By Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik
Forest Iced Tea
He stood, stooping to drink deeply from the water, his head bowed gracefully and his neck reclining downward was he drink. As the raft that carried me came to a stop adjacent to him, he stopped drinking and stared purposefully at me and the subtle waxy candlelight that glinted from the glassy lantern I held in my left hand, the book, the pen and the compass in my right. I stepped off the raft tentatively, careful not to fall into the current which I could almost picture happening. And sure enough it did. The wind blew through the trees, rustling the leaves hurriedly, as if conveying an important message and blew me raft the tiniest amount to the left, forcing me to fall into the water, dropping the lantern and the other articles onto the bank as I fell. The river water was so cold and deep that I knew I was never to climb out. I feared I was never to climb out and the book and pen were floating away as I floated on the bank. I began to imagine that graceful animal on the bank taking it upon himself to rescue me with his magnificent sweeping antlers as I felt myself running out of breath. And once again, sure enough he did. I was saved by a stag and found myself trembling on the grassy darkened river bank. “Fair morrow, dear friend.” The stag spoke in a low cultured tone. I sat there in disbelief. Can a stag talk? I felt he sensed this as he stared at me, perplexed “Dear friend, do I take from thou art weary from thou travels and fatigued from the path?” he continued in the same collected tone
“Hello –“ I began in a voice thick was trepidation as I had not come across many talking furry mammals at home with the possible exception of my classmates
“’Hello,’” he quoted. “I hath not heard that utterance previously. Would you kindly inform myself of thy meaning?” he asked.
“It is a greeting,” I said, still disbelieving.
“Very well then, dear friend, hello, you may address me as Gilidore. I am the protector of the realm from where we do find ourselves to the Wild Circle.” He attempted a smile “I must ask, art thou thee aware of any action from The Shadow Master from whence thee came?”
“The Shadow Master? You know of him?” I said in surprise. Perhaps there had indeed been some truth in what Uriel had said.
“Indeed I do. He is a most malevolent presence in my realm.”
“What has he been doing?”
“He hath been undoing the realm with tricks and illusions of a most mysterious nature. That is all I am willing to say on the matter.”
“Gilidore, I have been sent to triumph over The Shadow Master to protect the-“Then it dawned on me, did Gilidore protector of The River Realm not know he was in a book? He did not know that he did not exist. He did not know he was a character someone wrote about.
It flashed through my mind that I should tell him truly of my quest to destroy The Shadow Master, but even as I whispered those words in the corners of my mind, I understood their stupidity. I could not tell Gilidore, an archaic talking stag who believes he is protector of The River Realm or he would cease to believe to destruction of The Shadow Master to be of the utmost importance and I was coming to understand that without Gilidore, I had no hope of achieving my goal. Gilidore suddenly looked concerned with wide chestnut eyes gleaming with what almost appeared to be tears but they were not tears like I had seen; they were milking in appearance and of purest starlight as if they had been captured in a tiny crystalline glass from the heavens as they permissively fell to earth.
“Dear friend, thou shalt freeze from the water that clings to your clothes, ” he whispered, the starlight falling down from his eyes. He was right. I must find myself new clothes. Picking up the book once more I wrote, my wet hands slipping over the pen: As she stood up from the grassy bank, she saw in the corner of her eye what looked like a long dress in gold and green with sweeping embroidery and long wide sleeves, a cloak and pair of boots beside it. And sure enough as I finished penning my words upon the smooth parchment, I found myself peering out of the corner of my blue eye to see the garments tucked away, suspended from a towering willow tree which cast a great shadow reaching across the ground.
Gillidore looked at me in utter surprise. “Did they just appear?” he said with startled eyes “Well, that was most fortunate.” I walked over to retrieve the items “What is that book thou art holding?”
“That is nothing, ” I found myself saying rather defensively. “It’s just a journal.”
This was a lie Gillidore readily believed and as I changed into the new garments, delighted to be away from the cold dampness of my previous clothing, I found myself looking back at him and feeling a little bad for deceiving him and wondering if I perhaps shouldn’t have done. After all, Gillidopre was Protector of The River Realm and as such surely had a right to know the comings and goings of his realm and perhaps this was the sort of this Gillidore needed to know – perhaps he could help me on my path? Perhaps he knew where The Shadow Master was. Perhaps he could use the book to protect the realm? On the other hand, perhaps he would destroy it and I could be encased inside a fantasy world forever.
It was a strange thing.