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by David Payne

Painting: Suzy Cosby

It was a time when the forests were thick and the canopies of the trees let in no light. The dwellers there were unknown to what lay beyond the rims of wood and it is not certain whether anything did dwell in the light for all stories come from the forest. There is a tale however, that I was told, which contradicts this. An old man spoke of when he was young, and so softly that I listened: The young man was gathering mushrooms when he saw for the first time the light of the sun through a hole in the woods where a tree had fallen. Immediately he fell into reverie and entranced he walked to reach the warmth of the rays. He walked and walked the halls of moss while the sunlight dimmed, he hastened to reach it but before he could traverse the tangle of brier and thorns to the golden meadow, the sun moved and the darkness re-emerged. The young man was then lost and fell in despair for what he had not attained. Moments later he stood and looked about himself. He did not recognise the area he was in. When men are boys, they are taught about survival in the forest and they are told to remain still when they find themselves lost. This for the very good reason that when you realise you are lost you are guided by a part of the mind that wasn't used when you memorised the forest - and at this time you do not know the way and you are truly lost. The young man then remained seated for a while but the longing for the sun remained and grew until he stood and fled.

His passion remained and he did in fact reach the clearing. The clean flesh of the sun burned on his face and euphorically he examined his knew environment with fervor and love. After weeks of exploring and becoming friends with the slopes of green hills, the resplendent streams and clusters of flowers, he felt very acquainted and perhaps a little disappointed with the outcome of his venture - for the tales about the outside were far more surreal than what he found. But his fervor persisted, as this realm was quite strange and he hungered to return to his friends and tell them what he had found. On the way back to the rim of wood, he pressed along a crevice of boulders along a spring. He wanted to drink and bathe in the water but its abyss lay quite far down and certainly he would have perished in trying. So along went without hesitance, over bounds of rock and fallen trees where the sunlight fell broad and full.

Quite a while after he gave up on thought and reverie he met a strange voice coming from behind the rock. It called to him and its softness and beauty led him to a young maiden bathing in a pool formed by a gap in the crevice of rock. Though she was very virtuous in beauty, the young man was used to the form of a woman as there were numerous in the forest, and besides her tawny skin - she looked as them. What more he wanted was the freshness of the water on his lips and body. He charmed the woman and teased her while she responded with the wide eyes of pleasure. She then consented to let him join her in the spring but it was obvious that the two could not fit. He asked her to wait on the grass while he quickly bathed and drunk but she explained that the sun had already set and it was much too cold to come from the crevice. He insisted that it was much colder in the water than in the shade but she assured him that it was a hot spring she was bathing in. He had never hitherto dreamed of a pool of hot water but immediately he became intrigued and immersed in the idea. He longed to submerse himself in her spring and thus he implored. As he spoke she took delight in flirting with him and offering her hand - but all the while she took the most joy from the warm splash of water against her breast. He became envious of her delight and jouissance and he caressed her hand to have the root of her pleasure be him. She charmingly mentioned that she would vacate her spring if he could provide her with as much warmth as the water did.

He explained that he was a man of the forest and his people keep great fires blazing and the great heat that radiates is held in the forest by the strong canopy of trees. He boasted that the warmth of these fires was infinitely bolder than that which the spring could provide. She took to the passion of his words and consented to be led to these great fires if he takes her by the waist and makes haste into the wood. He swiftly pulled her up and cradled her soft wet body in his arms until she squirmed and ran behind the brier to change. While she was calling to him to lead her in the forest, however, he was preoccupied with disrobing - for he was going to immerse himself in the hot water. Such anticipated joy flooded his trembling body as he took of the last of his clothes. Before he placed his first foot in the spring he looked back and saw her gazing to him with disenchanted eyes. He called to her and explained that she would know the warmth of fire, but first, he had to know the warmth of water. She did not reply and so he ran to her and caressed her face and asked her to allow him. He pressed his chin to the heat of her damp hair and turning, she replied and allowed. Traversing the boulders, he returned to the edge of the crevice; the water level was low and far down between the sides of the rock. He braced himself against the sides and attempted to enter the water. It was hopeless, he underestimated the smallness of the maiden's body; he was far too broad to even come close to the surface of the water.

He could feel the warm steam rising from it but it wasn't enough to cure his longing. He looked to her with despair but his questioning and sad eyes were not consoled - she shrugged and turned away. He again attempted to enter the water but soon the light faded and night fell on the rolling hills and stars glistened above the meadow. He gave up and solemnly returned to escort her through the forest. She did not look to him until he took her hand and caressed her shivering body. Together they reached the edge of the wood and she trembled with fear. He placated her with an embrace and led her deeply inward where all light was devoured by the thick billows of trees. She clutched his hand deeply, he was not of the mind to be lost anymore. He was calm. The scents of cedar came with the wind from the north; they walked on to his lead. The poor girl was barely able to speak after the first hour of travelling. She had not expected to go farther from her home than the spring. She had dressed meekly and inadequately and when the forest brought forth the dampness of night, she knew she could not continue.

But on they went and she trusted in him. He trusted his intuition; he was strong and alert. And he felt good with her beside him. Hours passed and the night grew tired, frost crackled underfoot but all was not lost - the young man smelled the faint smoke of a cedar fire. He thought of his friends and the revelry that would commence upon his returning. The smell brought forth pleasant feelings and the fire was only moments away. Had the woman been able to keep up with him, she would have discovered the great beauty and warmth of fire.

He let go her hand and began to run. He galloped over the moss and ivy, over broken limbs and frost covered mud sloughs. She was a great distance back when he reached the fireside. He greeted his friends and drank from the warm cups that awaited him. Together they danced around the resplendent fire - hotter than the flesh of the sun. He did not speak of his discovery, of the outside - the sun, the rolling hills and flowers. He did not speak about the girl. Let her have her spring, her warm water, a bath in the sun. I have the warmth of fire, the spirits of the trees, the darkness of the forest where her body died freezing.

© David Payne 2000

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