Desperation will guide a woman to hard decisions. When I was found seven years go, I was desperate: lovely and desperate; naive and desperate. Shivering as the bony branches in the whipping winter wind, and just as skinny, I left my father’s house in haste after his death. His wife had a loathsome lawyer as her lover, and she was not my mother. She took everything except the clothing draped about me. I stole through the kitchen and confiscated the sharpest blade and thus I was on my own, alone in the world.
Seven days and seven nights I wandered about the wood, afraid to step onto the road in case I found myself in the clutches of a devil passing by. So many tortured tales rang in my youthful ears about women who, alone in the wild, had been seized, used and left upon the forest floor. They watered the roots of these trees with their ebbing life-force leaking away through violent inflictions. I would not let it happen.
Night after night I would shelter beneath the cedar canopy, finding the right tree that could hide me from view with it’s swathing branches sweeping the floor. I was tucked beneath by the trunk and could see through the branches to the road. I never lit a fire at night, and finding food in the cold was impossible. The poking pains of hunger in my stomach stopped by the fourth day. Occasionally I would hear the stamping of hooves on the road and through the dark would see a carriage pass with its lanterns shining out front. My heart would throb as I held my breath until it passed. I began to expect that I would meet death and be taken from this place.
That final night lit up the forest by the pale rays of the full moon. The trees stood as silent sentinels in the stillness, as if they knew what was coming from beyond the fork in the road. A lone, long, and lonely howl pierced the silence and hung in the air for what seemed an infinite expanse of time, but it was cut off by the wind. A rushing gale swept through, bending the elder cedars as if they were saplings. It was unlike other storms. It was a malevolent maelstrom, whispering to me as it whipped by: “Athena…Athena…”
It knew my name.
With the crack of a whip, everything drew silent again, as if through obedience. I drew the tresses of my black hair away from my face and gazed through the branches toward the road, where stood a golden carriage at full stop. I never even saw it coming, as if it appeared of its own accord. The horses pulling it were monstrous and pale. Their eyes shown as embers in deep sockets. The driver was gangly and attentive to the road, never looking anywhere but ahead. In the pale of the night light, the golden carriage shimmered and made me think of a gilded coffin. Its door opened and out stepped a man with a cane, a green coat and a matching hat. His eyes were the color of a clear sky and glowed as such, and they fixed on me. My hiding place was useless.
“Athena, come out from there. You’ll catch your death in this cold,” he called out.
He knew my name. I heard creaking reverberate in the deep of the forest, as if a throaty laugh pushed down at my expense. He knew my name.
“Athena, come out from there. You’ll catch your death in this cold,” he called out again.
The laughter of the forest came again, resounding as if many laughs filtering into one. I looked back toward the source of noise. When my head swiveled forward, the man in green was directly in front of me, nose to nose.
“Athena, come with me,” he said.
I remained frozen, fixed upon his blue eyes. His strong featured face exhibited energy and vitality, yet his white hair betrayed the youthful portrait. He was ageless.
The sharp corners of his mouth turned upward. “Athena,” he said and blew a kiss. As the wind of his breath caressed my cold face, I felt warmth and sleep overtake me. One final thought clouded my head as I fell into his arms: this was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.