The Hidden Path

The Hidden Path

Once there was a young girl who lived in a large village surrounded by forests. Though these woods came right up to the village, and were of a pleasant nature, the villagers mostly ignored them. As the girl’s childhood progressed, she would venture further and further among these trees, until she had worn tracks through the nearby underbrush.

…she had established quite a maze…

It seemed to the girl that she knew the closest trees of the woods almost as well as she knew the homes and shops of the village. And so, as her childhood continued, she ventured farther and farther afield, continuing along the tracks she had worn in the forest floor until they faded from view, so new were they, and extending them into the unknown, or turning aside early, exploring some side way she had previously not thought to explore. And so, by the time she had become a young woman, she had established quite a maze of ways through those trees.

Of all the people in her village, only she bothered to follow those pathways, for the villagers, though kind, were uninterested in exploring the deeper regions of the woods, and quickly turned back as the shadows grew deep. Even if the young woman tried to guide them, she could never lead them very far before they turned back, all apologies. And so she walked the forest alone, always seeking new ways, always and extending her travels within the forest, trying to go beyond what was now known to her, as the lengthening pathways proved.

And thus it came as quite a surprise to the young woman to discover herself, after a period of meandering, having come upon a fairy circle. Though she had never seen such a thing before, the girl stepped forward at once, eager to enter the world of the fey.

And just as she had hoped, the young woman found herself at once in a town unlike any she had entered before. Though it looked much as her own village did, every roadway bristled with interesting people, and though she had just arrived, the woman soon found herself quite entwined in their intrigues and schemes. Time passed, and one extraordinary event lled quickly to another, and the woman felt as though she might never want to leave.

But as she wandered the back alleyways of her new home village, musing about the resolution to the entangled fey plots and schemes, the young woman paused, having unexpectedly found the fairy circle before her, the ring of mushrooms surrounding grass growing through the cobblestones. Looking upon them, the woman felt a pang, for she knew then that her time in this wondrous world had come to an end. Stepping into the ring, she passed back into her familiar dark woods, a thick sheaf of papers clutched in her hand.

Looking at these, she realized they were a written record of her time in the world of the fey, and the things she had witnessed therein. Dashing home through ever more familiar terrain, the young woman put the story of her friends in the other world carefully onto a shelf in her home, and dropped off into a deep sleep. In the coming days, she wandered her village, feeling ever more discontent. How predictable the routines! How obvious every interaction! She longed for the complexity and intensity of the world of the fey, and so ventured once more into the woods.

Her familiar paths were still there, growing every more faint as she went on, and, though she was fairly certain she’d not retraced her steps perfectly, the woman soon found the fairy circle again, her tracks to and from it still visible in the underbrush. At once, she stepped within, to step out in a new place within the world of the fey, wherein she quickly made the acquaintance of another of the fey, and was drawn into his problems and desires. Moving among a new population of the fairies, the woman resolved problems, proposed solutions, and navigated treacherous situations until the man was content at last.

And when this came to pass, the woman was confronted by the fairy circle once more, inviting her back to the world of mortals. Dismayed, she turned away, to find the circle awaited her at every turn. At last she relented, and stepped through it, to find another record of her time clutched in her hand, the forest dark around her. Carefully guarding the delicate pages, she made her way along the faint track leading back to the village, and her home.

But as soon as her fatigue abated, she returned to the wood, searching for the fairy circle again. Dashing along the tracks she’d established, she retraced her steps as well as she could, and found the fairy circle before she expected. Gratefully, she dashed into it, to exit once more into the magic realm beyond. As before, she made rapid acquaintances, who made her welcome in their homes, and privy to their secrets, and, soon enough, enmeshed in their hopes, dreams, and constellations of problems. And also as before, the fairy circle appeared as soon as a resolution was reached. Try as she might to turn away, the circle was at the end of every road, within every room, and she couldn’t long evade it.

Time passed, and the woman made ever more frequent trips to the circle in the wood, desperate to return to that other world that she so loved. The paths through the forest were worn ever deeper, and became wider and more visible. Still, to make the task of navigating ever easier, the woman marked her way with bright ribbons, and glittering baubles dangling from the branches all around.

Her magical writings from the other world accumulated, though she rarely perused them, so often was she away in the fairy realm. More and more of these records graced her shelves, and her journeying generated another with every greater frequency. Soon the woman could find the fairy circle without any effort at all, and would often hurry through the dark forest at a run.

But there came a day where she stepped into the fairy world and met not an otherworldly denizen with an interesting problem, but someone who reminded her very much of the baker from her own village, a man of extraordinary ordinariness. As she spoke with him, hoping to discern some glimmer of interest within herself, she was interrupted by a visitor, whose request turned out to be marvelous indeed. An unknown time later, after she’d returned to her own mundane world with a new written record in hand, the woman wondered at this encounter, but soon put it from her mind. Racing back through the woods at once, she followed the worn paths, passing beneath the ribbons and bangles that marked the shortest path she yet found to the fairy realm.

…she came upon not just one mundane personage, but a great many…

This time, however, she came upon not just one mundane personage, but a great many, and she despaired. For she recognized more and more of the village folk in them.

She found a true fey eventually, and gratefully assisted him with a myriad of problems.  But at every turn, a villager seemed to be waiting, interjecting the known, the familiar, and the predicable.  She left the fairy world deeply concerned, and set the written record of her time there next to her others.  Leaving her cottage, she wandered the streets of her village, aware at last of how empty it had become, and realized the folk must have followed on their own her paths through the woods that she had co clearly marked, the shortest and most direct way to the mushroom circle she had yet found.  And, having done so, they had begun to enter her secret world before she herself did.

And, standing before the circle in the woods, the woman knew what she must do. Walking slowly away from the circle, she took down the shimmering baubles, and untied the bright ribbons, and doused the tiny lanterns that she had hung to show the way. For in marking the path so clearly, she had invited the known and the normal to a place meant to be secret and magical, and led others to a place that had once been hers alone.

And thereafter she went into the woods just as often, but stepped quickly off of the worn path, venturing into the untouched wilderness. The villagers returned in time, slipping back onto their routines and leaving the woods to her once more. And when she would occasionally find the fairy circle, she was always careful to enter from a new direction, and leave no trace of how she had gotten there.

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