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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

up a tree

Up a Tree

by Janrae Frank

How do you describe a forest? Green, towering trees, and loveliness? Let me describe for you a forest as I have known it. A forest forlorn and without hope, and yet it drew me irresistibly into its bosom, and embraced me in a way both carnal and arcane, marking my life forever.

My father was King Carles of Gormond's Reach – my brother William rules now – but that's another tale. At the time of my story, I was sixteen. Ah, what that was like! There was a wildness in my soul that could not be quenched. My father wished to make a proper match for me, a king, a prince, or a duke. But I would have none of them. King Vansolo of Minnoras was too hairy. Prince Marcellus of Shaurone was too slight of build. Duke Lachlan laughed like an old woman. Freeholder Euen of Darr was too rough mannered. I found fault with them all. So my father sent me off to his least favorite hunting lodge to meditate upon my choices. And that is where it all begins.

I leaned out the deep-set window ledge of my room and stared at the forest. On the west side of the stream, the forest was green and what you would normally expect it to be; on the east side of the stream, it was dark, always dark – from as far back as I could remember. Even the leaves were black despite the thickness of the foliage. It was not dead, yet it did not live. Yes, I know that is a contradiction – I know no other way to describe it.

My father sent me here whenever he was unhappy with me. That forest had always both frightened and attracted me in manner which grew into an obsession as I matured. I often fancied that there was something out there looking back at me.

"You can't spend all day staring out the window," said Mina, my ladies' maid.

I turned and gave her a nasty smile. "I can do anything I wish." On impulse, I rephrased it. "I can do anything I damn well please."

Mina's sky-blue eyes blinked in startlement and then she snapped back at me. "That's not ladylike. That's not ladylike at all."

"Oh, don't be so prim! I'm stifling in here. I want to go outside."

I roved the room, running my fingers along the furniture.

"We're not supposed to go out. You're supposed to be thinking."

"I'll think better outside, Mina."

I didn't dislike Mina exactly, but I disliked my father's reason for sending for her. She was my cousin, my father's sister's daughter. He had asked her to set me an example for good behavior since none of the governesses he had provided had been able to handle me. Mina was considered one of the true beauties of the court with her pale translucent skin and creamy hair, delicate features and slender frame. They called me handsome because I was everything that Mina wasn't. I had my father's strong features and heavy bones, his cinnamon hair and dark skin. The only feature I got from my late mother was her eyes like large turquoise stones well polished.

Mina crossed her arms. "Well I don't wish to go out."

"Then you're my jailor and I'll treat you as such!" I flounced to a sofa and threw myself down on it with my head turned away from her. "If I go mad from boredom, what are you going to tell my father?"

"You're just being childish," Mina said, following me to the couch.

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are, Marian."

"I'm suffocating!" I fled to the window again to stare at the darkened forest. Did I see movement beneath those black trees? What could possibly be out there? I felt this overpowering urge to ride there and see for myself. The wind shifted as I stood there and a breeze wafted from that forest to my window with a scent that made my body shiver. It was intensely sweet, and yet, odd. Like the sweetness of a lotus wrapped around a freshly opened orange on a tabletop spread with rose petals. Call me mad, if you will – they all do – but that was how it smelled.

And then I heard the voice. At first I thought I was hearing it with my ears, and then I realized that I wasn't. It was inside my head somehow. "Come to me, Marian. Come to my arms and know joy. Your true one awaits."

I trembled violently and felt chill, although the day was warm. "I want to go outside."

"We could walk in the courtyard," Mina suggested.

"No, I want to go outside. I want to go riding."

"Your father says you are to stay within the lodge until you come to a decision.

We argued, but in the end Mina won and I lost.

That night I lay tossing and turning on my bed, consumed with the need to see what lay beneath those forest eves. The night was cool, but I was hot, feverish with a desperate longing. I dreamed of a man waiting at the edge of the forest for me. He was more handsome that I ever believed a man could be. He had black hair that hung past his waist and an arrogant, wild glance that spitted me to the core. His shoulders were broad, his waist narrow, and his hips perfection atop his shapely legs.

"Come to me, Marian. Come to me, my one true love. You want no other. You know it. You have always known it."

I woke from my dream disturbed, my loins wet. I went to the window and peered out at the forest. There he was, limned in the silvery light of the full moon, motioning for me. Reason left me. I could think of nothing, save that I must go to him.

"Come quickly," came his voice in my head.

I did not bother to dress, simply wrapping my robe around me and stole from my suite. It was a snap to elude the guards on watch, I had done it often enough as a child, and went down into the courtyard. The gardens were in two sections and I slipped through a rose bower. Along the wall was the secret gate that my brother and I had found years ago. Ivy had grown over it, but I ran my fingers along until I found the tiny crack that held the locking mechanism. I thrust my finger through and the gate creaked softly open. To my dismay, the gate caught and would not open completely. It must have gone without care for much too long. I sucked in my tummy, and pressed my breasts down with my hands as I squeezed through, scrapping my arms on the stones. My nightgown and dressing robe snagged, I pulled and they tore free. I wondered briefly how I would explain this to Mina.

Then I heard him calling again, and I forgot about Mina.

I ran to the place where scattered stones made a slippery path across the stream. The moonlight made the wet surface of the rocks gleam brightly. I skipped across them, thinking only of my lover to be, and reached the other side. He stood there, beckoning to me with outstretched arms, my dream made flesh.

My heart seemed to catch in my chest as I approached him at last. I stood before him, waiting for him to take me in his arms, to tell me his name�. And then he smiled�. And I saw his fangs.

"Oh, gods, no!" I screamed, snapping out of his spell at last. Mina had been right; I should never have left the lodge.

He grabbed me by my arm and ripped my gown open. I twisted, and kicked him between the legs. He howled in pain, and his hold loosened. I jerked away from him, and in confusion, fled into the forest.

Vampire, demon, or monstrous sa'necari necromancer, I knew not what, except that I had to escape. Yet instead of running back to the lodge, I thought only of hiding in the forest. I now realize how foolish that was. I could not escape him. I held my hems high to free my legs and ran for all that I was worth.

He caught me. His powerful hand closed on the back of my robe and ripped both it and the nightgown beneath it away. I screamed and flailed at him to no avail. He struck me on the back and sent me sprawling on my face. It hurt and I whimpered as I gained my hands and knees, trying to crawl away from him.

And that was when I saw the tree.

It was a tremendous tree sitting alone in the center of a tiny glade. And, wonder of wonders, it was green with a mahogany sheen to the bark. It seemed to glow in its own light and it beckoned to me, promising safety. I scanned the branches as I kicked again at my attacker. None of them appeared to be low enough for me to climb onto, and yet I felt compelled to go to it. I gathered myself and lunged away into the clearing.

"Come back to me," my false lover called.

But this time his spell could not ensnare me. I fled to the tree and wrapped my arms around it. Don't ask me how, I can't explain it. I still wonder, at times, if I imagined it, and yet, I couldn't have. But the branches dipped down and lifted me up, higher and higher until I was well out of my attacker's reach.

I could hear him raging beneath the tree, shaking his fists in impotent fury.

Then another voice spoke to me.

The tree spoke.

"Give me all that I wish of you and I will force him away. I will purify the forest, for I am divine."

I looked down at that ugly death-eater and pressed tighter to the tree. It seemed a simple decision. I could either be raped and probably killed by the fanged creature below or I could be molested by a tree. Either way, it was very clear that I was losing my maidenhead that night. I wondered what my father would say. Mina would be very unhappy with me. I heaved a great sigh. At least, I would not have to worry about suitors any longer: they all wanted a virgin.

"I'm yours," I told the tree.

Twigs like gentle fingers removed the remnants of my clothing, and to my amusement, dropped them on fangface. He called out curses and imprecations, but the tree ignored him. A soothing languor spread over me as the tree's fingers stroked my body. I arched back and rubbed against his bark, which smoothed to silk as I touched it. He – somehow I could not think of the tree in such an impersonal pronoun as it – pinched my nipples and kneaded my breasts. It had never felt this good when I did it for myself. My nipples became hard and erect. He tormented them into ecstasy.

I moaned in pleasure, and pressed my pelvis to his trunk. He cupped my buttocks with his many hands to support me, and a single finger probed the intimate door in my ass. An unimaginable thrill went through me as he worked deeper into my body. Suddenly I trusted him and no longer clutched in panic at the branches. Instead I slid my hands along his trunk and felt what? Sleek skin and powerful muscles and an intense aura of overpowering masculinity.

Fingers ran along my inner thighs and I quivered with anticipation. He seemed to have an infinite number of hands and long fingers, all bringing me to readiness to receive him in my most precious place. He pressed my clit and began working it until I wanted to scream and weep at the intensity of sensation that overloaded my awareness of self with lust. Then something long and thick and hard bumped the entrance to my womanhood, and I knew the moment had arrived.

He entered gently, tearing away my hymen in a thorough fashion. It hurt, but I wanted him inside me too much to mind the pain. His thrusts quickened, going satisfyingly deep and hard, touching all those seats of pleasure where I had dreamed of having a man. I sobbed when I came, and his seed spilled into me, filled me.

I rested for a time in his arms, and then we began again. In that way we whiled away the night.

At some point I fell asleep, and I awoke the next morning lying nude before the gates to the lodge. I felt something in my hand and spread my fingers. In it, hanging from a slender chain, lay the silver bear rune of Willodarus, God of the Woodlands and Wild Creatures.

Needless to say, the guards found me. I was bundled up and examined by the midwives. They Read me and saw that I was pregnant. I told them the story, but no one believed me.

The next day the black forest turned green.

I took a party of my guards into the forest. We found the clearing. My clothes lay were they had fallen. Yet, the tree was missing.

No one wanted me after that. The suitors disappeared. No one says it to my face, but I've heard the whispers of "Moonstruck Marion" spoken behind their hands.

My daughter is a striking child, if large for a girl, cinnamon-haired with sapphire eyes that seem to peer into your soul. I named her Nans. When she was a very solemn-eyed six-year-old, I gave my daughter the rune that her father had placed in my hand as I slept the morning that he left me at the gates to the lodge. I always believed that it was meant for her and not me.

They say that Nans is odd. She talks to the animals, and they obey her. She possesses incredible strength. She lifted a broken cart of stones off a man who had fallen beneath it – and she's only seven-years-old. If that does not mark her as a child of divinity, I do not know what would. I point this out to anyone who will listen, and while they humor me I can tell they don't believe me – and they call me mad when I try to describe what happened that night eight years ago.

about the author

Janrae Frank is the publisher, owner, and Lizard-in-Chief of Daverana Enterprises. She manages the business end of matters. Submissions should not be directed to her. Queries about PR materials and advertising should be directed to her.

Janrae started out in publishing thirty years ago with a sale to Amazons, the DAW anthology edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, which went on to win the 1980 World Fantasy Award for best anthology. She had a varied career ranging from journalism to editorial work, and has settled into her chosen profession as literary curmudgeon.

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