she could very easily be one of the woodland nymphs; or a sprite. This made him very afraid and more than ever he wanted to be home in the warm with his father.
“You are in the centre of the forest; indeed, in the heart of all the forests that have ever been and will ever be! This is the Garden of Eve.” Richard suddenly understood how much danger he was in and what would happen to him if he couldn’t go home.
“Can you help me then, dear Helene.” He asked, trying not to convey the very urgency and fear that he held in every pore. “I want very much to go home. My father is waiting for me and will be most angry with me if I fail to return.”
“Your father will forsake you in turn, and will forget you soon enough.” She replied. “Come, stay with me; eat with me; drink and make love with me and we will be immortal together.”
Richard knew that he had to escape, at all costs he must not accept, let alone eat or drink anything that was offered to him else he stay there forever.
“I’m afraid that I must decline, m’lady. You are too kind and I am much too humble to accept such generous offers. But by truth, I have only just eaten and am not yet thirsty.”
“Then stay and we shall make love long into the night. Rest your troubles between my thighs and I will warm your heart between my breasts.” Helenes voice became vibrant and smoky, seductively hypnotic and Richard found it almost impossible to look away. But look away he did for it was his very soul that was at stake, yet it broke his heart to do so.
“I’m afraid that I must again refuse you. You are truly beautiful and as fair as the morning dew, but my father would indeed forsake me if he knew I had made love before my time.”
“Then do not tell your father, dear Richard.”
“But that would mean lying to him, and I could never do that. That would mean incurring the wrath of God, not to mention the back of fathers hand. I am a fearing Christian, but fear the stinging of his hand more. So please, I must ask you a third time, show me the way home.” Richard pleaded, hoping that his gamble had paid off.
“Very well. If I can not entice you with my pleasures then, of course, home you shall go. But we will meet again, mark me, we shall. Simply follow the path out of the clearing and you will find yourself by your fathers hut.” Richard found it hard not to be relieved.
“Thank you, m’lady. You have done me a great service, and you must forgive me for rejecting you three times. I am not worthy of your charms and beauty. I must simply be getting home.” With that, Richard slowly turned and followed the path out of the clearing. Sure enough he found himself in the wood outside his fathers hut and as he left the woods he heard Helene’s whispered words: “We shall meet again; mark me, we shall meet again.”
Time happened, as it does, and Richard found himself older, wiser and with wife, Mary. Mary was as sweet as the mornings due, with hair as golden as buttercups in the summers sun. Richard loved her as much as the Earth, heaven and stars love the sky. But he never once told her of the walk through the Garden of Eve, nor of Helene though he thought of it every day.
More time passed, and if such a thing were possible outside of stories and sonnets Richard became happier and happier with each day that went by, and he loved Mary more with each minute that tick-tocked by. They loved spending time together and especially enjoyed walking through the woods, hand in hand.
Richard had since moved away from his Father years since but he was still very much a forester. He was also a farmer and grew the crops that helped feed the village and make the local bread. But no matter how busy his day, he always made time to walk in the woods with Mary. The woods were smaller than those of his childhood to be sure, but they were still large enough for the pair of them.
One fine day in the middle of June, Richard found himself in a plaintive mood and he told Mary of the woods he had known as a boy.
“Of course, all woods were originally one, you know.” He said, waxing as lyrical as he could muster. He knew that Mary loved his tall stories. “Oh yes, when the world was very young there was only one forest. It was a great expanse of bracken and trees that stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. But it wasn’t known either as a wood or a forest, it was called The Garden Of Eve!”
“The Garden of Eve?” Mary chided, digging Richard in the ribs with her elbow, smiling all the while. “Don’t you mean the Garden of Ed...” Mary’s voice was suddenly cut cold, indeed her whole body became frozen like an ice sculpture. Richard looked around and saw that nothing was moving, the whole of time around him had been locked in place. He knew instantly what was happening. The voice that suddenly came from behind him further strengthening the fear that was welling up.
“Told you we’d meet again, did I not Sir Richard? What say you now?” It was indeed Helene, looking more beautiful, more radiant than ever. This time he had not only his life to think about but also Marys as well.
“Well met, sweet Helene. Time it seems has been far kinder to you than it has to me.” He bowed, mustering up as much gallantry as he could manage. “You seem not to have aged at all since we last met and that was at least ten years ago!”
“Pah.” She chided. “Time! You of mortal clay are a funny sort. What need I of time? You think that we age the same as you?”
“Why then have you bought me here again, Lady Helene? It has been ten years since we last met, what could I possibye do for you now?” Richard was anxious to be away and in Mary’s arms, for as each minute passed he was finding himself falling deeper in love with Helene, as he had before.
That he was no longer in love with Mary was not in doubt, for his sun rose and set with her. What was hanging in the balance was what would become of him if he did fall in love with Helene. Would he be her slave for all eternity? Possibly, but then there were worse fates for him. His father had often told him that mortals and Faey folk were ne’er to match.
Helene answered as if the question was one that needn’t have been asked, and Richard knew what the answer was however much he hoped it would be different. “Why, I have bought you here so I can put to you the same question I asked ten years back. Will you stay with me? Stay with me, Richard. We can be so happy – I can make you happy. Eat with me... drink with me.. Make love to me. We can be together for all eternity.” It sounded to Richard as if she was pleading now for him to stay, but he couldn’t. He loved Mary far too much.
“I am afraid that I must decline once again. Your offer is far too generous, and you are still very beautiful for such a humble man, such as myself. But refuse you, I must, but with good reason. This vision standing beside me? She is my one true love, my wife. I would not leave her alone in all the world.”
“But stay with me. We could be happy…” Helen protested. “We could be forever, and Mary would never even know you existed. I could make that happen… she would be happy and fall in love with someone else, whilst we would know eternity together.”
“It is not for my kind to love and live with you.” Richard replied. He now felt so much pity for Helene’s plight. “It is just not meant to be. I can not leave her… If I were to leave her, who would show her the way back? Who would look after her?”
“When she wakes up she will find herself back in her own home, in her own bed as if from a dream. She would not remember you. You would not even have existed for her.. So please, for the last time, Richard… Stay with me. It shall be as it was meant to.”
“I must apologise for the last time then. Had I not met Mary maybe things would have been different. But I love her and she truly loves me. Let us be together.” Richard prayed that this would be enough to make Helene understand.
“So be it; I can not stop you.” She said, and turned away from him. “Godspeed, Richard of the wood. Let you and your woman make your way out of my clearing. She does indeed love you, more than you truly know. I can feel it and it hurts me so. Go, so I can hurt no more. Turn and walk whence you came.”
Richard turned and led Mary out of the clearing, holding her by the hand. No sooner had he reached his mill then Mary stirred back to life.
“..den.. What’s wrong?” Mary asked, as if nothing had happened. “Why are you crying, Richard?”
A year passed further and it was now winter. The harshest for many years, perhaps the harshest of any year, but Richard’s heart was far colder. He was searching blindly in the snow and wind, for he knew now that he should never have left her that last time. Desperation clutched at his heart and he realised that his quest was in vain. He had travelled far, risked so much only to fail.
“Helene!” He shouted out, pain and rage augmenting the despair in his voice.
“Helene!” The forest echoed back as if in mockery of the futility of his search.
“Have you forsaken me now? I have returned to you. I need you.” He cried.
“You were not there when I needed you.” The voice from behind startled him. When he turned round he realised he was back in the clearing again though it was still snowing. He found himself looking into the eyes of an aged stranger; haggard and worn with eyes weak and squinting.
“no...” Richard whispered. He had come so far; what had happened? “I have come to be with you. To eat and drink and make love to you. We can be together, like you said.”
“It is too late for me; too late for you. You still have Mary, she loves you so… I told you, go with her, be and make love to her.”
Richard could not contain his grief any more. He collapsed to his knees, buried his head in his hands and wept.
“My wife? Oh, Mary! Why?” He cried. “She died six months since, in childbirth. The boy was to be the first of three, and he survived… but only for a time. Now I have nothing. With Mary gone I had not the heart for anything. My crops have all failed and my mill fallen into disrepair and ruin.”
Helene said nothing for Richard was overcome by the deepest sorrow and guilt. “When I was with you,” he continued, “I loved you, wanted you… but was afraid of what I would have lost had I gone with you. But I have nothing to lose now… Take me and I will be yours for all eternity.”
“I can no longer help you.” Helene replied, turning her back on Richard. “I can not even help myself. Go now, leave this place. Do not see me like this.”
“I can not leave.. I belong here, with you. You said so yourself.”
“That was a long time ago…” Helene replied, her voice weak.
“That was but a year ago..”
“How can you say it was but a year ago? You have never understood our reckoning of time, my forgotten love… A year for you has passed but for me it has been like an eternity. Since you last left me I have aged. You were to join with me, for I had chosen you, and we would have lived as one for all eternity. But you refused and now I shall die. I have not the energy to join with you now even if I wanted to.”
“Then take my energy.” Richard pleaded. “It is freely given, I want to be with you, to join with you… To be one with you for all eternity as it has always been and will always be!”
“You are telling the truth.” Helene turned to him. “You would still join with me though I am not as I was?” Tears were welling in her eyes, matching those that mirrored Richards.
“I still see you as the haunting and beautiful vision that bewitched me as a child all those years ago.” And in front of his very eyes Helene’s outline shivered and she changed from the withered crone to that very goddess Richard saw when he was a boy. “To me you have not changed.”
“Then take my hand, Richard of the Wood, and we shall be together. We shall join as it was meant to be.”
There are those that say that all forests were once one; that all woodland were once part of something much bigger; that there is a place in every wood that belonged to that first Garden. But those trees are almost indistinguishable from any others.
However there is one tree that stands as proud and true as could possibly be, and if you look closely enough it would seem that it was shaped like two lovers in a passionate embrace for all eternity.
But that is impossible…. It’s just a tree after all, isn’t it?