Crikey. I mean, I know that 'crikey' is a properly crap word and stuff, but if I wrote down what I was really thinking as I stepped out into the Woods for the first time I would have to swear. A lot. And you never know, maybe in years to come my witterings may be read by someone with delicate sensibilities and, well, I’ll shut up now…
For god's sake. So, yeah. Into the Woods. The very beautiful, non-scary, oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-I've waited-so-long-for-this, utterly amazing Woods. Full of flowers and trees and little glades and everything you could ever hope to see in a perfect imaginary woodland. I even spotted a tiny glittering stream off to one side.
Finn grinned at me - surprise was obviously etched in my face.
"Ohhhh! Oh my GOD Finn, it's amazing!" I was laughing out loud by this point. I could hear birds, the wind in the trees, all the 'normal' sounds you hear in woodland. The only different was a slight metallic tang to the air, or maybe that was my imagination.
Finn took my hand and led me through the trees to a place where the undergrowth thinned out and the sun broke through onto the grass. To one side was a grassy bank, which we sat on. He smiled again.
"Comfy enough for you? This is where you'll land if you come through from the walnut tree." I did the gape-y fish face again. I'm so glamorous.
"It's safe Lil, honest."
He was laughing at me again now. I felt the indignation rise.
"Excuse ME, Mr Know-it-All, but this isn't normal life, you know! You seem to forget that not all of us live a parallel bloody universe of trees and caravans and weird portals and, and pixies for all I know!"
I practically spat that last bit out. Ok, so pixies is a daft idea, but then so is climbing walnut trees to access portals to different worlds. See, when I put it like that it's pretty bloody weird, isn't it???
Seriously tho, this place is a-maz-ing. I half expected to see Bambi skitter by, flashing love-me eyes as he went. There was certainly life in the place apart from Finn - I could see the entrances to a rabbit warren in the back of the bank that we were sitting on and something was rattling through the tree overhead - a squirrel, I guess.
What I wasn't expecting was for there to be other people there. For some reason I'd assumed that Finn lived entirely alone in the woods and that his spying on the 'real' world was the only human contact he had. I was wrong, though. As we sat in silence, me doing a slightly aggrieved face and Finn looking quietly amused, a woman walked through the opening in the trees and came towards us.
She gave me a friendly smile, not looking over surprised to see me there.
"You must be Lily, then. I’m Rebecca.We've been waiting for you."
Another statement. God, these people are sure of themselves. Then to Finn –
"Does she understand it now? Will she take Maggie's place?"
I had the distinct feeling that the second question held a double meaning and tried my best to ignore it. Instead I put on my 'pleased to meet you' face and held out my hand to shake hers.
"I haven't quite decided about taking my aunt's place as yet - I'm not entirely sure of the extent of Maggie's duties."
I flashed a glance at Finn as I said it, but he appeared unperturbed. Humph. It would be nicer if he'd look a bit worried, as if he thought I mightn't think him worthy or something. Or just a bit bloody grateful, dammit!
Rebecca looked unworried. “I’m sure you’ll settle in just fine.” Still smiling. “We’re an odd bunch sometimes, but we seem to work things out just fine between us.”
“Bunch? There’s more than the two of you, then?” And there was me thinking that Finn was grateful for my human company. Of course he’d have other people with him, girls probably, and I’d look like a right idiot. Just my luck. Find an abandoned gorgeous man in the middle of nowhere and he turns out to have a harem hidden behind the trees…
Yeah, I know – I’m being overdramatic again. It’s in my nature, I’m good at it.
Finn stood up and held out his hand to pull me up next to him. There was an embarrassing moment when I wasn’t sure whether to let go or not and sort of hung on by a finger until he moved and dropped the contact. Rebecca noticed, I’m sure of it. I don’t trust her, but I’m not sure why…
She smiled brightly. “I’ll be off and leave you to the introductions, Finn. I’m sure it will take you a while!” and with a light laugh she walked off in the direction of the caravan.
At least, I say ‘in the direction of the caravan’, but in all honesty I was completely bewildered by this point – I had absolutely no idea in which direction anything was. There was nothing familiar in this scenery, however beautiful it might be.
“Come on then, Lily-of-the-valley, let me show you your kingdom.” Finn’s eyes were twinkling now – he was evidently enjoying himself. Although I was finding him faintly irritating at times, I wasn’t scared – I still had that same feeling that I’d had when I first met him, that everything was somehow familiar.
And Maggie had been here, had lived here after a fashion – I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t intentionally set her own great-niece up as the heir to this place if it was awful. I do hope so, anyway…
We stepped down from the bank and onto a path that led through the trees. Although Finn was only walking slowly I still had to keep stopping to look at things – I was amazed by the place. On the surface it all looked fairly normal, so long as you ignored the little voice in your head that was telling you that barren, windswept trees didn’t usually stand next to those in full bloom.
By this time we had walked deep into the trees and I could no longer see the sunlit bank behind me. How far does this place actually go?! Ok, so time slips and holes in the fabric of the universe aren’t exactly the sort of thing that I’ve felt the need to learn, but even with that lack of knowledge I would have thought that a place this size had to exist somewhere? Something else to add to the list of Impossible Questions, I guess.
I could see what looked like a pile of rubble ahead of us, between a pair of fallen trees. As we got closer I could see that what had looked like a random heap of stones was actually a rough box shape, a bit like the built in barbeque that dad attempted in our garden a couple of years ago. Actually, this was tidier than dad’s version – he’s not know for his diy skills.
The stones made a sort of basin shape in the earth, with protective walls around and a slight overhang on top. There was water in the basin and it appeared to be bubbling up from somewhere – there must be an underground spring somewhere nearby.
“The witch-well.” Finn’s voice broke into my curious thoughts.
“We use it for all our water – well everyone else does, anyway. I used to come up here to wash, but then I found another spring nearer to the caravan. All the water here is from underground.”
Of course – saves having the man from the water company calling and wanting his bills paying…
“All mod cons, as my gran used to say.” I’d given up being surprised at anything by this point. I was pretty sure that the constant bewilderment would make a return soon enough; may as well give my frazzled mind a break for a while.
I had a thought. It happens occasionally.
“Why’s it called the witch-well?”
Finn plonked himself down by the side of the well and absentmindedly stroked its bricks.
“Well, it’s been called that for centuries – I certainly knew it as that when I was in the world. It was on the ‘real’ side at that point, it must have come over not long after me.”
Ok, so I’ve given up on surprised, but confused is making a re-entry…
“Anyway, like I said. When I was still in the normal world, it was in the woods, but it was the edge of the village then.”
He waved vaguely behind him. “You’ll find remains of house foundations in the undergrowth around here, there were a few small properties that just got abandoned over the years. The well was the main source of water for most people, but then the squire put a pump in the village square. Of course, it made sense for villagers to use that instead, and the well was used less and less.
“As I’ve told you before, the village had a woman to whom everyone naturally went with health problems. The village crone, if you like. She was welcomed when they were in need, but most often ignored when times were good. So she kept herself to herself – living close to the edge of the woods, taking her water from the well.
“All sorts of ridiculous stories built up around these women – we’ve talked about it already, I won’t bore you with it again. But on one occasion the rumours got out of hand and a woman was drowned in this well. They said she was a witch and a danger to the village.
“The irony was that she was the only one who’d got any real knowledge of natural medicine. People sickened and died for no apparent reason for a long time after she was killed – men, women and children alike.
“She was blamed for the deaths – they said she’d put a curse on the place. It never occurred to anyone that maybe she’d been the one helping them to stay alive…”
Finn’s voice trailed off, but his hand stayed on the stones.
“We look after it now, make sure it’s kept clean and put to its proper use. We’d certainly be stuck without it.” He smiled reassuringly at me; I guess I must have been looking upset at the story.
“It was a long time ago Lily, and things have changed. At least I thought they had – the few times I’ve seen the real world recently makes me think that I’m better off staying where I am.
“At least now I know that I can keep an eye on you, make sure you’re safe.”
Eh? Am I supposed to be pleased about having my very own bodyguard? Up until recently I had no inkling that I might even need to be looked after. It’s not making me feel any safer, to be honest…