One day there was a young woman with magic in her fingers and she looked to the Forest with sparks in her hair. She lived in the edges of the Forest and in the evenings she would sneak into it and find whatever truths were hidden inside. She knew the Forest like a mother, and was familiar with it like a homeland. The Forest was out of bounds to the people. But that didn't stop her from sneaking into it. It didn't stop her from filling her bags with herbs.
She had powers that the villagers depended upon. The way she knew how to find good, clean water in the Forest springs. The way she knew what plants healed what what illnesses. The way she could make people feel better with just words alone. Everywhere she went she brought protection and healing.
But it wasn't enough. Not nearly enough. For life in the village was hard. It was cruel. The villagers had each other. Always, always, always they had each other. But they had to scrape by with the barest of minimums while the kings and queens in their towers and palaces feasted on excess.
But the village had the sun. It had the rain. It had the ground and the air and magic. And magic allowed the people to hold on hope and survive through the grating storms.
The kings and queens and knights and nobles feared magic. They hated it. They hated it because it was a threat to their power. It was something that was not theirs. Something that would never be theirs. It was something that they couldn't hold and tame and use. And so they tried to root it out. Get rid of it.
First they came for all the spouses of the Forest. These people they rounded up and killed. They taught their knights to find the signs of a Forestspouse. And how to dispatch them with fire and water and steel. They taught their children to hate them and to keep that hatred alive in their hearts.
It did not work. For the Forest always called its children to it. And even if Forestspouses were killed, new ones would always emerge. It was not a position that was passed down with birth like nobility was. It was not something learned like swordsmanship was. The yearning to go to the Forest and learn from it was inherent in all people. For all people were children of the Forest. And each year someone would be brave enough to act upon that yearning.
So then the kings and queens went after the Forest itself. They built tall fences around it and sent their knights to patrol it, killing anyone who they found within its arms. They told their preachers to preach about the evils and the dangers that lurked within. And they taught their children never to go into the Forest alone.
But the people of the lands didn't listen to the preachers. They merely pretended to. The Forestspouses always found ways over or under or around or through the fences, and they were adept at stepping quietly and remaining hidden.
Now we go back to the young Forestwife from the beginning. Her teacher, a one-armed older woman, had been killed by the nobles for possessing magic. And the young woman, then just a girl, had to take up her mantle while having to train herself. But she did.
And she always carried a hatred of the kings and queens within herself, and a grief, and a solemnness. She knew she must be careful. She knew she must hide her gift from anyone with power.
It might be worth noting that the young Forestwife was very beautiful, with dark curling hair and wide eyes as dark as the night. She had a handsome curved jawline and a straight, pale nose.
It was this beauty that led her towards trouble.
One day the prince came to visit the village. And the villagers threw a feast to welcome him. They had to. The prince was a smug little thing with an upwards pointing nose and cold, dead eyes and gold in his hair. The Forestwife hated him. But she had to serve him.
The prince saw her darkness and her beauty and he wanted her for himself. He did not decide to take her as a wife, for he already had a wife and he did not want to exalt a woman of such low birth. But he decided for himself that he should take her as a mistress.
He offered the Forestwife a position as a servant in the castle, far away from the Forest and all its power. The young woman was heartbroken but she knew she had to accept. She knew she didn't really have a choice against his power.
And so she bade farewell to the village that had raised her since she was a child, to all the people who she loved and who loved her. All the people who she had grown up with. All the people who she would miss more than life itself. And with tears in her eyes she walked to the castle where she would bow and stoop to the royals and be dragged along to the prince's chambers when his princess was not looking.
And so she lived her life, sweeping floors and fetching and carrying and letting herself get torn into by the man with gold in his hair. She knew she had to hide her powers. Or else she would be as dead as her mentor. And she knew she had to play the role of the meek, submissive servant. Or else her people would play th price.
At night she prayed to the Forest for deliverance, or guidance, or something. And in the quiet of the night the Forest answered her. It answered her as silently as she prayed. For it could not go through the walls and excesses of the castle without becoming mute and silenced. But even in the silence there is knowledge. Even in the silence the young woman found knowledge.
The Forest told the young woman to wait. Told her to keep getting closer to the prince. To keep biding her time. And to pretend that she cared about him and was a happy mistress.
And so she did. She smiled when he sank into her. She smiled when their fingers brushed together. She smiled when she bowed to him. She offered him prayers directed towards his gods and she offered him bright flowers pulled from the weeds of the castle grounds.
She accompanied him when he went out throughout the kingdom squashing any hints of rebellion. She accompanied him when he went throughout the kingdom soaking in the false praise the people were forced to tribute to him. She accompanied him when they went to other kingdoms to meet with foreign kings and negotiate alliances and treaties.
She hated these trips. But she knew that the prince relished in them. Relished in the time spent together without the princess anywhere in the vicinity. He was especially smug and condescending during these trips. But she bore it. She knew that this was a way out.
Eventually the prince trusted her enough to take her into the Forest for a hunting trip. The royals always hunted wastefully. Killing more creatures than they ever needed to eat and only taking part of the meat, not using every part of the animal. But still. This was a chance to enter the Forest.
Inside the Forest her spirits sang. But she had to keep the brightness out of her eyes and the glee out of her smile. But still, she soaked in the Forest's presence and let it heal her. The prince was off somewhere hunting, and so were the rest of his knights, and she had a moment to herself. She let her feet carry her wherever.
And the Forest silently tugged and pulled her to a patch of wolfsbane. She smiled. She asked the Forest if she was meant to poison the prince. Not yet, the Forest told her, the time for his reckoning will come.
She took the wolfsbane and told the cooks to put it in a stew for the king. They were hesitant at first. They asked the woman why they should risk all of their lives for petty revenge. But it was then that the woman revealed to them that she was a Forestwife, and the Forest had guided her hand towards this. They trusted her, then, and set about preparing the meal for the king.
When the king died, the royals were in an uproar. The prince was crowned the new king and he swore that he would find out who had killed his father, even if he had to search the whole lands and kill the whole entire kingdom to do so.
The Forestwife took her chance. She went to the prince and told him that she had heard the palace guards talking amongst themselves. She told them that she had heard that one of them wanted to go into the late king's quarter while he slept. She said that she had been foolish and thought nothing of it at the time but this was suspicious behaviour.
The new king chided the girl harshly for not telling him this news before. He ranted about how foolish the commoners were. He cut the woman's food rations in half. But he believed her.
In one week all the palace guards were dead.
The Forestwife won back the favour of the king with her meekness and her submission and her sweet lips and dark eyes. She used sigils and spells to make herself even more beautiful. And she always sang him the sweetest praise. She took his side in every argument and dispute he ever got into. She did her work perfectly and dutifully. And she lovingly, lovingly, lovingly took him into her whenever he lead her away to a quiet corner.
And so the king had been king for one year. And the woman had been praying to the Forest for guidance that whole year.
There came a time when the king suggested that the two of them go to the village that the woman came from. She acted beyond delighted and grateful. And she was. To see her people again. But she also saw this as a chance.
She stole some paper from the king's study and etched out detailed runes. She summoned a raven to send them to the new Forestspouse of her old village, a teen who was sometimes a girl, sometimes not either, who she had been able to occasionally write to when she could steal paper and hide. In the runes she lay down a detailed plan. A plan that would free her kingdom once and for all.
A dragon hoarding riches untold. The king was greedy, and would easily be persuaded to kill it to steal its treasure. The king was prideful and would definitely want to brag of having killed a dragon. The villagers were to pretend that they had seen a dragon flying into the forest, claws clasped with gold. They were to go to the king on their knees, tears in their eyes, pleading for him to deliver them from it. And the king would take a good portion of his knights, the woman, and go into the Forest in search of the beast.
The problem that remained was the queen and the rest of the knights. It was no simple thing to poison so many people. Not when it was impossible to get them all seated in one place. But she knew that the queen envied the way the king looked at her. She knew the queen suspected what the king did with her.
And so the woman started a rumour. A rumour that the king made love to her when they went off on journeys alone. This rumour was true. And that's what made it believable. And that's what made the queen demand to be taken along when the king went to the village.
So they went on the journey. The king, the queen. A few knights. A few servants. Including the woman. Everything went according to plan. There was a great feast, after that the villagers begged the king to save them from the powerful, gold-hoarding dragon. So the king called for a third of the kingdom's knights and planned to go into the Forest to find and slay this great beast. The woman remarked to him, just a little too loudly, when the queen was just a little too close, that she couldn't wait to go to the Forest with him. And so the queen demanded to be brought along as well. And so the king brought along another third of the knights to protect her. And they all made the journey into the greenwood.
When they came to the vast caverns that the dragon was told to be in, the woman followed them inside, claiming that if the king died she would rather die alongside him. But as they descended down and down, she pretended to have gotten scared and turned back, letting the knights comment on the cowardice of commoners and women. Once outside the cave she told the queen and the other knights that the dragon was defeated and the treasures were unbelievable. She said that the king desired the queen to come look at them. And so they descended down into the cave.
The Forestwife didn't follow them in, saying the king wanted to talk to the queen without her presence. And then she was alone standing outside the mouth of the cavern.
She felt the Forest flowing through her and giving her its power and energy. She breathed in. Then she breathed out. And she spoke a spell that sent the rock ceiling of the cave tumbling down, trapping all the royals and knights within its maw.
She knew that it would be a horrible death. But it was no more horrible than the deaths they had damned her mentor and so many other people to.
She drank from the spring water and felt it bless her with new life that she carried inside her.
She walked back to the castle and told everyone the truth. Well, the partial truth. That everyone had died within the cave and that she could say no more. The kingdom grieved. They quarrelled amongst themselves as to what to do now that there was no king.
But the woman said that she carried the only child of the dead king within her. And it was a lie. She carried a child of herself and the Forest. She carried a child of the common people and of the magic that protected them. But it was a good lie. One that they believed. Many people had seen the way the king looked at her and had had their suspicions.
And so the child grew up in the castle. With the regent king and the other nobles. But the child's mother told them where they really came from. And they listened to her.
When they were of age to take the throne, they abolished the monarchy and stepped down to let the people lead. It was the first free land that the continent had known. And it inspired all the lands surrounding it to rebel and free themselves of their rulers.
The young woman was an old woman now. And she smiled.
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